Burien Makes “Camping” Ban Worse, Auderer Now on Red-Light Camera Duty, Harrell Order Subtly Improves New Drug Law

1. On Monday night, the Burien City Council expanded the number of hours per day in which being unsheltered will soon be illegal, changing the daily deadline for homeless people to be off the streets from 10 pm to 7 pm. The change, an amendment to the sleeping ban the council passed just one week earlier, bans people from “living on” public property between 7 in the evening and 6 in the morning.

During Monday’s meeting, Burien City Attorney Garmon Newsom II said the city decided to make the adjustment after learning that many shelters “begin making their decisions” about who to admit around 4:30 in the afternoon; by 10pm, most are closed and “it would be too late” to take people there. By starting the ban earlier in the evening, the city seems to believe it can plausibly say shelter was “available” and that people refused to accept it, making it legal for police to remove or arrest unsheltered people from the streets.

Signs of camping, according to the ordinance, include “bedding, cots, sleeping bags, tents or other temporary shelters, personal belongings storage, and cooking equipment use or storage.”

During the meeting, Newsom inaccurately claimed the new proposal actually increases “the amount of time they are able to camp” by allowing “camping” between 7 pm and 6 am; in fact, it does the opposite, making it illegal to be unsheltered in public spaces between those hours. Councilmember Cydney Moore, who opposed the underlying ordinance, tried to correct the record, prompting a brief back and forth with Newsom that Mayor Sofia Aragon cut off, saying Moore should limit her comments to “these technical changes.”

The council’s agenda also suggests proponents were confused about what the amendment does. According to the bill description, it “clarifies, consistent with the council’s previously stated intent, that there will be no camping outside of the hours stated in the ordinance. At this time, the proposed amendment would change the start time for camping from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.” In reality, it changes the start time when “camping” is illegal.

Before voting for the change, deputy mayor Kevin Schilling said the King County Sheriff’s office had signed off on the change. A spokesman for King County Executive Dow Constantine told PubliCola Tuesday that the county still has not made a decision about whether and how to enforce the law.

2. Daniel Auderer, the Seattle Police Officers Guild vice president caught on body-worn video joking with guild president Mike Solan about the killing of 23-year-old student Jaahnavi Kandula by another police officer, Kevin Dave, has been reassigned to review red-light camera footage and sign traffic tickets, PubliCola has learned.

Only a handful of officers are assigned to red-light camera duty at a time. Often, these officers are near retirement or, like Auderer, have been removed from patrol duty because of a complaint or other problem with their performance.

Auderer’s comments came to light when the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which is considering criminal charges against Dave, released the video to PubliCola and a reporter for the Seattle Times in response to records requests.

The Community Police Commission has called on Police Chief Adrian Diaz to put Auderer on leave without pay until the OPA complaint is resolved.

The changes are subtle—so subtle PubliCola didn’t notice them when we wrote about the executive order last week. The order reinstates language saying officers “will” determine the level of threat and make reasonable efforts to divert people from arrest when possible, and restores language Nelson deleted saying that officers should not arrest a person “absent articulable facts and circumstances warranting such action.”

3. In his executive order order clarifying how SPD should implement a new law criminalizing public drug use last week, Mayor Bruce Harrell mostly restated the language in the underlying bill, which says police should try to divert people to social service programs that will help them address their drug use instead of resorting immediately to arrests. But the EO includes a couple of subtle tweaks that could undo changes Councilmember Sara Nelson inserted at the last minute to give officers extra discretion to make arrests.

The changes are subtle—so subtle PubliCola didn’t notice them when we wrote about the executive order last week. They’re about the words “will” and “may.” In her amendments, Nelson changed language stating that officers “will” determine whether a person poses a threat of harm to self or others, and language stating that officers “will make reasonable efforts to” use diversion rather than arrest to say that officers “may” do both things, making each decision completely discretionary.

Harrell’s executive order reinstates language saying officers “will” determine the level of threat and make reasonable efforts to divert people from arrest when possible, and restores language Nelson deleted saying that officers should not arrest a person “absent articulable facts and circumstances warranting such action.”

Mayoral spokesman Jamie Housen told PubliCola, “As was discussed extensively during Council debate, the legislative branch cannot direct the actions of executive branch employees through legislation. Mayor Harrell has made it clear that under this bill he wants officers to conduct a threat of harm assessment and that diversion is the preferred outcome rather than further criminal legal system engagement.”

Under the language Nelson added to the bill, there would be little recourse if officers decided, using their broad discretion, to arrest every person using drugs in public without determining if they posed a threat, and no legal reason for officers to try to get people into diversion programs instead of arresting them.  By changing both words back to “will”—in the implementing executive order, if not the legislation—Harrell strengthened the bill (which, we feel obligated to add, still does not require diversion or fund any new diversion programs).

Reports: Homelessness Authority Must Improve Accounting, Monitoring, and Transparency

By Erica C. Barnett

Two recent reviews of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s financial and other internal policies—a monitoring report by the King County Department of Community and Human Services and a financial audit by the State Auditor’s Office—found that the agency made a number of financial errors in its first year of operations. Among other errors, the KCRHA overstated its revenues, failed to inform grant recipients of the federal requirements attached to funding, and spent grant dollars in ways that were inconsistent with their intended purpose.

“The Authority did not have effective internal controls in place to ensure accurate and reliable financial reporting,” the state audit found.

State auditors also discovered that the KCRHA failed to list many of the federal requirements when awarding grants to 11 homeless service providers, which could put those providers at risk of being out of compliance with federal rules and potentially “spending the funds for unallowable purposes.”

Additionally, accounting errors led the agency to end last year with a negative balance—or overspend—of $17 million. Bill Reichert, the agency’s interim chief financial officer, told PubliCola the agency didn’t bill its funders, which are Seattle and King County, on time for some expenses, resulting in a temporary negative balance—something the county’s monitoring report noted as well, saying the KCRHA had failed to meet the county’s deadlines to submit invoices, which led to late payments.

“This was a startup. There was a lot of learning going on, and standing up processes, and things didn’t get reconciled as soon as they should have,” Reichert said. “It’s not likely to occur again, because we’ve taken a number of steps to shore up training in our systems and processes.”

