Category: Morning Fizz

Police Budget Fizz: Hiring Falls Short, Shotspotter Gains Support, Burgess Misrepresents Jane Jacobs

Overtime costs at SPD continued to increase this year.

1. The Seattle Police Department is, once again, falling fall short of its annual hiring goals, and would have to increase hiring by nearly two-thirds to hit the goals it has set for 2024, despite receiving full funding for its recruitment and retention plan, which included recruitment bonuses of up to $30,000, last year. City Council central staff presented the numbers at a council budget committee meeting last week. At the end of the year, according to current projections, SPD will have lost another 27 net officers, once both new hires and departures are factored in.

During last year’s budget deliberations, in which the council eliminated funding for 80 vacant and unfillable positions, SPD predicted that by the end of September, it would have hired 82 new officers, out of 120 total this year. Instead, the department had hired just 46. Of those, just six were fully trained “lateral” hires from other departments—24 fewer than SPD predicted.

Despite losing officers year after year, SPD continues to predict robust hiring; next year, for example, SPD says it expects to hire 120 new officers and lose 120, for a net gain of 15 officers. If the city funds this plan and the department fails to hire all 120, that money will be left over for other, unrelated priorities—which is exactly what happened this year.

Mayor Bruce Harrell’s 2024 budget proposal for SPD uses $8.1 million in salary “savings” from unfulfilled 2023 hiring projections to pay for $6.3 million in unanticipated overtime—necessitated, SPD says, by the staffing shortage. That leaves $1.8 million in free-floating revenues, which the mayor has proposed spending on new surveillance technology, including a gunshot detection system the council rejected last year.

However, Burgess misunderstands Jane Jacobs’ point about the need for ‘eyes on the street’ when he claims that 24-hour camera and audio surveillance will “complement” the city’s efforts to make Seattle’s sidewalks feel safe for everyone. Jacobs advocated for “wholesome” and “casual” oversight of city sidewalks, not 24/7 remote surveillance by police.

Several council members took exception to providing SPD with an ongoing slush fund that is expected to grow year after year as positions stay vacant but funded. Councilmember Lisa Herbold said she planned to propose a proviso, or spending limitation, on SPD’s salary savings, an idea that prompted Councilmember Sara Nelson to counter that SPD could finally hit its recruiting targets this year, so “now is not the time to be discussing reducing money” for the department.

Much of the city’s spending on overtime was to pay for police to direct traffic at events, including concerts (Beyonce, Taylor Swift), sporting events, and visits from politicians, including President Biden, Police Chief Adrian Diaz told the council.

2. The aforementioned gunshot-locator system is back on the table again after the council rejected it last year, and most of the council now seems to be on board. What has changed? Nothing, materially, unless you count the fact that the mayor’s office now plans to add CCTV camera surveillance to the mix—and the fact that former council member Burgess, rather than the mayor’s recently ousted niece Monisha Harrell, is now the deputy mayor overseeing police and public safety.

Burgess, a longtime public-safety hawk who argued for tough-on-crime policies as a council member, said he was inspired to take another crack at Shotspotter—an audio monitoring system that alerts human audio experts when it detects any gunshot-like sound—while driving to a shooting in the parking lot of a Safeway store in Rainier Beach earlier this year.

“I asked the chief,  ‘What else should we be doing to suppress this gun violence which is increasing dramatically in our city?'” Burgess told the council. “And we had a conversation about the various interventions we could employ, including cameras in specific places. And I think that was kind of one of the beginning points of the conversation.” (Shotspotter is the most commonly used gunshot locator system, so the name is used generically to describe all such systems.)

In August, SPD signed a $2.6 million contract with the Seattle marketing firm Copacino Fujikado to create an “SPD recruitment brand” and produce video, online, radio, and social media ads for the department.

“Gun violence… happens all over the city, but it is very concentrated in very specific places,” Burgess said. “And we’re keenly aware of that. And those places deserve the city government to do what we can to stop that gun violence. The same with human trafficking.” Initially, depending on cost, SPD plans to place the cameras and acoustic devices on Third Avenue downtown, Belltown, and/or Aurora Avenue North, but the cameras could move depending on need, according to the mayor’s office. Harrell’s office has asked for an “omnibus” approval of the technology, so that once it passes a mandatory review and receives a Surveillance Impact Report, the systems can be moved to other neighborhoods without an additional review.

Civil liberties and racial justice advocates have argued that focusing surveillance on specific neighborhoods and communities puts police on high alert in those areas, leading to unnecessary stops in communities that have long been subject to overpolicing.

Shotspotter has been around for decades; closed-circuit cameras have been around even longer. There’s little evidence that cameras have any impact on violent crime, although they do seem to deter some thefts; multiple studies have found little to no evidence that Shotspotter works to reduce crime, prevent crime, or solve crimes after the fact. (Notably, many recent Seattle shootings have happened in locations that were under camera surveillance.)

