Category: Elections

County Executive Dow Constantine, Seeking Reelection: “The Status Quo Has Been Upended”

By Erica C. Barnett

King County Executive Dow Constantine, who served in the state legislature and on the King County Council before beating eight other candidates for county executive in 2009, was supposed to run for governor—until the current governor, Jay Inslee, decided he wanted to keep the job. With a bid for higher office thwarted until at least 2024, many political observers expected Constantine to step down this year rather than seek a fourth term.

Then the pandemic hit, and suddenly, all eyes were on King County and its public health department, whose capable response to a fast-moving, ever-evolving crisis made the county a model for the nation. Constantine decided to run again, and for the first time in 12 years, drew a credible opponent—Democratic state Sen. Joe Nguyen, who represents the same West Seattle district Constantine did in the state House and Senate. (In a further twist of internecine West Seattle politics, Nguyen defeated Shannon Braddock, who’s now Constantine’s deputy chief of staff.)

I sat down with Constantine over Zoom last week, and started out by asking him why he decided to seek another term.

Dow Constantine: I mean, I was thinking about running for governor, but then the governor ran for governor. And because I’m a good Democrat, and I want to ensure that we have Democratic leadership in Olympia, I chose not to run for governor along with all the other potential candidates.

I have lots of options in life. But the best opportunity right now coming out of this crisis is to advance the work we’ve been doing. I think this is a unique, exciting moment where the status quo has been upended. And a lot of the things that we have been dutifully building toward in equity and social justice and environmental restoration and police transformation and so forth become dramatically more possible. So, you know, once the, the COVID crisis started, we’ve been in it, and there’s really been no looking back.

PubliCola: Looking back over the last 14, 15 months of the pandemic, is there anything that you would have done differently in the early months, if you had known kind of how things would turn out?

With hindsight being 20/20, instead of trying to distance people in a congregate setting, like in shelters, we would know that having people just farther apart but all in the same room, was still going to be problematic. We [eventually] moved to the hotel model, which immediately and dramatically slowed the spread of the disease. Obviously, if we had more knowledge at the time, we might have made different choices about requiring mask use early on, or getting people into hotels and single-room settings rather than shelters. But in general, I think that the people responded well to a crisis with a lot of unknowns.

“Simply saying that the government can’t be involved in anything that in any way facilitates someone using the substance to which they are clearly physically addicted is just inhumane.”

PC: One of the things [Downtown Emergency Service Center director] Daniel Malone has said since early in the pandemic, when DESC moved people from their downtown shelter to the Red Lion in Renton, is that they’re never going to go back to the way things were, with people staying in overcrowded, congregate shelters. And yet it feels like that’s kind of what’s happening at the city level. Do you think that in a year or two years, we’re going to be right back where we were?

DC: That is not what the county is doing. Other than in isolated cases, for an immediate overnight emergency, we’re not going to be investing in mats-on-the-floor, get-kicked-out-in-the-morning shelters, because we have seen what having a room of your own, a place of your own, even just space of your own, can do for people.

It used to be that people were very focused on long-term, purpose-built, supportive housing, and it was sort of, we’ll just wait and let people rotate through these congregate shelters until those things are ready. With some exceptions, I think we’re moving much more toward a model where we try to get everyone a place that is genuinely a better alternative to the streets or a tent—a place that has a lock on the door with their own bathroom and some dignity and the ability to get rested and cleaned and centered. And that seems like kind of an obvious thing. But the pandemic created the opportunity to demonstrate how much better that works than a congregate shelter setting.

“I do think it’s likely that we want to find [a new sheriff] who is an outsider, someone who doesn’t owe anyone anything and is not beholden to people so that they can make difficult decisions and see things with clear eyes.”

PC: The opiate task force came out with its recommendations almost five years ago, and I remember at the time thinking that, in particular, the [supervised consumption site] recommendation was never going to happen. And sure enough, it hasn’t. Why do you think that is? And do you think the county has come through as promised on the remaining recommendations, including access to treatment on demand?

DC: I do think that the task force was correct that a safe, monitored place would save lives. And we’re seeing continued deaths from heroin that’s tainted with fentanyl, for example. And for the parents, for the families who’ve lost their children, the moralizing that I come across in the media about not facilitating drug use rings kind of hollow. Simply saying that the government can’t be involved in anything that in any way facilitates someone using the substance to which they are clearly physically addicted is just inhumane.

Will we, as a practical matter, be able to get one of these things up and running? I don’t think, unless there’s a significant political change, that it’s going to be possible to do. But I will say this. The advances in both treatment and the drugs to reverse overdose mean that it’s absolutely imperative that people not be in basements and alleys and other places where they don’t have eyes on and them can’t get help, because we can save lives in the short run. And we can save people from addiction over time. And we have much better mechanisms that we had even a decade ago to do that.

“It is the state of Washington that requires us to have a youth detention facility. And we would very much welcome the state legislature actually removing that legal obligation, and instead providing us with the funds and the mandate for alternatives.”

This is not your question, but this has been bugging me lately. There are a lot of people on the streets who have some level of opioid dependence. And some of them had it before they were homeless, and a lot of them developed it on the streets and are at grave risk because of tainted drugs that can come in to the community. And there have been plenty of suburban kids and parents who have died. But I continue, as I make calls, to hear this basic, moralistic perspective—like, they’ve just got to get off the junk, and then we can offer them all these services.

