Category: legislature

Anne Levinson: For Real Police Accountability, Here Are Two State Laws We Must Change

By Anne Levinson

In early June, as Seattle residents protesting police brutality were being met daily with disproportionate and seemingly indiscriminate force by law enforcement, several current and former elected officials reached out to me asking what state legislators could do in the next session to strengthen accountability in law enforcement.

It was a question I welcomed. During two terms providing independent oversight for Seattle’s police accountability system, I had reviewed thousands of misconduct complaints and investigations, observed dozens of police trainings, conducted a special review of Seattle’s police disciplinary system, issued reports highlighting needed accountability system reforms, identified for the city in detail the provisions in the police contracts that had tilted the system and were detrimental to the public, and helped draft and secure passage of the 2017 police accountability ordinance.

And when a new Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) contract was ratified in the fall of 2018, over the unanimous objections of more than 30 community organizations, I provided expert witness testimony, explaining to the judge overseeing the federal consent decree the ways in which the contract threatened to corrode community trust and confidence. The judge agreed, finding the City partially out of compliance with the consent decree in May 2019 and directing the City to tell the court by that July how it planned to remedy the identified barriers to accountability.

A year later, in May 2020, the city had still not submitted its plan to the court and yet it asked the court to largely end the consent decree. Then the demonstrations began.

So when I was asked that question last June—with a governor, Senate and House leadership, committee chairs, and other legislators interested in police reform; many labor leaders no longer accepting the proposition that they couldn’t be both pro-police reform and pro-labor; and the city still out of compliance with the consent decree—it was clear that the time had come for the state to lead.

Several potential state-level reforms were already garnering public attention in our state and elsewhere, including truly independent investigations of deadly-force incidents; qualified immunity reform; demilitarization of police; reforms to the inquest process; elimination of no-knock warrants; and establishing a statewide public database on use of force.

But there are two other reforms I had  recommended that have not gotten much public attention until recently: (1) Removing police accountability from the collective bargaining process; and (2) Strengthening the law for officer decertification to address serious misconduct. Each is critically important and long overdue.

First, the state must clearly exempt police misconduct and disciplinary systems from Washington collective bargaining law so that every local and state law enforcement agency can establish strong, effective, and transparent accountability mechanisms that serve the public as they should, rather than continuing to provide only as much accountability as police unions will accept.

Police are not the same as other public sector employees. Others aren’t required to carry and use guns. They haven’t been given broad discretion to take your liberty and sometimes your life. It’s why there is a separate accountability system to address misconduct. And it’s why there is a consent decree. The provisions in police contracts can have very different impacts on the public than similar provisions in other public sector contracts.

Across the country, police contracts no longer just address wage, benefits, and other subjects traditionally thought of as “working conditions,” as other labor contracts do. Instead, police contracts have been used to shield officers from accountability when misconduct occurs, diminish transparency, and preclude or weaken civilian oversight. It’s why I so strongly opposed ratifying Seattle’s police contracts in 2017 and 2018 and weighed in on behalf of the community to the federal court.

These barriers to accountability—and others—were brought to the attention of city officials, and many were addressed in the ordinance. And yet, unbeknownst to the public, the reforms never took effect because of what the city later agreed to in the police contracts.

Here are a few examples of provisions in Seattle’s police contracts that impede accountability and walk back reform efforts.

The contracts reinstated officers’ ability to appeal discipline through multiple routes, including to an outside arbitrator. (Eliminating this ability was a priority in the 2017 accountability ordinance). As reform advocates, chiefs, and local elected officials have seen in thousands of cases across the country, arbitrators routinely substitute their own judgment on discipline, overturning chiefs’ decisions, ordering officers who committed serious misconduct to be reinstated.

This weakens the chief’s power to hold officers accountable in line with public expectations, allowing arbitrators to overturn disciplinary decisions for any number of reasons, including minor procedural issues, even in cases where the chief’s decision is supported by a preponderance of evidence. It allows hearings to be closed to complainants, the public, and the media, and allows months, if not years, of delay before appeals are resolved. As of August, Seattle has 80 appeals pending, some going as far back as 2016.

What other barriers to accountability are buried in Seattle’s police contracts? If a complaint of misconduct involving dishonesty or excessive force is not made within a certain period of time, or if a complaint isn’t fully investigated within 180 days, the officer cannot be disciplined, regardless of the misconduct or the reason for the delay. How the days are counted is filled with vague conditions constantly subject to challenge.

There’s more. The burden of proof required to prove misconduct has been raised to an undefined “elevated” standard for any termination that results from misconduct that could be considered “stigmatizing” to the officer. Only certain misconduct complaint and investigation files are retained; others must be purged. Civilian oversight is limited when the alleged misconduct is criminal, even though these cases often involve the most serious types of misconduct. Civilian oversight subpoena authority has been narrowed. Officers are allowed to use vacation and sick leave when the discipline is supposed to be days without pay. Officers under investigation – and their union representatives – are allowed to withhold relevant information during the investigation and raise it later, as evidence to challenge discipline. Officers’ names must be redacted when case information is made available to the public.

And more. The long-recommended oversight of secondary employment (off-duty work as an officer) by independent, civilian management was never implemented. Instead, it was included in the SPOG  contract and then rolled back. There are limitations on the number of civilian investigators. Different ranks are treated differently. And there are even contract provisions that require the public to pay for a large part of the union president’s salary.

These barriers to accountability—and others—were brought to the attention of city officials, and many were addressed in the ordinance. And yet, unbeknownst to the public, the reforms never took effect because of what the city later agreed to in the police contracts.

In court filings, the city argued that all these types of police contract provisions are commonplace. The success of police unions in embedding structural barriers to accountability across the country is thus ironically used as a reason to stifle reforms. The city also argues that the public and the judge should understand that police contracts continue to have these provisions because the nature of bargaining requires give-and-take. That is exactly the problem.

Police, like all employees, deserve contracts that provide for fair wages, benefits, and good working conditions. But there is no reason to continue to accept the argument that standards and practices to address police misconduct must be considered “working conditions” that cannot be determined by police management and local government leaders outside the bargaining process.

Police have been granted extraordinary powers to use discretion in a range of ways that have enormous impact on the public, including taking away liberty and the use of deadly force. Legal and procedural safeguards against police abusing these powers in ways that undermine public trust should not be subject to the give and take of bargaining. Nor should the public have to pay so that their community can receive constitutional, effective, and respectful policing.

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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. I’m truly grateful for your support.

Second, the state must completely overhaul the law enforcement decertification law.

Washington is one of 45 states that require law enforcement officers to be trained and licensed (“certified”), with standards for revoking that license (“decertified”), as many other professionals must be

How and when decertification happens is fundamentally important to accountability. If an officer is fired or convicted of a crime, but not decertified, the officer can simply go to another law enforcement agency. Washington’s law for decertifying officers is limited in scope and riddled with loopholes that allow problematic officers to move from department to department with impunity or to avoid accountability if their agency does not act.

Back in early 2014, when providing independent oversight of Seattle’s police accountability system, I recommended that Seattle work with other cities and counties and the state legislature to overhaul the law. We also included reform of the decertification law in the city’s 2017 accountability ordinance. But the city never really took it on. So when asked what police reform the legislature should prioritize in the next session, significantly overhauling the decertification law was also at the top of my list. Senator Jamie Pedersen, Chair of the state Senate’s Law & Justice Committee agreed, and in early June offered to be the prime sponsor of a bill that will enact a wide range of reforms.

To really remedy the gaps and loopholes that make Washington’s law—and most all decertification laws in other states—so ineffective, improving one or two elements of the law is not enough. So I’ve recommended many changes, starting with making sure that the grounds for decertification cover the wide range of misconduct that should result in an officer losing their license.

Continue reading “Anne Levinson: For Real Police Accountability, Here Are Two State Laws We Must Change”

Library Closures Leave Homeless Patrons Stranded, Safe Consumption Sites See Support, and a MAGA Bill Reveals State GOP Priorities

University branch library, two hours before closing time on Friday.

1. Of all the drastic changes to daily life announced last week in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the closure of all Seattle Public Library branches may have the most profound impact on the city’s most vulnerable people—those without places to go to during the day, either because they’re completely unsheltered or because they stay in shelters that are only open at night. For people experiencing homelessness, libraries are a haven—warm places to be, but also places to charge phones, get online, and be in the company of other people.

The library’s 27 branches are also places where people without homes or offices can wash their hands and use the restroom, making them a critical resource during daytime hours in a city where publicly accessible restrooms are few and (literally) far between. Without access to libraries, more people will be forced to use public spaces as makeshift restrooms. The fact that people urinate and defecate in public has an easy explanation and a simple solution: When restrooms are available, people use them.

