The Seattle City Council won’t take action on a proposed local capital gains tax or a related proposal to repeal the city’s water utility tax until after an effort to repeal the state capital gains tax, which pays for public schools, has run its course. The news of the delay, which will put both tax proposals in the hands of a mostly new council next year, came during a meeting of the council’s budget committee on Thursday.
Opponents of the state tax, which has brought in far more than expected in its first year, have filed an initiative to repeal it, part of a suite of anti-tax proposals backed by Redmond hedge fund CEO and Republican donor Brian Heywood. The campaign will have to gather more than 300,000 valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
Councilmember Alex Pedersen proposed repealing the water tax, currently 15.4 percent, and offsetting the lost revenues—around $40 million a year—with a 2 percent tax on capital gains, effectively replacing a regressive tax with a progressive one. The two proposals came as a package, with the capital gains tax proposal explicitly calling the tax “a more progressive method of taxation to replace revenues from regressive taxes no longer collected by The City of Seattle including, but not limited to, the tax on water.”
“People aren’tfillingupmyinboxcomplainingtomeaboutthewatertax. They’recomplainingprimarilyaboutcrimeandhomelessnessandotherissuesthatSeattleisfacingandwonderingwhyaren’twedoingmoreabouttheseissues.” — City Councilmember Sara Nelson
An analysis by city council staff estimated that the capital gains tax could raise around $38 million a year, based on Seattle’s share of state capital gains tax revenues from the state capital gains tax. However, the staff report cautions, that estimate doesn’t take into account “tax avoidance” by wealthy people who can move their assets around, and is based on “an extremely concentrated tax base,” which could make it an unreliable revenue source from year to year. Just 163 people are responsible for 85 percent of state capital gains tax revenues originating in Seattle.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold proposed amending Pedersen’s proposal to increase the capital gains tax to 3 percent, which would offset the water tax and provide a modest cushion against next year’s estimated $218 million budget deficit.
After the meeting, council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda said the council decided to put off the decision on capital gains “to protect the viability of that [revenue] source,” noting that a new, local capital gains tax might increase support for the campaign to repeal the statewide tax.
Councilmember Sara Nelson said during the meeting that she showed up “prepared to vote against this today. And I just wanted to make sure that I got this on the record if it does come back” in the future, she added.
“People aren’tfillingupmyinboxcomplainingtomeaboutthewatertax,” Nelson said. “They’recomplainingprimarilyaboutcrimeandhomelessnessandotherissuesthatSeattleisfacingandwonderingwhyaren’twedoingmoreabouttheseissues.”
If the council’s goal was “really to help low -income people,” Nelson continued, the city should be “working harder to enroll them into our utility discount program,” which provides a 50 percent discount to eligible residents. Unlike the proposed utility tax repeal, however, the utility discount program requires a lengthy application process, and is only open to very low-income residents: For single people, the cutoff is a little over $41,000 a year, and a two-person household has to make less than $54,000 to qualify.
Pedersen said his intent in proposing both tax proposals was to make the city’s overall tax system less regressive. “As a centrist who cares about business in the city and worked really hard on public safety issues here in the city, I support a capital gains tax,” he said. “I think it’s fair, and we should do it…. And I think we could also repeal the water tax. We could do both.”
Whether the council will do either is now up to the incoming council, which will no longer include Pedersen, Herbold, or Mosqueda. Nelson, who actively campaigned for several of the council’s new centrist majority, reportedly wants to be council president, a role that would give her authority over how (and whether) legislation moves through the committee process.
The budget committee did pass two proposals imposing new transparency requirements on the budget process on Tuesday, along with an ordinance requiring human services providers that receive funding for worker wage increases to spend that money only on worker pay, not for other purposes.
A King County Council committee rejected a last-minute proposal by King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski to cut $6 million from a five-year plan to improve human service workers’ wages on Wednesday, voting to reject an amendment passed by the countywide Regional Policy Committee (RPC) this past Monday.
Dembowski’s amendment, which went out to RPC members the Friday after Thanksgiving, would amend the spending plan for the voter-approved Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy to reduce funding for human service worker raises by $1 million a year, or between 9 and 12 percent every year the levy is in effect, with the money going to unspecified future capital grants to improve food access
The RPC, which is in charge of approving the levy spending plan before it goes on to the county council, passed Dembowski’s proposal with minimal discussion on Monday. (The amendments didn’t go out to RPC members until the day after Thanksgiving, and the discussion lasted less than five minutes). “We’ve really got a rising need in this county for folks who are hungry,” Dembowski said Monday. While he would have preferred to pass a more generous levy in the first place, Dembowski added, $6 million “didn’t seem to me to have a tremendously adverse impact in the scale of things.”
King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci, one of two county council representatives on the RPC, disagreed, telling PubliCola that Dembowski’s amendment “fundamentally changed the proposal by taking 10 percent out of a program that was fundamental to the levy.” Dembowski, she added, “didn’t do any outreach to me” before putting his amendment forward.
“I am sympathetic to Councilmember Dembowski’s desire to add more funds to the food strategy. We know that food banks everywhere are seeing huge increases in clients. … I’m sympathetic to the intent, but not to the impact.”—Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold
Dembowski did not return a call or text messages seeking comment.
Human services providers seemed blindsided by the amendment, which only Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold and King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci opposed at Monday’s meeting. “It was extremely disappointing to see this unfold in a process with effectively no notice, engagement, or opportunity to comment before the Regional Policy Committee took action during a special meeting,” Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness director Alison Eisinger said.
But by Wednesday, when a county council committee took up Dembowski’s amendment, providers had mobilized, urging the council not to pit food security against human service providers’ wages. Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said that in the last two days, he had “heard from so many organizations that I work with regularly that they didn’t have an opportunity to make their voice heard on on those changes…. [and] are terrified that depriving them of the needed resources at this time would really jam up their services.”
“I am sympathetic to Councilmember Dembowski’s desire to add more funds to the food strategy,” Herbold told PubliCola after the vote on Wednesday. “We know that food banks everywhere are seeing huge increases in clients. … I’m sympathetic to the intent, but not to the impact.”
The levy funding, on its own, isn’t enough to give human service workers a living wags—a fact Dembowski used to argue for repurposing the funds, noting that by his math, $1 million a year across 10,000 human service workers works out to only “about two bucks a week.” But the money, combined with similar increases adopted as part of the city of Seattle’s 2024 budget and in the county’s Crisis Centers Levy, would help keep these workers from falling further behind.
For years, nonprofits in King County have struggled to recruit and retain workers because they can’t afford to pay them living wages, much less competitive salaries. A study conducted by University of Washington researchers in 2022 and released earlier this year found that people who left jobs in human services for jobs in other fields saw their wages increase 7 percent relative to what they would have received if they had stayed in their human services jobs. The 7 percent figure accounts for factors like workers moving into higher job classifications and working more hours, according to the researchers.
Eisinger, from the Coalition on Homelessness, said she was “grateful” to the county council for restoring the funding for human service worker wages. “I hope every elected official in King County understands that achieving our shared goals for the Levy requires a strong human services workforce,” she said.
On Wednesday, Dembowski urged his county council colleagues to support his proposal, arguing that it was too late in the process to start second-guessing amendments now. “It would sadden me if we were to zero this out,” Dembowski said, “and I’m very worried about a whole back and forth at the year-end.” This argument might hold more water if Dembowski himself hadn’t initiated the back and forth with his last-minute amendment moving funds from provider pay into a vaguely defined capital fund, which the council will now have to “zero out” to return things to the way they were.
Had Dembowski made a proposal much earlier in the spending plan discussions about “specific needs at specific food banks, that could have been compelling, but it was at the last minute and the end of the process,” Balducci noted. The RPC will now have to hold a special meeting to reconsider the plan, as amended, and the county council will have to approve it before December 14, when the council starts its winter recess.
The Burien City Council voted Monday night to take King County up on a six-month-old offer to provide $1 million and 35 Pallet shelters, voting 4-3 to accept the money and locate the temporary shelter on a vacant lot owned by Seattle City Light. The late-night vote, which came almost literally at the 11th hour, just barely met the November 27 deadline set by King County for Burien to or lose the funding, provided through a federal ARPA grant.
The Burien council has been debating what to do about the encampment, whose residents the city has repeatedly swept from place to place, since March. In September, the council prohibited homeless people from sleeping outdoors at night; that ban goes into effect on December 1.
The money will be administered through the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which will choose a shelter provider through a competitive bidding process that, according to KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens, typically takes about three months. The Low-Income Housing Institute, a nonprofit that operates many tiny house villages around the region, has sent its chief strategy officer, Jon Grant, to testify in favor of the agreement at recent Burien City Council meetings, but Grant said the shelter and housing agency has not decided yet if they’ll bid on the project.
