Category: Bikes

Bike Board Member Asks for Encampment Ban Near Bike Lanes, Poll Tests Streetcar Popularity; Council Clarifies “Z-Disposition” for 911 Calls

1. Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board member Dr. Doug Migden wrote to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office earlier this year to complain about the homeless people he sees while riding his bike, and to suggest legislation that would ban people from sleeping within up to 200 feet of any bike facility or sidewalk.

“First, I voted for Mr. Harrell and the primary reason is that crime and encampment related filth in Seattle is now totally unacceptable,” Migden’s letter begins. “I have lived on the north end of Queen Anne, in a house I own, since 1997. Unfortunately I’ve never seen Seattle in such a mess.”

Council member Alex Pedersen installed Migden on the bike board earlier this year, rejecting a different nominee the board identified through a months-long recruitment and nomination process. The bike board advocates for and advises the city on policies to make Seattle safer and more welcoming to cyclists from all backgrounds, including low-income and homeless people.

Given that “bicycle commuters in West Seattle can’t even safely get to downtown because of encampments and illegal activity such as IV drug use on or adjacent to bicycle pathways,” Migden continued in his letter, “how about a policy whereby nobody can camp on public sidewalks, on bicycle paths, or within 100 or 200 feet of such public spaces. This is not too much to ask and it’s certainly doable. Enforcement would be needed though. Perhaps more police officers on bicycles would help with this and other crime related issues in Seattle.”

“How about a policy whereby nobody can camp on public sidewalks, on bicycle paths, or within 100 or 200 feet of such public spaces.  Enforcement would be needed though. Perhaps more police officers on bicycles would help with this and other crime related issues in Seattle.” —Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board member Doug Migden

Yes, Migden wrote, it’s important to “take care of” truly “vulnerable populations,” but a lot of the homeless people he sees around are able-bodied men who “are not mentally ill,” are “in no distress,” and are well-off enough to “indulge” in cell phones. “[S]tratification and picking apart which illegal campers truly need assistance and which ones are basically freeloading off of responsible citizens who pay taxes etc., is crucial,” Migden wrote.

The mayor’s office, in a standardized response, told Migden they would forward the information about the encampments he reported (including “disgusting RVs” in Fremont and Ballard) to the city’s encampment cleanup squad.

2. A recent poll tested voters’ opinions about completing the long-delayed downtown Seattle streetcar project, along with various local funding options, such as increasing the commercial parking tax, increasing the local vehicle licensing fee, and increasing local sales taxes, already among the highest in the country.

The poll, conducted last week, seems to favor streetcar completion—stating, for example, that federal funding could cut the $350 million estimated cost of the streetcar almost in half, but is only available for a limited time. (Federal funding for the streetcar is far from certain, although, as the Urbanist pointed out earlier this year, a potential $75 million request for federal funding still gets a “high” rating from the Federal Transit Administration.)

“Connecting Seattle’s two existing streetcar lines just makes sense,” one of the poll’s test messages begins. (Many polls test messages that could be used for or against a proposal or person during a future campaign.) “This project will link our busiest transportation hubs serving people coming downtown by bus, light rail, ferry, Sounder, and Amtrak train creating a more seamless and convenient transportation system.”

Former mayor Jenny Durkan paused work on the downtown streetcar connection in 2018, citing cost overruns. Before and since then, streetcar skeptics have argued that the downtown line is redundant with existing bus and light rail service and would not serve enough riders to justify the ballooning cost. Last year, the city council gave the long-moribund streetcar a kickstart by providing $2.4 million in funding to resume work on the project.

It’s unclear who’s behind the poll; local political consultants, transit advocates, business groups, and streetcar proponents all told PubliCola it wasn’t them.

3. During an update on the city’s efforts to established an alternative response system for 911 calls that don’t require an armed response, city council public safety committee attempted to clarify an issue that recently confounded a prominent local columnist: The so-called “Z disposition” the Seattle Police Department gives to certain low-priority calls.

Previously, committee chair Lisa Herbold noted, dispatchers would routinely put the 911 system into “priority call status,” meaning that calls that didn’t rank in SPD’s top two “priority” designations (which include violent crimes and crimes in progress) would not get any response at all. Now, an officer reviews lower-priority calls before deciding whether they merit a response before dismissing them. “In my mind, that’s that’s a better approach, because at least you’re having somebody on the ground with law enforcement expertise making that decision,” Herbold said.

In April, she added, the city’s Office of Police Accountability recommended establishing a clearer system for assigning low-priority calls, in response to a high-profile complaint about two officers who ate breakfast near the Ballard library rather than responding immediately to a call about a person asleep inside their car.

Councilmember Sara Nelson said that in her view, the new system is actually worse, because under “priority call status,” police would at least tell low-priority callers to call back or give them a general estimate of when they might hear back about their call. “There is a customer service issue going on with the call with the system right now with no communication and that’s why people are getting upset,” Nelson said.

Efforts to replace police with civilian responders for some 911 calls remain largely stalled, and the Seattle Police Officers Guild has demanded to bargain any changes to the SPD-centric 911 response system.

SPD Jails Shoplifters for Thefts as Small as $6.99; Pedersen Unilaterally Installs Bike Board Member; Helmet Law Overturned

1. Seattle police officers took part in a crackdown on retail theft at Target’s downtown Seattle store last week called “Operation New Day,” booking people suspected of shoplifting into the King County jail despite ongoing pandemic-related restrictions that limit booking to people arrested for violent crimes.

On Friday, plainclothes officers from the Seattle Police Department’s Community Response Group, a team that floats between the city’s four precincts to supplement patrol, were working with Target’s loss prevention team to identify people stealing merchandise, flagging them for uniformed officers waiting on the sidewalk outside.

Over the course of the day, officers arrested at least five people. One woman was booked into jail for stealing $6.99 worth of merchandise, while another man was booked for stealing vitamins, baby formula and other merchandise valued at more than $600, according to police reports. Two of the people arrested had previously spent time in the jail in the past year for misdemeanor assault or weapons offenses, among other charges. All of the people arrested on Friday have since been released from jail, though the woman booked for stealing $6.99 worth of merchandise was later charged with assault for hitting a Target employee—a detail not included in the original arrest report.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, King County Executive Dow Constantine limited booking at King County’s jails to people arrested for assaults, DUIs and firearms violations, and other high-priority offenses, with the goal of reducing the county’s jail population to stem the spread of the virus. However, Constantine allowed the jail to make exceptions when agencies that use the jail, including SPD, can argue convincingly that booking people for nonviolent crimes is necessary to protect public safety.

On Thursday, Constantine told PubliCola that the county has received and approved few requests for exceptions.

