Category: Uncategorized

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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PubliCola is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going—and expanding!

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. We’re truly grateful for your support.

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”

Mayor Announces Membership of New Equitable Communities Task Force, Faces Criticism from Social Justice Activists

by Paul Kiefer

Today, a little more than four months since Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan first said she would invest $100 million in services for BIPOC communities, and more than two weeks after she announced she was creating a task force to recommend how to spend the money, she announced the initial members of the task force.

The 28 members of the group, the Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force, are drawn from an array of BIPOC-led nonprofits and civic organizations around Seattle, including well know civil rights leaders such as Estela Ortega, the Director of El Centro De La Raza, and Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange, President of Seattle Central College. They will be tasked with “develop[ing] recommendations for a historic $100 million new investment in Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities to address the deep disparities caused by systemic racism and institutionalized oppression,” Durkan said in the announcement, ostensibly building on existing city investments

At present, the mayor’s proposed budget would take that $100 million from the revenues of the new Jumpstart payroll tax the City Council passed earlier this year. The council originally intended to use the Jumpstart tax revenue for COVID-19 relief for Seattle residents for the next two years, and later to fund affordable housing, projects outlined in the Equitable Development Initiative, Green New Deal investments, and support for small businesses; many of those budgetary priorities were the result of years of lobbying and activism by local BIPOC organizations.

As PubliCola reported last month, city budget director Ben Noble told reporters in September that “budget priorities for the city have changed, arguably, since that [JumpStart] plan was developed,” justifying the mayor’s affront to the council’s legislation.

Because the task force is expected to divert city dollars from JumpStart projects championed by racial and climate justice activists — and not from the Seattle Police Department — the Equitable Communities Initiative has raised alarms among some activist and nonprofit leaders in the past month.

Continue reading “Mayor Announces Membership of New Equitable Communities Task Force, Faces Criticism from Social Justice Activists”

Next Month, King County Voters Will Decide On the Future of the Sheriff’s Office. Here’s What’s at Stake

by Paul Kiefer

A pair of amendments to the King County charter on the ballot next month open a door for significant reshaping of the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO). The measures have sparked two opposition campaigns — one closely tied to the King County Police Officers’ Guild (KCPOG), which represents sheriff’s officers — that have cast the amendments as radical attacks on law enforcement, while the measures have received limited vocal support from the most prominent local police accountability advocates.

The first amendment, Charter Amendment 5, would make the King County Sheriff an appointed, rather than elected, position. The second, Charter Amendment 6, would grant the King County Council the ability to set the structure and duties of the sheriff rather than relying on the duties specified in the state code. While the amendments’ sponsors, including council members Rod Dembowski and Girmay Zahilay (who wrote a PubliCola op ed supporting it), crafted the ballot measures to stand independently of one another, their practical implications and political significance have bonded the two measures together. In fact, in a July 14th council meeting, council member Claudia Balducci called them the legislative equivalent of a “Reese’s peanut butter cup”: a natural pair.

For their most vocal proponents, namely Dembowski and Zahilay, the amendments are vital steps towards an accountable sheriff’s office with a more appropriate scope of duties and a sheriff that better represents the needs of the King County residents they serve. The opponents of the amendments, including the sheriff’s guild, cast the measures as part of the broader “defund” movement to undermine law enforcement and as a power grab by the executive and the council.

As contemporary as those arguments may seem, they’re part of a longstanding debate in King County. In November, voters will face a choice between two paths for KCSO; both have been tested in the county before, and neither has transformed the department in the ways the amendments’ opponents fear or the ways their champions hope.

Continue reading “Next Month, King County Voters Will Decide On the Future of the Sheriff’s Office. Here’s What’s at Stake”

Durkan Order Raises Questions About Overlap Between Efforts to Defund, “Reimagine” Seattle Police

By Paul Kiefer

Only half an hour before the Seattle City Council’s budget committee convened on Thursday morning, Mayor Jenny Durkan released a new executive order outlining yet another structured analysis of the Seattle Police Department’s functions and opportunities to civilianize some of the department’s roles.

The order announces the creation of two new bodies: a community safety work group intended to “integrate community input into policy changes” and “operationalize community priorities to reshape community safety and policing” and an interdepartmental team responsible for assessing “operational and functional aspects of SPD.” Both bodies will be made up of city employees from a handful of agencies, including SPD itself.

To many of the city council members receiving word of the mayor’s executive order, the scope of the new teams seemed redundant.

Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan, presenting before the council on Thursday afternoon, acknowledged the overlap between the new research bodies and the two other recently-announced research teams tasked with shaping the city’s spending in 2021: the mayor’s own Equitable Communities Taskforce, a group of mayoral appointees who will guide the investment of $100 million into the city’s BIPOC communities; and the Black Brilliance Project, the community research program spearheaded by King County Equity Now (KCEN) intended to lay the groundwork for a public safety-oriented participatory budgeting process next year.

Exactly how the projects’ timelines will align, and how much weight each project will carry in the 2021 budget cycle, remains unclear.

Mayoral staffers attended yesterday’s council meeting to present Durkan’s proposed SPD budget for next year, which does not significantly reduce the number of SPD officers, as community groups have demanded. The budget calls for a trivial reduction of about 20 positions, for a police force of about 1,400 armed officers. Interim police chief Adrian Diaz told the council that this number, at a minimum, was necessary “to do the work that I need to do. … We do not have enough officers on the street.”

Council president Lorena González responded that “having this conversation… start from a place of, there are no circumstances under which any of us should assume that less than 1,400 badge and gun jobs are needed at SPD is a disservice. This fundamental divide between SPD’s position and that of police-accountability advocates (and council members) will continue to play out in all the various task forces and work groups in the coming months.

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PubliCola is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going—and expanding!

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. We’re truly grateful for your support.

The research project outlined in the new executive order resembles the council’s earlier research into SPD functions that informed the revised budget package they passed over the summer. During Thursday’s meeting, Council member Lisa Herbold explained that the council had come to the conclusion that some SPD functions could be civilianized either immediately or within the near future after reviewing the 911 calls to which SPD officers were dispatched in the last year; she said the council found that more than half of those calls were for non-criminal incidents.

According to Senior Deputy Mayor Mike Fong, the research conducted by the new interdepartmental team would likewise include a review 911 calls directed to SPD, though it would also include a broader study of officer caseloads, overtime work, and ancillary functions of SPD. The timeline included in the executive order predicts that the team will produce their final report on SPD functions that can be transferred, eliminated, reduced, civilianized or expanded by March of next year. Continue reading “Durkan Order Raises Questions About Overlap Between Efforts to Defund, “Reimagine” Seattle Police”

Mayor’s 2020 Budget Would Reallocate JumpStart, Uber Taxes to Pay for BIPOC Investments To Be Determined by New Task Force

Screen shot from internal City of Seattle presentation obtained by PubliCola.

UPDATE: Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office has confirmed that the mayor plans to use both JumpStart (payroll) tax revenues, which are currently earmarked for housing, people experiencing homelessness, and small businesses, and money from the Transportation Network Companies (Uber/Lyft) tax to help pay for her $100 million “new investment” in BIPOC communities. The details of that spending would be hammered out by a task force whose members Durkan will announce next week. (More information in original story, below.)

The TNC tax is currently earmarked for affordable housing near transit and the Center City Streetcar. Using TNC revenues to get to the $100 million goal could mean abandoning the troubled downtown streetcar project.

Earlier this year, the city council passed the JumpStart tax—a graduated payroll tax on high-income workers’ earnings. Durkan, who opposed the tax, nonetheless only vetoed the council’s JumpStart spending plan, letting the tax itself become law without her signature. (The council overrode the veto).

It was an odd move that many observers questioned at the time. However, if Durkan was planning to use the tax revenues to pay for her July commitment, which she made at the height of clashes between protesters and Seattle police, the mayor’s decision to preserve the tax but try to undo the spending plan makes sense. 

But it will have consequences. Under the council’s plan, payroll tax revenues would be used in the short term to fund rent relief, non-congregate shelter beds, immigrant and refugee relief programs,grocery vouchers, and direct assistance to child care centers and other small businesses. In the long term, the tax is supposed to provide $214 million a year for low-income and affordable housing, equitable development, small business support, and Green New Deal projects.

Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who proposed the JumpStart plan, told PubliCola, “JumpStart funding for 2021 was supposed to lessen the austerity cuts that were expected to core government services, much of which serves BIPOC communities. We cannot take expected JumpStart revenue to make good on a promise [Durkan] couldn’t keep.”

The council, which is just coming off a bruising battle over the 2020 rebalancing package, will have to decide now whether they want to fight Durkan’s plan to allocate $100 million to a list of projects that won’t be determined until her task force comes up with spending priorities; or to give in and abandon some or all of the JumpStart spending plan they adopted in July.