Asked about next steps, KCRHA, King County, the city of Burien, Seattle City Light, and the Seattle Human Services Department all gave different versions of the same response: They’ll have to meet and hammer out the details, so stay tuned.
One of the most important of those details is a lease between KCRHA and the city of Seattle for the use of City Light site, which a City Light spokesperson said “has not yet been negotiated [or] received.” Burien city manager Adolfo Bailon has declined to answer Burien council members’ questions about the site, claiming it would be premature to provide details before the council approved the plan to put the shelter at that location.
According to a spokesman for the Seattle Human Services Department, if the city receives a formal proposal from KCRHA, “HSD will work with KCRHA and the City of Burien to discuss next steps including potential terms and costs associated with use of the site.”
Last week, the council deadlocked over the City Light location and another potential shelter site in Boulevard Park, a low-income neighborhood near SeaTac Airport. Monday’s meeting was a hail-Mary, and a bit of a fluke: At the end of last week’s meeting, just three council members voted to support Councilmember Cydney Moore’s motion to hold one last meeting to discuss the offer, but because three others abstained (with Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling voting “no”), Moore’s motion passed.
Councilmember Stephanie Mora—who said last week that she would not attend Monday’s meeting because she doesn’t think the government should play a role in addressing homelessness—attempted to enhance this language with an amendment saying no one could enter the site if they were “under the influence” of drugs or alcohol.
Proponents of the Boulevard Park site argued that it had plenty of access to services and food thanks to the presence of two bus lines and a nearby Dollar Tree. Opponents countered that the site was poorly served by transit, lacked access to services, and would subject tiny house village residents to particulate and noise pollution from planes overhead. The council had already voted against allowing the shelter on a piece of city-owned land in downtown Burien, which would have given residents access to homeless services, multiple bus lines, and several full-service grocery stores.
The City Light site, Moore noted Monday, was a “compromise” between a piece of city-owned land in downtown Burien that the council had previously rejected and the Boulevard Park location, which came with its own significant baggage. Councilmember Hugo Garcia, who supported the original downtown Burien site, said the council majority’s proposal to put the shelter in a low-income, majority-minority neighborhood “smacks of white supremacy.”
“I personally don’t feel that this is necessarily ideal, but in the spirit of compromising to find something that we can move forward with I am willing to accept these terms,” Moore said.
The “terms” Moore was referring to included a stipulation that residents can’t drink alcohol or use illegal drugs on site or in the surrounding neighborhood, among many other parameters. Councilmember Stephanie Mora—who said last week that she would not attend Monday’s meeting because she doesn’t think the government should play a role in addressing homelessness—attempted to enhance this language with an amendment saying no one could enter the site if they were “under the influence” of drugs or alcohol.
Although Mora’s amendment passed, the KCRHA, not Burien, will actually set the terms of its request for proposals for the site, and it’s extremely unlikely that the KCRHA, the city of Seattle, or any homeless service provider would agree to such stringent terms.
In an email to city manager Adolfo Bailon last Wednesday, KCRHA intergovernmental relations manager Nigel Herbig attempted to explain this—noting, for example, that while KCRHA can set broad parameters for shelter providers, such as “congregate or noncongregate,” shelter providers have the authority to establish their own rules. LIHI and other shelter providers do ban drug and alcohol use at some of their locations and have behavioral codes of conduct, but they don’t restrict access to shelter based on whether a shelter resident is “under the influence”—a standard that could require drug testing every person entering a site.
After this year’s elections, the Burien City Council will have a five-member supermajority of members who support the city’s hard-line approach to homelessness. King County’s money will run out in a year, but it’s likely that additional funding will materialize if the shelter is successful and the next council doesn’t oppose keeping the shelter open.
A poison-pill amendment, also by Mora, that would have shuttered the shelter as soon as the million dollars ran out, effectively barring outside funding for the shelter, failed.
Grant, of LIHI, said his agency “would need to see the details before deciding to move forward with an application”; their questions, he said, include when the program would end and whether LIHI would be required to use the Pallet-branded shelters that were part of the county’s initial offer, or if they could bring in their own stick-built “tiny houses,” which are larger and more homey than Pallet’s utilitarian sheds.
Facing a November 27 deadline to take action on a longstanding offer of $1 million and 35 Pallet shelters from King County, the Burien City Council decided last night to do nothing.
Well, not exactly nothing: After rejecting two potential locations for a tiny shelter village—a city-owned lot in downtown Burien that currently serves as storage for a Toyota dealership and a property owned by Seattle City Light—the council voted to ask the county for an extension on the deadline to use the money, which has been available to Burien for the last six months.
UPDATE: On Tuesday afternoon, Deputy King County Executive Shannon Braddock formally declined Burien City Manager Adolfo Bailon’s request for a deadline extension. In an email, Braddock noted that the county originally started working with Burien to site a shelter in the city in March, after the city evicted an encampment from its original location outside City Hall, and formalized its $1 million offer in June.
“Since our conversations began, the only requirement to utilize this offer has been for the city to identify a location and willing property owner to site the Pallet shelters,” Braddock wrote. “We have identified funding, shelter resources, and off-set parking capacity. To the best of our understanding as of today, the city has not yet identified any location or property owner, including city-owned property, to utilize what we have secured in response to the original request for assistance.” The council will hold a special meeting next Monday, the day the deadline expires, for a final discussion, but the months-long deadlock is unlikely to change.
ORIGINAL POST CONTINUES: The votes on both locations deadlocked 3-3-1, with Councilmember Jimmy Matta—ordinarily part of the four-member anti-shelter majority—abstaining. “I’m not going to make a call for any of the sites until we as a community come together and have a real conversation,” Matta said.
A third proposal to build a temporary Pallet shelter or tiny house village on a vacant lot in Boulevard Park—a low-income food desert with minimal services—failed, after Mayor Sofia Aragon could not get anyone to second it. As Councilmember Cydney Moore noted Monday, the Boulevard Park location is directly in a flight path, with noise levels frequently exceeding 80 decibels.
Aragon also proposed a code of conduct for any future temporary shelter that would prohibit people living in the tiny structures from drinking or using drugs, including marijuana, and would bar anyone convicted of a sex offense, but because her motion to consider the code of conduct violated parliamentary procedure, it didn’t get a hearing, either.
“I don’t believe that it should be the government that has a say or even touches homelessness. I think that should be [done by the] private sector. It should be the organizations that are funded on their own that are able to come up with funding on their own to do this, which is why I don’t support accepting the King County money.”—Burien City Councilmember Stephanie Mora
Although the Boulevard Park location didn’t get a formal vote, it would have likely failed by a similar margin as the other two locations, since conservative council member Stephanie Mora indicated she would not vote for any proposal to accept the money from King County, including the Boulevard Park location supported by her council allies.
“I don’t believe that it should be the government that has a say or even touches homelessness. I think that should be [done by the] private sector,” Mora said. “It should be the organizations that are funded on their own that are able to come up with funding on their own to do this, which is why I don’t support accepting the King County money.”
Moore attempted to bring the council back at some point before next Monday—the county’s deadline for Burien to use the money—but Aragon, Matta, and Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling all said they would be too busy with Thanksgiving obligations. (Mora said she would not attend any meeting to discuss the matter further, period.) If the county does not grant an extension, the council will meet next Monday night.
Instead, they asked the county for another week to discuss options, though it’s not clear what could possibly break the six-month-long logjam. If Burien decides it doesn’t want the million dollars, the county will offer it to other South King County cities through a competitive bidding process.
Prior to last night’s meeting, the city appeared to be teeing up the Boulevard Park location as the preferred alternative.
In a memo purporting to weigh the pros and cons of each option, City Manager Adolfo Bailon used cherry-picked and inaccurate information to make the decision seem obvious, relying on assumptions and unsourced claims about how much a shelter at each location would cost, the ease of obtaining each location, and the kind of access each site would provide to transit, food, and services.
For example, the memo suggested that if the city accepted the money, it would be forced to eliminate specific public safety and human services programs from its budget in the future, including programs aimed at preventing youth violence, feeding people, improving downtown safety, and providing mental health services. Cities can’t actually constrain future budgets in this way, and every item on the list seemed purposefully to suggest that helping unsheltered people would mean abandoning other, more worthy Burien residents.
The city manager’s memo did not include the cost of leasing the other two sites, which are not city-owned, or include this additional expense in the sections describing the pros and cons of these locations. On Monday, Bailon said he had no idea how much renting either the privately owned Boulevard Park lot or the City Light lot would cost.
