Council President M. Lorena González is among the crowded field to replace outgoing Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. González was elected in 2015 as the first Latinx City Councilmember in Seattle history and would also be Seattle’s first Latinx Mayor if elected. She grew up in Central Washington as the daughter of migrant farmworkers. González graduated from Seattle University School of Law and went to work as a civil rights attorney, “fighting for the rights of workers, victims of wage theft and employment discrimination, and victims of police misconduct and sexual abuse,” as her campaign website puts it.
The Urbanist Election Committee has followed up on our questionnaires with Zoom interviews with the candidates. We will release our Primary Endorsements in early July. We’ll roll out the rest of the Mayoral questionnaires this week and move on to other races. Primary ballots are due August 3rd. For voter information or to register to vote, visit the State election website.
Below are Lorena González’s questionnaire responses.
What does being an urbanist mean to you?
It means building a vibrant city that works together and works for everyone, not just wealthy landowners. Seattle is a beautiful city and thousands of people move here every month because of our urban cores in various neighborhoods throughout the city. But it is time to scale up and do their part to make Seattle a world-class, livable, walkable city for everyone. I dream of a Seattle in which every neighborhood is livable, safe and complete with access to child care, affordable housing, multimodal transportation, grocery stores, community spaces, high speed internet, good jobs, and energetic small business districts. Prior to COVID, I chose to use public transit as my primary mode of transportation; leaving my car garaged. I was able to do that because I live in an urban village with frequent transit options, including the C Line. I believe that every neighborhood in Seattle should have access to the same and, in doing so, we will improve our quality of life and help combat climate change. I want more people to have equitable access to housing choice, more ways to get around and more to see and do as a method of building community connections.
What strategies would you adopt to address the homelessness and housing affordability crisis in Seattle, and do you support the charter amendment proposed by Compassion Seattle?
As mayor, I would advance a human- and trauma-centered approach that focuses on transitioning people to safe and affordable permanent housing. I would expand our crisis response system, build more rapid & transitional housing, prioritize mental health services and access to jobs and income, stabilize the human service provider workforce and reform our exclusionary zoning laws. It is challenging to describe my vision on this issue with this word limit, but I am happy to discuss them further with you.
However, coming up with solutions is not the next mayor’s primary challenge – the challenge is scaling those solutions to be effective long term. The next mayor must be someone who can bring the council, business, labor, county, state, federal officials and other stakeholders together to find additional resources to fund the solutions at a scale that meets the challenge, without cutting other essential city services. As Mayor, I will hire a Deputy Mayor of Housing & Human Services, who will be my partner on solving for and prioritizing solutions to end this humanitarian crisis every day of my administration.
Regarding Compassion Seattle, you can read my initial response here.
How do you envision the relationship between the city and Seattle Police Department changing? How do you plan to look after the safety/well-being of Seattle’s residents, especially those in communities who have faced disproportionate use of force from police?
For almost 20 years, I have worked on police reform and accountability; first as a civil rights attorney and now as a councilmember. In my term, I’ve expanded civilian oversight of the police department, making it easier to sue the police for wrongdoing, and started demilitarizing the police force and shifting resources into critical social and human services, including supporting participatory budgeting. I will build on this work as the next Mayor of Seattle. Additionally, the next Mayor will be responsible for appointing a new police chief, negotiating a new contract with the police guild, fulfilling a commitment to participatory budgeting and further right-sizing the police department and laying out a vision for how we re-imagine policing in our city. My experience, not only as an elected official, but also as a civil rights attorney and a woman of color, who fought for victims of police abuse, will guide how I approach these critical decisions.
What is your strategy for equitable development in Seattle and how will that guide your approach to the Major Update to the Comprehensive Plan in 2024?
I have long supported the Equitable Development Initiative and my administration would support, not suppress, those community-driven efforts. Equitable development will also require reforming our exclusionary zoning laws, which allows for 80% of the city’s residential land to be zoned for single-family housing. I am also committed to creating more incentives for the construction of on-site affordable housing, capturing additional transit-oriented development opportunities and investing in public transportation so that we can truly have an affordable and interconnected city.
The 15-minute city concept outlined in this article is the sort of framework I would use to be thinking about the 2024 Comprehensive Plan. We need to work toward a city where everyone has the option to get around without using a single occupancy vehicle. I would, of course, also incorporate a strong and meaningful racial equity analysis.
What is your plan to help businesses recover from the pandemic? What has the pandemic taught you about what small businesses and their employees need?
