City Attorney Filing, But Also Diverting, More Cases; City’s Shelter Enrollment Rate Remains Low

City Attorney Ann Davison

 

1. City Attorney Ann Davison’s office released a detailed report this week confirming what PubliCola reported earlier this month: In the first six months of 2022, her office has filed charges in only about half of the criminal cases it has considered, declining to pursue charges at a rate similar to that of her predecessor, Pete Holmes. Between 2017 and 2019, Holmes’ decline rate ranged from just over 40 percent to just under 60 percent, only slightly lower than Davison’s.

Between January and June, the city attorney’s office declined about 51 percent of cases. That number includes cases from a backlog left after Holmes left office, which resulted from a combination of failure to file cases prior to the pandemic and an increase in unfiled cases in 2021, when the Seattle Municipal Court was not operating at full capacity due to the pandemic.

Excluding those cases, Davison’s decline rate was lower (46 percent between January and March and 41 percent between April and June), but without more details about what cases the office considered from the backlog, or what cases came in between April and June, it’s hard to draw long-term conclusions from that comparison.

Digging into the numbers in the report, the rate of domestic violence cases that the office declined has risen steadily over the years, and remains high under Davison (over 60 percent) so far; one reason for this, according to the report, is that domestic violence victims often don’t want to file charges against their abusers. Assault, property destruction, and harassment topped the list of domestic violence cases where no charges were filed.

The report shows that Davison’s office has resolved cases using diversionary programs, such as community court, mental health court, and the Public Defender Association’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, at least as often as her predecessors, diverting hundreds of theft, assault, trespassing, and other cases to therapeutic courts or social services.

Davison’s office did file charges in a much higher percentage of new non-domestic violence and non-traffic criminal offenses (those committed in 2022) than Holmes—around half in the first quarter of this year and 37 percent in the second quarter. If that trend continues, it will mean that Davison is choosing to pursue charges against more people accused of crimes like assault, theft, and trespassing, which are often crimes of poverty.

 

Ann Davison portrait

Perhaps most interestingly, the report shows that Davison’s office has resolved cases using diversionary programs, such as community court, mental health court, and the Public Defender Association’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, at least as often as her predecessors, diverting hundreds of theft, assault, trespassing, and other cases to therapeutic courts or social services. Overall, Davison referred about 750 cases to community court, more than 600 to LEAD, and about 180 to mental health court.

Earlier this year, Davison sought, and received, authority to deny access to community court for the 100 or so people on her “high utilizer” list, which includes people with more than 12 cases (not charges) in the past five years. The city attorney’s office really is treating this population differently: In contrast to their overall approach, the office has filed charges in 82 percent of cases involving this group, a decline rate of just 18 percent.

2. The latest quarterly report from the Seattle Human Services Department on the work of the Homelessness Outreach and Provider Ecosystem (HOPE) Team shows an uptick in the number of people who received referrals to shelter from the HOPE Team and actually enrolled in shelter, meaning that they showed up and stayed for at least one night. The HOPE Team does outreach at encampments, primarily the city’s regularly updated list of encampments it plans to sweep.

Between April and June, 173 people went to shelter based on a HOPE team referral, amounting to 41 percent of the total number of people who received at least one referral. (Overall, the team made 458 referrals, including multiple referrals for some individuals). Put another way, that means about 58 people went to shelter on HOPE team referrals every month last quarter. The numbers are approximate, because some people who enroll in shelter choose to remain anonymous, making them harder to track.

Those numbers, while they represent a slight improvement, continue to reveal that the majority of shelter referrals don’t result in shelter enrollments (and shelter, of course, isn’t housing)—people are getting referral slips but aren’t using them. This can happen for a variety of reasons: Leaving an encampment for shelter can involve a long trek across town, along with tough decisions, such as whether to leave an established street community or abandon a pet.

Notably, the second quarter of this year also included the removal of a large encampment at Woodland Park, which Mayor Bruce Harrell identified early on as one of the top priorities for his administration. As we reported at the time, the city asked the Low-Income Housing Institute to set aside dozens of spots in tiny-house villages—a desirable, semi-private shelter type that has a very high enrollment rate—for people living in the park. Out of 89 shelter referrals at Woodland Park, 60 were to tiny house villages.

The city also made a special effort to ensure that people forced to leave during the high-profile removal, offering direct transportation to shelters for everyone who received a referral, which likely boosted the overall enrollment rate. PubliCola has asked HSD how many of the 173 enrollments between April and June came from Woodland Park and will update this post when we hear back.

Council Considers Using Excess JumpStart Revenues to Patch $141 Million Budget Hole

Before and after: The growing budget shortfall at the city.

