By Ninette Cheng
Northwest Asian Weekly
In the midst of a highly contested election season, candidates for the Seattle City Council spoke with Asian Pacific Islander (API) community members at the Wing Luke Museum on July 30.
The 11 candidates discussed small business development, incentive zoning for low-income housing, public transit, the development of cultural centers, and linguistically accessible health and human services. The forum included a lightning round with questions from the audience. They asked about Seattle’s “Don’t Ask” ordinance, the Dearborn/Goodwill project, and the hiring of API staff.
Boosting small businesses
Many candidates stated that it is hard for small businesses to sort through bureaucracy and get the clearance necessary to start and stay in business.
Jordan Royer, former adviser to Mayor Greg Nickels and candidate for seat 8, said the head tax, a $25 charge per employee, and square footage taxes, a formula used to charge Seattle taxes on business conducted outside the city, may be excessive costs for small business owners.
“Utility rates for restaurant owners [are] a really big cost,” he added.
Mike O’Brien, another candidate for seat 8, said government should listen to the needs of small businesses. “I find that 99 percent of the attention of our officials goes to just 1 or 2 businesses in town,” O’Brien said. “That’s unfair and I will not let that happen.”
Yea or nay for mandatory low-income units? Cultural centers?
Most candidates opposed inclusionary zoning policies that mandate a percentage of housing units to be reserved for low-income residents, who comprise a large percentage of the ID’s population. Instead, many candidates supported incentive zoning policies, which encourage developers to include affordable housing in their developments.
Sales and marketing executive Rusty Williams, a rival for seat 8, disagrees.
“We’ve got to do something to make affordable housing so [people] can live where they work in this town,” he said. “If that includes inclusionary zoning, so be it. It needs to be done.”
Marty Kaplan, a candidate for position 6, said the answer is not so black and white, and that incidences should be considered on a case-by-case basis. “The council put on this blanket policy,” he said. “I’ve fought against that.”
Due to the budget crisis, many APIs are concerned about the lack of funding for cultural centers. The candidates all say that this is a priority.
“We’ve got an inventory of schools that are not being used,” Sally Bagshaw (position 4), former chief civil deputy in the King County prosecutor’s office, said. “I’d like to see use of them as [community centers].”
“There is enough money [for the cultural centers],” said Dorsal Plants, a candidate for position 4.
Nick Licata, incumbent for seat 6, agrees. He opposed the Mercer Corridor project multiple times during the forum and said Seattle officials are “spending too much [money] on one project [that benefited] only one neighborhood.” The aim of the project is to widen Mercer Street, between I-5 and Dexter Ave North, to accommodate three lanes in each direction.
Linguistically accessible services
Candidates were asked about making health and human services more accessible for limited-English speakers, an issue for many APIs in Seattle.
“It is always an issue of how you want to spend that money,” said David Ginsburg, contender for position 2. He criticized the city council on its current spending habits.
“It’s important in tough economic times to maintain or augment the social services. If we’re going to spend $1 billion, it’ll probably be $2 billion on a tunnel. We might want to re-look that.”
During the lightning round, candidates were asked if they would support allowing non-citizen residents to vote in municipal and school board elections. Richard Comlin, Ginsburg, and Licata were the only ones to support the policy.
Small business owner Robert Rosencrantz, contender for seat 8, stood alone on his opposition to Seattle’s “Don’t Ask” ordinance that prohibits police and government employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status.
APIs wanted to know how candidates would vote for the street vacation to approve the now defunct Dearborn/Goodwill project next to Chinatown and Little Saigon. A street vacation is a process where an individual petitions for public property for street purposes to be used privately.
The candidates were split on this issue. O’Brian, Bobby Forch, and rival for position 8, David Miller, all voted no while others voted yes.
All candidates said they would hire API staff if elected.
Other candidates at the forum were co-founder of the Downtown Emergency Service Center David Bloom (position 4) and King County Parks Executive Jessie Israel (running for position 6). ♦
The primary election takes place on August 18. It is also the last day ballots may be postmarked.
Ninette Cheng can be reached at email@example.com.