Welcome to a new election column from The Stranger that looks at the biggest policy issue dividing each pair of candidates fighting for a seat on the Seattle City Council this fall.
In District 1, we decided it was funding homeless service policies. In District 2, it was the candidates' approach to police accountability. In District 3, it was progressive taxation. In District 4, it was zoning laws. District 5 was the criminalization of homelessness. District 6 was homeless sweeps. Today, in our final installment...
District 7: Jim Pugel and Andrew Lewis are the two candidates who advanced through the primary in this open race. (Current D7 council member Sally Bagshaw is not running for reelection.) Pugel is a former SPD cop, was once interim police chief, and in the August primary earned 24.7 percent of the vote. Lewis is a lawyer at the city attorney's office and earned 31.7 percent of the primary vote.
What’s the biggest issue that divides Pugel and Lewis?
Pugel says: fighting gun violence.
In a statement to The Stranger, he wrote:
When I look at Andrew’s public safety plan, I see an understanding of public safety that is just too narrow...
Andrew has not one single word regarding gun violence prevention in his plan for ‘Safe Communities.’ After everything we’ve seen from Las Vegas to Parkland to just two weeks ago in Westlake Station, we need, need, need elected leaders who will make gun violence prevention a top priority when addressing public safety, and leaders who know what the solutions are because they’ve been implementing them their whole careers — like keeping guns out of the hands of our kids, strengthening Extreme Risk Protection Orders, and testifying for safe storage and banning certain weapons.
I’ve been shot at, I’ve been hospitalized on the job — I know the need is urgent: we cannot wait for ‘something’ to happen in District 7. Gun violence happens every day in our homes, schools, and communities. We need proactive public safety plans, not more of the same reactionary band-aids we’ve seen from the current city council. And when it comes to guns — to our kids, our congregations, our neighborhoods — we need a Councilmember who is ready to go on day one.
Lewis says: affordable housing.
In a statement to The Stranger, he wrote:
The biggest difference between Jim and I is the urgency I feel on affordable housing. Most of my friends are renters. They wonder if they will ever afford a house or condo. I think about my parents and the life they were able to build here and think about how far my friends are from realizing any of that. The inaction has exacerbated homelessness and left too many people out in the cold. I feel the impatience of my neighbors, I have doorbelled in every corner of District 7, and I am ready to take that energy forward and turn it into policy.
There needs to be a much higher sense of urgency around housing. It still feels like other candidates don't get how crucial this election is and how fast we need to turn things around.
What we say: housing density.
Pugel and Lewis agree on a lot—for example, both are appealing to their wealthy district by promising to rebuild the Magnolia Bridge and not bring back the Head Tax—but when it comes to changing single family zoning and building more housing density, the two differ. Pugel says density has gone too far and he does not want to change zoning to increase density. Lewis wants more density along mass transit routes and says apartments need to be legalized in at least some areas of Seattle’s single family zoning.
First, here’s a quick refresher on this subject: single family zoning refers to areas of the city where only single houses detached from each other can be built. Single family zoning takes up somewhere around 75 percent of all land in this city, meaning denser buildings like triplexes, brownstones, and apartments are banned across the majority of Seattle. Experts largely agree that this single family zoning, also known as the “apartment ban,” limits how much housing can be built in the city, which exacerbates the affordable housing crisis.
Lewis is not most vocal critic of single family zoning running for council—Shaun Scott (D4) and Kshama Sawant (D3) have both said apartments needs to be legalized in all single family zones, immediately—but he has repeatedly said that some areas of singly family zoning need to be opened up for density. Lewis said at one debate last month that “our current laws are overly restrictive” regarding housing and he pointed out that many single family zones in District 7 already have duplexes and triplexes that were built before the apartment ban went into effect.
“The people that I meet in those [duplexes and triplexe] houses are nurses, they are firefighters, they are police officers and they are people who need to have a place in this city,” Lewis said. “We need to make room for the working families in this city, we have to make room for more affordable housing.”
Lewis added that he supports bringing more housing to the single family zones.
“I think they should in more neighborhoods, and I think they are already there right now,” Lewis said at the debate.
Lewis also told the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s PAC in their questionnaire that he supports bringing more density around the incoming Sound Transit 3 light rail stations.
“I do support increased housing density in the neighborhoods surrounding planned light rail stations for Sound Transit 3,” Lewis told the chamber. “By concentrating housing near grade-separated mass-transit we can reduce congestion and make more space for missing-middle housing.”
Pugel has said mostly the opposite. He told the chamber’s PAC that “it might not be flashy, but a ‘wait and see approach’ may be our best bet in terms of any further upzones.” And he embraced NIMBYism when asked about bringing more density to District 7 at last month’s debate. Just read Pugel describing his outlook on the 1800 block of 9th Avenue West, one street in his district:
It’s the most hodgepodge mess of single family homes that have triplexes in back, accessory dwelling units, detached accessory dwelling units, none of which are affordable, none of which parking there is provided for. And several families are moving out and they’re good families, and they love density. But it’s gone too far.
Pugel also told the Stranger Election Control Board during our interview that he did not support the recent expansion of accessory dwelling units, which increases the number of backyard cottages and mother in law apartments allowed in the city.