Rob Saka, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 1
Release Date: 09/12/2023
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On this Tuesday topical show, Crystal chats with Rob Saka about his campaign for Seattle City Council District 1. Listen and learn more about Rob and his thoughts on:
- [01:10] - Why he is running
- [05:31] - Lightning round!
- [14:12] - What is an accomplishment of his that impacts District 1
- [17:46] - City budget shortfall: Raise revenue or cut services?
- [23:29] - Climate change
- [25:29] - Transit reliability
- [28:08] - Bike and pedestrian safety
- [30:22] - Public Safety: Alternative response
- [35:00] - Victim support
- [40:56] - Housing and homelessness: Frontline worker wages
- [43:03] - Small business support
- [47:30] - Childcare: Affordability and accessibility
- [51:38] - Progressive revenue options
- [53:41] - Difference between him and opponent
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
I am a Seattle Public Schools dad of three, attorney, justice reform advocate, Air Force Veteran, and West Seattle resident. As the son of a Nigerian immigrant, I overcame abject poverty, a traumatic and unstable home life cycling through the foster care system, to rise in the ranks of the U.S. Air Force, earn my college and law degrees under the G.I. Bill, and achieve success as an attorney and policy advocate in Seattle and King County.
I grew up in the foster care system in Minnesota until my father was able to rescue me at nine years old. We moved out west and settled in low-income apartments in Kent, blocks away from a justice center that would later house some of my childhood friends. Growing up, I watched my dad work numerous physically demanding low-wage jobs. As a single father, he ended up settling for any honest work he could get to put food on our table. I went on to earn my college degree under the G.I. Bill at the University of Washington where I met my wife, Alicia. After quickly moving up the Enlisted ranks, I earned a rare Deserving Airman Commission and served as an Intelligence Officer.
After 10 years in the military, I resigned my commission to focus on serving others as a civilian attorney. I thought I could help others in my community better overcome some of the systemic barriers I had navigated growing up if I was armed with the power of the law. After graduating law school from the University of California, Hastings Law, I moved back to Seattle to practice law at Perkins Coie.
I have tried my best to bring my unique brand of servant leadership and passionate advocacy in service of communities across this city, including by serving on nonprofit boards such as the Seattle Urban League, representing fellow Veterans in need pro bono, via the Seattle Stand Down Initiative, helping underserved microentrepreneurs start and grow their businesses, volunteering to be head coach for my daughter’s Little League baseball team, and much more. In 2018, King County Executive Dow Constantine appointed me to serve on the once per decade Charter Commission where I helped champion and pass several voter-approved ballot measures to reform our justice system and protect workers. In 2021, the King County Council appointed me to the nonpartisan Districting Committee tasked with redrawing King County Council districts using Census data. In 2022, Mayor Bruce Harrell appointed me to serve on the Seattle Police Chief Search Committee responsible for helping to select the next Chief of Police.
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington State through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review show and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.
Well hello - today I am thrilled to be joined by a candidate for Seattle City Council in District 1, Rob Saka. Welcome, Rob.
[00:01:03] Rob Saka: Thank you, Crystal - appreciate the opportunity to share this virtual space here with you and your audience.
[00:01:10] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Well, I guess what I'm starting off wondering is - why are you running?
[00:01:17] Rob Saka: Yeah, so great, great question. So just a little bit about me first. I'm a - Crystal, I'm a public school dad of three - three young kids. I'm an Air Force veteran, attorney, community safety advocate. I had the pleasure of serving on a lot of boards and commissions, most recently the Seattle Police Chief Search Committee. Before that, I served - I got nitty gritty, waist deep in US census data and helped redraw the legislative boundaries in King County using a process that runs parallel to state and federal redistricting. Before that, helped champion and pass a brand new justice reform framework right here in Martin Luther King County - and that voter's ultimately approved. And, you know, so I live in Delridge with my family and look, I'm grateful - as an Air Force veteran, I went to law school. In the last 10 years, I've been helping organizations and individuals of all sizes start and grow their businesses and be successful. And I'm grateful, Crystal, where I am today personally and professionally.
But I'm also someone who overcame the foster care system for the first nine years of my life - cycling in and out, in and out, mostly in - before my father, who is a Nigerian immigrant, was able to finally rescue me from those circumstances at age nine. And, you know, me and my dad - he ended up raising me as a single parent, ended up sort of struggling growing up, our struggles continued together. But I was born in Minneapolis and moved out West like middle school age - landed in South King County in Kent, so proud to have called - proud to call West Seattle my home today, lived in Seattle for over 15 years. But, you know, particularly during the formative years of my childhood - you know, adolescence - grew up in South County in Kent. And, you know, so let's just say I have a non-traditional background and journey and path to where I am today. And I grew up in Kent - in the valley in Kent - that were blocks away from the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center, Crystal, that would later house some of my childhood friends. And sadly, some of them would be sentenced for their crimes by judges who are now my professional mentors in the legal community.
