SPD’s 2022 Budget Proposal Relies on Optimistic Hiring Projections

SPD hiring projection chartBy Paul Kiefer

The Seattle Police Department’s staffing goals for 2022 are extremely ambitious and could leave the department with millions in unspent salaries, according to a staff presentation to the city council’s budget committee on Friday.

More than 300 sworn officers have left the department since January 2020. In 2022, SPD hopes to begin replenishing its ranks, starting with the restoration of 31 paid positions that the council eliminated last year. That proposal would leave SPD with a total of 1,357 funded officer positions, but the department can’t realistically fill all of those positions in a year; instead, SPD estimates that it would end 2022 with 134 vacancies.

Even that goal is ambitious. The department anticipates that roughly 94 officers will leave the department this year, so to reach its goals—a net add of 35 officers—SPD will need to hire a record of 125 new officers. To hit that mark, the department would have surpass the past decade’s average annual hires by more than 25 percent.

During last year’s budget deliberations, for example, the council deemed SPD’s plan to hire 114 new officers in 2021 “not achievable.” As of the end of September, SPD had hired only 57 new officers.

SPD argues that it can accelerate hiring by making the application process more efficient. The department moved hiring exams online in a bid to improve accessibility for applicants, and instead of conducting time-consuming background checks in-house, SPD is now relying on an outside contractor to speed up the process.

Other variables are outside the department’s control. Washington’s Basic Law Enforcement Academy (BLEA), which provides a mandatory five-month training to new recruits, can’t increase class sizes without approval from the state legislature. Currently, new recruits have to wait an average of four months after SPD begins the hiring process to start basic training at the academy.

During Friday’s presentation, budget chair Teresa Mosqueda reminded her colleagues that the council has previously asked SPD to scale back its hiring goals. During last year’s budget deliberations, for example, the council deemed SPD’s plan to hire 114 new officers in 2021 “not achievable.” As of the end of September, SPD had hired only 57 new officers, though the department estimates it will reach 85 hires by the end of the year.

If SPD can reach its hiring goal next year, the department estimates it will still have an extra $19 million from unspent salaries by the end of 2022. SPD plans to use its salary savings to pay for a slew of technology updates, contracts, and operating expenses that aren’t otherwise covered in their budget. Those include familiar necessities—separation pay for officers that leave, for instance—as well as longer-term projects like the expansion of the department’s public disclosure unit. SPD also plans to spend some of its unspent salaries on projects outside the department, including $1.5 million on Seattle-area violence prevention nonprofits.

The largest portion of SPD’s salary savings—$6.4 million—would cover the department’s overtime expenses, driven largely by the return of in-person attendance at sports games, where off-duty officers provide security. While event organizers pay SPD for those costs, council president Lorena González questioned the wisdom of using already officers to staff “for-profit special events,” commenting that the department “need[s] the time these officers have to work on patrol.” Unlike last year, SPD isn’t at risk of overspending its overtime budget: Out of a nearly $25 million budget for overtime, the department has only spent $15.5 million to date.

In all, SPD has a plan to spend all but $1.1 million of its projected salary savings in 2022. Relying on SPD’s salary savings as the funding source for dozens of other expenses and projects is a risky long-term strategy, a council staffer warned.

Other council members expressed frustration with SPD’s plan to spend $1 million of its salary savings on software that is supposed to predict which officers might need mental health support by collecting their biometric data and monitoring the length, type, and outcomes of calls they respond to. “That seems like a lot of money to spend on technology that tells us that officers have high-stress jobs,” said Councilmember Tammy Morales. Instead, Morales suggested, the department should direct those dollars to mental health counseling for officers. To the council’s frustration, however, SPD has already begun signing contracts for the development of the predictive technology, with plans to pay for it using salary savings.

In all, SPD has a plan to spend all but $1.1 million of its projected salary savings in 2022. Relying on SPD’s salary savings as the funding source for dozens of other expenses and projects is a risky long-term strategy, warned city council central staffer Greg Doss. If the department can eventually fill its vacancies, he said, the council will face a dilemma: Find millions of new dollars to add to SPD’s budget or cut back on salaries to keep other projects alive.

