Last Friday I sat down with mayoral candidate Cary Moon to ask her a series of questions about her candidacy and how her election might effect the residents of Wallingford. Cary was congenial, open and candid while she answered every question that I posed to her. I viewed my role as just a reporter who asked the questions and did not challenge any of her answers and remarks. I want to thank Cary and her team for the time they shared with me and for their great communication that they exhibited. Cary’s website is http://carymoonformayor.com. So here is what I learned during the interview.
Glenn: You have been described as a “Progressive Urbanist.” Could you define “Progressive Urbanist” and tell us why a “Progressive Urbanist” would be good for Wallingford and the City of Seattle?
Cary: I use the term “Progressive” to mean that I am focused on making progress and using transformative solutions to get things done so I would take a position that is different from protecting the status quo and really look for deep transformative solutions that will address the problems of Seattle. With regard to the term “Urbanist” – I believe that the term has been hijacked in our city to mean a fairly narrow thing. I went to grad school to study urbanism, urban design, urban planning and landscape architecture, and I use all this training because they all capture the meaning of what my work is, to build great cities. I want to be careful not to fall into this polarized debate which sometimes happens in Seattle which is between NIMBY which is an ugly word and URBANIST which accompanies something that is very narrow and specific. What I care about is great cities. This includes preservation, great parks, building a healthy democracy and public grounds that support healthy democracy. Its about ecosystems and how we have a healthy ecosystem throughout our city. Its about an economy that builds prosperity for everybody. So when I talk about “Urbanism” I mean it in the broad sense of building a great city.
Glenn: You have said that HALA was a good first step in helping to solve the affordability problem in Seattle. Could you explain this in greater detail and indicate what you like about HALA and what you would change or add to this initiative?
Cary: I think that when people talk about HALA, they often focus on the upzones and Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) requirements. But there are also 64 other ideas that we should be pursuing that weren’t identified in the HALA initiative. I want to point out that the upzones and the affordability requirements are a tool to get developers to contribute to the production of affordable housing, but there are other things we need to do as well. Like how to stop speculation that is increasing our housing prices so quickly – twice as fast as any other city in the country and well out of reach and disconnected from the wages of the people who live here. There are things that are going on here that are causing this rapid increase in pricing that the city needs to take responsibility for understanding and minimizing that behavior.
Secondly, we have to look at measures that produce more production of affordable housing, whether built by the nonprofit sector or the public sector, because HALA gets us no where near what we need. We need four times as many affordable units as HALA calls for. The amount of affordable housing that developers will build under the MHA is a minor part of the whole solution. So we need to look at public-owned surplus land that is sitting idle and not being used. We need to bring this land into use for either public or nonprofit housing to help solve the homeless challenge as well. And we need to look at how we, with neighborhoods, can look at the “missing middle” and what we can do to add “gentle infill” development by working with neighbors to determine what solutions make sense for what the character and culture is in their neighborhood.
I think in the process of rolling out HALA, the city didn’t plan ahead well enough for how to do the dialogue with neighbors, how to put the tools on the table – here are all of the ways that we can achieve the growth targets that we all need as a city and invite neighborhoods in to being part of the solution. The announcement of HALA was written in the paper before the city was ready to talk about it, but still it should have included neighborhoods like the city did with the neighborhoods to talk about growth targets and how to achieve them in such a way that is unique to each neighborhood. Some neighborhoods might want to care for their historic small buildings that comprise their commercial strips because in some neighborhoods that is the heart of the city and having that fine grain texture with small locally owned businesses is what makes the neighborhood work so they want to preserve that aspect of their community. We may want to look at other tools either expanding Urban Village boundaries, or having backyard cottages, duplexes, mother-in-law cottages, stacked flats to add infill more gently and in such a way that protects the culture of their neighborhoods. But the city laid out HALA in a “top down” manner with a “you shall do this” attitude.
Glenn: Wallingford residents are concerned that developers will choose to pay “in-lieu” fees rather than build affordable units and only “market rate” units will be built in Wallingford. Your comments on this issue.
Cary: I think we probably didn’t get the numbers right. It’s too easy and convenient for the developers to choose the “in-lieu” fees. It creates a healthier society if we have people living at all income levels in neighborhoods together. So I think I would adjust those numbers by increasing the “in-lieu” fees to motivate more affordable housing on site.