And so I've always felt this continuing, ongoing - not just responsibility, but duty - duty to make sure that more people from disadvantaged backgrounds and communities and walks of life are able to not only achieve their true potential in life, but thrive. And part of my calling, part of the way I've been able to do that is through justice reform and making sure more people that look like me and you and others, you know, aren't like - more specifically more Black and brown folks - aren't overly represented in the criminal justice system here. And so I mentioned some of that work. And I fought to hold bad police accountable in the past, and I'll continue to do that, you know, going forward if elected in Seattle City Council. But public safety has been weighing heavily on my heart and my mind, Crystal, as a dad - dad in the city, just a dad from Delridge. And I understand the need - as a Black man growing up in this country, I understand the need to have better police because I've experienced police brutality firsthand. And better police - not no police, not defund police, but better police - and I fought to hold bad police accountable, continue that work going forward. But the stakes have never been higher to make sure that we have the public safety resources and prevention and response and intervention capabilities - both, all - that we need to meet the challenges we're currently facing. And I was - been personally disheartened by some of the current direction of the Seattle City Council in particular, and I'm here to focus on solutions. The stakes for this city have never been higher - for my kids, for kids across this entire city. But I couldn't be more energized and excited at the opportunity that we all have to bring about the change that I think people are so desperately yearning for. So that's why.
[00:05:31] Crystal Fincher: Gotcha. Well, before we dive into all of the details and long discussion we're gonna have, we are adding a new element into our candidate interviews this year, which is a bit of a lightning round - just short form yes or no, or choose one answers. And so starting with this little group -
This year, did you vote yes on the King County Crisis Care Centers levy?
[00:05:56] Rob Saka: Yes, happily.
[00:05:57] Crystal Fincher: This year, did you vote yes on the Veterans, Seniors and Human Services levy?
[00:06:03] Rob Saka: Yes, yes - that benefits everybody. Not just 'cause I'm a vet - heck yes.
[00:06:08] Crystal Fincher: Did you vote in favor of Seattle's Social Housing Initiative 135?
[00:06:13] Rob Saka: Yes.
[00:06:16] Crystal Fincher: In 2021, did you vote in favor of Bruce Harrell or Lorena González for Mayor?
[00:06:21] Rob Saka: I voted for Mayor Bruce Harrell.
[00:06:24] Crystal Fincher: In 2021, did you vote for Nicole Thomas Kennedy or Ann Davison for City Attorney?
[00:06:29] Rob Saka: Ooh, yeah, it's - rock and a hard place - but given the choice between an abolitionist and someone super duper hefty and strong on public safety, I voted for Ann Davison.
[00:06:43] Crystal Fincher: In 2022, did you vote for Leesa Manion or Jim Ferrell for Prosecutor?
[00:06:48] Rob Saka: Leesa.
[00:06:49] Crystal Fincher: In 2022, did you vote for Patty Murray or Tiffany Smiley for US Senate?
[00:06:54] Rob Saka: Senator Murray. I helped knock on doors for her in 2010. Of course, yeah.
[00:07:00] Crystal Fincher: Do you rent or own your residence?
[00:07:03] Rob Saka: Today, I own - grateful for that - but I'm a lifelong renter and other unstable and insecure housing before that, but today, I own.
[00:07:12] Crystal Fincher: Are you a landlord?
[00:07:14] Rob Saka: No.
[00:07:15] Crystal Fincher: Would you vote to require landlords to report metrics, including how much rent they're charging, to help better plan housing and development needs in the district?
[00:07:25] Rob Saka: Maybe. Curious to understand more about what specific set of problems that would help address--
[00:07:34] Crystal Fincher: We can get more into all the detail. We'll keep these to yes or no right now.
Are there instances where you support sweeps of homeless encampments?
[00:07:45] Rob Saka: I support better connecting our unhoused neighbors with shelter and services, and some people call it sweeps, some people call it restoring encampments or whatever, but--
[00:07:57] Crystal Fincher: Is this a yes or a no?
[00:08:01] Rob Saka: I support connecting people with, better connecting people with shelter and services. So I guess under your framing, yes.
[00:08:08] Crystal Fincher: Will you vote to provide additional funding for Seattle's Social Housing Public Development Authority?
[00:08:15] Rob Saka: Maybe. We need to figure out where that's gonna come from, but I'm inclined to do it. I'm looking forward to working with the authors of the original bill - that I voted for - to figure out what the funding solution looks like.
[00:08:28] Crystal Fincher: Do you agree with King County Executive Constantine's statement that the King County Jail should be closed?
[00:08:36] Rob Saka: As a principle - long-term, yeah, long-term, but yeah, we still have issues and challenges today that require incarceration, and so--
[00:08:52] Crystal Fincher: Moving on to - lightning round, lightning round.
Do you agree with King County Executive Dow Constantine that the Youth Jail should be closed in 2025?
[00:09:02] Rob Saka: Maybe.
[00:09:04] Crystal Fincher: Should parking enforcement be housed with an SPD?
[00:09:10] Rob Saka: Maybe.
[00:09:11] Crystal Fincher: Would you vote to allow police in schools?
[00:09:17] Rob Saka: Yes, if that's what the community wants.
[00:09:19] Crystal Fincher: Would, do you support allocation in the City budget for a civilian-led mental health crisis response?
[00:09:25] Rob Saka: Yes.
[00:09:26] Crystal Fincher: Do you support allocation in the City budget to increase the pay of human service workers?
[00:09:31] Rob Saka: Yes.
[00:09:33] Crystal Fincher: Do you support removing funds in the City budget for forced encampment removals, and instead allocating funds towards a Housing First approach?
[00:09:42] Rob Saka: No.
[00:09:44] Crystal Fincher: Do you support abrogating or removing the funds from unfilled SPD positions and putting them towards meaningful public safety measures?