Meanwhile, the October 18 deadline for the city’s vaccination mandate could force SPD to rethink its hiring plan. On Friday, at least 138 SPD officers had not yet submitted proof of vaccination—a figure that does not include more than 100 officers who are currently on leave for various reasons, including military service, misconduct investigations, and medical treatment.

The city hasn’t yet reached an agreement with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) about how the city will enforce its mandate on police union members, and Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office maintains that the city will start firing unvaccinated officers who haven’t applied for exemptions from the mandate by Tuesday. And the 97 sworn officers who applied for exemptions from the vaccine mandate aren’t necessarily in the clear: If SPD decides that it can’t safely accommodate these officers, they, too, could lose their jobs. SPD’S 2022 staffing plan doesn’t account for the loss of unvaccinated officers.

Though the department acknowledges that its projections are optimistic, SPD strategic initiatives director Chris Fisher told the council in late September that he’s confident they can make the adjustments needed to push a record number of recruits through the hiring process—even if it means holding SPD-only basic training classes at the state academy. The obstacle that concerns them most, he said, is simply getting enough people to fill out an application.

SPD’s Community Service Officer is Poised to Grow, But the Program is Still Finding Its Feet

SPD Community Service Officers
SPD Community Service Officer Kevin Hendrix and sworn officer Hosea Crumpton; image via SPD Facebook.

By Paul Kiefer

The re-launch of the Seattle Police Department’s Community Service Officer (CSO) unit at the end of 2019 was quickly overshadowed by a global pandemic. In the two years since, the unarmed civilian team has mostly remained under the radar, handling non-emergency calls, connecting runaway kids and domestic violence victims to service providers, and doing meet-and-greets at neighborhood events.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2022 budget proposal would add six new officers to the CSO program, making it the only police department program to gain new full-time positions next year. Durkan’s plan would bring the total funded positions to 24; the team is still waiting to fill 10 existing positions that have been vacant since the beginning of the summer, so bringing the program to full strength would mean hiring 18 more people.

In some ways, the city council’s vocal support for scaling up alternatives to traditional (armed) police puts the CSO program in an advantageous position: instead of bulletproof vests and a gun belt, the CSOs wear light-blue polo shirts and walkie-talkies. But the unit is still part of SPD, and despite pressure from some activists to move the program to a civilian department, the CSOs themselves have been clear that they want to stay put. At the same time, some of the unit’s responsibilities seem increasingly redundant in a growing ecosystem of civilian-led public safety services.

During one week in late September, CSOs appeared at six community gatherings in an effort to “build positive rapport” with community members; according to Chris Inaba, one of the unit’s two civilian supervisors, the purpose of those appearances is both to introduce community members to the CSO program and to act as friendly ambassadors for SPD.

For the police department, the CSO program serves both as an in-house patrol support team and a community relations tool: A friendly, approachable face for a department that is desperately trying to regain public trust. As Seattle shifts its energy toward civilianizing public safety, the CSO program is the department’s most saleable asset—and one that could, according to program leaders, play a key part in reconnecting the city to SPD.

During one week in late September, CSOs appeared at six community gatherings in an effort to “build positive rapport” with community members; according to Chris Inaba, one of the unit’s two civilian supervisors, the purpose of those appearances is both to introduce community members to the CSO program and to act as friendly ambassadors for SPD.

Inaba was one of the first people the department hired when the city finally reassembled the CSO program in 2019. Before joining SPD, he spent three years working for the Downtown Seattle Association as a safety supervisor and outreach case manager.

Though the current CSO program is still finding its footing, the concept isn’t new to Seattle. The department originally launched the program in the early 1970s in a bid to de-escalate tensions between SPD and Black residents of the Central District—tensions driven by allegations of racist policing and excessive force by the department’s officers—and to create a recruitment pipeline for Black police officers. For 33 years, the unit handled everything from landlord-tenant disputes to reconnecting homeless youth with their families. But after a series of budget cuts under then-mayor Greg Nickels, SPD disbanded the original CSO program in 2004.