“Mayor Harrell grew up in the CD and attended Garfield High, where there was another shooting last week leading to a lockdown, so I trust he’s listening to the community and wouldn’t be putting this forward again unless people living in the areas where people are dying really want this,” Councilmember Sara Nelson said.

Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Dan Strauss, who have each tried to shake off a soft-on-crime image as they run for reelection, both said they now support funding Shotspotter, which they opposed last year, along with CCTV surveillance. Lewis, who represents downtown, compared the proposal to other “place-based strategies” like the Third Avenue Project, which is overseen by Purpose Dignity Action, the same group that operates LEAD. “I think that that this is a really innovative way for us to try to enhance, with limited resources, our presence in some of these areas,” Lewis said.

Nelson, meanwhile, said she needed no further convincing that Shotspotter is needed, citing the support of three Black women who lost children to gun violence, as well as Harrell’s personal roots in the Central District, as evidence that Seattle’s Black community supports the plan. “Mayor Harrell grew up in the CD and attended Garfield High, where there was another shooting last week leading to a lockdown, so I trust he’s listening to the community and wouldn’t be putting this forward again unless people living in the areas where people are dying really want this,” Nelson said.

3. The police department is turning to ads and other paid media in an attempt to woo new and transferring officers. In August, SPD signed a $2.6 million contract with the marketing firm Copacino Fujikado to create an “SPD recruitment brand” and produce video, online, radio, and social media ads for the department. The firm, which is based in Seattle, has previously produced marketing campaigns for Sound Transit, the Downtown Seattle Association, and Visit Seattle, among others.

4. In his memo supporting Shotspotter, Burgess quoted pioneering urbanist Jane Jacobs, who wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities about the need for mutual surveillance among many people co-existing on busy, vibrant neighborhood streets—a co-existence she assumed would also include police.

However, Burgess misunderstands Jacobs’ point about the need for “eyes on the street” when he claims that 24-hour camera and audio surveillance will “complement” the city’s efforts to make Seattle’s sidewalks feel safe for everyone. Jacobs advocated for “wholesome” and “casual” oversight of city sidewalks, not 24/7 remote surveillance by police. In fact, in that same 1961 book, Jacobs warns about overpolicing on the sidewalks near public housing projects, writing that the problem wasn’t lack of police, but lack of legitimate, legal reasons for people to be on the sidewalk. “No amount of police can enforce civilization where the normal, casual enforcement of it has broken down,” she wrote.

Former KCRHA Leader Now Sees “Significant Issues” With Medicaid Funding for Homelessness; Lived Experience Coalition Weighs In on Report on Hotel Program It Ran

1. The city of Seattle has amended its $60,000 contract with former King County Homelessness Authority CEO Marc Dones, who was supposed to spend the latter half of this year coming up with ways to maximize the use of Medicaid funding for homelessness programs.

The latest iteration of the contract directs Dones to come up with “recommendations with respect to the local federal unsheltered initiative “All Inside” … [including] considerations for the local initiative’s statement of work, actionable workplan and performance plan,” in addition to the work Dones has already done on Medicaid. In an email on August 7 titled “Landscape to Date,” Dones concluded that there were several “significant” but “solvable” challenges to billing Medicaid for homeless services.

All Inside is a Biden Administration program that provides technical assistance to cities, including Seattle; it does not include additional funding for housing or services.

The pivot is particularly striking given Dones’ previous advocacy for using Medicaid Foundational Community Supports funds to pay for Partnership for Zero—a privately funded effort to end unsheltered homelessness downtown that folded, after housing 230 people, this month. Dones was so bullish on the program that they predicted it would pay for at least 85 percent of Partnership for Zero’s services by next year, brushing aside concerns from homeless service providers and elected officials that the program is complex, highly restrictive, and expensive to administer.

Providers raised every one of the issues Dones identified as part of their contract with the city when the KCRHA tied the future of Partnership for Zero to Medicaid funding earlier this year, but were largely ignored. 

In their latest update, Dones identified “four significant issues” with using Medicaid to fund homeless services. First, Dones wrote, agencies often have to spend a lot of time and staff resources documenting and administering programs in order to get reimbursed. Second, Dones wrote, agencies have to spend a lot of time “chasing” clients to collect billable hours, creating a “significant gap in what is called the ‘billable units of service’ and requir[ing] agencies to fund activities that are related to enrolled clients with no path to reimbursement.”

The third issue Dones identified is that FCS is not a reliable source of funds for behavioral health services. And the fourth was that Medicaid reimburses agencies slowly and often rejects claims for minor or technical reasons, making it hard for providers without large cash reserves to use it as a reliable source of funding.

