Sara Nelson and Nikkita Oliver are running for Seattle City Council position 9, one of two positions that represents the whole city. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 2. The International Examiner asked the candidates how they would address the needs of the Chinatown-International District. We received the following answers over email.

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Sara Nelson. Courtesy photo.

Sara Nelson

  1. What’s one thing you’ve learned during the campaign from Chinatown International District community leaders that you didn’t know before, or that changed your thinking?

I’ve learned that the CID, one of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods, has been virtually abandoned by Seattle’s leadership when it comes to displacement, basic city services, public safety, support of small businesses and public safety. My very first neighborhood tour of my campaign was with Miss Nora Chan in the CID. She took me first to International House, which provides affordable housing to seniors. I spoke at length with one of the residents who told me that public safety is her and her neighbors’ biggest concern. She told me stories of other residents being robbed or accosted on the street, having necklaces ripped from their neck, race-based violence and verbal assaults and many other examples of how rising crime rates are hitting the CID particularly hard. She told me that the police often fail to respond to 911 calls and when they do, the officer and caller cannot understand each other because of language barriers. If elected, I will push for recruitment of Asian officers that speak a variety of languages and also invest more resources into translators to accompany officers on calls. Finally, this resident also lamented the trash and graffiti in the neighborhoods which she attributed to the many near-by encampments.

I met with the owner of Honey Court Restaurant who told me that Trump’s linkage of the coronavirus with China had exacerbated the pandemic’s blow to business at his and other restaurants. That’s in addition to property damage and other street crime that predated the pandemic due to the City’s lax response to misdemeanor offenses.

Walking around the neighborhood, Mrs. Chan pointed out the dangerous condition of the streets and sidewalks: potholes, lack of curb cuts, very high curbs, cracks, faded crosswalks and other manifestations of poor maintenance. She told me that she shows every candidate she tours with the same thing and nothing ever improves. I told her that won’t happen on my watch and she looked at me wearily and said, “That’s what all politicians say.” I made an internal promise to bump up street and sidewalk repair in the CID on SDOT’s road maintenance work plan and surprise her when it actually gets done!

I’ve spoken at length with Maiko Winkler-Chin, Director of SCIDPDA to understand current neighborhood concerns (public safety, displacement) and the ongoing struggle for City support of SCIDPDA. That was always an issue when I staffed Councilmember Richard Conlin and our office was the go-to Councilmember office for support of SCIDPDA assessments, staffing needs, and so on.

On my last trip to the CID, I had lunch with Tony Au who introduced me to prominent community leaders who had gathered in Hing Hay to launch the neighborhood campaign against defunding the police. They had circulated petitions and planned to send a letter to the Mayor and Council opposing further cuts to SPD.

Since that tour, I’ve  continued to engage with people and organizations in the CID to find out exactly what I can do for them on City Council. And I mean specific policies I can advance on their behalf.

  1. What would you do as a City Council member to address hate and violence against Asians and Asian Americans?

First of all, I’ll raise the profile of this increasingly frequent and dangerous issue by speaking out against it from the get go. Council sets the tone and expectations for civic discourse and behavior and I’m not hearing enough from Council about this threat to Asians and Asian Americans in our community. Second, one of my priorities is to ensure that the Seattle Police Department has adequate staffing to conduct emphasis patrols in the CID and respond quickly to acts of Anti-Asian violence. Finally, if elected, I will continue to be actively engaged in tracking this issue and I’ll solicit advice and recommendations from the community for how to stop or at least reduce hate and violence against Asians and Asian Americans. I’ll ask what community-driven solutions are working and invest resources to support and amplify those interventions.

  1. Public safety is a concern in the CID, as are robberies and break-ins at businesses. What do you identify as the most important solutions to this that you could contribute to as a City Council member?

Article VI, Section 1 of the Charter of the City of Seattle states, “There shall be maintained adequate police protection in each district of the City.” That’s not happening, particularly in the CID. It is absolutely unacceptable — yet predictable — that police response times for Priority 1 911 calls (most serious, life threatening incidents) now average just over 10 minutes and Priority 2 average about 49 minutes. Think about that. No one wants to wait that long when someone is breaking into your house or stealing your car.