Over one week in September, SPD’s patrol staff handed off calls to CSOs ten times. In one case, the officers found shelter space for a homeless family; in another, an officer paid for an Uber to take a domestic violence victim to a friend’s house after connecting them to an advocate.

When SPD and then-City Councilmember Mike O’Brien announced plans to revive the program in 2017, SPD was entangled in allegations of racially biased policing and excessive force—and, as a result, five years into an oversight agreement with the US Department of Justice known as the consent decree. Even before the department assembled a new CSO team, some community activists had already raised the possibility of moving the program out of SPD. But department leadership stood firm, arguing that the CSOs should act as a supplement to patrol, not an autonomous team of social service workers providing wraparound care.

With SPD’s ranks stretched thin after more than a year of high attrition, the CSOs have frequently served in this supplementary role. Over one week in late September, SPD’s patrol staff handed off calls to CSOs ten times. In one case, the officers found shelter space for a homeless family; in another, an officer paid for an Uber to take a domestic violence victim to a friend’s house after connecting them to an advocate.

Right now, Inaba said, the CSOs are among the only responders who have time to handle those tasks. “What we have is time, so we can help free up sworn officer to deal with other things while we help someone figure out where they can find what they need,” he said. In the past year, SPD patrol officers have called CSOs for support on more than 500 emergency calls; Inaba hopes that the city’s 911 dispatch will eventually be able to send CSOs directly to emergency calls, which be believes would add to their usefulness. Continue reading “SPD’s Community Service Officer is Poised to Grow, But the Program is Still Finding Its Feet”

The New Light Rail Expansion Makes Seattle Feel Like a Real City

Sound Transit Roosevelt Station facade
Image via Sound Transit.

By Katie Wilson

Anyone who’s ever been carless in Seattle knows the feeling that your city wasn’t really built for you. Cars whiz by, spewing exhaust and, if it’s especially wet, plowing up great sprays of dirty water that don’t respect the boundaries of the sidewalk. Biking on most streets is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes it takes so long to cobble together a bus trip from here to there, it’s almost faster to walk. Seattle has been making progress on its multimodal infrastructure, and some streets are safe, beautiful and well-designed — but take a wrong turn, and very quickly you can feel like an unwelcome stranger in your own city.

That’s what made the opening of three new light rail stations earlier this month so thrilling. An event like that transforms the topology of the city, drawing close together points that were once so distant as to feel totally disconnected. For people who don’t drive, it makes the city feel more like home.

I biked and walked past that construction site at NE 43rd St. in the University District so many times over the past few years, it began to feel like a permanent feature of the neighborhood. I almost forgot it was ever going to open. Then, suddenly, it was October 2 .

Now I could leave my Capitol Hill apartment, walk for ten minutes, board the train and be whisked away to the heart of U District in what felt like a heartbeat — no bus transfer, no hike through campus. Wandering the streets around the U District station that afternoon, you could feel the neighborhood being transformed. What had been a dead end was now a hub, a portal. People streamed in and out of the station. They bought lunch, sat at picnic tables, conversed. A new place had been created.

An event like that transforms the topology of the city, drawing close together points that were once so distant as to feel totally disconnected. For people who don’t drive, it makes the city feel more like home.

I probably wouldn’t have ridden the train on that first day if it weren’t for Pauline Van Senus, also known as the Transit Fairy. While the rest of the Transit Riders Union floated off into the Zoom-o-sphere during the pandemic, Pauline doubled down on the physical world, pulling weeds and picking up trash around transit stops. She wasn’t about to let such a momentous transit occasion slide by without TRU members marking the occasion, so a group of us met at the Capitol Hill station that morning and rode up to Northgate together.

“It’s like 14 minutes to get to Northgate from downtown,” said Pauline. “Even if I-5 was wide open, that would be hard to top. And it very seldom is wide open; it’s usually backed up.”

Train speeds that beat the pants off driving—that’s the kind of transit system that entices people out of their cars. In our era of climate crisis, it’s what we desperately need.

For Jim MacIntosh, who lives in Magnolia with his family, the new light rail extension shaves a good twenty minutes off the trip up to Northgate to visit his mother. That trip used to require traveling all the way downtown. “Now I can take the 31 right to the U-district station, and then just hop on the light rail, and it’s two stops and five minutes later we’re at Northgate,” he said.