[00:09:53] Rob Saka: No.
[00:09:55] Crystal Fincher: Do you support allocating money in the City budget for supervised consumption sites?
[00:10:00] Rob Saka: No.
[00:10:01] Crystal Fincher: Do you support increasing funding in the City budget for violence intervention programs?
[00:10:08] Rob Saka: Yes.
[00:10:10] Crystal Fincher: Do you oppose a SPOG contract, or Seattle Police Officers Guild contract, that does not give the Office of Police Accountability and the Office of Inspector General subpoena power?
[00:10:22] Rob Saka: Yes, I worked on it at the county level - yes.
[00:10:26] Crystal Fincher: So you oppose it, they should have subpoena power?
[00:10:28] Rob Saka: Yeah, absolutely. I believe an effective civili-- well, we can talk about it, but yeah, yeah.
[00:10:32] Crystal Fincher: Do you oppose a SPOG contract that doesn't remove limitations as to how many of OPA's investigators must be sworn versus civilian?
[00:10:45] Rob Saka: Help me understand this question - is it - so--
[00:10:47] Crystal Fincher: Do you oppose basically lifting the cap, removing limitations? Would you oppose a contract that doesn't remove those limitations as to how many of OPA's investigators must be sworn versus civilian?
[00:11:03] Rob Saka: No.
[00:11:03] Crystal Fincher: Meaning should - okay, gotcha.
Do you oppose a SPOG contract that impedes the ability, do you oppose a SPOG contract that impedes the ability of the City to move police funding to public safety alternatives?
[00:11:20] Rob Saka: Would I oppose a SPOG contract that removes?
[00:11:23] Crystal Fincher: That impedes the ability of the City to move police funding to public safety alternatives?
[00:11:31] Rob Saka: Yes, provided it doesn't impact, yeah.
[00:11:34] Crystal Fincher: Do you support eliminating in-uniform off-duty work by SPD officers?
[00:11:43] Rob Saka: No.
[00:11:45] Crystal Fincher: Will you vote to ensure that trans and non-binary students are allowed to play on the sports teams that fit with their gender identities?
[00:11:53] Rob Saka: Yes.
[00:11:55] Crystal Fincher: Will you vote to ensure that trans people can use bathrooms or public facilities that match their gender?
[00:12:00] Rob Saka: Yes.
[00:12:02] Crystal Fincher: Do you agree with the Seattle City Council's decision to implement the JumpStart Tax?
[00:12:08] Rob Saka: Yes.
[00:12:10] Crystal Fincher: Will you vote to reduce or divert the JumpStart Tax in any way?
[00:12:15] Rob Saka: No.
[00:12:17] Crystal Fincher: Are you happy with Seattle's newly built waterfront?
[00:12:23] Rob Saka: Yes. Maybe. Could be better.
[00:12:26] Crystal Fincher: Do you believe return to work mandates, like the one issued by Amazon, are necessary to boost Seattle's economy?
[00:12:34] Rob Saka: Yes.
[00:12:36] Crystal Fincher: Have you taken transit in the past week?
[00:12:40] Rob Saka: No.
[00:12:41] Crystal Fincher: In the past month?
[00:12:43] Rob Saka: No.
[00:12:44] Crystal Fincher: Have you ridden a bike in the past week?
[00:12:48] Rob Saka: No. In the last month - yes.
[00:12:51] Crystal Fincher: Should Pike Place Market allow non-commercial car traffic?
[00:13:00] Rob Saka: Yes.
[00:13:02] Crystal Fincher: Should significant investments be made to speed up the opening of scheduled Sound Transit light rail lines?
[00:13:09] Rob Saka: Yes.
[00:13:11] Crystal Fincher: Should we accelerate the elimination of the ability to turn right on red lights to improve pedestrian safety?
[00:13:19] Rob Saka: Yes.
[00:13:21] Crystal Fincher: Have you ever been a member of a union?
[00:13:23] Rob Saka: Yes.
[00:13:25] Crystal Fincher: Will you vote to increase funding and staffing for investigations into labor violations like wage theft and illegal union busting?
[00:13:33] Rob Saka: Yes.
[00:13:35] Crystal Fincher: Have you ever walked on a picket line?
[00:13:39] Rob Saka: Yes.
[00:13:40] Crystal Fincher: Have you ever crossed a picket line?
[00:13:42] Rob Saka: No.
[00:13:44] Crystal Fincher: Is your campaign unionized?
[00:13:49] Rob Saka: No, no one in my--
[00:13:52] Crystal Fincher: You would know if it was.
[00:13:53] Rob Saka: Yeah.
[00:13:54] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. If your campaign staff wants to unionize, will you voluntarily recognize their effort?
[00:14:00] Rob Saka: Yes.
[00:14:02] Crystal Fincher: See, and that's the end of the lightning round - quick and painless. And now we can get into our deep conversation where we can get into all of the nuance. Wanted to start out talking about, you know, a lot of people look to work that candidates have done to get a feel for what they prioritize and how qualified they are to lead. Can you describe something you've accomplished or changed in your district and what impact that has had on its residents?
