Category: South Seattle Emerald

Selling Newspapers In a Ghost Town

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

It’s the middle of the morning on Friday, March 20, and First Avenue in Pioneer Square is, unsurprisingly, a ghost town. The only people out on the streets are people who have to be there, or with nowhere else to be—a few construction guys in vests, a restaurant staffer, and several people wrapped in blankets, sitting on the sidewalk in front of shuttered storefronts.

But around the corner on South Main St., at the offices of street newspaper and homeless advocacy group Real Change, the scene is still bustling, as vendors file in to collect papers at the walkup counter, use the restroom (one of the few that’s still open downtown), and grab paper bowls of chili from a staffer.

Shelly Cohen, a vendor and Real Change board member who can often be found testifying at city hall against homeless encampment sweeps and human-service budget cuts, is preparing to head out with a new stack of the most recent edition. The cover line: “SILENT SPRING: The City Shuts Down.”

Cohen, who sells papers at a PCC store in Bothell Canyon, says his sales are down, but contributions are up, so “my numbers per hour are pretty consistent” so far. “I’m very fortunate that way,” he says. Lately, he’s been displaying the paper upside down—“because the world is upside down right now”—and letting people grab their own papers, and make their own change, from a box underneath his chair.

Real Change director Tim Harris says the paper will keep printing, and the office will stay partially open, until or unless Gov. Jay Inslee issues an order to “shelter in place,” which would close down most nonessential businesses and make one-on-one sales impossible.  In the meantime, Real Change has set up a vendor relief fund, is allowing customers to donate to specific vendors via Venmo, and is preparing to move to online-only publication. The paper is also waiving the usual requirement that vendors buy a certain number of papers to retain the right to sell in a specific spot.

Lisa Sawyer, a vendor who usually sells papers at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Union Street downtown, recently moved to a spot in Greenwood, but sales are way down there, too. She says she’d prefer to be indoors, “taking care of my health and everything, but this is the only way that I could get by. Especially my most of my income is going towards my room that I’m renting right now.” Sawyer has lived outdoors, off and on, for the last seven years; in February, she celebrated one year in her new home.

Like Cohen, Sawyers says some customers are giving more generously, sometimes without asking for a paper in return. “I had a customer that put money in a grocery cart and pushed it [toward me] and said, ‘I don’t need a paper, I’m giving you this to support you. I’ll put it in the cart because I’m practicing my social distance.’ I totally respect that.” Sawyers says she’s been wearing gloves and sanitizing her hands after every sale. “I’m being more cautious, too.”

David, a vendor who preferred to give his first name only, had only sold a handful of papers at his spot on the Ave in the University District on Thursday, and about a dozen the day before that—a huge drop from the 40 or 50 papers per day he usually sells. He says the U District has emptied out—“there’s nothing but homeless people and business owners looking across the street at other business owners.”

The biggest problem David sees right now is that with all the stores and libraries shut down, people have no place to use the restroom. “The University Bookstore is shut down. The library is shut down. Starbucks won’t let you use the restroom.” Mayor Jenny Durkan announced last week that the Human Services Department and Seattle Public Utilities would soon deploy four mobile hygiene trailers that were funded last year and place portable toilets “at locations across Seattle.” As of Friday, according to mayoral spokeswoman Stephanie Formas, SPU was still “working on a detailed plan for locations across the city for each type of facility, budget, and staffing.”

Cohen says the city’s slow rollout of portable toilets (and shelters—so far, the city has promised just 50 new shelter spaces, plus 50 new spots in tiny house villages) shows that, as usual, people experiencing homelessness are simply not a priority for the city. “Where are our port-a-potties? Where are the trailers we fought for and won [in last year’s budget]? That’s what needs to be done, like, now. And it creates work for people [staffing the trailers]. What a concept.”

“At an Impasse”: Arrest Diversion Program Still Lacks Contract, Full 2020 Funding

This piece is an expansion of an item in yesterday’s Morning Crank, which includes additional information and comments from Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard. It originally ran in the South Seattle Emerald.

When two Seattle bike patrol officers busted Andre Witherspoon for selling drugs, then said they would let him go if he agreed to enroll in a program, Witherspoon initially said no.  “I said, I can’t agree to that—I’m not no snitch,” he said Monday. When the officers explained that the program could get him help with his drug addiction and get him into housing, Witherspoon signed up.

At the time, he said, “I was just thinking, this’ll be my way out. … Later on, I discovered it was a good choice, because the program was very, very helpful.”

The program was LEAD—Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion—and it has helped hundreds of Seattle residents involved in low-level criminal activity get out of the criminal justice system and into housing, health care, and recovery. Last year, the city council approved (and Mayor Jenny Durkan signed) a city budget that included about $6 million in funding for LEAD—enough to reduce caseloads and expand the program, and $3.5 million more than Durkan proposed in her initial budget.

In January, The C Is for Crank reported that the mayor planned to hold back the additional $3.5 million until consultants from the New York-based firm Bennett Midland could complete an $86,000 evaluation. The goal of that evaluation, according to the mayor’s office, is to “surface best practices,” come up with performance standards, and decide on appropriate caseloads for LEAD. The program has been emulated around the country; its founder, Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard, just won a MacArthur “genius grant” because of her work on LEAD. Daugaard has said that without a signed contract that guarantees full funding, LEAD will have to start shutting down offices and stop taking on new clients.

“The mayor’s office is asking the LEAD project management team to provide data that only our local government partners have access to. We need the government agencies we partner with here to prioritize this if it’s what the Mayor wants, and we have no ability to compel that.”

Last week, Durkan sent a statement to reporters saying that the city “fully expects to contract to LEAD for $6.2 million in services and has been working for months collaboratively to receive important information such as their budget.”’

However, Daugaard says the mayor’s office and LEAD remain “at an impasse,” and on Monday, former clients, staff, and supporters of the program held a press conference in Rainer Beach to urge the mayor to release the funds. In addition to Witherspoon, the speakers included city council member Kshama Sawant, who said that if the mayor doesn’t sign LEAD’s contract, she will consider proposing a supplemental budget amendment. “I hope the mayor doesn’t bring us to that point,” she added.

Durkan’s chief of staff Stephanie Formas says the city and LEAD are working on a letter of agreement about the contract, and that the contract itself is currently going through internal review by the Human Services Department. The letter of agreement is not standard for HSD contracts. Nor are some of the monthly and quarterly reporting requirements, including a requirement that LEAD provide an update every three months on client recidivism. LEAD says they have no way of providing this information, because the police department and county jail do not share that data.

“The mayor’s office is asking the LEAD project management team to provide data that only our local government partners have access to,” Daugaard says. “We urge them to obtain the data they’re seeking from the city’s own departments. We have requested access to those data for the [LEAD] database Microsoft is helping us build, and have been told that can’t happen. We need the government agencies we partner with here to prioritize this if it’s what the Mayor wants, and we have no ability to compel that.”

LEAD and the mayor’s office also have not reached an agreement on what “recidivism” means. This won’t make or break the current contract negotiations, but it could be an issue in future evaluations of the program, since recidivism is on a list of reporting requirements for LEAD—along with “housing placements,” which remains on the list despite the fact that LEAD is not a homelessness program and serves many non-homeless clients.

At the press conference Monday, Witherspoon said that “the primary reason why many addicts slide or relapse is because of the stress involved in just being sober”—finding stable housing, accessing medical care, and securing a legal source of income. LEAD walked him through all that, he said. They “helped eliminate that stress.”

Involuntary Treatment Bill, Modeled on California Law, to be Resurrected Next Session

Rep. Steve O’Ban, R-28

This story originally appeared in the South Seattle Emerald.

A state senate bill aimed at taking people with severe behavioral health issues off the street and putting them into involuntary treatment is off the table for this year, but its sponsor, Tacoma Republican Steve O’Ban (R-28) says he plans to resurrect it next session, because the problem of untreated mental illness and addiction isn’t going away.

“The reason for this bill is really the parents who have these kids … who devolve into a worse and worse condition and by the nature of their condition, they don’t think they need care,” O’Ban says. Under current law, people can only be detained and put under guardianship if a court determines that they’re incapacitated by a “mental disorder” and pose an imminent threat to themselves or others.

O’Ban’s proposal would allow judges in three counties—King, Pierce, and Snohomish—to appoint executors for people who have been involuntarily held for psychiatric evaluation five or more times in a 12-month period under the state Involuntary Treatment Act. That law allows people to be held in psychiatric hospitals (or emergency rooms if no psychiatric beds are available) for up to 180 days if a judge determines that they are incapacitated by mental illness. The proposed new involuntary guardianship, or “executorship,” would last one year unless the executor filed for an extension.

