Sara Nelson says she’s “much more of a policy wonk than a beer geek.”
It’s a bold statement for the co-founder of Seattle’s Fremont Brewing, but a reasonable one coming from a longtime staffer and legislative advisor to former city councilmember Richard Conlin.
That business background and first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of city government is what Nelson believes sets her apart in the crowded field to fill the at-large council seat being vacated by Tim Burgess at the end of the year.
“I’m a practical, pragmatic progressive that can get things done,” she said.
Endorsed by Conlin and ex-Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, the local craft brewing magnate says small businesses are, “bedrocks of our neighborhoods and crucial for the ongoing vitality and livability of Seattle,” and that her experience has allowed her to see how city policy is implemented at the ground level.
“I think that’s an important bridge that not many people have,” she said.
Fremont Brewing has grown to approximately 60 full-time employees, all of whom make more than the minimum wage in addition to offering up to 12 weeks of paid family leave.
She also sees room for greater collaboration between the city and the business community, especially on the issue of sustainability.
“I know that small business can be a force for good, and I think that there are ways that the city can engage with the small business community to have more participation on that front,” Nelson says. “There are only so many LEED-platinum buildings that the city of Seattle can build, if we don’t bring the private sector to the table as partners, we’re not going to make a dent in our carbon footprint, and that is alarming to me.”
Sustainability is a key part of Nelson’s platform, saying the environment that future generations will inherit “is vitally important to me.” She developed environmental legislation in Conlin’s office, “at a time when Seattle was at the forefront on climate and zero-waste policy,” and says that mindset informs every effort at the brewery.
On housing, Nelson says the city needs to build more units to accommodate both existing residents and those yet to come.
“We do need to make sure that we are encouraging residential construction where it matters most, in urban villages and urban centers and along transit lines,” she says.
But just as important in that discussion, Nelson says, is the role of employers, and the need to pay livable wages and contribute to their employees health benefits and retirement accounts, to free up that income for housing costs.
She supports the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (or HALA) recommendations, calling it a way that the city can grow responsibly while still maintaining quality of life.
“It’s a blueprint for directing growth where it most makes sense, and it is a way to bring our land use policies into consistency with our transit-oriented development priorities,” Nelson says.
In tandem with housing is the city’s homelessness crisis, with Nelson saying her approach begins with an analysis of current efforts. She believes the city needs to invest in innovation, and develop new forms of housing that can be brought online rapidly to serve the unsheltered population. She also wants to see more resources devoted to mental health programs and services, something she acknowledges would require a close partnership with King County.
The mother of 11-and-13-year-old boys, Nelson also says she understands the struggle of families trying to “keep all the balls in the air,” with school-age children. She says she’ll represent those who want to make sure the city council is taking care of the basics, like public safety, transportation, and education (with municipal dollars reaching the most vulnerable students in Seattle).
It’s every segment of her past, she says, that sets her apart.
“I’m the only person that has worked in city government, knows how it works, and knows how to put my values into actionable public policy,” she says.
Nelson cited the quick transition of ex-Nick Licata staffer and current city councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1) as an example of how her understanding of city hall mechanics would be a plus.
“[It] can seem wonky and insubstantial, but it’s really the detailed work that makes our city run,” she says.
“Work,” is the key word. In a packed primary field, she knows she’ll have to go beyond talking points to win a spot in the general election, much less the seat itself.
“I understand that it’s not just enough to talk about progressive values, it’s much more tricky to implement them,” Nelson says. “We’ve proved that every day on behalf of our employees, and our environment and our community.”
For more information on Nelson's campaign, visit www.saraforcitycouncil.com.