KCRHA interim CEO Helen Howell said the agency “is committed to a full assessment of KCRHA, and these audits and reviews are an important step to help us improve. We are clarifying what needs to change to get this agency fully on track.”

In a separate, emailed statement, Reichert said the authority “is working hard to ensure we understand the current state of the agency’s financial operations, identifying any gaps in oversight, process and practice so we can implement a set of targeted solutions.”

The county report also highlighted the KCRHA’s consistent late payments to homeless service providers, who reported having to “float” their budgets for 2022 by depleting reserves, a challenge for smaller organizations without significant cushions to fall back on when the homelessness authority failed to pay them on time.

“KCRHA was not able to execute contracts in a timely manner,” the report noted. The agency had only signed about half of its 2023 contracts by the end of April, the monitors found, “which place[d the] burden on contracting agencies to shoulder the financial burden of operations without incoming revenue.”

In a statement to PubliCola, KCRHA interim CEO Helen Howell said the agency “is committed to a full assessment of KCRHA, and these audits and reviews are an important step to help us improve. … We are clarifying what needs to change to get this agency fully on track.” The agency, Howell continued, is “making progress, and we will continue to push ourselves to be better.” Howell became interim CEO after former CEO Marc Dones resigned in May; the agency is currently looking for a permanent CEO.

As we reported when the agency was first staffing up, many experienced grants and contracts specialists at Seattle’s Homeless Strategy and Investment division sought agreements with the KCRHA to transfer their existing jobs to the new agency, but Dones wanted to hire their own team, and told HSI staff they would have to re-apply for their jobs—which most declined to do. As a result, there was a significant loss of institutional knowledge about how to administer homelessness contracts at the new agency, contributing to an already steep learning curve for the new authority.

In its response to the state audit, the authority wrote that it “has already taken significant steps to implement many of the necessary components in our contracting year for 2023. We have been actively involved in recruiting experienced personnel and providing on-job trainings to strengthen our contract and grant management and compliance monitoring.”

The county’s report also raised concerns about the KCRHA’s governing structure, monitoring practices, transparency, and communication with the nonprofit agencies that it pays to provide outreach, shelter, and other services.

The KCRHA’s Continuum of Care board, which came under fire earlier this year after a board member shouted down a colleague’s objections to the proposed appointment of a repeat sex offender, often lacked a quorum and didn’t get enough information from KCRHA to make decisions or recommendations about complex decisions, like the agency’s annual federal funding requests, the report found.

As PubliCola reported, the KCRHA ran a bit of a coup on the CoC board earlier this year, recruiting new members to the stakeholder group that oversees the CoC and holding an unusual “convening” to adopt a new charter and a new slate of members for the board. (Ordinarily, CoC “convenings” are day-long events that include panels and discussion sessions; this year’s meeting was focused on these two votes.) The agency is supposed to hold two major meetings a year, but has failed to do so, according to the report.

The report also raises concerns about the KCRHA’s compliance with the state Open Public Meetings Act, noting that information about meetings often isn’t available in a timely or transparent fashion, and says the agency doesn’t have a consistent way of communicating with service providers or stakeholders about important decisions, like changes to Coordinated Entry—the system for accessing services, shelter, and housing. The KCRHA got rid of a committee that met quarterly, in public, to discuss Coordinated Entry, and “[a]s a result, subsequent changes to CE processes were made with little notice to, or input from, providers and other stakeholders.”

Although the report praises KCRHA for its “innovative” data collection strategies, including an annual count of the region’s homeless population that was based on state data and a separate qualitative survey of people experiencing homelessness, the monitors note that it remains “[u]nclear how KCRHA uses data/metrics to monitor evaluate program performance (other than for funding decisions) and to evaluate system performance.”

Last week, the KCRHA posted a response on its website to the state and county reports; a federal audit will also be released later this month.

Could You Go a Week Without Driving?

Tanisha Sepúlveda (center) and other Empower Movement members at a walking/rolling event. Also pictured:Disability Rights Washington’s Anna Zivarts and former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. McGinn now serves as the executive director of the pedestrian advocacy organization America Walks, which is coordinating the Week Without Driving challenge.

By Tanisha Sepúlveda

What would you do if you didn’t have your car, and you had to go a Week Without Driving? How would you get to work, go to the doctor, bring home groceries, or visit friends and family? How much would this cost you—in time and in money? For nearly one-third of the US population, these questions are everyday experiences we must navigate.

As a power wheelchair user living in West Seattle, I rely on my wheelchair and public transit when getting to and from places. I am fortunate to live in a city with public transit, although accessing the transit is where it can become difficult. Many sidewalks don’t have curb cuts, or turn into dirt paths, or run into roads without notice. This forces me to backtrack or go onto the road. I have had people yell at me that it’s “not safe,” but they don’t understand if I get thrown off the sidewalk into traffic because there’s a tree root or an uneven piece of sidewalk, it is even less safe for me and oncoming traffic.

Many of our nation’s nondrivers are people of color, immigrants, people in poverty, and people with disabilities. This includes young people, people who have aged out of driving, had their license suspended, or cannot afford the financial burden of owning and operating a vehicle. We live in cities, suburbs, rural areas, and small towns. In all these places, there are gaps and barriers that make it difficult for us to get where we need to go. 

Many other obstacles exist for those with and without disabilities when trying to access transit. A lack of light and shelter at a bus stop, or along the way, can be unsafe. The risks increase for those who are hard of hearing or low vision. Crosswalks that do not have physical and audible crossing signals to alert the people crossing pose a danger, especially in busy streets. Overgrown hedges from people’s properties blocking access to the sidewalk. Infrequent bus routes and lack of bus stops, especially outside of the city, can limit users from accessing opportunities for education, work, housing, and more. 

I would like to invite and encourage you, along with policymakers, public officials, and transportation leaders, to participate in the 2023 Week Without Driving challenge taking place October 2nd-8th. The challenge is simple: Participants can get around however they want but they cannot drive themselves. This applies to all activities—not just work commutes. 

This isn’t a disability simulation or a test of how easily you can find alternatives. It is far easier to give up your keys if you can afford to live in a walkable area well served by transit or can outsource your driving and delivery needs to other people. Also, having to drive during the challenge does not signify failure. The goal is to consider how someone without that option would have coped, and what choices they might have made. 

