Outdoor Seating Is Here to Stay, City Extends Hiring Deadline for Police Accountability Director, “Seattle Nice” Debates “Operation New Day”

Councilmember Dan Strauss, at La Carta de Oaxaca in Ballard
Councilmember Dan Strauss, at La Carta de Oaxaca in Ballard

1. Back in 2013, when the city opened its first “parklet” in two former parking spaces on Capitol Hill, opponents (like this guy, who called the city “vehemently, virulently anti-car”) claimed that repurposing parking spaces for non-car uses would lead to all kinds of calamities, including lost parking revenue, traffic congestion, and the collapse of business districts—after all, why would anyone go to a business if they couldn’t park out front?

Parklets eventually caught on, and none of the dire consequences opponents predicted came to pass—in fact, the outdoor seating made business districts more appealing by bringing people into areas that used to be choked by cars. During the pandemic, the city decided to expand the program (allowing larger, more permanent structures) and make it free, providing safe, semi-permanent spaces for restaurants and bars to operate and helping businesses that might otherwise have closed.

Sitting under one of these temporary outdoor structures outside the La Carta de Oaxaca restaurant in Ballard Tuesday morning, Mayor Bruce Harrell signed legislation sponsored by District 6 Councilmember Dan Strauss to extend the program until January 31, 2023, with a goal of making it permanent. Eventually, Strauss said, the city will start charging for the permits and impose design standards for street dining structures, but that it won’t be “the same amount as [revenue from] five parking spots”—the pre–pandemic cost. “We don’t want to rush and jump to conclusions about how much a permit should cost or what the design standards should do,” Strauss said.

In a sign of how much things have changed since the parklet program started, only one reporter asked how making the program permanent would impact “parking and traffic congestion,” and Strauss responded with a hand wave. Gesturing to cars parked across the street, Strauss said, “As you see, we are having both the ability to have people eating outside and to park their cars. There’s many parking stalls here. What we also see here in Ballard is with increased density, we have more people living close to [businesses]”—people who don’t need to drive.

2. Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability won’t have a new permanent director until this summer at the soonest, giving the mayor’s office and city council time to launch a national candidate search for the high-profile role. Former OPA Director Andrew Myerberg left the office in January to join Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office as the new Director of Public Safety; Dr. Gráinne Perkins, an adjunct professor of criminology at Seattle University and a former detective in the Irish Police Service, currently runs the OPA as interim director.

During a city council public safety committee meeting on Tuesday, committee chair Lisa Herbold said the council will waive the standard 90-day deadline for the mayor to appoint a replacement for a departing OPA director; ordinarily, if the mayor misses the 90-day deadline, the public safety committee is responsible for appointing a new director. Instead, Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell said her office will hire a recruiting firm that specializes in police oversight positions, with a goal of identifying six candidates and starting to interview them by May 27.

Deputy Mayor Harrell added that the next OPA director will need to be a “special unicorn” who can navigate increased public scrutiny of police oversight agencies. During Myerberg’s four years at the OPA, police accountability advocates criticized his  cautious approach to investigating police misconduct—particularly allegations of excessive force, which Myerberg argued were rarely black-and-white enough to justify firing an officer. Myerberg said he was wary of recommending discipline that officers could get overturned on appeal; his wariness may be one reason for the overall decline in the number of disciplinary appeals filed by Seattle police officers over the past five years.

Harrell added that her office will also form a committee, which will include members of Seattle’s Community Police Commission, to review the OPA director’s job description. In the past year, the CPC has increasingly challenged the OPA for what it views as inadequate disciplinary recommendations in high-profile misconduct cases.

3. This week on the Seattle Nice podcast, Erica and political consultant Sandeep Kaushik debate the merits of Mayor Harrell’s “Operation New Day” effort to crack down on crime in downtown Seattle.

The plan, in short, is to concentrate police officers at a few intersections where people have been selling drugs and fencing stolen goods; make arrests; and monitor the areas to make sure the criminal activity doesn’t return. Erica argues that this approach, known as “hot spot policing,” has never worked in Seattle and is especially doomed to fail this time around, with police staffing at a historic low. Sandeep counters that it’s important to show people they can’t commit crimes with impunity, and argues that locking people up, even briefly, reduces crime on the street and can disrupt concentrated criminal activity.

If you haven’t listened to Seattle Nice, give this week’s half hour a listen; and if you like it, give us a five-star rating or a positive review.  New episodes land just about every week.

—Erica C. Barnett, Paul Kiefer

2 thoughts on “Outdoor Seating Is Here to Stay, City Extends Hiring Deadline for Police Accountability Director, “Seattle Nice” Debates “Operation New Day””

  1. To understand the depth of journalistic failure here read this report on the exact same Public Safety Committee meeting:

    https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2022/03/09/68066515/seattle-goes-unicorn-hunting-for-a-new-opa-director-but-advocates-say-it-might-take-two-unicorns-to-keep-cops-in-line

    There is no end to the tame & sometimes fawning coverage that Publicola give to police accountability. Is it incompetent journalism or a conflict of interest (which I guess would also be incompetent journalism).

    Here is my full comment to this Public Safety Committee meeting (3/8/2022):

    “The first agenda item this morning is a discussion on the search process for a new OPA director.
    Yet, it is the Mayor who has complete control over the hiring, the evaluation, and the firing of the OPA director.
    The same mayor who has made the last OPA director, Andrew Myerberg, his director of public safety, despite Myerberg’s long history of corruption and malfeasance.
    There is a new investigation published this morning, in the South Seattle Emerald, revealing further evidence of his malfeasance, corruption, and abuse of office.

    In the 20 years of the OPA’s existence we have never had a fair and impartial director.

    The only fail-safe for our next flawed OPA director is an OIG director who actually does their job and is held accountable.

    The Public Safety Committee has complete control over the hiring, the evaluation, and the firing of the OIG director. Yet the Public Safety Committee will now discuss things it has no control over, while continuing to ignore, for an astounding seven months now, the failures of the OIG director it has complete control over.

    Given the OIG whistle blowers’ — at least two whistle blowers — revelations over the last year, it is critical for the Public Safety Committee to protect us from another bad OPA director by:

    (1) Immediately initiating an investigation of the current OIG director with public hearings,

    (2) Remove the current OIG director if current whistle blower allegations are found to have merit, and

    (3) In parallel initiate a review of the entire police accountability system as was outlined in the Seattle City Auditor’s report of 5 years ago, a report that was never acted on.

    But, better than trying to fix a system designed to fail, we need to build, through a City initiative, a police accountability system that provides full civilian community control over police. Go to SeattleSTOP.org to find out how.”

  2. If your revenue models relies on cars vs people using the land, we don’t ever need to hear about car-free living or the 15 minute city ever again. And I expect we won’t under new mayor Bruce “I inherited a mess” Harrell. Maybe someone should have comped him a subscription to the Times or he could have read this fine website for free.

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