“Law enforcement agencies have been judicious about making them,” added Noah Haglund, a spokesman for King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention. In order to receive an exemption, a law enforcement agency needs to submit a request before bringing arrestees to the jail. According to Haglund, the City of Seattle requested an exemption before booking the people arrested for shoplifting on Friday. Sergeant Randall Huserik, a spokesman for SPD, the bookings are intended to “deter the suspects” from committing crimes in the future.

2. Next week, the city council will vote to appoint Dr. Douglas Migden, a long-distance recreational cyclist who lives in the Queen Anne neighborhood, to the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board. Council transportation committee chair Alex Pedersen chose Migden for the board unilaterally after a five-month-long recruitment and nomination process in which the bike board interviewed dozens of candidates and ultimately selected land-use planner Anthony Avery for the seat.

Ryan Packer covered Pedersen’s decision to discard the bike board’s choice for the Seattle Bike Blog last week.

According to SBAB co-chair Sarah Udelhofen, the bike board has three top priorities when choosing new board members. They look for candidates with unique biking experiences (such as family cyclists and newer riders); those who offer “perspective from a community that has been underrepresented in or marginalized by the mainstream bike movement”; and people who are familiar with neighborhoods that are underrepresented on the board or that lack safe bike infrastructure. Historically, the mainstream bike movement has been dominated by white, male recreational cyclists who ride in the road.

“These commissions and boards have processes for how they make appointments. They review applications, do interviews, and so it can be frustrating when the folks that they have chosen through community process are not selected. And I understand why folks might feel demoralized when that happens.”—City Councilmember Tammy Morales

Avery did not respond to an email seeking comment on Pedersen’s decision. His LinkedIn page describes him as a member of Cascade Bicycle Club and an advocate against car-oriented streets—positions that put him at odds with some of Pedersen’s stated views on transportation planning. “I plan for people, not cars,” Avery wrote. “If you want to call it a war on cars, that’s fine. Each year over 35,000 Americans are killed by people driving motor vehicles. … In 2021, despite a commitment to Vision Zero, traffic-related deaths in the City of Seattle are on the rise.”

Pedersen advocated against a long-planned protected bike lane along 35th Avenue NE in his district, which former mayor Jenny Durkan killed after business owners complained about the loss of on-street parking spaces. He also opposed bike lanes on Eastlake, arguing that cyclists could simply veer back and forth between parallel “greenways” located on nearby streets. And before he was elected in 2019, Pedersen argued against the Move Seattle levy, among other reasons, because it funded safe bike lanes, which Pedersen argued are useless for “senior citizens, the disabled, single parents, parents of young children without transportation to school, and those juggling multiple jobs .”

After the city council discussed Migden’s appointment earlier this week, Councilmember Tammy Morales noted pointedly, “These commissions and boards have processes for how they make appointments. They review applications, do interviews, and so it can be frustrating when the folks that they have chosen through community process are not selected. And I understand why folks might feel demoralized when that happens.”

Udelhofen said the bike board plans “to be even more proactive with our timeline” for the next open seat, and will “start the process even earlier to ensure there is ample time for our recommended candidates to be reviewed, discussed, and approved in time for the 9/1/22 term start date.” She said that although the bike board is “disappointed with the lack of transparency around the selection and approval process, we have no qualms about Dr. Midgen’s qualifications for serving on SBAB” and look forward to his participation on the board.

3. The King County Board of Health voted on Thursday to repeal the county’s bicycle helmet requirement, responding to a push from bicycle advocates and civil liberties groups who pointed to data showing that police enforcing the law disproportionately targeted people of color and homeless people.

Continue reading “SPD Jails Shoplifters for Thefts as Small as $6.99; Pedersen Unilaterally Installs Bike Board Member; Helmet Law Overturned”

Maybe Metropolis: Flatten the City

By Josh Feit 

With additional reporting by Maryam Noor

“There’s something I want you to try,” my friend said after we finished our burritos and stepped onto Pike St. to grab our bikes for the uphill ride home.

My pal, who used to write a bike blog in San Francisco and work at a bike shop there too, unlocked his Orbea Katu, a boutique Spanish brand, and nudged it toward me. “Let’s trade,” he said slyly—like we were 14, and he was offering me my first hit of pot. He took my banged-up 2009 Marin Kentfield, and I got on his $2,700 e-bike.

Minutes later, it seemed I actually had taken that imaginary puff of pot. I was giggling with glee as I coasted through Capitol Hill, cruising along at 18 miles an hour with the electric-assist motor doing just the right amount of work.

I was hooked. Less than a month later, I bought an e-bike. Not a fancy one like my friend’s—I’m not a bike dude like he is. I bought a basic model that replicated my pal’s ride well enough for an aging Gen-Xer like me who simply relies on bikes for commuting and meeting friends. It’s not, god forbid, for those nutso bike trips people seem to take all over the Pacific Northwest. I bought the bike from Rad Power Bikes, a budget-friendly Ballard-based all e-bike company, where prices average about $1,500, but go as low as $1,000.

Rad Bikes, with its friendly superstore in Ballard, may be on the cusp of bringing e-biking to the masses; described as “the largest e-bike in the US,” they already have 1,000 commercial customers, including Domino’s Pizza, and claim 200,000 Rad bikers worldwide.

Geared up from a $150 million investment in February, and planning to double its 325-person staff this year, Rad Bikes’ sales spiked nearly 300 percent year-over-year as of April 2020, according to a report from Geekwire.

Local bike shops that sell a mix of e-bikes and pedal bikes are seeing the e-bike spike too. Thomas Swann, a technician at Greenlake’s Gregg’s Cycle, a nearly century-old Seattle shop, said, “There definitely is a boom. [E-bike sales] are way up.” Swann estimates that just five years ago, Gregg’s sold about one e-bike for every 20 pedal bikes; now, he said, that ratio is more like one to five.

“More people biking, whether with electric motors or not, means more people who might be noticing how all the bike lanes seem to end whenever you get to a busy street.” —Seattle Bike Blog Editor Tom Fucoloro

Swann attributes the jump in sales to new technology, namely improvements to lithium-ion batteries.  “We’ve got batteries pretty much figured out to the point that is financially available to people. Batteries are only going to get better. It’s gonna skyrocket,” he said.

The drop in prices over the last decade has put a number of more-affordable e-bikes on the market. Recent COVID-era market factors stalled the price decline earlier this year, but companies like Rad are nudging the price-point trajectory down again.

Some Seattle bike snobs might look at Rad Bikes the same way coffee snobs viewed Starbucks in the early ‘90s—like it’s besmirching a secret handshake culture. But thankfully, not all longtime bike enthusiasts scoff at the booming user-friendly e-bike trend. In fact, it was my bike buddy who eagerly steered me to Rad Power bikes because he shares my pro-city, YIMBY philosophy that human-scale cities are better for the environment and the economy. And he realizes: City Hall is more likely to get serious about building that model city when biking is a central component of life here.

