Councilmember Okamoto left office on January 1, 2016.
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Seattle Deserves a Complete Housing Solution

June 8th, 2015

Seattle is the fastest growing big city in the U.S., and Seattle’s infrastructure is bursting at the seams. Skyrocketing housing prices are squeezing low-income Seattleites — often people of color, immigrants, and refugees — out of Seattle.

Efforts to improve the problem have been under way for some time.  For example, subsidies help low-income renters pay for housing.  A housing levy helps housing providers build, maintain, or manage affordable housing units.  Tax incentives give developers a break, and incentive zoning allows them to build taller buildings in exchange for adding more affordable housing units to the city.

But we need more affordable housing at a faster rate than we are seeing. In fact, Seattle needs to produce 28,000 affordable units in the next 20 years. Right now, “affordable” means rent lower than $1,200 for a one-bedroom unit.

The lack of affordable housing is a complex problem tied to wages, transportation, health, and social justice.  I just heard a story of a woman who grew up in Rainier Valley but could only find affordable housing in south King County.  She works in downtown Seattle.  Despite her employer’s generous free transit pass she still spends hours on her commute because she cannot find affordable housing near her work.

The issue isn’t piecemeal, so the solution can’t be piecemeal, either.  All of the moving parts of affordable housing – parts like tenant protection, housing preservation and development, tenant stability – are linked, and one or two quick fixes are not enough to undertake an issue of such magnitude and complexity.

That’s why the Mayor brought together an advisory committee to develop an agenda for housing and livability.  The committee comprises people from all sides of the table – developers, tenants, landlords, employers, philanthropy – and the committee has participated in a thorough process to tackle every piece of the housing puzzle.

The agenda will come to the Council’s Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services, and Economic Resilience next month.  As Chair of the committee – and a long-time Seattle resident – I look forward to seeing a complete solution that is sustainable and legally sound.  It is at that time that we can assess the impact and implications of their recommendations and any other proposals to address this daunting challenge.


Standing Up with Teachers

May 19th, 2015

With my grandson Noah, a kindergartner at Kimball Elementary School

Today my grandson Noah and I had the honor of joining teachers and supporters from across the City and around the state calling on legislators to live up to their paramount duty and fully fund public education. Too many children have been denied their constitutional rights to education.  The 52,000 students in the Seattle Public Schools, their parents, and the 9,000 staff, including those that belong to the Seattle Education Association, have waited too long.  With my grandchildren Noah, Nico and Kira soon to all be in public schools, I don’t want to wait any longer.

We started our day at the Jefferson Community Center, where over 80 school children were playing dodgeball and other games. Thanks to the wonderful Seattle Parks and recreation staff at Jefferson and all 21 community centers where the city offered free recreational activities for Seattle students today!

From there, we headed over to Westlake Park to participate in the rally. We were proud to be among the thousands of people gathered there, calling that “good schools require good funding!”

When I took office, I pledged in my oath to uphold the Constitution of the State of Washington, as did our state legislators. In light of that oath, I will continue, as a councilmember, to advocate for full funding of public education and to hold the State accountable to its own paramount constitutional  duty “’ to make ample provision for the education of all children.”   The legislature, now in special session, must live up to their oath.

So Much to Do and So Little Time to Do It

May 5th, 2015

It is an honor to have been appointed to serve on the Seattle City Council. As part of my service to the residents of Seattle, I look forward to sharing my goals, priorities, perspectives and updates through this blog and through a regular e-newsletter. On May 4th, following my ceremonial swearing in ceremony before the council, I delivered the following speech:

“Council President Burgess and colleagues, thank you for your vote of confidence.

I want to thank all those that applied for this vacant position.  Thank you for defining the issues.  Thank you for being willing to commit yourselves to public service.  I hope you will continue your civic engagement.

I want to thank my parents, and those that have gone on before me.

Those who were imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II because of falsehoods alleged against them.  Those who volunteered to serve and die in the United States military to protect our country while their families remained behind barbed wires.  Those like my father, Tosh Okamoto and Fred Shiosaki sitting in the chambers.  Thank you to those who fought for reparations and redress, like Chuck Kato – whose daughter Suzy Kumasaka is here.

