1. If you’ve ever lived outside the Pacific Northwest, or spent time in virtually any big city elsewhere, you may wonder why the state of Washington still has, and enforces, laws against “jaywalking”—the practice of crossing the street midblock or while the light is green but the road is clear. (“Jay-walking” is an antique slur for a rube who doesn’t know enough to keep out of the road). Crossing the street in an area other than an intersection or against a signal can set you back $68, and you’re far more likely to be targeted if you’re Black; according to a 2017 analysis, more than a quarter of jaywalking tickets issued between 2010 and 2016 went to Black pedestrians, even though just 7 percent of Seattle residents are Black.
This year, legislators plan to propose a bill that would eliminate the specific law against jaywalking—or “crossing not at a crosswalk,” as the state’s 57-year-old jaywalking law describes it—which would make it legal to cross the street as long as it’s safe to do so. During a recent Transportation Choices Coalition-sponsored forum, state Sens. Javier Valdez (D-46) and Marko Liias (D-21), the head of the Senate Transportation Committee, noted that legislators laid the groundwork for getting rid of the jaywalking ban by specifying that pedestrians, like drivers, must exercise “due care” when using roads and sidewalks.
Now, Liias said, “I don’t think we need a specific violation for jaywalking, because if law enforcement sees someone that’s violating that duty of care, just like if they see any other user [doing so], they already have tools to hold that person accountable. When you look at the history of how these laws were used, it’s clear that there’s been disproportionate enforcement against low-income and BIPOC communities.” Basically, Valdez added, the change would give people the ability to use common sense when crossing the street without risking an automatic penalty. In areas where stoplights are far apart, the rational choice is often to cross midblock rather than walking a quarter-mile or more each way just to get to the other side of the road.
TCC, along with Commute Seattle, the King County Department of Public Defense, and other groups have started a coalition called Free to Walk Washington to support the elimination of jaywalking laws, which would follow similar changes in California, Virginia, Nevada, and Kansas City, MO.
2. Change Washington, a “strategic communications organization” funded by the right-wing organization Project 42, often makes and promotes some pretty outrageous claims about the city of Seattle on its website, which includes cross-posts from Project 42-funded ventures like the podcast of a well-known former local FOX reporter. Last week, though, they got the attention of a Seattle City Council member with a post that not only mischaracterized a well-established addiction management technique called contingency management, but accused the whole city council of proposing a “giveaway to drug addicts”—a claim without even a passing connection to reality. (The post uses the sneering slur “addict” no fewer than seven times.)
Contingency management is a method of helping a person reduce their drug consumption by offering them small rewards, such as money, a gift card, or a small prize, for a negative drug test. In numerous studies, contingency management has been found to be one of the most effective methods for reducing or eliminating drug use, particularly among people whose main drug of choice is stimulants, for which there are no broadly effective medications. There is longstanding, research-backed scientific consensus that contingency management works. Even so, the city council has never proposed funding it.
“The budget that City Council passed last month does not include funding for a contingency management program,” Herbold wrote Change Washington in an email. “I am unaware of any City Councilmember that has a proposal for a contingency management program,” she added, since the city doesn’t fund public health care programs—the county does. King County’s DCHS Behavioral Health and Recovery Division got approval last year to fund a contingency management pilot project.
After mischaracterizing contingency management as a frivolous “giveaway to addicts” that will just give them money to buy drugs and mocking its proponents for supposedly thinking “gift cards cure mental illness,” the conservative group also trashed needle exchanges, which prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis, and said a better solution would be to force addicted people into (presumably locked) mental health facilities where they could be “monitored” to make sure they changed their ways. The post ends with a warning to council members about next year’s elections. But it looks like the election disinformation has already started.
1. Members of the city council’s public safety committee, which voted unanimously to appoint interim police chief Adrian Diaz to the permanent police chief position on Tuesday, were mostly effusive about Diaz’ performance at the final public hearing on his appointment, praising him for his efforts to recruit new officers, reinstate the community service officer program, and work collaboratively with the council. Council members did have a few pointed questions, though, about Diaz’ commitment to replacing police with civilian responders.
Like many other cities across the country, Seattle committed to creating new community-based alternatives to traditional policing amid protests against police violence in 2020; since then, other cities have moved forward with new strategies while Seattle has bogged down in process.
“Around the same time that members of this council were talking about creating a third public safety department and civilian alternatives to police, Albuquerque also started their journey. The difference between them and us is that we have two years of resolutions, workgroups, promises, talking, [and] misrepresentations [from the previous administration].”—Councilmember Andrew Lewis
“Around the same time that members of this council were talking about creating a third public safety department and civilian alternatives to police, Albuquerque also started their journey,” Councilmember Andrew Lewis said. Albuquerque, Lewis noted, has a similar budget to Seattle’s and has also seen its police department shrink from around 1,400 to fewer than 1,000 officers.
“The difference between them and us is that we have two years of resolutions, workgroups, promises, talking, [and] misrepresentations” from the previous mayoral administration, while Albuquerque stood up its new public safety department in 2021 and has diverted thousands of calls from the police department.
As we’ve reported, SPD is still in the middle of a lengthy risk analysis that is supposed to determine which kind of 911 calls are safe enough for a civilian response. That process is expected to stretch into 2024. Meanwhile, according to SPD’s latest hiring projections, the department will only grow by 18 fully trained officers in the next two years.
While transferring some low-risk work to trained civilian responders would be one way to free up SPD officers for police work and investigations, another option could be reducing the amount of overtime police burn through directing traffic and providing security for sports events, which added up to more than 91,000 hours through October of this year. Diaz didn’t seem particularly open to this suggestion, either, noting that there is always a risk of violence at large events, such as someone trying to drive through a barricade.
2. Also on Tuesday, the city council voted unanimously to move forward with a plan to exempt many affordable housing projects from the design review process for another year—effectively signing off on the once-controversial view that design review leads to unnecessary delays that makes housing more expensive.
However, one of those “yes” votes, Councilmember Kshama Sawant, voted “no” on a separate package of amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan because they did not include “developer impact fees,” which some cities levy on housing developers to offset the toll new residents create on urban infrastructure like roads and sewers. One reason such fees are controversial is that they imply that new housing has a negative impact on the city, without considering the positive impacts (such as reduced traffic congestion, less sprawl, and more customers for local businesses) of dense, vibrant neighborhoods.