The city has long been aware of this. In 2015, when then-mayor Ed Murray declared a state of emergency on homelessness, the civil proclamation he signed specifically identified the lack of access to restrooms and hand washing facilities as a problem that needed to be addressed. Four years later, the city auditor issued a scathing report slamming the city for failing to address the problem; among other findings, the report noted that UN standards for refugee camps would require about 224 toilets that are accessible 24 hours a day; instead, the city has just six 24/7 restrooms and about 100 locations that provide restroom access during limited hours. 

When I’ve asked about the lack of public restrooms in the past, the Human Services Department has pointed me to this interactive map, which shows every location in the city where theoretically public restrooms are located. But many of these sites are open only during limited hours (some only a few hours a week), or are only accessible to specific populations, such as women or youth. The city will keep community center and parks restrooms open during daytime hours for the time being, but those are of limited utility to people who aren’t already in those parks and near those community centers. Additionally, one great thing about a library is that it’s a place where people can use the restrooms and spend time without having their presence questioned. Without libraries, people lose access to both those things.

Obviously, I’m not saying the libraries should have stayed open during the pandemic; they had to close, because they bring people into close proximity and because library materials are ideal vectors for the virus to spread. What I am saying is that if the city had done more a long time ago to meet people’s immediate needs—like opening more public restrooms instead of spending resources creating defensive interactive maps that suggest no problem exists—this aspect of the crisis might have been averted.

2. On Saturday, King County identified three new locations for people at high risk for coronavirus complications and for those who need to be isolated or quarantined because they have contracted the novel coronavirus:

• The Arrivals Hall at the King County International Airport is now being used as a shelter for the men (most of them over 55) who usually stay at the St. Martin De Porres shelter in Seattle.

• A county-owned parking lot at Eastgate in Bellevue, where “a fully self-contained tent, with flooring and heat, has been purchased for use as an isolation and recovery location,” according to the county. The tent will open next week.

• A Holiday Inn in Issaquah, which the county will lease and use either to provide medical support to vulnerable populations or isolate people “who do not require significant social support services.” Yesterday, after a homeless man who was being isolated at a county-owned motel left the facility against medical advice, the county changed its policy so that only people who do not need social services will stay at hotels.

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The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining 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 making The C Is for Crank sustainable. I’m truly grateful for your support.
3. A recent poll of Seattle voters found that 61 percent support the idea of supervised drug consumption sites—a strong margin for an idea that has been continually sidelined despite a unanimous endorsement from the King County Heroin and Prescription Opiate Task Force in 2016. Supervised consumption sites, which are common in many European countries, offer safe spaces for drug users to use under medical supervision. The goal of these sites is to prevent deaths from overdose, provide basic services such as wound care; and link people with supportive services, including recovery support and treatment for those who are interested in quitting or reducing their use.

Continue reading “Library Closures Leave Homeless Patrons Stranded, Safe Consumption Sites See Support, and a MAGA Bill Reveals State GOP Priorities”

County Plans All-Gender “Potty Pilot,” Socialist Denounces Progressive, and Tiny House Villages Expand

Photo via LIHI.

1. The city council adopted legislation allowing up to 40 new “transitional encampments,” including so-called tiny house villages as well as tent encampments and safe parking lots for people living in their cars, but not without fireworks. The bill, sponsored by council member Kshama Sawant, also loosens several land-use restrictions that limit where encampments can be located and how long they can remain in place. Council freshman Alex Pedersen proposed several amendments that Sawant said would destroy the bill, including one that would reduce the number of permitted encampments from 40 to 15, one that would have limited permits to “tiny house villages,” rather than tent encampments, and one that would have reinstated a sunset date.

Pedersen’s amendments prompted a strong rebuke from Sawant, who called his proposal to reduce the number of permitted encampments “a no vote in disguise.”

“Since council member Pedersen obviously opposes expansion of tiny house villages, I would prefer that the was honest about it and voted no on the bill,” Sawant said. “It’s a sleight of hand that he’s engaging in. … I would urge the public to be aware of what is really going on.”

Sawant’s supporters, who had filled council chambers in response to one of her regular “PACK CITY HALL!” action alerts, applauded. After their cheers died down, council member Lisa Herbold implored Sawant to stop “impugning the motives of [her] colleagues” and noted that Sawant did not similarly denounce council member Andrew Lewis, who proposed a similar amendment limiting the number of encampments to 20 last week. “I would just like us to show a little grace for each other up on this dais,” Herbold said, to boos.

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining 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 keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

Sawant responded that she answered only to “ordinary people,” not politicians, and reiterated that Pedersen did not have “good intentions,” to more applause. Council member Debora Juarez, who was running the meeting, reminded the audience, “this is not a rally,” and said that the council agrees with each other “95 percent of the time.” When that comment was met with derisive laughter, Juarez gave up, muttering “Jesus” into the hot mic and moving on with the vote. The bill ultimately passed, without Pedersen’s amendments or support, 6-1.

2. Sawant also had harsh words for state Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43), the sponsor of legislation that would enable King County to pass a business payroll tax to pay for homeless services. Sawant’s beef with Macri is that, according to Sawant, she hasn’t done enough to ensure that the bill won’t contain language preempting the city from passing its own “big business” tax, which would derail Sawant’s “Tax Amazon” campaign.

Sawant proposed a resolution “oppos[ing] opposes the passage of any legislation which preempts the city from taxing big business” and denouncing Macri’s proposal for capping the county’s taxing authority at 0.2 percent of a business’s total payroll.

Macri, Sawant said, should not be viewed as a “progressive hero,” because “you only get to be called a progressive if you are absolutely fighting for a progressive agenda.” She then recounted a conversation with Macri, in which Macri supposedly told her that “‘as a fellow progressive, our lives are hard.'”

“I don’t think progressive politicians can complain that their lives are hard, because the lives of ordinary people are a thousand times harder,” Sawant said.

In her day job, Macri is deputy director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, which provides direct services, low-barrier shelter, and housing to some of the “hardest to house” people in Seattle. As a legislator, she passed a major eviction reform bill last year, and has championed funding for housing, health care, and services for people experiencing homelessness. By denouncing Macri as a tool of the ruling elite, Sawant is walking out on a very thin limb. There are Democrats in the legislature who are actually arguing for preemption. Macri isn’t one of them. Trashing her as a sellout may win applause (it certainly did at Monday’s meeting) but rallies don’t always pass legislation. That’s something Sawant learned again on Monday, when her resolution failed 5-2.

3. After an internal survey, numerous meetings, and the creation of an alliterative shorthand—#PottyPilotProject—King County and the city have abandoned plans to replace single-gender restrooms with gender-inclusive ones at the new Regional Homelessness Authority headquarters at the county-owned Yesler Building downtown. According to a July 27 memo obtained through a records request, the plan to retrofit existing restrooms as all-gender facilities “is not moving forward.” However, the “potty pilot” is still on track for other county departments.

Continue reading “County Plans All-Gender “Potty Pilot,” Socialist Denounces Progressive, and Tiny House Villages Expand”

In Seattle’s Eviction Court, Where the Deck Is Stacked Against Tenants, Eviction Reform Could Change the Game

This story originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Seattle magazine.

The most surprising thing about Seattle’s eviction court is that most of the action doesn’t take place in a courtroom at all—it takes place in a hallway. Along the length of this dim, busy corridor that spans the west wing of the King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle, attorneys broker deals and break bad news to tenants for whom one extra paycheck, or a few hundred dollars, represents the difference between housing and homelessness. The harried suit-clad tenants’ attorneys strike a stark contrast to their clients, who pace or slump on well-worn benches, while the landlords and their attorneys cluster impatiently nearby, waiting to find out if tenants plan to settle or take their cases to court.

This hallway links two poles of the justice system. At one end: the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project (HJP), which represents low-income tenants and whose courthouse office is a cluttered, 300-square-foot room. At the other: Courtroom W-325, where tenants who decide not to accept a settlement deal can have their day in court.

About half of the landlords in Seattle—both nonprofit agencies, such as the Low-Income Housing Institute and the YWCA of Seattle, and private companies, such as Epic Asset Management, which collectively own hundreds of apartments around the city—are represented by a single law firm, Seattle-based Puckett & Redford. The firm’s pugnacious litigator Ryan Weatherstone paces back and forth in the hallway, occasionally poking his head in the door of the HJP office to yell at the organization’s managing attorney, Edmund Witter. “Stop [expletive] sandbagging me, Ed!” Weatherstone shouts late one morning, when it’s clear that the day’s cases will drag on into the afternoon. Witter rolls his eyes. It’s unclear how much of this is performance, how much genuine frustration.

The stakes are high. What happens here often means the difference between housing and homelessness to the hundreds of tenants who show up to respond to an eviction notice. In King County, where the most recent one-night count found more than 12,000 people living in shelters or on the streets, hundreds of people become newly homeless through eviction every year, contributing to a crisis that local political leaders have been trying, and mostly failing, to address for years.

