1. The King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s implementation board, which has the power to amend and approve or reject the agency’s budgets, unanimously signed off on a budget proposal that would nearly double the size of the agency on Tuesday.
The additional $90 million, which would come from a combination of the Seattle and King County budgets, would pay for 400 new shelter and emergency housing beds, raises for social service workers, day centers, and safe spots for people living in vehicles, among other new expenditures. Most of the new beds (345) would be emergency housing, which a presentation by the authority described as “a dignified place for people to wait for permanent housing.”
The unanimous vote means that after the budget is approved by the agency’s governing board—a group made up mostly of elected officials that is charged with approving the implementation board’s decision—it will be up to city and county elected officials to decide whether to fully fund the request or eliminate some items, as the city did last year.
“This isn’t necessarily what we should expect to see come back to us,” KCRHA CEO Marc Dones told the board on Tuesday. “This budget will be taken up and looked at in relationship to all of the funding priorities that the city and county have.”
For the first time on Tuesday, Dones offered a three-tiered prioritization of the agency’s new funding requests, which could guide city and county officials when they’re deciding what to fund. At the top: Safe parking spaces for up to 130 vehicles ($5 million); an increase in nonprofit homeless service providers’ pay ($15.4 million); and a $1.5 million grant fund for organizations focused on “centering [the] lived experience” of people who have experienced homelessness firsthand.
In the second tier: $750,000 to expand severe-weather shelters; $7.2 million to hire more agency staff; and $20 million for a new “high-acuity shelter” serving up to 55 people with significant behavioral and physical health needs. These new shelter beds would be in addition to the 40-bed high-needs shelter King County is funding separately as part of its ever-expanding shelter complex in SoDo.
For the first time, Dones offered a three-tiered prioritization of the agency’s new funding requests. At the top: Safe parking spaces for up to 130 vehicles ($5 million); an increase in nonprofit homeless service providers’ pay ($15.4 million); and a $1.5 million grant fund for organizations focused on “centering [the] lived experience” of people who have experienced homelessness firsthand.
The rest of the budget adds, including $20 million for emergency housing, $15 million for daytime gathering spaces, and funding to assist smaller and BIPOC-led providers, are now in tier 3. The city and county will both get their own crack at the budget this fall; last year, the city council made significant cuts to the agency’s proposal, declining to fully fund the high-acuity shelter and asking Dones to come back with details about a “peer navigator” program that the agency subsequently launched using one-time private donations.
Dones has been a vocal advocate for “emergency housing”—a type of bridge housing between shelter and permanent housing that could include single-family houses, converted hotels, or —and a slide deck they presented at Tuesday’s meeting suggested that this housing type has an off-the-charts 95 percent rate of exits to permanent housing and 5 percent rate of return to homelessness, meaning that almost everyone who enters emergency housing is permanently housed and does not become homeless again. We have asked the KCRHA how it came up with these numbers and will update this post when we hear back.
2. Last week, Seattle Fire Department chief Harold Scoggins responded to a letter from members of the the city’s race and social justice network demanding action on hate crimes and racism inside the fire department after two incidents in which firefighters found nooses hanging in their stations. The initial letter asked Scoggins for regular updates on the investigation into the incidents; a restorative justice process for fire department staff; and the immediate termination of the people responsible for placing the nooses in the two fire stations, among other demands.
In his letter, Scoggins laid out a list of actions the department has taken over the past few years to train and educate staff about racial bias, including sessions on implicit bias, cultural competency, and microaggressions, but did not commit to any of the specific actions the RSJ teams demanded in their initial letter to the department.
“We are committed to pursuing the appropriate level of discipline depending on the outcome of an investigation,” Scoggins wrote, adding that the department had closed its investigation into the first noose incident, at Fire Station 17 in the University District because they “could not identify the responsible party.” The investigation into the more recent incident, at Fire Station 24 in North Seattle, is still ongoing, Scoggins wrote.
1. As Parks Department workers and police wrapped up the removal of an encampment in Ballard two miles away, Mayor Bruce Harrell stood in a parking lot near another former encampment site in Lower Woodland Park, declaring, “Under this administration, we don’t sweep. We don’t chase people out. We treat and we house.”
Harrell, along with King County Regional Homelessness Authority CEO Marc Dones, District 6 city council member Dan Strauss, and representatives from city departments and the nonprofit outreach provider REACH, was in Woodland Park to celebrate the removal of an encampment in the park that resulted in 89 referrals to shelter and four housing placements, according to the city. (“Referrals” are not the same thing as shelter enrollments; the number of people who show up to shelter is typically less than half the number of those who get referrals.)
As we reported this week, the city’s original plan was to shelter everyone on a “by-name list” created back in February. Instead, after someone at the encampment reportedly threatened a city outreach worker with a gun, the city directed shelter providers to open up beds and hold beds open so that everyone living at Woodland Park could move out and into shelter, primarily tiny house villages, right away. In the end, nearly half of the 89 people the city moved into shelter were not on the by-name list. More than half the people moved from Woodland Park were relocated not during the past four months of outreach, but in the final week leading up to the park closure on Tuesday.
On Thursday, both KCRHA CEO Marc Dones and Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington said it was actually a good sign that people relocated to Woodland Park after the city started doing outreach there earlier this year. “It’s good news for me that people came at the last minute,” because “they saw there were resources,” Washington said. “And it’s good news that we were able to give them the resources they need.”
