Category: Mayor Murray

Morning Crank: Maybe He Meant Because No One Can Afford To Live There

1. I’ve known Mike Fong, Mayor Ed Murray’s chief of staff, since he worked as an aide to city council member Heidi Wills. In fact, he started at the city right around the same time I started covering city hall, in the late spring of 2001.

Back then, he looked like this:

After 16 years working for the city—as a council staffer and, for the past two years, the mayor’s chief of staff—Fong is leaving city hall behind. (Other mayoral staffers surely won’t be far behind him, as the seventh floor of City Hall empties out in anticipation of current Mayor Ed Murray’s departure in December). He isn’t going far, though—just across the street to the office of King County Executive Dow Constantine, where he’ll be chief operating officer, overseeing Constantine’s cabinet.

Fong has been at city hall (and not just THIS city hall—the old one, too) through some of the biggest stories (and transformations) in the city’s history—from Strippergate to the ouster of former City Light director Gary Zarker to the council’s review of then-mayor Greg Nickels’ response to the 2009 snow storm, which ultimately contributed to Nickels’ loss (to Mike McGinn) that year. During that time, the old City Hall itself was razed, Seattle’spopulation grew from around half a million people to more than 700,000, and Amazon’s value rose from $3.6 billion to more than $500 billion. But as far as I can tell, Mike hasn’t changed all that much. He’s the kind of easygoing, no-bullshit staffer journalists love—he doesn’t spin or offer bland talking points, and his grasp on policy is peerless—and the kind of guy I’d want on my side if I was an elected official with aspirations for higher office. I know I don’t speak just for myself when I say he’ll be missed at city hall.

2. Constantine’s office has seen quite a few shakeups recently, including the departure of his longtime chief of staff (and onetime aide to former mayor Greg Nickels) Sung Yang last month. Yang, who also moved to Constantine’s office after a long  career at the city, left to join Pacific Public Affairs, the consulting firm owned by Constantine’s former deputy chief of staff, Joe Woods. Rachel Smith, the county’s government relations director (and another former Nickels staffer), is Constantine’s new chief of staff. Constantine’s campaign manager, Mina Hashemi Mercer, is also reportedly leaving to become the next Director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, where she previously worked for two and a half years.

Constantine is eternally rumored to be considering a run for governor.

3. The city council’s housing and human services committee discussed legislation that would protect some people living in their vehicles from ticketing or towing for certain parking violations and provide them with access to services; in exchange, vehicle residents would register with the city and agree to abide by certain rules. The recommendations are designed to get people into permanent housing faster while recognizing the reality that homeless people don’t have the money to pay fines or get their vehicle out of impoundment. Another reality: Homeless people who lose their vehicles don’t just disappear; usually, they become homeless people living on the street, destabilized and in even more desperate straits.

North end neighborhood activists, including members of the so-called Neighborhood Safety Alliance, made familiar arguments yesterday against people living in RVs, claiming that they were responsible for an E. coli spike in Thornton Creek, accusing them of leaving literal “tons of garbage and human waste” all over neighborhoods, and suggesting that they, the north Seattle homeowners, might just decide to buy an RV and live in it so they, too, could enjoy the good life, exempt from rules and “homeowner taxes.”

One speaker, Phil Cochran, used his public comment time to demand that Mike O’Brien answer a “simple question.” Actually, he had two: “Do you believe that this ordinance will result in more RVs and more homeless junkies in the city of Seattle, yes or no?” and “What happens when some of these rolling meth labs—which we know they are—catch fire? Who should we sue?” Because public comment is not Adults Play High-School Debate time, O’Brien did not respond, except to say that he’d be happy to discuss the issue at literally any other time. And a member of the Interbay Neighborhood Association said the area around W Thorndyke Drive—at the base of Magnolia, near Dravus—was so totally taken over by RVs that that part of Magnolia is now “unlivable.”

Huh.

Maybe he meant “because no one who isn’t wealthy can afford to live there.”

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, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: Voluntary or Involuntary

1. In an agreement that allowed both sides to declare a partial victory, city council member Lorena Gonzalez announced this morning that she had accepted a proposal from Mayor Ed Murray to appoint a joint committee that will oversee the transition between Murray and the next mayor, whoever that will be—and whether that transition is “voluntary or involuntary,” as Gonzalez put it in a letter this morning.

Murray has said he has no plans to resign in light of recent revelations in the Seattle Tiems about allegations that he sexually abused his foster son in Oregon three decades ago. Although Gonzalez said last week that she would move to impeach Murray if he had not stepped down by today, it quickly became clear that most of her colleagues had no stomach for forcing the mayor out of office, which would require a finding that he had neglected his duties as mayor or committed an offense involving “moral turpitude” while in office.

Creating a transition committee, Gonzalez said Monday morning, “provides us with the opportunity to have assurances and an independent understanding of whether the mayor is continuing to be effective in his role as mayor, given his position that he will not resign.”

2. At the same meeting, Gonzalez suggested that the best way to stop Seattle police from disproportionately targeting black pedestrians for jaywalking tickets might be to decriminalize jaywalking altogether, especially if jaywalking tickets do nothing to discourage jaywalking, as Gonzalez believes research suggests.

“I don’t think having jaywalking ordinances actually deters people from jaywalking, and … I have a lot of questions about whether we should be criminalizing jaywalking at all,” Gonzalez said. “We are now hearing for the second or third time that this is a type of infraction that has disproportionate policing impacts on the black community, and I’m not sure what the public safety goal is that we hope to accomplish by having this infraction.”

3. Working Families for Teresa, the union-backed independent expenditure group working on behalf of City Council Position 8 candidate Terese Mosqueda, has received $100,000 in the past week from the political arms of five state unions—UFCW 21, the grocery workers’ union; SEIU 775, which represents low-paid health care workers; the AFL-CIO; the Washington State Labor Council; and the AFL-CIO-affiliated Washington State Labor Council, where Mosqueda works as political and strategic campaign director.

The pro-Mosqueda IE has not reported precisely where all the money is going, although SEIU 775 reports contributing some of its staff time toward a radio ad campaign.

