Category: Mayor Harrell

Harrell Picks Diaz for Police Chief; Council Park District Alternative Would Keep Park Rangers, Raise Tax

Mayor Bruce Harrell, Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz, and supporters
Mayor Bruce Harrell, Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz, and supporters at Tuesday’s announcement

1. After a City Charter-mandated process that led to a list of three finalists, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced Tuesday that interim police chief Adrian Diaz will become Seattle’s permanent police chief, pending confirmation by the City Council.

Diaz expressed his desire to become permanent chief as early as 2020, when he replaced former chief Carmen Best, and was widely viewed as the most obvious choice for the position. Harrell’s office announced the finalists for the position less than two weeks ago, and the public had its first look at all three finalists in a live Seattle Channel interview five days before the mayor announced his selection.

The compressed recent timeline, combined with Harrell’s choice of the most widely predicted candidate, gave the chief selection the air of a fait accompli, prompting questions Tuesday about whether the city r revisit how it picks police chiefs in the future. Harrell defended the process, calling it “an extremely effective and efficient use of dollars” that involved “all communities in the city. “There was nothing broken in this process. The process was a good process. And so nothing out of this process suggested to me [that] we needed to fix or change anything,” Harrell said.

The police department currently has fewer than 1,000 officers on duty, a number Diaz and the mayor have said they want to increase to more than 1,400 over the next five years. Diaz said the public is demanding “action on crime, on gun violence, on perceived and real issues of safety,” and vowed to continue efforts to hire hundreds of new officers while committing to accountability, diversity, and new types of policing, including co-responder models, in which police partner with social service workers when responding to some crisis and non-emergency calls.

This approach, like the choice of Diaz itself, represents a commitment to the status quo: Reform, not a radical rethinking of the relationship between police and the communities they serve. Aggressive hiring, rather than redistributing some duties to non-police responders. More and better officer training, rather than example-setting discipline for cops who abuse their power. Even Diaz’s characterization of the 2020 protests outside the East Precinct, which he repeatedly referred to as “riots” both yesterday and during his Seattle Channel interview, represents a pre-2020 perspective in which police are the only bulwark against everything from violent crime to people protesting against police violence.

2. On Tuesday City Council member Andrew Lewis presented his budget proposal for the upcoming six-year Metropolitan Parks District plan, which PubliCola previewed earlier this week. Lewis’ proposal amends and expands on the plan Mayor Bruce Harrell proposed earlier this month, increasing the proposed property tax to 39 cents per $1,000 of home valuation (up from Harrell’s 38 cents/$1,000), adding two new off-leash areas, funding the electrification of additional community centers, planting more trees, and renovating four more restrooms than Harrell’s plan, among other changes.

Climate advocates have argued that the city needs to invest more heavily in decarbonizing the city’s 26 community centers. Lewis’ proposal would add $4 million in 2025 and 2026 to accelerate this process, along with $18 million in debt, which the city would begin paying off near the end of the park district cycle, in 2027, with a goal of decarbonizing 13 community centers by 2028.

The plan would also fund $5 million for additional maintenance at the planned downtown waterfront park, which would come out of the existing park stabilization fund and reserves.

Lewis noted Monday that his proposal also includes spending restriction meant to ensure that parks rangers can’t remove encampments or exclude people from parks for anything other than felony-level crimes. As we reported on Monday, although a 1997 law empowers parks rangers to exclude people from parks for violating park rules, a more lenient policy adopted in 2012 has effectively superseded that law. Lewis’ proposal would make funding for 26 new rangers contingent on following the 2012 rule, and would require the mayor to “immediately inform the Park District should these park rules be modified.”

Two public commenters were extremely upset about nudity they’d witnessed at Denny Blaine Park, an unofficial nude beach on Lake Washington, and said they hoped the new park rangers would put a stop to it and, as one speaker put it, make the park a “family friendly place again.” One outraged speaker, who seemed to be a frequent visitor, said she had witnessed people “walking down Lake Washington Boulevard naked, in the middle of Denny Blaine Park, naked, in trees, naked, displaying themselves, naked, on the low walls in the park, [and] naked people swimming, paddle boarding, laying on rafts, etc.”

The parks district board, which is made up of all nine members of the city council, will meet this Friday, and the council itself could vote on a final proposal as soon as Monday, September 27.

Cities Could Lose Out on Opioid Settlement Funds, Non-Police Response Pilot Moves Forward

1. Cities and counties around the state stand to lose more than $500 million in funds for treatment, overdose prevention, diversion, and education on opioid misuse in a settlement between the state attorney general’s office and the three largest opioid distributors earlier this year, if holdout cities fail to sign on to the settlement by this Friday.