To become a HJP client, a family must must make no more than two times the federal poverty level, which is $32,480 for a family of two, and be in the eviction process or at risk of imminent eviction. In Seattle, and throughout Washington, a landlord can begin the eviction process as soon as a tenant’s rent is more than three days late, and judges have little authority to force landlords to accept rent after that point.

Landlords can also serve a 10-day notice for lease violations, such as unauthorized guests, a three-day notice to vacate for nuisance activity, or—outside Seattle, whose Just Cause Eviction Ordinance prohibits this—a 20-day notice ending a tenancy for any reason, or no reason at all. These are several of the ways in which Washington differs from other states, many of which offer tenants more time to catch up on rent and give judges discretion to set up payment plans while a tenant remains in his or her home. Another challenge for tenants undergoing eviction: Fees for landlords’ attorneys, which vary widely and are usually paid by tenants, can run to thousands of dollars; court costs, plus late fees and other charges, can add hundreds more. A recent report by the Seattle Women’s Commission and the HJP found that the median court judgment against tenants evicted in Seattle in 2017 was $3,129.73.

“Say you underpay your rent by $20,” says state Representative Nicole Macri (D-43rd), who is also the deputy director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center. “The [state] statute allows a three-day notice to go up on your door at the moment the late day comes up on your lease. You can be in court the very next week after the three days expire, and within a week and a half or two weeks a sheriff could come to remove your possessions.” According to the Women’s Commission/HJP report, 86.5 percent of evictions were for nonpayment of rent, and more than a quarter of all eviction proceedings in Seattle began on or before the sixth of the month, or five days after rent is typically due.

It’s common for people to be evicted for small amounts of overdue rent. In 2017, of the 2,072 formal evictions filed in Seattle, more than 76 percent were for less than $2,500, and 21 were for less than $100. The Low-Income Housing Institute (LIHI), a large Seattle housing nonprofit, frequently files eviction notices over small amounts of money, including one, in 2018, for just $4. (LIHI executive director Sharon Lee says court records don’t reflect prior warnings or other reasons for evictions, such as violence or damage by the tenant.) The number of people evicted through informal means—those who received a notice to vacate and simply left, or who left after a dispute over rent or other issue that did not make it into the formal court record—is likely much higher, the report notes.

Many, if not most, HJP clients end up losing their homes—if not by eviction, then through court settlements that only allow an extra week or two before they need to vacate. Even those who strike a deal with their landlords—getting an order of limited dissemination, for example, which keeps an eviction from showing up on standard credit reports—end up being evicted, and most of those become homeless. According to the Women’s Commission/HJP report, 87.5 percent of all people evicted in Seattle in 2017 became homeless immediately after their evictions. A big reason for that, according to the report, is that most landlords won’t take tenants with evictions on their record.

If a client takes her case to court, the outcome can be much worse. According to Witter, most cases that go to a hearing end up in eviction, with bigger judgments and harsher legal penalties than cases in which a tenant agrees to pay his back rent and leave.

On a recent Tuesday morning, two HJP clients, Peter and Danielle, wait in the hallway for news from an attorney who volunteers with HJP. While they wait, they explain how they ended up at the courthouse—a story of cascading misfortunes that includes struggles with addiction, homelessness and serious medical conditions. Peter, a former machinist, is awaiting surgery for a hernia; Danielle has late-stage liver disease. They say that a local charity paid part of their rent in an apartment building on Capitol Hill, but they’re still behind by about $3,000—a daunting amount for two people who haven’t worked in months. “I don’t want to sound like a victim, because we’re not,” Danielle says. “We just got caught in a real bad situation.” Peter adds: “I’m hoping that some more time will be allotted to us.”

Down the hallway, another drama is playing out: A tiny, frail woman named Rose (not her real name) is being turned out of an apartment run by a different social service agency over $430 in unpaid rent. Although she slipped a money order for half the rent under her property manager’s door several weeks ago, the landlord declined to deposit the money and taped an eviction notice on Rose’s door while she was in the hospital undergoing treatment for late-stage kidney disease. Rose’s apartment is in a building designated specifically for women, like her, who are battling addiction; before landing an apartment there a year ago, she was on the streets for more than a decade.

Unlike many tenants who come through eviction court, Rose is accompanied by two caseworkers, who both say that putting her back out on the street is tantamount to a death sentence. “There are already thousands of people living on the streets,” one of the caseworkers, a former case manager at Rose’s building, says. “What good is it going to do to put one more out there?” African-American tenants like Rose are evicted far out of proportion to their presence in the Seattle population; according to the Women’s Commission/HJP report, 31.2 percent of tenants evicted in Seattle last year were black in a city where, according to the federal government, African Americans make up only 7 percent of the population.

A DAY IN COURT: Housing Justice Project attorney Edmund Witter spends much of his time in this hallway in the King County Courthouse, often with clients. At one end is the HJP office; at the other, the courtroom where eviction cases are decided. Photo by Hayley Young

Witter comes back with Weatherstone’s offer: If Rose pays all the back rent, plus court costs and attorneys’ fees, she will have a few weeks before she will have to move out. The eviction will still go on her record and she will probably go back to being homeless. “This isn’t a great deal,” Witter tells her candidly. Rose wants to take her case to court and Witter thinks she stands a chance: She tried to pay rent repeatedly, and can prove that she was in the hospital when her landlord left the eviction notice on her door. But in the small courtroom—from which a judge or appointed court commissioner presides—Weatherstone and Rose’s landlord introduce new information.

Rose, they say, has threatened staff members and other tenants, sending one staffer a text message that her landlord describes in excruciating detail. This kind of testimony isn’t admissible: In one of many made-for-TV courtroom moments, Rose’s HJP attorney, Ben Dickson, shouts “Hearsay!” every time Weatherstone brings up Rose’s behavior—but the damage is done. Judges and commissioners aren’t supposed to consider evidence that isn’t included in the eviction claim when deciding how to rule, but they’re human, and they sometimes do. Commissioner Henry Judson says the best he can do is to give Rose an order of limited dissemination if she pays the $860 she owes in rent and $911 in court costs, which one of Rose’s caseworker thinks he can pull together by the following day. But Rose must vacate her apartment in two weeks.

Tenants aren’t allowed to say much, if anything, in court—something that Witter says surprises many clients—and the process is brisk and formal, with testimony and arguments limited to the bare facts of the case. Personal grievances are generally not allowed. “We go into the hearing, and they find out how bad the process is and that they weren’t even allowed to talk, and then they get mad at us for that,” Witter says. “I’m not blaming the tenants; I’m just saying the system is not conducive for us to be able to provide adequate assistance of counsel or for the tenant to really even be able to make an informed decision. It’s basically a gun being held to someone’s head.”

He adds, “This isn’t the best way to do these proceedings, period. We’re going in and doing daytime Court TV and basically having this pissing contest between a landlord and a tenant in front of a person who doesn’t know this area of the law,” he says, referring to the commissioners and judges who hear the cases. Because Seattle has no dedicated housing court, eviction cases are heard by judges whose dockets are also crammed with probate cases, divorces and restraining orders, and who may not have a background in housing law, Witter says.

Witter says he often sees clients with mental health or addiction problems so severe that HJP can’t represent them (with stakes so high, tenants have to know what they’re signing and be able to understand what’s happening), and there are gray cases, like one I witnessed in court on another occasion, in which a man with a diagnosed mental disorder went back and forth for hours about whether he wanted to take his shaky case to a hearing, then backed out and agreed to the eviction while standing on the literal threshold of the courthouse door.

In New York City, where Witter was a supervising attorney at The Legal Aid Society, tenants have a right to legal counsel, and cases are heard in a specialized housing court, with judges who are experts in landlord-tenant law. Witter says tenants “don’t get evicted just for simple nonpayment of rent—you have to be not trying at all.” Tenants can request assistance paying their arrears from multiple human services agencies right in the courthouse.

Contrast that with Seattle’s system, which requires tenants to go to one (or many) of more than two dozen decentralized private and nonprofit charities, such as churches, the West Seattle Helpline or Solid Ground. Solid Ground can provide as much as $2,000 in back rent for low-income clients. But the clients must agree to participate in case management, write a budget and set financial goals—a lengthy process that several renter advocates described as paternalistic and patronizing. Even so, Solid Ground interim homelessness prevention manager Theresa Curry Almuti says the group gets between 1,200 and 1,600 calls a month for about 80 slots in its assistance program, of which several hundred are eligible. “We could get three times as much funding and still have people eligible,” Curry Almuti says.

