Category: Housekeeping

PubliCola is Hiring!

PubliCola is seeking an intern for a part-time, paid position in our newsroom.

This is a very hands-on position for someone who’s interested in research, reporting, and writing about local news. Job duties will include all of the following: Conducting interviews, reading legislation and court documents, research, going to public meetings, and writing short news items and stories. We’re looking for someone who’s fearless and comfortable learning on the job, so a passion for local journalism is more important than prior reporting experience.

Qualified candidates will be available for a minimum of 15 hours a week, including some evening hours. Please send a resume and previous clips or a writing sample, along with a brief note about why you’re interested in this position, to

Help PubliCola Expand Our Police Accountability Coverage

Nine months ago, as Seattle leaders began reckoning with the legacy of police brutality, racially biased policing, and the results of ongoing disinvestment in Black and brown communities, we asked our readers to help us pay for a part-time reporter to cover police accountability in Seattle.

We couldn’t have gotten luckier in hiring superstar reporter Paul Kiefer to cover this crucial beat. Since Paul came on board, he’s brought readers in-depth and breaking-news coverage on every aspect of the accountability beat, from efforts to defund the police and invest in community-based alternatives, to participatory budgeting, the process by which the city plans to replace some police functions.

In nine months, Paul has also written feature-length pieces about alternatives to policing, the impact of police shootings on victims’ families, and the future of the youth jail in Seattle’s Central District, among many others. 

We want to continue and expand this coverage, by keeping Paul on staff after the one-year funding period for his position ends and by bringing him on full-time to cover this important beat, including the upcoming Seattle Police Department contract negotiations.

To do that, we need your help, so please consider making a one-time or recurring contribution to maintain and expand this important coverage. There are lots of ways to contribute, including Paypal, Venmo, by making a monthly donation on Patreon, or by sending a check to PubliCola at P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Just make sure you note that your contribution is for our police-accountability coverage so we can make sure it goes directly and entirely to fund this position. Thank you so much for your ongoing support for the work we’re doing here at PubliCola.

A Look Back at the Work PubliCola Contributors Made Possible in 2020

This year has been tough, terrifying, and trying in many ways. But it has also been, surprisingly, a time of exhilarating growth and change for me, personally, and for PubliCola—starting with the fact that this website got a new name and look this year, along with a new staffer, police-accountability reporter Paul Kiefer.

Those with long memories will recall that PubliCola began all the way back in 2009 as one of the pioneers of online-only local news in Seattle, so being able to publish under the name again, after five years as The C Is for Crank, felt like coming home.  Hiring a reporter to cover the movement for Black lives and the city’s fitful progress toward police accountability was another exciting change, one that required a leap of faith—would readers who come to this site to read my work respond positively to the addition of new voices, new coverage areas, and new perspectives?

Obviously, I didn’t need to worry; our readers have been immensely supportive of the changes, and have been particularly impressed by Paul’s work, which has included extensive coverage of the divest/reinvest movement, police brutality, and participatory budgeting, among many other topics that couldn’t be more timely. I want to thank everyone who reads the site regularly or occasionally, or who follows us on Twitter (@ericacbarnett, @publicolanews, and @faruq_kiefer, if you aren’t already) for reading our work, offering constructive feedback (, and keeping us accountable.

We also couldn’t do this without financial support from individual readers. I know there are a lot of publications competing for your dollars and attention, but PubliCola truly is different. We cover the entire city of Seattle and much of King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, no secondary businesses behind the scenes.

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.

PubliCola truly is different. We cover the entire city of Seattle and much of King County on a budget that is funded entirely and exclusively by reader contributions—no ads, no paywalls, no secondary businesses behind the scenes.

Need more convincing? Here are a few of the stories PubliCola covered in depth over the past year.

• The debate over putting homeless people in hotels. As the city reeled during the early days of the COVID pandemic, Mayor Jenny Durkan and her Human Services Department resisted moving unsheltered people into the relative safety of hotel rooms. The issue wasn’t money per se, since—as PubliCola reported exclusively—the city spent millions on hotel rooms for first responders that wound up sitting empty for months on end, costing millions of dollars and helping no one.

