Catching Up with Newly-Elected Burien City Councilmember Hugo Garcia
Catching Up with Newly-Elected Burien City Councilmember Hugo Garcia
On this midweek episode, Burien City Councilmember Hugo Garcia and Crystal catch up on how his first term as a brand new elected is going. They discuss an action-packed onboarding period, including building relationships with fellow councilmembers and an important vote extending Burien’s eviction moratorium. Hugo shares his hope of building out “the office of Councilmember Garcia” to bring community along in having a voice in local government and outlines his first-term priorities around park infrastructure, public safety, and housing. The show wraps up with words of advice for those considering running for office and the importance of setting oneself up for both success and sustainability. As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at . Find the host, Crystal, on Twitter at and find Hugo at . Resources City of Burien - Councilmember Hugo Garcia: “Burien City Council extends eviction moratorium through COVID-19 state of emergency” by Nicholas Johnson from The B-Town Blog: Twitter - Hugo Garcia: Facebook - Councilmember Hugo Garcia: Burien’s Recovery Roadmap Survey - How to Invest American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funding: Transcript [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. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today, I am thrilled to welcome Burien City Councilmember, Hugo Garcia - welcome to the program again. [00:00:46] Councilmember Hugo Garcia: Yeah, woo woo! I like to be here, Crystal - thank you so much for the invitation from you and all your powerful squad of ladies that help make this magic happen. So, very much - [00:01:01] Crystal Fincher: I do have an excellent squad of ladies who make Hacks & Wonks happen. It is - they are spectacular and awesome, and it wouldn't happen without them. I am excited to have you back on the show, 'cause the last time we talked, you were running for office. It was your first time running - lots of candidates aren't successful in their first campaigns, and you just went out and you won the thing - galvanized community, got it together. What was it like to win that election? [00:01:34] Councilmember Hugo Garcia: Yeah, it was super intense, amazing, a ton of work - probably one of the most intense lifts of work that I can recall doing. Something that it was just like - you put every ounce of sweat and effort to it. So, it does feel like you won a - some sort of like championship when you're in Little League or something like, yes, let's go, we did it. But it does impact every fiber of your life - relationships, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your pets. So it was intense, but at the same time, it was super gratifying, being able to get an opportunity to continue to do the work. [00:02:25] Crystal Fincher: To do the work. And to that point - so I talk with a lot of candidates about - it's like, man, as harrowing as the campaign is, as you just described - the real work actually begins after you win, and you actually start to govern, and you start to handle your responsibilities, and flex your power. And first, just getting acclimated to everything that you need to get caught up on. What was that process like for you? [00:02:53] Councilmember Hugo Garcia: It was super intense - so it's very much like - I would say it's like starting your first big job with a company and you get onboarded for this new position, but times like a thousand, because it's all extremely short, quick. We had our first meeting from the beginning of the year 'cause you can't really do anything until the first of the year. So, I mean, you can prep up your administrative side of things, you can prep calendars - but at the same time, you just went a full year campaigning. So from November to January 1st, you're going to take a breather, there's also the holidays. The City can't really communicate much - they tell you, they send you links in advance of workshops and webinars to prepare to take. But then once that January 1st date comes in, it's a ton of training and websites and webinars and reading packets. And then getting to schedule meetings with directors of all the different departments of the city, so that you're aware of staffing, so you're aware of projects, emerging issues - and that's just to get ready for your Council meetings. And you also have to start building or rebuilding relationships with councilmembers - some of them that you maybe ran against or in opposing to, potentially. So it's an intense first three months to say the least, but it's super exciting. When you first get a job or you first make a team, you're hyped, you're full of energy, you're like - let's go, let's get it, this is what it's about. It was a super stressful first meeting for us, but we were able to get some really great work done in our first week. [00:04:55] Crystal Fincher: Did you extend your eviction moratorium - was that what happened in your first week? [00:05:01] Councilmember Hugo Garcia: Yeah, that was pretty much one of the big - as we're learning, as you just get started, we had our first meeting - you select your Deputy Mayor, Mayor because we're a Council-led form of government, so the councilmembers vote on who the Mayor and Deputy Mayor are. And it tends to be a pretty intense discussion. And one of the deadlines that I saw on the agenda was that we had our eviction moratorium that was due to expire that Saturday - so I think it was Saturday, the 15th or 16th. Our first meeting was January 10th. And because we were all so focused on Mayor, Deputy Mayor, I didn't see that we - anybody brought up extending the moratorium. So we asked last second before the meeting went over to have a special meeting - a second meeting - before that moratorium extended to discuss it. And we were able to bring it back and have discussions on it. It was intense because when you're new, you haven't been in these meetings before - it can be intimidating. It can be a new space for you to, as a new incoming councilmember, ground your voice. But we did - we were able to extend that moratorium in January when things were still really scary with Omicron and well, I think we were at that point, maybe one of three or four cities that still decided to extend theirs. And at this point we're the only one that has one. Yeah, but it was super rewarding - it was stressful, I was nervous. I remember feeling the same way when I played my first game