Transportation and housing organizer Saunatina Sanchez is making a case that her background in community makes her the best choice for the Seattle City Coucil seat currently held by Tanya Woo. (Ryan Packer)

With Seattle voters getting a rare opportunity to weigh in on who should fill a citywide seat on the Seattle City Council during a high-turnout Presidential election year, Councilmember Tanya Woo faces multiple progressive challengers in the August primary. Saunatina Sanchez, a community organizer with deep roots in Seattle’s transportation advocacy realm, is making the case that she is best positioned among them to be able to not only beat Woo but also make positive change once she gets to City Hall.

With Woo filling in as a temporary appointment to Position 8 after Teresa Mosqueda’s successful bid for the King County Council, the winner of this year’s election will only serve for one year until they face re-election, but any challenger able to successfully oust Woo would gain a strong foothold. With as a big drop in voter turnout expected from November 2024 to 2025, the race is seen as a golden opportunity for progressives, given the fact that off-year elections see far fewer people voting, especially among the younger and more racially diverse segment of the electorate that progressives tend to rely on.

If you see Sanchez around town, she’s likely to be wearing a Seattle Transit Riders Union hat or button. She serves as the union’s treasurer, and co-founded the group’s Bus and Transit Services workgroup, getting directly involved in transportation decisions that impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of transit-riding Seattleites. She’s also on the board of Community Roots Housing, as a direct voice for the renters who live in publicly-funded affordable housing.

Also vying for the seat are Alexis Mercedes Rinck, a policy director at UW and former director of sub-regional planning at the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, and Tariq Yusuf, a tech consultant. Only Rinck has qualified for the city’s Democracy Voucher program so far, vastly outpacing even the incumbent Woo in fundraising. But Sanchez argues her background being directly involved in some of the city’s most important fights makes her the best choice.

“I have been doing organizing, activist work in Seattle, pretty much my whole adult life,” Sanchez told The Urbanist. “And it really did start with bike advocacy. One of my first crashes was on Rainier. I was going to work at Treehouse for Kids during my college work study program job, and a car was pulling out of the driveway, in one of the dealership areas, and I smashed into the front, flew over the hood, and luckily walked away with mostly just scratches and bruises.”

“And so it was just one of those things where it’s like every single opportunity I had to attend a city meeting on bike infrastructure, or pedestrian infrastructure, or transit infrastructure, I need to be there, because the city should know this story, they should care about the story,” Sanchez said.

A longtime advocate for walking, biking, and transit infrastructure, Sanchez wants to bring the perspective of a community organizer with deep knowledge around transportation to City Hall. (Saunatina Sanchez campaign)

Sanchez said she sees the proposed eight-year transportation levy, scheduled for a final city council vote next week to put it on the November ballot, as a big chance that the city is set to pass on.

“We have an opportunity to change the way that we build our infrastructure in Seattle away from single occupancy vehicles being the priority,” Sanchez said. “Just like the [draft] Comprehensive Plan is unserious on housing, the transportation levy is unserious on our goals of Vision Zero and climate action.”

Sanchez testified during the city council committee hearing earlier this week in support of Councilmember Tammy Morales’s bid for a $1.7 billion levy.

“We can’t pit vital priorities against each other,” Sanchez told the council. “We need to both build new sidewalks in the current areas of Seattle without access to the last mile, to connect to our transit system, and we also need to repair sidewalks around the city that are currently a danger to our neighbors. We also shouldn’t have to choose between public open space, so our neighbors can gather, or protected bike lanes so we can get between our neighborhoods and visit our friends and family all over the city. We need all these things.”

Sanchez stressed the links between that draft Comprehensive Plan and the city’s goals around transportation, and she supports eliminate parking requirements that adds housing costs and doesn’t align with the city’s climate goals. She’s a strong proponent of I-137, which would create a dedicated funding stream to pay for new mixed-income social housing in Seattle, and she also wants to see zoning laws changed across the city to encourage denser, more complete communities where people don’t need to rely on cars as much.

She called the Harrell Administration’s plan to limit zoning changes intended to allow denser housing types in areas of the city considered to be at a higher risk of displacement, like the Rainier Valley, disingenuous. “We know what happens when one area of the city isn’t allowed to be upzoned,” she said. “There are still places where we can’t build density next to transit, because it hadn’t been zoned properly […] it’s very disingenuous to say that limiting of zoning anywhere will have an impact on more housing or bringing more housing to the city.”

Sanchez has some direct changes in mind that she’d like to see implemented at the city, like the creation of an office of rental standards, modeled after the existing Office of Labor Standards. But she sees her organizing background as being most effective as a councilmember when it comes to getting into the nitty-gritty details of city government, in everything from public utilities to transportation and housing.

“I see the role of Councilmember as an office manager who gathers experts in municipal issues and supports them to implement plans that work with residents of Seattle and keeps resources in our communities,” Sanchez told the District 5 Seattle Community blog. “My main motivation in running for city council is in breaking down the silos that exist in city departments and in our non-profit realm by using the connections I’ve made being an organizer and building on the successes I’ve been part of.”

Visit Sanchez’s campaign website for more information.

Article Author
 | Website

Ryan Packer lives in the Summit Slope neighborhood of Capitol Hill and has been writing for the The Urbanist since 2015. They report on multimodal transportation issues, #VisionZero, preservation, and local politics. They believe in using Seattle's history to help attain the vibrant, diverse city that we all wish to inhabit. Ryan's writing has appeared in Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, Bike Portland, and Seattle Bike Blog, where they also did a four-month stint as temporary editor.