Since the city can’t pass developer impact fees until they’re included in the comprehensive plan, Sawant said, the vote to approve the amendments “means that we need to wait another year to make big developers pay for the impacts they have on our city infrastructure and for the profits they make without paying even this minimum of compensation for the city’s working people.” During the 2020 budget deliberations, Sawant joined her colleague Councilmember Alex Pedersen in seeking $350,000 for a study of impact fees; although Pedersen is generally far to the right of socialist Sawant, a shared opposition to most development frequently puts them on the same side of housing-related issues.
Low-income people and people experiencing homelessness often have to wait weeks or months before getting into residential treatment—a fact that flies in the face of calls to force more people in crisis into treatment under the state’s involuntary treatment law.
3. Pioneer Human Services, which offers treatment to low-income people with substance use disorder, is closing its 50-bed Pioneer Center North facility in Skagit County next month amid an acute regional shortage of residential treatment beds for low-income people and people seeking treatment during or after serving time in jail.
According to agency spokeswoman Nanette Sorich, there were a number of reasons for the “difficult decision,” including the fact that “the building has been operating on a short-term lease and the facility is past its useful life. Additionally, like many behavioral health providers, we have faced significant challenges with staffing and these labor force shortages have become more acute over time,” Sorich said.
The Sedro-Wooley inpatient clinic had 77 beds before the pandemic. Pioneer Human Services will now refer potential clients to its other clinics in Everett and Spokane, Sorich said.
Low-income people and people experiencing homelessness often have to wait weeks or months before getting into residential treatment—a fact that flies in the face of calls to force more people in crisis into treatment under the state’s involuntary treatment law. Since 2018, King County has lost more than 110 residential treatment beds and is now down to 244 beds countywide. A countywide levy, on the ballot next April, would restore the number of residential beds in King County to 2018 levels; the bulk of the $1.25 billion proposal would go toward five new walk-in crisis stabilization centers across the county.
I’ve been advocating for reforming Seattle’s design review process, in which appointed boards impose aesthetic requirements (and delays) on dense new housing, since 2016. I’ve attended many hours-long design review meetings, hosted lunch-and-learns about this gate-kept and arcane process, and created user-friendly advocacy documents to help community members participate in the process. But design review is irreparably broken. It’s a way to object to new neighbors, not an opportunity to make neighborhoods better.
The city appears to agree: In 2013, the Department of Construction and Inspections recommended simplifying the process in response to public feedback. “Most complaints [during public comment for design review] are NIMBY-ism,” one focus group participant put it.
On December 8, 2022, the City Council’s land use committee unanimously passed legislation from committee chair Dan Strauss that will extend COVID-era rules exempting some affordable housing from design review for one year. While the bill is a rare win for Seattle’s future, it does not address the scale and scope of our housing crisis.
But why don’t we want to make all housing less affordable? Market-rate housing doesn’t deserve the punishment of the often capricious design review process, either.
Exempting affordable housing from design review is a win for those of us who have advocated for reforms—a clear acknowledgement that design review makes affordable housing less affordable.
But why don’t we want to make all housing less affordable? Market-rate housing doesn’t deserve the punishment of the often capricious design review process, either. Multi-family, market-rate development in Seattle provides essential housing for Seattle renters. It contributes to Mandatory Housing Affordability, a program that requires developers to fund affordable housing either elsewhere or on site. And it increases our overall supply of housing—a necessity if we’re going combat the housing scarcity that leads to homelessness, as housing scholar Gregg Colburn and data journalist Clayton Aldern documented recently in the book Homelessness is a Housing Problem.
There have even been recent examples where market-rate housing has become available to those with deep housing insecurity through “rapid acquisition” by affordable housing developers.
A few weeks ago, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced that the one-year extension of the design review exemption will allow the city to conduct a full environmental review of legislation that would permanently exempt some affordable housing projects from design review and begin two new pilot programs, each lasting two years.
The first pilot would exempt from design review any projects that use the city’s (highly effective) Mandatory Housing Affordability program to produce new units on-site, instead of contributing to a housing fund. The second would allow developers of all kinds of housing, including market-rate housing, to choose whether to participate in the full design review process or a shorter Administrative Design Review (ADR) by city staff.
ADR follows the same steps as full design review; the difference is that the applications are reviewed privately by a Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) planner, not a public design review board.
The interim legislation, which is expected to pass at the tomorrow’s city council meeting, is an acknowledgment that design review is a superfluous hurdle to addressing our housing crisis. We hope to see additional bold proposals from Strauss.
While we celebrate this rare win, we are disappointed that Harrell’s announcement does not address the flaws in design review generally and doesn’t address challenges with the administrative design review (ADR) processes at all.
Merely exempting subsidized housing projects from the current design review process doesn’t come close to meeting the breadth of recommendations from community coalitions in September 2021 to fix this onerous, costly, and undemocratic process. We would like to see a complete overhaul of the program instead of the pilot Mayor Harrell has proposed, including a transformation of administrative design review itself.
One architect said the administrative process provides “no dialogue or recourse” that would help builders understand “why a planner asks you to do things.” Because of this risk of delays, many builders may opt for the “devil you know” public design review process.
Although ADR is less onerous than the full design-review process, it’s still no picnic for professionals trying to build housing. One study documented delays at a high level. After initial community engagement in the early stages, projects that go through administrative review are not visible to the public. This means NIMBY neighbors can’t interfere, but it also means advocates like myself lack insight into internal deliberations and can’t to counter potential NIMBY objections from city staff.
According to several builders I’ve spoken to, ADR can be significantly more unpredictable, lengthy, and costly than going through a design review board. Builders describe city staffers interjecting their personal aesthetic tastes as they pick and choose which design guidelines to enforce— an ineffective and unjust way to apply policy. One architect said the administrative process provides “no dialogue or recourse” that would help builders understand “why a planner asks you to do things.” Because of this risk of delays, many builders may not opt for administrative review and will continue to participate in the “devil you know” public design review process.