If they fight, the mayor will be able to accuse the council of “not listening to community” because their spending plan didn’t involve the kind of lengthy community process Durkan has proposed. If they don’t, community groups that worked to secure the funding in that plan, including groups that advocated for months for the Green New Deal spending plan, could lose out.

Overall, according to PubliCola’s reporting, Durkan’s budget plan would require between 75 and 80 outright layoffs, representing about $7 million in city spending. The mayor will present her budget to the council next Tuesday at 1pm.

Support PubliCola

PubliCola is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going—and expanding!

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. I’m truly grateful for your support.

Original story follows.

As PubliCola reported yesterday, in advance of today’s announcement, Mayor Jenny Durkan is convening a new “Equitable Investment Task Force” as part of a “Reimagining Seattle” process that will begin discussions to “realign” the city’s spending  for a post-COVID recovery. The mayor’s announcement, made in an op/ed in the South Seattle Emerald, does not provide many details about her “Equitable Communities Initiative” or the makeup of the task force, but does indicate that this will be a multi-year process, starting with the 2021 budget she’ll propose next Tuesday and continuing with an already planned supplemental budget next spring.

As we noted on Twitter yesterday, PubliCola has obtained additional details that shed more light on the mayor’s plans, which also involve numerous internal “work groups” (distinct from the external task force) and more than 30 city staff, most of them from the city budget office or the mayor’s office.

In an internal PowerPoint presentation titled “Reimagining Seattle As We Know It,” Durkan’s office laid out a plan that that includes new internal city of Seattle “work groups” and an Equitable Investment Task Force with various committees and a paid facilitator, which will “interface” with, and get technical assistance from, the city by way of the new work groups. The mayor’s office will serve as the liaison between all these different groups, and a still-to-be-hired Director of Re=covery and Equitable Investment will head up the whole effort.

The mayor has been criticized in the past for appointing task forces to discuss urgent problems in the past instead of taking quick and decisive action. Past task forces have included groups that discussed homelessness (One Table), zoning in industrial areas (the Industrial and Maritime Strategy Council), and business (the Small Business Advisory Council), among others.

This purpose of this task force is, in part, to discuss how to spend the $100 million the mayor has pledged in “new spending” on BIPOC communities in her 2021 budget, which her office will present to the city council on Tuesday.

One likely source of these revenues will be the JumpStart tax, which is intended to help individuals and businesses recover from the COVID-related economic downturn next year, to cover some of the $100 million. Earlier this year, Durkan vetoed the spending plan for the tax, but not the tax plan itself (the council overrode the veto).

Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who proposed the JumpStart plan, told PubliCola, “JumpStart funding for 2021 was supposed to lessen the austerity cuts that were expected to core government services, much of which serves BIPOC communities. We cannot take expected JumpStart revenue to make good on a promise [Durkan] couldn’t keep.”

According to the city’s internal presentation, the task force—whose members the mayor’s office has not yet identified—will have four co-chairs, and the whole effort will be headed up by the mayor’s new Director of Recovery and Equitable Investment, who has not been hired yet (the job posting went up in early September). PubliCola hears it’s been a challenge to find someone to fill the cabinet-level position, which has a pay range of $120,000 to $180,000.


The 2019 Council Candidates: District 7 Candidate Jim Pugel

Image via Jim Pugel campaign

This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.

Today: Jim Pugel, the former Seattle police chief who worked in the West Precinct, which overlaps much of District 7, for many years. After leaving the force, Pugel became chief deputy at the King County Sheriff’s office. He’s running to replace Sally Bagshaw, who’s retiring.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): You were West Precinct Commander at SPD when the city and a group of public defenders set up the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, which offers pre-arrest alternatives to people facing low-level drug and prostitution charges. You’ve mentioned in the past that you were initially reluctant to adopt alternatives that didn’t involve arresting people and sending them through the court system. Can you talk a little bit about your reluctance at first and how that evolved?

Jim Pugel (JP): I had had limited exposure to harm reduction and it was only for alcohol [with the 1811 Eastlake project]. And then, um, uh, from the time you’re a baby police officer in the academy, you’re taught if you have drugs, you go to jail, end of story. It was a bipartisan issue. Whether there was a Democrat or Republican in the White House, whoever controlled Congress, judges, prosecutors, presidents—all of them said if you have drugs, you go to jail.