The program is modeled on a similar set of bills that passed in California in 2018 and 2019, which authorized three counties—San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles—to create a new “conservatorship” program for people with both severe mental illness and addiction. California state senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who sponsored both bills, says his legislation is intended to address “a very small percentage of homeless people … who are severely debilitated and not capable of accepting voluntary services.”

“One of the areas that’s been a particular concern is the lack of structure and necessary accountability for these patients who come out of involuntary treatment, or they’re in jail, where they should not be, and by the nature of their condition they don’t think they need care and they refuse the needed services.” – State Sen. Steve O’Ban (R-28)

Wiener says the new California laws create a “very narrow conservatorship to reach this small population so that we can save their lives. It is incredibly inhumane, and certainly not progressive, to allow people to die on the streets.” He estimates that the legislation would apply to as many as 100 people in San Francisco, but advocates who opposed the bill say the number is probably much smaller.

O’Ban’s bill, in contrast, would initially be limited to 10 people in each county.  Patients placed under executorship would cede most of their legal rights to a “court appointed resource officer,” or CARE officer, including the right to refuse treatment or choose their own medical providers, the right to decide where to live, and the right “to make decisions regarding social aspects of life,” according to a staff analysis of the legislation.

“One of the areas that’s been a particular concern is the lack of structure and necessary accountability for these patients who come out of involuntary treatment, or they’re in jail, where they should not be, and by the nature of their condition they don’t think they need care and they refuse the needed services,” O’Ban says.

At a hearing on the bill earlier this month, parents whose kids had died on the streets due to lack of housing and treatment testified that if the law had been in place when they were trying to get help for their children, they might still be alive today. Jerri Clark, the founder of Mothers of the Mentally Ill, told the committee that her son, who died last year at the age of 23, “cycled through hospitals that kept him just long enough that he wasn’t dangerous anymore” before releasing him.

“If you look at the big picture, we’ve completely divested from mental health care and we’ve put people out on the streets where they’re completely disintegrating… and then the only care that they’re getting is in the back of police cars.” – Jen Flory, Western Center on Law and Poverty

But critics of the legislation, including advocates for people with disabilities and people who have struggled with mental illness themselves, say that taking away people’s civil rights is inhumane and doesn’t solve the underlying issues: An acute lack of funding for treatment, housing, and intensive case management.

“We do have concerns that adding another layer of legal process to compel people into care, rather than adding new treatment or housing resources, will mainly restrict civil liberties while not actually getting to the desired outcomes,” the Department of Community and Health Services said in a statement about the bill. “Instead of adding another layer of court involvement, we think a middle of the road approach – focusing on expanding flexible, community-based intensive services and added supportive housing resources – will more effectively meet the needs of this population.”

Laura Van Tosh, a behavioral health care advocate who testified against the bill, says the fact that people are involuntarily committed again and again “points to a problem that has nothing to do with people’s mental health. How can people be committed that many times in one year and nobody has ever talked about why the system didn’t work well enough the first time?” She says the current involuntary commitment system “is like going to a restaurant and getting E. coli over and over again, and never figuring out that you should go to a different restaurant.”

California’s conservatorship law requires treatment and housing to be available before people can be placed under conservatorship, although opponents say cities may meet this requirement by simply putting people in the new program at the front of the line for scarce treatment and services. “San Francisco will not conserve people unless they have somewhere to place them,” Wiener says. “In San Francisco, we’re expanding our mental health bed capacity and our shelter bed capacity, we’re building more supportive housing, but it’s definitely a challenge.”

Similarly, O’Ban’s bill says that a county could only implement the program if there are sufficient resources, including mental health treatment and housing, to serve potential clients. The loopholes will likely be the same, if a version of O’Ban’s bill passes in the future, as those in places like San Francisco. There are always beds in Seattle for some people—the question is who gets priority.

Jen Flory, a policy analyst at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, says that by putting people in involuntary treatment and stripping them of their rights, “we’re kind of skipping from A to Z. If you look at the big picture, we’ve completely divested from mental health care and we’ve put people out on the streets where they’re completely disintegrating… and then the only care that they’re getting is in the back of police cars being brought to psych emergency [wards]. And at the end of this journey, they’re like, ‘Okay, there’s something wrong with you and we need to force this care on you.’”

David Lord, the public policy director for Disability Rights Washington, says that before the state authorizes counties to appoint guardians for people struggling with mental illness and addiction, they should actually fund the services O’Ban’s bill enumerates, which include supportive community housing, outpatient counseling and treatment, peer support services, and substance use treatment.

“If you provide services, make them available, and do it in a way that is attractive to people, they’re much more likely to accept those services than if you try to force them,” Lord says.

Neither California’s law, nor O’Ban’s proposal, specifically focuses on people experiencing homelessness. But the subtext of both bills is that they will help put people exhibiting visible symptoms of severe mental illness and addiction—shouting, acting out, and behaving in ways that make other people uncomfortable—out of sight.

In our conversation, O’Ban referred to the 100 “prolific offenders” identified in a report by former Seattle City Attorney candidate Scott Lindsay as a group that might be eligible for executorships under his proposal. And he acknowledged that while his bill is “not exclusively for those who are homeless, I think many of the people who are eligible would be” homeless.

“I can tell you that there are familiar faces, frequent flyers, people who are well-known to the law enforcement community and in emergency rooms,” O’Ban says. “If you start focusing on that population, by identifying the top 100 who are heavily utilizing all those …. you would save the system literally hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.” And “clean up” downtown streets in the process.

Seattle’s New Campaign Finance Legislation, Explained

This story originally appeared in the South Seattle Emerald.

Seattle’s city council recently passed two significant new pieces of campaign finance legislation aimed at reducing the influence of big corporations like Amazon in local elections, with a third bill still ongoing revisions. The first bill bans contributions from “foreign-influenced” corporations; the second creates new disclosure requirements for political ads, and the third—which sponsor Lorena Gonzalez has said she will bring back once she returns from maternity leave this spring—would limit contributions to political groups to $5,000.

If you’re wondering what this means for future elections, you’re not alone. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions about the Clean Campaigns Act—starting with the big one.

Does this mean Amazon will be banned from throwing millions of dollars at the next election? 

Amazon, which helped quash efforts to tax large corporations to fund homeless services in 2018, gave nearly $1.5 million to Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, a political action committee (PAC) run by the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, last year. The contribution, which made up 60 percent of CASE’s 2019 funding, paid for ads, mail campaigns, and direct outreach to voters on behalf of “pro-business” candidates in all seven council races.

The package of legislation could limit the influence of Amazon and other big companies in two crucial ways. First, the legislation passed this month bars contributions from “foreign-influenced” companies—defined as companies of which a single foreign owner controls more than 1 percent, or where a group of foreign owners control more than 5 percent. This, as Kevin Schofield has reported at SCC Insight, would bar contributions from Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb, among others.

The second piece of legislation—the one the council hasn’t passed—would limit contributions to independent expenditure groups to $5,000, while allowing groups with a large number of small (under $100) donations to give up to $10,000 to PACs. If the contribution limit had been in place last year, Amazon wouldn’t have been the only company affected: The Chamber PAC alone received $2.24 million in contributions above the proposed new limit, an amount that dwarfs the $183,000 they received in contributions of $5,000 or less.

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Why is the council going after foreign ownership? Seems a little… Specific.

Supporters of the legislation have argued that because federal law bans direct contributions by foreign nationals, a ban on giving by “foreign-influenced” contributions closes a loophole that allows citizens of other countries to influence elections by investing in US companies, which are allowed to spend money on political campaigns.

But the real issue at play is that the infamous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which gave corporations nearly infinite power to spend money to influence elections, leaves few avenues for governments to place limits on corporate spending. One such avenue is the ban on direct foreign contributions, which the Court has upheld. So the gamble here is that if the legislation is challenged up to the Supreme Court level, the Court will be more sympathetic to arguments about foreign influence than it would be to arguments for limiting corporate spending in general. Continue reading “Seattle’s New Campaign Finance Legislation, Explained”

People of Color, Especially Children, More Likely to Be Asked to Leave Seattle Libraries

High Point Seattle Library 01.JPG
High Point library photo via Wikimedia Commons

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

African Americans, especially children, are far more likely to be kicked out of Seattle libraries than patrons of other races, according to data the South Seattle Emerald obtained from the Seattle Public Library (SPL) through a public disclosure request.

Between January and July 2018, more than a third of patrons who received “exclusions” (notices, which can be verbal, that a patron cannot return to the library for a period ranging from a partial day to two years) were African American. Of 764 exclusions that included information about a patron’s race (61 did not include this information and have been excluded from this analysis), 33.4 percent (or just over one third) were African American; 7.5 percent were Hispanic or Latino; 55.5 percent were white; and the rest were another race.*

The racial disparity is even more stark among children who receive exclusion notices: Every one of the 52 kids under 16 who were excluded from library branches at least once this year was either Black (43) or Hispanic (9). (The total number of child exclusions was greater than that number—72—because some children were excluded from libraries a half dozen times or more. Throughout this post, the term “exclusions” refers to specific incidents, and the term “individuals” refers to specific people, who may have been the subject of more than one exclusion.)

