District 1 is separate from Seattle, an island of a peninsula connected to downtown by a bridge that only brave people dare tread. When they dare, however, they find West Seattle, a beautiful place that encompasses everything from the bathhouse at Alki Beach to the industrial areas to the south.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold has represented the area for the past four years, and is one of only two sitting council members who put their hat in the ring for their current post. She has cast controversial votes, such as those both for and ultimately against a tax on large businesses to fund homeless services. She is also steeped in policy, coming to the elected position after serving as an aide to former City Councilmember Nick Licata.
Challenger Phil Tavel is a former public defender, video game executive and high school physics teacher. He says that he has his finger on the pulse of West Seattle in a way that Herbold does not. Tavel takes a more conservative approach to politics and funding than his opponent, aiming to reduce spending in some areas in order to boost support for services to benefit homeless people and other marginalized groups
The race for District 1 will be a testing ground for Seattle politics — will Herbold, an old hand in Seattle politics and sitting incumbent, win against Tavel, a two-time challenger with more conservative poltics?
You decide. The election is on Nov. 5.
Real Change: First of all, why do you want to represent District 1 again?
Lisa Herbold: Well I really feel strongly that the model of council representation that we have right now asks a lot from its council members, and I feel that I’m uniquely positioned and qualified to meet that expectation.
Our constituents have much higher expectations for their council members as far as the delivery of constituent services, things like making sure that the streetlights get fixed to making sure a pothole gets filled or park equipment gets repaired.
That whole range of things that people expect from their city government they now expect their council members to advocate for them and making sure that city departments are responsive to complaints.
I’m really excited about the fact that I have really raised the bar in the city and on the council for the delivery of constituent services, because I really believe that that is step one in helping us figure out a pathway to work with the public to address our biggest problems, like homelessness and affordable housing.
RC: What are voters choosing between when they vote for you or your opponent?
LH: I think the biggest difference — as far as what I’ve been hearing on the campaign trail — is my opponent has not acknowledged that there is a need for additional resources to address our biggest crisis. My opponent has not acknowledged that the McKinsey report, for instance, says that we have to double our investments in this region in affordable housing. My opponent believes that we can find sufficient resources to address our biggest crisis by simply looking at government efficiencies. I really think that’s the biggest difference.
Another really substantial difference that I think voters need to struggle with and need to consider is that we voted for district elections because we wanted more representative democracy. We wanted our council members to be accountable to the voters. We also voted for Democracy Vouchers because we wanted more people to participate in our elections. My opponent has the support of several, I think three at this count, big business independent expenditure campaigns, one that is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to support him and another to spend tens of thousands of dollars to oppose me.
I believe that that’s anti-democratic. It’s against the objectives of district elections. It’s against the objectives of Democracy Vouchers. I think the voters of District 1 need to take a stand and make sure that it’s the voters of that district who are picking their next council member not a bunch of outside interests.
RC: Do you then support Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez’s proposal to limit the amount of money that can go to independent expenditure campaigns?
LH: I’m excited that this proposal has come forward. I think it has the potential to use the current framework that we have that limits the ability of campaigns to collect donations from individuals who are not citizens of this country. If I have a friend who is living in Europe, even if they’re a U.S. citizen, if they bank at a bank that is not in this country I can’t accept campaign contributions from them. It builds off of that foundation that already exists for individual donors. If Citizens United is going to make the argument that corporations are the same as individuals, well then we should have the same rules for corporations that are dominated by outside interests have those limits also.
RC: What do you see are the key issues that are unique to District 1 and how do you plan to address them?
LH: I believe they’re the issues that everybody cares about both in District 1 and throughout the city. And when I’m doorknocking, I ask people what they care most about. I am finding that the issues that people care most about may not be unique to District 1. It’s housing and homelessness that people are most concerned about. So that certainly is not something that is unique to District 1.
That aside, I do believe that we have unique transportation challenges in District 1, particularly because of the limited ways that there are to access the West Seattle peninsula. I’ve been working really hard on getting greater bus access.
I’m going to continue to work to make sure that that project is delivered on schedule and on time and in a way that addresses the community’s concerns.
RC: The head tax is being pointed to right now as an inflection in the Seattle’s politics. Do you agree with that, and given the difficulties around getting that through, how do you want to raise funding in a progressive way?
LH: Not many people know, but the last employee hours tax measure was the third one that I sponsored and authored so I had led on two prior versions of the same legislation, smaller tax levels and less revenue. But I proposed two prior versions that did not get sufficient votes to pass.
So, I am a really strong proponent of progressive taxation.
I’m getting more and more comfortable on the campaign trail both at the doors and in forums reminding people that discussion around progressive taxation is not going away and this city is going to have to grapple with it. We have the most regressive taxation system in the nation. We have increasing needs and we cannot keep going back to the general taxpayer through property taxes or increases in sales tax to pay for the things that we need to have a safe, healthy and equitable city.