Noting how giddy I was after zooming up Capitol Hill that first night trying an e-bike, my non-bike-snob-bike-snob-friend said, “Yeah, it’s amazing. They flatten the city.”

That’s the perfect way to think about electric bikes—and not just because they magically negate the hills that intrude on so many Seattle rides (including every conceivable route to my Capitol Hill apartment). They help equalize transportation, flattening out the inequities that often complicate people’s access to work, childcare, groceries, and other daily to-dos. Much sturdier and heavier than traditional bikes, e-bikes don’t flinch at additional passengers and grocery bags. “When someone says, ‘Oh, you know, cycling is great for people who don’t have children,’” Davey Oil, owner of G & O Family Cyclery in Greenwood, quipped, “I’m just like, ‘Hold my juice box, I have three kids on this bike.’”

The League of American Bicyclists ranks “Washington state, particularly the Seattle area”  No. 1  for the E-bike market.

It’s no wonder. There’s a range of options, including:

Homegrown, single-brand shops such as  Hilltopper Electric Bike Company (which also does conversions) and Rad Power Bikes.

Local retailers that simply carry different brands of E-bikes such as G & O Family Cyclery, Electric & Folding Bikes Northwest, Seattle Electric Bike, and Seattle E-Bike.

National & International single-brand outlets such as EVELO and Pedego, and VanMoof

Custom shops that’ll convert your current bike to an E-Bike such as Bike Swift.

While $1,500 for a bike still might seem Team Bourgeois as opposed to Team Budweiser, “it’s also a lot less expensive than a car,” said Anna Zivarts, local bike advocate and Director of the Disability Mobility Initiative at Disability Rights Washington. “And,” she added, “it is my car.”

Zivarts, who recently swapped her traditional cargo bike for the motorized version, said her new e-bike is perfect for her and her kid. “The main reason I like it compared to a non-e-bike is that it allows me and the kid to take routes that have less car traffic, even if they’re really hilly,” she said. “There’s no flat routes from South Seattle to downtown that aren’t MLK Blvd., Beacon Ave., Rainier Ave., or Lake Washington Boulevard, all of which have pretty fast cars.” Zivarts said she avoids those intimidating streets now by biking right up the hilly Beacon Hill greenway or through Mt. Baker. “When I was tired before the e-bike,” she said,  “I’d often risk our safety by riding one of the flatter, busier streets. Now I don’t have to make that tradeoff.”

When G & O Family Cyclery opened its doors eight years ago with a consumer-friendly focus on catering to families, it mostly sold traditional cargo bikes and kids’ bikes. Electric assist bikes made up only about 10% of their sales. “Now,” G & O owner Oil said, “it’s become 100% of the bikes we sell.”

Meanwhile, Seattle’s bike share system, those red e-bikes you see everywhere, is up by 50,000 daily rides, a near 20% increase, compared to this time last year.

It’s worth noting: E-bikes outsold electric cars 2-to-1 in the U.S. in 2020. Despite the e-bike “throttle” option, which you can use to take a break from pedaling up a particularly rough hill, they’re still great for your health, and as opposed to electric cars, e-bikes are actually green because they don’t require highways and suburban-style infrastructure.

And p.s. to the macho road warrior crowd who say riding an e-bike is “cheating”: E-bikers like me are likely to get more exercise than they do on analog bikes. The fact that biking across town is no longer so daunting means I’m going to bike a lot more.

Longtime local bike advocate Tom Fucoloro, who has been writing Seattle Bike Blog since 2010, thinks the popularity of e-bikes is good news politically.

“It’s more people,” Fucoloro said about the current spike in e-bikes. “And more people biking, whether with electric motors or not, means more people who might be noticing how all the bike lanes seem to end whenever you get to a busy street. More people asking ‘Well, that neighborhood has bikes lanes, why doesn’t this one?’ When there’s more people asking those questions, within a couple days, they are knocking on the doors of City Hall.”

Continue reading “Maybe Metropolis: Flatten the City”

Fake Anti-Homeless Signs in Ballard, Public Health Says City Shouldn’t Cram People Back Into Shelter, and More

What size shovel would it take to yank these babies out?

1. The city has begun the process of closing down temporary “redistribution” shelters that opened last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a 130-bed shelter run by the Downtown Emergency Service Center at Seattle Center’s Exhibition Hall. The Human Services Department, which reports to Mayor Jenny Durkan, has asked DESCo begin the process of moving the people living at Exhibition Hall to other shelters, with the goal of emptying out the building the end of June.

The city hopes to move many of the Exhibition Hall residents to DESC’s existing Navigation Center, a 24-hour mass shelter in Pioneer Square that has been operating at reduced capacity throughout the pandemic, with about 36 people sleeping in communal rooms that used to shelter 85 a night.

However, after a recent site visit, representatives from the King County Public Health department recommended against “adding more residents to the communal sleeping rooms at this time.”

In a report on the visit, the health department’s Health Engagement Action Resource Team (HEART) noted a number of worrying conditions at the Navigation Center, including poor ventilation, lack of soap and hand sanitizer in restrooms, and bed spacing didn’t leave much room to squeeze more people in. Among other issues, the team noted that the windows in sleeping rooms didn’t open; air purifiers were sitting in storage; some exhaust fans weren’t working; and “[s]everal hand sanitizer and restroom soap dispensers were empty.”

Note: Good handwashing is far superior to using hand sanitizer,” the report noted, in a section that was both bold and highlighted. (Quick, someone tell Mayor Durkan!)

A spokesman for the public health department confirmed that the department “did not recommend that DESC immediately increase capacity [at the Navigation Center] before implementing the team’s recommendations, which the organization and the City of Seattle are reviewing.”

Ultimately, the decision to add more beds to the Navigation Center is up to DESC and the city; last week, DESC director Daniel Malone told PubliCola that additional beds were “desired but not yet possible due to [the] pandemic.”

In addition to figuring out how to increase capacity for existing clients at Exhibition Hall, the Navigation Center is a receiving site for the city’s HOPE Team (formerly known as the Navigation Team), which provides shelter referrals at “high-priority” encampments targeted for removal by the city. Even at full, pre-COVID capacity, the Navigation Center only had 85 beds, so restoring it to full capacity won’t provide enough spaces for everyone at Exhibition Hall and new referrals; other Exhibition Hall residents will be distributed to shelters around the city, as well as a new, county-funded hotel that will reportedly be announced soon.

2. A row of “No Camping” signs along Northwest 52nd Street in Ballard may express the city’s overall sentiment toward people living in tents and vehicles—as we’ve reported, the city has begun ramping up encampment sweeps as businesses and schools reopen. But they aren’t official, the Seattle Department of Transportation confirms.

It’s unclear who placed the blocks or signs in the right-of-way, or whether the two apparent acts of anti-homeless vigilantism are related.