At the same time, Mayor Durkan deflected urgent requests from programs like Co-LEAD—a COVID-era diversion program whose emergence PubliCola covered extensively this year—to allow them to use emergency dollars to relocate people from the street to hotels. 

Although the city is finally moving to lease hotel rooms for people living unsheltered, Seattle’s shelter of first resort has remained the kind of mass, or congregate, shelters the Centers for Disease Control explicitly recommends against, on the grounds that COVID spreads most readily within enclosed spaces, even when people are sleeping six feet apart. Over the year, we covered this debate exhaustively, documenting the dangers of congregate spaces as well as the city’s (and state’s) resistance to the kind of shelters recommended by health experts. The future of the city’s congregate shelters, including the downtown Morrison Hotel shelter operated by the Downtown Emergency Service Center, remains unclear.

• The city was equally slow to provide safe places for people experiencing homelessness to take a shower—a basic amenity that the city council funded in 2019, but that the executive branch didn’t act on until it was too late. By the time the city finally located two shower trailers—rentals trucked in from California, rather than the purchases the council funded last year—COVID had driven up prices to levels many times higher than other cities, and King County, were paying for similar hygiene units.

• Access to restrooms was also a serious issue for people living unsheltered this year, one that PubliCola covered obsessively in the early days of the pandemic. Many public restrooms the city claimed were open were actually closed and locked, as PubliCola discovered by driving to restrooms all over the city, and the mayor’s office initially resisted providing additional portable restrooms on the grounds that they were too expensive and that people were vandalizing them.

• Homeless encampments continued to be a major story this year, as the city grappled with how to handle large groups of unsheltered people living close together in public spaces. The Navigation Team reversed its policy of removing most encampments without notice and began to focus primarily on outreach (its ostensible purpose) but still led a number of high-profile sweeps—notably in the International District and the Ballard Commons, two areas where housed residents and business owners complained about the impact of people living in tents.

Large numbers of police showed up during both removals, holding back protesters in the larger International District sweep in a preview of the protests that would begin a few months later. PubliCola was on the scene at all these sweeps, interviewing encampment residents and officials and documenting the removals on camera. We also covered the aftermath, including a tense meeting at which the senior deputy mayor and police chief outlined a litany of reasons they believed it was necessary to remove encampments even as housed people were ordered to continue sheltering in place.

• In May and June, as protests over the murder of George Floyd sparked a reckoning about the role and actions of police in Seattle, PubliCola was on the story, covering Durkan’s and then-police chief Carmen Best’s often ham-fisted response to the demands of protesters and the city’s own police accountability bodies.

We also fact-checked the mayor and police chief during the early days of the protests, when they held near-daily press conferences to justify their use of tear gas, pepper spray, and other weapons against protesters on Capitol Hill. The excuses could be baroque: At one point, Durkan claimed that she had seen “homophobic graffiti” in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone—graffiti that turned out to consist of slogans like “Dykes for BLM” and “fags against cops.” At another, Best claimed that access to tear gas could have saved the life of a person who died from a gunshot wound in the protest zone.

• In July, we hired Paul Kiefer to cover police accountability, and his very first big story was a major scoop. In it, he identified the victim of a police shooting that had flown under the radar, a homeless man named Terry Caver. The story led to a profile of Caver based on his family’s recollections, and a renewed interest in the case among police misconduct investigators at the city,

• More great stories from Paul followed, including an in-depth look at the potential impact of cuts to the Seattle Police Department unit that investigates domestic violence cases; a feature on a community-based violence intervention program highlighting the promise and limitations of such programs as a replacement for police; ongoing coverage of the push-pull debate over what it means to “reimagine policing” or “defund the police”; a feature on the “car brigade” that has continued protecting protesters despite arrests, impoundments, and other targeting by police; and a slew of stories about the participatory budgeting process being led by King County Equity Now.