We need decision-makers to understand these barriers so they can understand how their decisions impact the public transportation system—and, ultimately, the quality of life for nearly one-third of our population. Participating in the Week Without Driving can be a life-changing event. It teaches participants what it’s like for people who have no choice but to navigate our inadequate transportation system daily. Every day, people with disabilities rely on walking, rolling, public transit, or asking or paying for rides. Understanding how these options work or don’t work for us is a matter of racial, economic, and disability justice.

Tanisha Sepúlveda is an architectural associate for BCRA, and a program coordinator for Empower Movement, a coalition of BIPOC and disabled mobility advocates supported by Disability Rights Washington and Front and Centered. As a power wheelchair user since 2010, Sepúlveda recognizes the lack of accessibility in the built environment and advocates for equitable access to transit and housing, with a focus on sidewalk repair and maintenance. 

Harrell Issues Order on New Drug Law, Clarifying “Harm to Others” Standard and Requiring Data Collection on Drug Users

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell issued an executive order on Thursday providing direction to the Seattle Police Department as it develops policies to implement a recently passed law that makes public drug use, along with simple possession, a gross misdemeanor. The law also criminalizes simple drug possession and empowers the city attorney, Ann Davison, to prosecute drug cases. The new law does not apply to public use of alcohol or cannabis.

The order, which describes fentanyl use as a “health crisis,” says that “diversion and referral to services is the preferred response to public possession and use” in instances where police determine a drug user poses no potential harm to anyone else. But it also says that arrests may be appropriate when a drug user poses a “threat of harm to others,” then defines this potential “harm” broadly, to include any drug use that impacts “the ability of others to use shared public space.”

The drug law adopted last week defines “harm to others” in similarly expansive terms, asserting that “unchecked” drug use “in certain areas of the city” harms “businesses, transit riders, and people  traveling to school, work, retail stores, or trying to enjoy the City’s parks and other public places.”

SPD is expected to issue its own guidelines to officers who will be implementing the law within the next few days.

The executive order, echoing the Harrell Administration’s earlier effort to prosecute “disorderly conduct” near transit stops on Third Ave., specifically notes that locations where drug use presents an “inherent impact on public safety and security” may include any location “in or within close proximity to a transit stop, rail station, or other transportation structure or facility.”

Harrell’s order is mostly suggestive rather than prescriptive. Officers who believe a person’s drug use inherently threatens those around them can decide, based on their training and “the totality of the circumstances,” to arrest a person or attempt to divert them to LEAD, the city’s primary diversion program. The number of arrests that officers will actually make is constrained by the booking capacity of the downtown jail, which is severely limited due to a shortage of guards.

The order also requires outreach providers that contract with the city to create a “by-name list” of every person “significantly affected by” the opioid crisis in downtown Seattle between the Denny Triangle and the stadiums south of the Chinatown/International District. (Since the new law and the rest of the executive order refers only to people using drugs in public, it’s safe to assume the list will exclude housed downtown residents who use addictive drugs indoors.)

Jamie Housen, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said the city “is not planning to collect a list of names or individual clients, but instead to use an approach that creates a baseline estimate of those using drugs and in need of treatment and services, so that we can measure those needs, changes over time, and if progress is occurring.”

Alison Eisinger, director of the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, said the order released on Thursday “inappropriately uses a By-Name List,” which is supposed to be “a tool used by people who are offering focused engagement and have appropriate resources to connect people with.”

Providers that serve unsheltered people often create “by-name lists” of people living in a discrete area, such as an encampment, in order to keep track of them as part of a specific project. Recently, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority acknowledged that its own effort to create a “by-name list” of every unhoused person downtown, as part of the Partnership for Zero effort that recently folded, was unproductive, because people can and do move around.

Data on drug users from providers, including the number of drug users they’re serving downtown and the kinds of issues those individuals are facing, “will help determine how many individuals the City is trying to assist and to provide a better understanding of the underlying issues and facts addressed by this [order].” After 12 months, according to the order, the city will “conduct a follow-up assessment” and compare the two sets of data “to gauge the effectiveness of the strategies” in the order.

Council members who switched their votes on the drug law, a version of which failed back in June after Andrew Lewis decided to vote against it, said they were convinced to vote “yes,” in part, by the mayor’s promise to propose an executive order that would emphasize diversion over arrest. Before Harrell issued the order out on Thursday, Lewis said he expected that it would “provide clarification” on how the city will implement the new law. We’ve reached out to Lewis for comment on the order.

Harrell’s Proposed Budget Brings Back Shotspotter, Funds Human Services Workers, Includes No New Diversion for Drug Users

City employees rally for fair wages outside City Hall last week

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell introduced a “mid-biennial” 2024 budget on Tuesday that includes significant cost-of-living raises for city-funded human service providers, six new non-police responders for a renamed 911 department, and—for the second year in a row—funding for a gunshot surveillance system, which the city has rejected repeatedly over privacy concerns and studies showing such systems don’t reduce crime.

“For those of you who like to play cards, you know that when you have a good hand and a plan that’s working, you double down,” Harrell said in his budget speech. “And that’s what this budget proposal does: It doubles down on the priorities that matter for the city and it invests in a better tomorrow for Seattle.”

The proposal, which will be amended by the city council and adopted in November, is based on revenue forecasts that are somewhat less dire than predicted last year, when the council “endorsed” an early version of the 2024 budget. At the same time, revenues from JumpStart—a payroll tax on the city’s largest businesses—have fallen and inflation has increase the cost of running the city, dampening the impact of higher overall revenues.

Other high-profile budget items include unspecified funding for city employee cost-of-living wage increases; increases to on-street parking fees; and millions of new dollars for Harrell’s Downtown Activation Plan, including funds to extend the We Deliver Care program on Third Avenue, maintain and expand the Seattle Restored small-business program, and add restaurant pick-up zones, informational kiosks, and public safety improvements in the street right-of-way.

We’ll be covering the budget process and doing deeper dives into specific items as the council review gets underway. Here are a few of the issues we’ll be paying attention to.

Skeptics, including budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, predicted that Harrell’s commitment to diversion would be limited to the language in the legislation. They were right.