Sixty-seven of the 72 juvenile exclusions occurred at just five branches, all located at libraries in neighborhoods with more low-income people and people of color than the city at large—Columbia City, High Point, Douglass-Truth, New Holly, and South Park. At South Park, all but six of 27 exclusions in the last year were children or adolescents under the age of 16.

Patrons’ races were determined by library staffers based on physical observation. According to library spokeswoman Andra Addison, the library does not ask about or keep track of patrons’ races. For that reason, it’s hard to determine what percentage of Seattle Public Library patrons overall are people of color, and how that compares to the Seattle population at large. According to Addison, it’s impossible to compare library users at any specific branch to the Seattle population.

“Each neighborhood is unique and has its own set of demographics that don’t necessarily reflect the general population of the city,” Addison says.

However, it is possible to compare the system-wide exclusion data to the city as a whole. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Seattle is 7.1 percent African American, 6.6 percent Hispanic/Latino, and 69.2 percent white. In other words, the library is excluding African American patrons at a rate nearly five times greater than their presence in the Seattle population.

The overwhelming majority of people asked to leave libraries across Seattle—81 percent of 862 exclusions, a number that also accounts for people whose race was not included in the documents the library provided**—were male.  Just four of the library’s 27 branches—the Central library in downtown Seattle and neighborhood branches in Ballard, the University District and Capitol Hill—accounted for almost two-thirds of all exclusions.

Children, like adults, were often excluded for being disruptive or noisy. In one instance, four African American boys between the ages of 10 and 12 were playing games on laptops in a meeting room at the High Point branch when one complained to a library staffer that his friend had smacked him on the arm with a laptop cord. All four boys received exclusion notices and had to leave the library. In another, a group of three children—two Hispanic, one black, all between the ages of 4 and 10—were excluded because they were eating candy under the computer tables at the Columbia City branch. (Addison notes that many people who get excluded from libraries may have been warned repeatedly before a library staffer issued a formal exclusion notice.)

Other incidents included a 12-year-old Black girl who was excluded from the Columbia branch or three days for “talking and laughing extremely loudly”; another 12-year-old girl who was excluded for a week for eating at the public computer terminals; a 10-year-old Hispanic boy who was excluded repeatedly from the South Park branch for using his sister’s library card number to log in to a computer; and a Black 9-year-old boy who was excluded for riding his scooter in the Douglass-Truth branch in the Central District. Several incidents were classified as “assault,” including a 9-year-old boy (the same one that was riding his scooter) who allegedly spat on another patron; the boy who smacked his friend with a laptop cord; and a Black nine-year-old girl who spat at a staffer after verbally abusing and “harassing” library staff and being asked to leave.

Addison, the library spokeswoman, says parents drop off their kids and leave them unaccompanied “at several locations, such as the Columbia, South Park, Rainier Beach, Douglass-Truth, High Point and Delridge branches.” Libraries do not include dedicated child care facilities.

The information provided by SPL does not indicate how many of the children who were excluded from library branches were unaccompanied minors, although none of the staff notes indicate that a parent or guardian was present during any of the 72 exclusion incidents involving children. One note mentions that a staffer told five girls, whose ages ranged from 10 to 14, that she knew their parents and they should be ashamed of themselves for throwing rocks at someone’s car and behaving in a threatening manner toward her. At that point, the incident report notes, “the juveniles backed off towards the park across the street” and the staffer called Seattle police, who later took a report from the staffer at her home.

Addison says that in many cases, “staff are familiar with the children and the parents and have been in contact with them before there is an exclusion because our goal is for everyone to be successful using the Library. Sometimes parents tell us to have the youth leave on their own and others come pick them up. Staff always work to try to ensure the safety of youth and to try to engage with the parents. In some cases, we do not have parental information and youth have come to the Library on their own.”

The library’s unaccompanied children policy states that when unaccompanied children are being disruptive, threatening other patrons, or acting inappropriately, library staffers are supposed to “attempt to contact the parent or guardian of the unattended child. In the event that the parent or guardian cannot be reached, the child will be placed in the care of the Seattle Police Department.”

Library patrons can be excluded for violating any of the library’s official rules of conduct, which fall into four categories in increasing order of severity. Category A, for example, includes violations such as littering, sleeping, and “disruptive behavior,” while Category E includes serious transgressions such as using drugs on library premises, violent assault, or pulling the fire alarm. Staffers can issue exclusion orders for up to seven days on their own; longer exclusions require the approval of higher levels of management. (See the library’s full exclusion policy here).

The data provided by SPL breaks down the reasons that patrons were excluded into categories defined in the rules of conduct (examples include “disruptive behavior: Noises, human noise” and “harassment: verbal: discriminatory and/or obscene names: non-staff member”), but those categories encompass a wide range of behavior that library staffers must deal with on a daily basis.

Addison says the rules “address behaviors, and because we are dedicated to improving educational and information access to everyone, an exclusion is a last resort. Unless it is a serious violation, staff start with educating patrons about our rules and then follow up with warnings if the behavior or behaviors continue.”

The library does not keep track of people’s housing status, but Addison notes that many of the library’s patrons are homeless, and that Seattle’s homeless population is disproportionately people of color.

“It is somewhat difficult to make suppositions, but insecurely housed African Americans may not have as many options for welcoming, available spaces to frequent during the days,” Addison says.

Ryan Dowd, director of a large homeless shelter in Illinois and the author of The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness, trains library workers around the country in practices that he says can reduce the number of exclusions by up to 80 percent. His trainings encourage library workers to learn how to relate to patrons with different backgrounds and build relationships with people who use the library frequently (often homeless people with few non-social-service places to go during the day) so that when they do break the rules, they’re more likely to comply when asked or leave voluntarily.

“I teach that where the behavior is coming from matters,” Dowd says. “A lot of disruptive behavior comes from past trauma. if you understand that, oftentimes—not always—you can mitigate the behavior or step it entirely without having to punish it.”

For example, Dowd says “if the guy came in an hour earlier and you said, ‘Good morning, hey, how are you doing?’, he’s a lot more likely to comply later, because you greeted him. He knows it’s not personal.” Addison acknowledges that “some of our patrons come in often, sometimes every day, all day and staff become familiar with them over time.”

Disparities were evident across branches. The downtown library, for example, excluded a higher than average percentage of patrons for alcohol- and drug-related violations, while a plurality of exclusions issued in Ballard were for violating previous exclusion orders. (Ballard, along with Capitol Hill, also had an unusually high number of people excluded for sleeping or lying down on library property.) The University branch, meanwhile, expelled patrons for indecent exposure or lewd conduct at a rate three times higher than the city as a whole.

Individual violations ranged from falling asleep, snacking, or bringing a bicycle into the library lobby, to threatening other patrons with a knife, picking scabs and bleeding on library property, and overdosing in the library restroom, leaving a lighter and needle on the ground.

Along with a pattern of racial disparity, the exclusion data illustrate real challenges facing library staffers in 2018. In a city without an adequate safety net to catch people who are struggling with addiction, homelessness, and untreated mental illness, library workers have become the front-line social service staff for the entire city, and the data bear this out. Leaving the racial disparities aside for the moment, there is a bigger issue here: Libraries aren’t supposed to be all-purpose social service agencies. The staff aren’t trained for it, the facilities aren’t built for that purpose, and patrons who are disruptive—whether because they’re passed out at a computer someone needs to use for homework or shouting at other patrons because of untreated mental illness—make libraries less hospitable places for everyone.

“The Library’s goal is for everyone to use the Library successfully,” Addison says. “We can only do that by maintaining an environment that allows everyone of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to learn and access Library resources and services.”

One option—the one that Dowd suggests—is to train library workers for their new role as “first responders” for people dealing with major mental health and substance abuse issues.

“That is your job, whether that’s what you signed on for or not, in the sense that it’s unavoidable,” Dowd says. “I think that when you come to terms with the fact that this, at least in 2018, is a big piece of the job and acquire the skills to do it well, things just go a lot better than pretending it’s not part of the job.”

Another alternative is to approach the problem of library rules violations from the perspective of root causes—if people are passing out drunk, shooting up, acting out, and exhibiting signs of poorly managed severe mental illness at our public libraries, a better alternative to kicking them out would be to give them options. If Seattle and its regional partners were to invest in daytime shelter and drop-in options, job training for people with employment challenges, addiction treatment and harm reduction, and programs that actually appeal to bored kids and teenagers looking for something to do while school is out, it would go a long way toward addressing the problems that make libraries challenging spaces for both staff and rule-abiding patrons.

