As part of our endorsement process at The Urbanist, we ask candidates to complete a standard questionnaire to better understand and evaluate their positions on housing, land use, transportation, and other important issues. We then share this information with our readers to help inform their own voting decisions.
This year we are considering 19 candidates running for Seattle City Council positions 8 and 9, Seattle Mayor, and Port of Seattle Commission positions 1 and 4. We are publishing the questionnaires in full this week and next week, concluding with our official primary election endorsements in mid-July.
The following questionnaire was submitted by Jon Grant, running for Seattle City Council Position 8.
Do you consider yourself an urbanist? Why/Why not?
Yes, I consider myself a social justice urbanist. I believe that ‘social justice urbanism’ must guide growth to promote equity and inclusion, ensure neighborhoods get investment, and prevent displacement of long-standing communities. I believe that we must rapidly increase the supply of affordable housing, preserve existing affordable housing and invest in equitable development.
Do you support the King County Center and Family Justice Center as designed?
No. I strongly oppose the Youth Jail proposed in the Central District, and have regularly participated in No New Youth Jail and Black Lives Matter protests against its construction. We should not be spending over $200 million on failed “solutions.” Data show that jailing non-violent youth puts our entire community at risk because those same youth are more likely become violent offenders as adults. Young offenders who are incarcerated are 67% more likely to be in jail again by the age of 25 than similar young offenders who were not incarcerated.
Additionally, according to the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative’s December 2015 assessment, only 16% of crimes committed by youth were designated as “violent.” The majority of violent offenses committed by youth were assaults, which is a misdemeanor. As a community, we can do better. States and communities across the nation recognize that finding alternatives to incarceration reduces recidivism, reduces crime rates, and saves municipalities money. We should take the $225 million earmarked for the Youth Jail and instead invest it on community-led, restorative justice based programs.
I strongly support alternatives to youth-detention, including restorative justice strategies. We should expand city grants to organizations like Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) who are already doing excellent, community-based work to rehabilitate youth who offend. Schools all over King County and in Seattle are starting to invest in restorative justice programs. I support expanding access to these programs while reducing reliance on punitive discipline strategies in schools. In Seattle Public Schools, black students are 18.6% of the student population and are suspended at a rate of 12.9% while white students make up 43.2% but are only suspended at rates of 3.8%. I support ending out of school suspensions in favor of restorative justice practices.
What do you envision as a solution for the current North Precinct building?
I strongly oppose the construction of the new North Precinct building. For $149 million, we can radically invest in community-based policing and restorative justice methods. I am responsive to concerns from the community about slow-response times to 911 calls in the North Precinct. However, I am skeptical of the argument that constructing a newer, larger building would be sufficient to resolve that concern. I believe that we need to critically examine the community’s concerns about 911 response as well as police accountability and identify solutions other than constructing the nation’s most expensive police precinct building.
Are there reforms that you would make to the street vacation process to ensure that adequate public benefits are provided to city residents from vacated rights-of-way?
There a several key reforms we should make to the street vacation process to ensure better community involvement and increased public benefits. First, we must clarify that public benefits must achieve race and social equity goals, including provision of childcare, affordable housing, or access to training and job opportunities. We must require that entities seeking a street vacation develop a community engagement plan that engages both the immediate neighborhood and the broader community. The best way to ensure on-going community engagement would be to create a community-based committee that reviews proposed projects. Finally, we should engage City Council earlier in the process to guide the public benefits process.
What changes do you think are needed for the city’s current policy on unauthorized homeless camp removal?
The city’s policy of sweeping our houseless neighbors like garbage is inhumane, illogical and unjust. We must immediately cease the practice of forcing homeless residents to relocate themselves and all of their belongings every few weeks or even every few days. My campaign has spent the last few months working alongside residents of unauthorized homeless camps and it is clear that the city has failed in nearly every regard to serve these residents. The city disobeys its own protocols on storage of personal belongings and timely posting of removal notices. The city has ignored repeated requests from residents for trash removal and fire extinguishers, easy investments to improve livability and safety at unauthorized camps. The policy of sweeping people around and around only serves to further destabilize vulnerable people by making it far more difficult to stay connected to a case manager, mental health treatment, a job or drug treatment.
