City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda Will Run for King County Council

By Erica C. Barnett

Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who’s in the middle of her second four-year term, will run for the King County Council seat longtime County Councilmember Joe McDermott is leaving at the end of the year. (PubliCola first reported that Mosqueda might run for this position on Monday). In an interview, Mosqueda said she was “pulled” by the appeal of serving on the county council rather than “pushed” out of her current job by the factors—public hostility, divisiveness, and personal attacks—that have contributed to several colleagues’ decisions not to run for reelection.

“Throughout my career, but especially on council, it is evident that I can rise above the fray, that I can pull people together who have diverse perspectives, and we can pull solutions together and pass them with near unanimous or near-unanimous support,” Mosqueda, a former labor lobbyist in Olympia, said.

As an example, she pointed to the JumpStart payroll tax, which succeeded where previous “Tax Amazon” efforts by her council colleague Kshama Sawant had failed, thanks in large part to Mosqueda’s efforts to win at least tacit consensus from groups that opposed previous efforts to raise taxes on large businesses.

“I think there really needs be a shift from thinking about ‘peak hours” to thinking about what workers need and what accessibility truly means to families,” Mosqueda said. “Also, making sure that our light rail is going to communities and not through communities.”

Similarly, Mosqueda said, she would have handled the siting of a controversial homeless shelter expansion in SoDo—which King County abandoned under pressure from advocates in the Chinatown-International District who said the county never consulted them—differently.

“Folks who were concerned about the siting [of the shelter] there are also interested in solutions— they’re concerned about people not having a place to use the bathroom or sleeping outside business establishments,” Mosqueda said. “We have shared interests… but we have to start with talking to the community first—especially in the CID and the [Asian and Pacific Islander] population who have also been on the receiving end of other services over the years.”

If voters pass a ballot measure to build six behavioral health crisis centers around the county in April, the council will play a role in deciding where those are located, a decision Mosqueda said “has to start with community conversations” about “where those six sites are going to be.”

In addition, Mosqueda said, she wants to support efforts to build “workforce housing” in places like Vashon Island (one of several parts of the district outside Seattle), improving participation in apprenticeship programs and broadening their scope, and bolstering the infrastructure that supports high-paying jobs—everything from funding to “create a career pathway for child care workers” to restructuring King County Metro’s bus system to better serve people who work outside standard office hours.

“I think there really needs be a shift from thinking about ‘peak hours” to thinking about what workers need and what accessibility truly means to families,” Mosqueda said. “Also, making sure that our light rail is going to communities and not through communities.”

If Mosqueda wins, she will be the first Latinx person to ever serve on the King County Council, and one of only four council members of color in county history—one of whom, Girmay Zahilay, represents what has historically been the council’s only majority-minority district.

Mosqueda wouldn’t take the bait on a question about whether she, like the four council members who have announced they’re leaving this year, is actually fleeing the council, rather than being “pulled” toward the county. After all, I noted, if the county council was more compelling than the city council, she could have run for that position in the first place.

Instead, she chalked up the city council exodus to the fact that seven of the nine council seats are all on the ballot at once—a recipe, she said, for instability. If elections were split more evenly—with half the district seats and one citywide seat on the ballot every two years—”then you wouldn’t see that kind of instability,” Mosqueda said. That’s something she said she plans to work on this year, whether she wins or not.

Since the Durkan administration, Mosqueda has over multiple city budget cycles to prevent the mayor from raiding proceeds from the JumpStart tax to fill a general budget hole. Without her vigilance, will JumpStart—which is supposed to fund housing, small businesses, and equitable development—become a slush fund for other priorities or a permanent emergency reserve to fill funding gaps?

Mosqueda said she was confident that it wouldn’t, citing “structural requirements” the council has codified as well as future revenues, to be identified by a new progressive revenue tax force, that will address long-term budget gaps. Even so, Mosqueda had to negotiate a deal this year that allowed some JumpStart revenues to help backfill a massive general-fund shortfall—and even with new progressive revenue on the table, there’s no guarantee that the mayor, or a future mayor, won’t try to use JumpStart taxes for purposes outside the scope of its adopted spending plan.

Mosqueda has already rounded up more than c80 endorsements, including that of current Mayor Bruce Harrell, and her decision to run seems to have neutralized some potential opponents, including West Seattle attorney Rob Saka, who was reportedly considering a run for the county council seat but now appears likely to run for the West Seattle seat being vacated by Lisa Herbold.

PubliCola Picks: “Yes” On Initiative 135

Seattle is facing a historic housing shortage. In 2019, according to one national report, the region had a housing gap of almost 82,000 units, and the problem has gotten worse, not better, since the pandemic began. The lack of housing for people at all income levels has made this a dual crisis: With rents at all-time highs, even people with moderate incomes can barely afford to live in the city, and those at the bottom are suffering most of all. According to a recent study by Challenge Seattle, a business-backed group headed by former Gov. Christine Gregoire, there is a “severe shortage of affordable rental units for lower income households” in Washington state, particularly for those making less than 30 percent of median income—those most likely, in other words, to fall into homelessness.

PubliCola Picks graphicSocial housing—specifically, mixed-income rental housing that would remain permanently affordable and publicly owned—could be a key part of the solution to this multifaceted problem. Initiative 135, on the February 14 ballot, would create a new public development authority— a kind of quasi-governmental organization with the power to build, acquire, and operate housing in Seattle.

People with incomes ranging from 0 to 120 percent of Seattle’s median income would be eligible to rent apartments in these new and repurposed buildings. Renters in social housing wouldn’t get kicked out if their incomes rise; instead, their rents would increase too, though never higher than 30 percent of their income, the widely accepted definition of affordability. Crucially—and in contrast to other types of affordable housing—renters themselves would make up a majority of the new PDA’s governing board, and would also have a say in how their building is run, along with a budget for amenities and events.