We need more funding for transit, and we need changes to zoning and land use regulations that encourage greater housing density, so that neighborhoods near the light rail line can accommodate more people who will actually use late-night runs.

Jim says he’s thrilled that our transit system is starting to feel more and more like a real metropolitan subway system, the kind he remembers from visits to London and Vienna, Washington D.C. and New York City.

“What we have is maybe not quite the level of New York, but it’s a start,” he said with a laugh. “It’s going to add mobility, especially for those that choose not to drive or don’t drive for whatever reason.”

Jim doesn’t drive because he’s visually impaired. He predicts he’ll be making the trip north more often now — and it’s not only about the time savings.

“It’s just a more pleasant run,” he said. “The light rail trains are smooth. You don’t have the up and down motion that you have in a bus, and the swerving where buses have to get around cars or every time they pull into a bus stop. When the bus moves, a person standing there is thrown off balance, so they have to grab onto a pole or something. On the light rail you don’t have the sudden motions back and forth.” Continue reading “The New Light Rail Expansion Makes Seattle Feel Like a Real City”

Bullying and Marginalizing Media Critics is a Bad Look for a Potential Seattle Mayor

By Erica C. Barnett

Last Friday, Seattle mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell headlined a large indoor event at the China Harbor restaurant, where attendees, including Harrell, appear to have violated local COVID protocols by going maskless.

Photos and videos posted on social media, which I tweeted out on Friday night, showed a large crowd milling around the room, sitting around empty tables, and taking large group photos without masks. King County regulations explicitly require people attending indoor events to wear masks at all times except when actively eating or drinking; there is no exception for indoor group photos, sitting down (at tables or otherwise), or standing and talking to smaller groups within a larger event.

The Seattle Times and My Northwest picked up on the story. In a statement to the Times, Harrell struck a defensive tone, saying that he only took his mask off for group photos (in fact, candid photos posted on Facebook show him standing maskless in the crowd) and while eating (one image shows Harrell and former Gov. Gary Locke, both maskless, shaking hands and leaning their heads close together to talk.)

The Times called Harrell Sunday morning, according to their story. At noon that same day, Harrell’s campaign manager and niece, Monisha Harrell, sent the Queen Anne Community Council a last-minute ultimatum: Remove me as moderator of their candidate forum, scheduled for 3:00 that afternoon, or Harrell would walk. The campaign claimed they made this last-minute threat because of PubliCola’s months-old primary-election endorsement for Harrell’s opponent, Lorena González. Because of this endorsement, the campaign claimed, I could not be trusted to run an “impartial” forum.

A candidate, particularly someone running for mayor, should be prepared to respond to people who challenge their policies and positions. The mayor represents the whole city, not just those who agree with him or her.

I got the news as I was heading to my office to set up for the event, less than an hour after discussing some last-minute details with one of the organizers. It was disappointing to learn that, after collaborating with the Queen Anne Community Council on the format and questions for the forum since August, I would no longer be able to ask the questions we came up with together. More importantly, it was disrespectful of Harrell to force the community council to make a choice between having me as moderator and holding their long-planned forum at all.

Monisha Harrell claimed the campaign didn’t know I was moderating the event until Sunday, a claim that strains credulity. In fact, the campaign was informed weeks in advance that I would be the moderator, and both my name and photo appeared on all advertising for the event. If the campaign was so disorganized that it didn’t check to see who was moderating, that’s a bad sign; if they made up this claim so that Harrell wouldn’t have to take questions from a particular reporter, that’s worse.

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To take the campaign’s claim at face value for a moment: The idea that a reporter, commentator, or editor can’t be “impartial” if they’ve expressed a political “bias” in the past is patently ridiculous; by this standard, none the local pundits who get called upon to moderate political debates, including Civic Cocktail’s Joni Balter, KOMO-4’s Joel Moreno, and the South Seattle Emerald’s Marcus Harrison Green, would be eligible.

