Eviction Moratorium Set to Expire at End of Month, Putting Tenants Statewide at Risk

By Leo Brine

As the state begins to lift its pandemic restrictions, housing advocates worry that one restriction is ending prematurely.

Washington’s eviction moratorium, which Governor Jay Inslee established at the start of the pandemic, is set to expire on June 30. The bill established a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction—the first law in the nation to do so—but included a Republican amendment establishing the expiration date.

Now, as counties begin begin distributing rent assistance, advocates worry about a vicious cycle in which tenants get evicted because their assistance didn’t arrive on time, and can’t hire attorneys to defend them because legal assistance programs aren’t up and running yet. Advocates are asking Inslee to extend the moratorium so the state can hire and train lawyers, set up mediation programs and properly distribute rent assistance to tenants and landlords.

If the moratorium is lifted, it will disproportionately impact people of color and people with disabilities. Census data shows that 34 percent of Latino/Hispanic households and 16 percent of Black households are behind on rent in Washington.

To prevent hundreds of thousands of people from losing their homes after the moratorium ends, the legislature passed a trio of eviction prevention bills this session. One established a list of 16 “just cause” reasons landlords can give in order to evict a tenant (HB 1236); another will fund state rental assistance programs (HB 1277); and one allows landlords to apply for rental assistance funds and provides a right to counsel for indigent tenants facing eviction, similar to public defenders in criminal cases (SB 5160).

When the House voted on the last bill, they also included an amendment by Rep. Michelle Caldier (R-26, Port Orchard) stipulating that the eviction moratorium is up at the end  of this month. When Inslee signed the bill, he left in Caldier’s amendment, signaling he agreed with setting a hard deadline.

The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance is now lobbying Inslee to extend the moratorium so the state can get all its eviction protection programs in place. “All we need is time,” Michele Thomas,W LIHA’s Advocacy and Policy Director, said. The protections the state put in place this year are great, she added, but “if the governor does not extend the moratorium, a lot of the work will be for not.”

Thomas said Inslee should end the moratorium on a county-by-county basis, depending on how prepared each county is to handle eviction cases, similar to how the state has lifted COVID restrictions.

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Democrats have also called on the governor to extend the moratorium. On Wednesday, June 17, Rep. Jamila Taylor (D-30, Federal Way), the chair of the House Democrats’ Black Caucus, sent a letter to the governor asking him to extend the moratorium.

Taylor also wants to see the moratorium lifted in counties who are adequately prepared to dispense rent assistance and provide legal representation to tenants, “so that no families are homeless,” she said in a statement. “We’re at the two-yard line. Now is not the time for us to leave families without this crucial safety net.”

If the moratorium is lifted, it will disproportionately impact people of color and people with disabilities. Census data shows that 34 percent of Latino/Hispanic households and 16 percent of Black households are behind on rent in Washington. Taylor said that by allowing the moratorium to expire, Washington would be taking a major step back in improving equity—something the Democratic legislature touted as a priority for the 2021 session.

King County Housing Justice Project Manager Edmund Witter told PubliCola that despite Caldier’s amendment, Gov. Inslee could extend the moratorium. (King County’s Housing Justice Project, which provide legal counsel to tenants, is one of several such groups across the state.) All the amendment did was say the current iteration of the moratorium must end on June 30; it did not limit the governor’s to extend the moratorium in response to the pandemic emergency, Witter said.

However, the governor’s emergency powers run out on June 30, when the official state of emergency ends, creating a hard deadline for Inslee to make a decision. Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee said the governor’s office has not decided yet whether to extend the moratorium.

If the moratorium does end on June 30, Witter is concerned that Washington’s courts will be overwhelmed with eviction cases. “There’s just no plan,” for how courts will deal with cases, Witter said.

“If a tenant doesn’t know whether or not they’re going to get rental assistance, how are they going to know what terms are reasonable to a repayment plan that they’re going to sign onto?How would they know whether or not what they’re signing onto is something they can afford?”—Michele Thomas, Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance

Ideally, eviction cases could be resolved without getting courts involved at all. SB 5160 establishes Eviction Resolution Programs (ERPs) in six counties (Clark, King, Pierce, Thurston, Snohomish and Spokane), using dispute resolution centers to settle landlord-tenant disputes. These programs work by having landlords, tenants, and their lawyers meet with an eviction resolution specialist to reach an agreement to prevent eviction, such as a more forgiving rent repayment plan.

Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43, Seattle) worked on the eviction protection bills during the session. She said many of the tenant protections the legislature passed this year included emergency clauses that put them into effect immediately, including mandatory repayment plans and the just cause eviction bill. (The latter still allows landlords to evict tenants for failing to pay their rent, but requires them to offer tenants a repayment plan 14 days before serving them an eviction notice.)

However, she’s still worried that when the moratorium ends, there won’t be enough attorneys ready to represent tenants in eviction cases and courts won’t have the tools to settle disputes without going to trial.

