When Shoreline Mayor Chris Roberts moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2004, he thought politics was behind him. Then in 2009, he was elected to the city council.
Roberts’ political career began in 1996 when he volunteered at the Democratic National Convention in support of Bill Clinton.
When he thought his involvement in politics was over, then-Senator Barack Obama inspired him through his work to continue in politics.
Juan Chavez, SCC’s ASG Governmental Affairs Officer, recently sat down with Roberts for a question and answer session in the Quiet Dining Room for an audience of SCC students and faculty.
Roberts is no stranger to college campuses in King County; he taught classes on American Democracy at the University of Washington while working on his PhD. “I really relish all the opportunities to come back on (a) campus,” he said to his audience.
Roberts says he ran for mayor because he saw a disconnect between the city government and the people of Shoreline.
When asked what initiatives Shoreline is currently working on, Roberts described the construction on Meridian, repairs on 145th street, general improvements for pedestrians and that the Shoreline Pool was in its last stages of its life.
For the five-road intersection where traffic is frequently backed up in front of the college, Roberts mentioned a student’s suggestion of a roundabout to fix the problem — Roberts likes this idea.
One audience member with a question was ASG president Winston Lee. He wanted to know why, at a Shoreline City Council meeting, Shoreline voted to call themselves a “safe city” rather than a “sanctuary city.”
Roberts explained “sanctuary city,” has no actual legal definition.
He said, although there have been “Rumblings from the (presidential) administration” that funding may be pulled from sanctuary cities, “Congress can’t take away funds that have already been allocated.”
Trump’s executive order was, says Roberts, vague and unenforceable.
“We are a safe and welcoming city,” he stated. “We celebrate diversity in the city of Shoreline.”
“People are welcome regardless of immigration status,” Roberts said. He noted that Everett is also called a safe city, but Shoreline “took it a step further by explicitly stating (it’s) not going to ask for immigration status.”
One member of the audience asked, “How can students get involved in local politics?” The mayor recommended knowing when commissions/boards like the Parks Board have vacancies. “If that’s something of interest to you, there are vacancies every two years.” The mayor not only wants students to vote, but to run.
If a citizen has an issue they want to voice, Roberts made his and his associates’ availability clear: “Please come to the council and tell us … we’re very open to input.”
According to the mayor, “We’ll have meetings with pretty much anyone who wants to.”
Mayor Roberts said “There are lots of ways to become an elected official.” He explained there are over 2,700 positions open for elections in the state, including four seats on the city council.
“If you feel you can make a difference, consider running.”
According to the mayor, for many offices in the city, there isn’t even a filing fee to run.
One audience member’s question came from Eberth Arias, the ASG Sustainability Officer: Homelessness and hunger are a huge problem that affect college students today. What is Shoreline doing for low income people?
Roberts’ answer was immediate. “Well first, we need to do more. I’ll just admit that.” He stated that he is committed to making instances of homelessness “brief, one-time and rare.” According to him, there is new affordable housing on 180th and Aurora, and the Shoreline building code requires affordable housing be constructed near the light rail when it is finished.
Though it may not be appropriate for families–or more than one or two people maximum–a solution for students may be microhousing. There are units available on Aurora.
Mayor Roberts knows there is no silver bullet to combating apathy in youth in regards to politics. He believes the solution lies in making issues local and says small groups that form around specific issues — like a bus stop being moved — can make a difference. New affordable housing is the option–and part of making this a reality is requiring in the city’s building code that more affordable housing be built in certain areas.
Roberts wants students to “channel their frustrations,” and “bring it up the chain.” According to him, “Elected officials, across the board, really do care.”
“I know I cannot address and do enough to create clean energy myself,” he said, referencing a previous question of Arias’s about clean energy. But says he can work with others to change building codes to make headway towards becoming greener.
Solutions to homelessness, global warming, and other issues students care about are not always immediate — Roberts described small progress as seeds for the future being planted, one day becoming a tree and bearing the fruits of the planter’s labor. Even saying that, he said smiling, made him feel better.
Rezina Habtemariam, Director of Student Life at SCC, told Roberts that there are students who are unaware ASG exists. She asked the mayor for advice: How does Shoreline keep the public informed? How do you engage them?
Roberts’ answer was the Shoreline City Newsletter, which is available at Shorelinewa.gov
Roberts added, “We try to do our best on social media.”
There are 14 active neighborhood associations in Shoreline, which help people band together over smaller issues. According to Roberts, one key element is encouraging people often not represented by government, like Seattle’s Somali population, to participate.
Roberts wants people to make sure their voter registration is current. He encouraged students to ask their friends to become politically active in their communities. “People like to talk about the presidency, but you deal with local government the most.”
At the event’s close, Roberts described the effect students can have by participating in local government. He explained that no one touches social security because senior citizens vote. Consistently.
“It’s important that young people, especially, vote,” said Roberts.
Imagine, he implored, what colleges would look like if young people showed up to vote like seniors.