In the wake of the economic and social damages the pandemic has wrought on Seattle, the city has heightened its scrutiny of its leaders and in them projects its vision for the future. With a matter of weeks before November’s elections, and ballots already in the mail, several key elections have become flash points for ideological differences on policing, housing, and other key issues.
One such election is for Seattle City Council Position 9. The seat was left open with M. Lorena Gonzalez’s decision to run for mayor. Its two challengers, Nikkita Oliver and Sara Nelson, represent disparate wings of the electorate.
That disparity is evidenced best in their positions on up-zoning, policing, and strategies to address homelessness. Those issue when debated, homelessness in particular, can become opaque.
What perhaps best encapsulates a candidate’s vision for addressing homelessness in Seattle is how they view “Compassion Seattle,” a now failed ballot measure that would have placed a legal requirement on the city to conduct forced removal of homeless encampments on public land.
“I would have voted for it,” Sara Nelson said in an interview with KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show.
“Here’s why: First of all, it was a plan written on paper. But more important than that, it contained an element that is missing from our response so far. And that is Seattle funding of mental health and substance abuse treatment. That’s a huge issue. We should be offering that, contracting with service providers because this is a driver of homelessness.”
“I believe that we need to clear encampments. Some people call it sweeps, I call it help.”
Perhaps the other best indicator for a city council candidate’s political leanings is with their perspective on defunding the police.
When asked about her position on the political movement, Nelson confirmed that she opposes any such action. She is, instead, a proponent of improving recruitment within communities of color.
“We need [to] reform the police, definitely,” Nelson continued. But defunding at a time of skyrocketing gun violence and rising crime across the city is the wrong idea. My opponent wants to abolish the police. I believe that we can reform the police in a manner that keeps people safe and holds officers accountable for misconduct.”
“We [need to] recruit officers from Black and brown communities. This will go far in building trust between law enforcement and the community. It will overcome language barriers and establish more of what we call a community policing model.”
“Then, when we have enough officers, we need to bring our staffing levels back up, make sure we bring back the community policing teams and expand the crisis response teams which provide a combination of uniformed officers and social workers to respond to people in crisis.”
The interview continued with a discussion of up-zoning, and how Seattle should change municipal code to allow for the construction of more housing to accommodate for its population influx. Recent actions by the city council indicate that they are in favor of removing “single family” labels from zoning regulations, which, in theory, would lay the groundwork for more affordable housing.
Sara Nelson’s campaign sees the up-zoning issue as one already addressed when the city allowed for expanded use of its residential lots. She is reluctant to continue to push for more, higher volume housing capacity.
“My position is that we already transformed single family zones when we allowed for up to three units per lot with the accessory dwelling unit legislation,” Nelson said on the subject.
“I believe that we need to be very careful when we’re talking about land use changes because I don’t think we should have a one size fits all. We need to be concerned about individual neighborhoods.”
Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.