“We need to make sure that we set up the mediation support for landlords and tenants [and that] we hire those attorneys. A lot of that is not authorized until the state budget goes into effect July 1,” Macri said. Continue reading “Eviction Moratorium Set to Expire at End of Month, Putting Tenants Statewide at Risk”

State Goes on Offensive to Save Capital Gains Tax, Police Oversight Group Considers Candidate Forum, and Compassion Seattle Plays Victim

1. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a motion Tuesday seeking to have a Douglas County judge throw out two lawsuits against the capital gains tax. Ferguson argues in his motion that the plaintiffs filed the suits for political reasons and don’t have grounds to sue because they don’t know yet if they’d be subject to the tax.

The capital gains tax bill (SB 5096) imposes a 7 percent tax on profits of $250,000 or more from the sale of intangible financial assets, such as stocks and bonds. The bill would go into effect in 2022, but the state would not collect taxes until January 2023. Roughly 7,000 Washington taxpayers would be subject to the tax, which would generate $415 million for the state in its first year.

Three days after the legislature passed the bill, the Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank, challenged the law in court. Less than a month later, former attorney general Rob McKenna, along with the Washington Farm Bureau, filed a second lawsuit against the bill. Both suits were filed in conservative Douglas County.

The lawsuits say taxing capital gains is unconstitutional because capital gains are property, and all property must be taxed at a uniform rate in Washington because of a 1933 state Supreme Court decision.

However, Democrats have argued that the capital gains tax is an excise (sales) tax, not a property tax, because it is triggered by the sale of financial assets.

Ferguson argued that the plaintiffs have asked the court to settle a political dispute, rather than a legal one, noting that they “are suffering no legal harm from the tax they challenge and ask this Court to issue a purely advisory political opinion.” He also argued that the lawsuits are preemptive and speculative, since the plaintiffs don’t know whether they’ll even have to pay the tax when it goes into effect in 2023.

The state Supreme Court is also hearing arguments for a lawsuit against the state’s 2019 bank business and occupation tax (HB 2167), which was also filed by McKenna. Washington State Solicitor General Noah Purcell argued at the court on May 25 that state law prohibits lawsuits against taxes until they have gone into effect. If the court sides with Purcell, the lawsuits against the capital gains tax might have to wait until state residents actually pay the tax, which wouldn’t be until 2023 at the earliest.

State Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Seattle) said that if the court dismisses the lawsuits, it will only delay the inevitable: having the state Supreme Court reviewing the law. Democrats want the court to review the tax because they believe the court would overturn the previous ruling declaring income a form of property, which would blow the doors open for an income tax.

The next hearing for the cases is set for July 13 at 10am, with Douglas County Superior Court Judge Brian Huber presiding.

2. The future of the Seattle Police Department is front-and-center in the upcoming elections, but some members of Seattle’s Community Police Commission (CPC)—the branch of the city’s police oversight system tasked with gathering community input on police reforms—are wary of wading into electoral politics.

Reverend Harriet Walden, the commission’s longest-serving member, also opposed the candidate forum. “It’s not part of our mission,” she said.

During the CPC meeting Wednesday, CPC communications director Jesse Franz described plans that are already underway for a general election forum that the CPC plans to co-host alongside a community organization involved in criminal justice reform, such as Choose 180 or Community Passageways.

But some prominent members of the commission pushed back on the plan. Suzette Dickerson, who will represent the CPC during contract negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers Guild next year, argued that hosting a candidate forum was outside the scope of the CPC’s responsibilities. From her perspective, the commission’s role is to be a sounding board for Seattle residents’ opinions on reforms to SPD; “stepping into the political arena,” she argued, would undermine public trust in the commission.

Reverend Harriet Walden, the commission’s longest-serving member, also opposed the candidate forum. “It’s not part of our mission,” she said, adding that she isn’t confident that the CPC would allow community groups opposed to downsizing SPD to have a voice in the forum. “I think that we’re headed down a path to help social engineer the defunding the police department,” she said.

The commission’s current leaders, however, supported the idea. “To me, holding a candidate forum seems within the scope of ensuring that the community is informed about what accountability may or may not look like, in particular candidates minds,” said CPC co-chair LaRond Baker.

Though the CPC can’t endorse candidates, the commission is not a neutral player in the police oversight sphere: It recommends reforms to SPD and Seattle’s police oversight system. Recent CPC recommendations have included a ban on tear gas and removing limits on the number of civilian investigators in the Office of Police Accountability. The success of those recommendations depends on the support of the mayor, the council, and the police chief, which gives the CPC a clear stake in the outcome of the election.

“Opponents have been using increasingly violent tactics against our signature collection teams,” the solicitation for funds claims. “We must persevere, and we need your help to ensure we reach 33,060 signatures by June 25.”

3. In a fundraising email Tuesday, the Compassion Seattle campaign, which is gathering signatures to get its charter amendment on homelessness on the November ballot, claimed that several of its paid signature gatherers have been attacked by people who oppose the initiative.

