Category: Morning Fizz

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.

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.

County Denounces “Misinformation” On Juvenile Diversion, Discovery Institute Staffer Chases County Executive Down Hallway

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg

1. Officials from King County and advocates from community-based diversion programs responded Tuesday to what King County Executive Dow Constantine called “misinformation” about Restorative Community Pathways, a diversion program for young people that provides services and support for young people accused of first-time felony offenses, along with restitution and services for the people they’ve harmed.

“We’ve heard a lot of misinformation recently about the county’s juvenile diversion program and demonstrably false correlation to increased crime,” Constantine said. Earlier this year, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, a Republican, called for putting a “pause” on the program, which had just been approved two months earlier.

Federal Way mayor Jim Ferrell, who’s running for prosecutor this year, has called the program an “outrageous breach of public trust” that contributes to gun violence, something Constantine and the current prosecutor, Dan Satterberg, deny. “Officials and others in positions of public trust should take care to rely on facts, not hyperbole and data, not anecdotes,” Constantine said.

Satterberg emphasized that the county is still prosecuting serious crimes. “Lest people think this is all we’re doing, that we’re diverting all our cases away, I want to make it quite clear that the context here is that diversion … is but a small facet of the complex approach  to public safety, crime, and justice that we have here in King County,” Satterberg said.

So far, about 380 kids have been referred to RCP programs, which are run by nine different community-based organizations, including Community Passageways, a youth diversion program that uses credible messengers to divert young people from the school-to-prison pipeline. Of those 380, 145 have completed the program, and just 8 percent have committed another offense, compared to about 20 percent of kids who go.through the traditional juvenile justice system.

“These young men standing behind me are the perfect model of what restorative justice looks like and how it works in our community,” Community Passageways director Dominque Davis said, gesturing toward four young men who went through his group’s program. “Right now, they shouldn’t be standing behind me. But because of the collaboration with county departments, and because of the work we’ve done in community with our partner organizations,” he said, they had not only graduated from the program but were working as case managers and business owners in their communities.

When Discovery Institute activist Jonathan Choe contacts county departments, including the executive’s, they have a standard response: “We decline to participate in your project.

2. Former KOMO reporter Jonathan Choe, who now produces anti-homeless videos for the far-right creationist think tank that spawned Chris Rufo, attended Tuesday’s press conference but didn’t ask any questions, despite the fact that only two reporters—myself and Omari Salisbury from Converge Media—plus a handful of camera operators were in the room, which left a lot of dead air.

Once the press conference was over and people started leaving, Choe began loudly demanding that Constantine respond to a question “about public safety.” When Constantine continued to walk away, Choe chased him down a hallway, nearly mowing down his chief of staff, “Mr Constantine, I’m asking about the Chinatown International district — why are you ignoring me?” he shouted theatrically, demanding to know if he would place a “moratorium” on a planned homeless shelter expansion in SoDo that, according to Choe, “the vast majority of the Chinatown-International District community opposes.”

Standing outside the elevator, Constantine responded: “You are not actually a journalist.” Reminding Choe why he was holding an iPhone, not a TV microphone, he added: “You were fired for promoting the Proud Boys.” (Choe was fired by Sinclair-owned KOMO TV after praising the insurrectionist group and posting a montage from their rally, encouraging viewers to attend the rally and learn about the Proud Boys’ “cause and mission.”) Choe continued arguing with Constantine’s staff, bellowing “I’m a journalist” when they told him they would only talk to legitimate media outlets.

Constantine’s response to Choe stood in marked contrast to that of Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, who has been known to let press conferences run long in order to politely answer Choe’s questions. When Choe contacts county departments, including the executive’s, they have a standard response: “We decline to participate in your project.”

The shelter complex, which would add 150 shelter spots, a tiny house village, and an RV safe lot to an existing 270-bed shelter in SoDo,  has been the subject of significant debate in the nearby Chinatown/International District community. Advocates such as Friends of the CID have argued that the complex, which will be run by the county, is another example of systemic racism—concentrating services for homeless and low-income people in an already vulnerable community without consulting them.

 

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.

“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.

Ban on Narcan Continues Amid Overdoses at Libraries; Harrell’s Pick for SDOT Director Answers Council Questions

1. Last month, we reported on the Seattle Public Library’s directive telling staff not to carry or use Narcan, or naloxone—a nasal spray that can restore breathing in people overdosing on opioids—because of potential liability issues.