• Meanwhile, we continued to cover the city budget debate, which became unusually heated over the summer as Mayor Durkan issued two separate vetoes of the council’s budget plans. The council ultimately overturned both vetoes).

The first attempted to undo a spending plan for the JumpStart high-earners’ payroll tax, which the council intended to fund COVID relief in its first two years, and housing and homelessness programs thereafter. As we reported exclusively on PubliCola, the mayor had other plans for that money—she wanted to use it in 2021 to fully fund $100 million for unspecified future spending “on BIPOC communities” that she had promised to Black communities, specifically, during the summer’s protests.

Ultimately, Durkan didn’t get the entire $100 million, but some other interesting things happened between the summer and fall. Durkan’s second veto would have nixed the entire 2020 rebalancing package the council adopted in August, on the grounds that the package (which was necessitated by a COVID-related budget shortfall) cut the size of the police department too much. The council reversed that veto, too, and shortly thereafter Durkan adopted a more conciliatory approach to the council and their proposed 2021 budget, including a new compromise approach to encampment outreach that will be tested as the city begins to reopen next year.

Beyond these big, ongoing coverage areas, PubliCola broke news and went in-depth on dozens of others stories, including: The sudden closure of a dilapidated hotel on Aurora Ave. North that had been housing dozens of formerly homeless residents, many of them for years; the debate over reforming fare enforcement at Sound Transit; the scramble to count unsheltered people during this year’s chaotic Census; the decision by a number of suburban cities to opt out of King County’s sales tax for homeless services, a story PublICola broke; and the city’s decision to hire a controversial activist as its “street czar” at a cost of $150,000, among many others.

And we brought in PubliCola’s original founder, Josh Feit, to write a new columm, Maybe Metropolis, focusing on urbanist issues like  nightlife, live music, and Seattle’s reconsideration of its “neo-suburban” land use model.

Again, we couldn’t have done any of this work without the support of generous readers who contributed to PubliCola’s growth and success this year. If you enjoy the breaking news, in-depth coverage, opinion and analysis, and other work we do here, please contribute what you can to help us keep going and growing next year and beyond. Thank you for reading, and for your support.

The City Funded Hygiene Trailers Last Year, But Never Bought Them. Now It May be Too Late. Plus More COVID News


1. The city of Seattle has been unable to procure the four hygiene trailers promised by the Human Services Department in mid-March because the trailers are in short supply nationwide due to the coronavirus epidemic, according to multiple sources. The trailers were added to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2020 budget by the City Council last November, but were not purchased by the time the COVID-19 epidemic hit Seattle full force starting in late February. The trailers, known as “mobile pit stops,” would give unsheltered people access to showers, restrooms, and needle disposal. There is a possibility that the city could rent trailers in the short term, but whether and when that might happen remains unclear.

The city did not immediately respond to questions about the delay sent early Wednesday afternoon.

Other cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, have recently deployed additional mobile hygiene trailers to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness. (The addition of new hygiene services has been offset by the closure of mobile showers run by the nonprofit Lava Mae, which just announced it was suspending all hygiene services in San Francisco, Berkeley, and, LA because of the pandemic, saying that the company is “not equipped or trained to handle a pandemic.”)

Support The C Is for Crank
During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you.

Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job. Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

King County, whose epidemic response has been running parallel to the city’s, began purchasing mobile shower/restroom facilities between late February and early March, according to the director of the county’s Facilities Management Division, Tony Wright. The county has purchased at least a dozen of the mobile units, five of which were on display at a field hospital in Shoreline that the county has set up for groups of non-emergency COVID patients. The others are being deployed at hospitals and isolation sites on Harbor Island, at Harborview Hall on First Hill, in Bellevue, and at the King County Airport.

“It really was a case of, we’ve been through enough emergencies to know that we need to grab them early, so we grabbed them early,” Wright told me during a press tour of the Shoreline facility this morning.

