Seattle City Council District 4: Ron Davis vs. Maritza Rivera

The tech entrepreneur and the civil servant talk about their plans for housing, homelessness and public safety in northeast Seattle.

the outside of a stone building on UW campus with a tree in the foreground and a bluesky and sunshine

The University of Washington campus on April 13, 2020. District 4 includes Wallingford, the U District, Roosevelt, Wedgwood and Sand Point. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

In northeast Seattle’s District 4, the election is a contest between a tech executive and a civil servant.

Ron Davis is a tech entrepreneur and consultant who’s founded companies and now advises other start-ups. He’s engaged in urbanist and civic advocacy as a board member with Futurewise, Seattle Subway, University YMCA and Roosevelt Neighborhood Association and as a former member of Sound Transit’s Citizen Oversight Panel.

Davis said he was inspired to get involved in advocacy and policy work because he wants everyone to have the same opportunities he had, rising from a childhood without money into the middle class after his parents were able to buy a house, then on to Harvard Law School and into a tech career. He started thinking about running for office after President Donald Trump’s near-reelection, feeling like he should be doing more to make progress on housing affordability, economic opportunity and climate.

“We actually know what we need to do, we just lack the courage and focus,” said Davis. “I want to see more people out there fighting for actual evidence-based ways to bend the curve on costs here, get people off the streets, get people's drug problems treated and actually meet our climate goals.”

Maritza Rivera has spent most of her career in the public sector or advocacy. Most recently she was deputy director of Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture under Mayor Bruce Harrell, but stepped down in September to focus on campaigning full-time. The Stranger reported that in January, 26 of 40 employees in the department signed an open letter complaining that Rivera and the then-interim director had created a toxic work environment. Rivera told Crosscut that “I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done. ... You know, when there’s a leadership change, it’s always hard. But I really respect the staff there.”

Before her time at Arts and Culture, Rivera worked for former Mayor Jenny Durkan, former City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, the ACLU, the national Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and in the Bill Clinton White House as the president’s Hispanic liaison.

Rivera has been growing increasingly concerned with crime and safety in Seattle. Last year’s shooting at Ingraham High School, where both her daughters go to school, catalyzed her feeling that the city is on the wrong path. Rivera said she would have voted for incumbent District 4 Councilmember Alex Pedersen a second time, but his decision not to run again opened the door for her candidacy. It is the second time Rivera has vied to represent D4. She was one of 13 candidates who applied to be appointed to former D4 Councilmember Rob Johnson’s seat after he left office before the end of his term.

“The public safety issues in the neighborhood, the break-ins, the Downtown situation; there was a feeling, you know, this is not the Seattle I moved to 22 years ago,” said Rivera. “We need thoughtful people on the City Council who are going to work together to actually create positive change for the city, and not do divisive rhetoric and infighting.”

Crosscut sat down with both D4 candidates to talk about the big issues facing the city, compare and contrast their ideas for making change, how they want to tackle the budget and more.

The Issues

Homelessness and housing
Davis said his top concerns are the intertwined issue of homelessness and housing. When housing costs go up, homelessness goes up. Davis wants to tackle the issue with the “supply, subsidy, stability” framework that local and state advocates have been lobbying around in recent years. This approach focuses on the need to increase the supply of market-rate housing, build more subsidized-affordable housing, and stabilize people to keep them from falling into homelessness to move the needle on the issue.   

headshot of a man
Ron Davis (Courtesy of the candidate)

On the supply side, Davis supports maximizing the amount of housing density allowed by the next Seattle Comprehensive Plan. He wants to speed permitting for new housing construction, limit design review processes that can add months or years to construction timelines and get rid of parking requirements that can add significant costs to projects.  

On subsidy, Davis said he supports the existing nonprofit affordable-housing model and the new voter-approved Seattle Social Housing Developer, which seeks to build mixed-income subsidized housing. He also wants to work with King County to create a county-level version of the federal Section 8 program, since only one in four eligible people are able to get federal vouchers.

