Category: Featured

Tenants Describe Worsening Conditions at Aurora Motel as Owner Signs Agreement with SPD

 

By Erica C. Barnett

Last week, five days after the owner of a dilapidated Aurora Avenue motel, the Everspring Inn, left notices on tenants’ doors telling them they had to vacate their rooms immediately, the Seattle Police Department signed off on a “nuisance property” abatement agreement that the owner, Ryan Kang, used as justification after the fact for displacing his tenants, some of whom had lived at the motel for years.

The papers he taped on tenants’ doors were not official eviction notices, nor, attorneys for the tenants say, were they legal; even if Kang and SPD had both signed an abatement agreement when he began forcing his tenants out, he would have had to provide them with notice, relocation assistance, and sufficient time to find new places to live. Nothing in the law allows a landlord, even one who runs a dangerous or substandard property, to simply tell his tenants to get out.

Tenant advocates, and many of the tenants themselves, agree that the Everspring is not a good place to live. Black mold is visible in many of the units, and water sometimes drips from the ceilings. Fights are common. But attorneys for the Public Defender Association, which is representing some of the tenants, say even a justified nuisance agreement can’t provide legal cover for kicking tenants out without proper notice or restitution, and they argue that SPD Police Chief Carmen Best made a serious error of judgment when she signed an agreement after several local media outlets, including this site, reported that Kang was illegally evicting tenants, towing their cars, and shutting off their hot water in the middle of a pandemic.

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Lisa Etter Carlson, co-founder and director of women’s health initiatives at the Aurora Commons, a nonprofit that helps sex workers and people experiencing homelessness in the neighborhood, said she was surprised when media coverage didn’t jostle the city of Seattle into action. “I kind of assumed that surely, with all the press, with the absurdity and inhumanity of turning these precious people out during a pandemic, during an eviction moratorium, surely someone out there was doing  something,” she said. “And it just became clear that no no one was. They never called. They never showed up. We never received any assistance.”

Bryan Stevens, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections, says SDCI is reviewing 16 complaints from Everspring residents—complaints that those residents could use as a defense against a formal eviction proceeding. At that point, the city would also begin issuing notices to the property owner, Kang, for violating the city’s just-cause eviction ordinance. Since the evictions have all been de facto and informal, it’s hard to see how this option is meaningful to the current and former tenants.

And, as Etter Carlson noted, no one from the city has showed up to inspect the site or stop the evictions from happening. For the past week and a half, the only city employees who’ve been consistently on site are members of the Human Services Department’s Navigation Team, bearing offers of shelter—a significant step down from even a crappy motel room, and one that many tenants aren’t willing to consider.

“It’s really challenging when people have had their own apartment for years to then, just all of a sudden, pick up and move to a tiny house or a shelter situation,” Etter Carlson said. “It’s not dignifying.”


Most of the people at the Everspring had nowhere to go; and so, many of them are still there. As of last weekend, nearly a dozen rooms in the Everspring were still occupied, with plywood sheets sitting just outside their doors as a reminder that if they leave their rooms, they will be considered unoccupied, and the security guards will board up their doors with all their possessions inside. As a result, tenants said, they have taken to sitting in each others’ rooms when one of them leaves so that their doors don’t get boarded up while they’re gone.

Stevens, from SDCI, says the department got assurances that Kang was only boarding up “unoccupied” rooms. He added that the city has no authority to order a property owner to open up rooms that are boarded up if no one is living there.

Tenants who were still living at the Everspring over the past weekend said that after he ordered them to leave, Kang hired security guards who roamed the motel’s hallways and locked the newly installed gate, preventing tenants from coming and going at will. “One of them tried to jump me because I didn’t want them to come into my room to escort someone to help get her stuff,” tenant Bruce Red recalled. Another tenant, Stephanie Lewis, said one of the guards claimed to be a US marshal, and was “walking around, all geared up with a Taser gun and a bunch of different kinds of mace and pepper spray.” 

Kimberly Harrell, a case worker with REACH, confirmed that one security guard was representing himself as a US marshal, and said, “The behavior of the security there is ridiculous. It’s almost like he’s taunting them or trying to provoke them.” She showed me a text message exchange between that security guard and one of the tenants. “Don’t say I didn’t warn no body,” the message said. The tenant asked him what he meant, and he responded, “U know what I mean. I’ll say this: I will be wearing police patches tonight.”

“I kind of assumed that surely someone out there was doing something. And it just became clear that no no one was. They never called. They never showed up. We never received any assistance.” —Lisa Etter Carlson, Aurora Commons

Lewis, who worked 12-hour days at the front desk for $10 an hour, said that Kang ordered everyone to move their cars from the motel garage or he would have them towed. As a result, “we had to take our car out of the garage and park it on the street.” If they get kicked out, they’ll need to use that car as shelter. 

The Public Defender Association sent a letter last Thursday to Kang’s attorney, E. Chan Lee, demanding that Kang stop removing tenants from his property, turn their utilities back on, and allow people whose rooms were boarded up to get back into those rooms and retrieve their property.

They also wrote to Best and soon-to-be-acting police chief Adrian Diaz directly, expressing outrage that the department signed the order without telling them, after the PDA contacted the department two weeks ago to see if any of the people Kang was kicking out might be eligible for the Co-LEAD program. That program provides motel rooms and case management for people experiencing homelessness who are involved in low-level criminal activity—a description that fits many of the Everspring’s residents.

Their letter to SPD reads, in part:

Accepting for the sake of argument that a serious nuisance situation existed at the Everspring, you must know that (1) people not responsible for those conditions will be forced out onto the street and (2) those responsible for the nuisance conditions will not cease their problematic activity just because they lose their lodging. It is inconceivable, and inexcusable, for you not to have initiated planning with the community partners who could work with this population, and the various city agencies that can provide relocation assistance and homelessness prevention, before you took this action. The city’s departments appear to be working at cross purposes, with zero coordination, and at odds with stated city policies about sheltering/lodging high barrier individuals, finding space and avoiding unnecessary evictions to the street.

