State Senator Bob Hasegawa, D-11th District, is running for Seattle mayor and critiques HALA, wants to empower neighborhoods and levy impact fees on new development
By Neil Powers
Since 2005, Bob Hasegawa, 64, has been a member of the Washington state Legislature, first as a state Representative then as a state Senator. Hasegawa is a lifelong resident of Beacon Hill and before joining the legislature, he was a leader of the reform wing of the Teamsters Union, locally and nationally. His signature campaign issue is creating the country’s first city owned bank.
How would a municipal bank build affordable housing?
Hasegawa says, “You have to get smart people who are familiar with public finance and banking and understand the politics too and just put them together.” He adds that he has the right people already lined up.
Hasegawa uses the example of the seven-year, $290 million housing levy approved by Seattle voters in August 2016. Instead of simply building housing with that money, he says, “we might do much better if we capitalized the public bank with that money and lent [the money] out.”
“The bank would be the depository for all of our tax revenues that are flowing. [Every] $100 million leverages about $1 billion in lending capacity. We could build a lot of [housing] units for $1 billion dollars. [The bank] will make revenue for the city without raising taxes and it drastically [increases] our financing capacity; that’s just what banks do. We can seriously kick start addressing the housing shortage.”
Hasegawa draws a strong contrast between his own approach to building housing and what Mayor Murray is doing with the “Grand Bargain” of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), where developers can build bigger and taller buildings (upzones) in exchange for having to provide affordable housing (set-asides) in their projects or pay into a low-income housing fund.
“We’re basically begging developers to set aside a certain [small] amount of affordable housing units if we let them do whatever they want,” says Hasegawa. “A developer is never going to take that deal if it is a bad deal for the developer.”
“When [City Hall] set a [2.1—5.1 percent] set-aside for South Lake Union, it’s not doing anything as far as I could tell,” says Hasegawa. “We need to seriously increase the set-asides to make it a good deal for the city so we can build enough affordable housing.”
Hasegawa also wants to levy impact fees on new development to pay for schools and transportation. “Development should pay for development,” he says. “Because of all the development going on, [the developers] should be helping pay for the schools [and] the roads. Right now, it is falling on all the backs of other taxpayers to pick up.”
“But the developers should pay for it because they’re the ones making money off all of the people moving in. We need streets and sidewalks,” he says. “That’s what impact fees are supposed to do is provide those basic public services.”
Neighborhood councils need real power and responsibility
Hasegawa also wants to fundamentally change the way city government operates.
“My campaign is about reverting top-down power to bottom-up power instead,” he says.
He wants use neighborhood councils to empower neighborhoods. “We had neighborhood councils, but [City Hall] defunded the neighborhood councils.
“If they didn’t represent the neighborhoods, which was true, you don’t defund them and eliminate them,” he says. “You empower them to do the organizing work in the community so they actually do represent the neighborhood.
“Hire community organizers to build the power base on the grassroots level and give them some authority to write their own budget,” he adds. Hasegawa would provide neighborhoods with “serious money” to write local budgets.
“With that privilege, gaining control of the neighborhood, also comes responsibilities,” he says. “The responsibilities require accepting a certain amount of density that the city has inevitably got to deal with. I don’t know how we apportion that density to the neighborhood councils. We’ll have to figure that out. You get the privilege of controlling your neighborhood with the responsibility of accepting the city’s obligations.”
Can this legislator be a good mayor?
Does Hasegawa’s 12-years as a state legislator and a Teamster leader prepare him to be the chief executive of Seattle?
In the legislature, he describes his focus as “workers’ rights, social justice and racial justice.” He talks about his success at getting legislation through the Republican-controlled state Senate. As an example, he cites a budget proviso that would create racial-impact statements in the state Senate budget. He explains further, “We will be able to know on any given piece of legislation if it will have disparately negative impacts on communities of color. [For example,] if we are going to change a sentencing guideline: ‘Will this put more people-of-color in jail than white people?’ It’s pretty amazing.” The proviso does not yet have ongoing funding, but Hasegawa hopes it will be added next year.
He also believes his Teamsters Union leadership provided him with the skills necessary to be mayor. “I was the head of the [local] Teamsters Union for a lot of years,” he says smiling. “As the Teamsters principal executive officer, I was responsible for and successfully negotiated almost 1000 collective bargaining agreements. We are talking about people’s livelihoods and their families, creating living wage jobs, getting wage increases and respect on the job, pension, benefits —all of that stuff.”
Hasegawa was also on the three-person Teamsters national negotiating team, for the national United Parcel Service labor agreement that covered 220,000 workers. “I have the experience not just at negotiating at all those levels but the responsibility of making all those kinds of decisions as a chief executive of a multi-million dollar labor organization,” he says. “At the same time as we were managing the day-to-day affairs, we successfully implemented transformational change.”
Hasegawa wants to bring that kind of change to city hall.
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Neil Powers was a longtime staffer for former Seattle City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck. Afterwards Powers worked at United Way of King County on homelessness. More recently he has been studying journalism in Toronto.