Glenn: Are you in favor of impact fees?
Cary: I am in favor of looking at them, but they are harder to make work in a city that is already fairly developed. Impact fees are really designed for greenfield development where you are building a new suburb and the developer would pay for the new needed infrastructure. Impact fees can be used in Seattle, but you would have to figure out what is fair because if we are already over capacity on transit and schools and over capacity in our infrastructure, why should only newcomers have to pay for fixing this problem? We have to get the balance right so that we are fair and so everybody is contributing for the new infrastructure to support growth. We have to get the numbers right to make sure we are not motivating developers to just tack that cost onto existing rents. I want to look at impact fees, but I want to be really careful about getting the math right.
Glenn: Many Wallingford residents are concerned that existing infrastructure such as sewers, police and fire services, schools and parks are not sufficient to handle the proposed growth in density in the Wallingford Urban Village. How would you respond to this concern?
Cary: Our city did not do a good enough job planning growth and new housing with planning infrastructure. They are too disconnected and we should be looking at how to accommodate more folks moving here. What are the impacts on the infrastructure? How are we going to make sure we are keeping up and how are we going to get the resources to keep up? I’ll use the schools as an example. We have added 10,000 school-aged children in the past few years and that is 20 new schools at a level of 500 kids per school. So we did not see this coming, we need to figure out and get the resources to build the schools that we need. We need a much better, more integrated planning process.
Glenn: The reduction and/or elimination of required parking spaces in new construction has Wallingford residents concerned that street parking will become overwhelmed and will also effect commercial businesses. What is your position on this issue?
Cary: Transportation planning in a growing city is tricky because we have gone from a city were it was convenient to drive and park. Some used transit, but a lot of trips were taken by car and now we are a busy enough city that there is not room for everybody to take their cars wherever they want to go. So ideally, we would be adding transit as we reduce parking and make transit available to folks who can take transit, walk or bike instead of driving. I’m in favor of no parking requirements for new buildings, but the city and county need to keep up with transit service. But we have limited street space, have a lot of trips happening, and long-term this challenge is to prioritize the most base efficient modes and that means buses, street cares, biking and walking. You make those modes safe, convenient, reliable and quick, and people will use them to take their trips and this will leave space on the streets for folks who have to drive. The best way to have space on the street for those folks who have to drive is to make these modes more convenient.
Glenn: Mayor Murray eliminated Neighborhood Councils, and the existing HALA recommendations didn’t include much neighborhood input. Do you have any plans to reinstate a formal process to obtain neighborhood input on such critical issues as upcoming, parking and infrastructure?
Cary: We invented neighborhood planning and did a beautiful job of it under the great Jim Diers in the ’90s, and it worked great because we were talking about growing our city and we had a constructive future goal and an inclusive planning process to talk about how we were going to grow. Here are our challenges, here is what we are trying to achieve. How do we work together? So the city got together neighbors and experts and was at the table too, making sure that we were working toward the shared goal together. That’s how you do neighborhood input because we have to be talking about achieving a better future together. If we don’t have the basic structure for the planning process, it invites folks to the table who have a complaint or a private interest and community councils or neighborhood planning groups evolve into things that aren’t useful. When something is going wrong, people deserve to speak up but have to then turn toward future constructive vision.
I would bring back neighborhood councils but make sure they are inclusive because in the past they were structured for a different time and issues. There are so many people who are either renters or don’t have time or have family obligations and can’t show up to a meeting that we need to design the process to be flexible. We need to have mentors to help new people come into the process, learn the lingo and feel comfortable at the table. We have to be sure that the louder, more assertive voices aren’t drowning out the others. We have to be sure we are using technology so those people who have obligations in the evening can contribute ideas in a different way. We just have to structure it in a way that is inclusive and constructive and keeping on track toward shared goals.
Glenn: Earlier in the campaign you said that single-family zoning is a “socioeconomic exclusion tool,” likening the practice to racist redlining. So am I a racist because I live in a single-family home and am in favor of maintaining the single-family characteristics of my neighborhood?