The memo also included incomplete or inaccurate descriptions of each of the three potential shelter locations. It claims, for instance, that the Boulevard Park site has a “Walk Score” of 68, based partly on its exceptional access to “food sources.” However, the actual Walk Score for the site is 56—”somewhat walkable”—and the only source of nearby food or beverages is a Dollar Tree, which does not offer any fresh or healthy food, and a liquor store.
Dismissing concerns about the lack of healthy food at this location on Monday night, Aragon said, “There’s food there. It may not be a full blown grocery store, which the neighborhood definitely needs. But there is food available there [from] either mini marts or the Dollar Tree.”
The nearest full-service grocery store, a Red Apple, is two miles and a 40-minute walk away. In contrast, the city-owned lot in downtown Burien is five minutes from three full-service grocery stores and 500 feet from the Burien Transit Center.
Bailon’s memo also made a number of unsourced assumptions about the financial impact of each location, including a claim that ending the lease with the Toyota dealership would cost “tens of thousands of dollars” in lost taxes and “potential loss of jobs”—which appears to assume the dealership would close if it had to move its cars 500 feet away to a secure covered parking lot at the transit center.
In fact, while Burien would lose $24,000 a year in lease revenue if the Toyota dealer no longer rented the lot, the dealer would save the same amount, because King County would provide its lot for free. That amount, notably, is less than half the size of a contract Bailon signed with a controversial nonprofit that provides private sweeps and distributed homeless people’s private information to police and sympathetic councilmembers less than a month ago.
Nor did the memo mention the cost of leasing the other two sites, which are not city-owned, or include this additional expense in the sections describing the pros and cons of these locations. On Monday, Bailon said he had no idea how much renting either the privately owned Boulevard Park lot or the City Light lot would cost, claiming he could not even inquire about cost until the council chose a location and “authorized me to negotiate on behalf of the city.” Bailon also suggested Seattle might “say [that] 50 percent of whatever housing units are built at the location will be for the city of Seattle, but did not provide any reason for this estimate.
A spokeswoman for the city of Burien declined to respond to a detailed list of questions on Monday.
A spokesman for King County Executive Dow Constantine could not immediately say how the county planned to respond to the Burien City Council’s request for an extension on the county’s six-month-old offer.
The outgoing city council is making its final amendments to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s proposed 2024 budget—the final city budget for six of the council’s nine members, and the final year of budgeting before the city enters a period of ongoing $200 million-plus “structural” deficits resulting from a combination of increased costs (construction prices, for instance) and lower revenues from volatile sources, such as taxes on real estate transactions.
Members of the council’s progressive bloc flexed their muscles on some issues, such as funding pay increases for human-service workers, while capitulating on others, like Councilmember Sara Nelson’s proposal to direct $300,000 in city funds to private addiction treatment companies.
Here are some of this week’s budget highlights:
• Although the council plans to wait until after they pass next year’s budget before taking up new tax proposals to address the structural deficit, the biggest progressive win this year is a small tax increase that will fund something entirely new. Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who is leaving at the end of the year, proposed and pyearassed a 0.1 percent (0.001) increase to the JumpStart payroll tax to fund mental health counseling and community-based programs for kids in Seattle Public Schools. The tax increase will increase annual revenues from the tax by $20 million, making this new program by far the biggest new investment in this year’s budget.
Sawant’s mental-health proposal had a compelling constituency. On Monday, dozens of current and former public school students testified at a budget hearing about the high rates of mental illness, depression, and suicide among their peers, making a convincing for a large new investment at a time when other needs—such as wage increases for thousands of city workers—remain unmet. Sawant did propose two amendments that would establish a fund to sustain worker pay increases in the future, but neither passed.
• Two proposals to address wage inequity between human services workers that were initially part of the council’s “consent package“—amendments the council has already hashed out and agreed collectively to support—got pulled out for further discussion by Councilmember Sara Nelson. Both amendments, which ultimately passed, addressed a problem that emerged when the city handed its homelessness contracts to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority: Although a 2019 law requires the city to fund annual inflationary adjustments for all the human services contracts it funds, a small number of contracts are funded directly by the federal government and aren’t subject to the annual pay increase requirement. The amendments will bring worker pay under those contracts in line with other human service workers.
Citing a column by Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat, Councilmember Nelson noted that recent polls showed the council has a low approval rating and that voters don’t trust the city to spend their money well—a comment that prompted Mosqueda to retort that if the city fails to pay social service workers enough to live here, “more of the very people that continue to serve our most vulnerable will themselves be unhoused
Nelson argued that the changes, which will cost the city about $2 million next year, create an ongoing obligation without identifying a specific funding source to pay for it, and said the contracts were now the KCRHA’s responsibility, not the city’s. “We no longer have a statutory obligation to pay an inflationary adjustment,” Nelson said. “I understand that that is a desire, but again, we’re talking about another agency, and we’re not really responsible for how they run their books.” In response, council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda noted that the city is the KCRHA’s primary funder, and that the agency has no ability to raise money on its own “When wetransferredthesecontracts,theintentwastoensurethattherewasinflationaryadjustmentandwagestability … nomatterwhoheldthatcontract,” Mosqueda said.
Later in the afternoon, Nelson raised objections to a proposal by Herbold that would require agencies to demonstrate that they’re using city funds dedicated to annual wage increases for that purpose. Nelson argued that the city shouldn’t be assuming annual wage increases in the first place, but should base cost-of-living adjustments on performance standards.
Citing a column by Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat, Nelson noted that recent polls showed the council has a low approval rating and that voters don’t trust the city to spend their money well—a comment that prompted Mosqueda to retort that if the city fails to pay social service workers enough to live here, “more of the very people that continue to serve our most vulnerable will themselves be unhoused, living in cars, living paycheck to paycheck, and that’s not how we create sustainability.”
• A 10-cent fee on app-based “network” companies like Doordash passed after a lengthy debate over which companies should be subject to the fee, whether the fee was too large, and who should have the authority to increase the fee in the future. Councilmember Lisa Herbold sponsored the underlying legislation, which applies to all app-based workers except Uber and Lyft drivers (who are now subject to a preemptive state law), along with an amendment that would reduce the fee for so-called “marketplace” network companies like Rover and TaskRabbit. These companies aren’t subject to minimum-pay requirements that apply to other gig-work companies because they allow workers to set their own rates and give workers more autonomy over which jobs they accept.
Nelson and Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who is leaving at the end of the year, both unsuccessfully attempted to water down the legislation. Pedersen’s failed amendments would have exempted marketplace companies from the fee and required council approval for any fee increase— a departure from the current system, in which the Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) can increase or decrease many city fees on their own.
Nelson, meanwhile, proposed amendments that would prohibit the Office of Labor Standards to use fee revenue to implement the city’s minimum pay ordinance and cut the 10-cent fee in half. Both councilmembers’ proposals failed by narrow margins.’
According to a recent report by the Chicago inspector general, more than 90 percent of Shotspotter calls that resulted in a police response turned out to be false alarms; that city is joining several others, including New Orleans and Portland, in ending or canceling Shotspotter contracts.
• After the council rejected Harrell’s proposal to fund a gunshot detection system last year, the council appears ready to invest $1.5 million in a “pilot” that will include CCTV cameras in addition to audio surveillance devices. The system is generally referred to as Shotspotter after the company that provides the only widely used gunshot detection system.
As we’ve reported, Shotspotter is not a new or innovative technology, nor does it “detect” gunfire on its own. Instead, sensors installed on utility poles detect and determine the approximate location of outdoor sounds that resemble gunfire and alert human “acoustic experts” who listen to the audio and determine which ones sound like gunshots. These experts then alert police, who can be dispatched to the scene.
On Wednesday, the council voted to reject a proposal by Sawant to remove funding for Shotspotter from the budget and use the $1.5 million to fund behavioral health care at non-congregate shelters, foreshadowing next week’s overall budget vote. (Since Harrell’s budget includes Shotspotter by default, the council does not have to take a separate vote to fund the program.) Mosqueda did manage to add an amendment requiring a separate racial equity analysis for each new location where the city deploys the system; one frequent criticism of Shotspotter is that it leads to overpolicing in communities of color while doing nothing to reduce gun violence in those communities.
Shotspotter has been around for decades, so there’s a large body of evidence suggesting it doesn’t work to address gun violence and consumes scarce police resources by repeatedly sending police out on false alarms. According to a recent report by the Chicago inspector general, more than 90 percent of Shotspotter calls that resulted in a police response turned out to be false alarms; that city is joining several others, including New Orleans and Portland, in ending or canceling Shotspotter contracts.