Sara Nelson, a business-backed candidate for Position 8, also has an independent expenditure campaign working on her behalf—People for Sara Nelson, which is funded by the political arm of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, the Washington Hospitality Association, which represents the hotel and restaurant industry, Bellevue investor Jeffrey Gow, and Seattle developer Greg Smith and his wife, Monica Smith. People for Sara Nelson has raised about $82,000 (plus a $10,000 pledge from the real estate group NAIOP) and spent roughly $75,000 on online ads on Facebook, the Seattle Times, Geekwire, and elsewhere.

 

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, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

 

In Defense of Talking About Misogyny In a City That Hasn’t Had a Female Mayor in 92 Years

The other night, I went to a play that has been universally praised by critics for its bold portrayal of racial divisions in America, and the complicity we all share, liberals and conservatives, Southerners and West-Coast elites, in perpetuating racism, racial disparities and race-based violence in America. (In the play, a diverse group of kids at Berkeley decide to go to a small town Georgia where one of them grew up and stage a fake lynching—and things go about as badly as possible).

What none of the reviews I read mentioned was that the chief villain of the show—the person at the center of every bad decision that leads to a disaster—is a dingbat white feminist who personifies cultural appropriation, wearing her blonde hair in dreadlocks (the show includes numerous references to “Medusa” if you didn’t get the point) and claiming to be “one-eighth Native American.” Candace is the one who comes up the lynching idea, the one who eggs the guys on when they want to drop out (the one who does participate is trying to impress her), and flees the scene when things go bad—showing back up so, ahem, hysterical that she can’t manage to explain what happened to her, setting off another cascade of calamities. In the end, the three male friends are complicated, flawed—and ultimately redeemable. The lone woman, having served her role as the foil for male redemption, is unredeemed.

After I came home, I started thinking about “Get Out,” a movie I loved with one massive caveat—its reliance on a lazy, misogynistic trope about white women seducing men of color with the intent to harm them. (It’s the same reason many of Spike Lee’s movies are hard to love). Few of the raves I read mentioned the thread of misogyny that ran through that storyline, either.

And then I got to thinking about all the other ways in which women are expected to ignore misogyny in discussions of other kinds of oppression, as if a person’s gender has nothing to do with how they experience the US economy, or job opportunities, or racism, ageism, disablism, and homophobia. (Why are you whining that Bernie doesn’t talk about abortion? All those women’s issues will be taken care of when he fixes the economy!)

And then I saw on Facebook that a white female candidate, Jessyn Farrell, had been asked for at least the second time if she planned to step aside for another candidate. In this case, the candidate was Nikkita Oliver, a woman of color; in the other, it was Mayor Ed Murray, who was contemplating a write-in run. Oliver and Farrell’s platforms are about as far apart as Kshama Sawant’s and Tim Burgess’, at least on issues like density, HALA, and rent control. Imagine, for a moment, someone posing this question to Mike McGinn: “There’s another man in this race. He has a completely different platform than you and your policy positions are diametrically opposed, but have you considered stepping aside to help him win?” No one asks this question of men. Men are unique, each with their own individual platform and set of beliefs that makes them fundamentally different than all the other men seeking the same position. Women, on the other hand—women are fungible. And there can be too many of them.

And then, while marveling at the fact that we’re asking whether there are too many women in the race when Seattle hasn’t elected a female mayor in 92 years, I remembered that the King County Democrats endorsed an all-male slate of candidates in a year when four of the top six candidates for Seattle mayor are women.

And then I thought about another conversation I had in the last couple of days, this one on Facebook, about the ways in which women’s unpaid labor often goes uncredited and unthanked in “progressive” political communities, even as men sign their names to their work and take the credit and bask in the spotlight.

And then I heard an appalling work story from a friend that convinced me we have so much more than we even imagined, right here in Seattle, to address misogyny and negative assumptions about ambitious women who work in fields where women don’t “belong.”

And then I thought about all the women I’ve known over the years, but especially young women, who are discouraged from running from office because they’re “too young” or “aren’t ready,” or who just decide those things themselves, because of all the training we all get, starting at birth, that we have to work twice as hard for half the credit, and that even then the worst thing for a woman to be is ambitious.

And then someone pointed out to me that in its profile of Jessyn Farrell, the Stranger interviewed her father (and did not interview the fathers of the male candidates for mayor). His quote is about what she was like in middle school.

And then of a specific female candidate who was asked to drop out more than 10 years ago, by women, which reminded me once again that misogyny doesn’t come only from men; it can also be internalized.

And then I asked on Twitter: Why is it okay for men to repeatedly ask women, and only women, to step aside?

I haven’t gotten an answer yet.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please considerbecoming 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, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Murray: Durkan Won’t Be “Divisive”; Has “Best Chance of Winning”

Mayoral candidates hoping to breathe a sigh of relief at Mayor Ed Murray’s announcement that he will not run a write-in campaign were likely disappointed this morning—unless their name happened to be Jenny Durkan. Polling strongly suggests that Murray’s decision to stay out of the race and endorse Durkan will be a boon to the former federal prosecutor, who is already seen as the runaway frontrunner in the 21-person mayoral primary. Two polls last week suggested that Murray still enjoys strong public support despite allegations of sexual abuse, including a lawsuit that has since been dropped.  However—as Murray acknowledged today—a write-in campaign is “complicated,” and polls showing support for the mayor don’t necessarily translate into write-in votes. What they do translate into is a powerful endorsement.

As I wrote one week ago: 

If he doesn’t, the poll results could suggest something else—that Murray’s endorsement could provide a real boost to one of the frontrunners. … Murray’s endorsement could help push [Durkan] from frontrunner to inevitable status, and his endorsement for another candidate (say, Jessyn Farrell, who worked with Murray briefly in Olympia, where they were both state legislators) could shake up the race.

“While the poll showed a pathway forward if I were to get into the race, as with most write-in campaigns, that path was narrow and uncertain,” Murray said. Citing his work with Durkan going back to the “dark days” of the early 1990s, when anti-LGBTQ activists were fighting against anti-discrimination laws, Murray said Durkan “has the experience, the temperament, the political skills, and the strong relationships regionally and nationally to move this city forward in a very uncertain time.” Then he asked his supporters to “rally around” Durkan.

Murray said the lawsuit, which accuser Delvonn Heckard has said he may revive at some point in the future, was a factor in his decision not to run, as was a Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission ruling that he couldn’t seek contributions to help defray his legal costs. “It’s really reprehensible and goes against our race and social justice initiatives in the city, because it’s a disincentive for folks who come from lower economic backgrounds and minorities to run,” Murray said. “People get charged with or accused of things all the time. I personally had to look at the fact that I have huge legal bills that my husband has had to take on the burden of, and if I became mayor again I wasn’t going to be able to pay those off.”