Providers raised every one of these issues when the KCRHA tied the future of Partnership for Zero to Medicaid funding earlier this year, but were largely ignored.

Dones has completed approximately half of their 240-hour contract, according to a schedule of “deliverables” included in the contract document. So far, Dones has produced a timeline and scope of work, a 600-word email describing the “landscape to date,” a 450-word email containing a “Draft Assessment” of All Inside, and a list of five stakeholders to talk to about various topics, including the “intersection of public transit and homelessness,” “intersection of organized crime and encampments,” and “pro social public space activation to prevent encampments.”

2. The final version of a report documenting what went wrong with a hotel program run by the Lived Experience Coalition reaches substantially the same conclusions as an early draft PubliCola covered back in August, but does include a number of notes contributed by the LEC, which has blamed budget missteps that led to the collapse of the program primarily on its then-fiscal sponsor, Building Changes, and the KCRHA.

As we reported last month, the report, by independent consultant Courtney Noble, concluded that the LEC was in over its head when it accepted $1 million in federal funding to run the hotel-based shelter program, which was the advocacy group’s first such contract. Noble also reported that other factors, including a lack of transparency from Building Changes and a hostile relationship with the KCRHA and Dones, contributed to the program’s failure.

In footnotes to the report, the LEC said the audit itself should go through a racial equity analysis “due to the fact that the audit was conducted by a single individual of a particular racial background and socioeconomic class” who may have unconscious bias. Additionally, the LEC objected to the consultant’s suggestion that conflict between “personalities”—at a minimum, Dones, LEC director LaMont Green, and Building Changes director Daniel Zavala—contributed to the collapse of the hotel program.  

The final report now emphasizes systemic issues and removes references to the LEC’s initial proposal, which included hot meals, mass shelter, and supplies in addition to the hotel rooms that were the core of the LEC’s final contract. It also softens suggestions that the Lived Experience Coalition should participate in the regional Homelessness Management Information, a central clearinghouse for information about people who interact with the homelessness system, in order to access federal Emergency Food and Shelter Program funds in the future.

The LEC has said that gathering the kind of data required to participate in HMIS would re-traumatize their clients; additionally, according to the final report, they “believed that KCRHA leadership was retributive, and wanted to punish them for stepping out of their advocacy lane to run the hoteling program. LEC maintained that they were still not a direct service provider, and believed that participating in HMIS would strengthen KCRHA’s argument that they were.”

In footnotes to the report, the LEC said the audit itself should go through a racial equity analysis “due to the fact that the audit was conducted by a single individual of a particular racial background and socioeconomic class” who may have unconscious bias. Additionally, the LEC objected to the consultant’s suggestion that conflict between “personalities”—at a minimum, Dones, LEC director LaMont Green, and Building Changes director Daniel Zavala—contributed to the collapse of the hotel program.

It has historically an issue when poor white, black, brown, and indigenous people come together to speak truth and organize to urgently improve failing systems resulting in the dehumanization, pain, suffering, and early death of our unhoused neighbors that the systems do not want to be accountable and then turn to tactics such as defunding, gaslighting, and mischaracterizing their work,” the LEC wrote.

Finally, the LEC said it’s inaccurate to call the hotel program a failure. “The program did not fail, it served over 400 people during a time period when we saw record deaths among those experiencing homelessness,” the group’s final footnote says.

Burgess Threatened US Post Office Over Graffiti; OPA Clears Officers Who Arrested Protesters for Using Sidewalk Chalk

1. Earlier this year, as part of the the city’s efforts to spiff up downtown Seattle in the runup to MLB All-Star Week, Mayor Bruce Harrell wrote the US Postal Service with an urgent request: Let the city cover the outside of your building at Third and Union with murals or wall banners to help “improve conditions on the street.” At the time, there were several large graffiti tags on the outside the building along with someunpainted plywood panels.

“The City wants to make sure our downtown looks clean and feels safe. However, the current condition of the Post Office is inconsistent with our goal,” Harrell wrote on June 2, in a letter hand-delivered to the local acting postmaster. “The City will pay all costs associated with the murals or wall banners.”

As anyone who frequents downtown Seattle knows, the city plastered the neighborhood with large paste-up portraits of players in the weeks before the All-Star Game; for a while, working in the area was a bit like living inside a promotional installation for baseball.

When the USPS declined the city’s offer to decorate their building, mayoral advisor Tim Burgess responded by threatening legal action.

“The City may be compelled to take action regarding the graffiti on the building, violating the city code,” Burgess wrote on June 20. “Your building looks terrible and contributes to blight.” In a copy of the letter PubliCola received through a records request, those two lines were highlighted for emphasis.

