Heidi Wills

Q1. What are you hearing from voters as the most important issue facing Seattle?  In your view of that issue, what is working and what would you do differently?

Property crime and public safety are top concerns of residents and business owners in my district. Statistics mirror what I have been hearing as a candidate. Between 2016 and 2018, property crime in south Ballard has increased by 24%. It’s increased in Greenwood by 21%. In my neighborhood, Fremont, it’s increased by an astronomical 57%. Of course neighbors would be raising concerns and it’s the City’s obligations to address them. Public safety is more than a core function of city government, it is a charter service. Many people and small business owners in District 6 want more of a police presence.     What’s working? The “Pre-summer Emphasis Program” is a step in the right direction in providing a greater police presence in two neighborhoods in my district, Fremont and Ballard, to fix streetlights, remove graffiti, trim trees and make our small business districts and neighborhoods safer.     We have a relatively small police force compared to other cities. In fact, New York City has twice as many police officers per capita as we do. And as it is, our department has a significant number of vacancies which is stretching our department too thin. We should talk about that as a community. Why is it challenging to attract and retain police officers in Seattle? From officers I’ve spoken with on the campaign trail, morale is low. And it is counterproductive to have anti-police rhetoric coming from our city council.     What would I do differently? I will be a city leader who expresses support our officers. Support matters: at the dais, with the media, directly to police officers themselves, and to the broader community. Yes, addressing racial profiling and use of excessive force is critical to restoring trust. But if an officer makes a wrong call with use of force or exhibits racial bias, there’s a system in place to deal with it. Outside of mistakes made by some individual officers, how about assuming police officers, who are city workers, are striving to do their best in their challenging and demanding jobs? Too often councilmembers express criticism and cynicism of the whole department without showing appreciation for the challenging work these individual men and women do to protect our community.     I’d like to see the police department recruit people who reflect the community they serve. I know many young people in South Seattle, where I worked for 13 years as a non-profit director focused on youth development, who would make good recruits. It’s not too soon to get young people interested in a career in law enforcement. I’d also suggest bonuses for officers who attract a new cadet who stays on the job for 5 years .This would improve retention by promoting mentorship within the department for new recruits.

Q2. Please provide your perspective on how the current city council conducts its business with the public.  How would you conduct yourself as a council member?

The current city council too often conducts business at the behest of vocal special interest groups and focuses on an increasingly narrow set of issues at the expense of the unsexy but crucial work of governance. The city council lacks accountability and makes budget decisions based on ideological preference and personal relationships to special interest groups instead of data-driven performance metrics, despite Councilmember Burgess’ resolution to the contrary.     Among the council’s core responsibilities are to provide oversight over city departments, to track spending, and to measure each department’s effectiveness in meeting its responsibilities and performance objectives.     We need a council that is focused on basic services. These are the ordinary acts of government that matter to the quality of life for the people in Seattle, from safe neighborhoods to clean parks to transportation infrastructure improvements. Our sidewalks and streets are crumbling and our bridges need maintenance. And what’s glaring is that while there are many interest groups who press councilmembers to stand for their interests and values, most of the average voters I talk to as I go door-to-door are fed up with virtual signaling and they want a city council that will prioritize delivery of core municipal services. People feel as though the city council is out of touch and unresponsive to their needs. There is a reason that districting the council passed by over 64%. People want a representative who listens and is more responsive to their concerns.    For example, I recently met with the owners of Dantrawl, a company in Ballard that makes and repairs fishing nets for buyers all over the world. Their business used to be located on Shilshole Ave. There is tremendous synergy among businesses in the maritime industry in Ballard. It’s an ecosystem that took a hundred years to develop and would take a hundred years to recreate if lost. Dantrawl moved its business to industrial lands about a mile northeast of Shilshole Ave. after the council took the vote to extend the Burke Gilman Trail along Shilshole Ave. I was a part of that vote 16 years ago. And I regret it. I listened to a vocal and powerful interest group and didn’t take enough time to talk to the business owners along Shilshole Ave. who didn’t otherwise come forward. City councilmembers need to recognize that business owners are busy running their businesses. They don’t have time to play defense from city council actions that would be problematic, or outright hostile, to their ability to conduct business. Now, after 16 years in their new location, Dantrawl is closing shop in Seattle and moving to Marysville. This will adversely impact small and large fishermen in Ballard who use their services. Why are they moving? Again, due to actions and inactions by the city. It’s a long list of grievances: 1) their workers are adversely impacted by continual break-ins of their personal and company vehicles, 2) they are tired of the problems exhibited by individuals living in RVs in the area who aren’t good neighbors, 3) the city tried changing their zoning (until there was an outcry by other industrial businesses in the area, and they were also upset that they were never contacted by the city about the possibility of a zoning change) and 4) the last straw was when the city put in a traffic circle without consulting anyone. Dantrawl’s truck drivers have a difficult time negotiating around the traffic circle and it's challenging to safely and easily get in and out of the area. This story comes full circle, because the original reason they moved from Shilshole Ave. was over safety concerns of adding a recreational trail to a major freight corridor. It’s emblematic of why small businesses are frustrated. The actions by the city council are incongruent with fostering a healthy and diverse economy.    If elected, I would prioritize being visible in the district, listening to people from all walks of life from residents and families to business owners and working people. I would be proactive in involving people in the decisions affecting them. I would rely more on data-driven and evidence-based solutions than ideological stances. I would seek out stakeholders who otherwise aren’t being heard to ascertain how council action would affect them to avoid unintended consequences. I would bring a voice sorely missing on the city council and that’s one of a small business owner.

