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Seattle Proposal Would End “No-Cause” Evictions

Councilmember Tammy Morales speaking at her April 14 press conference to announce a “revamped” Tenants’ Bill of Rights. (Photo by Jack Russillo)
Councilmember Tammy Morales announces a “revamped” Tenants’ Bill of Rights at Plaza Roberto Maestas on Beacon Hill. (Photo by Jack Russillo)

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the South Seattle Emerald, and is reprinted here under an agreement.

by Jack Russillo

On Wednesday, Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales proposed legislation to close a legal loophole that allows landlords to evict tenants without providing a justification. 

The legislation, which Morales is calling the first in a series of “Tenants’ Bill of Rights” legislation, would bar landlords from evicting tenants without giving a reason, and would automatically convert all fixed-term leases (those that last for a specific period, such as six months or a year) into month-to-month leases once they expire.

Under Seattle’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance, which passed in 1980, landlords must provide one of 18 reasons, or “just causes,” to terminate a month-to-month tenancy, but those who have a fixed-term lease are not protected. This means that if a lease is about to expire, the landlord does not need to provide a reason to not renew the tenant’s lease. Landlords can exploit this loophole by offering short-term leases that they can fail to renew without giving any reason, leaving the tenant legally unprotected.

“Something that was designed to protect tenants has in fact missed the mark, leaving many vulnerable to discriminatory and retaliatory behaviors,” said Tram Tran-Larsen, the community engagement manager for the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project. Although Seattle was the first city in King County to adopt just-cause legislation, Tran-Larsen said, the city has the second highest rate of no-cause evictions in King County. 

Morales’ legislation would eliminate the loophole, requiring landlords to either renew a lease or convert the initial lease to a month-to-month contract once the initial lease expired.

“We know that when this moratorium ends, there will be thousands of people getting kicked out and through no fault of their own,” Morales said. “Nobody expected a pandemic and nobody expected that so many people would be losing their jobs, their incomes, and their health insurance, which could be tied to their employer. There’s a real crisis coming if we don’t do something to make sure that people are protected.”

Arianna Laureano is a Seattle renter who has been evicted multiple times. Speaking at Morales’ event, Laureano said she has only managed to stay in her University District apartment thanks to the statewide eviction moratorium. Her lease expired during the pandemic, she said, and “once the eviction moratorium is lifted, [my landlord] will give me an eviction with no cause and I will have to go to court. But if they don’t close that just-cause loophole then it won’t matter.”

More than half of Seattle’s residents are renters. Losing Home, a 2018 report by the Housing Justice Project and the Seattle Women’s Commission, found that just 12.5 percent of people who were evicted in Seattle in 2017 were able to eventually find stable housing, with more than 55 percent ending up unsheltered or in transitional housing. Eviction also forced low-income tenants out of Seattle: 43.5 percent of people evicted in 2017 ended up moving outside the city leaving the city. The report also found that evictions disproportionately affected BIPOC and LGBTQ communities. 

“Right now, there’s a lot of discrimination that exists in the system just because there isn’t a system of accountability set up for the landlords,” said Laureano. “People like me can’t hold them accountable so it happens all the time. 

“Our housing market is a brutal arena and disenfranchised Americans are often the victims of that arena,” said Laureano. “Between a solid just-cause protection and a broader tenants’ bill of rights, we’re establishing a framework of a system that allows disenfranchised Americans to actually stand up for their rights and I couldn’t be happier about that.”

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected BIPOC communities, two out of three Black or Indigenous renters in Seattle were rent-burdened, according to a study from Prosperity Now. According to the study, in Seattle, Black and Native American households make less than half as much, on average, as white households. 

“Access to safe housing and the security of [housing] should not be discarded as a matter of landlord versus tenants’ rights. It’s a racial justice issue,” said Tran-Larsen. “The majority of landlords are white and people of color disproportionately face eviction.” Black, Indigineous, immigrant, and other communities of color have been hardest hit by the pandemic, Tran-Larsen said, and now they are most at risk as the eviction moratorium comes to an end.

Morales said she hopes to pass the legislation by the end of May—one month before the statewide eviction moratorium is scheduled to expire. 