Dones said they wouldn’t describe the decision to make dozens of beds available to people living in Woodland Park, as opposed to other encampments around the city, as a “a movement of resources. I would actually describe that as, literally, things came online that we were able to offer. And I think that is broadly a good strategy that we allow the system’s availability to dictate what we do.”
2. Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, one of two candidates seeking to replace Dan Satterberg as King County prosecutor, said he was surprised to learn he was listed as a speaker at an Enumclaw event sponsored by several fringe groups opposed to mask mandates, abortion rights, and public education, and told PubliCola Thursday that he asked the sponsors to remove his name from the list of participants.
The event came to light when Washington State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlowdowski posted an image promoting the event on Facebook and Twitter; the ad listed Ferrell as one of the speakers at the “17th Patriot Gathering,” alongside Republicans including state Rep. Jim Walsh (R-19), who wore a Star of David, invoking the Holocaust, to protest vaccine mandates; state Sen. Phil Fortunato, a vocal abortion-rights opponent who was kicked out of the state Capitol for refusing to take a COVID test; and Matt Larkin, who’s running for Congress in East King County on an anti-Seattle agenda and also opposes abortion rights.
“I’m a Democrat. I’ve been a [precinct committee officer] for the past ten years. I’ve got a lot of labor support and Democratic support,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell said he found out about the event after a Federal Way council member, Huong Tran, referred him to one of the organizers, describing her as “someone who’s pretty prominent in the real estate community,” he said. “I gave her a call and she says they’re having a barbecue or some sort of gathering, but didn’t say who it was or the organization,” Ferrell said. “I had no idea what it was, but [when I found out], I immediately called and said I didn’t know it was a partisan event. I wouldn’t go even if I was available.”
“My manager wrestled to the floor today and was like, dude, you’ve got to tel me what you’re doing,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell, who is running on a “back to basics” law-and-order platform, has endorsements from a number of police and trade unions as well as current and former elected officials from around King County, though not Seattle. He has said the prosecutor’s office went “off the rails” by focusing on things like diversion programs for defendants rather than justice for crime victims. His opponent, Leesa Manion, is the chief of staff for retiring prosecutor Dan Satterberg, a former Republican who switched parties in 2018. Ferrell worked for the prosecutor’s office for 16 years before being elected mayor in 2014.
3. Members of the city of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Network sent a letter earlier this month to Mayor Harrell, the city council, Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, and top officials at the Seattle Fire Department demanding an investigation into, and consequences for, a February incident in which firefighters found a noose hanging inside Fire Station 24 in Bitter Lake. The noose was the second found at a Seattle fire station in two years.
In the letter, the city employees—including representatives from the Human Services Department, Seattle Silence Breakers, Seattle City Light, and a number of race and social justice affinity groups and caucuses—ask the officials to thoroughly investigate the incident and identify and fire the perpetrator(s); acknowledge “the pervasive culture of racism that exists within the Seattle Fire Department, and many other departments across the City”; and “[p]rioritize and resource a culture of trauma-informed care for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color employees at the City,” among other actions.
“These recurring actions are a clear symptom of workplace culture toxicity and institutional racism,” the letter says. “It signals the persistently unsafe (physical and emotional) workplace Black employees face coming to work each day at the City. How many other instances of hate crimes, threats to personal safety, and threats of death have occurred at City worksites?”
A spokeswoman for the fire department said Scoggins “plans to respond to the letter from the City’s RSJI network this week,” which the department would share with the media then. Right now, our focus is on providing a timely response to the letter, followed by an update to SFD members regarding information shared in response to the letter.”
A review of the Seattle Police Department’s use of force over the last three years, released by the federal monitor who oversees the consent decree over the department, found that despite a decline in the use of all levels of force, officers remain far more likely to use force against Black and Native American people than white suspects, and that Black people were most likely to experience the most serious type of force, which includes shootings by police. Thirty-six percent of use of force incidents involved Black individuals, who make up just over 7 percent of Seattle’s population.
Between 2019 and 2021, SPD officers used the highest level of force (known as Type 3 force) against 15 Black people, compared to 15 white people and 15 whose race officers listed as “unknown.” Overall, the race of nearly one third of all use-of-force subjects (and more than half of the people police used force against during the summer 2020 protests) was recorded as “unknown” (compared to 9 percent of people arrested overall), making it hard to draw clear conclusions about the true extent of racial disproportionality in use of force. This data gap could simply mean “a box wasn’t checked,” Oftelie said during a public meeting about the report Tuesday night, or it could be “something a bit deeper and more culturally nefarious, like officers have not wanted to check that box… in order to avoid repercussions” related to racial bias.
At Tuesday’s meeting, community members, including members of the city’s Human Rights Commission and a staffer for City Councilmember Alex Pedersen, raised questions about the report’s conclusions and how they’ll be incorporated into upcoming negotiations with the city’s largest police union, the Seattle Police Officers Guild. Malik Davis, a staffer for Pedersen, expressed frustration about the secrecy surrounding contract negotiations, noting that SPOG’s 2018 contract, which invalidated major elements of the city’s landmark 2017 police accountability ordinance, was the reason the federal judge overseeing the consent decree, James Robart, ruled the city partly out of compliance with the agreement the following year.
Oftelie is expected to recommend a path toward ending the consent agreement later this spring.