Jessyn Farrell, a former state legislator who worked briefly with Murray in Olympia, had been seeking his endorsement. Asked why he had decided to support Durkan instead, Murray said, “It wasn’t a matter of not endorsing Jessyn. It was more a matter of that, in my conversation with Jenny, she had the best chance of winning.”

Murray wouldn’t say which candidate, besides himself and Durkan, ranked in the top three candidates in his poll. But he did throw some shade at one contender—Mike McGinn, the former mayor he defeated in 2013: “The transition I had was that my predecessor was unwilling to meet with me and we inherited an office with basically no paper,” Murray said. “I want to actually have a transition that represents what is best for our city. I don’t want to go back to the politics I faced in 2013 about who is politically correct, who is left enough. That is only divisive.”

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please considerbecoming 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.

Morning Crank: If the Election Were Held Today

If you’re still wondering what to make of two polls that showed mayoral candidates Jenny Durkan, Bob Hasegawa, and Mike McGinn leading unless incumbent Mayor Ed Murray steps in as a write-in candidate, it’s helpful to remember two salient facts: 1) Polls that show nearly half of voters still undecided don’t reveal much (and are largely referenda on name recognition) and 2) robo-polls—polls that use computerized systems instead of human callers—tend to be less reliable than live surveys. Both the Washington State Wire poll, by Wilson Research, and the KING 5/KUOW poll, by Survey USA, relied wholly or in part on robo-polling. Survey USA used “the recorded voice of a professional announcer” for landline respondents and sent a written form to people they reached on their cell phones; Wilson Strategic’s robo-poll was limited to people with land line phones, who tend to skew older and more conservative.

The KING 5/KUOW poll found that McGinn was the frontrunner with 19 percent of voters saying they would likely choose the former mayor, followed by Durkan with 14 percent support. The Washington State Wire poll had Durkan in the lead with 30 percent support, followed by Hasegawa with just under 9 percent. (Hasegawa got 8 percent in the KING 5/KUOW poll and McGinn got just over 6 percent in the Washington State Wire poll.) A high percentage of respondents to both polls said they hadn’t made their mind up yet or didn’t choose a candidate—45 percent in the Washington State Wire poll, and 38 percent in the KING 5/KUOW poll.

Both polls asked some version of the question, “If Mayor Ed Murray was in the race, would you vote for him?” (Twenty-two percent of Washington State Wire respondents, and 33 percent of KING 5/KUOW respondents, said they would.) But, again, it’s worth pausing before interpreting those results. Mayor Murray is not going to be “on the ballot” (as the KING 5/KUOW poll put it) August, so that question misses the mark; a better question would be, “If Mayor Ed Murray reentered the race as a write-in candidate, would you write his name on your ballot?” Write-in campaigns  are tricky because they require voters to take an extra step: Ignore all 21 names that are actually on the ballot, and write in “Ed Murray” on the bottom line. I’d be very curious to see how that question played in a poll, robo- or otherwise. That said, 33 percent is more than a strong showing in a 22-way race—it’s practically a landslide. (In 2013, the incumbent, Mike McGinn, took 29 percent in the primary—and, of course, went on to lose to Murray).

At a press conference on Wednesday, Murray said he was putting a poll in the field next week and will decide whether he will run a write-in campaign after he sees the results.

If he doesn’t, the poll results could suggest something else—that Murray’s endorsement could provide a real boost to one of the frontrunners. Durkan has Murray’s former consultant and Sandeep Kaushik, as well as money from many of his donors, along with a sizeable fundraising lead; Murray’s endorsement could help push her from frontrunner to inevitable status, and his endorsement for another candidate (say, Jessyn Farrell, who worked with Murray briefly in Olympia, where they were both state legislators) could shake up the race.

2. Speaking of fundraising: As of last week, Durkan had raised $256,814, with $41,165 of that coming in last week alone. Cary Moon, with $88,912 ($770 last week), came i second in fundraising, although that number is somewhat misleading; $38,169 of it came from Moon’s personal funds. Nikkita Oliver is next with $57,365 ($6,576 of that last week), followed by Jessyn Farrell ($54,111, $10,472 last week), Mike McGinn ($29,269, $35 of it last week) and Bob Hasegawa, who has $6,279 in personal funds but is barred from fundraising while the state legislature is in session.

So other than the conventional wisdom that Durkan is the “establishment” frontrunner, what do those numbers tell us? First, they say something about momentum, which Durkan, Farrell, and Oliver (seem to) have, and McGinn and Moon (seem to) lack. Second, it confirms that—as she herself said when she got into the race—Moon, whose net worth is second only to Durkan’s among the mayoral candidates, will self-fund her own campaign if necessary.  And third, it suggests that McGinn may have less momentum, despite his high name recognition, than he did in the past. By this point in 2009, McGinn had raised more money ($38,775), and was receiving new contributions at a faster pace ($6,232 during the same period in 2009), than he has this year.

 

3. The 43rd District Democrats opted not to endorse for or against King County Proposition 1, which would provide science and arts education and access to cultural opportunities for low-income kids, after executive board vice chair Tara Gallagher rose, announced that “King County council member Larry Gossett couldn’t be here” to speak against the measure, and read a voter’s guide statement that was written by King County Council member Larry Gossett, a Democrat, and [mumble].” The mumbled part, which one person present said was inaudible, was “Dino Rossi”—the failed Republican gubernatorial candidate who is currently filling the 45th District state senate seat previously held by Republican Andy Hill, who died last year. The statement bears Gossett’s imprimatur—suggesting that arts are a frivolous expenditure when people are homeless—but also, undeniably, Rossi’s; it reads, in part, “An unelected board would control over half-a-billion dollars of taxes which lacks accountability.  King County’s arts community is already well funded.”

In another surprise move, the 43rd also not only declined to endorse incumbent King County Sheriff John Urquhart, as at least 16 other Democratic groups have done, but gave their sole endorsement to his opponent, Mitzi Johanknecht, a 32-year veteran of the department who has worked to break down barriers for women at the sheriff’s office.