By Erica C. Barnett

City Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda said yesterday that she would propose using JumpStart payroll tax revenues to supplement the city’s general-fund budget for the fourth and fifth years in a row, after the City Budget Office released new projections of a growing budget shortfall through the next five years. Between 2023 and 2026, the city now projects an average budget gap—the difference between revenues coming in and expenditures going out—of $142 million, on average, including a $141 million budget gap next year.

JumpStart—a payroll tax paid by the city’s largest employers on the salaries of their highest-paid workers—has consistently produced more revenue than originally anticipated. Since it went into effect in 2021, the tax has paid for COVID relief, housing, small business support, and to top off the general fund. Mosqueda’s proposal, which hasn’t been formally drafted, would use JumpStart revenues in excess of the city’s original 2020 projections to backfill the general fund in 2023 and 2024; currently, the city projects those excess revenues at $71 million and $84 million, respectively.

“This is just a 2023-2024 option. This is not a stopgap measure; this is a temporary use because that additional source of progressive revenue has not been passed and we need to prevent austerity while maintaining the city’s commitment to the JumpStart spending plan.”—Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda

“The broad coalition that proposed JumpStart always intended to avoid austerity, and we can do both the spend plan as codified in 2020 and potentially find some short-term solutions for addressing the shortfall,” Mosqueda told PubliCola on Wednesday. In the meantime, she said, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office is convening a new progressive revenue task force to consider other locahoul revenue sources. The original progressive revenue task force, which recommended a payroll tax in 2018, also said the city should consider a local estate tax, a tax on excess compensation, and a tax on real-estate speculation, among other options.

“This is just a 2023-2024 option,” Mosqueda said. “This is not a stopgap measure; this is a temporary use because that additional source of progressive revenue has not been passed and we need to prevent austerity while maintaining the city’s commitment to the JumpStart spending plan.”

In addition to new revenues, the city could be looking at cuts to departments, including the elimination of some positions that have been vacant but funded in the budget for long periods. Advocates for reducing the Seattle Police Department’s budget aren’t likely to see much trimming in that area, though; the last time a council member (then-council president Lorena González) proposed reducing SPD’s budget by eliminating unfillable positions, the council voted it down.

At the same time, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is primarily funded by the city, sent a budget proposal to the city and county earlier this year requesting $90 million for new programs, on top of the $119 million that it currently receives from the city and county. If the city funded this extra spending proportionally to its current contribution ($70 million in 2022), that would amount to an additional $60 million in city spending.

Harrell has expressed frustration publicly about the KCRHA’s budget, and has reportedly wondered aloud privately what the agency is doing with its money. Efforts to stand up a program to “navigate” people off the streets of downtown Seattle by placing them in shelters or housing, launched with a one-time infusion of private money earlier this year, are going slowly, with one of the program’s high-profile leaders leaving the agency after just three months in June. In February, KCRHA director Marc Dones said one of the goals of the initiative was to reduce the number of people living unsheltered downtown to around 30, or “functional zero,” in as little as 12 months.

When PublICola asked Harrell about KCRHA’s big budget ask back in June, he said the agency seemed to “approach the budgeting process as, ‘in a perfect world, this is what [we] could do.’… But at some point, I need you to do the hard work, which is tell us exactly what you need. This is not a negotiate, ‘you go high, I go low,’ process.”

Harrell will send his proposed budget to the council on September 24.

Council Committee Passes Pared-Down Package of Cannabis Social Equity Bills

Black Seattleites have been disproportionately prosecuted for cannabis-related offenses, including in recent years.

By Erica C. Barnett

On Tuesday, the city council’s finance committee approved several pieces of legislation from Mayor Bruce Harrell aimed at improving access to the cannabis industry for Black Seattle residents and other people “disproportionately harmed by the federal War on Drugs,” including “social equity licenses” intended to reduce barriers to entry for people historically excluded from the legal pot industry, which is overwhelmingly dominated by white men.

The new licenses would go to businesses with owners who have lived in “disproportionately impacted” areas or who have been previously convicted, or have family members who were convicted, of a drug-related crime.

The city can’t create new state cannabis licenses, which are distributed (and limited) by the state Liquor and Cannabis Board, but they can set standards and fees for cannabis businesses operating in the city. The new local licenses would work in tandem with forthcoming LCB rules that will give priority to cannabis license applicants who have been convicted of cannabis-related crimes in the past; Seattle is expected to gain two new cannabis licenses after the LCB issues its decision.

The council also passed legislation that would require new licensees who buy existing cannabis businesses to retain existing workers for at least 90 days and to preferentially hire former employees for at least six months.

The biggest debate on Tuesday involved several amendments to a third bill that, among other intention-setting provisions, mandates a future “cannabis needs assessment” to “provide demographic information about workers currently employed in Seattle’s cannabis industry; determine the highest training needs of those workers wishing to advance in the cannabis industry and become owners; and include recommendations about whether and how to fund such training,” according to a memo from council central staff.