Design review is not making our city more resilient, more climate-friendly, more affordable, or more welcoming. Let’s not continue to conflate nostalgia and anti-renter calls for preserving neighborhood “character” with livability and wellbeing for all. The city must follow this rare win for Seattle’s future with the comprehensive reforms outlined by Seattle For Everyone, a pro-housing coalition that includes developers and housing advocates, with a particular focus on reforms to administrative design review.
The council will take public comment on its design review reform legislation at 2pm tomorrow, December 13. Please write or call in to support the provision to exempt low-income affordable projects from design review while pushing the city (and the mayor) to systematically fix the process.
Laura Loe is the founder of Share The Cities Organizing Collective, an all-volunteer advocacy group.
1. A city council committee declined to impose restrictions on a one-story former bank in South Lake Union Friday, arguing that the building, which now houses a drive-through Walgreen’s, is not historic enough to merit long-term preservation. The proposed restrictions, which were approved by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Board, would have given the landmarks board veto power over any changes to the interior or exterior of the building. The city has repeatedly increased allowed building heights in the area around the building, which is now surrounded by towers as tall as 160 feet.
The landmark designation for the 1950 building says the structure epitomizes mid-century banking architecture, which focused on convenience for middle-class consumers with cars, and says it also constitutes the outstanding work of a single designer. In fact (as the landmarks board also noted) the bank was just one of many similar structures in Seattle based on a prototype for a drive-through bank. Walgreen’s, which owns the building, had hoped to sell off the development rights for the property, keeping the building as-is but enabling another developer to build densely in a “receiving site” elsewhere in the city.
Neighborhoods committee chair Tammy Morales, who set the Walgreen’s building aside for further discussion back in April, said she saw no reason to prevent future development of the Walgreen’s site, given that there are four other similar buildings in Seattle. “Preserving this particular one-story building doesn’t make sense, given the housing crisis that we’re in and that the neighborhood has changed dramatically since 2006,” when the building got its landmark status.
The committee’s unanimous (four-member) vote against preserving the building also marks a dramatic change, as elected officials (and even the landmarks board) increasingly acknowledge that the need for housing often outweighs preservationists’ desire to see every old (and not-so-old) building protected.
2. In another sign of the times, another council committee agreed to extend the city’s “cafe streets” program, which allowed restaurants to create outdoor dining spaces during COVID, and impose new fees on businesses that take advantage of the program. (Originally, the permits were free).
Advocates for the proposal were concerned about an amendment by Northeast Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen to reinstate a rule that banned food trucks within 50 feet of any brick-and-mortar restaurant. Before COVID, this rule effectively prohibited food trucks in business districts all around the city—basically all the areas where people might actually be around to patronize a food truck.
Although the legislation that passed gets rid of this protectionist provision, it still subjects food trucks to extra scrutiny, requiring the Seattle Department of Transportation to report back on any “potential impacts from food trucks or other vending activity occurring in close proximity to brick-and-mortar businesses.”
Pedersen, who sponsored the amendment imposing this extra scrutiny on food truck operators, said the intent of the original 50-foot rule was “to mitigate the potential effects to small existing businesses that take on the risk of additional expenses, of capital improvements, inventory, and wages for workers to keep their brick-and-mortar operations afloat.”
Morales responded that by applying special scrutiny to food trucks, the council would be saying that food trucks—which are often run by immigrants and people of color—have a negative impact on other businesses. “The presumption with this amendment seems to be that we should protect existing businesses from competition,” Morales said, yet “we don’t ask anything of the corporations in this city that regularly squeeze out independent businesses through mergers and acquisitions.” The amendment passed, with Morales voting no, Dan Strauss abstaining, and Pedersen and Kshama Sawant voting yes.
3. Sound Transit, the regional transit agency, announced on Thursday that the extension of its existing Tacoma light rail line, which runs between downtown Tacoma and the Tacomadome, will be delayed for an unknown period due to “quality and safety issues” with the project. In a blog post, agency CEO Julie Timm said Sound Transit has already addressed multiple previous “quality issues” with the project, adding that the latest problem, which involves “track geometry,” will push the opening date until later in 2023.
“We have some folks flying in to look at some of the issues that were identified,” Timm said, but did not specify what the issues are, saying ST will have more to announce next week.
This isn’t the first time Sound Transit has identified shoddy work by its contractors since the pandemic began. Earlier this year, the agency announced it would have to delay the opening of the East Link line connecting Seattle to Bellevue because of multiple quality issues with the light rail extension across I-90. Those problems included problems with “nearly all” the concrete plinths and fasteners that affix the rails to the bridge, cracking concrete supports, missing rebar, and other structural and safety issues.
Because of those significant delays, Sound Transit has proposed changing the order in which it will open new light rail extensions. Under the new proposed schedule, the extension of the existing 1 line to Lynnwood would open in 2024, and the new line to Bellevue and downtown Redmond would open in 2025. Sound Transit doesn’t have a new opening date for a southern extension to Federal Way, which was delayed after a 200-foot section of embankment along the route slid nine feet earlier this year.
Prompted by a request from King County Councilmember and Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci, Sound Transit staff drafted a plan to open an eight-station, Eastside-only “starter line” connecting downtown Bellevue and Redmond that will provide Eastside residents with some rail transit starting next year while Sound Transit works out the problems with the I-90 crossing.
Seattle City Councilmembers Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen voted against the city council’s amended 2023-2024 budget proposal at a council budget committee meeting Monday, joining socialist Kshama Sawant—who votes against the budget every year—in an ideologically split three-vote minority. The budget, which goes to the full council for a final vote tomorrow, requires a six-vote majority to pass; if even one more council member sided with Nelson, Pedersen, and Sawant, the entire budget would fail.
Nelson and Pedersen, who frequently formed a two-vote mini-bloc during the council’s budget deliberations, explained their decision in similar terms: They couldn’t vote for a budget that doesn’t fully fund Harrell’s public safety priorities. “I cannot in good conscience endorse a final budget that, I believe, fails to learn from recent public policy mistakes on public safety and fall short on public safety for a third year in a row,” Pedersen said.