King County recently settled a lawsuit by one current and two former deputies who say Urquhart retaliated against them for reporting gender and sexual harassment, including rape jokes and crotch-grabbing; the county settled a similar lawsuit for $1 million in 2013. A former deputy has accused Urquhart of raping her in 2002, and the lawsuit also accused him of ordering internal investigators not to document or investigate those charges.

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.

 

“Fair Chance Housing” is “Ban the Box” for Tenants—with Exceptions

Mayor Ed Murray and city council member Lisa Herbold released a draft of legislation earlier today aimed at making it easier for people with criminal records to find housing by barring landlords from requesting information about most kinds of criminal convictions. The legislation, which is certain to be challenged by the city’s vocal landlord lobby, is aimed at addressing one of the key challenges people with criminal histories face when trying to rebuild their lives—many landlords use criminal records to weed out applicants—one reason, Herbold said, that an average of 85 people exit jail directly into homelessness in Washington State every month.

“This is about addressing a homelessness crisis that we have partially created ourselves,” Herbold said.

And yet, the bill undermines those premises in a couple of ways. First, it exempts small landlords—those with four units or fewer, including backyard cottages or basement apartments—if they live on the premises. This suggests that, despite all those whereases, that people with criminal histories are somehow dangerous—after all, the legislation explicitly protects landlords from having to live next to them.

The legislation would prohibit landlords from advertising that they don’t accept tenants with criminal records, and would bar them from asking prospective tenants about convictions that are more than two years old, juvenile records, convictions that have been expunged, criminal charges that did not result in a conviction, or pending charges. It would allow landlords to refuse to rent to someone on the state sex-offender registry.

“Fair-chance” housing legislation was one of the recommendations proposed as part of the the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) back in 2015, and is of a piece with other proposals to reduce recidivism and homelessness among people, primarily men of color, who have served their sentences. “Ban the Box” legislation that passed in 2013 prohibits employers from asking prospective hires about their criminal records during their initial employment screening.

The proposal includes nearly five pages of “whereas” clauses enumerating the reasons for the bill, including the fact that nearly one in three adults in the US has a criminal record; studies showing that people with stable housing are less likely to reoffend; the existence of persistent racial bias in both criminal justice and housing; and the fact that “there is no sociological research establishing a relationship between a criminal record and an unsuccessful tenancy.”

And yet, the bill undermines those premises in a couple of ways. First, it exempts small landlords—those with four units or fewer, including backyard cottages or basement apartments—if they live on the premises. This suggests that, despite all those whereases, that people with criminal histories are somehow dangerous—after all, the legislation explicitly protects landlords from having to live next to them.

Second, by requiring prospective tenants to run out a two-year clock before they can benefit from the bill’s protections, the legislation could set up some people with recent criminal history to fail (and reoffend); after all, as one of those “whereas” clauses says, “research shows higher recidivism occurs within the first two years of release and is mitigated when individuals have access to safe and affordable housing and employment.”

When I asked Murray why the bill includes so many exemptions, he said, “There are disagreements over the number of years, how far you should go back, that we have not been able to reach agreement with landlords on. There’s some challenges for us to meet all of their concerns.” Then he kicked the question over to Office for Civil Rights policy manager Brenda Anibarro, who said, “that two-year [exemption] was an attempt to address some of [landlords’] concerns … We had participated in [the outreach] process for a straight year. We wanted to give them something on that. So that’s where that two year lookback comes from, and the same with the exemptions.”

One issue the legislation does not address is how people coming out of prison will be able to afford housing in Seattle even if they are no longer hindered by their criminal history. Advocates are trying to convince King County to add another three cents to the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services levy, on the countywide ballot in November, to fund affordable housing for people with criminal convictions as well as active drug users.

Herbold was the only council member present at today’s press conference, which was held on Murray’s turf—the 7th-floor Norm B. Rice conference room on the 7th floor of City Hall. Asked whether she had the votes to pass the “fair-chance” legislation, Herbold said she hadn’t done a vote count yet; “I would not let having five votes be a prerequisite for the mayor sending the bill down,” she said.

Herbold’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts committee will hold a public hearing on the legislation at City Hall on July 13 at 5pm.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Scott Lindsay

Image result for scott lindsay seattle

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.

Scott Lindsay, Mayor Ed Murray’s onetime public safety advisor and a former senior counsel to US Rep. Elijah Cummings in Washington, D.C., was best known, until recently, as the guy the mayor sent to neighborhood and city council meetings to defend his encampment removal policies. Since he announced he would challenge incumbent city attorney Pete Holmes in April, however, Lindsay has won some surprising endorsements from erstwhile Holmes supporters like Harriet Walden and Lisa Daugaard, two members of the Community Police Commission and longtime advocates for police accountability and reform. The CPC soured on Holmes when he proposed delaying police reform legislation earlier this year, on the grounds that it created a CPC that was too large and sprawling to pass muster with the federal judge overseeing the consent decree between Seattle and the federal Department of Justice. Daugaard told me in April that she also felt Holmes had not done enough to advocate for defendants who “serve long sentences on cases with excessive probation, are held in lieu of bail because they are poor, and are made to give up their trial rights to get services.”

I sat down with Lindsay at Zeitgeist Coffee in Pioneer Square last month.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: As a political unknown running for a fairly obscure office in a mayoral-election year, you’re going to have to make a compelling case against the incumbent. So, lay out the argument against Pete.

Scott Lindsay (SL): The best thing going for Pete Holmes is that he’s kept such a low profile for that office. But when you actually dig under the surface, there’s deep dysfunction in our criminal justice system. The King County Jail is filled with misdemeanor defendants whose underlying issue is homelessness and addiction. Words that have never come out of Pete Holmes’ mouth are in any way talking about heroin or the effects of substance use disorders on the defendant population in the criminal justice system, or actual ways that he could provide leadership to fundamentally start to change the way that we engage with that population. How do we actually change outcomes instead of just going through these cycles of arrest and release? Because the outcomes that we’re getting now have been terrible for defendants stuck in the cycle, and terrible for neighborhoods, and terrible for those who are actually stuck with the consequences of the failures of our criminal justice system.

“Words that have never come out of Pete Holmes’ mouth are in any way talking about heroin or the effects of substance use disorders on the defendant population.”

