The average age of the Issaquah City Council members has dropped in thanks to one outlier who hopes to bring a youthful, hometown perspective and the scientific method to the table.
Zach Hall, a 25-year-old resident who grew up in Issaquah, was elected to the city council in November 2019. He was sworn in on Jan. 6. Hall is perhaps one of the youngest council members in Issaquah history. He’s at least the youngest that current city staff know of in the last several decades.
“I don’t remember anyone his age in my whole 25 years in the city being on city council,” said Mayor Mary Lou Pauly. “He has a huge resume for a 25-year-old.”
Most council members have spent some time serving on a city board or commission. Usually city council is something people take on later in their careers, years into it, she said.
“It’s super interesting to see him take this on at the age of 25, just starting his career,” Pauly said.
Hall and his three siblings all went through the Issaquah School District (ISD). He graduated from Issaquah High School in 2013, where he played soccer and played trumpet in the school band as well as Village Theatre programs.
An Eagle scout, Hall enjoys the outdoors, hiking and kayaking. He likes to spend time on Front Street and attends Salmon Days every year.
“I know it sounds very Issaquah,” he said with a chuckle.
Hall graduated from University of Washington in 2017 as a biology major and was interested in maybe studying medicine. His senior year, he took an internship at the state senate where he said he “caught the policy bug.”
During that internship he thought, “Maybe this kind of thinking, scientific method and data-driven experimentation, is a good kind of thinking for public service.” That epiphany along with wanting to better his community led to his decision that policy could be a good path for him.
He said he thinks the current city council does a great job of making data-driven decisions already, and pointed out that Pauly is an engineer herself.
“I think that’s a benefit,” he said.
After college, Hall became Pauly’s campaign manager, helping her get elected as mayor. He went on to run the state campaign for Rep. Lisa Callan, who also won.
He now works for the state House of Representatives as a legislative assistant. After March, he will look for new employment, and for that his science degree may come in handy, he said.
Pauly said Hall underwent a great deal of door-to-door canvassing running the campaigns and has a strong background in government.
“He personally knocked on a lot of doors. He’s had more face to face contact with residents than many council members,” she said. “He has a lot of experience with multiple levels of government.”
She said she thinks the council is going to be happy to have his youthful perspective.
“I don’t speak for council, but I sense a lot of excitement about having somebody from his generation in the conversations that we have. His generation will inherit the work that we’re doing now,” she said. “We’re excited he’s bringing youth to the chambers. Having that is just awesome.”
Hall said people often ask him what his ambitions are, but he doesn’t have an answer for them. He has yet to determine his ultimate vocational goal, but serving on council was a major goal for him in the short term.
He said he looks forward to conversations seeking to answer the big question: “How do we best create a balanced, welcoming and inclusive Issaquah of the future while still being mindful of Issaquah of the past?”
He said his biggest priority is likely the reason he won — community engagement. For his own campaign this year alone he said he knocked on more than 6,000 doors.
“I was genuinely interested in what people were thinking about — issues and how they were struggling and their daily routines and how that could be improved. So door-to-door knocking, the canvassing that I did, I genuinely believe that was the number one reason why I won,” Hall said. “People want genuine, authentic conversation and access to their representatives, and they deserve it.”
Since then, he’s continued to meet with many people and hear their concerns. He wants to see council continuing to engage with many citizens of all backgrounds, aiming to hear from a more diverse set of voices. He keeps a notebook of stories and ideas he’s heard along the way.
“My number-one priority on council will still be community engagement and how we can better bring people together to the table to make more informed policy, especially as our city continues to grow,” he said. “I think every person brings their own lived experience and perspective to the whole. I don’t think there’s a challenge when you have a new perspective or a new voice or a new lived experience, and that’s what I bring to the table — a younger, hometown perspective that’s not there. So I see it more as a benefit to our conversations that we have than a challenge.”
Goals and priorities
In addition to inclusivity, access, and community engagement, Hall’s top five priorities also include urban sustainability, environmental stewardship, affordability and regional partnerships.
Affordability is a big focus for him. He said that was a frequent issue he heard on the campaign trail. People talked about water often, expressing concerns over costs.
He said he was thrilled when the city council adopted its new utility assistance program for low-income residents, and also expanded its existing low-income senior discounted utility program.
He also wants to make the city more walkable, increasing pedestrian safety and accessibility to amenities. Another goal is to continue planting trees throughout the city.
Both help with the city’s climate action goals and support public health. He also wants to continue striving to lower Issaquah’s carbon footprint and work more and more with organizations such as King County-Cities Climate Collaboration (K4C).
Overall, he wants Issaquah to be a place where people can afford to, “live, work, play and shop.”
In his more than 20 years of living here, he has witnessed major growth and development in Issaquah with his own eyes. He said he can remember the Issaquah Highlands being way less developed than it is today, for example.
He looks forward to being a part of the city’s ongoing discussion of how to balance necessary growth with the needs of the community.
Hall has attended all recent council meetings relating to the Providence Heights property discussion – whether ISD will build schools there, adjacent to the Providence Point community, and how many. He has heard hours of comment from both sides of the debate and will be part of the Jan. 21 vote on whether to rezone the property, allowing for a new high school, elementary school, stadium and other amenities.
He said he’s undecided right now, but he is hopeful for a mutually agreeable solution stemming from ongoing dialogue.
“I think that there are pathways for schools to be there, and even a stadium to be there, and a buffer, and a happy Providence Point community. So as long as all of the parties are interested in walking down that path, I think that we’re going to have a good result,” he said. “We need to find the best answer that will serve the community and the people best.”
He said he experienced the ISD overcrowding issue himself and would be excited to see a new high school.
“There’s no arguing that it’s needed. All data shows that student outcomes are much better in lower classroom driven environments,” he said. “(Issaquah High) School certainly is quite large and having smaller class sizes, I think, would have led to a better all around education, in terms of access to teachers, to counselors, etc.”
He also mentioned he favors sports fields, stadiums, and extra curricular facilities.
He hopes to hear some students’ perspectives, and also plans to meet with folks in Providence Point and tour the area to see where the properties collide for himself.
“I’m going to be going up there and talking to some people about their concerns in person too, because I think they deserve to hear from someone outside of the intimidating council chamber,” he said.