Cary: I am not talking about individual people. I am talking about when our zoning policies create communities that are all inclusive of people who are of a high socioeconomic status. So when you have a neighborhood where the houses are a million dollars or more, there is zero opportunity to build more affordable housing that is inclusive of people of different ages and stages of life, whether a new family starting out or a retiree on a fixed income. We are creating a condition where we are creating an inclusive enclave. And the city has to actively prevent that. The city has to focus on creating a healthy society where people come together, where people can understand the different perspective of people living on a lower income or retirees or young families. That’s how you create a healthy society. So when we have neighborhood zoning that prevents that, we need to look at fixing that because we need to be building a healthy society in every community. So I would advocate working with neighborhoods so that we can have different levels of housing affordability in more neighborhoods. So that means looking at duplexes, stacked plates, mother-in-law and backyard cottages. We have to look at all of these models and we can also respect the built character of the neighborhood and still include people from other income levels. It’s not either or, it’s we need to do both.
Glenn: In spite of previous administrations’ efforts to solve the homelessness problem, it is still growing to enormous proportions. What are your plans to manage this critical issue and how would you fund this effort?
Cary: We are not looking at the root causes of homelessness. We say there are 3000 people sleeping in the streets so let’s build 3000 units and we will be done with it. We are pushing people into homelessness because of our housing-affordability issues, because our state is 50 out of 54 in health and mental care service and we have a high cost of living and a housing-affordability problem. We need to focus on the shelter for folks who are outside and then work with all existing shelters to see which ones become 24-hour shelters and offer storage of belongings and look at tiny houses using surplus public land and establish more sanctioned encampments. We need to look at all of these options and use all of them. We need to get people into safe shelters and then clean up unsanctioned encampments. We need to make sure that we are investing in the most effective solutions and do away with rapid housing vouchers as they are not effective and relook at the money spent on sweeps. I will relook at the existing budget and look for big companies to help pay for this solution. King County has a levy on this ballot and another planned for 2018 which will help this situation.
Glenn: Is it OK for the homeless to camp in Green Lake and Woodland Parks?
Cary: I would find those people who are camping there a shelter to get them inside and tell them that parks are not a safe place and public parks are not an appropriate place to camp.
Glenn: Do you support Mike O’Brien’s proposal to relax parking enforcement for people living in RVs?
Cary: I agree with long-term plans for building RV-safe lots and to provide them a safe place with access to sanitation, fresh water and garbage collection.
Glenn: Wallingford residents just learned that a city-sanctioned homeless camp is moving to Wallingford and is one block away from the John Stafford school. What are you thoughts on this issue?
Cary: We need to understand the homeless plight. They are human and neighbors. We need to be compassionate and reach out to them as neighbors. Other city-sanctioned camps are working and are safe for all.
Glenn: Property taxes in Seattle have risen to the point where many cannot afford to stay in their homes. Current levies account for over 50 percent of property taxes. What is your position on new property-tax levy proposals?
Cary: I understand that the property-tax crisis is part of the affordability crisis. We need to figure out a more progressive tax system. We need to stop property and sales tax increases until we have a system which is more fair and balanced. We also need to understand that our assessed values are rising too quickly, so we need to handle the speculator issue as it is not right and we need to fix it. And does the assessed value have to match the market value rate? We need to have a discussion with King County to fix this too.
Glenn: What expertise and experience do you have in the area of fiscal management?
Cary: I have experience as an engineer and I managed my family’s business and I was the board chair of a major nonprofit, which managed large sums of money for advocacy groups. I plan on hiring strong people with expertise and experience in all aspects of business to provide strong fiscal leadership and management and hold them responsible for outstanding performance.
Cary: In closing I would like to tell you about a passion of mine. It is that we need to leave the next generation of Seattleites the benefits of a booming economy and prosperity for everyone. The city, state and federal governments need to do a much better job to make sure that our economy is providing opportunity and abilities for people to develop wealth in the community and to provide young people access to great jobs. Specifically, the city can support local businesses so they can provide industrial and manufacturing jobs and opportunities for the future. Small businesses are essential and we need to keep Seattle sound by supporting small business and manufacturing, as it is the backbone of our future.[Editor’s note: Glenn also interviewed Jenny Durkan, and we hope to have that posted later this week.]