Oct 29, 2022
This week, Crystal is joined by Pierce County Council Chair, Derek Young! Looking at Washington’s Secretary of State race between Democratic incumbent Steve Hobbs and nonpartisan challenger Julie Anderson, Derek talks about his views on Anderson, who’s tenure as Pierce County’s County Auditor has given him insight into her values and priorities. Anderson’s been taking criticisms from some Democrats while others Dems have stood up to defend her and her record. Hobbs has been running on his experience in the role since assuming the position last year, and has stayed out of the mud-slinging in this race. He has his own previous reputation as a moderate Dem that is coloring some voters’ opinions of him.
26th LD Representative Jesse Young’s behavior and extreme political views have become the subject of news again as his race against State Senator Emily Randall for the State Senate seat continues. Young has a history of aggression against staffers, to the point that he has been banned from having legislative staff, has co-sponored legislation to limit abortion rights, and has supported local Republicans who have been involved in domestic terrorism.
In other troubling news out of this race, a PAC, Concerned Taxpayers of Washington State, sent a mailer that made a derogatory reference to Emily Randall’s sexual identity. It’s another disturbing example of anti-LGBTQIA rhetoric and sentiment in mainstream political circles.
Derek recommends Pierce County listeners pay attention to the race between Robyn Denson and Paula Lonergan, who are running for Derek’s seat on the City Council now that he’s hit his term limit. He also points to the race between Councilmember Marty Campbell and challenger Nancy Slotnick.
Finally, a Pierce County project
to build a homeless housing project has hit a major road bump in
the form of zoning conflicts. Derek provides insight into the
specifics of the project, its goals, and what its future looks like
after this setback.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Follow us on Twitter at @HacksWonks. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find today’s co-host, Derek Young, on Twitter at @DerekMYoung. More info is available at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Don't forget to vote! Visit votewa.gov for voting resources.
Institute for a Democratic Future 2023 applications are live! The initial deadline is November 2nd, and the final deadline is November 13th.
Learn more about how to get involved in Seattle's budget season at this link.
Student debt relief sign-ups are live! Visit this link to enroll.
“Democrats split over nonpartisan secretary of state candidate” by Melissa Santos from Axios
“New ad highlights Washington candidate’s past behavior against staffers” by Shauna Sowersby from The News Tribune
Emily Randall’s response to the homophobic mailer against her - watch on TikTok here
Sign up to volunteer for Emily Randall’s campaign here on her website.
“Pierce County prefers this site for a big homeless housing project. Why it might not work” by Shea Johnson from The News Tribune
[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, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show, today's co-host: Pierce County Council Chair, Derek Young. Welcome.
[00:00:52] Councilmember Derek Young: Thank you for having me.
[00:00:53] Crystal Fincher: Excited to have you here again, especially - to get to focus on Pierce County and talk about Pierce County. There's a lot going on. I guess starting off - we're in election season, ballots are in people's hands - remember to get those ballots turned in. Vote by November 8th, but even better, just vote as soon as possible - get that in and done. There are some close and exciting races in Pierce County and with some Pierce County angles.
I think we'll start off talking about the Secretary of State's race, which is a statewide race, but with current Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, who was a former State Senator and then after Kim Wyman moved to Washington [D.C.] and left the job, Steve Hobbs was appointed by Governor Inslee, and a challenger, Julie Anderson, who is a county auditor and now running for the statewide Secretary of State race. What have you seen in this race lately?
[00:01:56] Councilmember Derek Young: I will say this. The race has not gone as I assumed it would, which would be more a debate between Anderson and Hobbs that was about the office and the ideas. And has now evolved into something where we have this strange situation where we have a lot of Pierce County Democrats, like myself, who are defending Julie from attacks from our State Party Chair. And that's been strange - I think it's particularly difficult for those of us that have been around and know Julie well to see the attacks turn into "she's some sort of secret MAGA Trump Republican that" - she's been around a long time and so with those of us that know her, that's a very strange experience to have. So rather than focusing on the office, we found ourselves in a defense mode trying to say - Hey, that's not the Julie that we know, support Steve all you want - that's all fine, I get it. He's running as a Democrat and she's running as a Nonpartisan, which makes things way more difficult. The race has turned into something - the election itself is almost a sideshow of the controversy that has developed around it.