The first indication that the signs are fake is their jarring design: Unlike the city’s parking signs, they’re brown with white lettering, with red “no” signs over images of a tent and an RV. The second sign is that where you would expect to see a phone number for the city, the signs list the website for their manufacturer: An online service called SmartSigns.com.

Meanwhile, less than a block away, on 14th Ave. NW, a series of “ecology blocks”—large concrete blocks ordinarily used to build retaining walls—have been moved into an area marked for one-hour parking, physically preventing both people living in vehicles and any other driver from using the parking spaces.

It’s unclear who placed the blocks or signs in the right-of-way, or whether the two apparent acts of anti-homeless vigilantism are related.

A spokeswoman for the Seattle Department of Transportation said they were not aware of the unauthorized signs and anti-parking blocks, and noted that the signs “are not enforceable by the Parking Enforcement group.” The process for removing the signs is lengthy and involves identifying the person who installed them and sending them a letter “requesting the removal of the unauthorized objects,” the spokeswoman said. SDOT did not explain why they can’t simply go out and remove the signs and blocks, which are on city right-of-way.

Council member Dan Strauss told PubliCola he has heard that homeless people “think that they will get housing if they come to Ballard”—a reference to the fact that, according to providers, people sometimes come to encampments that are scheduled for sweeps because the city’s HOPE Team has exclusive access to some of the most desirable shelter beds.

3. The unauthorized signs are about two blocks from Gilman Playfield, where the city removed dozens of people and tents in response to neighborhood complaints earlier this month. It’s even closer to two encampments on the city’s “priority” list for removals this week—one in front of Reuben’s Brews on 14th, and another along 8th Ave. NW between NW 46th and 47th Streets.

On Monday, District 6 city council member Dan Strauss, who represents the area, told PubliCola he has heard from multiple service providers that homeless people “think that they will get housing if they come to Ballard.” Continue reading “Fake Anti-Homeless Signs in Ballard, Public Health Says City Shouldn’t Cram People Back Into Shelter, and More”

These Streets Were Made for Walking

by Josh Feit

Due to the popularity of closing Lake Washington Boulevard to cars—and opening it for walking, biking, and rolling only, as SDOT did during the recent Thanksgiving weekend and over the summer: one mile of the northern portion of Lake Washington Blvd from Mt. Baker Park to Stan Sayres Memorial Park will be a no-car zone this Friday, December 18 through January 3.

Apparently, the popularity of these closures is causing some angst. People who oppose closing Lake Washington Boulevard to cars took their case to the joint Board of Parks Commissioners and Park District Oversight Committee meeting last Thursday night.  At the online meeting, SDOT floated the concept of making some of 2020’s COVID-19-era pedestrian-and-bike-only streets permanent. Lake Washington Boulevard isn’t currently under consideration for permanent closure, but SDOT’s anxious critics, intent on nipping the idea in the bud, pointed out that the vaunted Olmsted Brothers originally designed Lake Washington Boulevard for cars. Specifically, they said, for “recreational…pleasure drives.”

I love it when city officials are able to turn original intent arguments back against NIMBYs, and Parks Commissioner Tom Byers did just that. Byers, former deputy mayor under Mayor Paul Schell, pointed out that the typical car speed when the Olmsteds designed the boulevard was 12 mph. Today, it’s 25 mph. (Seems more like 30 or 40 if you’ve ever been biking there and had a car up in your business, but still.) For the past decade, the city has traditionally closed Lake Washington Boulevard to cars on Sundays during summer months. 

This past summer, responding to people’s need for daily recreational opportunities in their neighborhoods during the pandemic, SDOT restricted car access on 26 miles of neighborhood streets, creating bike-and pedestrian-friendly zones known as “Stay Healthy Streets” to create more room for people to walk, bike, and roll while maintaining at least six feet of distance from others. SDOT also teamed up with the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department for four additional miles of closed streets (I consider all these open streets), near Alki Point, near Green Lake, in Goldens Gardens Park, and along Lake Washington Boulevard, to expand park footprints. SDOT called these park-adjacent no-car zones “Keep Moving Streets.”

SDOT is now surveying the public to decide where to make 20 miles of these car-free streets permanent. It’s all part of the department’s pedestrian-centric response to the pandemic, which also now includes 150 sidewalk, converted parking spot, and street permits that neighborhood coffee shops and restaurants have used to set up outdoor seating. That popular program, known as “Safe Starts,” has been extended through October 2021.

In the first installment of this column a couple of months ago, I wrote about all these programs combined, arguing that the ad hoc emergency response was energizing Seattle’s neighborhoods and providing a surprise opportunity to rethink how our city should be planned and zoned.

The notion of re-upping the Lake Washington Boulevard car-free pilot as a pedestrian and bike thoroughfare (thanks for bringing it up, guys!) is a prequel to the overdue debate over reallocating public right-of-way. It’s time to retrofit our growing city to human scale.

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SDOT’s idea isn’t about tradition. It’s about change. And ultimately, that’s what Byers’ “12 mph” quip was getting at.

“I’m really excited about the future potential of these streets,” Seattle Parks District Oversight Committee member Deepa Sivarajan seconded.

Sivarajan, a policy manager at Climate Solutions by day, went even further. “Let’s not prioritize historical intent and historical preservation when thinking about these streets,” she said. “A lot of historical preservation in Seattle tends to preserve an era that was de facto segregationist. Thinking about the historical intent of a ‘driving street’ is not the biggest factor we should be considering.” Sivarajan argued that the city should consider equity above original intent, and her own priorities seemed to also include health and safety; she cited collisions and pollution as something the Olmsteds didn’t consider when designing boulevards for “pleasure drives.”

Sivarajan’s social justice angle served notice on the opponents of SDOT’s potential plan. In addition to the goofy original intent talking points, the preservationists had also been arguing that closing Lake Washington Boulevard to cars would be unfair to communities of color who, they claimed without presenting data, rely on the boulevard to access the city and parks from the Rainier Valley and beyond.

Opponents of a car-free Lake Washington Boulevard also got an earful from Parks Commissioner Dennis Cook, who’s African American. “I’ve walked the lake [for] many, many, many years,” he said. “During the pandemic, I’ve seen more people of color walking Seward Park than I have in the last five to ten years. It’s amazing. It’s wonderful to see because people are out there greeting people and their neighbors, and it’s building community.” Cook noted that the area in question is in the 98118 ZIP code, where the population is 25 percent African American. Seattle is 7 percent Black overall.

Continue reading “These Streets Were Made for Walking”

How to Kill Scooter Sharing In Seattle

Image via Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash

 

By Erica C. Barnett

On Wednesday, almost two and a half years after the city of Seattle banned “micro-mobility” companies like Lime and Spin from operating electric scooter-sharing programs in the city, a city council committee took a tentative step toward allowing a small “pilot” program to test out the concept, authorizing scooters to operate everywhere bikes are allowed (streets, bike lanes, and sidewalks that make up parts of bike lanes) and to adopt a fee schedule for scooter companies interested in participating in the new “pilot” program.