Tenants cannot be evicted because of criminal activity that happens on a property unless they were directly involved. A spokeswoman for SPD said the police department was not involved in or aware of the evictions when they began on August 13, and characterized them as requests to tenants that they “voluntarily leave.”

Prachi Dave, the PDA’s legal director, said that while the nuisance order cites “various kinds of criminal activity, there’s no allegation that the people are being removed from their homes right now have engaged in any kind of criminal activity. Having them bear the ramifications of that seems fundamentally unfair.”

Moreover, Dave continued, the police knew that Kang was already evicting tenants illegally when they signed the agreement with him—an agreement he is now using to justify the evictions that took place before it was signed. In his letter responding to the PDA, Lee, Kang’s attorney, said his client was “in fact required to remove all those residing at the property pursuant to our agreement with the Seattle Police Department.” The agreement does note that this should be the ultimate outcome, but it does not give Kang permission to simply tell everyone to leave without notice, due process, or relocation assistance. And, again, it was signed several days after notices went up on tenants’ doors and tenants were told they had to be out right away.

“The fact that SPD entered into this agreement, knowing this was going to be the outcome, and when that outcome was already already unfolding at the time they entered this agreement, is incredibly problematic,” Dave said.

Tenants say that in addition to boarding up rooms with tenants’ property inside, Kang offered some tenants a mere $100, in cash, to leave. Some have taken the money. One such tenant, Eric Border, said he sometimes worked for Kang under the table, “as muscle.” He said he took the money and left because he didn’t feel he had a choice. “He boarded up my door and told me to leave,” he said.

When I talked to Border by phone on Sunday, he said he was walking around, scared and with nowhere to go. He had been living at the Everspring for about three years. “I’m older now and I need a place to stay,” he said. “I have nowhere to take a bath. I just want a place to lay down and wake up so I can be normal.”

Harrell, with REACH, said she was especially appalled to learn, from a story in the Seattle Times, that Kang had received at least $164,000 in “rapid rehousing” assistance from the city of Seattle in 2018, making him the single largest beneficiary of the program. Rapid rehousing is supposed to provide temporary assistance to get people into safe, stable housing—typically in market-rate apartments—until they can pay the full rent themselves. Rent for a room at the Everspring ranged from $1,800 to $2,400 a month, and it was far from safe or stable.

“If the city is paying for something like that, then how come no one checked to make sure things were running properly?” Harrell said. “It’s not fair that he got all this money and didn’t run it the way it should have been run.”

The groups that are trying to help the Evergreen’s tenants, including REACH, the Aurora Commons, and the PDA, say they aren’t asking for anything extraordinary—just some relocation assistance and time to find the tenants a new place to stay and get them connected with case management and other support. The tenants, too, say that’s what they want.

“I hope I can wake up tomorrow and they’ll say, ‘Here’s your relocation money,'” Lewis said. “Basically, all we want is to be compensated, to be relocated so we can go on with our lives.”

What is Participatory Budgeting, and How Could It Shape the City’s Approach to Public Safety?

Annotation 2020-08-23 110400

By Paul Kiefer

When Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced her decision to veto the City Council’s midyear budget rebalancing package on Friday, she specifically called out an ordinance appropriating $3 million for the council to contract with community-based groups to create a “roadmap for future equitable participatory budget processes related to public safety” by gathering public input to shape the city’s public safety budget priorities.

Council member Tammy Morales, the sponsor of that ordinance, has said that the research would be the first step toward “participatory budgeting,” a process some cities use to guide public spending, often by allowing residents to vote on how to spend a designated pot of money (a federal grant, for instance).

The mayor’s office, the council, and the most prominent police abolitionist groups have all expressed various levels of support for participatory budgeting. If the city ends up using participatory budgeting to guide a significant portion of next year’s public safety budget next year, then Seattle will become the testing ground for participatory budgeting on an unprecedented scale. But whether those three parties see eye to eye about what participatory budgeting would entail—and how much weight public input would carry—remain open questions.

King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle

King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle, two of the most prominent voices in the push to cut the Seattle Police Department budget and invest in alternative public safety programs, were the first to call for the city to launch a participatory budgeting process to redirect the city’s public safety budget toward alternatives to policing and investment in BIPOC communities. The bill Durkan vetoed emerged out of those two groups’ demands.

In partnership with a nonprofit called The Participatory Budgeting Project, the two groups developed a detailed outline for how the city could lay the groundwork for a participatory budgeting process, called the’ “Blueprint for Police Divestment/Community Re-Investment.” That blueprint describes a $3 million “community-led research process to generate true public safety informed by community needs” which is the model for the research described in the vetoed bill.

The council would direct the money to a nonprofit, which would subcontract the work out to other groups—presumably, though not necessarily, KCEN and Decriminalize Seattle. The two groups estimate that roughly $1 million of the $3 million would go toward hiring staffers, including researchers, many of whom they hope will be young people from BIPOC communities. The rest would go to recruit and compensate people in BIPOC communities to participate in the survey and for data collection and reporting, plus $500,000 for unspecified “cash assistance and direct support for community members” to “address economic and other urgent needs.”

In essence, those expenses would serve two purposes.  The first would be to provide jobs—in the form of researcher positions—and financial support to community members who participate in the research process. In their blueprint, KCEN and Decriminalize Seattle write that “community members should not be expected to come up with solutions on a volunteer basis.”

“In part because of the City’s long track record of supporting harmful policies and procedures, many community members do not trust the City to lead an effective research process. The pattern of collecting data and recommendations and then doing little to nothing with the results must end.” —King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle Blueprint for Police Divestment/Community Re-Investment

The second would be to prepare for a large-scale, accessible participatory budgeting process that would influence the 2021 city budget, starting with surveys and interviews of city residents (with a focus on BIPOC communities) about their public safety concerns and thoughts on how the process should be run: for instance, whether a steering committee should develop community proposals, and if so, who should be on that steering committee. Based on the findings of those surveys and interviews, the nonprofit contractor would then sort out the details of the participatory budgeting process: how the public could give input (in the form of budget proposals, for instance), how that input would be turned into budget items, and who would be responsible for reviewing and developing citizens’ proposals.

