Ubax Gardheere is running for King County Council against Republican Reagan Dunn. (Photo by Naomi Ishisaka)

Ubax Gardheere is running for King County Council in District 9 against incumbent Reagan Dunn. Until resigning in protest this April, Gardheere led the Equitable Development Initiative for the City of Seattle; in her resignation letter she noted mistreatment and referred to Jenny Durkan as “a dictator posturing as a mayor.” She worked previously as a program director at Puget Sound Sage and has resided in King County for 25 years. She serves on the board of A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH), a partnership of King County cities focused on expanding low- and moderate-income housing supply, and also co-founded Culturally Appropriate and Responsive Education (CARE) Center, which has worked with thousands of East African youth and their families in the region. Check out Gardheere’s campaign website for more information.

The Urbanist Election Committee has followed up on our questionnaires with Zoom interviews to fill in the gaps. We released our Primary Endorsements in late June and will release the rest of the questionnaires ahead of the primary voting period opening on July 16th. Primary ballots are due August 3rd. For voter information or to register to vote, visit the State election website. King County Council District 9 is the southeasternmost district including parts of Renton, Kent, and Bellevue and all of Newcastle, Maple Valley, Covington, Black Diamond, and Enumclaw.

Below are Ubax Gardheere’s questionnaire responses. 

Which unincorporated areas do you believe have the greatest needs for additional service in King County? What can the King County Council do to better support these areas with the greatest needs?

White Center/North Highline, Skyway and Fairwood have the greatest needs for additional services. Given their proximity to Seattle and relative affordability, the current populations-disproportionately people of color, disproportionately families with children, paying significantly high percentage of income on rent- these communities will likely be experiencing increasing displacement pressures over time. Council can work to ensure equitable resource distribution, protections for tenants, community institutions, and small businesses, and better coordination among the institutions that operate countywide.

Do you support incorporating or annexing unincorporated areas into cities? Why or why not? If so, how would you propose to solve key challenges, such as city resistance without identified revenue?

First and foremost, I support the ability of communities to make decisions about what is best for them. That being said, the process by which the State and King County have gone about annexation has been deeply racialized. Encouraging cities to plan for annexation only in urban growth boundaries, has had the unintended consequence of allowing cities to pick apart unincorporated areas based on their tax base, which has effectively created another form of government sponsored redlining.

This problem compounds when the only viable path to annexation becomes when a community has either become segregated enough to split or gentrified enough that it’s tax base becomes desirable to a neighboring city. Refusing to invest in unincorporated areas has only enhanced the vulnerability of communities of color to these dynamics.

That has to change. Residents can no longer be stuck between jurisdictions competing to see which can be the most disinterested in their needs. King County’s historic policies of not investing in annexation areas has failed those communities and King County needs to start investing appropriately. If that creates incentives for annexation for residents, that’s great. If not, we have a responsibility to address that history of disinvestment.

King County is located on Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, Snoqualmie, Stillaguamish, Suquamish, and Yakama land. Do you support the Land Back movement? What steps should King County be taking to support indigenous lands?

Yes- the County should be working with Tribes and urban Indigenous communities to- at a minimum- identify County lands for transfer. Beyond possible land transfers, the County government should update the surplus land policy to build on our successful legacy of securing these properties for affordable housing by prioritizing transfer of properties to BIPOC community-based groups, including Indigenous communities and Tribes. The county should also evaluate our guiding documents- Comprehensive Plan to start- to center outcomes by Tribes and Indigenous communities, for Tribes and Indigenous communities. Trust, relationship building, and nuance are central to the County making good on local calls for ‘Land Back.’

According to the 2019-2020 King County General Fund Budget “About three-quarters of the General Fund is spent on criminal justice and public safety.” Do you support increased or decreased spending on criminal justice and public safety? Why?