* None of these numbers account for people who report being more than one race, who make up about 6.5 percent of the Seattle population; including those numbers slightly increases the percentage of both mixed-race black and mixed-race white Seattleites. Additionally, “Hispanic” describes an ethnicity, not a race, although people of Hispanic origin are often subject to discrimination based on their perceived background and the color of their skin.

** Further context: After de-duplicating the data to include the names of individuals excluded multiple times only once, and after removing all exclusions where race was listed as “unknown” or was not listed, I arrived at a list of 613 individual patrons excluded during those months whose race was identified by library staff. Of those individuals, 32 percent were African American, 7.5 percent were Hispanic, and 56.4 percent were white.

To look at the data a different way, just 72 patrons were excluded from library branches more than once, but those 72 were excluded a total of 223 times. Of those who were excluded repeatedly, 38.9 percent were black, 9.2 percent were Hispanic, 47.2 percent were white, and the rest were other races or ethnicities. Compared to the total population of people removed from libraries, in other words, those who were excluded repeatedly were more likely to be black or Hispanic and less likely to be white.

Why Is a Statewide Anti-Union Group Trying to Stop a Tiny House Village in Seattle?

Image via Low Income Housing Institute

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

When the Olympia-based Freedom Foundation—a conservative group that has spent the bulk of its energy over the past decade fighting against health care workers’ right to organize—filed a lawsuit to stop a Low Income Housing Institute-run “tiny house village” for homeless people from opening in South Lake Union, it raised some eyebrows.

The encampment, like other tiny house villages, would consist of a collection of garden-shed-like temporary housing units that would occupy a city-owned lot on 8th Avenue North and Aloha Street. Why, union members and homeless advocates wondered, was a statewide think tank that describes its mission as “advanc[ing] individual liberty, free enterprise, and limited, accountable government” get involved in a local land use dispute about a homeless encampment on a single block in Seattle?

“When we saw [the lawsuit], we thought, ‘That’s weird,’” says Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 775 spokesman Adam Glickman. “Back in the mid-2000s, the Freedom Foundation was involved in the statewide initiative to get rid of the Growth Management Act (GMA), but recently they’ve been pretty laser-focused on attacking unions and, to a lesser degree, taxes.”

The SEIU represents home health care workers and has spent many years embroiled in legal and political battles with the Freedom Foundation over the union’s right to organize home health care employees and other quasi-public workers.

Glickman says that other than the anti-GMA campaign, he can’t remember the Freedom Foundation ever getting involved in a land use dispute, and certainly not one at such a hyperlocal level.

Neither, for that matter, can the Freedom Foundation’s own attorney, Richard Stephens, to whom a spokesman for the group referred all questions about the lawsuit.

“I’m going back a while, and I can’t remember any other cases like this,” Stephen says. “Most of what [the Freedom Foundation is] doing now is labor law, free speech, freedom of association kinds of things, but historically, they’ve had kind of a broad scope.”

In fact, the lawsuit itself asserts that the reason the Freedom Foundation has standing to sue over a proposed encampment in Seattle in the first place is on the grounds that it claims to generally represent the interests of people in Washington State “in regard to governmental treatment of people at all levels.”

The lawsuit claims that the city failed to do an environmental review of the encampment, which the group claims will lead to “loitering and substandard living conditions in this particular area”; that the city didn’t sufficiently inform the community about its plans to authorize the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) encampment; and that the encampment is illegal, anyway, because the legislation allowing the city to authorize sanctioned encampments only allows three such encampments at any one time.

Of those three arguments, Stephens says the third, involving the law that limits the number of authorized encampments to three, is “the cleanest,” because the law is explicit: “No more than three transitional encampment interim use encampments shall be permitted and operating at any one time,” not counting those located next to religious facilities.

“When the city council adopts an ordinance that says … we’re only going to allow three of them to operate at any one time, then it seems clear that the city staff is just ignoring what the city council did,” Stephens says. “That is sort of the clearest violation. But the other problem is the city council also said when you approve these, you’ve got to ensure there’s the right community outreach and public participation, and it seems like the city and the applicant [LIHI] are scrambling around to do it after the fact.”

Currently, the city has six permitted encampments. Lily Rehrman, a strategic advisor at the city’s Human Services Department, says the new encampments have been authorized under Type 1 Master Use Permits, which are four-week permits that must be periodically renewed. This distinguishes them from the permits used for the first three authorized encampments, in Ballard, Othello, and Interbay.

“Under this type of permit, temporary land uses, like permitted villages, are allowable,” Rehrman says, a claim the Freedom Foundation disputes. LIHI has applied for a four-week Type 1 permit, and LIHI director Sharon Lee says that if the tiny house village is approved, she will apply for periodic renewals.

“I don’t know if you noticed, but there’s a state of emergency,” Lee says, referring to the state of emergency on homelessness that former mayor Ed Murray declared in November 2015.

According to the most recent count of the city’s unsheltered homeless population, there were at least 4,488 people living unsheltered in Seattle. All Home King County acknowledges that this is an undercount, and that the total number is, in reality, higher.

Lee calls the Freedom Foundation’s claim that there wasn’t enough public outreach before the city approved the encampment specious.

“The whole point of having the two community meetings—one in May, the other earlier this month—was to get people to volunteer for the community advisory committee that is required in the legislation allowing encampments,” Lee says. “And not only were there two community meetings, there were also presentations to the chamber of commerce and other organizations.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan formally announced plans to fund the tiny house village in South Lake Union through the “Bridge Housing” program in May, but the idea of sheltering hundreds of homeless people in tiny house villages across the city has been around since at least last February, when Durkan first announced the plan.

The city attorney’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit, beyond a brief statement from spokesman Dan Nolte: “We fully intend to defend the City in this suit, and we’re currently assessing the claims.”

Data analysis “does not link a correlation or causation between the Licton Springs Village and crime.”

Before the Freedom Foundation got involved, the debate over the encampment centered largely on whether the camp would impose a danger to neighboring residents and harm property values in the surrounding area. The proposed site is three blocks north of Mercer Avenue and sits in the epicenter of South Lake Union gentrification. Earlier this month, at a standing-room-only meeting in South Lake Union, opponents focused on the fact that the encampment will not be explicitly clean-and-sober, although drugs and alcohol will be banned in common areas.

The comments from opponents drew guffaws and shouts from tiny house village supporters in the crowd. One neighbor, condo owner Betty Wright, said South Lake Union was “too crowded to handle 100 additional people—I don’t want to say ‘poor people’—people with issues. I was hoping to move to a safe place where I don’t have to worry about crime. I used to run down to the garage in my jammies. I can’t do that anymore. I won’t do that anymore.”

Wright’s neighbor and fellow condo owner Greg Williams suggested that instead of allowing “the ‘homeless,’ as you call them” to live on the site and “destroy it,” they should be required to provide free labor as payment.

“They can give us four hours a day. They can clean. They can do something for us,” Williams said.

“That’s called slavery!” someone shouted from the back.

Amid all the opposition, several people spoke up in favor of LIHI’s plan. They included Kim Sherman, a Beacon Hill resident who hosts a formerly homeless man in a backyard guest house through a program called the BLOCK Project; Mike McQuaid, a member of the South Lake Union Community Council; and Sue Hodes, a longtime activist who worked on the pro-head tax “decline to sign” effort.

Hodes asked the people in the room who opposed the encampment to recognize that “poor people are people” but got shouted down when she pointed out that opponents of stopgap survival measures like tiny house villages and encampments are “mostly white, mostly middle-class.”

According to an annual survey commissioned by All Home, 20 percent of King County’s residents living outdoors have jobs; 25 percent cited job loss as the primary reason they lost access to shelter; and 45 percent were actively looking for work. Moreover, there is little evidence that authorized encampments actually increase crime in neighborhoods.

Although the Seattle Police Department (SPD) says it’s difficult to attribute the rise and fall in crime statistics in and around authorized encampments to any single factor, SPD Sergeant Eric Zerr, who heads up the Navigation Team that removes unauthorized encampments and offers services to their inhabitants, says there’s no comparison between the “criminality” around unsanctioned encampments and camps like those run by LIHI, which include case management, 24/7 security, and basic necessities such as food, restrooms, and showers.

“If you’re living in a tent [in an unsanctioned encampment] and you don’t have any source of income, there’s criminality that goes along with that,” particularly if the people living in encampments are addicted to drugs, Zerr says. “When you have [drug] usage, there’s prostitution, there’s the property crimes, there are domestic violence issues, trafficking issues, serious assaults, rapes, gunplay, that type of thing.”

A review of recent police reports from unsanctioned encampments in greenbelts along I-5 confirms that violent crime is still a regular occurrence in these encampments, although SPD provided no specific evidence connecting unauthorized encampments to crime in the surrounding neighborhoods.