Technically, none of the $3 million would fund a full-scale participatory budgeting process; the closest the city would see before next year would be a small test run. However, according to King County Equity Now Research Director Shaun Glaze, the two organizations want to see a full participatory budget process come to fruition before budget discussions next year. More specifically, Glaze says her organization hopes that the participatory budgeting process will help determine how the city spends half of SPD’s 2021 budget— a figure in the range of $200 million, which would be an unprecedented use of the process both in Seattle and nationwide.

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The City Council

The legislation the council passed says the contractor should produce a “community participatory budgeting process,” but it is silent on exactly what that process should look like.

When I asked Morales to clarify how the council planned to spend the $3 million, she pointed to the King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle blueprint as the model; the council also adopted $3 million figure itself from that blueprint. However, that blueprint doesn’t provide any details about how the participatory budgeting process would function, nor does either organization intend to have full control over the process themselves.

Participatory budgeting is nothing new in Seattle. After a push by former council member Nick Licata, the city’s first experiment with participatory budgeting began in 2015 with the Youth Voice, Youth Choice program. In 2017, the council renamed the program Your Voice, Your Choice, and opened it to input from all city residents. Like most participatory budgeting programs, Your Voice, Your Choice allows city residents to submit ideas for neighborhood-level capital projects.

The Your Voice, Your Choice program differs substantially from the research process proposed in the ordinance, not least because Your Voice, Your Choice is run by the city. Although KCEN and Decriminalize Seattle have said explicitly that they are not interested in controlling how the entire process plays out, they argue that the research portion of the participatory budgeting process for public safety should not be under direct city control.

The two groups explain why in their blueprint, writing, “in part because of the City’s long track record of supporting harmful policies and procedures, many community members do not trust the City to lead an effective research process. The pattern of collecting data and recommendations and then doing little to nothing with the results must end.”

The startup costs for the community-safety research process mark a significant shift in how Seattle uses participatory budgeting. The city spends roughly $2.2 million on the entire Your Voice, Your Choice program, of which $2 million funds the actual projects. In contrast, the council’s ordinance would spend $3 million on preliminary research alone.

Mayor Durkan

Near the end of Friday’s press conference, Durkan responded directly to a recent demand from King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle that the city use participatory budgeting to allocate $100 million that she has pledged to invest in BIPOC communities next year. In short, she said she wouldn’t be doing that, but that she supports the idea of participatory budgeting in theory.

“I’ve been very clear from the beginning that the community—and I mean community being larger than just one organization—will be at the table helping us decide what they need and how we get there,” Durkan said. “King County Equity Now wants to be the deciders in that.” (KCEN has denied this.) “We want those voices at the table, but we will have a broader process.”

“We need to have trusted community partners going into communities to bring information and proposals back,” Durkan continued, “whether it’s a task force or a joint group [created by the council and the mayor].” Continue reading “What is Participatory Budgeting, and How Could It Shape the City’s Approach to Public Safety?”

Durkan Will Veto Council Budget Over Cuts to Police Department; Council President Hopes for Compromise

As I first reported on Twitter this morning, Mayor Jenny Durkan will announce this afternoon that she will veto the city council’s midyear budget rebalancing package, a move that could effectively remove one co-equal branch of government from the city’s budget process by reinstating Durkan’s original budget proposal with no input from the council. The council could overturn the veto, as they did the mayor’s recent veto of a COVID relief package that relies on future revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax. Or—as seems likely—the council try to work with Durkan to come up with a rebalancing package that the mayor will accept.

“The bills I am vetoing today were passed without the level of collaboration that I think we need, and more important, that the city expects of us,” Durkan said at a press conference this afternoon, “but I am optimistic that we can continue to work together to bridge the gaps. I continue to believe that we can [reach] common ground on the vision for SPD that has been laid out by Chief [Carmen] Best and I.”

The objections Durkan raised were familiar to anyone who has been following the debate over police defunding: The mayor said that the council is attempting to change things “overnight,” “without a plan,” and that her budget proposals already contain large cuts to the police department. The vast majority of those cuts, however, come from transferring some current SPD functions, such as the 911 dispatch center, into other parts of the budget—not from transforming the city’s approach to public safety or reducing the number of SPD officers, as protesters have been demanding since May.

City council president Lorena González said in an interview that she is “incredibly disappointed’ in the mayor’s decision to veto yet another council spending proposal. “It is obvious that there is a significant difference of opinion between the City Council and the mayor and the chief on what can and should be achieved in 2020 in order to respond to the calls from community to reduce the Seattle Police Department’s budget this year and begin the process of investing in community safety programs,” González says.

The rebalancing proposal was necessary to deal with a midyear budget shortfall of around $300 million, a number that keeps getting edited upward as new revenue projections come in.

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The council’s plan included more significant, but still relatively minor, cuts. The version they adopted cuts SPD’s budget by 7 percent by eliminating the encampment-removing Navigation Team, reducing the salaries of SPD command staff (including Best, whose 2020 pay was reduced by $6,000) and cutting 100 positions at SPD through a combination of layoffs and attrition. The council’s proposal also provided $3 million to start a participatory process to reallocate SPD to community-based public health and safety programs, plus $14 million to a combination of city and community programs, funded through an interfund loan that Durkan said was the main reason for her objection to that particular spending proposal.

“Look, it’s a loan that I’m not sure we can repay, and we know with the coming budget that we will have to do some interfund loans just to keep the city services that we have,” Durkan said.

Durkan mentioned the Navigation Team specifically at several points during her press conference, suggesting that the council wanted to cut the team “without a plan” to deal with dangerous encampments. “I’ve had open houses with a number of community and neighborhood groups in the last weeks, and the impact that some of these encampments are having are real— and they are also real for the people living in those encampments,” she said. “We have to have a way to bring people inside and address the public safety [issues], and the cuts did not allow us an opportunity to do that.” Since the pandemic began, the city has provided only about 100 new shelter spaces for the thousands of people living unsheltered in Seattle.