• As we noted above, the council plans to put off a formal tax discussion until after the budget passes in late November, but we’ll have a separate update on the revenue discussion well before then, so stay tuned. Today, the council discussed Pedersen’s proposal to eliminate the utility tax and fill the $38 million gap by passing a 2 percent local tax on capital gains; skeptics of Pedersen’s proposal argued that the city needs more funding to fill the looming budget deficit, not a revenue-neutral tax swap. And council staff revealed that one of the potential taxes identified by the city’s progressive revenue task force—a “surtax” on JumpStart for very large companies whose CEOs make hundreds of times more than their median employee—would only net a relatively paltry sum of $2 million to $4 million a year.
Last week, Seattle City Council budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda released a first-draft 2024 budget “balancing package” that includes dozens of amendments to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s 2024 budget proposal—reversing a plan to fund child care and human service worker wages with the JumpStart affordable-housing payroll tax; adding or restoring funding for transportation, eviction prevention, free help with tax pand other services; and placing restrictions on the Seattle Police Department’s future spending on an acoustic gunshot detection system and salary savings from unfilled positions, among many other relatively small tweaks to a budget that Harrell’s office has changed significantly since the council and mayor passed an “endorsed” 2024 budget last year.
As in previous years, the mayor’s office proposed using about $9 million in JumpStart funds—which are earmarked for affordable housing, small businesses, equitable development, and Green New Deal projects—on items that aren’t authorized uses of the tax, including pay increases for human service workers and child care providers, the relocation of a tiny house village in the University District, and startup costs for the new social housing public development authority.
Mosqueda’s budget proposal would change the way those items are funded so that they come out of the city’s general fund, which is authorized to receive up to $84 million in JumpStart revenues in a lump sum this year; by shifting these expenditures to the city’s mainline operating budget, the proposal avoids the need to change the legally binding JumpStart spending plan and avoids making these items dependent on JumpStart funding in the future. Additionally, in response to new projections showing almost $10 million more coming in from JumpStart than expected, Mosqueda’s budget increases spending on a number of JumpStart priorities—including $4.6 million for multifamily housing that the mayor’s budget cut—and contributes $2 million to the fund’s reserve.
Responding to Councilmember Sara Nelson’s comment that the appropriate use of JumpStart funds “seems to be a matter of interpretation,” Mosqueda said that there’s actually “not a lot of disagreement about what the current statute says,” and that if the council wanted to fund items that aren’t allowed under the current spending plan, “we would have had to statutorily amend JumpStart, which the [mayor’s office] also understood and realized in the transmission of their budget proposals.”
Councilmember Lisa Herbold noted that although Burgess told the council there are studies showing that acoustic gunshot locater systems better in concert with camera surveillance, the mayor’s office has not provided any evidence for this; meanwhile, she noted, a study in Philadelphia found that adding cameras to Shotspotter increased police workload without improving outcomes or even confirming more shootings.
The budget still includes funding for Shotspotter—an audio surveillance system that deputy mayor Tim Burgess told the council will be more effective when “married” to CCTV cameras in the same locations—but would now include a budget proviso barring the police department from putting it to use until the city conducts a racial equity toolkit and a Surveillance Impact Report. Ulike the mayor’s proposal, which would do one racial equity analysis and impact report up front and apply it to all future uses anywhere in the city, Mosqueda’s proviso would require SPD to look at each neighborhood individually.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold noted that although Burgess told the council there are studies showing that acoustic gunshot locater systems better in concert with camera surveillance, the mayor’s office has not provided any evidence for this; meanwhile, she noted, a study in Philadelphia found that adding cameras to Shotspotter increased police workload without improving outcomes or even confirming more shootings.
Referring to the same study as well as a review of Shotspotter in Chicago, Mosqueda said the systems have led to “more officers going to neighborhoods on high alert, potentially with guns drawn … expecting to potentially confront a dangerous situation. Given the already tragic number of shootings for our BIPOC community, especially our Black community, by police, this is a recipe for trouble.”
Other potential changes in the council’s budget proposal include:
• A proposal to retain the title “director” for the head of the Community Assisted Response and Engagement department (formerly the Community Safety and Communications Center). Harrell’s budget would change CARE department director Amy Smith’s title to “Chief” to make it equivalent to the police and fire chiefs, but opponents of this change argue that the title change is out of step with efforts to distinguish the CARE department as a civilian response team, not another arm of the police.
Discussion about this change got surprisingly heated during a budget meeting earlier this month, when Smith insisted Harrell’s title change was “brilliant” because it provides “a level-setting, across public safety to say these are of equal importance and significance” to first responders from police and fire departments. Mosqueda said she had heard “directly from first responders” that their jobs are different because they take an oath to show up in emergencies, which is distinct from the role of the civilian team that will soon begin responding, accompanied by police, to some low-priority, non-emergency calls.
• Funding ($200,000) to expand pretrial diversion programs, which allow people accused of some misdemeanors to avoid charges by attending classes or other programs on a short-term basis. Sponsor Andrew Lewis said enhancing these programs would help the city “continue to have a more just and equitable system of justice”; these light-touch programs not generally appropriate for people with serious addiction or mental health issues, so the money won’t address the influx of new potential clients pouring into programs like LEAD because of the city’s new drug criminalization law.
• Funding to raise wages for human services workers at agencies whose contracts with the King County Regional Homelessness Authority are funded through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), not the city. The council passed a Mosqueda-sponsored law in 2019 that requires annual inflationary adjustments to most human services contracts to boost workers’ pay and improve employee retention, but that mandate only applies to city-funded contracts. Increasing other homeless service contracts would bring workers at those agencies to parity, but would create an ongoing annual budget issue.
The proposed amendments include one from Council President Debora Juarez stipulating that of $2.4 million reserved in 2024 for paving non-arterial streets, $600,000 can only be spent paving the streets around the Seattle Storm’s planned practice center in Interbay, which former mayor Jenny Durkan pushed through on her way out the door. Under the agreement, the developers is only “responsible for repaving half the streets”—from the property line to the center of the road—leaving the city on the hook for the rest.
• A one-time, $300,000 transfer to King County’s Department of Community and Human Services to pay for what sponsor Sara Nelson described as “intensive outpatient or inpatient treatment,” including detox, for low-income people who can’t access private treatment through Medicaid. The intent, Nelson said, is to fund treatment at facilit[ies] where they are taken out of their daily lives and detoxed and given some counseling and behavioral therapy nutrition, etc.” Nelson has advocated for the city to fund traditional abstinence-based treatment in addition to opioid use disorder medications and harm reduction, and the council may be more open to the idea if the money flows through the county’s human services department—which will have discretion over how to spend the money—than the city’s.
• A proviso stipulating that of $2.4 million reserved in 2024 for paving non-arterial streets, $600,000 can only be spent paving the streets around the Seattle Storm’s planned practice center in Interbay. Former mayor Jenny Durkan pushed through a special zoning exemption to allow the 50,000-square-foot facility, which is under construction, in an industrial area; under a subsequent agreement, the developers is only “responsible for repaving half the streets”—from the property line to the center of the road—leaving the city on the hook for the rest. The proviso, sponsored by retiring Council President Debora Juarez, would lock up a quarter of next year’s non-arterial street paving fund to pay for the other half.
• About $10 million in restored funding for transportation that Harrell’s budget proposed cutting to account for shortfalls in revenue from traffic cameras, parking taxes, real estate transactions, and vehicle license fees. The balancing package would use the balances sitting in several transportation funds to restore funding for ADA curb ramps, bridge maintenance, greenways for bicyclists, and school safety projects. “We wanted to make sure to fully preserved the investments in transportation in 2024 to avoid broad cuts to Safe Streets infrastructure projects, and prevent pitting communities against each other.
The initial balancing package would also convert $300,000 of a $1 million loan city made to Community Roots Housing, the affordable housing nonprofit, into a grant. Community Roots, formerly Capitol Hill Housing, is supposed to pay back the full interest-free loan by 2025. Earlier this week, Capitol Hill Seattle reported that Community Roots is selling off a 30-unit apartment building that the nonprofit said cost too much to maintain; it’s the second time the organization has put one of its buildings on the market this year.
The city of Burien is preparing to sign a contract with The More We Love, a group run by Kirkland mortgage broker Kristine Moreland with the help of Eastside sales executive Chris Wee, to help enforce its new ban on sleeping in public spaces. The group offers what it has described as private “sweeps” at a price of $515 for each unsheltered person removed from a site. “Discussions with The More We Love remain ongoing and a contract will be established once terms are reached by both parties,” Burien spokeswoman Emily Inlow-Hood said.