[00:03:30] Crystal Fincher: Some controversy, definitely. I wonder how visible it is to the general public. Certainly people - politicos, the hacks and wonks who are around - are very caught up in this just because it's a different dynamic than we normally have. This has been a partisan office. It's been the only statewide office that Republicans held recently. It was previously held by Republican Kim Wyman - has been a partisan office -when she left and this race came up, people generally assumed - okay, there's going to be a Democrat and a Republican. A Democrat, a Republican, and a Nonpartisan ended up running and Julie Anderson ended up edging out the Republican candidate in the primary, so this is a general election that a lot of people did not anticipate. And the dynamic between a Democrat and a Nonpartisan - and Julie has said that she prefers the term Nonpartisan instead of Independent - is certainly different than - a lot of people - hey, you're familiar with who a Democrat is, you're familiar with who a Republican is. And that has a lot to do with how you view those - that's a significant lens to view a candidate through, and most people see that as a significant driver of a decision and are more aligned with one party and/or tend to vote for the candidate of that party. In this situation with Julie Anderson being Nonpartisan, there has been a lot of questions. And from the Democratic Party and some opponents - have basically said, Hey, she's aligned with Republicans, she looks like she may be an undercover Republican.
I should mention that Hacks & Wonks did interviews with both Steve Hobbs and with Julie Anderson. We actually talked very directly about this issue. Julie and Steve both offered their opinions and explanations on all of this, and so you can find those shows and we'll link those in the show notes. But it's that attack on Julie Anderson that has been controversial - that we saw an Axios article from Melissa Santos about this week, lots of online posting and opinions and takes about this, but hey, is it actually accurate that Julie Anderson is basically a closet Republican or has she worked well with all people, sincerely views herself as a Nonpartisan? Are her views consistent now after getting some Republican support than they were before? It appears that they are, and she has stood up afterwards and say - Hey, I still believe our elections are secure, and believe in how they've been, and for voter amendments and those kinds of things. But then other people are saying - hey, especially at a time when we have these battles between Republicans and Democrats, we can't risk having a Nonpartisan in there. We need to have a Democrat in this office. How do you weigh that decision and how do you think voters can view their decision in this race?
[00:06:42] Councilmember Derek Young: Yeah, it's a fair question and I'll be honest - it would have been so much easier if she was running as a Democrat because you have the backing of the Party and all the resources that brings with it. Obviously, in this case, that wouldn't have been the way it went down because we have an incumbent who was appointed last year. But - what's the saying about Ginger Rogers and having to do all the things that Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in heels? That's the kind of obstacles that Julie, by choosing this, put in her way. I don't know how voters are going to react as a result. The one thing I do note is that she believes this in her bones. This is a genuine conviction that the position of auditor at the local level and Secretary of State at the state level should be Nonpartisan because you can't assume that everyone will look at election and have faith in it if they view the person administering it as aligned with one of the teams. I actually think I agree with that sentiment, particularly in these times, and I kind of understand where people are coming from when - at a time when so many Republicans are calling into question the veracity of our elections, can we have someone that's on the sidelines, so to speak, that isn't actively pushing back on that from the Democratic point of view? I tend to agree with Julie more in that the way you build trust and faith in the system is by having someone who is fulfilling a more ministerial role and calling balls and strikes not aligned with one of the parties.
And I've seen how that works firsthand in Pierce County. One of my jobs as Chair of the Council is I sit on the Canvassing Board and so each election, there's a group of folks who are election observers from each party and independents that come in - and every time, these very partisan folks have nothing but praise for Julie and her team and the transparent and accountable system that she's built. This is also a woman who literally tried to get rid of her office. She proposed to me, and I agreed, that the role of auditor should be an appointed position because it is administrative and ministerial. Electing the position is actually not a great idea - similar for the offices of sheriff and assessor. So I had charter amendments to propose for each of those. But being Julie, she wrote an editorial saying - you should get rid of the job I just completed. And I just have nothing but admiration for someone who's not only learned the role, but determined that - if she designed the ideal world, this position would not even be elected. But if you're going to have an elected person in it, you should have someone that is not beholden to one of the parties.
The last thing I'll just say is that prior to her time as auditor in the county, she was on the Tacoma City Council. While city council races are also nonpartisan, you get a sense for people's values. Julie Anderson is a very progressive person. And I think there's - so for those of us that are from Pierce County, this has been this just very strange experience to watch. And how that plays out in the rest of state, I just don't know. But I have to imagine that the tension drawn to it by the Party has probably actually been good for her to get that message out there. I don't know that the rest of the non-very-online, very-hooked-in crowd is paying that much attention to the race, so we'll see how it goes.