The settlement, which resulted from a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson in 2021, will only be distributed to cities and counties if at least 116 of the 125 eligible jurisdictions, including all 39 Washington counties, sign a form agreeing to participate in the settlement. As of last Friday, 100 jurisdictions had signed on, including all but five counties—Adams, Kitsap, Pierce, Skagit, and Snohomish.

Cities in the Puget Sound region that have not agreed to participate in the settlement yet include Auburn, Burien, Everett, Mercer Island, Renton, and Tacoma. According to a letter the head of the AG’s Complex Litigation Division sent to local officials last week, cities can choose to hand their settlement money over to a regional body for distribution, send it to their county, or spend it themselves according to a list of approved uses.  

A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for additional information late last week.

2. The city just moved one step closer to setting up an alternative for some calls that are currently dispatched through the 911 system, when Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office and the city council signed a “term sheet” laying out formal steps toward standing up a comprehensive response system for calls that do not require a police response. These calls could include “person down” calls, wellness checks, and low-priority “administrative calls” that currently go largely unanswered.

Among other longer-term commitments, the agreement—signed by Senior Deputy Mayor Monisha Harrell and Esther Handy, the council’s central staff director—says the city will establish a work group to develop a pilot program by next January that can be implemented in 2023, a year  before Harrell’s office has said they’ll be ready to propose and start implementing a more comprehensive plan to use alternative responders for some non-emergency calls. The term sheet requires the mayor and council to come up with “basic costing information” by October 14 so the council can consider the plan during its fall budget deliberations.

As PubliCola reported in July, the council already passed a supplemental amendment to this year’s budget identifying $1.2 million in funding for a civilian response pilot, using the money from former mayor Jenny Durkan’s since-abandoned “Triage One” proposal. Councilmember Andrew Lewis, a longtime proponent of Eugene, OR’s CAHOOTS alternative-responder model, estimated that it would cost a little under a million dollars to fund a three-person pilot program for one year.

Harrell’s Proposal to Expand Park Ranger Program Sparks Controversy

Victor Steinbrueck Park
Victor Steinbrueck Park in downtown Seattle; photo by Wknight94; CC-by-SA 3.0 license

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell’s proposal to restart the mostly moribund Park Ranger program by hiring 26 additional rangers to patrol Seattle’s downtown parks has run into opposition from advocates who have argued that the rangers will be “park cops” deputized to kick homeless people out of public spaces.

But some city council members say the rangers are meant to be a civilian alternative to police, and point to measures the city has taken to ensure that rangers can’t facilitate arrests or exclude people from parks except in extreme situations—specifically, a 2012 policy that restricts park rangers’ authority.

Councilmember (and parks district board chair) Andrew Lewis said that during a recent “ridealong” with one of the city’s two park rangers, “it was made really, really clear to me that they are greatly dissuaded from using their authority to trespass or exclude—their job is to tell people what the rules in a park are, and usually that’s enough.”

On Monday, Lewis will release his own parks district plan, which will include Harrell’s park ranger proposal. “But,” he added, “we want to make sure we put some fetters on what they can do,” in the form of a resolution accompanying the parks district spending plan “acknowledging the current policy and making it clear rangers will not participate in removals of encampments.”

The debate over park rangers is only the latest salvo in a battle over behavior in parks that goes back decades.

Back in 1997, the city adopted a controversial law called the Parks Exclusion Ordinance, which allowed police to ban people from parks for violating local laws—anything from skating too fast to public inebriation to “camping”— could get a person excluded from all parks in one of 12 geographic “exclusion zones.” If a person was caught in any parks in that area during their exclusion period, they would face an escalating series of exclusions; on the third offense, they would be banned from every park in the city. Thousands of people were excluded from parks under the law, usually for minor offenses; during the first year the law was in effect, 53 percent of exclusions were for public inebriation and 22 percent were for sleeping in parks overnight.

Advocates like the ACLU and the Public Defender Association opposed the program, noting that it disproportionately impacted people who were homeless or poor; it also led to some absurd results.

The park ranger program started in 2007, when the city hired six rangers to “rove downtown parks and alert police to any illegal activity,” according to a Seattle Times report. The rangers also had the ability to enforce the exclusion ordinance.

The parks exclusion ordinance remains on the books. However, in 2012, it was superseded by a new “trespass warning” policy. Under that policy, park rangers or police can issue a warning when they see someone violating park rules or a state or local law; if they’re caught violating a law or park rule again, they can be arrested and prosecuted for criminal trespassing, a misdemeanor. People can also be excluded from a park zone—they still exist!—for up to a year for committing a felony or weapons-related violation. In 2015, the PDA wrote a letter to interim parks director Christopher Williams applauded the department for using the law judiciously and asking him to take a similar approach to the ban on smoking cigarettes in parks.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold, whose onetime boss, former councilmember Nick Licata, opposed the original parks exclusion law, said current efforts to paint parks rangers as anti-homeless cops diminishes the hard work of activists who pushed for the 2012 policy change. “Advocates fighting for their clients did something important, with principled persistence, that we couldn’t accomplish legislatively…and it’s lasted for ten years,” Herbold said. “This opposition campaign is devaluing that victory.”