As we’ve reported, in 2020, the state Department of Financial Institutions found Moreland violated the state Consumer Lending Act by coordinating high-interest loans to unlicensed brokers, and levied tens of thousands of dollars in fines, most of which she has failed to pay. Last month, according to King County District Court records, Bank of America sued Moreland for failing to pay credit card bills totaling more than $33,000.
Meanwhile, court records indicate that a former Bellevue resident with the same name as Moreland’s business partner, Christopher C. Wee, pled guilty last month to two counts of misdemeanor assault stemming from a road-rage incident in which Wee shoved a 65-year-old man to the ground and broke his hip. In the plea deal, Wee agree to pay more than $33,000 in restitution and attend anger-management classes.
Wee did not respond to a phone call or an email sent to The More We Love seeking information about the road-rage incident. The information in court records, including a police report, is consistent with publicly available information about Wee’s age, most recent previous address, and physical description. Public records indicate that Wee currently lives in Kirkland. PubliCola was unable to find another Christopher C. Wee in Bellevue or Kirkland using public court, property, and licensing records, in publicly available residential databases, or on social media.
According to court documents, Wee repeatedly “brake-checked” a driver who had honked for him to go at a green light, followed him to a Bellevue Hilton parking lot, and attacked both the 65-year-old driver and his son, pushing or punching the son and shoving the father to the ground. In his victim statement, the older man said he had to undergo two hip surgeries after the attack and lost an estimated $42,500 in wages during the seven months he was unable to work, plus three months when he could only work part-time.
Moreland shared spreadsheets containing private medical and personal information about more than 80 of her unsheltered “clients” with a city council member, two police officials, and a real estate investor who paid Moreland’s group to remove an encampment on his property. This represents a stark departure from widely used best practices designed to protect the privacy of people who share information with homeless service providers.
These incidents, while they are not directly related to The More We Love’s activities in Burien, seem relevant as Burien decides whether to sign a contract with the group to provide outreach to vulnerable unsheltered people and remove the encampments where they are living.
In addition to these potential concerns, PubliCola has learned that Moreland shared a three-page spreadsheet containing private medical and personal information about more than 80 of her unsheltered “clients” with a city council member, two police officials, and a real estate investor who paid Moreland’s group to remove an encampment on his property. This represents a stark departure from widely used best practices designed to protect the privacy of people who share information with homeless service providers.
The spreadsheets, which PubliCola obtained through a records request, include people’s full names, birthdates, contact information, health insurance status, criminal histories, and information about their apparent physical and mental health conditions, such as pregnancy, addiction, and mental illness. They also include information about what services individuals have accessed, The More We Love’s assessment of their overall situation (typically: “Drugs”), and the specific places they plan to go after the encampment where they are living is removed.
Many of the notes include disparaging editorial comments about established local homelessness programs, such as Co-LEAD; the names and phone numbers of unsheltered people’s purported relatives; and comments like “READY TO GO [to detox].”
“DETOX Immediately. UPDATE 7/10 did not want detox today will keep trying. At moms house currently,” one note reads. “Reach/Lead havent provided any meaningful services that would change anything – Wants help in 2-3 months, close to Richard,” another says. REACH is an outreach provider and LEAD is a program that diverts people from the criminal legal system and has a limited quantity of hotel-based shelter for people throughout the King County region.
In two cases, Moreland (or another person filling out the spreadsheet) uses anti-trans language to describe transgender women, calling each woman a “male that identifies as female.”
According to the spreadsheet, the most common identified destination for these “intakes” is detox, a three-to-five-day program that does not include housing, shelter, or long-term treatment for addiction. Other destinations include Union Gospel Mission’s inpatient treatment, an explicitly Christian program that includes mandatory Bible study. Moreland is a longtime UGM volunteer.
The council has never discussed the details of the potential contract publicly, although it appears to have been the subject of a lengthy executive session that delayed the start of the council’s October 2 meeting by almost an hour.
Moreland shared the spreadsheet with Burien City Councilmember Stephanie Mora, Burien police chief Ted Boe, Burien police sergeant Henry McLauchlan, and Jeff Rakow of Snowball Investment, a real estate company that owns a Grocery Outlet property and paid The More We Love to remove an encampment nearby.
Homeless service nonprofits generally do not share people’s personal information with public officials, much less private property owners, without the informed consent of individual clients, and generally only do so under explicit information-sharing agreements that are meant to benefit their clients—for example, by letting police and prosecutors know they’re participating in a diversion program like LEAD, which works to reduce people’s involvement in the criminal justice system.
For example, LEAD and REACH, which have been working with encampment residents in Burien all year, authorize case managers “to share information on an as-needed basis with a specified group of partner organizations and entities,” according to Purpose Dignity Action co-director Lisa Daugaard, whose organization runs LEAD. “We have been able to reach agreements in which prosecutors and police aren’t blindsided or misled, and get good information illuminating the underlying causes behind challenging behaviors; and in turn, they agree to ensure that no one regrets sharing this kind of sensitive information,” Daugaard said.
It’s unclear if Moreland, who did not respond to a request for comment, received consent from any of the people on her lists to share their private information with officials or private individuals. A public records request did not turn up any communications about the spreadsheets beyond an email to the Burien officials and Rakow in which Moreland wrote, “As promised here is our updated spreadsheet including all intakes to date. Just in the last three days we have placed 7. Hoping two more go by end of the day. Thank you!”
It’s also unclear who else has received the spreadsheet or similar information from Moreland, since public disclosure requests only deal with public officials’ communications.
“Information-sharing between social workers and enforcement entities can happen constructively—but only with the clear permission of clients/participants, based on their trust in case managers and the hard-won reputation of the program on the street; and only in the context of very specific agreements about how that information can be used,” Daugaard. Without that framework, Daugaard continued, “very quickly, individuals feel burned that they shared sensitive information and it was in some way used to their detriment” and the system breaks down.
At least one Burien Police Department officer is currently under investigation for allegedly harassing or attacking people living unsheltered in the city. The Bellevue Police Department confirmed that they are conducting the investigation and denied our records request seeking more information because the investigation is still ongoing.
Burien spokeswoman Inlow-Hood said the the Burien Police Department, which is staffed by the King County Sheriff’s Office, “will enforce” the city’s new ban on “camping” outdoors between 7 pm and 6 am A spokesman for King County Executive Dow Constantine was more equivocal, saying that no decision has been made about enforcement. It’s unclear whether, and to what extent, The More We Love might be involved or on site when the police department removes encampments.
At least one Burien Police Department officer is currently under investigation for allegedly harassing or attacking people living unsheltered in the city. The Bellevue Police Department confirmed that they are conducting the investigation and denied our records request seeking more information because the investigation is still ongoing.
The city council has asked for a briefing from staff on any potential contract with the More We Love, which just registered as a business in April, but city manager Adolfo Bailon can sign any contract under $50,000 without council approval and is reportedly preparing to do so.
“The City Council asked for an opportunity to discuss the contract and it will be brought to Council in a future meeting,” Inlow-Hood said.
The council has never discussed the details of the potential contract publicly, although it appears to have been the subject of a lengthy executive session that delayed the start of the council’s October 2 meeting by almost an hour. City officials are legally prohibited from talking to any outside parties about executive sessions, and PubliCola did not speak to any council members about the subject of this executive session.
Under state law, cities can hold closed executive sessions to “review negotiations on the performance of publicly bid contracts when public knowledge regarding such consideration would cause a likelihood of increased costs.” We have asked Inlow-Hood to explain the justification for any executive sessions on The More We Love’s potential contract, since it is not up for bid.
As PubliCola reported in August, Moreland failed to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines she owes for violating the state Consumer Lending Act in 2020. According to the state, Moreland facilitated “short-term, high-cost loans” with an unlicensed lender for at least four home buyers, then immediately turned around and refinanced the loans through the company she worked for, pocketing the commission. According to Department of Financial Institutions records, Moreland has consistently failed to make payments on the loans, despite agreeing to multiple payment plans.
Moreland has repeatedly claimed that her group (previously called the MORELove Project and more explicitly affiliated with Union Gospel Mission) has been more successful than any established organization at housing and providing treatment for people living unsheltered in Burien. However, case managers and individual volunteers who have worked with Burien’s homeless population for years dispute this, noting that the homeless population in Burien has not diminished and includes roughly the same group of people as it did when the city of Burien first removed several dozen people from an encampment next to City Hall and the downtown Burien library in March. There are no year-round nightly shelters in Burien.
