Category: Morning Fizz

Seattle Center, Which Will Run Waterfront Park, Issued Dozens of Year-Long Parks Exclusions; City Will Let Private Buses “Share” Up to 250 Bus Stops

1. On Wednesday afternoon, the Seattle City Council’s public assets committee approved plans to have Seattle Center take over management of, and security at, the new waterfront park—an agreement that will bring stricter enforcement of park rules to the waterfront than at other parks throughout the city.

Under a “parks exclusion” ordinance dating back to 1997, the city’s parks department has the authority to ban anyone from a park for violating parks rules for up to a year. Since 2012, however, the department has voluntarily agreed not to trespass violators for more than a day, except when their actions threaten public safety. 

As PubliCola reported last week, Seattle Center operates under different rules, excluding people from the campus for longer periods and for lesser violations. Last year, outgoing director Robert Nellams told us, Seattle Center barred 37 people for periods ranging from a week to a year.

In response to questions from Councilmember Lisa Herbold, Seattle Center provided a more detailed list of those exclusions. Of the 37, the vast majority—24—were for 365 days, for violations ranging from showing up again while barred from the campus for a shorter period to serious criminal allegations, such as arson and assault. One person was banned for six months after passing out in the bathroom of the Armory building; another person, who had at least seven previous run-ins with Seattle Center security, was barred for a year for being intoxicated and panhandling. 

Four people received seven-day trespass notices for “camping” after “multiple warnings.” Nellams said Seattle Center’s policy on people sleeping at Seattle Center is to “respectfully and graciously ask people to move along.”

The committee approved the proposal unanimously; Herbold said she was convinced to support the plan after REACH, the outreach agency, endorsed the proposal in a letter to council members. Friends of the Waterfront, the nonprofit group that has led much of the planning for the new park, pays for two REACH staffers to provide outreach along the waterfront; the group will also pay for four “ambassadors” to answer questions and respond to minor issues once the park is open. Seattle Center will also provide 15 security officers.

2. Also this week, a council committee approved plans that could dramatically expand the number of public transit stops that King County Metro buses will “share” with private shuttle services run by companies like Microsoft and Children’s Hospital. The private buses parallel existing bus routes, using limited city-owned curb space for a system that only their employees can use.

Since 2017, Children’s and Microsoft have paid $300 per vehicle each year to share a total of 12 bus stops with the county’s public transit provider. The new rules, which the full council will consider Monday, would increase the potential number of new shared stops to 250 citywide, with no more than 50 stops reserved for any single employer.

During the meeting, Councilmember Tammy Morales asked rhetorically whether it makes sense to hand over limited curb space so that private companies could exempt themselves from the public transit system. “I see these shuttles everywhere,” Morales said. “I would much prefer that people ride a shuttle rather than drive a single-occupancy vehicle, and I would prefer to see that our public system was serving these folks instead of having a private system.”

Morales also asked, less rhetorically, why the city couldn’t just remove a couple of parking spots near transit stops so that buses and shuttles wouldn’t have to compete for space. SDOT planner Benjamin Smith responded that removing parking might harm nearby businesses—a familiar argument that assumes people won’t use transit to get to businesses even if the city makes it more convenient.

The new rules would limit which bus stops the private shuttles can use, excluding those “with the highest potential for conflicts with transit and other modes.” They would also require employers to pay a nominal fee of $5,000 per stop, per year, ora total of up to $250,000 per employer.

Ultimately, Morales voted to approve the new rules, which passed 4-1, with Councilmember Dan Strauss abstaining because, he said, he hadn’t had a chance to look at the rules in detail. The full council will also take up the bus stop sharing plan on Monday.

State Could Eliminate Jaywalking Law; Right-Wing Group Attacks Seattle Council for Addiction Program They Had Nothing to Do With

1. If you’ve ever lived outside the Pacific Northwest, or spent time in virtually any big city elsewhere, you may wonder why the state of Washington still has, and enforces, laws against “jaywalking”—the practice of crossing the street midblock or while the light is green but the road is clear. (“Jay-walking” is an antique slur for a rube who doesn’t know enough to keep out of the road). Crossing the street in an area other than an intersection or against a signal can set you back $68, and you’re far more likely to be targeted if you’re Black; according to a 2017 analysis, more than a quarter of jaywalking tickets issued between 2010 and 2016 went to Black pedestrians, even though just 7 percent of Seattle residents are Black.