Under the city charter, the council must take a vote to overturn or sustain the veto within 30 days. Council president Lorena González says her hope is that, rather than simply overturning another mayoral veto, the council will be able to “come to some agreement  with the mayor around a rebalanced package, and that’s going to be a two-way street. We need her to make a good-faith effort to engage in order to meaningfully move this forward.”

Otherwise, González says, the council and mayor will likely stay stuck in “this constant back and forth” of vetoes and votes to overturn. “This mayor has made a historical number of vetoes. I’m not aware of any other mayor in the history of the city of Seattle who’s used veto power at this level, and I think that she is sending us a clear message that she will continue to do so,” González says.

It’s clear that there are still significant gaps between what the council wants and what the mayor will accept. In particular, it’s unclear what, exactly, the mayor would consider “on the table” when brokering a future “compromise” with the council. The Navigation Team, community spending, participatory budgeting research, command staff salaries, and SPD personnel cuts seem to be off the table.

But there is also now precedent for compromise between the mayor and the council. This afternoon, Durkan also announced an agreement on the COVID relief package that is much smaller than the council’s original proposal but that will, in the words of JumpStart sponsor Teresa Mosqueda, enable the city to “mov[e] forward jointly as we cannot wait another day” for relief to residents and small businesses impacted by the pandemic.

How to Kill Scooter Sharing In Seattle

Image via Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash

 

By Erica C. Barnett

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Poor planning for parking.

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

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

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

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• “But things are different in Seattle…”

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

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

• The unfinished Bike Master Plan

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

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

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

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

• Too few scooters…

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

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

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

• … in the wrong places

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

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

• Overzealous enforcement

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

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

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

 

King County Council Committee Recommends Replacing Law Enforcement Oversight Director

OLEO Staff - King County

By Paul Kiefer

On Tuesday, a majority of the Metropolitan King County Council’s Employment and Administration Committee (which includes all nine council members) voted not to extend the contract of Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) Director Deborah Jacobs, as well as to accept the findings of an independent investigation into allegations that Jacobs made a series of inappropriate or discriminatory comments to her staff over the course of her four years with the county.

Council chair Claudia Balducci announced that she would introduce the proposal ending Jacobs’ contract in a press release on Monday evening. In her statement, Balducci praised Jacobs’ work as OLEO director, writing that she “has worked diligently to fulfill OLEO’s mission to hold the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) accountable for providing fair and just police services.” However, Balducci added that based on the findings of an outside investigation into claims made against Jacobs by OLEO staff, the office would “benefit from new leadership.”

The council hired the law firm Ogden, Murphy and Wallace to conduct the investigation earlier this year after a number of employees accused her of making inappropriate comments. The investigating attorney, Karen Sutherland, concluded that Jacobs had engaged in conduct  “inconsistent” with council policies against harassment and discrimination in five instances, and found that three other complaints were unfounded or unsupported by evidence.

Sutherland added that she found no evidence of “criminal misconduct” by Jacobs.

The five complaints Sutherland found convincing included an incident in which Jacobs apparently dismissed an applicant for a public relations position as “just a white male” (hiring decisions based on race are illegal in Washington), and one in which she said she could only imagine a white man as OLEO deputy director.

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Two other claims were connected to non-work social events. In one case, Jacobs said she could not invite any of her employees to her annual women-only Roe v. Wade anniversary party so as not to exclude a male employee. In another, Jacobs said she would not invite her employees to a social event so as not to single out an employee who was single. In the fifth and final instance, Jacobs reportedly praised an employee for his “race and size,” claiming it helped him gain the trust of sheriff’s officers. That employee told Sutherland that he’s struggled with weight-related insecurity for much of his life, but added that he didn’t feel comfortable telling Jacobs that her comments had been hurtful.

In a response to the investigation she sent to council members in July, Jacobs acknowledged that she had “used some terms that are not appropriate even when used casually and with no ill intent,” adding that in response to the complaints, she has “actively sought to alter [her] language choices.”

However, Jacobs said some of the findings of the investigation took her comments out of context. For example, Jacobs wrote she made her comment that OLEO could only be headed by a white man “with a sense of irony and deep frustration.” As evidence, she pointed to the fact that she promoted Adrienne Wat, an Asian woman, to the position not long after she made the comment. Continue reading “King County Council Committee Recommends Replacing Law Enforcement Oversight Director”

Morning Fizz: Stranger Editor Nixed, Former County Dems Director 86’d

By Erica C. Barnett

Doing a retro Morning Fizz this morning to round up a few items I haven’t been able to get to.

1. Bailey Stober, the former head of the King County Democrats who lost his position in 2018 due to allegations of sexual harassment, bullying, and financial mismanagement, called police late one Friday night in July to report what he described as a 10-person bar brawl at the Cloud 9 tavern in Kent. According to reports from witnesses, the fight started when security asked Stober to take his feet off a bar stool and he refused. I documented Stober’s downfall as head of the county Democrats—a saga that included misogynistic text messages, thousands of dollars spent on office rent, booze, and boys’ club getaways, and accusations that one of his accusers was an unreliable drug addict—on the Crank.

Stober resigned from his $90,000-a-year job as communications director for the King County assessor in 2018, amid an investigation into whether his behavior as head of the Democrats disqualified him from the position. But he quickly landed on his feet, taking consulting jobs for local campaigns before getting a full-time position as communications director for Kent Mayor Dana Ralph.

Witnesses interviewed by police who arrived at the Cloud 9 around 2 in the morning on July 11 said that after refusing to take his feet off the bar stool or leave the bar when asked to do so, Stober “began yelling that he works for the City of Kent and that he works for Kent PD.” According to the police report, “As [Stober] was proclaiming his employment, he began waving around his City of Kent ID card.”

Stober later told an officer that he had only claimed to work for the mayor, not the police.

At that point, several witnesses told police, someone punched someone else in the face, and a confusing fight between security guards and several patrons who were with Stober ensued.

Stober, according to all accounts, left the bar and went outside to call 911 without getting mixed up in the fight himself. When officers arrived, he told one that “he believed he may have instigated a bar fight without intending to,” according to one officer’s account.