Let me give you a couple specific examples. So while these were imperfect, at least we used to have specialty courts—mental health court, drug court, which is at Superior Court, and community court. Now, those started with imperfect designs, but rather than provide any leadership about how to really fix them, those courts, in effect, have died on the vine. Referrals into mental health court are way down, and it’s vastly underutilized and may shut down because of underutilization, and community court has been shut down, and Pete Holmes has done nothing to replace it. So now everybody’s just going mainstream. Where are the innovations? Where’s the vision? Where’s the leadership?

Pete has had eight years to lead on a lot of these things, and he’s no longer a leader on many criminal justice issues. He does not have a vision, and after eight years has not articulated a vision, for how we can use our criminal justice system to help address the real public safety issues and social issues and public health issues that we have in the city. We invest a lot of money in our criminal justice system and in the city attorney’s office, and they have more [contact with] people struggling with homelessness and substance use disorders, practically, than our human services department. Our criminal justice system is in effect, by default, one of the largest social service organizations that we have. We just don’t think of it in that way, and it’s not actually producing outcomes that anybody can be proud of.

“The Navigation Team was my idea, and I worked to get that created over the course of a year against a lot of institutional reluctance to do things in very different ways.”

ECB: Until you declared your candidacy with a platform focused on police oversight and accountability, I think it’s fair to say that you were viewed as one of the more conservative members of the mayor’s staff, especially by neighborhood activists who wanted the mayor to do more to clean up homeless camps.

SL: I think I have a reputation as a guy who actually listens, tries to figure out what’s going on, and then tries to come up with innovations and creative resolutions. But I am willing to take on the tough and controversial issues. I’ve been the leader within the [mayor’s] office on supervised consumption—not exactly a law and order topic. I was the leader on the heroin epidemic and asking how we can get more prevention, more user health care, more treatment options. I was the leader on, how do we get much better services to our homeless population and shift from a two-decade-old sweeps policy to a more compassionate approach?

But I also believe, absolutely, that we have some very real public safety challenges in this city, and it doesn’t help anyone to not talk about that in open ways. Up in the north end, we have  a lot of public safety complaints about what’s going on in Mineral Springs Park—needles and drug dealing and tents and other issues—so it’s obviously a real struggle for the neighborhood. At the same time, we had a lot of real people suffering and living in conditions that were tragic for them. We have to have a discussion about how we resolve both of those things and tie them together, rather than talk about homelessness in ways that don’ t actually connect to a lot of what’s happening on the ground.

“It’s the responsibility of the city to step in and intervene and separate out the really bad actors who prey on the weak and vulnerable from people who are struggling with public health diseases.”

ECB: The city has organized a “Navigation Team” made up of cops, outreach workers, and service providers to offer services to people living in encampments before they remove them. The numbers the city released recently show that about 160 people entered an “alternative living arrangement,” which is a big jump from where we were before but a drop in the bucket relative to the total number who need help. What’s your assessment of those results?

SL: The Navigation Team was my idea, and I worked to get that created over the course of a year against a lot of institutional reluctance to do things in very different ways. The idea of taking police officers and having them have a really social service focus, I think, is radical. It took a lot of work to convince all the powers that be that that was the right way to go, and I will absolutely say that 160 people sleeping indoors is an incredible number in 11 weeks, as compared to the success that we historically have gotten out of plain outreach efforts. I would be very surprised if we got 150 people indoors in all of 2016, coming in from hardened, really unsafe situations.

ECB: But not all are indoors—in fact, about half of them were simply moved to other encampments.

SL: Of course, and absolutely, authorized encampments are only a temporary solution, but we have to find some better options. And if you look a little bit deeper at what’s going on at some of the unauthorized encampments, where they’re at a critical mass, you have real predatory behavior and people who are taking advantage of the homeless people, who are the most vulnerable in our city, and exploiting them in terrible ways. That’s exploiting teenage girls, it’s exploiting people with mental illnesses, it’s exploiting people with substance use disorders, and as a result, terrible things happen to those people. It’s the responsibility of the city to step in and intervene and separate out the really bad actors who prey on the weak and vulnerable from people who are struggling with public health diseases, and that’s very often mental illness and most often substance use disorders. As a city, we are absolutely getting crushed by the heroin epidemic, and it is tragic and terrible, and a lot of the folks who are falling into that trap are really young people. If you go and you talk to Youthcare [an organization that works to get homeless kids off the streets], six years ago, they say one in five of the people who came into Orion Center [a youth shelter and drop-in center] were IV drug users. Today, it’s four in five. That’s almost an entire generation that either will be lost, or we have to find ways to help them out of that and break that cycle.

“If you ask SPD about, say, property crime in the north end, they will say that it would be difficult to find one person among 300 [for whom] the underlying cause of their criminal behavior was not a heroin addiction. They would say easily 99 percent if not 100 percent.”

ECB: When the city decided to locate the new low-barrier Navigation Center shelter in the Chinatown International District, they got a lot of pushback from the community, who said they hadn’t been consulted on the decision, and ultimately, the opening was postponed. What did you think of how your boss at the time, Mayor Murray, handled the outreach for the Navigation Center?

SL: It very obviously did not go well. I wasn’t involved intimately in the siting decisions, but that did not go well. I think when you dig into that, I’ve spent more time working on issues within Chinatown and the International District than any other neighborhood in the city, and they have very real issues with street safety and low level crimes associated with people who are struggling with substance use disorders, and we have not, as a city, figured out how to provide them with support. Ultimately, the Navigation Center will be part of that, but we also have to be very clear and articulate what we’re doing to provide relief to that community, which is under a lot of strain. There are a lot of mom and pop business with very slim margins that are open early in the morning and late at night. and they feel under real duress from what’s happening in their neighborhood, and they’re very unhappy about it.

ECB: Do you think the Law Enforcement-Assisted Diversion program, which provides pre-booking diversion for low-level offenders in  part of the center city, should be expanded citywide?

SL: LEAD is exactly the type of innovative program that is addressing people who are struggling with substance use disorder, and most often most of their clients are struggling with homelessness, and the idea is break them out of the criminal justice system, which is completely failing to address the root causes of their behavior, and try and have interventions that can actually break them out of the cycle. Let’s take that in contrast to the rest of our criminal justice system right now. The King County jail, today, is filled with misdemeanant defendants who who are struggling with substance use disorder, many of whom have mental illness, and most of whom are also homeless. We are doing nothing at the misdemeanor level to effectively intervene to break them out of the cycle. We know that incarceration alone as a strategy to change their behavior does not work. We know that not incarcerating them, not taking any action, does not change behavior. So we need to radically rethink what we’re doing to come up with new solutions to intervene, and LEAD is one fantastic example of that strategy, which is, get them at the front end. Get them out of the criminal justice system and intervene with significant behavioral health interventions.

