International Examiner: What is your takeaway from the results of the primary election in August, for your campaign?
Tanya Woo: Yes, I’m excited and humbled and honored at the results. And excited to be able to campaign for three more months. I think our message has resonated with many community members. And I’m looking forward to knocking on doors and asking people what their thoughts are, regarding all the issues that we’re seeing around District 2.
IE: If you are (re-)elected, what do you see as the top issues that need addressing for the Chinatown International District (CID) heading into 2024?
TW: I guess the top three for me really tie in with my three priorities. Public safety is the one I hear most about in the CID and that covers a whole host of things in the community. It means seniors having being able to walk around safely and be able to sit the park in the evening hours, it means that businesses don’t have to worry about broken windows, they don’t have to worry about graffiti, and are able to hire good workers who are not fearful to come into work, and not be worried about their safety when they’re traveling to and from their homes.
It also means having a safe place and programs for our youth to go to. Summit Sierra High School is up the street and there’s been a lot of concerns with 12th and Jackson. How do we make sure that our young people are safe and feel safe, so they can learn? And also for our unhoused residents, that they don’t have to worry about their own personal safety as well. That’s what we’re seeing on 12th and Jackson with the fentanyl overdoses, that there’s outreach and engagement out there trying to get people to accept treatments and to accept housing, as well as if there is an overdose, that there are people nearby with Narcan who can help resuscitate people. How do we change the narrative and change that environment on 12th and Jackson, 12th and King, 12th and Weller?
It’s also bleeding into our parks. Another added public safety issue was, for people visiting the district people who were there to attend the Mariners games, people who are there to attend a festival or fair to visit out restaurants or visit our shops or museum, how to increase that foot traffic and get away from the narrative that CID is not safe. That that will involve a lot of work to undo four years of perception. We’re all trying to rebuild after the pandemic and I think it involves doing added outreach and engagement to our non English-speaking refugee, immigrant communities. That’s one of the top issues.
Second issue, I think, is housing. We’re in a historic district, and many of the buildings that are in this district are not up to code — they’re not up to fire code, they’re not up to earthquake code. How do we work together with the City, with the residents, to have access to capital to be able to make those upgrades to these buildings without adding costs and burden to our Family Associations who own these buildings, and to provide affordable housing, such as workforce housing or senior housing? So, in a way, able to keep our community ownership of these buildings and not having to sell to international corporations who don’t know our community, but how can we preserve our history and our legacies, and be able to modify our buildings to live for another 100 years? This is a major issue. And for the area that’s not in the historic district, how are we able to offer housing so that people who work in the city can live in the city, and seniors can age in place?
Another priority of mine is homelessness. That kind of ties in with public safety and housing. How can we help our unhoused neighbors come in? I think that’s building trust because the best way to build trust is through relationships. And then with relationships of trust, we can easily deescalate if there’s ever an issue. I’ve found that, you know, going out on 12th and Jackson, and building that trust, having people know you and know that you’re safe, helps further the conversation into people asking for help, if they have medical issues or they want to go into treatment, or if there any other situations, is really important. I think transportation is a huge, huge issue as well, as you see play out with ST3 [Sound Transit 3].
IE: Throughout your civic work in the CID, is there a particular lesson that you’ve learned or anecdote that you could share that challenged you, or taught you something new about the neighborhood?
TW: The pandemic was a huge game changer for everybody. It accelerated a lot of the issues that we were seeing. The community experienced a lot of anti-Asian hate and pandemic racism, and that really accelerated a lot of mistrust, as well with city government, county, as well as federal. The community really, really had to work hard. Everything was closed down. Many of our mom and pop small businesses had their windows broken, had graffiti, had looting. A lot of our small businesses and families who lived in the city did not understand the larger issue of what was happening in the city in terms of, you know, equity and social justice movements, and were really confused.
There was a lot of education that went both ways in terms of how community deals with the larger city, and how a community can come together to help itself. In a way there were a lot of great initiatives, great organizations that came together. What really struck me was the amount of care and the outpouring of outreach support that came into the community amongst each other, and from outside the community. It really touched me. When we started the CID Community Watch at the early stages of the pandemic, people turned out from all over the state. We had people who were driving in from Tacoma, Vashon Island, to come and to walk the streets of the CID and provide hope and support for many community members there, especially to our seniors, at that time, when all of these videos of anti-Asian attacks are happening, especially in our senior population.
It was really surprising to see how much of that affected the mentality of our senior population, many did not come out after 4 p.m. And, you know, we saw that impact when seniors walked around the parking lot next to their apartments in groups because they were fearful to leave the vicinity of their homes.