No New Diversion Funding for Drug Users 

City council members who voted last week to support the latest version of a new drug criminalization law said they were reassured by the fact that Harrell’s budget, which had not yet been released, would include new investments in diversion programs so that people caught using drugs in public would have real alternatives to jail. The bill, as PubliCola has reported, includes a number of nonbinding “whereas” clauses expressing the city’s preference for diversion instead of arrests, along with a provision saying police will, in the future, adopt policies governing diversion.

Skeptics, including budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, predicted that Harrell’s commitment to diversion would be limited to the language in the legislation. They were right. The budget contains no funding to expand LEAD, the city’s pre-arrest diversion program, and actually cuts $1 million that was added to the program in 2023.  Without additional funding, LEAD will have to stop taking so-called “community referrals”—clients who get into the program through paths other than arrest—and focus on referrals through police instead.

The budget also includes about $1.1 million for a new opioid overdose response center and additional funding to expand the capacity of the Fire Department’s Health One program to respond to overdoses; the funding for these programs will come from the city’s portion of a state settlement with opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Police: $392 Million; Alternatives to Police: $5 Million

Last week, Harrell announced the Community Assisted Response and Engagement department, a “third” public safety department that will include a dual-dispatch pilot in which civilian employees, some of them with human-service training, will respond to low-priority calls, including person-down calls as well as calls where the only thing left to do is write up a report. Harrell’s budget proposal would pay for six new first responders, along with three 911 dispatchers, a deputy director, a new public information officer, an executive assistant, and a manager. Most of these employees were funded and hired this year.

The police department, as a point of comparison, would also gain 13 new employees, bringing the total number of funded positions to 1,826. The city currently has fewer than 1,000 deployable officers, which means many of those 1,826 positions (which represent all job types at SPD) remain vacant but funded, allowing SPD to use the money they would ordinarily spend on staff for other purposes (see below).

In addition to fully funding the department’s recruitment and hiring program, Harrell’s budget adds $30,000 for “recruitment related expenses such as career fair materials, job board postings, and law enforcement related recruitment conferences.”

Better Pay for Human Service Workers (City Employees TBD)

Thanks to legislation the city council passed in 2019, the city is required to increase human service provider contracts every year so that provider pay can keep up with inflation. Last year, Harrell proposed overturning this law to reduce pay increases for already underpaid nonprofit workers to a sub-inflationary 4 percent—an effective pay cut. This year, Harrell has proposed using JumpStart tax revenues to bump provider pay increases by the rate of inflation plus 2 percent, for a total raise of 9.5 percent.

Budget office director Julie Dingley, echoing the budget itself, remarked Wednesday that Seattle is “the only government entity in the whole state that has a requirement, in code, that we provide inflationary adjustments” to human service providers every year, adding that other jurisdictions will need to pitch in so that Seattle isn’t going it online on human service pay. In response, Councilmember Lisa Herbold pointed out that King County, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, and the state of Washington have all funded similar wage increases through levies, budgets, and legislative decisions—different methods to reach the same result.

Mosqueda noted that the previous budget funded human service provider wages within the general-fund budget, rather than tapping JumpStart—a tax Mosqueda proposed and pushed through—to fund an ongoing city commitment. JumpStart is supposed to pay for housing, equitable development, and Green New Deal priorities, but the city has repurposed the fund every year since its inception to pay for other priorities.

The city is still in negotiations over cost-of-living adjustments for its own employees, who were shocked by Harrell’s “insulting” initial offer of 1 percent. Harrell’s subsequent offer—reportedly just 2 percent—was hardly better, and hundreds of workers took time off thier jobs to rally at City Hall last week for a better deal. The budget does not include even a range of possible expenditures to pay for worker wage increases; in a briefing with reporters, Dingley said that would be like buying a house by telling the seller what was in your bank account. But PubliCola has heard that the deal could end up closer to 6 percent, still lower than the inflation rate.

The budget includes $150,000 for a new “graffiti specialist” who will “lead and enhance the beautification efforts of graffiti art, connect with the graffiti society, and educate, mentor and guide youth to use their time and energy in constructive ways.”

We’ll Never Be Rid of Shotspotter

Last year, the council roundly rejected Harrell’s proposal to spend $1 million on a “gunfire detection” system that would have placed audio surveillance devices throughout certain “high-crime” neighborhoods to detect noises that sound like gunshots. The systems, known colloquially as “Shotspotter” after the company that dominates the market, detect and determine the approximate location of outdoor sounds that resemble gunfire and alert human “acoustic experts” who make a call—gunshot or not a gunshot?—and alert police, who can respond to the scene.

The city first considered funding Shotspotter back in 2012, and the idea has come up periodically ever since, despite numerous studies showing that the monitoring devices don’t reduce or help solve gun-related crime and can lead police to be on high alert—and thus more likely to make unwarranted stops and arrests—in the areas where they’re located.

This year, Harrell’s request is couched in a larger $1.8 million “crime prevention pilot” that would also include new CCTV camera surveillance and automated license plate readers, all funded by salary savings from unfilled SPD positions. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the “specific amounts for the technologies in the SPD Crime Prevention Pilot are still being determined.” When council members asked similar questions Wednesday, budget director Dingley referred them to Deputy Mayor Tim Burgess.

Parking Rates, Finishing the Waterfront, Subsidizing the Streetcar

Harrell’s updated Seattle Department of Transportation budget includes an increase to the city’s minimum and maximum rates for on-street parking, which have been reduced dramatically from pre-COVID levels. The new rates would start at $1 an hour and go up to $8 an hour, depending on demand in specific parking areas; the $2.2 million the city says it will bring in through higher parking costs will pay for increased costs associated with parking meter maintenance and the city’s “pay-by-phone” service.

Tucked away elsewhere in SDOT’s budget are $25 million in new expenses associated with finishing the downtown waterfront highway, which the budget chalks up to the concrete workers’ strike in 2022. The city would pay for this unanticipated increase through bonds, so the budget impact in 2024 is small ($1.3 million), but the bond proposal represents a long-term commitment of the city’s overall debt capacity, which is limited.

Another new cost is related to the existing First Hill streetcar, which has required hefty operating subsidies ever since it opened in 2016. A $5 million annual subsidy from Sound Transit expires this year; Harrell’s budget proposes using revenues from the Seattle Transit Measure, a sales tax voters approved in 2020 to pay for equitable transportation, to continue the streetcar subsidy.


