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Parents Won’t Have to to Pay Jail Costs for Incarcerated Children; Another Suicide at Downtown Jail Amid Ongoing Staff Shortage

1. Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation on Thursday ending the requirement that parents of children in state-run juvenile detention centers pay for a portion of the cost of their child’s incarceration, a practice known as “parent pay.” The new law will also clear the debts of the roughly 240 families who collectively owed $1.1 million in unpaid custody fees to the state’s Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), which runs Washington’s three juvenile detention facilities. 

DCYF’s 2020-2021 budget assumed that the agency would take in $1.9 million in parent pay revenue over the past two years; Rachel Sottile, the president of the Center for Children and Youth Justice, a children’s rights organization in Seattle, told PubliCola that the agency was able to collect less than a quarter of that figure.

“First of all, DCYF can’t do if its job if it doesn’t have the resources it needs,” she said, “and secondly, parent pay created financial instability for parents that left a lot of youth cycling back into the criminal justice system.” She added that parents who did not pay their debts to DCYF risked facing contempt charges and possible jail time.

In a press release, DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter said he supported eliminating parent pay, calling the practice financially impractical and counterproductive. “It probably costs more to collect [fees from parents] than we bring in and may make it less likely for youth to reunify with their families, destabilizing their transition back to the community,” he said.

Along similar lines, the legislature voted this month to allow judges to waive most of the fines and restitution fees imposed on people convicted of crimes; that bill applies retroactively, opening the door for thousands of people who are currently in prison or who previously spent time in prison to petition courts to relieve them of debts that can present a hurdle to successful re-entry.

2. A 25-year-old man died at Harborview Medical Center after hanging himself in a cell at the King County Correctional Facility in downtown Seattle last week, marking the third death at the jail since the beginning of the year: an unusually high number for this point in the year, especially given the decline in the jail’s population during the pandemic. The deaths come as the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention continues to lose more corrections officers than it can hire, leaving some officers and other jail staff stretched thin.

Jail staff transferred the man to Harborview Medical Center after a guard found him unresponsive in a cell on March 10; he died from his injuries four days later. Court records indicate he was a trans man; the King County Superior Court referred to him using the last name Kostelak, and according to a source, he may have used the name Damian. Continue reading “Parents Won’t Have to to Pay Jail Costs for Incarcerated Children; Another Suicide at Downtown Jail Amid Ongoing Staff Shortage”

City Attorney’s Office Introduces Latest Initiative to Target “High Utilizers” of the Criminal Justice System

The Seattle Police Department’s mobile precinct parked at the intersection of 12th Ave. S. and S. Jackson St.

By Paul Kiefer

The Seattle City Attorney’s Office debuted a plan on Tuesday to identify the people who frequently commit crime—so-called “high utilizers of the criminal justice system”—to prioritize these people for bookings into the King County jail or for referral to mental health or addiction treatment services. So far, the office says it has compiled a list of 118 “high utilizers” who, according to City Attorney Ann Davison, “create a disproportionate impact on public safety in Seattle.”

But the initiative may run into an obstacle in the near future: The service providers the initiative will rely on to provide case management may be stretched thin by the surge of new “high utilizer” clients.

The initiative mirrors similar projects that the City Attorney’s Office launched in 2012 and 2019 to identify “high utilizers,” although earlier iterations of the program favored the terms “high-impact offenders” or “prolific offenders” to describe the people considered high priorities for law enforcement. Scott Lindsay, a public safety advisor to former mayor Ed Murray who led the charge to focus police resources on “prolific offenders” in 2019, is now deputy city attorney.

This time, said Davison spokesman Anthony Derrick, the city attorney’s basic goal is to create a working list of people who frequently interact with the criminal justice system, including notes on “who they are, what they’ve been through, and what we’ve tried that didn’t work in the past.” Every person on their initial list has been referred by police to the City Attorney’s Office 12 or more times in the past five years and at least once in the past eight months, most often for theft or trespassing.

As a starting point, Derrick added that the city attorney’s office reached an agreement with the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention to book “high utilizers” into jail for low-level crimes that wouldn’t generally land someone in custody. “It’s a chance for us to get people with a long history of challenges off the street, at least for the time being, so we have a bit of time to try to intervene,” Derrick said.

King County Department of Public Defense Director Anita Khandelwal views the initiative as a repetition of a failed strategy. “Over the last decade, the city has repeatedly announced similarly named initiatives that would focus more law enforcement resources on those already most policed as a strategy for addressing public safety,” she said. “This tired strategy of arresting, prosecuting, and jailing is expensive and clearly ineffective.”

Lisa Daugaard, the co-executive director of the Public Defender Association and a co-founder of the diversion program LEAD, however, sees the potential for success.  She says, the initiative is built on a solid foundation—addressing the needs of “high utilizers” on a case-by-case basis. She believes Davison could avoid the errors of past crackdowns by pushing her counterparts in city and county government to expand programs like LEAD to accommodate a new surge in clients.

If LEAD took on on all 118 people as new clients, she added, it would be unable to take on any additional clients for the foreseeable future, including people who the city attorney’s office might add to the “high utilizers” list.

“We might not have the capacity we need,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean the city attorney can’t advocate for more capacity for us… The fact that there aren’t the ideal resources to care for someone doesn’t mean we should avoid having a conversation about what to do. The best thing we can do is sit around a table and talk through our options.”

Daugaard added that Davison’s appointment of Natalie Walton-Anderson as the new head of the city attorney’s criminal division, gives her hope that the office is serious about including service providers in the decision-making process about how to work with someone on the “high utilizer” list. In her previous role as King County deputy prosecuting attorney, Walton-Anderson supervised a partnership between LEAD and the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

She reasons that the City Attorney’s Office and the Seattle Police Department may not need to rely on arrests and booking to reach people on the “high utilizer” list in the future. “Just because people are under arrest doesn’t mean they need to go to the jail. That decision falls to police, not the prosecutors.”

Daugaard added that she hopes the City Attorney’s Office will be receptive to the message that jailing so-called “high utilizers” may not improve public safety in the long run. “Unless the circumstances that land people on the list are addressed—a lack of legal income and trauma, among other things—no quote-unquote treatment strategy in jail is going to make a difference in a person’s behavior,” she said. “If there’s a table and we’re invited to it, I will argue strenuously that jail is not the place to invest resources.”

We have reached out to SPD to ask whether the department plans to direct officers to resume making post-arrest referrals to LEAD; in the past year, LEAD received most of its referrals from non-police sources, ranging from the City Attorney’s Office and the Seattle Fire Department to neighborhood business associations.