And thank you to Councilmember Wing Luke who’s family store was located around the corner from our boarding house, and who opened the door for many Asian Americans to hold elected offices, like David Della who is here.

I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me and paved the way for my generation.


I’d like to give a special thank you to my wife Sharon and my immediate family Charissa, Greg, Noah, Nico, Shawna, Austin and little Kira for their support during this rigorous process.  Thank you to my sisters and their families.  You have kept me steady, centered, and focused.

I want to thank the many, many people who supported my quest to be here today.

From Labor:

Mary Lindquist, former president of the State’s largest public union of 82,000 members; and Jonathan Knapp from the Seattle Education Association, its largest local.

Joe McGee, President, Professional and Technical Employees, Local 17 representing 9,000 members, 2,600 in the City of Seattle.  He could not be here today, but he sent Behnaz Nelson, Deputy Executive Director and Kate Garrow, Business Representative.

Ian Gordon, Secretary/Treasurer, Laborers, Local 1239

Vince O’Halloran, Sailors’ Union, and Marine Fireman Oilers and Wipers Union

Kathy Oglesby, former UFCW Negotiations Director

From the Human services and housing community:

Julia Sterkovsy, Executive Director, Human Services Coalition – a coalition of hundreds of human service providers committed to end homelessness, hunger relief, domestic violence prevention, quality early childhood education, health care, employment, issues affecting elders and people with disabilities, racial equity, and the development of children.  Julia could not be here today, but co-chair of the coalition, Steve Daschle, Executive Director from the Southwest Youth and Family Services is here.

Merril Cousins, Executive Director, King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence with over 30 domestic violence organizations as members.  You graciously helped me see the world from a survivor of domestic abuse.

Mark Okazaki, Executive Director, Neighborhood House.

Paul Landros, Executive Director, Plymouth Housing Group.

Jeffrey Hattori, President/CEO, Nikkei Concerns – an organization serving the elderly that my father was one of a handful of founders including Tomio Moriguchi.

Estela Ortega, Executive Director, El Centro de la Raza.

Ruby Takushi, Director of Programs, Recovery Café and Ann Sakaguchi, Deputy Director, Operation Nightwatch, who taught me how to persist helping the poor even though it breaks your heart.

And from the Community:

George Griffin from The Breakfast Group, and friends Henry Yates and Rev. Proctor.

Ruth Woo, Joan Yoshitomi, Laverne Lamoureux and Patricia Akiyama who have been cheerleaders throughout my career.

Bettie Luke, sister of the late City Councilmember Wing Luke.

And my dear Presby friends.

Public servants

And I’d like to thank the many, many public servants in the City and other public agencies who are here or watching on TV.  You have given me much encouragement and support.  This appointment affirms the value the City Council places on public service, something you deliver every hour of every day.

Thank you to Catherine Lester and employees of the Human Services Department who have been a joy to work with.  I’ve learned so much from you.  You are smart and have passion for your work.  I am here, in large part, because of our time together.

Those that supported me and advocated for me know who I truly am, and what I can deliver.

This is a day of possibilities

A day, my grandparents would not have thought possible when they stepped off their boats from Japan on the Seattle waterfront to a foreign and hostile land.

A day, my parents would not have thought possible when they were imprisoned in concentration camps, unjustly portrayed by government officials to the public as enemy aliens.

A day, my father and his army buddies had only dreamed this day possible when they fought and died for this country.

A day, that I as an incorrigible child, and later as a student who needed a second look to get into college and struggled to get into the rhythm of academic rigors – would not have thought possible.

But Councilmembers, you made this day possible.

And this is a time and place I join you to make possibilities real for all people of this City – especially for those who cannot think of possibilities beyond the challenging realities they experience every day.

But making possibilities a reality can only happen through our joint and collective efforts – working hard to find our common interests that serve all in this City.

There is so much to do, and so little time to do it.

“…These are ambitious goals for the next 8 months, I know.  But the people of Seattle deserve real progress on all these fronts.  And the only way we can deliver is by working together collaboratively.”

I want to find solutions to reduce the need to warehouse the homeless in shelters and truly make homelessness rare, brief and one time with my fellow committee members Councilmembers Rasmussen and Sawant, with our regional partners, with the Human Services Department and our community based partners.  We need to address the conditions that lead to homelessness, and try new things.  I want to work with Councilmember Bagshaw to get the right services to the right people to help them off the streets in the downtown area.