So far, according to the Public Defender Association, the city has abided by its commitment not to indiscriminately trespass people from parks over minor issues. In the last year, according to the parks department, the two parks rangers issued 388 informal verbal warnings, one written warning, one citation for trespass, and two exclusions, both related to people shooting guns at Discovery Park.

The city’s interpretation and use of the law can change. Codifying some version of the 2012 policy in ordinance would be the most effective way to ensure that park rangers and police use their powers judiciously.

“The City Parks Ranger program was created during a time when we’d achieved an agreement to dramatically reduce the use of criminal penalties for minor parks use issues and for camping,” PDA director Lisa Daugaard said. “Their role is rarely to exclude—and then only for immediate legitimate safety threats—and mainly to be problem-solvers and caretakers. It’s obviously important to watch how an investment like this actually plays out on the ground, but to date, rangers have not catalyzed parks bans or arrests.”

A policy is less binding than a law, and open to interpretation by the mayor and his advisors; Harrell’s top public safety advisor, former Councilmember Tim Burgess, proposed criminalizing “aggressive panhandling” as a councilmember and, more recently, backed an aborted effort to have police use an obscure law governing behavior on buses to crack down on “disorderly conduct,” such as drinking, gambling, and amplified music around a former bus stop at Third and Pine. In other words: The city’s interpretation and use of the law can change. Codifying some version of the 2012 policy in ordinance would be the most effective way to ensure that park rangers and police use their powers judiciously.

Initially at least, the 28 park rangers would only work in parks downtown, under a 2008 agreement between the city and the Seattle Police Officers Guild that prohibits them from operating elsewhere. According to Harrell spokesman Jamie Housen, “The initial focus on the park ranger program would be on downtown parks as rangers are hired, additional capacity is built, and the program is scaled up. While expanding beyond downtown is something we would like to consider after the program is reestablished— dependent on bargaining—there are plenty of parks downtown where rangers could provide needed services.”

New SDOT Director Talks Scooters, Streetcar, and Sweeps; A Closer Look at City Grant to Social Club Harrell Headed

New SDOT director Greg Spotts
New SDOT director Greg Spotts

1. Greg Spotts, the newly confirmed director of Seattle’s transportation department, spoke with reporters Wednesday on a wide range of topics, including scooters, the proposed downtown streetcar connector, and his plan to do a “top to bottom review” of the city’s Vision Zero effort to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030, which is currently far off track.

Spotts, who previously headed up StreetsLA, a division of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Street Services, said he was currently agnostic on both the appropriate number of scooters the city should permit and the debate over whether to revive work on the downtown streetcar, which former mayor Jenny Durkan paused during her term. As Spotts noted, scooter sharing proliferated in LA after the city decided to allow any qualified company to operate in the city, but didn’t really serve low-income areas or communities of color.

“What it produced was an overabundance of scooters in the obvious places where there’s a lot of density and a lot of money, and … very few scooters in communities of color,” Spotts said. Even with incentives for placing scooters in underserved areas, they continued to cluster in wealthy, tourist-heavy neighborhoods like Santa Monica, Hollywood, and downtown LA. “So it’s not obvious how to make this public private partnership to produce all the public goods that you want, but maybe we’re in the very, very early stages of figuring that out.”

Similarly, Spotts said he might support expanding the streetcar if there’s evidence it will improve the economic climate in the areas it serves. The new downtown section of streetcar would create a loop connecting two separate streetcar lines, connecting South Lake Union to Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill. All three areas are already connected by frequent transit, which—along with low ridership on the existing streetcar—raises questions about whether a new streetcar segment would justify its cost, currently estimated at almost $300 million.

“There’s operational benefits, right? Instead of running two segments, running one big one,” Spotts said. “But what would push it over the top, I think, is it analysis that it could be an important catalyst for our small businesses in downtown, for our tourist economy, for our cultural institutions.”

One issue Spotts declined to address is SDOT’s role in removing homeless encampments from sidewalks; SDOT staffers (including some currently vacant positions) make up more than half the members of Mayor Bruce Harrell’s Unified Care Team, a group of about 70 staffers who removes encampment. (The UCT also includes six members of the city’s HOPE team, which does outreach and makes shelter offers prior to sweeps).

“At this early stage, I’m really deferring to the mayor’s office to utilize the departments as they want to for the larger policies that they’re pursuing,” Spotts said. “And I’m not looking to introduce some personal opinions into that. I’m just here to here to assist in whatever way they want us to assist.”