“Opponents have been using increasingly violent tactics against our signature collection teams,” the solicitation for funds claims. “We must persevere, and we need your help to ensure we reach 33,060 signatures by June 25.” Continue reading “State Goes on Offensive to Save Capital Gains Tax, Police Oversight Group Considers Candidate Forum, and Compassion Seattle Plays Victim”

SPD Touts “Safe Space” Hate-Crimes Program, but Advocates Say There’s No Evidence That it Works

Interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz, Detective Beth Wareing and LGBTQ Liaison Dorian Koreio at Hing Hay Park

By Paul Kiefer

Hand-sized stickers bearing a rainbow-colored police badge are ubiquitous in storefront windows around Seattle. They are the calling card of the Seattle Police Department’s “Safe Place” program, a six-year-old project that theoretically recruits business owners to provide shelter to victims of hate crimes and to report hate crimes to the department. The project doesn’t cost the department much—stickers, printed materials and a single staff member are the only expenses. But whether it has made a difference for victims of hate crimes is still hard to discern.

The Safe Place program is one of SPD’s points of pride. Since launching the program in 2015, SPD has trained and licensed nearly 300 other law enforcement agencies to replicate it across the country. The goal of the program, Interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz said during a press conference to announce new translations of Safe Place materials last week, is to give victims of have crimes a “safe place” to call the police—inside a business with one of the program’s stickers in its window. Business owners who sign up for the program gets a sticker, written instructions, and a short training from an SPD officer on how to respond if the victim of a hate crime enters their business in need of help.

“As far as we know, the program is mostly a way for businesses to signal that they’re inclusive, whether or not that’s actually true in practice.”—Catherine West, Legal Voice.

But does the Safe Place program work? According to SPD LGBTQ Liaison Dorian Koreio, who administers the program, the department has no way to track whether the Safe Place program has led to an increase in reports of hate crimes, which is how SPD would know the program was having an effect. Koreio said SPD doesn’t review hate crime reports to determine whether a Safe Place business sheltered the victim or reported the crime—in fact, he said, the department doesn’t keep track of Safe Place businesses’ locations. “I know where they are roughly,” he said, but he has no data to test the program’s impact.

Those who work with the groups most frequently targeted in hate crimes—in Seattle, Black and LGBTQ residents—say the program may not live up to the fanfare. “As far as we know, the program is mostly a way for businesses to signal that they’re inclusive, whether or not that’s actually true in practice,” said Catherine West, an attorney with the women’s and LGBTQ rights advocacy group Legal Voice. “And more importantly, some members of the LGBTQ community do not feel safe engaging with law enforcement, so the other question is whether encouraging people to document hate crimes by calling the police will really give you an accurate picture of who experiences those kinds of crimes and harassment.”

Detective Beth Wareing, who investigates hate crimes for the department, argued that it’s possible that the Safe Place program prompted more people to report hate crimes to SPD over the past six years. After the department launched the program in 2015, Wareing said, there was a roughly 60 percent increase in reports of hate crimes compared to the previous year; between 2013 and 2014, hate crime reports only rose by roughly 15 percent.

In the years since, reports of hate crimes have continued to rise steeply; SPD received nearly 800 reports in 2020, compared to 205 in 2015. The increase in hate crime reports in Seattle vastly outpaced the rise in hate crime reports nationwide. According to Wareing, who spoke with PubliCola after last week’s press conference, a steep rise in the number of reported hate crimes doesn’t necessarily mean that more hate crimes took place—instead, she said, it may mean that more people were able to report hate crimes to the police than in past years. The number of crimes that still go unreported, she added, is “unknowable.”

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Wareing hypothesized that the program might achieve results by relieving some pressure for victims fleeing an attacker. “When we talk to victims, they talk about the barriers to reporting, or the things that would make calling 911 more attractive option,” she said. “And having a safe place to do that where they can wait is undeniably one of those ways.”

While some advocacy organizations in Seattle collect reports on hate crimes independently of SPD, Wareing told PubliCola that she doesn’t see any clear alternatives to calling the police to report a hate crime, despite concerns like those raised by West. “I never advocate for calling anything other than 911 as a first step,” she said. Continue reading “SPD Touts “Safe Space” Hate-Crimes Program, but Advocates Say There’s No Evidence That it Works”

Where This Year’s Campaign Money Is Coming From

By Erica C. Barnett

Seven weeks out from the August primary, at least five candidates have raised enough to hit the city’s primary-election spending caps ($400,000 for mayoral candidates, $187,500 for city council) and can’t go over that limit unless a candidate who is not participating in the democracy voucher program (such as Art Langlie in the mayor’s race or Sara Nelson in the race for City Council Position 9) or an independent expenditure campaign (such as Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future, in the mayor’s race) exceeds the limit.

Other campaigns, such as the efforts to pass a charter initiative on homelessness and recall city council member Kshama Sawant, aren’t subject to those limits and are free to raise and spend as much money as they want—about half a million so far, respectively, although those numbers are sure to balloon if both measures make it onto the November ballot.

But where is the money coming from? For most of this year’s major citywide campaigns, the answer is simple (and fairly predictable): Contributions are coming in from all over the city, from far North Seattle to Rainier Beach, with a small percentage from outside city limits. But a few campaigns defy this trajectory, in telling ways.

The first, and most striking, category are the campaigns that are funded largely from people  outside the city—people who won’t be directly impacted by who gets elected or the results of the two initiative campaigns.

