Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez answers our questions about how she would address the critical issues facing Seattle
By Jean Godden
Columnist, Westside Seattle
We asked mayor candidate Lorena Gonzalez 11 questions to get a sense of her views on how she would respond as mayor.
*1. What plans do you have to reduce homelessness?
I grew up in poverty, and lived in labor camps without toilets or running water as my family worked in the orchards of central Washington. So I see our growing homelessness crisis as, at its core, both a housing availability and a poverty emergency.
Seattle’s increasing wealth disparity - the widening gap between the haves and the have nots - and the lack of affordable housing is not solved by City Hall alone. That’s why I’ve partnered with neighborhood business associations to fund homelessness outreach resources in neighborhood business districts. I’ve established rental subsidies for Seattle residents with disabilities to gain and sustain housing. And I currently serve as one of three of Seattle’s representatives on the Governing Committee of the newly formed King County Regional Homelessness Authority.
As Mayor, I will focus on programs and services that promote housing stability, such as rental assistance, foreclosure prevention, weatherization and scaling up our affordable housing investments and choices across the City. I will also focus on strengthening our emergency services system by bringing to scale the City’s shelter capacity, including non-congregate shelter, transitional housing options, tiny house villages and permanent supportive housing as the first and most crucial element because we are a city that believes housing must be accessible to all. I will be committed to a housing first strategy.
Our unsheltered neighbors deserve dignity and a meaningful opportunity to transition to a permanent home. Through compassionate and pragmatic data-driven solutions we can provide our fellow Seattleites with the access they need to mental, behavioral, and substance use services.
*2. How will you pay for those plans?
Over the six years of serving as a councilmember, I’ve helped allocate millions to homelessness services and short term housing, including voting in support of additional funding during this pandemic to purchase hotel rooms for people without shelter. This administration has been slow to use those resources, leaving thousands to fend for themselves on Seattle’s streets and our parks.
As Mayor I will first make sure that we quickly and efficiently spend the unused resources
Then I will address the underlying issues of abject poverty and unaffordable housing - instead of playing whack-a-mole. How do we increase the amount of affordable housing? To do that, we need to take a look at exclusionary zoning laws that prevent housing choice in every neighborhood, in every part of the City of Seattle.
Housing alone isn’t going to solve the issue. We need to also have the resources and the investments in our communities to make sure that we can access the housing, whether it’s affordable or not, being created in the city.
*3. What should be done to revitalize downtown Seattle?
Key to revitalizing downtown is getting people, including the downtown workforce, vaccinated as quickly as possible so people can go back downtown to work, socialize, and shop. When supplies increase, we must be ready to partner with large employers to get their workforce vaccinated and back to work.
Additionally, we must remember that we have a significant number of small businesses throughout the city, many of which are the first economic empowerment opportunity that people of color have in the city. We need to be listening and engaging with those small businesses in addition to the Downtown Seattle Association. Businesses that have been most negatively impacted by the pandemic are the businesses that will need our assistance as opposed to corporations that have enjoyed record profits during the pandemic. However, we do need to make sure that our favorite coffee shops like Cafe’ Ladro or Easy Street Cafe are back on their feet and building back their customer base.
As Mayor, it will be my job to make sure that we are listening to what those short-term strategies that help those businesses, but also the long-term strategies to make sure that their business is going to be sustainable in our neighborhood districts, throughout the city of Seattle, not just downtown.
*4. What new ideas do you have to address racial inequity?
We need to dig into the underlying issues as to why BIPOC folks have a harder time finding and keeping prosperity. So that means living-wage jobs. It means educational opportunities. It means childcare. It means prenatal care. It means that all of these holistic systems need to be centered on making sure that our BIPOC community members have their lives invested in in order to position us to have self-determination and prosperity in this city.
I feel like very few people in our city have been spared the grief of economic insecurity during this pandemic, especially people within the BIPOC community. There are thousands of people who are just holding on and, and hoping that they’ll be able to make rent for the next month. So the eviction moratorium is a help. We need to keep that going, but we also need, on a massive scale, rental assistance and mortgage assistance for property owners to make sure that we don’t end up creating more housing instability and a direct path into homelessness for the City of Seattle.
*5. Will you cut the Seattle Police Department further and, if so, how?