Another big moment was the expansion of the SoDo shelter. That was a really interesting moment of time because we were advocating, not for the closure of that shelter, but we were advocating for a seat at the table. We were advocating to be heard for engagement and for translation services and information and use of the Racial Equity Toolkit.
It was really interesting to see the interaction between how we were painted as anti-shelter when that was not the reason why we wanted conversation and dialogue between the City and the County because of course, you know, this fell with a whole line of other 100 projects that the community was not consulted with. So it’s just interesting how our voices were portrayed in the media, and how important it was for us to own our narrative and to tell our narrative and our stories, because if we don’t tell it, others will, and it’s not our truth or lived experiences. That made me realize that there is still a lot of misconception regarding the Asian American, Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander community. It’s important that we get our voices out there, we have to speak up and just represent ourselves.
IE: Public safety has been a longstanding concern in the neighborhood, particularly Little Saigon. Do you have any new ideas for how the City could address this?
TW: I do have a plan [released September 5]. This plan really emphasizes community engagement, empowerment. And it’s kind of a multi-step plan. It’s a community action plan for resilience and empowerment. How do we come up with opportunities for young people, resources for mental health and conflict resolution, economic development, job creation? These are the main themes. There’s a couple of community groups, we come together and we’re meeting to talk about a plan moving forward of what we would like to see in the area of 12th and Jackson, and to ask the city for funding, and to see what happens, that plan is not ready yet. We’re still getting quotes and putting it together.
It’s nothing new. It’s all things that we’ve been saying, like we would like to see more outreach and engagement in that area, we would like to see full time ambassadors. The Community Watch Group that I’m a part of, we go out there twice a week, and we try to build that trust, build those relationships, try to connect people to resources, but we only do it in the evening time for about two hours. And there are so many stories I can tell you about the work that we’re doing.
Basically the bottom line is we need more of this work being done, during the day. It needs to be done by people who are being supported and paid, and not by volunteers, people with either lived experience or training to be able to connect with where people are at, develop that trust, to get people to go inside and to really attend to the root cause of why people are out there.
I know from my experiences at 12th and Jackson, the issue has kind of moved, it’s shifted. It’s more fentanyl, versus, you know, what we’ve been seeing in the past, where it’s mostly people who are gathering there from our unhoused community. This is people with addiction. It’s really distressing because we’ve seen a lot of people overdosing and a lot of people who come there specifically to buy and sell fentanyl. All ages, not just unhoused people, young adults coming in from transit, elders coming in because they can’t afford other drugs.
We also see a large population of our seniors going up there because they can buy cheap goods. And that kind of, unfortunately, fuels 12th and Jackson. How do we address all these issues in a culturally-competent way, with all of our community partners? I hope when community groups are ready to release their plan that the city will listen.
IE: Last year, after pressure from the CID community, King County backed down from expanding new shelter and services for people experiencing homelessness in SoDo at the edge of the CID. What is your takeaway from the way this unfolded? What is its significance or lessons learned?
TW: King County approved the shelter expansion back in May , did not tell community until September . I don’t think a lot of people realize that the shelter has been open since, I believe, 2021 or 2020. It’s been open for a couple of years. I mean, it’s operational, it’s in place right now. I don’t think we realized it was there. And with the Good Neighbor Agreement, which by Seattle City ordinance, should have been in place when that shelter opened. We were not anti-shelter, we just wanted a seat at the table. We wanted to address some of these issues that our unhoused community was seeing, because as Seattle Police Department (SPD) has said, I think there were about seven homicides in the CID last year. All but one happened within the encampments.
So we were concerned for our unhoused neighbors, for their safety, because people were dying. Not only that, but you know, this year, all those homicides are at zero. And so we wanted a public safety plan, and we wanted to work with the Salvation Army shelter, with King County, with the City of Seattle, as well as with community to come up with a public safety plan that would address everybody’s concerns.
We wanted to be heard and we didn’t feel like that was happening. We were a community in crisis and no one showed up for us, so we organized protests every single week. We went to King County Council meetings and to Seattle City Council meetings, and organized everybody to go to these meetings. We had requested translators in advance and in some instances, we were told that no translators were available so we had to bring our own.
In some instances, we found out that translation only goes one way. It goes towards council members and not back to communities. The community was sitting there not understanding what’s going on, and didn’t know how to respond, and how to interact or get involved in the political process. So a lot of that was education, to our community, seniors, small businesses, this is how you need to be heard. And so just realizing there are a lot of barriers in place for people of color, where English is not the first language, to interact with government processes. I mean, the Racial Equity Toolkit was definitely not being followed in this instance.
IE: According to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, Seattle’s downtown area, including the CID, is where overdose rates are highest in the county. Do you think that Mayor Harrell’s Downtown Activation Plan adequately addresses this public health issue? And if not, what other measures would you want to see implemented?