In addition to rapidly expanding the number of sanctioned encampments (see below), I propose the city identify publicly owned land parcels (whether city-owned, SDOT land, WDOT, or otherwise) and designate these areas as authorized places to camp. These locations would not have the same investment as a sanctioned encampment but would be provided with a minimum of trash pickup, fire extinguishers, sharps containers and portable toilets to address immediate needs for sanitation and safety.
In our current homelessness state of emergency, what actions can we take right away to address this issue?
First, we must expand the number of sanctioned encampments, especially low-barrier encampments, all over the city. Many NIMBY activists decry public urination or finding sharps in their neighborhoods, yet actively oppose sanctioned encampments to temporarily house houseless neighbors. We must take a strong stance against these groups and require that all neighborhoods in Seattle share space with homeless residents. Additionally, we should increase the number of low-barrier encampments to serve more residents. Many homeless neighbors I have met during our campaign suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, or have other barriers to access traditional encampments. We need more low-barrier sites like the Licton Springs encampment. As I mentioned above, we should also expand access to city-owned land for people who are unable or unwilling to be served by sanctioned encampments.
Over the long term, we must rapidly scale up construction of deeply subsidized housing in Seattle to provide permanent housing to 8,000+ homeless residents in Seattle. My platform proposes raising the corporate tax rate, while raising the exemption for small businesses, to raise millions of dollars per year for deeply subsidized affordable housing.
What would be your strategy with the remaining Mandatory Housing Affordability rezones? Would you push for higher/lower affordability or density levels?
It’s time for a new approach to Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) in Seattle. The current “Grand Bargain” that undergirds the Housing Affordability and Liveability Agenda (HALA) framework requires as low as 2% MHA in some neighborhoods, with most neighborhoods receiving 3-7% MHA requirements. A central component of my campaign’s platform is a 25% MHA target for all new development. Twenty-five percent MHA is a practical demand as well as a values statement about the kind of the city we want to live in. Our goal as a city must be to build as much new housing possible for the 100,000 plus new residents moving to Seattle in the next twenty years while at the same time aggressively protecting against displacement of our neighbors.
In practical terms, a 25% target is on par with what other growing cities have demanded, from large cities like New York and San Francisco to growing suburbs like Issaquah and Tysons Corner, VA. A recent overview of inclusionary policies nationwide found targets ranging from 15-30%, far above Seattle’s current framework for 2-9%. The city should conduct feasibility analyses to assess whether neighborhoods can meet or exceed the standard and adjust the MHA requirement to maximum affordability possible. Currently, not every neighborhood or project in Seattle will be able to absorb a 25% requirement. Some neighborhoods may need to increase building heights in order to build 25% affordable units. Most importantly, limiting MHA in Seattle to less than 10% means that we are potentially missing out on construction of thousands of affordable units.
Certain proponents of lower MHA requirements focus on increasing the supply of market-rate housing as the primary means of preventing displacement and lowering rents, relying on a process called filtering. However, a recent study completed by researchers at UC Berkeley found that subsidized housing has over double the impact of market-rate housing in reducing displacement pressures at the regional level. Additionally, those researchers found that filtering is insufficient or ineffective in strong-market cities like Seattle and San Francisco in increasing supply of affordable housing. We know that we cannot rely on supply-side economics to solve our housing crisis. Instead, we must implement robust demands on market growth to fund affordable housing.
Other critics of the 25% MHA standard point to San Francisco as a cautionary tale. In 2015, San Francisco passed Proposition C, which increased the inclusionary zoning (MHA) requirement in San Francisco from 12% to 25%. In response, the city convened a Technical Advisory Committee to review the policy. The TAC ultimately suggested reducing the MHA to 14-18% for rental projects, with a fee option set at 18-23%.
However, we find two points of disagreement with this critique. First, two members of the TAC released a letter of dissent criticizing the working group for ignoring feasible alternatives that would increase MHA requirements further, using an incorrect methodology and mishandling legal issues. They note that the TAC was comprised of five for-profit housing financiers/developers, one “mega-national” non-profit developer and two local affordable housing developers, which obviously tilts the final recommendation toward a proposal which maximizes profits and provides the least inclusionary housing.
Second, even given the improper methodology and tilted make-up of the TAC, the reduced MHA requirements suggested are up to quadruple the MHA requirements for Seattle. It’s clear that Seattle has room to operate in increasing MHA. Limiting our goals for MHA to the HALA framework prevents us from asking for more.