This type of mixed-income housing won’t, on its own, fix the city’s housing crisis. What it will do is provide badly needed housing for hundreds of people who have been, or are at risk of being, displaced from Seattle, augmenting other efforts to build government subsidized public and nonprofit housing such as apartments for people exiting homelessness. Many more ambitious initiatives—such as Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent commitment to commit $4 billion to affordable housing and legislation that would allow denser housing across the state—will be necessary to fill the gap. Social housing is a key piece of the puzzle, not the whole solution.

Critics, including the Seattle Times, have claimed the initiative is toothless because it lacks a funding source. This is disingenuous: As supporters of the initiative have pointed out repeatedly, including a revenue source would risk violating the state’s “single-subject rule” for initiatives. Previous public developers, like the Pike Place Market PDA, have been established in exactly the same way I-135’s sponsors, House Our Neighbors!, are proposing: Get the developer going first, identify revenue sources second.

Nor is it true that social housing supporters haven’t thought about how they would pay for it. In fact, they’ve identified numerous potential revenue streams, including federal housing funds, new progressive local taxes, and funding from the state, whose Democratic leadership, including Gov. Jay Inslee, has recently shown a renewed interest in investing in new affordable housing. Longtime State Rep. and housing advocate Frank Chopp, now a senior advisor to the housing nonprofit Solid Ground, has publicly said he would work to secure funding if the measure passes—a strong vote of confidence from someone with a wealth of experience making housing happen.

The measure has also garnered opposition from members the anti-development left, who argue in the King County Voters’ Guide that the measure is a waste of money because it would create mixed-income housing, rather than housing exclusively for homeless or very low-income people. The idea that very poor people should be segregated into apartment buildings that bar tenants with modest incomes (or kick people out if their income rises) has been debated ad nauseam for decades, but the US has broadly abandoned Cabrini-Green-style public housing projects in favor of mixed-income communities where better-off renters help fund the “operations, maintenance, and loan service” for the community by paying higher rents than those making little or nothing.

This element of the plan should give skeptics cause for optimism: Once built, social housing should become a self-sustaining system—one solution, among many that must happen simultaneously, to Seattle’s affordable housing crisis.

PubliCola picks a “Yes” vote on Initiative 135.

The PubliCola editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

Legislators May Prescribe Treatment for Drug Possession; More Legislative Staffers Unionize

1. One of the biggest conflicts in this year’s legislative session will be over how to replace a temporary drug possession law passed in 2021 in response to the a decision called Blake v. State of Washington, in which the state supreme court ruled that an existing law banning drug possession was unconstitutional because it criminalized “unknowing” as well as knowing drug possession.

The interim law, which expires in July, shifted most drug possession from a class C felony to a simple misdemeanor and required police to refer people people to treatment or other services for the first two offenses. Democrats have introduced three competing replacement bills that range from increasing criminal penalties for drug possession to decriminalization.

Last week, Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-45, Redmond), who chairs the Law & Justice committee, introduced a bill that largely decriminalizes possession of “personal amounts” of drugs. The legislation leans heavily on the recommendations of the Substance Use Recovery Services Advisory Committee (SURSAC), which was established in the interim bill and issued a report in December. The committee recommended decriminalizing possession of small amounts of drugs—similar to laws recently passed in Oregon and British Columbia—as well as exploring the creation of safe supply system, which would create a regulated, medical-grade supply of controlled substances to drug users. A solid body of academic research supports safe supply as a key to preventing overdose deaths.

However, Sen. Dhingra has acknowledged her bill doesn’t have the votes to pass in the Senate, telling PubliCola,  “Even if the policy [the SURSAC committee] designed doesn’t have the votes in the legislature, it’s important that their recommendations are represented in the debates as the legislature moves forward.”

Sen Jesse Salomon (D-32, Shoreline) has introduced a bill backed by a handful of Democrats and Republicans that would re-criminalize drug possession (addressing the issue raised in Blake by adding the word “knowingly” to existing law); increase penalties for drug possession’ and mandate treatment.

But the bill that seems most likely to emerge from committee is one sponsored by Sen. June Robinson (D-38, Everett), which reinstates the 2021 law but encourages participation in pre-trial diversion, including treatment, as an alternative to criminal penalties. 

2. Earlier this month, the state Public Employee Relations Commission ruled that a group of deputy city clerks and strategic advisors in the city’s legislative department could join the Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 (PROTEC17) bargaining unit, which also represents employees of the city council’s Central Staff, the city archivist, and the City Auditor.

Not everyone at the clerk’s office supported unionizing. The office is a motley group of employees who do very different kinds of jobs, under very different daily working conditions; they include IT professionals, staffers who read and decipher legislation on the fly during council meetings, and aides who deal directly with the public.

It’s unclear which issues the union will help employees of the clerk’s office tackle, but there are plenty of possibilities. Unlike employees in some city departments, many of those in the clerk’s office have had to return to (or remain at) their desks at City Hall, regardless of whether their job is public-facing or something that could be done from home. Some employees have job titles that don’t obviously correspond to their actual duties, resulting in lower pay than if they had a different job classification—a frequent complaint in many city departments. Workers with HR complaints have recourse to an ombudsperson, but their jobs are at-will and their ultimate boss is the city council president, a rotating position that’s currently filled by Debora Juarez.

Although it’s somewhat unusual for white-collar city workers, including many in highly compensated strategic advisor jobs, to unionize, there is a precedent in the legislative department: The clerk’s office is following in the footsteps the council’s central staff, who joined Protec17 in 2019.

—Andrew Engelson, Erica C. Barnett

Homeless Authority Struggles to Find Severe Weather Shelter Providers After Key Contractor Bows Out

Image via Compass Housing

By Erica C. Barnett

As temperatures plunged during the first severe weather event of 2023,  the King County Regional Homelessness Authority had just one emergency severe weather shelter available for adults without children in Seattle—an overnight shelter in the lobby of City Hall with a capacity of up to 45 people. This represents a loss of more than half the city’s emergency winter shelter capacity from last year.

The Compass Housing Alliance, which provided 60 beds during previous weather emergencies, did not seek to renew its contract with KCRHA for 2023. According to Compass director Mary Steele, the frequent shelter activations did a number on Compass’ staff and its building in Pioneer Square, where it runs a year-round men’s shelter and a day center.