Maybe Metropolis: The Sweeps and Shelter Initiative

by Josh Feit

When I think about the charter amendment on homelessness that’s making its way to the November ballot, I’m reminded of the “Roads and Transit” debates that roiled Seattle progressives back in the late 2000s. In order to pass transit expansion at the polls, transit advocates felt compelled to couple their light rail vision with a roads package to ensure universal buy-in.

Yeah. No. Voters soundly rejected the 2007 measure, and it wasn’t until transit advocates came back a year later with a light rail-only measure that voters approved this region’s historic transit expansion plan. The 2021 version of “Roads and Transit” appears to be the charter amendment on homelessness, which boils down to “Sweeps and Shelter.”

In this instance, housing advocates, such as Downtown Emergency Center, the Public Defender Association, and Chief Seattle Club have signed on with “Compassion Seattle,” the Tim Burgess-led campaign behind the initiative; former council member Burgess, who once pushed anti-panhandling legislation, is the chief proponent of the sweeps and shelter combo. (Actually, it’s even less than that because although it requires the city to spend money on shelter—or housing, but let’s be real about which is cheaper and therefore more likely to happen—it doesn’t provide any new funds to balance sweeps with the shelter half of the equation.)

Housing advocates seem to believe voters won’t back a housing solution without the un-compassionate sweeps component. Admittedly, this time, they’re likely right. Polling is reportedly off the charts in favor of removing homeless encampments from around the city.

But this should raise a question for progressives: Why the need to couple the issues? If the polling is so definitive, and the establishment doesn’t need the do-gooders, why has Compassion Seattle gone out of its way to enlist them and present itself as a smiley coalition?

For starters, the establishment wants to avoid a divisive campaign; a broad coalition is good karma, even if they don’t actually need one. That’s one interpretation. Here’s another, not mutually exclusive from the earnest one: Compassion Seattle has pulled one over on the left: It’s not that the housing advocates need the “Seattle is Dying” vote, it’s that the pro-sweeps people need the housing advocates.

It’s not that the housing advocates need the “Seattle is Dying” vote, it’s that the pro-sweeps people need the housing advocates.

Given the pro-sweeps polling, how can this be? Like this: Yes, a sweeps initiative would likely pass without the homeless advocates signing on. For now. But given the U.S. Supreme Court’s December 2019  decision not to reconsider the 9th Circuit ruling in Martin v Boise saying cities cannot punish homeless people for sleeping outside without offering adequate alternatives, any sweeps law is vulnerable to a challenge from homeless advocates. So, while the current political zeitgeist seems to favor a sweeps-only program, the legal reality does not.

By co-opting homeless advocates into their cause now (or scaring them with polling numbers), Compassion Seattle has given themselves insurance against a substantive future challenge to sweeps. Consider: The city already has the legislative authority to remove encampments if they offer people adequate alternatives to sleeping outside. One way to inoculate sweeps against a future Martin v Boise challenge is to formally tie them to the compassionate idea of housing and shelter by bringing housing advocates on board.

To be clear: Most homeless advocacy groups (as opposed to groups that receive city funds for their own shelter and housing programs) have not weighed in on this initiative. But the ones that are on board, largely institutional players that often work with the mainstream political class and who arguably have something to gain if the city commits to funding housing, are enough. Their presence gives the general public the impression that the sweeps and shelter agenda—the notion that the city shouldn’t build low-income housing unless it also adopts a punitive sweeps policy— has gotten a stamp of approval from the left.

Homeless advocates shouldn’t fall for this. They’ve been right all along. Funding shelter and housing as a standalone policy is the way to address the current crisis.

Homeless advocates should call sweeps proponents’ bluff and let Compassion Seattle run an initiative without them, so they’ve got the political credibility to challenge sweeps when the city starts using the initiative’s overly broad language to make “public spaces open and clear of encampments” via sweeps.

Otherwise, once sweeps and shelter become intertwined, and the stigma of sweeps is removed (“Oh, don’t worry, the city also has to spend money on housing”), the inhumanity of an overly aggressive policing to address homelessness will become the norm. If the left signs off on this carrot and stick paradigm, they will cede the point that sweeps are an inherently logical policy.