Other budget changes, which PubliCola will cover in more detail in the coming weeks, include:

  • New funding to staff up the Office of Inspector General, whose oversight role will expand to replace the federal monitor who has overseen the Seattle Police Department and its accountability system for the past 11 years
  • $150,000 for a new “graffiti specialist” in the Office of Arts and Culture, who will “lead and enhance the beautification efforts of graffiti art, connect with the graffiti society, and educate, mentor and guide youth to use their time and energy in constructive ways. Reducing graffiti is a priority of the One Seattle initiative and is a key factor in improving Seattle livability.
  • $1.1 million for a review of city employee classifications and compensation, which haven’t been updated since the 1990s. Misclassified positions can prevent workers from receiving promotions and being paid what they’re worth, a problem that is particularly acute in jobs held predominately by women of color at the city, according to past analyses.
  • $850,000 to fund the start-up costs for the social housing development authority, which voters established (but did not fund) earlier this year.

Harrell’s 2024 budget does not contend with projected 2025 and 2026 deficits of more than $200 million a year. That deficit will be a next-year problem for a new city council, which will include at least five, and up to seven, freshman members after this year’s council elections.

Former KCRHA Leader Now Sees “Significant Issues” With Medicaid Funding for Homelessness; Lived Experience Coalition Weighs In on Report on Hotel Program It Ran

1. The city of Seattle has amended its $60,000 contract with former King County Homelessness Authority CEO Marc Dones, who was supposed to spend the latter half of this year coming up with ways to maximize the use of Medicaid funding for homelessness programs.

The latest iteration of the contract directs Dones to come up with “recommendations with respect to the local federal unsheltered initiative “All Inside” … [including] considerations for the local initiative’s statement of work, actionable workplan and performance plan,” in addition to the work Dones has already done on Medicaid. In an email on August 7 titled “Landscape to Date,” Dones concluded that there were several “significant” but “solvable” challenges to billing Medicaid for homeless services.

All Inside is a Biden Administration program that provides technical assistance to cities, including Seattle; it does not include additional funding for housing or services.

The pivot is particularly striking given Dones’ previous advocacy for using Medicaid Foundational Community Supports funds to pay for Partnership for Zero—a privately funded effort to end unsheltered homelessness downtown that folded, after housing 230 people, this month. Dones was so bullish on the program that they predicted it would pay for at least 85 percent of Partnership for Zero’s services by next year, brushing aside concerns from homeless service providers and elected officials that the program is complex, highly restrictive, and expensive to administer.

Providers raised every one of the issues Dones identified as part of their contract with the city when the KCRHA tied the future of Partnership for Zero to Medicaid funding earlier this year, but were largely ignored. 

In their latest update, Dones identified “four significant issues” with using Medicaid to fund homeless services. First, Dones wrote, agencies often have to spend a lot of time and staff resources documenting and administering programs in order to get reimbursed. Second, Dones wrote, agencies have to spend a lot of time “chasing” clients to collect billable hours, creating a “significant gap in what is called the ‘billable units of service’ and requir[ing] agencies to fund activities that are related to enrolled clients with no path to reimbursement.”

The third issue Dones identified is that FCS is not a reliable source of funds for behavioral health services. And the fourth was that Medicaid reimburses agencies slowly and often rejects claims for minor or technical reasons, making it hard for providers without large cash reserves to use it as a reliable source of funding.

Providers raised every one of these issues when the KCRHA tied the future of Partnership for Zero to Medicaid funding earlier this year, but were largely ignored.

Dones has completed approximately half of their 240-hour contract, according to a schedule of “deliverables” included in the contract document. So far, Dones has produced a timeline and scope of work, a 600-word email describing the “landscape to date,” a 450-word email containing a “Draft Assessment” of All Inside, and a list of five stakeholders to talk to about various topics, including the “intersection of public transit and homelessness,” “intersection of organized crime and encampments,” and “pro social public space activation to prevent encampments.”

2. The final version of a report documenting what went wrong with a hotel program run by the Lived Experience Coalition reaches substantially the same conclusions as an early draft PubliCola covered back in August, but does include a number of notes contributed by the LEC, which has blamed budget missteps that led to the collapse of the program primarily on its then-fiscal sponsor, Building Changes, and the KCRHA.

As we reported last month, the report, by independent consultant Courtney Noble, concluded that the LEC was in over its head when it accepted $1 million in federal funding to run the hotel-based shelter program, which was the advocacy group’s first such contract. Noble also reported that other factors, including a lack of transparency from Building Changes and a hostile relationship with the KCRHA and Dones, contributed to the program’s failure.

In footnotes to the report, the LEC said the audit itself should go through a racial equity analysis “due to the fact that the audit was conducted by a single individual of a particular racial background and socioeconomic class” who may have unconscious bias. Additionally, the LEC objected to the consultant’s suggestion that conflict between “personalities”—at a minimum, Dones, LEC director LaMont Green, and Building Changes director Daniel Zavala—contributed to the collapse of the hotel program.  

The final report now emphasizes systemic issues and removes references to the LEC’s initial proposal, which included hot meals, mass shelter, and supplies in addition to the hotel rooms that were the core of the LEC’s final contract. It also softens suggestions that the Lived Experience Coalition should participate in the regional Homelessness Management Information, a central clearinghouse for information about people who interact with the homelessness system, in order to access federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program funds in the future.

The LEC has said that gathering the kind of data required to participate in HMIS would re-traumatize their clients; additionally, according to the final report, they “believed that KCRHA leadership was retributive, and wanted to punish them for stepping out of their advocacy lane to run the hoteling program. LEC maintained that they were still not a direct service provider, and believed that participating in HMIS would strengthen KCRHA’s argument that they were.”

In footnotes to the report, the LEC said the audit itself should go through a racial equity analysis “due to the fact that the audit was conducted by a single individual of a particular racial background and socioeconomic class” who may have unconscious bias. Additionally, the LEC objected to the consultant’s suggestion that conflict between “personalities”—at a minimum, Dones, LEC director LaMont Green, and Building Changes director Daniel Zavala—contributed to the collapse of the hotel program.