Currently, 16 of the 118 people currently on the City Attorney’s “high utilizer” list are already in custody at the King County jail: 10 for misdemeanor offenses and six for felonies. Whether anyone on that list stays in jail for the long term, Derrick added, is a decision for the Seattle Municipal Court and King County Superior Court. The Seattle Municipal Court is already processing a surge of new cases from the City Attorney’s Office, which filed more than twice as many charges in the final week of February as it did in the first week of January.

PubliCola Interviews King County Prosecutor Candidate Stephan Thomas

by Paul Kiefer

When longtime King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced his retirement in January, his office was in the middle of a decade-long transformation. Since Satterberg took over 15 years ago, the King County Prosecutor’s Office has branched out beyond standard prosecution, partnering with felony diversion programs for young adults and launching a new unit to review and correct excessive prison sentences imposed in the past. The race to replace Satterberg will determine whether King County voters believe those transformations moved the prosecutor’s office in the right direction—or whether the office needs to shift further in the direction of restorative justice.

Stephan Thomas emerged as a Satterberg critic nearly a year before he entered the race last month. After Satterberg challenged a Washington Supreme Court decision requiring judges to consider a defendant’s age when sentencing children in adult courts, Thomas wrote an a Seattle Times op-ed condemning Satterberg for “doubling down on a racist practice that fails to keep our community safe”; Satterberg’s attempt to appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court later failed.

Thomas is no stranger to the King County Prosecutor’s Office. He joined the office as an intern in 2010; became a deputy prosecutor a year later, spending six years as a trial attorney in the criminal division; and ascended into Satterberg’s executive team in 2017 to lead the office’s community justice initiatives before departing two years later. He now teaches law in an adjunct position at Seattle University.

PubliCola sat down—virtually—with Thomas to discuss his priorities for the prosecutor’s office.

PubliCola: You cite Satterberg’s defense of Washington’s so-called “auto-decline” law, which requires the state to prosecute children as adults for some crimes, as a key reason for your decision to join this race. If you are elected to be King County’s next prosecutor, how would you approach a case involving an underage defendant accused of a serious felony?

Stephan Thomas: The first thing I think of is a case that happened not so long ago in which two teenager shot and killed two people in an encampment under I-5 called the Jungle. They were charged as adults, and they ended up getting sentenced to TWO? decades in prison. It didn’t seem like anyone sat back and looked at the failed systems that lead to those kids being in that situation in the first place. First things first, we need space to be able to ask those questions. There were multiple missed opportunities that we had to reach them, and no one else has been held accountable except for these young men. And the only accountability in that case, or quote-unquote accountability, is sending them to prison for multiple decades.

PC: In a practical sense, what does that mean? Does it mean lobbying for the state law to change, or does it mean simply improving our interventions upstream so you don’t wind up prosecuting young people for murder?

ST: People need to recognize that the prosecutor has a powerful advocacy role. And even with the law as it stands, we have the ability right now to look back at what might have brought a young person into contact with the prosecutor’s office to identify holes that we need to fill. It might be education, it might be housing, and it might be mental health treatment opportunities—those are also things the prosecutor can advocate for. I also think we don’t accomplish the goal of rehabilitation by transferring young people into the adult prison system. We need to advocate for the state to lengthen the amount of time a person can be held in the juvenile detention system.

PC: King County’s jail population plummeted during the pandemic, in part because the County decided it could reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission by not filling the jails with people booked for nonviolent misdemeanors. Those restrictions will end once the pandemic subsides, which could mean the jail population rises once again. As elected prosecutor, how would you advise the county to approach detention in a post-COVID world?

ST: I’m looking for other opportunities to be able to secure people in a place that is not in a cage. Can the King County Jail be reformatted or reformed in a way that’s much more rehabilitative than steel cages? Can we recognize that a jail cell is not a place for someone to get the help that they need? Right now, it seems like we’re just trying to nibble around the edges. We decide that certain people won’t go to jail for certain offenses, at least temporarily. That isn’t a long-term fix, and jail has never been a long-term fix.

PC: The next elected prosecutor will need to find a way to work with the City of Seattle if it goes forward with a policing strategy that targets so-called crime ‘hot spots.’ Do you think there’s a way for that strategy to be effective?

ST: Look at what happened. We cleaned up [12th Ave S. and S. Jackson St.], and people moved to [Third Ave. and Pike St.]. Then two people get shot and killed there. So, we move people off that corner, but the same thing will happen over and over again. What we should have done, and what I would advocate we do if I’m prosecutor, is start with outreach teams from housing and service providers. We should take time to figure out what people at a corner need, and then we should make sure we have real opportunities for housing, job training, and treatment to offer—not just hollow offers, which is often the case now.

It is a shame we’re telling these business owners the best thing and the only thing we can offer is to lock up everyone on the street outside. That shouldn’t be the first step. Growing up in Chicago in the 1990s, I saw that first-hand. They turned up with the police and battering rams, busted down doors, sent people to prison, and said it would make our community safer. All we got was mass incarceration, our community remaining under-resourced, and families being broken apart.

It is a shame we’re telling these business owners the best thing and the only thing we can offer is to lock up everyone on the street outside. Of course, if we exhaust all other options, then law enforcement should come in, but that shouldn’t be the first step. Growing up in Chicago in the 1990s, I saw that first-hand. They turned up with the police and battering rams, busted down doors, sent people to prison, and said it would make our community safer. All we got was mass incarceration, our community remaining under-resourced, and families being broken apart. Right now, it feels like we’re going back to that era. As prosecutor, I would want to push the prosecutor’s office and its partners to think about providing services first instead.

PC: As prosecutor, you would also lead an office that sexual assault survivors frequently criticize for doing too little to support victims of sexual assault. What would you say to sexual assault survivors mulling their options in this race?

ST: Right now, the court process is horrible for survivors. I’ve talked with prosecutors who told me that if one of their children was assaulted, they would not want to send them through the court system to seek justice. They know that once you get into the court system, you get cross-examined, you are made out to be a liar, and the entire experience only does more harm. I would try to figure out what we can do to provide all survivors with the support they need, and a first step towards that is recognizing that not every survivor will want to use the courts as a path towards healing. We only get a small percentage of people who have caused harm before a judge, so we’re already missing the vast majority of sexual assault cases. For now, I would look for ways to find more community support for survivors, so survivors who may not feel comfortable participating in the process or confident that the system will bring them peace of mind have someone to listen to them and care about them.