Another officer reported that “[b]efore I could ask any further questions, he stated ‘I already called the Mayor and the Chief.'” Later, the same officer reported, “Bailey was advised he was trespassed from Cloud Nine for life. Bailey said he understood and would not be coming back.

“Bailey appeared to be very intoxicated during this investigation,” the officer’s account continues. “Bailey mentioned he worked for the Mayor’s Office and made comments to myself and other officers’ that Cloud Nine’s liquor license would not be renewed.”

The Kent City Attorney declined to file charges against Stober and the case was closed in early August.

Contacted by email, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph said her office “has reviewed Mr. Stober’s conduct from a personnel standpoint, taken proper disciplinary action, and documented it in his personnel file. We consider the matter resolved.” Ralph did not specify what disciplinary action she took against Stober, and Stober himself did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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2. A Seattle resident has filled a complaint with the city’s Office of Police Accountability against police chief Carmen Best for “using her official position to promote her private affairs.” The complaint centers on Best’s use of the police department’s website to complain about demonstrators who attempted to show up at her house in Snohomish, a small town about 30 miles north of Seattle.

“[T]he time she, and other employees spend on posting the article on the blog, is not a matter for the City of Seattle, and as a resident of Seattle, my tax dollars should not go to waste on this issue outside of the city,” the complaint says. “This is a serious matter, and a full investigation of what resources Carmen is directing to support her private residence needs to come to public attention.”

The complaint bounced around a bit, going to the city auditor’s office and the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission before landing on OPA director Andrew Myerberg’s desk. Myerberg says OPA is doing intake on the complaint (along with thousands of others stemming from ongoing protests against police violence) now, a process that takes up to 30 days. Once that’s done, the office will determine whether Best violated any city policy and, “even if we close it as a contact log”—a designation that means OPA found no misconduct—”we’ll send some kind of explanation.”

3. Longtime Stranger editor Christopher Frizzelle is no longer employed by the publication. Last week, a majority of the Stranger’s editorial staffers reportedly told upper management it was him—or them. The decision didn’t come out of the blue; according to sources, editorial staffers have been dissatisfied with much of the online content, including daily video messages from people in the Seattle arts scene, and had issues with Frizzelle’s management style.

The paper has not published a print edition since early March, and has downsized dramatically since the onset of the pandemic, laying off all of its print production staff and many editorial staffers. 

Sudden Eviction Leaves Residents of Aurora “Nuisance” Motel With Few Options, Little Recourse

By Erica C. Barnett

The hallways inside the Everspring Inn on Aurora Avenue North are a hive of activity on Friday morning, as dozens of residents shuffle in and out of doorways, loading up trash bags, calling for friends down the hall, and trying to stuff a life’s worth of possessions onto carts and into shabby suitcases. The place smells sour, like sweat and mold, and some of the doors have messages scrawled or taped on the outside: “Hope.” “Happiness.” “Fuck you.” One of the doors has been kicked completely off its hinges; according to residents, it’s been that way for months.

Last month, the Seattle Police Department declared the motel a “chronic nuisance” and ordered its owner, Ryan Kang, to correct the problems, which included drug activity, rapes, and two recent murders—one in the parking garage and one in the motel lobby. On Tuesday, residents say, they received a notice on their doors ordering them to vacate the premises.

“[O]ur agreement with the City of Seattle and the Chief of the Seattle Police Department requires that we remove all guests and persons currently occupying the property… effective immediately,” the notice said. “The Seattle Police Department will be on the premises for a scheduled walkthrough on Thursday, August 13, 2020 at 11:00am to help ensure compliance with this requirement.”

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The move was a bluff. According to SPD, there is no agreement between Kang and the department. Nor did police officers do a “walkthrough” on Thursday; although a couple of officers did show up, residents and case managers who were present say they never got out of their car.

José Carrillo, who has lived at the Everspring Inn for four years, said he didn’t understand how Kang had the right to kick everyone out without notice. “The notice just said we have to leave because there’s been some shootings and murders. They’re blaming all 25 people who live here for the shooting. I was as scared as anyone when that happened.” Carrillo, who buys cars at auction, fixes them up, and sells them, said he had just gone upstairs to his room when a woman living in the motel was shot in the garage. “That’s when it started feeling unsafe,” he said.

Even so, residents say, it’s better than being on the streets. “Anything is better than being homeless,” said Olivia Lee. Her girlfriend, Nevaeh Love, is the sister of the woman whose killing Carrillo almost witnessed. The two women lived in a single room with another resident, Curtis Coleman; now, Lee said, they would have to go back to living in their car. “They didn’t offer us any resources, nothing. They just told us we had to be out that day,” Lee said. “It should have been done the legal way.”

Love, who is seven months pregnant, said she was in the hospital until last week because of a lung infection she believes was caused by black mold at the property. Her sister was one of the two people who were shot at the motel.

“They’re sitting on their high horse right now,” Love said. “Well, karma’s a bitch, and they’re going to be in this situation one day, only it will be tenfold.”

Kang was in front of the motel on Friday morning, sweeping up glass and trash as two private bodyguards looked on from a few feet away. He pointed to paint that a resident had poured in the driveway. “This is what I’m dealing with,” he said. He said emptying the motel of tenants was the first step toward addressing the problems identified by SPD. “I believe in second chances but the most important thing for me is public safety,” Kang continued. “We gave them proper notice. I have to get into an agreement [with the city] and this is part of doing that.”

In ordinary times, a mass eviction like the one at the Everspring Inn would require due process, including prior notice of up to 90 days and tenant relocation assistance, depending on the reason for the eviction. Even individual evictions for cause, such as failure to pay rent after a three-day notice to pay or vacate, would have to be filed in King County Superior Court, where the tenants would have the right to challenge their evictions.

During the pandemic, however, there are additional protections against eviction, including both a citywide and statewide ban on most evictions. The statewide ban applies at motels that serve as long-term residences, like the Everspring. On Friday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan extended Seattle’s eviction moratorium to the end of the year.

