Anti-Development Group Dissolves, Green Lake Grinches Call for Sweeps, Impact of SPD Transfers Still Unknown, and More

No, I didn’t sign. Screenshot via change.org petition.

1. When Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz announced in September that he would transfer 100 officers from the department’s specialized units to positions on patrol, Durkan spokesperson Kelsey Nyland told PubliCola that SPD would be “closely monitoring [case closure and workload] data for any potential negative impacts” of the transfers. At the time, the department didn’t specify when it would begin monitoring the effects of the staff transfers, which were completed on October 1.

According to SPD public affairs officer Valerie Carson, the department still hasn’t started tracking those effects. Instead, she told PubliCola, the department will start evaluating changes in specialized units’ workloads and case clearance rates in the new year. Carson said that the department chose not to start the assessments immediately after the transfers took effect to “ensure we are looking at true trends instead of spurious results from a few weeks of data.”

As PubliCola reported in September, the transfers did not shift officers away from the specialized units identified by the City Council for downsizing or elimination, which included the harbor patrol and the mounted unit. Instead, Diaz transferred officers from the department’s Community Policing Team, domestic violence unit, and intelligence unit. The transfers from the domestic violence unit—which effectively eliminated the team assigned to investigate elder abuse—sparked concerns within the King County Prosecutor’s Office and local domestic violence and elder abuse nonprofits, who argued that reducing the number of detectives investigating domestic and elder abuse could overwhelm the already-overworked specialized units and undermine the trust of survivors.

A random online petition demanding that the city uproot homeless people from a wealthy North End neighborhood might not be cause for concern, except that the last major sweep of a North End homeless encampment was preceded by a similar petition.

2. Happy new year—now get the hell out of “our” park.

That’s what a group of Green Lake grinches are saying to dozens of unsheltered people trying to survive the winter in tents around the popular park, via a petition demanding that the city “act now to protect people, parks, and our shared environment” by sweeping the area. The petition is sponsored by “We Heart Seattle” and several “save our parks”-type groups, as well as the Green Lake Community Council.

The petition language is a familiar combination of faux-environmentalist concern about feces contaminating the lake (described as one of “our most environmentally sensitive waterways”) and performative hand-wringing about the health and safety of the people sleeping in wretched conditions on its shores.

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Like previous petitions demanding sweeps, this one presents a clear moral choice: Allow people to live in (and ruin) a public park, or offer them access to the “thousands of clean, warm, and hygienic indoor spaces [that] are available in King County.” This is not actually an option. There are, certainly, more than a thousand shelter beds in Seattle, but all but a handful are currently occupied; they aren’t just sitting vacant, waiting for recalcitrant homeless people to agree to occupy them.

The document also asserts, fancifully, that there are “thousands” of properties in King County where it would be simple to set up new “tiny home villages, Pallet shelters, and sanctioned tent communities.” In reality, these options are expensive and can take months to site and open, thanks largely to neighborhood opposition from groups like the ones sponsoring the petition.

A random online petition demanding that the city uproot homeless people from a wealthy North End neighborhood might not be cause for concern, except that the last major sweep of a North End homeless encampment was preceded by a similar petition. (The more recent removal of tents from Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill was sui generis and hard to untangle from the park’s status as a long-term protest zone). In May, the city’s Navigation Team removed a large encampment from the Ballard Commons after neighborhood residents circulated a petition that allowing people to live in the park was inhumane and created an environmental hazard. Since then, the tents have returned, and nearby encampments have continued to grow.

The Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability, and Equity (SCALE), a group of single-family housing advocates that spent years fighting against modest density increases in and around Seattle’s densest neighborhoods, has disbanded.

3. One thing the “plenty of shelter” crowd may not realize, in addition to the negligible nightly vacancy rate, is that there are currently no low-barrier shelters in Seattle where adults can walk up, wait in line, and get a bed for the night. The last such shelter, a Salvation Army-run coed basic shelter at City Hall, closed late last year after being partly redistributed to Fisher Pavilion, at Seattle Center. Both the City Hall and Fisher shelters were replaced by a 24/7 enhanced shelter in SoDo, which requires pre-registration and is not currently taking referrals.

The city has no plans to reopen either location on a long-term basis—partly because shelter providers are stretched thin already, and partly because they want to keep both sites available in case they need to open emergency winter shelters. Except in unusually cold or snowy years (like the winter of 2017-2018, it’s rare for the city to provide people a place to go specifically to escape winter weather, by design: The city’s winter-shelter protocols, which haven’t been updated in nearly 20 years, call for opening emergency shelters only if the weather dips below 25 degrees for multiple nights, or if there is snow accumulation of more than an inch.