One week earlier, US District Judge Marsha Pechman had issued an injunction barring the city from enforcing its law against graffiti, agreeing with several protesters arrested for chalking outside SPD’s East Precinct that the law is overbroad and likely unconstitutional. However, the mayor’s office noted, Burgess’ threat referred to civil action, which is different than the criminal charges at issue in the federal case.

“I would also point out that the University District post office has a mural painting on it that the UW completed. So permission can be and has been granted in the past,” Burgess’ email continued.

The US Postal Service responded to Burgess’ threat by, in effect, rolling its bureaucratic eyes. “Considering how agitated they are about the exterior, is there a reason we cannot get a coat of paint put on the outlined areas right before the all-star game next month?” a local USPS customer relations manager wrote to USPS higher-ups. Six days later, the postal service sent its response to the city—photos of the building, its exterior wall painted flat government gray and “ready for All-Star game this week.”

The mayor’s office confirmed this sequence of events.

2. Speaking of the graffiti injunction: On August 1, the Office of Police Accountability (OPA) dismissed a series of complaints against six police officers who arrested the four protesters who subsequently sued the city, concluding that the arrests did not constitute biased policing or retaliation against the protesters for chalking messages that criticized police.

In the report, OPA director Gino Betts agreed with the arresting officers that the arrests had nothing to do with the content of the chalked messages, which criticized police, but were “based on property damage—which [an officer who witnessed the arrests] described as a crime—and the cleanup efforts that would ensue rather than the community members’ positions.” At the time, Betts’ report notes, the law banning any kind of alteration to public property was in effect, so the protesters were breaking the law by chalking messages on the temporary walls surrounding the East Precinct.

Additionally, according to the report, at least one of the officers who made the arrests didn’t see the specific messages, “undermining the allegation that [one of the officers] retaliated based on the political message inscribed on the wall.”

In her preliminary injunction against the city, Judge Pechman wrote that the officers clearly retaliated against the four protesters, using the “astonishing degree of discretion” police have under the current law to “to retaliate against criticisms written by Plaintiffs, four peaceful protesters who Defendants arrested for writing political messages in ordinary charcoal and children’s sidewalk chalk in an open and traditional public forum. Defendants selectively enforced [the law] against Plaintiffs’ criticisms while tolerating politically neutral and pro-government chalking,” such as pro-SPD messages chalked on sidewalks by police supporters. “Such viewpoint discrimination,” Pechman wrote, “the Constitution does not allow.”

Campaign Will Pay for Bagel Giveaway After All; Harrell Backs Light Rail Station that Will Inconvenience Amazon

1. After PubliCola reported on a mailer and billboards from Eltana Bagels that appeared to promote the District 1 City Council campaign of Eltana founder and president Stephen Brown, his treasurer contacted us to let us know that the campaign will reimburse Eltana approximately $33,000 for the promotion, along with a billboard in West Seattle and a June 2023 Youtube video that concludes, “Stephen Brown fixed the bagel problem in Seattle—who knows what’s next?”

The mailers, which went out shortly before ballots arrive for the August 1 primary, read, “Seattle Deserves Better… – Stephen Brown” and open to reveal the word “…Bagels!” along with an offer for free bagels valued at $25. About half the mailers went out to addresses in West Seattle, which does not have an Eltana location. (Brown says Eltana targeted people who live near grocery stores that sell the bagels).

Last week, Brown characterized the billboard and mailers—on which “Eltana” appears off to the side in much smaller font than Brown’s name—as a routine advertising expense. “The intention was to use a banal, stereotypical message as a parody—to use humor to sell bagels,” Brown told PubliCola. Similarly”This effort is not a campaign expense—it is not electoral in nature.”

Brown’s campaign decided to pay for the billboard and mailer after Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission director Wayne Barnett sent Brown a letter posing a series of questions about the promotion, including when the mailers went out and where they went, what vendors Eltana used for the ads, and how often Eltana has sent out similar mailers. Barnett also asked whether previous Eltana promotions have prominently featured Brown’s name, and requested examples of other advertising materials from Eltana over the last two years.

“As you know, all money spent to promote your candidacy must be timely reported, and is limited by your choice to participate in the Democracy Voucher Program,” Barnett wrote. “Therefore, we must resolve this issue before the Voucher Program can release any more funds to your campaign.”

The reimbursement has not showed up yet in campaign filings.

2. Transit advocates were dismayed when Mayor Bruce Harrell wrote a letter to his fellow Sound Transit board members in May suggesting the agency study alternatives that could move a future light rail station north or west of Sound Transit’s preferred alternative. The goal of considering both of these alternatives was to prevent a four-year closure of Westlake Ave. that would impact Amazon, Vulcan, and other large employers in the area. One of those alternatives, the “shifted west” option, would have eliminated the Denny station altogether.