Landlords are still allowed to file eviction lawsuits against individual tenants in extreme circumstances, but that isn’t what happened in this case, either. “There’s nothing in the mayor’s or the governor’s proclamation that says a public nuisance is a just cause for [mass] evictions,” Edmund Witter, managing attorney at the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project, said. “At the very least, he would have to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit against each individual person.”

In theory, Witter said, the tenants could file an injunction allowing them to stay at the motel for now, or seek redress from the state attorney general, who enforces the statewide eviction ban. (The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond Friday to a question about the legality of the evictions). “It basically sounds like an unlawful eviction,” Witter said. But, he added, “it’s going to be a lot more complicated to help them if they all leave.”

Residents said Kang didn’t give them much of a choice. Last week, residents said, two armed security guards started hanging around in the parking lot and attempting to enter people’s rooms. (When I was inside the motel, the security guards were wandering up and down the hallways sticking their heads into open doors.)

On Thursday, multiple residents said, Kang cut off the’ hot water to all the rooms, and had several tenants’ cars towed, taking away their last significant possession and a potential source of shelter. “Those that have a car, and were going to leave, were probably going to sleep in their cars,” said Kim Harrell, an outreach worker with REACH who was at the motel until 11:00 Thursday night. “What is it hurting him to let the car sit here for one night?”

For some, the final straw came around 1:00 on Friday morning, when the security guards locked the gate surrounding the motel and refused to let anybody in or out. One tenant, Bruce Red, said he felt like he was “back in prison again.”

“[The security guards] locked the gate, and then one of them tried to jump me because I didn’t want them to come into my room to escort someone to help get her stuff,” he said. “I told him I didn’t need him to be on my ass. I’m not acting out of character. I’ve been incarcerated eight times and you’re a [corrections officer] coming into my room.” Harrell said negotiated with the guards for 45 minutes to allow the children of another resident to come inside the gate, “and then they didn’t want to anymore.”

“Their dad had to come out and talk to them,” Carillo, the four-year resident, said. “It was a messed-up situation.”

Both Red and Coleman said they worked for Kang, making ten dollars an hour—nearly six dollars less than Seattle minimum wage—to manage the front desk and defuse dangerous situations when they arose. Coleman said the work was dangerous and hard. “You just have to deal with everything: People drunk, high, coming with knives and bats.

“I was working 12- to 15-hour shifts for [Kang],” Coleman said. “For him to just push everyone out now—it’s not right. They’re messing up all my plans.” Continue reading “Sudden Eviction Leaves Residents of Aurora “Nuisance” Motel With Few Options, Little Recourse”

Terry J. Caver, The Black Man Killed By SPD Officers In May, As Remembered By His Family

Painting of SPD shooting victim Charleena Lyles outside the boarded-up Seattle Police Department East Precinct in June

By Paul Kiefer

Vanessa Caver learned of her brother’s killing several days after Seattle police officers shot Terry J. Caver near an intersection in Lower Queen Anne on May 19th. Her daughter called her unexpectedly to pass along the news. A few more days passed before she got a call from a Seattle Police Department sergeant who wanted to ask if she wanted to talk about her brother’s death. “I didn’t know what to talk about,” she explained when we spoke this week. “And the sergeant couldn’t tell me anything.”

Local news outlets covered the shooting only briefly on May 19. A day later, a post on the SPD Blotter identified Christopher Gregorio and Matthew Milburn as the officers who had fired at Caver and said that the department’s Force Investigation Team was looking into the incident.  As is standard after most shootings by SPD officers, the department did not release the name of the victim. The C is for Crank first learned Caver’s name from the King County Medical Examiner’s office on Tuesday, nearly three months after his death.

According to the 911 calls and bodycam footage shared in SPD’s blog post, at least five officers arrived at the intersection of West Harrison Street and Elliott Avenue West in response to a series of 911 calls describing a man waving a knife at passersby. By the time the police arrived, there were no longer any pedestrians near Caver, who was still standing on the sidewalk. The officers stepped out of their cars and shouted at him to drop to the ground. At that point, he started to walk south on Elliott.

“I don’t understand why they had to kill him. I guess in their mind, he was a nobody.”—Vanessa Caver, Terry Caver’s sister

As the officers started to chase him, Caver broke into a run, shouting “you’re going to have to kill me.” He dropped a piece of clothing, revealing what appeared to be a kitchen knife. The officers fired a Taser at Caver, but they claim it did not have any effect. Caver suddenly stopped and turned to face the officers (or, if the Taser did have an effect, turned as his knees buckled), and Gregorio and Milburn shot him several times. Caver crumpled onto the sidewalk, and medics from the Seattle Fire Department pronounced him dead when they arrived. Based on the bodycam footage, the entire encounter lasted less than a minute. Terry Caver was 57 years old when he died. Like more than a third of all those shot by Seattle police in the past decade, Caver was Black.

When Vanessa heard that her brother had been carrying a knife and acting erratically, she knew what had happened.

Terry Joel Caver was born in Birmingham, Alabama in April 1963. He was one of three siblings: Vanessa is his older sister, and his other sister died years ago from health problems. His mother was only briefly married to Caver’s father, and before he turned ten, she moved with her children to the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County.

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By his sister’s account, Caver was lovable and bright. “Even if he hadn’t been my biological brother, he would have been my best friend,” she says. And even as a child, Caver was apparently generous to a fault. “He would do anything for anybody, anytime,” his sister recalls.

As he neared his early twenties, Caver began to rack up felony charges, mostly for burglaries in northern LA County. According to his cousin, Gwendolyn Taylor, Caver bounced in and out of jail for years, never quite finding his footing before he landed in court again. That cycle consumed most of his young adulthood.

Once he moved to Washington to be near his sister, Terry Caver’s mental health struggles overwhelmed him. His sister says he constantly feared that someone was following him “to finish him off,” prompting him to almost always carry a knife to protect himself.