Meanwhile, the city’s Human Rights Commission, which is not one of the city’s official “accountability partners,” is seeking amicus status on the consent decree in order to share “the stories and solutions of our residents and community stakeholders most affected,” according to an SHRC press release. “In simple terms, the amicus status will enable the Commission to be a ‘friend of the court’ and have the ability to petition the court for permission to submit a brief in support of our neesd for continuous police accountability,” the SHRC wrote.
In October 2020, a little more than six months into the pandemic, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority quietly changed the criteria it uses to place people in the so-called “priority pool” for housing—sometimes known as the “top 40 list.”
Instead of relying on an interviewing tool that has been widely criticized for producing racially biased outcomes, the KCRHA will use a simpler list of criteria developed in response to COVID-19 that prioritizes older people, people of color, and people with specific physical conditions, such as diabetes or a weakened immune system, that make them susceptible to COVID. The new system relies on data from local medical providers and information people self-report through the Homeless Management Information System used by most homeless service providers. Unlike other tools, it does not include factors such as mental illness or substance use disorders, which are common barriers to housing and part of the standard definition of “chronic homelessness.”
The need for a quasi-objective tool to decide who gets housing is a product of scarcity: For decades, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Seattle has far outpaced the amount of available housing for people with little or no income or who need extra support to stay housed. Today, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority estimates there are as many as 45,000 homeless people in the region. Because there isn’t enough affordable housing for all those people, the homeless system has to triage—picking and choosing who gets access to housing based on their level of “vulnerability,” a term with a shifting definition. The calculus is brutal: Without enough housing, most people will always be left out in the cold; the only question is who makes the cut.
“Only a very small slice of people who are homeless are getting help,” said Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “Not many people qualify and there’s not a lot of funding in the system for people experiencing homelessness.”
“When we do have enough housing, prioritization as we’ve known it is something that that will no longer be necessary,” KCRHA program performance manager Alex Ebrahimi said.
“But as long as there’s that scarcity, then we have to be able to identify a group of folks” to prioritize.
King County has used a number of different tools over the years to assess people’s vulnerability and prioritize them for housing—most recently (between 2016 and 2019) an interview-based assessment called the Vulnerability Index—Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool, or VI-SPDAT for (sort of) short. For years, critics argued that the VI-SPDAT led to racially biased outcomes—Black people, in particular, were underrepresented compared to white people—and King County adopted new criteria that de-prioritized the VI-SPDAT, but didn’t discard it, in early 2019.
Later that same year, a study from a group called C4 Innovations confirmed that the VI-SPDAT gave white people a better shot at housing and services than Black people and other people of color, and suggested some possible reasons why: The tool asks a number of extremely personal questions about things like domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and sex work, that white people may feel more comfortable answering in the affirmative, especially if the interviewer is also white. The study also found that the VI-SPDAT asked questions about vulnerabilities that white people were more likely to have than people of color.
The new criteria do away with that by only looking at race, age, and physical health (including pregnancy)—and by foregoing in-person interviews altogether. “What is fundamentally different [with the COVID-19 criteria] is that instead of asking folks a lot of invasive, retraumatizing questions,” KCRHA program performance manager Alex Ebrahimi said, is that “the tool is based on data… so that litany of really invasive, not trauma-informed questions doesn’t have to happen.” The KCRHA gets its information from both “administrative data” taken from the Health Care for the Homeless Network and Medicaid, and from the Homeless Management Information System, a giant database used by most homeless providers that is based on self-reporting.
In the year and a half the new system has been in place, the percentage of Black heads of household prioritized for housing increased from 27 percent to 49 percent, while the percentage of white households declined from 32 to 11 percent. (The percentage of Latinx and American Indian/Alaska Native households that were prioritized for housing also increased slightly, while the number of Asian and multiracial households declined). The change was also striking among families with children, where the percentage of Black households increased from 33 percent to 52 percent, while the percentage of white households declined from 27 to 6 percent.
But the biggest change since the KCRHA started prioritizing people for housing based on COVID vulnerability has been in the age of single adults who receive priority for housing placement. Because the COVID criteria put a premium on age—seven of eight “tiers” count age as one of a small handful of potential qualifiers, with a lower cutoff of 65—the average age of single adults who were prioritized for housing skyrocketed, from 41 to 61 years old. For a typical middle-aged person without any physical ailments that make them specifically vulnerable to COVID, the odds of getting bumped up the queue for housing are slimmer than ever.
Looked at one way, this makes perfect sense: By the time a homeless adult is 60, they are usually much “older,” biologically, because living outdoors is terrible for a person’s health. “The population of older adults who are homeless is expected to double by 2025 and triple by 2030,” Roman said, and “few are going to make it past 60. [By the time] they’re 55, they present as older and they have the problems of older people, but they’re not eligible for federal assistance to older people because they’re not old enough.”
Still, the exclusion of behavioral health conditions from the criteria is a significant shift—one that could mean some people with substance use disorders or disabling mental health conditions have to wait longer for housing. Ebrahimi, from KCRHA, says the authority may take behavioral health into consideration in the future, but notes that this information isn’t readily available through data; people have to disclose it voluntarily through the kind of interview process that the VI-SPDAT, with its biased outcomes, was based on. Continue reading “New Standards for Housing Homeless, Aimed at Addressing Racial Bias, May Have Unintended Consequences”→
1. Like other conservative lawmakers around the country, Washington state Republicans have introduced a bill to score cheap political points off their constituents’ outrage over critical race theory. The bill would create a statewide mandatory curriculum for K-8 history classes and bar schools from including any material related to the New York Time’s 1619 Project, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist, and critical race theory in class curricula.