When Fizz asked HSD why the standards for winter shelter are so restrictive—snow accumulation is rare in Seattle, and multiple below-25 days rarer still—we were initially told that opening emergency shelter more often would be prohibitively expensive. Then HSD pointed out that, in practice, the department has used the shelter guidelines as a floor rather than a ceiling—for example, the city opened up a winter shelter at Exhibition Hall, in Seattle Center, last January, and at the Seattle Municipal Tower the previous November. Still, it’s a good fact to have in your pocket the next time you hear someone say there’s plenty of shelter for anyone willing to go inside: No, there isn’t, and even when it’s too cold to go outside, the city doesn’t consider it too cold to live outside.

4. The Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability, and Equity (SCALE), a group that spent years fighting against modest density increases in and around Seattle’s densest neighborhoods, has disbanded. SCALE board member Sarajane Siegfriedt confirmed that the group voted to dissolve itself on December 29, after “interest and attendance waned” once the group’s efforts to overturn the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) legislation failed. Seattle Fair Growth, SCALE’s parent organization, will continue—as will the influence of its most vocal activist, Toby Thaler, who now serves as chief of staff for Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen.

The city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability plan, first proposed in 2015 as part of the larger Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, requires developers to build or fund new affordable housing when they build apartments in areas where existing residents are at high risk of displacement. It also allowed small apartments in 6 percent of the land zoned exclusively for detached single-family houses. SCALE’s argument that MHA was bad for low-income people in Southeast Seattle who might be displaced by new housing was undermined by the fact that their leaders were overwhelmingly white, North End homeowners who had long opposed density on the grounds that apartments would ruin their “neighborhood character.”

SCALE’s appeals to the city hearing examiner delayed the implementation of MHA for years, during which the city lost out on $87 million in affordable housing that would have been built if the program had gone into effect right away, according to one city analysis.

“SCALE was marked by extraordinary volunteer efforts by lawyers, researchers and many others. Despite some differences, we ended with feelings of comity, mutual support and a desire for Seattle’s balanced growth,” Siegfriedt told PubliCola in a message. “Ironically, promoters of MHA are now acknowledging its shortcomings, in particular, displacement, a dearth of low-income housing and loss of tree canopy.”

5 thoughts on “Anti-Development Group Dissolves, Green Lake Grinches Call for Sweeps, Impact of SPD Transfers Still Unknown, and More”

  1. per Smith, the homelessness crisis is widespread and impacting many cities. it is similar to a mythical hydra with several interrelated heads: high rent, alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, zoning restrictions since WWII, sexual abuse. it is not clear that clearing Green Lake should have a higher priority than clearing the many other public spaces with encampments: Othello, Beacon Avenue South, Denny Park, city hall park, Anderson Park, Ballard Commons, Leary Triangle, the Troll, Cal Anderson Park, Seaview, I-5 ROW; they seem omnipresent. the issue seems beyond the fiscal power of a city. the Seattle Times recently reported tension in the formation of the county and city cooperation. the notion seemed sound. Covid was not helpful. we should be concerned about sidewalks as well as parks.

  2. The fundamental reason for homelessness in Seattle and in other places where homelessness is a severe problem–California coastal cities, NYC, Washington, DC–is the high cost of housing due to not enough housing being built to accommodate the numbers of people moving in. This lack of housing is due to restrictive zoning that makes what little that can be built very expensive. (Fun fact: housing is cheaper in Tokyo than in Seattle due to less strict zoning in Tokyo.) Groups such as SCALE and all the homeowners who fought and succeeded in limiting the amount of housing built are largely responsible for the homeless camps in Seattle they complain about. Some blame also should go to groups that focus exclusively on building subsidized housing. Nothing wrong with some subsidized housing but there will never be enough to satisfy the demand and it leaves out most of the working and middle class. Before zoning laws were enacted in the past century and tightened in the 1960s US cities grew organically as people moved in and cities housed people of all income levels. Seattle homeownership is now only for the rich.

    1. I don’t agree. There are a few homeless who have just fallen on economic hard times but the majority have other issues like addiction which require more than just affordable housing to cure. If you are in the throes of addiction you cannot hold a job and thus can’t keep stable housing.

      1. While addiction is a definite issue and is common among people experiencing homelessness, do you really think that drug addiction is significantly more prevalent here than in other parts of the country? I’m skeptical. What we definitely do have is more expensive housing. This makes it that much harder for people struggling with addiction to pay for drugs and housing at the same time, so they have to make a choice and the addiction wins out.

  3. I thank SCALE for their work. Also how is it being a “grinch” to ask a homeless encampment to be removed? Were the Seattle citizens and taxpayers around Cal Andersen Park “grinches”? How about those that live around the park in the New Holly neighborhood that was taken over by the homeless? Are citizens in Greenlake neighborhood “grinches” just because Greenlake happens to have some wealthy homeowners? There are a lot of rentals in Greenlake neighborhood too. Furthermore – thousands of people use Greenlake for exercise everyday. Many used to use lower woodland park too but it has become a little scary due to the huge influx of tent campers and RV’s – some with obvious drug activity going on.

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