PC: Though you certainly have experience in the prosecutor’s office, you are also the candidate with the least executive experience. What makes you more prepared to lead the prosecutor’s office than the other candidates in this race?

ST: I’m personally impacted by the issues the prosecutor’s office deals with. I’ve had personal experiences as a victim of crime, as a gang member, as a trial attorney. I’ve handled domestic violence and sexual assault cases. I’ve been on the executive team. I’ve been a trainer for prosecutors across the country. Given all those experiences, I am uniquely positioned to understand the impact of what the prosecutor’s office does. I am also the candidate who is really being honest about how the current system is failing us.

The only path forward is for us to look towards transformation, to build something that is not built on the foundation of racism and discrimination and instead aims for true safety and rehabilitation for everyone who comes into contact with it. are built on a pathway of true safety and restoration. The other candidates are talking about nibbling around the edges. Right now, we’re returning to the mistakes of the 1990s. If you want real transformation, if you want someone who’s going to be really honest with you, that’s me.

Harrell Touts Arrests at Longtime Downtown Hot Spot in “Operation New Day” Announcement

City Attorney Ann Davison touts "arrests and prosecutions" as a path to addiction recovery at a press conference on the city's latest targeted policing action.
City Attorney Ann Davison touts “arrests and prosecutions” as a path to addiction recovery at a press conference on the city’s latest targeted policing action, Operation New Day.

By Paul Kiefer

The Seattle Police Department moved a black van known as the “mobile precinct” to the intersection of Third Ave. and Pine St. in downtown Seattle on Thursday morning, scattering the dozens of people gathered there to buy and sell drugs and stolen merchandise.

While the move came a day after the second fatal shooting at the corner in less than a week, the department had started preparing to clear the intersection weeks earlier—the second phase in a crackdown on crime “hot spots” announced by Mayor Bruce last month. That campaign, called Operation New Day, began two weeks ago, when police cleared a similar site at the intersection of 12th Ave. S. and S. Jackson Street in the Little Saigon neighborhood; the mobile precinct van was parked at that intersection until Thursday, when it moved downtown.

On Friday morning, Harrell convened a press conference to tout the first results of Operation New Day, including dozens of arrests. Interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz stood beside him, as did City Attorney Ann Davison, King County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of Staff Leesa Manion, and two federal law enforcement officials: Nick Brown, the new US Attorney for the Western District of Washington, and Frank Tarantino, the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Seattle office. Leaders from Seattle’s social service providers, who Harrell has promised will eventually become partners in his push to target “hot spots,” were notably absent. No one from the Seattle City Council was at the press conference.

Service providers and non-police responders were a footnote in Friday’s press conference, which centered on the arrests and prosecutions tied to Operation New Day

The stretch of Third Ave. between Pine St. and Pike St may be the most persistently troubled block in Seattle. For at least the past three decades, mayoral administrations have attempted to stem crime on the block by increasing the number of police officers in the area. One such effort in 2015, called “the Nine and a Half Block Strategy,” succeeded in reducing the number of drug-related 911 calls in a small area surrounding Westlake Park, though calls increased dramatically in practically every neighborhood within walking distance of the park during the same period. After a shooting during rush hour in January 2020 killed one person and injured seven others, SPD scaled up its presence on the block once again, only to pull back once the COVID-19 pandemic began two months later. Each time, a market for stolen goods and narcotics reappeared on Third and Pine.

Harrell said that he planned to avoid the mistakes of earlier mayors—and to “revitalize” intersections like 12th and Jackson for the long term—in part by relying on outreach workers and service providers, who he believes will be able to direct homeless people living at or near targeted intersections to substance abuse treatment or housing. “We can’t arrest and jail our way out of this,” Diaz added. So far, no social service providers are involved in Operation New Day; the city relied on police alone to clear both 12th and Jackson and Third and Pine, though diversion groups like LEAD already do outreach near Third and Pine.

Before bringing the social service component of the operation online, Harrell said that his office is “doing an inventory of community-based organizations that are recipients of city funds to make sure they’re aligned with our vision.” He did not specify what “doing an inventory” would entail, nor would he specify which organizations they’re considering for the task—or what traits would disqualify an existing service provider from working on Operation New Day.

City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, who represents downtown and chairs the council’s committee on homelessness, told PubliCola on Wednesday that he sees one clear choice for an outreach provider: JustCARE, a pandemic-era cooperation between several social service providers that provides shelter and wraparound care to people who have previously interacted with the criminal justice system.

“I want to be sure we aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel here,” he said, “because we have something that works and works well.” Lewis said he’s willing to be patient as Harrell considers options for incorporating service providers into Operation New Day, although he said he will be concerned if the mayor’s office hasn’t made a decision by the time JustCARE’s contract with the city expires at the end of June.

But non-police responders were largely a footnote in Friday’s press conference, which centered on the arrests and prosecutions tied to Operation New Day. Since January 21, SPD arrested 16 people for felonies—especially commercial burglary, illegal gun possession and narcotics offenses—at 12th and Jackson; nine of those people were later released by King County judges after their first court appearance. Some will face federal charges. The US Attorney’s Office has already filed charges against three people arrested in Little Saigon as part of Operation New Day and is reviewing the case of a fourth, a man initially arrested at 12th and Jackson who was released and subsequently re-arrested at Third and Pine. Continue reading “Harrell Touts Arrests at Longtime Downtown Hot Spot in “Operation New Day” Announcement”

Sound Transit CEO Blames “Fare Evaders” for Pandemic-Era Budget Crunch

Graph showing Sound Transit's farebox recovery targets for light rail

By Erica C. Barnett

Sound Transit is running out of excuses for preserving its punitive fare enforcement policy.

Under current Sound Transit rules, anyone caught riding a Sound Transit bus or train without proof of payment can be fined up to $124, which can lead to ruined credit and criminal charges if a person fails to pay. Although the agency has suspended enforcement of these rules since the beginning of the pandemic, Sound Transit’s outgoing CEO, Peter Rogoff, has argued since well before the pandemic began that the main problem plaguing Sound Transit’s budget isn’t unrealistic financial planning (Sound Transit relies far more heavily than most transit agencies on revenue from fares) but something much simpler: Its riders are selfish.

In a presentation titled “Need for a Comprehensive Fares Strategy” during Sound Transit’s board meeting last week, Rogoff framed the agency’s approach fare enforcement as primarily a budget problem, rather than an issue of equity and access. (Several local media outlets, including the Seattle Times, did Rogoff a favor by dutifully amplifying this spin.) Riders, Rogoff argued have become increasingly brazen about taking the train without paying the $3 fare, putting the financial solvency of the agency at risk. The agency now estimates that between 10 and 30 percent of riders are “fare evaders.”