Making this specifically about “endorsements,” rather than opinions about issues and candidates, is a straw argument, since PubliCola is one of only a few local publications that issue endorsements. KIRO Radio, Sinclair-owned KOMO, and FOX 13 all have strong editorial slants, but Harrell will participate in a debate series next week in which all those outlets, plus the Seattle Times, will provide moderators.

Harrell himself is quite familiar with my moderating style, since he’s participated in several forums I’ve moderated in the past, including during this year’s election. I’ve been moderating debates, off and on, for about 20 years. In all that time, I’ve never sprung an unfair “gotcha” on a candidate, and there’s no reason whatsoever for anyone familiar with this work, as Harrell and his campaign are, to speculate publicly that I would.

Let’s say, though, that I had decided to go “rogue” and ask Harrell about the event on Friday. So? A candidate, particularly someone running for mayor, should be prepared to respond to people who challenge their policies and positions. The mayor represents the whole city, not just those who agree with him or her. “Mr. Harrell, why did you attend an event that appeared to violate COVID protocols?” is a legitimate question to ask someone who might have to implement COVID protocols and vaccine mandates. It is not “when did you stop beating your wife?” Continue reading “Bullying and Marginalizing Media Critics is a Bad Look for a Potential Seattle Mayor”

Lambert Removed from Leadership Roles After Racist Mailer; Tried to Get Issaquah Voters Removed from Her District

By Erica C. Barnett

The King County Council voted today to remove Kathy Lambert, the East King County Republican facing a difficult reelection battle this year, from all of her leadership roles on council committees.

Earlier this month, as first reported on Twitter by PubliCola, Lambert sent a mailer to voters portraying her opponent, Sarah Perry, as a “socialist…anti-police puppet” being manipulated by the likes of Bernie Sanders, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, Vice President Kamala Harris, and her South King County council colleague Girmay Zahilay. The message to white voters—if you elect Perry over Lambert, scary Black and brown leftists (and one Jew) will impose their agenda on your communities—was barely subtext.

The motion, sponsored by council chair Claudia Balducci, who represents Bellevue, said that Lambert’s mailer had “adversely impacted the ability of the council to conduct its business efficiently and effectively.” A related ordinance eliminated the health and human services committee, which Lambert chaired, and combined its duties with that of the law and justice committee, chaired by Zahilay.

“People know Seattle’s not going in the right direction, and they don’t want this to spread to their communities. … I don’t believe that one insensitive item should take away a person’s reputation.”—King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert

In a statement after the vote, Balducci said Lambert’s “mailer and subsequent statements have undermined our ability to work with each other, our staff’s confidence in us as leaders, and our reputation and relationships with outside organizations and agencies. Based on those impacts, it was imperative that we take concrete action quickly.”

Before the vote, the council’s Employment and Administration Committee, which includes all nine council members, held a lengthy executive session to discuss a “Personnel Matter related to Council’s Policies and Procedures Against Harassment and Discrimination. Balducci confirmed in her statement that the council is considering an investigation into whether Lambert’s mailer violated the council’s anti-harassment policy.

Both the motion and the ordinance passed unanimously, but not before Lambert gave a self-pitying, unapologetic speech that minimized the harm the mailer had caused and accused her colleagues of ulterior motives.

The council’s decision to remove her from leadership roles, Lambert said, was “clearly not about race, but about political opportunity to damage my reelection campaign.” Calling the mailer merely “one lapse in judgment” in decades on the council, Lambert accused her colleagues of trying to push “Seattle-centric ideas” by empowering Zahilay to oversee health and human services as part of his committee.

“The people in this county are worried about public safety, crime and response times due to political decisions, people are smart. They see the data and the needs. People know Seattle’s not going in the right direction, and they don’t want this to spread to their communities.”

“I am not going to allow one poorly depicted picture to find who I am,” Lambert said. After the vote, she added, “I don’t believe, as I said earlier, that one insensitive item should take away a person’s reputation, and I hope that for everybody who’s in politics, that you do understand what’s going on.”

Of course, what happens to a politician’s reputation as the result of their own actions is largely out of their control; voters will decide in November whether to reelect a conservative Republican who opposes harm reduction, has floated conspiracy theories about “shredded ballots,” supports anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers,” and has expressed anti-labor and pro-Trump views, and also sent out a racist mailer. Lambert was on her heels long before the latest controversy, for one simple reason: Her district is changing, as more people move to Issaquah and dilute the power of the white, conservative, rural areas that reliably vote for Republicans.