Ever since the call for sweeps started turning into a political movement, proponents of sweeps haven’t been able to ignore the compelling argument from the left: Sweeps are unjust if there isn’t any housing available. Funding housing is already a compassionate policy in its own right. Sweeps are not.

In other words, a shelter (and, more importantly, housing) policy does not need a sweeps policy to be worthy of the name “Compassion Seattle.” Let’s not blur these divergent approaches to homelessness by joining them at the hip. Simply providing adequate shelter and housing will do away with the need for encampments (and thus sweeps).

You’ll notice, the initiative’s housing component doesn’t come with any money.

Housing advocates should let the resentment against homeless encampments dissipate as the pressures of the pandemic begin to recede, and follow the lessons of the “Roads and Transit” story by supporting a “housing only” program that actually puts up the money to help the homeless; that’s what the right is afraid of and that’s why they’ve co-opted the idea and strategically tied it to their sweeps agenda. I repeat: The initiative’s housing component doesn’t come with any money.

Again, the city already has the legislative wiggle room to sweep homeless people. Why run the risk of fortifying it against a legal challenge by enshrining it in law as a moral twin of housing?

Olympia Fizz: House Committee Passes Wealth Tax, House and Senate Take Action on Tenant Rights and Funding

1. After nearly two months of inaction, the House Finance committee passed the progressive wealth tax (HB 1406) out of committee Wednesday morning. The bill made it out of committee with no amendments, despite Republican efforts.

The wealth tax is arguably the most progressive piece of tax reform legislation this session; the House is taking the lead, while the Senate took the lead on the capital gains tax.

The wealth tax legislation would require anyone with more than $1 billion in intangible financial assets, such as stocks, bonds, or cash, to pay a one percent tax on their worldwide cumulative wealth. The Department of Revenue estimates the tax will affect 100 Washington state taxpayers and generate $5 billion per biennium.

Finance committee chair Rep. Noel Frame (D-36, Seattle) urged her colleagues to vote yes on the bill so the state could begin rebalancing Washington’s tax system, which, according to the progressive Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, forces the lowest income Washingtonians to spend 18 percent of their income on taxes while the very wealthiest spend just 3 percent of their income on taxes.

“The Washington state wealth tax would take a giant step forward in trying to right that wrong by asking the wealthiest Washingtonians, including some of the wealthiest people in the world, to pay their fair share,” Rep. Frame said.

Members of the finance committee passed the bill 9-7 with Democratic senators April Berg (D-44, Mill Creek) and Larry Springer (D-45, Kirkland) along with all Republican committee members, voting no. PubliCola has reached out to both Berg and Springer for comment.

Patinkin Research Strategies found that 58 percent of Washingtonians support the tax and just 32 percent are opposed. (The pollster gets a B/C rating from 538.)

According to Frame, the legislature will direct revenue from the wealth tax into a dedicated Tax Justice and Equity fund, rather than into the state’s general fund as the bill originally specified. Legislators will use the Tax Justice and Equity fund to support an anti-displacement property tax exemption (HB 1494) that the finance committee also passed Wednesday.

The finance committee passed the wealth tax in their last regularly scheduled meeting of the session. April 2 will be the last day for finance bills to be read into the record on the house floor, leaving little time for the bill to be deliberated on in the Rules committee, which will take up the bill next. If Rules passes it out, the bill will go to the House floor where progressives hope to send it to the Senate.

2. The Legislature’s latest biennial budget proposals made two traditional foes, tenants and landlords, happy—with some footnotes.

In budgets released this week, legislators from the House and Senate allocated roughly $1 billion to new rental assistance and eviction protection programs. (The House allocates $1 billion, the Senate $850 million). The state will use the money to pay off rent debt accrued by tenants during the statewide eviction moratorium and fund legal counsel in eviction cases.

Continue reading “Olympia Fizz: House Committee Passes Wealth Tax, House and Senate Take Action on Tenant Rights and Funding”

US Supreme Court Denies King County Prosecutor’s Petition on Youth Sentences

By Paul Kiefer

On Monday, the US Supreme denied petitions by King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg to appeal a pair of Washington State Supreme Court decisions expanding judges’ discretion to consider the age and maturity of juvenile offenders when sentencing or re-sentencing them. The move closes the door for Washington prosecutors who object to the state court’s reconfiguration of youth sentencing procedures; it will also prompt prosecutors, including Satterberg, to move forward with a slate of re-sentencings required by the state court.