I look forward to partnering with Councilmember O’Brien, Chair of the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee to find and implement new funding tools to build more affordable housing for all spectrums of income.

It has been nearly a decade since we have analyzed the health conditions of our residents, yet we are spending $14m on health programs without knowing if our resources are directed to the most needed places.  I look forward to working with Councilmember Licata and Sawant to advocate for the health needs of our residents as fellow members of the King County Board of Health.

I want to take a harder look at the data we use in our results driven initiatives, to ensure we are capturing data at the subpopulation levels and targeting our resources to areas of greatest need.

There are a growing number of seniors and many more who do not speak English as their native tongue.  Therefore, addressing the needs of the seniors and helping them live independently or if needed in assisted living facilities that are adequately funded remains a top-tier priority.  I look forward to working with Councilmember Rasmussen on these issues, as well as the Transportation levy – to ensure it is right-sized, and has the right balance of strengthening deteriorating infrastructure with improvements that allow flow of people (whether they are walking, bicycling, using a wheelchair or stroller, on a bus or in a car) and the flow of our precious freight.

Working with Councilmember Harrell, I want to pursue a seamless, integrated domestic violence system that links advocates, service providers and criminal justice together through new communication and collaboration technology – a seamless system that will provide multiple doors for survivors at entry points where they are most comfortable accessing support.   And we must do more to stop human trafficking.

I will work with Councilmember Harrell, Mayor Ed Murray and Chief O’Toole to create a Police Department that is a national model of urban policing, continuing the path of reform – a department that looks like the community it serves, building trust with the community, and making sure officers have the training and tools to do their jobs in a changing society.

I want this City to embrace our youth by creating more job opportunities for them not only in the public sector but also the private sector – so that students like those here from the Seattle Urban Academy get real job opportunities and training, and we can complement the great work of our teachers like Dr. Michael Friedland, David McIntosh, and those who are Seattle Education Association members.   I am excited to work with Councilmember Licata on his participatory budgeting process to engage youth to get more involved in this important work.

The oath of office I just took and the one you took, pledged that we would uphold the Constitution of the State of Washington.  This oath was taken by every elected official in Olympia.

In light of that oath, I will continue to advocate for full funding of public education holding the State accountable to live up to its paramount constitutional  duty “’ to make ample provision for the education of all children.”  Too many children have been denied their constitutional rights.  52,000 students in the Seattle Public Schools, their parents, and the 9,000 staff in the schools including those that belong to the Seattle Education Association have waited too long.  And I don’t want to wait any longer with my grandchildren Noah, Nico and Kira all soon to be in public schools.  The legislature, now in special session, must live up to their oath of office and their paramount constitutional duty.  I invite you to join me in advocating for the State to live up to this fundamental duty.

I’m committed to working with President Burgess to leverage and integrate the City’s unprecedented investment in early childhood education with any funding proposals that come from King County’s Best Start for Kids to focus on evidence based and proven programs.

And I want to support the important work of Councilmember Godden in pay equity.  This is important to our society and important to me personally.  I come from a family and married into a family with strong and talented women.  I have three talented sisters.  I have seen gender discrimination up close.  My mother Toshi, Lilly Shiosaki, her peers; my sisters – Joyce, Su, and Sheila and their peers, have not been valued and compensated as I have.  And I want to create better pay equity for my two daughters’ generation and my granddaughter’s generation.

These are ambitious goals for the next 8 months, I know.  But the people of Seattle deserve real progress on all these fronts.  And the only way we can deliver is by working together collaboratively.

There’s an old African proverb I think you have all heard, “if you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”

Like many of you, I want this City to progress as far as it can go, and I want to do it together.  I have only but a few months, but I want to move forward together.

I stand ready to work with you, my colleagues and the community, solely focused on the governance of Seattle on behalf of all those that live in this city.  And I am up to the challenge.  Thank you.”

Council Selects John Okamoto to Fill Vacancy

April 29th, 2015

City Council selected John Okamoto today to fill the vacancy in Council Position 9. He will take office effective immediately and his first Full Council meeting as a seated Seattle City Councilmember will be May 4, 2015.