ECB: As I recall, you’ve said before that we need to prosecute drug offenders more, and argued that we’ve effectively legalized heroin in Seattle. Can you speak to that?

SL: Just as a fact right now, the city makes very few drug arrests and our filing standards related to drug arrests are fairly low, so almost no one in the city is being prosecuted for simple possession of heroin or crack or anything else. And I’m okay with that. But if we are going to make that policy decision, then we also have to figure out what are the ways we address actually changing their behavior. When you look at crime maps of Seattle, there is an absolute correlation between where we have major hubs of drug activity—open-air drug markets—and where we have the most criminal activity, from car prowl to burglary to assaults to shootings. So we can say we’re not going to arrest somebody for possession of heroin, and I think that’s right, but at the same time we’re arresting them for property crimes where the underlying root cause of why they’re engaging in property crimes is because they have a heroin addiction. So we’re still interfacing with the same crowd through our criminal justice system, we’re just doing it through different mechanisms. And what hasn’t’ changed, and what’s very frustrating to me, is that our criminal justice systems at the misdemeanor level, but also at the felony level, have not really reoriented or adjusted to focus on public health solutions to these public safety challenges. That is, you have to address the substance use if you’re going to break the cycle of the behavior, and if you’re going to address the substance use, you have to address the homelessness.

Literally right now, just based on King County jail data for repeat offenders in the municipal system, we know that 60-plus percent of them are struggling with substance use disorders. And I swear that that is a significant underreporting, because there are a whole bunch of incentives not to admit to your substance use issues during intake into King County Jail. If you ask SPD about, say, property crime in the north end, they will say that it would be difficult to find one person among 300 [for whom] the underlying cause of their criminal behavior was not a heroin addiction. They would say easily 99 percent if not 100 percent.

ECB: So what’s your policy solution for those problems?

SL: The radical rethink here is to, in effect, focus intense resources through both diversion and/or using the criminal justice system to get people who are struggling with substance use disorders and homelessness the actual help and solutions they need. So how do we do that? One, citywide expansion of LEAD. Two is, we actually need to get defendants who are in the King County Jail the drug treatment that they need, and then when they’re exiting that system, they need to exit into something that is not just reentry back into the system. Right now, our system takes them in, holds them in for a few days, spits them out, waits for them not to show up back in court, and then issues a bench warrant for them. And that goes on and on and on until they have lots of outstanding bench warrants and are never getting the treatment that they need. We need buprenorphine induction available on demand to anybody who wants it in the King County Jail. And then next, we need to make sure that they’re not exiting straight back in to homelessness. And then a third part of the reform piece is simply bail reform. Our system right now is still a money-based bail system. That doesn’t make sense when most of our misdemeanor defendants—non-DUI, non-domestic violence misdemeanor —are impoverished and/or homeless and don’t have the resources to be able to work t through our bail system.

I’ve got a lot of respect for Pete Holmes’ history as an advocate for police reform going back to his days on the police review board in the mid-2000s. He was an early leader. And I also have a lot of respect for the approach he took in insisting on the consent decree as the model for achieving police reform here in Seattle. But Holmes disappeared for a long time from the kind of heart of the discussion, [including] police reform, the consent decree, and the larger civilian oversight and [Community Police Commission] discussion. And when he was absent from those, that’s when I was right in the middle of it as special assistant for police reform to the mayor,  working sometimes until 1 in the morning with CPC leaders, with Lisa Daugaard, with the ACLU, with Harriett, with many others. We hammered out some really significant civil oversight legislative proposals and a detailed plan, and at that point, Holmes came back in and he decided that he wanted  to redo that process, and they started over, and here we are a year and a half later and we’re basically at the same point where we were when I departed. And I departed from this issue because after negotiating in good faith for a year and a half with the CPC, I felt that the rug was being pulled out from beneath us. From my perspective, speaking separately from the mayor’s office, I thought it was particularly unfair for him to have been absent from much of the hard work of those discussions and then come back in and say, ‘Let’s start over and I am going to run a new process and that process is going to look like this.’  I thought that rhere were ways to get to the result that we’re at today faster, and frankly, I think if you go and ask the CPC members—Lisa and Harriett are only two, but I think there are plenty of others—there’s a lot of frustration with the way that Holmes has actually handled police reform over the last two years.

Morning Crank: An Insurmountable Impact to Quality of Life

1. The King County Regional Policy Committee, which includes members of the Seattle City Council and King County Council as well as several suburban mayors, voted yesterday to move a proposal to renew and expand the King County Veterans and Human Services levy (now known as the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy) one step closer to the November ballot. The committee debated, but didn’t take a position on, the size of the levy, which under a proposal by King County Executive Dow Constantine would increase from five to 12 cents per $1,000 of property valuation. Kent Mayor Suzette Cook, a member of the Sound Cities Association of suburban cities, proposed reducing the renewal measure from 12 cents to 10, while advocates for seniors and people with criminal convictions in the audience advocated an increase to 15, which would represent a tripling of the levy.

The testimony, which stretched more than an hour, whipsawed between senior citizens praising Constantine for including seniors in his proposal, and advocates for active drug users and people with criminal convictions asking the committee to add programs that provide housing for those hard-to-house groups to the levy. Not This Time founder Andre Taylor’s testimony about being unable to rent an apartment in Seattle because of a conviction 20 years ago was followed moments later by an advocate for senior citizens who are losing their sight. Although both groups wore green scarves to symbolize their support for increasing the levy, those who supported housing for people with criminal convictions and active drug users hung an additional symbol—an orange strip of fabric—around their necks; none of the people wearing green scarves spoke in favor of the proposal, possibly because housing senior citizens is much less contentious than housing active drug users and people with criminal convictions.

“Everybody lives somewhere,” Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard said. “If it is on the street and in public, in our cities and in unincorporated King County, that is an insurmountable impact to quality of life,” both for people who can’t find housing and people who encounter them on the street. Most housing for people with substance use disorders require total abstinence from drugs and alcohol, which gets the equation exactly backward; for people living on the street, getting clean and sober can be an insurmountable challenge, but harm-reduction studies have shown consistently that people’s quality of life improves once they have housing, even if they keep using drugs or alcohol.