This year, legislators plan to propose a bill that would eliminate the specific law against jaywalking—or “crossing not at a crosswalk,” as the state’s 57-year-old jaywalking law describes it—which would make it legal to cross the street as long as it’s safe to do so. During a recent Transportation Choices Coalition-sponsored forum, state Sens. Javier Valdez (D-46) and Marko Liias (D-21), the head of the Senate Transportation Committee, noted that legislators laid the groundwork for getting rid of the jaywalking ban by specifying that pedestrians, like drivers, must exercise “due care” when using roads and sidewalks.

Now, Liias said,  “I don’t think we need a specific violation for jaywalking, because if law enforcement sees someone that’s violating that duty of care, just like if they see any other user [doing so], they already have tools to hold that person accountable. When you look at the history of how these laws were used, it’s clear that there’s been disproportionate enforcement against low-income and BIPOC communities.” Basically, Valdez added, the change would give people the ability to use common sense when crossing the street without risking an automatic penalty. In areas where stoplights are far apart, the rational choice is often to cross midblock rather than walking a quarter-mile or more each way just to get to the other side of the road.

TCC, along with Commute Seattle, the King County Department of Public Defense, and other groups have started a coalition called Free to Walk Washington to support the elimination of jaywalking laws, which would follow similar changes in California, Virginia, Nevada, and Kansas City, MO.

2. Change Washington, a “strategic communications organization” funded by the right-wing organization Project 42, often makes and promotes some pretty outrageous claims about the city of Seattle on its website, which includes cross-posts from Project 42-funded ventures like the podcast of a well-known former local FOX reporter. Last week, though, they got the attention of a Seattle City Council member with a post that not only mischaracterized a well-established addiction management technique called contingency management, but accused the whole city council of proposing a “giveaway to drug addicts”—a claim without even a passing connection to reality. (The post uses the sneering slur “addict” no fewer than seven times.)

Contingency management is a method of helping a person reduce their drug consumption by offering them small rewards, such as money, a gift card, or a small prize, for a negative drug test. In numerous studies, contingency management has been found to be one of the most effective methods for reducing or eliminating drug use, particularly among people whose main drug of choice is stimulants, for which there are no broadly effective medications. There is longstanding, research-backed scientific consensus that contingency management works. Even so, the city council has never proposed funding it.

“The budget that City Council passed last month does not include funding for a contingency management program,” Herbold wrote Change Washington in an email. “I am unaware of any City Councilmember that has a proposal for a contingency management program,” she added, since the city doesn’t fund public health care programs—the county does. King County’s DCHS Behavioral Health and Recovery Division got approval last year to fund a contingency management pilot project.

After mischaracterizing contingency management as a frivolous “giveaway to addicts” that will just give them money to buy drugs and mocking its proponents for supposedly thinking “gift cards cure mental illness,” the conservative group also trashed needle exchanges, which prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis, and said a better solution would be to force addicted people into (presumably locked) mental health facilities where they could be “monitored” to make sure they changed their ways. The post ends with a warning to council members about next year’s elections. But it looks like the election disinformation has already started.

Diaz Almost Permanent Chief; Sawant Wants Impact Fees; Another Residential Treatment Center Shuts Down

1. Members of the city council’s public safety committee, which voted unanimously to appoint interim police chief Adrian Diaz to the permanent police chief position on Tuesday, were mostly effusive about Diaz’ performance at the final public hearing on his appointment, praising him for his efforts to recruit new officers, reinstate the community service officer program, and work collaboratively with the council. Council members did have a few pointed questions, though, about Diaz’ commitment to replacing police with civilian responders.

Like many other cities across the country, Seattle committed to creating new community-based alternatives to traditional policing amid protests against police violence in 2020; since then, other cities have moved forward with new strategies while Seattle has bogged down in process.

“Around the same time that members of this council were talking about creating a third public safety department and civilian alternatives to police, Albuquerque also started their journey. The difference between them and us is that we have two years of resolutions, workgroups, promises, talking, [and] misrepresentations [from the previous administration].”—Councilmember Andrew Lewis

“Around the same time that members of this council were talking about creating a third public safety department and civilian alternatives to police, Albuquerque also started their journey,” Councilmember Andrew Lewis said. Albuquerque, Lewis noted, has a similar budget to Seattle’s and has also seen its police department shrink from around 1,400 to fewer than 1,000 officers.