Riders on Sound Transit trains are expected to “tap” their fare cards, known as ORCA cards, when they enter fare-paid zones; the light rail system has no physical turnstiles. In response to escalating criticism of racial disparities in enforcement, Sound Transit has replaced its “fare enforcement officers” with “fare ambassadors,” a group of unarmed, vest-wearing workers who issue warnings, but not tickets, to riders who haven’t paid; they also offer reduced-fare cards to riders who make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $27,000 a year. At last week’s board meeting, the agency issued its latest fare enforcement proposal, which would give non-paying riders up to four warnings before imposing the $124 penalty.

According to a Sound Transit spokesperson, the fare ambassador program cost $2.7 million, including $1.9 million for 24 fare ambassadors and two supervisors. The rest goes toward marketing for low-income ORCA passes, uniforms, training, and handout materials, among other costs.

For years, transit advocates have argued that fare enforcement policies are excessively punitive and unfairly target low-income people and people of color. King County Metro, the region’s other large transit agency, responded to these complaints in 2018 by auditing the system. When that audit confirmed that fare enforcement disproportionately harmed low-income riders and riders of color, the agency responded by reducing fines, creating new fine-resolution options, and removing penalties that could destroy a person’s credit or land them in court.

Sound Transit’s response to similar complaints, in contrast, has been to spend years processing the issue and proposing incremental changes, like allowing riders two warnings per year instead of one, while continuing to insist that the real problem is “fare evasion” that prevents Sound Transit from reaching its ambitious farebox recovery goal.

“Put simply,” Rogoff said last week, “our fare collection system relies overwhelmingly on an honor system. And our increasingly acute problem is that our riders aren’t honoring the system.” Because fare ambassadors spend “even more time with each passenger” than fare enforcement officers, Rogoff said, they’re only able to check 2 percent of riders for compliance. Sound Transit needs to “at least double” that rate, Rogoff continued, “because when you’ve got a situation when you have a 98 percent chance of [not being asked to show proof of payment] it just lends itself to further noncompliance. We need to get back to a place where our passengers are honoring the honor system that we’re using.”

As an example, Rogoff said he had recently been at a Mariners game and observed, to his growing horror, people who had no problem paying “80, $100 for tickets to a Mariners game, buying beers at $13 a pop, and then at the end of the game all descending on to our Stadium Station and almost no one was tapping on or buying tickets. It was troubling, and it’s something we need to rectify.”
Graph showing Sound Transit Fare recovery assumptions

Rogoff’s anecdote was designed to be noncontroversial: Who wouldn’t agree that people who can afford hundreds of dollars for sports tickets and beer should cough up $3 for the train? It also neatly sidestepped advocates’ consistent, clearly expressed problem with Sound Transit’s fare enforcement policy, which is that the supposedly “neutral” process overwhelmingly targets Black and brown riders—not affluent, mostly white baseball fans.

When board member Claudia Balducci asked Rogoff whether a less punitive approach to fare enforcement might lead people to see Sound Transit as a less intimidating, more welcoming transit system, Rogoff offered a brief, rambling answer about immigration enforcement before returning to his complaints about passenger behavior.

“Forty percent of the people that the fare ambassadors are encountering are refusing to even identify themselves,” he said. “You need to monitor that see how we can improve on it. Because you can’t have a first, second, third, fourth or fifth warning if we don’t know who you are. And 40 percent of the folks won’t even cooperate at that level. That’s going to make this a very, very tough slog.” Continue reading “Sound Transit CEO Blames “Fare Evaders” for Pandemic-Era Budget Crunch”

New Leadership on Every Floor of City Hall as 2022 Begins

1. Incoming city Attorney Ann Davison painted a dire portrait of Seattle in her official swearing-in speech on Tuesday morning, framing her plans to crack down on misdemeanor offenses as a fight to “stand up for victims” who have been unrepresented at City Hall.

“Communities are afraid to use their parks, people are afraid to walk down 3rd Avenue, and parents are afraid to send their kids to wait for the bus,” Davison said, pointing to the Seven Stars Pepper restaurant at the intersection of S. Jackson Street and 12th Little Saigon as a case study in the consequences of rising petty crime. The owner, Yong Hong Wang, warned last fall that her restaurant is on the brink of failure because customers are afraid of the ad hoc street market — a group of vendors selling everything from shampoo to narcotics — at an adjacent bus stop.

“She will lose her life savings because criminal activity has gone unchecked,” Davison said of Yong. “She should not have to pay the price.”  

Davison also raised the specter of gun violence, citing the May 2020 shooting of 18-year-old Connor Dassa-Holland in Rainier Beach. “It is the duty of the city attorney’s office to prosecute weapons charges and take guns off the streets so that misdemeanor gun offenses don’t lead to felony homicides,” Davison said.

Only a handful of gun-related crimes are misdemeanors under Washington law, including “unlawfully displaying” (or brandishing) a firearm as an intimidation tactic and carrying a concealed handgun without a permit. Davison’s office can only prosecute misdemeanors; the King County Prosecutor’s Office is responsible for filing felony gun possession charges.

Davison did not mention her office’s civil division, which defends the City of Seattle in lawsuits and advises the city council and mayor’s office as they develop new legislation.

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Davison’s tough-on-crime rhetoric prompted the city council to consider adding diversion to the city attorney’s charter duties in 2021. The council demurred in December, opting instead to require the city attorney to notify the council within 90 days of making any changes to, or eliminating, the office’s diversion programs, and provide quarterly reports to the council about the effectiveness of diversion programs. Davison was critical of the reporting requirement, accusing the council (six women, three men) of holding her to an unfair standard because of her gender. Davison is the first woman to hold the city attorney’s office—a detail she underscored in her remarks on Tuesday. Her general-election opponent, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, is also a woman.

2. Shortly after Davison wrapped up her speech, new mayor Bruce Harrell held his own ceremonial swearing-in at City Hall. In an optimistic, mostly lighthearted speech that offered few policy details, Harrell pledged to work with people who opposed his election,  and make quick progress on major issues including homelessness, health care, and the selection of a permanent police chief.

Harrell previewed a handful of upcoming executive orders and decisions, including one order that will direct the city’s public utilities “to proactively provide us information on utility shutoffs, which is often an indicator of homelessness vulnerability or human service needs.” No utility customer has lost power or water since mid-2019, thanks to a combination of legislation and a moratorium on utility shutoffs during COVID.