of middle school basketball - man, this is nerve - you get those butterflies. But then you did some work and you feel like it was representative of the work that you - I campaigned on - and it just felt really rewarding. Like, man - this is it, I'm doing it. I'm doing what I said I was going to do. [00:07:10] Crystal Fincher: That is what you said you were going to do and it was a really big deal, because you were a new member on the council. You did step up and say, Hey, we actually need to talk about this and address it. I know other cities are letting it expire, but let's talk about that. We shouldn't do that. And the way that you approached your first meeting - I appreciated - because you took the time to break down to people who may have been part of your campaign or just paying attention to you for the first time, since you are a new councilmember - of here, let me actually walk you through what it means to - like what we discuss in a Council meeting, this is what goes on, this is how you sign up to testify, this is how you see what's on the agenda and keep up with what we're talking about. And just took the time to just make things as accessible as possible for people who maybe didn't have the exposure to Council meetings and to help the community - it just really felt like you were very intentionally bringing the community along with you, which I definitely appreciate. [00:08:14] Councilmember Hugo Garcia: Yeah, it's something I really was - I did not know anything about Council meetings myself prior to maybe six years ago. I didn't know how they ran - I knew they existed, I knew they were our electeds, I knew I voted for folks to be there - but it took me a few years to get a bearing of how to have a voice in your local government. And I know that it's a - for those that are not in it - it's boring and it's complicated. It's like what - comment for only two minutes, but you can't really have a conversation with the electeds, what? So I've tried to think back about how I learned about how City Council works here in Burien and try to explain a little bit more of it. It is something that I want to keep doing going forward, though I will be upfront - it has been a challenge. I wanted to make sure that within my first few meetings - as I'm learning - to be hyper focused on making sure I'm present for the meetings and not doing too much crossover on my current social media. It is a gift I'll give my predecessor, Krystal Marx, a lot of credit - she was amazing at doing the meetings and live tweeting information during the meetings. And I find myself not doing it as strongly as I wanted to, or sufficiently - so I said, hold on, let me focus on these meetings, focus on getting these policy decisions on place. And then I can get back to the social media aspect of things. And at the same time, I'm rebuilding my office of Councilmember Hugo Garcia, because I realize it took a village to get me to win the election, but it also takes that community to also be an efficient elected. So I'm in the process currently of - sorry, that's my little puppy - I'm in the process of actually hiring and having some interns, essentially interns - sorry, not hire - getting a couple of youths from a local LatinX club at our only public high school to assist a little bit on some of the projects that the City is doing outreach on. Making sure that the communication - whether it's digital, whether it's Facebook, whether it's social - it's more palatable to just non-heavily involved civic residents. 'Cause I want to make sure that it's not just my own lens, but it's also the lens of folks that aren't super - that aren't able to attend focus groups or outreach events - things like that. So, yeah - and I actually bring back some of my campaign team to assist on a sort of office of Councilmember Garcia, even though we don't really have that structure in place for small cities. [00:11:35] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, no, that's really good. And the more people can get ingrained in how things work and get an eye into how things move on the inside, the easier it becomes to figure out how to create the kind of change from inside and outside that people need. You talked about - hey, when you were running, you were a strong, progressive candidate. You talked a lot about your values and being rooted in community, which not every sitting councilmember has the same kind of perspective. So once you're elected and you talked about building new relationships with your fellow councilmembers, who maybe agreed with some of what you ran on and maybe didn't - what has that process been like in building those relationships and talking about policy and coming to decisions, as you try and stay rooted in your beliefs and your positions, while still being a member of the Council and needing to give and take sometimes when it comes to negotiating policy? [00:12:44] Councilmember Hugo Garcia: Yeah, it is an art, not a science - on navigating exactly what you just described - on staying true to the things you campaigned on, on your values. Fortunately for me, the Council that I came into was somewhat progressive and majority Democratic. We only, after the last election, we only have one councilmember that I would say identifies as conservative. So all of our - six of our seven are all local, whether it's 34th or 33rd Dems - endorsed candidates. So I think it's - the lift is not as heavy, but there is a separation and I'm learning that it's just constant effort in connecting with my other councilmembers, right? I initially tried to set up at least a weekly touch base - 20-30 minute spot for us to connect with Zoom and with remote - we're used to it. So it's worked out okay with the more progressive leaning councilmembers - I think it's a little easier 'cause we already campaigned together. With the others, instead of maybe weekly, we're just catching up biweekly 'cause it's so hard on the scheduling of things - you're navigating two jobs, everybody's navigating two jobs, some people are navigating three. So being able to connect with folks routinely to share that, Hey, this is where I'm thinking when it comes to our upcoming pipeline of agenda items for a work plan, which is all public. So we discuss the same items - Hey, this is coming up in a month or two months. What are your thoughts on this? And it's really about having those early conversations, which the first two, three months have not been easy because it's all been about how to run the meeting smoothly, like the