In the mayoral race, Casey Sixkiller and Art Langlie—a long-shot candidate who has received outsize coverage from the city’s media establishment—have both gotten about half their money from out of town so far: 46 percent and 54 percent, respectively. (Former city council member Bruce Harrell is in a distant third, with 22 percent of his funds coming from out of town).

Most of Langlie’s out-of-town money comes from contributors in Seattle’s suburbs, including Bellevue, Mercer Island, and Mukilteo; a large plurality (87 out of 300) list their occupation as either “retired” or “homemaker.” Many of Sixkiller’s out-of-town contributions come from further afield, including in and around Washington, D.C., where Sixkiller was a longtime lobbyist.

The pro- and anti-Sawant campaigns reverse the predictable progressive-conservative political split, where progressive money comes from the city and conservative campaigns tap out-of-town connections. Instead, most of the pro-Sawant money so far has come from out of town, while the biggest chunk of funds for the Recall Sawant campaign (42 percent) has come from residents of District 3, which Sawant represents. Only 16 percent of the money for the recall campaign came from outside the city.

In contrast, 61 percent of the anti-recall campaign’s funding has come from outside city limits, the majority from far-flung places like Boston, Minneapolis, and Chicago. Just 18 percent of the Kshama Solidarity Campaign’s funding so far is from inside District 3.

If the recall measure makes it onto the November ballot, it could be one of the most expensive campaigns, measured by vote, in the city’s history. In 2019, according to King County elections, 44,043 people voted in the District 3 council election. The two campaigns have raised more than a million dollars so far; if the election were held today with similar turnout, the campaigns would have spent nearly $24 a vote. Continue reading “Where This Year’s Campaign Money Is Coming From”

No Charges Against Cops Who Violated Voting Law; City Finally Buys Shower Trailers

1. Eight Seattle police officers who registered to vote using the addresses of Seattle Police Department precincts instead of their home addresses—including Seattle Police Officers’ Guild President Mike Solan—will not face criminal charges. Instead, after an investigation by the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), two of the officers (including Solan) received one-day unpaid suspensions and three received oral reprimands; the remaining three officers retired or resigned before the investigation ended.

The South Seattle Emerald first reported that eight SPD officers had registered to vote using their precinct addresses in July 2020, after a search of county voting records found at least one officer registered at each of the department’s five precincts. Because registering to vote using an incorrect residential address is a felony in Washington—one punishable by a five-year prison sentence or a $10,000 fine—the OPA initially referred the case to SPD for a criminal investigation.

The department decided not to investigate; according to the OPA’s report on the case, an SPD captain justified the decision by noting that the officers were already under investigation by the King County Department of Elections, and by claiming (incorrectly) that all of the officers lived in Seattle.

While all acknowledged that they had used their precinct addresses when registering to vote, most argued that they did so to avoid making their home addresses a public record for safety reasons. In response, OPA Director Andrew Myerberg advised the officers to lobby the state legislature to pass tighter privacy protections instead of breaking state law.

In lieu of an investigation, the OPA began its own investigation of the officers’ alleged policy violations, ultimately ruling that all eight officers violated SPD’s professionalism policies, as well as a policy prohibiting officers from using their precinct addresses for personal business. OPA Director Andrew Myerberg didn’t say whether he believed the officers knowingly violated state law, though he noted that King County Elections’ investigation will eventually resolve the question. “Ignorance of the law is not a defense,” he wrote in his report. “This is especially the case for police officers who are entrusted with the responsibility of enforcing it.”

If the elections department does rule that the officers knowingly broke state law, county election officials told the OPA they are unlikely to press charges—the law targeting incorrect voter registration addresses is frequently broken and rarely enforced.

Only five of the officers agreed to interviews with OPA investigators. While all acknowledged that they had used their precinct addresses when registering to vote, most argued that they did so to avoid making their home addresses a public record for safety reasons. In response, Myerberg advised the officers to lobby the state legislature to pass tighter privacy protections instead of breaking state law.

2. The city will replace two rented shower trailers, which have been stationed at Seattle Center and King Street Station in Pioneer Square since last fall, with trailers it bought from a Pittsburgh-based company called Restroom2Go Restroom Trailers. According to a Seattle Public Utilities spokeswoman, the trailers cost the city just over $188,000.

As the COVID pandemic abates, the city has begun closing down and relocating facilities and services for people experiencing homelessness, including “de-intensified” mass shelters and hygiene facilities like the two shower trailers. For now, the spokeswoman said, people will still be able to shower at King Street Station, but the shower trailer at Seattle Center will have to move as summer programming returns to the former World’s Fair grounds. A temporary shelter run by the Downtown Emergency Service Center at Seattle Center’s Exhibition Hall has already started shutting down, with residents moving back into the Navigation Center (a congregate shelter in the International District).

Another DESC shelter whose residents moved to Exhibition Hall during the pandemic, the Queen Anne Shelter, remains closed.