That argument would hold more water if the council had proposed actually cutting SPD’s budget. Instead, the council fully funded SPD’s (and Mayor Bruce Harrell’s) entire hiring plan, and used savings from vacant SPD positions to provide the department with an additional $17 million a year to pay for, among other things, the recruitment and retention proposals Nelson and Pedersen have supported. No other department received this kind of kid-gloves treatment; in fact, many departments face dramatic cuts next year.
The council’s budget also returns the city’s parking enforcement division to SPD, another one of Harrell’s top budget priorities.
“Minor reductions [to proposed new SPD programs] are being emphasized and exaggerated. This is the harmful rhetoric that is likely to continue to negatively impact hiring and retention.”—City Councilmember Lisa Herbold
In contrast to previous years, such as 2020, it’s virtually impossible to make the argument that the council didn’t work with the mayor to craft a budget that retains most of what he wanted—a point Councilmember Lisa Herbold made when she accused her two colleagues of contributing to a “false narrative” about public safety.
“It’s normal to debate budget issues,” Herbold said. “But these false narratives don’t make us safer.”
“Ninety-nine percent of the mayor’s proposed budget is included in this balancing package,” Herbold continued. “SPD hiring is fully funded, and they’ve begun to show some promising trends. Minor reductions to the remaining 1 percent of the budget”—the elimination of new programs, such as a gunfire surveillance system and a marketing consultant—”are being emphasized and exaggerated. This is the harmful rhetoric that is likely to continue to negatively impact hiring and retention.”
Eliminating these new programs from next year’s budget helped the council close a late-breaking general-fund budget shortfall of $4.5 million, on top of the $141 million shortfall announced earlier this year.
Nelson and Pedersen also objected to the council’s decision to eliminate, or abrogate, 80 of the 240 SPD positions that are currently sitting vacant; these vacant positions, which the city will use to augment the budget and fund new SPD spending next year, receive funding every budget cycle. The council’s budget will retain funding for at least 160 of these “ghost” positions going forward, and can add more positions in the future if SPD hiring suddenly skyrockets past the department’s own rather optimistic projections. Nonetheless, both Pedersen and Nelson have characterized this as an example of “defunding” the police.
Nelson also criticized the council for failing to fund an expansion of the city’s graffiti abatement program and for moving homeless outreach workers out of Harrell’s new Unified Care Team (which the council fully funded) and into the King County Regional Homelessness Authority.
The two council members’ votes against the budget seem even less justified when you consider the concessions the rest of the council made to fund their priorities.
Nelson, for example, got unanimous approval for a last-minute amendment that commits the city to spend some of the proceeds from a recent settlement with opioid distributors on abstinence-based rehab, marking the city’s first foray into the kind of public health decisions that are usually made by King County’s public health department.
Nelson was elected last year, and is staking out a position on the budget every bit as absolutist as Sawant’s: If the rest of the council doesn’t support her specific priorities, she’ll vote to reject the city’s budget wholesale.
In an op/ed earlier this year, Nelson expressed her view that medication-assisted treatment, such as the use of suboxone (an opioid) to treat opiate addiction, is “not aimed at long-term recovery.” This is the opposite of scientific consensus (the federal government’s substance abuse agency, for example, has a far more expansive definition of recovery that embraces long-term medication), but in line with Nelson’s general opposition to harm reduction programs— like the Public Defender Association’s LEAD and Co-LEAD programs, which provide case management and housing to people with addiction and other behavioral health issues.
Pedersen, meanwhile, managed to wrangle $3.5 million a year for bridge maintenance out of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District tax, which is supposed to fund transit, by arguing that because buses and bikes also use bridges, funding for bridges is a transit investment. That amendment passed 5-4—a major win for Pedersen at the expense of future transit projects.
Nelson was elected last year, and is staking out a position on the budget every bit as absolutist as Sawant’s: If the rest of the council doesn’t support her specific priorities, she’ll vote to reject the city’s budget wholesale. Time will tell if she continues down this all-or-nothing path.
Pedersen, in contrast, has apparently had a dramatic change of heart. Just two years ago, Pedersen wrote in a Seattle Times op/ed that it would be irresponsible for him to vote against the 2020 budget—which included far more dramatic changes than this year’s plan—just because he didn’t like everything that was in it.
“People are yearning for functional government. If the budget does not pass, nothing gets done,” Pedersen wrote. “No budget is perfect. Our constituents have diverse and conflicting views. A budget with positives and negatives is a natural result.”
“And to my constituents who ask, ‘Why did you vote the same way as Kshama Sawant?,” Pedersen concluded,
“I didn’t. She voted No.” This year, so did Pedersen.
The Seattle City Council’s budget committee, which includes all nine council members, moved forward on a 2023-2024 budget yesterday that will move the city’s parking enforcement division back to the police department, preserve inflationary wage increases for human service workers, and increase the city’s funding for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority—all while closing a late-breaking budget hole of almost $80 million over the next two years.
Every fall, the mayor proposes a budget and the council “rebalances” it, adding spending for their own priorities and removing items to keep the budget balanced. In November, after many council members had already proposed substantial changes to Mayor Bruces Harrell’s initial budget proposal, the city received news that tax revenues would be even lower than previously anticipated. The biggest unanticipated shortfall came from a decline in real-estate taxes, which pay for long-term capital projects, but other revenues, including parking taxes and money from the sweetened beverage tax, also declined.
Last week, council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda proposed a balancing package that saved money by declining to fund most of the new programs and program expansions Harrell proposed in his budget, while making several substantive policy changes. Among the most controversial: A proposal to eliminate 80 vacant positions in the police department, and a related plan to to keep the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), rather than moving them back to SPD, while the city decides on a permanent home for the unit.
“Our mayor’s budget did not delete these 80 [vacant police] positions, and if we trust in what the mayor asks for regarding public safety and the budgeting knowledge and skills and best practices of the city budget office, I don’t think we should do anything different here.”—Councilmember Alex Pedersen
The budget the committee adopted Monday night, nearly 12 hours into a meeting that began at 9:30 that morning, will eliminate the 80 vacant positions, while preserving another 160 vacant positions in future years. Vacant positions continue to be funded year after year unless the mayor or council takes action to defund them temporarily and use the money for other purposes, as Harrell’s budget does this year. Both the proposed budget and the one adopted by the committee on Monday use money that would have gone to the 80 vacant positions to augment the city’s general fund, while using the savings from another 120 positions to pay for new spending within the police department. This week, the council got word that SPD had identified another 40 vacant positions, for a total of 240.