“During 2022, Compass was activated for overnight or 24 hour shelter more than 50 times in the 4th quarter,” Steele said. “We could not sustain that level of wear and tear on the staff and building.”

In December, the authority put out a request for proposals (RFP) for emergency winter shelter providers that could provide a safe place for both families with children and single adults. According to a KCRHA spokeswoman, only one qualified agency applied: The Salvation Army, which has historically run emergency shelters during severe weather and wildfire smoke events at City Hall and Seattle Center.

The award document for the Salvation Army contract, worth a little over than $200,000, notes that the KCRHA used an alternative procurement process for the emergency shelter contract due to “the low number of applications received for this REP, and the proposer’s inability to serve both single adults and families with children.”

A spokeswoman for the Salvation Army, Marta Coursey, told PubliCola the KCRHA also authorized the nonprofit “to provide shelter to families with children via a hotel voucher system.”

The KCRHA’s draft Five-Year Plan, which the agency is required to produce by the interlocal agreement that established it, includes “improve severe weather response system performance” among its high-level priorities. Currently, there are still very few emergency severe weather shelters open to all people, including adults without children, in any part of the county. The KCRHA took over responsibility for Seattle’s short-term emergency shelters from the city last year.

The authority has struggled to find providers willing to provide severe-weather shelter on an as-needed basis, even before its contract with Compass expired. As PubliCola reported in December—a time when the Compass Center shelter was still available—the KCRHA used a home care provider with no homeless shelter experience to staff the shelter at City Hall. According the KCRHA agency spokesperson, 17 adults stayed at City Hall on January 28, and 33 slept there on January 29. The KCRHA currently plans to keep the shelter open through February 2, according to its website.

SPD Confirms Name of Officer Who Killed Student in Crosswalk; Seattle Councilmember Mosqueda May Run for County Council

1. SPD has confirmed that the name of the officer who killed a 23-year-old student in a crosswalk earlier this month is Kevin Austin Dave, who joined the department in 2019. Divest SPD, the police watchdog group, first reported Dave’s name on Twitter Monday morning; they described the process they used to figure out his identity on Twitter and in a Substack post.

Dave, who is in his mid-30s, was driving to provide backup to Seattle Fire Department first responders at the scene of a suspected overdose in South Lake Union when he hit Jaahnavi Kundala, who was crossing Dexter Ave. in a marked crosswalk at Thomas Street. As PubliCola reported, the city had planned to install Seattle’s first protected crosswalk at the intersection, but Mayor Bruce Harrell canceled this safety project in his 2023 budget, citing financial constraints.

Court records, obtained through a records request, confirm another detail Divest SPD posted on Twitter:  Dave received a ticket for running a red light in Puyallup in late December 2017. Documents show that he didn’t pay his $124 fine, and the ticket went into collections last year.

Initially, in response to a request to confirm Dave’s identity, an SPD spokesperson sent PubliCola to a statement published on the department’s blog on January 26, which reads in part: “for purposes of both preserving the integrity of the investigation and respecting the family’s right to privacy, [SPD] will not be putting out information over and beyond what has already been provided.” In an email confirming Dave’s identity, the spokesperson said, “We are still exploring what—if any—additional details we can release and may be able to provide more information soon.”

PubliCola has requested information about how fast Dave was driving, whether he stopped after hitting Kandula or went on to his destination a few blocks away, and whether SPD is pursuing a criminal investigation.

2. City council member Teresa Mosqueda is seriously considering a run for the King County Council District 8 seat being vacated next year by longtime County Councilmember Joe McDermott, according to numerous sources—in fact, the will she/won’t she chatter about Mosqueda’s electoral plans make this the worst-kept secret in Seattle politics right now.

Mosqueda, who lives in West Seattle, wouldn’t confirm or deny the rumors. But a run for county council would make sense on a number of levels. First, the county council is simultaneously lower-profile than the city council and has a broader scope—encompassing issues that the city doesn’t deal with directly, such as health policy and transit service. Second: It’s no secret that the Seattle City Council has become a toxic place to work; becoming a council member means accepting an endless barrage of verbal abuse, along with occasional protesters at your home. Four council members have already said they won’t seek reelection this year.

Mosqueda, like her colleagues, has to be acutely aware that the job is both riskier and less rewarding than it used to be. (One of her colleagues who is stepping down, District 1 Councilmember Lisa Herbold, for example, had a brick thrown through her window while she was home and was later among the targets of a violent “protest” encouraged by the late right-wing radio provocateur Dori Monson.)

It also makes sense that, if Mosqueda plans to eventually run for higher office, such as Congress, she might want to put some distance between herself and the eternally unpopular city council.

Two others who we heard were considering a bid for the seat Jeanne Kohl-Welles is leaving, Seattle City Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Dan Strauss, said they aren’t running; Lewis has announced he’s seeking reelection to the city council, and Strauss told PubliCola by text, “Love my job representing D6!”

If Mosqueda was elected to county council this year, the council would have to appoint her replacement, since her citywide council seat won’t be on the ballot until 2025.

Other rumored) candidates for McDermott’s current seat include West Seattle attorney Rob Saka, who has also considered a run for the District 1 city council seat Lisa Herbold is leaving; Burien Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling; and Burien City Councilmember Jimmy Matta. The district includes much of downtown Seattle, West Seattle, Burien, part of Tukwila, and Vashon Island.

Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who represents Ballard, Queen Anne, and Magnolia also announced that she plans to leave her seat after her term ends this year. So far, only one candidate—managing assistant state attorney general Sarah Reyneveld, who ran for the 36th District state House seat in 2020, losing to Liz Barry—has announced in that race. Two others who we heard were considering a bid for the seat Jeanne Kohl-Welles is leaving, Seattle City Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Dan Strauss, said they aren’t running; Lewis has announced he’s seeking reelection to the city council, and Strauss told PubliCola by text, “Love my job representing D6!”