Critical race theory is a form of scholarly analysis of race, racism, and the law that is taught at the college and post-college level. Over the past year, conservative activists have pushed CRT into the forefront of the culture war by claiming, falsely, that schools are using it to teach white children that they are both individually racist and responsible for systemic racism.
Now, Washington state Republican Jim Walsh (R-19, Aberdeen) is appealing to misinformed and outraged voters by proposing his own anti-CRT legislation. Walsh’s bill would require K-8 public schools to teach “age-appropriate” civics courses based on a list of 23 required reading materials that include the Federalist Papers, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations; the second of John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government; the transcript of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate; and information about historical white supremacy and how it was “combatted through peaceful protest, civic engagement, and the American courts.”
Walsh said he came up with the list by consulting with his constituents rather than educational professionals: “I think the people of Washington are who we should listen to, not self-appointed experts.”
According to the ACLU of Washington’s Youth Policy Counsel, Kendrick Washington, the bill is “censorship, plain and simple,” as it prohibits teachers from discussing “issues of the most profound national importance, such as the impact of systemic racism in our society.” Washington said the bill would force all state public schools to continue teaching “bland, average” U.S. history, , and make it difficult for schools to add diverse historical perspectives to their curricula. Although individual teachers could choose to add other reading material, such as the 1619 Project, to the list, teachers would be barred from “giving deference to any one perspective” on the additional reading material.
2. Longtime state Senator Reuven Carlyle (D-36, Seattle) announced Monday that he would not run for re-election this November when his term expires. While many of his colleagues in Olympia are looking back at Carlyle’s legacy as an environmental champion and as a stickler for tax fairness and budget transparency, we’re wondering who’ll take his place.
The district’s two state representatives, Noel Frame and Liz Berry, are both poised for the position. Although Frame has seniority, serving in the House since 2016, she already plays a vital role for the Democrats as the House Finance Committee Chair and may not want to give up the role. Last year, Frame pushed the capital-gains tax through the legislature, something state Democrats had been trying to do for a decade. Berry, who was first elected in 2020, is vice chair of the House Labor Committee.
Both Frame and Berry congratulated Carlyle on social media. On her Facebook page, Frame said she and Berry are “asking for a little bit of time to evaluate what move makes the most sense for advancing our shared values and moving forward a progressive policy agenda” in the legislature.
The process for replacing Carlyle, who may have been worried about an intra-party primary challenge similar to the one that gave moderate state Sen. Mark Mullet (D-5, East King County, Issaquah) a scare, is not an anointment; as always, voters will make the final decision through the primary and general-election process this year.
A long-awaited announcement by Interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz outlining a plan to phase out low-level traffic stops by police officers did not appear when expected this month. The delay raises the prospect that the policy change, previously a point of agreement between Diaz and police reform advocates, could become entangled by the impending shakeup in city leadership, especially as Diaz waits to learn whether incoming mayor Bruce Harrell will appoint him as the police department’s permanent chief.
Last Tuesday, members of SPD’s command staff met with staffers from the Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the police oversight agency that first pushed SPD to forego low-level traffic stops earlier this year, to brainstorm how to disentangle traffic enforcement from policing. The meeting was a chance for Diaz to solidify a plan of action before the end of the year: a deadline he seemed to endorse in October.
Before he could announce any changes, Diaz quietly left his office for the holidays, which most likely means the traffic stop reforms will remain on hold until next year. The new year could also bring a new police chief: While Diaz has expressed his interest in becoming Seattle’s permanent police chief, Harrell says he will conduct a nationwide search. Impending shakeups within the core group of city departments responsible for spearheading traffic stop reform risk delaying the changes even further.
Removing police from low-level traffic enforcement, Inspector General Lisa Judge argued last summer, is a way to address longstanding concerns that both community members and police officers have expressed the safety risks involved in traffic stops. “Stopping a person is a significant infringement on civil liberty and should be reserved for instances when a person is engaged in criminal conduct that harms others,” Judge wrote in a letter to Diaz in May. “Stops for government-created requirements like car tabs, with nothing but a potential monetary penalty, do not justify the risk to community or to officers.”
Traffic stops are still among the most common types of encounters between police and civilians in Seattle, though SPD’s traffic enforcement has waned as the department focuses its officers on other priorities after two years of high attrition. As of early November, SPD had issued about a third as many traffic citations as it did in 2019. The fines collected from minor traffic citations make up a relatively tiny portion of the city’s revenue—about $5 million since 2019.
Despite the drop-off in traffic stops, racial disparities persist: Though the Seattle Municipal Court has incomplete data on the demographics of people cited for traffic violations, even the partial data shows that Black people are overrepresented by a factor of two compared to the city’s overall population. Nationwide, drivers of color are also more likely to be injured or killed by police during routine traffic stops, a trend that Judge highlighted in her letter to Diaz in May.
Po Leapai, a member of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, is all too familiar with the dangers of traffic stops. On New Year’s Eve in 2018, SPD officer Jared Keller shot and killed his cousin, 36-year-old Iosia Faletogo, in Seattle’s Licton Springs neighborhood after a minor traffic stop and a case of mistaken identity turned into a foot chase. “We learned he had been killed from Facebook,” Leapai said. “We were all at a family New Year’s barbecue waiting for him to show up, and he never came.”