[00:11:14] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, we'll see how it goes - this seems to be a race, I think I commented earlier, I know other people have - where this is not a race that seems to be attracting much attention. People are kind of looking at those party cues. Hey, if I'm a Democrat, I see a Democrat, I'm voting for the Democrat. And that seems to be how things are going with people who don't really pay attention to local party politics, all of the stories, the ins and outs of the campaigns to the degree that people who work in politics or policy or heavily involved in advocacy do. But for those who are, this has been one of the toughest decisions and have been some of the toughest conversations that people have had in a bit - because there is this tension. And I think another dimension of this is that we're talking about Senator Steve Hobbs, who has been known as a moderate and has certainly provoked a lot of emotion over the years. He has taken different stances than a lot of other people in the Party on transportation policy and different things. And so I think for people who have been involved in politics for a long time, they have this view of him in their head as a moderate. And that's a positive thing for some people - some people may feel that that's pragmatic. For others, they feel that that's obstruction. But for people who do have an impression of Steve Hobbs, whether positive or negative, I think that colors how they're coming into the opinions of this race and that conversation. And also just the recognition that that's a very small slice of people who are paying attention to that degree. So I don't know how much this makes it out into the world of people who take the time to vote and who care about it, but who don't really follow politics closely. It'll be interesting to see how this continues to play out and how the information continues to flow over the next two weeks.
[00:13:19] Councilmember Derek Young: Steve has also - to his credit - is not behind a lot of the nastiness that has come up in this race. In fact, I have not heard anything bad about the way he's conducted himself in the office. And so my feelings - and they're personal feelings in the race, I think for a lot of others - it's actually less about Steve Hobbs and more about our feelings for Julie. I will also say, for those of us from South Sound, there's a little bit of folks from other parts of the state telling us what we should think about this. And so you have a little bit of good old-fashioned Tacoma getting its back up about one of our own. And I think there's some of that going on as well. So I just wanted to be clear that I think the candidates themselves are conducting an admirable race.
[00:14:15] Crystal Fincher: I think that's fair. There's another race where I don't think one of the candidates is conducting an admirable race, and that's an extremely partisan race in your neck of the woods - in the 26th Legislative District - between Democrat Emily Randall and very extreme Republican Jesse Young. Now you have been down there and observing the ins and outs of Jesse Young, who's now running for State Senate, but was a State Representative, is a State Representative before this. Man, this man has issues - and this week there was a news story that that talked about his very problematic treatment and harassment of staff. What did he do?
[00:15:02] Councilmember Derek Young: There's a pattern of abusive behavior to not only staff, but other legislators. For example, his Republican seatmate, Michelle Caldier - they're not supposed to be in the same room together without at least one other person because they got in an argument that was so loud that security had to show up. So this is someone from his own party and his seatmate in his district. And I will just say that it fits a pattern for him. And he would not be the first politician that has had difficulties with staff, but when he was found to have done these things and was instructed to go to some anger management counseling, he refused to do so. And so as a result, to this day, he's not allowed to have legislative staff. And some of the reports were pretty awful - calling a woman by a particularly vulgar name and screaming fits - and to the point where at one point the staffer referred to their weekly meetings as "the weekly beatings." So his behavior is obviously a problem and makes him particularly ineffective because how someone does the job of legislator without staff is kind of beyond me.
All that said, it's not just his behavior that's problematic. He has rather extreme political positions. This was a man who was close allies with and stuck by Matt Shea - many of your listeners will remember as the radical Eastern Washington Republican who literally organized the militia takeover of the Malheur.
[00:17:02] Crystal Fincher: Yeah - he was involved in domestic terrorism.
[00:17:04] Councilmember Derek Young: Yeah, he put tracking devices on sheriff vehicles to monitor people, he planned insurrection, runs a training camp for militia activities. And this is someone who - when he was under fire for these behaviors and Republicans were trying to figure out what to do - leadership in their caucus removed him immediately from the caucus. Well, maybe not immediately, but got to it pretty quickly. He stood by him the entire time and organized opposition to Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox's actions that removed him from the caucus and expedited his eventual departure from the Legislature. So, his positions on abortion are for criminalization.
Just really strange out of the mainstream type of behavior, and I'll leave you with this one other more recent anecdote that I am more personally knowledgeable of. During the aftermath of George Floyd's death, some teenagers in Gig Harbor decided that they were going to organize protests and showed up at this one corner that's particularly - I don't know, for whatever reason, it's become our protest area - I think it's because it's got a lot of traffic. And so hundreds of kids and some adults showed up there to protest and demand reforms for law enforcement. And Jesse showed up with a group of men carrying long guns because they claimed that these were Antifa and they were going to burn the shopping mall next to it to the ground. He stuck by this ridiculous story for so long, he even claimed that the local police chief, who happens to be a friend, had covered up the story and that he witnessed the chief grabbing gas cans that were planted ahead of time to burn the strip mall down. When in reality, what the police chief had seen was a gas can that had fallen on the roadway from someone with a landscaping truck and he was just picking it up to get it out of the road. He continued to lie about this on conservative talk radio for weeks. And this is our police chief - he's a known, trusted person that's been on our force and lived in our community for decades. And Jesse's out there lying about him because he wanted to justify his appearance there with a group of men and long guns to a protest organized by teens.