[00:14:28] Rob Saka: Yeah, so a couple of things. I kind of - as I mentioned, I served on a number of boards, appointed boards, and commissions at the county and city level. And particularly with respect to my prior work in the King County Charter Commission where kind of basically changed the landscape for, you know - at the constitutional, the basic framework of the county, made a number of changes that voters ultimately approved and signed off on that, you know, helped make King County a better place. And therefore this district and the city, entire city a better place. So more specifically, you know, I'm really proud of a lot of the work that I did in the justice reform space. You know, I'm one of the co-architects, the reason why in this county we no longer elect our sheriff, we appoint our sheriff. Why? Because I believe in effective civilian oversight of law enforcement. Also, you know, one of the lightning round questions earlier was about, you know, granting the civilian Office of Law Enforcement Oversight or whatever - the parallel office, whatever it's called, at the city level - them subpoena power. And I helped champion and pass that at the county level to make sure that the civilian Office of Law Enforcement Oversight has subpoena power and voters approved that. And, you know, also with respect to the inquest process, when someone is killed by law enforcement, you know, I helped add safeguards and protections and making sure that that process is more fair and transparent for all, more specifically by adding and allowing the families of the deceased to be represented by, you know, have legal representation and clarifying what constitutes an in-custody death situation. So, you know, that's sort of like the package of justice reform work that I'm proud to have been a part of and help lead.
And then there's this whole issue of workplace protections. It is now unlawful in this county to discriminate against workers on the basis of, you know, their status as family caregivers or their status as a veteran, including veterans who were dishonorably discharged as a direct result of their, you know, their trans and queer status. Some, you know, as we know, when Trump took office, you know, he did what Trump does and unfortunately, a lot of people were given paperwork and discharged, many dishonorably, from the military. And so now in this county, you can no longer - so it's not just the people of, absolutely, you know, like everyone benefits from that, not just the people in the county. And selfishly, look, as a veteran and someone who has - with three young kids - and I have my own family caregiving obligations, but so my DNA and fingerprints are clearly all over that. But we know that everyone, everyone benefits, again, when they can show up to work without fear of reprisal, retribution, discrimination, because of one of those things.
[00:17:46] Crystal Fincher: Gotcha. Well, I wanna talk about the City budget. The City of Seattle is projected to have a revenue shortfall of $224 million beginning in 2025. The City's mandated by the state to pass a balanced budget. So the only options to address that deficit are either raising revenue or cutting services. Which one of those is, or what combination of those, is your approach?
[00:18:12] Rob Saka: Yeah, it might be a more - I respectfully, you know, reject the paradigm - it's one or the other, you know, cutting or modifying maybe. And we can consider new revenue opportunities, but I think my starting place is operating within existing state law, meaning, you know, we have to have a balanced budget and start with whatever City budget we do have in place. And, you know, so that's my starting point. We need to identify what's working well, like working well spending-wise - what kind of, you know, I personally support audits of city budgets - independent, third-party audits even of city budgets, potentially across the board to identify and regular ongoing like monitoring and systems evaluations to make sure we're getting the bang for our buck and making sure whatever dollars we're spending are wisely spent. And we can shift, you know, reshift or, you know, reallocate resources to areas of greater need and greater impact potentially, but depending on the opportunity. And then from there--
[00:19:25] Crystal Fincher: I guess starting in the frame, just to help clarify the frame. So if we are working within the City budget and starting with the existing City budget, what we're moving to needs to be $224 [million] slimmer than what currently is. So I think audits are wonderful things, I think they're actually an underutilized resource for many - and not a tool of punishment, but a tool of discovery. But if you do have to cut, if you are starting from the point of - let's take this budget and see where we can trim - where are you starting? What, where would you prioritize those cuts?
[00:20:03] Rob Saka: Yeah, I'm not gonna prioritize any specific area. I'm not gonna come in and target any specific area. Instead, I'm gonna approach it with a curious mind and, you know, figure out what are those programs and services that are well delivered, well administered, and we're seeing results for. And what are, you know, other opportunities where they either need potentially additional investment or maybe reinvestment and kind of going from there. And then, you know, that's kind of like the framing that I kind of view this as. And then from there, if an existing - so if everything, after all that work, you know, it's a set of, you know, it's a spectrum, a set of analysis that kind of run side-by-side and in parallel. But, you know, from there, let's look at - so take the issue of homelessness, for example. Homelessness is certainly a Seattle problem, but it is not a Seattle-only problem. The issue of homelessness in this city is a regional problem, it's a county problem, it's a state problem, and it's a federal problem. And it's a shared - so I think not only should we not try and solve the issue - whatever the issue is, whatever the challenge is - alone and in a silo. We need to look to those other partners and other governments for design, helping to co-design and co-engineer the policy solution - Step one.
Step two is we also need to look to them for, you know, like help funding the specific solutions as well. So, you know, I would push for more - that's one area where I would push for more funding of, you know, like the shared responsibility model. And from there, let's explore public-private partnerships - building housing, affordable housing - you know, there's organizations and private organizations, including some companies who, you know, want to contribute and help address the problem. And so working collaboratively with them to figure out what's doable, how we can potentially close some of those gaps and fund them. And then let's look at new revenue opportunities after that. And I know there's this new Progressive Revenue Task Force - or whatever it's been rebranded, it's called something else in Seattle now, but - and then let's look at new revenue potentials and opportunities. But there's like, I kind of think about it more than just like - yeah, I try to avoid the either or--
[00:22:43] Crystal Fincher: I mean, but isn't that, wouldn't that be the position that you're in when you're elected? You have to trim the budget by $224 million - absent finding new revenue, which is going to take a little bit to trickle in and get started anyway. So you're going to have to make that call as a councilmember, right?