Weatherstone, the landlords’ attorney, spent years working as a tenant advocate, including as a volunteer at the HJP, and he sees problems with housing laws that lead to so many evictions, too. “Ultimately, we care about the people who come through here,” he says, referring to the tenants. “Not every single case is a case that we want to go ahead and evict, but sometimes—a lot of times—it’s required. Management has given them a lot of opportunities to comply with the [rental] agreement, and they don’t comply with it.” Weatherstone adds that landlords, especially small-business landlords, can’t always afford to let rent go unpaid while they wait for a tenant to come through with what they owe. “Our clients have their obligations to meet as well,” he says.

Still, it’s hard to deny that in a county where more than 12,000 people were homeless in 2017, evicting thousands of tenants a year only exacerbates the homelessness crisis. Legislators at the city and state levels are working to mitigate Seattle’s high eviction rate, using the Women’s Commission/HJP report as a guide. Macri, the 43rd District state representative, is proposing legislation in the current legislative session that would take protections that already exist in Seattle and extend them statewide—preventing landlords from evicting tenants without cause, for example. Macri’s bills would also give tenants more time to pay back rent they owe and provide discretion to judges to broker deals between landlords and tenants.

At the municipal level, City Council members Lisa Herbold and Mike O’Brien have directed city departments to look at ways of centralizing the rent assistance system and to make it easier for tenants to address habitability issues, which are often at the center of rent disputes, on a funding timeline. Longer-term solutions include allocating more of the city’s homelessness prevention system toward eviction prevention. Pathways Home, the overarching approach to homelessness adopted under former Mayor Ed Murray, directs the lion’s share of city homelessness funding to agencies that help people who are already homeless. Referring to the eviction report, O’Brien noted, “When you look at this data, around 550 households were $1,000 or less behind on their rent, and 87 percent of the people that went through an eviction ended up homeless.” Doing the math, for about $500,000, 500 fewer people could have wound up homeless, he says. “That is probably one of the most cost-effective things we could do.”

Weeks after their court dates, I followed up with several of the tenants whose cases I followed. Danielle and Peter were ultimately evicted, and had broken up under the stress; Danielle was living on the streets. Mike, the tenant who had wanted to go to court, agreed to leave the apartment where he had lived for a decade by the end of the month; in exchange, he got an order of limited dissemination. And Rose, whose caseworker said she paid her back rent and attorneys’ fees, was ultimately evicted anyway due to extenuating circumstances. At press time, her whereabouts were unknown.

Seattle Rep. Macri Has a Plan to Ease Eviction Fears

This post originally appeared on Seattle magazine’s website.

Image result for nicole macriSeattle state representative Nicole Macri (D-43) is drafting legislation that could address some of the issues raised in last month’s report on evictions by the Seattle Women’s Commission and the Housing Justice Project. That report revealed that many renters who get evicted owe very small amounts of money, and that the vast majority of people who get evicted in Seattle end up homeless.

In Washington state, landlords have no obligation to accept rent that is more than three days late. And aside from Seattle—where landlords are barred from terminating a lease without cause—landlords can terminate a renter’s tenancy with just 20 days’ notice, giving the renter almost no time to find a new place to live and to come up with the money to pay for first and last month’s rent, and deposit.

Macri says her office is meeting with stakeholders to figure out the exact parameters of the bill (or bills) that she will propose in the upcoming state legislative session. The options include things like extending the current three-day limit to somewhere between 14 and 30 days—meaning that tenants who fall behind on their rent would get a bit more breathing room to come up with the rent, instead of immediately getting an eviction notice on their door.

“What we’re hearing is that folks are being put out of their homes for relatively minor infractions, including small underpayments of rent,” Macri says. “Say you underpay your rent by $20. The [state] statute allows a three-day notice to go up on your door at the moment the late day comes up on your lease. You can be in court the very next week after the three days expire, and within a week and a half or two weeks a sheriff could come to remove your possessions.”

Another problem the eviction report found is that judges in Washington have no discretion to order landlords to accept late rent or work out payment plans; if a landlord wants to evict a tenant for late payment, for example, a judge can’t order the landlord to accept partial payment or set up a payment plan. In jurisdictions with judicial discretion, like New York City, the eviction rate is much lower than in Washington.

Another proposal Macri is drafting would create a just cause eviction ordinance—similar to what Seattle already has in place—for the whole state. Like Seattle’s, it would specify the circumstances under which a tenant could be evicted, and bar evictions for reasons that fall outside the ordinance. The current situation, Macri says, “creates fear [among tenants] about bringing up any concerns with their unit. People are afraid to say, like, ‘I need a new refrigerator, because it isn’t working,’ because they’re worried that they’ll get a 20-day notice.”

Macri says she hopes to have legislation ready to pre-file by next month, in time for next year’s legislative session, which begins in January.

Controversial Head Tax Passes After Weeks of Bruising Debate

After a weekend of negotiations between city council members and Mayor Jenny Durkan (and, according to council president Bruce Harrell, “conversations with Amazon, big business, small business, [and] homeless advocates”) the city council unanimously approved a new version of the controversial employee hours tax today, imposing a $275-per-employee tax on about 585 businesses with gross receipts of more than $20 million a year.  The $275 figure was a  “compromise” between the $500 tax passed out of committee last week by a slim majority of council members and the $250 tax proposed by Harrell and Durkan, which emphasized short-term shelter and garbage cleanup over permanent housing, and would have built just 250 new units of housing over five years. Durkan had threatened to veto the larger tax proposal, and as several council members noted on the dais this afternoon, the council majority was unable to convince one of their colleagues (such as council member Rob Johnson) to switch sides and give them a veto-proof majority. The $500 head tax proposal was the result of months of work by the city’s progressive revenue task force, which was appointed after a last year’s budget process and charged with coming up with a proposal to tax businesses to pay for homeless services and affordable housing. (Johnson, who was seen as a potential swing vote, cited the need for a process like the one the task force went through in voting against an early head tax proposal last year.) The task force issued their report in March.

The tax, which sunsets after five years (and which will no longer be replaced, as in previous versions of the legislation, with a business payroll tax), would raise about $47 million a year for new housing, rental subsidies, and supportive services. According to the spending plan the council also adopted this afternoon, that would be enough to build about 591 units of housing—288 for low-income people making between 30 and 60 percent of Seattle’s area median income and 303 permanent supportive housing units for formerly homeless people making between 0 and 30 percent of median. (The full spending plan is available here.) The plan also includes rental subsidies to get homeless people into “immediate housing,” funding for a total of about 250 new shelter beds and authorized encampments, more parking lots for people living in their cars, and sanitation facilities. The adopted spending plan, which allocates about two-thirds of the head tax revenues to housing, reverses the priorities in the spending plan proposed last week by Mayor Jenny Durkan and council president Bruce Harrell, which would have spent 70 percent of the revenues from the head tax in years 1 and 2 (and 60 percent in years 3 through 5) on short-term emergency shelter, garbage cleanup, and a new Navigation Team to coordinate the removal of unauthorized encampments and the people in them.

Prior to their vote for the tax, several council members expressed regret that they failed to come up with a compromise that could convince at least one of their colleagues to join them in a veto-proof majority in favor of a larger tax, such as the $350 compromise council member Lisa Herbold floated Friday. Council member Lorena Gonzalez, who was one of the co-chairs, along with Herbold, on the progressive revenue task force, said, “While I’m excited that we will be taking this vote… to reestablish a head tax… it’s regrettable that we were unable to find a path amongst our colleagues and with the mayor that they would be willing to support a higher taxation rate than $275.” Council member Mike O’Brien, who recently weathered hours of verbal abuse at an out-of-control forum on the head tax in Ballard, sounded grim as he conceded, “I’m settling for this level of service.”

Business leaders continued to grumble about the tax. The Downtown Seattle Association issued a statement decrying the tax as “bad economic policy [that] will negatively impact Seattle’s economy and city tax revenues,” and Amazon said in a statement that the “tax on jobs” makes the company “very apprehensive about the future created by the council’s hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here.”

The next battle for homeless advocates at city hall will be over the spending plan for the tax—a component of the plan that is in many ways more critical than the amount of money the tax produces. Durkan’s proposed spending plan, with its emphasis on emergency shelter, encampment removals, and tiny houses, would have largely backfilled spending on programs for which funding is about to run out (the plan contained a $15 million-$16 million annual line item to “continu[e] programs which had one-time funding in the 2018 budget, or insufficient funding, plus unspecified “new emergency, temporary, and enhanced shelters, navigation centers… and/or service and safe parking for vehicular living”), reducing the impact of the new revenues to whatever is left over once all the programs that are running out of money are funded. Although the council adopted the spending plan, that vote was narrow (5-4, along the same lines as Friday’s vote) and the actual implementation plan will have to be proposed by Durkan and adopted by the council as part of this year’s budget process.

