Phil Tavel

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?

The top issue is the future of our city, which encompasses a lot of things. I hear daily about our clogged roads and access to transportation, the lack of meaningful response to homelessness, the need for more affordable housing, rampant property crime and a rise in violent crime, and a lack of engagement by the City Council. Neighborhoods want to retain their character while growing responsibly. I hear from people who are tired of the rhetoric and scapegoating. Residents I’ve spoken with are ready for a new approach that brings people together instead of driving deeper divisions within Seattle. There is just too much divisiveness in our city politics and not enough focus on effective government.    What is working:  The public works.  Community members continue to make every effort to engage with city council, voicing concerns, trying to engage with their council representatives, attempting to partner with the city and requesting a seat at the table to talk with elected officials. The interesting side effect to the widespread feeling that our council is doing a bad job is that more and more people are getting involved in local politics and speaking out about the issues they care about.  From 2015 to now, the contact I’ve made with people on the doors makes it clear that more people than ever in Seattle are finding ways to take part in their communities and in our local government.    One of the biggest problems that I see are that solutions are getting lost in rhetoric, bureaucracy and politics are getting in the way of effective government, and the activist approach by our current council results in a lack of pragmatic methods being vetted and implemented.  I will specifically work to bridge the gaps in these discussions to address top issues facing the city and the public.  I will listen to all of the voices in our city (and go out and engage with them on their terms) and not just the vocal minority.  I will work to reconnect city hall with the public and focus on effectively, efficiently and equitably delivering the services of this city to all the people of this city.  I will also focus on working with the businesses of our city and not just viewing them as an extra source of revenue for the city.    

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?

Put simply, current City Council is almost completely disengaged from the public it was elected to serve. Videos exist of Councilmembers playing on their phones or nodding off during public comment as decisions have already been made, with public comment being nothing more than a formality. That’s the wrong approach.  As mentioned above, I will actively listen and engage with residents during public comment, I’ll make myself available outside of City Hall with community office  hours. Solutions start with listening. I also see a city council that consistently thinks it knows better about what to do than the people they represent.  What I hear from the people in my district is that they no longer feel “represented” by the councilmember that is supposed to be serving their interests.    

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 do not believe the Council is on the right track at all, and I’d argue that much of the Council agrees. With 7 seats on the ballot this year, only 3 incumbents are seeking reelection. That’s a strong indication that it’s time for a new approach.     I will prioritize solutions over politics. The current Council has made scapegoating an art form, positioning one group of constituents (usually local businesses) as ‘bad guys’ while moving forward with bad ideas, such as the head tax, and claiming anyone opposed lacks compassion. Sound public policy gets sacrificed in favor of feel-good activism. That’s not leadership.  Much like declaring an emergency with respect to the homeless issue in this city and then acting with no urgency at all.  I want to empower the service providers that are showing that they are getting good results with their programs, I want to defund those providers that are failing to show significant positive results.  I want to empower the police to do their job, make them feel supported by their local government, and I want to make sure that we are working to improve and reform our criminal justice system and not dismantle it.    Please comment on the city’s approach to unsanctioned encampments.  Would you change anything about the current policy?    There must a more significant effort to identify and provide shelter and treatment options for those who want it. Instead of so-called ‘sweeps’ where people are simply moved from one area to another, we need to be making authentic contact with individuals so they can receive life-changing help. Snohomish County has had great success embedding social workers with law enforcement, putting an emphasis on helping people rather than arresting them. Cities like New Orleans have reduced the number of people experiencing homelessness by focusing on getting people into stable shelter so they can begin working on the factors that led them to experience homelessness in the first place.     Simply removing camps isn’t the answer. Scapegoating businesses and taxing jobs isn’t the answer either. I will use my experience in the criminal justice system as a public defender to launch programs that will lead to a steady reduction in the number of people experiencing homelessness, plans that require teamwork and collaboration. I will also thoroughly review the progress and effectiveness of existing programs and policies to ensure effectiveness. No one group is solely responsible for the problem, and no one group can be solely responsible for the solution. We also need to re-evaluate the effectiveness of the MDARs. What I hear from the police and emergency responders is that those rules are more of a roadblock than helpful.