[00:19:54] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and that was a scary time. This was in 2020 - we were working with organizers on the ground, canvassers on the ground in the district at the time in another effort. And it was a really scary thing even detached from it - hearing, hey, there are reports with men driving around with guns, men arriving at this place with guns, some of these assault rifles, right? And just not knowing what's going to happen, hearing the extremist rhetoric, knowing the history of some of those - especially in the context of his palling around with domestic terrorists, Matt Shea - did not know what direction this was going to go in, but he clearly felt really entitled to do that and to intimidate everyone in that area, everyone in those neighborhoods. And that's just really fundamentally not okay. The treatment of staff is just really fundamentally not okay. And there are some people who sometimes view these things as partisan attacks. And Republicans certainly have their own record on what they've permitted within the ranks of their party. But I think in this state, especially among Democrats - we had a conversation, had many conversations about Insurance Commissioner, Mike Kreidler - that treatment - so many people have called on him to resign and continue to, finding that's not acceptable. He's not going to find support when he - it would be really unwise to choose to run for re-election - but if he would, he's not going to find support there. There have been other people whose resignations have been called for in the wake of treatment like this. This is something that is not partisan. This is something that Democrats have been not hesitant to call out people in their own ranks. And this also applies to Republicans. He has not had a legislative assistant since, what was it, 2016?
[00:21:59] Councilmember Derek Young: Something like that, yeah.
[00:22:00] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, for quite some time. And as you said, how do you get any work done? The people in the 26th have had hobbled representation. And if people found any fault with what's happening, you kind of have to ask - how is Jesse Young able to show up and do his job? Other legislators have beyond full schedules - needing a legislative assistant to juggle all of that, juggle all their communications, schedule meetings, coordinate with their constituents. And so that's just not possible to do and to fully do your job. And to have the reason for that being that you can't be trusted to be around subordinates is really just an indictment on the fitness for office.
And there's a clear choice in terms of the issue of abortion rights in this race. You have Emily Randall, who is a staunch supporter of personal freedom and privacy and reproductive choice. You have Jesse Young, who has taken really extreme stands on abortion - and hey, it shouldn't just be a ban, there should be criminal penalties involved in this - just really troubling. And the election conspiracy denial - he went to Arizona, with the denialists in Arizona, to a Cyber Ninja audit that they called it. And it was just really a gathering of these conspiracy theorists. Why are we entertaining a conversation of electing a guy who is doing this kind of stuff? This is just beyond me and really beyond the conversations of how do we even get to policy? How do we even get to what you're going to do in the job when you're doing things that prevent your ability to even do the job? How are we debating about issues when he can't adequately legislate? He can't adequately hear from, meet with, represent constituents. He can't adequately conduct himself in public and not intimidate people with guns - teenagers - with guns in public. We can't even get to the conversation of legislating. This guy is just fundamentally unfit. It's a challenge. And I imagine you're sitting there looking at this race and going - oh my goodness, I wish more people really knew who this guy was and what's at stake.
[00:24:34] Councilmember Derek Young: It is hard because it is my community. We are the - 26th district for those that aren't familiar - it's basically the Kitsap Peninsula, so half of it's in Pierce County in the Key Peninsula and Gig Harbor area and then Kitsap going up to Bremerton. And it's a swing district. Even calling it a swing district might be generous to the Democratic side. They've been pretty successful here for the last decade or so. And things didn't change that much with redistricting. But yeah, even setting that aside, I get that at least half of our district prefers the Republican side and that's fine. But in this case, you have someone who is so clearly a great representative for us, or a senator for us, and is very effective - almost shockingly so. As a first-term Senator, Emily Randall really was a standout amongst that group in terms of being effective, being thoughtful, doing the hard work. I know within my association, because I've been for a number of years leading our legislative efforts, very often bringing her up as someone to champion things that we're working on because we know her as a worker and fair-minded and well-respected. And then you have the opposite of that challenging her and really just having some basic integrity challenges in addition to his volatility, so I don't get it. This shouldn't be close.
I understand why some of the other races are the way they are - we actually had a surprise with Adison Richards doing exceptionally well in the primary of one of the House seats, against a fine candidate on the Republican side who I know pretty well - Spencer Hutchins, who was formerly on the Gig Harbor Council. So those are the races where I understand everyone's got a choice and it's harder to understand why the Senate race is this close.
[00:27:00] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it's worrisome, but this is definitely a race. We've talked before about - there's a lot of people in the Seattle area who listen to this race and a lot of the races that they're going to be considering are Democrat versus Democrat legislative races, some of them are uncontested at all. And so it presents an opportunity to say, okay, we know your seat is going to be in Democratic hands and certainly stay active and involved where you're at, but make a point to adopt a race somewhere externally, whether it's a district like the 26th Legislative District down in South Sound, whether it's the 47th Legislative District down in the Kent, Auburn, Covington area. Or up north in the 10th or 47th or 42nd districts. Pick one of these districts where we know that races there are consistently close and competitive, that it's always within a hair of which candidate wins, and help put the Democratic candidate in this situation, but help put the candidates that align with your values over the top.