Before the vote, council member Teresa Mosqueda said the new revenues from the head tax “are supposed to be in addition to” existing spending, not a replacement for it. Asked specifically about this concern at a press conference after the vote, Durkan pivoted to talking about the need to examine the council’s proposed spending plan itself, which she said would fund “a number of programs, such as shelter and supportive housing,” for which long-term funding is not secure. She did not answer the question about whether she would push for a spending plan that used new dollars to pay for existing funding commitments.

The insistence on funding existing shelter beds, from some of the four-member council minority as well as Mayor Durkan, is somewhat ironic. After all, it was the city council itself (with then-mayor Tim Burgess’ support) who adopted a spending plan for homeless service providers last year that eliminated funding for many basic shelters, on the grounds that they failed to demonstrate that they could move their clients into permanent housing quickly. The new standards for shelter providers, for example, withhold funding if those shelters fail to move 40 percent of their clients into housing within three months, a standard that few emergency shelters can meet, particularly those serving the clients who are hardest to house.

The emphasis in the Durkan/Harrell plan on funding shelters rather than housing also flies in the face of what virtually every expert, from the city’s homelessness consultant Barb Poppe to the city’s Human Services Department to a Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce-commissioned report to former All Home King County director Mark Putnam, which is that a solution to homelessness requires getting people into housing, not tents and “tiny houses” (which Putnam recently referred to as “glorified garden sheds.”) Asked why she supported a split that favored spending on shelters over housing, Durkan responded, “because I think the people of Seattle think that we’ve got to make a difference in homelessness tomorrow. We need to get  people off the streets and get them a safe place to live. None of this housing will come online for years.”

Mosqueda told me before the vote that she was “not interested” in a spending plan that funds temporary shelter “that evicts people in five years and fails to build the housing we need.” The problem in Seattle, Mosqueda argued, is not so much lack of mats on the floor as a lack of affordable housing, and providing more temporary shelter beds is only a “Band-Aid” that fails to address the larger affordability problem at the root of Seattle’s inability to move people from shelter to housing. In a memo released earlier today, Mosqueda staffer Michael Maddux wrote that in the Durkan/Harrell plan, “There does not seem to be increased capacity in funding to support short-term enhanced shelter, and with the draconian cuts to the housing component, no plan appears in place to provide permanent housing for people moved into the few new beds created (about 1,000) by the Mayor’s plan.”

One thing everyone on both sides agreed on is that homelessness is a regional, not a Seattle-only, problem. “Seattle can’t go it alone,” Durkan said during her press conference. “This is a regional crisis that demands a regional response.” That quote might have been lifted verbatim from any other number of press conferences by any number of Seattle officials, past or present. Seattle officials routinely implore “the region,” usually meaning King County, to step up and pay their fair share to address every challenging problem, whether it’s inadequate transit or inadequate funds for housing.  Whether that additional funding will materialize is uncertain. Durkan announced this morning that the state has come up with an additional $40 million for behavioral health services in 2018, and $18 million to $20 million a year after that, and that King County has said it will provide the city with $5.7 million to expand shelter and “safe alternatives for people living outdoors” in 2018. Little is currently known about what strings are attached to this funding or how it can be spent.

Beyond the $5.7 million announced this morning, the county has been parsimonious with its funding to address the crisis. (It did adopt a resolution today declaring May 14-20 “Affordable Housing Week” in King County,  “all county residents” are encouraged “to embrace affordable housing opportunities in their communities.”) Last week, King County Executive Dow Constantine suggested last week that the city needs to slow down and work on a regional approach through the massive “One Table” task force, which began meeting back in January. One Table was supposed to have finished up its meetings and announced its recommendations for a regional approach to addressing homelessness by now; instead, they have canceled their past two meetings and have been very quiet since April. One Table may ultimately come back with a recommendation for a countywide levy, or a sales tax to pay for housing and services (two of the only options available to local governments in Washington State), or it may not. Either way, Seattle is moving forward with what is at least an attempt to address the crisis of homelessness within its borders. Whether the scaled-back proposal adopted today makes a perceptible, measurable dent in homelessness, or whether it merely provides more fodder for anti-tax activists who insist that the city is wasting its money because the problem isn’t getting any better, will be clear soon enough.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! 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 funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: The High Cost of Mandatory Parking

1. By a 7-1 vote Monday (Kshama Sawant was absent, having just landed back in Seattle from a socialism conference in Germany), the city council adopted parking reform legislation that will lower parking mandates in certain parts of the city, require more bike parking in new developments, redefine frequent transit service so that more areas qualify for exemptions from parking mandates, and unbundle rent for housing from rent for parking, so that renters who don’t need parking spaces don’t have to pay for them.

As promised last week, council member Lisa Herbold introduced an amendment that would give the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections the authority to impose environmental “mitigation” measures on new developments in areas where there is no parking mandate and where more than 85 percent of on-street parking is generally occupied by cars. (Herbold raised objections to the unbundling provision and the new definition of frequent transit service in committee, too—and voted against sending the legislation to full council—but only reintroduced the mitigation amendment on Monday). Under the State Environmental  Policy Act, “mitigation” is supposed to reduce the environmental impact of land-use decisions; Herbold’s argument was that measures such as imposing minimum parking requirements, reducing non-residential density, and barring residents of new apartments from obtaining residential parking permits would mitigate the environmental impact caused by people circling the block, looking for parking. (At the advice of the city attorney, Herbold said, she removed the RPZ language from her amendment).

Citing parking guru Donald Shoup—whose book “The High Cost of Free Parking” has been the inspiration for many cities to charge variable rates for on-street parking, depending on demand—Herbold said 85 percent occupancy was “a good compromise between optimal use of the parking spots and [preventing] cars [from spending] five, ten minutes driving around looking for a parking spot.” But Shoup never said that the correct response to high on-street parking usage was to build more parking; in fact, he argued that overutilization is a sign that cities need to charge more for parking so that fewer people drive to neighborhoods where parking is at a premium. Shoup’s primary point wasn’t, as Herbold suggested, that the problem with scarce parking is that people burn gas while looking for a parking spot; it was that too many or too few vacancies is a sign that parking isn’t priced correctly, and the price should be adjusted accordingly.

Ironically, after her amendment failed, Herbold turned around and slammed Shoup for using what she called outdated data. But Shoup (and Johnson) got the last laugh. From the council press release on the passage of the legislation:

Council Bill 119221 aims to ensure that only drivers will have to pay for parking, which seems fair,” said Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking. … “If drivers don’t pay for their parking, someone else has to pay for it, and that someone is everyone. But a city where everyone happily pays for everyone else’s free parking is a fool’s paradise.”

2. Now that longtime state Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-34) has announced that she will not seek reelection, Herbold’s onetime opponent, Shannon Braddock, is reportedly considering a bid for Nelson’s seat. Braddock, who serves as deputy chief of staff to King County Executive Dow Constantine, lost to Herbold in the 2015 council election. State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34) told the West Seattle Blog this week that he did not plan to run for Nelson’s senate seat.

3. The King County Democrats will hold a meeting for all the precinct committee officers (PCOs) in the county to vote on whether to remove the group’s embattled chairman, Bailey Stober, from his position on Sunday, April 15. The meeting will come one week after a closed-door trial by a committee that will make its own recommendation about whether Stober should stay or go.

Stober, who has been accused of sexual harassment, creating a hostile work environment, bullying, and financial misconduct, has refused to step down from his position despite the fact that more than 60 percent of the voting members of his executive board have asked him to resign. Under King County bylaws, Stober can only be removed by a vote of two-thirds of the PCOs who show up at Sunday’s meeting—and, as I’ve reported, many PCOs who have been appointed will be unable to vote at the meeting specifically because Stober has failed to approve their appointments. Some of those PCOs have been waiting for Stober’s sign-off since last fall.

This document outlines the case against Stober, who is accused of sexually harassing and bullying his lone employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo, before firing her without board approval, “engag[ing] in physical altercations while with staff and other party members,” using Party money to fund certain candidates he personally favored while leaving others high and dry, and spraying Silly String in Koss Vallejo’s face while she was driving, an incident Stober filmed and posted on Instagram.

And this document contains Stober’s rebuttal, which he also posted to his personal website last month. The rebuttal includes a lengthy text exchange in which Stober pressures Koss Vallejo to leave her own birthday party to come out drinking with him and she resists, in a manner that is likely familiar to anyone who has tried to say no nicely to a man who won’t take no for an answer (an especially tricky situation when that man is your boss.) It also includes several claims that have been disputed, including Stober’s claim that the group’s treasurer, Nancy Podschwit, approved Koss-Vallejo’s firing, which she says she did not.

On Monday, Stober responded to a Facebook invitation to the PCO meeting, saying he guessed he would “swing by.”