So we had this group of chronic drug consumers and nonviolent sellers in Belltown, and that’s when [now-Public Defender Association director] Lisa Daugaard approached and said, ‘Let’s work with the community and figure out a better way. You keep arresting them, and we keep defending them, and we’re expecting a different outcome and that’s insanity.’ So the more I thought about it, [I realized] we were spending more money doing the buy-busts, and the arrests, and the prosecution, and the defense, and the jailing, and then the probation of people, than it would cost to try to get them healthy and at the same time return the neighborhood to a semblance of order so that there wasn’t this feeling of insecurity and visible disorder. So that’s what got me. But it wasn’t like a light came on. It was more evolutionary than revolutionary. Although people look at this program and say it was revolutionary, it evolved. And it took a while to get the police officers on board. Just because that was counterintuitive to what we always been taught.

ECB: What do you think of the mayor’s latest proposals to deal with so-called prolific offenders?

JP: There is a core group of people, 150 to 200 people, that cause a disproportionate amount of crime. Many of them are committing crimes to feed their habit. And if they’re not amenable to diversion or treatment, which we should offer, then they have to be held accountable. [At the same time], we should build our capacity for diversion. Because I think just from my experience with LEAD and then my experience with 1811 Eastlake, most people do want some type of recovery, whether it’s abstinence-based or whether it’s harm reduction. So let’s get them so that they’re not harming the society that they’re living in individuals themselves.

ECB: How would you hold people accountable if they aren’t interested in LEAD or treatment?

JP: I’m open to any reasonable solution, but there is a certain number of people out there who I call the will-nots—they just won’t do anything unless they want to do it. And there comes a point where you have to incapacitate them and whether they want treatment while they’re incapacitated or not, that’s up to them. You can’t force it on them, but you can’t allow everyone to be victimized because of them.

“There is a certain number of people out there who I call the will-nots—they just won’t do anything unless they want to do it. And there comes a point where you have to incapacitate them and whether they want treatment while they’re incapacitated or not, that’s up to them. You can’t force it on them, but you can’t allow everyone to be victimized because of them.”

ECB: Speaking of harm reduction, you’ve taken a couple of positions on safe drug consumption sites. [Pugel represented the King County Sheriff’s office on the county’s Opiate Task Force, which unanimously recommended safe consumption sites in 2017]. You now say they’re a bad idea. Why?

JP: The more I’ve looked at it, I think it would take too much money. The current administration out of Washington DC would come flying in—and they’re the biggest law firm in the world—and [City Attorney] Pete [Holmes] or [King County Prosecutor] Dan [Satterberg] or both would have to spend a bunch of money on attorneys to defend them. Number two, the more I’ve looked at it, when a person is dope sick, when they need to consume—there’s probably only going to be one location—the only people who are going to use it are people who can walk there. Because you’re not going to score your dope in Enumclaw  or Duvall or Woodenville and take three transfers downtown to shoot up. And who’s going to spend the political capital to say we’re going to put it in our backyard? No one’s going to do it right now. I looked at the morbidity, and 82 percent of the people who passed from an overdose are housed, so they’re doing it in their house or in their apartment. So it’s not out on the street.

I think we could spend the money better and more efficiently on treatment, on medically assisted therapy, on syringe exchange programs.

Support The C Is for Crank
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ECB: There’s been quite a bit of concern about safety and the perception of safety all along Third Avenue downtown, which is in your district. There are concerns about the area around the King County Courthouse, which is across from DESC’s biggest shelter, and separate concerns about Third and Pine, which has been the site of a large number of shootings and stabbings over the years, including just this month. How would you respond to those concerns?

JP: Let’s start with the courthouse. Having worked in the King County courthouse and going through that door for four years, I would say that there’s a distinction between people in front of the DESC shelter and those in front of the courthouse. The ones in front of the courthouse were a little bit more aggressive. They would defecate right on the sidewalk and urinate around the corner, in that kind of dead space on Jefferson Street. And now the Downtown Seattle Association has tried to activate that with games, chairs, and lighting. They’ve opened it up a little bit. But you need physical presence. And one thing I’m going to really push if I’m elected is for officers on foot. That really sends a statement to those who are not familiar with the area that they’re safe. There are officers here.