Council member Alex Pedersen opposed eliminating the 80 unfilled police positions, arguing that it would be wrong for the council to go against the “wisdom” of the City Budget Office, the mayor, and police chief Adrian Diaz, who want to keep as many positions vacant but funded as possible.
“Our mayor’s budget … did not delete these 80 positions, and if we trust in what the mayor asks for regarding public safety and the budgeting knowledge and skills and best practices of the city budget office, I don’t think we should do anything different here by abrogating or deleting these 80 positions,” Pedersen said.
Council member Sara Nelson added that eliminating vacant positions as a recurring budget line item could discourage people from applying for jobs at SPD and send a message to existing officers that the city did not support police hiring.
In response, council public safety chair Lisa Herbold pointed out that the budget fully funds the mayor and SPD’s hiring plan, which would increase the department by a net total of 30 officers in the next two years. (This hiring plan assumes a complete reversal, and then some, of current SPD hiring trends). It also keeps the remaining 160 vacant positions on the books, where they will be funded again automatically in 2025. For the city to need the 80 positions the council eliminated Monday, it would have to hire at least 190 net new officers, not counting new recruits who replace officers who leave the department. If that very unlikely scenario came to pass, the council could add funding for more officers—as it has many times in the past.
“It’s really disappointing that … some people seem unwilling to say that the hiring budget is fully funded for the next biennium for the council to act on,” Herbold said. “That would send a positive factual message, rather than … distort what an abrogation of positions would do for the budget.”
Nelson and Pedersen also cast the only votes against a Herbold-sponsored proviso, or spending restriction, requiring the police department to get council approval if they want to use their staffing budget for anything other than salaries and benefits, arguing it was important to give SPD special flexibility to spend their budget how they want to.
“I believe we should stop micromanaging the use of salary savings and exercise some humility going forward because we simply don’t know what needs will need to be met,” Nelson said. “[Extra] overtime, for example, if there’s an earthquake or a mass shooting or something.”
In a last-minute compromise with Harrell’s office, the council agreed to move parking enforcement from SDOT to SPD, as PubliCola reported Monday. The compromise amendment uses administrative savings from the move (almost $9 million a year) to pay for several council spending priorities, including $1 million in one-time funds to support the Public Defender Association’s LEAD and Co-LEAD programs, which Harrell’s budget partially defunded; $1 million to “activate” City Hall Park in Pioneer Square, which has been fenced off since the summer of 2021; and $1 million for RV parking and storage “associated with non-congregate shelter,” among other new spending.
In a separate amendment, the council provided an additional $2 million a year for LEAD and Co-LEAD, which the PDA says still leaves them $5.3 million a year short of what it needs to fully fund both programs. The two programs provide case management and (in the case of Co-LEAD) hotel-based shelter for people involved in the criminal legal system, including many with behavioral health conditions that make it harder to find housing.
Morales had more success with another amendment that would place a budget proviso, or restriction, on $1 million in 2023 spending from the city’s transportation levy, requiring SDOT to spend it replacing plastic bollards that do not actually “protect” bike lanes with concrete barriers that do.
Here are some more highlights from Monday’s meeting, which was the last chance for council members to make substantive changes to the budget; for budget changes the council agreed on prior to Monday’s meeting, check out our coverage of those changes from last week.
• The council turned down proposals to place extra scrutiny on two programs that the council’s more conservative faction, led by Pedersen and Nelson, generally oppose. For example, they voted to remove $1.2 million in funding (all numbers are two-year figures) that Nelson wanted to spend on two full-time city staffers who would evaluate the JumpStart tax, which was just implemented last year.
The council also rejected two proposals by Nelson to apply extra scrutiny to LEAD and Co-LEAD, which take a harm reduction approach to addiction and low-level criminal activity rather than the abstinence-only approach Nelson favors (more on that in a moment). Specifically, Nelson wanted detailed information about the PDA’s subcontracts with REACH, the homeless outreach provider, and the basic details of both programs.
Twelve days after a late-breaking revenue forecast punched new holes in the city of Seattle’s biennial budget, city council budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda released a two-year “balancing package” that amends Mayor Bruce Harrell’s October budget proposal by eliminating proposed new programs and initiatives, allowing revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax to fund programs that would not ordinarily qualify for JumpStart spending, and reducing the number of vacant police positions the city will continue to hold open next year from 200 to 120.
Mosqueda’s plan would eliminate proposed new funding for Shotspotter (or another gunshot detection system); reduce the proposed increase in police recruiting efforts; reduce the amount of new funding SPD will receive for new guns and ammunition; and reduce the amount of new spending on SPD’s Develop Our People leadership academy, a management training program for sergeants.
Harrell’s budget assumes that the 120 vacant positions Mosqueda’s proposal leaves untouched won’t be filled, and “reinvests” those on-paper savings back into other police programs. Mosqueda’s budget proposal doesn’t touch this “reinvestment” and still funds the vast majority of Harrell’s police hiring and recruitment plan, which still includes large bonuses for new recruits and enough money to hire a net 30 new officers over the next two years—an ambitious plan that would represent a rapid reversal of police hiring trends over the last several years.
At Monday’s initial council meeting to discuss the proposal, Councilmember Alex Pedersen said any proposal to cut vacant positions from SPD’s budget amounted to “revisiting the debate in 2020 and 2021” about “defunding” the police department. “I see in the [budget] proviso that it takes away the police department’s flexibility to use savings to address overtime needs, despite the fact that they have a severe staffing shortage,” Pedersen said.
Mosqueda anticipated the objection that eliminating funding for positions that will never be filled amounts to a “cut” in the police department. “We are not touching the 120 [police positions] and we are not touching the hiring plan,” Mosqueda told PubliCola Sunday. But “we know we are never going to fill [the remaining 80], so we are going to put those dollars back into the general fund.”