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

Simply moving people experiencing homelessness from one place to another is not a solution. Encampments should be replaced with real housing alternatives to help put people on a path to secure shelter. Encampments are not a solution, and simply removing them is not a solution.

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?

The city has created this cycle by failing to provide real alternatives. I see it every day in the courts – people come in, they plea bargain, they’re released into the same situation, and then we see them back again. The frustration is so great that many crimes are all but ignored. Not only does that hurt our quality of life and endanger public safety, it deprives offenders of any chance at making real change in their lives.     I support coordinating social services and law enforcement, with an emphasis on getting people into stable housing and treatment as needed. A reported property crime can be the gateway to changing someone’s life for the better, and I support putting the mechanisms and resources in place to make that a reality. We need a transitional program so that anyone being release from jail back into homelessness is instead placed in a program that can provide temporary housing, a link to mental health and substance abuse services, vocational training and a pathway to permanent housing.  The only way we stop the revolving door of our criminal justice system is through creating an effective safety net that can help people break out of that cycle.      

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?

Thoroughly review the current business tax structure and the permitting process for starters. For example, the online permitting portal is not intuitive and challenging to navigate. A call to the city can take up to an hour to be answered.  I will work to streamline the basics for conducting business with the city in a meaningful way.  Small businesses are especially hit hard as owners are often operating at much smaller staffing levels to deal with these issues. The Mayor recently appointed a new Director of the Office of Economic Development which hopefully will provide more stability for that department.  Businesses have expressed concerns to me about the lack of engagement and support which must also improve. As well, from my conversations with businesses around district 1 and throughout the city, is to find ways to support more public-private partnerships.

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?

Stop tearing down perfectly serviceable older structures in order to build new expensive buildings. That alone would provide more affordable housing while preserving the character of our neighborhoods. New development is fine and good, but not at the expense of existing affordable housing potential. We also need to identify sites in each district, and this may involve adding on to, or building new community centers that incorporate emergency housing, temporary housing and affordable housing with city and private services.  HALA also had a few recommendations around incentivizing and supporting landlords who want to keep their rents as affordable as possible – we need to revisit those ideas.

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.

My background as a public defender has expanded my knowledge and awareness of the criminal justice system, as well as the time I have spent as a pro tem Judge in King County District Court.  Those work experiences provide me with a broader understanding of the issues facing the city and many of the people who are currently in the center of our debate on how best to keep everyone safe and provide the help we need to those who need it. Additionally, I have strong mediation and negotiation skills and can bring disparate groups together to find compromise and/or move agendas forward which provide sound solutions for the city.  I was a physics teacher for many years, and I am very good at taking difficult subject matter and breaking it down for others to understand clearly.    I have been actively engaged with many community groups, (see below), and have served on boards in the District.  I did not ‘just appear’ on the scene and decide to run for this seat.  I have lived in D1 for two decades and feel I understand the pulse of the neighborhoods and their needs. Especially, for the past four years I have taken every possible opportunity to engage with the people of District 1 and the City of Seattle to hear what they think we need, what we are doing wrong, and what we need to get right.  I am a very calm person, with the ability to listen, synthesize ideas, speak authoritatively and to garner trust.  Those are the skills we need in leadership right now.   

  • Vice President Morgan Community Association 
  • Morgan Community Festival Committee (past chair) 
  • Vice President Allied Arts Board of Directors 
  • Seattle Green Spaces Coalition Board Member 
  • Former President Westside Neighbors Network 
  • Legal Committee for SCALE (Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability and Equity) 
  • Youth Bowling Coach, West Seattle Bowl 
  • Fundraiser: West Seattle Help Line, Westside Baby, YMCA Children’s after school programs, West Seattle Food Bank. 
  • Host of Trivia Night at Talarico’s since 2008, just had my 500th trivia night. 
  • Member of the Southwest Precinct Advisory Committee