The pilot will allow three companies—Lime, a “seated scooter” company such as Tesla-backed Wheels, and a third company providing some combination of seated and standing scooters—to each put 500 scooters each on Seattle streets. (The two-wheeled “seated scooters” look extremely similar to a better-known two-wheeled micromobility technology, minus the pedals). A fourth company, and 500 more scooters, could be added if another new technology emerges and the city wants to try it out.

If the initial pilot is successful, that number could be increased to as many as 6,000. For comparison, Seattle’s original free-floating bike share program started with 1,500 bikes, but within four months had expanded to a maximum of 12,000.

Shared electric scooters could, according to Seattle Department of Transportation analysis, replace up to 175,000 car trips a month; provide a non-motorized alternative for people trying to get out of West Seattle while the West Seattle Bridge is closed; make it easier for people to access transit; and cut monthly CO2 emissions by up to 85 metric tons. They’re also popular with a more diverse group of users than bikes, according to SDOT mobility solutions manager Alex Pazuchanics.

“It took bikeshare a decade to get to the point that scooter  share got to in 12 months [in other cities], and I think that’s because it’s accessible to more people who wouldn’t necessarily ride a bike,” Pazuchanics said in an interview after Tuesday’s meeting.

Scooters have been ubiquitous across the US for years, with programs in more than 100 cities at every latitude and with every type of topography, from Miami to Boston to Tacoma. With Seattle finally, belatedly, on the brink of giving them a try, here are some of the factors that could still sink our nascent scooter program.

• Poor planning for parking.

The biggest concern about bikesharing in Seattle, which is now provided by just one company, Lime, is that users sometimes parked them carelessly, blocking sidewalks or leaving bicycles “strewn around” in ways that some people found unsightly. Leaving aside the latter complaint (has anyone told them what people do with cars?) the issue of sidewalk and curb ramp blockages is significant for people with disabilities, who need the ability to navigate sidewalks without obstacles in their way.

SDOT’s response to these concerns has been to focus mostly on user behavior—for example, by requiring companies to fine users $20 if they park their scooters outside designated areas, such as the “furniture zone” of sidewalks and in planting strips, or having users take “quizzes” at the beginning of each ride to confirm that they understand the parking restrictions. “I think it’s important that we fine users that are not using the devices properly,” council member Dan Strauss, who sponsored the two bills adopted in committee Wednesday, said.

Council president Lorena González wondered Wednesday why the city wasn’t instead providing more places for scooters to park legally, much as the city does for cars. “When we talk about the parking and enforcement issues and obstruction— all of those things will continue to be problems continue to be problems so long as we are not being thoughtful and deliberate in providing dedicated space and making sure that users of these devices have somewhere appropriate to put them,” González said.

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If you enjoy breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. I’m truly grateful for your support.

• “But things are different in Seattle…”

Seattle likes to subject every “new” transportation alternative—from biking as an alternative to driving alone to bikeshare to scooters—to endless scrutiny on the grounds that Seattle is somehow different than all other cities. Usually, this is attributed to some combination of our culture (“people will never give up their cars!”) or weather (“no one rides bikes in January!”) or topography (have you heard? We have hills).

All these issues have come up repeatedly in recent discussions about scooters, including on Wednesday, when several speakers noted the existence in Seattle of both hills and rain. For example, Strauss noted that “if, at the end of the pilot program or during the pilot program, we see that the city of Seattle is not suitable for this sort of program because of hills or rain or other factors, then we can end the pilot.”

• The unfinished Bike Master Plan

The success of any scooter program relies heavily on a connected network of bike lanes, which will be the only legal alternative to riding in the street. (Unlike bicycles, scooters will not be allowed on sidewalks). Thanks to COVID and, before that, a general lack of enthusiasm for biking infrastructure from Mayor Jenny Durkan, key elements of the bike master plan have been canceled or delayed indefinitely, including a long-planned bike lane on Fourth Avenue between Pioneer Square and Belltown, a protected bike lane on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, and a bike connection between Georgetown and downtown.

“Micromobility is going to change the way we get around our city, and unless we connect the bike network, we’re not going to have a safe place for people to use these micromobility tools,” Strauss told me. For now, though, the city seems to be hoping that scooter riders, much like bicyclists, will figure out a way to get where they’re going using a combination of bike lanes and routes that parallel arterial roads, such as greenways, to minimize the danger of collisions.

“One of the challenges [with the scooter pilot] is that it brings a whole new user,” says Joel Miller, SDOT’s micromobility program lead. “There is a responsibility to just educate people [that] you might not want to take the same route in a scooter than you would in a car.”

SDOT also believes that as the speed limit on more city streets is lowered to 25 miles an hour, the roads themselves will become safer for scooters. Council member Tammy Morales, who represents southeast Seattle (an area that still lacks any direct protected bike routes into downtown) pointed out that whatever the actual speed limit, “I can assure you that very few people drive 25 miles an hour on Rainier, MLK, or Beacon Avenue South.” Without safe, convenient ways for scooter users to get where they want to go, the whole project could be doomed to failure—or, worse, fatalities.

• Too few scooters…

As mentioned above, the “pilot” program will distribute just 1,500 scooters across 84 square miles of Seattle, which could prevent critical masses from forming that make them a truly reliable and convenient short-distance transportation mode. If you look for a scooter for a few times and there are none around, you could be inclined to delete the app from your phone.

And because the scooters will include various types of devices (seated, standing, and perhaps a third option), people won’t necessarily get the type of vehicle that they want—someone who prefers to stand on a four-wheeled scooter, for example, may not want to sit on what is essentially a two-wheeled, pedal-less bike.

SDOT’s Pazuchanics says with fewer people going anywhere because of the pandemic, “there’s not as much demand and it doesn’t warrant the kind of scale that we thought was necessarily in a full-scale pilot program.” He says SDOT will continue to “monitor what is the right amount so that you as an individual will have enough confidence that there is a device available to you, but you’re not at a saturation point” where the scooters are just everywhere.

• … in the wrong places

The “equity” requirement for the scooter pilot says that at least 10 percent of the initial fleet, or 150 scooters total, must be located in “environmental justice community areas”—generally lower-income areas with high concentrations of people of color. But because those areas are spread so broadly across the city (and encompass such huge swaths of land), there is a good likelihood that some of these areas will end up with no scooters at all. For people living and working in such areas, it will be like the scooter program doesn’t exist.

Miller, who answered similar questions at the committee meeting, says “equity” doesn’t necessarily mean just equitable distribution, and that the city still needs to “talk to community, and with COVID, that’s something we haven’t been able to do yet.” He said SDOT hopes to set up community conversations, with compensation for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend, in the spring.