In late September, Lambert wrote a letter to the chair of the King County Districting Committee, which is in charge of redrawing the lines for county council districts every 10 years in response to demographic shifts, asking that the city of Issaquah be removed from her district, and that the commission shift her district’s boundaries to include more of the rural Sammamish Valley. She added that if the commission needed to move more voters out of her district, they could take some of Redmond as well. Continue reading “Lambert Removed from Leadership Roles After Racist Mailer; Tried to Get Issaquah Voters Removed from Her District”

King County Judge Rules Juvenile Sentencing Law Constitutional, Sparking Possible Appeal

The King County jail in downtown Seattle (Paul Kiefer: PubliCola)
The King County jail in downtown Seattle, where Adnel Kenjar transferred after turning 18 (Paul Kiefer: PubliCola)

By Paul Kiefer

A King County Superior Court judge dismissed a motion on Friday challenging the constitutionality of a Washington law requiring 16- and 17-year-olds charged with serious felonies to be tried as adults. The motion, prepared by defense attorney Emily M. Gause and the Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University’s law school, was the latest in a series of challenges to the law, known as the “auto-decline” statute, by criminal justice reform and children’s rights advocates.

The defendant in Friday’s test case is Adnel Kenjar, who prosecutors allege was the gunman in a 2018 drive-by shooting in Burien that killed a bystander. Kenjar was 17 at the time of the shooting.

Echoing earlier challenges to the auto-decline law, Kenjar’s defense attorneys argue that automatically trying him in adult court violates the due process clause of the state constitution. They’ve asked the court to transfer Kenjar to juvenile court for an “individualized” hearing to decide whether he was developmentally mature enough at the time of his alleged crime to be tried as an adult. Though Kenjar is now legally an adult, the state legislature voted last year to extend juvenile courts’ jurisdiction to include defendants between the ages of 18 and 25 facing charges for crimes committed while underage.

Kenjar’s defense also added new pillars to existing arguments against the auto-decline statute. On Friday, defense attorney Emily Gause argued that automatically trying juvenile defendants in adult court also violates the state constitution’s equal protections clause and prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Both the state supreme court and recent developments in brain science have repeatedly underscored that “children are categorically less culpable for every crime,” Gause told the court, so automatically tracking some juvenile defendants into adult court is unfair. “Also, there are no meaningful grounds to draw a line at 16,” she added. Gause also argued that a trial in adult court is a form of punishment in and of itself, particularly because privacy protections for defendants in adult court are less robust than the protections provided by juvenile courts.

The auto-decline law dates back to the 1990s, when widespread fears about a juvenile crime wave spurred state legislatures across the country to pass harsh sentencing laws targeting teenagers. But more recent developments in adolescent brain science—specifically, a growing body of evidence that impulse control and other crucial interpersonal skills aren’t well-developed in adolescents and young adults—have prompted courts and legislatures across the United States to backtrack. In 2012, for instance, the US Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life-without-parole sentences are unconstitutional for defendants younger than 18. “[A]n offender’s age is relevant to the Eighth Amendment,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the court’s majority decision, “and criminal procedure laws that fail to take defendants’ youthfulness into account at all would be flawed.’”

“If there is no constitutional right to juvenile court, then there’s no constitutional right to be transferred to that court.”—Prosecuting attorney Jim Whisman

The prosecution argued that Washington’s sentencing guidelines—including the auto-decline statute—are the responsibility of the legislature, not the courts. And while the court could overrule the legislature if the law was clearly unconstitutional, prosecuting attorney Jim Whisman noted on Friday that the state constitution doesn’t guarantee anyone the right to a trial in juvenile court. “If there is no constitutional right to juvenile court,” he said, “then there’s no constitutional right to be transferred to that court.”

