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Seattle District 5 City Council Race
March 15, 2019
by William P. Meyers

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John Lombard, Ann Sattler, and Debora Juarez Want D5 Council Seat

Candidates for City Council in Seattle have until this Friday, May 15, 2019 to file. Aside from an unlikely surprise last minute entry there are three serious candidates running for the district 5 seat. One candidate is Debora Juarez, who has held it for one four-year term. In this article I will try to give readers a sense of the candidates, without making an endorsement.

All three candidates appear to be in the liberal to progressive spectrum of the Democratic Party. Lately in Seattle there has been a bit of a popular revolt against the current City Council, largely because of the dramatic increase in homelessness, the dramatic increase in rents, and a less dramatic but annoying increase in crime, really nuisances, related to homelessness. This is while the city has prospered economically. Homeowners in particular are paying very high real estate taxes because Seattle allows unlimited increases in the tax based on home appraisal values. The Seattle housing market has been hot.

The issues came to a fever pitch during the Head Tax debacle. The Washington State Constitution prohibits an income tax, so taxes here are mainly in the form of real estate and sales taxes, plus fees, fees, and more fees. Specifically to fund homes and services for the homeless a Head Tax on Large Businesses was proposed, the so-called Amazon tax. Debora Juarez did not support the original proposal, which never came up for a vote. A compromise with a lower tax rate was agreed to, and Debora voted for it. Only then did the public learn about it, and polls showed it was very unpopular. So Debora voted with the majority to cancel the tax. So no tax, but no extra funds for the homeless either. I can't fault Council member Juarez on this, but it created an atmosphere where both the right and the left were calling for incumbents to be ousted. [I opposed the tax because it taxed by business size, not by income level. So lawyers and other high-income professions in small businesses were not taxed, but low-wage workers in retail would have been.]

Seattle citizens complain about many things, but the main complaint seems to be about homelessness and associated crime. Most citizens seem to be willing to spend more money on housing the homeless, but they also want to not be tripping over them on the sidewalks, dodging used needles and human excrement, and suffering from petty theft and vandalism. Throw in a few well-publicized rapes and assaults and even progressives may not feel safe.

So for now, all you need to know is that Debora Juarez is the incumbent, and most people think things got a lot worse under her watch. I suspect that would have been true of any incumbent, but I think most voters are willing to try rotating the office, if there are viable choices.

John Lombard is the better known of the challengers. He styles himself as a community organizer and environmentalist. He wrote a book, Saving Puget Sound. He has considerable experience as a government worker, including on the King County central staff and coordinator for salmon recovery. His current work is as an environmental consultant.

When I talked to John in January he expressed dissatisfaction with how Debora Juarez operated, saying she does not listen to or engage with constituents. I know John from a group called the North District Council, and from the Thornton Creek Alliance, which works to restore that stream and its tributaries (I live by a tributary, which to the uninitiated might appear to be a drainage ditch). He was fair in giving Debora some credit, and said they were in a similar place on the political spectrum. His main thrust was that he would solicit more neighborhood input about city decisions.

I must note that John's website says what motivated him to run for office was the Head Tax vote. When I interviewed him he said he was against a head tax, but wanted more money for the homeless and some clearer rules on where they could camp while waiting for the city to provide housing.

Which brings us to Ann Davison Sattler, who is something of a political novice. However, she is a practicing attorney and long ago worked for two years at a refugee camp in South East Asia. Sports fans will note that she once worked for the Seattle SuperSonics basketball team.

Ann says on the one hand homeless people in Seattle are treated worse than the refugees in her camp in Thailand. On the other hand she believes that drug and alcohol use both causes homelessness and contributes to unacceptable behavior by the homeless people. She favors a FEMA-style program to quickly house the homeless and get them the into drug rehabilitation programs. She does not want to raise taxes for this. She believes the money can come from other parts of the city budget, but she did not identify exactly what money would come from where.

I have to say that Ann seems to have a fire in her belly to fix the homelessness problem. John is more of a concensus builder. Debora has actual experience at the City Council level, and I believe has good intentions.

What I would like to know is exactly where the funding will come from to house the homeless. It is not that simple. A lot of people prefer a tent of their own to a warehouse. We need more than cots in big rooms. And we need to give the city the power to nudge people to take the housing the city offers.

I am not endorsing anyone yet. I like all three candidates. I think debate is healthy because candidates can take good ideas from each other. Ultimately, the question is not who has the best ideas, but who can get the cooperation of the other City Council members and the public to actually fix things.

While waiting to hear more from the candidates, you can see the only debate held so far, which unfortunately was not attended by Debora Juarez: District 5 Candidate Forum with Speak Out Seattle.

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