logistics of Robert's Rules and getting to know how - I hate to correlate this to sports but that's just what I do, or food - I would say we're getting to know how to play with each other, right? If we're in basketball and the basketball team - we're all on the same team and we have similar goals, but just with some players - you gel quicker, you're able to get some give and gos. And with others, you just have to make more efforts. And I think we're getting there. I'm excited with having gone to a National League of Cities event with a couple - with our Mayor and Deputy Mayor, who were not - did not have to campaign. So since they didn't campaign, I didn't have a chance to really build relationships with them as I did with the others. And that really gave me an opportunity to get to know them more. When you travel with people, when you're out doing workshops together, opportunity to discuss things in both, not just on the city council stuff, but personally, too, 'cause these are personal relationships. So it gives you a better lens of how we're all trying to use our lived experience as best as we can to make these decisions on the Council. [00:16:15] Crystal Fincher: Well, that makes sense. And I mean, the sports analogies are welcome. I am a Laker fan and we were just eliminated from playoff contention last night. It is a sorrowful time. [00:16:29] Councilmember Hugo Garcia: Yeah, nobody saw that one coming - that's not expected from the greatness of LeBron and Co. [00:16:34] Crystal Fincher: Well, when you talk about a team having members and just not playing well together - sometimes you have a Russell Westbrook on your team and you just gotta figure it out a little bit, a little bit better than you do. [00:16:46] Councilmember Hugo Garcia: Yeah. That's exactly it - and on our end, the Russell Westbrook is probably the conservative councilmember. And I actually made a strong effort to touch base and we actually have - we text, we're rescheduling our 1:1s to do more bi-weekly - now that we're three weeks in, we understand more when we're making motions, when we're gonna bring up issues or thoughts. So, it's been an intense three months, but it's like preseason - I see it as preseason and I have four quarters. This is my first quarter - getting ready for four - keep trying to do good work. It's challenging because there's a lot of fires that you're putting out, so making sure that I'm intentional about reserving time to work on the projects that I really campaigned on and want to do - like investing more in our parks so that our parks are safer, more welcoming, more lights, more events, more features - but all those kind of things take time, right? We have 25 parks, we're doing letters of support route currently - one of the small projects that we're working on is to acquire a very big park that the City has, but it's shared with the school district. The school district actually owns the land, but the City has agreements with the school district to maintain it. And now we want to acquire it - full ownership - in order to secure the future of this park long-term, because once you lose a park - if it's developed or not, it's lost forever in essence. So, it takes a little bit of time to make sure that you get support, you connect with your school district to make this happen, and then you find additional funding to invest that. And currently that's one of the big projects that I'm excited about, which is our ARPA allocation funding. [00:18:53] Crystal Fincher: Okay, and so - certainly a lot to do. I think you bring up a good point and you've been able to have conversations with the conservative - with your Russell Westbrook - the conservative member of the Council. And on a city level, there's actually so many opportunities to do that. I think sometimes it might surprise people in that you're dealing with pretty immediate and visible and apparent problems. And at the City level - you're living in the City, you guys are driving on the same roads, passing by the same parks, looking at the same areas to develop - and there's so much more of a shared context and understanding of the facts on the ground, I think to a greater degree than other levels of government. And so even with different perspectives, it does provide a basis to start a conversation and find places where perhaps you can agree or to start a conversation from, because there's not a Democratic or Republican way to fill a pothole. Some solutions just require listening and responding to community. And what I love about government at the municipal level is that you can be responsive in that kind of way that sometimes strips away the labels. And if you just focus on helping people - what ends up getting put in place is progressive, but it's just the focus on helping people with their problems on the ground. [00:20:25] Councilmember Hugo Garcia: Yeah, literally - some of the first things I remember - there was a slide our first two, three weeks in. A neighborhood had a slide in a road - luckily, nobody got hurt, no major structure fell - but a road got blocked off that in essence, blocked off a portion of the City to the main shopping, to their food, to whatever they need. And I heard it was very close to someone that I met through campaigning and some of my fellow candidates. So, you feel like, Hey, let me check in on them. So I know that not only I, but a couple other councilmembers swung by - all of them did to a certain extent. We get a report from our City Manager - Hey, this is what's happened, this is the situation. These are the crews that are in place, this is the timeline when it's getting fixed - but you still - you know the people because you're so close. So you connect with that person, right? There's another incident where a resident sent in an email saying, Hey, there's a property in our block that is seeing disruptions at night, there's all kinds of foot traffic and littering. It just was an enforcement code situation and you just double-check - you come in and you get reports from your staff on what they're doing to address it, but you - I called the homeowner 'cause they put all their contact information in their letters. I'm like, Hey, I'm sorry, you're dealing with this, understand it's a complex situation. Here's what I'm making sure that - and our staff had already done the work to address the issue, but I know that there's a good chance, and I've seen this resident at events and shopping. So I just wanted them to know that - yes, and I'm going to check in and just...