The levy proposal now heads to the county council, which will send a final version back to the committee by July.

2. In response to news that billionaire investor and Celtics minority owner David Bonderman, a key player in the Oak View Group of investors that Mayor Ed Murray recently selected to rebuild Key Arena, had resigned from the board of Uber after making sexist comments, Murray said yesterday, “businesses that wish to partner with the City of Seattle must share our values of equity and inclusion. Because of the negative impact of attitudes and comments like these, we will engage with Oak View Group during our negotiation to ensure our partnership is built on and reflective of Seattle’s values.” Asked what form that “engagement” will take, mayoral spokesman Benton Strong said that was “being discussed.”

3. Former 46th District state Rep. Jessyn Farrell won the straw poll and went home with a slightly crumpled straw cowboy hat at conclusion of the the 34th District Democrats’ mayoral forum in West Seattle last night, after two rounds of questions that initially winnowed ten candidates (including unfamiliar faces like SPD officer James Norton and business consultant Tinell Cato) down to three familiar ones (former US Attorney Jenny Durkan, vFarrell, and current 11th District state Sen. Bob Hasegawa), then two (Farrell and Hasegawa) then one.

A few things I heard last night, in no particular order:

Michael Harris, TV producer and tailored-suit aficionado, on what he’d bring to the table as mayor: “The ethic that I’ve learned as an ABC producer is that I get I there and immerse.”

Mike McGinn, former mayor: “We tax regressively. We need to spend progressively. I would hold the line on sales taxes and property taxes.”

Jenny Durkan, on the need to keep Seattle’s neighborhoods unique in the future: “If you held a gun to some people’s heads and said, ‘You have to move from West Seattle to Capitol Hill,’ they would say, ‘No way.'”

Jessyn Farrell, on her solution for “food deserts” like Delridge, where grocery stores are few and far between: “There’s a real role for government to step in. By using incentives and disincentives we can foster more small businesses and [reduce] barriers. We could be asking grocery stores to do more when we’re granting permits.”

Hasegawa, same question: “I’m all for supporting mom and pop grocery stores to start up in the neighborhoods, but the easier way is to really build out our transit system so people can get where they want to go easily.”

Hasegawa, on how he would pay for that: “A municipal bank.”

Hasegawa, asked whether he would prefer to have lots of homeless children or lots of homeless single men. “I’m a politician, I guess we’ll work through [the question.]” (Proceeds to talk out the clock.)

Jenny Durkan, on whether it’s appropriate for schools to employ uniformed SPD officers  as “community resource officers”: “One of things we found out from SPD’s own data  is that 75 percent of the time, when an officer used force, it was either someone in a mental health crisis or under the influence of drugs and alcohol.” (Proceeds to talk out the clock.)

McGinn, on whether he supports or opposes the soda tax that just passed (everyone else held up their “no” signs): ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Everybody, on whether the city should annex North Highline, an unincorporated area near White Center: “¯\_(ツ)_/¯”

The 34th District Democrats did not make a formal endorsement last night.

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.

Morning Crank: Seen and Not Heard

Image result for oak view group arena seattle

1. One of the lead investors for Oak View Group’s winning bid to redevelop Key Arena, billionaire investor and Boston Celtics minority owner David Bonderman, resigned from the board of Uber yesterday after cracking a sexist joke about female leaders during a company-wide meeting of the ridesharing company.  The meeting was aimed at addressing sexual harassment and hostile working conditions for women at Uber. Bonderman made the comment as board member Ariana Huffington was trying to explain how having one woman on a company’s board made it more likely that more women would join when Bonderman interrupted her and, according to the Washington Post, said, “Actually, what it shows is, it’s much likely there’ll be more talking.” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick took a leave of absence this week, promising to come back as “Travis 2.0,” after ignoring complaints of sexual harassment at the company for years.

Bonderman issued a statement apologizing for his “joke” and is no longer on the board. Still, in the wake of a massive online effort to silence the five female council members who voted against the other stadium deal, should Seattle be inking an arena agreement with a guy who “jokes” that women should be seen and not heard?

2. Fundraising for the August (really mid-July) mayoral election kicked into high gear last month, particularly for presumptive frontrunner Jenny Durkan, who raised more than $160,000 in May and has continued to bring in donations at a steady pace in June. Durkan’s contributors are a who’s who of the Seattle political establishment, ranging from developers (Martin Smith III, Martin Smith Real Estate) to current and former city council members (Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, Jan Drago), philanthropists (Dorothy Bullitt) and ex-governors (Christine Gregoire and her husband Mike).

Civic activist Cary Moon came in second in fundraising this month, with $67,800, including $250 from city council member Mike O’Brien. O’Brien also contributed $250 to Nikkita Oliver, an attorney and criminal justice reform advocate who is also running for mayor. So far, O’Brien has not thrown any financial support to former mayor Mike McGinn, a close O’Brien ally during McGinn’s 2009-2013 term. Overall, McGinn raised less money in May than not just Moon and Durkan but Oliver, and only shows higher fundraising numbers than former state representative Jessyn Farrell because Farrell was barred from campaigning for most of the month, until she resigned her state position; yesterday, Farrell announced that she had raised more than $50,000.

Meanwhile, incumbent Mayor Ed Murray, who announced last month that he would not seek reelection, returned $8,825 in contributions in May, including donations from Bullitt Foundation founder Dorothy Bullitt, developer Richard Hedreen, and at least three members of the mayor’s own staff: Ryan Biava, Joe Mirabella, and Drue Nyenhuis, who received refunds of $350, $375, and $500, respectively.

I’ve put together a spreadsheet showing how the candidates’ fundraising stacks up for May, which I’ll update as new numbers for that month come in; the sheet includes a few notable contributions as well as a somewhat eye-popping expenditure by mayoral candidate Michael Harris, a self-proclaimed “no-new-taxes” candidate who announced his campaign on a conservative radio talk show. Harris, according to his filings, spent $1,386 on “alterations for candidate’s clothing” at Nordstrom.

3. By the end of this year, if all goes according to plan, I’ll have lived in three different apartments, and at least two city council districts, over a three-year period. As a renter, that’s just part of the deal: My last landlord (this guy) raised my rent without addressing some major problems with the place, and my current apartment costs too much for a studio unit in an old house that’s held together with duct tape, 100 years of paint, and prayers that SDCI doesn’t knock on the door. That means that I’ll have to re-register to vote at my new address—something homeowners never have to think about, but renters are supposed to take care of every time they move.