“The difference between them and us is that we have two years of resolutions, workgroups, promises, talking, [and] misrepresentations” from the previous mayoral administration, while Albuquerque stood up its new public safety department in 2021 and has diverted thousands of calls from the police department.

As we’ve reported, SPD is still in the middle of a lengthy risk analysis that is supposed to determine which kind of 911 calls are safe enough for a civilian response. That process is expected to stretch into 2024. Meanwhile, according to SPD’s latest hiring projections, the department will only grow by 18 fully trained officers in the next two years.

While transferring some low-risk work to trained civilian responders would be one way to free up SPD officers for police work and investigations, another option could be reducing the amount of overtime police burn through directing traffic and providing security for sports events, which added up to more than 91,000 hours through October of this year. Diaz didn’t seem particularly open to this suggestion, either, noting that there is always a risk of violence at large events, such as someone trying to drive through a barricade.

2.  Also on Tuesday, the city council voted unanimously to move forward with a plan to exempt many affordable housing projects from the design review process for another year—effectively signing off on the once-controversial view that design review leads to unnecessary delays that makes housing more expensive.

However, one of those “yes” votes, Councilmember Kshama Sawant, voted “no” on a separate package of amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan because they did not include “developer impact fees,” which some cities levy on housing developers to offset the toll new residents create on urban infrastructure like roads and sewers. One reason such fees are controversial is that they imply that new housing has a negative impact on the city, without considering the positive impacts (such as reduced traffic congestion, less sprawl, and more customers for local businesses) of dense, vibrant neighborhoods.

Since the city can’t pass developer impact fees until they’re included in the comprehensive plan, Sawant said, the vote to approve the amendments “means that we need to wait another year to make big developers pay for the impacts they have on our city infrastructure and for the profits they make without paying even this minimum of compensation for the city’s working people.” During the 2020 budget deliberations, Sawant joined her colleague Councilmember Alex Pedersen in seeking $350,000 for a study of impact fees; although Pedersen is generally far to the right of socialist Sawant, a shared opposition to most development frequently puts them on the same side of housing-related issues.

Low-income people and people experiencing homelessness often have to wait weeks or months before getting into residential treatment—a fact that flies in the face of calls to force more people in crisis into treatment under the state’s involuntary treatment law.

3. Pioneer Human Services, which offers treatment to low-income people with substance use disorder, is closing its 50-bed Pioneer Center North facility in Skagit County next month amid an acute regional shortage of residential treatment beds for low-income people and people seeking treatment during or after serving time in jail.

According to agency spokeswoman Nanette Sorich, there were a number of reasons for the “difficult decision,” including the fact that “the building has been operating on a short-term lease and the facility is past its useful life. Additionally, like many behavioral health providers, we have faced significant challenges with staffing and these labor force shortages have become more acute over time,” Sorich said.

The Sedro-Wooley inpatient clinic had 77 beds before the pandemic. Pioneer Human Services will now refer potential clients to its other clinics in Everett and Spokane, Sorich said.

Low-income people and people experiencing homelessness often have to wait weeks or months before getting into residential treatment—a fact that flies in the face of calls to force more people in crisis into treatment under the state’s involuntary treatment law. Since 2018, King County has lost more than 110 residential treatment beds and is now down to 244 beds countywide. A countywide levy, on the ballot next April, would restore the number of residential beds in King County to 2018 levels; the bulk of the $1.25 billion proposal would go toward five new walk-in crisis stabilization centers across the county.

No Historic Protections for Drive-Through Walgreen’s, More Delays for Sound Transit, Food Trucks Will Face Extra Scrutiny

Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

1. A city council committee declined to impose restrictions on a one-story former bank in South Lake Union Friday, arguing that the building, which now houses a drive-through Walgreen’s, is not historic enough to merit long-term preservation. The proposed restrictions, which were approved by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Board, would have given the landmarks board veto power over any changes to the interior or exterior of the building. The city has repeatedly increased allowed building heights in the area around the building, which is now surrounded by towers as tall as 160 feet.

