Candidate Answers: Dian Ferguson

1) Crime is down in the city, but we’ve seen some horrible incidents with the police in recent years. How do we ensure public safety and not have those sorts of things happen in the future?

I applaud and empathize with the police and other first responders, and know from firsthand experience just how tough these jobs are. However, like any other public employees, law enforcement workers need to be accountable to the public. Given the recent spate of widely publicized incidents, and the deep mistrust of the Seattle Police Department in some communities, the current accountability system is clearly not working. We need to work proactively to restore trust in our police, especially among immigrant, refugee and communities of color. At the same time, SPD also has a responsibility to openly and honestly review their training and examine an internal culture that is clearly not serving the city as well as it can.

I will push for and support an end to any and all law enforcement training programs that have contributed to the unacceptable rash of SPD incidents involving abuse of power. The Office for Professional Accountability has not been an effective tool for review of police actions; it needs a mix of civilian and law enforcement representation and subpoena power to better review SPD actions. And SPD must undertake a thorough review of its training policies and procedures to ensure that, in the course of a difficult job that often requires split-second decisions, officers have instilled in them cultural awareness and the tools needed to maintain public safety, de-escalate confrontations, and treat civilians with courtesy and respect.

I also support a greater re-emphasis on community policing, and programs that enable officers to build relationships with neighborhood watch groups, residents, and business owners and employees.

2) Now that the Viaduct is coming down, what should the waterfront look like?

Now that construction of the downtown tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way viaduct is underway, over the next several months city council will face the next phase of the debate: how best to use the newly available waterfront acreage that removal of the viaduct will create. I believe that the final plan must meet several critical objectives:

It must meet critical infrastructure needs. We need to not only replace the aging seawall, but anticipate the climate change-induced rising water levels of coming decades.

It must make the waterfront accessible to the general public. Plans should emphasize public access over private development. The downtown waterfront must be usable by all residents, workers, and tourists, not just those who can afford to pay a price.

It must be affordable. Given Seattle’s budget constraints, and the possible additional costs of tunnel construction itself, this is not the time for the city to once again opt for an expensive mega-project. One preliminary plan costs nearly a billion dollars. This is simply not realistic or wise. Seattle can not afford a blank check for waterfront development.

It must preserve waterfront jobs. The waterfront plan will almost certainly create tourism-related jobs, but it should not do so at the expense of the existing, well-paying jobs of Seattle’s working waterfront.

It must be accountable. The plan has specific budgetary and completion benchmarks. Council must not only approve the plan, but continue to exercise oversight to ensure that both the tunnel and the waterfront reconstruction come in on time and in budget.

It must ensure that public safety is an integral part of the overall landscape design. The present Freeway Park design has made it an instrument of criminal activities and neighborhood concern. The waterfront landscape design elements must avoid repeating similar design problems.

Once such a criteria is agreed upon than the city can move forward with incorporating fun elements like a venue for waterfront concerts, arts and cultural sites that showcase the indigenous historical contributions of first nation people and those of ethnic origins, immigrant and refugee groups who now call Seattle home.

This is a rare opportunity to remake one of the most visible parts of Seattle. We need to do it right. On council, I will work hard to ensure that any plan meets these goals and delivers a downtown waterfront worthy of a world class city.

3) As the great recession drags on, the city budget is still hurt. What do we need to cut, what do we need to keep, and do we need to raise more money via taxation?

The Seattle City Council recently voted unanimously to place a $60 vehicle license fee increase on the November ballot. I urge voters to reject this proposal as being the wrong plan, at the wrong time, to achieve the wrong goals.

It’s the wrong plan. The proposed car tab increase is an extremely regressive flat tax that will disproportionately hurt the poor and unemployed.

It’s the wrong time. We are in a struggling economy. King County Council has already voted to impose an additional $20 car tab hike that will also affect all city car owners; the city council already imposed its original $20 car tab assessment months ago; and the city council has also put a doubling of the Families and Education Levy on the November ballot.

It’s the wrong goals. The $204 million to be raised by the car tab hike during the next ten years will be divided primarily among transit projects (49 percent); road repair and maintenance (29 percent); and bicycle and pedestrian projects (22 percent). All three of these areas are misjudged. The car tab hike is being widely promoted as a “transit measure,” but that’s misleading. Instead of buses or light rail, much of the money is dedicated to two streetcar projects, given the overwhelming demand for more bus – not streetcar – service; this is an unconscionable misuse of scarce transportation taxing authority.