TW: Yes, I support Mayor Harrell’s Downtown Activation Plan. We’re not even there yet in the CID. Public safety is the biggest barrier to activating the neighborhood. I went to his community input meeting regarding the DAP. The biggest concern was, you know, how can we activate and invite people if they don’t feel safe? If our small businesses are still facing a lot of barriers to getting customers here. So it’s a tough one. I think what we need to do is really focus on that public safety aspect first before we can activate. That will involve working with our community partners and working with SPD.
That’s going to involve hiring more ambassadors, case managers, and not just going out there and finding people housing and trying to give them treatment, but finding those long-term case managers that will help all the people and partner people through their journey to make sure that there aren’t any relapses.
The Louisa Hotel works with a group called Housing Connector that houses the formerly unhoused and pairs people up with caseworkers. We found that in that case, when caseworkers are actively partnering people, everything goes well. But if something gets missed or there’s a lot of turnover, sometimes people with caseworkers lose theirs. We found in those instances, people sometimes have issues or come across difficulty. So how do we find those long term caseworkers, and make sure they’re being paid a living wage, maybe even the same wage as a police officer, and making sure that we have alternative policing?
This is not an issue that can get solved overnight. But I think over time, we can make a small dent, but we have to have a plan. I think it’s all the above, and we have to make sure that people feel safe before we can activate because we’re not there yet. And people are stuck. A lot of businesses have armed security now and, you know, I don’t think that’s the way to go. I think the City and the community has to work together to do something to come up with a plan to be able to make a dent in all of these issues.
IE: What are your thoughts on the City’s current response to homelessness in the CID? If elected, what plan would you support as a solution to bring people inside during your next term?
TW: We’ve been talking to the Salvation Army SoDo shelter to allow us to have like about ten beds for community referrals. Having to work through the City with different organizations to get a referral is not efficient. If we see somebody who’s asking for housing at like, 8 p.m. on a Friday, we can’t get a case worker or or social worker out there until Monday when they’re working. So is there a way where community can make referrals to local shelters for people who need emergency housing?
We met this young lady a couple of months ago, who, you know — the Community Resource Guide is great, but a lot of numbers there, there is basically nothing after the hours of 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. There was a young lady who wanted emergency housing at 8 p.m. We called around, called YWCA. There was nothing open, nothing available. And we basically had to tell her, can you go walk to the YWCA and wait there, or we can take you to the airport. The airport’s safe, there’s bathrooms there. She decided that she wanted to walk over to the YMCA, wait outside until open the next morning.
IE: Chinatown International District businesses experienced severe struggles during the pandemic, and economic recovery still isn’t back to pre-pandemic levels. What should the City do to help businesses recover and stay afloat?
TW: Oh, I think we should definitely do more to help businesses recover and stay afloat. A lot of the grants that the community has received were not applicable to a lot of our small businesses because many of them had to show, I guess, a year of loss of some sort. Or there were other barriers, and so many businesses were not able to qualify for grants.
I would love to see is to have like a — like what we have in Othello, what we have in the University District — a customer service desk there, where people go in and ask questions. Love to see something like that in many of our neighborhoods, including the CID. A place where there is somebody in your language who can explain these programs to our small businesses and walk them through the process. Our community groups like SCIDpda and InterIm, do that, but it’d be great to have a dedicated person to really take the time and care to be available to businesses, and family associations to help.
More grants, more access to city resources, more access to capital, would be great, because it’s very hard for us to get a loan. For many small businesses, trying to open their brick and mortar, trying to get a permit has been very cumbersome. How can the process be expedited so businesses are not waiting while costs go up to be open? And then also, in addition to access to capital and to city resources, insurance is a huge issue. We have to go through a third party provider and costs are very high.
Everything is just marketing. I know this is not the City but I think they play a huge role in this. We saw MLB week, the Taylor Swift concert, Ed Sheeran, Mariners games, like when the city announces that, you know, please use other modes of transportation because of these high impact events. What is happening is that people just don’t show up, they just avoid the area completely and that really hurts our businesses. Helping the community do marketing in conjunction with these events like MLB week, I mean, it would have been nice to have a booth at the All Star Weekend to really promote Chinatown businesses and restaurants.
IE: The CID is home to a large concentration of unreinforced masonry buildings and the City Council passed Resolution 32033 in 2021, which established the framework for a mandatory retrofit ordinance that could occur in summer 2025 at the earliest. If City Council proceeds with this legislation during your term, what role would you play in ensuring that it meets the needs of the CID community at-large?
TW: I think the biggest concern about this ordinance is that our family associations, who own these buildings, will not be able to afford to upgrade their buildings. This is why these buildings remain empty right now. Many, many of our elders don’t want to take on that multimillion dollar loan at such an old age because they’re not entirely sure how they would be able to pay for it.