The legislation also proposes an advisory committee made up of “workers, industry members, and community members impacted by the federal War on Drugs” to review that assessment and recommend future policies to the council.

Initially, Mosqueda named UFCW’s training program in an amendment describing “the type of organization that should conduct the Cannabis Needs Assessment,” but a later version of that amendment, which passed Wednesday over opposition from Nelson and Pedersen, said the assessment should be conducted by an unspecified nonprofit “with expertise in the roles and functions of jobs within the cannabis industry.”

Councilmembers Alex Pedersen and Sara Nelson voted against the bill, arguing that it was designed to hand the contract for the needs assessment to the United Food and Commercial Workers 3000 (formerly Local 21) which has lobbied the council heavily on this issue.  “I’m asking for an honest and transparent needs assessment to be conducted, not one that stacks the deck for a particular interest [group],” Nelson said.

Initially, Mosqueda named UFCW’s training program in an amendment describing “the type of organization that should conduct the Cannabis Needs Assessment,” but a later version of that amendment, which passed Wednesday over opposition from Nelson and Pedersen, said the assessment should be conducted by an unspecified nonprofit “with expertise in the roles and functions of jobs within the cannabis industry.” The needs assessment and the work of the task force could lead to future proposals, such as training requirements for workers in cannabis sales, production, and processing jobs.

Originally, UFCW suggested a new “cannabis equity tax” that the union estimated would raise $5 million a year, primarily for “workforce development and training.” Earlier this year, a representative from UFCW told PubliCola that they hoped to win the contract to do this training work, which would include medical training for budtenders who are “operating as de facto pharmacists.”

The UFCW-backed proposal, which Mosqueda’s committee discussed extensively earlier this year, would have been more prescriptive about hiring, requiring all cannabis businesses to make a “good-faith effort” to ensure that half their workers currently lived in distressed ZIP codes and requiring that at least 10 percent of employees at each business had a past cannabis-related arrest or conviction, or have an immediate family member who met that criteria. That plan was never part of a formal proposal, but it did inform the ongoing debate about what the city should do to promote equity in cannabis.

Although the suite of bills from Harrell’s office represented a dramatic step-down from those proposals, representatives from the existing cannabis industry expressed concerns in a letter to committee members last week. Among them: What happens if a company that processes cannabis into one kind of product sells its license to a different kind of processor, but has to retain all its employees for six months under the new law? “Regulation that impacts hiring must respect the individual who is needed and qualified for a job, and not a one-size-fits-all approach,” the Washington Cannabusiness Association wrote.

Social Housing Campaign Hopes to Squeak Through After Learning 1,000 Signatures Won’t Count

By Erica C. Barnett

The campaign for Initiative 135, which would create a public development authority to build and operate social (public) housing in Seattle, expressed frustration with the King County Elections division this week after discovering that around 1,000 signatures the campaign gathered in an effort to get the measure on the ballot will not be counted because they came in too late.

House Our Neighbors, the Real Change-backed campaign for I-135, had hoped to get the measure on the November 2022 ballot; generally speaking, even-year November elections have much higher turnout, and a more progressive electorate, than primary and special elections held at other times of the year. King County Elections began counting signatures on July 5, and determined on July 21 that they did not have enough valid signatures to qualify.

The city charter gives initiative campaigns that fail to qualify for the ballot another 20 days after a determination of insufficiency to gather additional signatures; although the signatures would come too late for the November election, the House Our Neighbors campaign hoped to gather another 5,000 valid signatures to qualify for next February’s ballot.

According to campaign leader Tiffani McCoy, the campaign believed the county would reset the timeline for collecting signatures, creating a new “terminal date” that would allow them to collect signatures well into August; they also didn’t realize they could keep collecting signatures while waiting for the county to start counting them—the window between June 22, when the campaign submitted signatures to the elections office, and July 5, when the office began counting them.

“We had assumed we could gather throughout this (past) weekend,” McCoy said, referring to the weekend of August 13-14. Nor did the campaign know they had a two-week window to keep gathering signatures after turning in the first round, “which would have been great to know because we could have finished our signature gathering during Pride weekend,” June 24-26.

The initiative would set up a public development authority—a type of public developer—that could build and operate new publicly funded, permanently affordable housing in Seattle; funding to actually build new housing would come later and could require the state legislature to approve a new funding mechanism.

In a press release Tuesday, the campaign expressed “frustration navigating unclear policies and processes around citizens’ initiatives. There needs to be a clear way to navigate this process, especially for those who do not have the resources to keep a lawyer on retainer.” If the 7,543 signatures the campaign turned in last week aren’t enough to produce 5,033 new, valid signatures, I-135 will not qualify for the February ballot.