2. After we reported on the fact that the city awarded nearly $800,000 to a private men’s social club that Mayor Bruce Harrell chaired until late last year, we took another look at the record to see if there was any precedent for the city awarding Equitable Development Initiative dollars to any similar institution.

Over the five years the city has been making EDI awards, about three dozen organizations have received significant grants from the fund. Many of the groups that have received multiple grants are engaged in low-income housing development, create community spaces that are open to the public, or provide social or health services to particular communities.

For example, the Friends of Little Saigon, Africatown, the Rainier Valley Midwives, Chief Seattle Club, and the Ethiopian Community in Seattle have all received multiple EDI awards over the past five years. Other grant recipients in past years include Cham Refugees Community, the Somali Health Board, United Indians of All Tribes, and the Filipino Community of Seattle.

A few of the grant recipients provide cultural space and put on events that are open to the ticket-buying public, including Black and Tan Hall and the Wing Luke Museum. None is a private social club—except the Royal Esquire Club.

It’s unclear whether the Royal Esquire Club has sought public funding from the city in the past; we’ve requested a list of all previous EDI grant applicants through a public records request. The club, which was at the center of another controversy involving Harrell while he was City Council president, has never received an EDI award in the program’s history; the $782,000 the club will receive is more than twice its annual revenues for 2019, according to the group’s most recent tax filing.

Harrell Announces Grants that Include $800,000 to Private Men’s Club He Chaired for Years

By Erica C. Barnett

On Monday, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced the recipients of 20 financial grants through the Economic Development Initiative, which funds organizations “working on anti-displacement efforts in high displacement risk neighborhoods.” One of the largest grants, totaling almost $800,000, went to the Royal Esquire Club—a private Black men’s club in Columbia City where Harrell was board president for six years.

Mayoral spokesman Jamie Housen told PubliCola on Monday that Harrell resigned from the club in November and was not directly involved in choosing the recipients of the equitable development grants.

“Decisions on which organizations received funding were determined by the community through a competitive community-based process. The mayor had no role in deciding which organizations would receive the awards, and did not receive or score the applications,” Housen said.

Jason Kelly, a spokesman for OPCD, added that “we do a review for potential conflict of interest among EDI advisory board members prior to their participating in the process. Also, the Mayor’s Office reviews the results prior to the announcement to ensure that OPCD and the advisory board followed our established process.”

The award to the Royal Esquire Club is the fourth largest grant among 20 groups funded through the initiative; the club was one of only eight organizations that received the full amount requested. In contrast, for example, the Tubman Center for Health and Freedom, which is building a South Seattle health center for BIPOC patients, asked for $2 million for property acquisition and received $1 million.

According to a presentation on the awards from the Office of Planning and Community Development, the Royal Esquire Club will use the $800,000 to “support rehabilitation of existing cultural space.” In 2019, according to the group’s most recent IRS filing, the club’s total revenues were $359,000.

An additional 46 applicants did not receive EDI awards from the city. PubliCola has asked OPCD for a copy of the Royal Esquire Club’s grant application, along with the applications of the other award recipients.

Harrell’s longstanding connection to the Royal Esquire Club has been the source of controversy, and a formal ethics complaint, in the past. In 2018, when he was city council president, Harrell intervened in an investigation into wage theft involving five women who worked as servers at the club. When the city’s Office of Labor Standards began looking into the allegations, Harrell contacted the city employee who was investigating the case to remind him that the council and mayor had the power to cut OLS’ budget.  During public council meetings, Harrell called OLS’ investigators “extremely unprofessional” and their treatment of the Royal Esquire Club “horrible,” and sought to add $50,000 to the city’s annual budget for a survey of businesses about how the office had treated them.

According to the eventual settlement, the club had to pay the women about $12,000 in back wages and fines. The Ethics and Elections Commission closed the ethics investigation without a finding.

Mayor Reshuffles Office Chairs, Council Considers Fixes for Pedestrian-Hostile Third Avenue

Third Avenue downtown (image via Downtown Seattle Association)

1. Learn to trust the Fizz: As PubliCola reported last week, Mayor Bruce Harrell has just reorganized his office, including the reassignment of former Director of Public Safety Andrew Myerberg to the newly created position of special projects director, answering to Harrell’s favored public safety advisor Tim Burgess (whose own title is, confusingly, Director of Strategic Initiatives). The public safety shuffle reportedly reflects a division in the mayor’s office between Burgess (a former city council member who favored law-and-order strategies like a ban on “aggressive panhandling”), Myerberg (the former Office of Police Accountability Director) and Harrell’s niece and senior deputy mayor, Monisha Harrell, who was previously Myerberg’s boss.