“If you’re living in a community, and you have the life-sustaining things that we consider to be a normal part of life, [plus] case managers and a defined space, you move into a different kind of mindset,” even if, as with the proposed tiny house village in South Lake Union, drugs and alcohol aren’t strictly prohibited, Zerr says of life in a sanctioned, monitored encampment with case management and other basic services.

SPD said it was unable to provide crime statistics demonstrating crime rates in the areas immediately around every sanctioned encampment in the city before and after those encampments opened. Detailed information about specific incidents in and around encampments used to be available online, but is no longer. That data was unreliable when it was available, however, because it included many duplicate incidents, and excluded some incident reports for privacy reasons.

SPD’s Crime Dashboard breaks down crime statistics into 58 neighborhoods, like “Lakewood/Seward Park” and “Rainier View,” but because these are large geographic areas, it’s difficult to attribute changing crime rates specifically to the presence of sanctioned or unsanctioned encampments. However, SPD spokesman Sean Whitcomb says it just stands to reason that “if you’ve got organization and structure, it’s going to be safer, and if you don’t have organization and structure, and it’s just random, then it’s going to be less safe.”

SPD did create a document summarizing the rate of crime in the neighborhood immediately surrounding the authorized encampment in Licton Springs, which—unlike LIHI’s proposed tiny house village in South Lake Union—is explicitly low-barrier, meaning that people in active addiction can live, and use drugs and alcohol, on the premises. LIHI owns the Licton Springs property, but the encampment is operated by a separate group, SHARE/WHEEL, which is not involved in the proposed South Lake Union encampment.

According to the SPD document, “the block containing Licton Springs Village (N 85 to N 88 and Aurora to Nesbitt) remains one of the busiest areas in the North Precinct, both in police proactivity and calls for service.”

The document shows that crime has increased by some metrics and decreased in others, but cautions that the “data analysis … does not link a correlation or causation between the Licton Springs Village and crime.”

Zerr, the Navigation Team leader, says he would personally “feel fine” if a tiny house village opened in his neighborhood, but adds that he supports “energized and maybe even contentious debate” like the one that’s currently taking place in South Lake Union.

“I’d be going down asking those same questions, to make sure the city has thought everything through and that the residents have a voice. Those are things that a responsive government should offer its citizens when they’re going to change the living conditions of their neighborhood,” Zerr says.

Lee, the LIHI director, says she remains optimistic that the South Lake Union tiny house village will be able to open on August 15, as scheduled. “We’re optimistic,” Lee says. “We want to get homeless men and women off the streets before the winter.”

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Six Things to Think About When Thinking About the Head Tax

This story originally appeared in the South Seattle Emerald.

Weeks of tense negotiations, heated yelling sessions, and a high-stakes game of chicken between the biggest employer in the city and the city council culminated in a unanimous city council vote to approve a $275-per-employee “head tax” on Monday afternoon. But what does the vote mean? Is Amazon’s threat to abandon the city off the table? And where does Seattle go from here?

We’ve put together a handy primer to answer these and other pressing questions about this latest effort to address the growing homelessness crisis in Seattle.

1. The $275-per-head tax the council passed Monday was not the tax a majority of the council wanted to pass. Last Friday, in fact, the council’s finance and neighborhoods committee (made up, on this occasion, of all nine council members) approved a much larger tax of $500 per employee, which would have raised around $75 million a year. That vote, however, was too narrow (at 5-4) to withstand a likely veto by Mayor Jenny Durkan, who offered up a $250 version of the tax as a counterproposal last week. The “compromise” most council members agreed to over the weekend raised the total size of the tax by just $25 per employee, enough for Durkan to cheerfully declare victory on Monday evening and for council members who wanted a larger tax, such as council member Mike O’Brien, to say that they had done everything they could.

2. The original $500 tax proposal didn’t come out of nowhere—it was recommended by the city’s Progressive Revenue Task Force, a group that was established after a group of council members failed to pass a smaller, but similar, business tax during the city council’s 2017 budget process. The task force was charged with coming up with a tax that would produce between $25 million and $75 million in revenues; they ended up proposing a $500-per-employee tax on businesses with more than $20 million in gross revenues after considering, and rejecting, lower tax levels that would apply to a larger number of businesses. By targeting the tax at businesses at the very top of the city’s revenue scale, the task force was attempting to respond to objections by smaller businesses (those with more than $5 million but less than $20 million in gross revenues) operate on narrow profit margins and shouldn’t really count as “big businesses.” The more businesses the task force exempted from the tax, the larger the tax had to be to yield the same revenues, which is how the task force arrived at $500

3. The head tax isn’t enough to address the problem. The tax, which sunsets after five years, would raise about $47 million a year for new housing, rental subsidies, and supportive services. Under the spending plan adopted by the council, that would be enough to build about 591 units of housing—288 for low-income people making between 30 and 60 percent of Seattle’s area median income and 303 permanent supportive housing units for formerly homeless people making between 0 and 30 percent of median.  The plan also includes rental subsidies to get homeless people into “immediate housing,” funding for a total of about 250 new shelter beds and authorized encampments, and more money for safe parking lots and sanitation stations.

A few hundred housing units is obviously far from adequate to house the more than 8,500 people who were homeless in Seattle at the beginning of 2017, when All Home did its most recent homeless census—a number that has likely only grown since then. In fact, a report commissioned by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., concluded that the county needs an additional 14,000 units of affordable just to address the current needs of people experiencing homelessness in King County. Building that much housing and addressing the other needs of King County’s homeless population would cost the public and private sectors $410 million a year, the independent report concluded, and that’s only if the annual rate of people falling into homelessness does not increase. King County would need to spend between $164 million and $215 million a year to pay its “share” of that $410 million total.

Michael Maddux, a staffer for council member Teresa Mosqueda’s office, crunched the numbers in the report and determined that Seattle’s “share” of that countywide total would be somewhere between $59 million and $79 million. The $47 million in annual spending that the $275 head tax would provide falls short of the bottom end of that range.

4. The tax that passed Monday is just the beginning of the story. Although the national news crews packed up their cameras and left before the council could begin discussing how to spend the new revenues on Monday, the spending plan is in many ways more critical than the size of the tax. The plan Durkan proposed for her $250 tax would have focused the vast majority of its spending on emergency shelter, encampment removals, and other stopgap solutions, rather than housing, building just 250 units of new affordable housing over five years.

On Monday, the council approved a spending plan that took the opposite approach, emphasizing housing over temporary shelter. However, the real debate will come later this year, when Durkan proposes an implementation plan for the tax as part of the city’s annual budget process. (The spending plan adopted this week sets the council’s priorities, but is itself a nonbinding resolution.) That plan, and the budget process, will give proponents of the Durkan spending model another opportunity to attempt to recalibrate the spending balance in the tax proposal.

The city’s adopted Pathways Home plan, which directs the city to focus its homeless service spending on programs that get people off the streets and into “permanent housing” as quickly as possible, recommends that the city do the exact opposite of what Durkan recommended in her original spending plan. Last year, the city adopted a spending plan for homeless service providers that actually eliminated funding for a large number of basic shelter beds, on the grounds that those shelter providers failed to demonstrate that they could move their clients into permanent housing quickly. Pathways Home is controversial, in part, because it penalizes nonprofits that serve the hardest to house, but the “housing first” principles that underlie it are right in line with the McKinsey report that suggested a lack of housing is the fundamental problem underlying Seattle’s homelessness crisis.

5. Seattle has continued to insist that it won’t continue to “go it alone” on funding for homelessness, but King County has yet to step up and propose its own tax plan to supplement Seattle’s. Although Durkan announced Monday that King County will provide $5.7 million in one-time funding to help keep shelters and authorized encampments open in 2018, the county has been noticeably quiet about what it will do to fund housing and services on an ongoing basis. One Table,” a regional task force made up of elected officials, advocates, and business leaders from across King County, began meeting in January. So far, they have announced that Pearl Jam will hold two concerts in Seattle to raise at least $1 million for homelessness—and not much else. The group’s last two public meetings were canceled with minimal public notice, and the closest they have gotten to a set of recommendations is nine-page document, released quietly last month, that includes no cost estimates, no funding proposals, and no timeline for implementing any of the ideas on the list. That document no longer appears to be available on King County’s website.

6. Finally, the passage of the head tax is unlikely to end the vitriol that has accompanied the debate over homelessness in the past few months, exemplified by a recent town hall meeting at a church in Ballard where homeowners shouted down a panel of elected leaders and progressive revenue task force members with bellows of “BULLSHIT!” “FUCK YOU!” and “RESIGN NOW!”  The problem with any spending plan that fails to house enough people to make an appreciable dent in homelessness is that it leaves too many people on the streets, opening the city up to the predictable objection that “no matter how much money we give them, the problem keeps getting worse”  and the problem with any spending plan that takes a large number of people off the streets and stuffs them into new “tiny house” camps and shelters is that those people have nowhere to go and shelter becomes a way of warehousing people indefinitely.