Caver’s trajectory took a turn for the worse after he was released from a stint in prison in 2010 and returned to his home in the San Fernando Valley. There, a drive-by shooting left Caver temporarily in a wheelchair after he survived nine gunshot wounds. His sister, who lives in Everett, brought him to Washington to stay with her while he underwent further treatment at Harborview Medical Center; his sister says he left with a plate in his ankle to help him walk again.

According to Vanessa Caver, the shooting in California was the breaking point for her brother. In its aftermath, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. She believes the shooting triggered the onset of his mental illness. Taylor shares that belief, and she thinks that his brief detention as a witness to the shooting only exacerbated the trauma. A doctor prescribed Caver a medication to help manage his schizophrenic episodes; it’s unclear whether he was taking his medication at the time of his killing.

Once he moved to Washington to be near his sister, Terry Caver’s mental health struggles overwhelmed him. His sister says he constantly feared that someone was following him “to finish him off,” prompting him to often carry a knife to protect himself. Though he often stayed in her apartment, she says he didn’t always feel safe there, either. “He would think there was someone else in the house,” she says. As a result, he periodically found himself homeless.

Court records show that he was charged with a few minor assaults in Seattle and Everett, which his sister believes stemmed from other mental health episodes. He was also arrested for non-violent incidents. His cousin recalls him being arrested in Las Vegas after breaking into an empty apartment and refusing to leave; another record from the Washington Court of Appeals describes an incident in 2016 in which Caver was arrested for possession of methamphetamine after he called 911 to ask to be taken to a mental health treatment facility.

In the latter case, court documents show that Caver was carrying a pocket knife, but after talking to police, he placed it on the ground. In the initial trial, the arresting officer justified placing Caver in the Snohomish County Jail during a mental health crisis by explaining that “the jail [had] available mental health professionals and separate housing for inmates with mental health issues.” For his part, Caver requested that he be allowed to wear his jail clothes to the trial. “It represent[s] what’s really going on in my life,” he explained to the judge. “I don’t want these people thinking that I’m on the streets when I’m not on the streets.” The court denied his request, claiming that “it causes much mischief if the defendant is clothed in regular jail garb.”

His cousin, Taylor, says that no matter his mental state, Caver always gave her a call as soon as he was released from jail. “He somehow always knew my number,” she says. “He would lose his phone, his phone would break, but he always remembered it.”

As Vanessa Caver made clear, her brother’s life in Washington was not wholly defined by his mental illness. Her fondest memories are of his most enduring quality: his generosity. When he first arrived in Everett in the early spring of 2010, Vanessa remembers buying her brother a leather coat to help withstand the cold. Only a few hours later, her brother returned coat-less, having given the gift to a man at a bus station. “I had a sweater and a hoodie,” he explained to his sister. “The other guy looked cold.” His sister says he was also a regular volunteer at a local soup kitchen; she’s sure he had become well-acquainted with some police officers in the process. “He said they told him he was doing a good job,” she remembers.

Terry Caver also made some attempts to get on his feet while in the Northwest. After returning from Las Vegas, he moved into a substance abuse recovery house, only to return to his sister’s apartment after realizing his roommates had taken his clothing and shoes. Later, she remembers him receiving a voucher for affordable housing. “He went down to Seattle to look for a place to live,” she said, “because he wanted to continue helping the homeless.”

While in Washington, Caver also converted to Islam and became a steadfast attendee at a local mosque. His sister doesn’t know the name of the congregation, but she admired his piety. “He tried to convert me,” she said with a chuckle, “but every time we would just start talking about the Lord. He loved the Lord.”

But Caver was still regularly overwhelmed by paranoia and fear caused by his mental condition. His sister can only imagine how afraid he was when he was reported waving a knife at pedestrians in Lower Queen Anne just before he was killed. “I’m sure he thought they were going to try to finish him off,” she says.

She thinks his mental crisis was made worse when police arrived on the scene. “If there had been one or two officers, they could have talked to him. He always listened. If they had talked to him, got him to sit down in the patrol car, he would have felt safer. But there were too many officers, so he was scared,” she explained.

She hasn’t been able to bring herself to watch the video of the shooting, but she is sure that her brother didn’t have to die. “If they had to stop him, they could have just shot him in the foot, taken him to the hospital and then taken him to jail,” she says. “I don’t understand why they had to kill him. I guess in their mind, he was a nobody.” Over the phone, she drew a comparison between her brother’s death and that of Charleena Lyles, the 30-year-old Black woman killed by Seattle Police officers in Magnuson Park in 2017 in front of her children (Lyles was also pregnant at the time). “They knew [both Lyles and Caver] were having mental health crises. They just needed to slow down and talk,” she said.

The current SPD policy manual does not provide specific instructions for responding to people with knives. The manual does instruct officers to de-escalate when “safe and feasible,” and the manual’s guidelines for de-escalation recommend that officers consider “whether any lack of compliance is a deliberate attempt to resist rather than an inability to comply based on factors including… behavioral crisis” and that they make an effort to slow down interactions and maintain a safe distance from suspects. In Caver’s case, the officers surrounded him on three sides (by the time officers fired, his only route of escape was into a dead-end parking lot) and repeatedly shouted at him to drop to the ground.

Both because of pandemic-related public health recommendations and because her brother was uninsured, Vanessa Caver and her family weren’t able to hold a proper funeral for her brother. His cousin paid for his body to be cremated and delivered to her apartment in an urn. “I couldn’t sleep at night knowing that urn was in the other room,” she says. The next day, her daughter arrived to drive Vanessa – and the urn – to her home in southwest Washington, where the family had a memorial dinner.

Vanessa Caver says her daughter has been in contact with a lawyer to discuss the case. For now, though, she is still trying to wrap her head around her loss. “I don’t have any siblings left,” she says.

According to Andrew Myerberg, the director of Seattle’s Office of Police Accountability (OPA), the police department’s Force Investigation Team will present their findings about the shooting to the Force Review Board—an eight-member panel that includes both Myerberg and the city’s Inspector General as non-voting members —sometime soon. Myerberg says that his office did not receive or file any complaint that would trigger an OPA investigation.