Ultimately, the data and experience of other cities show that Seattle can and should ask for more. Setting a 25% MHA target will unlock thousands of additional affordable units in a time of housing crisis.
Would you support efforts to raise additional revenue in Seattle directed towards speeding up construction of ST3 projects? If so, what revenue source would you target?
Yes, especially given the recent vote in the legislature to cut Sound Transit funding by over $700 million. One option for increasing revenue would be to reinstate the Employee Hours Tax. The original EHT required businesses to pay a modest $25 per full-time employee per year to supplement Bridging the Gap transportation levy funds. Unfortunately, the EHT was repealed in 2009. We should bring back the EHT to invest in transit infrastructure that provides an alternative to congestion city-wide. Every year we wait to pass the EHT, we lose another opportunity to raise vital funds for public transportation like ST3. The EHT can be a progressive tax that charges businesses in high-congestion areas (like South Lake Union) more per employee.
What are your preferred strategies for increasing multi-modal transportation (e.g., walking, biking, public transit) in Seattle?
Access to public transportation is an equity, environmental and affordability issue. Everyone in our city deserves access to affordable, accessible and safe transportation options. As our city adds more than 100,000 people in the next 20 years, investing in a multimodal transit system, including light rail, bus rapid transit (BRT) and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is crucial to creating a livable city for all. Seattle has led on many transit issues, yet there is still much work to do. We need to fully fund the Bicycle Master Plan, invest in Vision Zero, identify more progressive funding sources instead of continually relying on regressive property taxes and invest in racially equitable transit-oriented development.
Rates of bicycle commuting are essentially flat from two years ago, even as the share of commuters taking public transportation continues to rise. To increase bicycle commuting, we must get the Bicycle Master Plan back on track and ensure that future cycling projects address disparities in access (over the next five years, South Seattle will receive 23.2 miles of bike facilities while North Seattle will receive 28.6 miles). We must also implement the Basic Bicycle Network in downtown Seattle.
We need to invest in Vision Zero, with an eye toward equity (explained in detail in next question).
We need to identify progressive funding sources for transportation improvements like impact fees on new developments and the Employee Hours Tax, as well as requiring community benefit agreements like the Community Package to address pedestrian and cyclist safety.
Finally, we must invest in racially equitable Transit-Oriented Development. All residents in our city deserve access to good schools, parks, grocery stores and quality public transportation. As the light rail and transit expands to new neighborhoods across Seattle, we must be proactive about placing a high value on racial equity outcomes when planning TOD.
There are several key ways we can promote racial equity alongside TOD. The first is requiring that family-size affordable housing is included in TOD projects. Too often, TOD housing includes only market-rate options and comprises largely studios and one-bedrooms, which do not serve most families’ needs. Second, we must focus on creating living-wage jobs in communities and in areas served by transit so that low-income communities can afford to stay in the city. Finally, we must prioritize community-driven development by providing affordable commercial space to community organizations. All communities in Seattle deserve access to affordable housing, good public transportation options and living wage jobs. Taking a racial equity focus toward density and TOD will help achieve those goals.
Seattle’s Vision Zero plan aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. What policies do you support to work towards this goal?
Over the past decades, Seattle has left hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for safe streets improvements on the table by neglecting to implement impact fees for new development. As our city adds more than 100,000 new residents over the next 20 years, impact fees are a crucial source of new revenue to pay for basic walkability projects. We can use impact fee revenue to fund programs like Safe Routes to Schools. More than 80% of Seattle students live within walking distance to school, so it is crucial that we provide safe pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalks and crosswalks for those students to walk to school.
We also need to ensure that Vision Zero policies and practices are incorporated into major transit infrastructure changes happening downtown and along the waterfront. Currently, the One Center City plan does not include metrics to assess pedestrian safety, such as deaths at crosswalks. We must ensure that Vision Zero goals are incorporated into all transportation infrastructure plans.
Do you support permitting triplexes, rowhomes, townhomes and cottages, in single-family zoned areas across the city?
Do you support adding a local income tax in Seattle?
Do you support adding a head tax in Seattle?
Do you support adding a congestion fee in Seattle?
Do you support the creation of a Seattle municipal bank?
Do you support the creation of a municipal broadband service in Seattle?
Do you support inclusion of the Community Package associated with Washington State Convention Center Addition’s street and alleyway vacation public benefits?