Satterberg’s petitions, which his office filed with the US Supreme Court in December of last year, challenged two state court decisions issued in September 2020. However, those two decisions rest on a landmark 2017 state court decision that Washington courts, attorneys and prosecutors had previously acknowledged as case law; Satterberg’s petitions called into question the constitutionality of the 2017 decision, known as Washington v. Houston-Sconiers.

The Houston-Sconiers case centered on two Tacoma teenagers—17-year-old Zyion Houston-Sconiers and 16-year-old Treson Lee Roberts—whom the Pierce County Prosecutor charged as adults for a series of armed robberies on Halloween night in 2012. They received sentences of 31 and 26 years, respectively.

The lengthy sentences were the result of a Washington State law known as “automatic decline,” which requires prosecutors to charge 16- and 17-year-olds as adults if they commit a serious crime, such as aggravated assault or murder, or already have a criminal record. Unlike charges in juvenile courts, the state attaches mandatory minimum sentences to adult charges, so while the Pierce County judge who sentenced Houston-Sconiers and Roberts acknowledged that the sentences were unfair, his hands were tied by state law.

Houston-Sconiers and Roberts appealed their sentences to the Washington State Supreme Court, arguing that judges should be required to consider a juvenile defendant’s youth and immaturity when making sentencing decisions, regardless of the defendant’s crimes. The court agreed, ruling that Washington judges are required to consider a juvenile defendant’s age during a sentencing hearing in adult court, and as a result Houston-Sconiers and Roberts also received shortened sentences.

Many juvenile justice reform advocates welcomed the Houston-Sconiers decision as an opportunity for courts to formally recognize the role of brain development in crimes committed by young people—and to adjust sentences accordingly.

Satterberg could not appeal the three-year-old Houston-Sconiers decision; instead, he challenged that decision’s constitutionality by appealing two September 2020 state supreme court rulings that build upon it: Washington v. Domingo-Cornelio and Washington v. Ali, both of which involved Washington inmates who were charged as adults for crimes they committed when they were juveniles before the Houston-Sconiers decision.

In 2012, a King County judge sentenced Said Omer Ali to 26 years in prison for a series of armed robberies and assaults he committed in North Seattle when he was 16. The same year, a Pierce County judge sentenced Endy Domingo-Cornelio to 20 years in prison for sexually abusing his cousin when he was between 14 and 16 years old. After Houston-Sconiers, both men appealed their sentences, arguing that they should be eligible for re-sentencing to reflect their age at the time of their crimes.

Once again, the court agreed, ruling in both cases that Houston-Sconiers applies retroactively. According to the King County Prosecutor’s Office, the Ali and Domingo-Cornelio decisions could allow roughly 935 Washington inmates to request re-sentencing, including roughly 60 in King County alone.

In his petitions to the US Supreme Court,  Satterberg argued that overturning the state court’s decisions would restore the proper balance of power between the state legislature, prosecutors and judges. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s declined Satterberg’s petitions, King County Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson Casey McNerthney told PubliCola that Satterberg’s appeal did not “dispute the brain science that juveniles are different from adults,” but asserted that the AliDomingo-Cornelio and Houston-Sconiers decisions “interfered with the authority of state lawmakers to set punishments.”

In his original petition to the US Supreme Court, Satterberg wrote that allow sentencing judges to “impose no jail time at all for juvenile offenders who commit the most serious crimes” stripped the legislature’s power to determine mandatory sentences that “reflect the will of the citizenry.” Those mandatory sentences are attached to charges chosen by prosecutors, so the Houston-Sconiers decision also limits prosecutors’ input into sentencing and their options for plea deals.

The ACLU of Washington and criminal defense attorneys disagreed with Satterberg, arguing that the rulings are vital foundations for juvenile justice reform in the state,  both for young people who will face sentencing in the future and for those serving ongoing prison sentences that were excessive to begin with. “Our high court has made it clear that they will protect children accused of serious crimes in adult court by requiring judges to consider youth at sentencing,” said Emily Gause, the Tukwila-based defense attorney who filed a brief with the US Supreme Court opposing Satterberg’s petition. “Our Court doesn’t claim that kids deserve ‘zero time’… It just asks judges to be careful, know all of the mitigating evidence, and use their discretion to impose truly fair sentences.”