As a civil rights lawyer, I was horrified when one of Seattle’s own officers threatened to “beat the Mexican piss” out of a Latino man, so I took SPD to court. That’s why I believe reimagining public safety should include demilitarizing our police force and holding officers accountable to their constituents — the public. Public safety should also mean implementing harm-reduction and crisis-intervention strategies to ensure community safety for all residents and businesses, not just counting the number of patrol cars on our streets. That may mean moving some of SPD’s $400 million annual budget into other public safety programs, while staying in compliance with the federal consent decree and union contracts.
*6. How will you pay for West Seattle Bridge repairs?
As a West Seattleite you know I want to get our bridge repaired as soon as possible. This is not just a City of Seattle issue, it is a regional issue and it’s up to us to work closely with state and federal partners to get a repair plan and commensurate funding lined up quickly. Just last month, I worked to identify an additional $15 million of funding from our regional partners that will go directly towards assisting the City of Seattle to fund the West Seattle Bridge repairs. At the same time, we need to have a multi-modal transportation system that doesn’t depend on just cars. I am grateful to live in a neighborhood with frequent transit service and know how critical it is for every neighborhood in Seattle to have access to a mode of transportation that is readily available and accessible.
We should focus on making every neighborhood in our city accessible no matter how you choose to get there. I have a vision of a Seattle with affordable and accessible multimodal transportation that connects our communities, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and keeps people and goods moving efficiently. That doesn’t mean prioritizing one mode over the other — it means designing a multimodal system that is interconnected, affordable, and works for everyone.
7. What steps will you take to clean up and restore parks for public use?
My heart breaks for both the families living in tents in our parks, and for the pandemic-isolated families who want to enjoy the bounty of our park system as first imagined by the Olmstead brothers. No one wants to see our neighbors living in poverty, but that’s what this issue is really about. Legally - and I believe morally - we can’t keep pushing people out of parks if they have nowhere else to go and we must balance that with knowing that parks are a precious resource for so many of us, especially during this pandemic
As I said above, we must focus on strengthening our emergency services system by bringing to scale the city’s shelter capacity, transitional housing options, tiny villages, and permanent supportive housing as the first and most crucial element because we are a city that believes housing must be accessible to all. Our unsheltered neighbors deserve dignity and a meaningful opportunity to transition to a permanent home. Living in a park does not provide that dignity and we must target our limited resources to those living in parks so that we can transition them to an appropriate alternative option.
8. What's the most important question you'll ask Police Chief applicants?
The next chief has to, at their core, be fundamentally committed to transforming the police department. I will look for a leader who will ensure that the culture of the police department is going to be free of institutionalized racism and officers who aren’t ready to evolve with our public safety model.
If I’m Mayor, there will be transformation to this police department and how we deliver public safety services, to protect the civil rights and the life and liberty of the people of this city. That has to remain the north star and the guiding light for finding the next chief and for continuing this effort to reform and hold this police department accountable.
9. What was your greatest accomplishment on the City Council?
In addition to helping pass more than $600 million for affordable housing and pandemic relief, my greatest accomplishment on the Council is working with others to improve the lives of Seattle’s working families such as:
- Fair work-week scheduling requirement for thousands of retail and restaurant workers
- Pandemic relief for small businesses and hospitality workers
- Sexual assault protections, healthcare access and maximum workload restrictions to protect the safety of hotel workers
- Collaborated with unions, businesses and women’s advocacy organizations, to pass a statewide Paid Family & Medical Leave Insurance program
- Providing a $4.00 per hour hazard pay to workers at grocery stores with 500+ workers worldwide
- Doubling the number of Seattle Preschool Program slots available to Seattle families with children aged 3 to 4 years old
- Incentivizing the construction of childcare facilities in affordable housing development via the Mandatory Housing Affordability program
10. What will you do to improve mayor/council relations?
I appreciated working with this Mayor to get rental assistance for seniors, childcare, free college, and more. But the next mayor will be in a very different environment: we will no longer be pushing against a sickeningly hostile White House. I’m looking forward to working with, not fighting, this new administration. As Council President, I know how to build coalitions and consensus, bridge divides, get budgets and policies passed. As mayor, I will work with council members to get things done.
11. What is your solution regarding the homeless encampment on Delridge Way near White Center and what you think we can do to resolve this problem?
Thank you for bringing this to my attention. This is a serious issue for the small businesses and the people living on the White Center/Seattle border, and there are cross jurisdictional challenges for both enforcement and service providers. I am actively looking into what can be done next and commit to keeping members of this community updated and informed.