Safe Seattle founder Lever says 'evidence-based solutions' set him apart in mayor's race

Harley Lever values data.

It’s an understandable perspective for someone that served as a human factors research scientist, contracted previously by the FAA and NASA.

“When I look at data I look at it from, is the data clean, are the methodologies, were they good, and basically, I don’t care what the data says, I just want to make sure it is accurate, and then work from there,” he said.

Now a small business consultant, Lever wants to bring an approach that leans heavily on not only data, but evidence-based solutions to address the issues facing Seattle as one of the 21 candidates running for mayor.

“I’m the only candidate in here that’s trying to use evidence based solutions and technology to fix Seattle’s issues,” he said. “I don’t believe at this time we need to have a regressive tax, [or] we need to have anymore taxes. We really need to look at how we’re currently spending our money, and get our costs to be ultra efficient.”

The founder of Safe Seattle and an Interbay resident, Lever said cities like Boston, Houston and Salt Lake City have “really great working solutions” on homelessness, that stem from robustly capturing data on the unsheltered population that is then shared across all service providers to connect people with the proper services. Those cities also embrace rapid rehousing and landlord engagement to get people off the street quickly, something he said is missing in Seattle.

“There’s a renters versus landlords sentiment here now, and it’s really too bad, because we need to be working together,” he said.

That’s not to say he thinks the city doesn’t have any positives going for it in the fight against homelessness. He believes taxpayers have stepped up to provide enough funding, and he likes the navigation team concept where outreach workers connect unsheltered individuals with services and shelter.

“I think the funding level is there, it’s the strategies and efficiencies and really having a systematic approach to homelessness,” he said.

That effort would be helped, he said, by better collaboration among service providers and updated technology to allow those entities to quickly share information. 

“They’re literally are using 1980s telephone technology to manage a lot of their systems,” he said. “So when you take technology and you take strategy, and you take the proven solutions, it’s actually a lot cheaper to get people housed.”

Lever also addressed the region’s opioid crisis, and commended the concepts behind the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (or LEAD) program, which diverts nonviolent drug offenders from the criminal justice system, and connects them with services and treatment.

The problem is, he said, such efforts need to be scaled up.

“Addicts don’t belong in jail, they belong in detox and rehab,” he said. “The problem is we haven’t built out that capacity, and we’ve been twiddling our thumbs for two to three years.”

Of course, the opioid epidemic isn’t unique to Seattle, and Lever wants to work with the state to push all insurers cover detox and rehab services.

Much of Lever’s platform extends beyond the city limits, with the idea that some of the biggest issues require regional collaboration to address. Perhaps the biggest is the area’s rapid growth.

He believes the city needs to revisit the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (or HALA) recommendations, and said that now, almost three years since the first committee meeting, dramatic changes in the local landscape since require revisiting the assumptions that were made at the outset.

In particular, he said, the 15 percent tax levied on foreign buyers in metro Vancouver has pushed those buyers into Seattle.

“All the assumptions made in HALA are no longer valid because of this,” he said. “The calculus has completely changed.”

Instead, Lever wants the city to treat HALA like a business plan, a living document that’s revisited and adjusted often.

“We need to think more strategically, we need to revisit our assumptions often, and so that’s, I think, exactly how I would approach it. On a yearly basis, we would at least revisit the assumptions, we would tweak the system to close down loopholes, and then expand upon what’s working.”

To address growth, Lever wants to bring mayors from Olympia to Everett, and every city in between, together with developers, local tech companies, and residents to plan future development, and create a “technology corridor.”

“Seattle’s trying to shoulder the burden by itself, and it’s just not going to be able to,” he said. “We have the most expensive land in the region, we’re water locked for the most part, and if we don’t start thinking regionally we’re not going to adequately address this issue.”

Lever also has what he calls “out-of-the-box” ideas to help address some of the city’s other big issues. On traffic, while noting “we can’t build ST3 quick enough,” he thinks Seattle may be able to emulate cities like Cali, Colombia, and Istanbul, Turkey by developing an urban gondola system.  

“It’s a low-cost way to move a lot of people,” he said. “Especially in a city on seven hills, it would fit really well.”

He also sees an opportunity with the city’s railway yards, and believes, akin to the current campaign to “lid” I-5 through downtown Seattle, that the same cap and cover effort can be done. 

While he labels himself an independent, Lever said he identifies with the left, having served as a Bernie Sanders delegate last year. He also noted his “robust” investments in environment and green energy companies, and even his role as the biological father as a sperm donor for a same-sex couple.

“When you look at progressive values, I actually walk the walk and put my money where my mouth is,” he said.

A Seattle resident for about a decade, and a frequent visitor to the city before that, dating back to his time as a commercial fisherman out of Fisherman’s Terminal in the mid-90s, Lever said he wants to broker “win-win solutions in everything that we do,” something he believes has been missing over the past several years.

“We have a huge divide,” he said. “We have renters versus landlords. We have employees versus employers. We need all hands on deck, we need to recognize that we need that by sidelining one another or punching each other in the nose is going to get us nowhere. We’re all part of the solution, we all need to understand we’re part of the same exact team and come together and find these solutions.”

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