And we know that’s not how it works. Getting just some solid ground under people’s feet first is an almost indispensable prerequisite to people being able to succeed in treatment. When you’re fighting for survival every night, it’s very hard to adhere to some sort of program that’s going to help you get off of whatever you’re addicted to. Continue reading “County Executive Dow Constantine, Seeking Reelection: “The Status Quo Has Been Upended””

County Invests in Hotel-Based Shelter, SPOG Campaigns for Sawant Recall, Durkan Records Requests Raise Disclosure Questions

1. In his State of the County address Tuesday, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced that the county would purchase the Inn at Queen Anne, which has been serving as a temporary shelter operated by Catholic Community Services since April of last year.

The 80-room hotel, which CCS will continue to operate, will cost the county $16.5 million; the money will come from the new “health through housing” sales tax that the county council passed—with some notable abstentions from suburban cities—late last year. The county plans to purchase “several more properties in several more cities … in the coming weeks,” Constantine said in his address.

Even as the county moves to buy hotels, the city of Seattle is pushing in the opposite direction.

In an interview yesterday, Constantine said he saw the hotels as “stops on the way to permanent supportive housing or independent housing, including affordable housing—places where you could live for a while and stabilize and take advantage of services.” Traditional, congregate shelters, including “enhanced shelters” like Seattle’s Navigation Center, don’t offer the kind of privacy and stability hotel rooms provide; “the difference between being able to come inside for the night and having a place of your own with a lock on the door seems to be everything,” Constantine said.

Even as the county moves to buy hotels, the city of Seattle is pushing in the opposite direction. Between now and June, Seattle plans to close down a temporary shelter at Exhibition Hall and relocate the people living there into shelters whose populations were “redistributed” last year, including the Navigation Center. After resisting calls to move Seattle’s homeless population into hotel-based shelters, the city finally rented about 200 hotel rooms this spring—a temporary solution (the rooms will be occupied for 10 months) and one that represents a fraction of the need. At the same time, Seattle is ramping up homeless encampment sweeps.

Asked about the apparent contrast between the county’s approach and Seattle’s, Constantine said, “first off, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If people need a place to be inside at night, we have to figure out a way to make that happen.” However, he added, “If you’re going to move people out of an encampment, at a bare minimum, you can’t just chase people from one street corner to another or one park to another. That is tremendously unhelpful.”

Constantine is up for reelection this year; his challenger, state Sen. Joe Nguyen, told PubliCola he supports the regional homelessness authority that the county is setting up but thinks the county has failed forge partnerships with the leaders of cities within the county.

The email, which the police union sent to its members last Friday, asked off-duty officers to appear in plain clothes to collect signatures and wave anti-Sawant signs at four Capitol Hill intersections on Saturday and Sunday.

2. The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) asked its members to participate in signature-gathering events for the Recall Sawant campaign over the weekend, according to an email from SPOG leadership.

The email, which the police union sent to its members last Friday, asked off-duty officers to appear in plain clothes to collect signatures and wave anti-Sawant signs at four Capitol Hill intersections on Saturday and Sunday.

Recall Sawant campaign manager Henry Bridger II told SPOG members in the email that their presence would help “beef up” an otherwise meager group of volunteers. “Our goal is to have about 40+ people each day and we have about 15 right now and many probably won’t show for fear of retaliation,” he wrote, warning that “Sawant’s people will be there in mass [sic] to interfere.”

“We are just wanting to have plain-clothed volunteers to help hold signs and gather signatures so we look like we have a lot of coverage,” Bridger added. He also asked officers to bring their family and friends to boost turnout.

SPOG’s push for turnout seems to have fizzled: Twitter chatter about campaign volunteers at the intersection of Broadway and Denny suggests that few recall supporters showed up at the campaign event.

3. On Monday, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission held a brief discussion on a report that prompted outrage from major-media outlets last week because it revealed that Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office had failed to produce many of her text message in response to records requests in 2020.

Specifically, the report—produced by independent public disclosure expert Ramsey Ramerman in response to a whistleblower complaint by two longtime mayoral public disclosure officers—found that 10 months of Durkan’s texts were missing, and that the mayor’s office had routinely excluded Durkan’s texts from requests for text messages from mayoral staff, on the grounds that the requests didn’t explicitly include the mayor.

The report, posted on the city’s website last week, was a bombshell, but it seemed to hit major media outlets somewhat differently than it hit us at PubliCola, for a simple reason: While we have filed dozens of records requests for text messages and other forms of communication, such as messages on internal City messaging systems, during the Durkan administration, we have routinely received only emails in response—a fact that suggests Durkan and her entire staff don’t use text messages, internal communications systems, or any other form of written communication other than email at all.