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As PubliCola has reported over the past year, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration was reluctant to provide mobile showers for people experiencing homelessness even before the pandemic. Although the city council provided funds to purchase shower trailers in 2019, SPU, under Durkan, didn’t spend the money, forcing a mad scramble to rent trailers at an exorbitant cost once the pandemic began. (Even then, the city took months to actually deploy the trailers.) Eventually, the city ditched its gold-plated trailer provider for a more affordable service.

According to SPU, the city is still looking for a place to move the Seattle Center trailer “on the campus,” and is also working out what to do with the two trailers in the long term. “City staff are considering exploring the best options for the trailers, including making them mobile, keeping them stationary or a hybrid approach, to meet the needs of our clients and maximize utilization.”

Even with the two trailers remaining in service, there are very few options for people living unsheltered to take a shower citywide. Lack of access to hygiene is a major quality of life issue, and a barrier to accessing public facilities like transit and libraries, not to mention applying for a job. According to the city’s current hygiene map, there are just 14 places in the city that offer free showers, most of them concentrated near the downtown core; neighborhoods south of I-90, including all of West and Southeast Seattle, have just one shower location each.

3. Someone—perhaps the same brave long-lens photographers who add images of unsheltered people to Google Maps results for various Seattle parks—took the time recently to rename the Ballard Commons Park “Straussville” in Google Maps.

Dan Strauss is the city council member for District 6, which includes the Commons; unsheltered people have lived and congregated in the park, which is next to the Ballard branch library, for many years, but have become more visible during the pandemic as the city decreased encampment sweeps. As of Monday morning, the fake park name had been removed.

City May Relinquish Control Over Homelessness Contracts; Surveillance Law May Not Cover Facial Recognition; No Plan Yet for Complaints Against 911 Dispatchers

1. After insisting for more than a year that the city needs to retain full authority over homeless outreach and engagement programs, the city has changed its mind, and will reportedly hand outreach over to the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority along with all the other homeless service contracts currently managed by the Seattle Human Services Department.

KCRHA director Marc Dones told outreach providers that their contracts would move to the new authority at a meeting on Wednesday, several who attended the meeting confirmed. Derrick Belgarde, the director of the Chief Seattle Club, said the belated change makes sense: Outreach “needs some separation from the HOPE team and their efforts.”

Previously, as we’ve reported, Durkan and HSD have argued for keeping outreach, and only outreach, at the city, on the grounds that the HOPE Team (formerly the Navigation Team) needs to have direct access to outreach workers who can connect people in encampments the city removes to shelter and services. The connection between the HOPE team and outreach workers was at the heart of the larger dispute over this year’s contracts, with providers arguing that the new contracts would place them at the “beck and call” of a team that serves as the vanguard for encampment sweeps.

The meeting, led by deputy mayor Tiffany Washington, was called to discuss changes to a set of proposed 2021 contracts that providers said were unacceptable; among other changes, the contracts the city originally sent providers would have required them to do outreach at encampments that the city planned to remove, regardless of whether the community or clients they serve (young adults or Native people, for example) were present.

The new contracts will revert to essentially the same language as the contracts providers signed in 2020. Provisions requiring outreach workers to be on site on the day of encampment removals will be stripped from the new contracts, and the city will greatly reduce the data reporting requirements that some providers found objectionable—eliminating the need, for example, for providers to give the city detailed daily reports on the people they encounter living unsheltered.

Belgarde said he was heartened by Dones’ and Washington’s emphasis on progressive engagement at encampments—focusing first on outreach, and then on more intensive case management, which is the point at which asking more personal questions is appropriate. “They seem to understand why you don’t do it” the first time you meet someone living at an encampment, he said. “It’s traumatizing. You can’t go out there with a pen and pad like you’re a lawyer or the police making notes.”

An HSD spokesperson would confirm only that the department is “in ongoing conversations with providers on a number of items, including what coordinated outreach looks like for both city and county shelter spaces and investments. Additionally, the City is already in conversations with the KCRHA about logistics for the transfer of contracts to the KCRHA. Our primary goal is supporting the ramp up of the authority. HSI will maintain outreach contracts through the end of 2021.”

2. After an investigation by Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA) into a Seattle police detective’s use of a controversial facial recognition software, OPA Director Andrew Myerberg sent a letter to SPD Interim Chief Adrian Diaz concluding that while the detective used the unapproved technology without permission, it’s unclear whether facial recognition is covered by the surveillance ordinance the city adopted in 2018.

The OPA launched an investigation into South Precinct Detective Nicholas Kartes’ use of Clearview.AI—an artificial intelligence software which bills itself as a kind of Google search for faces, using images scraped from the internet without their owners’ permission—in November, when a civilian watchdog obtained emails showing that Kartes had used the software several times since 2019. At the time, Myerberg told PubliCola that the investigation would hinge on whether Kartes used the software during a criminal investigation, which he said would constitute a clear policy violation and seriously undermine public trust in the department.

In his letter to Diaz on Wednesday, Myerberg wrote that Kartes used Clearview.AI’s search function roughly 30 times since 2019, including for an unclear number of criminal investigations; Kartes didn’t keep records of cases in which he used the technology, so OPA investigators weren’t able to assemble a complete list. According to investigators, Kartes did not inform his superiors that he was using the software. The OPA hasn’t said whether Kartes will face discipline for his use of the unapproved technology.