Q3. In your view is the current City Council mostly on the right track in addressing Seattle’s problems.? If yes, what do you like about the current Council’s approach? If no, what would you do differently?

Wrong track – or make that completely off-track. This question gets to the heart of why I’m running. As a small business owner and a former city councilmember who has a proven track record doing this job working constructively with diverse interests, I can no longer sit on the sidelines when this city council alienates businesses and turns a blind eye to safety and public health concerns in our parks and in our business districts.     I would focus on basic functions of municipal government, prioritize public safety, engage regional jurisdictions in common challenges (including addressing the root causes of homelessness,) work constructively with the business community, and provide oversight over city departments. I would ensure that the City more effectively communicate its goals and broader vision with the citizens it serves in order to be accountable for taxpayer dollars and to restore trust in our local government.

Q4. Please comment on the city’s approach to unsanctioned encampments.  Would you change anything about the current policy?

Seattle acts too often in a silo. We need city leaders who will collaborate with state and regional jurisdictions on a coordinated regional approach because homelessness doesn’t end at our city borders and because our city doesn’t have the funding capacity to solve it, especially with regards to needed mental health services. We need more shelters, transitional housing and wrap-around services, including drug treatment on-demand, with a dire need for more case workers.     In the short-term, the city can no longer condone people sleeping in tents in our parks and open spaces. It is not compassionate to allow people to continue to live in such deplorable conditions. It is unsafe and unhygienic. This is a public health issue for people in tents and for our broader community which merits stronger urgency to solve. We are serving no one’s best interests with the status quo. Because of the 9th District Court Ruling and because of common sense and decency, people need somewhere to sleep that has hygiene facilities. Until we have enough shelter beds, I favor immediate short-term housing such as modular housing, container housing, and/or FEMA-style emergency tents with running water and toilet facilities, private lockers for personal storage, and case workers to assist people on their continuum towards self-sufficiency. In the long-term, we need more permanent supportive housing with wrap-around services. I would work with the private sector in a collaborative way to help fund more permanent supportive housing. Premera, Providence and Swedish showed the way by initiating $5M gifts to Plymouth Housing. Other corporate leaders are stepping forward and we need more of this.    To build trust with the electorate, there must be more transparency and accountability on how current funds are being spent and what taxpayers are getting for their dollars. What’s working and what’s not? Why would more funds be needed and what would they go toward? Our system now is too fragmented and there is duplicative services. In order to be financially and programmatically successful, we must coordinate services. A regional entity is best suited for this.     Seattle should look to best practices in other communities around the country. There are good examples of other cities managing homelessness and providing a continuum of care better than we are. San Antonio’s Haven for Hope is one such example.    The City Council also needs to be utilizing our business community to help address homelessness. For example, at a Fremont Chamber of Commerce meeting, I met a Tableau employee who told me how his company is helping create software to better track the data of services being provided to people experiencing homelessness. Seattle has the third-highest number of people experiencing homelessness. System fragmentation is a critical weakness of ours leading to disconnected services, duplicative functions, and duplicative data collection, making the system difficult to navigate for vulnerable people seeking assistance.     Our region needs to consolidate command and control functions into a regional authority to appropriately identify and scale solutions and target resources to emergent needs. Collecting numbers and characteristics of those experiencing homelessness and quantifying the need for services is essential to not only meeting needs, but to identifying effective strategies to address the needs. Tableau is doing that work. Our city’s tech sector is perfectly poised to be a catalyst in solving some of our region’s most vexing challenges. The City needs to recognize that its businesses are part of the solution and stop treating big companies like they are responsible for the problem.

