Seattle mayoral candidate Lorena Gonzalez lays out plans for policing, homelessness, and income tax

Sep 30, 2021, 5:43 AM
Seattle mayoral candidate Lorena Gonzalez...
Council President and mayoral candidate Lorena Gonzalez. (Campaign photo)
(Campaign photo)

Whoever Seattle’s next mayor ends up being, that person will be tasked with a to-do list that includes addressing the city’s growing homelessness crisis, concerns over public safety and policing, a rapidly increasing cost of living, and plenty more to boot. Mayoral candidate and current Council President Lorena Gonzalez has her own to-do list should she win the office, in what’s certain to be a hotly-contested race between her and former Council President Bruce Harrell.

Seattle mayoral candidate unveils plan to address city’s homeless crisis

Gonzalez was elected to Seattle City Council in 2015, before assuming the role of council president following Harrell’s decision to not run for reelection in 2019. And while both her and Harrell have experience in city government, Gonzalez believes that her more recent service gives her a leg up.

“The current city council is one my opponent has never worked with since it’s about 50% new since the 2019 elections,” she told MyNorthwest. “I think that is what gives me an advantage as a candidate in this race to really get past that political gridlock.”

In terms of policy positions, the dividing line between Harrell and Gonzalez’s respective plans to address homelessness is largely drawn along Compassion Seattle’s now-defunct ballot initiative. The proposal would have had voters decide on amending the Seattle city charter to mandate an additional 2,000 shelter beds or permanent housing units within a one-year period, while codifying requirements to “ensure that parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public spaces, and sidewalks and streets remain open and clear of encampments.”

The measure was ultimately struck from the ballot by a judge for exceeding the bounds of what a ballot initiative can legally require, although Harrell recently expressed support for enacting its policies at the city level.

Gonzalez describes her own plan to address homelessness as “drastically different” from Compassion Seattle’s, claiming that the group’s charter amendment was “fundamentally rooted in legitimizing inhumane, forcible removal of people from parks and public spaces.”

“That is not a solution to homelessness,” she said. “That is a Band-Aid approach that is the current status quo, which is to simply move the problem from one neighborhood to another, and that’s unacceptable.”

Gonzalez unveiled her own plan last week, which she says “is not focused on counting tents.”

“My proposal is focused on individualized service plans throughout all of our neighborhoods, and doing that assessment together with human service providers and housing providers to quickly connect people based on their individual needs to the housing and shelter they need,” she clarified.

That’s also a plan that could see the city revisit the implementation of an income tax, following a 2019 court decision where a judge ruled that cities like Seattle could impose such a tax provided it’s applied at a flat rate across every income bracket.

To balance the added financial burden that would create for lower incomes, Gonzalez would then look to distribute “tax credits to working families or families with children.”

“Those are the kind of policies that I want to prioritize and advance immediately within the first 100 days of my administration, together with people in communities, together with the council, to create that mechanism to bring in additional revenue that will complement the JumpStart payroll tax,” she described.

Seattle leaders announce new funding for permanent supportive housing

If elected, Gonzalez would also likely have her hands full addressing public safety, particularly in the wake of the Seattle Police Department losing hundreds of officers to resignations and retirements over the last year and a half.

Despite those losses, though, she doesn’t see ramping up SPD’s hiring as the main priority moving forward.

“The way we do this is not to go back to the status quo of hiring more armed law enforcement to put boots on the ground and over-police our neighborhoods,” Gonzalez detailed. “What we do is we look at the reality that our law enforcement should not be responding to mental health crises or nonviolent situations.”

That would operate as part of an initiative to “evaluate what function, [and] what lines of business our police department should be doing and should not be doing.” Gonzalez hopes to put that plan into action with scaled-up investments in resources for mental health crisis response teams, community safety programs, and addressing the “health and crisis needs of those experiencing homelessness.”

When it’s all said in done, the winner of Seattle’s next mayoral election may very well come down to whose to-do list covers the most ground. Whether that’s Gonzalez or Harrell remains to be seen.

MyNorthwest has requested an interview with Bruce Harrell.

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Seattle mayoral candidate Lorena Gonzalez lays out plans for policing, homelessness, and income tax