Asked about the practical impact of the order, a Harrell spokesman said it would identify “people most at risk of homelessness or housing instability, as those facing arrearages or utility shutoffs—enforced or not—are often those most in danger of losing their housing. So the order is focused on driving greater coordination between SPU, City Light, and Offices of Housing and Human Services to prevent homelessness.”

Alluding to the longstanding debate over police funding, Harrell said that a “safe city needs the right kind and right number of police officers.”

In his speech, Harrell also vowed to review barriers to affordable housing construction, such as reducing permitting delays—a common obstacle that can add thousands to the cost of housing construction. During his campaign, Harrell made it clear that believes dense housing should be confined to specific areas (the longstanding “urban village” strategy), but reducing barriers to development is a pro-housing step—as is Harrell’s appointment of Marco Lowe, a City Hall veteran who worked for mayors Greg Nickels and Mike McGinn before taking a position at the Master Builders Association, where he advocated for pro-housing policies.

Harrell, responding to a reporter’s question, said he would not immediately launch a national search for a permanent police chief, instead giving interim Chief Adrian Diaz “real measurement criteria by which I can see what he’s doing” before deciding whether to “lift the ‘interim’ or do a national search” at some point before the end of March.

Alluding to the longstanding debate over police funding, Harrell said that a “safe city needs the right kind and right number of police officers.” Deputy mayor Monisha Harrell, who served as the interim police monitor overseeing the federal consent decree, will oversee policing policy for Harrell’s office and will play a key role in determining what the administration believes “the right number” is.

3. After weeks of behind-the-scenes drama, the city council elected District 5 Councilmember Debora Juarez the first Indigenous council president on Monday. (Backstory here). The council also approved a new list of committees and committee chairs that reflects the relative power (and individual interests) of the eight other councilmembers. (Council presidents, who oversee the business of the legislative branch, generally don’t take on high-profile committees). Continue reading “New Leadership on Every Floor of City Hall as 2022 Begins”

Pending Sweep Defies “New Approach to Encampments” Narrative, Ann Davison Names Top Staff, and More

1. On Monday, December 20, the city will remove a large RV and tent encampment along West Green Lake Way North, close to the lawn bowling area of Lower Woodland Park. Notice for the removal went up on Thursday and the city’s HOPE team—a group of city employees that does outreach to encampment residents in the immediate runup to a sweep—began its usual pre-sweep process of offering shelter beds to the people living there earlier this week. 

According to outreach workers in the area, most of the RV residents plan to move their vehicles about a block, to an area of Upper Woodland Park where the city has indicated they will not remove tents and RVs until next month. 

The encampment, which has persisted for many months, was the backdrop for a pre-election press conference by then-candidate Bruce Harrell, who said that if he was elected mayor, he would have the authority to “direct mental health counselors and housing advocates down here [and] bring down individualized case management experts” to find shelter or housing for the people living at the site.

Last week, City Councilmember Dan Strauss said the city planned to expand the “new, person-centered approach” used to shelter people living at the Ballard Commons into other encampments in his North Seattle district, including Lower Woodland Park. Outreach workers say that what they’ve seen instead is a business-as-usual approach that consists of putting up “no parking” signs and notices that encampment residents have 72 hours to leave.

“Every single one of these people was swept from another site, and I know that most of these people have been swept over and over.”

As PubliCola noted (and Strauss acknowledged) last week, the approach the city took at the Ballard Commons was successful thanks to an unusual flood of new openings in tiny house villages and a former hotel turned into housing in North Seattle, making it possible for outreach workers to offer something better than a basic shelter bed to nearly everyone living on site. Now that those beds are mostly full, the Human Services Department’s HOPE Team is back to offering whatever shelter beds happen to become available, including beds at shelters that offer less privacy, require gender segregation, or are located far away from the community where an encampment is located.

PubliCola contacted the Human Services Department on Friday and will update this post with any additional information we receive about the encampment removal.

Jenn Adams, a member of a team of RV outreach workers called the Scofflaw Mitigation Team, said the people living in RVs in Lower Woodland Park ended up there after being chased from someplace else. “Every single one of these people was swept from another site, and I know that most of these people have been swept over and over,” Adams said. She estimates that between 25 and 30 people will have to move when the city comes through to enforce its no-parking signs on Monday.

2. City attorney-elect Ann Davison announced two key members of her administration on Thursday. Scott Lindsay, a controversial 2017 city attorney candidate who authored an infamous report that became the basis for KOMO TV’s “Seattle Is Dying” broadcast, will be deputy city attorney. Although Lindsay, who advised Davison on her campaign, was widely expected to receive a prominent role in her office, his appointment was met with groans from allies of former city attorney Pete Holmes, who defeated Lindsay four years ago by a 51-point margin.

Lindsay has a scant record, including virtually no courtroom experience. He also tried and failed to get the job Davison won, making him a deputy who considers himself fully qualified for his boss’s position.

Lindsay’s views on crime and punishment (in brief: More punishment equals less crime) are largely in line with statements Davison, a Republican, has made during all three of her recent runs for office. As public safety advisor to Ed Murray, Lindsay was the architect of the “nine-and-a-half-block strategy” to crack down on low-level drug crime downtown; he also came up with the idea for the Navigation Team, a group of police and outreach workers who conducted encampment sweeps. (The HOPE Team is basically the Navigation Team, minus the police.) Lindsay has a scant record, including virtually no courtroom experience. Importantly, he also tried and failed to get the job Davison won, making him a deputy who considers himself fully qualified for his boss’s position.

In contrast, Davison’s pick for criminal division chief, former King County deputy prosecuting attorney Natalie Walton-Anderson, prompted sighs of relief among advocates for criminal justice reform. As the prosecuting attorney’s liaison to the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, Walton-Anderson “was instrumental in the success of the LEAD program for many years,” prosecuting attorney Dan Satterberg said in a statement. LEAD provides alternatives to prosecution for people engaged in low-level nonviolent criminal activity.

To emphasize the point, Satterberg’s office distributed an email chief deputy prosecuting attorney Daniel Clark sent around to the criminal division on Walton-Anderson’s last day earlier this year, when she left the office to join the US Attorney’s office earlier this year. In the memo, Clark called Walton-Anderson “braver, smarter, wittier, wiser, and savvier than anyone can convey in an email. And her impact on our community, our office and on the many people whose lives she has touched along the way is far greater than I can write.”

