James Donaldson

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?

Homelessness.    We must upend the way we approach homelessness. We must face the fact that half of those experiencing homelessness self-identify as having a disability. 66% of those have two or more disabilities. And 100% of the chronic homeless are disabled through addiction, mental illness or a physical disability. These are not just housing issues. Far too many people on our streets suffer mental illness, or other disabling conditions brought on by trauma. Homelessness itself is traumatic, and people have turned to drugs to self-medicate, and become addicted. But we are not addressing drug addiction except to enable it. It is an uncomfortable debate, but other cities have found ways to work with those who refuse treatment, and we must try those other methods. We need triage, more Mobile Crisis Response Services, and more supported living residences. But we cannot allow people to camp on our downtown streets, in neighborhood business districts, and in parks.

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 majority of the current city council are too inaccessible, unresponsive, and very selective in who they listen to. When people who have taken the time to testify during public comment at City Council meetings, they are not welcomed as partners in our democracy.    Worse, the manner in which the council communicates with each other and the mayor's office defies the intent, and sometimes the will, of our public disclosure laws.     My approach is open, honest and transparent – something people are not getting with the City Council. Let’s change it.

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?

I’m worried about my beloved Seattle, where one bad decision after another have hurt our quality of life, our communities, our businesses and our future. Seattle isn’t dying, but it is sick.   How can a city, a region, which birthed so many of the greatest innovations, the most ground-breaking discoveries, and some of the globes largest companies, have so many problems with basic issues? We have the nation’s third-largest population of people experiencing homelessness; about 1% of Seattle residents. We continue to second- and third-guess transit investments, killing projects, slowing projects, and being afraid of new projects, because of short-term costs, without looking at the long term economic benefits of improving mobility. We have growing inequity and unaffordability, living under the most unfair tax system in America, and our City Council leadership keeps making it worse. I want to change all that and more.  I’ve learned a few things, and I’m not afraid to use my personal, deeply painful experiences and apply my life lessons to helping people who are unable – or unwilling – to help themselves.     I promise to help heal our divisions and stop the dismissiveness of those who have concerns about the direction of our city. I promise a return to greatness. I promise you we will improve public safety. I promise you we will protect business districts and jobs. I promise to build new bridges accessible to all modes of transportation. I promise to listen when you call or come to City Hall.    

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

The City's approach is not working for anyone. Counting public safety, emergency medical treatment, housing assistance, and the specifically targeted “homelessness funding”, we are already spending hundreds of millions each year. The City has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in expert consultants, who have given us roadmaps and pointed out our missteps, our bad policies, and our inefficiencies, and yet we aren’t following most of the recommendations. To make matters worse, we cannot retain City staff leading these efforts – partly because of poor leadership by certain City Councilmembers.   Unsanctioned encampments simply cannot be allowed in business districts, in parks, blocking sidewalks, and many other areas.  One of my earliest initiatives as a Councilmember will be introducing legislation establishing no-encampment/no sleeping zones between business doors and the sidewalk.   I propose the City partner with key allies and develop a system of caseworkers who will work with, continually, the individuals experiencing homelessness, getting people treatment for disabilities and conditions such as mental health care, addiction treatment, and housing in a more effective and accountable manner.  We must build more supported living residences, 24-hour shelters for families, veterans, people with pets, and special needs/unique populations.    Until we can get more shelters established, we have to face the ugly reality of unsanctioned camps and apply triage to them for public health & safety. We might consider allowing very limited camps where they keep recurring, but with waste receptacles, hand-washing units and restrooms, cleaned daily. It is far from ideal, but until we can open shelters, this is fast and better than what we are doing now.  We do need more money for specific housing needs.  For that, we need more public-private partnerships on par with the recently announced $75 million Plymouth Housing project to build 800 permanent, supported apartments for those experiencing chronic homelessness along with physical disabilities, behavioral health disorders, and other challenges., 2/3 of the funding thus far has come from local corporations who are willing to invest in solid projects managed by effective leaders with expertise. We need more of this, and less Socialist-level extortion.    

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?

