Jessyn Farrell 2021 Questionnaire — Seattle Mayor

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Jessyn Farrell announced for Mayor on March 18th. (Photo courtesy of Farrell campaign)

Jessyn Farrell is vying to replace outgoing Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, and she brings a variety of experience. Farrell was elected to the State House in 2012, representing the 46th District until she ran for Seattle Mayor in 2017. She finished fourth in that primary with 12.5% of the vote. She was Executive Director of Transportation Choices Coalition from 2005 to 2008, working to pass Sound Transit 2, and subsequently took an executive position at Pierce Transit. Most recently, she has worked at progressive thinktank Civic Ventures as senior vice president. Check out her campaign website for more information.

The Urbanist Election Committee wrote and distributed questionnaires to the candidates and followed up with Zoom interviews this month. We’ll roll out the rest of the Mayoral questionnaires this week and continuing releasing questionnaires in other races. The Urbanist will drop our Primary Endorsements in early July. The Primary voting period starts July 16th; ballots must be postmarked by 8pm August 3rd. For voter information or to register to vote, visit the State election website.

Below are Jessyn Farrell’s questionnaire responses. 


What does being an urbanist mean to you? 

Being an urbanist means making Seattle a place people want and can afford to live in. It means recognizing that the guiding principles of city government must be ensuring everyone in Seattle can afford to live in a walkable, safe, vibrant community that allows them to thrive. By increasing the amount of affordable housing and equitable access to transit, our city can become one where everyone can more easily access services and employment. 

More than a specific set of policies, being an urbanist means taking the project of proving that a densely populated city can work for everyone who lives here seriously — it’s the only way we’re going to transform our society to adequately prepare for the climate crisis while ensuring no one is left behind. To achieve that goal, we must view all our policy choices and the process of developing policy itself as deeply rooted in equity to reverse the effects of decades of disinvestment from communities of color and guarantee that those most affected by policy decisions are included in making those choices.

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? 

It’s been 5 years since city leadership declared houselessness an emergency. The solutions that we  know work haven’t changed: using a housing–first approach to deliver services and solving the affordability crisis that puts so many working people at risk in the first place. 

First, we must rapidly scale up immediate solutions that get our neighbors off the streets and into stable living. Our city has effective supportive housing programs but is they aren’t scaled to adequately meet the need. At the same time, we know sweeps just don’t work. They further destabilize people’s lives and worsen, rather than solve this crisis. 

Second, we need massive public investment in affordable housing. I’m proposing an “ST3” for Housing– to build on our regional approach to transportation by creating housing that meets the needs of all our people across every neighborhood in this city, especially around our 54 transit centers. 

While I do support the charter amendment, my legal analysis of the text is that it does not mandate the use of sweeps, and has broad latitude to prioritize permanent supportive housing over emergency shelters. At the end of the day the objectives of the amendment are only as good as the next mayor.

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?

Every single person in our community deserves to feel safe. To ensure this reality, we must build budgets to reflect our values. We know that true public safety means more than just a traditional policing response. It must include all of the cultural, social, and economic supports that help people thrive.

We must re–envision crisis response to remove police when possible and stop negotiating away accountability in our contracts. At the same time, we must also ensure that critical divisions of the police department, such as the regional domestic violence firearms enforcement unit and the implementation of extreme risk protection orders to prevent gun violence, continue saving lives. 

Communities of color have disproportionately borne the brunt of police violence, and have been expected to solve this problem on their own. It is time for everyone in our community to get off the sidelines and be a part of the solution. There are effective alternatives to police right here in our community that are working to keep us safe and reduce harm. Rather than pat ourselves on the back for incremental progress, let’s finally scale up these programs to ensure our community is supported and everyone is safe. 

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? 

Every single neighborhood has to be on the hook for our affordability crisis. The urban village strategy was not good enough. My approach with ST3 for Housing is to ensure every single neighborhood is responsible for their share of the tens of thousands of units we need to build as a city. We know that this will take a broad coalition of Seattleites and so our focus must be on the tangible benefits everyone will receive as a result– lower family costs, more complete communities, and a higher quality of life for everyone. 

The central question of this Mayor’s race is about whether or not Seattle will be a place we want and can afford to live in. Our Comprehensive Plan in 2024 is an opportunity to realign our values and create a holistic vision for what our city will look like in the next 10 years. Will we be a 15 minute city with world–class transit, parks, accessible streets, businesses, and affordable childcare? Or will we continue to be a place where thousands of our neighbors are living on our streets, and many people are struggling to keep a roof over their heads or food on the table.

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?

Small businesses are part of what makes our city unique.  As the community lead for the Governor’s Safe Work and Recovery Task Force, I hosted meetings with hundreds of small businesses to identify gaps in existing federal, state, and local infrastructure. They explained how our existing systems let so many people fall through the cracks. Our work resulted in a new $50 million fund that distributed grants and loans to thousands of businesses lacking traditional banking relationships, accountant support, or access to existing programs. 