Seattle Legislation Aims to Stop “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” From Lying Quite So Much

By Erica C. Barnett

At a press conference and bill signing for three pieces of legislation aimed at protecting people who seek abortions in Seattle, City Councilmember Tammy Morales said she had also introduced legislation that would bar so-called crisis pregnancy centers—fake clinics run by religious anti-abortion groups—from false advertising at their locations inside city limits.

CPCs, also known as “limited-service pregnancy centers,” use deceptive tactics to get pregnant people in the door, using phrases like “pregnancy alternatives” to suggest they provide abortions. Inside, staffers attempt to persuade people to go through with their pregnancies, offering “non-diagnostic ultrasounds” and the promise of “free” baby-related items in the future.

According to a 2021 report by the Alliance, a coalition of groups supporting reproductive and gender justice, these “free” items were almost always contingent on participation in Christian programming, such as “counseling, Bible studies, abstinence seminars, video screenings, or other ideological CPC programming.” Despite their baby-centric advertising, they virtually never offer contraception, STI testing, or prenatal care of any kind.

Morales’ bill, which her Neighborhoods, Education, Civil August 12, 2022 Rights, and Culture Committee approved on Friday, would bar CPCs in Seattle from making misleading or false claims about their services, or to claim or imply that they provide abortions, prenatal care, or other services that they don’t provide. The bill also emphasizes, in a “whereas” clause, the city’s commitment to state law protecting the privacy of people who seek abortion care.

On Monday, Morales said she hoped the bill would help address some of the privacy issues associated with these fake clinics, which collect personal medical information from their “patients” but are not subject to federal medical privacy laws. If someone came to a CPC from a state where abortion was illegal and told a CPC worker they planned to go through with an abortion in Washington state, that CPC could have collected enough information to report that person to the authorities in their home state, for example.

“The potential is that they could use that information to track who is seeking abortion care, and this is particularly dangerous for people who might be coming from states where this is illegal now, so it’s trying to address both of those things,” Morales said.

There are only about three CPCs (two CareNet outposts and a group called 3W, which has denied it is a crisis pregnancy center) currently operating in Seattle, plus a pregnancy center operated by Catholic Community Services; Morales said she was also aware of a “mobile clinic” operating in South Seattle. However, many more CPCs are located around the Puget Sound region, including Next Step Pregnancy Services (Lynnwood), the Pregnancy Resource Clinic (Everett), Pregnancy Resource Services (Bremerton), Pregnancy Aid (Auburn, Des Moines, and Kent), and nine other CareNet outlets.

Morales said her legislation (co-sponsored by Councilmember Lisa Herbold) is modeled on a San Francisco law—the Pregnancy Information Disclosure and Protection Ordinance, passed in 2011. That law bans CPCs in San Francisco from misleading the public about what services they provide.

Sate legislation would be more effective still, because it would apply everywhere, including rural areas where anti-abortion sentiment is more prevalent than it is in liberal Seattle. No one in the state legislature has introduced a bill related to crisis pregnancy centers since 2012, when a proposal to prevent CPCs from misleading pregnant people died in committee.

A more sweeping 2015 law, known as the Reproductive FACT Act, required crisis pregnancy centers to inform potential clients that California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to reproductive health care, prenatal care, and abortion; it also required unlicensed CPCs to disclose that they were not medical facilities. CPCs challenged the law and the US Supreme Court struck it down in a 5-4 decision in 2015.

In 2017, the Seattle/King County Board of Health passed a rule requiring crisis pregnancy centers to post two 11-by-17-inch signs saying “This facility is not a health care facility.” King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski cited the Supreme Court’s decision on the FACT Act a year later as one reason the county didn’t propose a more sweeping law. County Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who was defeated last year, was the only board of health member to vote against the rule; before the vote, she circulated through the crowd in council chambers, passing out anti-abortion literature.

Seattle’s legislation, which is certain to pass, will have less impact than would countywide legislation imposing similar rules; state legislation would be more effective still, because it would apply everywhere, including rural areas where anti-abortion sentiment is more prevalent than it is in liberal Seattle. No one in the state legislature has introduced a bill related to crisis pregnancy centers since 2012, when a proposal to prevent CPCs from misleading pregnant people died in committee.

JumpStart Comes to the Rescue (Again), Sound Transit Updates on Escalator Outages

The forecast office went with the baseline scenario, but noted that the pessimistic scenario has become more likely than it was three months ago.

1. Next week, Seattle’s budget office will release its budget forecast for next year, which will tell city budget writers exactly how much of a shortfall the city faces in 2023. On Monday, the city’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, which includes city council members and representatives from the mayor’s office, got a look at the revenue side of that equation, which, like the cost of doing city business, is strongly influenced by the economy, inflation, and interest rates set by the Federal Reserve.