Finally, to keep people from falling into homelessness, Davis said he wants the city to provide direct rental assistance as it did during the pandemic, and supports the idea of pursuing anti-rent-gouging legislation that, like rent control, prevents large year-over-year rent increases but allows some increase. For those already living on the street, Davis similarly likes the idea of direct cash assistance to get people into housing and building more shelter like tiny home villages.

headshot of a woman
Maritza Rivera (Courtesy of the candidate)

Rivera said she wants to see the city build more permanently supportive housing so people experiencing homelessness have somewhere to go. But since that takes a long time to construct, she wants to see the city build more shelter space like tiny home villages and motels converted into emergency housing.

To make market-rate housing more affordable for middle-income Seattleites, Rivera said the city obviously needs to be building more, but thinks it should be done “thoughtfully and gradually. We need to preserve the landscape of the neighborhoods.”

She supports expanding on Seattle’s existing urban-village model that concentrates housing density in neighborhood centers and along transit corridors. Rivera thinks the state’s “missing-middle” density law that allows four- to six-unit buildings in all residential zones is promising.

Public safety
For Rivera, there is no more pressing issue in Seattle than public safety. She said a safe Seattle would be one where kids can walk to school and ride transit alone, where there isn’t gun violence, where people aren’t doing drugs on the street, where there isn’t so much property crime.

To get there, Rivera said the city must hire more police officers to bring staffing levels up to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s goal of at least 1,450 deployable officers (there are currently between 900-1,000). She said expanding the police force would help bring down 911 response times, and give officers capacity to respond to lower-priority calls such as retail and auto theft.

Though Harrell and the City Council have funded a recruitment plan with hiring bonuses and marketing campaigns, hiring has been slow. The Seattle Police Department has said it expects to net only about 15 new officers a year as it continues to see officers quit.

Rivera acknowledged the slow hiring pace, but said, “We need to give priority focus, it will take time, but it will take an even longer time if we’re not committed to it.”

To speed police officer hiring, Rivera wants to create a partnership program between SPD and Seattle Colleges similar to the one the Seattle Fire Department started that prepares students to become firefighters immediately after graduation.

To further SPD’s capacity, Rivera supports expanding alternative responses to public health emergencies, such as the Fire Department’s Health One program that sends mental health professionals out on calls for people in crisis. They can de-escalate and help connect people with services.

Rivera supported the effort to give the City Attorney’s Office authority to prosecute drug possession as a gross misdemeanor, and said she thinks the first version of the bill should have passed in June, calling it a missed opportunity to create another tool to get people into treatment.

She also wants to see an expansion of nonprofit-led community violent intervention efforts and wants to create a citywide office dedicated to gun violence prevention.

Rivera has criticized Davis for saying he does not support Harrell’s hiring plan to get 1,450 deployable officers.

Davis said he supports fully staffing the police department to the best of the city's ability and is very concerned about police response times, but said that given the slow pace of hiring, promising the city will have 1,450 officers anytime soon amounts to “political malpractice.” He continued, “If we build a plan that has response times built on that kind of magical thinking, we'll never get it and people are going to continue to be in danger.”

Davis said the city should be focused on expanding existing officers’ capacity to respond to crime. For example, he doesn’t think sworn officers need to be directing traffic at sporting events. By filling those roles with non-police staff, more sworn officers would be available to respond to 911 calls.

Similarly, Davis wants to replace most traffic enforcement with automated traffic cameras. He also supports shifting more of the response to people in crisis away from sworn officers to mental health professionals and social workers. He also wants to invest more in nonprofit-led community violence interruption work.

Davis wants more oversight and accountability measures for the police department and more de-escalation training and community-based policing.

On the question of the drug crisis, Davis said the political conversation has been “unserious” given how insufficient the substance-use disorder treatment system is relative to the size of the problem. He is looking forward to the impact the Crisis Cares Center levy will have on expanding the availability of on-demand treatment. But he also wants to see significantly more resources dedicated to making medicated assisted treatment such as suboxone more readily available for people who want it.

