Correction: See the underlined and struck-out text in paragraph 3.
In a wide-open race for State Senator from the 34th District (representing West Seattle, Burien, and Vashon Island), there are several good candidates from whom to choose. Joe Nguyen stands out as having a razor-sharp understanding of transit and land use issues, and firm commitment to siding with transit.
By day, Joe Nguyen is a Senior Manager at Microsoft. He gets around mostly by bus, light rail, and bike, except for when he has to get the family around by car.
By night, Nguyen is involved in various community groups, including as Chair of Wellspring Family Services’ Associate Board. Wellspring is committed to housing 2000 families in the next two years. “We have a housing crisis now, and it
doesn’t require public/private partnerships to build” the housing we need, he said in our interview. In defense of allowing for-profit developers to build some of the needed housing, he mentioned the condo warranty law as a reason why for-profit developers will choose to build apartments when given the opportunity to build multi-family housing. He understands the bureaucratic hurdles that get in the way of building anything, including housing.
Regarding transit, Nguyen expressed frustration not only that the Center City Connector might not be finished, resulting in having to return a lot of federal grant money, but also that the CCC isn’t planned to go all the way to UW. On that point, he said he would support trying to get the state to throw in some money to get the job done.
We asked why Senators Maralyn Chase and Bob Hasegawa, no friends of light rail, endorsed him. He said their endorsements are based on other issues, such as making stuff accessible to regular people, and that he does not agree with them at all on transit issues. In particular, Nguyen does not support the rollback of Sound Transit car tabs.
Of particular relevance to many of Nguyen’s would-be constituents on Vashon Island, he “100%” supports getting Washington State Ferries to accept PugetPass and interagency transfers, and also pointed out the need for more pedestrian-friendly paths at the ferry docks. He is passionate about using price elasticity to incentivize more ferry walk-ons and make them cheaper for families.
Nguyen also points out the irony that most businesses have 5-year plans, have interest in building here, and find that the local governments have not planned ahead. He would like to see development plans prepared by local governments that include pedestrian and bike access to and through new construction projects, and that these plans be ready when prospective tenant businesses show up, so that shovels can be turned faster.
Shannon Braddock was a strong second, based on her experience dealing with transit issues as a legislative aide for several years. She understands the complex work of building regional partnerships. She commutes downtown by bus, and says “people want light rail to come faster,” especially the many people with whom she talks while commuting. “I’ve seen what it means to manage transit.” She added that “It’s cost-effective” for moving people to and through urban areas.
In response to our question about her call for “preserving housing affordability”, she clarified “I am a supporter of urban density”, and that preserving single-family houses around light rail stations probably doesn’t make sense. “Four stories is probably not enough” for new apartments in those locations. She is willing to take a look at all the barriers the state throws in the way of building more housing, but also defended the need for Comprehensive Plans with long cycles between updates, as part of the need to get buy-in from stakeholders and to plan growth well.
On several transit and climate action questions, Braddock said she would follow Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon’s and Sen. Marko Liias on these issues, including on resolving the car tab debate (other than not wanting to raid the $500m education fund). But she has heard far more complaints about property taxes than car tabs.
However, Braddock doesn’t provide many policy details. She has a tendency to talk around taking positions, which may be either open-mindedness or centrist calculation. She is generally supportive of state funding of transit, and pointed out that the state hasn’t given the county enough of a toolbox for transit funding. But we don’t think she has Nguyen’s firm policy commitments.
Lois Schipper has spent most of her career in nursing, and has traveled around the world to offer her services to many who need the help. Her work and travels have colored her reaction to those wanting to stop growth. “We are growing as a population worldwide. The world we live in today is not the world we lived in 40 year ago.” She is a staunch advocate of affordable housing, and putting it in Seattle, especially downtown. In particular, she would like to do away with the payments developers can make to push affordable housing out to South King County, and require the affordable housing on-site.
Schipper is a bicyclist and defender of road diets. She also has dug deeply into the situation with the Fauntleroy Ferry Dock, pointing out that there is not enough staging area for all the cars that could fit on the ferries’ card decks. When asked about getting more walk-ons, she said the ferries and other modes are “interdependent”, and that it makes no sense to have to pay three different fares to get to the ferry, get on the ferry, and then get back onto buses.
Schipper is skeptical of the value of the Center City Connector and painfully aware of the dangers for bikes. But she is also a light rail commuter and fan. She is not interested in rolling back the voter-approved car tabs for ST3, and staunchly opposed to raiding the $500m education fund. However, she does want more transparency, from ST, from SDOT, from the Legislature, and from politicians in general. “I have never been good at lying.”
Sofia Aragon serves on the board of WA Low Income Housing Alliance. She wants to streamline processes at the state level to allow affordable housing to be built faster. She said the people she has talked to while doorbelling know more density is coming, but they also want more transit to come with it, whether it be buses or rail. But she also supports the rollback of the Sound Transit portion of car tabs to better reflect car values. “Voters are feeling pretty maxed out.”
Lem Charleston is another, more outsiderish, candidate who is making an effort. He is a motorcyclist who cares passionately about bike safety. He wants the Department of Motor Vehicles to do more to train car drivers how to drive safely in the presence of bikes, and vice versa. In particular, he sees a need for cyclists to have a better understanding of car drivers’ blind spots. His attitude toward light rail — which he points out he will probably never get to use, but for which he has had to pay over $200 in annual tabs — is somewhat skeptical, with a call to have more independent review of how all the money is being spent. But that is also his practical attitude toward how his church doles out grants to worthy causes: an attitude of demanding to see results, which he doesn’t see among most current elected officials. On housing affordability, he would like to see some sort of subsidy for low-income renters and property tax relief. He is also not happy about the rate at which Seattle is densifying, and how quickly we are losing our views.
All candidates were offered the opportunity to interview. These are the five who responded.
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The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Brent White, and Dan Ryan.