Q&A with Seattle City Councilmember Dan Strauss

To help North Seattle residents stay informed about District 6, we’ve launched an ongoing monthly conversation with Seattle City Councilmember Dan Strauss.

This first Q&A looks at Councilmember Strauss’ first year serving District 6, digging a bit deeper into public safety issues, homelessness, and small business struggles in Ballard.

To submit questions for future Q&As, email us at tips@myballard.com.

What’s been your biggest challenge this year?

“We’ve had so many different levels of crises this year. I would say that the biggest challenge has been really being able to connect with people through the isolation that COVID has created.

I didn’t even get a first 100 days in office—after the 60th day, we were working from home. I had an entire outreach plan that I had created where I would be meeting with people individually. I had planned to be at the district office, which we opened in the first days after being inaugurated. Part of that plan was to continue going door-to-door, meeting with people in community groups, and holding forums. A lot of that was not able to occur due to the COVID pandemic. I still have been able to meet with people one-on-one over the phone throughout this year, but many of the elements of the outreach plan that I had created were not able to occur due to COVID.

In my 10 years of work, I’ve not seen the level of emails that we received—especially during the summer. At times we were receiving 2,000 emails a day.”

What do you feel really proud of this year?

“You know, we got a lot of work done this year. The pandemic definitely set some priorities back, like the tree ordinance, but we’ve been able to keep the conversation alive.

But the pandemic also moved some of my priorities forward faster, like cafe streets. When I came into office, I was really excited about pedestrianizing Ballard Avenue and being able to have businesses move into the streets. The COVID pandemic actually helped move that forward faster. 

My first bill was the Childcare Near You Bill, making opening childcare facilities closer to where we live in work easier by removing unnecessary red tape and providing incentives for new childcare development. That was really important to me to have as my first bill because we see the childcare shortage impacting parents, with many having to drive out of town to get childcare.

In council, we increased the Mobile Crisis Team, which are first responders that address behavioral health and chemical dependencies. They had a funding cut, so we back-filled that funding cut, and then we also expanded them.

I budgeted for two additional dedicated District 6 homelessness outreach workers. We’ve had dedicated outreach workers in the downtown Ballard area, but now we have more workers in the rest of the district.

One of the things that’s really important to me is connecting people with fresh food. We did a fair amount of work with farmer’s markets, getting them up and running in the pandemic faster.”

What are your goals for 2021?

“With everything changing around the pandemic, I’m excited to get my District 6 resident outreach plan back up and running. I had looked at starting in-person meetings at the beginning of December, but COVID numbers spiked again. I’m really excited to start meeting with the neighborhood groups again, and as the health safety protocol allows, meeting with people in-person and eventually meeting with people on their doorsteps. 

One of the main things I’m working on is making sure that we’re addressing homelessness at the scale of the crisis. We’ve had some pretty good surge investments from the last budget cycle that will be moving forward at the end of this December and at the beginning of next month. 

It’s been six years without addressing this crisis of the scale of the problem, and that’s in part why it’s gotten worse. When we nip and tuck around the edges, we don’t get our arms around it.  We’re at the point where we need to get our arms around this crisis and ensure that everyone has a safe and adequate place to be able to come inside so that we don’t have suffering on our streets any longer.”

How will you address the homelessness crisis in District 6?

“I want to increase the amount of shelter and housing to rapidly re-house people, and ensure that we’re preventing people from falling into homelessness with things like rental assistance programs. Also, expanding the number of places that people can be inside and be safe. Before the pandemic, we were relying quite a lot on congregate shelters, which, in my opinion, is not adequate shelter. 

That’s been another benefit of this crisis: It has pushed that conversation further and faster to understand that people really do need four walls and a door that they can lock so they can bring their possessions, pets, and partners and stabilize in a safe place and not have to worry about who else is in the room with them, not have to worry about lining up at a certain time and being out by a certain time. We really need to give people a place to land and stabilize.”

What do you think of the impact of the Navigation Team suspension on District 6?

“Within a month [of the Navigation Team suspension], we had the new HOPE Team up and running. It’s important that we lead with outreach workers who are trained rather than leading with city personnel. One of the Navigation Team problems was that the police were embedded in that team, which caused a lot of people to shy away from engaging with the Navigation Team. 

We needed to pivot and refocus on city staff still being able to provide back-end support—being able to share with outreach workers in real-time what shelter options are currently available and then having outreach workers led that work.”

What’s being done in City Council to help bolster small businesses that are struggling?

“First, we had the Small Business Stabilization Fund that came out of the Office of Economic Development. City Council, through the Jumpstart Plan, increased the number of stabilization dollars going to small businesses. Just [last] week, we passed another $5 million to support small businesses and their workers.

Even before the pandemic, I recognized that there was a lot of red tape for small businesses and not a centralized place for people to have support. Small things like sign permits—having to renew your sign permit every year. Having very restrictive regulations around your sidewalk use and having to renew those permits every single year. While bigger businesses can either internalize those costs or be able to navigate some of those hurdles, small businesses bear the brunt of that problem. This is why I came into office: I started with the small business walks so that I could better understand what problems we needed to solve.”

What’s being done to address public safety and property crime in District 6?

“What I notice is that a lot of predatory behavior that’s occurring is preying on people who are suffering outside. When we’re able to address the fact that we have suffering on our streets and get those folks inside, we won’t see people being preyed upon and being exploited.

We also see more organized crime in the neighborhood. There are two tracks to it: There’s the fact that there are people exploiting folks who are living outside to engage in behavior, and then there’s organized crime. The folks that are profiting from both of those tracks are most likely not living outside, and we need to interrupt those patterns of criminal behavior. That’s something I’ve brought to the police chief several times: How do we disrupt the drug dealing that’s going on in Ballard?

It’s something that I continue to speak to them about. But there’s also an element where we need to reduce the suffering that’s on the streets right now.”

Do you think there is police capacity to interrupt ongoing organized crime and targeted exploitations in District 6?

“There’s a conversation around if we need more patrol officers or more detectives. This is the conversation that I’ve continued to have with the police chief. I don’t necessarily need a police officer sitting in a cruiser hoping to see criminal behavior occur. What I need is a detective following up on consistent reports of behavior. 

For many of us who live in the neighborhood, we can recognize the cars they’re driving into our neighborhood that are probably at the top of the food chain. And if we, as residents, can recognize these folks, then how come interventions are not happening sooner?”

Is there anything else you want readers to know?

“This has been a tough year, and there have been a lot of successes. We’ve done a lot of work to get priorities moving forward, such as childcare. While it’s not something that you’ll necessarily see in the last four months, we’re going to see a lot of change in the coming years. Policy usually takes four years of implementation for everyday people to feel the effects. There’s good work that we’ve been doing this year that isn’t immediately felt, but more of that good work is coming. You’re gonna be able to feel more of it soon.”

What’s the best way for people to reach you and ask questions?

“We are going to be more engaged in emails and have a district meeting sign-up sheet for people to use so that their request doesn’t get lost. We’re also going to have a District 6 Find It, Fix It sheet that will be on my website if you have a problem like a pothole or if there’s not a proper sign on your street. If there’s something that you need the city to respond to, we’re here to help you out.”

Photo Courtesy Dan Strauss

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