The landmark designation for the 1950 building says the structure epitomizes mid-century banking architecture, which focused on convenience for middle-class consumers with cars, and says it also constitutes the outstanding work of a single designer. In fact (as the landmarks board also noted) the bank was just one of many similar structures in Seattle based on a prototype for a drive-through bank. Walgreen’s, which owns the building, had hoped to sell off the development rights for the property, keeping the building as-is but enabling another developer to build densely in a “receiving site” elsewhere in the city.

Neighborhoods committee chair Tammy Morales, who set the Walgreen’s building aside for further discussion back in April, said she saw no reason to prevent future development of the Walgreen’s site, given that there are four other similar buildings in Seattle. “Preserving this particular one-story building doesn’t make sense, given the housing crisis that we’re in and that the neighborhood has changed dramatically since 2006,” when the building got its landmark status.

The committee’s unanimous (four-member) vote against preserving the building also marks a dramatic change, as elected officials (and even the landmarks board) increasingly acknowledge that the need for housing often outweighs preservationists’ desire to see every old (and not-so-old) building protected.

2. In another sign of the times, another council committee agreed to extend the city’s “cafe streets” program, which allowed restaurants to create outdoor dining spaces during COVID, and impose new fees on businesses that take advantage of the program. (Originally, the permits were free).

Advocates for the proposal were concerned about an amendment by Northeast Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen to reinstate a rule that banned food trucks within 50 feet of any brick-and-mortar restaurant. Before COVID, this rule effectively prohibited food trucks in business districts all around the city—basically all the areas where people might actually be around to patronize a food truck.

Although the legislation that passed gets rid of this protectionist provision, it still subjects food trucks to extra scrutiny, requiring the Seattle Department of Transportation to report back on any “potential impacts from food trucks or other vending activity occurring in close proximity to brick-and-mortar businesses.”

Pedersen, who sponsored the amendment imposing this extra scrutiny on food truck operators, said the intent of the original 50-foot rule was “to mitigate the potential effects to small existing businesses that take on the risk of additional expenses, of capital improvements, inventory, and wages for workers to keep their brick-and-mortar operations afloat.”

Morales responded that by applying special scrutiny to food trucks, the council would be saying that food trucks—which are often run by immigrants and people of color—have a negative impact on other businesses. “The presumption with this amendment seems to be that we should protect existing businesses from competition,” Morales said, yet “we don’t ask anything of the corporations in this city that regularly squeeze out independent businesses through mergers and acquisitions.” The amendment passed, with Morales voting no, Dan Strauss abstaining, and Pedersen and Kshama Sawant voting yes.

3. Sound Transit, the regional transit agency, announced on Thursday that the extension of its existing Tacoma light rail line, which runs between downtown Tacoma and the Tacomadome, will be delayed for an unknown period due to “quality and safety issues” with the project. In a blog post, agency CEO Julie Timm said Sound Transit has already addressed multiple previous “quality issues” with the project, adding that the latest problem, which involves “track geometry,” will push the opening date until later in 2023.

“We have some folks flying in to look at some of the issues that were identified,” Timm said, but did not specify what the issues are, saying ST will have more to announce next week.

This isn’t the first time Sound Transit has identified shoddy work by its contractors since the pandemic began. Earlier this year, the agency announced it would have to delay the opening of the East Link line connecting Seattle to Bellevue because of multiple quality issues with the light rail extension across I-90. Those problems included problems with “nearly all” the concrete plinths and fasteners that affix the rails to the bridge, cracking concrete supports, missing rebar, and other structural and safety issues.

Because of those significant delays, Sound Transit has proposed changing the order in which it will open new light rail extensions. Under the new proposed schedule, the extension of the existing 1 line to Lynnwood would open in 2024, and the new line to Bellevue and downtown Redmond would open in 2025. Sound Transit doesn’t have a new opening date for a southern extension to Federal Way, which was delayed after a 200-foot section of embankment along the route slid nine feet earlier this year.

Prompted by a request from King County Councilmember and Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci, Sound Transit staff drafted a plan to open an eight-station, Eastside-only “starter line” connecting downtown Bellevue and Redmond that will provide Eastside residents with some rail transit starting next year while Sound Transit works out the problems with the I-90 crossing.