LEAD program director Tiarra Dearbone told PubliCola Walton-Anderson “has shown that prosecutors can make discretionary and creative decisions that support community based care and trauma informed recovery. She has made herself available to others across the nation who are trying to stand up alternative programs that create community safety and well-being. This is a really hopeful development.”

Davison’s announcement includes no testimonials on Lindsay’s behalf. According to the press release, Lindsay will work to “coordinate public safety strategies in neighborhoods across the city.”

3. Former City Budget Office director Ben Noble—whose departure announcement we covered last week—is staying on at the city, but moving from the CBO (an independent office that works closely with the mayor to come up with revenue forecasts and budget proposals to present to the council) to be the first director of the new Office of Economic and Revenue Forecasts, which will answer to a four-person body made up of two council members, the mayor, and the city finance director. Continue reading “Pending Sweep Defies “New Approach to Encampments” Narrative, Ann Davison Names Top Staff, and More”

Harrell Announces Key Staff, Veteran Budget Director Departs, Council Adopts New Rules and Transparency Requirements

1. Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell announced a list of top staff on Monday headlined by his campaign manager, niece, and now incoming senior deputy mayor Monisha Harrell.

But the biggest throughline in Harrell’s list of appointees wasn’t family—Harrell, who was omnipresent during her uncle’s campaign, was widely expected to take on a key role in his administration—but the elevation of so many longtime insiders to top roles in the new administration.

Of the ten appointments announced yesterday (and an eleventh, Chief of Staff Jennifer Samuels), all but one are current or recent city of Seattle staff, and half are current appointees or allies of outgoing Mayor Jenny Durkan.

Tiffany Washington, the former head of the city’s Homelessness Strategy and Investment division, is currently Durkan’s deputy mayor, and will continue in that role under Harrell. Julie Dingley, the incoming interim budget director (more on that in a minute), is Durkan’s interim Innovation and Performance director and the former lead budget staffer in Durkan’s office. Adiem Emery, the new Chief Equity Officer (“tasked with delivering on the mayor-elect’s vision to make tangible progress embedding equity across City departments and programs,” according to a a press release), is currently a division director at SDOT.  Pedro Gómez, the incoming head of external affairs, is currently director of Small Business Development for the Office of Economic Development. Harrell’s longtime council aide Vinh Tang works in the city’s IT department.

And former city council member Tim Burgess, who will head “strategic initiatives” in a position listed just below Harrell’s two announced deputy mayors, is a longtime Durkan ally—and, of course, Harrell’s former colleague.

Filling out the list are several longtime insiders who worked elsewhere in the city or are returning after an absence. Chief operating officer Marco Lowe (who will focus “on driving efficiencies in Seattle’s public utility agencies, making Seattle government more transparent and accessible, and streamlining housing and infrastructure construction,” per the press release) worked in two mayoral administrations; policy director Dan Eder is deputy director of the city council’s central staff; and chief of staff Samuels worked for Harrell’s council office.

In fact, besides Monisha Harrell—who serves as deputy monitor overseeing the federal consent decree over the Seattle Police Department—the only City Hall “outsider” on Harrell’s team is former Seattle/King County NAACP leader Gerald Hankerson, who will be Harrell’s external affairs liaison.

“One of the issues over the past few years on the council is that it hasn’t always been completely clear when a deputy of the mayor is speaking for the mayor, and I don’t think there will be any ambiguity at all that when Monisha speaks, she is speaking for her uncle. I think that’s one of the advantages of having a family member in a position like that.”—City Councilmember Andrew Lewis

City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, a member of the public safety subcommittee of Harrell’s transition team, said he has “a lot of confidence in [Monisha Harrell’s] commitment” to pursue non-police responses to emergency and crisis situations. “That’s the real nucleus for moving forward on this intractable argument that we’ve had around what the future of policing is going to be—how can you set up response alternatives?” Lewis said.

The city’s ethics code only raises conflict-of-interest alarms when a city employee supervises an “immediate family member,” which does not include nieces or nephews. (King County’s law is both more prescriptive—the Harrells would be considered each other’s “immediate family”— and slightly more vague.) Former mayor Charley Royer, who served three terms, appointed his brother Bob deputy mayor in 1978, a position the younger Royer held for more than five years.

Lewis said he believes having a mayor and deputy mayor who are related could be an asset. “One of the issues over the past few years on the council is that it hasn’t always been completely clear when a deputy of the mayor is speaking for the mayor, and I don’t think there will be any ambiguity at all that when Monisha speaks, she is speaking for her uncle,” Lewis said. “I think that’s one of the advantages of having a family member in a position like that.”

2. Seattle City Budget Office director Ben Noble announced last week that he is leaving the city after more than 20 years. A longtime city council central staffer who became central staff director in 2006, Noble took over the reins at the budget office in 2014 under Mayor Ed Murray and continued in the position under Durkan, where he often found himself on the opposite side of testy exchanges with his former colleagues over Durkan’s approach to budgeting.

In recent years, Durkan repeatedly attempted to fund her own annual priorities using funds that had already been committed to other purpose (in one case, by Durkan herself), sparking heated debates between the council and the budget office. Last year, Durkan vetoed both the budget and legislation funding COVID relief, both times unsuccessfully.

City Councilmember Alex Pedersen prevailed Monday on a change to the city council’s rules that will allow him (and other council members) to abstain rather than vote on council resolutions unrelated to city business, like the one praising Cuba for its response to the COVID pandemic last year

In a letter to city staff, Noble provided little detail about why he is leaving, calling it “very much a personal decision.” Whatever prompted it (former colleagues speculated burnout, but Noble demurred), his departure opens up a major position in the Harrell administration—and represents a significant loss of institutional knowledge, brainpower, and longstanding relationships between the executive and legislative branches.

3. City Councilmember Alex Pedersen prevailed Monday on a change to the city council’s rules that will allow him (and other council members) to abstain rather than vote on council resolutions unrelated to city business, like the one praising Cuba for its response to the COVID pandemic last year. The legislation was part of a package of council rule changes that will, among other things, move City Council meetings to Tuesdays and limit the amount of time council members can speak to a pending motion. The new rule, which Councilmember Lisa Herbold opposed as vague and open to “unintended consequences,” says that council members can abstain from any resolution that, according to the council president, “does not pertain materially to the City of Seattle.”

Pedersen has long complained that nonbinding resolutions, many of them proposed by his ideological opposite Kshama Sawant, are pointless wastes of the council’s time; in early 2020, he proposed and passed a sarcastic resolution condemning “all forms of oppression affecting communities throughout the world—a response to a Sawant resolution in on national policy in India and Iran.