State Proposal Would Ban Design Review—Except for Historic Buildings and Districts

Wallingford Historic District map
Under one amendment, proposals for new housing in the “Wallingford-Meridian Historic Streetcar District” would still be subject to strict aesthetic review.

By Ryan Packer

Last week, the state House housing committee approved a bill that would effectively prohibit cities, including Seattle, from subjecting housing developers to design review—a controversial process in which a group of volunteers make aesthetic judgments about, and require often minute changes to, proposed developments.

These boards can subject architectural firms to multiple rounds of tweaks, adding unpredictability to project timelines, with potential new homes frequently held up for months based on highly subjective aesthetic criteria.

The bill would upend that process. But a proposed amendment could leave a large loophole by preserving design review for projects in so-called historic districts.

House Bill 1026, introduced by Rep. Amy Walen (D-48, Kirkland), would restrict design review for proposed housing developments to “administrative” review, conducted by city staff who would would be limited to considering whether a project adheres to guidelines established by the city.

The amendment added last week by Rep. Mari Leavitt (D-28, University Place) would allow cities to keep design review boards for buildings, and entire neighborhoods, that are listed on a local, state, or national historic register.

Historic districts within the City of Seattle, like Pioneer Square, Columbia City, and the International District, have boards that review proposals to build or modify housing and other buildings in those areas. Leavitt’s amendment would not only allow this review process to continue while other design review boards elsewhere are being phased out, but expand this enhanced review process to all neighborhoods on the National Register of Historic Places. In Seattle, that would include neighborhoods like Montlake, Roanoke Park, and a broad swath of Wallingford, which was added to the federal register, despite significant opposition, last year. These districts include many non-historic buildings alongside arguably historic ones.

Immediately after the housing committee unanimously adopted the amendment, lawmakers started talking about walking it back. “I do have concerns. I think we can refine the language to make sure that entire neighborhoods…aren’t said to be historic for the purpose of limiting opportunities to increase housing and increase density,” Rep. Strom Peterson (D-21, Edmonds), who chairs the housing committee, said.

Peterson is now proposing an amendment that would only require design review for individual structures, not entire historic districts. It’s not clear how this would impact historic districts like the International District, where every structure is not a city landmark, or whether cities could skirt the restrictions by landmarking every single building in a neighborhood. Legislators will vote on that amendment on the House floor before the bill proceeds to the Senate.

Two Candidates With Roots In Central Seattle Council District Will Seek Sawant’s Longtime Seat

Alex Hudson
Alex Hudson

By Erica C. Barnett

Two longtime residents of City Council District 3, Alex Hudson and Joy Hollingsworth, have announced they’re running for the council seat occupied for the last 10 years by Kshama Sawant, who announced earlier this month that she won’t seek reelection.

In conversations with PubliCola on Wednesday, both Hudson and Hollingsworth said they planned their campaigns assuming they would be taking on Sawant directly. Now that the firebrand socialist is no longer a factor, both said they feel a sense of relief that they’ll be able to talk more about their own priorities, rather than defending themselves against an incumbent whose fiery denunciations of “corporate Democrats” (including all eight of her council colleagues) have a tendency to suck all the air out of the room.

Although there are months to go before the filing deadline, Hudson and Hollingsworth are both well-positioned to be frontrunners in the race for District 3. Hollingsworth, whose family owns and operates a cannabis farm in Mason County, was born and raised in the Central District; her grandmother, Dorothy Hollingsworth, was a civil rights trailblazer and the first Black woman to serve on a school board in Washington state.

Hudson, the director of the Transportation Choices Coalition, is a longtime renter on First Hill who led the pro-density First Hill Improvement Association before working to pass big major transportation policy and funding packages, including last year’s Move Ahead Washington statewide funding bill.

If elected, Hudson would bring a long history of transportation advocacy and expertise to the council at a time when the city is failing to make progress toward Vision Zero, a plan to end traffic deaths and serious injuries in the next seven years. To get there, Hudson said the city needs to stop debating how to implement its Vision Zero goals and start implementing strategies it already knows are effective.

“There should not be as many fatalities, near misses, or injuries on our roadways as there are right now in the city, and that should be the primary focus of the Seattle Transportation Plan that they’re putting together now,” Hudson said. For example, she said, the city could easily install bike lanes, curb bulbs, spaces between parking and bike lanes, crosswalks, and lighting—design changes that slow down drivers and provide redundant protections for others on the road—without going through the usual years-long public process.

“Ludi’s”—a now-shuttered downtown diner, formerly known as the Turf, that mostly served low-income patrons—”was a place where you could go and get a hot meal and some protein and kick it in community. And I don’t know another place right now, anywhere in downtown, where you could do that.”

In our conversation, Hudson emphasized her experience building coalitions while also pushing boundaries. As head of First Hill’s neighborhood association, Hudson defied stereotypes about neighborhood activism, pushing for dense affordable housing at a Sound Transit-owned property and organizing to bring two new homeless shelters to the neighborhood. While it’s common to see organized neighborhood opposition to shelters or services, Hudson said that “with deep organizing, [by the time] we had the community meeting about it in the basement of First Presbyterian, site of one of the two shelters, every single person who was there spoke up and was like, ‘We want it. How can we help you?”

Hudson said she’s still learning about the city’s current response to homelessness, which consists largely of disruptive, traumatizing encampment sweeps. (The city-funded King County Regional Homelessness Authority, whose policies the city can influence through its annual budget, now controls all homeless service contracts). In general, she said, “there’s no point in just pushing people around, if what that is going to do is just further traumatize someone, disinvest them from what little belongings and stability and community that they have, and create a further cycle of distrust in the system.”

At the same time, she added, “unauthorized encampments in our parks isn’t a solution that works for everybody, including the people who want to use those parks.” For example, she supported the removal of a large encampment in and around Miller Park, which is next to Meany Middle School. One solution, she said, might be allowing more authorized encampments where people can connect with services and get on a path to housing. “Homelessness is a housing problem, and we need more housing,” she said. “But that doesn’t solve the problem for people sleeping in a tent tonight.”