Last week, at a meeting of the board’s system expansion committee, Harrell said he now plans to support the preferred alternative and focus on ways to mitigate the impacts of construction in the neighborhood. “I’m waiting for the ridership analysis [to see] how it affects all of this, but I [am]  leaning towards support for the DT-1 preferred alternative that will preserve the two stations in South Lake Union with a strong emphasis—again, I can’t repeat this enough—on mitigating construction impacts,” Harrell said.

During public comment, a number of representatives from South Lake Union businesses testified that closing Westlake to cars for the four-year construction period would be like signing a death warrant for the (booming) neighborhood. Dan McGrady, a longtime lobbyist for the developer Vulcan who now lobbies on behalf of PEMCO Insurance, said light rail station construction on Westlake would cause “devastation” similar to the COVID pandemic, creating a “lasting scar on the community” that “I just don’t think the community can survive.”

Sound Transit is hosting two webinars about the South Lake Union station alternatives before the full board meets again on July 27, where they will have an opportunity to pick a different preferred alternative or keep the preferred alternative on Westlake just off Denny Way.

City Appeals Graffiti Injunction, Council Restricts Public Comment, Candidates Include Lots of Landlords

1. City Attorney Ann Davison announced Wednesday that her office will appeal an injunction that prevents Seattle police from arresting people for violations of the city’s anti-graffiti law. However, given the broad sweep of the injunction—and the judge’s rejection of an earlier motion to dismiss the case—the city’s appeal seems unlikely to succeed.

Last month, a federal judge, Marsha Pechman, issued a ruling in a a case brought by four people who were arrested in 2021 for writing messages including “peaceful protest” in sidewalk chalk on concrete barricades set up outside the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct. In her ruling, Pechman found that that the four plaintiffs were likely to prove that the ordinance “violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments by being both vague and overbroad.” One week later, Pechman rejected the city’s motion to dismiss the case.

In her June 23 order declining to dismiss the case, Pechman said the city failed to prove that the four protesters lack standing to file a claim under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. In addition to the reasons laid out in the original injunction, Pechman rejected the city’s claim that the police who made the arrests had qualified immunity because they believed the arrests were allowed under the ordinance’s “ban on drawing.”

“We have to have the ability to arrest people for unwanted graffiti. If we lose the lawsuit, we go back to the drawing board and figure out what the deficiencies are in the law, and we fix it or remedy it.”—Mayor Bruce Harrell

“The injunction restricts the City from appropriately addressing the growing problem of graffiti,” Davison said in a statement announcing the appeal. “The victims of graffiti—the public as a whole, business owners, property owners, and others – must have a voice. Graffiti is a crime that has an enormously negative and costly impact.”

During an event last week announcing details of his downtown revitalization plan, Mayor Bruce Harrell told PubliCola, “We have to have the ability to arrest people for unwanted graffiti. …. If we lose the lawsuit, we go back to the drawing board and figure out what the deficiencies are in the law, and we fix it or remedy it.”

2. Next week, the Seattle city council will consider new rules for council committee meetings that restrict public comment explicitly to items on a meeting’s agenda, unless the council member chairing the meeting specifies that people can comment on additional items or issues and provides “prior notice” that additional comments will be allowed as part of the meeting agenda.

Over the past several years, public comments at city council meetings have broadened in scope, as more people have shown up to committee meetings to talk about issues that fall under the committee’s purview (addressing the public safety committee about police brutality, or the sustainability committee about climate change), even when there isn’t a specific item about that topic on the agenda. Under the new rules, a committee chair or the council president will be able to cut a speaker off if they go off-topic.

Of the two dozen or so homeowners with active city council campaigns, seven are landlords.

The new rules also spell out more clearly what kind of conduct will get someone kicked out of a meeting, including “threats, personal attacks, or the use of racial, misogynistic, or gender-related slurs, or abusive language or other disorderly conduct,” and give the committee chair sole discretion to decide whether a person is violating the rules.

3. Although the majority of Seattle residents are now renters, the City Council has long been the purview of the property-owning class—people who either come onto the council with property and wealth, or are able to buy property once they start making a council salary.

This year’s council candidates reflect that trend—a large majority of the 30 candidates with active campaigns are homeowners, and only about eight are renters who do not own any property, such as a house that they don’t live in. (These numbers are approximate because state election disclosure records do not require reporting of property owned out of state.)

Of the two dozen or so homeowners with active campaigns, seven are landlords who earn a portion of their income renting residential property. This group includes District 4 candidate Kenneth Wilson, who owns a large coastal property in Florida; District 4 candidate Maritza Rivera, who rents out a Seattle townhouse; and District 5 candidate Cathy Moore, who owns a house in Burien. Most of the landlord candidates make less than $30,000 a year from their rental properties.

The one exception: District 7 candidate (and Piroshky Piroshky owner) Olga Sagan, who reported making between $90,000 and $159,998 last year from her two rental properties in Seattle.