The incident began when two SPD patrol officers driving behind Faletogo on Aurora Avenue N. decided to search his license plate. Their search linked the license plate to an older woman with an expired driver’s license, a relative of Faletogo’s who owned the car. When Faletogo pulled into the parking lot of a convenience store, the officers pulled in behind him and turned on their emergency lights. After learning that Faletogo lacked a driver’s license and had two felony charges from his teenage years, the officers called for backup. When four more officers arrived, Faletogo ran.
The officers caught up to him across the street, tackling Faletogo to the ground. A gun fell out of his waistband, and as the officers tried to pin him to the pavement, Keller shot Faletogo, killing him.
The Office of Police Accountability, cleared Keller of wrongdoing for the shooting, citing Faletogo’s gun and his attempt to resist arrest. But in May, Judge cited Faletogo’s killing in her argument to end the use of police for low-level traffic enforcement.
Leapai believes his cousin would still be alive if SPD patrol officers hadn’t decided to stop him for a minor traffic infraction. “Those traffic stops are another kind of stop-and-frisk,” he said. “I can’t see why there was a need to pull my cousin over, and it definitely wasn’t worth killing him.”
Faletogo’s family filed a wrongful death suit against the City of Seattle in December 2020, arguing that the traffic stop that led to his death was unconstitutional and discriminatory. Faletogo was Samoan; a woman riding in the car with him was Black. Nathan Bingham, who represented the family in the lawsuit, said that the traffic stop itself is at the heart of the problem. “That stop never should have happened,” he told PubliCola. “Minor traffic stops, by their nature, always come with the threat of deadly force by police. They’re volatile and unpredictable.” The city settled with the Faletogo family for $515,000 in September.
If SPD takes more time to consider scaling back traffic stops, Seattle will find itself in a race with state lawmakers to implement reforms when the discussion about traffic enforcement resumes in January. At the very end of last year’s state legislative session, Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-34, West Seattle) introduced a bill that would have prohibited police officers from stopping drivers for eight common civil infractions, including improper turns, driving with expired tags, and driving without a valid license. Continue reading “SPD Pumps Brakes on Plans to Reconsider Low-Level Traffic Stops”→
Going back to at least 2019 (and, really, 2015 or earlier), Sound Transit—the region’s light-rail agency—has been under pressure to end its punitive and racially biased fare enforcement policy, which subjects riders who fail to show proof of payment to fines and potential criminal charges. (The policy has effectively been suspended since the beginning of the COVID pandemic last year).
Instead of rejecting the punitive policy outright—something the legislature gave the agency explicit authority to do earlier this year—Sound Transit has spent the last two years conducting surveys, doing community outreach, and launching a pilot program that replaced uniformed security officers issuing fines with T-shirt-wearing “fare ambassadors” who give information and issue warnings to passengers who fail to pay their fare.
Last Thursday, the Sound Transit board got another update on its ongoing outreach and engagement work that reiterated similar conclusions as previous presentations: Riders want Sound Transit to advance racial equity, build trust with communities, and listen to what they have to say. Like earlier staff presentations, this one also included a timeline: The board should be prepared to adopt a new fare enforcement policy next March, and to implement a “permanent program” by June.
The presentation did not include information about what such a program might look like. In an interview with PubliCola, Sound Transit regional government and community relations director Carrie Avila-Mooney said the decision wasn’t as simple as whether to punish fare evasion or not. For example, “if you don’t do a civil infraction, we have to develop a whole different process or policy,” Avila-Mooney said. “The engagement that we’re doing right now is also different than the engagement we’ve done in the past, because we’re really trying to talk to people who have been most impacted by our past fare enforcement policy. So that takes time.”
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In addition, Avila-Mooney said, “We do have farebox recovery considerations.” In August, Sound Transit staff projected that the amount of revenue the agency receives from fares would be around $34 million short of what the agency budgeted. However, Sound Transit’s assumptions about “farebox recovery”—the percentage of its budget that comes directly from rider fares—are higher than comparable agencies; Sound Transit assumes, for example, that fares will fund 40 percent of the cost of running Link Light rail, compared to King County Metro’s target of 25 percent.
When public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy decided to run for city attorney in May, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, one fueled by her frustration that there were no candidates in the race who believed that the current criminal legal system is not just flawed but broken.
Thomas-Kennedy didn’t expect to end up with more votes than incumbent Pete Holmes, or that she’d be facing off against Ann Davison, a three-time candidate who joined the Republican Party during the Trump administration and whose spotty record as an attorney dried up around 2010. Davison ran for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket, led by far-right conspiracy theorist and gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp, in 2020, after running for Seattle City Council the previous year with a platform that included plans to confine unhoused people in large warehouses.
Now, the unabashed abolitionist—Thomas-Kennedy argues that we can eliminate the need for police and prisons by “developing programs and support systems for our communities to decrease the need for police”— is in the spotlight. Critics, including some former elected officials and the Seattle Times’ ill-informed editorial board, have created a cartoon version of the candidate, claiming she wants to unlock jail doors and end all criminal prosecutions. Cable news, social media, and—again—the Seattle Times’ ill-informed editorial board have also shown an almost pathological obsession with tweets Thomas-Kennedy posted during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, turning them into endless #content while soft-pedaling Davison’s hard-right views and her lack of qualifications.