It has historically an issue when poor white, black, brown, and indigenous people come together to speak truth and organize to urgently improve failing systems resulting in the dehumanization, pain, suffering, and early death of our unhoused neighbors that the systems do not want to be accountable and then turn to tactics such as defunding, gaslighting, and mischaracterizing their work,” the LEC wrote.

Finally, the LEC said it’s inaccurate to call the hotel program a failure. “The program did not fail, it served over 400 people during a time period when we saw record deaths among those experiencing homelessness,” the group’s final footnote says.

Burien Council Bans Sleeping Outside at Night, Still Has No Plan to Address Homelessness

Burien City Council members Kevin Schilling, Sofia Aragon, and Jimmy Matta

By Erica C. Barnett

The Burien City Council voted Monday night to ban unsheltered people from sleeping in public spaces between 10pm and 6am, after failing for more than six months to create any shelter or other legal place for a group of several dozen people to sleep.

The vote broke down along the same lines as every previous vote on the encampment, with a four-member majority (Stephanie Mora, Kevin Schilling, Jimmy Matta, and Sofia Aragon) voting to adopt the ban, which is modeled after a similar sleeping ban in Bellevue.

Burien police, who are King County Sheriff’s Office employees, would be in charge of enforcing the ban. A spokesman for King County Executive Dow Constantine told PubliCola, “the county will be reviewing the legislation with our legal team to understand any potential impact to policies or procedures, and will be discussing next steps soon.” Earlier this year, the county decided not to help the city remove unsheltered people from another city-owned property.

“It’s not compassionate to force people to disperse to even more dangerous areas where their caseworkers can’t find them. And it is so painful to witness our council considering this right as the weather turns particularly nasty, knowing that it will keep getting worse.”—Burien Councilmember Cydney Moore

Unlike Bellevue, however, Burien has no year-round shelters that are open to all people, so the sleeping ban puts the city in a dubious legal position. Under a Ninth Circuit federal ruling called Martin v. Boise, cities can’t sweep encampments unless shelter is available. Other cities, including Seattle, have interpreted this ruling broadly, offering shelter that may not be appropriate or viable or proclaiming that a tent or group of tents are “obstructing” public space and removing them without notice or an offer of shelter. A King County Superior Court judge ruled recently that this broad use of Seattle’s police power is unconstitutional, and the case is under appeal.

Councilmember Cydney Moore, who voted against the ban, said prohibiting unsheltered people from sleeping at night won’t “get anybody off the streets” or solve homelessness in Burien. “It’s not compassionate to force people to disperse to even more dangerous areas where their caseworkers can’t find them. And it is so painful to witness our council considering this right as the weather turns particularly nasty, knowing that it will keep getting worse.”

The city has made no apparent progress on finding temporary places for people to live. City manager Adolfo Bailon said an offer of $1 million and 35 Pallet shelters from King County was insufficient to pay for a new shelter location, and that the city would need to find at least another $200,000 to make the offer pencil out.

The county offered the money to Burien earlier this year, along with garage space that would allow a Toyota dealer who is currently leasing a city-owned lot for his overflow inventory to store his cars so that the city could use the space for temporary shelter. After the council majority rejected this offer in July, council members and City Manager Adolfo Bailon have floated a number of non-viable locations for the shelter, including a contaminated site owned by the Port of Seattle that the Port has said is uninhabitable.

Last month, Bailon raised the possibility of moving the encampment to an empty lot next to a county library, businesses, and public housing in Boulevard Park, a lower-income, largely Latino neighborhood. Last week, councilmember Hugo Garcia pointed out that the original justification for displacing the encampment was that it was next to a library, homes, and businesses in wealthier, whiter downtown Burien. “This reeks of white supremacy,” Garcia said.

Mora immediately moved to censure Garcia, but her motion failed for lack of a second; she made the same motion last night, and it failed again. In a thread on X (formerly Twitter), Councilmember Sarah Moore, the third member of the anti-sleeping ban minority, said Garcia was not accusing any of his council colleagues, specifically, of being a white supremacist, as Mora suggested. “I applaud his courage for naming what he saw and I hope we can collectively engage in challenging conversations like this productively,” Moore wrote.

At last night’s meeting, Moore also proposed having a public discussion about a proposal, which Bailon said last night is moving forward, to pay a group called The More We Love to remove encampments from public spaces. The group, run by a Kirkland mortgage broker named Kristine Moreland, offers “sweeps” at $515 a person and was recently paid to remove the encampment in Burien from a spot next to the Burien Grocery Outlet. Although Moreland claimed to have “housed” a huge number of the people living in the encampment, the encampment has actually moved to another location in the middle of a busy intersection. The city currently contracts with REACH, an established outreach group.

City Attorney Davison Signs Brief Demanding Right to Sweep Encampments Without Offering Shelter

By Erica C. Barnett

City attorney Ann Davison announced Monday that the city has signed onto an amicus brief asking the US Supreme Court to overturn a Ninth Circuit District Court ruling that restricted the ability of Grants Pass, a city in southwestern Oregon, to criminalize sleeping in public places. In a statement, Davison said Johnson v. Grants Pass “strips local authority from a complex problem” and denies “local autonomy” to cities like Seattle.

Under a separate Ninth Circuit ruling called Martin v. Boise, cities are not allowed to remove homeless people from public places in most circumstances unless there is shelter available. In the Grants Pass ruling, a panel of three Ninth Circuit judges agreed with lower courts that the city’s anti-camping ordinance, which imposed fines and criminal penalties for sleeping in public and banned homeless people from using items like blankets, cardboard boxes, and pillows, is unconstitutional.

The brief—which was also joined by the National League of Cities, the North Dakota League of Cities, Colorado Springs, San Diego, and about a dozen other cities across the country—argues that by restricting cities’ authority to ban sleeping in public, Martin and Johnson “compel local governments to choose between providing shelter or surrendering public lands to encampments that harm local communities.”

The city of Seattle, in other words, is arguing that Seattle should be able to sweep homeless people without the city having to “choose” to provide them places to go.

Additionally, they are arguing that calling unsheltered people “involuntarily homeless” grants a special status on people who are, in reality, engaging in a voluntary behavior by sleeping outdoors, much as an alcoholic who is caught being drunk in public has chosen to drink of his own volition. (This is from a real Supreme Court case from 1968, whose conclusions many modern addiction experts would probably dispute).