Councilmember Alex Pedersen said any proposal to cut vacant positions from SPD’s budget amounted to “revisiting the debate in 2020 and 2021” about “defunding” the police department.
Then, Mosqueda said, she looked at the items Harrell proposed funding with the money from the remaining 120 positions, and asked “what is above and beyond on that list. It was things like [the gunshot detection system] Shotspotter— gone. They wanted a PR firm that was in charge of the [police] recruiting plan. That’s gone. They wanted a website redesign investment. That’s gone. Anything that was not essential for the policy that was passed—gone.”
Eliminating Shotspotter, SPD’s marketing plan, and a new $1.2 million-a-year anti-graffiti program would save about $3 million a year. Cutting and delaying capital projects funded by the city’s Real Estate Excise Tax, which stands to take a $64 million hit over the next three years, would save millions more. Another source of unanticipated funding—about $5 million a year—will come from the money the city planned to spend expanding an existing shelter in SoDo, a project King County Executive Dow Constantine abandoned earlier this year.
And then, of course, there is the JumpStart payroll tax, which the council originally earmarked for housing, Green New Deal programs, equitable development, and small businesses. Harrell’s budget would have empowered the mayor to use JumpStart for non-JumpStart purposes in perpetuity, by overturning a law, passed just last year, that only allows JumpStart spending for general government purposes if the city’s general fund falls below $1.5 billion.
Although Mosqueda’s budget provides a two-year exemption to this rule, she says she’s confident the council won’t have to do the same thing after 2024,, because by then a revamped progressive revenue task force will have come up with new funding sources to make the annual budget less susceptible to economic downturns.
The balancing package also shifts some funds around so that JumpStart will mostly go to its intended purposes; for example, instead of using the payroll tax to 14 new city employees to staff Sound Transit’s light rail expansion plan, as Harrell proposed, Mosqueda’s proposal would use money from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, funded mostly with vehicle license fees, to pay for those positions.
Although Mosqueda made some concessions on JumpStart, her budget also funds full inflationary wage increases for human service workers, rather than the sub-inflationary 4 percent increase Harrell proposed. Harrell’s plan would have required the council to overturn a 2019 law requiring cost of living adjustments that keep up with inflation; as Harrell, then council president, said in a speech supporting the measure at the time, the point of the law was to ensure that wages keep up with inflation during “hard times,” not just when things are going well.
The balancing package also keeps the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation, rather than transferring them back to the Seattle Police Department, as Harrell proposed. This plan, like Mosqueda’s proposal to stop funding 80 vacant police positions that cannot be filled, could end up a target for disingenuous accusations that the council is “defunding the police.”
PubliCola has heard that Councilmember Sara Nelson plans to resurrect Harrell’s original proposal to open up JumpStart spending permanently, including legislation originally sent down by Harrell’s office that would pin the threshold for JumpStart to go to non-JumpStart purposes to the rate of inflation, rather than a fixed $1.5 billion amount.
The balancing package also keeps the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation, rather than transferring them back to the Seattle Police Department, as Harrell proposed, and sets up a process for determining where parking enforcement will ultimately live at the city by next April.
“We’re asking them for a little bit of time to take the temperature down, have a conversation, and ask them what they need,” Mosqueda told PubliCola. “And then we’ll figure out which department has that structure. Is it SPD? Is it [the Community Safety and Communications Center? Is it a totally different department?” This plan, like Mosqueda’s proposal to stop funding 80 vacant police positions that cannot be filled, could end up a target for disingenuous accusations that the council is “defunding the police.”
The new budget proposal also includes funding to hire up to 90 parking enforcement officers and pay for supplies and new uniforms for the parking enforcement unit, which had to cut costs when the city moved parking enforcement to SDOT. The move increased administrative costs for the department by about $5 million due to a quirk in how way general fund spending is allocated on administration; Mosqueda said neither SDOT nor then-mayor Jenny Durkan were honest with the council about the extra costs.
Other highlights of the balancing package, which the council will discuss in detail over the coming week:
• Instead of funding the mayor’s “Seattle Jobs Center,” which Harrell described in his first State of the City address as a portal “connecting workers and employers to new opportunities, workforce development, and apprenticeships,” the balancing proposal would use JumpStart revenues to fund the MLK Labor Council’s existing online “hiring hall,” while requesting a report from the city’s Office of Economic Development on what a city-run jobs site would look like.
Looking at Harrell’s budget proposal, which does not include any new details about the jobs center, “we were like, ‘what’s the plan here? What’s this going to look like? Have you consulted with labor partners?'” Mosqueda said. “And there wasn’t a lot of there there.”
• The proposal eliminates cash spending on large projects that would be funded by the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) and proposes funding them instead with long-term debt, which increases the cost of projects but allows the city to fund them over time, rather than paying for entire big-ticket items up front. These include the redevelopment of Memorial Stadium, at Seattle Center, in collaboration with Seattle Public Schools, and the purchase of a building on the downtown waterfront for a new, 10,000-square-foot tribal interpretive center for the Muckleshoot Tribe.
• The balancing package would preserve most of the funding Harrell’s budget added for the new Unified Care Team, a group of city staffers from several departments that cleans up around and removes encampments. As we reported, Harrell’s budget adds 61 permanent positions to this team, the majority of them in the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Parks Department—the two departments primarily responsible for encampment sweeps.
However, the package would take most of the funding Harrell proposed spending to expand the HOPE Team, a group of city staffers that does outreach at encampments, and reallocate that money to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority to pay for contracted outreach providers, such as REACH. The plan would still add one new “system navigator” to the UCT, so that there will be one outreach worker for each of five areas of the city where the UCT will operate. The proposal also outlines clear, distinct roles for the city’s own system navigators and KCRHA’s outreach teams.
The formal request poses a list of 23 questions and sub-questions about “emphasis patrols” and the city attorney’s “high utilizers” list, such as “Does SPD have a theory of change for emphasis patrols?” and “How much has the City spent on jail beds for those arrested via emphasis patrols on the high utilizers list?