Q5. A recent study found a that a group of offenders with dozens of arrests, who regularly cycle through the courts and back onto the streets account for a significant amount of the property and violent crime in downtown and the neighborhood business districts. How should city government respond to these findings?

I read the “System Failure Report” which illuminated a real problem with keeping our communities safe from prolific offenders. People who commit crimes, including shoplifting, assault and arson, need to be prosecuted and held accountable.     The council needs to support our police to do their jobs and make arrests in order to keep our communities and business districts safe from criminal activity. It means being active and engaged on the issues of public safety, talking with business owners, police officers and other first responders about what they are seeing on our streets. I feel that our city council is seriously out of touch with the needs and concerns of business owners and residents in my district.    It’s not only an issue with making arrests for repeat offenders. It’s a matter of certainty with prosecution. If there is little consequence for illegal activity, there is nothing to curb problematic behavior in our streets. It’s demoralizing to officers that put their lives on the line to make arrests of bad characters and the cases don’t go anywhere. Misdemeanors matter as an accurate accounting of a person’s criminal history.     The city should create a “high impact offender unit” in the City Attorney’s Office. This special unit would handle cases against “high impact offenders” as defined by the seriousness and number of prior offenses. Prioritizing these cases will increase the likelihood of conviction and act as a deterrent for both the offender and would-be offenders.     Seattle should create a “Drug Court” like King County’s Superior Court. There is a “Mental Health Court” but not a drug court even though there is a likelihood that there are more addicted than mentally ill defendants. If people realized that we have effectively decriminalized heroine in quantities between 1– 3 grams, they’d question the trajectory we’re on as a city and region. The criminal justice system should be a source for providing intervention and treatment resources to prolific shoplifters, vehicle prowlers and others who are feeding their drug abuse disorder by wreaking havoc in our neighborhoods and business districts.

Q6. Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities with small businesses as the backbone of our local economy. However, as the city grows the cost of doing business has also increased. As a council member what is something you would do to help businesses survive and prosper in Seattle?