Seattle has its own ban on sleeping in public that allows sweeps in two general situations. In some cases, the city gives people living in an encampment 72 hours’ notice that they have to leave the area, then offers shelter to the people who remain. This, in theory, meets the requirements of Martin—even though, as many advocates for unsheltered people have pointed out, the city’s “offer” may be for shelter that is across town, requires a person to abandon their spouse or partner, or is inappropriate for a person’s behavioral or physical health conditions.*

Many people decline to “accept” these untenable shelter offers, which has caused city to suggest the real problem is people “refusing” shelter, rather than a lack of appropriate shelter and housing. “A 2021 study in Seattle found that offers of shelter were declined 52% of the time,” the brief notes, echoing these perennial claims. “Undoubtedly, sleeping outdoors can afford more freedom and autonomy than congregate sleeping arrangements. But this also shows that, at least for some people sometimes, personal decisions and preferences can play a role in whether someone continues to be unsheltered.”

The brief even suggests that rules banning encampments are like city zoning laws that prohibit certain uses in residential areas, citing a 1974 Supreme Court ruling (on frat houses, of all things) that allowed to establish “zones where family values, youth values, and the blessings of quiet seclusion and clean air make the area a sanctuary for people.” Unsheltered people, according to the brief, “directly undermine these legitimate aims and turn zoning schemes into hollow promises.”

In recent years, it’s become common for the city to exploit a loophole in the rules governing encampment sweeps to remove people and throw away belongings, such as tents and survival gear, without notice. In these case, the justification is that any person or object occupying a public space, including remote areas of public parks, constitutes an “obstruction” to the public’s use or potential use of that space. Earlier this year, a King County Superior Court judge ruled this interpretation of the city’s rules unconstitutional on privacy grounds; Davison immediately appealed that case, and the sweeps continue.

The city’s argument, as expressed in the brief, is a muddle of conflicting perspectives. The brief argues that requiring cities to choose between sweeps and shelter for every homeless person is an unconstitutional imposition; cities already spend hundreds of millions of dollars on homelessness, but the problem is only getting worse, which shows that spending money isn’t going to fix the problem. Since that’s the case, the brief continues, cities should be allowed to sweep encampments using whatever criteria they deem necessary, because encampments “monopolize common spaces like parks and sidewalks” and create “enormous volumes of garbage, human waste, and other health hazards like used needles.”

“A town that is not allowed to keep its sidewalks clear and parks open is not really a town at all. It is just a cluster of people living close together,” the brief concludes.

The brief even suggests that rules banning encampments are like city zoning laws that prohibit certain uses in residential areas, citing a 1974 Supreme Court ruling (on frat houses, of all things) that said cities could establish “zones where family values, youth values, and the blessings of quiet seclusion and clean air make the area a sanctuary for people.” Unsheltered people, according to the brief, “directly undermine these legitimate aims and turn zoning schemes into hollow promises.”

“A town that is not allowed to keep its sidewalks clear and parks open is not really a town at all. It is just a cluster of people living close together,” the brief concludes.

If the Supreme Court takes up the case, it could overturn rules specific to the Ninth District that make it harder for cities to simply sweep homeless people from public places. But even if Seattle wins the right to sweep people with impunity, it won’t change a basic reality: Homeless people don’t stop existing—and needing to sleep, eat, discard trash, and use the restroom— just because cities pass bans on sleeping and deny them access to resources, like trash cans and indoor plumbing, that the rest of us take for granted.

*Other programs exist that do route people to appropriate shelter, services, and housing, but these involve extensive outreach and engagement, and are generally separate from the city’s encampment removals.

Guest Editorial: Stop Treating the Chinatown/International District as a Talking Point

By Asian Pacific Americans for Civic Engagement (APACE) PAC

The Chinatown/International District is hurting. The recent vandalism of the Wing Luke Museum showed that anti-Asian hate is alive and well. The cancellation of the CID Night Market was a blow to our small businesses, still struggling after the pandemic.

Yet many in the media and positions of power (or seeking power) have been using the CID—which spans Chinatown, Filipino Town, Japantown, and Little Saigon— to advance their personal agendas and platforms while conveniently forgetting to advocate for resources and care the neighborhood so desperately needs.

To those who wish to effectively lead or to media personalities who want to cover the challenges our home is experiencing, we call on you to do better by embracing the difficult work and truly advocate with us: not press conferences, not media stunts, not using the neighborhood as a wedge issue.

To many, the neglect of the neighborhood or its use as a talking point to justify systems that often oppress and marginalize poor, non-white, or limited English proficient people might seem like a new dynamic, but the history of the CID shows otherwise.

Our beloved neighborhood, a cultural home to many, has also been a home for other groups, including Seattle’s Black community and tribal communities. Throughout the neighborhood’s history of being one of the few areas where non-white communities could reside, it has been serially overlooked, under-resourced, and neglected. At the same time, the CID has routinely been treated as a “convenient site for services” that would never land in a wealthy, white neighborhood.

Decades and generations of failed pro-carceral, pro-police state, pro-NIMBY political ideology—working to protect wealthy (and white) neighborhoods from disruptions to “neighborhood character”—have worked to produce safety and economic opportunity that centers some and fails many others—especially neighborhoods like the CID, because of who lives there or calls it home. Ignore the non-stop local media and conservative politician talking points about “public safety.” The CID is much more than what these individuals and institutions would want you to believe to support their agenda.

Our predecessors were resilient in the face of intense legal and de facto discrimination, as well violence from the state and from xenophobic homesteaders, and it shows in the richness of the neighborhood.

It is home for many of us across the broad Asian and Asian-American diaspora, who have memories of walking up and down Jackson Street or King Street or Weller Street with our family and friends, eating the foods that evoke powerful, cherished memories.

It is where we can hear our home languages, where our elders and younger generations have found community despite being unwelcome, treated as perpetual foreigners, and targeted with violence.

We’ve had enough of leaders using the CID when it’s convenient—to prove their community credentials, as a sad story to be gawked at, or when it serves a political agenda.