Since we know this is not the case (in fact, a quick text history search found a number of messages that would have been responsive to some of our requests), the only conclusion we can reach is that the mayor’s office did not provide records that would have been responsive to our requests, despite having the ability to do so and despite apparently filling other media outlets’ requests for text messages and other forms of communication. (A full list of PubliCola’s records requests to the mayor’s office since August 2018 is available here.) Continue reading “County Invests in Hotel-Based Shelter, SPOG Campaigns for Sawant Recall, Durkan Records Requests Raise Disclosure Questions”

Homeless Advocates Challenge Compassion Seattle Ballot Measure

By Erica C. Barnett

Advocates for people experiencing homelessness challenged the ballot title for the “Compassion Seattle” initiative in King County Superior Court on Thursday, arguing that the short description of the proposal—which is what Seattle voters would see on their ballots in November—is inaccurate and “prejudicial” because it implies that the measure would guarantee new funding for housing and homeless services when it does not, among other reasons.

The petition, filed by Real Change, the Transit Riders Union, Nickelsville, and Be:Seattle, makes several key points. First, the groups argue that the ballot language—which says the measure would require the city to “dedicate minimum 12% of the annual general fund revenue to homelessness and human services”—inaccurately implies an increase in funding for homelessness, when in fact the 12 percent would go to human services in general, which currently make up about 11 percent of the city’s general-fund budget.

“Requiring twelve percent of the general fund to be placed in [a new] ‘Human Services Fund may not add any funding to homelessness services,” the petition says.

“To put [encampment removals] in the statement of subject, which is those first ten words [of the ballot title], is inflammatory, which is prejudicial,” said Knoll Lowney, the attorney for the advocates.

Second, they argue that language saying the charter amendment “concerns actions to address homelessness and keep areas clear of encampments” is misleading because it implies that the initiative will keep the city clear of encampments, when the measure actually says the city will balance homeless residents’ interests against the city’s interest in having encampment-free parks and public spaces.

“To put [encampment removals] in the statement of subject, which is those first ten words [of the ballot title], is inflammatory, which is prejudicial,” said Knoll Lowney, the attorney for the advocates.

Compassion Seattle has consistently argued that the initiative, which began as a sweeps-focused measure that evolved to include aspirational language about ensuring that people have access to shelter or housing, does not require sweeps. By taking proponents at their word—that is, by conceding their point that the proposal is actually designed to house people so no one will need to live in public—advocates are essentially arguing that the proponents of the initiative are relying on prejudice against homeless people to sell the measure.

The advocates also argue that the ballot title is misleading in another way: Rather than requiring “action,” as the short description implies, its primary impact would be imposing new policies and performance standards on programs, which could end up having a bigger impact than aspirational language about encampments or vague funding promises. For example, the proposed amendment says would make it official city “policy to make available emergency and permanent housing to those living unsheltered.” Continue reading “Homeless Advocates Challenge Compassion Seattle Ballot Measure”

Deputy Mayor Sixkiller Joins Crowded Mayoral Race; Police Union Joins Calls for Sheriff’s Resignation

Deputy mayor Casey Sixkiller at the opening of King’s Inn hotel shelter.

1. Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller joined the crowded race for mayor Tuesday, after months of hinting that he would make an announcement soon. He told PubliCola that, if elected, he would propose a bond measure, backed by a property tax increase, to build 3,000 new permanent homes for people experiencing homelessness; back a local version of universal basic income; and work to find “common ground” between people on all sides of the homelessness issue.

“If there’s one issue that we can all agree on, it’s that the conditions of our parks and our streets is unacceptable, and despite spending a record amount of money, homelessness has gotten worse,” Sixkiller said. “One part of the strategy for homelessness going forward is, number one, continuing to move more folks inside and creating safe spaces for people to move into shelter, but second, we’ve got to build or require more permanent places for folks to [live].”

Sixkiller is leaving the mayor’s office to campaign full-time.

As deputy mayor, Sixkiller was in charge of overseeing Mayor Jenny Durkan’s response to homelessness. In that role, he often clashed with the city council, defending Durkan’s reluctance to open more restrooms for unsheltered people early in the pandemic and proposing a huge new “shelter tent” for homeless people in early April of last year, when it had already become clear that COVID-19 could spread quickly in mass shelters. But he also advocated for hotels as a replacement for congregate shelters later that year, negotiating a compromise between the mayor (who was not a fan of hotels) and the council that ended up resulting in about 200 hotel-based shelter beds, with another hotel in north Seattle on the way.

“I think what the charter amendment underscores is that folks across our city and from all ends of the spectrum want to see results… both for folks that are experiencing homelessness and those impacted by it. As an organizing principle, it’s a really important thing.”—Casey Sixkiller

Sixkiller wouldn’t say whether he supports the “Compassion Seattle” initiative, which would impose a new human services spending mandate on the city and lays out conditions for future sweeps. “I’m still looking at” the proposal, he said, adding, “I think what the charter amendment underscores is that folks across our city and from all ends of the spectrum want to see results… both for folks that are experiencing homelessness and those impacted by it. … As an organizing principle, it’s a really important thing.”

Before joining the mayor’s staff, Sixkiller worked briefly as the chief operating officer for King County. Prior to that, he founded a D.C.-based lobbying firm, Sixkiller Consulting, with his wife.

So far, there are 16 candidates in the mayoral race; the filing deadline is May 21.