Although downtown Seattle isn’t in District 3, policies to address homelessness downtown could impact every other district, because the KCRHA and the city have made a policy decision to focus most of their housing resources on downtown, through a public-private partnership called Partnership for Zero—”zero” referring to the number of people sleeping outdoors in the area for more than a brief period.

Hudson said the emphasis on downtown makes sense—”having some resources that are specifically targeted to downtown to support people, is a good and important thing”—but she said it needs to be coupled with efforts to give lower-income people, including those experiencing homelessness, places to go during the day besides social service providers.

“Ludi’s”—a now-shuttered downtown diner, formerly known as the Turf, that mostly served low-income patrons—”was a place where you could go and get a hot meal and some protein and kick it in community. And I don’t know another place right now, anywhere in downtown, where you could do that.” Commercial rent stabilization, city programs to support small businesses that cater to people who aren’t white-collar office workers, and partnerships with landlords trying to fill empty storefronts could help fill that need, Hudson said.

Hudson didn’t commit to a specific set of policies on policing, such as an ideal number of police officers or a path toward hiring more non-police responders, although she said that as a resident of First Hill, she often witnesses situations, like people in crisis, where police would only make the problem worse.

She was unequivocal, however, about another “public safety hazard”—the large concrete blocks, known as “ecology blocks” or eco-blocks, that businesses dump in public rights-of-way to prevent people living in RVs from parking in the city. Although blocking public streets and parking areas is illegal, the city has indicated it will not enforce the law, effectively allowing businesses to take over public space with impunity.

“The public right-of-way is for everyone, and so we can’t just [let businesses] drop hostile architecture all over the place, and call it good,” Hudson said. How would she propose making that happen, when the Seattle Department of Transportation has said it would be too difficult to remove the hundreds of heavy blocks that now litter the city? “Forklift comes, picks them up and moves them away. I don’t think it’s that complicated.”

“We’ve got to do better,” Hudson added. “If people can’t trust the city to move a piece of concrete, how can people trust the government to solve problems?”

Joy Hollingsworth

Joy Hollingsworth

Hollingsworth, too, told me she was frustrated with the city about its slow response to road safety issues—so much so that she installed a camera at 23rd and John and recorded every crash at the intersection, posting clips on Youtube. It took five years to get the city to add turn signals and pedestrian safety improvements, Hollingsworth said. “There has to be a sense of urgency to take care of this stuff,” Hollingsworth said. “When a kid got hit on a scooter”—a crash her camera captured—I feel like that’s when the city started to pay attention to this corner.”

In our conversation, Hollingsworth emphasized her deep roots in the Central District and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, where she went to school (at Meany Middle School and Seattle Prep) and has lived all her life except during college, when she studied and played basketball at the University of Arizona. During that time, the Central District has lost most of its Black residents, gentrifying rapidly without meaningful anti-displacement measures that could help people stay in the area.

“The density has been very extreme in District Three,” Hollingsworth said. “And I say that because I don’t think we think of the impact that that’s had on certain neighborhoods. Seattle is very, very good at protecting white neighborhoods and not Black neighborhoods.”

As neighborhoods have gotten more multifamily housing, she continued, infrastructure hasn’t kept up.

“As we think about density, we have to also think about how it’s going to impact that neighborhood. How does it impact our water, our sewer, our garbage, our electricity?” Several current council members, including Lisa Herbold (D1) and Alex Pedersen (D4) support requiring developers to pay impact fees for the perceived negative impact of new density. Hollingsworth said impact fees might be part of the solution. So, she said, could programs to help homeowners convert their single-family houses into duplexes and triplexes without “changing the façade of the home.”

Hollingsworth said new residents have also impacted the availability of parking and clogged neighborhood streets. “We’ve gotten a lot of new congestion” because of new residents who live in buildings without parking, she said. “We thought people would come here and not bring their cars and just live in apartments” car-free, she said. “That’s not the case.”

“As we think about density, we have to also think about how it’s going to impact that neighborhood. How does it impact our water, our sewer, our garbage, our electricity?… We thought people would come here and not bring their cars. That’s not the case.”—District 3 candidate Joy Hollingsworth

Hollingsworth endorsed now-Mayor Bruce Harrell in 2021, and is widely expected to receive his endorsement. Asked whether she supports the mayor’s encampment removal policies, she demurred. “It’s a health hazard to people who are there for them to be living in those conditions… and we have to do better as a city,” she said.

What about hiring more police officers, another priority of both the mayor and most members of current council? Hollingsworth said her focus would be on hiring “good officers” at a rate that can produce “great response times,” not a hard and fast number. “We need to be  investing in things that create safe neighborhoods,” like Byrd Barr Place and the Central Area Senior Center, she said, in addition to hiring officers. “It’s a holistic approach— not just ‘Joy wants more police.’ I think that’s a notion that’s been significantly put out there to scare people, and I think I’m thinking of community safety holistically, in a different, thoughtful way.”

Hollingsworth expressed frustration at being portrayed, in her view simplistically as the candidate who “wants to repair relations with police. That relationship has to be rebuilt, and there’s also some places where … we can’t deny that there has been overpolicing.”

“But we also know that they are a piece of the public safety” picture, she continued, adding that ideally, “we’d have our EMTs responding to medical, medical emergencies, we’d have health care providers or social workers responding to our unhoused neighbor… and we’d have [police] responding to potentially violent crimes.”

If elected, Hollingsworth would be the only Black councilmember since Harrell left the council in 2019, and one of the only queer Black women in the council’s history. She said her identity as a Black queer woman would add an important perspective to the council, because “a lot of the policies… we’re trying to do are based on dismantling systemic racism, and that comes from anti-Blackness.” But, she added, “I don’t want to be just the Black candidate, I want to be the best candidate. Being black is just a part of who I am, being queer is part of who I am, being a female is just part of who am. It’s my identity, but it doesn’t define me.”

Editor’s note: This post has been corrected to reflect the fact that Sherry Harris was the first out queer Black woman on the council, as a commenter pointed out.