The city council added $1.3 million in funding for mobile hygiene trailers to last year’s budget after a February 2019 audit found that the city provided far too few restrooms, handwashing stations, and showers for the thousands of unsheltered homeless people in Seattle. In early March, the city council approved the mayor’s declaration of civil emergency with a resolution urging the mayor to invest emergency funds specifically in mobile pit stops and handwashing stations.

Durkan announced last week that the city would place port-a-potties with handwashing stations in six locations, four of them in parks that already have public restrooms. The city of Los Angeles, in contrast, has 360 portable handwashing sites.


Locked restrooms at Little Brook Park in north Seattle.

2. In a press release touting the city’s actions on behalf of homeless people during the COVID crisis , Durkan’s office said that there are 128 restrooms open in city parks and community centers. So far, of 28 restrooms on this list that I have checked personally, and three that readers have checked (and verified by sending photos), 21 are open, and 13 are closed. These include not just restrooms in small parks in far-flung parts of the city but large community centers right in its heart.

The city must know, for example, that Garfield and Miller Community Centers—facilities that are being used as redistribution sites for existing shelter beds—are not open to the general public; the city is responsible for these sites, and the prominent “NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS” signs on every door were put there by the Seattle Parks Department. So it’s unclear why they have not updated their list of “open” restrooms—or, for that matter, unlocked the ones that remain inaccessible, like those at Little Brook Park in Northeast Seattle, Northacres Park near Aurora Ave. N., Salmon Bay Park in Ballard, Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill, or Brighton Park in southeast Seattle.

3. During this morning’s tour of the Shoreline facility, King County Executive Dow Constantine rebuffed questions about whether the county would effectively wall off the field hospitals and other facilities the county is standing up and surround them with security to ensure that no one can leave. (TV reporters, in particular, have been exercised over the idea that homeless people with COVID symptoms will “escape” from hospitals and isolation facilities, after a man left a motel in Kent that was being used as an isolation site.)

“There is going to be security at each facility,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said. “Each facility is not going to be surrounded by barbed wire. This is not how this works.” 

Constantine said the county was also working to add more “de-intensification” space for homeless shelters where people are still sleeping inches apart. The new locations, where people already staying in shelters are being moved so that they can sleep further apart, are still congregate spaces, raising the question of why—if the guidelines for housed people say we should all be isolating—the county couldn’t just put people who are capable of staying on their own in vacant hotel rooms.

Flor said the county has considered purchasing a motel for this purpose, but said that the county was relying on shelter providers such as Union Gospel Mission, and advocates such as Health Care for the Homeless, to do assessments and decide the best course of action for shelter clients. There is some debate among groups that provide shelter about whether most clients could live independently or need, in effect, supervision. This debate could come to a head as shelter capacity is stretched to its limit, and as more City of Seattle employees are asked to work in shelters.

A primary reason that the city says it has been unable to move many shelter residents out of their current crowded conditions is a lack of staffing—that is, there aren’t enough people to supervise shelter residents. Allowing people who are assessed and found capable of living independently to self-isolate in their own hotel rooms could help solve the overcrowding problem, but it would mean abandoning the idea that every person staying in a shelter needs to be watched over by a supervisor while they sleep.

100 Officers Trained to Implement Anti-Camping Rules as Navigation Team Expands to 7-Day Schedule

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office has confirmed that the city has trained about 100 members of the Seattle Police Department’s Community Policing Team (CPT) and bicycle patrol officers on how to implement and enforce the rules against unauthorized “camping” in public spaces, such as sidewalks, parks, and publicly owned property. The city recently expanded the Navigation Team to include two new field coordinators overseeing encampment removals and two new outreach workers, who will do outreach work previously performed by the nonprofit REACH, which is no longer participating in encampment removals.