2. Sixkiller’s departure leaves an open position at the mayor’s office, but not for long; Durkan’s office says they plan to bring former deputy mayor David Moseley out of retirement to take Sixkiller’s place. Moseley will take over most of Sixkiller’s portfolio, which includes transportation, utilities, parks and housing, but deputy mayor Tiffany Washington will be in charge of homelessness.

Washington headed up the city’s Homelessness Strategy and Investment division until 2019, when she resigned to take a position in the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning. Her relationship with the city council could charitably be described as tense; her explanations for city policies such as an earlier increase in encampment sweeps were often vague and inconsistent, and was often defensive in response to criticism, including from journalists who questioned the city’s sunny claims about homelessness.

Durkan hired Washington for her current position last year.

3. The latest call for King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht’s resignation is coming from inside the house: on Monday, the King County Police Officers’ Guild—the union representing most of Johanknecht’s sworn officers—joined county and state lawmakers pressuring Johanknecht to step down from her post.

Guild President Mike Mansanarez told PubliCola on Tuesday that his union’s members have lost confidence in Johanknecht’s competence as a leader and ability to communicate with her officers and other county leaders. “The rank and file don’t see [Johanknecht’s] leadership team—they don’t come to the precincts,” he said. He added that union members are frustrated with some of Johanknecht’s appointment decisions, and with the sheriff’s perceived willingness to overlook misconduct by her appointees.

Opposition to Johanknecht grew in March, after the county reached a a $5 million settlement with the family of Tommy Le, a 20-year-old killed by King County Sheriff’s deputy Cesar Molina in 2017. Continue reading “Deputy Mayor Sixkiller Joins Crowded Mayoral Race; Police Union Joins Calls for Sheriff’s Resignation”

Community Groups Support Equitable Development Staffers; Sidran Opposes “Compassion Seattle”

1. Members of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative board, along with dozens of community organizations, signed a letter of support for two EDI leaders at the city’s Office of Community Planning and Development who wrote a scathing letter late month accusing Mayor Jenny Durkan and OCPD of emotionally abusing EDI staff while sowing division among the communities EDI is supposed to support.

“As community stakeholders and EDI Board members, we… have witnessed the emotional labor required of EDI staff, valued for their deep ties to community, but directed to lead this program in a way that has perpetuated inequities for those it purports to serve,” the letter of support says. “The City of Seattle, OPCD, and the EDI must do better by BIPOC staff and community organizations.”

EDI manager Ubax Gardheere and EDI strategist Boting Zhang wrote an open letter last week saying they were taking a “mental health break” from the city. “Our bodies have been weaponized in an institution that historically and presently has actively fought against you, and you have sensed this,” they wrote.

The Equitable Development Initiative began in 2015 under then-mayor Ed Murray as a revolving fund intended to advance community-led projects in areas of the city with a high risk of displacement and low access to opportunity. None of four demonstration projects that were chosen to launch the initiative have been built.

By saying “it is city policy” to avoid dispersing people unless they’re impeding the use of public spaces, the former city attorney argues, the amendment will make it impossible for the city to sweep anyone, including, potentially, someone who is “blocking traffic by pitching a tent in the middle of 5th Ave. downtown.”

During last year’s budget process, Durkan proposed eliminating a long-promised $30 million fund to pay for EDI projects out of the proceeds of the Mercer Megablock sale, citing the pandemic; the council restored the funds, but EDI proponents saw Durkan’s willingness to defund the initiative as a betrayal.

Since then, the mayor has appointed her own Equitable Communities task force to recommend spending priorities for $100 million in investments in BIPOC communities, which includes the $30 million; some advocates have criticized the makeup of the task force, saying it is composed largely of Durkan allies and groups that are seeking a slice of the money.

“When she set up the task force, a lot of people didn’t want to join,” Yordanos Teferi, of the Multicultural Community Center, recalled. “And then we learned that those who did join the task force were not coming into the process trying to advocate for communities at large—they were just advocating for their own projects or their own organizations.” The MCC, along with Africatown, the Ethiopian Community in Seattle, Puget Sound Sage, Friends of Little Saigon, and more than two dozen other groups, signed the letter of support.

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2. Former Seattle city attorney Mark Sidran—best known for defending the Teen Dance Ordinance, impounding people’s cars over expired driver’s licenses, and, oh yeah, supporting a zillion laws aimed at criminalizing homelessness—opposes the Compassion Seattle Charter initiative. Continue reading “Community Groups Support Equitable Development Staffers; Sidran Opposes “Compassion Seattle””

State Senator Joe Nguyen Will Challenge King County Executive Dow Constantine

By Erica C. Barnett

Now that the 2021 Washington state legislative session has ended, Sen. Joe Nguyen has made it official: He’s running against three-term King County Executive Dow Constantine, who hasn’t had a serious challenger since he first beat Republican Susan Hutchinson in 2009. PubliCola first reported that Nguyen was considering a run for county executive.

PubliCola spoke with Nguyen on Monday about his time in the legislature (just two years so far), his ambitious platform, and his path to victory over a fellow Democrat who has sailed to reelection twice with double-digit margins. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

PubliCola: Lay out the case against the county executive for me: Why should voters get rid of a progressive, popular, experienced leader and hire you instead?