Meanwhile, the problem with spending the amount that experts consider “enough” is that it tends to inspire fierce pushback from the business community. (According to Maddux’s report, a thorough response may require about $69 million per year from Seattle and $120 million from the rest of the county.)  Amazon threatened to stop construction on one of its downtown projects over the original $75 million head tax proposal, and said on Monday that the adopted $47 million tax “causes us to question our growth here” in Seattle. That kind of talk tends to send those who have benefited from the recent Amazon-fueled boom, such as homeowners who have seen the value of their properties skyrocket to an average of $820,000 over the last few years, into a tizzy. Amazon may not leave Seattle, or even slow its growth here—Fast Company, the business magazine, called the company’s latest statement “passive-aggressive and vaguely threatening”—but the possibility that the company, which just reported $1.6 billion in quarterly profits, might retaliate against the city remains a guillotine that the company is more than happy to hold over the heads of those who have benefited from its success.

Crisis of Confidence at the King County Democrats

Update: As Jim Brunner at the Seattle Times reported this evening, Bailey Stober  now says he is running for the 47th District state house seat currently held by Republican Mark Hargrove. The announcement came just days after Stober lost his job at King County (receiving a $37,700 payout in exchange for an agreement not to sue) after an investigation concluded he had harassed and behaved inappropriately toward a female employee in his separate position as chair of the King County Democrats, a position from which he was also forced to resign. Stober told Brunner he will run as an “independent Democrat” and has the backing of two local officials, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus.

Over the past two days, I contacted more than a dozen local officials and Party activists, including Stober, about the rumor that he was running; unsurprisingly, Stober did not respond to my request for comment. Many people in Stober’s circle have advised him against running for office and suggested that he spend at least a few months out of the spotlight before attempting a comeback, given the gravity of the charges that forced him to resign from both positions. His announcement to the Times came just two days before a woman of color was expected to announce her candidacy for the same position.

This story originally ran in the South Seattle Emerald.

Earlier this month—after multiple investigations, a vote of no confidence, and a lengthy internal trial that found him guilty on five counts of workplace misconduct, financial malfeasance, and “conduct unbecoming an officer,” King County Democratic Party chairman Bailey Stober resigned from both his position as chair of the county party and his $98,000-a-year job as communications director for King County Assessor John Arthur Wilson. The announcements capped a months-long process that turned into a referendum on not just Stober but the culture and future of the local Democratic Party.

Even after losing his position at the party and his paying job at the county, Stober remained defiant and mostly unapologetic. In a letter to Party members announcing his resignation, Stober took credit for numerous successes, including a fundraising campaign that began before his tenure. Then, he offered a vague apology, “to those I have let down and disappointed.” He did not mention the sexual harassment and financial misconduct charges that led to his ouster or the fact that after one year under his leadership, the county party had almost no money in the bank.

His resignation letter to Wilson went even further. After taking credit for a long list of successes at the assessor’s office, Stober suggested he was the real reason “longshot” Wilson managed to win his election in 2015 when Stober was 23. Furthermore, he claimed people were telling him Wilson “didn’t stand a chance to succeed.” Stober did not apologize for, or even mention, the investigation, which concluded that Stober had behaved inappropriately toward his employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo by, among other things, calling her a “cunt” and a “bitch.”

In exchange for agreeing not to sue or seek employment at the county in the future, Stober received a $37,700 payout from the jurisdiction, on top of unemployment benefits that could, over six months, total nearly $20,000. Combined with the full pay Stober received during the one month in 2018 when he was on the job at the assessor’s office and the nearly three months when he was on fully paid leave, Stober could make more than $87,000 in 2018 even if he does not work another day. The investigation itself cost taxpayers another $25,360.

To the end, Stober’s supporters have insisted that the investigation into his behavior was a witchhunt by a group of politically motivated fabulists who resented his success. Several allies even resigned their positions at the King County Democrats after the trial, saying that they no longer felt “safe” in the organization. Even after three separate investigations concluded he had committed many of the actionsof which he was accused, Stober professed his innocence and insisted that his accusers had “made up [or] exaggerated” most of their claims.

“If I have to be the first one to go through this process to open our eyes to the flaws that we have … so be it,” Stober said after the trial, noting how hard it had been for him personally to sit in the room throughout the proceedings and listen to people “debate whether or not I’m a horrible person.”

Stober’s opponents, including Koss Vallejo, said their goal was to hold Stober accountable for his actions and ensure future leaders accused of misconduct will not be able to manipulate party rules to hold on to power to the bitter end.

Who won? Strictly speaking, of course, the group of Democrats who accused Stober of misconduct prevailed. The former Chairman is no longer in power, and his ambition to become state Democratic Party Chair has been dashed for now. In a larger sense, though, the jury is still out on that question. The bruising debate over Stober’s guilt or innocence has split the local Democratic Party into factions, and the King County Democrats have been left with no permanent leader, no money in the bank, and no consensus on whether justice was served.

To understand the implications of Stober’s resignation, and the arguments that were made by his supporters and detractors, it is important to know a little about the charges brought against him. They included:

  • Spending thousands of dollars in Party funds without the approval of the group’s treasurer, Nancy Podscwhit, or its governing board.

The expenditures in question included a $1,826 stay at a house on Vashon Island for Stober and a few Party officials; an office in Auburn that cost more than twice the amount Stober was authorized to spend; a $500-a-month Internet package with enough bandwidth to power a mid-size e-commerce firm; and thousands of dollars in brand-new office equipment for Stober and Koss Vallejo. By the end of Stober’s term, according to treasurer Nancy Podschwit, the group was “broke.” (Stober defended his financial decisions in a lengthy open letter).

  • Firing his lone employee, Natalia Koss Vallejo, on shaky grounds and without board approval.

Stober said he dismissed Koss Vallejo after she “vandalized” a car in a parking lot because it had a hat with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement logo displayed in the back window. A security-camera video of the incident, obtained by Stober and posted anonymously to Youtube by a new account called “DemsAre BadPeople,” shows Vallejo tossing the contents of a cup on the hood of the car. (Koss Vallejo said the cup contained the dregs of an iced coffee.)

  • “Conduct unbecoming an officer,” including frequent “excessive public intoxication,” sexual harassment, incidents of pushing drinks on party volunteers and subordinates, and bullying Koss Vallejo and other Party members.

Among other accusations, Stober allegedly grabbed Koss Vallejo’s phone and posted “I shit my pants” on her Facebook wall, mocked her appearance in front of other people, called her a “bitch” and a “lying sack of shit,” and made sexist jokesincluding one about a party member who was accused of raping an underage volunteer at a state Party event in Walla Walla last year.

Stober spent nearly two months pleading his own case—on Facebook, his personal blog, at party meetings, and in emails to party members—but the trial was Koss Vallejo’s first formal opportunity to speak on her own behalf. During and after Koss Vallejo’s testimony, Stober’s supporters aggressively questioned her credibility and even accused her of having a drug problem, witnesses recounted—a claim for which they reportedly provided no evidence, which Koss Vallejo denies, and which is irrelevant to the question of whether Stober was guilty of misconduct.

“It was absolutely humiliating and degrading,” Koss Vallejo said afterward. “I wasn’t the person on trial. He was on trial for misconduct, and he was able to waste several hours focusing on my character and maligning me.”

After the trial ended, Koss Vallejo said, she didn’t feel like she had “won.” “It was never my goal to get Bailey Stober to resign; it gives me no pleasure,” she said. “No one should have to spend this much time on an internal process to remove someone who is guilty of malfeasance. All of those volunteer hours should have gone toward knocking on doors and strategizing about the real work that we’re supposed to be doing”—promoting and electing Democratic Party candidates, Koss Vallejo said.

In King County, electing Democrats might seem like an easy lift. Last year, as Stober himself noted in his farewell message to members, Democrats prevailed in three out of four partisan elections in King County. Currently, they also hold the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature. However, the way King County Democrats have handled allegations of workplace and financial misconduct could have ripple effects across the state.

Will donors, including elected officials, put their funds and efforts into building a party that seems to care more about protecting its own than building power? Will young women considering careers in politics think twice before joining a party that has a reputation of disbelieving women? Will people who do not fit in with the prevailing “party culture”—a culture that, according to many party members, has long revolved around drinking—feel unwelcome?

Stober, who blamed some of his behavior on a “combination of volunteering 30 to 40 hours a week, working a full-time job … stress, alcohol, and immaturity,” was an enthusiastic participant in, and proponent of, the kind of party culture that state Party chairwoman Tina Podlodowski has been trying to root out. Indeed, several witnesses have described him and another Party member mocking Podlodowski for banning alcohol at Party functions and trying to tamp down the drinking culture in the organization. Such effort that was thrown into high relief when an underage Party member said she was sexually assaulted after a state Party event in Walla Walla, where she says she was given alcohol by, among others, Bailey Stober.