“The CPT and bike officers have been trained to implement the existing [Multi Departmental Administrative Rules], which lay out when and how encampments can be removed), the encampment rules, and how to connect with the Nav Team,” Durkan spokesman Mark Prentice says. “People can remain in the public right of way but belongings that are obstructing… ‘pedestrian or transportation purposes of public rights-of-way’ are not allowed, which is why a Navigation Team member will be available to offer storage and/or services. … This additional effort by CPT and bike officers does not impact or change the MDAR or the City’s compliance with these rules.”

Perhaps unintentionally, the Navigation Team no longer creates a list of “weekly unauthorized encampment removals”; instead, the most recent version of this document refers to these removals as “relocations.”

Under Durkan, as I reported last month, the Navigation Team has shifted its emphasis and now focuses on removing tents and belongings that constitute an “obstruction” under the city’s rules. Once an encampment is deemed an “obstruction,” the Navigation Team can remove it without notifying residents or offering them shelter or services. Although, in practice, officers often do tell residents who happen to be around during these unannounced removals about available shelter beds, outreach workers and unsheltered people have told me that they’re less likely to trust uniformed police officers than social service workers who show up between removals and get to know them outside the charged environment of a sweep.

Empowering another 100 or so police officers to enforce the rules against camping will undoubtedly expand the city’s ability to remove unauthorized encampments without notice, but it’s unclear what the long game is here, or if there is one.

The original goal of the Navigation Team, when it was created as part of the city’s response to the homelessness emergency back in 2017, was to “work… with unsheltered people who have urgent and acute unmet needs,” by building  relationships with people living outdoors and convincing them to come inside (ideally, to new low-barrier, 24/7 shelters with case management and services). Today, the team still offers referrals to shelter and services, but much of their work involves removing encampments, cleaning up sites, and watching people move back in over a matter of days or weeks—a tedious process of, yes, sweeping people from one place into another in a seemingly endless cycle. (Perhaps unintentionally, the Navigation Team no longer creates a list of “weekly unauthorized encampment removals”; instead, the most recent version of this document refers to these removals as “relocations.”)

Since 2017, the Navigation Team has nearly doubled in size, from 22 to 38 members. In that time, the number of contracted outreach workers has stayed the same, while the number of police, management, and support staff has grown dramatically. (Currently, in addition to 13 police officers, the team includes three data analysts, one team lead, one encampment response manager, one outreach supervisor, one communications manager, an administrative specialist, and an operations manager). Empowering another 100 or so police officers to enforce the rules against camping will undoubtedly expand the city’s ability to remove unauthorized encampments without notice, but it’s unclear what the long game is here, or if there is one. The city has added some new shelter beds (including 160 mats in the lobby of city hall, which are accessible for just 8 hours a night and don’t include showers, food, or services), but nowhere near enough to meet the need. Last year, according to the latest Point In Time Count of people living unsheltered in King County, the number of people living in tents rose from 1,034 to 1,162 even as the count of people living unsheltered shrunk.

I scrambled back up the path, stumbling a bit on my way back to the accessible, level, and totally empty park. I can’t imagine whose “pedestrian and transportation purposes” anyone living in those brambles could possibly be obstructing.

This week (over the newly expanded seven-day Navigation Team schedule), 13 encampments are on the list for “relocation.” All but one have been deemed “obstructions” exempt from the notice and outreach requirements.

Over the weekend, I visited a couple of encampments. One had just been visited by the Navigation Team, which hauled away a dump truck full of refuse, including soiled clothing, food wrappers, and large items dumped on the site by people from outside the camp. At the base of the hillside where people had set up their tents, there were still piles of loose trash and scattered needles, along with several full purple garbage bags provided through a pilot city trash pickup program.

The second encampment was one that’s scheduled for removal as an “obstruction” next week. The site was in a lightly forested area along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., on the edge of an underused park that offers stunning views of downtown Seattle. I looked for the “large amounts of garbage, debris, and human waste” that the Navigation Team said were present at the site. It wasn’t easy to find signs of human habitation—from the park, the only way to access the place where people were living was by scrambling down a steep dirt hillside, or by bushwhacking through brambles and weeds to find a series of primitive trails. Eventually, I saw a beach umbrella, a mattress pad, and a few small piles of trash (but no human waste) that hinted that the area might be inhabited. I scrambled back up the path, stumbling a bit on my way back to the accessible, level, and totally empty park. I can’t imagine whose “pedestrian and transportation purposes” anyone living in those brambles could possibly be obstructing.