According to McNerthey, the King County Prosecutor’s Office will now begin the process of reviewing the sentences of current inmates who were charged as adults before the Houston-Sconiers decision. That task will be the responsibility of the office’s relatively new sentence review unit, created in March of last year after the state legislature passed a law empowering prosecutors to petition courts to reduce sentences for people convicted of felonies “when it would serve the interest of justice.”

Taking on Insurance Companies, Lawmakers Seek Racial Equity Reforms

by Shauna Sowersby

Washington State lawmakers are considering a proposal to eliminate the use of credit history to increase insurance rates or to determine premiums when renewing personal insurance. 

SB 5010 is just one of the measures being considered as part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “package of proposals that address systemic racism.” The bill seeks reforms to insurance policies such as auto coverage, homeowners insurance, and earthquake insurance.

Sen. Mona Das (D-47, Kent) is the prime sponsor of the bill. Last month, she testified to the Senate Committee on Business, Financial Services & Trade that low-income households, specifically in communities of color, are most likely to be negatively affected by credit scores. 

Additionally, the bill would help the people who have lost their jobs or had their businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Das explained. 

“Many of these folks will see credit scores go down as they struggle to pay their bills and manage their credit,” she told the committee. “To penalize folks with increased rates or restricted access to coverage just because their credit history suffered during this challenging time is inequitable, it’s unfair and really makes no sense.”

Studies from the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Federation of America, among others, have shown that people who live in communities of color and those living in low-income households are far more likely to pay higher insurance premiums, even if they have clean records. 

In addition, the CFA study showed that everything else being equal, “safe drivers with poor credit pay 79%, or $370, more on average than a driver with excellent credit,” statewide. 

“Black, brown and also poor white Washingtonians occupy the bottom rung of our economic hierarchy,” said former Seattle City Council candidate Shaun Scott, who testified on behalf of the Poverty Action Network. 

Continue reading “Taking on Insurance Companies, Lawmakers Seek Racial Equity Reforms”

Council Considers Cutting SPD by $5.4 Million in Response to 2020 Overspending

Changes in SPD Staffing from 2012 to 2021, via Seattle Police Department)

By Paul Kiefer

The Seattle City Council’s Public Safety Committee is considering a $5.4 million cut to the Seattle Police Department’s 2021 budget to account for an equivalent amount of overspending by the department last year. During the committee’s regular meeting on Tuesday morning, council members received a briefing from the council’s central staff on the potential impacts of those cuts on a department still reeling from a spike in attrition in 2020.

Last August, in an effort to avoid spending extra money on protest-related overtime, the council passed a resolution saying that they wouldn’t support any increase to SPD’s budget “to offset overtime expenditures above the funds budgeted in 2020 or 2021. Three months later, the council backpedaled, grudgingly adding $5.4 million to SPD’s to backfill for overspending on family leave, separation pay, and overtime pay for officers working at COVID testing sites.

While none of the spending in Durkan’s proposal would directly pay for protest-related overtime, several council members—including budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda—argued that the department could have avoided year-end budget shortfalls if it had scaled back its protest response and prioritized spending on other unanticipated expenses.

But the council wasn’t happy bailing out SPD, and on the same day, they passed a second resolution expressing their “intent” to cut an equal amount from SPD’s 2021 budget to offset the overspending and discourage the department from spending beyond its budget in the future. The council also passed a budget proviso withholding $5 million from SPD’s budget under the assumption that the department would save at least $5 million in staff salaries because of high attrition and the city-mandated hiring freeze; if the department didn’t reach $5 million in salary savings, the council would lift the proviso.