Joe Nguyen: I’m running for this position because the pandemic has exposed so many of the inequities that our communities have experienced for so long. Coming from a community that has historically been marginalized [White Center and Burien], I see the impact when you have failures in policy that have been exacerbated by this pandemic.

We’ve had an emergency in homelessness for almost a decade at this point and they’re just now getting [the regional homelessness authority] set up. I do think the regional approach is right and Marc Dones is going to do a fantastic job in that role. … [But] one of the biggest failures of the regional approach is… the fact that they have not had trust between local leaders to get it done. Instead of making a decision and then telling local leaders after the fact, imagine if they had been part of the conversation all along.

Right after Renton passed their ordinance [attempting to shut down a homeless shelter at the Red Lion hotel], which I didn’t agree with, instead of trying to flame them, I called them to find out what they didn’t agree with it. And it was kind of eye-opening: While they supported having the facility there, the resources and the follow-up didn’t flow. The reason there was that tension was because of how that engagement happened. You can’t just make decisions and then back out—there has to be an ongoing partnership.

“I had been fighting to get those resources to my communities and was being ignored, and the only time anyone listened to me was when I signed the letter” urging Gov. Inslee not to close restaurants.

PC: The regional homelessness authority is at least seven months behind schedule at this point, and the city of Seattle and some of the suburban members fundamentally disagree on basics like causes and solutions. Some of the suburban cities seem to believe that Seattle wants to impose its Seattle solutions on them. Do you think the regional approach can still work at this point, given some of those very basic disagreements?

JN: I do think it’s going to work, because it has to work—because that’s the best option we have. I think we have to have leaders who are truly engaged in the fight and not just when it’s convenient. At the legislature, you’d be surprised at how much you get done when you aren’t trying to just get credit and when you actually engage in the local communities.

PC: You signed a letter last year that urged Gov. Inslee not to close down restaurants in response to a resurgence of COVID cases across the state. Why did you sign that letter, and how would you have responded to the pandemic differently than the Executive?

JN: What I was frustrated by was in my district, in White Center, in South King County, you had some of the highest rates of COVID in Washington state because of the inequities that already existed. I had been fighting to get those resources to my communities and was being ignored, and the only time anyone listened to me was when I signed the letter with the moderate Democrats. [Other Democrats who signed the letter included Steve Hobbs, D-44 (Everett), Mark Mullet, D-45. Tukwila, and Southeast Seattle Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-37.] I supported keeping restaurants closed, but I was saying that people are having to choose between their health and their livelihood.

After that, we were able to get  $100 million and tens of thousands of dollars to local restaurants and workers. I made a big show out of it and, frankly, it worked.

“If your approach to ending youth incarceration is to build a bigger jail, that’s a fundamental difference between you and me.”

One of the things I get frustrated by is when leaders declare that the mission is accomplished while ignoring that there are still gross inequities in society. We declared racism a public health issue last summer and then the [vaccine] rollout was inequitable. Being from White Center, being from this community, I had connections with the local leaders I met and talked to local leaders to help with the vaccine distribution. Being able to partner behind the scenes with some of the agencies to get the vaccine out to certain areas, partnering with community organizations, and doing that quickly without fanfare was important, because it wasn’t time for photos ops, it was time to get things done because people are literally dying. Continue reading “State Senator Joe Nguyen Will Challenge King County Executive Dow Constantine”

City Says It’s Too Risky to Turn On Drinking Fountains, First-Time Candidate Sees Fundraising Surge, Capital Gains Tax Passes

Freeway Park water fountains. Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.

1. Seattle Public Utilities confirmed that the city has only turned on 10 public water fountains downtown (and is working to repair a handful of others in the area), leaving the rest of the city’s public drinking fountains out of service during a pandemic that has greatly reduced access to clean drinking water for people experiencing homelessness.

According to a joint response to questions provided by the Parks Department and SPU, King County Public Health only asked the city to turn on its downtown fountains and “did not recommend turning on the rest of the city’s drinking fountains. Currently they are providing additional guidance about the rest of the city’s drinking fountains, and we will continue to follow their guidance.”

A spokesperson for King County Public Health said that in fact, the health department did ask the city to turn on drinking fountains citywide in response to an outbreak of shigella in late 2020 (which we covered here.) However, the spokesperson said, “When we talked to SPU and SPR about turning on the drinking fountains, they expressed concerns as to how many drinking fountains were fully functioning and the logistics involved in providing routine maintenance and cleaning.”

“Therefore,” the spokesperson said, “we recommended they use a phased approach to turning on the drinking fountains, starting with the drinking fountains in downtown Seattle.

“We’ve seen success in the downtown drinking fountains having been turned on and are now exploring with SPU/SPR having them turn on drinking fountains in additional parts of the city.”

The CDC guidelines the city provided do not appear to contain any recommendation that cities turn off public drinking fountains if they can’t clean them after each use. Instead, they note that there is no evidence COVID-19 can spread through drinking water and suggest cleaning frequently touched surfaces such as drinking fountains once a day.

Public Health director Patty Hayes told the Seattle/King County Board of Health earlier this month that providing access to potable water was one of the health department’s “top priorities,” along with providing access to soap and running water for people to wash their hands, water bottles, and other items. Thirst leads people with no other options to drink water from unsanitary sources, which leads to outbreaks of communicable diseases.