Our county has fueled an incarceration and criminalization crisis through problematic and failed strategies and punitive policies that include spending on police, jails and prisons while cutting and slowing investments in our social safety net. This approach has destabilized communities, destroyed families, and ensnared generations of children in the school-to-prison pipeline. It is time to transform the criminal legal system and invest into the communities most impacted by policies of mass criminalization and mass incarceration. We need to reduce the size of the carceral system and invest in direct community investment in BIPOC communities,including investing in neighborhood infrastructure and community-based alternatives to policing. All communities deserve to thrive,and we have a chance to shift our justice and safety system to one of healing, restoration, and community investment that works better for all of us. I commit to passing a King County budget that is reflective of racial equity principles and that prioritizes restorative practices and building healthy and thriving communities and supports Best Starts for Kids and ensuring its programs and services reach our most vulnerable children and families.

What steps would you take to prevent evictions and displacement in unincorporated areas within King County?

Since the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic we’ve seen landlords exploit loopholes in the eviction moratorium to evict tenants during the most significant public health crisis of our lifetime. While the County took bold steps to strengthen tenant protections earlier this year, these regulations are only as strong as the enforcement and tenant and landlord education. I would take steps to strengthen enforcement, education, and take steps toward rent

Stabilization. Beyond the developer and major employer driven speculative real estate market that has resulted in increasing property values and rents for residential and commercial properties, we’re seeing a new kind of ‘disaster gentrification’ roll out across the County. During the last recession, unincorporated King County and smaller cities bore the brunt of the foreclosure crisis. Private equity firms like Blackstone and Invitation homes came on the scene, buying significant bank owned properties and renting them out. A recent report found that those same private equity firms have swooped into the multi-family market in our region, focusing on older apartment buildings outside of Seattle. We need a countywide Community Opportunity to purchase policy that gives tenants and qualified entities the first right to purchase properties in foreclosure or from owners directly. In addition, we need to strengthen community ownership of land and wealth building through a countywide Equitable Development framework and by bolstering funding for community land trust and shared equity ownership.

King County Metro has ambitious plans to electrify its bus fleet and to blanket the county in RapidRide lines. Would you vote to fund these plans? How would you balance the goals of electrifying transit, boosting transit frequency, expanding coverage, and equity in access? 

Investments in our bus network is the most effective and efficient way to expand transit access across the County. Reductions in vehicle miles traveled, by system expansion and Equitable Transit Oriented Development, is a much more efficient and cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than fleet electrification, so I would work to boost transit frequency and coverage. While the expansion of Link Light Rail has and will continue to increase access to jobs, education, and services, Light Rail cannot sustainably reach every part of our region. We need to center transit dependent communities as we grow our transit network by ensuring buses go where people need to go in a timely manner. Part of a transit equity strategy that is responsive to shifting trends in employment centers, is re-evaluating critical transit connections – schools, hospitals, childcare, and job centers all need to be accessible by transit.

Traditional King County has invested in regional trails and their direct connections, but not bike facilities that could directly connect underserved communities to bike facilities on local roads. Do you think this should be an area of focus for the King County Council? Would you support a ballot measure for county wide multi-modal funding?

I believe that we need robust funding for multi-modal transit and that it should come from a comprehensive statewide transportation package and/or countywide progressive revenue sources. Our current system for funding transportation investments, whether through property tax or sales tax increases, put undue burden on low-income people to pay for these public benefits.

Fill in the blank: Growth management has been __________ for King County, but it _____________. 

Growth management has been outpaced by inflation for King County, but it can be contained if we hold our corporations accountable and are bold enough to overhaul our zoning laws to accommodate more units for lower income housing.

Fill in the blank: Densifying around transit is good, but __________________. 

[No answer]

Fill in the blank: The thing about self-managed housing for the homeless is _______________. 

[No answer]

Fill in the blank: King County is doing  ______________ very well, but has dropped the ball on ______________.

[No answer]

Fill in the blank: The thing about the interplay of County, Seattle, and the Sound Cities Association is ____________________.

[No answer]

Article Author
Elections Committee

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.