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Being fully independent means that we cover the stories we consider most interesting and newsworthy, based on our own news judgment and feedback from readers about what matters to them, not what advertisers or corporate funders want us to write about. It also means that we need your support. So if you get something out of this site, consider giving something back by kicking in a few dollars a month, or making a one-time contribution, to help us keep doing this work. If you prefer to Venmo or write a check, our Support page includes information about those options. Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

Year-end attrition figures from SPD surpassed the council’s expectations. By the end of 2020, 186 officers had left the department—double SPD’s projections for attrition at the beginning of last year. The council developed SPD’s 2021 budget under the assumption that the department would pay 1,343 officers; on Tuesday morning, the council’s central staff estimated that SPD will only fill 1,289 of those spots, leaving SPD with as much as $7.7 million in salary savings in 2021. Continue reading “Council Considers Cutting SPD by $5.4 Million in Response to 2020 Overspending”

King County Sheriff Fires Deputy for Social Media Posts Mocking Protester Deaths

By Paul Kiefer

King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht announced on Friday that she has fired the detective who made a half-dozen Facebook posts making light of violence against Black Lives Matter protesters. In a press release on Friday morning, Johanknecht explained that her decision to fire Detective Michael Brown was based on both the “extreme indifference to life and racial equity” evident in the posts and the damage they incurred to the public’s “confidence and trust” in the sheriff’s office. Brown’s termination went into effect on Thursday.

The Facebook posts, which Brown shared in June and July of 2020, included a joke about Lorenzo Anderson, the 19-year-old killed near Capitol Hill’s CHOP zone on June 20, and two jokes about driving cars into crowds of protesters. Those included a picture of a sticker that reads “All Lives Splatter,” and a subsequent comment on the image that read, “I see a couple of people got infected with Covid-19 from the hood of a car on 1-5 last night”—a reference to the July 4 hit-and-run in which a driver struck two Black Lives Matter marchers on I-5, killing one and permanently injuring another. Brown shared both jokes within hours of the hit-and-run.

In other posts, Brown appeared to celebrate or encourage the use of excessive force by police when responding to protests. In a post on June 1, for instance, Brown posted a video of a Baltimore police officer punching a Black woman at a protest in May with the comment, “When in doubt… knock ’em out.”

Brown—a cousin of Washington Governor Jay Inslee—had worked for the sheriff’s office for 40 years, and was on the detail that provides security to King County Executive Dow Constantine. His disciplinary record included a one-day suspension in 2013 for a drunken hit-and-run in Chelan County.

In early July, after receiving a flood of civilian complaints about Detective Michael Brown’s posts, the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) began an investigation into Brown’s comments; according to KCSO spokesman Tim Meyer, the sheriff’s office placed Brown on paid administrative leave for the duration of the investigation.

In October, after reviewing complaints sent to the KCSO and other county agencies, King County Undersheriff Patti Cole-Tindall—the department’s second-in-command—recommended that Johanknecht fire Brown. In her disciplinary recommendation, Cole-Tindall contended that Brown’s misconduct had compromised his ability to effectively work in law enforcement.

Brown met with Johanknecht in early November to provide his perspective on his conduct and the proposal to fire him from the department. In that hearing, Brown said he did not intend his posts to encourage violence against Black Lives Matter protesters, though he told Johanknecht that he “regretted” the posts because “others might perceive them in an entirely different light.” In a letter Johanknecht sent to Brown after the hearing, she wrote that his presentation to defend himself “was brief and fell short of accepting responsibility, or demonstrating that [he] understood what was wrong with [his] conduct.”

In the same letter, Johanknecht wrote that Brown’s posts ranged from encouraging illegal use of force to blaming protesters for attacks targeting them; Johanknecht also called out Brown for claiming to be unaware of the connection between the phrases “All Lives Splatter” and “Black Lives Matter,” writing that the “play on the phrases” was too obvious for Brown to miss.

Johanknecht sustained allegations that Brown had committed “conduct unbecoming” of an officer—a charge that entails diminishing “respect for” or “confidence in” the department. However, she did not uphold an allegation that Brown’s posts violated sheriff’s office policies prohibiting “discrimination, harassment, incivility and bigotry” because he shared the posts while off-duty; the policy only applies to on-duty conduct.

Notably, Johanknecht that her decision to fire him was influenced by the public outcry sparked by his posts. “The volume of complaints concerning your series of posts,” she wrote in her letter to Brown, “caused a significant slowdown in the work of the Internal Investigations Unit,” which reviews and documents misconduct complaints.