The state’s Good Samaritan law exempts people who provide emergency care from civil liability, but a library spokeswoman said City Attorney Ann Davison’s office advised the library that library staffers were “likely” not covered by the law. King County Public Libraries, which operates outside Seattle, also bars staff from using Narcan.

Public libraries are among the only indoor places where people experiencing homelessness can go during the day without being expected to make a purchase or explain why they’re there. They’ve also been the location for dozens of fatal and nonfatal overdoses in recent years. According to data provided by the King County Department of Public Health, there have been at least 42 likely overdoses in or outside public libraries in King County since 2019, including 16 inside library branches. Since 2017, at least eight people have died of drug-related causes at libraries in King County, half of them in Seattle, including at least four involving opiates like heroin and fentanyl.

Bans on using Narcan force library staffers to call 911 and wait for emergency responders to arrive, adding several potentially fatal minutes to the time an overdosing person is unconscious and not receiving oxygen to their brain.

A review of recent fire department reports for overdoses at Seattle Public Library branches shows that it takes emergency responders between three and five minutes to arrive on the scene of an overdose and start administering aid. These reports also show that on at least one occasion, back in April, someone at the downtown Seattle library revived a patron with Narcan, the drug library staffers were formally barred from using just three months later.

The ban on using Narcan is based on the belief that library staffers, unlike other Washington state residents, are not protected under the state’s Good Samaritan laws when they administer aid. By that standard, library staffers shouldn’t be able to offer first aid to patrons experiencing minor medical emergencies, or attempt to assist people experiencing heat stroke when they come to the library to cool off in the summer. And yet they manage to do both. Why are overdoses categorically different?

2. Greg Spotts, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s nominee to lead the Seattle Department of Transportation, submitted detailed answers this week to a list of questions from the city council’s transportation committee about his goals for his first year, plan to get Vision Zero back on track, and ideas about how to create a more equitable transportation system. Spotts’ responses t check off a lot of boxes for people who support urbanism and alternatives to driving alone.

For example, in response to a question about creating “connected safe spaces for people to move throughout the city” without a car, Spotts noted that in many cases, “pressure to preserve just a few curbside parking spaces stands in the way of conveying cyclists safely across a busy intersection. Too many of our bike and pedestrian routes have discontinuities that render the route significantly less safe, useful and attractive than it could have been.” In 2019, former mayor Jenny Durkan killed plans to build a protected bike lane along a dangerous stretch of 35th Ave. NE after neighborhood and business groups argued that removing a few curbside parking spaces would devastate businesses in Wedgwood and Ravenna.

However, Spotts also hedged a bit when talking about commitments to new bike infrastructure, responding to a question about whether he would support creating new protected bike lanes as part of road resurfacing projects with an artful dodge. “I fully intend to support projects and routes as called for in the Council-approved Bicycle Master Plan; and will be engaging with staff, subject matter experts, and community as these projects are developed and constructed,” he wrote. As the Urbanist has reported, the city is currently working to integrate all its transportation related “master plans” into a single mega-plan, a move that some advocates worry could further reduce the city’s commitments to nonmotorized transportation.

He also ducked questions about whether parking enforcement officers belong at SDOT and if he would commit to removing the large concrete “eco-blocks” that business owners place illegally in the public right-of-way to keep people living in oversize vehicles from having a place to park. (Councilmember Sara Nelson, whose own business, Fremont Brewing, continues to flagrantly violate this law, is not on the transportation committee).

 

Previous SDOT directors learned the hard way that specific commitments can be tough to implement if they conflict with what their boss, the mayor, wants—which is probably why, when asked about equity in transportation investments, Spotts said only that Seattle’s most deadly streets for cyclists and pedestrians, Rainier Ave. S and Aurora Ave. N., “can potentially be reenvisioned to meet community needs.” Harrell has made it clear that his top transportation priorities include maintaining and repairing basic infrastructure like streets and bridges, not big-reach projects like protected bike paths connecting every part of the city.

Seattle will hear more from Spotts next month, when the transportation committee considers his nomination again after the council returns from summer recess.

