1. On Friday afternoon, 63-year-old Raymond Ben became the fifth person from King County to be resentenced under a new state law intended to correct decades of harsh mandatory sentences by retroactively removing second-degree robbery from the list of offenses targeted by the state’s “three-strikes” statute, which imposes a life sentence without parole for so-called “persistent offenders.”
The law requires prosecutors to request resentencing hearings by July 25 for anyone currently serving a life sentence for a “three-strikes” case involving a second-degree robbery—which, unlike other three-strikes offenses like rape and manslaughter, typically doesn’t involve a weapon or injury to another person. The law made at least 114 people across Washington eligible for resentencing, including 29 people from King County—many of whom, like Ben, have spent a decade or more in prison.
In 2001, a King County judge sentenced Ben to life in prison after he stole a computer from a secure building at the University of Washington and punched three bystanders who tried to stop him; because of previous convictions for burglary and second-degree robbery, Ben fell into Washington’s “persistent offender” category.
Ben is one of a dozen inmates for whom the unit requested resentencing hearings before the July deadline. Two of those hearings—for 50-year-old Michael Peters and 59-year-old Rene Haydel—also took place on Friday.
Of the dozen inmates scheduled for resentencing before July 25, three—including Ben, who has cancer—received priority because of health concerns. Rickey Mahaney, the first person resentenced in King County under the new law, left the Coyote Ridge Correctional Facility in Franklin County on June 1 to move to hospice care.
Once the Washington Department of Corrections approves Ben’s re-entry plan, he has arranged to join his sister’s family after his release. But not everyone resentenced under the new law can turn to family members for support, which has forced the prosecutor’s office to rely on nonprofit organizations—the Seattle Clemency Project, among others—to organize housing, employment and other elements of re-entry plans for several inmates who would otherwise have no support system after their release.
Carla Lee, who leads the sentence review unit within the King County Prosecutor’s Office, told PubliCola that many other prosecutors’ offices in Washington won’t be able to provide backup options to those they resentence. “If someone in another county doesn’t have family to help them get back on their feet after their release,” she said, “there’s no guarantee that they’ll have another option.”
2. PubliCola’s Erica C. Barnett moderated a mayoral forum sponsored by the MASS Coalition, Cascade Bicycle Club, Transportation Choices Coalition, and several other environmental groups last Wednesday.
The conversation, which featured five of the leading mayoral candidates (Colleen Echohawk and Casey Sixkiller were absent), highlighted substantive differences on issues that have flown under the radar during most debates this year, such as transit funding, the future of the Move Seattle levy, and the city’s contribution to climate change.
Some observations from the debate:
• Former council member Bruce Harrell, who’s leading (after “undecided”) in recent polls, has really embraced the idea that private donations will help solve the city’s biggest problems, including not just homelessness but transportation infrastructure.
In response to a question about the Move Seattle levy, which has failed to produce promised investments in sidewalks, bike infrastructure, and road and bridge maintenance, Harrell he would lean on large employers’ obligation “to give back to the community, to help us with the infrastructure. … So you’ll see not only a taxing mechanism, but you’ll see philanthropic efforts on my part.”
• Nearly every candidate supported the concept of making transit free—a huge endeavor that would have significant revenue impacts on both Sound Transit and King County Metro—although supporters varied in their responses to how they would like to see free transit happen.
Harrell, for instance, said he supported the goal of free transit but would move toward it through a set of measures he described as “incrementalism,” including programs to encourage carpooling, electric cars, and staggered work hours and working from home. Andrew Grant Houston said that if the goal of free transit is to increase the number of people riding the bus, a better way to accomplish that goal would be increasing density and improving the city’s pedestrian infrastructure so that people can access transit more easily.
The region’s two transit systems are overseen by King County and the multi-county Sound Transit board, respectively, but the city can and does pay for Metro hours and holds two seats on the Sound Transit board.
• In a sign that the urbanist window is shifting, every mayoral candidate at the forum said they support ending “exclusionary zoning”—a term that was once outré in Seattle politics, back when white homeowners dominated the city council and neighborhood meetings and “neighborhood character” wasn’t as widely seen as the racist dog whistle that it is.
Exclusionary zoning is shorthand for single-family zoning that excludes apartments, pedestrian-oriented shops and restaurants, and most housing that isn’t occupied by homeowners; although most Seattle residents are renters, the vast majority of its residential land is preserved exclusively for detached single-family houses.
The narrative has shifted in Seattle politics. Even if it takes time for rhetoric about equity and access to translate into inclusive zoning—more six-story apartments, less ersatz environmentalism that begins and ends with backyard trees—that’s something for urbanists to celebrate.