[00:28:19] Councilmember Derek Young: And do it - if for no other reason - to help out me personally. We're two guys from Gig Harbor named Young and working in politics, so lots of people confuse it. And I think in particular, my dad takes exception because people think his son is Jesse.
[00:28:36] Crystal Fincher: Oh, yikes. Yikes and yikes. Yeah, I do not envy you as being another Young in politics there, but hopefully this is something that won't be an issue for you that much longer. So as if all of the other stuff wasn't enough, there was a mailer that arrived this week that was really troubling and obviously intentional. The background here is that Emily Randall is a queer woman - has been open about that, wonderful about that. And a mailer arrived and you talked about this, so I'll let you describe it.
[00:29:22] Councilmember Derek Young: Basically - and I hadn't noticed the mailer, I don't know that I was the target audience - but Emily posted a video where she shared it because she received it. And the message says, Let's set the record straight. Now, that term is one we're all familiar with in political context and journalism and such. The problem was that they put a special emphasis - underlined and red-bolded the "straight" part. That is a winking notation of her sexual identity and a pretty ugly one, I think. It's a - we are in a divided district, so we know that there is some people who will be uncomfortable with LGBTQ rights and Emily's never hidden from it. But the IE that ran this - I think there's no question they knew exactly what they were doing, and it's really worthy of calling out. And I'm glad that Emily did herself, because she's her own best advocate and I think that's important. But I think it's also important for all of us to say - We know what you were doing. And this isn't some PAC that just popped up for a single purpose to hide identities. This is a - what is it - Concerned Taxpayers? I forget their exact name, but it's a mainstream PAC that's very active in a lot of races. Their major donors are Master Builders and Realtors. And so this is a group that should know better and did something -
[00:31:17] Crystal Fincher: That does know better and decided not to do it. That is - this isn't a fringe group - this is a major mainstream regular supporter of the party, closely aligned interests of the party. They're allies of the party and they're consistently there for those interests. And it clearly was intentional. I mean, as - you have worked on political communications certainly, as have I. And I think sometimes political operatives do the thing where we know exactly what we do. And I'm saying, I do not do this and try very hard not to do this - but I've seen Republicans and I've sometimes seen Democrats do this - but rely on the public not realizing what our work actually is and how we actually do it, to just excuse it. And what you see in political communications, what you see on mail is very intentional. The words are poured over. There are several levels of approval, certainly on - if you're working with a good team, as you are anywhere, you want to make sure that you're conveying the message that you want to and that you are not conveying any message that you don't want to. So anything that can be borderline - I don't really want to say that - then you don't say, then you change something to make sure that it doesn't give that impression, that it doesn't say something - especially something that is harmful or offensive. And at a time when we have a very conservative Supreme Court who is tearing down rights, who has basically put the right of marriage equality on notice. And the Dobbs decision - it didn't just strike down Roe vs Wade - it also laid the path that a number of them want to take moving forward, which is striking down protections for contraception, privacy, marriage equality - type thing. So we know this is on deck. We've heard several Republicans in the state and across the country say that they believe that - just marriage between only a man and a woman should be legally valid, others should be illegal again - who want to roll back the rights that were won.
And this was an ad targeted at a conservative audience. It is not a secret that when you have "straight" in big, bold, red letters that are then underlined - and that's the only word on the page that it's treated like that - you're sending a message. And it's unacceptable. And I am glad she called it out. And to your point, I'm very glad that everyone has the opportunity to say - No, this is unacceptable, and this is a preview of the type of harmful hate that is coming if we allow more of this. I mean, it just is another one of those - before we get into conversations about policy, we're dealing with some really fundamental human decency - really ability to adequately and peacefully participate in society and allow other people to participate in that same society to the same degree. It is just egregious, received news coverage for being egregious. And it's just what we're contending with. It is not at all rare to see these dirty hits come out during this time where ballots are out and mailers are flying. And I don't know what else they have planned, but if this is what they're doing early, I shudder to think what they think they can say when they feel that there isn't the type of penalty or time for scrutiny attached to it. So it's just - get involved in this race, get involved in this race.