The Community Advisory Group of Seattle/King County Healthcare for the Homeless has been beating the drum about drinking water since the beginning of the pandemic, when they noted in a letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan that “[w]ithout access to clean drinking water, many of our unhoused population are drinking non-potable water which can lead to other public health crises such as the proliferation of Hepatitis A and giardia.” Since then, those concerns have been borne out over and over again.

Asked why the city hasn’t turned on its public drinking fountains outside downtown, Parks and SPU wrote, “SPU and SPR have been following the CDC guidance for drinking fountains safety during the pandemic that recommends cleaning them between uses, and turning them off if this is not possible.”

The CDC guidelines at the link the city provided do not appear to contain any recommendation that cities turn off public drinking fountains if they can’t clean them after each use. Instead, they note that there is no evidence COVID-19 can spread through drinking water and suggest cleaning frequently touched surfaces such as drinking fountains once a day.

The only reference the CDC guidelines make to shutting down drinking fountains comes in a section about large public events. That section says that event planners should “[c]lean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces within the venue at least daily or between uses as much as possible—for example, door handles, sink handles, drinking fountains, grab bars, hand railings, and cash registers.” If drinking fountains, “cannot be adequately cleaned and disinfected during an event,” the guidance continues, event planners should “consider closing” them.

2. Andrew Grant Houston, a first-time candidate who wants to defund the Seattle Police Department, build 2,500 “tiny houses” for people experiencing homelessness, and institute rent control, is currently in second place in the mayoral fundraising race, after a $129,050 contribution drop last week brought the campaign’s total fundraising to $266,758, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. The vast majority of that—$214,050, according to the city—came in the form of democracy vouchers, a form of public campaign finance in which voters receive $100 to spend on the candidate or candidates of their choice.

Financial momentum like that is unusual for a little-known candidate without connections to the city’s political establishment; it’s also exactly what the democracy voucher program was designed to promote. PubliCola asked Houston why he thought so many people were giving to his campaign. Houston told us he credits his consultant, Prism West, and a strategic plan that places the campaign on track to max out its primary-election vouchers by the end of this week. Under the city’s election law, mayoral candidates can redeem a total of $800,000 in democracy vouchers—half in the primary, half in the general.

Houston said he wasn’t surprised by the haul. “I knew it was going to happen at some point,” he said. “I am someone who is focused on not just hiring the best people, but also really being committed to understanding how we meet our goals.”

That strategy, Houston continued, has included a lot of (masked, socially distant) in-person canvassing, with a focus on several key issues. Police defunding, for example, is a polarizing issue but one that Houston says galvanizes people to give. “Being very clear about defunding the police to invest in community really resonates with people—either you’re for it or against it, and people who are in the affirmative [tend to give],” he said.

According to the PDC, Chief Seattle Club director Colleen Echohawk is the only mayoral candidate who has raised more than Houston; her latest total, according to the PDC, is $297,072.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

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Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

3. Senators passed the the state’s first-ever capital gains tax (SB 5096) on Sunday, the last day of the session, after rejecting the bill the previous Thursday. The bill would impose a 7 percent tax on capital gains above $250,000, subject to some exemptions, raising more than $400 million in its first year. The bill passed on the same narrow margin as the initial vote in March, 25-24.

Before the state can begin collecting the tax, it will have to face a near-certain legal challenge from business groups. (Republicans have said they will not file the lawsuit themselves but expect an outside organization to do so._ While Republicans want the tax stopped, they fear that if the state supreme court rules that the capital gains tax is constitutional, it will open the door for a state income tax.

Weekend Fizz: Capital Gains Tax Moves Forward, Council Staffers Unionize, and Echohawk Challenged on Initiative Support

1. The Senate Democrats weren’t ready to sign off on the version of the historic capital gains tax legislation (SB 5096) that House Democrats passed earlier this week. So the bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. June Robinson (D-38, Everett) and Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Seattle) met with House Finance Committee Chair Rep. Noel Frame (D-36, Seattle) and House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D-47, Covington) to hammer out a compromise version.

On Friday evening, Democrats sent the revised version to the Senate. Both of the House’s referendum protections remain intact in this new version: The Democrats preserved language that says the tax is “necessary” for the government to function and dedicated the first $500 million in revenues from the tax to fund the Education Legacy Trust Account, which locks in the “necessity” clause (under the state constitution, education is the “paramount duty” of the state). Any excess revenue from the tax will be dedicated to an account that funds public school construction.

The new tax is expected to bring in about $445 million during the 2021-23 biennium, $981 million in the 2023-25 biennium, and $1.06 billion between 2025 and 2027.

The bill now includes a new tax deduction for people who donate to charity—a GOP idea that had not made it into any version of the bill until now.

After the meeting, Pedersen told PubliCola his Democratic colleagues added the deduction to get enough votes to pass the bill, saying, “Now it looks like we will be able to get it through both chambers.”

2. After more than a year of negotiations, the Seattle City Council’s central staff—a group of about 30 legal, economic, and policy wonks who draft and analyze legislation for the council—have joined the city’s PROTEC17 union.