Most of Moreland’s “housing” placements, local advocates and service providers Burien say, have consisted of short-term motel stays and rides to detox, including one man who had to take two buses back to Burien after the “housing” he was expecting turned out to be a detox center outside Olympia.
Homeless service contracts typically include, at minimum, a detailed budget, performance standards, reporting requirements, and compliance with a number of minimum standards including minimum insurance and non-discrimination policies. It’s unclear which of these items will be in any future contract between Moreland’s group and Burien.
Mayor Bruce Harrell introduced a “mid-biennial” 2024 budget on Tuesday that includes significant cost-of-living raises for city-funded human service providers, six new non-police responders for a renamed 911 department, and—for the second year in a row—funding for a gunshot surveillance system, which the city has rejected repeatedly over privacy concerns and studies showing such systems don’t reduce crime.
“For those of you who like to play cards, you know that when you have a good hand and a plan that’s working, you double down,” Harrell said in his budget speech. “And that’s what this budget proposal does: It doubles down on the priorities that matter for the city and it invests in a better tomorrow for Seattle.”
The proposal, which will be amended by the city council and adopted in November, is based on revenue forecasts that are somewhat less dire than predicted last year, when the council “endorsed” an early version of the 2024 budget. At the same time, revenues from JumpStart—a payroll tax on the city’s largest businesses—have fallen and inflation has increase the cost of running the city, dampening the impact of higher overall revenues.
Other high-profile budget items include unspecified funding for city employee cost-of-living wage increases; increases to on-street parking fees; and millions of new dollars for Harrell’s Downtown Activation Plan, including funds to extend the We Deliver Care program on Third Avenue, maintain and expand the Seattle Restored small-business program, and add restaurant pick-up zones, informational kiosks, and public safety improvements in the street right-of-way.
We’ll be covering the budget process and doing deeper dives into specific items as the council review gets underway. Here are a few of the issues we’ll be paying attention to.
Skeptics, including budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, predicted that Harrell’s commitment to diversion would be limited to the language in the legislation. They were right.
No New Diversion Funding for Drug Users
City council members who voted last week to support the latest version of a new drug criminalization law said they were reassured by the fact that Harrell’s budget, which had not yet been released, would include new investments in diversion programs so that people caught using drugs in public would have real alternatives to jail. The bill, as PubliCola has reported, includes a number of nonbinding “whereas” clauses expressing the city’s preference for diversion instead of arrests, along with a provision saying police will, in the future, adopt policies governing diversion.
Skeptics, including budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, predicted that Harrell’s commitment to diversion would be limited to the language in the legislation. They were right. The budget contains no funding to expand LEAD, the city’s pre-arrest diversion program, and actually cuts $1 million that was added to the program in 2023. Without additional funding, LEAD will have to stop taking so-called “community referrals”—clients who get into the program through paths other than arrest—and focus on referrals through police instead.
The budget also includes about $1.1 million for a new opioid overdose response center and additional funding to expand the capacity of the Fire Department’s Health One program to respond to overdoses; the funding for these programs will come from the city’s portion of a state settlement with opioid manufacturers and distributors.
Police: $392 Million; Alternatives to Police: $5 Million
Last week, Harrell announced the Community Assisted Response and Engagement department, a “third” public safety department that will include a dual-dispatch pilot in which civilian employees, some of them with human-service training, will respond to low-priority calls, including person-down calls as well as calls where the only thing left to do is write up a report. Harrell’s budget proposal would pay for six new first responders, along with three 911 dispatchers, a deputy director, a new public information officer, an executive assistant, and a manager. Most of these employees were funded and hired this year.
The police department, as a point of comparison, would also gain 13 new employees, bringing the total number of funded positions to 1,826. The city currently has fewer than 1,000 deployable officers, which means many of those 1,826 positions (which represent all job types at SPD) remain vacant but funded, allowing SPD to use the money they would ordinarily spend on staff for other purposes (see below).
In addition to fully funding the department’s recruitment and hiring program, Harrell’s budget adds $30,000 for “recruitment related expenses such as career fair materials, job board postings, and law enforcement related recruitment conferences.”
Better Pay for Human Service Workers (City Employees TBD)
Thanks to legislation the city council passed in 2019, the city is required to increase human service provider contracts every year so that provider pay can keep up with inflation. Last year, Harrell proposed overturning this law to reduce pay increases for already underpaid nonprofit workers to a sub-inflationary 4 percent—an effective pay cut. This year, Harrell has proposed using JumpStart tax revenues to bump provider pay increases by the rate of inflation plus 2 percent, for a total raise of 9.5 percent.
Budget office director Julie Dingley, echoing the budget itself, remarked Wednesday that Seattle is “the only government entity in the whole state that has a requirement, in code, that we provide inflationary adjustments” to human service providers every year, adding that other jurisdictions will need to pitch in so that Seattle isn’t going it online on human service pay. In response, Councilmember Lisa Herbold pointed out that King County, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, and the state of Washington have all funded similar wage increases through levies, budgets, and legislative decisions—different methods to reach the same result.
Mosqueda noted that the previous budget funded human service provider wages within the general-fund budget, rather than tapping JumpStart—a tax Mosqueda proposed and pushed through—to fund an ongoing city commitment. JumpStart is supposed to pay for housing, equitable development, and Green New Deal priorities, but the city has repurposed the fund every year since its inception to pay for other priorities.
The city is still in negotiations over cost-of-living adjustments for its own employees, who were shocked by Harrell’s “insulting” initial offer of 1 percent. Harrell’s subsequent offer—reportedly just 2 percent—was hardly better, and hundreds of workers took time off thier jobs to rally at City Hall last week for a better deal. The budget does not include even a range of possible expenditures to pay for worker wage increases; in a briefing with reporters, Dingley said that would be like buying a house by telling the seller what was in your bank account. But PubliCola has heard that the deal could end up closer to 6 percent, still lower than the inflation rate.
The budget includes $150,000 for a new “graffiti specialist” who will “lead and enhance the beautification efforts of graffiti art, connect with the graffiti society, and educate, mentor and guide youth to use their time and energy in constructive ways.”
We’ll Never Be Rid of Shotspotter
Last year, the council roundly rejected Harrell’s proposal to spend $1 million on a “gunfire detection” system that would have placed audio surveillance devices throughout certain “high-crime” neighborhoods to detect noises that sound like gunshots. The systems, known colloquially as “Shotspotter” after the company that dominates the market, detect and determine the approximate location of outdoor sounds that resemble gunfire and alert human “acoustic experts” who make a call—gunshot or not a gunshot?—and alert police, who can respond to the scene.
The city first considered funding Shotspotter back in 2012, and the idea has come up periodically ever since, despite numerous studies showing that the monitoring devices don’t reduce or help solve gun-related crime and can lead police to be on high alert—and thus more likely to make unwarranted stops and arrests—in the areas where they’re located.
This year, Harrell’s request is couched in a larger $1.8 million “crime prevention pilot” that would also include new CCTV camera surveillance and automated license plate readers, all funded by salary savings from unfilled SPD positions. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the “specific amounts for the technologies in the SPD Crime Prevention Pilot are still being determined.” When council members asked similar questions Wednesday, budget director Dingley referred them to Deputy Mayor Tim Burgess.
Parking Rates, Finishing the Waterfront, Subsidizing the Streetcar
Harrell’s updated Seattle Department of Transportation budget includes an increase to the city’s minimum and maximum rates for on-street parking, which have been reduced dramatically from pre-COVID levels. The new rates would start at $1 an hour and go up to $8 an hour, depending on demand in specific parking areas; the $2.2 million the city says it will bring in through higher parking costs will pay for increased costs associated with parking meter maintenance and the city’s “pay-by-phone” service.
Tucked away elsewhere in SDOT’s budget are $25 million in new expenses associated with finishing the downtown waterfront highway, which the budget chalks up to the concrete workers’ strike in 2022. The city would pay for this unanticipated increase through bonds, so the budget impact in 2024 is small ($1.3 million), but the bond proposal represents a long-term commitment of the city’s overall debt capacity, which is limited.
Another new cost is related to the existing First Hill streetcar, which has required hefty operating subsidies ever since it opened in 2016. A $5 million annual subsidy from Sound Transit expires this year; Harrell’s budget proposes using revenues from the Seattle Transit Measure, a sales tax voters approved in 2020 to pay for equitable transportation, to continue the streetcar subsidy.