It’s time to balance our support for these transportation modes with other transportation needs. Both the bicycle/pedestrian funding and the streetcar lines are nice “wish list” projects that pale in importance next to the over one billion dollars in backlogged road and bridge repairs. The part of this ten year tax allocated to repairs and maintenance is less than one-seventeenth of what would be needed even to address today’s backlog. The maintenance backlog is a serious public safety issue that affects cars, buses, bicycles, and every other type of vehicle that uses our streets and bridges.

We need to focus on what matters, capital infrastructure maintenance should be the priority. On par with this for the general fund would be maintenance of the safety net for those most vulnerable. Regressive taxation is not the answer for addressing revenue shortfalls in the future. Seattle should take the leadership in working with legislative representatives from the 36th, 46th, 43rd, 37th, 34th and the 11th in working with legislative allies to urge a WA State income tax to replace all regressive taxes and to lower current sales tax rates.

4) With its budget shrunk at least until the end of the recession what should Seattle parks look like?

The biggest problem for the Parks & Recreation Department in recent years has been lack of accountability to local park users and neighbors, particularly in park controversies like the Gas Works Park concerts, the proposed Woodland Park Zoo parking garage, a redesign of Occidental Park, and many others. There were two common themes to those controversies: pressure from the city to use its parks to generate new income streams, and lack of responsiveness by both Parks Department leadership and city council to neighborhood concerns.

Those controversies have subsided after the departure of longtime Parks and Recreation head Ken Bounds and his patron, former mayor Greg Nickels. But the pressures to generate park income for the city, and the need for oversight by and accountability to the city council, remain. Parks Department leadership and members of the council’s Parks and Seattle Center need to balance the sometimes conflicting needs of the many constituencies of the parks – picnickers, sports fields users, special events patrons, dog lovers, etc. – with those of park neighbors and the general interests of the city.

The goal of keeping Seattle Parks free, safe, and accessible for all Seattle residents should be paramount. Safety is not limited to people and should be extended to keep fighting breeds of dogs out of Off-leash areas, and parks for the safety of other pets and people. User fees should be kept affordable and other income streams – whether park concessions, special events, or more creative attempts to raise desperately needed revenues for the city – should only be undertaken if the impact on that primary goal is minimal. Revenue shortfalls will continue as the recession continues. Parks are places where naming rights and advertisement for a fee could be better utilized to assist with park maintenance and expenses.

5) What is the Seattle’s role in education and public transportation given how important they are to the city, but that other agencies are tasked with them?

The City has made a huge investment in Seattle Public Schools by taxing citizens to invest in a variety of support services for students. Overall the city should and must do a better job of managing the Education Levy dollars so that the wrap around services being funded can assist the school district in raising academic achievement and graduation rates. Dropout rates are unacceptably high. African-American and Native American graduation rates have declined in the last decade. Our schools often haven’t been successful in educating some groups of students ESL students, lower income students and students from African –American, Native American and Latino cultural groups. We’re not being smart to ensure that we are leveraging city influence on the schools to establish some targeted goals and benchmarks to be measured against. The city can also do a much better job working in partnership with the school district to support administrative areas like Human Resource training, shared staff between the cities Park and Recreational staff who oversees the fields and the school district’s garden and janitorial staff who have some similar and shared responsibilities for the same properties. We need to facilitate ways to keep school district gyms and recreational areas open to the public in the early evenings and on weekends. North and South end schools can be paired to support one another much like the Sister City International relationships. In the end, the Families and Education Levy need to be supported but at the same time, we need to build into it some real specific benchmarks for accountability.

The primary role of city government in public transit is to oversee urban planning, zoning, and development in such a way that it both encourages transit use and makes transit itself more efficient. The city government needs to encourage and support a healthy mix of transportation modes; there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. As Seattle moves to greater density, it should both concentrate much of that increased density in areas with good transit service and work to ensure that transit can adapt adequately in areas where demand will increase due to new development.

There have been various proposals over the years to combine transit agencies in the region, particularly Metro and Sound Transit. Depending on the details, I would seriously consider such a proposal. The coordination and elimination of redundancy amongst different agencies is better, but there’s more to be done, and having one bureaucracy to fund rather than several would also result in cost savings and improved efficiency – savings that, hopefully, could be redirected into expanded service.


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    Michael spews:

    There have been various proposals over the years to combine transit agencies in the region, particularly Metro and Sound Transit. Depending on the details, I would seriously consider such a proposal.

    Probably a good idea, but not something that a Seattle city council member would have much to do with.

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    The Seattle City Council sends someone to the board, so while it’s probably more a King County thing, I do think it would be something someone on the City Council could move a bit. I’m not thrilled with the prospect; I don’t like the idea of Metro ceding power to people who represent areas that are cutting service.

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    Michael spews:

    Thanks for the clarification.

    There’s a lot of duplication in the back office stuff of all the different transit orgs. Some streamlining is probably in order.