• As we reported on Monday, the regional homelessness authority approached the council in October, five months after submitting its annual budget request, to ask for more than $9 million in new funding to pay for ongoing programs that were originally funded with one-time federal dollars during the COVID pandemic. The balancing package provides $3.9 million—the sane amount KCRHA said it needs to continue federally funded rapid rehousing programs—and says KCRHA will use $5.4 million from its own 2022 “underspend” to fund these programs.
• The proposal includes $4 million in 2023 alone for the LEAD and CoLEAD programs, which provide case management, services, and, in the case of CoLEAD, hotel-based lodging for people who are involved in the criminal legal system, including people experiencing homelessness. The Public Defender Association, which runs both programs, has said it will need to make dramatic cuts to either or both in the absence of full funding for both. Harrell’s budget provided just $2.5 million over two years for CoLEAD, stipulating that the money was supposed to be spent moving CoLEAD clients from hotels into tiny house villages; the balancing package increases the city’s total contribution to both programs but says the PDA must come up with “other ongoing funding sources” after next year. Continue reading “Council Budget “Balancing Package” Cuts Vacant SPD Positions, Restores Human Service Worker Raises”→
Update: On Monday morning, a spokeswoman for the KCRHA said the Housing Command Center will have housed 11 people by the end of the day.
A consultant working with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), David Canavan, updated the King County Regional Homelessness Authority last week about the work being done by the “Housing Command Center,” which aims to house homeless people living downtown by moving them directly from the street into privately owned units, with full rent subsidies for the first year. The Command Center opened began its work in late August.
Of the 748 people on the regional authority’s “by-name list” of people living unsheltered downtown, Canavan said, three households, including a total of four individuals, have signed leases and are getting ready to move in to apartments. “We’re really at the beginning of moving folks, and there’s a tremendous amount of work goes into aligning these systems, executing contracts, developing the workforce, [and] building assessment tools” for people on the list, Canavan said. So far, he said, the command center has identified 310 housing units.
According to KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens, two-thirds of those 310 units are studio apartments; the rest are one-bedrooms. “The amount of time it takes to get a person housed is dropping,” Martens said, from 36 days to “18 or 19 days” after “a site is prioritized for [removal]” by the city. (During last week’s meeting, Canavan said the first housing placement took 34 days and the second took 17.)
Implementation board member and Lived Experience Coalition representative Lamont Green asked Canavan whether the command center was doing anything to add temporary shelters or transitional housing “so we can more quickly get people off the streets across King County,” since “the majority of our unhoused neighbors do not want to be living outside.”
“I don’t see shelter as part of that solution. I don’t think we have to have shelter designed into our process. But I’m also not a decision maker.” —David Canvan, HUD
No, Canavan said; HUD’s focus is entirely on permanent housing. “I don’t see shelter as part of that solution. I don’t think we have to have shelter designed into our process. But I’m also not a decision maker. I don’t get to make decisions for other people. So I’m trying to add choices to your portfolio, which means putting permanent housing solutions in front of folks experiencing homelessness. That doesn’t eliminate any of the choices that are available and my understanding is your jurisdiction has shelter options with many vacancies.”
In reality, according to outreach providers and city officials who have attempted to take a more deliberate approach to encampment removals, there are general only a handful of shelter beds available across the city on any given day. Moreover, the shelters that have more frequent openings are congregate or semi-congregate shelters like the Navigation Center in Chinatown, rather than more desirable forms of shelter, such as hotels and tiny houses.
As we noted when we reported exclusively on the command center in September, the “command center”—a room at the city of Seattle’s Emergency Operations Center in Pioneer Square—did not come with any additional funding.
At the time, the KCRHA was hoping for future funding from, among other places, the city of Seattle, from which the authority requested tens of millions of dollars in new funding for a new high-acuity medical shelter, new temporary bridge housing, and new safe lots for people living in their vehicles. Mayor Bruce Harrell’s initial budget proposal funded none of these items, but did include $10 million in new funding for temporary shelter, which wasn’t among the authority’s requests.
Since then, the KCRHA has come back to the council to ask for money to pay for programs and services that were originally funded with about $45 million in one-time federal COVID emergency dollars that will no longer be available after this year. (Once city budget adds are factored in, the KCRHA stands to lose about $30 million in COVID-era funding).
An amendment sponsored by Councilmember Tammy Morales would add $9.4 million a year to partially backfill this funding, which paid for “program modifications, shelter deintensification, and service changes that were instituted during the pandemic and have now been incorporated into the expected service models,” according to a council staff description of the amendment. However, Morales proposed that amendment before the latest dire revenue forecast, which blew new holes in both the general fund ($4.5 million next year) and revenues from the real-estate excise tax, which funds capital projects ($26.7 million next year.)
Update Monday: A city council balancing package released today includes $3.9 million in one-time funds for 2023 to partially pay for the KCRHA’s request.
A separate proposal, which council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda is expected to release as part of an overall council budget proposal on Monday, would move some funding Harrell proposed spending on the new Unified Care Team, which oversees the city’s encampment cleanup and removal efforts, to the KCRHA.
As we reported, the city has proposed moving encampment outreach (currently performed by a small group called the HOPE Team, which has been subsumed into the UCT) to the regional authority instead of keeping them at the city. The Harrell administration, like the Durkan administration before it, has maintained that the HOPE Team has to stay at the city to avoid exposing the city to legal liability over its encampment removal practices.
Mosqueda will release her budget “balancing package” on Monday morning; PubliCola will have full coverage after the council meets to discuss the proposal Monday afternoon.
1. Last week, King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) announced that it had resumed the use of tap water for drinking and cooking “after new tests, like all other tests performed recently, confirmed that tap water in the jail meets EPA and Washington Department of Health drinking water standards.” The jail began distributing bottled water after complaints that the tap water in cells, ordinarily the only water source for drinking, hygiene, and heating packaged foods, was cloudy or brown.
According to DAJD spokesman Noah Haglund, the county’s facilities division “has worked diligently with water quality experts to assess the quality of the water and attempt to determine the cause of any discoloration or turbidity in the water.” (PubliCola reported exclusively on the water shutdown last month). Inmates at the jail lacked tap water for more than a month while the county was doing tests, and two current inmates told us they did not have access to adequate bottled water.
