Isabelle Kerner answers a question during the forum. From left are fellow candidates Don Harper and Naveed Jamali.
Isabelle Kerner answers a question during the forum. From left are fellow candidates Don Harper and Naveed Jamali.
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District 7 voters packed the Magnolia Community Center gymnasium to take stock of the nine candidates seeking to replace Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw in 2020.

The candidate forum was hosted by Speak Out Seattle (SOS), a group focused on public safety and clearing people experiencing homelessness from public spaces.

SOS is organizing candidate forums in all seven districts, and some council hopefuls are declining those invitations over the group’s anti-homeless rhetoric.

All District 7 candidates showed up for the April 17 forum, which included two questions from SOS, followed by questions generated by the community. KIRO 7 reporter and Pioneer Square resident Deborah Horne moderated the forum.

Addressing homelessness

After introducing themselves, the candidates were asked what they would do to reverse the trend of people dying unsheltered in Seattle, which rose to 191 last year from 169 in 2017, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. A separate question from the community asked how to get the addicted and homeless off the street.

Magnolia native Daniela Eng, who works at a sports telecommunication company her parents founded, said Seattle’s homeless are those with mental illness, addicted to drugs or down on their luck. She wants to see a building downtown that can provide all of the services the homeless population needs. She said people shouldn’t be allowed to get away with possessing even a small amount of heroin, and those in addiction should be given the option of treatment or jail.

Michael George, a senior project manager at commercial real estate firm Kidder Mathew, stressed a housing-first approach, as well as rental assistance and other programs to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. He said mental health and addiction were separate issues, calling for more temporary shelters with wraparound services and spaces for treatment in general.

Don Harper, a retired electrician and small business owner who leads the Queen Anne Community Council’s parks committee, said there are 6,300 people living unsheltered — that’s out of a total of 12,112 experiencing homeless in the county as documented in the 2018 All Home King County one-night count. Of those 6,300 people, Harper said 32 percent are “drug addicts.” He wants to see more permanent supportive housing and for those with mental health issues and addiction to be moved there.

Naveed Jamali, a former Navy Reserve intelligence officer who worked for the Office of Naval Intelligence before becoming an MSNBC analyst, said he’d watched police conduct a sweep earlier that day. He said police need to provide more outreach, more city prosecutors are required and judges need to offer more help to those in the criminal justice system. There’s no point in increasing the city’s police force if people committing crimes are not being prosecuted, he said.

“We have an urban camping crisis,” said Isabelle Kerner, a Queen Anne resident and artist with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

Kerner said there is unused land in Seattle where shipping containers could be converted into housing units for those living unsheltered; she believes this would be the cheapest solution and could create 5,000 to 10,000 units. Rather than target drug dealers, Kerner wants to target their customers in order to put them out of business.

Seattle Assistant City Attorney Andrew Lewis also wants more permanent supportive housing, noting King County is piloting a more cost-effective modular housing model — about $150,000 per unit. He added Seattle should not continue footing the bill for what is a regional issue.

Lewis supports Washington House Bill 1593, which would fund creating a new behavioral health innovation and integration campus within the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Former Seattle police chief Jim Pugel, who spent four years as chief deputy in the King County Sheriff’s Office, agreed the homeless crisis is a regional problem in need of a regional response. While enforcement is necessary, he said, so are harm-reduction services and treatment for those in addiction.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine announced the formation of a new entity to handle a consolidated regional response to homelessness last December. Constantine is working on that legislation.

Jason Williams, a product marketer at Microsoft with an MBA from Yale, said affordable housing is important, as is improving the financial resiliency of Seattle households. Williams also favors more supportive housing, as well as providing services where people are.

Magnolia resident Elizabeth Campbell, who has spent more than a decade fighting to keep housing of any kind from being developed at Fort Lawton, said Seattle is a “city in recovery,” and people need hope with their handouts.

“I think these are things we need to consider before we throw money at everything,” she said.

Campbell, who also unsuccessfully challenged the city’s environmental review of an expansion of tiny homes at Interbay Village, said there is now a legal decision that means people living on the street can’t be moved. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found there could be no municipal ordinances created that criminalized sleeping, sitting or lying in public places without making alternate sleeping space available. The city justifies its sweeps by offering people in unsanctioned encampments with shelter options.

If the city does allow encampments, Campbell said, they should be well maintained with garbage, sewer and water access.