Former City Employee Sues for “Reverse Racism,” Rufo Tells Tall Tales to Bellevue Audience

1. A former Seattle Human Services Department employee is suing the city for alleged discrimination based on his race (white) and his gender (male).

The lawsuit, filed by a California-based libertarian group called the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of ex-city employee Joshua Diemert, claims that HSD failed to promote Diemert and provide him with the significant raises he was “promised” while promoting less-qualified women of color. The suit also alleges that Diemert’s immediate supervisor, a woman of color, engaged in “unrelenting coercion and racial harassment,” forcing him to quit his job instead of accommodating an unspecified medical condition that Diemert claims was exacerbated by people constantly talking about white privilege around him.

Many of the examples of “racial harassment” listed in the lawsuit appear to involve Diemert inserting himself into other people’s conversations to make comments his colleagues perceived as racist, such as an incident where he claims he was chastised for “joining” his coworkers’ lunchroom conversations about white privilege, which occurred while he was “trying to cook his food.” In another example, Diemert claims a supervisor “berated” him for “attempting to correct [a coworker’s] discriminatory behavior toward a white applicant.” In a third, he accuses the city of forcing employees to participate in “critical race theory” during a training at El Centro De La Raza, where his comments led a coworker to call him an “asshole” in an email to another person.

In addition to $300,000 in damages, the lawsuit asks the court to find that the city’s anti-racist policies violate the 14th Amendment (equal protection) and the 1964 Civil Rights Act (protection from discrimination on the basis of race or sex). The suit also claims that the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative “aims to end American culture because it was created by ‘white, wealthy, Christian, cis-gender, straight, non-disabled men coming from Europe who wanted to protect their place within hierarchy and empire.'” That quote comes from a city document called “Building a Relational Culture,” which says nothing about “ending American culture,” but does provide a broad framework for undoing structural racism at the city—the actual project of RSJI.

Diemert’s lawsuit, which has gotten some coverage on FOX and various right-wing websites, is one of many recent lawsuits attempting to reframe racism as something that primarily happens to white people. The Pacific Legal Foundation is responsible for many of these anti-affirmative action claims, including a lawsuit challenging Women and Minority-Owned Business (WMBE) contracting goals in California; a case accusing the University of Minnesota of discriminating against men when it cut the men’s gymnastics program; and a case alleging that elite public schools in Boston discriminate against white and Asian kids.

The city’s Human Services Department did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, and a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office said the city has not been served with the lawsuit yet and could not comment.

2. “Critical race theory,” unsurprisingly, was also among the topics professional troll Chris Rufo brought up at a talk last month to support the Washington Policy Center. (PubliCola reviewed a recording of the event). If you aren’t familiar with WPC, it’s the libertarian think tank that was responsible for all those confusing pro-capitalism billboards you saw around town a couple years ago. (“Free markets destroy climate change,” one read, with a Tesla logo as the “T” in “climate.”) The event, which was emceed by conservative podcaster and Project 42 “brand ambassador” Brandi Kruse, also featured former secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

Rufo, a onetime Seattle City Council candidate who spun off a job at the right-wing Discovery Institute into a career as the nation’s leading purveyor of disinformation about CRT, has since turned his attention to vilifying trans women, drag queens, and LGBTQ+ people in general. Rufo’s work is part of nationwide efforts to drive LGBTQ+ people out of public life through both legal methods—such as Florida’s notorious “Don’t Say Gay” law—and violence, including increasingly violent protests against LGBTQ+ events, including drag shows).

Kids are not being taught “fisting” in schools—but, as Rufo noted, it’s the kind of “salacious” story that gets attention from people like Tucker Carlson.

Speaking to a group of “young professionals,” Rufo bragged about his efforts to spur people to act by speaking to their emotions, even when that means ignoring “data” and facts. “I had been doing this campaign on critical race theory, doing the reports, working with the Trump White House,” Rufo said. “And all of a sudden I see something really incredible happen. I started seeing all these videos of parents at school board meetings going nuts. And that’s what you want to see.”

As an example, Rufo continued, he was pushing out stories about “the teachers union—they’re the villains, right?”—he paused for boos—”which was promoting a guide book, a kind of recipe book that was in cartoon format designed for kids, that had a guide to BDSM, sadomasochism, [and] fisting.” In reality, the “cartoon guide” is a document aimed at teenagers seeking information about queer sex, produced by a Toronto Planned Parenthood affiliate and the United Way of Greater Toronto that was linked, among many other documents, on the website of an internal NEA LGBTA+ caucus. Kids are not being taught “fisting” in schools—but, as Rufo noted, it’s the kind of “salacious” story that gets attention from people like Tucker Carlson.