4. The King County Democrats aren’t the only ones accusing Stober of fiscal misconduct. So is the state attorney general, in a separate case involving one of Stober’s three unsuccessful campaigns for Kent City Council. The state attorney general’s office has been trying to get Stober to hand over documents related to his 2015 council run since 2017, when the AG took the unusual step of  issuing a press release publicly demanding that Stober give them the documents. On March 21, the state attorney general’s office ordered Stober to pay the state $5015 in attorneys’ fees in a case involving campaign finance violations in 2015. According to court records, Stober repeatedly refused to hand over documents the attorney general requested despite multiple orders compelling him to do so. Stober’s attorneys removed themselves from his case in early March.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! 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 funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: All the Gee-Whiz Enthusiasm In the World

1. Yesterday, I broke the news that former Position 8 City Council candidate Sheley Secrest, who lost in last year’s primary election to Jon Grant and Teresa Mosqueda (Mosqueda ultimately won), is being charged with one count of theft and one count of false reporting over allegations that she illegally used her own money in an effort to qualify for up to $150,000 in public campaign dollars last year. To qualify for public campaign financing through democracy vouchers, which enabled every Seattle voter to contribute up to $100 last year to the council or city attorney candidate or candidates of their choice, a candidate had to get 400 signatures from registered Seattle voters along with 400 contributions of at least $10 each. Secrest denied the allegations to the Seattle Times earlier this year, before the charges were filed. She has not responded to my request for comment on the charges against her.

As I mentioned in my post, the former campaign staffer who first brought the allegations against Secrest to the attention of Seattle police, Patrick Burke is also saying she failed to pay him more than $3,300 for work he did as her campaign manager. (The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission reports that the Secrest campaign paid Burke just over $1,300 and owes him $1,675, but says he was also promised 11.8 percent in bonus pay based on how many signatures and contributions he brought in.) Yesterday, Burke says, he had a hearing in a small-claims court case against Secrest, but says he and Secrest were unable to reach a deal through mediation, so the case will be heard before a judge next month.

Burke says he is now living at a Salvation Army homeless shelter. He says that by the time he left the campaign, his phone had been cut off and he couldn’t afford to pay for bus fare, so he was doing most of his work from a room he rented in Shoreline. He says Secrest told him repeatedly that if he could just hang on until she qualified for democracy vouchers, she would pay him everything she owed him. (Burke provided copies of what he says are text messages between himself and Secrest that support this.) “[Secrest] said, ‘If you can stick with this until we get the democracy vouchers, it will be worth your while,’” Burke says, “and I said, ‘If that’s what we need to do, let’s just push it and get done, but you have to understand that I can’t be at all the events that you need me to be at.” One point of contention, Burke says, involved $40 Secrest paid another person to design a flyer advertising a fundraiser at Molly Moon’s Ice Cream (Molly Moon’s owner, Molly Moon Neitzl, donated $250 to Secrest’s campaign.)

Secrest ended her campaign nearly $4,200 in the red. When a campaign ends up in debt after an election, it is generally up to the candidate to pay her vendors and employees, who have the right to pursue the former candidate in court if she fails to do so. In 2011, city council candidate Bobby Forch, who ran unsuccessfully against former council member Jean Godden, ended his campaign with $61,000 in debt, most of it—more than $48,000—to his former campaign consultant John Wyble. Wyble and Forch worked out a payment plan. If a campaign does not work out a way to pay its vendors, after 90 days, the amount they are owed turns into a contribution. For example, the $1,675 the Ethics and Elections Commission says Secrest owes Burke would become a $1,675 contribution, and since that amount is over the $250 individual contribution limit, the commission could launch an investigation into the campaign. However, the most the commission could do is fine Secrest—a solution that wouldn’t help ex-employees who are owed money like Burke. And Secrest is potentially in much more trouble now, anyway.

Secrest, for her part, says Burke “has been paid for all services performed before the date of his termination,” adding, “Washington is an at-will employment state, meaning an employer does not need cause to fire an employee.  In this matter, we repeatedly informed Patrick that we could not afford to keep him on staff. We clearly told him to stop working for pay, and we repeatedly told him that we will reach out once funds were available.” She sent her own screenshot of what she says is a text message exchange between her and Burke, in which she apologized that “we didn’t get fundraising in or qualified to pay you. You are a rockstar. As soon as I can pay staff I’ll reach out.”

3. Legislation currently moving through the state House, sponsored by Rep. Jake Fey (D-27), would broaden and extend the current sales tax exemption on electric vehicles, which was set to expire this year, until 2021 and would require all revenues that the state will lose because of the exemption come from the multimodal fund, which is supposed to fund walking, biking, and transit projects. Over three years, the bill report estimates, the tax exemption will cost the multimodal fund $17.65 million.

Electric-car proponents, including Gov. Jay Inslee and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (who announced a number of new electric-vehicle charging stations this week), argue that electric vehicles are a major part of the solution to climate change. “Seattle will continue to lead on climate action and green energy innovation,” Durkan said in announcing the new charging ports this week.

But all the gee-whiz enthusiasm in the world won’t erase the fact that cars, even electric ones, enable sprawl, and sprawl is what destroys forests and farmland, causes congestion, paves over habitat, contributes to sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles, and is in every conceivable way anathema to a sustainable climate future. What we need are not technological quick fixes like electric cars and carbon sequestration, but large-scale solutions like urban densification and taxes on suburban sprawl. Standing next to shiny new Teslas is easy. Standing up for long-term solutions to the root causes of climate change is harder.

3. The city council-appointed Progressive Revenue Task Force met for the third time Wednesday, seeming no closer to finding any viable alternatives to the employee hours tax rejected by the city council last year than they were a month ago. (Perhaps that’s because they are ultimately going to propose… passing the employee hours tax rejected by the city council last year.) The meeting was taken up largely by a review of potential municipal revenue sources proposed by the progressive Center for American Progress in a 2014 report, most of which, staffers noted, were either already in place or unworkable in Seattle or Washington State.

The meeting did include a lively discussion about the cost of building housing for unhoused Seattle residents, and a mini-debate over which shelter clients will be prioritized for housing, given that there simply isn’t enough housing for everyone entering the city’s shelter system. “Basic” shelter, the task force learned, costs an average of $5,597 per bed, per year; “enhanced” shelter, which tends to be open longer hours and offer more services and case management, costs $14,873 per bed. (Advocates from SHARE/WHEEL, which lost funding from the Human Services Department during last year’s competitive bidding process, were quick to point out that their bare-bones mats-on-a-floor model costs much less than the average basic shelter).

Enhanced shelter, which is aimed at people who are chronically homeless, has lower overall exits to permanent housing than basic shelter, primarily because it’s aimed at people who are among the hardest to house, including those with partners and pets and those in active addiction. Of about 20,500 households the city anticipates it will serve with enhanced shelter every year, it estimates that just 2,000 will exit to permanent housing. “What, if any, cautions or counterbalancing is going on in evaluating the performance of the providers that were awarded contracts to ensure that they don’t meet their exits to housing [goals] by prioritizing the easiest to house?” task force member Lisa Daugaard asked, somewhat rhetorically. “That’s a good question,” council staffer Alan Lee responded.

The task force has until February 26 to come up with its proposal.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! 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 funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: “Clearly An Undisclosed Pledge”

1. Last week, former mayoral candidate Cary Moon wrote her campaign a check for $207,000, bringing the total she contributed to her own campaign to nearly $400,000—the largest amount spent by any self-financed candidate in Seattle history.

The campaign for now-Mayor Jenny Durkan now argues that the contribution confirms what they predicted in two complaints they filed last year, alleging that Moon was engaging in a campaign-finance “shell game,” accepting a loan-on-paper from her campaign consultant Moxie Media with a promise to pay Moxie back after the campaign was over.

Shortly before the November election, the Durkan campaign filed a complaint with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission against the Moon campaign, charging that Moon had unlawfully contributed tens of thousands of dollars to her own campaign within 21 days of the election, in violation of a state law prohibiting candidates from giving more than $5,000 to their own campaigns within that period, or had promised to repay a large loan to her campaign during that period, which, they argue, would also violate a city election rule prohibiting vendors from extending credit to campaigns in a way that is outside the “ordinary course of business.” A week later, the campaign filed a separate, similar complaint at the state Public Disclosure Commission, charging that the campaign’s final report before the election “clearly indicates that Moxie Media is relying on Ms. Moon to cover debts that are clearly beyond the pace of their other fundraising efforts. The increase in debt by $77,459.18 [over the last two weeks of October] is clearly an undisclosed pledge from Ms. Moon and is over 15 times the amount that Ms. Moon can pledge during the 21 days before the election.”

According to the SEEC complaint, “A close look at the Moon campaigns [sic] filings indicates that one of two things, both illegal, is going on: either her campaign’s vendors are making tens of thousands of dollars in illegal in-kind donations to her campaign, or Moon is contributing (or promising to contribute) tens of thousands of  dollars to her own campaign in direct contravention of the 21-day self-contribution limit,” the complaint alleges.