The big picture: In 2022, the city would face a shortfall of nearly $18 million if not for late payments from the JumpStart payroll tax, assessed on very large local companies with highly paid workers. Those payments should have come in last year but didn’t for a variety of reasons, including the fact that some firms apparently didn’t know they had to pay the tax but “fessed up,” in the words of Office of Economic and Revenue Forecasts director Ben Noble, and paid this year.

Because JumpStart revenues were still going to the general fund in 2021 to address the impacts of the pandemic, the money went into the general fund this year. Next year, though, that won’t be the case—and the office expects other city funding sources, such as taxes, grants, and court fines, to be lower than they predicted back in April.

Overall, the forecast office predicts the city will bring in about $1.5 billion in general-fund revenues next year—down $217 million from the current forecast for 2022.

The decline in revenues can’t all be chalked up to parking ticket refunds. Other factors include lower than anticipated revenues from business and occupation taxes, FEMA reimbursement for COVID expenditures, and a decline in use for some utilities, including telephone service (on the decline for years) and water (Seattle had a rainy spring). The city also expects payroll taxes to decline in the future, as tech companies’ stock value decreases and jobs shift away from Seattle to the Eastside

2. In a presentation to the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board about Sound Transit’s frequent escalator and elevator outages on Wednesday Sound Transit’s vertical conveyance deputy director, John Carini, argued that user error, rather than anything Sound Transit could control, is to blame for the majority of escalator failure. Carini also talked at length about what the light-rail agency is doing to keep riders informed about why outages are happening, and noted that the agency relies mostly on the public, rather than internal systems, to let it know when its equipment is down.

After showing a slide depicting a new sign that read, “This unit is out of service due to vandalism,” Carini said, “what a lot of people don’t understand is, mechanical failures account for about 38 percent of our total outages”; the rest fall into categories like “misuse” (32 percent) and “environmental” (15 percent), which includes debris people drop that gets caught in the equipment.

Overall, Carini said, Sound Transit is actually exceeding its targets for elevators and escalators in service—if you exclude the downtown light rail tunnel, which Sound Transit took over in January 2021. That’s a huge “if”—as anyone who has taken light rail to or from downtown is well aware, the escalators in every downtown tunnel station are often out of service; currently, according to Sound Transit’s performance tracker, one in three tunnel escalators is down.

The presentation did come with some good news for frustrated light rail riders: Sound Transit is currently setting up a schedule for replacing the downtown elevators and escalators, although with the exception of the International District station, where construction is supposed to start in 2024 the schedules are “TBD.”

In the meantime, Sound Transit will keep working to repair the broken-down equipment, and finally upgrading its elevators and escalators with equipment to ping the agency when they break down, rather than relying on security guards and the general public to let them know things aren’t working. That upgrade, too, is in a “pilot” stage; it will be 2024 or later before Sound Transit stops relying on what Carini called “the human factor” to keep them up to date on equipment failures.

 

Ruling: No Need to Review New Tree Regulations’ Impact on New Housing

Trees! Better than housing?

By Erica C. Barnett

On Thursday, the Seattle Hearing Examiner ruled against the Master Builders of Seattle/King County in a case involving a proposed new citywide tree ordinance, concluding that the city does not have to undertake any additional review under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) to move forward with the new law.

The proposed new law, supported by TreePAC and City Councilmembers Dan Strauss and Alex Pedersen, would lower the size threshold for “significant” and “exceptional” trees and make them harder or illegal for private property owners to remove; removing a tree larger than 12 inches in diameter, for example, would require a developer to either replant the tree on site or pay a fee based on the value of the tree.

MBAKS, which represents small-scale multifamily developers, argued that the new rules will discourage density in Seattle, “protecting” single-family neighborhoods in leafy parts of Seattle where people of color were historically barred from living, while doing nothing to improve tree coverage in sparsely canopied, more diverse parts of the city. They argued that the city needs to do more environmental analysis to consider the potential negative effects the ordinance would have on housing development and density.

In response to the ruling, MBAKS Seattle Government Affairs Manager Aliesha Ruiz said, “Although MBAKS is disappointed in the decision of the hearing examiner, we look forward to working with our housing partners and City Council to create legislation that supports both trees and housing.”

In his ruling, Hearing Examiner Ryan Vancil said the developers didn’t clear the very high bar for requiring additional environmental review, essentially by failing to prove a negative: “Appellants’ arguments that the Proposal will increase the costs of development, and will have negative impacts on the City housing supply were based on speculation, not any actual quantitative analysis that was introduced into evidence, Vancil wrote.

“Appellants’ expressed concern that development will be more expensive, uncertain, and problematic on some unidentified number of lots is not enough to demonstrate that the Proposal will likely have significant adverse impacts to future housing in the City.”

Vancil also ruled that the tree ordinance, which defines an “exceptional” tree (the most protected category) as any tree more than two feet in diameter, is consistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides development policy in the city and will be overhauled in 2024. (That process is just getting underway). In their appeal, the developers argued that in addition to doing more environmental analysis, the city should consider requiring developers to add street trees whenever they build new detached single-family houses, which do nothing to achieve the comprehensive plan’s density goals.