City Attorney Filing, But Also Diverting, More Cases; City’s Shelter Enrollment Rate Remains Low

City Attorney Ann Davison

 

1. City Attorney Ann Davison’s office released a detailed report this week confirming what PubliCola reported earlier this month: In the first six months of 2022, her office has filed charges in only about half of the criminal cases it has considered, declining to pursue charges at a rate similar to that of her predecessor, Pete Holmes. Between 2017 and 2019, Holmes’ decline rate ranged from just over 40 percent to just under 60 percent, only slightly lower than Davison’s.

Between January and June, the city attorney’s office declined about 51 percent of cases. That number includes cases from a backlog left after Holmes left office, which resulted from a combination of failure to file cases prior to the pandemic and an increase in unfiled cases in 2021, when the Seattle Municipal Court was not operating at full capacity due to the pandemic.

Excluding those cases, Davison’s decline rate was lower (46 percent between January and March and 41 percent between April and June), but without more details about what cases the office considered from the backlog, or what cases came in between April and June, it’s hard to draw long-term conclusions from that comparison.

Digging into the numbers in the report, the rate of domestic violence cases that the office declined has risen steadily over the years, and remains high under Davison (over 60 percent) so far; one reason for this, according to the report, is that domestic violence victims often don’t want to file charges against their abusers. Assault, property destruction, and harassment topped the list of domestic violence cases where no charges were filed.

The report shows that Davison’s office has resolved cases using diversionary programs, such as community court, mental health court, and the Public Defender Association’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, at least as often as her predecessors, diverting hundreds of theft, assault, trespassing, and other cases to therapeutic courts or social services.

Davison’s office did file charges in a much higher percentage of new non-domestic violence and non-traffic criminal offenses (those committed in 2022) than Holmes—around half in the first quarter of this year and 37 percent in the second quarter. If that trend continues, it will mean that Davison is choosing to pursue charges against more people accused of crimes like assault, theft, and trespassing, which are often crimes of poverty.

 

Ann Davison portrait

Perhaps most interestingly, the report shows that Davison’s office has resolved cases using diversionary programs, such as community court, mental health court, and the Public Defender Association’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, at least as often as her predecessors, diverting hundreds of theft, assault, trespassing, and other cases to therapeutic courts or social services. Overall, Davison referred about 750 cases to community court, more than 600 to LEAD, and about 180 to mental health court.

Earlier this year, Davison sought, and received, authority to deny access to community court for the 100 or so people on her “high utilizer” list, which includes people with more than 12 cases (not charges) in the past five years. The city attorney’s office really is treating this population differently: In contrast to their overall approach, the office has filed charges in 82 percent of cases involving this group, a decline rate of just 18 percent.

2. The latest quarterly report from the Seattle Human Services Department on the work of the Homelessness Outreach and Provider Ecosystem (HOPE) Team shows an uptick in the number of people who received referrals to shelter from the HOPE Team and actually enrolled in shelter, meaning that they showed up and stayed for at least one night. The HOPE Team does outreach at encampments, primarily the city’s regularly updated list of encampments it plans to sweep.

Between April and June, 173 people went to shelter based on a HOPE team referral, amounting to 41 percent of the total number of people who received at least one referral. (Overall, the team made 458 referrals, including multiple referrals for some individuals). Put another way, that means about 58 people went to shelter on HOPE team referrals every month last quarter. The numbers are approximate, because some people who enroll in shelter choose to remain anonymous, making them harder to track.

Those numbers, while they represent a slight improvement, continue to reveal that the majority of shelter referrals don’t result in shelter enrollments (and shelter, of course, isn’t housing)—people are getting referral slips but aren’t using them. This can happen for a variety of reasons: Leaving an encampment for shelter can involve a long trek across town, along with tough decisions, such as whether to leave an established street community or abandon a pet.

Notably, the second quarter of this year also included the removal of a large encampment at Woodland Park, which Mayor Bruce Harrell identified early on as one of the top priorities for his administration. As we reported at the time, the city asked the Low-Income Housing Institute to set aside dozens of spots in tiny-house villages—a desirable, semi-private shelter type that has a very high enrollment rate—for people living in the park. Out of 89 shelter referrals at Woodland Park, 60 were to tiny house villages.

The city also made a special effort to ensure that people forced to leave during the high-profile removal, offering direct transportation to shelters for everyone who received a referral, which likely boosted the overall enrollment rate. PubliCola has asked HSD how many of the 173 enrollments between April and June came from Woodland Park and will update this post when we hear back.