The complaints zeroed in on tens of thousands of dollars campaign consultant Moxie Media spent in the final weeks of the campaign on up-front expenses like postage, which can’t be deferred until after the campaign is over. In the last two weeks of October, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, the campaign’s debt increased by more than $85,000, to $186,000 (the election was November 7). This amount of last-minute debt, the Durkan campaign suggests, violates the spirit of the ban on late contributions. “If these actions by the Moon campaign and Moxie Media are acceptable, then there are essentially no limits to the amount that a campaign consultant can spend out of their own funds on media, mail or other paid communication buys on behalf of a wealthy candidate for whom they work, under the assumption that the candidate can reimburse them for all of those up front payments after election day, when campaign contribution limits (like the 21-day restriction on candidate self-contradictions [sic]) no longer apply,” the state complaint says.

Moon’s camp says the loan (or pledge) was completely within the normal course of business, and notes that Durkan’s own debt increased by about $45,000 in the same period, to $98,000. They also point out that the debt was hardly a secret—the campaign reported it on every election filing.

Moxie Media’s Lisa MacLean did not return a call for comment.

Although consultants are allowed to extend credit to candidates for 90 days, the complaint charged that the Moon campaign and its consultant, Moxie Media, were aware that the debt would ultimately be paid by Moon, not other campaign contributors. At the time of the complaint, October 25 of last year, the campaign was reporting more than $125,000 in debt, which was almost as much as Moon had raised from individual donors at that point in the race, raising questions about her ability to generate enough in donations after the election to pay back that debt without using her own money. By the end of November, three weeks after Moon had lost the election, campaign finance reports indicated her campaign was $206,000 in the red.

If the SEEC tosses the complaint, the Durkan campaign says, it will essentially be saying that there is are no limitations on campaign contributions by self-financed candidates, opening the floodgates for candidates to make massive loans to struggling campaigns in the hopes that a big last-minute financial push will make up for a lack of grassroots support. (The PDC will consider the campaign’s complaint, too, but on a much slower timeline because the agency is working its way through a huge backlog caused primarily by a single conservative activist who has filed dozens of complaints against local Democratic Party districts alleging various reporting violations.)

But officials with the SEEC and the state PDC say this is the direction the courts seem to be going already. In addition to Buckley v. Valeo, in which the Supreme Court ruled that limiting a candidate’s spending on her own campaign violated the First Amendment, there’s Family PAC v. McKenna, in which the Ninth Circuit district court ruled that a 21-day limit on large contributions to ballot initiatives (though not individual candidates) was unconstitutional.

The direction the courts are going, in other words, is in favor of unlimited spending and contributions by wealthy candidates to their own campaigns. This may mean more self-financed campaigns in the future, but it may also mean more laws meant to encourage candidates to raise their money from individual donors, like the initiative that provided each voter $100 in “democracy vouchers” to spend on city council campaigns this past election. There’s also the distinct possibility that Moon—a candidate whose consultant, Moxie Media, bragged was “well-resourced” before she had even declared she was running—was simply an outlier in Seattle politics: A progressive candidate with deep pockets who failed to win the imagination of the public (Moon received 1,088 individual contributions to Durkan’s 4,210) yet was able to eke out a second-place primary election finish in a very crowded (21-candidate) field. A big test for the viability of non-wealthy candidates will come in 2021, when democracy vouchers go into effect for mayoral candidates. Although vouchers do not include restrictions on self-financing, they do place other limitations on candidates, such as spending limits, in exchange for public funds.

2. At 10:00 this morning, the state Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee will hold a public hearing on a bill, SB 6150, that would update the state’s current abstinence-first approach to opiate addiction and require the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to promote the use of medication-assisted treatment and other evidence-based approaches to opiate addiction. Currently, state law says explicitly that there is no fundamental right to medication-assisted treatment for addiction, that total abstinence from all opiates should be the “primary goal” of any opiate addiction treatment, and that if a doctor does prescribe medication, it should only be a stopgap measure on the way to total abstinence.

Overwhelming evidence has concluded that medication-assisted treatment with opiates is effective at saving lives, reducing the harm caused by buying and consuming illegal drugs, and reducing or eliminating the use of harmful opiates. There is still some debate about whether people should continue taking replacement drugs like suboxone for the rest of their lives—they are opiates, and do cause dependency—but there’s no question that punitive, abstinence-only policies result in more deaths and ruined lives than compassionate, evidence-based approaches like medication-assisted treatment, and it’s high time that state law reflected that.

The bill would also declare the opiate epidemic a public health crisis, seek a waiver from federal Medicare and Medicaid rules to allow opiate addiction treatment in prison, and develop a plan for purchasing and distributing naloxone, the overdose-reversal drug, throughout the state.

If you enjoy the work I do at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a monthly Patreon subscriber or making a one-time contribution via PayPal. All the content on this site is free, and I don’t run ads, which means that your contributions are what makes my work here possible.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! 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 funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Bob Hasegawa

Longtime state legislator Bob Hasegawa, who was elected to the state senate in 2012 after serving 10 years in the house, is proud of his status as the underdog among the frontrunners in this year’s race for mayor. Unlike his legislative colleague Jessyn Farrell, who resigned her seat in the state house so she could raise money for her mayoral bid, Hasegawa says he plans to keep his day job, which means he won’t be able to raise a penny until the legislature is no longer in session, which could put him out of the fundraising game until July. Hasegawa has a reputation in the legislature as an iconoclast who supports Republican efforts to stymie Sound Transit, and as an advocate for a state-run bank, a proposal he wants to translate to the municipal level. We sat down at Victrola Coffee Roasters on Beacon Hill.

The C Is for Crank (ECB):You’re running in an incredibly crowded field, and you can’t raise money as long as the legislature remains in session. You have some name recognition in your district, but you aren’t necessarily known more broadly as a civic leader. Do you see a path to victory?

Bob Hasegawa (BH): I absolutely do. When I ran for the [11th District state] senate seat in 2012, I did it with no money. So to me, it’s the opportunity to show that people united can defeat money in politics. Having this bar against fundraising really provided a way to put an exclamation point behind that concept, because people right now are so disenchanted with the political system, they think, what does their one vote count when people are throwing so many dollars into campaigns? The political machine tries to disorganize the people because they see organized people as a threat. So I’m about reversing that political paradigm.

[At this point, we’re interrupted by a young man who tells Hasegawa, “Bob, you have my vote, without a doubt.”]

BH: You know what was so cool? When I had my announcement of my campaign at the steps of the Wells Fargo building downtown, there was a bus driver who saw us on the steps there and he opened his door and said, “Go get ’em, Bob!” Then a couple of minutes later, I was talking and I got interrupted again by a UPS driver—”Give ’em hell, Bob!” It was really cool. I think that’s where the people are, at the city level. The city has become nothing but top-down. The people are not being involved meaningfully involved in the decisions that are coming down on top of them. If you talk to people around the neighborhood, you’ll see this whole neighborhood gentrifying. The city wants to do a lot of good work increasing housing stock, paving sidewalks, all that stuff, but their solution to do that is to keep going to the same regressive tax wells  that they’ve always gone to. A lot of these things should be paid for out of the general fund, but they’re adding excess property tax levies, sales tax increases, and all these things that are making it just too expensive for regular working people and low-income people to stay in the city.

“The political machine tries to disorganize the people because they see organized people as a threat. So I’m about reversing that political paradigm.”

ECB: The mayor’s proposed soda tax is arguably more regressive than any other, because it’s not only a regressive sales tax, but a regressive sales tax on a product [sugar-sweetened soda] thats disproportionately purchased by people of color. Do you oppose the soda tax?

BH: I’m open to it. I know that the Teamsters oppose it and some of the community groups are split on it. Some support it as long as the revenues from those taxes come back to improving access to healthy foods that they don’t have in places like Southeast Seattle. I don’t want to say that I’m for it just yet, but as long as the revenue sources are appropriately appropriated, I could easily be supportive of it. [ECB: On Monday, Hasegawa issued a statement denouncing the soda tax.]

ECB: What do you mean by the same regulatory well?

BH: Sales tax increases, those kinds of things, where there’s no means testing to them. The general fund is supposed to be the source for providing all these services. But they outsourced the metropolitan parks district, then they  passed the housing levy, then the transportation levy—it’s just piling things on top of each other.

ECB: The argument in each of those cases was that the general fund couldn’t provide adequate revenues for parks, housing, or transportation on its own. What’s your solution to that problem?