According to the "System Failure" report, just 100 of the most prolific repeat offenders "resulted in 3,562 criminal cases, including theft, burglary and assault. All displayed signs of homelessness and substance abuse. Thirty-eight people suffered from mental-health issues." Yet our City Attorney and city policies have enabled this continued lawlessness. When people “get away with it”, they keep doing “it”.   The law allows misdemeanors to be punished by up to 364 days in jail. While we don’t want to criminalize homelessness or mental illness, we need to hold people accountable for bad behavior, particularly when it involves assault. There is a sad fact that many of these crimes involve stealing to get money for drugs. That's why we have to put a far, far greater emphasis on drug treatment, instead of enabling addiction. Taking chronic offenders off the street and into mandatory treatment programs is much more effective and humane.      The City Council needs to be engaged in these decisions.

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?

I know the challenges of operating small businesses, and how government can help or hinder the cost of doing business. I started Donaldson Fitness and Physical Therapy midway through my NBA career (1989) and operated three clinics for 30 years. I served as Chair of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business group for many years, and on the Snohomish County and Tacoma Chambers of Commerce.     The City of Seattle's record with business owners and executives is not optimal. I propose that small, start-up businesses have tax breaks in the first few years. Every business owner deserves a more collaborative approach when it comes to policy making. I will work with larger businesses and corporations that create jobs to ensure they won't be punished for doing so, but are engaged effectively to invest in things that mitigate any challenges created by growth. Bottom line, I do not think we can have strong neighborhoods without strong local businesses, and I don’t think we can remain a top US city without strong corporations – what we have lacked for several years is strong political leadership that works in collaboration with business.

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?

The City has driven up cost of building anything, while creating many disincentives for small landlords and homeowners to rent. If we want existing units to stay as rentals instead of AirBNB-types, we need to stop putting up these policy barriers.   The permitting and review process, and inspection requirements, must be dramatically streamlined, both for the small stuff (ADUs/duplexes) and the large complexes or towers. This will lowers the cost and decrease the time to completion.  We need to identify aging multi-family buildings for City investment, and create public-private and non-profit partnerships that buy and operate them, to protect and upgrade but keep these affordable units.   Likewise, we need to identify venerable buildings in historic neighborhoods and work with property owners and public/private and non-profit partners to provide funds that enable the conversion of old hotels or run-down apartments into workforce and affordable housing units.   We need to re-examine and remove some of the impediments the City Council created in the construction of micro-housing units (such as Apodments); none have been constructed in the past five years.    We need to create city-led, low-rate private financing to build backyard cottages (detached accessory dwelling units or DADUs), as Portland has done.   And, we must continue to be innovative. The Olympic Sculpture Park and the Washington State Convention Center show that lidding rail beds and highways creates acreage. We can, and should, move forward on projects that build workforce housing over more roadways in Seattle.

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've been a small businessman for 30 years, spent 20-years as pro-basketball player in multiple cities, been honored as a humanitarian and inspirational speaker. An "Air Force brat" whose father was a tech sergeant, I was born in England, raised in Sacramento, and lived in six countries across three continents; I speak five languages. After 20 years playing basketball around the United States, and in five countries, I’ve learned how other cities – some millennia old – have grappled with growth, natural disasters, and human crises.    The breadth of these elemental factors bring to the City Council a range of experiences and approaches, an ability to communicate with multiple interests, and an ease of dealing with egos and competing interests in a collaborative and constructive manner.   Drafted by the Sonics 40 years ago, I used my first paycheck to put a down payment on my home in Magnolia, where I still live today. Seattle is my home. I’ve seen it grow, and I’ve seen it capture the world’s attention for good, and for bad.   After a massive heart attack several years ago, I nearly lost everything – except hundreds of thousands in medical debt. I know the fear of nearly losing my home and my life – the same fear that affects so many people experiencing homelessness. I’ve been there, and I know the level of support it takes to not give up: it takes work, patience, and prodding. When you’re sick, you cannot always make your own best decisions. We can turn the page on our policies. We must.   I am a leader you can look up to – literally and morally. Accessible and accountable, I humbly ask for your support.