Candidates’ financial disclosure forms and campaign finance data are available at the Public Disclosure Commission.

Burien Leaders Face Crisis of Confidence on Homelessness, More on Former KCRHA Director’s Next Steps

1. The Burien City Council is still seeing fallout from its 4-3 decision to oust Burien Planning Commissioner Charles Schaefer two weeks ago, ostensibly because he directed unsheltered people to a piece of city-owned land prior to the May sweep of an encampment outside Burien City Hall earlier this year.

Schaefer said he was acting as a private individual, and not in his capacity as a volunteer member of the planning board, when he, along with Councilmember Cydney Moore, informed people who had been living at an encampment next to City Hall that it would be legal for them to set up tents on a nearby piece of city-owned property that some condo owners have been using as a dog relief area.

The vote to oust Schaefer sparked a wave of resignations by other volunteer commission members, including the entire Planning Commission.

The city later rented out the land to a local animal shelter run by the head of the Burien business group Discovery Burien for a future dog park, displacing encampment residents again. Many moved their tents to a small strip of city-owned land along SW 152nd St., the “Main Street” of Burien. Within weeks, large boulders had popped up along the strip, along with campaign signs for Alex Andrade, a city council candidate running on a public safety and accountability platform who’s endorsed by three members of the Burien council’s four-person anti-encampment majority.

The Burien Human Services Commission’s letter was a toned-down version of the initial draft, which accused city leaders of “choosing … to invest time and energy on show trials that do nothing to provide access to housing and other support for our neighbors.”

“We’re running out of space and Burien does not have any piece of public property that’s not parks that’s remotely habitable,” Moore told PubliCola this week. “Over the last several months, at almost every council meeting since the first sweep happened, I have asked at the start of meetings if we could amend our agenda to have a discussion about where these people can go.” But every time, Moore said, her request has been deemed out of order—a claim that is not supported by the city’s council rules, which allow proposals to “alter the current agenda” near the beginning of each meeting.

Although council members, including Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling, have claimed that encampment residents are simply refusing to accept shelter and housing, the city’s own Human Services Commission noted in a letter to the council last week that this claim “is simply not true.” The letter also decries a recent decision by the council and city manager Adolfo Bailon to reject an offer from King County to provide $1 million and 35 Pallet shelters, which can house two people each, along with a land swap that would open up a city-owned site for the shelter.

It was a toned-down version of the commission’s initial draft, which accused city leaders of “choosing … to invest time and energy on show trials that do nothing to provide access to housing and other support for our neighbors.”

Meanwhile, Bailon, who was hired by the city council, is undergoing a performance review by an outside consultant. It’s unclear whether the council plans to publicly discuss the details of that review, which is reportedly less than flattering. In Burien, which has a population of just over 50,000, the council hires (and can fire) the city manager, who manages the daily operations of the city.

2. Former King County Regional Homelessness Authority CEO Marc Dones, whose last official day at the authority was June 16, is negotiating a contract from the city of Seattle, through the Human Services Department  for work “related to using Medicaid funding for homelessness services,” an HSD spokesman confirmed.

As we reported earlier this month, the contract will serve as a kind of payment in lieu of severance. It’s unclear what work product Dones will be expected to produce, and the city did not reveal the size of the potential contract; PubliCola has filed a public disclosure request for this information.

As CEO of the homelessness authority, Dones was a vocal proponent for using a Medicaid program called Foundational Community Supports, which provides pre-tenancy services for chronically homeless people, to fund the KCHRA’s Partnership for Zero effort to eliminate visible homelessness downtown.

Neither Dones nor the city provided further details about this contract, which they said would be finalized this week, except that, according to Dones, “broadly[,] it’s pulling together the policy framework to integrate the systems.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this item said that Dones was going to work for the Schultz Family Foundation; Dones followed up to say that they are not taking a position there. 

Arbitrator Reinstates Deputy Who Fatally Shot Driver; SPD Officer Fired for “Inexcusable” Twitter Posts Loses Appeal

1. A private arbitrator has reinstated a King County Sheriff’s Office deputy who was fired in 2021 after fatally shooting a man who was driving a stolen truck with a dog inside.

The deputy, George Alvarez, was driving an unmarked Yukon SUV and in plainclothes when he and his partner, Josh Lerum, began following a stolen truck driven by Black Diamond resident Anthony Chilcott.

According to a report from the county’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, after seeing the truck parked on the side of the road, Alvarez T-boned Chilcott’s truck with his Yukon, running it up onto some nearby boulders. When Chilcott tried to escape, the two deputies, whose clothes did not identify them as law enforcement, smashed out both of his front windows with sledgehammers, pistol-whipped him, and shot him in the head. The entire incident, from the initial pursuit to Chilcott’s death, took less than four minutes.