As a small business owner, one of my priorities will be to shift the conversation from the current “business is the problem” rhetoric to “business can be a partner” when it comes to addressing Seattle’s growing pains. We need to get away from the us vs. them attitude between City Hall and the private sector. Seattle is fortunate to have such a diverse and vibrant business community with employers large and small, from Amazon to Starbucks to Vigor, to my favorite neighborhood coffeehouse, Fremont Roasters. Businesses of all kinds create jobs, support our community, contribute to the local economy and add to the special character of Seattle’s neighborhoods.     I would also work to avoid the sort of divisiveness that erupted over the head tax by ensuring that businesses of all sizes have a seat at the table when contemplating new labor standards legislation. The council can avoid unintended consequences of well-intentioned yet sweeping initiatives, such as secure scheduling, by involving stakeholders who are impacted by the decisions. Business owners have other options and as we have seen, some are willing to move outside our city, taking their jobs and payments to the City’s general fund in the form of tax revenue with them. This should be a concern when 59% of Seattle’s general fund comes from businesses in the form of B&O taxes, sales taxes and property taxes. These are the revenues we need to fund the services we want.    Our businesses are sources of more than taxes and valued products and services, but also innovation, creativity and solutions to today’s problems. I am hearing too often of business owners looking to relocate outside of Seattle. This needs to be a wake-up call to our current city council and to the incoming council.     I know the importance of engaging with the business community and others who are impacted by city policies before they are enacted. The lack of that engagement by the council has been a great source of frustration and polarization in our city. I intend to work collaboratively with employers to support growth in jobs, retail, restaurants and investment in downtown. The health and vibrancy of our economy depends on it.    If we had local government leaders who recognize the value of having cutting-edge businesses located in our region, and a willingness to work with those companies in a constructive way, that synergy could be game changing on a whole host of issues. If elected, I’d look forward to being part of a collaborative and constructive working relationship with the business community.

Q7. As the city has grown so has the cost of housing making Seattle unaffordable for many people in the workforce. What strategies do you support to increase the supply of affordable housing in Seattle?

I will support existing Mandatory Housing Affordability requirements that generate funds to support the construction of affordable housing. We need more housing of all shapes and sizes to welcome more people into our neighborhoods to be closer to where they work. Ideal places to live are walkable, close to transit, near schools and jobs and parks and places to eat, play and shop. Implementing MHA will make great gains in the production of new affordable housing units in areas that are best served by transit, lowering the livability costs for those residents who won’t necessarily need to own personal vehicles to get around Seattle (personal vehicles cost about $10,000/ year in maintenance, fuel, insurance, car payments, and parking costs.)   But we cannot subsidize our way out of our housing crisis. We need more market-rate housing to supplement our supply of “naturally” affordable housing – aging units that become more affordable over time. There are areas where we can integrate more housing types into our neighborhoods where it makes sense. But density alone is does not equal quality of life. If we increase density, it needs to be where we have the transportation, schools, parks, and other amenities to support those residents. I realize that this will take considerable effort because frustration over zoning changes runs deep in my district. Real listening and conversations with people who care about the context and character of their neighborhoods will help. Districting of the city council will necessitate this kind of empowerment of the residents in our community. I am prepared to facilitate meaningful conversations about how we incorporate more housing types into the existing fabric of our neighborhoods.    We need state authority to extend the Multi-Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) to existing buildings, not only new construction, thereby allowing for 12-year renewals of existing properties. We currently have 4,500 units in Seattle for people making 60-80% of AMI. Over the next 10 years, the 12-year exceptions will come due on half of these units. They’ll revert to market rate, displaced upwards of 2,250 households. And any new units coming on-line are only replacing expiring units so we aren’t gaining units. The City must continue to advocate that the state legislature extend the MFTE to existing buildings for another tool in addressing our affordable housing crisis.     Three years ago, the voters thankfully passed the 7-year Seattle Housing Levy. This costs the average homeowner about $15/ month based on the average home value. It’s paid dividends since the first housing levy was passed 38 years ago. It’s funded over 12,500 units of affordable housing, helped over 900 people with first-time homeownership, and prevented 6,500 people from being evicted by providing emergency rental assistance. Renewed levy funds can be used for the creation of new housing to serve people who have the highest needs but the lowest incomes, fund human services for people who need them, and provide funding for capital improvements to extend the life of affordable rental housing units. This funding is critically important for the preservation and creation of affordable homes, but also to prevent homelessness by providing emergency rental housing assistance for people at risk of eviction who are at 50% of median income or below. The next city council will have an opportunity to put a new housing levy on the ballot in 2023. I would work to ensure that funding for affordable housing through the Housing Levy isn’t only maintained by renewal but expanded.    I am intrigued by the idea of charging fees on Uber and Lyft rides in and out of downtown and dedicating those fees to affordable housing. This would require a thorough analysis of the costs and benefits, of course.    I am also interested in the concept of lidding I-5 downtown for housing, and if not for affordable housing on-site, using revenue from the sales of market rate units there to build affordable housing on less expensive property in the city.     The use of surplus property for affordable housing - owned by public entities such as Sound Transit, the City’s utility agencies, and the Port - is the brainchild of Speaker Frank Chopp who is working with Home and Hope and Enterprise to build housing and educational facilities on public and tax-exempt land. I would look for ways to support these efforts.    The City's lengthy permitting processes equals less affordability. The city needs to address this if it wants more affordable housing.    Another way the city can make housing more affordable is with building code changes to allow for cross-laminated timber, CLT, in high-rise affordable housing. Our current code limits buildings made of wood products to no more than 85 feet or 6 stories. Taller buildings have been made of CLT in other parts of the world, including Europe and Canada. It reduces construction time and costs, and it’s less carbon-intensive than steel and concrete. CLT buildings have the environmental benefit of being carbon-neutral. The carbon stored in the building helps offset greenhouse gases released in making and hauling the other building materials used in construction. It is estimated that a 6 – 10 story building made from CLT has the same emissions control as taking over 1,000 cars off the road for a year, and they are more energy efficient to heat and cool. It also gives a use for the pine forests in British Columbia that were killed by the pine beetle, currently posing a fire risk. The manufacturing of CLT locally would create more green jobs in the Pacific NW.   

