by Jake Goldstein-Street
Half a dozen candidates for the Seattle City Council’s District 2 spot met for a Tuesday night forum at the New Holly Gathering Hall as they answered questions on transportation, housing, and the environment — three of the most important issues for local residents facing gentrification and displacement, pushing them farther and farther away from their jobs, forcing them into cars, and driving up carbon emissions.
Some candidates called for the total electrification of the city’s vehicle fleet. Another called for more green infrastructure initiatives, and yet another deflected a question about sustainability, instead choosing to focus on garbage and needles that he thinks have infected the district’s streets.
The campaign for District 2 boasts the most diverse field in the city, with three African Americans, two Latinxs (one of whom is queer and Native American) and a Jewish man.
Seattle City Light employee Chris Peguero, safe-streets advocate Phyllis Porter, Seattle Police Department crime prevention coordinator Mark Solomon, property-management company owner Ari Hoffman, activist Omari Tahir-Garrett, and community organizer Tammy Morales duked it out in their scramble to get in front of groups of voters during the packed primary race.
That being said, Tahir-Garrett, who was applauded upon saying that “if the billion dollar corporations don’t pay tax, our workers should not pay tax,” urged attendees to support Morales as he donned two pins: one for District 3’s incumbent, Kshama Sawant, and another remembering Charleena Lyles.
Railroad worker Henry Dennison, a member of the Socialist Worker Party, did not participate in Tuesday’s forum.
Move All Seattle Sustainably Coalition and more than a dozen local activist groups hosted and sponsored the forum, with journalist Erica C. Barnett moderating. The event comes as forum season continues to ramp up and the Aug. 6 top-two primary election creeps closer in the race for this open council seat representing Mount Baker, Columbia City, and Rainier Beach, among other south Seattle neighborhoods.
Morales, whose platform includes free public transportation and lower-cost public housing, has quickly risen to the front of the pack of the more than half dozen candidates running to take this seat currently held by the retiring Seattle City Council President, Bruce Harrell, who was first elected to the body 12 years ago.
“We’ve let developers run roughshod over the city and we need to rein that in,” Morales said, calling for the use of surplus city land for social and low-income housing, rather than “selling it off to the highest bidder, which is what we seem to be doing right now.”
Morales has also earned the endorsements of Rep. Pramila Jayapal, of Washington’s 7th Congressional District, state Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, at-large council member Teresa Mosqueda, as well as 2017’s Seattle mayoral runner-up, Cary Moon, who also donated $250 to the campaign.
She and Phyllis Porter, who has raised just over $28,000, earned a dual endorsement from the King County Young Democrats earlier this month, while Morales, who was narrowly defeated in the 2015 race for this seat by less than 2 percent of the vote, was endorsed by the 37th District Democrats last week.
Porter, who said she drove to the forum but has extensive experience from her time at Rainier Valley Greenways, took the lead on the issue of the lack of an all-ages bike trail running from anywhere in the district to downtown.
“We can continue to go to City Hall, we can continue to talk to the council members and we can fight for these things, but every time we go back to the table, we have more meetings,” Porter said. “It’s time out for the meetings, it’s time for the shovels and it’s time for the action.”
A couple candidates following Porter piggybacked on her call for swift action, while Peguero focused his time on his concerns about protective bike lanes that he sees as important but costly and ensuring that bicycle access is possible for all communities, not just white males.
None of the candidates think the city is doing enough to achieve Vision Zero to reduce traffic deaths on city streets to none by 2030.
Peguero, environmental equity program manager for Seattle City Light, stressed that “housing is a human right” and called for a housing first solution before looking at treatment options, while also noting his support for safe consumption sites.
“You need stability first,” said Peguero, 44. “If you’re loved and you’ve got a house, then we can start moving towards dealing with trauma that some of our housing-less folks are dealing with.”
Some of the most telling moments of the evening came during the lightning round portions. On rent control, all but Porter and Hoffman said they supported the practice amid a statewide ban. All the candidates favored councilmember Mike O’Brien’s proposal to allow backyard cottages and a mother-in-law apartment, also known as accessory dwelling units, on the same lot.
And while some candidates applauded the council’s recent decision to upzone 27 neighborhood hubs, including Rainier Beach, Hoffman, a 37-year-old Seward Park resident, called for using underused lots on Martin Luther King Jr. Way near the light rail for huge housing developments, which he thinks would help congestion issues given the proximity to mass transit.
“If you’re worried about gentrification and displacement, the quickest way to do that is through upzoning single-family neighborhoods” he said.
Peguero was the only yes on congestion pricing, while Hoffman took a stand as the only candidate opposed to the downtown streetcar connector. The group was evenly split on banning right turns on red lights, with Solomon, Hoffman, and Tahir-Garrett opposed. Every candidate wants to see the legalization of electric scooter sharing.
Many want better and more frequent bus access, especially in the form of east-west connecting routes that are mostly lacking in the district.
“We don’t really have a lot of east-west connections when it comes to our transit, so let’s do something to increase that,” Solomon said, also noting that he rides the 36 bus to work. “You’re in Rainier Beach and you want to get to West Seattle, how are you going to do that efficiently?”
Of course, much of what the candidates propose could be costly and the question of where the funding comes from is a salient one. Peguero and Porter want to lobby the Legislature for a capital gains tax, which failed this year in Olympia amid calls that it was an unconstitutional income tax, while Morales called for a payroll tax on every business applied on a sliding scale.
Solomon and Hoffman, meanwhile, took the lens of looking at where current revenue goes and spending it more effectively to meet the city’s needs.
Featured Image: Candidates spoke at New Holly Gathering Hall May 28 for a forum on transportation and sustainability. (Photo: Jake Goldstein-Street)