[00:23:01] Rob Saka: I'm going to have to make the call to be the, be a responsible steward of whatever dollars we are spending. I'm going to have to make the call of being, you know, doing my due diligence to make sure that we're operating within the existing City budget, identifying, you know, system deficiencies and opportunities to improve and streamline and allocate and sometimes reallocate resources. Yes.
[00:23:27] Crystal Fincher: Gotcha. Okay.
So let's talk about climate change. On almost every measure, we're behind on our 2030 climate goals, while experiencing devastating impacts from extreme heat and cold, to wildfires and floods. It's been really challenging and anticipated to see things like that with increasing frequency. What are your highest priority plans to get us on track to meet the 2030 goals?
[00:23:53] Rob Saka: Yeah, so climate change is an issue that's really important to me personally and my family. And having talked to a lot of people throughout this district, it is one that I know is weighing heavily on the hearts and minds of a lot of people - I wouldn't say that supersedes public safety in the issue of, in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but it is very important, it's very urgent. So my specific plans and proposals from a policy perspective to address climate - make sure we have a, we actually bring to life climate justice and we're seeing and building out climate resiliency across this district and hopefully across the City as well. This - District 1, first of all, as you probably know, now includes South Park and Georgetown due to redistricting. And those are some of the most historically, you know, at-risk communities. The life expectancy of folks is lower there in the Duwamish Valley. We need to build out more sustainable communities and more resilient communities. So I support things like - we also need to cut down the amount of greenhouse gases as quickly as possible. And part of that is, you know, we need to encourage and incentivize people using 100% electric vehicles. You can do that at the city level in part by building out our infrastructure and charging battery infrastructure to support that across the city. So that's part of my plan.
Another part is we need to get people, again, out of those single-occupancy vehicles that are producing the most greenhouse gases and into public transit. And so we need to, therefore, expand our public transit options. And not only as we expand out options and service, we need to expand reliability and the quality, overall quality of the experience. And I do know, just having talked to a lot of people - 7,000+, knocked on 7,000+ doors personally in this district. My campaign has knocked on an additional 12,000 outside of that. You know, there are some people, a lot of people that want to take public trans and get out of their cars, but unfortunately they just don't feel safe. They don't feel safe when they're on the bus. Crystal, they don't feel safe when they're on the journey from their homes to the bus stop. They don't feel safe when they get off the bus to wherever the destination they're going, whether it's downtown or wherever they're going. And so we can build out and expand and drive reliability and predictability and accessibility and our transit options. But if no one's feeling comfortable to take the bus, it's a nice shiny object that's effectively akin to a art project. We need to make sure we create the experience that is in-line with people's expectations as well and making sure we're doing both things in parallel.
And also, you know, we need to - and part of my plan includes - working collaboratively with labor organizations to find the best opportunities and build the pipeline for those jobs, working class jobs, in sustainable fields and making sure that those are well-funded. And, you know, we create - everyone is able to share in the benefits of a sustainable economy that's diverse. Also building out and improving our green building codes and sustainable building standards, environmental standards - strengthening those. Those are just some of the things that, you know, kind of how I view the opportunity at the Seattle City government level, from a policy standpoint, to make further progress and accelerate our impact on addressing the climate challenges we face.
[00:28:08] Crystal Fincher: Gotcha. So how would you look to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety in your district?
[00:28:17] Rob Saka: Yeah, so we need to - one's low-hanging fruit. One is bike safety. So we need to add more protective barriers to bike lanes where possible, where feasible. I think there's an opportunity for more bike lanes, but I think we're at a decent place there - we're better off in bike lanes today in this district than we are in pedestrian safety improvements and enhancements. I'll tell you - 7,000 doors I knocked on personally, Crystal, and all over this district - and I started right here in my own community in Delridge. And then I sort of branched off, fanned out to other parts of the district and, you know - Admiral and Fauntleroy and Alki. And then, you know, South Park. And for the last month before the primary, I came back home - came back home to Delridge and High Point and, you know, other more disadvantaged communities, historically underrepresented communities like South Park. And I was struck by a couple of things. 'Cause when I was at those, like the "more affluent" parts of the district - I was amazed, Crystal - like the potholes were few. When there were potholes, they were quickly patched and repaired. Amazingly, shocking - there were sidewalks on both sides of the streets. And then when I came back home, particularly to Delridge - more specifically, like when you get further east of Del, anywhere east of Delridge, you go, the Delridge corridor - Crystal, there's many neighborhoods and communities that don't - not only do they not have one sidewalk, they don't have any sidewalks, period. We need to build out our, like, and building out, investing in basic sidewalk infrastructure is a huge opportunity to address pedestrian safety in this district. And I plan to do just that.
[00:30:22] Crystal Fincher: Well, I want to talk about public safety a bit, and starting with alternative response. While a number of jurisdictions, definitely around the country - but even in our own region, in the county - have rolled out alternative response programs to better support those having behavioral health crises, Seattle has stalled in implementing what is a widely-supported idea by voters and residents in the City. Where do you stand on non-police solutions to public safety issues, and what are your thoughts on civilian-led versus co-response models?