The divide between all these players isn’t just about policy, but perception—Myerberg, whose experience is more in the realm of policy than politics, is reportedly getting stuck with the blame for the negative public response to an ill-conceived plan to crack down on people gathering at Third and Pine downtown by using rarely deployed laws governing behavior on buses and bus stops.

The reorganization of the mayor’s office doesn’t stop there. Jeremy Racca, Harrell’s former council aide-turned-general counsel, has taken on additional duties under the new secondary title of “chief administrative officer,” while policy director Dan Eder, a former council central staffer, now reports not to the mayor but to Racca.

Jamie Housen, the mayor’s campaign consultant-turned-communications director, has been bumped up to report directly to Harrell, while deputy mayor Tiffany Washington, the former homelessness director for the Human Services Department, gained two new direct reports, including Lisa Gustaveson, a former homelessness staffer at HSD who worked briefly for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority before returning to the city earlier this year.

So what does it all mean? As Harrell told PubliCola during a press conference last week, “moving people around” early in a mayoral term isn’t uncommon—but it does speak to who’s in and out on the seventh floor (and the mayor’s good graces). Out: Myerberg (who is, interestingly, the only person Burgess oversees), Eder… and possibly another top staffer whose responsibilities are officially the same, but who we’ve heard been relieved of some duties. In: Washington, Burgess, and Housen—whose former boss, Harrell’s political consultant Christian Sinderman, reportedly has his own office space at the city. In addition, top-level staffer Adiam Emery, the mayor’s former chief equity officer, has a heightened public presence and new title, executive general manager.

Closed-for-business vibes: Pre-pandemic snapshots of Third Avenue from the DSA report.

2. The city council’s homelessness and public assets committee considered a resolution yesterday to endorse a plan created by the Downtown Seattle Association to revitalize the Third Avenue transit corridor—currently a wide, bus-clogged expanse of pavement flanked by narrow sidewalks and many boarded-up businesses.

The DSA’s “Third Avenue Vision” has actually been around for several years, but got sidelined by the pandemic, which exacerbated some of the issues the DSA raises in its report while reducing the number of people riding buses on the street—which, as of 2019, was the busiest bus-only corridor in the nation.

DSA director Jon Scholes said the business group’s pre-pandemic surveys found “a strong consensus that Third Avenue is the street that most people don’t want to be on. … It really hasn’t recovered as a street since the … original transit tunnel was dug through and along Third Avenue in the early ’90s.” That tunnel has served light rail exclusively since buses were kicked onto surface streets, including Third Ave., in 2019. Since then, many businesses shut their doors because of the pandemic, and Third Avenue continues to be the focus of periodic crackdowns on drug sales, retail theft, and people hanging out without an obvious destination (what’s often lumped the general category of “disorder.”)

The proposal aims to reduce bus traffic volumes, provide more exposure for street-level businesses, and give pedestrians more space through four potential strategies: A “compact transitway” that would create new sidewalk space by reducing Third Avenue from four lanes to two; a “median transitway” option that would move bus stops to a new median and convert the street into a two-way transit street, using shuttles to move riders through downtown; a “transit shuttle and hub” model that would also rely on shuttles through downtown, but eliminate the median in favor of a two-lane roadway; and a “transit couplet” framework that would turn a three-lane Third Avenue into a lower-volume one-way “couplet,” with buses traveling north on Third and southbound on a parallel street such as Second Ave.

Although the DSA’s report does not explicitly mention crime or homelessness, focusing instead on ways to improve the pedestrian environment broadly, council president Debora Juarez brought it up on Wednesday, saying, “We should be honest about it how Third and other streets have changed and have become not safe. We want it to be safe for everybody, and also for addressing homelessness and getting the right people down there to handle it, but also alleviating some of what pressure from a major corridor like Third. So I think we have to be honest about that.”

Scholes did not respond to Juarez’s comments directly; however, the vision the DSA has proposed for Third Avenue appears to offer little room for poor or homeless people. Notably, two sites of frequent crackdowns on homelessness and crime—the area around the McDonald’s at Third and Pine and City Hall Park in Pioneer Square—have been reimagined in the DSA’s renderings: The park, which was closed and fenced after the removal of a large encampment, appears as the front door to a fanciful “osteria” on the south side of the King County Courthouse, and the McDonald’s has been replaced by a sidewalk cafe.

More Details On Proposal to Double Parks District Funding: Encampments, Park Security, and Pickleball

Interim parks director Christopher Williams speaks at a parks district press conference last week.

By Erica C. Barnett

Seattle voters approved the Seattle Metropolitan Parks District, a special taxing district that enables the city to raise property taxes by as much to .075 percent without a public vote, in 2014 over the objections of the Seattle Times editorial board and other anti-tax advocates who argued that it would create a “permanent tax” with no accountability.