Among other guarantees, their new contract increases their pay retroactively for 2019, 2020, and 2021 by 4 percent, 3.6 percent, and 2.9 percent, respectively, and bumps up the minimum maximum pay for their positions by the same percentage. Going forward, the minimum pay for a central staffer will be $42.20 an hour, or $87,776, and salaries will max out at $157,060.

3. Last week, mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston subtly tweaked one of his competitors, Chief Seattle Club director Colleen Echohawk, for supporting a proposed charter amendment on homelessness sponsored by a group started by former council member Tim Burgess, Compassion Seattle.

“A few people have asked, so we wanted to clarify that, no, Ace has never been formally or informally involved with the organization Compassion Seattle. We cannot speak for other candidates,” Houston tweeted. In response, a Houston supporter pointed out that the Echohawk campaign had apparently taken down a blog post supporting the initiative.

Asked why they took down the blog post, an Echohawk campaign spokesperson responded that the statement featured in the blog post is “all over social media and we’re hosting it on our Adobe Document cloud.” (True.) “So yes, the answer is we had it up on the blog, but took it down because we decided as a campaign to focus communications on social media as it is much more accessible and more people engage with the campaigns social accounts.”

The Chief Seattle Club works to shelter and house homeless Native people in Seattle. Echohawk’s campaign tweeted and did a Facebook post linking the full statement on April 3.

The Urbanist Case Against the Homelessness Charter Amendment

by Josh Feit

Last week, I channeled the progressive opposition to what I’m calling the sweeps and shelter initiative—a proposed charter amendment that couples spending on homelessness with a trigger for sweeps.

Short version: Combining these divergent approaches in one initiative is an attempt by pro-sweeps liberals to rationalize a law-and-order crackdown on homeless people by co-opting “compassion.” The amendment literally codifies the “Of course we’re compassionate, but…” mantra into the city charter. The tell: There’s no funding for the housing part of the initiative.

This week, I’ll channel the urbanist argument against the charter amendment, which begins, actually, with the one pro-urbanist element of the proposal: It says “to accelerate the production of emergency and permanent housing” the city “shall, to the full extent permitted by state law, waive land use code and regulation requirements as necessary to urgently site [emergency and permanent housing]…”

It goes on to say the city must waive permitting fees, put projects first in line to expedite permitting, and refund city-imposed project costs. Hear, hear!

This nod to YIMBYism correctly identifies that Seattle’s land use and zoning codes squash housing development.

Unfortunately, this promising language ends up highlighting the limited scope of the charter amendment. The rules are only waived for “housing serving homeless individuals.”

The urbanist approach to homelessness understands that the problem is larger than its symptoms—homelessness—by identifying the cause of homelessness: A dearth of affordable housing.

But the charter amendment misses this larger, systematic problem and then exacerbates it by opting for liberal tinkering. The amendment calls for 12 percent of the city’s general fund (about $190 million) to go to shelter and services through a new human services fund, or about one percent higher than what the city will spend this year. Slightly recalibrating the city budget this way to dedicate money to homelessness, creating the illusion of action, will unwittingly promote this type of spending as the solution, and take political pressure off the city to do what actually needs to be done: Change the city’s zoning rules, so we can meet housing demand with housing supply. For example, 75 percent of the city’s residential land is currently zoned exclusively for detached single-family houses. If you haven’t heard, prohibiting multifamily housing is class war from above.

Spending more dollars on the symptoms of housing scarcity, such as tents in parks, will take the city’s eyes of the actual problem: Housing scarcity.

Spending more dollars to address the symptoms of housing scarcity, such as tents in parks, will take the city’s eyes off the actual problem: Housing scarcity. As I said, Seattle currently spends about $190 million on programs for people experiencing homelessness, including shelter. While I’m all for increasing those dollars to help people in crisis, I don’t harbor any illusions that it’s the way to end the crisis.

The only way to do that is to understand that the real crisis is the affordable housing crisis and the real solution is to build more affordable housing stock. All told, through the Housing Levy, the Mandatory Housing Affordability program, incentive zoning, the Multi-Family Housing Tax Exemption program, and other funds, Seattle spent around $115 million on affordable housing in 2020.

It’s clearly not enough. The money translated into about 1,300 affordable units, or about 11,000 units shy of what we need to be creating annually. In order to reset our housing economy so more people can actually afford to live here, we need a total of 244,000 net new affordable homes by 2040, according to the King County’s Regional Affordable Housing Task Force. Our current spending doesn’t come close.

Talking in regional numbers brings up another urbanist critique of the charter amendment proposal: An isolated Seattle response to homelessness will be about as successful as a climate action policy that caps carbon emissions in New York, but not in Texas. Urbanism is about community: creating sustainable metro regions that are connected by sympatico transit, land use, environmental, and housing policy. It’s why we created the King County Regional Homelessness Authority last year, and recently hired a CEO. Seattle shouldn’t undermine this approach, particularly not with a charter amendment that awkwardly justifies a crackdown policy.

Our homelessness policy needs to be about building more affordable housing. An affordable housing approach will check poverty and the downward spiral into homelessness. The cruelty of the sweeps and shelter initiative is that it blames homeless people for the homelessness crisis. It’s like addressing police murders of African Americans by telling African Americans to stop getting pulled over.