Jamali, Harper, Eng and George are millionaires, according to their financial disclosure reports reviewed and reported on by journalist Erica C. Barnett. Harper is the wealthiest with a $3.8 million net worth.

Taxes

Last year’s contentious employee-hours (head) tax on businesses reporting more than $20 million in gross receipts was passed to be a new revenue source for creating more affordable housing units and increasing homeless services. Following a campaign, funded in part by several of those companies, the city council repealed the tax in June, before its implementation. Candidates were asked at the April 17 forum if they supported the tax.

Jamali said the city should have been negotiating with big companies to find solutions to improving affordability in Seattle, rather than punishing Amazon.

“If their people can’t afford to live here, they will move,” he said.

George said the head tax was a terrible long-term approach to solving the housing and homelessness issue, and the city should not push its tax base to Bellevue.

Eng did not support the head tax, she said, because she doesn’t believe the city should punish big businesses for coming to Seattle and creating jobs, adding those companies already pay taxes.

The Seattle Times reported during the head tax debate that Amazon paid roughly $250 million in state and local taxes in 2017. The company will pay nothing in federal taxes this year.

Kerner said she doesn’t support any taxes, and she thinks the city should trade with companies, the goal being to acquire their technology and infrastructure to help solve the “urban camping crisis.”

“They basically said, ‘Pay me Tuesday for a hamburger today,’” said Pugel, who wants to assess the current budget and conduct performance audits of city departments. He also supports a statewide capital gains tax.

Lewis, who also wants regular audits similar to what King County does with its departments, said he would put “everything on the table” if it reduced sales and property taxes.

Campbell said the city should have explored a head tax for all businesses at a lower rate, and used part of the revenue to support legacy businesses.

Harper said he would rather impose impact fees on new developments, which the city is already considering.

“What I see in the city council is they are drunk with levies,” he said.

Magnolia Bridge

All of the council candidates, save for Kerner, supported a 1:1 replacement of the Magnolia Bridge. Kerner said the bridge should be recycled, creating a suspension bridge with multiple access points.

The bridge was built with funding by Magnolia residents, Lewis told Queen Anne News, so he does not support replacing it through a local improvement district that makes them pay for it again. He said that would set a precedent for numerous infrastructure replacement projects.

A 1:1 replacement has been estimated to cost $340 million to $420 million.

Campbell said the cost of the bridge’s replacement should be shared among the city, Port of Seattle, Sound Transit, federal partners and the railroads.

Police capacity

The second SOS question asked whether the candidates believed Seattle has a police capacity issue, and Horne followed up by asking how they would fund the hiring of more officers.

The city has already increased wages, and the mayor is adding a $15,000 signing bonus to attract police from other departments to Seattle. George said the problem is that officers don’t feel they’re being supported. Campbell said officers are being restrained, and the biggest problem is the mayor is failing. She suggested Durkan be recalled.

Harper said Seattle does need more police, as well as prosecutors and jailers, adding “drug addicts” must go into treatment. Jamali agreed more police and prosecutors are needed. Williams lamented the average police time in Magnolia.

“Nine minutes is just too long,” he said.

Lewis noted there are 19 officers per 1,000 residents in Seattle, while the average for a city with more than 500,000 people is 27 per 1,000.

“We can’t arrest our way out of these problems,” Lewis said.

Kerner said she wasn’t sure more officers are needed, adding she believes a number of them are “not following their own rules.” Kerner is suing the Seattle Police Department for its alleged mishandling of an assault against her in Capitol Hill in 2017.

Pugel said he worked with a law enforcement task force to come up with a plan to address capacity that went ignored. Part of the issue, he said, is that officers are having to spend more time on paperwork, a workload that needs to be reduced in order to get them back out patrolling the streets.

Density

When it comes to increased density in Seattle, Pugel said growth is inevitable and that people need someplace to live. He also wants the city to honor previous neighborhood planning.

Lewis said he supports making room for all types of housing. Williams said he wants Seattle to continue being a magnate for a talented workforce, and he wants density focused where it’s already occurring. Campbell doesn’t think Seattle needs to continue growing at the rate it is. Harper said not everyone has to live in Seattle. Jamali said he came to Seattle for opportunity, and joked that he’s contributing to the city’s density but isn’t dense.

“We have to decide, is this a small town or is this a big city?” he said.