BH: Creating a municipally owned public bank that’s owned by the people. It just allows us to keep control of our tax revenue here locally, so we control how we want to invest that money. And it provides not only access to our own tax revenue, but it allows us to leverage those tax dollars on an order of magnitude.  For instance, if we’re able to capitalize a municipal bank with even just $100 million, that leverages out to a billion dollars worth of lending capacity, and that’s within standard banking practice.

“I think they were like kids in a candy store. They got the authority to pass something without limitations, so they shot the moon.”

ECB: You’ve been pushing for a state-owned bank for many years, yet it hasn’t happened. Why not?

BH: One wonders why that is. Public banking is a standard tool all around the world. Other countries that have had public banks have ended up privatizing, just because that’s where the political pressure is. If you don’t have enough people power to protect your public institutions, then you get them taken away from you. and that’s what it’s basically been here. We don’t have the grassroots people power to protect u

ECB: You told the South Seattle Emerald that you felt the vote on Sound Transit 3 last year was “rigged.” Can you explain what you meant by that?

BH: “Rigged” probably wasn’t the right word. I think people think of “rigged” as, you’re changing vote counts. I wasn’t saying that at all. What I was saying was that it’s kind of a gerrymandered district, so they know what the outcome of a vote’s going to be before it happens.

We were told by Sound Transit and all of the advocates that the full ST3 package was $15 billion. We had sticker shock when we heard $15 billion. That was larger than even the basic transportation budget that we were going to pass. which also included the largest gas tax increase in the history of the state at 12 cents. Then Sound Transit claimed that an adult owning a median-value motor vehicle would pay an additional 43 bucks a year on the [motor vehicle excise tax]. Forty-three dollars doesn’t sound like the average MVET that I’ve heard from constituents. It’s in the hundreds.  So then what ends up on the ballot? Fifty-four billion dollars.

ECB: That’s in year of expenditure dollars—it includes inflation.

BH: No I don’t think so. I think they were like kids in a candy store. They got the authority to pass something without limitations, so they shot the moon. [ECB: The $15 billion figure Sound Transit used referred to the amount that Sound Transit would collect in taxes, in 2017 (uninflated) dollars, over 15 years. However, the tax was not limited to 15 years and the $54 billion figure includes inflation over 25 years.] They’re accusing me of being anti-Sound Transit and anti-Sound Transit 3. I want to make it clear I’m pro-Sound Transit and pro-Sound Transit 3. I used to be a bus driver. I’m an ATU 587 member [the Metro Transit union]. I was. I drove a bus.

So I voted for this bill [SB 5001, which would have made Sound Transit’s board an elected body], which is the basis of the accusation of me being anti-Sound Transit 3 . This is a Republican bill, by Senator [Steve] O’ Ban, but this is what the bill does: It changes the board of Sound Transit from appointed to elected, because I don’t like being lied to.

“Everybody’s so intent on trying to entice developers to do the right thing, and developers will never set aside more than they need to for affordable housing. We’ll never be able to set aside enough to make sure that no one is homeless unless we start to build public housing.”

ECB: That bill would have completely disrupted the board and taken away power from Seattle.

BH: Of course it would. That’s democracy.

ECB: When [then-King County Council member] Rob McKenna was on the board, it was so disruptive the future of light rail was put in jeopardy. Do you want 18 Rob McKennas on the board?

BH: If you think democracy is not worth fighting for, then yes, you would take that position. People want someone who will be a voice for our city. Why does it take forever for Ballard or West Seattle to get their spurs? You can’t get to either location from anywhere. The way Sound Transit came through [Southeast Seattle] originally, there was no sensitivity to the community’s needs. It was a creature of somebody’s vision that a world-class city needed to have light rail from downtown to the airport. So they just blew something through the surface level—whatever el cheapo way to get from downtown to SeaTac—and I had a bill that would have helped with parking mitigation. They were anticipating what they call hide and rides, which are suburbanites who come into the city, park in neighborhoods, and take the light rail downtown. So to mitigate that, the city of Seattle created these restricted parking zones [RPZs], where you have to have a permit to park in the neighborhoods around these light rail stations, which is fine. But in south Seattle—and this is the poorest part of the city of Seattle—they want to charge you $60 for a permit to park in your own  neighborhood. One might argue the equity of that in and of itself, because in low-income neighborhoods, you’ve got lots of people living under one roof to try and consolidate resources, so you’ve got at least one car there. So you’ve got multiples of 60 bucks to park in your own neighborhood. But the real social inequity is that in other areas of the city, they’re free. That’s not right.

ECB: Where are RPZs free?

BH: Capitol Hill, Montlake, Laurelhurst, North Queen Anne—places where they have a major disruptor, like Group Health. They require the major disruptor to subsidize a lot of the cost. In the south end, they didn’t require the major disruptor, which is Sound Transit, to subsidize any of the cost. The city of Seattle is saying, ‘We’re only doing an RPZ because Sound Transit caused the problem. So meantime, as they point the finger at each other, the residents are the ones who are having to pay for it.

ECB: I think the response from Sound Transit would be that they’re providing mobility to people who would otherwise have to drive, which makes them the opposite of a major disruptor. You don’t find that argument compelling?

BH: No, not at all. It costs them nothing to do it. There’s only a total of 2,500 of these permits. It’s like budget dust in the $54 billion authority that we just gave them, but they are just adamantly opposed to it.

ECB: What is your definition of gentrification and how would you deal with it?

BH: I don’t know if there is a definition. It’s the loss of the economic, ethnic, and cultural diversity—what the city has always had. The income inequality that’s facing the whole country right now is being demonstrated to an extreme in Seattle, because you’ve got so many people making six-figure salaries moving in and displacing minimum-wage people.

When you look at the [Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda] set-aside for South Lake Union, they only require 2 percent of the units to be affordable, whatever affordable is. I think other cities are at 25 percent or above.

ECB: So what’s your alternative?

HB: A public bank.

ECB: How does that provide affordable housing?

BH: It can provide the financing for it. [It can provide] short term loans. It can help purchase property, or develop on properties that we already own, or refurbish existing properties to put them into use for affordable housing. What I’m interested in is building more public housing, because I don’t think anybody’s been focused on that. Everybody’s so intent on trying to entice developers to do the right thing, and developers will never set aside more than they need to for affordable housing. We got away from public housing back in the day. People were saying we’re just building slums or whatever, and there’s some truth to that, but I think we can manage that with better regulation and administration of the programs. We’ll never be able to set aside enough to make sure that no one is homeless unless we start to build public housing.

“We have to give [the neighborhood councils] a significant budget and empower them to make the decisions on implementing those budgets locally through their council structures, but they have to show that they are actually representative of the neighborhoods that they claim to represent.”

ECB: What do you think of Mayor Murray’s decision to cut ties with the neighborhood councils? That was an effort to get more new voices included in city planning, including, importantly, people of color.

BH: I think we need to be going the opposite direction from dismantling the neighborhood councils to empowering them more. The city’s argument was that the community councils don’t necessarily represent the diversity of the people in the community, and I think that’s true. They’re pretty much white, middle-class, older—even in the Rainier Valley. That’s the people that have the time to do it. I think grassroots organizing is the hardest job in the world, and the most underappreciated, and that’s why it never gets done. But it is the only way democracy can succeed. So if we are going to reverse our top-down structure, which is what the city has become, to a more bottom-up structure, we have to put a lot of work into it. So I want to fund the neighborhood councils so they can go into the neighborhoods and start organizing.

ECB: Don’t you think that the people who current run the neighborhood councils have a strong incentive not to organize the people who’ve been left out?

BH: Of course.

ECB: So how are you going to motivate people who like things the way they are to go out and organize to change it?

BH: Well, we have to give them a significant budget and empower them to make the decisions on implementing those budgets locally through their council structures, but they have to show that they are actually representative of the neighborhoods that they claim to represent. So once you reach some kind of a threshold to prove that you do have true community engagement from everybody—all sectors of the neighborhood that you’re in charge —and give them a significant budget. Do we want a new community center in this area? Sidewalks? What do you want to do with that money? You make the decisions, but with that privilege comes some responsibly too. You have to acknowledge that you have to accept some share of the growth that Seattle is inevitably going to have to deal with, and each neighborhood council has to accept the responsibility that comes with the privilege of making those decisions.

ECB: What do you think of the mayor’s response to homelessness, particularly the homeless encampment sweeps?

BH: Sweeps – man, that’s a horrible strategy. We need to have someplace for them to go even if it’s a temporary home .When you’re getting booted around here, there, and everywhere and chased around like the Keystone Kops. I mean, it’s stupid. It’s so undignified. It’s not treating people with respect. And every time they move, they have to leave half their stuff behind. The city, as a bare minimum Band-Aid, should provide litter pickup, sanitation facilities, and whatnot. Let them hang out until we can actually get them permanently placed someplace, but the strategy of just chasing them around from place to place—that’s just dumb.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! 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 funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support!