Josh@PubliCola.com

Lived Experience Coalition Says No One Asked Them About Homelessness Initiative, Which Centered Sweeps From the Beginning

By Erica C. Barnett

Proponents of a proposed amendment to the Seattle city charter that would mandate (but not fund) spending on shelter and enshrine encampment sweeps in the city’s constitution have argued repeatedly that the proposal isn’t about sweeps.

In fact, business leaders and homeless service providers who are supporting the initiative argue the proposal—the brainchild of former Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess—is designed to spur the city to finally prioritize a crisis that has been growing for more than a decade, by forcing local leaders to spend money on shelter and housing until the problem is solved.

And the plan has some backing from institutional players outside the business community, including housing and shelter providers. Downtown Emergency Center Director Daniel Malone, for example, told PubliCola he thinks the initiative is “a step in the right direction because it acknowledges people need care and support, which seems to be in contrast the view espoused by some that people living outside should be treated punitively.”

But drafts of the measure show that from its inception to the latest incarnation, the plan has been centered on removing encampments, not ensuring that unsheltered people have permanent, stable places to go. (A new version of the measure includes a relatively minor but somewhat perplexing change: The constitutional amendment would sunset at the end of 2027, suggesting perhaps that homelessness will be solved by then.)

PubliCola has reviewed multiple early, unpublished drafts of the measure. They heavily emphasized encampment removals and gave no information about where funding for new shelter or housing would come from. And even the latest version provides no new funding to pay for the thousands of shelter beds it would require, prompting some Seattle leaders, including Seattle City Council president Lorena González, to call the measure an “unfunded mandate.”

Additionally, advocates for people experiencing homelessness, as opposed to providers who arguably stand to benefit from additional city funding for their programs, say they were not consulted on the measure at any point, and have major misgivings about how the proposal will work in practice.

“This is politically motivated to influence the [mayoral] election. That’s why it’s happening right now, and if [advocacy] groups don’t respond to this in a coherent fashion, they’re going to dominate the narrative.”—Tiffany McCoy, lead organizer, Real Change

Tiffani McCoy, advocacy director at Real Change, told PubliCola it’s “obvious” that the charter amendment—first proposed by former city council member Tim Burgess, who has a history of trying to influence local elections—”is politically motivated to influence the [mayoral] election. That’s why it’s happening right now, and if [advocacy] groups don’t respond to this in a coherent fashion, they’re going to dominate the narrative.”

“They didn’t consult with us, and I believe they did it on purpose. Why consult the people you don’t agree with?”—Lived Experience Coalition member Kirk McClain

Although the charter amendment would require the city to create 2,000 new “emergency or permanent housing” beds in 2022, it provides no additional funds to do so, instead mandating that the city spend a minimum of 12 percent of its general fund budget on human services. “It’s being rolled out as the holy grail, and it’s just not,” McCoy said. “There’s no way to we can do this without more funding.”

Members of the Lived Experience Coalition, a group of homeless and formerly homeless people who advise the King County Regional Homelessness Authority and are represented on its governing board, told PubliCola that no one from the campaign has ever reached out to them for input or feedback or responded to their requests to weigh in on the proposal. Had they been asked, they say, they would have told Compassion Seattle that homeless people need housing, not vague commitments that will be tough to fulfill without funding.

Support PubliCola

If you’re reading this, we know you’re someone who appreciates deeply sourced breaking news, features, and analysis—along with guest columns from local opinion leaders, ongoing coverage of the kind of stories that get short shrift in mainstream media, and informed, incisive opinion writing about issues that matter.

We know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover Seattle and King County on a budget that is funded entirely by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, ever.

Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

“They’ve definitely spoken to the business community, but not to those with lived experience or people on the ground when they came up with this ‘solution,'” LEC member Zaneta Reid said. LEC member LaMont Green added: “If you want substantive expertise, if you want to solve this problem, the most obvious experts are not being asked to come to the table.”

“If you look at this from the 10,000-foot view, what you see here is a group of people that have a lot of money and they think that because they have a lot of money and because they’re successful they can fix this homelessness issue—they can fix us,” said LEC member Kirk McClain, “even though they have absolutely no experience successfully doing this in the past. … They didn’t consult with us, and I believe they did it on purpose. Why consult the people you don’t agree with?”

Lived Experience Coalition members said they don’t support the initiative because it focuses too much on removing encampments and not enough on actually funding and building the housing that would enable people to move inside. Harold Odom, another LEC member who currently lives in a tiny house village, called the charter amendment “an insult, because it says ‘as emergency and permanent housing are available,'” the city must keep public spaces “open and clear.”

“We know there’s not enough permanent housing, and we know there’s not enough emergency housing,” Odom said. “There are many things that need to be done on several fronts. But you don’t know this when you don’t ask people on the street.”

Drafts of the amendment and campaign finance reports show that the campaign was taking advice instead from Seattle political consultant Tim Ceis, whose recent clients include Burgess’s left-baiting People for Seattle PAC (which attempted to smear council candidates by literally equating them with “extremist Kshama Sawant“), perpetually “concerned” former Burgess council aide Alex Pedersen, “Seattle Is Dying” star Scott Lindsay, and CASE, the political arm of the Seattle Chamber.

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