4. Pedersen cast the lone “no” vote against legislation that will require incoming city attorney Ann Davison to notify the council within 90 days of making changes to, or eliminating, the city’s pre-filing diversion programs, and provide quarterly reports to the council about the effectiveness of diversion. Continue reading “Harrell Announces Key Staff, Veteran Budget Director Departs, Council Adopts New Rules and Transparency Requirements”

Fremont Brewing Is Still Using Concrete Blocks to Prevent RV Parking. So Are the City of Seattle and the US Postal Service.

Ecology blocks outside Seattle City Light's substation in Ballard
Ecology blocks outside Seattle City Light’s substation in Ballard

By Erica C. Barnett

After at least one formal complaint, the Seattle Department of Transportation has issued a warning—but no penalty—to Fremont Brewing, the company co-owned by city council member-elect Sara Nelson, for obstructing the public right-of-way around its Ballard brewing facility with massive concrete “ecology blocks.”

As PubliCola reported last summer, eco blocks—so called because they are a byproduct of concrete production that uses waste that would otherwise occupy landfills—are an inexpensive way for business owners to prevent people living in their vehicles from parking on the street next to their properties.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, when the city stopped enforcing a law requiring people to move their vehicles every three days, the blocks have proliferated throughout Seattle’s industrial areas, which are the only places where people living in oversized vehicles can legally park. Business owners say that the presence of RVs and other types of large vehicles, such as box trucks, discourages patrons, and that large concentrations of RVs can lead to health and safety problems that impact their customers and employees.

Obstructing public streets is illegal, but SDOT has treated eco-blocks differently than other street obstructions; instead of penalizing business owners for taking over public space that belongs to everyone, as they might if a random person set up a tire fort or craft fair in the middle of the street, the department has responded to the proliferation of eco-blocks by essentially throwing up its hands.

Eco-blocks line the street next to Fremont Brewing's production facility in Ballard.
Eco-blocks line the street next to Fremont Brewing’s production facility in Ballard.

This is true not just of Fremont Brewing, which received a written warning, but of many other businesses around the city’s industrial areas as well as the US Postal Service, which surrounded its Ballard sorting facility with eco blocks way back in August 2020.

At the time, USPS spokesman Ernie Swanson told PubliCola that “USPS got the OK from the city to put in the concrete barriers” in response to a proliferation of RVs in the area. The Seattle Department of Transportation disputed this, calling the road-blocking barricades “unpermitted,” but took no action. They’re still there today, graffiti-covered and looking dingy compared to their more recently installed counterparts in front of a Bevmo!-anchored strip mall across the street. 

Contacted for information about why the blocks are still in place more than a year later, Swanson said, “The concrete blocks were placed in front of the Ballard PO as well as other neighboring businesses as a response to a proliferation of needles, human waste and other hazardous materials being discarded on the property. As of this date, the blocks remain not only in front of the PO but also other businesses in the area. We have no knowledge that a permit was ever required.”

"Eco-blox matta": Graffiti on an ecology block in Ballard.

The city’s process for dealing with Fremont Brewing’s ecology blocks was typical. After someone filed an anonymous complaint about the blocks in September, SDOT performed an inspection “and observed ecology blocks” in the street around Fremont Brewing, according to a notice SDOT sent to the company September 17. “We do not allow this type of use in public right-of-way due to traffic safety concerns as well as transportation and utility access needs. Please remove these unpermitted encroachments from public right-of-way by the compliance date indicated below”—November 10.

November 10 came and went; the blocks remained. About a week later, the case was closed.

SDOT spokesman Ethan Bergerson told PubliCola the department followed “standard procedure” in responding to the complaint. “The first step in the enforcement process is to mail a letter to the adjacent businesses or property owners notifying them of their responsibilities to remove the concrete blocks,” Bergerson said. “The purpose of this letter is to initiate a conversation with the responsible party so that we can find a path forward leading to their removal of the unpermitted concrete blocks. To date, we have sent letters of this nature to property owners and businesses adjacent to concrete blocks left in about a dozen locations around Ballard, SoDo, and Georgetown. … Our approach [with Fremont Brewing] has been consistent with the other locations.”

A reminder for dog walkers is visible behind a fence that blocks sidewalk access next to City Light's Canal substation.
A reminder for dog walkers is visible behind a fence that blocks sidewalk access next to City Light’s Canal substation.

Fremont Brewing owner (and Nelson’s husband) Matt Lincecum, who runs the company day to day, declined to comment for this story, as did Nelson.

SDOT has the authority to take enforcement action against any business (or government entity) that obstructs the public street with eco blocks or other objects that make it impossible for the public to access streets, sidewalks, or parking strips. To date, it has not done so, beyond warnings like the one it issued to Fremont Brewing.

As if to emphasize the city’s lackadaisical approach to enforcement, Seattle City Light has installed its own anti-RV fortifications at its Canal Substation, located two blocks away from Fremont Brewing and the rest of the eco-block-littered Ballard brewery district. In addition to eco-blocks in the street, the north side of the substation is walled off by two layers of fencing that completely obstruct the public sidewalk. A review of historical Google Maps reveals that the eco-blocks were installed sometime after this past August, when several RVs were parked along the south side of the substation. The fence, too, is new; as of June 2021, per Google Maps, several RVs were parked on that side of the substation, too. Since then, the RVs appear to have moved around the corner, to a narrower residential street on the east side of the building.

We’ve reached out to City Light as well as SDOT about the obstructions around the Canal Substation and will update this post when we hear back.

Old and new ecology blocks next to the Ballard postal sorting facility, which installed blocks on parking strips and (around the corner) on the street itself last year.
Old and newer ecology blocks next to the Ballard postal sorting facility, which installed blocks on parking strips and (around the corner) on the street itself last year.

From the point of view of a property owner, ecology blocks solve an immediate problem—people living in RVs or parking large vehicles indefinitely in front of their business—that the city has failed to address. But the fact remains that even if the city continues to turn a blind eye to vigilante street obstructions, nothing will really change until the region stops ignoring the needs of people living in vehicles, who make up as much as half of King County’s homeless population. In the absence of “safe lots,” social services, and affordable, permanent housing, people sleeping in their vehicles will continue to take up space in public,

But no amount of semi-sanctioned street and sidewalk obstruction will fix the underlying problem: The city and county have dedicated virtually no resources to people living in vehicles, who make up as much as half of the region’s unsheltered homeless population.