The City Council has failed to address the surge in violent crime and they are dismissive of the valid concerns residents and businesses voice about crime’s impact on their safety and business viability. Our police officers do not feel valued or supported by the Council, over 300 have left in the last two years, an unprecedented number, many expressing frustration with the Council’s leadership. The Council’s actions even caused Seattle’s first Black, woman Chief of Police to leave in protest.

My opponent’s call to abolish the police certainly won’t advance equity nor keep us safe but my balanced approach to police reform will. First, we must quickly build back adequate staffing and continue to diversify our police service with officers from BIPOC communities. This will build trust as well as reduce language and cultural barriers. Second, we must re-establish the Community Policing Teams to strengthen our community policing model. The CPTs served as liaisons between SPD and neighborhood residents, businesses, homelessness advocates, and encampment residents to identify immediate solutions to neighborhood concerns. Finally, we must also negotiate a police union contract that does not allow bargaining over basic transparency and accountability, standards of behavior should not be negotiable.

  1. People are concerned about gentrification and displacement in the CID. They worry that with an unprecedented number of high-rise housing projects proposed, the neighborhood will gradually stop being a place where seniors, immigrants and refugees, small business owners, working people, and people from a mix of incomes can thrive. What would you do to protect the neighborhood from the pressures of displacement and gentrification?

We need to ensure that growth preserves housing and amenities in our predominantly ethnic neighborhoods for the people who live there now, especially in the CID which is experiencing rapid development that threatens to price out the elderly and working class people who have called the neighborhood home for generations.

I will propose a city-wide Anti-Displacement Plan to counter the pressures of gentrification. Any future land use code changes must be centered on retaining existing affordable housing and creating new paths to home ownership for the people already living in the neighborhood. A one-size-fits-all approach to neighborhood planning will only exacerbate displacement. Additional elements of my Anti-Displacement Plan include:

  • Direct cash relief to renters (not “middle-man” administration costs)
  • Homeownership assistance for those on the brink of foreclosure and first-time buyers in economically-distressed communities
  • Access to low- or no-interest commercial loans for community-based businesses, especially for Asian American owned businesses
  • When new projects are proposed, we must require or incentivize that street-level commercial space be reserved for existing small businesses or new businesses owned by people with historic ties to the neighborhood.
  1. Small businesses are still struggling after taking a heavy hit during the pandemic. Many businesses in the Chinatown-ID face unique challenges. What will you do to help CID businesses bounce back?

Economic recovery is my top priority. Thousands of businesses have closed or moved out of Seattle. Tens of thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of people have lost their jobs and Seattle’s working families are hurting as a result. Our neighborhood business districts are struggling, our downtown core is boarded up, and we’ve got a lot of work to achieve a long-term, equitable economic recovery. It’s important to note that the pandemic has exacerbated long-standing challenges many businesses and organizations face. As a small business owner, I know what businesses need to survive this pandemic and thrive as we reopen. There are many steps City leadership could take right now to help but City Council is not acting with any urgency whatsoever. I will ensure that the lion’s share of the new $20 million of federal covid relief funds are allocated to direct grants to business and business districts for neighborhood improvement projects. It’s about time for the fresh perspective of a small business owner on City Council and I look forward to being a strong ally and advocate of small businesses in the CID.

Nikkita Oliver

  1. What’s one thing you’ve learned during the campaign from Chinatown International District community leaders that you didn’t know before, or that changed your thinking?

Design Review throughout the entire City of Seattle is requiring serious reform. However, in the CID it may not simply be a matter of reform, but a complete restructuring so that process actually meets the development needs of those communities most impacted by gentrification, displacement, and the rising cost of living in the CID.

The International Special Review District (ISRD) is supposed to have a more comprehensive view including climate/environmental justice and affordability. These meetings, especially during the pandemic, have become wildly inaccessible for the community. The community, rightfully so, is often attempting to leverage these spaces to bring greater concerns of displacement and gentrification to the City. We need to consider: Is this process working for the communities living in the CID? Is it doing what we say it does? Are there additional processes, policies, or supports that need to be put in place?