More recently, Jin-Ah Kim, a recovering addict who is active in the 32nd District Democrats, said Stober repeatedly pressured her to drink with him, despite knowing she is in recovery. While drinking alcohol neither causes nor excuses misconduct, it undoubtedly contributes to bad decision making and excludes people who, for whatever reason, prefer not to do business at bars or after hours.

Many of the women who supported Koss Vallejo have said they are enthusiastic to get back to the work of promoting Democratic candidates for the 2018 elections and rebuilding the party. This task will require not just changes to the group’s code of conduct and its process for removing officers but a period of reconciliation between party members on both sides of the Stober divide.

Two weeks after the trial, Stober’s most stalwart allies were still lashing out at Koss Vallejo’s supporters online, accusing them of misrepresenting her experience as a part of the MeToo movement and chastising them for deciding Stober was guilty before the 14-hour trial had concluded. With Stober himself out of the picture, though, many on both sides of the debate over his behavior hope the group can start to heal itself and rebuild—starting with the adoption of an HR and a revised code of conduct that gives victims who are not part of the formal party structure an opportunity to speak on their own behalf.

One person who will not be involved in that rebuilding process is Koss Vallejo. “I still care deeply about the Party,” Vallejo says. “I’m deeply invested in helping Democrats win and helping women win. But it’s not my place to fix these problems. I’m hoping that the people who are still involved, and the new people who have come into the party through this process, will be able to correct the problems that have taken place over the course of this investigation,” so that the next person who believes she has been harassed, bullied, or mistreated by someone in the Party will feel safe coming forward.

Controversial Proposed Charter School in South Seattle Bypasses Zoning Hurdle

This post originally ran at the South Seattle Emerald.

Depending on whom you talk to, the Rainier Valley Leadership Academy (RVLA) high school, South Seattle’s first proposed charter high school, is either a long-overdue alternative to South End schools that fail to adequately prepare kids for college, or a financial and pedagogical assault on three public high schools that have managed to improve their test scores and graduation rates despite chronic underfunding and decades of neglect.

To Sue Peters, formerly of the Seattle School Board, the RVLA and the organization set to run the 58,000-square-foot high school, California-based Green Dot Schools, are trying to “undermine” neighborhood schools “by draining public resources and students from them.” (Charter schools are privately operated but publicly funded, so every dollar spent on charter schools comes out of funding for Seattle Public Schools.)

For the past year, Peters says, the school board “has heard compelling, eloquent testimony for Rainier Beach Students imploring the district to invest in their school. … Building another school one and a half miles from [Rainier] Beach would direct potential resources away from the school and undermine these efforts.”

But to incoming RVLA principal Arneidra Lloyd, a former public school administrator who attended Franklin High School, the school offers another alternative for parents who want their kids prepared for college but don’t test or track into the public schools’ AP or international baccalaureate (IB) programs, which can’t accommodate every student. (AP classes are high-level classes that can be used for college credit; the IB program is an intense two-year college prep program.)

“I feel like students should have the right to choose where they go to school, just like we have the right to choose what we put in our mouths, where we live, and who we marry,” Lloyd says. “The right to school is just as important as all those other rights.”

The proposal that is inspiring this kind of rhetoric is just one component of a planned development at MLK Way S and S Othello Street, right across from the Othello light rail station, called the Southeast Economic Opportunity Center (SEOC), which aims to reduce economic displacement through a combination of on-site jobs, housing, childcare, and education. But it’s by far the most controversial element of the plan.

Last month, the Seattle school board adopted a resolution opposing Green Dot’s efforts to get a zoning variance from the city of Seattle that would allow it to begin construction later this year on a three-story school—one story higher than the zoning rules for the property allow. “I have difficulties with charter schools when they want the money but not the rules that go with the money,” school board member Leslie Harris said.

On Wednesday, Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections spokesman Bryan Stevens confirmed to the Emerald that Green Dot just told the city they have “decided to modify their design so that they no longer need a design departure,” and will stay within a smaller two-story footprint—preventing what could have been a drawn-out battle over Green Dot’s right to seek exemptions from zoning rules and eliminating an important talking point for charter opponents

If Green Dot had decided to pursue a three-story high school, it might well have prevailed. (SDCI said this week that the company had the right to at least request the height increase.) Last year, after a process that school board members say excluded school district representatives, SDCI signed off on a request for a three-story Green Dot middle school on Rainier Ave S., just three blocks from Aki Kurose Middle School.

Green Dot doesn’t have much of a record in the Puget Sound region; in addition to the new Green Dot Middle School in South Seattle, Green Dot operates one middle school in Tacoma and just took over a second charter middle school in Kent. Most of their 28 schools are in Tennessee or California, where charter schools were authorized in 2003 and 1992, respectively. (In contrast, Washington State voters just approved charters in 2012, and the initiative is still under legal challenge).

But the company’s plans to expand into the Seattle area raise questions that have been debated for decades on the national stage: Should privately run charter schools have to play by the same rules as traditional public schools, such as hiring a union workforce? (Green Dot’s Seattle-area schools are not unionized). Does allowing some kids to decamp from traditional public schools to charters doom the kids who are left behind to an inferior education? And should the public subsidize schools run by private companies and nonprofits at a time when the state is struggling to find adequate funding for basic public education?

Peters, the former school board member, argues the new school “will almost certainly negatively impact the existing neighboring schools by draining resources and students from them,” and that kids at charter schools often perform worse than those at traditional neighborhood schools. But national studies of charter schools’ impact on neighborhood schools have been inconclusive, and some research does indicate that urban charter schools can benefit black and Latinx kids living in poverty, in particular, even if the jury is outon whether charter schools, which vary widely (and are regulated differently) from region to region, do a better job of educating kids overall.

Walter Chen, a former Aki Kurose assistant principal who is now principal at Green Dot’s Rainier Valley Leadership Academy middle school, says that because Green Dot’s schools are hyperfocused on college prep, they provide a service that other public schools, even those with good IB programs, just can’t offer. “I really think of Green Dot as a social justice organization—we’re founded on the idea that every child, no matter what neighborhood they live in, deserves access to a high-quality school and a pathway to college,” Chen says.

Homesight director Tony To, whose housing-development nonprofit is spearheading the development of the SEOC, acknowledges Green Dot was “controversial,” but says he thinks the school serves an important purpose. “The program that they’re doing, which is a school-wide college prep program, is one that doesn’t exist in the Seattle school district, and it’s a major concern of students that can’t track into a college prep program,” To says. “And the community supported us on that.”

Green Dot classes are highly structured. Students and teachers learn specific gestures to indicate that they agree or disagree or that someone is doing well. Every student gets a mentor, who will—ideally—stay with that student from middle school to high school and even after graduation. The curriculum includes visits to college campuses, building a resume, and actually applying to schools—every student has to apply to multiple colleges at the end of senior year, even if they don’t end up pursuing higher education. “It’s a college-going culture,” Lloyd says. According to Chen, more than 90 percent of Green Dot’s graduating students in California and Tennessee are admitted to college—and 95 percent of their students “graduate, period.”

Peters, Harris, and other charter school opponents counter that Green Dot’s schools aren’t the only schools that boast a high graduation rate—Rainier Beach, Cleveland, and Franklin all have four-year graduation rates (89.4 percent, 83.3 percent, and 81.7 percent, respectively) that are higher than the district average (77.5 percent), despite having higher student-teacher ratios, more kids who are low-income or in special education classes and, with the exception of Cleveland, higher percentages of attendees with limited English proficiency. And Peters points out that at the one Green Dot school for which records are available, student test scores lag far behind the statewide average—at Destiny Middle School in Tacoma, just over one in four students passed the state’s basic language arts test, and fewer than one in five passed the math exam. Statewide, nearly half of all 7th grade students passed both tests. (After publication, a consultant for Green Dot contacted me to say that those stats require context, and provided a fact sheet and statement from the Washington Charter Schools Association. “Many Destiny students enter significantly behind grade level, and have significant learning needs,” the fact sheet says. “While Destiny students enter far behind, they are catching up.”)

Charter schools have been a contentious issue in Seattle for many years. At least twice since voters passed an initiative allowing charters in 2012, the Seattle School board has adopted resolutions opposing charter schools, and public-school activists pack school board meetings to express their opposition to the schools’ expansion in Seattle. Melissa Westbrook, a schools activist who runs a very active blog about the Seattle school system, says she accepts that charters are “legal. But my main point is that they have to do things legally.” In other words: Green Dot’s zoning issue may be resolved, but their opposition isn’t going anywhere.

Aziz Ansari Isn’t Harvey Weinstein. That Doesn’t Mean We Can’t Talk About Boundaries and Consent.