At Third and Pine, that’s where almost every single bus route from the County converges. That’s where this county brings people and picks them up. If you look at some of the tenants in those stores between Pike and Pine, it’s check cashing, vaping, fingernail polish. So you need economic development.
It’s tough. You have aggressive shoplifters, which borders on a robbery. And the margins for some of these boutique stores are pretty narrow margins, so they can only have one employee there, and this one employee is a young kid, quote often a female who doesn’t live in the city. She commutes in and these people come in and will defecate in the doorway or in use the employee only bathroom. You can’t have that and expect the healthy business environment. You’re always going to have some degree of loss, but when it’s so cascading, you can’t run a business that way. Continue reading “The 2019 Council Candidates: District 7 Candidate Jim Pugel”

King County Judge Overturns “Save the Showbox” Law, Rules Against City on All Counts

After a two-hour hearing that was heavy on technicalities of land-use law and short on drama, King County Superior Court judge Patrick Oishi overturned a city law placing the building that houses the Showbox in the Pike Place Market Historical District, ruling that the legislation constituted an illegal spot rezone; that it violated the owners’ due process rights by dictating the use of their property in a way that was “unduly oppressive”; that it violated their fundamental property rights; and that the owners didn’t get a fair hearing before the city effectively downzoned the land from 440 feet to the height of the two-story Showbox building.

The city council expanded the district to include the Showbox building in response to plans by the property owner, Roger Forbes, to sell the land (which the council rezoned in 2017 to allow buildings as tall as 440 feet) to the Vancouver developer Onni, which planned to build a 40-story apartment tower on the site. The expansion, which meant that any changes to the Showbox building would have to be approved by the historical district (which was established in 1971 to prevent development of the historic market), scuttled the development plans.

Oishi also rejected the city’s request that he dismiss Forbes’ lawsuit against the city.

The building owners’ argument that the law constituted a spot rezone in conflict with all of the city’s previous zoning decisions seemed to be particularly compelling to Judge Oishi. John Tondini, the attorney for the owners, pointed out that not only did the city upzone the property from 200 feet to a maximum of 400 feet in 2006, but told the owners in 2007 that the building was unlikely to qualify for landmark status— “a giant green light,” he said, that the owners should “‘feel free to redevelop. You don’t even have to go through landmarking.'” Then, in 2017, the council upzoned the property again, to 440 feet, as part of the Mandatory Housing Affordability Legislation. (As my colleague Josh first reported, MHA would have required Onni to pay around $5 million into the city’s affordable housing fund, a sum that could be used as leverage for additional affordable housing funds.)

This case is not … about whether someone likes the Showbox or not. The case is not about whether someone likes music or does not like music. This case is not about whether historical preservation should be a priority of the city,” Oishi said before making his ruling. “This case is about whether the city’s actions in adopting this ordinance… were lawful.”

“Back in 2006,” Oishi continued, “the city green-lighted [buildings] up to 400 feet. And then, just a year before this ordinance, the city frankly doubled down on that and said you can go up to 440 feet. No one forced the city to do that. That’s decisions they made. But part of the reason we’re here is that the city took those actions previously, and now the city is somehow trying to take back those actions or somehow get a do-over … and they’re targeting one specific property, and that’s the Showbox property.”

In ruling for the Showbox building owners, Oishi also rejected the city’s contention, in the words of assistant city attorney Daniel Mitchell, that the historic district expansion, which the council recently extended through December, was nothing more than a “temporary time out… to maintain the status quo on the ground to come up with long-term solutions to the situation,” as well as their contention that the expansion had nothing to do with Forbes’ deal with Onni and did not take away the owners’ ability to use their property as they wished. Oishi noted that when the market boundaries were originally set, property owners who were now subject to the new restrictions were entitled to sell their property at fair market value to the city, and most of them did. “Those property owners were offered the option of selling and being paid money. This owner is not being given that option,” Oishi said.

After the ruling, attorneys for the owners and a spokesman for the city attorney’s office said that the two sides were going to sit down to discuss next steps before making any additional announcements; the city attorney’s spokesman, Dan Nolte, confirmed that an appeal is one of the options on the table. “We’re evaluating our options and need to confer with our clients before determining what’s next,” Nolte said this afternoon.

Eugenia Woo, director of preservation services at Historic Seattle, said she was disappointed in the ruling, but that her organization was still hoping to purchase the building. The city’s landmarks preservation board, which voted on TK to nominate the building for historic landmark status, will consider the nomination on July 17, but landmarking alone, Woo acknowledged, won’t keep the Showbox itself in business. “We’ve said from the beginning that the best way to save the Showbox is to find a preservation- friendly buyer, and we’ve stepped up and hopefully that’ll be us,” Woo said. “We’re still hopeful. Never give up hope.”