King County agreed to pay a $2.5 million settlement to Chilcott’s family in 2021. Then-Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht fired Alvarez, but not Lerum, saying Alvarez had escalated the situation by pulling up on Chilcott when he was stopped, sticking his hand in the truck, and “continuing to break and pull out windows” when he knew backup was on the way, resulting in “in a series of bad tactical decisions.” Alvarez, according to a 2021 article in the Seattle Times, had shot at least five people while on duty in the past, and was the subject of a previous criminal investigation for “roughing up” an informant.

A spokesperson for King County said the county was “disappointed” in the reversal and “stands by its original disciplinary decision. … Given the arbitrator’s order and consistent with our collective bargaining agreement, our Human Resources team will be working with the Sheriff’s Office to determine the next steps for this individual to safely return to service, including determining what additional training is necessary.

The decision by California arbitrator Najeeb Khoury, which reinstates Alvarez without back pay, was posted on the state Public Employee Relations Commission’s website on Monday.

In the decision, the arbitrator argues that the sheriff’s department agreed that Alvarez had failed to de-escalate the situation as he had been trained to do, but said the sheriff’s department had given Alvarez “mixed messages” by encouraging that officers use de-escalation (which the decision describes as “a relatively new concept” at the time of the 2019 shooting) while simultaneously praising the SWAT team member for being a “hunter” who caught “bad guys.”

Additionally, the arbitrator said firing Alvarez was out of proportion to his “failure to perform up to standards on one occasion” and that his decision to use force was understandable given the circumstances.

“Sheriff Cole-Tindall has discretion to determine duty assignments, and the Sheriff does not intend for this individual to return to SWAT duties,” the county spokesperson said. “Deescalation training at the county has evolved since the original incident, and the latest versions help ensure that deputies are better able to respond to situations with best practices.”

According to a 2020 study that examined hundreds of arbitration cases over 15 years, independent arbitrators overturned or reduced police discipline more than half the time, and ordered police departments to rehire officers they terminated 46 percent of the time.

Tamer Abouzeid, the director of King County’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, told PubliCola that the decision—which the county has no authority to overturn—highlights the need to reform state law governing arbitration. “Only the state legislature has the power to create consistent standards around police misconduct investigations and discipline, including empowering oversight agencies and department chiefs to hold officers accountable,” he said.

“The decision also highlights that the Sheriff’s Office is using an unnecessarily high burden of proof in making findings, Abouzeid continued, using the high “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard to determine whether an officer violated policy, rather than “the widely accepted ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard.” This, unlike the arbitrator’s ruling, is a matter of policy and can be changed. “While we do not know whether that would have led to a different result in this case, I hope this decision can act as an impetus for changing the burden in all administrative investigations” to a preponderance of the evidence, Abouzeid said.

2. Another police officer who was fired for his behavior, Seattle police officer Andrei Constantin, had his appeal dismissed on Tuesday after he failed to show up for his hearing in front of the Public Safety Civil Service Commission. The dismissal means that SPD Chief Adrian Diaz’s decision to fire Constantin over his “inexcusable” social media posts will stand.

The PSCSC, a three-member appointed body that hears appeals from police and firefighters who were fired, demoted or suspended, had blocked out two full days for the hearing. According to PSCSC chair Stacy Connole, who spoke briefly on Tuesday, the commission had “quite extensive discussions” about the schedule for the hearing and had tried to call, text, and email Constantin but was unable to reach him.

According to the SPD disciplinary action report explaining why Constantin was fired, the officer used an anonymous Twitter account to post dozens of “extremely unprofessional, offensive, derogatory, and entirely unacceptable” tweets that “celebrated violence against protesters, ridiculed human beings who were injured or killed, taunted the family members of deceased individuals, and publicly accused SPD of hating its employees, blamed victims of assault, appeared to celebrate a homicide, and stated George Floyd ‘got justice.’” In one case, he told the mother of an activist who was murdered, “Rest in piss bitch.”

Constantin had been the subject of at least nine other disciplinary complaints when he was fired, and received an eight-day unpaid suspension after shattering the driver-side window of someone’s car while they were sitting at a gas station.

New Housing Not A Major Factor In Tree Loss, Police Alternative Pilot Behind Schedule, Deputy Mayor Says Harrell “Not Interested in Reelection”

1. A new report on Seattle’s tree canopy—a measure of how much of the city is shaded by trees—shows that the amount of tree cover in the city declined by half a percentage point (from 28.6 percent tree cover to 28.1 percent) from 2016 to 2021, the equivalent of 255 acres of tree loss.

The largest portion of this loss was not, however, due to development in single-family neighborhoods, as opponents of new residential density frequently imply, but in the city’s own parks, where 45 percent of the total tree loss occurred, largely because not as many trees were replaced in parks relative to other areas, resulting in a higher percentage of tree canopy loss.