Officer Responding to Overdose Call Killed Woman In Marked Intersection Where City Canceled Safety Project

The intersection of Dexter and Thomas, where a police officer driving an SUV struck and killed a 23-year-old student Monday.

By Erica C. Barnett

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to reflect the fact that the Seattle Police Department, not the Seattle Fire Department, confirmed that the police officer was responding to a call about an overdose.

On Monday, a police officer responding to an overdose call in South Lake Union in struck and killed a 23-year-old student at Northeastern University, Jaahnavi Kandula, who was crossing Dexter Avenue on Thomas Street in a marked intersection, according to police.

According to the Seattle Fire Department, the department was responding to a call for aid 6th Ave. N, a few blocks away; the Seattle Police Department confirmed that the call was “a priority one call for an overdose.” An SFD spokeswoman told PubliCola the man, who was in his late 20s, “was evaluated and did not want to be transported to the hospital.”

The police department has released few details about the collision and was slow to get information out to the public Monday night. SPD did not confirm that Kandula had died until Tuesday afternoon, nearly 18 hours after the crash, and initially did not disclose that the collision involved a police officer, tweeting only that they were “investigating [a] collision.” The department’s official post still says the officer was responding to an unspecified “priority 1” call—the most urgent call type, which can include everything from a person unconscious at a bus stop to an active shooter—rather than an overdose.

SPD said it could not respond to questions about the collision, the officer who was driving the SUV, or the speed with which they released information to the press and public. “This is still an active investigation,” public affairs Sergeant John O’Neil told PublICola. “The information we can provide, such as times, speed, who did what, who knew what etc. is extremely limited while the investigation is going on. … We do not know at this time if there will be a criminal investigation.”

SPD did not confirm that Kandula had died until Tuesday afternoon, nearly 18 hours after the crash, and initially did not disclose that the collision involved a police officer, tweeting only that they were “investigating [a] collision.”

What we do know is that that, as of at least last year, sending cops out on overdose calls is a routine practice.

“The SPD/CSCC Policy is to dispatch police along with SFD to a specific set of calls including persons trapped in elevators, hazmat situations, active shooters, scenes of violence, down persons, suicides, overdoses, domestic disputes and certain similar types of calls,” an spokesman for the Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC), which answers 911 calls, said. “In every case the call is screened with SFD first so a trained fire dispatcher can make a determination whether SFD will respond.  If SFD will respond, the call is always dispatched as priority 1 for SPD.”

In other words, if you call 911 about a possible overdose, any response from the city will include police, even if the person only needs medical attention.

It’s unclear when this policy became routine, but it may date to late last year. Last September, Council public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold mentioned at a council briefing that she was talking to the fire department about implementing an “automatic joint response, with SPD escorting SPD,” for all overdose calls after firefighters raised concerns about people being violent and belligerent when medics reversed their overdoses with Narcan.

People who “receive Narcan or who are coming out of a seizure for another reason, [might] be unaware of their surroundings and have an initial violent reaction,” putting first responders at risk, Herbold said. This is a common complaint among law enforcement officials, although it’s unclear how often overdose victims actually attack first responders.

The collision also raises questions about the safety of the  intersection where it occurred.

For years, the city had been working on a major safety upgrade in the rapidly developing Dexter corridor, with a new protected crosswalk at Dexter and Thomas as its centerpiece. The new crosswalk would have prevented vehicles from using Thomas Street to cross Dexter while slowing perpendicular traffic on Dexter itself.

Last year, Mayor Bruce Harrell canceled the remaining elements of the safety project, citing the need to cut costs amid budget challenges. “This project is a green street/public realm project that connects South Lake Union with Seattle Center. The reduction would pause the remaining project scope indefinitely,” Harrell’s 2023 budget says. The cuts amounted to $2.2 million of the $5.5 million project, according to Harrell spokesman Jamie Housen, who pointed out that the city council did not restore funding for the project in their version of the budget.

“The Traffic Collision Investigation Squad is examining this event,.and the information detailed in that investigation will determine next steps and help identify any changes we can make—both in our infrastructure and operationally—to ensure this kind of terrible event does not happen again.” —Mayor Bruce Harrell

“Following approval of the budget, the Mayor’s Office has directed City departments to reevaluate how the project should best move forward, what improvements can be made with the current budget, and what further steps should be taken to improve safety along the corridor should additional resources become available,” Housen said.

Although the new pedestrian protections would not have been in place in time to prevent the collision Monday night, the elimination of funding for an important pedestrian and cyclist project that was already underway speaks to an ongoing lack of progress toward Vision Zero, a goal the city has adopted of ending traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Harrell’s SDOT director, Gregory Spotts, has promised a “top to bottom review” of the city’s Vision Zero strategy.

“Our public safety strategies must include ensuring our streets and sidewalks are safe for all users,” Harrell said in a statement sent in response to PubliCola’s questions. “We will continue to look to the data to determine where safety investments can and should be made, including regularly reassessing ongoing and future projects like the one at Thomas Street.”

“The Traffic Collision Investigation Squad is examining this event,” Harrell continued, “and the information detailed in that investigation will determine next steps and help identify any changes we can make—both in our infrastructure and operationally—to ensure this kind of terrible event does not happen again.”

According to the Seattle Department of Transportation, no one has been hit or seriously injured at the intersection of Dexter and Thomas since at least 2018.

Maybe Metropolis: A Tale of Two Densities

TOD in Alexandria, Virginia. Image by m01229; licensed under Creative Commons

by Josh Feit

Urbanists, YIMBYs, and transit advocates are understandably excited about the pro-housing legislation that state senate transportation committee chair Sen. Marko Liias (D-21, Edmonds) has proposed this year.

Liias’ legislation would accelerate transit-oriented development—a guiding principle of progressive city planning. TOD helps create sustainable cities by siting housing, retail, and community assets like schools, childcare, green space, and artist spaces around transit hubs. Basically, the idea is: Dense, climate-friendly, urban paradigms become the best routes to equity and opportunity when life’s fundamentals are accessible without a car.