The parks district, which imposed an initial property tax of 0.02 percent (or 20 cents per $1,000 of a home’s assessed valuation) replaced a system that required Seattle residents to vote on a parks levy every six years. If they didn’t, the city would forfeit much of its ongoing funding for things like community center and pool maintenance, landscaping, and new park acquisition. The Times didn’t like the old system much, either, but they really hated the idea of a tax that couldn’t be defeated at the polls.

So it’s interesting, this time around, that usual suspects aren’t lobbying the council at top volume to reject Mayor Bruce Harrell’s proposal for the second cycle of parks district funding, which would almost double the size of the levy from 20 cents per $1,000 to 38 and increase Seattle parks’ reliance on funding from the tax from 20 percent of the total parks budget to about one-third.

Harrell’s proposal would add 29 permanent positions in the parks department to expand the Clean City Initiative, which cleans up debris around encampments, as part of the new Unified Care Team, which responds to and removes encampments.

Maybe that’s because the Times supports Harrell and his vision. In addition to more funding for things like renovating and decarbonizing community centers, keeping parks restrooms open year-round, and pickleball, Harrell’s proposal would add 29 permanent positions in the parks department to expand the Clean City Initiative, which cleans up debris around encampments, as part of the new Unified Care Team, which responds to and removes encampments. (The funding mechanism is a money swap that puts the program in the base budget for parks while swapping money that pays for parks utilities from the city budget into the parks district).

The Clean City Initiative was originally funded with federal COVID response dollars as a “surge” program to clean up trash and litter, but it has always been strongly associated with encampment removals. By bringing this work under the UCT and making it part of the department’s base budget, the mayor is proposing to make a temporary response to encampments in parks permanent.

Similarly, Harrell’s proposal would revive the moribund Parks Ranger program by deploying 26 new rangers in city parks. The rangers, who are uniformed but unarmed, have historically patrolled parks in downtown Seattle and on Capitol Hill, providing security and occasionally helping the Seattle Police Department remove encampments, issue trespass warnings, or kick protesters out of public spaces, as they did at Westlake Park during the Occupy Seattle protests in 2011.

City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who chairs the parks district board, said he hasn’t heard any opposition to the size of the tax increase during the town halls the board held this summer around the city. “I think it’s just a reflection of how much need there is for investment in our parks and how our old system was not sufficient to meet it,” Lewis said. Having the certainty of an ongoing tax, he added, enables the city to bond against parks district revenues for longer periods, because the city doesn’t have to worry about funds running out if voters decide not to renew the tax.

“We can do more community centers and climate resiliency [projects], because we can bond more of this,” Lewis said. The proposal includes funding for a number of capital projects that wouldn’t be affordable without longer-term bonds, including renovations and upgrades at four community centers.

Harrell’s office, in contrast to his historically secretive predecessor Jenny Durkan, provided a detailed preview of his parks district proposal that included information about some parks-related adds in his upcoming city budget proposal. This appendix provides a good high-level summary of the plan, which, flower enthusiasts will be bummed to learn, will “not include the [Board of Parks and Recreation Commission] recommended investment of approximately $270,000 to fund hanging baskets and other park beautification efforts.”

“Authentic” Harrell Doubles Down, Public Safety Director Myerberg Reassigned, Baseless Complaint Claims PubliCola Engaged in Pro-Cop “Quid Pro Quo”

1. Mayor Bruce Harrell doubled down yesterday on comments he made during a Seattle Police Department roll call that were subsequently leaked to Jason Rantz, a host at the conservative station KTTH, telling reporters he stood by “whatever people said I said.” According to quotes from the meeting, Harrell blamed at “inexperienced” city council members, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, and service providers for the “mess” the city has become—calling out the KCRHA, in particular, for “working against” Harrell by publicly opposing encampment sweeps.

“I’ve been in the city my entire life. And there’s one thing about me, is I am authentic,” Harrell said. Gesturing toward his wife, Joanne, who was standing behind him, he continued, “[I’ve] been with my best friend and wife, we’ve known each other for close to four decades. By the way, she’s a tough critic. But she’s seen me say the same things over and over and over again. So it’s time to stop playing small ball. Let’s play big ball. Let’s attack racism. Let’s attack police reform. Let’s revitalize our downtown. That’s big ball.”

Harrell declined to say whether he would actually propose defunding the regional homelessness authority, which receives the bulk of its funding, about $70 million, from the city through its annual budget process. “We’ll present our budget in a few weeks, but you will see our clear recognition of a lot of the great work they are doing,” Harrell said. “You will see continued support. What I owe to the leaders in RHA is my expectations. And I think they share my concern that we have to get this work done. … I’m still very optimistic. I’m very optimistic. But I’m not going to look at any of the work we’re doing in the city through rose-colored glasses.”