[00:30:54] Rob Saka: Yeah, so it's imperative. It's an essential part of my plan and my public safety package - to actually stand up, fund, and deliver this - and work collaboratively with my fellow council members and the mayor to do so. We've, sort of as you alluded to, Crystal - we've kind of languished a little bit, been in the sunken place a little bit, if you will - talking about this great opportunity, and we just can't seem to get unstuck and unblock ourselves. Meanwhile, you mentioned a few other jurisdictions right here in the county, across the state, that have done it - but some great comparators, I think from a population standpoint, geographic scope and size, are Denver and Albuquerque. We literally do not need to recreate the wheel here. Instead, we need to just humble ourselves and look to how, specifically, other jurisdictions have been successful. What works? Now, also, at the same time, understanding every single thing that they did well is not gonna port over, make a direct, logical, one-for-one - mean it'll automatically work out well here in Seattle, but we don't need to recreate the wheel. Let's look to what's been successful in other jurisdictions - I named a few that would be good comparators. With respect to, but that is an essential part of public safety, not the only part. Yeah, we need to hire more police officers and train them and make sure they have the tools and resources they need to be successful, set and enforce the highest standards of excellence and professionalism in the communities where they operate, and hold them accountable swiftly if they fail to carry out their duties in a just, equitable, constitutional manner. So that's also an essential part.
But back to the first, the question here. Yes, I support these civilian-led responses. It's an urgent thing and we need to treat it as such. And for the co-response versus civilian-led response, I think that's gonna be a situation-dependent thing. I know they have various models in other jurisdictions. And if it's pretty clear, we need to develop some good, sharp, clear, consistent guidelines about what that response looks like. But I'll tell you, Crystal, when I - I volunteered for a 911 shift downtown, you know, at the call center downtown Seattle, and I was struck by two things. One, the mounting list of calls - queue of calls - that, like, deserves ordinarily some sort of police response of some sort, but because of staffing levels, no one was gonna get to it for hours, maybe some cases days. And also, I sat sitting side-by-side next to the frontline call center operator and listening to the calls, I definitely heard a few calls that someone was in a clear crisis situation and they needed a response of some sort, but a badge and a gun and armed response and a uniformed response was not at all what they need. We've seen how that's a formula for disaster. We, you know, we can train police officers - and yeah, we're gonna train them better, make them better, and hold them accountable, but we're not gonna train our way out of bad responses. Like, they don't need to be leading and frontlining a lot of these crises calls, especially when maybe the call earlier, someone might've been trying to take their life, that's conceivable, and then they respond to someone who just needs help. He needs a, they need a social worker or behavioral mental health crisis. We can't train our way out of that with uniformed gun-badge responses. So, but it's a situation-specific - to answer your question, you know, again, about the different models options. It's a situation-specific kind of analysis.
[00:35:00] Crystal Fincher: Gotcha. I wanna talk about victims - a lot, and we hear people talk about victims and oftentimes mischaracterize what victims say, but both from, you know, anecdotal conversations and numerous studies, victims overwhelmingly want two things - to make sure what happened to them doesn't happen to them or anyone else again, and help getting beyond their - support and help to get beyond and to restore what was lost or damaged or hurt. And we don't do a good job from a governmental standpoint, or as a community, supporting people who have been victimized. And so often that feeds into very unhealthy outcomes later on down the line. What can you do in your capacity as a City Councilperson to better support victims of crime?
[00:35:55] Rob Saka: Yeah, so great, great question. I think the best - so all of these issues - highly complex, nuanced. So let's double click, dive a little deeper. So we talked about the imperative a moment ago to, you know, from my perspective, to hire more police, public safety, empower them, set and enforce the highest standards, and hold them accountable. Also the co-equal important policy plan that I have to stand up, fund and implement, you know, these civilian-led responses. But also a very, very important part of this whole equation is prevention - making sure that we don't have to, people don't have to experience crime to begin with. Making sure that people - that crime victims, if you will - you know, not only they don't feel the sentiment and have the experience of like, not wanting that to happen again to someone else, but also they don't feel the sense of like, we need to kind of restore and bring a sense of whole and completeness to whatever traumatic experience happened to them. So prevention is really important and crime prevention is really important. And why is there crime? Well, it's complex, not just one thing, but you know, rising inequality, lack of access to resources, unequal opportunities, poverty, you know, lack of mental behavioral health services and support. And I think building out programs and services anchored and oriented around addressing those root causes will go a long way in preventing crime to begin with and minimizing our impact. Because yes, we need effective prevention and address the root causes, if you will, but we also need to make sure that we have, you know, our whole like policy plans and funding strategy reflects, you know, making sure we can contemplate and resource the realities of today and have good interventions as well. So, you know, all of those things must and should coexist in parallel, in my view.
[00:38:17] Crystal Fincher: Okay, so I just wanted to clarify on that last one. I think your points about prevention and your plans to hire more police certainly speak to some other aspects, but specifically when it comes to supporting victims - people who have been - unfortunately, while you're working towards prevention and doing the other things, it is, there are going to be more people who are victimized unfortunately, even while we're reducing crime. But what could you do to better support victims, people who have been victimized, and people who do need help?
