Council Overrides Mayor’s Soda Tax Veto, More Shakeups at the City, and Reframing the RV Crackdown

1. For those keeping track of the wave of departures from the mayor’s office and city departments, there’s a big one coming: Deputy Mayor David Moseley, who has been with Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office since the beginning of her administration (and who is married to Durkan’s longtime associate and frequent city consultant Anne Fennessy) is reportedly leaving at the end of the year. Moseley, the former head of Washington State Ferries, came out of retirement to take the job in 2017, so his departure isn’t a huge surprise, but it could engender a shift of power in the mayor’s office, depending on whether Durkan decides to appoint a new deputy (Moseley is one of three deputy mayors, along with Mike Fong and Shefali Ranganathan) or redistribute his responsibilities. Among other issue areas, Moseley oversees the mayor’s response to homelessness.

Durkan’s policy director, Edie Gilliss, recently left the mayor’s office for a job at the city’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment; her replacement, Adrienne Thompson, was previously Durkan’s labor policy advisor. Kiersten Grove, who advises the mayor on transportation, will leave Durkan’s office next month to become deputy director of the city’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services. And Michael Shiosaki—a Seattle Parks division director who’s perhaps better known as former mayor Ed Murray’s husband—reportedly lost his job at Parks last week, and will be transferring to a position at Seattle Public Utilities.

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Meanwhile, the homelessness division of the city’s Human Services Department—whose director, Tiffany Washington, is leaving for a position at the Department of Education and Early Learning next month—just got a new director: Diana Salazar, the former director of Imagine Los Angeles, an organization that helps homeless families in LA with case management and mentorship, started this morning. HSD director Jason Johnson’s announcement to staff on Friday reportedly coincided with the resignation of Ali Peters, the city’s planning and performance director for homelessness, who just came to the office in May. Jackie St. Louis, who headed up the Navigation Team and reportedly applied for the director position after Washington said she was stepping down, left last month.

The churn at the homelessness division comes as the city and county prepare to consolidate countywide homelessness operations into a single regional agency, with many city jobs moving over to that agency. According to city documents, the new regional authority will take over all programs having to do with homelessness prevention, outreach and engagement, diversion, day and hygiene centers, shelters and tiny house villages, rapid rehousing, transitional housing, data collection, and services associated with permanent supportive housing. The city would retain control of a handful of homelessness-related responsibilities, including the Navigation Team and building permanent supportive housing.


Image via Wikimedia Commons.

2. After a tense hearing last week over Mayor Durkan’s legislation that would allow the city to confiscate derelict vehicles and fine anyone who “allows” another person to live in one, city council members indicated this morning that the bill is unlikely to pass without significant amendments. Council member Mike O’Brien, who has proposed helping people living in RVs by creating “safe lots” for them to park en masse, said he would propose using surplus budget authority to create a $100,000 fund to assist people displaced from vehicles the city deems uninhabitable whether or not the council ultimately passes the underlying legislation.

“I asked the mayor’s folks last Friday, are there spaces available right now? Could we identify places for people to go that are 24/7 if we were to say you can’t live in this RV? I didn’t get a ‘yes’ answer.”—Council member Sally Bagshaw 

The mayor’s legislation, which would require RV “landlords” to pay restitution directly to their former tenants, does not guarantee payment and includes no funding to increase access to enhanced shelter or “tiny house village” encampments, which allow people to remain with their partners, pets, and possessions and are basically always at full capacity. Instead, the mayor’s staff said that vehicular residents displaced by the program would be shelter and services by the city’s Navigation Team, and acknowledged that just 10 to 15 percent of RV residents “accept” those services.

“I asked the mayor’s folks last Friday, are there spaces available right now? Could we identify places for people to go that are 24/7 if we were to say you can’t live in this RV?” council member Sally Bagshaw said. “I didn’t get a ‘yes’ answer. What I’ve heard is, ‘Well, we’ve got shelter.’ Well, putting people in shelter does not stabilize them.”

O’Brien’s proposed fund would enable the city to provide relocation assistance to people displaced from RVs or vehicles directly, instead of requiring them to seek restitution directly from RV “landlords.” (The mayor’s office acknowledged last week that they don’t know how many such “RV ranchers” there are in the city—they estimated the number was somewhere between 2 and 5—or how many RVs they own). “When we determine that a tenant is living in a space subject to closure because of an emergency order, the landlord is liable for the relocation costs, but the city does not wait until the landlord pays the tenant,” O’Brien said this morning. Instead, the city “fronts the relocation costs” and goes after the landlord separately.

Council member Lisa Herbold, a frequent critic of Durkan’s approach to homelessness, asked O’Brien how the city would distribute the $100,000, if there was no enforcement mechanism like the one the mayor’s legislation would create. “This will be dependent on the executive taking some initiative,” O’Brien responded. “There’s not a specific program that I’m aware of that funds [shelter and services[ exclusively for folks living in vehicles, but I don’t think it would be terribly difficult to set up.”

3. On a 6-3 vote, the council voted Monday to override Durkan’s veto of council legislation stipulating that excess revenues from the city’s sweetened beverage tax can only be used for new or expanded programs benefiting the low-income communities most heavily impacted by the tax. Voting with the mayor were temporary council member Abel Pacheco (the only council member to vote with the mayor in committee); Debora Juarez; and Bagshaw, who flipped her vote.

Bagshaw didn’t directly address her change of heart on the dais Monday, saying only that “I believe she has some really good reasons” for vetoing the legislation. Juarez, who was absent during the committee vote, was the only council member who didn’t speak to the vote. Lorena Gonzalez, who is out of the country, called in to vote by phone under a new rule allowing council members to vote remotely; had that rule not passed, or had Gonzalez not called in from across the globe, Durkan’s veto would have stood.

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