Q8. Being on the City Council is a challenging job. Please describe your specific experience or skills that qualifies you to serve as the representative of your district.

I am the only candidate in this race who has done this job and I’m a known quantity. I have a proven track record of advancing public policy in the service of all Seattleites by working collaboratively with the business community, the labor community, the environmental community, the affordable housing community, the youth advocacy community, and with neighborhood activists and other stakeholders. I have the skill set to do the job. Instead of complaining on the sidelines, I decided to lean in. I have lived in the district 16 years. I know the district and its people. Experience is the greatest teacher. I’ve learned from my mistakes and I can apply those lessons to improve my public service going forward.  A major reason why I feel compelled to run is because we are about to have one of the most inexperienced city councils in our lifetimes. At a minimum, we will have 4 new councilmembers out of 9, and we may have as many as 7 new councilmembers. This is disruptive and it will take a while before these individuals learn the real demands of the job and how our city government works. Experience matters, especially with the major challenges facing us. And from what I have heard at the doors talking to voters, they want solutions, they want action, and they want tangible improvements in their quality of life. They want to see greater accountability and responsiveness from city government.     I have a long history of civic leadership starting as student body president at the UW when I spearheaded the campus recycling program and the U-PASS bus program. I was the fundraising director for the King County Democrats and helped elect a substantial number of democratic officials. I worked at the county for 4 years for Cynthia Sullivan on growth management, transportation, and housing affordability. I helped organize testimony in favor of Sound Transit when it was first proposed to the voters. And I repeatedly organized community members around maintaining bus service to residents in Seattle. I worked for 2 years for King County Executive Ron Sims coordinating the tri-county salmon restoration efforts. I have worked on public policy not only at the city level, but on a regional level too.    I ran for the city council in 1999 because Charlie Chong said disparaging things about buses. As a strong supporter of public transit, I decided to run against him. I was the youngest person elected to the city council at age 31. As the Chair of the Energy Committee during a volatile time for energy markets, I expanded rate assistance so more low-income people and seniors could qualify. I led investments in conservation and renewables including the largest wind contract for any public utility at the time. I created the Green Power Program which still collects about $1M in voluntary contributions from ratepayers each year for solar installations. I worked collaboratively with developers, the business community, and the environmental community to pass one of the strongest energy codes in the country.  I have a proven track record in problem-solving.     And I have learned a lot since then. In addition to owning a small business that employs 65 people in our community, I ran a successful non-profit for 13 years focused on youth empowerment serving thousands of youth from primarily underserved populations in South Seattle. I have met payroll, managed budgets, and provided vision and leadership to large numbers of employees. I have a passion for public service and I am the only candidate who can hit the ground running.