In addition to more analysis that looks at density, not just privately owned trees, MBAKS has asked the city to consider requiring street trees when developers build new detached houses in single-family zones.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Strauss, who represents Northwest Seattle, said, “Seattle is called ‘the Emerald City’ for a reason, and we need to do better at preserving our cherished urban forestry. We know trees add value to existing homes and development and many parts of our city need more tree canopy. I am excited to finally be able to create stronger tree protections here in the Emerald City.”

 

County Plans Emergency Walk-In Centers for Behavioral Health Crises

King County Executive Dow Constantine, flanked by Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall and state Rep. Nicole Macri
King County Executive Dow Constantine, flanked by Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall and state Rep. Nicole Macri

By Erica C. Barnett

On Thursday morning, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced his plan to introduce a plan to expand services for people experiencing behavioral health crisis as part of his 2023 budget proposal in September. The plan will attempt to address the worsening shortage of short- and long-term treatment for people with behavioral health conditions and substance use disorder. As of this year, Constantine said, the county has lost a third of its residential behavioral health care beds, “and it would have been more but for our intervention. And more facilities are potentially closing their doors in the months ahead.”

Currently, there is only one 16-bed crisis stabilization unit—the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s Crisis Solutions Center—in the entire county. A person in crisis who needs help right away can call 911 or the new 988 mental health crisis line, but people who need immediate, intensive intervention generally have nowhere to go but emergency rooms, which are ill-equipped to deal with behavioral health crises, or jail.

:I’m glad we’re here to be talking about potentially expanding [the crisis] system, but we can’t just expand it. We need to fix what is broken. And if I’m being honest with you, I am part of what’s broken, and every other behavioral health worker, because the system has put us in an impossible situation.” —DESC registered nurse Naomi Morris

Gesturing toward the King County Correctional Facility across the street from the county building where the press conference was taking place, Constantine noted that of about 1,530 people in the county jail, more than 600, or two in five, are in some kind of treatment for behavioral health conditions. Many of those have been jailed for crimes that are often related to mental health conditions and poverty, such as theft, trespassing, and assault.

“We cannot accept having the county jail as the main place for people to get behavioral health care. And right now, the fact is that the jail across the street is the second largest behavioral health facility in the state of Washington. We can’t accept relying on law enforcement to solve what is ultimately the health care challenge,” Constantine said.

Constantine did not provide any details about the scope or cost of his plan, which the county is working on as part of a coalition with other elected officals—including state Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43), Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, and King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay—and health care providers. However, he did indicate that in addition to new walk-in crisis centers, it will include better pay for behavioral health-care workers, such as Naomi Morris, a registered nurse who works for DESC.

“I’m glad we’re here to be talking about potentially expanding [the crisis] system,” Morris said, “but we can’t just expand it. We need to fix what is broken. And if I’m being honest with you, I am part of what’s broken, and every other behavioral health workerm because the system has put us in an impossible situation.” Morris said a coworker recently had to take unpaid leave to deal with the trauma caused by their job as a case manager and found themselves unable to meet their basic needs because “the amount of money they make [is] barely above what the clients we serve get.”

Earlier this year, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority asked the city to pay for salary increases for people who work for agencies like DESC; the KCRHA also funds its own in-house outreach team and pays them significantly more than nonprofit employees doing similar work.

Fizz: One in Six Officers Were on Extended Leave Last Year; City Agrees to Alternative Responder “Pilot”; Council Moves Police Hiring Bonuses Forward

1. The City Council’s public safety committee voted 4-1, with Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda voting “no,” to approve a package of police recruitment and hiring incentives that will include hiring bonuses of up to $30,000, four new recruitment-related positions (a recruitment manager, two recruiters, and an administrative staffer), and $150,000 to search for a new chief of police.

Sara Nelson, Alex Pedersen, Andrew Lewis, and committee chair Lisa Herbold voted for the legislation, originally proposed by Mayor Bruce Harrell.

According to a staff analysis, the hiring bonuses alone—$7,500 for new recruits and $30,000 for trained officers who transfer from other police departments departments—will cost around $3.8 million over four years, including around $1.5 million in 2022, $289,000 of that for the hiring incentives alone.

Before voting against the plan, Mosqueda noted that studies have consistently found that financial incentives have little impact on recruitment and retention, and have the potential to harm morale among officers working alongside newcomers recruited with large up-front payments. “What they’ve said is what they need is not additional money, but a place to bring people” in crisis, Mosqueda said. “A PR firm for SPD won’t help that. A hiring incentive approach won’t help that. Marketing won’t help that. [And] $150,000 for a police chief search won’t help that.”

The full council will vote on (and likely pass) the legislation next Monday.

