Meet Abel Pacheco, Seattle’s newest (and temporary) City Council member | The Seattle Times

Abel Pacheco says he knows his corner of Seattle better than most, and he now has a chance to prove it.

Pacheco will represent District 4 on the City Council for the next seven months, serving as a temporary replacement for Rob Johnson, who resigned in March.

The 31-year-old, appointed to the post last week, lives in Ravenna and has worked at the University of Washington as the lobbyist for a program that helps students of color pursue educations and careers in science and math (he’s left that job for City Hall).

He ran for council in 2015 in District 4, which includes Eastlake, Wallingford, the University District and northeast Seattle, and was running again this year.

Pacheco will chair his first meeting Wednesday, taking over Johnson’s land-use committee. The Seattle Times sat down with him to learn more about his views.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Council President Bruce Harrell said Johnson’s temporary replacement should be a caretaker, rather than a candidate in this year’s District 4 election. Have you ended your campaign?

I’ve suspended my campaign and I’m focused on the job at hand. I do not plan to file for election. By suspending my campaign activities, I’m able to keep my campaign committee open while I finalize with my treasurer any needed disbursements.

Where all have you lived in District 4?

Wedgwood, when I was in graduate school. I lived in a garage converted into a small studio. Later I lived in Wallingford, in a basement apartment. Then I moved to right across from Gas Works Park. Now I live in Ravenna. I rent a room.

How does it feel to be a council member?

It’s very humbling. When I first ran for office, we drove past a food bank and my mom told me, “Mijo, don’t forget that’s where it started.” That’s kept me grounded.

You choked up when you were sworn in, talking about your mom. Why?

She moved up (from Los Angeles) to help me out for three months (in 2015). She was my biggest supporter. The fact that my mom was willing to go through that journey with me was something I wanted to acknowledge and remember.

You’ve talked about being wrongfully arrested. Why? 

Thinking about how someone could end up being homeless, one of the pathways is experiencing the criminal-justice system. I just happened to have friends from grad schools and bosses who were very supportive … The kids I grew up with, a good chunk have gone to jail or (dealt with) drug addiction. I’m trying to amplify the changes that need to happen.

You didn’t advance past the primary in 2015. Was it appropriate for the council to appoint someone who voters previously declined to elect?

The council had to identify someone they thought could best represent the district. I’ve canvassed the district and knocked on those doors. I know the district well.

Your committee will likely consider upzoning University Way Northeast, also known as the Ave. Where do you stand on that?

This city needs more housing. I also want to acknowledge the concerns that business owners in the U District have brought forward. I’m supportive of upzoning, but there are tools available. Cities like San Antonio have created mitigation funds for small businesses with regard to displacement.

You’ve said you support easing requirements on backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments, broadly. Do you support eliminating the requirement that owners of such units live on-site, in particular?

It’s one of those conversations where I don’t want to have a predetermined outcome. How do we find that nice middle ground? Let me study the issue a little more.

The city’s Multi-Family Tax Exemption Program, which gives tax breaks to developers who restrict rents for some new apartments, is up for renewal this year. What do you think about that?

There’s a need for expansion. A challenge I hear is that we don’t have enough housing for families. We don’t have enough two- and three-bedroom apartments. How do we create more of those?

Would you have voted last year for the head tax on high-grossing businesses that would have raised money for housing and homeless services?

No. More needs to be done, but what I hear in the district is that we should first present a more clear and concise plan with measurable outcomes.

Should Seattle try to open a safe-consumption site for illegal drugs?

Being able to co-locate a facility with public-health services is something to think about in how to get my support. Also, the U.S. Attorney has said, “no.” I just had my first conversation with the City Attorney’s Office. I want to have more discussions.

What should Seattle do to better deal with people who repeatedly commit crimes, some of whom are struggling with homelessness, substance-abuse disorders and mental illnesses?

The state is going to make additional investments with regard to mental-health and drug-addiction issues. How do we coordinate on that? There’s an ongoing conversation about how to reform the system to provide better outcomes. How do we not demonize anyone but also make sure our public spaces stay safe and clean?

You’ve said you want the city’s next budget to help people access light rail in District 4. How?

We can think about working with Sound Transit to build bike lockers at the UW light-rail station. We can try to encourage better connections for people traveling by foot and by bike. North of Northeast 75th Street, there are concerns about sidewalks.

Is there anything else you want your constituents to know?

The political discourse in Seattle has gotten so negative, but all of us can do something to help. I’m not going to attack you even if you attack me. I hear you and I want to engage you in doing something about your concerns.

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