Rufo also claimed a victory closer to home: The reversal of calls to “defund the police” by members of the Seattle City Council. In taking credit for this change, he claimed that Nordstrom’s flagship store in downtown Seattle, he said was “burned down” to “ashes.”  Nordstrom, which is located just a few miles from the Bellevue hotel where Rufo was speaking, remains fully intact and was bustling with holiday shoppers earlier this week.

Jail Water Still “Cloudy” After Three Weeks; Advocates Want to Move City’s Homeless Outreach Team to Regional Authority

1. More than three weeks after inmates at the King County Jail in downtown Seattle first reported brown water coming out of their taps, jail residents are still relying on bottled water, as the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention awaits more test results on water the DADJ describes as “cloudy,” but safe to drink. The cloudiness comes from unidentified particles suspended in the water.

Noah Haglund, a spokesman for DADJ, said jail residents get bottled water at every meal, during medication rounds, and on request. “Out of an abundance of caution, jail staff have continued to distribute bottled water several times a day since the first reports of cloudiness were received about three weeks ago,” DADJ spokesman Noah Haglund said.

But defense attorneys and people currently incarcerated at the jail dispute this, saying people are not getting enough water to drink.

“They’re saying they’re giving it to us at our request, but it’s not like that—we get [a 16-ounce bottle of] water once every six to eight hours,” one jail resident said. Another said he had received even less. At least one incarcerated person has filed a grievance with the department, saying the brown water that was coming out of the tap in late September made him sick.

Jail inmates purchase food from the commissary, such as ramen and rice, to supplement the meager jail diet, using hot tap water to cook it. According to Haglund, the county’s Facilities Maintenance Division is still waiting on test results from water samples taken this week at the jail.

2. Some advocates for people experiencing homelessness are pushing to move the city’s HOPE Team, which does outreach and offers shelter beds to unsheltered people in encampments the city is about to sweep, out of the city and into the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, PubliCola has learned. Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, who did not respond to a request for comment, is reportedly leading the internal discussion about this potential change to the way the city responds to encampments.

Meanwhile, one organization that has successfully moved homeless people with high needs into hotels throughout the pandemic, the Public Defender Association, is seeking full funding for its LEAD and Co-LEAD  programs. Harrell’s budget provides a total of $2.5 million for both programs next year, which isn’t enough to keep both programs going

=

Harrell’s budget would expand the HOPE Team from four to 10 “system navigators” at a cost of about $1 million; moving these workers to the KCRHA, along with funds that help HOPE Team members locate available shelter beds and coordinate their work with other agencies, would shift about $2.7 million out of the city’s budget and into KCRHA’s.

That $2.7 million represents a fraction of the $38 million Harrell wants to spend on a new, consolidated encampment cleanup team called the Unified Care Team, which already includes dozens of employees in the parks, transportation, and public utilities departments. (That $38 million also includes a related effort called the Clean City Initiative). Harrell’s budget includes $15 million in new spending to increase the team to 61 members, far more than the controversial, disbanded Navigation Team had at its peak.

The KCRHA does not oversee the city’s routine encampment removals, which include both pre-scheduled and short-notice sweeps. It’s unclear how the transfer of these employees would impact their work at encampments and their ability to coordinate with the city and homeless service providers. The request is not coming from the KCRHA, which currently has its hands full fighting against another Harrell proposal that would effectively cut homeless provider pay by permanently capping mandatory contract increases at 4 percent, far less than the rate of inflation.

Meanwhile, one organization that has successfully moved homeless people with high needs into hotels throughout the pandemic, the Public Defender Association, is seeking full funding for its LEAD and Co-LEAD  programs. Harrell’s budget provides a total of $2.5 million for both programs next year, which isn’t enough to keep both programs going. Co-LEAD provides hotel-based lodging and intensive case management to people experiencing homelessness; LEAD is a case management program for people involved in the criminal legal system, including those who are housed. In addition to underfunding these programs, Harrell’s budget assumes Co-LEAD will begin moving people into new tiny house villages, rather than the hotel rooms the program currently uses.