This post originally ran at the South Seattle Emerald. 

It has been two weeks since a formerly obscure website called Babe.net published a piece describing a troubling sexual encounter between an anonymous 23-year-old woman, “Grace,” and 34-year-old comedian Aziz Ansari.

According to Grace’s account, Ansari pressured her to have sex with him, placed her hand on his crotch a half-dozen times, pointed to his penis and motioned for her to give him oral sex, and repeatedly shoved his fingers down her throat. Grace said she gave Ansari numerous verbal and nonverbal cues that she wanted to stop or slow down—leaving the room, telling him “no,” saying that she didn’t want to feel “forced,” and even going limp and “cold” while he tried to kiss her. Eventually, Grace got up and left, texting Ansari later to say that she had been deeply uncomfortable with their encounter.

For a second, it seemed like we were going to finally have a national conversation about sexual coercion, consent, female pleasure, and male privilege. It seemed inevitable that we would discuss the profoundly disturbing fact that even in the era of #TimesUp #MeToo, a shockingly high percentage of sexual encounters between men and women end with the woman “giving in,” or going numb, or leaving in tears.

 

But then, after a minute or an hour or another drink, he decides to keep pushing, and now he’s pawing at your clothes or pushing your head down into his lap or putting your hand on his crotch, hoping to wear down your resistance. After all, pushing has worked for him so many times—like all men, he’s been taught explicitly or implicitly that sex is a negotiation, in which the man badgers and the woman relents.

 

But that conversation was quickly sidelined by the backlash to Grace’s story—by feminists who said the sloppiness of Babe’s reporting undermined the larger conversation about consent, by left-leaning women who mocked Grace’s experience as a rite of passage that young women must suffer, by anti-feminists who said that even discussing Ansari in the context of “real” offenders like Harvey Weinstein undermined the #MeToo movement, and by other anti-feminists who argued that requiring men to read women’s signals or listen to their words somehow infantilizes women. Ansari, an experienced actor and comedian who wrote a best-selling book about relationships between men and women, was given the benefit of doubt and forbearance one would grant a small child, as someone who couldn’t possibly be expected to read minds, as an “aspirational” Muslim who was being “assassinated” by a vindictive woman, as a young man “in the confused beginning [of his] dating [life].” (Ansari will turn 35 next month).

Fewer people wanted to talk about the central issue the story raised, which is the fact that lack of consent exists on a spectrum, and that encounters where women just give in is part of that continuum, just like violent rape and partner rape and sexual assault against women too drunk to consent. But because our society still requires perfect victims and multiple witnesses and multiple accusations from multiple women to even consider the possibility that a man has committed sexual assault, we rarely get close to discussing the grayer areas of the spectrum, where men who would never consider violently raping a woman think nothing of pushing and pushing until they get their way.

And yet virtually every woman has been in the exact kind of situation Grace describes. You’re alone with a man, fooling around, and at some point, you establish a boundary. Most likely, you do it gently, especially if the man you’re alone with is someone you don’t know well. “Can we just slow down for a minute?” “I don’t feel comfortable doing that right now.” “Let’s go in the other room and talk for a while.” “Can you be a little more gentle?” “I’m not ready for this.”

He may pause for a while, and you think, “Whew. That’s over.” “Of course,” he says, leading you into the next room. But then, after a minute or an hour or another drink, he decides to keep pushing, and now he’s pawing at your clothes or pushing your head down into his lap or putting your hand on his crotch, hoping to wear down your resistance. After all, pushing has worked for him so many times—like all men, he’s been taught explicitly or implicitly that sex is a negotiation, in which the man badgers until the woman relents.

“Bad sex” is sex he takes from you. “Bad sex” is sex where you leave your body and just let it happen. “Bad sex” is any sexual activity that you don’t really want to do, but you do anyway, because it’s the only way to make him stop pestering you. “Bad sex” is sex you give him because it would cost too much to slap him in the face, or tell him to fuck off, or get up and leave.

 

Eventually, you may get up and leave. Or you may go limp. You may stop moving your lips and turn cold, as Grace did. You may take another drink and let the numbness sink into your bones. You may lie back and wait until it’s over or give him whatever it is he wants and sort of float somewhere outside your body while it happens. You may tell yourself, “This will be over in a minute, then I can leave and never see this guy again.” Or you may see him again and offer timidly, “Hey, it was a little weird when….” You may go home with him again and hope it will be better this time.

What you are not too likely to do is slap him, punch him, or run out the door—the solutions many writers have offered up for women trying to escape an uncomfortable situation, usually preceded by “Why didn’t she….” Usually, what makes women stay isn’t a fear of physical violence. It’s the fact that women are socialized, starting practically at birth, never to make things ugly, or hurt a man’s feelings, or give offense. Unlearning those lessons is harder than just walking away from awful sexual encounters, too, because they’re embedded in every facet of women’s lives, from the expectation that we let men talk over us in meetings and present our ideas as their own to the fact that many of us say “I’m sorry” a hundred times a day, not because we are sorry but because we’ve been taught, by instruction and example, that that’s how women get by.

So you sit there, or you lie there, and let him take what he wants, whether it’s oral sex or more nudity than you’re comfortable with or touching you somewhere you don’t want to be touched. One writer described this latter scenario as a game of “touch-roulette … you try to decide the least awful places and ways to let this person touch you because you’re not getting out of the night without letting him touch something in some way.” It is gross and demeaning and dehumanizing. And for straight, sexually active women, it’s a near-universal experience.

We even have a name for it: “Bad sex.”

“Bad sex” is sex he takes from you. “Bad sex” is sex where you leave your body and just let it happen. “Bad sex” is sex where you fake an orgasm to get it over with, because that’s part of the performance he expects. “Bad sex” is any sexual activity that you don’t really want to do, but you do anyway, because it’s the only way to make him stop pestering you. “Bad sex” is sex you give him because it would cost too much to slap him in the face, or tell him to fuck off, or get up and leave.

What “bad sex” isn’t is bad sex. It’s sexual coercion, and it exists on the exact same spectrum as Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose. The existence of a spectrum—and, yes, gray areas—doesn’t mean that we should only discuss one end of that spectrum, the part everyone can agree is unequivocally bad. Despite what you may have heard,  women are more than capable of understanding the difference between violent rape and sexual harassment and sex you said no to but ended up letting him do to you anyway. We should be talking about all of it.

We’re still crossing ten lanes of traffic to find excuses for predatory men’s behavior, and to find reasons to discount women’s stories. We’re still more concerned about the entirely fictional ruination of men like Aziz Ansari than we are about the women they hurt.

 

In fact, the fact that “bad sex” happens so often—and has so many apologists—is a reason to talk about that end of the spectrum of nonconsensual sex more. It’s 2018, and we’re still earnestly debating whether consent has to be enthusiastic, and whether we should put all or just most of the blame on women when men fail to read our mysterious “signals.” We’re still wondering whether men are just too dense or lack the emotional intelligence to perceive whether their sexual partners are actively participating or just acquiescing. We’re still fretting more about whether a report about a sexually coercive encounter was thoroughly reported than the fact that coercive sex is ubiquitous.

We’re still more concerned about the entirely fictional ruination of men like Aziz Ansari than we are about the women they hurt. (See, just this morning, anti-faminist writer Caitlyn Flanagan’s latest concern-trolling piece claiming that society has punished Ansari and Harvey Weinstein equally.) We’re still crossing ten lanes of traffic to find excuses for predatory men’s behavior, and to find reasons to discount women’s stories. (She’s too young to know that what she went through was normal; she just wanted to get famous; she has it in for him; she did something and then regretted it the morning after and now she’s trying to blame the man.) We’re still treating enthusiastic consent, the idea that sex should be pleasurable to both parties, as a new and radical concept, one that men will need a good long time to grasp and put into practice. “Bad sex,” to men, is sex that ends with a slightly suboptimal orgasm. To women, it’s sex that ends with us leaving in tears. Why is that acceptable to anyone?

And yet, there are reasons for optimism. Social change often happens quickly. (Affirmative consent isn’t a new concept anyway—I learned about it in college, and Carole Pateman, among others, was writing a counternarrative about consent back in 1980.) Marijuana, once considered as dangerous as heroin, is now legal in some form in all but a handful of states. Abortion was illegal almost everywhere, then became legal, with restrictions, virtually overnight. Same-sex marriage was unthinkable in mainstream political circles 20 years ago, but now it’s the law across much of the land.

The most optimistic reading of all the #MeToo backlash, including the fevered defenses of Ansari against an imaginary horde of radical feminists out to ruin his career and reputation, is that it’s a sign that women’s sexual autonomy is being normalized. Sometimes, the voices favoring a retrograde status quo are loudest just before an epochal shift. Maybe this backlash is a death rattle.