My experience from developing the Louisa Hotel has taught me a lot of things, like how much work and how hard it is to really upgrade these buildings. We saw with the Eng Suey building, when it caught on fire, the Eng family association ended up selling it for $8 million to an international developer. That’s not what we want to see, we want to make sure that our families are able to retain their buildings, there’s so much legacy history there. The priority is to make sure that there isn’t a mass sell out. How do we work together with these families, family associations, to be able to come up with access to capital, if necessary to upgrade?
The whole planning process of these upgrades is immense. How does the city work together in terms of putting together a task force? How do we find access to capital, if there is a grant system, a way to help families and foundations plan this retrofit in a way that is not overwhelming? Access to capital is the biggest barrier, as well as the whole idea of, you know, the planning and the process of complying to City ordinances and resolutions, especially if these families are not English speakers and are mostly immigrants or refugees. How do they navigate this very complex city process? It’s going to take a very multi-step process and something I have been through personally, and I think I have the leadership and the knowledge to be able to help the CID figure this out.
IE: The Sound Transit Board endorsed a plan to place new light rail stations to the north and south of the CID, while keeping 4th Avenue on the table for further study. Could you talk about which option you support and why?
TW: I have to remain neutral on the location, with how divided the community is with this. I think the most important thing is making sure community is being heard. Not just the CID community, but all communities along Line 1. This affects everybody Beacon Hill, Othello Station, Rainier Beach, because this is a very complex issue. And it’s going to affect everybody here in South Seattle.
If it was placed North/South, this will no longer be a one seat ride to downtown or to the airport to the CID, there’ll be multiple of transfers involved. And also, especially for our seniors, this impacts them. We have a large senior population in the CID, and Sound Transit has not addressed how they will make all stations accessible, North/South especially. There’s pros and cons to both.
IE: With either plan, concerns and unanswered questions remain for the community. What are your concerns and questions for Sound Transit?
TW: So it’s interesting. One side is saying they prefer North/South because it would not gentrify or displace the community, they just avoid the community entirely. The other side is saying 4th because if you build North/South, it will, I guess, stop a whole community from access to transit. So displacement and gentrification are, I feel like, the two main topics here that we have to deal with. And there’s two different views on both sides.
But some questions that I would like answered are, if it’s built North/South, how do they plan to make it accessible for the seniors and people trying to get to our stadiums? How would people wayfind? What would that look like? And I want to ask about costs. What is the cost for North/South versus the cost for 4th? What will the build out process look like for the community? Will that affect the routing of a construction traffic, and also the rerouting of regular traffic? How would that affect businesses? How would that affect our families? I also would like to know, with the siting of North/South, what’s going to happen to the campus in downtown with the courthouse and the jail. What’s going to happen to the shelter, where south of the CID station was planned? How would that affect the Inscape building? Are they tunneling underground? How deep will that affect the foundations of our buildings? Those are just a few questions.
IE: If elected, how would you use your influence to mitigate or address community concerns around the negative impacts of a new station or stations?
TW: I think, if elected, it’s about collaboration and building bridges, bringing community together and addressing the root concerns. Not everyone’s going to be happy. I think, you know, these root causes and concerns need to be addressed, especially for seniors, and our small businesses, to have conversations about gentrification, displacement. Everyone must understand what’s at stake for both sides and everyone’s viewpoints. Then I think we can come together. Right now, it seems like there are a lot of lot of opinions, a lot of differences, pros and cons to both. But I have a feeling that, you know, the more we learn about North /South, and the studies being completed, we’ll have more answers. I’m hoping that with those answers it will be very clear what choice would work best for the community.
IE: The CID is often making headlines for controversy and issues that divide stakeholders right down the middle. As a City Council member, what is or would be your approach to tough decision making when there’s no clear consensus from the community?
TW: You have to listen to both sides. You’ve got to build bridges, collaborate, bring everyone to the table, and listen to the concerns. We really do have to listen to community and make sure we do the groundwork, getting out there, and just seeing really what’s happening, and understanding issue that’s going to make a difference. I don’t think it’s fair to allow a decision being made without community.
Without answering the questions a community has. We really have to bring it down to the neighborhood level, and really get out there and talk to people and not just claim that that’s been done. I think we just have to show up and do the hard work it takes to do that, making sure everyone’s heard. Because unless you’re on the Sound Transit Board, I don’t know how much decision you can have regarding the siting of the station.
If I was on the Sound Transit Board, I would make sure we’re looking at both sides of the issue. We’re talking about both sides, and we’re bringing both and then picking our priorities. If it’s cost, if it’s accessibility, identifying those priorities, and then getting feedback to make sure that everyone’s questions are answered before we can move forward with a decision.