Other budget changes, which PubliCola will cover in more detail in the coming weeks, include:
New funding to staff up the Office of Inspector General, whose oversight role will expand to replace the federal monitor who has overseen the Seattle Police Department and its accountability system for the past 11 years
$150,000 for a new “graffiti specialist” in the Office of Arts and Culture, who will “lead and enhance the beautification efforts of graffiti art, connect with the graffiti society, and educate, mentor and guide youth to use their time and energy in constructive ways. Reducing graffiti is a priority of the One Seattle initiative and is a key factor in improving Seattle livability.
$1.1 million for a review of city employee classifications and compensation, which haven’t been updated since the 1990s. Misclassified positions can prevent workers from receiving promotions and being paid what they’re worth, a problem that is particularly acute in jobs held predominately by women of color at the city, according to past analyses.
$850,000 to fund the start-up costs for the social housing development authority, which voters established (but did not fund) earlier this year.
Harrell’s 2024 budget does not contend with projected 2025 and 2026 deficits of more than $200 million a year. That deficit will be a next-year problem for a new city council, which will include at least five, and up to seven, freshman members after this year’s council elections.
The Burien City Council voted Monday night to ban unsheltered people from sleeping in public spaces between 10pm and 6am, after failing for more than six months to create any shelter or other legal place for a group of several dozen people to sleep.
The vote broke down along the same lines as every previous vote on the encampment, with a four-member majority (Stephanie Mora, Kevin Schilling, Jimmy Matta, and Sofia Aragon) voting to adopt the ban, which is modeled after a similar sleeping ban in Bellevue.
Burien police, who are King County Sheriff’s Office employees, would be in charge of enforcing the ban. A spokesman for King County Executive Dow Constantine told PubliCola, “the county will be reviewing the legislation with our legal team to understand any potential impact to policies or procedures, and will be discussing next steps soon.” Earlier this year, the county decided not to help the city remove unsheltered people from another city-owned property.
“It’s not compassionate to force people to disperse to even more dangerous areas where their caseworkers can’t find them. And it is so painful to witness our council considering this right as the weather turns particularly nasty, knowing that it will keep getting worse.”—Burien Councilmember Cydney Moore
Unlike Bellevue, however, Burien has no year-round shelters that are open to all people, so the sleeping ban puts the city in a dubious legal position. Under a Ninth Circuit federal ruling called Martin v. Boise, cities can’t sweep encampments unless shelter is available. Other cities, including Seattle, have interpreted this ruling broadly, offering shelter that may not be appropriate or viable or proclaiming that a tent or group of tents are “obstructing” public space and removing them without notice or an offer of shelter. A King County Superior Court judge ruled recently that this broad use of Seattle’s police power is unconstitutional, and the case is under appeal.
Councilmember Cydney Moore, who voted against the ban, said prohibiting unsheltered people from sleeping at night won’t “get anybody off the streets” or solve homelessness in Burien. “It’s not compassionate to force people to disperse to even more dangerous areas where their caseworkers can’t find them. And it is so painful to witness our council considering this right as the weather turns particularly nasty, knowing that it will keep getting worse.”
The city has made no apparent progress on finding temporary places for people to live. City manager Adolfo Bailon said an offer of $1 million and 35 Pallet shelters from King County was insufficient to pay for a new shelter location, and that the city would need to find at least another $200,000 to make the offer pencil out.
The county offered the money to Burien earlier this year, along with garage space that would allow a Toyota dealer who is currently leasing a city-owned lot for his overflow inventory to store his cars so that the city could use the space for temporary shelter. After the council majority rejected this offer in July, council members and City Manager Adolfo Bailon have floated a number of non-viable locations for the shelter, including a contaminated site owned by the Port of Seattle that the Port has said is uninhabitable.
Last month, Bailon raised the possibility of moving the encampment to an empty lot next to a county library, businesses, and public housing in Boulevard Park, a lower-income, largely Latino neighborhood. Last week, councilmember Hugo Garcia pointed out that the original justification for displacing the encampment was that it was next to a library, homes, and businesses in wealthier, whiter downtown Burien. “This reeks of white supremacy,” Garcia said.
Mora immediately moved to censure Garcia, but her motion failed for lack of a second; she made the same motion last night, and it failed again. In a thread on X (formerly Twitter), Councilmember Sarah Moore, the third member of the anti-sleeping ban minority, said Garcia was not accusing any of his council colleagues, specifically, of being a white supremacist, as Mora suggested. “I applaud his courage for naming what he saw and I hope we can collectively engage in challenging conversations like this productively,” Moore wrote.
At last night’s meeting, Moore also proposed having a public discussion about a proposal, which Bailon said last night is moving forward, to pay a group called The More We Love to remove encampments from public spaces. The group, run by a Kirkland mortgage broker named Kristine Moreland, offers “sweeps” at $515 a person and was recently paid to remove the encampment in Burien from a spot next to the Burien Grocery Outlet. Although Moreland claimed to have “housed” a huge number of the people living in the encampment, the encampment has actually moved to another location in the middle of a busy intersection. The city currently contracts with REACH, an established outreach group.
The King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s Partnership for Zero program—a heavily hyped public-private partnership aimed at ending unsheltered homelessness in downtown Seattle—is ending, PubliCola has learned. About 35 “systems advocates”—formerly homeless people KCRHA hired to do outreach and case management for people living unsheltered downtown—will be laid off. Their union, PROTEC17, was informed of the decision to end the program Monday evening, and the staff were informed this morning, KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens confirmed.
“We are winding down the Partnership for Zero pilot program, and we will be applying the lessons we learned to the system as a whole,” Martens said Monday. The positive lessons, she said, included the fact that the “emergency management approach and style is effective at building cooperation” and that having a centralized access point for all private housing resources is better than requiring every individuals service provider locate housing on an ad hoc basis.
The KCRHA posted an official update on the end of the program Tuesday afternoon.
Martens said the KCRHA would be posting 11 new jobs in the areas of “housing navigation and stability and housing acquisition” internally, and that system navigators will be encouraged to apply. Many of these employees are recently homeless, and some were hired only a few months ago.
“The dissolution of this program is beyond disappointing — it is life-changing for all of the employees who’ve dedicated their careers to making a difference, and it is disruptive and unsettling to our neighbors in the unhoused community,” said Karen Estevenin, executive director of Professional and Technical Employees 17 (PROTEC17), which represents the systems advocates. “This unfortunate decision underscores the importance of fully funding and supporting direct service public programs that do not rely on continually fluctuating donors and donations.”
“One of the challenges is when people are spread out and mobile across downtown, it’s much more difficult than focusing on one defined encampment that’s in a place.” —KCRHA spokeswoman Anne Martens
In a joint statement to PubliCola, Mayor Bruce Harrell and King County Executive Constantine called the news “a disappointing end result” to the pilot program, “for the Authority, their workers, philanthropists, and, most importantly, people living on the street unhoused downtown.” The two executives said they will be “meeting with program leaders and the financial supporters of this effort to better understand lessons learned and how best to move forward,” adding, “This experience provides further confirmation of the need for the comprehensive review we launched of the organization’s governance structure, oversight, and accountability systems.”
Although the program used one-time funding, the KCRHA had planned to fund it with Medicaid reimbursement through a program called Foundational Community Supports, including the funds in the agency’s budget for 2025. Officials as well as experts familiar with FCS were skeptical about relying on the complex federal program to fund the downtown initiative, and a report, commissioned by the KCRHA but never released, outlined the challenges KCRHA would face if it tried to tap the funding directly. Martens acknowledged that the Medicaid funding, which former CEO Marc Dones confidently predicted would pay for 85 percent of the program by next year, “has not come to pass.”
Additionally, Martens said, the agency learned that “there are challenges in having an administrative agency run direct service” instead of contracting nonprofit partners to do the work, the standard approach in King County. With Partnership for Zero, the KCRHA was essentially running a parallel service system that duplicated, and in some ways competed with, the existing system of nonprofit providers that already do similar work; REACH, for example, lost a number of skilled outreach workers to better-paying positions as systems advocates.
Another lesson, Martens said, was that focusing on a large geographic area like downtown Seattle was less effective than working to house people in specific, identifiable encampments. “One of the challenges is when people are spread out and mobile across downtown, it’s much more difficult than focusing on one defined encampment that’s in a place,” Martens said. This past summer, the KCRHA divided the Partnership for Zero area into five discrete “zones” in an effort to break down the downtown region into smaller sub-areas, but this move did not solve for the fact that people can, and do, move around.
Other challenges, Martens said, “involve coordination across systems—when you’re looking at the public health system and the behavioral health system,” for example, “we need full systems coordination, not just project by project.”