• Overzealous enforcement

In addition to fines for parking in the wrong place, council members expressed concern that people would flout the rules by not wearing helmets, which are required under a county law that is rarely enforced. Although no one from SDOT suggested changing city policy to empower police to crack down on helmet avoiders, Miller did tell the council that some scooter companies provide helmets along with the devices (a disposable, biodegradable sleeve inside the helmet keeps the grossness factor down), and noted that some provide discounts for riders who provide a selfie showing them wearing a helmet at the beginning of a ride.

Seattle will be the first city to mandate that each scooter provider limit a user’s first ride to 8 miles an hour, a speed that can feel frustratingly slow, in order to give riders time to learn to to maneuver and accelerate. “It might not be as convenient, it might not be as fun, but it’s going to be a lot safer,” Miller told council members Wednesday.

But will an artificially slow ride (or two or three) make people scroll over to their Uber app, or hop in their cars? Strauss doesn’t think so. After the meeting, he told me he considered slowing down people’s trips a reasonable tradeoff if it leads to fewer crashes. “I think that if people know that that slower option is only going to last for one to three trips, I don’t think that that would drive them away from riding the scooter,” he says.

 

“Eastlake Is Moving Forward,” Herbold to Pay Ethics Fine, and an Impasse on LEAD

1. During a Monday-morning “celebration” of the 14 miles of new bike infrastructure the city built last year, Mayor Jenny Durkan said that she was committed to building a protected bike lane on Eastlake Ave. a, rather than acceding to demands from neighborhood activists that the city ditch the bike lane for an unspecified neighborhood greenway somewhere else. “We need that bike lane,”  Durkan said. “We can’t have a connected [route] if people can’t get from the north end to downtown Seattle. … Eastlake is moving forward.”

The bike lane is included in plans for the Roosevelt RapidRide bus route that will replace King County Metro’s Route 70 bus; the Seattle Department of Transportation released an environmental assessment of the proposal last month. Neighborhood activists have protested that the bike lane will require the removal of parking along Eastlake, and city council member Alex Pedersen said last week that he would prefer to have cyclists use unspecified parallel “neighborhood greenways” for at least some of the route.

Neither Durkan nor SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe would commit to a specific timeline to complete the most contentious portion of the center city bike network—a long-delayed protected bike lane on Fourth Avenue. Durkan decided to press pause on the bike lane in anticipation of “mega traffic” downtown during demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and a number of other major construction projects downtown. Although Carmageddon failed, once again, to materialize, the Fourth Avenue bike lane remains delayed until 2021, and was scaled back last year from a two-way protected on the east side of the street to a one-way northbound lane on the west side, in the same spot as an existing unprotected lane.

Vicky Clarke, the policy director of Cascade Bicycle Club, made a point of mentioning “gaps in the system” repeatedly in her remarks, and noted pointedly that bike advocates are looking forward to the city “funding and building a two-way bike lane on Fourth Avenue next year.”

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2.City council member Lisa Herbold will pay a $500 fine for violating the city’s ethics code when she contacted Police Chief Carmen Best over a trailer that was parked in front of her house last year, on the grounds that she was using, or appeared to be using, her elected position for “private benefit” or a non-city purpose. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission will take up  the case at its meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

The case stems from an incident last year in which KIRO radio host Dori Monson and conservative activist Ari Hoffman had encouraged listeners of Monson’s show to buy up derelict RVs and park them in front of council members’ houses to protest the presence of “drug RVs” in Seattle. When a trailer showed up in front of Herbold’s home in West Seattle, Monson assumed someone had taken him up on his idea, and encouraged listeners to show up and join the “protest.”

In response to the trailer and the crowd of people outside her home, Herbold texted police chief Carmen Best and asked her to look into whether the U-Haul that brought the RV to her street had been rented by Hoffman and, if so, to consider charging Hoffman with theft. Best declined to investigate and suggested that Herbold call SPD’s non-emergency number.

“If someone has reported a trailer stolen, one has been delivered to the street in front of my house,” Herbold wrote. “I’m not complaining, I want to ensure the property is returned to its owner.” In a followup, Herbold continued, “I’m not asking you to move it. Ari [Hoffman] will twist that as [a] special SPD response for a Councilmember. I would like to find out if 1. anyone has reported it stolen, 2. Give you the license plate number of the uhaul so you can confirm from Uhaul that Ari rented the uhaul & towed it there and you can consider whether it’s appropriate to charge him with theft.”

As it turned out, the trailer was owned by a homeless woman and her family, who had planned to tow it away later that week and did not know that they had parked it near a council member’s house. They returned to the trailer to find that random people, including a reporter for KIRO Radio, had entered the trailer and rummaged through it without permission, and that the outside of the trailer had been covered in graffiti, including the words “DORI MONSON FOR PRESIDENT” across one side. The woman who owned the trailer, who was pregnant, was reportedly threatened with a knife by one of the “protesters.”

Monson never apologized for encouraging his listeners to show up and vandalize the trailer (an act he called “pretty great!!” on Twitter), though he did put give the woman and her family a “hunski” from his money clip on the air the following day. The reporter who entered the trailer, Carolyn Ossario, was reportedly fired over the stunt.

3. Last week, the members of the city council’s public safety committee, led by Herbold, sent a letter to Mayor Durkan asking her to release the full $3.5 million allocated in the city’s 2020 budget for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program by March 1, and to affirm that LEAD—which offers alternatives to arrest for people suspected of committing low-level crimes—is a crime prevention program, not a homelessness program. The letter requested a response no later than last Friday.

Durkan’s office did get back to Herbold’s office on Friday, but they did not agree to fully fund LEAD by March, and they had no response to the committee’s request that the mayor acknowledge that LEAD is not a homelessness program. Supporters of LEAD consider this an important distinction, because the city requires homeless services to focus on moving clients into permanent housing, whereas LEAD is focused on keeping them out of the criminal justice system.

Last year, the council added $3.5 million to LEAD’s budget in an effort to reduce caseloads and allow the program to take on new clients. Instead, Durkan reduced LEAD’s approved budget to the $2.6 million she had proposed in her initial budget, and made the rest of the funding contingent on the findings of a consultant hired to review and craft new performance metrics for the program. As a result, LEAD has delayed expansion plans and is considering cutbacks. A compromise plan the mayor’s office proposed last week would provide enough funding for LEAD to reduce caseloads and take care of a backlog of low-priority cases, but program director Lisa Daugaard says this defeats the purpose of the program, which is to reduce crime by working with individuals who have the greatest impact on neighborhoods.

The response from the mayor’s office is signed by Tess Colby, Durkan’s homelessness advisor. On the issue of funding, Colby wrote: “The split of the contract budget into two phases will not impede LEAD’s ability to staff in accordance with its needs. LEAD is not proposing to hire 52 case managers in the first quarter of 2020, but rather over the course of the year. I note this because the budget we have requested from LEAD will cover expenses associated with the addition of new case managers to right-size their case management ratios. This is consistent with LEAD’s plan to grow in response to referrals and intakes. Thus, the pace of hiring will not be slowed during the first phase of the contract.”