2. Tuesday’s meeting also gave the council a look at SPD’s 2022 budget and staffing levels. Although the department lost 109 officers due to “separations” (resignations and retirements) in the first half of the year—significantly more than either SPD or council staff projected—there may actually be more officers on the streets by the end of 2022 than there were in 2021.

That’s because an unusually high number of officers went on extended leave starting immediately after the protests against police violence in summer 2020. Many more officers joined them after the city instituted its vaccine mandate in October 2021. Although these signposts are only indicators—SPD doesn’t provide information about why officers go on leave—the spikes in the chart correspond closely to those two events.

Historically, between 30 and 70 officers (out of a force that numbered close to 1,400) would be on extended leave at any given time; at the end of 2019, for example, 49 officers were on extended leave and unavailable for service. Typically, officers on extended leave are burning up their paid leave before they retire, since they can’t cash it out; after the vaccine mandate went into effect, some officers who did not want to get vaccinated went on leave as well. The numbers don’t include officers who are on administrative leave related to misconduct allegations.

After the city’s vaccine mandate took effect, 181 officers, or 16 percent of the police force, were out on extended leave.

The number of officers on extended grew slightly through the first half of 2020, in the early days of the COVID pandemic—a time when SPD was reluctant to grant leave to first responders. That number exploded in the months that followed the protests, nearly tripling between March and the end of 2020, when 137 officers were out on extended leave—more than 10 percent of the force. The number shrunk slightly, then exploded again, to 181, in the fall of 2021, after the vaccine mandate took effect. During that period, 181 officers, or 16 percent of the entire police force, were out on extended leave.

Since then, the gap has begun to close as some of those officers return to work after long periods off, at least temporarily offsetting losses from officers leaving the force.

A reduction in the number of police officers doesn’t translate to savings on a one-to-one basis, for a couple of reasons: Each officer who leaves SPD gets separation pay, which comes out of the budget, and fewer officers generally translates into more overtime costs. Currently, the city has paid out two-thirds of all the separation pay it budgeted for this year, and that only accounts for officers who left through the end of May. SPD is also spending more than anticipated on overtime, including patrol hours and staffing outside events; currently, the department is on track to go between $2 million and $3 million over its budget for 2022.

The department has been reluctant to scale back staffing at events like Mariners and Seahawks games, where officers direct traffic and provide security. At Tuesday’s meeting, Police Chief Adrian Diaz said SPD has “had to say no to many special events” because of understaffing and the need to dedicate officers to “emphasis patrol” areas like Third and Pine downtown and 12th and Jackson in the International District.

3. The discussion about overtime bled into a conversation about alternatives to policing—an issue Lewis has begun bringing up at nearly every SPD-related briefing. The basic question: After promising for more than two years to transfer some responsibilities, such as responding to low-risk 911 calls, into civilian hands, why has Seattle fallen so far behind other cities like Albuquerque, Denver, and Houston?

SPD, as we’ve reported, has argued that it needs to do a complex risk analysis before relinquishing control over any of the calls it currently handles, and Harrell’s office has generally concurred, laying out a lengthy timeline that could result in a transfer of some call types some time in 2024.

However, in the city’s latest quarterly report to the monitor overseeing the federal consent decree with SPD, the city attorney’s office reported that the city, “in the short term, will explore and execute potential pilot programs for diversified 911 response systems, as well as evaluate whether existing resources can be redeployed or more efficiently deployed on staffing projects like Special Events to increase SPD or alternative response to priority three and four calls in the near term, without engaging in costly expenditures in the face of a prospective budget deficit.”

This marks a change from the city’s previous position that a pilot can only happen after a lengthy data analysis. Lewis, Herbold, and others on the council have argued that SPD is already not responding to low-risk Priority 3 and 4 calls, so it doesn’t take work away from officers to deploy unarmed responders to some of those calls.

Union Gospel Mission Sought to Evict Woman at Height of the Pandemic, Arguing It Was Exempt from Eviction Ban

exterior of Union Gospel Mission, downtown Seattle

By Erica C. Barnett

Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, a Christian nonprofit that runs shelter and feeding programs and provides supplies to people sleeping outside, sued to evict one of the homeless women living at its Re:Novo transitional housing building in West Seattle at the height of the pandemic, arguing that the group was exempt from local renter protections because their work helping and housing homeless people is “incidental” to their primary mission—proselytizing and promoting “the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Last week, a state appeals court rejected the last of UGM’s arguments against Re:Novo resident Rebecca Bauer, whom the organization started trying to evict in March 2020, shortly after the state and local eviction moratoriums began.

The ruling, which prevents UGM’s eviction motion from showing up in tenant screening reports, concludes UGM’s two-year-long effort to evict Bauer, and contrasts the nonprofit with other religious housing and shelter programs operating in Seattle, such as Catholic Housing Services and Mercy Housing, which complied with the state and local bans on evictions during the pandemic. The group can seek to evict Bauer in the future, but has not tried to do so since last year.