Liias’ bill, SB 5466, would encourage new growth around transit hubs by allowing mid-sized apartment buildings within three-quarters of a mile of rapid transit stops (including bus rapid transit and frequent bus service), and larger buildings within a quarter-mile of light rail stations. The pro-housing intellectuals at Sightline gushed that the legislation “would be a first for Washington, and the strongest statewide policy of its kind in North America.” Urbanists have been pushing for legislation like this since 2009, when a rookie news site called PubliCola editorialized in favor of a bill that would up-zone areas around transit stations while old-fashioned Seattle—and the Seattle Times— predictably and successfully shot it down.

Unfortunately, Liias’ exciting legislation may end up sabotaging an adjacent pro-housing bill. 

Almost 15 years on now, with a broad coalition of pro-housing advocates supporting up-zones for transit-oriented development, the chances for Liias’ bill to pass seem good. Unfortunately, Liias’ exciting legislation may end up sabotaging an adjacent pro-housing bill that we’re even more excited about this year: Rep. Jessica Bateman’s (D-22, Olympia) HB 1110.

Bateman’s “middle housing” bill, which I covered last month, would allow fourplexes in residential areas of cities across the state anywhere detached single-family homes are allowed. Erica cannot stand the term “middle housing” (middle of what?), but essentially it means this: Let’s stop forgoing vast amounts of land—75 percent of the residentially zoned land in Seattle—where apartment buildings, triplexes, fourplexes, and sixplexes are currently prohibited. Bateman’s bill would allow all of these housing types, and sixplexes too within a half-mile of transit, if two of the six units are affordable.

Efforts to add multiplex and apartment housing to low-density residential zones routinely bite the dust in Seattle, where NIMBY liberals pay lip service to pro-housing efforts by deferring to Seattle’s outdated, status quo zoning, which sequesters density into designated urban villages centered on large arterial roads. This “urban-village” strategy allows advocates who oppose density in their own residential neighborhoods to pose as urbanists by supporting something they used to oppose: TOD. We’re with you, they say—of course we need housing!—but let’s not change our residential neighborhoods. Instead, let’s sequester all that multifamily housing near busy streets.

Opportunistically seizing on TOD and refashioning it as a bulwark against more density in residential neighborhoods misconstrues the whole point: TOD is meant to build multiple city centers that create a network of spoke and wheel systems citywide, not build islands of sustainability in otherwise unsustainable cities. Let’s be clear: transit nodes only make sense when they function in sync with the surrounding city infrastructure of connector bus lines and abundant housing. More to the point: Connector bus routes are not sustainable without the appropriate density in surrounding neighborhoods.

You can’t put hyper-dense transit hubs flush up against low-density neighborhoods and expect it to generate sustainability in isolation.

Keeping this broader idea of transit oriented communities front and center, pro-housing advocates should insist that Liias’ and Bateman’s bills exist as a package deal. That is: If NIMBYs start using Liias’ bill as cover to dismiss Bateman’s bill, urbanists should pull their support from Liias’ bill. And Liias should too.

“We are investing billions into new transit service,” Liias told me, “and we need to make those work. If we don’t add housing and jobs around transit, we aren’t delivering maximum value for tax payers.”

True. But we aren’t maximizing TOD if we don’t honor its internal logic. You can’t put hyper-dense transit hubs flush up against low-density neighborhoods and expect it to generate sustainability in isolation. Unfortunately, as PubliCola reported earlier this week, Liias seems to be promoting his bill by playing it against Bateman’s. Bad look. He has a chance to call the NIMBYs’ bluff by taking advantage of the consensus on TOD while supporting its corollary: Nearby neighborhoods need to scale up proportionally themselves by adding apartments.

Just as urbanized transit nodes and adjacent residential neighborhoods can work in sync to build the kind of interlocked communities cities need to achieve equity, Liias and Bateman should work in sync to neutralize opponents of new housing options. By identifying different types of increased density, their complementary bills map out gradations of development from tall buildings around light rail stations, to apartment buildings around busy bus stops, to sixplexes nearby, to fourplexes even further out.

By leveraging the universal agreement that dense transit centers are the building blocks of sustainable cities, the Liias and Bateman bills should work in tandem to plug residential neighborhoods into those transit centers.  In this tale of two densities, we have a chance to up-zone TOD into EOD—Equity-Oriented Development. It’ll be a shame if housing advocates settle for anything less.

Josh@PubliCola.com

Don’t Believe the Seattle Times—Social Housing Will Play a Vital Role in Solving Our Affordability Crisis

Editor’s note: This piece was written in response to the Seattle Times’ endorsement of a “no” vote on Initiative 135, a Seattle ballot measure that would create a new public development authority (PDA) to build, acquire, and operate publicly owned, permanently affordable mixed-income housing in Seattle. The PDA would be run by a majority-renter board, giving residents a direct influence over issues that impact their community.

The Times’ editorial made a number of bombastic, questionable statements in its argument against the initiative, including many PublICola found misleading. We offered advocates for the initiative an opportunity to respond to some of the factual claims the Times made in its editorial advocating a “no” vote on this measure.

Initiative 135 will be on the February 14, 2023 ballot in Seattle.

By House Our Neighbors! Coalition

The Seattle Times editorial board decided they were against Initiative 135 before the endorsement interview even started. It seems as though they simply worked backwards from their “no” position to find reasons that they were going to present to the public, including many they didn’t even ask about during the endorsement interview. The editorial board has yet again contradicted itself, holding I-135 to a completely different set of standards than past measures it has supported while flaunting the deeply flawed arguments we’ve highlighted here.

Yes on I-135I-135 has no funding and no accountability for public dollars.” When they raised this concern, we reminded the editorial board that they didn’t have concerns about the lack of funding in the proposal for Charter Amendment 29—the “Compassion Seattle” initiative, which would have required the city to add thousands of new housing or shelter beds with no additional funding—which they endorsed.