However, in his letter to Diaz, Myerberg wrote that the city’s surveillance ordinance, which requires city departments to seek the council’s approval of any surveillance technology it intends to use, defines “surveillance” too narrowly to include facial recognition—because software like Clearview.AI does not allow SPD to “observe or analyze the movements, behavior, or actions of identifiable individuals,” Myerberg argued, it may not be addressed by the law.

To deal with the gray area surrounding facial recognition technology, Myerberg recommended that Diaz either create a new surveillance policy that explicitly forbids the use of facial recognition software; he also suggested that Diaz could ask the city council to modify the 2018 surveillance ordinance to clear up any confusion about whether it applies to facial recognition software.

Myerberg’s letter to Diaz came just over a week after the Metropolitan King County Council voted to ban the use of facial recognition technology by county departments, becoming the first county in the nation to pass such a ban.

3. When Seattle’s 911 dispatch center left the Seattle Police Department last week, the OPA lost its jurisdiction over the roughly 140 civilian dispatchers who work in the center. And the new department—the Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC), which the Seattle City Council hopes will eventually hold other civilian public safety agencies—hasn’t yet outlined a plan to handle misconduct complaints against dispatchers.

Though complaints against 911 dispatchers made up only a small portion of the OPA’s caseload, the unit faced roughly 30 to 40 complaints annually over the past five years. Among the most notable recent cases was a dispatch supervisor fired last year for assigning herself overtime to supplement her income despite being unqualified to answer emergency calls, and another dispatcher whom Interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz fired in April for telling a Black caller that “all lives matter” during a call about a car break-in.

The OPA’s jurisdiction is set by city law; according to Myerberg, that law—Seattle’s Accountability Ordinance—only authorizes his office to investigate “potential acts of misconduct perpetrated by SPD employees,” which no longer includes 911 dispatchers. While Seattle’s Human Resources department could take on complaints for an additional 140 employees, Myerberg said that if the council or mayor want his office to continue handling complaints against dispatchers, the council will need to expand the OPA’s jurisdiction, which may also require bargaining with the dispatchers’ union.

PubliCola has reached out to CSCC Director Chris Lombard about his plans for handling misconduct complaints against dispatchers.

City’s Decision to Deny Permit for Event Commemorating Art at CHOP Could [UPDATED: Did] Backfire

By Erica C. Barnett

UPDATE: On Thursday afternoon, the ACLU of Washington and Public Defender Association sent a letter to the city attorney’s office, along with several city department leaders, calling the decision to deny CHOP Art’s permit “unconstitutional” and saying “we may need to take emergency legal action” if the city doesn’t act. The says the denial was clearly based on the content of the event itself rather than any legitimate “safety” concerns.

The city, as we reported this morning, has claimed that community members have said that any event commemorating CHOP, including an event celebrating the art of the protest, “would be disturbing or even traumatic” and that they applied a higher-than-usual safety standard because of violence that occurred during last year’s protests.

Original story follows.

Mark Anthony doesn’t know why the city declined his permit for an event in Cal Anderson Park after working with his group, CHOP Art, for the last eight months, but he has a theory: “I think that it got up to the mayor’s office, and I think they’re trying to say that CHOP itself is something that’s violent or negative, which isn’t true,” he said.

Capitol Hill Seattle was first to report on the city’s last-minute decision to deny a permit for a long-planned street fair this coming weekend commemorating the one-year anniversary of last year’s Capitol Hill Organized Protest. CHOP turned into a longstanding, entrenched protest area after Mayor Jenny Durkan and her police chief, Carmen Best, responded to protests against anti-Black police brutality by indiscriminately tear-gassing protesters and targeting them with blast balls, pepper spray, and other “less-lethal” weapons.

CHOP Art was formed to store and steward the art created at the event, which the city removed but promised to display at some later date. The location of the art is now unknown after a dispute between the organization’s founders that is still ongoing.

“They completely didn’t respond to me for over a week and a half, and then [Tuesday], three days before the event, they finally got back to me saying that due to the violence that has gone on in Seattle and the violent groups [at CHOP], they said that it was not going to be a safe environment.” — CHOP Art event organizer Mark Anthony

Anthony said his intent was to have a kind of “Black renaissance fair” on the site of the protest, with the blessing of the city’s Arts in the Parks program. “They’re the ones that reached out to me,” Anthony said, adding that he’s been meeting with Randy Wiger from the Parks and Recreation department regularly for at least six months to discuss the event. When the city told him they wouldn’t support “anything in relation to CHOP,” Anthony said, he changed the name of the event, “removed every reference to CHOP,” and reframed it as a Juneteenth celebration.

“They completely didn’t respond to me for over a week and a half, and then [Tuesday], three days before the event, they finally got back to me saying that due to the violence that has gone on in Seattle and the violent groups [at CHOP], they said that it was not going to be a safe environment,” Anthony said.

The Parks Department responded to PubliCola’s questions by providing a brief statement saying that they denied the permit because of community concerns. “We have heard from community members expressing concerns that any events celebrating or commemorating the events that occurred at Cal Anderson in summer of 2020 would be disturbing or even traumatic to the community,” the statement said.