Providing ongoing commercial rent relief and assistance along with technical support to access federal, state and local resources is critical for small businesses to survive. We also need to ensure that we are activating our public spaces with arts, music and culture, which is part of our city’s DNA. Additionally, we must address the needless and inefficient bureaucracy that makes it cumbersome to get a permit, sign or street cafe.
The pandemic has taught all of us that a walkable and dense city with bustling main street business districts is possible and they are here to stay. Never in a million years would I have thought that it would be possible to recapture street parking for use by people and commerce. The pandemic has allowed us to pilot these activation and livability strategies for so long that I believe residents and visitors will now expect each neighborhood to have street cafes and streets closed off to motorized vehicles. The next mayor must be willing to capitalize on this radical cultural shift and use it as an opportunity to build a more vibrant and connected city.
What tax policies would you advocate for in Seattle?
I have long been a supporter of progressive revenue, including the City’s income tax and the JumpStart Seattle payroll tax, which I co-sponsored. As Mayor, I would continue to advocate for progressive local, state and federal taxes. We cannot solve our city’s biggest challenges, including income inequality, the wealth gap, the homelessness and housing crisis, without the wealthy and big corporations paying their fair share.
What are your preferred policies to improve access to public transportation?
Single occupancy vehicles are the largest contributor to climate change and reducing their usage is to improve our city and our quality of life. As Mayor, I would prioritize making the city more accessible for cyclists and pedestrians and invest in public transit infrastructure, including implementing our Transit Master Plan.
A multi-modal transportation network, especially last mile connections and light rail, will be key to keeping our region and city moving. Personally, I primarily commute via bus from West Seattle to downtown Seattle but also from downtown Seattle to other parts of the city. Although many routes into downtown and out of downtown are generally easily accessible our East to West connections continue to be a struggle. This must change if we want to encourage people to leave their cars at home.
Improving access to public transportation will also require intensive neighborhood planning, including transit-oriented development, to ensure that our neighborhoods are interconnected.
“The time for letting existing wealthy neighbors say no to new neighbors who are less wealthy is over” — Do you agree and what is your plan to address this issue?
Yes. Despite Seattle’s progressive nature, we are not immune to a legacy of racist policies that include redlining and exclusionary zoning. Over 80% of our residential land is zoned for single-family homes, which creates a housing shortage that has a disproportionate impact on low-income people and people of color. As Mayor, I will reform our zoning laws so that we can truly be an inclusive city.
More specifically, do you support and would you commit to rezoning wealthy neighborhoods like Madison Valley, Montlake, and Laurelhurst to have robust urban villages, especially with frequent transit, university jobs, and multiple hospitals nearby?
Yes. In both of my elections for City Council, I ran against individuals who were notorious for their anti-urbanism views. In both elections, I ran on a strong urbanist platform and won both times with over 70 percent of the general election vote. As Mayor, I will provide the necessary leadership to make the case for why additional development capacity and housing choice must be created in every single neighborhood in Seattle, as opposed to just within urban villages. I will do this in collaboration with stakeholders in and outside of City Hall to build the coalition that will be necessary to dismantle exclusionary zoning laws in our city. This will be key to ensuring that we are developing affordable housing throughout the city and not just in urban villages, the boundaries of which align with previously redlined areas in our city.
How will you balance community input with effective and equitable policy-making?
Community feedback is critical to the work of any elected official. As a councilmember, I have defined community feedback as seeking the input of the people who are closest to the issue being considered, and that is what I would do as Mayor. Whether it’s homelessness, mental health, police violence or any other issue, I believe that we need to reach deep into that community not just to check the box but to take advantage of the subject matter expertise that exists in that community. I also believe that the labor of providing community feedback should be compensated, just as the city currently compensates professional consultants to evaluate policy.
Do you support allowing missing middle housing like rowhouses in existing single family zones so all neighborhoods contribute to growth?
Do you support increasing progressive taxes (income or capital gains) to pay for affordable housing?
Will you push to make municipal broadband a reality in Seattle?
Yes; however, it will largely depend on Governor Inslee signing ESHB 1336, which was sponsored by Rep. Drew Hansen.
Do you support establishing a municipal bank?
Yes; unfortunately, we need revisions to state law to allow this to occur. SB 5188 failed to get out of this year’s session but as Mayor I would ensure that this effort made it into Seattle’s legislative agenda and would work with State legislators to fulfill the intent of SB 5188.
The Urbanist was founded in 2014 to examine and influence urban policies. We believe cities provide unique opportunities for addressing many of the most challenging social, environmental, and economic problems. We serve as a resource for promoting urbanism, increasing political participation, and improving the places we live. The Elections Committee consists of community volunteers and staff members of The Urbanist and is a standing body representing the political values of our organization.