In July, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the CID one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, citing the history of displacement and gentrification in the neighborhood. Across the country, other Chinatowns have disappeared or are disappearing. To prevent that from happening here in Seattle we must put progressive, community-centric values into policy and program interventions that start upstream. It is essential to pair that long-term work with an immediate urgency to stand up and increase the availability of services that truly meet the needs of the neighborhood.

To meet the public safety needs in a way that can genuinely move the needle, we cannot and must not replicate the pro-carceral positions of the past (and current day). Insisting that “more police is the answer” has not been effective at reducing harm or safely de-escalating people in crisis safely. Policies of the past merely shifted the visibility of people in crisis while ignoring the causes of abject poverty in our communities or ignoring people suffering from substance use disorder or mental illness. Community trust in policing is critical to public safety, and in light of recent headlines, this trust is delicate at best.

One example of what collaboration can look like? After the 2021 Atlanta Spa shooting that targeted Asian women and businesses caused a national wave of concern and anxiety of being further targeted for violence by AANHPI communities, Seattle City Hall directed resources to enhance public safety via community-led resiliency and safety initiatives in partnership with the CID. This shows a different way is possible.

We’ve had enough of leaders using the CID when it’s convenient—to prove their community credentials, as a sad story to be gawked at, or when it serves a political agenda. It’s time for leaders to commit to working with nonprofits and community members supporting the neighborhood to address systemic inequities, co-design strategies and solutions, and move the neighborhood to long-term vibrancy and prosperity. This is love for the CID in action.

As Questions Swirl About SPD Accountability, City Announces “Dual-Dispatch Pilot” for Low-Priority Calls

By Erica C. Barnett

On Thursday, during a press conference outlining his proposal to expand, reorganize, and rename the city department that responds to 911 calls, Mayor Bruce Harrell said he believed “the process is working” in the case of Daniel Auderer, a police officer and Seattle Police Officers Guild vice president who was caught on body-worn video mocking the death of 23-year-old student Jaahnavi Kandula with SPOG president Mike Solan. The video, which only captured Auderer’s side of the conversation, was recorded shortly after Officer Kevin Dave struck and killed Kandula on January 23.

Harrell was announcing $6 million in new funds for the Community Assisted Response and Engagement (CARE) department, formerly known as the Community Safety and Communications Center; that money will help hire 13 new staff, including behavioral health specialists, to respond alongside police to low-priority calls.

The question about Auderer came from a trainee at the 911 call center in SPD’s West Precinct where the announcement took place.

“Sometimes justice is not quick, due process sometimes is not quick, certainly not as quick as people would like to see,” Harrell said. “But everyone accused of misconducth as the right to due process and I will defend that process. We can’t be quick to judgment. … I have a member of my administration who was sentenced to prison for over 20 years without the possibility of parole. He was unfairly convicted because of the lack of due process. So I will defend due process … and hopefully we’ll see outcomes that people will say, ‘the system worked’.”

As PubliCola reported last week, an SPD employee saw the disturbing video and reported it to supervisors on August 2. Six days later, Auderer sent a letter to the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) attempting to minimize his and Solan’s comments, saying the two SPOG leaders were laughing at “the ridiculousness of how I have watched these incidents play out as two parties”—in this case, Kandula, who was killed by a speeding police officer just hours earlier, and SPD’s own lawyers—”bargain over a tragedy.”

Earlier this week, the Community Police Commission, a civilian oversight body, wrote a letter calling on Police Chief Adrian Diaz to immediately suspend police officer Daniel Auderer without pay while the investigation is ongoing.

SPOG released Auderer’s August 9 letter to a conservative radio commentator the day before PubliCola and the Times received the video in response to records requests, and posted, on social media on September 15.

Earlier this week, the Community Police Commission, a civilian oversight body, wrote a letter calling on Police Chief Adrian Diaz to immediately suspend Auderer without pay while the investigation is ongoing. The CPC also asked Diaz to “immediately engage in a workgroup consisting of the Seattle Police Accountability Partners and members of the community to address repeated concerns with the culture of policing and police practices at SPD.” The other accountability “partners” are OPA and the Office of Inspector General, an independent office that reviews and audits SPD as well as OPA.

Mayor Bruce Harrell and 911 dispatcher Jordan Wallace discuss a Priority 3 call about someone selling stolen merchandise in the International District Thursday.

Auderer’s statements, the three CPC co-chairs wrote, “are horrifying and raise serious concerns about his attitude toward and interactions with members of the community, and his ability to investigate cases equitably, accurately, and without bias and keep the City’s residents safe. While the [body-worn video] does not capture SPOG President Mike Solan’s comments on the other end of the call, there is simply no context that could possibly make these comments acceptable.”

As of Friday, CPC co-chair Joel Merkel said SPD had not responded to the letter; a spokesperson for SPD said they had no comment beyond the statement they released on their website shortly after we published the video last week.

The city has been promising to send civilian first responders to calls that don’t require a police response since 2020, when thousands protested police misconduct after the death of George Floyd. In 2021, then-mayor Jenny Durkan announced the launch of a new crisis response team within the fire department to respond to some crisis calls, but the proposal never got off the ground.

Harrell, similarly, has vowed since taking office in 2022 to create a new “third public safety department,” in addition to police and fire, that would include a new type of civilian first responder. This week’s announcement does include new civilian responders. But they won’t be going out to most calls involving people in crisis.

Instead, they’ll be deployed, along with police, to two call types that police have already determined do not necessarily require a police response. Priority 4 calls, the lowest priority, are non-emergency calls that generally don’t require a police response at all. Priority 3 calls are for minor issues that may or may not get a police response, depending on officer availability—everything from noisy neighbors to off-leash dogs to illegal parking.

Priority 3 calls do include “person down” calls, where someone is unconscious in public, and welfare checks—two call types that might benefit from a behavioral health response, Diaz noted. “Sometimes, a highly intoxicated [person] might actually be … experiencing some level of crisis. Not always, but in some cases,” Diaz said.

However, the majority of Priority 3 calls, Diaz said, are so-called “paper calls”—calls where the incident already happened and the only thing left to do is file a report. Harrell characterized the new program as a “dual dispatch pilot” that the city will evaluate in a year or two “to see where it makes sense… [and] where the data leads us.”

SPD, Diaz noted, already has an internal crisis response team; more than 60 percent of officers have also taken a 40-hour course in crisis intervention training.