When I saw Logan Bowers sitting down at Caffe Vita with an electric unicycle by his side, I prepared myself for an hour-long conversation about the merits of hopelessly dweeby, last-mile vehicles that have yet to assert themselves as the future of urban transportation. Luckily, that did not happen. (Well, at least not until we started talking about his deep and abiding passion for electric assist scooters.) Mostly he walked me through the weeds of the city's troubled attempts to solve the housing and homelessness crises while highlighting the differences between his views and those of City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who he's hoping to unseat.
Bowers is running for city council in District 3 as a housing and zoning wonk with a passion for battling climate change at the municipal level. He argues that current city leadership is on track to perpetuate "systemic inequality and disfunction," and lays "100 percent" of the blame for the housing crisis at the feet of the Seattle City Council. Ultimately, he thinks the city's problems can be solved with a combination of progressive rezoning, playing nice with state and county legislators, and, of course, ending the prohibition on electric scooters.
Bowers said he grew up in Shoreline but moved to Eastlake after college and spent many years living on Capitol Hill. He used to live across from Hula Hula (then Clever Dunne's), but now he rents a house with his wife on the backside of the Hill.
He makes his money running Hashtag Cannabis, which has retail stores in Fremont and Redmond. (In case you're wondering, he smokes "a little bit" from a flower vape to help with sleep.) Before getting into the pot business, he graduated from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana with a degree in electrical engineering and spent most of his life in software development. Amazon bought his venture-backed tech startup, "All Y'all," in the late aughts, an acquisition he called "by no means a big exit." After working at Amazon for a few years, he jumped into pot largely out of curiosity.
Now, he said, he's running for council because Seattle is going through a "once-in-a-lifetime growth spurt," and he "really wants us to come out the other side of that as a world-class city that’s affordable, accessible, and full of opportunity" regardless of our various backgrounds.
Sawant would probably agree with that goal, as would literally every other city council member and candidate. But Bowers sees Sawant's "hostility" to market-based solutions as detrimental to solving the housing crisis, and he finds her movement-style politics too limited a tool to fix other regional problems.
If elected, Bowers's first priority would be to "re-legalize" multifamily housing (duplexes and triplexes) citywide. Currently, 75 percent of Seattle is zoned for single-family housing. Back in 2015, under pressure from the fucking Seattle Times, disgraced former Mayor Ed Murray backed away from a recommendation in his own Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda that would have allowed for more of those units to be built. The city did, however, move forward on a Mandatory Housing Affordability program that would upzone a measly 6 percent of single-family land to allow for multifamily units, and also an attempt to ease rules for building backyard cottages. However, a coalition of NIMBYs and the god damn Queen Anne Community Council have been blocking implementation with environmental reviews for the last two years.
Bowers is depressed about all of that, but he isn't a pure density hound. Though he likes the idea of upzoning for duplexes and triplexes, he's shy about upzoning to allow for towering apartment complexes because, he argued, those kinds of buildings "are always going to be luxury apartments" due to the cost of their construction materials.
"Duplex and triplex construction is actually cheap enough to build that the private sector would be able to produce enough housing to meet the need. Upzoning for larger apartments would be counterproductive," he said. Even a requirement that developers reserve 25 percent of new units for affordable housing wouldn't help, Bowers said, because there aren't enough "wealthy people to subsidize homes for everyone."
Socialists running for council have proposed massive investments in publicly owned housing to deal with this problem. Bowers thinks that's a lofty idea, but he argued that a current lefty proposal to tap into the city's bonding capacity to the tune of $500 million wouldn't be sufficient. He figures we need 30,000 to 50,000 new units to deal with the housing crisis, and guesses it'll cost approximately $9 billion to build that many units in the city. $500 million over 30 years isn't going to cut it.
The only way Seattle can drum up the $9 billion it needs to build the necessary amount of housing, according to Bowers, is by implementing a capital gains tax in Seattle. While the city doesn't currently have the authority to levy such a tax right now, Bowers is confident his more "credible" approach to legislating will be better received among state lawmakers.
"There’s no chance Kshama will get a progressive tax source out of Olympia," Bowers said, "But there is a chance that I will."
He went on to say that Sawant's movement-based politics have a time and a place, but that time and place is not now. "And the reason we know this," Bowers said, "is because Sawant has presided over the worst explosion in homelessness and the worst explosions in housing affordability in the city’s history."
Aside from his critique of her politicking style, Bowers also slammed Sawant for being "inherently hostile to any solution that involves private construction," knocked her for voting to "ban" aPodments in 2014, and criticized her for "writing off" HALA wholesale instead of praising its attempt to expand multifamily housing.
It's true that Sawant doesn't think private developers have any incentive to build themselves out of a market. But every council member voted for some restrictions on aPodments back in 2014—not just Sawant. As for her response to HALA, she, along with former CM Nick Licata and aspiring CM Jon Grant, said the plan didn't go far enough, and so they offered their own.
Turning to one of the city's most visible attempts to address homelessness, Bowers took the Jenny Durkan line on the head tax. He liked it in theory, but he thought the money should have gone towards expanding shelter capacity rather than to funding a few hundred units of publicly owned permanent housing. "The head tax failed because it was unpopular with voters, and that’s because the spending side plan was not compelling," he said. "What we had was a council member saying 'this tax is designed to punish Jeff Bezos,' not 'this plan was designed to solve a problem we have.'"
In his first term, Bowers wants to propose multifamily zoning and reforms to the dumb regulations on accessory dwelling units (aka mother-in-law cottages), which he thinks will help with both our housing and homelessness problems. He also wants to develop "a rational strategy for how we roll out" bike lanes, which he says are built in "irrational patterns."
He loves the idea of building out bike lanes as a way to combat climate change, but as I mentioned earlier, he also has a scooter fetish. He called Mayor Durkan's concerns about safety issues related to scooters "prejudicial," arguing that cars kill tens of thousands of people per year and yet they're not banned. Scooters, according to Bowers, are "the fastest, cheapest, and most reliable form of transportation." He also noted that, unlike a bike, you don't get all sweaty when you ride one.
Finally, he pointed to his electrical engineering background as a vital asset. That education, Bowers said, positions him to offer insight on how to structure and regulate Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle City Light, where he thinks we have a lot of opportunity to curtail carbon emissions by implementing various programs. "For those agencies to represent 50 percent of the city spending, and to have no one with technical knowledge about any of that is crazy," he said.
In the short term, Bowers thinks SCL should be "encouraging more electric vehicle adoption through rate-payer incentives." Down the road, he'd encourage the utility to "adjust its rate structure to better encourage electric vehicle and heat pump adoption," and also integrate with California's electricity grid.
So far, Bowers has raised a little over $12,000—with most of that coming from outside the city. On Monday, he announced he raised $21,000 in his first month of campaigning, making him a serious contender at this early stage.
Tuesday morning he announced that he qualified for the Democracy Voucher program, which he told me he intends to pursue despite the fact that Sawant said she wouldn't be using it. The two other candidates in the race so far—Pat Murakami and Beto Yarce—also plan to use the vouchers.