Although “neighborhood residential” (traditional single-family) areas accounted for more than a third of the total canopy over the five years covered by the study, less than 7 percent of tree loss (17  acres) resulted from development in those areas, while development in multifamily areas accounted for another 14 acres of trees lost.

The report does not specify what kind of development happened in these areas or whether it involved increases in density (as opposed to land owners building bigger houses), but it does conclude: “most trees in [neighborhood residential areas] were likely lost due to reasons other than development.”

So why did Seattle’s residential areas lose so many trees? According to the report, the reasons “may include disease or hazard risk, storm events, or aging trees at the end of their lifespan. Trees are also removed to accommodate other uses (e.g., solar arrays, views, gardens, etc.).” In other words: In addition to natural losses, homeowners are removing trees on their own property for reasons that have nothing to do with housing.

Tree canopy losses were greater, as a percentage of the overall canopy in 2016 compared to 2021, in areas with more people of color, lower incomes, and less access to opportunity, including the Rainier Valley and South Park. These areas have fewer trees already, and lost ground over the past year despite efforts to plant trees in historically under-forested areas. It’s unclear from the report exactly why this happened, although the report notes construction of light rail at Northgate accounted for a significant portion of the overall loss in these “environmental justice” areas—an example that contrasts an environmentally positive project, light rail, with the trees it displaced.

As for why the city’s parks are losing trees at a faster rate than others areas, the report says the methodology researchers used might not capture undergrowth, and that newly planted trees take a long time to grow and show up in tree canopy assessments. According to a Parks Department spokeswoman, “it’s not that the rate of replacement has been slow, but the growth from those replacement trees is slow as they have more evergreen trees that start from seedlings and take time to show in the canopy. Loss of a tree is an event, it’s sudden and immediately noticed. Growth is a process that occurs over time and regaining canopy can take many years.”

Overall, Seattle has just over 28 percent tree coverage—hundreds of acres shy of the city’s goal of 30 percent tree canopy by 2037.

2. City council members expressed frustration earlier this week that the mayor’s office is several months behind schedule establishing a small alternative response pilot program for some emergency calls that don’t require a police response. As PubliCola reported last year, the mayor’s office and council signed a “term sheet” laying out steps, and deadlines, for a pilot program that would send civilian responders to some calls, including “person down” calls and wellness checks.

The term sheet included a number of milestones that were supposed to culminate in a pilot program, including a comprehensive set of policy recommendations, a budget, and a final plan that was supposed to launch in January. During a meeting of the council’s public safety committee, a council central staffer said “part of the delay has been the hiring and onboarding” of new Community Safety and Communications Center director Rebecca Gonzales, whom Harrell nominated to lead the city’s 911 dispatch office in January.

But committee chair Lisa Herbold said Gonzales’ appointment should have no impact on the long-planned pilot. “There is absolutely no reason, I believe that we need to delay these conversations about a pilot any longer, regardless of the status of the of the new director coming on,” Herbold said. “We’ve got a lot of good people who’ve been working on this for a while—for several years now— and we need to make sure that we’re driving this forward and creating some momentum where there currently appears to be very little.”

Councilmember Andrew Lewis, the council’s most vocal advocate for an alternative response system, echoed Herbold’s comments. “If we have another hearing like this, where the timelines are so off, and the progress is so on the surface unclear at the next hearing on this topic, I would be supportive of reevaluating the process entirely to find a different path for achieving these goals,” Lewis said. “I just think the sense of urgency around this needs to be much, much higher from all of the parties involved.”

“[Mayor Harrell is] not interested in reelection, which is so exciting, and so he doesn’t make decisions out a fear to get reelected.”—Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington, speaking about the city’s work on homelessness at a national conference this week

3. Seattle Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington caused a bit of a stir at the National Alliance for Ending Homelessness’ annual conference in Oakland this week, when she commented on stage that she appreciated working with Mayor Bruce Harrell because “he’s not interested in reelection.” Some in the room interpreted the comment as a statement that Harrell won’t seek reelection after one term, while others said it was more ambiguous.

The context for Washington’s comment was a list of things Seattle is doing right on homelessness; she was talking about why “relationships matter.”

“He’s not interested in reelection, which is so exciting,” Washington said, “and so he doesn’t make decisions out a fear to get reelected. He literally said to me one day—I said, ‘Hey, if we end this contract, it’s gonna be all over the newspapers,’ and he said, ‘I don’t make decisions that way, I make decisions out of doing the right thing.'”

Mayoral spokesman Jamie Housen said Washington “was saying that the mayor makes decisions not based on what is popular, or in other words what will support a re-election campaign, but based on what is the right thing to do.”

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.