Those inequities will not disappear on their own after the pandemic and we must be intentional about closing the Black-White business value gap. As Mayor, I will increase access to capital, financial and technical support and access to banking.  I will also increase street access for retail and restaurants and better regulate delivery apps.

Small businesses cannot recover without a healthy and thriving workforce. To support the working people devastated by the pandemic, I’ll make unprecedented  investments in affordable housing and universal birth-to-5 childcare that would be transformative for countless working families struggling to recover from the economic fallout of COVID-19 and give us a sharp competitive edge against our peer cities. 

What tax policies would you advocate for in Seattle?

My first principle is that we must balance our upside down tax  code. We cannot equitably fund investments while continuing to have the most regressive tax code in the country. That means building on the work I’ve done as a legislator and most recently at Civic Ventures to pass a statewide wealth tax on extraordinary profits from capital gains tax, and other wealth taxes on the billionaires who call Seattle home. My local, regional, state, and federal relationships make me the best candidate to deliver on truly progressive taxes for our city. 

Specifically, we should protect the JumpStart Seattle tax, a local wealth tax on extraordinary profits from Capital Gains, and other tax proposals that lessen the burden on low–income families. At the same time, we know that to pass progressive taxes we must lead with the kinds of bold investments that I have been campaigning on since day one: like free universal birth–to–five childcare, an ST3 for housing, and a Green New Deal. Voters have consistently approved taxes to fund smart investments that lower their costs and improve their lives. That should be the city’s approach.

What are your preferred policies to improve access to public transportation? 

I have been a leader on this issue for over a decade. As the ED of TCC and then as Vice Chair of the House Transportation Committee, I led on the ST2 ballot measure, the 2015 Connect Washington transportation package and the 2016 legislative authorization of ST3 with landmark requirements for affordable housing. 

In our 10–page comprehensive Climate Action Plan, we proposed designating over 100 miles of bus–only lanes, 100 miles of Stay Healthy Streets, accelerating the Bike Master plan, lidding I–5, and the creation of Zero–emission districts. Many people in our city support a vision of creating a 15 minute city, but we must build on that by ensuring no one pays more than 40% of their income on transportation and mobility. 

In addition, we know that our city has been falling woefully short on its commitments to zero traffic fatalities and to transportation and mobility for people with disabilities. Centering equity and safety is not a slogan for our campaign, it is a principle that means we understand that what is good for the most vulnerable populations in our community is what is good for all of us.

“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? 

My campaign is proposing “ST3 for Housing” a bold regional investment in tens of thousands of affordable housing units across every neighborhood in the city and also across the region, especially around our transit centers. To do this, we’ll need to reform design review restrictions, and zoning across our city. At the same time we must unlock the public and private investment necessary to build housing at the scale we need. 

I’ll employ the same strategy that worked to build a coalition that got ST3 on the ballot and over the finish line: reframe the narrative to center the benefits everyone stands to gain from these investments, build the coalitions, and deliver on the promise. People in our city have consistently approved smart investments that cut their costs, and improve their lives. Our next Mayor can and must unite Seattle around a shared vision for responsible growth that makes our city a place everyone can be proud to call home.

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, as a resident of Laurelhurst myself I believe I have a special obligation to lead by example and bring my neighbors on board with the reality that increasing the density of our community can and will enhance our neighborhoods. I have been an unapologetic urbanist my entire career, and I’ve been elected each time because I have met their concerns about preserving the character of our community head-on and focused on the benefits everyone will receive. 

I know that people in every neighborhood will support a good investment when they see one. Cutting household costs and improving people’s lives through investment in housing is something we absolutely can and must build consensus to achieve. I am uniquely positioned to be that voice to break through the gridlock and achieve our collective vision for a city where we both want and can afford to live in.

How will you balance community input with effective and equitable policy-making? 

Community input cannot come at the expense of delaying important projects indefinitely or outright cutting them. Too often, our design review process has been weaponized by groups that have no intention to welcome new neighbors or diversity. At the same time, the Mayor must lead by example and work intentionally to answer community concerns and solve problems. We cannot afford to have a hands off approach when we are in desperate need of leadership. 

I am committed to ensuring the people most impacted by our decisions as a city are engaged meaningfully and early to drive equitable policy–making. We know that when projects are designed with communities of color, and vulnerable communities front and centered– that they are better projects for all of us. In this race, I have a unique set of experience from managing and executing massive public projects while at Pierce Transit, as a state legislator, and as a non–profit Executive Director. I will employ this skillset to drive effective and equitable policy–making at every level.

Do you support allowing missing middle housing like rowhouses in existing single family zones so all neighborhoods contribute to growth? 

Yes

Do you support increasing progressive taxes (income or capital gains) to pay for affordable housing? 

Yes

Will you push to make municipal broadband a reality in Seattle?

Yes

Do you support establishing a municipal bank? 

Yes

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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 various staff members of The Urbanist and is a standing body representing the political values of our organization.