“This Was Never Personal. It Was Always About Changing Systems.” Council Members Stand Behind “Corrected” Statements on Police Chief Departure

Tammy Morales and Teresa Mosqueda; image via City of Seattle

By Erica C. Barnett

Reporters covering the reactions to Seattle police chief Carmen Best’s resignation yesterday received two different versions of a joint statement from council members Lorena González, Teresa Mosqueda, and Tammy Morales. The first pushed back explicitly on Best’s claim that the council cut SPD’s budget, and the salaries of the department’s command staff, for personal and “retaliatory” reasons. The second, less than half the length of the original, thanked Best for her service and reiterated the council’s commitment to systemic changes in the city’s approach to public safety.

The original statement, which the council’s communications office “recalled” and replaced minutes after sending it, contextualized the cuts as part of a larger effort to address “accountability and systemic racism in Seattle’s Police Department [and repair] the harm done by this City to Black and Brown communities.” It also emphasized that both Best and the three Latina council members were all women of color, who “face the impossible task of reforming and improving institutions never designed to serve our communities.”

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“As women of color in public service, it can feel impossible to do this work in very visible positions of power. We cannot lead by tearing each other down, despite whatever policy disagreements we may have,” the initial statement said.

Although the hasty recall and overhaul of the original statement might imply that the three council members regretted their original comments, all three confirmed to The C Is for Crank that they still stood by what they said in the initial press release.

“This was never personal; it was always about changing systems,” Mosqueda said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s unfortunate that she saw [cuts to the police department] as personal in nature. This was never, ever an adversarial comment made about the chief. This was always about the system.”

González, who said “gave [the chief] my commitment that I would never tear her down because as a woman of color I understood what a difficult position she was in,” said she didn’t regret her vote to cut the command staff’s salaries, a decision Best has explicitly called “vindictive and punitive.”

“When we were looking at the budget and attempting to respond to the calls of community to take action, to invest in solutions that produce racial justice outcomes,  the reality is that everything is on the table,” González said, “and the SPD executives’ salaries were clearly out of line with the salaries of other executive teams in the city.”

And Morales, who represents Southeast Seattle, said that although she’s “sad to see Chief Best go” because she “brings a unique perspective and lived experience that would have been valuable to the work we’re going to try to do,” the city has been trying to address police accountability and violence since long “before Chief Best was the chief.

“It wasn’t about her—it was about the institution she was a part of, and this is an institution that’s rooted in racism,” Morales said. “Chief Best is loved by her staff and her department, but they are all still part of that system, and that’s what we’re trying to change … the institution and the harm that it’s done. Speaking as the representative from District 2″—the most diverse, and Blackest, district in the city—”that’s what I came into this office to do.”

Council Narrowly Overrides Mayor’s Veto of COVID-19 Relief Bill

District 7 council member Andrew Lewis voted to uphold Mayor Durkan’s veto

By Erica C. Barnett

The Seattle City Council voted to override Mayor Jenny Durkan’s veto of legislation to provide $86 million in immediate economic relief to renters, small businesses, people experiencing homelessness, and other people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, then voted to swap the original bill for a scaled-back version that will spend $57 million instead.

The legislation Durkan vetoed and the replacement ordinance would authorize the use of two city reserve funds to pay for COVID relief, and replenish those funds using proceeds from the JumpStart payroll tax, which kicks in next year. “We are just using a portion of the dollars that we’re collecting, with a certainty that we will be able to replenish the dollars,” council member Teresa Mosqueda, who sponsored the original legislation, said.

Durkan’s office said the mayor was still “evaluating” the legislation and had not decided yet whether she would veto this bill as well.

The council decided to reduce the size of the relief package, which will be funded by drawing down two city reserve funds, in recognition of a City Budget Office forecast released Monday that increased the size of this year’s projected shortfall by $26 million. Only Kshama Sawant voted against the new relief package, calling it an “austerity” bill that amounted to a huge “budget cut.”

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The veto override needed six votes to pass. One potential “no” vote, Debora Juarez, is excused from council all this week; she also missed Monday’s vote to adopt a midyear budget that included cuts to the Seattle Police Department. Andrew Lewis and Alex Pedersen both voted to sustain the mayor’s veto.

Pedersen said he was motivated, in part, by the concern that the city would be forced to lay off workers next year if the council spends too much money now. Lewis said he believed that the only way to “make a deal” with Durkan would be to uphold her veto and spend the next week and a half working “collaboratively” to come up with a proposal the mayor would be willing to support.

“The mayor, from her position, has made clear that she is not going to spend this money,” Lewis said. “She is going to continue to push back until there is a broader accommodation.” The “broader accommodation” Lewis referred to was apparently contingent on the council either letting the mayor’s veto stand without a vote and passing new legislation (which would mean no further discussion of the veto or the original bill) or upholding the mayor’s veto, as several council members made clear in their comments.

Council president Lorena González, for example, said she had spent hours on the phone with the mayor and her staff over the past week trying to come up with a compromise that Durkan would accept, but that Durkan was hung up on making sure that her veto stood. “Unfortunately, we were not able to come up with an agreement because… there was an insistence on the sustainment of the veto before we could agree to a number,” González said. The money, in other words, wasn’t the main issue—the veto was.

In a statement, Durkan said that in “the spirit of the collaboration, I proposed creating a new bill and an agreed spending and priorities plan to ensure the City could actually implement tens of millions of additional assistance in 2020 and 2021, while continuing to have resources to address our growing budget gap and any emergencies. Council chose to reject that proposal and take a different path.”]

Even if she doesn’t veto the legislation, Durkan is under no obligation to actually spend the money the council has allocated. (We covered this fact, and the history of council-mayor budget cooperation, in a recent post about the council’s efforts to eliminate the Navigation Team.)

The legislation recognizes this fact, in a roundabout way, in a new paragraph acknowledging that “direct relief to the community may take time and could result in not expending the full $57 million in 2020. If the full amount is  not expended in 2020, the Council is committed to working with the Executive to continue funding these critical COVID-19 relief programs in 2021 and to address newly identified 2020 revenue shortfalls.”