Fizz: One in Six Officers Were on Extended Leave Last Year; City Agrees to Alternative Responder “Pilot”; Council Moves Police Hiring Bonuses Forward

1. The City Council’s public safety committee voted 4-1, with Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda voting “no,” to approve a package of police recruitment and hiring incentives that will include hiring bonuses of up to $30,000, four new recruitment-related positions (a recruitment manager, two recruiters, and an administrative staffer), and $150,000 to search for a new chief of police.

Sara Nelson, Alex Pedersen, Andrew Lewis, and committee chair Lisa Herbold voted for the legislation, originally proposed by Mayor Bruce Harrell.

According to a staff analysis, the hiring bonuses alone—$7,500 for new recruits and $30,000 for trained officers who transfer from other police departments departments—will cost around $3.8 million over four years, including around $1.5 million in 2022, $289,000 of that for the hiring incentives alone.

Before voting against the plan, Mosqueda noted that studies have consistently found that financial incentives have little impact on recruitment and retention, and have the potential to harm morale among officers working alongside newcomers recruited with large up-front payments. “What they’ve said is what they need is not additional money, but a place to bring people” in crisis, Mosqueda said. “A PR firm for SPD won’t help that. A hiring incentive approach won’t help that. Marketing won’t help that. [And] $150,000 for a police chief search won’t help that.”

The full council will vote on (and likely pass) the legislation next Monday.

2. Tuesday’s meeting also gave the council a look at SPD’s 2022 budget and staffing levels. Although the department lost 109 officers due to “separations” (resignations and retirements) in the first half of the year—significantly more than either SPD or council staff projected—there may actually be more officers on the streets by the end of 2022 than there were in 2021.

That’s because an unusually high number of officers went on extended leave starting immediately after the protests against police violence in summer 2020. Many more officers joined them after the city instituted its vaccine mandate in October 2021. Although these signposts are only indicators—SPD doesn’t provide information about why officers go on leave—the spikes in the chart correspond closely to those two events.

Historically, between 30 and 70 officers (out of a force that numbered close to 1,400) would be on extended leave at any given time; at the end of 2019, for example, 49 officers were on extended leave and unavailable for service. Typically, officers on extended leave are burning up their paid leave before they retire, since they can’t cash it out; after the vaccine mandate went into effect, some officers who did not want to get vaccinated went on leave as well. The numbers don’t include officers who are on administrative leave related to misconduct allegations.

After the city’s vaccine mandate took effect, 181 officers, or 16 percent of the police force, were out on extended leave.

The number of officers on extended grew slightly through the first half of 2020, in the early days of the COVID pandemic—a time when SPD was reluctant to grant leave to first responders. That number exploded in the months that followed the protests, nearly tripling between March and the end of 2020, when 137 officers were out on extended leave—more than 10 percent of the force. The number shrunk slightly, then exploded again, to 181, in the fall of 2021, after the vaccine mandate took effect. During that period, 181 officers, or 16 percent of the entire police force, were out on extended leave.

Since then, the gap has begun to close as some of those officers return to work after long periods off, at least temporarily offsetting losses from officers leaving the force.

A reduction in the number of police officers doesn’t translate to savings on a one-to-one basis, for a couple of reasons: Each officer who leaves SPD gets separation pay, which comes out of the budget, and fewer officers generally translates into more overtime costs. Currently, the city has paid out two-thirds of all the separation pay it budgeted for this year, and that only accounts for officers who left through the end of May. SPD is also spending more than anticipated on overtime, including patrol hours and staffing outside events; currently, the department is on track to go between $2 million and $3 million over its budget for 2022.

The department has been reluctant to scale back staffing at events like Mariners and Seahawks games, where officers direct traffic and provide security. At Tuesday’s meeting, Police Chief Adrian Diaz said SPD has “had to say no to many special events” because of understaffing and the need to dedicate officers to “emphasis patrol” areas like Third and Pine downtown and 12th and Jackson in the International District.

3. The discussion about overtime bled into a conversation about alternatives to policing—an issue Lewis has begun bringing up at nearly every SPD-related briefing. The basic question: After promising for more than two years to transfer some responsibilities, such as responding to low-risk 911 calls, into civilian hands, why has Seattle fallen so far behind other cities like Albuquerque, Denver, and Houston?