Some recommendations to improve this process include:

— ISRD meetings may need to have interdepartmental collaboration. I have heard that when communities attend ISRD meetings rarely are the right people in the room to answer their questions. Expanding these meetings to include other departments may better support the needs and vision of the communities living in the neighborhood in moving through the ISRD process.

— Hold meetings online for accessibility and provide the needed language translation services.

  1. What would you do as a City Council member to address hate and violence against Asians and Asian Americans?

In order to effectively push back against the escalation of anti-Asian violence we need strategies that focus on genuine prevention, collective accountability, community collaborations, and healing as the most effective strategies in addressing hate-motivated violence.

— Acknowledge and condemn violent hate when it occurs. It is essential to acknowledge both the violence and harm when it occurs and let people know that it is wrong.

— Create and strengthen anti-discrimination bodies, human rights organizations and community organizing. These bodies should have the authority to address hate and violence through monitoring, reporting and assistance to survivors.Conduct outreach and education efforts to Seattle communities to reduce fear and support survivors (this includes survivor support groups) and encourage reporting to anti-discrimination bodies.

— Survivor support groups that are funded by the City and organized by impacted communities.

— School-based programs. We teach sex education we should also have school based programs that combat bigotry and hate.

— Support community collaborations and organizing such as the CInternational District, MAPS-AMEN or the NAACP.

— Increase community presence, events, opportunity, lighting and preventive safety features in areas where it is known or likely that hate-motivated violence is likely to occur.

3. Public safety is a concern in the CID, as are robberies and break-ins at businesses. What do you identify as the most important solutions to this that you could contribute to as a City Council member?

The pandemic and resulting recession have exacerbated the pre-existing conditions of inequality and inequity that already existed in the City. The increase in crime, not just in Seattle but nationally, is due to a lack of access to basic needs such as housing, healthy food, gainful employment, physical and mental healthcare, etc. The best way to support small businesses in regards to “crime” is to get people housed, fed, and well-cared for. Fewer people struggling on the streets is good for us all — including business.

When people’s basic needs are met, we build safety. Our city deserves better options than violent policing and mass incarceration as our only choices for public safety. The majority of what we call crime happens because people do not have their basic needs met. In order for us to create the safer city we imagine, we need affordable and social housing, equitable transportation, affordable childcare, fully funded schools with school counselors, restorative justice coordinators, and health services, more culturally responsive and accessible youth programs, health and sex education that teaches healthy relationships, accessible mental health supports, an array of community-based options for supporting domestic violence survivors and restorative and transformative responses for those who cause harm, civilianized 911, community-based drug user supports, and thriving wage employment opportunities.

In 2021 the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform — specializing in reducing incarceration and gun violence — released an analysis of three years of 911 dispatch data for the Seattle Police Department. According to the Institute, up to half the calls Seattle police receive can be responded to without an armed, sworn officer. The Institute also found that about 80% of calls are noncriminal responses and in the future it would be appropriate for up to 49% of calls to receive an “alternative, non-sworn response.”

911 Dispatch has been relocated to the Community Safety and Communications Center to be fully civilianized. The majority of 911 calls in Seattle are non-criminal. Growing city-based “alternative” responses will decrease response times and provide additional first responder options that are appropriate for the real time needs of community members when in crisis. Rather than defaulting to armed officers, who are not equipped to respond to most crises, we need the people dispatching to be under a civilian-run agency, as they are now, and to have new options and protocols that do not default to sending armed officers to address crises that other city workers and members of community can and should handle. This will across the board increase response times and ensure that residents receive the best emergency supports possible when in crisis.

Equity and justice for all means that your race, gender, where you were born or the work you do does not prevent you from living a whole, healthy, thriving life. Thriving means that we have the right to joy, to health, to rest, to work, to balance — not just to getting by or surviving. We need economic, social, racial, and environmental justice, and a radical redistribution of wealth and political power to have the safer city of which we dream.

  1. People are concerned about gentrification and displacement in the CID. They worry that with an unprecedented number of high-rise housing projects proposed, the neighborhood will gradually stop being a place where seniors, immigrants and refugees, small business owners, working people, and people from a mix of incomes can thrive. What would you do to protect the neighborhood from the pressures of displacement and gentrification?