[00:35:27] Councilmember Derek Young: And I think it's worth saying that - it's not just gross from a political standpoint. Given the trajectory of rhetoric around LGBTQ rights and life in this country, it's dangerous in the literal sense. That's why, I think it's important to - often there's this, especially amongst Democrats, this tendency to worry about should we call attention to an attack or is that making something more visible to the public. And I think there are these cases where - whether it's around election validity, people's basic rights, and just decency - we have to have some ground truth, some shared reality that we all exist on that's beneath where the politics of the situation is going. Let's get back to the point where we can have these fierce debates over policy. But right now we have to have some common cause for just existing in the same society, I think. And saying that these things are out of bounds and there will be a price that you pay for doing it, I think is important.
[00:37:02] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I completely agree. And that hesitance to - should we bring it up, should we talk about it? Yeah, we have to, because the other side is. How many times in the past week have we heard hateful comments about the trans community, hateful anti-Semitic comments, hateful white supremacist comments. And I'm just thinking about this week, right? This is unfortunately creeping into mainstream society. These are not limited to rarely visited corners of the internet that hardly anyone visits. These are some of the biggest celebrities, some of the richest people, and some of the most powerful party members. These are - we're hearing this from elected officials now and party leadership. We have to take a stand and say this is unacceptable because the silence is enabling this. It is going to take an effort of everyone confronting this when they're seeing it and rejecting it - rejecting it in their communities and their conversations with friends - and yes, family - and on the ballot. I mean, rejecting it on the ballot is the easy part - that should be an automatic. We have more work to do to confront this in our everyday lives, in our societies, and the people who we interact with. So I again, just urge people to get involved and to call this stuff out whenever and wherever you see it. That is the most powerful thing that we can do, especially when it's with people you know - it makes a difference. Certainly encourage everyone listening - we'll put information in the show notes - do a phone bank, do a canvass session. If you absolutely can't do those things, donate, but sometimes we talk about money in these races and money certainly helps buy resources and the things to make those happen. But really the time that you can spend - to put in to talk to other voters in that district and to help educate those voters and tell them why you're supportive and why you're taking your time to do this - is really impactful to a lot of people and encourage people to get involved that way. So thank you for that. Are there any other races in Pierce County that you think people should be tuned into, thinking about, looking at?
[00:39:34] Councilmember Derek Young: Yeah, we have a couple of council races that are - I think headed in the right direction - but important to keeping the council majority that we managed to get in Democratic hands. One being replacement for me, as I'm term limited and leaving office at the end of the year. And her name is Robyn Denson. Her opponent is a Republican named Paula Lonergan - for folks in Pierce County that name may sound familiar because her husband is the Assessor-Treasurer and used to be a Tacoma City Council member. But that race - things are going fairly well - she's running a pretty traditional Republican campaign. And Robyn is - in fact, you may - I believe you actually did have her on.
[00:40:21] Crystal Fincher: Yep, we interviewed her. We'll also link that in the show notes.
[00:40:24] Councilmember Derek Young: And she certainly fits the model of wonk. She's a former nonpartisan policy staff down in Olympia, specializing in housing in particular, which is obviously something that's super critical throughout our region, but especially right here in Pierce County. And is just a really thoughtful person. She's currently on the Gig Harbor City Council, and I think the world of her and really recruited her hard to run for my seat, to make sure we kept this in Democratic hands. Because until I ran, we hadn't won this seat really before, so it was important to me to find a suitable replacement.
The other is Marty Campbell, who's an incumbent council member. His opponent, Nancy Slotnick, is a Republican. And while that race hasn't been as hot - I think it's flying a little bit under the radar - and Marty's district changed the most out of the council districts during redistricting. And so he's had to introduce himself to a large group of voters who may not be as familiar with him, and so that's presented some challenges, I think. And unfortunately, his partner also has some health issues at the moment that they've been public about - I'm not sharing any inside information - so he's juggling a lot right now trying to be my Vice Chair, which is a challenge even in itself. So we're hoping to push Marty over the line as well.
[00:42:00] Crystal Fincher: All right. Sounds good. We will be paying attention to those and seeing how those turn out. In non-political news this week, there was some news in Pierce County about zoning restrictions getting in the way of a planned homeless housing project. This is something that is definitely needed, but it looks like it may have run into a snag. What's happening?
[00:42:25] Councilmember Derek Young: Yeah. So this was - I will say, even though it wasn't my fault - as someone in Pierce County government, it's embarrassing. So we have this concept that we are essentially stealing from Austin that - they have a wildly successful program called Community First! Village that's for folks that are unhoused and chronically unhoused. This is the population of homeless folks that have the most barriers - typically will have some disabilities or been homeless for a very long time, may have some behavioral health challenges, you name it - there's something in their way that's keeping them from becoming housed and so they're living on the streets. This model starts with the physical infrastructure - it's essentially micro homes or tiny houses, however you want to refer to it. Their units tend to be very nice by comparison to - sometimes when we talk about tiny houses, we think of some of the garden sheds basically that you see popping up in some communities. These - it looks more like a trailer park - is the way I would describe it. But the secret sauce in this is not just getting people housed - that's the big barrier. The second is that they deliver really intentional services to these folks that are all onsite. They even have volunteers that live onsite. And there's a strong effort to build community, which is something that I think is missed from a lot of permanent supportive housing models you see elsewhere.
And I was skeptical at first, but when it clicked - I was talking with someone who has worked in homelessness for a long time. And he said, we typically buy an apartment complex or maybe a hotel and turn that into permanent supportive housing. But think about - because he knew I lived in an apartment - how many of your neighbors do you know? And embarrassingly, I know probably half my neighbors - I know their names and their families. But otherwise, once you get home, you're closing the door and you're not really interacting with them that much. This is the opposite - it's intended to help rebuild those social connections. There's onsite work that can be done. They actually do pay rent - it's heavily subsidized. But the idea is to rebuild those social skills. For some people, they will always live there, and that's fine. But for others, they can then take those steps to getting back to a life that maybe doesn't require as much support.
So we're all very excited about this model, and we think it's going to be a hit. One of the first questions I had last year was - okay, we'll appropriate this money, but why don't you tell us if you can find any properties that are available that will have suitable zoning? Somehow that didn't happen. And so the site that they got under contract before approaching the council, it turned out that the zoning, because it's surrounded by wetlands, is Residential Resource, which doesn't allow for this much density. So we were set to approve and they wanted to close on the property by the end of the year - that's just not going to happen. What this looks like going forward, I don't know. But the trick here is that this is a new idea - not only for us, but really for the region. And as a result, we cannot fail. This has to work. Because if we're going to replicate it elsewhere in Pierce County and around the region, we have to get it right. If we fail, people will look at it and go - well, that didn't work - and that's not something we want to have happen. So like I said, it's embarrassing, but it is what it is and we have to figure out a solution.
[00:46:46] Crystal Fincher: What's on deck for solutions?
[00:46:48] Councilmember Derek Young: I don't know yet, because we just found out. And so the executive still believes that we can go through with this property and just do a rezone. I will say that just doing a rezone is never a simple thing, particularly when what you have planned for the site is now very public. The other possibility is start looking for other locations. The problem is that - this was always my concern - is that the sites that are affordable for a project like this are also going to be challenged. In this development environment, if it's zoned for density, it's going to be pretty valuable. The other challenge that we had with this site was that it doesn't have sewer adjacent to it. This is kind of on the outskirts of our urban growth area, so while there's urban development around it - and it's right off what was going to be the Cross-Base Highway - it still lacks some basic infrastructure. So all that's why we were getting it for a song and why other developers had looked at it for housing projects and couldn't make it work. But I think we're back to square one in terms of site selection, and we need to start looking around. But it's possible we'll have a proposal here that's fairly straightforward. The most annoying part about this is that we literally had - because this concept is so new - we didn't really have a use allowed for this in our zoning code. So we actually passed a bill two months ago to change zoning code in order to allow for this. We still somehow came up with a site that it doesn't work for.
[00:48:37] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it's a challenge. And this is new, so I'm asking you questions - I understand you may not have the answer yet. This was reported in The News Tribune day before yesterday, I think, on October 26th. And there did seem to be a little bit of - I don't know if I'd call it tension - but difference in opinion on moving forward about the ease or feasibility of that zoning change option. The Pierce County Executive did make it seem like it's something that is definitely doable, even if it's not - hey, we'll take care of it next meeting - in the near future, certainly had the impression that it could be resolved with that. What challenges would prevent that from - from being able to pass a zoning change soon?
[00:49:28] Councilmember Derek Young: Yeah, I'm unclear what he's referring to because there was a quote in the newspaper and I called him about this after seeing it that said that we think this may be a 15 or 30-day delay. I don't know what he's talking about. This would require not only a zoning map change, but we believe a comprehensive plan change. So for those that aren't aware of local land use policy, it's - a comp plan change - you're only allowed to touch your comp plan once per year. We've already started our process and so we couldn't add it to this. The next time you could do something is literally over a year from now because you can only make adjustments once per year. If it's just a zoning change, that's what's referred to as an Official Control under our planning rules. And so we have to notify the Department of Commerce with a 60-day comment period. That's just the minimum - maybe nothing comes up and they don't care - but it's still a 60-day period. And then after that, you need to be going to the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission has their own process. And then it finally comes to the council. Our charter requires at least three weeks just to run a bill and that's under ideal conditions. So yeah, I'm not sure what he's talking about there, but this is not a simple change by any means. All that said, I don't think there would necessarily be opposition coming from the council. We were certainly comfortable with the idea before finding the problem, so it's just a matter of the rules that we all have to follow.