Support The C Is for Crank
Hey there! Just a quick reminder that this entire site, including the post you’re reading, is supported by generous contributions from readers like you, without which this site would quite literally cease to exist. If you enjoy reading The C Is for Crank and would like to keep it going, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter. For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is my full-time job. Help keep that work sustainable by becoming a supporter now! If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Out of Office

I’m in sunny Berlin for a few days, so if you’re going to make some news, please do it when I get back. (I’m looking at you, Rob Joehnson!) I’ll be posting sporadically but mostly out of commission until mid-month.

I’ll be posting sporadically from here; in the meantime, please enjoy these photos of happy socialists in the former East Berlin. More about this mural here.

Morning Crank: Isn’t It Weird That…

Image: Low-Income Housing Institute

As I head off on a brief writing retreat (back next Monday—although there may be some surprise posts while I’m gone!), I thought it would be a good time to dust off an old classic from my (and Josh’s) PubliCola days: Isn’t It Weird That?…

So: Isn’t It Weird That…

The Freedom Foundation—a group best known for suing to allow public-sector workers to opt out of paying union dues—is suddenly getting involved in a local land-use debate in Seattle?

The Olympia-based group is asking a judge to prevent the Low-Income Housing Institute from opening a “tiny house” encampment on a city-owned piece of property in South Lake Union on the grounds that its construction permit is invalid. The lawsuit claims the city of Seattle failed to do an adequate environmental review, failed to do sufficient outreach to surrounding neighbors, and isn’t allowed to authorize more than three encampments at one time under city law.

In the lawsuit, the Freedom Foundation claims it has standing to sue the city on the grounds that it generally represents the interests of people in Washington State “in regard to governmental treatment of people at all levels.” (Somewhat) more specifically, the complaint charges that the encampment will harm the “quality of life in residing, working and owning property and businesses in the South Lake Union area… by encouraging loitering and substandard living conditions in this particular area.”

When I asked Freedom Foundation spokesman Maxford Nelsen why a group that’s ordinarily focused on state-level labor policy is getting involved in Seattle politics at the micro-micro level of a temporary encampment for a few dozen homeless Seattleites,  he directed me to the attorney on the case, Richard Stephens. Stephens did not return a call for comment last week.

But Sharon Lee, the director of LIHI, contends that the city has the authority to approve additional encampments under the homelessness state of emergency, declared in 2015. Lee says LIHI is still operating under the assumption that the tiny house village will open on August 15. “We’re optimistic. We want to get homeless men and women off the streets before the winter,” Lee says.

Speaking of LIHI,  Isn’t It Weird That…

Safe Seattle—a group of Seattle residents organized around the shared conviction that the city is a “shithole” overrun with “criminal vagrants” and carpeted with needles—is obsessed with Sharon Lee?  What’s weird isn’t that they oppose LIHI’s work to provide temporary shelter and permanent housing to homeless people, including those in active addiction—that’s right on brand for them. What’s weird is how often they complain, specifically, about her salary.

“I can’t believe she makes that much!” an SS member wrote recently. “That’s crazy $ for running a non-profit for the homeless. Is that part of what is referred to as the ‘homeless industrial complex’?”

Lee makes $195,237, plus $7,374 in other compensation. That’s a lot compared to what I make, and it may be more than what you make as well. But it’s not a lot compared to what the directors of other  Seattle nonprofit housing providers make. For example, here’s what four directors of roughly comparable groups take home in compensation, according to their 2016 IRS filings (available at

• Gordon McHenry, president and CEO, Solid Ground: $183,026, plus $19,726 in other compensation

• Michael Rooney, executive director, Mount Baker Housing Association: $162,250, plus $12,694 in other compensation

•Bill Rumpf, president, Mercy Housing Northwest $206,530, plus $13,300 in other compensation

• Paul Lambros, Plymouth Housing: $188,465, plus $22,480 in other compensation.