Harrell has been publicly and privately critical of the KCRHA and its director, Marc Dones—complaining publicly, for example, about the agency’s request for city and county funding that would nearly double its existing budget to fund a slew of new projects. Privately, Harrell has reportedly questioned the need for the authority, which still lacks meaningful buy-in from suburban cities and is entirely funded by Seattle and King County.

On Wednesday, Harrell said removing Myerberg from his position was just part of a six-month evaluation that involved “moving people around,” but declined to say more about what Myerberg will do in his new role. “He’s still part of our strong part of our administration and literally sits 40 feet from my desk. We’re looking forward to our continuing partnership,” Harrell said.

2. Harrell’s erstwhile director of public safety, former Office of Police Accountability director Andrew Myerberg, has been reassigned to a vaguely defined new position—”director of special projects”—where he will reportedly head up efforts to get the city out from under a consent decree between the US Department of Justice and the Seattle Police Department.

Harrell has reportedly criticized Myerberg for his lack of connection to communities impacted by police policy, such as the ill-advised decision (supported by Harrell’s other chief public safety advisor, strategic initiatives director Tim Burgess) to crack down on “disorderly conduct,” including music, smoking, and shouting, at Third Avenue and Pine St. downtown.

On Wednesday, Harrell said removing Myerberg from his position was just part of a six-month evaluation that involved “moving people around,” but declined to say more about what Myerberg will do in his new role. “He’s still part of our strong part of our administration and literally sits 40 feet from my desk. We’re looking forward to our continuing partnership,” Harrell said.

Asked what qualities he’s looking for in Myerberg’s replacement, Harrell said, “We want a person who understands constitutional policing, seven minute response times, [and is] willing to do the hard research on what’s working in other cities, issues dealing with gun regulations, just a good director of public safety.”

3. Local police accountability gadfly Howard Gale has filed a formal complaint with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission alleging a “quid pro quo” conspiracy between me (Erica Barnett) and City Councilmember Lisa Herbold and/or the city’s Office of the Inspector General, which reviews police misconduct investigations to publish information flattering to the OIG and Herbold and, by extension, the Seattle Police Department.

The “whistleblower complaint” asserts that either Herbold or someone at the Office of Inspector General leaked a copy of a report to me, and only me, in advance, in exchange for my agreement to provide flattering coverage. My straightforward piece describing the contents of the external report, which included recommendations for avoiding improper certification of investigations into police misconduct, is here.

“I believe this is a clear ethical violation because it was done with the intent to avoid negative coverage for both the OIG and CM Herbold, and done for professional mutual benefit (quid pro quo),” the complaint says.

The only evidence for this utterly baseless claim is that Gale contacted nine unidentified “journalists” and “none can find any notice of the independent audit being released/available.”

The reality, as it often is with conspiracy theories, is much more mundane. The OIG released an embargoed copy of the report to a list of reporters, including me, on the afternoon of July 27, one day before the office released the report publicly.

An embargo is an agreement between journalists and a person or entity releasing information, such as a government agency or advocacy group, that journalists will get the information in advance in exchange for agreeing not to publish it until a certain time; such agreements are extremely common and allow journalists to absorb the information (for example, details in a technical briefing or lawsuit), ask clarifying questions, and write their stories before something gets released publicly. I may have been the only one who wrote about the report when the embargo lifted, but lack of coverage is not evidence of a conspiracy.

Harrell’s Parks Plan Would Nearly Double Levy to Fund Restrooms, Park Rangers, Maintenance, and More

By Erica C. Barnett

Standing next to a busy playground at Rainier Playfield in Columbia City on Wednesday morning, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced a new “phase two” plan for the Seattle Parks District that will nearly double the amount homeowners and renters pay to fund parks and community centers across Seattle.

Voters authorized the city council to pass a property tax levy of up to 75 cents per thousand dollars of home valuation in 2014; Harrell’s proposal would nearly double that amount to 38 cents per thousand dollars, for an average annual cost of just over $360. That’s more than twice the current average cost of $155 because homeowners’ property values keep going up.

The levy has to be approved by the parks district board, which is made up of the entire city council.

Peppering his comments with anecdotes about playing and coaching baseball in the field behind him, Harrell stressed the public safety aspects of his plan, which includes $3.6 million to expand city’s Park Ranger program, a largely moribund anti-crime effort that started downtown in 2008, from two rangers to 28. The plan, which would raise $115 million a year, would also fund winterization to allow more parks restrooms to stay open all year ($580,000); add five new staffers to respond to graffiti and vandalism ($600,000); add staff on nights and weekends to increase parks maintenance (“especially of restrooms,” according to a fact sheet on the plan); and open 10 more acres of parks while doing major maintenance at several community centers.