SPD, as we’ve reported, has argued that it needs to do a complex risk analysis before relinquishing control over any of the calls it currently handles, and Harrell’s office has generally concurred, laying out a lengthy timeline that could result in a transfer of some call types some time in 2024.

However, in the city’s latest quarterly report to the monitor overseeing the federal consent decree with SPD, the city attorney’s office reported that the city, “in the short term, will explore and execute potential pilot programs for diversified 911 response systems, as well as evaluate whether existing resources can be redeployed or more efficiently deployed on staffing projects like Special Events to increase SPD or alternative response to priority three and four calls in the near term, without engaging in costly expenditures in the face of a prospective budget deficit.”

This marks a change from the city’s previous position that a pilot can only happen after a lengthy data analysis. Lewis, Herbold, and others on the council have argued that SPD is already not responding to low-risk Priority 3 and 4 calls, so it doesn’t take work away from officers to deploy unarmed responders to some of those calls.

Ruling on Tree Regulations Coming Soon, City Attorney Filed Charges in Just Over Half of Cases This Year

1. The Seattle Hearing Examiner is expected to rule as soon as next week on a case in which the Master Builders Association of King County and Seattle—a business group that represents housing developers—is seeking a more thorough review of a new tree ordinance that would make it harder to remove trees on private property. The goal of the new restrictions, MBAKS argues, isn’t to protect Seattle’s tree canopy (which includes many trees on public property that wouldn’t be subject to the new restrictions); it’s to prevent new housing in historically exclusive single-family neighborhoods.

“There are people and groups in our City that care deeply about trees and about the health of Seattle’s urban forest,” MBAKS wrote in a letter to Mayor Bruce Harrell last week. “Those are the people and groups we’d like to work with. However, the loudest voices are anti-development groups that have weaponized tree protection to support their singular goal of stopping development in their beloved single-family neighborhoods.”

The new tree ordinance would lower the size threshold for regulated “significant” and “exceptional” trees and make them harder or illegal for private property owners to remove; removing a tree larger than 12 inches in diameter, for example, would require a developer to either replant the tree on site or pay a fee based on the value of the tree.

Technically, the appeal questions the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection’s “determination of non-significance” under the State Environmental Policy Act—essentially a conclusion that imposing new restrictions on tree removal (and thus development) will have no significant impact on the city’s environmental policies or its Comprehensive Plan, which guides future development and land use decisions in the city. SDCI and TreePAC are the two groups opposing the Master Builders’ appeal.

The comprehensive plan encourages density inside neighborhoods as a bulwark against suburban sprawl and social inequity, since Seattle’s tree canopy is heavily concentrated in wealthier neighborhoods that were historically redlined to keep people of color out. In addition to more analysis that looks at density, not just privately owned trees, MBAKS has asked the city to consider requiring street trees when developers build new detached houses in single-family zones.

Chart showing Seattle City Attorney's Office Case Filing decisions (filed or declined), January-June 2022

2. City attorney Ann Davison, who announced in February that she would decide whether to file charges in her office receives from the police department within five days, decided to file charges in just over 56 percent of cases between the day she announced the new policy and late June of this year, records PubliCola obtained through a disclosure request show.

This represents a significant uptick in the percentage of cases Davison’s office filed compared to her predecessor, Pete Holmes’, filing rate during the pandemic, but is similar to Holmes’ pre-COVID filing rates when compared to data provided (in chart form) in a report from Davison’s office earlier this year. The overall number of cases coming in from SPD is lower than before 2020 because of a number of factors, including SPD’s decision to stop pulling people over for some minor traffic violations; Davison’s report suggests the cause is “the loss of a significant number of SPD officers.”

The charges Davison declined to file most frequently after announcing the close-in-time filing policy on February 7 included assault, assault with sexual motivation, theft, and property destruction; the charges she has filed most frequently also included assault and theft along with trespassing, harassment, and charges that involve driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Case filings declined during the pandemic, in part, because the court shut down during COVID, creating a massive backlog that the municipal court is still struggling to work through. King County’s jails, meanwhile, remain understaffed even as jail populations rise, leading to conditions that both jail staffers and defense attorneys have described to PubliCola as inhumane. The more misdemeanor cases Seattle sends into this system, the greater the downstream backlog becomes.