Naturally, between scrambling to come up with first, last, and deposit, arranging for movers or renting a U-Haul, setting up heat, electricity, Internet, and water, and filing dozens of change-of-address forms, tenants sometimes forget that they have to re-register if they want to vote. This has consequences; according to the US Census, just 21 percent of renters who moved in the last year voted in the most recent election, compared to 41 percent who had lived in their residence for five years or more.

Yesterday,  the city council’s energy and environment committee voted unanimously to move forward with legislation that will add voter registration and change-of-address information to the packets that landlords must give tenants when they sign or renew their leases. The proposal, council staffer Aly Pennucci noted, has been controversial among some landlords, who have argued that it represents an unnecessary additional burden. It would be easier to sympathize with that argument if landlords were actually being asked to do anything new, but the pages with voter information will be added to the packet the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections already makes available to landlords online; the only conceivable “burden” is the need to print out latest version of the document. The new information would add about five pages to renter packets.

4. Pedestrian Chronicles has the scoop on an innovative new proposal to give low-income tenants access to reduced-fare ORCA cards where they live, giving renters access to a benefit that is typically provided by employers. Sixty-eight percent of residents at market-rate buildings get reduced-cost ORCA cards through their jobs, PedChron notes, compared to just 21 percent of tenants in subsidized housing. Find out more about how Capitol Hill Housing hopes to flip that equation at Pedestrian Chronicles.

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.

 

City Lets Seattle Decide How to Spend $2 Million, But Not Everyone’s Happy

This story originally ran at Seattle Magazine.

Ever noticed a new curb cut on your corner and wonder how it got there, or stopped at a brightly painted new crosswalk and wished an intersection in your neighborhood had gotten one, too?

Until recently, the process for choosing which of these small projects got funded could be a mystery to anyone who didn’t belong to their neighborhood district council—the groups which submit projects for possible funding under Seattle’s Neighborhood Park and Street Fund. In previous years, each of the 13 districts received an annual lump sum to pay for small (up to $90,000) improvements—everything from new sidewalks to lighting upgrades. The district councils, whose members had to represent established community organizations, would brainstorm a list of projects to submit to the city, which approve or reject them.

“There was very little outreach done around when the projects were being built, what the projects were, and how they got funded, and they would just kind of show up in the neighborhood,” says Jenny Frankl, a strategic advisor at the city’s Department of Neighborhoods (DON). “It was a mysterious process.”

That changed last year, when Mayor Ed Murray cut ties with the district councils—which, according to a 2009 audit, had long been unrepresentative of an increasingly diverse city made up largely of young renters. Instead, the city opted to expand an existing “participatory budgeting” project called “Youth Vote, Youth Voice,” in which 3,000 Seattle youth decided how to spend $700,000 in neighborhood funds. The new “Your Voice, Your Choice” invited neighborhood residents, including those unaffiliated with any formal group, to nominate projects online. After it was determined which projects were doable, residents would vote on how to spend a total of $2 million in city funding—$285,000 per city council district.

More than 900 suggestions poured in across the city, compared to 150 or so in a typical year under the old system. They ranged from benches and tables at Wallingford’s Meridian Park to a “duck crossing” sign at Denny Blaine Park in Madrona.

Although many were deemed “not feasible”—DON rejected the duck crossing “due to unpredictable nature of [duck] habitat locations”—volunteer “project development teams” considered around two thirds of them before choosing a final list of 10 projects per district that will go to a citywide vote June 3.

DON spokeswoman Lois Maag adds that Your Voice, Your Choice is “much more transparent” than the old district council-led process. “Not only are people able to provide their idea, but then they get to vote for that idea,” she says. “Before, it was a much smaller group of people making the decisions.”

But the process has its discontents, such as Dan Sanchez, chair of the Central Area District Council. An outspoken opponent of the new Murray-backed process, Sanchez says the city failed to achieve its goal of increasing diversity and inclusion, making “participatory budgeting” anything but. By Sanchez’s count, gleaned from sign-in sheets at the Your Voice, Your Choice development team meetings, it was mostly white homeowners (many 55 and over) who attended. Only two African-Americans came out, he says. “Our last district council meeting had seven African-Americans at it, for crying out loud, and citywide they got two?” Sanchez says. “Something’s wrong with that picture.”

Maag points out that during the 2009 district council meetings used to gauge diversity, staff encouraged attendees to fill out sign-in sheets, which asked for race and age. “Most of the [project development team] meetings did not have” those, she says. However, Maag concedes that the city “didn’t meet our diversity goals in this project development phase.”

For Sanchez, the groups’ lack of diversity is proof of “what we had been saying along—you can’t force people to participate.” DON had a similar experience when it organized focus groups to provide feedback on the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda—although turnout was high in the early days, many people dropped out over time, especially those who did shift work or had childcare issues.

Frankl acknowledges that participation was sometimes low—one meeting drew just four participants to review dozens of potential projects—and says the city plans to do more to increase participation next time. She admits “it was not a perfect process” and pledges to improve outreach next time.

“I would not characterize all of the meetings as a homogenous group of participants,” Frankl says. “However, there’s a lot of room to do a better job of pulling in different voices and different people.”

That could mean staggering meeting times (5:30 p.m. starts were a barrier for some) or allowing people to comment online.

Seattle residents can vote online for their preferred projects until June 30, and the city hopes to make paper ballots available at libraries or community centers. The city will fund the top vote-getters after polls close at the end of the month.

News. Politics. Urbanism.

Help PubliCola Expand!

We'll make this quick: PubliCola needs your help, right now, to help us expand our coverage in 2021.

In the past year, this scrappy, reader-supported independent news site has brought you in-depth news and analysis about Seattle's homelessness crisis, City Hall, police accountability, the historic 2021 legislative session, and much, much more. Now we're seeking one-time contributions from our readers to help us expand that coverage next year—increasing our capacity to hold local law enforcement accountable, cover the upcoming legislative session, and expand our coverage of City Hall and the new mayoral administration.

There's nothing else like PubliCola in Seattle. Help us keep it going and growing next year by making a one-time contribution of $100, $200, $500 or more today. Additional giving options are available on our Support page. 

%d bloggers like this: