By Sylvia Lin
Sara Nelson, a Democrat who is running for the Seattle City Council, has three top priorities: economic development, homelessness and housing affordability, and the environment.
Nelson entered the race for the City Council’s citywide position 8 on April 20. So far, 10 candidates are running for Position 8, which was left open by Tim Burgess who is not seeking re-election.
Nelson is the owner of Fremont Brewing, is a self-identified environmentalist and a mother of two school-aged children. She came to Seattle in 1990 from California to study anthropology and philosophy at the University of Washington, and she ended up falling in love with the city and staying, she said.
She has been a lecturer at the UW and worked as a campaign manager and an advisor for former City Councilmember Richard Conlin for more than 10 years, before starting Fremont Brewing with her husband in 2009.
Nelson takes great pride in her brewing company. Since 2009, Fremont Brewing has grown from having three employees to 55 full-time employees.
David Montgomery, a UW civil and environmental engineering professor who has known Nelson for more than 10 years and endorsed her for the City Council race, witnessed the expansion of Fremont Brewing.
“She’s very smart,” Montgomery said. “She and her husband started Fremont Brewing from scratch, and they built it into a very impressive business. I saw them go through the struggle of creating a business and they succeeded.”
To Nelson, it’s not only important that her business grows, but that it grows sustainably, she said. Fremont Brewing has participated in a number of environmental programs, including a pilot program with the Seattle Public Utility that uses an anaerobic digestion system to convert spent grains from the beer-making process to electricity.
“It’s important because we’re not going to fix our climate problems in the public sector alone,” she said. “Reducing our carbon footprint and protecting our climate is going to be a partnership between the private and public sectors.”
She supports more incentives for energy efficiency, she said, in the use of renewable energy and technical innovation that would help the City of Seattle to reduce its ecological footprint.
In addition, Fremont Brewing is also committed to taking care of their employees through wages above minimum, paid family leave, and health benefit packages, she said.
Nelson said if Seattle wants to advance its economic development, the city has to take care of its small businesses.
Her experience as a small business owner enables her to understand the many challenges small businesses face, she said. For example, they don’t always have the time or expertise to keep track of changes in labor law or figure out how to implement them.
She said communication between small businesses and the City Council is not always easy; small businesses owners often don’t have time to provide feedback on policies, and even when they do, it’s hard to get a representative sample of the various small businesses in Seattle.
“I’m not assigning fault, but I’ll tell you that getting a bunch of small business owners to a meeting in the middle of the day is harder than herding kittens,” she said. “Why? Because we’re running our business.”
She said she would propose creating a small business commission so small businesses could be consulted on potential policies that affect them. In addition, having a small business owner on City Council would be an effective way of bridging the gap between small businesses and the city government, she said.
Nelson described economic insecurity as a problem “deeply personal” to her as she had to work as a babysitter at the age 12 as her single mother struggled to pay bills. At the same time, she empathizes with her employees when she hears about their difficulties in finding affordable housing.
In addition to building more subsidized housing, Nelson thinks Seattle needs to spend its existing resources more efficiently. Nelson did not return phone calls seeking comment about how the city should do that.
She said she generally supports initiatives that raise the property tax to counter homelessness and the city’s affordability crisis, but said policymakers need to take into consideration people in Seattle who are “house rich but income poor.”
“It’s getting harder and harder for people to continue paying ever-increasing property taxes,” she said. “So we need to start thinking about what we’re doing there and making sure we’re spending our existing resources well before asking people to take on more tax burden.”
When it comes to homelessness, she said that getting people sheltered is the first step in helping them with issues like mental illness and substance abuse, although she acknowledges that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. She also said that the city needs to invest more resources in mental health services for homeless people, as well as on preventing violence and domestic violence.
Nelson would also like to establish a housing innovation fund, as creative strategies like tiny houses could be part of the solution to the affordability crisis, she said.
“I think this is a city of creative, entrepreneurial, innovative people, and it’s very possible we haven’t examined the full range of possibilities that could be at our disposal,” she said.
Nelson said her experience working for the City Council under Richard Conlin taught her how to turn ideologies into working policies.
“I’ll bring that background, that know-how and the fact that I know how city hall works,” Nelson said. “I’ll be able to hit the ground tackling these issues and others from day one.”
So far, Nelson has gathered endorsements from several small business owners, and a few elected officials, including Conlin.
Conlin said he endorsed Nelson because she knows how to deal with both the logistics and human factors in implementing policies, and has a “deep commitment to make people’s lives better.”
“The art of government is listening, is compromise, is coming together and finding the best solution for the best amount of people,” Nelson said.
The primary election for position 8 will be held on August 1, and the general election will be held on Nov. 7. The filing deadline for this election is May 19.