The tweets, which cheered property destruction and violence against cops, look bad when taken out of the larger context in which they were posted (the 2020 protests against police violence; Twitter) and splashed across cable-news websites and Facebook feeds; if they were someone’s campaign platform, they would be disqualifying. But they aren’t a political platform; they’re tweets —tweets expressing a growing mainstream consensus in the summer of 2020 that the criminal justice system was beyond repair.
Nonetheless, the tweets seem to be all anybody wants to talk about. That’s a shame, because Thomas-Kennedy’s plan for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office is far more nuanced and thoughtful than the hysterical headlines suggest. Those who say they disagree with her ideas should be willing to actually listen to what they are.
PubliCola sat down with Thomas-Kennedy last week. We talked briefly about the tweets before jumping into her plans for the city attorney’s office, what it means to stop prosecuting misdemeanors, and how she would defend legislation that she personally finds abhorrent.
PubliCola: Can you tell me a bit about where your mind was at when you were posting on Twitter in June 2020? I know was a time of really heightened emotions.
Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: I was outraged. People went out to protest racist policing and the Seattle Police Department responded with a level of retaliation that I was not expecting, including tear-gassing the neighborhood I live in 11 times. And, you know, I had to buy a gas mask for my nine-year-old daughter. And, yeah, I was really upset, and I feel like I had every right to be. They’re not private citizens, they’re out here as a group, making these decisions that affect other people—that kill people. I remember the guy that called into the city council meeting saying, “My infant was foaming at the mouth from tear gas,” and it kept happening. So that’s kind of where my head was.
PC: What has the fallout been like for you in the campaign and how has it impacted your ability to focus on the issues in your race?
NTK: Initially, we were just like, “This is dumb.” Like, let’s not give any heat to this. But it’s just being pushed so heavily now that I have had to address it in the media, which to me is just an utter waste of time. Because my opponent is so deeply unqualified for this role and doesn’t understand what the job is. And my platform is backed by evidence, by stuff that’s happened in other places that have shown to be effective. We’re all, I think, pretty aware of the fact that mass incarceration is a failed social experiment. And we are not the safest country in the world even though we lock up the most people.
“At the end of the day, the job is to be the defender for the city of Seattle. And so if there are elected officials that make these crappy laws, I don’t really get to say, ‘I don’t want to do that.'”
I’m here to make things better. And if people have to hate me for it, then I’m fine with that. And the unfortunate thing about the tweets is that it gave [Davison’s supporters] something to distract with. I think that’s the worst part, because I do think that my knowledge, my plan is very tight. I’m specific about what I’m going to do. I know what needs to happen, and it’s really hard to speak back to that. I mean, my opponent really doesn’t talk in specifics, ever.
PC: If you win, what are your top priorities for your first weeks and months in office? Do you plan to shake things up at the office itself?
NTK: I’m going to leave the civil division largely as it is. I do think Pete was doing a great job in the civil division defending the JumpStart tax and [prosecuting] the lawsuits against Monsanto over polluting the Duwamish. I would like to call in a couple progressive, more aggressive lawyers over there. But I don’t intend to make huge changes over there because it is working.
In the criminal division, I’m going to come in with my policies laid out: This is how they’re going to be implemented, this is how we’re going to do things from now on. There’s a huge backlog of cases, which is I think a great opportunity to really turn the corner with how we’re doing things, prosecution-wise.
I anticipate having maybe one or two more attorneys making the direct decisions about which cases to file, because my policy on filing is going to be much more nuanced. It’s not just going to be like a prosecute-or-not type situation. And then also, what can we do to make sure [unnecessary prosecutions aren’t] happening again moving forward? Because, you know, putting somebody to jail for sleeping under an awning doesn’t make them less likely to need to sleep under an awning.
PC: Are you concerned that there’s going to be a brain drain, either on the civil or the side? A lot of people who have worked for Pete for a long time are leaving, because they have concerns if you win, and they have concerns if Ann wins.
NTK: On the civil side, I think that’s a much bigger danger, just because there is a lot of institutional knowledge there. So one of the responsibilities that I will have going in, if I get elected, is to start talking to people in the civil division and letting them know that I want the work that they’re doing to continue and to see if they will stay under me.
In the criminal division, I’m not so concerned about that because there is no shortage of lawyers that want to do things the way that I am proposing. And because it is pretty different than what they’re doing now, I do anticipate a lot of people leaving. But there’s a lot of lawyers in this town that have reached out to me that would want to work in that division.
PC: If you have a mayor and potentially a city council who are proposing and passing laws that you personally consider abhorrent, are you going to be able to defend those laws, or would you feel the need to farm that work out to private attorneys?
NTK: I think that the city attorney has to work with the council and the mayor to craft defensible legislation and defensible policy. So that would be the role of the city attorney—not necessarily directing where policy should go or how it should go, but really making it as defensible as possible.
PC: What if someone living in their car sued to strike down the law requiring people to move their vehicles every 72 hours and you had to defend that law. How would you go about doing that?
NTK: Unfortunately, I think that’s part of the job. I was a public defender, and I did not agree with everything that my clients were accusing doing, yet I was their defense attorney. I don’t see it as any different than that. At the end of the day, the job is to be the defender for the city of Seattle. And so if there are elected officials that make these crappy laws, I don’t really get to say, “I don’t want to do that.”