[00:38:55] Rob Saka: Yeah, so great question. The number one thing is making sure we have effective intervention and response capabilities. And, you know, we do that in part through making sure we have well, you know, well-resourced, trained set of public safety apparatus - firefighters, police, paramedics - and to make sure that people have the responses that they need and expect. Making sure if someone has been like victimized by property crime or whatever it is, that, you know, they can reasonably expect an officer to show up and, you know, take a report, and hopefully investigate that, and follow up, and show up in a timely manner. But also, you know, depending on the nature of the victimization for crime victims, we also need to do a better job of making sure people have access to services and - like trauma response and support services - and they're better taken care of from a mental health perspective as well. And help them navigate and better help them navigate everything - like, you know, talking about crime in abstract, you know, without a specific like fact pattern, it's a little tricky. But I do think at a high level, there is a huge opportunity to better help people navigate the various systems, structures, services, and programs that currently exist today once - for victims - and then build out and expand those as well.
[00:40:56] Crystal Fincher: I see. I wanna talk about housing and homelessness and in particular, one thing called out by experts as a barrier to the effectiveness of the homelessness response is frontline worker wages that don't cover the cost of living. Do you believe our local nonprofits have a responsibility to pay living wages for our area, and how can you make that more likely with how the City bids for and contracts for services?
[00:41:24] Rob Saka: Yeah, I think that is some of the most important work going on - in any profession, in any discipline, in any - like the direct frontline work that, you know, our professionals across a variety of disciplines are doing directly on a day-to-day basis with our unhoused neighbors. And inflation is rising exponentially. You know, wage increases haven't kept up just across the board, especially in government and in nonprofit contracted work. So yes, I support, you know, making sure they have living wages because as a policy matter, like you sort of, your priorities show up in what you support and what you fund. So that doesn't also mean at the same time, you know, wouldn't look for - in the issue of homelessness, for example - wouldn't look for opportunities to perform, you know, like initial or like regular ongoing systems checks to analyze performance and, you know, figure out what's working well and, you know, knock down barriers to success and, you know, things like that. But yeah, I mean, I, these workers have a tough job. So I support living wages.
[00:43:03] Crystal Fincher: And I wanna talk about the larger economy - well, larger to the City and district, at least. And the City has a very, very vibrant business economy. Some of the largest corporations in the world headquartered here and nearby, as well as a really vibrant small business community that really spans the range across the board. But they have a number of challenges that they're trying to deal with and get beyond. So when it comes to your district, what can you do? I guess, one, what do you think the biggest challenges facing small businesses in your district are and how can you address those needs?
[00:43:43] Rob Saka: Yeah, the biggest challenge is facing this district. You're right, like, to first address - kind of how you prefaced that question, I like that framing - yeah, we have a vibrant economy with companies and businesses of all sizes. And, you know, the only challenge is it's not - the benefits that provides our region, you know, aren't always equally shared and distributed and those opportunities aren't always equally shared. And look, I grew up in Kent, you know, and - in the valley in Kent, like I said - and my dad, if we know what we know about Kent, the economy runs on two things - agriculture and warehousing district. It's always been a warehousing district. Today, there's this big, fancy Amazon fulfillment center - it's like the crown jewel of the Kent warehousing district. And I'm glad it's there, personally. And great, you know, but before that was there and long after it, something else, maybe. It's always been a warehousing district, always will be. And my father was a frontline warehouse worker in Kent. And I found my path to other opportunities in tech, you know, through the military and law school and other things, but we need to make sure more people have access to those opportunities.
But to answer, you know, that kind of follow-up question there about what can I do? What can I best do to support small businesses if elected? Well, one, I don't view my role as like prescribing, you know, setting forth prescriptive menu changes for a restaurant, for example. But where I can help, and I've talked to small businesses - small business owners, their workers, their customers - and the number one opportunity that I see to help support them and help make sure that they're successful is public safety. There, someone told me the other day - a small business owner with an office downtown told me the other day that their workers don't feel safe coming to downtown. So how can you impose these hybrid work requirements, which I generally support, as long as there's some - I also like the flexibility, especially, and value the flexibility as a parent of young kids to have, you know, like a couple of days to work from home, work remotely. But how can you impose these across the board, agnostic of whatever the attendant circumstances is, you know, requirements for working from the office based on some arbitrary number or some executive's gut feeling about what sparks innovation the most when people, when their workers don't even feel safe. And then their customers oftentimes don't feel safe. How are we going to stimulate the economy if people - we need to get more people, not just from this district, into these businesses across the district and across the city, but we need to get more people from, you know, South County and, you know, people from the Eastside and other parts of the state and like wanting to come here and spend their money and feel comfortable and invest here as well. So I think public safety is the number one opportunity that I see and I hear over and over and over again from small business owners, their workers, and customers.
[00:47:30] Crystal Fincher: Right, and I wanna ask you about childcare, which is a challenge faced not only by people with kids, you know - challenge faced primarily with them - but the effects are felt throughout the entire community. It's people's largest expense next to housing, frequently. And now the annual cost of childcare tops that of college annually. So it's just an astronomical expense and sometimes just the accessibility - just is there childcare available near you - is a challenge. What can you do as a City councilmember to help families in your district with this?