Seattle has built density in those neighborhoods with the highest concentration of poverty and where residents are most likely to be displaced. This is unjust and perpetuates racist and anti-black housing policies. All of Seattle must be willing to take on density if we are to solve the housing affordability crisis and stop/prevent displacement and gentrification. Constructing high-density social, green, deeply affordable housing throughout the city must be paired with high-quality transportation, walkability, and more multimodal transit options.

Stopping gentrification and displacement means keeping people in their homes. Rainier Beach Action Coalition and Puget Sound Sage wrote an important report on Disaster Gentrification that everyone should read. To tackle this crisis the following recommendations were made:

  1. Reduce evictions and foreclosures by forgiving rent debt, extending the eviction and foreclosure moratoria, and making rent relief contingent on increased tenant protections; 2. Create opportunity for BIPOC communities to secure land and buildings to preserve affordability by robustly funding acquisition and preservation funds;
  2. Increase BIPOC power in planning and development by establishing local planning and accountability through equitable development zones;
  3. Preserve affordability and create a path for tenant ownership by passing a Tenant/Community Opportunity to Purchase Act;
  4. Stop harassment of vulnerable homeowners by creating non-Solicitation/cease and desist zones; 6. Discourage property flipping for profit through a tax on certain real estate transactions. 7. Seattle City Council, due partly to the work of Councilmember Sawant, already started growing the suite of tenants protections at the municipal level including ending school year evictions, preventing folks from being evicted due to unpaid rent during COVID-19, and right of first refusal.

Additionally, we must:

  1. Ensure that the gentrification conversation is framed around the underlying issues of power and race that created inequitable development in Seattle and make gentrification possible.
  2. Protect our long-time residents who wish to remain in place. One way to do this is by ensuring that all homeowners know about HB1410; which prevents foreclosure of homes due to unpaid property taxes. This new state legislation is key for keeping our seniors in their homes.
  3. Prohibit large-scale luxury development in neighborhoods with a high-risk of displacement. We must ensure that development is actually to the benefit of the current community so that we can remain and age in place.
  4. Preserve our existing affordable rental units and ensure they are quality, healthy, and habitable.
  5. Utilize City-owned land and surplus land for partnerships with communities to build deeply affordable housing.
  6. Expand our current commercial rent control legislation to ensure that small businesses do not lose their storefronts.
  7. Fight for residential rent control alongside a myriad of cash assistance programs, investments, and tenants rights laws.

 

5. Small businesses are still struggling after taking a heavy hit during the pandemic. Many businesses in the Chinatown-ID face unique challenges. What will you do to help CID businesses bounce back?

The pandemic and resulting recession have exacerbated the pre-existing conditions of inequality and inequity that already existed in the City. As workers return to the Chinatown-ID small businesses that remain will naturally see some increase in business, in addition to this natural revitalization we must retain and/or implement:

  1. Commercial Rent Control – The Seattle City Council has already passed legislation for commercial rent control for small businesses in Seattle affected by COVID-19. This ordinance provides protections for Seattle small businesses in the form of rent control, repayment plan requirements, and prohibition on late fees, interest, and other charges.

An issue with the legislation is that prohibitions outlined in the legislation only remain in effect until the civil emergency proclaimed by Mayor Jenny Durkan on March 3, 2020 is terminated. Commercial rent control in a city as expensive as Seattle is generally a good thing for small businesses and is something I recommend we keep in place even after the emergency proclamation has been terminated.

Additionally, the Seattle Rescue Plan includes dollars specifically for small businesses, community/neighborhood reactivation, and revitalization. Ensuring all businesses have the technical support they need to safely reopen and apply for these dollars is within the purview and responsibility of the City.

  1. More funding to the Office of Economic Development and Office of Immigrants and Refugees for language access, technical support, permitting, and providing small business with additional funding.
  2. Cutting red tape in permitting processes. We want to encourage growth, not stifle it. Trying to get a business off the ground is hard enough; we don’t want to make it harder for BIPOC businesses to do so.

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