Building a new tiny house village to shelter Co-LEAD clients wouldn’t just represent a downgrade in terms of facilities (hotels, unlike tiny houses, have individual showers, restrooms, and running water); it would also require the PDA to plan and win approval for a new, mostly outdoor shelter complex somewhere in Seattle, where protesters just killed a 90-bed expansion of an existing homeless shelter in the industrial neighborhood of SoDo.

Conflict Flares Over Equity in Redistricting, Billionaire-Backed Election Reform Campaign Tops $500,000

1. Homeowners from Magnolia squared off against renters and advocates for BIPOC Seattle residents Saturday in a forum about city council redistricting that included a preview of an amended district map that would divide the peninsula at the crest of a hill that divides the area both geographically and demographically.

Redistricting has been particularly contentious in District 6 (northwest Seattle) and District 7 (Magnolia, Lower Queen Anne, and downtown). The latest map from the five-member Seattle Redistricting Commission moves all of Magnolia into northwest Seattle’s District 6, consolidating two areas with large, west-facing houses into a single district that excludes less-wealthy areas like Crown Hill and Fremont, which would be divided into three districts.

A group called Redistricting Justice for Seattle, which represents people of color, renters, and other historically marginalized Seattle residents, came up with a map that would preserve the current dividing line in Fremont and return southeast Magnolia to District 7, while keeping other areas, like the Central District and the Rainier Valley, whole. At Saturday’s forum, dozens of supporters of the RJS plan spoke up in favor of a similar proposal from redistricting commissioner Patience Malaba that would split the Magnolia peninsula along 28th Ave. West, consistent with the RJS proposal.

However, representatives from Magnolia businesses, along with several Magnolia residents, pushed back on the plan; one called RJS a “special interest group” that was interfering in the process, while another said she was concerned about the “prejudice” she heard from RJS advocates, many of whom were Black or brown, against Magnolia.

The woman who called RJS a special-interest group also accused them of just “looking at a map” and deciding to divide up a cohesive neighborhood. Actually, the eastern half of the peninsula has far more in common with the less wealthy, renter-heavy parts of District 7 than it does with the view homes on the west side of the 500-foot hill that actually divides the area.

According to data from the US Census Bureau, the three Census tracts that make up this area are overwhelmingly renters (58, 70, and 77 percent, respectively), racially diverse (between 28 and 39 percent people of color), and young (with a median age between 33 and 36.) In contrast, the west-facing, view-home half of the neighborhood is 90 percent homeowners, 81 percent white, and has a median age of 47—a population whose own special interests are powerfully served by splitting up renters and voters of color into multiple voting districts.

The redistricting commission will meet again at noon on Wednesday, October 12, at City Hall.

2. With less than a month to go before election day (November 8), the campaign to change Seattle’s election system to one where voters can select as many candidates as they like (approval voting) continues to far outpace the competing campaign for ranked-choice voting (a system in which voters rank candidates by preference) and for retaining the current top-two primary system. Seattle Approves, the campaign for approval voting, had raised nearly $500,000 by the end of September, while Ranked Choice Voting for Seattle had juts $52,000 and Seattle for Election Simplicity, the local business-backed group that wants to keep elections the same, had raised just under $45,000.

More than $200,000 of the funding for Seattle Approves came from the Center for Election Science, a tech billionaire-backed California think tank that’s pushing approval voting. Another $135,000 from Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX. Eighty-seven percent of the funding for Seattle Approves has come from outside the state of Washington (including Nassau, Bahamas resident Bankman-Fried), and just 2 percent of the campaign’s contributions come from donors who gave $700 or less.

In contrast, 79 percent of the funding for Ranked Choice Voting for Seattle so far has come from inside city limits, most of it from district 7, which includes downtown, Magnolia, and Queen Anne. Eight percent of contributions to the ranked-choice voting campaign were under $700.

Seattle for Election Simplicity’s funding consists entirely of larger donations, but those top out at $5,000—compared to Seattle Approves’ $211,000 and Ranked Choice Voting for Seattle’s $25,000. Most of the donors advocating for the status quo are, perhaps unsurprisingly, local, with 36 percent of the the group’s contributions coming from outside city limits.

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.