“The goal is to end misdemeanor prosecution. Do I think that I can get there in four years? I don’t know. I don’t know if it can happen in eight, 12 years. But that is the goal, because ultimately what we know is a lot of the prosecutions don’t result in actual repair or safety.”
I do think that a bigger issue is implementation. So when it comes to the criminal realm, it’s not like a prosecutor files every time a law is broken. We know that only some people are criminalized. There is a recognition within the criminal system that it would be impossible to prosecute every single person for everything. So I would have to probably defend the legitimacy of the law, but if it’s a criminal matter, that doesn’t mean it has to be enforced.
PC: On the flip side, the city attorney can push an agenda from within their limited scope, and they can help the mayor and the council draft laws that reflect the city’s values. What kind of legislation would you be excited to work on and defend?
NTK: I’m really excited to defend the JumpStart tax and fair housing—all of our tenant protections. I’m really excited about that, which why I think the developers are really angry at me. Any sort of progressive revenue would be the thing that I would be most excited about, along with anything related to climate change. I think those two things are really intertwined in a lot of ways, because climate change is here, and we’re going to need revenue to deal with and to survive this crisis.
PC: How would you approach criminal prosecutions against people accused of misdemeanors? Is your plan to stop prosecuting certain laws on day one, and how realistic is that, given how slow the city has been to fund things like alternatives to arrest and prosecution?
NTK: The goal is to end misdemeanor prosecution. Do I think that I can get there in four years? I don’t know. I don’t know if it can happen in eight, 12 years. But that is the goal, because ultimately what we know is a lot of the prosecutions don’t result in actual repair or safety. I mean, prostitution—I’m never, ever going to prosecute that. Drug possession—not gonna prosecute that either. But for most things, it’s going to take a really nuanced approach to see what is really going on. Sometimes people think of criminal cases as if they’re really this very straightforward thing, and it never, ever is. And so that’s why I’m really hesitant to say that there are specific crimes that I wouldn’t prosecute, because there’s always going to be some weird fact pattern out there. Continue reading “PubliCola Questions: Nicole Thomas-Kennedy”→
The King County Council voted today to remove Kathy Lambert, the East King County Republican facing a difficult reelection battle this year, from all of her leadership roles on council committees.
Earlier this month, as first reported on Twitter by PubliCola, Lambert sent a mailer to voters portraying her opponent, Sarah Perry, as a “socialist…anti-police puppet” being manipulated by the likes of Bernie Sanders, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, Vice President Kamala Harris, and her South King County council colleague Girmay Zahilay. The message to white voters—if you elect Perry over Lambert, scary Black and brown leftists (and one Jew) will impose their agenda on your communities—was barely subtext.
The motion, sponsored by council chair Claudia Balducci, who represents Bellevue, said that Lambert’s mailer had “adversely impacted the ability of the council to conduct its business efficiently and effectively.” A related ordinance eliminated the health and human services committee, which Lambert chaired, and combined its duties with that of the law and justice committee, chaired by Zahilay.
“People know Seattle’s not going in the right direction, and they don’t want this to spread to their communities. … I don’t believe that one insensitive item should take away a person’s reputation.”—King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert
In a statement after the vote, Balducci said Lambert’s “mailer and subsequent statements have undermined our ability to work with each other, our staff’s confidence in us as leaders, and our reputation and relationships with outside organizations and agencies. Based on those impacts, it was imperative that we take concrete action quickly.”
Before the vote, the council’s Employment and Administration Committee, which includes all nine council members, held a lengthy executive session to discuss a “Personnel Matter related to Council’s Policies and Procedures Against Harassment and Discrimination. Balducci confirmed in her statement that the council is considering an investigation into whether Lambert’s mailer violated the council’s anti-harassment policy.
Both the motion and the ordinance passed unanimously, but not before Lambert gave a self-pitying, unapologetic speech that minimized the harm the mailer had caused and accused her colleagues of ulterior motives.
The council’s decision to remove her from leadership roles, Lambert said, was “clearly not about race, but about political opportunity to damage my reelection campaign.” Calling the mailer merely “one lapse in judgment” in decades on the council, Lambert accused her colleagues of trying to push “Seattle-centric ideas” by empowering Zahilay to oversee health and human services as part of his committee.
“The people in this county are worried about public safety, crime and response times due to political decisions, people are smart. They see the data and the needs. People know Seattle’s not going in the right direction, and they don’t want this to spread to their communities.”
“I am not going to allow one poorly depicted picture to find who I am,” Lambert said. After the vote, she added, “I don’t believe, as I said earlier, that one insensitive item should take away a person’s reputation, and I hope that for everybody who’s in politics, that you do understand what’s going on.”
Of course, what happens to a politician’s reputation as the result of their own actions is largely out of their control; voters will decide in November whether to reelect a conservative Republican who opposes harm reduction, has floated conspiracy theories about “shredded ballots,” supports anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers,” and has expressed anti-labor and pro-Trump views, and also sent out a racist mailer. Lambert was on her heels long before the latest controversy, for one simple reason: Her district is changing, as more people move to Issaquah and dilute the power of the white, conservative, rural areas that reliably vote for Republicans.