Johanknecht drew a parallel between Brown’s case and the case of a KCSO captain who recently received a one-day suspension for “posting a widely circulating video of a gang of black people attacking and robbing a 15-year old black girl stealing the shoes off” that the captain captioned, “Animals. This is what the inner city gives us these days.” Her decision not to discipline that captain more harshly, Johanknecht wrote, was “because there was not the outrage and extremely harmful, negative and damaging effect to the Sheriffs Office that [Brown’s] posts and comments created locally and nationwide.”

The sheriff’s office is still investigating other officers who interacted with Brown’s Facebook posts.

Battle Over RVs in South Seattle Illustrates Need for Safe Spaces

L-R: The Gateway Park North site, the Georgetown Tiny House Village, and the future dog park site at the Georgetown Flume

by Erica C. Barnett

This is a story about a new park for people, a proposed park for dogs, and how confusion among at least four city departments has left more than a dozen people living in RVs and trailers in a state of limbo, living on disputed territory amid neighbors—including a permitted tiny house village—who want them gone.

It’s also, inevitably, a story about homelessness: A reminder, in a city where people without permanent places to live are routinely swept from place to place, that even the urgency of a global pandemic has not produced lasting solutions to a problem that is currently more visible than it has ever been. Because while the city’s policy of removing people from public spaces based largely on neighborhood complaints has subsided in the past year, that short-term reprieve hasn’t been coupled with enough new shelter or housing to get more than a few hundred of Seattle’s growing homeless population indoors on even a temporary basis.”

“We’ve been working very hard to try to transform that area into an off-leash dog park, and things can’t move forward on that when we have RVs on that plot of land.” Greg Ramirez, board chair, Georgetown Community Council

The story begins, as a lot of stories about homelessness seem to, in the Georgetown neighborhood, where the Seattle Parks Department is just starting construction on a new park facing the Duwamish River across from Boeing Field. The Gateway Park North project will improve and provide better access to a tiny piece of riverfront land that’s partly occupied by the out-of-commission Georgetown Pumping Station.

Since March, the city tacitly allowed people living in RVs, cars, and trailers to occupy the site, which is owned by the Seattle Parks Department. In early December, however, the department put  up signs announcing it was about to start work on the new park and warning RV residents that they needed to be gone by the following week. REACH, the nonprofit that had been doing outreach to the vehicle residents for the last eight months, worked quickly to figure out where the residents wanted to go and how to get them there; since many of the RVs had been sitting in place for longer than usual, 11 of them no longer ran.

“We talked about who needed to move and asked them, ‘Where do you guys want to go?’,” said Dawn Whitson, a REACH case manager who works in Georgetown. “They had already identified the site—the Georgetown Flume.”

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The Georgetown Flume—so named because it was the site of a flume that transported water from the Duwamish to the Georgetown Steam Plant, which closed in 1975—is another disused property a few blocks north of the pumping station site. Seattle City Light owns the land, but plans to give it to the Parks Department in exchange for a street vacation (the permanent closure of a public street) on property it owns in SoDo. Street vacations require some kind of public benefit; hence the trade to Parks. The plan is for the property to become a dog park for the surrounding neighborhood.

“We’ve been working very hard to try to transform that area into an off-leash dog park, and things can’t move forward on that when we have RVs on that plot of land,” Greg Ramirez, the board chair for the Georgetown Community Council, said. “We want to assist these individuals to find a better location, but this is not it. The flume is not that spot. Gateway Park North is not that spot.”

“If the city is going to pay for [RVs] to be towed to the impound yard, why won’t they pay for people to have places to go?”—Dawn Whitson, REACH

Georgetown is already the site of one longstanding tiny house village run by the Low Income Housing Institute, which the community council and other local groups initially opposed but which, according to Georgetown Tiny House Village Community Advisory Council chair Barbara Grace Hill, has since become “a big part of the neighborhood.” (According to LIHI director Sharon Lee, “we are on record supporting the dog park.”)