And yet only one of those local nonprofit housing directors has regularly been referred to on Safe Seattle as a “poverty pimp,” a “Grifter level = 7,” and a “scammer.”

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention any other women who run nonprofit housing organizations. That isn’t because there aren’t any. It’s because Lee is the only woman in her position locally* who makes a salary comparable to her male counterparts. (Even in the nonprofit world, women tend to get paid less than men for similar work). Weird that the one woman of color who makes a salary similar to men doing similar jobs is also the only one who’s routinely lambasted for making “too much.”


Isn’t It Weird That... In the same week, in two liberal West Coast cities with booming economies and  growing homelessness crises, local news media ran extremely similar stories predicting that their city’s convention business would implode if the city didn’t crack down on its homeless population?

Now, I’m not suggesting any kind of direct cooperation between stations like KIRO-7 in Seattle (which recently provided obsessive, near-daily updates on an unsightly encampment across the street from its office) and, say, FOX News. But their sky-is-falling stories about convention center traffic this week did feature a number of common elements:

1. A representative from the local tourism board predicting that convention traffic is about to dry up, with no data-based evidence supporting this claim (or in the face of data that suggests the opposite). In the case of San Francisco,  one representative from the local tourism board claims that an anonymous large medical group has “canceled” a convention because an advance group showed up and was horrified by rampant homelessness and crime. That  quote made it into every headline I saw about the story despite the fact that what the group actually said, according to the tourism official, is that it will convene in San Francisco in 2018 and 2023, but may decide not to do so in the future. (The fact that this anonymous convention planner is also quoted as saying they plan to take their business to Los Angeles, a city with its own extremely visible homelessness crisis, suggests a number of obvious followup questions, such as: Are you aware that the LA Times refers to the homelessness situation in that city as a “Dickensian dystopia“?) In Seattle, a spokesman for Visit Seattle tells KIRO that “business may not always be so great,” citing no specific revenue trend or metric other than a general sense that  “our city is out of control.”

2. No quotes from secondary sources who aren’t directly engaged in lobbying the city on the public policy they’re talking about. The San Francisco story, in fact, is based on a single source—the head of the convention bureau, who has an obvious interest in suggesting that the city needs to sweep the streets or pay the consequences in lost tourism dollars.

3. Lack of legwork. In San Francisco, newspapers and TV stations ran the story about the “canceled” convention under headlines like “SF’s Appalling Street Life Repels Residents—Now It’s Driven Away a Convention” without ascertaining which group had “canceled” (is it really that hard to figure out which “Chicago-based medical association” has 15,000 members and is holding conventions in the city in 2018 and 2023?) or looking at convention bookings to see if the loss of a single convention would make a substantial dent in tourism revenues. In Seattle, reporters failed to put tourism boosters’ claims in context, dutifully transcribing quotes about how the city’s “attractiveness… is being tarnished and diminished daily” without noting, for example, that the convention business has been so good that the convention center has been turning away “more business … than they have booked due to a lack of available dates,” according to representatives of the convention center itself. In fact, the primary constraint on the convention business has not been homeless people in alleys but sufficient space to meet demand—which is precisely why the convention center has insisted it needs a $1.6 billion expansion.

It’s easy for writers and columnists to cut-and-paste “scathing letters” warning of dire consequences if the city doesn’t clean homeless people off the streets and serve as stenographers for self-serving tourist bureaus. But it’s far more useful to the public when journalists ask tough questions, provide context, and sometimes even decline to run with alarmist stories if the reality doesn’t live up to, or even contradicts, the sky-is-falling hype.

* The only woman, that is, that I was able to find in my review of federal filings from more than a dozen local organizations that provide housing to formerly homeless and low-income people.