Daugaard said LEAD has no plans to expand until they know they can actually retain the new case managers for the rest of the year; it makes no sense, she told me, to hire people and start ramping up their client base now if the funding might run out in the middle of the year. For now, it seems that the council, LEAD, and the mayor are at an impasse: Durkan says LEAD can proceed as normal, LEAD says they can’t move forward without a guarantee of funding, and the council can do little except register their protest, since the mayor holds the purse strings.

Cyclists Pack Pedersen Forum, Libraries Still Lack Narcan, and an Update on LEAD

1. Bike and bus advocates showed up in force for a “town hall” meeting featuring District 4 city council member Alex Pedersen in Eastlake last night, but many said afterward that the moderators who chose the questions from a stack of cards submitted by the public—a representative from the Eastlake Community Council and a Pedersen staffer—rejected or ignored their questions.

I was live-tweeting the forum, and noticed early on that most of the questions seemed to be from people opposed to a planned protected bike lane on Eastlake, rather than the dozens of bike lane supporters in the audience. For example, early questions centered on how businesses were supposed to deal with the loss of hundreds of parking spaces directly on Eastlake Avenue; why cyclists couldn’t just ride on a parallel greenway somewhere near, but not on, Eastlake’s business district; and what can still be done to prevent King County Metro from replacing the milk-run Route 70 with a RapidRide bus route that will be faster and more frequent but won’t have as many stops.

During the meeting, I noticed that a pile of questions had been set aside, and that the moderator seemed to be favoring questions from people who opposed bike lanes and RapidRide over questions from the bike lane supporters who packed the room. So I asked via Twitter: If you were at the forum and asked a question that didn’t get answered, what was it?

Pedersen was fairly circumspect in his responses, suggesting repeatedly that people contact his office and promising he would get back to them by email. He did, however, say he supported changing the Eastlake bike lane plan—which has been debated, studied, and affirmed repeatedly over a period of several years—so that cyclists would have to shift back and forth between the arterial and short stretches of “greenway” on unnamed parallel streets. “I think [the Seattle Department of Transportation] should look harder at a combination of protected bike lanes on some part of it and greenways on some of it,” Pedersen said.

Invoking the specter of 35th Ave. NE, where a long-planned bike lane was scuttled after neighborhood activists complained that the loss of on-street parking would destroy local businesses, Pedersen added: “There was a lack of transparency” about the proposed bike lane, which he opposed. “People were just trying to figure out what was going on with it.”

“I think [the Seattle Department of Transportation] should look harder at a combination of protected bike lanes on some part of [Eastlake] and greenways on some of it.” — City council member Alex Pedersen

During the meeting, I noticed that a pile of questions had been set aside, and that the moderator seemed to be favoring questions from people who opposed bike lanes and RapidRide over questions from the bike lane supporters who packed the room. So I asked via Twitter: If you were at the forum and asked a question that didn’t get answered, what was it? Here are some of their (slightly edited) answers:

• Given that every study shows bike lanes make streets safer for everyone and are good for business (and that cyclists spend more than drivers), what data are you paying attention to? How will you incorporate the data that already exists about protected bike lanes around the world?

• Have you seen any analysis of the percentage of people who are NOT in Eastlake that commute to Eastlake for any of the businesses that are afraid of losing 320 parking spots? Do people drive to 14 Carrots from other parts of the city?

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The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

• Have you seen any research about the actual impact of bike lanes on businesses?

• What options are you prioritizing to help my whole family get around without using a car?

• Many people bus and bike through Eastlake, but don’t stop because traffic is so dangerous. What can be done to make Eastlake more welcoming to visitors and encourage fewer single occupancy vehicles, supporting the goal of Vision Zero?

• When will the city consider a residential parking zone in Eastlake (which prevents people from commuting in by car and parking all day in neighborhoods)?

• Why is the RapidRide and bike lane project important for Eastlake and the surrounding area?

Jessica Westgren from Welcoming Wallingford, a group that supports housing density and alternatives to driving, asked Pedersen verbally why he wouldn’t return calls and emails from her organization. Pedersen responded that she should send him an email, ideally including specific information such as “I’m having this issue on my block.”

 

Mayor Jenny Durkan, flanked by parents who lost their son to an opioid overdose and local officials

2. Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that the city will be distributing 700 doses of naloxone (Narcan), a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses, in response to a surge in overdoses from fentanyl in counterfeit oxycodone pills—and, in particular, an increase in the number of teenagers who have died of fentanyl overdoses. Fentanyl is especially deadly, and overdoses happen quickly; an overdosing person can die long before first responders arrive, which is why having Narcan on hand (and knowing how to use it) is so critical.

Durkan said that kits will be distributed in schools, bars, and nightclubs—”any place where it is likely that someone might overdose.” The city is also planning 25 Narcan training workshops.

Since Seattle public libraries are among the places people use opioids—and are, because staff are always present, safer consumption sites than alleys or parks—I asked if the libraries would also start stocking Narcan, and if library workers would be trained to use it. (The library system has been slow to adopt harm reduction policies, and only added sharps containers in restrooms after I published several stories on the issue last year.) Durkan said “we’d like them in the libraries,” but her staff added later that this would be an issue for the library union to negotiate.

Library spokeswoman Andra Addison later confirmed that the library does not have current plans to stock Narcan or train library workers to use it. “The Library currently uses 911 for all medical emergencies. Use of Narcan in our libraries would involve union representatives, and those discussions are just under way,” Addison says. Asked to clarify what the issue would be for the library union, Addison said, “working conditions and the impact on working conditions.”

3. City council member Lisa Herbold has released a copy of the letter I mentioned on Wednesday, urging Durkan to confirm that she will release all the funding the council provided for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program in its adopted budget no later than March 1, and to affirm that LEAD—which offers alternatives to arrest for people suspected of committing low-level crimes—is a crime prevention program, not a homelessness program. Durkan has hired a consultant to look at LEAD’s performance and to determine performance metrics for the program; currently, LEAD is classified as a homelessness intervention and required to meet housing goals, even though more than a quarter of its clients are not homeless. Continue reading “Cyclists Pack Pedersen Forum, Libraries Still Lack Narcan, and an Update on LEAD”

Council Reshuffles Durkan’s Budget, Cop Encampment Training Led to Just Nine Shelter Referrals, and Shaun Scott’s Near-Win

Mayor Durkan announces her plans for spending Mercer Megablock proceeds.

I’m back from vacation, the council has almost passed a 2020 budget with aggressive edits to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal, and the election is officially all-but-over (results will be certified on Friday). Here are a few items that are worth your attention.