The issue, Georgetown residents say is that nobody at the city asked them what they thought of the idea. This, they say, is part of a pattern that has included not just the tiny house village but the proposed relocation of an overnight sobering center into a historic building in the neighborhood core—a proposal that would have put the sobering center far away from other city services. “It’s been a pattern with the city,” Hill said. After a neighborhood lawsuit helped sink the sobering center proposal, “it was like, again, ‘Would you please communicate with us? Would you please let us know what’s going on?'” Continue reading “Battle Over RVs in South Seattle Illustrates Need for Safe Spaces”

The C Is for Crank: A Precarious Compromise on Homeless Outreach Inches Forward

Seattle Police Department officers—identifiable as members of the Navigation Team by their khaki pants‚look on during an encampment removal in Ballard earlier this year.

By Erica C. Barnett

On Monday, city council homelessness committee chair Andrew Lewis introduced a proposal that would restore funding for outreach to homeless encampments and lay the groundwork for what Lewis described as a new city “unsheltered outreach and response team” that would replace the controversial Navigation Team.

The surprising part is that the council and mayor’s office worked together on the legislation. 

It’s a whiplash-inducing turn, given the mayor’s vehement opposition to the council’s efforts to dismantle the team and spend the savings on outreach workers. But it isn’t entirely unexpected. For weeks, deputy mayor Casey Sixkiller has been working with council members and service providers to craft a new approach, one that may be at odds with the mayor’s own personal views about how to tackle unsheltered homelessness.

To recap: Late last month, Durkan’s office sent a scorched-earth letter to the council informing them that, in response to their budget direction, she would immediately disband the Navigation Team and suspend the city’s outreach and engagement efforts. In a statement, Durkan said that the city’s Human Services Department “will no longer be deploying staff to conduct outreach or address unauthorized encampments until the Council restores funding for these positions.” Indignant council members responded that they had never suggested eliminating outreach altogether, and in fact had allocated $1.4 million specifically for that purpose—but that Durkan had declined to spend it. The mayor’s office contends that this money never existed, since using it would require laying off staffers who work on 

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Since then, deputy mayor Sixkiller has been attempting to mend fences with the council and homeless advocates, by quietly working with council members Lewis, Tammy Morales, and Lisa Herbold on the compromise proposal Lewis introduced on Monday. That plan includes a new team inside the city’s Human Services Department that would serve as a kind of coordinating body for nonprofit outreach providers’ work in the field, plus funding for those outreach providers to expand their work. (The exact extent of the internal team’s coordination role, and their authority over the work of city contractors, remains unclear).

The goal of the new joint effort would be twofold: improving safety and safety and hygiene at existing encampments, and moving unsheltered people quickly into permanent housing. By utilizing new hotel-based shelters and triaging people quickly into services, case management, and appropriate housing, the new approach could, in theory, house a lot more people than the old approach of sweeping encampments and providing shelter referrals to their displaced residents.

That’s the plan, anyway. But there still are plenty of potential pitfalls and points of contention. Continue reading “The C Is for Crank: A Precarious Compromise on Homeless Outreach Inches Forward”

Seattle Police Department Announces Record-Breaking Attrition

by Paul Kiefer

On Friday morning, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office released a new report from the city’s Budget Office and the Seattle Police Department showing a record-breaking number of attritions from SPD in September. In that month alone, 39 officers and officers in training left the department — double the number of officers leaving in the next-highest month on record. Without an end to the ongoing hiring freeze (a part of the city’s COVID-related austerity), SPD and the Budget Office project the department to continue hemorrhaging sworn staff well into 2021, potentially exceeding the staffing cuts proposed by the City Council during the summer.

The pending staff shortage places the department at risk of falling further out of compliance with the conditions of the Federal consent decree, increasing the likelihood that SPD will remain under the supervision of the Department of Justice for years to come. (Federal District Court Judge James Robart, responsible for overseeing Seattle’s consent decree for the Department of Justice, already ruled the city partially out of compliance in 2019).

Dr. Antonio Oftelie, the new court-appointed monitor for the consent decree, told PubliCola that the consent decree required SPD to scale up its staffing to improve specialized investigation units, departmental audits, and use of force reviews. “The specialty units that are required by the consent decree will likely be the first to feel the effects of budget cuts and the loss of offices,” he said. “SPD’s ability to audit itself, its ability to develop policy, its force investigation team and training units are also required by the consent decree and are also put at risk if the department has a massive staffing shortage.”

Continue reading “Seattle Police Department Announces Record-Breaking Attrition”