In response to a followup question about which community members had opposed the event, a Parks spokeswoman said, “We heard from neighbors, artists who had previously worked with the CHOP Art group, and other members of the general public that the proposed event would be traumatic considering both the destruction to the park and the acts of violence that took place last summer.”

Charlotte LeFevre, an organizer of the Capitol Hill Pride March and Rally, said she was disappointed but not surprised that the city denied Anthony’s permit. “It’s infuriating that the city did the same thing they’re doing to Anthony they did that to us in 2017,” she said, when “the city yanked our permit before our scheduled National Pride march.” (The controversy over that event got wide coverage at the time.)

“The city does not have the right to deny a person or an organization the right to schedule a community public event in a public park based on so called perceived security risks,” LeFevre said. Continue reading “City’s Decision to Deny Permit for Event Commemorating Art at CHOP Could [UPDATED: Did] Backfire”

Effort to Expand Hotel Shelters Has Broad Support, Recycled Statements Replace False Endorsement Claims on Compassion Seattle Website

1. City council homelessness committee chair Andrew Lewis introduced legislation this week that would lift spending restrictions on $12 million the council allocated earlier this year for hotel-based shelters, in the hope that Mayor Jenny Durkan will finally agree to invest in JustCARE, a county-funded program that has been moving people from tents to hotels in the Chinatown/International District, or other hotel-based shelter programs.

The bill, which Lewis hopes to fast-track to a vote on June 14, “no longer makes seeking FEMA reimbursement a strict requirement” for the money, Lewis said Monday. As PubliCola has reported, Durkan has declined to seek federal FEMA dollars set aside for noncongregate shelters, such as hotels, arguing that this form of federal funding is a risky proposition.

Lewis told PubliCola the city could use a number of new, non-FEMA sources to pay for hotel rooms, including $40 million in unanticipated 2021 revenues, additional American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funding that’s coming next year, or the $10 million fund Seattle Rep. Nicole Macri created to provide an insurance policy for cities that open non-congregate shelters.

The Downtown Seattle Association and Seattle Metro Chamber are supporting the legislation, which Lewis has described as a way of improving the climate for workers and tourists downtown while actually helping people living unsheltered instead of sweeping them from place to place. Five council members, including socialist Kshama Sawant, are sponsors.

“There’s no such thing as a cheap program for people who have really really chronic public health challenges. There’s no way for us to say we’re only going to assist these people if it comes at a certain price point.”—Seattle Councilmember Andrew Lewis

“For all the talk about division in Seattle, and all the acrimony and everything else, this is an issue where the Chamber of Commerce will stand shoulder to shoulder with Kshama Sawant, and I think that speaks to the good work that this consortium of providers have done in creating the JustCARE model,” Lewis said.

JustCARE provides hotel-based shelter to unsheltered people with high needs and multiple barriers to housing and provides intensive case management and services to put them on a path to housing. Durkan’s office has frequently derided the approach as too expensive, claiming a per-client cost of well over $100,000, which the organizations behind the program dispute. Whatever the actual cost, Lewis said the city needs to “come to terms with the fact that there’s no such thing as a cheap program for people who have really really chronic public health challenges. There’s no way for us to say we’re only going to assist these people if it comes at a certain price point.”

Lewis said he hopes to pass the legislation, and for the mayor to spend the money, before Seattle’s economy officially reopens on June 30, when the statewide eviction ban is also scheduled to expire.

A spokeswoman for Durkan said the mayor’s office “won’t be able to comment until we’ve had time to review the legislation.”

2. Compassion Seattle, the group supporting a ballot measure that would impose an unfunded mandate for the city to build more temporary shelter beds in order to keep public spaces “open and clear of encampments,” was forced to take down its “endorsements” page last week because the homeless advocates and service providers listed there had not actually endorsed the measure. Tim Burgess and Seattle Chamber CEO Rachel Smith, who talked up the measure on a Geekwire panel last week, waved away the story, suggesting that the groups just had to go through their own endorsement “processes” before officially signing on.

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This week, Compassion Seattle updated its website, replacing the “endorsements” page with one called “What People Are Saying” that uses quotes from the leaders of homeless service organizations to strongly imply endorsement while no longer overtly claiming their support. The page now includes quotes from the leaders of Evergreen Treatment Services (which runs the REACH outreach program), the Downtown Emergency Service Center, and the Chief Seattle Club, all taken from an April 1 press release announcing the campaign.

The Chief Seattle Club said they do not plan to make an endorsement, and the director of DESC, Daniel Malone, said that although he “stands by the statement I made,” the group is “not working on a formal endorsement process right now.

3. On Tuesday, the ACLU of Washington announced their opposition to the initiative. In a statement, the civil-rights group said the measure focuses on “stopgap measures” like temporary shelter to get unhoused people out of public view while doing nothing to fund long-term solutions—most importantly, housing. Continue reading “Effort to Expand Hotel Shelters Has Broad Support, Recycled Statements Replace False Endorsement Claims on Compassion Seattle Website”

Moving 911 From the Police Department Is Just a Start

Photo by Dimo Fedortchenko (Creative Commons)

By Paul Kiefer

Last year’s protests may not have resulted in the dismantling of the Seattle Police Department, but as of June 1, they have produced one small shift: Seattle’s 911 dispatch is no longer housed within SPD. Instead, the unit is now a part of the Community Safety and Communications Center (CSCC), a new, independent city department that will, in theory, eventually house other civilian crisis response and public safety programs.