1. Semi-final election results: Although the local and (to a much lesser extent) national press has fixated on the fact that incumbent Kshama Sawant came back from behind to defeat Amazon-backed challenger Egan Orion by more than 1,750 votes, an equally fascinating late-voting story has played out in Northeast Seattle’s District 4, where neighborhood activist and former Tim Burgess aide Alex Pedersen, who was backed by both the business lobby and Burgess’ People for Seattle PAC, is poised to defeat Democratic Socialists of America candidate Shaun Scott by fewer than 1,400 votes.

Sawant’s swing was more dramatic, but for Scott to come so close in a district that is less than 3 percent African American—Scott is black—and with so much less money and institutional funding was a sign, perhaps, that District 4, which includes the University of Washington along with a number of higher-turnout precincts with views of Lake Washington and incomes to match, wasn’t entirely convinced by Pedersen and Burgess’ appeals to “Seattle Is Dying”-style populism. Or that students were compelled to actually turn out for a charismatic, hard-campaigning, issue-oriented socialist; we’ll know more once precinct-level data becomes available.

Egan Orion’s loss to incumbent Kshama Sawant has overshadowed Shaun Scott’s comeback in District 4.

2.  Council pushes back on Durkan’s budget: Before I left, the council had already indicated it planned to alter Mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget proposal pretty dramatically.

I reported on many of the changes back when they were still in the proposal stage, including:

• Amendments redirecting millions in proceeds from the sale of the Mercer Megablock to fund housing and bike lanes in South Seattle (which has no uninterrupted safe bike connections to downtown);

• A proviso requiring the Human Services Department to provide quarterly reports on what the encampment-clearing Navigation Team is up to;

• The elimination of funds to relocate a tiny house village in Georgetown that both neighbors and the city agree is working well;

• Cutting the size and scope of a proposed program that would help homeowners build second units and rent them out as moderate-income housing and requiring that the city do a race and social justice analysis of the proposal;

• Reducing or freezing funds for Durkan’s plans for dealing with “prolific offenders,” including a proposed expansion of probation;

Out of an unknown number of individuals contacted by the Navigation Team as the result of 124 officer calls, nine people “accepted” a referral to shelter, and an unknown number of those nine actually showed up at shelter.

• Repurposing some of the $3 million in soda tax revenues Durkan had proposed setting aside to fund capital improvements to P-Patches, including gardens in Ballard and Capitol Hill, for other initiatives to promote healthy food in low-income communities most impacted by the tax, and stipulating that any soda tax revenues that go to the P-Patch program must be spent in designated Healthy Food Priority Areas; and

ª $3.5 million in funding for the LEAD program, whose planned expansion Durkan did not propose funding. The new money, along with a $1.5 million grant from the Ballmer foundation, will allow the pre-arrest diversion program to manage its ever-expanding caseloads in the coming year.

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In addition, the council adopted a number of smaller-ticket items and placed conditions on some of the mayor’s spending proposals, including:

• A request that the Human Services Department survey service providers that provide case management to homeless clients who wear Bluetooth-enabled “beacons” provided by a company called Samaritan, which created an app enabling donors to read up on the personal stories of beacon wearers in the area and give money to businesses and agencies on their behalf. Homeless participants can access the donations in the form of goods or debit cards, and are required to participate in case management and report on their progress through the app. The proviso asks HSD to find out what kind of burden the app is placing on agencies that provide case management, since the company requires its clients to participate in case management but does not fund any actual case managers. Continue reading “Council Reshuffles Durkan’s Budget, Cop Encampment Training Led to Just Nine Shelter Referrals, and Shaun Scott’s Near-Win”

As Council Seeks Funding for Successful Arrest Diversion Program, Mayor Proposes “Doubling Down on Probation”

Mayor Jenny Durkan began rolling out her public-safety budget in mid-September.

Several council members expressed skepticism at Mayor Jenny Durkan’s plan to deal with so-called “prolific offenders” Monday, wondering aloud why the proposals were still so ill-defined and expressing concern that they contradicted an earlier work group’s recommendations to focus spending on things like prevention and restorative justice rather than traditional criminal-justice responses like probation.

As I reported last month, Durkan’s plan—which came out of a work group that was made up almost entirely of elected officials, judges, prosecutors, and government staffers—would create a number of new programs inside the criminal justice system, including expanded probation and a new “rapid-reentry connector” who would refer people leaving jail after short periods to shelter and services. The work group that came up with last year’s recommendations, in contrast, was led by the Office for Civil Rights and “centered the voices and leadership of those who have lived experience of incarceration.”

Council member Lorena Gonzalez, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, said she had “concerns about the mayor’s proposal to continue to double down on probation, particularly for this population. I continue to believe that [probation] is not the best use of our dollars, nor that it will actually address the needs of individuals who have many complex co-morbidities”—issues like addiction and mental illness. Council members Bruce Harrell and Sally Bagshaw defended Durkan’s plan, particularly the “enhanced probation” proposal, noting that several municipal court judges had endorsed the proposal. “I’m hearing from judges that it’s in alignment with restorative justice, not a very penalizing probation system,” Harrell said. Bagshaw invited Seattle Municipal Court Judge Damon Shadid to the microphone to defend the current probation system—he called Gonzalez’s description of probation “simply not accurate—prompting Kshama Sawant to complain that advocates for alternatives to probation weren’t given any time to speak.

Part of the problem is that it’s unclear what, exactly, the $532,000 Durkan has proposed spending on three new programs—expanded probation, the jail referral staffer, and a new case conferencing pilot that would bring law enforcement officials together to discuss “high-barrier” clients’ cases—will buy. All three programs are still in the planning phase, and have not been analyzed for race and social justice impacts or for effectiveness. For example, Gonzalez asked, what it saved more money and produced better outcomes to simply not jail people for very short periods instead of providing them “reentry” services when they get out?

“I have concerns about the mayor’s proposal to continue to double down on probation, particularly for this population”—Council public safety chair Lorena Gonzalez

As for the probation program, Gonzalez said, “We have no idea what this is other than the adjective that it will be ‘enhanced.’ I don’t know what that means. It has not been clearly defined. We have no performance metrics.”

All of the mayor’s proposals are pilot programs, which means they won’t cost much money (the biggest-ticket item in Durkan’s “high-barrier individuals” bucket, funding for a new enhanced shelter in the decommissioned west wing of the county jail, is uncontroversial) and are unlikely have a major impact if the council does decide to fund them. (The council could also place the proposals under a budget proviso—essentially, a funding hold—until the mayor provides more information about the programs.)

The discussion of the mayor’s proposal came directly before a separate, but related, conversation about funding for a program that approaches low-level crimes from a completely different perspective ]—Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, a pre-arrest diversion program that provides case management and services to people caught committing misdemeanor crimes in certain parts of the city. Continue reading “As Council Seeks Funding for Successful Arrest Diversion Program, Mayor Proposes “Doubling Down on Probation””