And what was kind of frustrating about it is hearing him trying to figure out ways around them when he vetoed an emergency ordinance that we passed for Safe Parking a few months ago. And one of the reasons he vetoed it, even though the emergency ordinance is temporary and involves no construction - if you decide you're not going to do it there, you can move the cars - so there's no permanent problem. And yet he used that as one of the objections to the emergency bill. And in this case, we're literally going to spend millions and millions of dollars building a permanent housing development. And we're going to skip the process? I don't see that working. So the council's of one mind on this - the sponsors all pulled their signatures so that we didn't have to - we didn't want to vote to turn it down, that just is a bad look. So everyone's on the same page on the council that this has to be done right.
[00:52:27] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. Well, that little nugget sounds encouraging - that you decided to move forward with it, and so it is rules that have to be followed. So could it be potentially - no, this is not a three-week endeavor, but it may be a few months of diligent work and following through the steps and the ability to accommodate the necessary changes then. If it does take a few months or however long that that takes, does that impact the project? Does that impact the cost or anything with that?
[00:53:01] Councilmember Derek Young: It will have some impact. It's hard to quantify because everything in the economy is so weird these days, so we will see. But so one thing we had to do, for example, is at the end of the year, our proviso expires, allowing the appropriation that we budgeted for - it's supposed to go back to other homeless services - because at the time we were pretty skeptical that this could work. I see no objection from my colleagues to changing that proviso so that we will stay committed to this. And again, we know we have a problem, like everyone. So we've got this innovative solution. It seems to work really well. The performance in Austin is exceptional compared to other programs. So, the more I've learned about it, the more eager I become. I just think in this instance, it's possible the executive and his staff were a little too eager and didn't do some kind of basic homework.
[00:54:09] Crystal Fincher: Well, hopefully you will be there to help him finish that assignment.
[00:54:15] Councilmember Derek Young: Unfortunately, I think my successor may need to finish this up for me, but -
[00:54:22] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. So it doesn't look like there's a chance by the end of the year, I guess. I guess that looks unlikely. But hopefully the newly composed council is as dedicated to this as the other one was. And with bipartisan support - this was not something that was necessarily squeaked through.
[00:54:39] Councilmember Derek Young: No, in fact - it's noteworthy that this was really coming from the Republicans. This was their conception. And so I think that's really good - because to have bipartisan comity on an issue like homelessness is not - it's not common. So I think it's important for us to try to stick together on an issue like this.
[00:55:07] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and to your point - to get going with a model that could be an example for other cities to follow - I think that's a very important thing. And especially for local government - one of the things that I really like about local government and policy - is that everyone has to live in these conditions, everyone has to see. There's more pressure to get away from rhetoric and to actually do something that's addressing the issues that people are seeing with their own eyes and that you're seeing with your own eyes. So there is more of, I think, a motivation to act, especially outside of - sometimes big city politics can get super politicized, but other entities don't always get bogged down by the spectacle of it all. And you're working towards some solution and there's - Hey, there's evidence that this model is working elsewhere, let's give it a go. We certainly need to figure out something that works, other things haven't like they've needed to. So sometimes challenges happen, and sounds like there's cause for optimism that this can be worked through, even if it's with the newly composed council and hopefully we get this up and running. If you work through all this - who knows if it alters the timeline - what was the original timeline for this being built and operational?
[00:56:43] Councilmember Derek Young: Yeah, I think the schedule was construction next year and have the first units available at the beginning of 2024, if I'm not mistaken. I may have that a little bit wrong, but by the time you do site development - depending on the season, it can get tough. But that was the hope - is that it would be - the first phase of the project would be fairly soon. And that it is a phased project. So eventually would house 257 units, give or take. Obviously, there may be some site development challenges. And the hope is that everyone sees that this works and then we'll want to throw money at this as an - because that's what's happened in Harris County, Texas, where Austin is. They essentially have the private sector throwing money at them to do more. And they've got a couple thousand of these units that are housing people, and their success rate in terms of rehousing folks in traditional housing is in the 60% - I mean, that's just unheard of in this space.
[00:57:59] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I hope - I hope that we still see this coming online in 2024. Seems like that could be doable, but we'll stay tuned and keep people updated on what's happening.
And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this friday, October 28th, 2022. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler. Our assistant producer is Shannon Cheng, and our Production Coordinator is Bryce Cannatelli. Our insightful co-host today is Pierce County Council Chair Derek Young. You can find Derek on Twitter - and he's a good Twitter follow - @DerekMYoung. That's D-E-R-E-K-M Young. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks and you can find me on Twitter @finchfrii - it's two I's at the end. You can catch Hacks & Wonks wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of all of our shows and our Friday almost-live show to your feed. If you like us, please leave a review wherever you can. And you can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at OfficialHacksandWonks.com and in our episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in and we will talk to you next time.