Unlike the CA29 campaign, we’ve been honest with the public from day one that state law prevented us from including a funding source for the Seattle Social Housing Developer in the language of the initiative. We made it clear to the editorial board that public development authorities do not have taxing authority. In fact, it would be illegal to give a PDA taxing authority. However, the new PDA would receive bonding authority, creating leverage to finance new housing without large infusions of funding.

While we couldn’t provide ongoing funding for the PDA, we wanted to secure some start-up funds so it wouldn’t start out with no financial support. This is why we included 18 months of in-kind support from the city, which the city’s own budget office has estimated at a cost of just $750,000— a sliver of the $7.4 billion annual budget the council recently passed. It is important to note that from day one, the PDA has the authority to seek out funding on its own from private foundations and all levels of government, including the state.

The Times also complains that Washington State already spends millions of taxpayer dollars on housing, which is precisely the point: Social housing, which includes housing affordable to people making between 0 and 120 percent of median income, is a model that leverages rental income to reduce the need for outside funding.

While the housing I-135 would create wouldn’t be considered “homelessness housing” in a legal sense, it would nonetheless be housing that would be available to people coming out of homelessness or transitioning out of the city’s limited supply of permanent supportive housing, including families with housing vouchers that many private landlords won’t accept.

Housing experts say it ultimately doesn’t pencil.” The editorial board makes this claim without saying who they consulted with, nor what numbers they used to reach this conclusion. There are no examples of social housing in Seattle, so it could not have been from here.

Furthermore, our research shows that the social housing model would indeed work in Seattle. Utilizing publicly accessible financial statements from an existing recently constructed housing development, affordable housing expert and PhD candidate Julie Howe, as well as economists Paul Williams and John Burbank, assisted in the creation of a pro forma that demonstrates the model remaining financially sustainable for more than 80 years.

The theory is that people would be willing to pay above market rates to subsidize the lower rents of their neighbors in the same building. Where did they get this from? Whose theory is this?

Let’s root this assertion in an actual pro forma, drafted from the financial statements and construction costs of a recently constructed apartment complex, the Station House.

If this were a social housing building, renters making 120 percent of the area median income would pay $2700 a month, compared to the current market rate of $2800 a month with utilities.  They would be living next to the light rail station in a high-quality Passivhaus building. Their building would have a resident governance board, and community spaces dedicated inside the building. They would be living in a space with no fear of retaliatory evictions or drastic rent increases, a place with inherent protections from the typical practices of predatory private property owners. Additionally, their rent would be going directly to the social housing developer to buy and build more housing (especially after the 30-year loan is paid off), not a private equity firm or for-profit rental corporation.

 Real Change has traditionally focused on advocating for those who are experiencing homelessness” and is straying from its mission. This is simply laughable and further cements the disdain the Seattle Times editorial Board has for Real Change. The board describes Real Change as “a social justice advocacy group that runs a newspaper.” The editorial board is well aware that Real Change has an Advocacy department and a separate Editorial department, and that journalists staff, and write, our paper. Real Change also served on the Times’ Project Homeless community advisory board, until the paper disbanded that board last year.

The editorial board takes umbrage with the fact the I-135 “ordinance does not concern homelessness housing” exclusively—instead, it would enable new housing for people making between 0 and 120 percent of the Seattle median income. This criticism shows how little they know about what is permissible in ballot initiatives and what isn’t. Housing for people experiencing homelessness is the direct purview of the City Council and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, and cannot be superseded in a ballot initiative. Our lawyer advised us to make this point explicit so it couldn’t be seen “to interfere with or exercise the City Council’s powers” under state law, including the state law about homelessness housing.

And while the housing I-135 would create wouldn’t be considered “homelessness housing” in a legal sense, it would nonetheless be housing that would be available to people coming out of homelessness or transitioning out of the city’s limited supply of permanent supportive housing, including families with housing vouchers that many private landlords won’t accept. What’s more, it would help keep additional families from being pushed into homelessness by creating more affordable housing options for those struggling with unrelenting increases in housing costs.

We have to be honest with the public that our current affordable housing production levels will never meet the scale of our need. We need a new model.

We are deeply curious what the Seattle Times Editorial Board thinks the city should be doing to address the homelessness and housing crisis. They repeatedly push for the criminalization of homelessness. They speak out against increasing the housing levy so that affordable housing providers can do more. They don’t find it wise to increase our debt limit to build more affordable housing across the state. In spite of overwhelming evidence that homelessness is primarily an economic issue, they continue propping up the narrative that the homelessness crisis is actually a drug crisis. They take issue with the fact that I-135 would make it harder to evict people, in spite of clear evidence that evictions overwhelmingly lead to homelessness. They support the unlawful placement of eco-blocks in public rights-of-way, which make it harder and harder for our unhoused neighbors living in RVs to find a safe place to sleep.

Unlike the Seattle Times Editorial Board, here at Real Change we have the privilege of interacting with our unhoused, and low-income, neighbors and hearing directly from them. We know that they want deeply affordable, quality housing that won’t lose if they start making a little bit more money.

Here is what some of our Real Change vendors have to say about the need for social housing:

Darrell Wrenn, “The whole process is outdated. Housing needs to be reimagined and housing needs to be a human right. Things can’t change without social housing and Initiative 135.”

Susan McRoy: “It’s not something that is an experiment or a dream. It’s being put in place around the world. And Seattle can step up to the plate and say ‘We don’t need to be victims of gentrification. We can do something where we have stability in our community.”

Carl Nakajima: “We need to create more affordable housing for people at every income level, not only low-income, but all-income housing.”

At Real Change, we know that homelessness is a housing issue. While there are several non-profits and current public developers doing tremendous work to house our neighbors, we have to be honest with the public that our current affordable housing production levels will never meet the scale of our need. We need a new model. One that works in tandem with current affordable housing developers, to rapidly scale up housing outside the private market. Housing that is owned, and operated, as a public good. Housing that more Seattleites are eligible for. We can create a Seattle where all can afford to live and thrive. We can create this vision with social housing.

House Our Neighbors! is a political committee of Real Change.