Morning Crank: “Some Kind of Magical Treatment Carwash”

1. Homeless service providers and advocates expressed skepticism, and some support, for the idea of consolidating the city and county’s response to homelessness under a single regional agency on Monday. Kevin at SCC Insight has a thorough writeup of the report from NYC-based Future Laboratories, but the key bullet point was the recommendation that Seattle and King County should consolidate all the agencies providing services to people experiencing homeless in the region into a single regional über-agency, while keeping capital projects (i.e. housing construction) under the purview of individual cities.

Some of the issues service providers raised after consultant Marc Dones’ presentation were familiar. Daniel Malone, the director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, cautioned that in the absence of additional funds for housing, it would be almost pointless to provide more funding for treatment and behavioral health care, which was among Future Labs’ 10 recommendations. “We are not going to realize the benefits from all of those additional investments if we don’t pair them with housing, and too many of the proposals so far are really just for the allocation of additional treatment beds,” Malone said. “There’s this idea that some people have that there’s some kind of magical treatment carwash that we can run people through, and they come out through the other end all better.” In reality, Malone said, it’s hard for people fresh out of treatment to stay on track while living on the street. “We ought to make sure that there’s a commitment to [housing] before we move on the rest of these investment changes.”

Paul Lambros, the longtime head of Plymouth Housing Group, cautioned that any new regional agency needed to have real authority, lest it get “watered down” the way previous efforts at a “regional response to homelessness” have. During the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness (which wrapped up in 2015 with homelessness more pervasive than ever), “we made recommendations, and then, through … the city council’s process and the county council’s process and others, it got watered [to the point that] there wasn’t a lot of authority there,” Lambros said.

Alison Eisinger, director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, agreed with Dones’ statement that the success of a system shouldn’t be judged on how many times someone has to come back to get a new ID, but pushed back on the notion that having to get an ID again and again and again was somehow normal. “Just as we should not require people to share their personal information many, many times over and measure things like how many times someone has gotten an ID card, we should question how it is that peoples ID’s are lost so frequently, including in sweeps that are funded by public dollars,” Eisinger said.


2. Fred Podesta, the former Finance and Administrative Services Department director who had served for several months as head of the city’s Navigation Team, left the city earlier this month to take a new position as the COO for Seattle Public Schools (Podesta’s reassignment, last August, was widely viewed as a demotion; he took a new). His replacement will reportedly be Jackie St. Louis—the current coordinator for the Navigation Team and part of the social-worker component of the team, which also includes Seattle Police Department officers.

Durkan has been forceful in her support of the Navigation Team, which was doubled in size thanks to a one-time grant from King County in 2018. During last year’s budget negotiations, when council member Teresa Mosqueda proposed rolling back the team to its pre-grant size in order to give city-contracted human service workers a 2 percent raise, Durkan went on the offensive, and one of her deputy mayors, Mike Fong, sent letter to council members suggesting that rolling back the size of the team, which sweeps encampments and directs camp residents to services and shelter beds, would result in “400 more people living on our streets” and “200 more encampments in our parks and public spaces.”

Durkan spokeswoman Chelsea Kellogg says the mayor’s office came up with these numbers by reducing the actual 2018 numbers “by the percentage of the proposed cut.”

In an email labeled “Talking Points-Nav Team cuts,” Durkan staffer Anthony Auriemma suggested several talking points that didn’t make it into Fong’s email, including the claim that if the council rolled back funding for the Navigation Team, “the City will struggle to deliver basic services such as keeping parks open for everyone to enjoy or ensuring sidewalks are safe and accessible.”

It’s hard to say whether Durkan’s office would have actually argued that reducing the Navigation Team to its 2017 size could have forced the city to shut down public parks or that Mosqueda’s plan would have rendered sidewalks across the city unsafe and unusable. It’s easy to see, however, how such talking points (combined with claims that council members were swelling the city’s unsheltered population by hundreds of people) could be politically damaging to council members seeking reelection this fall. Back in November, Durkan’s spokeswoman categorically denied reports that the mayor had called council members to let them know that if they voted against the Navigation Team expansion, they would have to explain to their constituents why they had allowed public safety to deteriorate in their districts.

In the end, Durkan got her permanent Navigation Team expansion, and the human service workers got their 2 percent inflationary pay increase. Imagine what this debate would have looked like during an economic downturn.