As part of Partnership for Zero, the KCRHA established a “Housing Command Center,” using technical assistance from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, to meet daily and coordinate housing for individual clients. The KCRHA referred to the HCC as an “incident command center” that would respond to downtown homelessness the same way local emergency operations centers respond to major events like protests and extreme weather. The HCC stopped meeting regularly earlier this year, but the agency will continue to deploy the approach for emergencies and “system-wide challenges” that require coordination across many different partners, Martens said.
Martens said the authority is now working to narrow its focus, under interim CEO Helen Howell, to “focus on system administration” and spending money on existing contracts more effectively—for example, by making sure providers get paid on time, an issue that came up earlier this year and still has not been completely resolved.
Launched with a high-profile press event in 2022, the program never produced the kind of results the agency and its then-director Dones promised. Under the original five-phase plan, the agency was supposed to have reduced the number of people living unsheltered downtown to “functional zero” in “as little as 12 months”; in reality, since the program launched 19 months ago, it has housed just 230 people, from a “by-name list” of people living downtown that totaled nearly 1,000. Many of those 230 are using temporary vouchers that will expire after their initial one-year lease.
The end of Partnership for Zero coincides with the pending release of three separate audits into the program—one federal, one state, and one by King County—which reportedly reveal significant dysfunction within the program and the agency as a whole. KCRHA director Helen Howell has scheduled meetings with members of the agency’s boards to discuss the audit results later this week.
We Are In, the organization that coordinated the private funding for Partnership for Zero, told PubliCola in a statement that the program “successfully moved more than 230 individuals in over 210 households living unsheltered into permanent housing, developed a comprehensive data infrastructure for identifying individuals experiencing homelessness and their unique needs, and built trusting relationships with unhoused neighbors, setting them on the path toward stable housing.”
We Are In, the statement continued, is “committed to ensuring that the learning from Partnership for Zero is applied to create sustainable systems change and to continue working with government partners to design and implement the next phase of this critical work.”
We Are In did not identify what “the next phase” would look like, nor did it identify what the group had learned, specifically, while the program was in effect.
When the project launched, its funders said it would serve as an example of what the agency could accomplish by being innovative and experimental in its approach, starting in downtown Seattle, where many of the city’s largest businesses are located.
By building a “by-name list” focused on a certain geographic area, hiring people with lived experience to do most of the work typically done by established nonprofits, and placing most people in regular, market-rate housing through incentives and agreements with private landlords, the new approach would “build infrastructure and add capacity to the system in order to deliver comprehensive services and housing or shelter for those experiencing unsheltered homelessness in target areas, helping to revitalize our communities and providing all residents an opportunity to thrive,” according to We Are In’s 2022 Partnership for Zero press release.
Alison Eisinger, the director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, said the successes Partnership for Zero managed to achieve illustrate the need for more resources to help people get and remain housed; the collective contribution from private groups and companies worked out to about $11 million. “While it was ill-conceived for the RHA … to attempt to create its own service provider team, we and others welcomed additional resources and focus to walk with people experiencing unsheltered homelessness to help them secure homes quickly,” Eisinger said. “That’s what our whole system desperately needs: more housing resources, more focused and urgent attention to get people housed.”
The fact that Partnership for Zero was an experimental pilot that did not include sustained resources, Eisinger added, “reveals weaknesses of the philanthropic model as a driver of service delivery. We need to focus on getting the significant and sustained additional public dollars that every honest analysis demonstrates is necessary. Period.”
Three of the four original co-directors of the program told PubliCola they received little guidance from the agency about how to stand up the Partnership for Zero program and were under tremendous pressure to hire people quickly and start collecting a list of names right away. “There was this big push to just hire people based on having lived experience, and not requiring any sort of formal work experience or even work history at all,” said Dawn Shepard, a former (and now current) staffer for the outreach agency REACH who was featured prominently in media reports touting the KCRHA’s approach to downtown homelessness.
“They said, ‘We’re just going to train you from the ground up,’ and we didn’t have the capacity for that. We’re trying to stand up a new program and we’re making commitments that there’s no way in hell we’re going to be able to meet.” The “philosophy” KCRHA promoted, Shepard said, “was ‘overpromise and underdeliver,’ and at REACH, “it’s the opposite. You never are supposed to be further damaging to clients by promising them stuff you can’t provide.”
PubliCola spoke with Shepard and two other former co-directors for a planned story we planned to write about the system navigators earlier this year.
According to one of those former co-directors, Elijah Wood, he was hired after just one interview, a process the agency replicated when hiring the system advocates. “We had virtually no onboarding and were told, ‘You need to have the entire workforce by May, which gave us two months to hire 36 people,” Wood said.
“The biggest red flag, from the beginning, was the amount of work that we were expected stand up with very little support,” a third former co-director, Joe Conniff, said. “We were very disenfranchised as directors.” One of the results of this “chaotic” rush, the former co-directors noted, was the new system advocates, many of them recently out of homelessness or trying to maintain their sobriety, were thrust into risky or traumatic situations, including places where people were actively using and dealing drugs, without adequate training on safety and strategies to protect their own mental health.
PubliCola was the first to report on the Partnership for Zero in February 2022, when the system advocates were known as “peer navigators” and the plan was to have each navigator follow a client “longitudinally” through the entire housing process, from living on the street to signing a lease. At the time, philanthropic donors and business leaders were enthusiastic about the idea, which would take some of the work already being done by many nonprofit agencies and hand it to KCRHA employees whose primary qualification was prior experience being homeless.
On Tuesday, the Downtown Seattle Association sent PubliCola a statement calling Partnership for Zero “the right approach that was executed in all the wrong ways. The effort lacked sound management, oversight and focus.
“If the KCRHA wants to be recognized as the leading entity on the region’s response to homelessness, it must effectively execute a strategy to reduce homelessness in downtown Seattle, the area of the region with the highest concentration of individuals experiencing homelessness,” the DSA statement continued. “It’s unacceptable for the region’s homelessness response agency and local government to have no plan for the area with the most significant homelessness crisis. If the KCRHA isn’t up to the task, the city and county should assume responsibility and immediately and stand up a plan for downtown Seattle.”
When Partnership for Zero launched in 2022, DSA director Jon Scholes said the program “takes [the response to homelessness downtown] to a different scale, and brings in the housing resources that [existing] outreach teams, for the most part, haven’t had, or have had a limited supply of.”
But those existing outreach agencies expressed skepticism about the plan from the start, noting that housing people experiencing chronic street homelessness requires more than a personal history of homelessness (which, many leaders noted, most of their employees have) but practical experience doing the complex, often grueling work of case management and housing placement, which requires navigating many byzantine systems.
Additionally, providers pointed out, the new KCRHA staff would make significantly more as government employees than nonprofit agencies are able to pay, producing a brain drain from an industry that already struggles to retain qualified staff.
The Partnership for Zero program evolved significantly over time, once it became increasingly clear that the original plan to have one person navigate a group of clients through every aspect of the homelessness and housing system was unrealistic. The program was first revamped to allow people to specialize in certain parts of the housing process—making sure people made it to court hearings, for example, or working with landlords to convince them that someone will be a responsible tenant.
According to former co-director Conniff, it was clear from the beginning that they were being asked to do too much. “We were having to wear all these hats, while simultaneously having to deal with an oppressive structure and a system that felt very biased.”
More recently, the system advocates placed more than 120 clients in hotels run by the Lived Experience Coalition, which ran out of money for the hotels back in April, forcing the state to step in and help the KCRHA move people elsewhere.
System advocates were also required, over time, to fill a number of emerging needs that weren’t directly related to its original purpose. Instead of doing outreach broadly, for instance, system advocates focused on specific encampments within the downtown “catchment” area that raised concerns and objections from nearby residents and businesses, a process that sometimes required the team to displace large groups of people they had never worked with before, Wood said. Just before Thanksgiving, for example, the Housing Command Center directed his team to “resolve” an encampment along Alaskan Way that was the source of a number of complaints, despite the fact that they had never done outreach to the site.
Wood, who went on administrative leave in late 2022 and was subsequently fired, said he was frustrated by the emphasis on resolving high-profile encampments instead of everyone experiencing homelessness downtown. “There was no strategy for people who were outside of encampments, so we were cleaning up encampments and doing nothing for the people who [were] just sleeping outside,” Wood said.
KCRHA is funded primarily by the city of Seattle and King County. In their joint statement, Executive Constantine and Mayor Harrell said they were committed to helping KCRHA succeed. “We need an effective regional approach to make sustainable, permanent progress addressing homelessness,” they said. “We believe for that approach to be successful, KCRHA must be a working part of the solution.”