Harrell focused on the need to keep parks “open and accessible to the public for their intended use,” rather than “closed or impacted by unauthorized encampments,” and praised the Unified Care Team, which includes the Parks and Recreation workers who remove encampments from parks, for their work. “We don’t sweep. We treat and we house,” Harrell said.

As we’ve noted before, this statement is inaccurate on several levels: When the city removes encampments, it almost never refers people directly to housing, and of the people who accept referrals to temporary shelter (instead of simply moving along), fewer than half ever show up to shelter for a single night. The city also doesn’t directly provide or fund drug or mental health treatment.

Still, an increase in restroom hours and better restroom maintenance will inevitably help homeless parks users as well as those who are housed.  The city closed many public restrooms in parks and community centers during the pandemic, and many remained closed after 2020, forcing people who live in public to relieve themselves in public and contributing to outbreaks of preventable infectious diseases like shigella because closed restrooms mean people can’t wash their hands. Former mayor Jenny Durkan subsequently failed to approve and open fully funded “street sinks,” raising endless objections about placement, vegetation, water supply, and graywater disposal—and leaving unsheltered people (and everybody else) with few options to clean their hands.

The parks board will meet and take public comment on Harrell’s proposal next Wednesday.

Harrell’s Homelessness “Data Dashboard” Shows Plenty of Sweeps But Little Progress on Shelter, Housing

By Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Bruce Harrell, whose macho comments to a group of cops about encampment sweeps, the regional homelessness authority, and the city council were not as private as he thought, has said he will provide unprecedented transparency into encampment removals and progress toward addressing homelessness in the city. Earlier this year, he unveiled a “data dashboard” on homelessness that turned out to be a mostly static website displaying information about where the city’s budget for homelessness goes along with general information about new housing units that will become available this year. 

The mayor’s office promised to update this “dashboard” four times a year. Earlier this month, new information appeared under a section of the site called “Bringing People Indoors”; according to the update, the city counted 814 tents and 426 RVs citywide, and made a total of 191 offers of shelter, in June, out of 616 in the second quarter of 2022.

The city’s Human Services Department, which keeps tabs on shelter referrals leading up to and during encampment sweeps, breaks down its shelter referral numbers by both total number of referrals and the number of individual people who received referrals—a smaller number, since some people get more than one referral from the city’s HOPE team and contracted outreach providers.

Assuming the numbers on the dashboard were calculated the same way, and applying HSD’s estimate that 38 percent of shelter offers during the same period resulted in a person enrolling at a shelter for at least one night, that means—very roughly—that around 72 people from those 814 tents and 426 RVs spent any time at all time in a shelter bed.

Of course, there are caveats to those numbers. The first is that the number of shelter referrals listed on the dashboard is higher, by about 150, than HSD’s citywide estimate. (We’ve contacted HSD for an explanation of this seeming discrepancy). The second is that the number of people who get shelter referrals is slippery, because it may exclude some people who aren’t registered in the regional Homeless Management Information System, which tracks unhoused people as they access various services.

The third caveat speaks to a primary issue with Harrell’s “dashboard” itself: The information is very obviously incomplete, as it was when the website first debuted. Although it purports to show both the number of “verified” tents and RVs by neighborhood, along with the number of people removed from “closed” encampments designated by dots on a map, it’s obvious that the map isn’t comprehensive (with thousands of unsheltered people living in the city, there are clearly more than 426 tents in Seattle, for example) and a closer look at many “closed” encampments provides no information about what happened to the people living there, or even the number of people who were displaced.

The site also continues to misstate the amount of money the city contributes to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, padding the city’s direct contribution, around $70 million, with nearly $50 million in federal relief dollars for a total of $118 million. Harrell used the same inflated number when talking to police, telling them (according to KTTH’s Jason Rantz, who appears to have gotten a recording from an officer), “I’m funding an organization that seems to be working against what I’m trying to do” (removing encampments) and suggesting he might consider cutting their budget this year.

KCRHA director Marc Dones— clearly a thorn in Harrell’s side, based on the mayor’s many public comments about his frustration with the agency—has asked the city to not only renew its existing budget but give the agency tens of millions more to fund new high-acuity shelter beds; purchase buildings, such as hotels and single-family houses, to serve as “bridge” housing; and open several new safe parking lots for people who live in their vehicles.

In response to our request for comment about Harrell’s biting comments, the KCRHA provided a terse statement that says a lot by saying very little. “The Regional Homelessness Authority was designed as a community-wide effort, working together with all 39 cities, King County, businesses, philanthropy, housed and unhoused neighbors, in order to implement real solutions. With our partners, we are working to create vibrant, inclusive communities where everyone has a safe and stable place to live, and we can accomplish that goal when we work together,” the statement said.