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. After knocking on thousands of doors, homelessness is overwhelmingly the highest priority issue. King County has 12,000 unsheltered people, but service capacity for only 6,000. Service capacity has been nearly completely flat for the last decade as the region (and homeless population) has grown. The city and county need to first provide enough shelter beds to meet the need and then connect people with services that will get them into sustainable, long-term housing.
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 member for District 3 has not been available or accountable to the people who live in the district. I hear repeatedly from my D3 neighbors that they do not get a response from her office when they reach out with the issues they are facing. She is focused on responding to her party, not the people who live here. This is unacceptable. I am humbled to have received the most democracy vouchers from people living in District 3. It is because I am having conversations with neighbors across the district about issues that matter to them. I respond to their emails and calls. I clearly communicate the reasoning behind my call for more housing, shelter for the homeless, and walkable neighborhoods. I seek out people who disagree with me so that together, we can devise solutions that are effective and have broad support. This is how I will govern -- in partnership with my neighbors.
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?
The city council is not defining clear vision, goals, and expectations and is not holding city departments accountable to them. Providing vision, direction, and clear & specific objectives are basic functions of the council. Too often, the council passes vague ordinances or only offers direction to the departments after the fact, and then laments not getting the outcomes they want (e.g. HSD director appointment, many SDOT projects). Additionally, the Employee Head Tax debacle showed how impulsive the council’s approach to legislating truly is; they completely failed to put either taxing or spending side through rigorous analysis nor did they bother to get stakeholders and constituencies on board. Finally, we see the council failing basic tests of numeracy. Seattle has severe shortages of housing, ~30,000 units (see question 9), and shelter capacity, ~6,500 beds. When the council debates and discusses policies to address both of these, they don’t appear to be even aware of the scale of the issues, let alone shape their plans to match them. The council has done almost nothing regarding the homelessness crisis, but when they attempted to with the Employee Head Tax, the spending on was far too small to make a noticeable difference in the number of people on the street. Similarly, the ADU legislation that will likely occupy the council for the rest of the year will, at best, only address approximately 10% of today's housing shortage over the next decade. In my experience, the city government is staffed by incredibly talented individuals who faithfully execute on the directives given to them by the council. All too often, their directives from the council are sloppy or counterproductive. I uniquely bring to the council experience working with teams to set clear, measurable, and actionable goals. And I bring decades of experience of delivering results by carefully and rigorously quantifying both problems and their prospective solutions. Finally, I will put in the time and effort to build true coalitions of stakeholders.
Q4. Please comment on the city’s approach to unsanctioned encampments. Would you change anything about the current policy?
Sweeps do not work. With a service capacity deficit of over 6,000 beds, there’s nowhere for folks being swept to go. Conversely, using New York City’s homelessness response as a guide, we can expect 95% of homeless individuals to choose shelter without coercive tactics if we provide useful services and a well-run system. Homelessness is a regional problem and we need to also engage our neighboring jurisdictions and use both diplomacy and influence to ensure everyone is helping to carry the load. Until we scale out our shelter system to an appropriate size for our city and county, we need to provide toilets, sanitation services, and stable, sanctioned space for our unhoused neighbors. Sweeps appear to create short-term gains but create more instability and exacerbate the larger problem. It would be more responsible to redirect those resources toward sanitation, shelter and social services.
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?
Our lowest cost and most effective means to reduce criminal activity and recidivism among individuals with mental health, housing, or other social issues is via diversion programs like LEAD. By providing stable housing and social services, many repeat offenders will stop committing crimes. Simultaneously, both the police department and the city attorney's office are under staffed. The Seattle Police Department have had historically high numbers of officers leaving the force and have not been able to fill open positions fast enough. The City Attorney’s office has a backlog of arrest reports and it takes up to 6 months to charge individuals. When these two offices are struggling just to maintain normal operations, it is difficult to innovate and implement more effective ways of addressing repeat offenders and other crimes stemming from the opioid crisis and reduced state mental health funding. Yet, these are exactly the kind of programs that will address this issue. Our city should focus on funding crime prevention and the diversion and rehabilitation of offenders. In the long run, alternatives to incarceration will be a cheaper and more effective than cycling offenders in and out of jail. However, we also need to be realistic and recognize that rehabilitation techniques do not have a 100% success rate, and we will in some cases need to take the appropriate steps to provide a safe environment for the general public.
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?
This question is personal for me. I own a small business with my wife, Jerina. With a staff of 35, I see the challenges my team faces affording to live and commute in the city. My wife and I are also renters and experience many of the same challenges ourselves. We feel the constant upward price pressures both in our business and at home. The largest cost of any small business in Seattle is labor. The second highest cost is typically commercial rent. The City Council can help control these costs AND improve the livability in the city by lowering the cost of living. Housing costs are overwhelmingly driving up the cost of living in Seattle and rising housing costs are due to Seattle’s severe housing shortage. The current Council has chosen both to reinforce racist, exclusionary zoning—enacted mostly in 1958 and ratcheted tighter ever since—that prohibits “missing middle” housing in up to 90% of the city. At the same time, the current Council has zoned for a massive employment expansion, particularly downtown. Seattle has added over 100,000 jobs to downtown in just 8 years, but only added 45,000 housing units citywide during the same time period. This massive imbalance between jobs and housing is untenable, and leads to displacement of vulnerable communities and individuals, and increases traffic and gridlock. By re-legalizing “missing middle” housing—duplexes, triplexes, and small multifamily structures—throughout Seattle, we can bring down the cost of housing (lowering labor costs), increase the number of customers near our retail businesses, and allow people to live closer to where they work. Commercial rents are also significant and we can similarly ensure businesses have ample space at affordable prices by zoning a sufficient amount of commercial office and retail space throughout the city. As part of my climate policy, I have a “100% Walkable” goal for Seattle. This means every home should have within walking distance at least groceries, childcare or a school, and a third place such as a cafe or restaurant. Meeting this goal will mean adding more commercial centers to the city, making more space for small businesses to thrive and keeping commercial rents in check.
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?
We have a severe housing shortage in Seattle because the current zoning code makes it illegal to build low cost housing in the vast majority of the city. Seattle added over 100,000 workers to downtown in 8 years, but only added 45,000 housing units citywide during the same time period. That massive imbalance is a direct result of Seattle’s zoning code that makes illegal or uneconomical to build lower cost forms of housing that provide working-class housing: duplexes, triplexes, and small multifamily buildings. These forms of construction are inherently cheaper than either a single family home or a large apartment building because they are both land efficient but still constructed using low cost techniques (wood framing, no elevator, no excavated parking). I estimate that Seattle needs 30,000 additional housing units (some people will always choose to live outside the city and commute). If we re-legalize multifamily housing in 100% of the city and, for example, build just 1-2 triplexes per block, we will add 35,000 housing units citywide and completely address the housing shortage. We don’t need to make disruptive changes to neighborhoods to house everyone if we distribute housing equitably throughout the city.
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 have built and led teams in organizations large and small. I have worked in the technology sector for the last 20 years with including being an early engineer at Zillow, as well as founding and then selling our web startup to Amazon in 2011. Notably, I've experienced and navigated the challenges of working across large organizations where teams have differing or conflicting goals but we still needed to reach consensus to move forward. Most recently, my wife, Jerina, and I built Hashtag, a 35 person brick and mortar retailer located in Fremont and Redmond.