We have the most regressive taxation system in the nation. We have increasing needs and we cannot keep going back to the general taxpayer through property taxes or increases in sales tax to pay for the things that we need to have a safe healthy and equitable city.
No, we’re not going to convince everybody, but we have to have some sort of community consensus that the numbers that we’re hearing from experts, like the McKinsey report, that say that we have to double our investment that that’s a goal that we agree. So we start there.
RC: We do see candidates coming in and saying well we can tighten our belt, we can find inefficiencies, we can improve transparency and accountability around the budget. How do you respond to that?
LH: So those same people say, oh, we have a $5 billion budget. They don’t acknowledge that only $1 billion of it is the general fund of our $5 billion budget. Much of it is either utility taxes that we can’t spend on general government purposes or there are other restricted revenue that we don’t have the flexibility to move around. So, $1 billion of it, right off the bat, is the general fund dollars. Of that $1 billion general fund budget, half of it is public safety. We don’t touch public safety, right? It is considered a place you don’t go.
The council only moves around about $18 million. That’s because the council doesn’t want to exercise its power to identify what the priorities are. It’s because the council and the public largely agrees with how those dollars are being spent.
RC: Talk to us about your record on housing affordability. What other policy levers are left to pull, and what obstacles are in the way?
LH: I’ve always approached our housing affordability agenda for the city as one that every year has to contain a number of different components.
A lot of times, people focus only on the funding side of things. I believe we not only have to focus on adding additional funding for affordable housing, but we have to also remember to make sure that developers are paying their fair share. So I was a strong supporter of Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) in various iterations before it actually became MHA.
Similarly, impact fees. Every other jurisdiction in Washington state has developer impact fees to help pay for the costs associated with transportation and utilities and open space. We don’t have impact fees in Seattle. I’m an advocate for impact fees.
Also, the multi-family tax exemption program — it’s another sort of gimme for developers in that we allow developers to not pay property taxes when they promise to provide affordable housing. I don’t think we are getting enough affordable housing units. So, more public funding for affordable housing, more funding from developers and other entities within the city that are most benefiting from our financial success in the — city.
And then, finally, which is really important to me better laws for tenants. I think any time that you want to put together an affordable housing strategy it has to include better laws for tenants because it’s about the balance of power between landlords and tenants.
RC: Do you feel that the way that sweeps are being executed right now live up to the spirit of the Multi Departmental Administrative Rules?
LH: I’m finding it more and more difficult to suss out from my position. I get a report every week from the Human Services Department (HSD) that identifies the locations that they’re going to be going to in the following week and they document the reasons why those particular locations have been prioritized. It’s one of those things that I’ve routinely been turning the advocacy community to help me with. I can’t tell from a piece of paper whether or not the six locations that (HSD) is telling me is are a priority because they meet the requirements of the [Multi Departmental Administrative Rules].
[W]e have about 400 unique locations in the city’s complaint database at any given time and in so I can imagine that there are some locations that there is good reason to prioritize. I just don’t know if they’re the right ones and that’s the thing that is really troubling because the reality is I do believe that engagement with folks living outdoors is what is a best practice to getting folks inside.
RC: You’ve called for the mayor to reopen negotiations on the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract. The mayor doesn’t seem inclined to do so. How do you move forward from here?
LH: We still are going to be entering into negotiations for the next contract.
So, what myself and Councilmember Gonzalez and the [Community Police Commission] were asking for was a parallel process for a finite number of things that the CPC, some council members and Judge Robart have identified as obstacles to being in compliance with the consent decree. What we were asking for was sort of a side process to the larger negotiations that is going on in the next contract. But that’s going to begin soon anyhow.
RC: What is your favorite place in your district?
LH: I’m going to say as a small business I love is Itto’s Tapas Bar in the Junction and then as a favorite place just to hang out, I love Lincoln Park. There’s so much to do. There’s the forest, there’s the beach and there’s the fantastic Colman pool, an outdoor saltwater pool.
RC: I do have one other thing. You’ve been in office, you may or may not win. Is there one thing that you haven’t gotten a chance to get done that you really want to do in this next term?
LH: I think a couple of things. When I was working to wrap my brain around whether or not I wanted to run again, I went back and I looked at the campaign commitments that I had made in 2015 when I ran.
They used to write these bulletins that I would send out, so I have all them, and I went back and I read them. I’m like, “Oh I did that.”
It felt really great. I’m like, “Oh look, I actually did a lot of things I said I was going to do.” It’s one of the great things about putting things in writing, you hold yourself accountable to actually doing them. But one of the things that I haven’t accomplished is instituting what I was referring to earlier as developer impact fees for transportation and parks projects. So that’s still an objective of mine that I want to fulfill. But I also want very much to work with a broad group of stakeholders to figure out how we make our tax system more progressive.
*An earlier version of this story misstated city council only moves around about $180 million. The correct amount is $18 million.
RELATED ARTICLE: Vying for Votes: City Council District 1 candidate Phil Tavel
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Lisa on Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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