Haglund provided copies of testing results that indicated the water is safe to drink. However, multiple reports from inside the jail continue to indicate that the water is brown and cloudy. According to one defense attorney, a client at the jail reported that running the faucet in his cell “causes it to turn brown/black with visible film on top and particles in it.” The mother of another inmate said her son reported that “the water is still brown” and that guards are no longer handing out water.
Haglund confirmed that the jail is no longer handing out bottled water, and said that after following up on a complaint about water quality, a jail captain “did not observe any discoloration, abnormalities, or any other inconsistencies in the water” in the south wing of the jail. “We will continue to follow up if we receive additional reports about water issues,” Haglund said.
2. As part of the city budget deliberations that are still ongoing, City Councilmember Tammy Morales, who represents Southeast Seattle, has proposed several amendments that would claw back most of $5.7 million in unspent dollars from the Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise (FEPP) levy, which funds preschool, college assistance, and other programs. Mayor Bruce Harrell has proposed investing this underspend in Seattle Promise, whose scholarships have turned out to disproportionately benefit white students, rather than the preschool programs for which the funding was originally intended.
Morales’ amendments would reduce Harrell’s proposed new spending on Seattle Promise by $1 million in 2023 and $3.7 million in 2024 and require the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning to come up with a new plan to prioritize low-income kids, first-generation immigrants, and students of color for Seattle Promise enrollment. The amendments would not reduce overall funding for the program, and it wouldn’t eliminate funding Harrell’s office has already allocated for Seattle Promise purposes in advance of this year’s budget process.
“White students get more access to more [Seattle Promise] dollars. They also have better retention rates and better outcomes than scholars of color. Until the structural problem is fixed, we shouldn’t be expanding it.”—City Councilmember Tammy Morales
The Seattle Promise program, which provides scholarships (“Tuition”) and financial assistance (“Equity Scholarships”) to Seattle high school students who attend a local college in Seattle. Most of the funding for Seattle Promise goes toward tuition, with a smaller portion paying for grants to help kids of color and low-income kids, who often don’t qualify for scholarships because they receive tuition assistance through state and federal programs, to pay for other college necessities like food and transportation.
The implementation plan for the levy says that if demand for tuition exceeds available funds, “tuition funds will be prioritized for low-income, first-generation” students and students of color. It also says that any levy funds that go unspent at the end of the year, including tuition and scholarship funds, will supplement the preschool programs that make up the bulk of FEPP levy spending. However, this language has never been adopted into law, which is why Harrell was able to propose rolling $5.7 million in unspent Seattle Promise dollars back into the tuition side of the program, rather than spending it on preschool.
Seattle Promise was explicitly designed to close race-based opportunity gaps that keep kids of color from attending college. In reality, according to Morales, almost half the program’s tuition funding has gone to white students. “The way that it is currently structured is inequitable,” Morales said at a committee meeting late last month. “White students get more access to more dollars. They also have better retention rates and better outcomes than scholars of color. … Until the structural problem is fixed, we shouldn’t be expanding it.”
1.The Seattle Redistricting Commission officially adopted a new map for Seattle City Council districts Tuesday, though not without some wind-related drama: As commissioner (and former mayor) Greg Nickels was preparing to make his final case against the decision to divide Magnolia across two districts, his power (along with that of more than 10,000 other West Seattle residents) went out and the meeting had to be delayed for several minutes.
Most commissioners agreed two weeks ago on a compromise that will split Magnolia along the ridge that divides west-facing view houses from the city-facing half of the peninsula, which includes some of the city’s densest rental housing. (This probably says more about Seattle than it does about Magnolia). The new map, which is based on a proposal from the grassroots group Redistricting Justice for Seattle, eliminates the need to split Fremont into three council districts while keeping neighborhoods like the Chinatown International District whole.
“Retribution [against] Magnolia because it is an older, wealthier and whiter community—I think that’s not something that the redistricting commission ought to be engaged in. And in a larger sense, as we talk about race and social justice, I think that reconciliation is going to be a much more successful strategy than retribution ” —Redistricting commissioner and former mayor Greg Nickels
Nickels, however, never wavered from his insistence that dividing Magnolia effectively disenfranchised the neighborhood. On Tuesday, Nickels said he considered the map “retribution” by woke commissioners against a “community interest that’s very strong and ought to be acknowledged and respected our plan.”
“Retribution [against] Magnolia because it is an older, wealthier and whiter community—I think that’s not something that the redistricting commission ought to be engaged in,” Nickels said.
“I don’t think that individual commissioners are engaging in that, but I want to make it clear that I think that that’s just an inappropriate social policy for redistricting to take on. And in a larger sense, as we talk about race and social justice, I think that reconciliation is going to be a much more successful strategy than retribution.”
The map passed 4-1, with Nickels voting no.
2. In the runup to Election Day, money continued to pour into the campaigns for both ranked-choice voting (a system that would allow voters to rank local primary election candidates in order of preference) and approval voting (a system that lets voters pick as many candidates as they like). As of late Tuesday afternoon, the two campaigns each had roughly $600,000, with Seattle Approves about $17,000 ahead of Ranked Choice Voting for Seattle.
Most of that money, for both campaigns, comes not from grassroots-level donations from voters but in the form of a few giant checks from advocacy groups (RCV) and wealthy individuals outside the state. Most of Seattle Approves’ money, for example, comes from just two sources: Crypto exchange billionaire (update, maybe not) Sam Bankman-Fried and his company, FTX, and the California-based Center for Election Science, which is funded by the Open Philanthropy Project. More thatn $450,000 of the $614,000 Seattle Approves has reported raising so far came from these two sources.
The ranked-choice voting campaign, meanwhile, has received almost half a million dollars from the local and national branches of FairVote, an RCV advocacy group that’s funded by a number of large philanthropic organizations, including the MacArthur Foundation and the Soros Fund. According to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, almost 98 percent of Ranked Choice For Seattle’s funding came from 27 large contributors, and the campaign had only 141 donations under $700. Just over 98 percent of Seattle Approves’ funding came from 22 large donors, and the campaign received just 75 contributions below $700. At least 86 percent of the RCV campaign’s funding came from outside city limits; for approval voting, that number was 90 percent.