The move isn’t likely to have an immediate impact on who responds to emergency calls; for now, elected officials and advocates for downsizing the police hope that it will leave the door open for more significant changes.

The Seattle City Council proposed moving the dispatch center as part of its plan to shift functions and funds away from SPD last year and “develop a crisis response that doesn’t rely on an armed police response,” as council public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold said in a statement last month. “911 dispatch has been called the gatekeeper for the whole criminal justice,” she said. Citing a 2015 statistic linking more than half of that year’s police killings of unarmed people nationwide by police to 911 calls, Herbold argued that when dispatchers are primed to refer calls to police, the public is at greater risk.

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The move to the CSCC is unlikely to prompt any immediate changes in how dispatchers handle 911 calls. “Right now, our move out of SPD is mostly a name change,” said Jacob Adams, the president of the Seattle Police Dispatchers’ Guild. His unit transferred to the CSCC almost intact; the only sworn officers in the unit were a lieutenant and a captain, and they did not move to the CSCC.

More importantly, Adams said, the emergency response options available to dispatchers haven’t changed. “Before the move, we could refer people to the police or animal control; we could transfer them to [the Seattle Fire Department], and we did a lot of referrals to service providers, too,” he said. “And right now, it seems like that will stay the same. We’re always going to be tied at the hip with police and fire.”

But despite their close relationship with the police department, Adams said that his union is eager for a more finely tuned approach to emergency response. “Among other things, it would be really great to have a system in place for us to reach the counselors of people with mental health challenges,” he said. “They could have a plan in place for what to do when their patient needs help, and they could become another entity we could dispatch. We would get to know them, learn their procedures and what they need from us.” Continue reading “Moving 911 From the Police Department Is Just a Start”

Residents Ask City to Help Unsheltered Neighbors; City Responds by Sweeping Park

By Erica C. Barnett

Olga Park, a small swatch of green space near Ravenna and Cowen Parks in Northeast Seattle, has been the site of a fairly small but disruptive encampment for about a year. Neighbors in nearby apartments and houses have complained frequently to the city about noise, drug use, and hostile treatment from the people living there—typical points of friction between housed and homeless people in densely populated residential areas.

But many in the neighborhood have also worked to find alternatives that wouldn’t simply displace the encampment residents, meeting with outreach workers from REACH who have developed relationships with people living in the park to discuss options that would keep them in the neighborhood. “My ideal approach so far, which we’ve been advocating with the city to do, is something like the JustCARE program, where people move into hotels on a voluntary basis,” Teresa Barker, from the Ravenna-Cowen Community Alliance, said.

Those conversations came to an abrupt halt last week, when the city decided to sweep the encampment after a man who lived elsewhere shot and killed an encampment resident. Those living in the park got about two days’ notice; two accepted referrals to the Executive Pacific Hotel downtown, and one got a referral to Otto’s Place, a 100-bed shelter in Pioneer Square. The rest moved elsewhere, leaving behind tents, property, and trash for the Parks Department to haul away.

The tiny number of people who “accepted” shelter referrals in the days leading up to the sweep “just goes to show that the person-centered, relationship building approach works better than the kneejerk response,” Maureen Ewing, director of the University Heights Center, said.

Neighbors who’ve been asking the city to address the encampment for months were relieved that it’s gone, but said they also understand that the city isn’t solving anything by moving traumatized people from place to place. The tiny number of people who “accepted” shelter referrals in the days leading up to the sweep “just goes to show that the person-centered, relationship building approach works better than the kneejerk response,” Maureen Ewing, director of the nearby University Heights Center, said. “It’s unfortunate that we wait to drop the hammer and force people out when they already traumatized by the murder.” 

Both Ewing and Barker said the city needed to do something about the encampment; both pointed out numerous examples of aggressive behavior and dangerous incidents, including a large fire, screaming fights, verbal threats, and a man who climbed 40 feet up a tree and wouldn’t come down. But they both said that most of the neighborhood wanted the city to provide alternatives that would actually work for the encampment residents, rather than a standard-issue sweep, in which people are offered whatever shelter happens to be available at the moment.

I think individuals who are living in homes are conflicted, because they care about the well-being of the people living there but they also care about the impact of  the impact of the people living there on the neighborhood.” —Theresa Barker, Ravenna-Cowen Community Alliance.

I think individuals who are living in homes are conflicted, because they care about the well-being of the people living there but they also care about the impact of  the impact of the people living there on the neighborhood,” Barker said. “The challenge is that in a few weeks we’ll see them back—if not at that site, they may be down the street or at the playground or playfield, with even more defense mechanisms because of the trauma that just happened to them.” Continue reading “Residents Ask City to Help Unsheltered Neighbors; City Responds by Sweeping Park”