SPD Officers Return During Budget Spat; Police Club Dumped Debris in Wetland; and Inmates Begin Hunger Strike Over Transfer

1. Two officers rejoined the SPD on Tuesday after quitting and transferring to other law enforcement agencies during the surge in attrition last year.

Sergeant Lauren Truscott, who worked in SPD’s homicide unit before transferring to a command role at the Issaquah Police Department last fall, said during her swearing-in that she decided to return to Seattle after the death of Officer Alexandra Harris, a member of SPD’s protest response team killed in a hit-and-run on I-5 in June. Truscott previously worked with Harris in SPD’s officer wellness unit. Truscott won’t return to her position in the homicide unit; instead, SPD has assigned her to a patrol shift. Officer Tyler Poole—the other returnee sworn in on Wednesday—will also join a patrol unit; Poole previously worked as a patrol officer based in the north precinct. For now, the department has opted to assign new hires to its patrol operations instead of investigative units.

Truscott and Poole aren’t the first former SPD officers to return to the department this year; according to Interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz, nine people have returned to SPD in the past six months. Like Truscott, most returnees transferred to other police departments in Washington in the summer and fall of 2020. During Wednesday’s ceremony, Diaz said his department hopes to double the number of returnees. He added that officers who previously left SPD might be enticed to come back by the new $25,000 hiring bonus available to officers who transfer from other departments—a bonus that Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan introduced by executive order in late October. According to Diaz, the incentives allow SPD to compete with other nearby law enforcement agencies for recruits.

Because the returning officers left SPD in the recent past, Diaz noted that the department can send them into the field after only a week or two of training.

During the swearing-in ceremony, Diaz took a moment to criticize the 2022 budget rebalancing package City Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda introduced on Tuesday afternoon. The package includes slightly more than $10 million in reductions to the SPD budget originally proposed by Durkan; most of the reductions target salaries for positions that the council does not expect SPD to fill in 2022. “We cannot take from the Seattle Police Department’s budget because it compromises public safety,” he said, claiming that the council’s budget package would require “eliminating 30 officers.”

“It is really misleading for Chief Diaz or anybody in the mayor’s administration to assume that this will result in a cut in staffing.” —Council Member and Budget Chair Mosqueda

The council’s budget proposal likely would not require SPD to lay off any existing officers. While the council’s rebalancing package would provide enough money for SPD to hire its goal of 125 officers, it assumes that a higher number of departures will cancel any growth of the department’s ranks, leaving SPD with 31 fewer officers than the mayor and Diaz hoped.  According to Mosqueda, of the 80 officers who received exemptions from the city’s vaccine mandate, about a dozen will likely lose their jobs by January because SPD won’t be able to accommodate their health risks. 

“There is not a single cut to an officer, maybe to the chagrin of some. But there’s no reduction in staff,” Mosqueda told PubliCola on Wednesday. “There’s no reductions in salary, there is the full funding for SPD’s hiring plan. It is really misleading for Chief Diaz or anybody in the mayor’s administration to assume that this will result in a cut in staffing.”

Councilmember Andrew Lewis, however, raised skepticism on Wednesday that an increase in attrition would neatly cancel out SPD’s hiring plans. “I’m not saying [the council’s estimate for attrition from SPD] should be lower or higher,” he said. “I’d just like [our estimate] to be based on something more defensible than the number of hires, which is what it appears to be.”

Mosqueda responded that the council could lower its attrition estimates and leave SPD with more money to spend on salaries, but she argued that the current estimate of 125 departures “may actually be conservative.” So far, neither the council nor SPD have found a reliable way to predict attrition; in the past year, departures from SPD have outpaced both the council and the department’s estimates.

2. The Seattle Police Athletic Association—a 70-year-old nonprofit that runs a clubhouse and firing range for Seattle Police Officers—and the City of Seattle are still working to clean up a wetland in Tukwila after the association dumped truckloads of dirt, tires, concrete and other debris onto the marshy banks of the Duwamish River. The project, intended to build up the backstop for the association’s firing range, caught the attention of Tukwila’s code enforcement office in April.

After a community member complained that the association was dumping debris into the wetland without a permit, an environmental impact study, or erosion prevention measures, a Tukwila inspector visited the site and found a 300-foot-long mound of dirt and debris on a bank above the river. Elsewhere on the site, the inspector found a small wetland partially filled with broken concrete.

Tukwila’s code enforcement office issued a stop-work order in May, requiring the removal of the mound of dirt and an impact survey by early June; the order also requires the replanting of trees and other wetland vegetation.

Part of the damaged wetland sits on property owned by Seattle’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS); an agreement from the early 1950s allows the association to use the FAS property. According to Seattle City Attorney’s Office spokesman Dan Nolte, the city has taken on responsibility for complying with Tukwila’s orders. He could not divulge how much the restoration will cost.

The Seattle Police Athletic Association has not responded to a request for comment.

Inmates in a minimum-security unit at the Coyote Ridge Correctional Facility in the Cascade Mountains began a hunger strike last week to protest their upcoming transfer to a medium-security unit within the same prison. 

3. Inmates in a minimum-security unit at the Coyote Ridge Correctional Facility in the Cascade Mountains began a hunger strike last week to protest their upcoming transfer to a medium-security unit within the same prison, claiming that they will be targets for harassment and assault in the new unit. The Washington Department of Correction’s (DOC) is set on consolidating a shrinking inmate population. Since 2018, the number of people in state custody has dropped from 18,000 to fewer than 14,000; to cut costs and cope with a mounting staffing shortage, the DOC has begun closing some lower-security units, particularly at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County. Additionally, the state’s 2021-2023 biennial budget requires the DOC to reduce prison spending by $80 million over the next two years—a deadline that has spurred the DOC to speed up its consolidation.

According to DOC spokeswoman Rachel Ericson, the unit closure at Coyote Ridge is also intended to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak: the medium-security unit has in-cell bathrooms, while the minimum-security unit has shared bathrooms.

According to one inmate in minimum-security custody at the Coyote Ridge facility who asked to remain anonymous, the DOC will begin relocating the inmates housed in his unit—roughly 225 people, including some inmates with sex offenses—to higher-security cells next week. The goal of the hunger strike, he said, is to pressure the DOC to call off the transfer. While strike organizers hope that the protest will spread unit-wide, the exact number of strikers remains uncertain.

The transfer may only be temporary: as courts across the state work through their backlogs of criminal cases—a widespread consequence of the pandemic—the DOC may need to reopen the minimum-security unit to make space for new arrivals.