Transportation and climate
To help address the climate crisis, Davis wants to make it easier for Seattleites to get around safely and conveniently without a car. That will involve building new bus-only lanes, building more protected bike lanes and making sure streets and sidewalks are ADA-accessible. “That means handing over some right of way [dedicated to cars] so that we can actually make it viable to get [around] on a bike without dying or in a bus quickly.”

Rivera also wants to improve Seattle’s transit to make it easier for people to get around without a car. She wants the city to do whatever it can to streamline the delivery of Sound Transit’s light-rail expansion in Seattle.

She also said she would continue working to preserve Seattle’s tree canopy, a longtime project of D4 Councilmember Pedersen.

Paying for everything

Driven in part by the slowing real estate market, layoffs in the tech sector and inflation, Seattle is projected to face a $251 million general-fund deficit in 2025 that could grow to nearly $500 million in 2026. The incoming City Council will have to navigate that shortfall as they seek to fulfill their campaign promises.

Progressives want the city to levy new taxes to tap into Seattle residents’ vast wealth. Business leaders and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce want city officials to tighten the belt and take a close look at existing spending to find savings.

Rivera said she would start by examining the current city budget before considering any new tax revenue.

“I feel really strongly that we need to be accountable,” she said. “We need to look at city programs and make sure that we’re getting the outcomes that we intended when we funded those programs. ... I don’t know whether it will cover everything, but it’s certainly a piece of the puzzle.”

Since Rivera was deputy director of a city department, Crosscut asked her if there were examples from the Office of Arts and Culture of programs that could be cut from the budget. Rivera said, “I wouldn’t cut anything currently from the arts budget, but I would want more information. I was there for about a year and a half. It takes time to look at and get data for each of those programs.”

Davis said he thinks there are probably some efficiencies to be found in the current budget, but not enough to cover a budget deficit and pay for the kind of services and staffing he’s talking about.

He supports some of the tax ideas proposed by the Revenue Stabilization Workgroup, including slightly increasing the size of the Jumpstart Payroll Tax on large employers and implementing a flat 1% tax. Though a flat tax would be regressive, Davis said its negative impacts could be offset by a rebate for people making less than $70,000 a year.

Fundraising and endorsements

As of this writing, Davis has received more than $156,000 in donations.

Rivera has received more than $147,000. An independent expenditure committee, University Neighbors Committee, has also spent $81,000 to support her campaign. It’s backed by big-business money, including the Master Builders Association’s Affordable Housing Council, Dunn Lumber, Costco founder Jim Sinegal, Seattle Hospitality Group and developer George Petrie. Petrie donates to both sides of the aisle, but has given tens of thousands of dollars to GOP candidates in recent years and started making monthly donations to Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection. The University Neighbors Committee is supported by almost all the same businesses and individuals backing Elliott Bay Neighbors, the group supporting Rob Saka in District 1.

In July, Davis sent a type-written letter to D4 voters criticizing Rivera about the Republican donors behind the University Neighbors Committee and a second type-written letter more generally about his campaign. Neither letter, nor the envelopes they were sent in properly identified the sender or who was sponsoring or paying for them, a violation of Seattle Elections Code. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission fined the campaign $1,000 for the violation.

Davis has been endorsed by King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, State Sen. Joe Nguyen, former Mayor Mike McGinn, and former Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Nick Licata, among others. The MLK Labor Council, ATU Local 587, UAW 4121, UFCW 3000, 46th and 43rd Democrats and others have also endorsed him.

Rivera has been endorsed by Harrell, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Councilmember Sara Nelson and former Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, among others. She’s also received endorsements from the Firefighters Union, Seattle Building Trades, Laborers Local 242, and Neighborhoods for Smart Streets.

Update: This article has been updated to include information about a fine the Davis campaign received for violating the Seattle Elections Code. It was also updated to clarify Davis's position on police department staffing. 

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