[00:48:10] Rob Saka: Yeah, it's a unique problem that I understand firsthand, not only as someone with childcare responsibilities - my number one job in life is the parent of these three kids - but also someone who experienced, you know, like pre-K childcare from a place of need in under-representation. And look, I mentioned I grew up in and out of foster care for the first nine years of my life - mostly in. And, you know, when I wasn't in foster care during that time, you know, sometimes I was in a, like a Head Start program or a funded program of some sort. Usually it was not being watched by whoever could watch me. And raised by soap operas. And I'm grateful, like I said, where I am today personally and professionally, not because of some of those, you know, lousy experiences, but I'm grateful because I am where I am despite some of those lousy circumstances. And you look at the research and you look at the data on people, on kids who have been exposed to like, like pre-K programs and preschool programs, been in those programs. And you look at their life outcomes. They perform generally better in school than their peers who don't have some sort of preschool program and are just sort of like, kind of how I was describing and how I grew up most of the time. Their graduation rates are higher, their college attendance rates are higher. Like their life outcomes are generally better. And so one opportunity that I see long-term - I got two terms in me if I win. One is not enough to get done what I intend to get done, and two is like just a sweet spot. I don't believe in mandatory term limits, but there's nothing wrong with self-imposed ones. So I have two terms - towards the end, I wanna actually build out and fund preschool program for all. And make sure that more people have that opportunity. And make sure more people have access to quality affordable childcare - and educational, like a learning environment that's gonna help them, and help communities, and help us long-term.
So really, really urgent challenge. And also part of that, like childcare workers are some of the most underpaid folks too. And they do work, and they do work for us. And I know firsthand, a lot of them put their - they were some of the most unsung heroes during COVID. They, a lot of workers, but like talking about this specific question, a lot of them put their health and safety on the line for poor wages, uncertain working conditions - to make sure more people could work. And make sure more kids are able to be successful long-term. And so they're grossly underpaid. So there's been other jurisdictions that have been successful, at least in terms of like starting to think about, how to better pay and how to better fund universal preschool programs for all. And so I'm curious to figure out creative ways to do exactly that on Seattle City Council.
[00:51:38] Crystal Fincher: And the last thing I just wanna touch on is - back to a budget issue - those Progressive Revenue Task Force recommendations that did come out, especially now before this revenue shortfall. So if dramatic cuts are to be avoided, there does need to be some new revenue in place. Do you support, or will you be advocating for any of the recommendations from the Progressive Revenue Task Force, or any other ideas you have?
[00:52:11] Rob Saka: Yeah, thank you, Crystal. So, we talked a little bit about my, like kind of how I view the budget and operating with the existing - looking to additional government partners at all levels, and funding sources, and public-private partnerships - and then expanding, looking at new revenue sources. But you asked a question about potential new revenue sources. And from this report, I'm most keenly interested in learning more about the vacant home, vacant lot tax idea. That seems to be - potentially, I don't know - I would love to learn more and explore and closely study, examine the feasibility of that. But that seems to be just the most low-hanging fruit opportunity in terms of one, creating revenue. We shouldn't just create revenue for the sake of it. You know, it should have a purpose and an incentive and disincentive structure behind it. I think that will help address the affordability crisis, and making sure we have beneficial use of living space at all times, and incentivize people to actually use stuff. So, but, so that's one thing I'm keenly interested personally in learning more about and exploring. Yeah.
[00:53:41] Crystal Fincher: Got it. In the last couple minutes we have here, there are people trying to make a decision between you and your opponent - and two new candidates, no incumbent in this open seat race - and people just searching for who best aligns with their values and who is best suited for this role. What do you tell voters who are trying to make up their minds?
[00:54:04] Rob Saka: Yeah, so we have a very clear choice in this race. The contrasts have never been more clear. We can choose the business-as-usual approach and, or we have an opportunity to bring about some change. And I'm a strong Democrat, you know, make no apologies about that - matter of fact, I'm the strongest Democrat in this race 'cause I'm the only one that's been endorsed by our home local Democratic Party, the 34th District Dems, shout out to them. And I'm a strong progressive. And, you know, I also need to think we need to better incorporate progressive values, equity, and make sure things not only are equitable by design - I think we do that well in Seattle - but also equitable in implementation. And is it truly equitable in implementation? And being willing to humble ourselves and figure out if that's not the case, what's the solve? What's the fix? What's the solution? And the issue of public safety, there's - I've been entirely consistent about this whole time. We need to stand up civilian-led responses. We need to hire more police and empower them to carry out their public safety mandate and hold them accountable. We need to also focus on crime prevention in parallel. So that's my plan. There's complexity and there's nuance there. And, you know, despite some of the rising crime and gun violence in this district - South Park, someone was shot and I think killed earlier today. And the issue of gun violence isn't one shared equally across this city and across this district. Certain communities, including the one I live in - in Delridge, are more impacted and bearing the brunt of it more than others. So it's just remarkable to see that after all these shootings, my opponent still thinks that defunding the police by 50% was a good idea. I think it was a bad idea. And that doesn't mean we can't hold bad police accountable. I fought to do that. I fought to do exactly that at the county level and I'll continue to do that and accelerate that work. But yeah, the issue of public safety has never been, the contrast has never been clear. And look, if people like the current direction of the Seattle City Council - the current approach, the toxicity, the divisiveness, the performative ideological-based, you know, acts and gestures rather than a collaborative approach focused on solutions, I'm probably not their candidate. But I am here to bring about the change I think people so desperately want and need - a collaborative, responsive government that centers equity, progressive values, and a little healthy dose of common sense as well. So yeah.
[00:57:23] Crystal Fincher: Well, thank you so much for your time and for sharing more about your candidacy with us today - much appreciated.
[00:57:32] Rob Saka: Thank you, Crystal - appreciate you.
[00:57:34] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is produced by Shannon Cheng. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on every podcast service and app - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.
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