Bauer moved into Re:Novo in July 2018, after moving to Seattle from Minnesota. She found out about the program from UGM’s Hope shelter in Kent. When she asked about the program, she told PubliCola “they said, ‘This is a Christian program,’ and I was like, ‘Hold up, first of all, I’m not a Christian,'” Bauer said. “And they told me, ‘that’s no problem.'”

In its formal eviction notice, the group argued that Bauer had overstayed her “lease” (the program agreement Bauer signed)), and that, as a church, they did not have to abide by either the state or Seattle eviction bans.

Bauer moved in to her new apartment—a $500-a-month “apodment” style unit that shared a kitchen and common area with four other rooms—in 2018, but didn’t sign her housing agreement until the following year. That agreement, amended by a staffer to exempt Bauer from program requirements like mandatory church attendance and religious counseling, was at the heart of UGM’s case to evict her. It says the length of the Re:Novo program is “one to two years … decided on a case-by-case basis for each resident.”

Re:Novo’s rules go far beyond a typical shelter or housing program. In addition to a ban on alcohol and “addictive drugs” (a category that, for UGM, includes medication to treat opiate addiction as well as poppy seeds) Re:Nov bans women living at the building from having any sexual relationships, watching movies rated PG-13 or R-rated movies, participating in “occult activity,” and leaving their rooms without “proper clothing,” including “bras underneath their clothes.”

The program also requires residents to attend services at Trinity West Seattle, a conservative church that believes in heterosexual marriage, with the wife serving in “submission” to her husband, as the only “normative pattern of sexual relations for men and women.” Bauer said that on several occasions, a program staffer asked invasive questions about her dating life, implying she was a lesbian. Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court declined to take up UGM’s appeal in a discrimination case filed in 2017 by a lawyer the group refused to hire after discovering he was in a same-sex relationship.

The eviction notice came at a difficult time for Bauer. Since moving to Seattle, she had started to get back on her feet. With the help of the YWCA, which featured her as a speaker at its annual luncheon in 2019, she got her license as a certified nursing assistant and went to work at the Veterans Administration hospital in Seattle, “which I loved because it was something new. I had always worked in nursing homes, and [the VA] was completely different. It was so exciting.”

Then COVID hit. Bauer got sick, landing in emergency room three times, and on March 30, 2020, UGM told her she had to be out by May. Their initial explanation was that she had failed to comply with program requirements by leaving her room at least once to cook food while she was sick and waiting for her COVID test results, putting the safety of other residents at risk.

Later, in a formal eviction notice, the group argued that Bauer had overstayed her “lease” (the program agreement Bauer signed), and that, as a church, they did not have to abide by either the state or Seattle eviction bans. UGM’s eviction motion also claimed that Bauer was rude to staff, moved to a downstairs unit without permission, and left a stove burner on, and that her behavior ultimately forced UGM to abandon the entire half of the building where Bauer lived, leaving several units vacant. 

Rebecca Bauer’s program agreement exempted her from requirements that she attend church and participate in counseling—two issues Union Gospel Mission would later bring up when seeking to evict her.

These conditions, UGM argued, constituted an “imminent threat” to the health and safety of other tenants and staff, one of the only explicit exemptions to the city’s eviction ban.

UGM did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement responding to PubliCola’s questions about the lawsuit, UGM attorney Nathaniel Taylor focused on Bauer’s alleged health and safety violations.

“The entire institutional purpose of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission is a religious message. It is not to provide housing.”—UGM attorney Nathaniel Taylor

“The Mission offered multiple times to help relocate Ms. Bauer to a more suitable housing situation, which she repeatedly declined,” Taylor said. “Most of the participants in the Re:novo recovery program are highly vulnerable, often fleeing domestic violence or recovering from addiction and susceptible to relapse. Ms. Bauer’s conduct put others at risk and the Mission felt that legal action was the only remaining option for protecting other program participants.”

Although Bauer vehemently denied all of those charges, both in court and in a lengthy conversation with PubliCola—in particular, she said her housing manager told her she could move into a unit another woman was vacating if she helped to clean it out—UGM didn’t actually make the “imminent threat” argument a centerpiece of its lawsuit.

Instead, they argued that they didn’t have to comply with the eviction bans because the housing UGM provides is just “incidental” to its central purpose of “proclaim[ing] the gospel and love of Jesus Christ to women.” As UGM attorney Nathaniel Taylor put it in his argument before a King County Superior Court judge last year, “the entire institutional purpose of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission is a religious message. It is not to provide housing.” Continue reading “Union Gospel Mission Sought to Evict Woman at Height of the Pandemic, Arguing It Was Exempt from Eviction Ban”