1. Late Friday afternoon, King County Superior Court Judge Christine Shaffer struck Charter Amendment 29, the “Compassion Seattle” homelessness initiative, from the November ballot, agreeing with opponents of the measure that it went beyond the scope of the initiative process. Specifically, Shaffer said, the amendment attempted to overrule the city of Seattle’s authority to determine its own homelessness and land-use policies—authority granted to local jurisdictions by the state legislature that cannot, she said, be overturned by an initiative at the local level.
The amendment, if adopted, would require the city council to spend a minimum of 12 percent of its general fund revenues on homelessness, dictating further that in the first year, that money would have to pay for 2,000 new units of “emergency housing” (shelter). It would also change local land use and zoning laws by requiring the city to waive code requirements, regulations, and fees to “urgently site” the projects it would mandate.
The groups that sued to remove the proposal from the ballot, including the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness and the ACLU of Washington, argued that the voters of Seattle lack the authority to overturn these sort of legislative decisions, and that the amendment would effectively undo the agreement the city and county made to create the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority. Judge Shaffer agreed.
“There’s a direct effort in Charter Amendment 29 to control the city’s budgetary authority and that is not disputed in this record, any more than the efforts to control zoning and land use is disputed,” Shaffer said. “These are measures specifically required by Charter Amendment 29, and they both are outside the scope of a proper initiative in a way that is not even close. There are so many prior Supreme Court cases on both those topics.”
In arguing for the amendment, Compassion Seattle’s attorney Tom Ahearne said the court should let the proposal move forward and give opponents a chance to challenge it if and when it’s adopted. “When thousands of voters have signed a petition, opponents should not be able to hold the people’s measure hostage, merely because it opposes the policy or raises questions about the measure’s validity,” he said. “Instead of rushing to suppress the vote, this court should allow citizens to consider this charter amendment in November, and if citizens adopt it, allow the plaintiffs’ claims to be fully litigated and resolved through the trial court and appellate process.”
Judge Shaffer said she personally liked the solutions proposed in the amendment, and might vote for it if it was on the ballot. “But as judge,” she continued, “it cannot stand, and I am required to strike it from the ballot.”
“Judge Shaffer’s ruling affirms well-established limits to the local initiative process and recognizes the importance of the proper functioning of our democratic systems,” ACLU of Washington staff attorney Breanne Schuster said in a statement. “We are pleased that CA 29 will not stand as an impediment to solutions that meaningfully address our housing crisis and do not punish people for trying to meet their basic life-sustaining needs like shelter, sleep, and food.”
In a statement issued after the ruling, the Compassion Seattle campaign said that while they were “gratified that Judge Shaffer said that she would have voted for Charter Amendment 29 if given that option, we strongly disagree with her ruling today denying Seattle voters the opportunity to have their voices heard on the number one issue facing our city.” Because an appeal could not play out before the November election, the campaign continued, “We can still make our voices heard in the elections for Mayor, City Council, and City Attorney. In each race, the difference between the candidates is defined by who supports what the Charter Amendment was attempting to accomplish and who does not.”
2. Last month, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and the city’s Human Services Department (HSD) announced that 33 community organizations would share the $10.4 million set aside to invest in “community safety capacity building,” one of many simultaneous efforts to support non-law enforcement approaches to public safety sparked by last summer’s protests.
One of the groups that will receive funds is King County Equity Now (KCEN), the coalition-turned-nonprofit that led the push for a city-wide participatory budgeting program—and, when the council supported their plan, took the reins of the Black Brilliance Research Project, intended to lay the foundations for public-safety-focused participatory budgeting in Seattle. KCEN’s brief tenure as a city sub-contractor ended ignominiously when the project’s head researchers left the organization because of alleged financial mismanagement, as well as alleged mistreatment of queer researchers and researchers born outside Seattle. The group lost their city subcontract, and the research project finished weeks later without KCEN.
But after several months out of the spotlight, KCEN is making its quiet return to the world of city contracting. With the new grant, KCEN says it will partner with “incredible local Black-led housing service providers, like First Place Schools [a charter school provider] and Monica’s Place,” a housing development in the Central District, to conduct another research project. KCEN initially asked for $789,391; however, HSD capped grants at $585,410 because of the volume of applications. The group will have a new fiscal sponsor—Parents for Student Success, a nonprofit cofounded by King County Equity Now board chair Dawn Mason.
This second project will include “an inventory of Black community resources, hubs, places to tap in, needs, current and potential Black partnerships, current policies successes, failures, and gaps to address anti-gentrification and spatial community toward building holistic support,” according to KCEN’s response to the city’s request for proposals. The core question that would guide KCEN’s proposed research—”what does community safety and wellness look like for you in place?”—is nearly identical to the central question of the Black Brilliance Research Project. The results of the research, they wrote in their proposal, would help them and their partners create “scalable, replicable anti-gentrification models.”
The organization asked for funds to pay existing staff, to hire more people to work on the new research project, and to pay for consultants, office space, and supplies.
Since the organization’s unwilling exit from the Black Brilliance Research Project, KCEN has focused on anti-gentrification projects; the group is an offshoot of the Africatown Community Land Trust, which focuses largely on land acquisition in the Central District.
During the Black Brilliance Research Project, measuring the success of multiple wide-ranging research teams became a key challenge for KCEN. In their latest grant application, KCEN says they will track their project’s success by assessing the number and “effectiveness” of their community meetings and workshops, the “thoroughness” of their partnerships and the “quality and reach of community-led research,” among other metrics.