Whisman also pointed to a 2017 decision by the state’s supreme court requiring judges to consider a defendant’s age before sentencing, arguing that the decision offers juvenile defendants a form of protection from excessive sentences in adult court. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg attempted to challenge the same decision, known as Washington v. Houston-Sconiers, before the US Supreme Court in September 2020; the court declined to hear Satterberg’s appeal. Continue reading “King County Judge Rules Juvenile Sentencing Law Constitutional, Sparking Possible Appeal”

Maybe Metropolis: Sorry Gen Xers, Capitol Hill is Cooler Than It Used To Be. And Less White.

Capitol Hill's Neumo's on a Wednesday night in October.
Lines around the block are political wins; Capitol Hill’s Neumos on a Wednesday night in October.

by Josh Feit

With additional reporting by Erica C. Barnett

Many of my Gen X peers like to wax about Capitol Hill circa the late ’90s, as they long for the golden years when the central Seattle neighborhood was so much cooler. When I think about Capitol Hill, I like to cast my mind back decades as well. But not to pine for the past. Rather, to remember the aspirational crystal ball renderings of city visionary Liz Dunn, who laid out a plan in the early 2000s to revitalize the neighborhood. Honestly, Capitol Hill was a predictable white hipster zone at the time. Nowadays, I like marveling at how Dunn’s vision for an energized, vital city neighborhood came true.

Sorry to burst your nostalgic bubble fellow Gen Xers, but Capitol Hill is far cooler today than it was in the past. I’ve lived on Capitol Hill for 20-plus years, and it’s never been a more exciting place to be than it is right now.

I was the news editor at The Stranger 20 years ago and, jealous that my colleagues on the arts side of the paper had established the Genius Awards for arts and culture trailblazers, the news team managed (in 2007) to give out “Political Genius” awards. The news staff picked developer Liz Dunn as “one to watch” for her “pro-development and pro-density” plan to “bring more life to the street” on Capitol Hill.

In a lovely case of “how it’s going,” fast forward 14 years to Dunn’s premier project, Chophouse Row, which is located at the epicenter of Capitol Hill between Pike and Union on 11th Ave. With its winding indoor-outdoor arcade, its restaurants, housing, shops, landscaped punch-throughs, and a lively public fire-pit courtyard where local jazz legend Evan Flory-Barnes regularly takes the stage, Chophouse Row has become Exhibit A for the new, action-packed Capitol Hill. Just across the street from Dunn’s bourgeois garden of delights? A plebian pizza joint that serves stiff drinks. And right around the corner from that: another grungy pizza joint, a lesbian dive bar, a coffee shop that’s been around since 1995, a punk rock burrito joint, a perfectly cheesy Mexican place, a late-nite diner, and a loud tavern.

In fact, Capitol Hill itself is Exhibit A in my counter-narrative to the notion that Seattle is dying. Capitol Hill has always been billed as a one of Seattle’s destination neighborhoods, and—as someone who regularly frequents the jumping Pike/Pine Corridor—I can tell you, anecdotally, it has never been more popular and crowded. The crowd has never been more diverse either.

Driven by an increase in people identifying as Asian and mixed-race, Capitol Hill’s white population dropped nearly 10% as a percentage of the neighborhood overall.

Standing in line for a veggie dog from one of the many street vendors lining Capitol Hill’s drag, watching a weirdo electronic show at Vermillion Gallery, or grabbing a drink at your pick of taverns and dives on the weekend, it’s impossible not to notice the sea change that’s taken place on Capitol Hill in recent years. Whereas 10 or 15 years ago, you were likely to see sparser foot traffic and mostly white faces, these days the crowds appear much more diverse.

Certainly, Friday and Saturday nights mean “bridge and tunnel” crowds, which doesn’t say anything about Capitol Hill’s internal demographics, but it does indicate that BIPOC people see the neighborhood as a much friendlier destination these days. Additionally, I tested my anecdotal experience and looked at the American Community Survey stats from the four census tracts that make up Capitol Hill—from 15th Ave. E to I-5, and from Madison St. to Roy St.—and, yup, the neighborhood is less white than it used to be, according to ACS data comparing 2010 and 2019.

The African American population grew in raw numbers, but with such small numbers to begin with in the area (around 6 percent of the population in 2010), the increase in the Black population could not keep pace with Capitol Hill’s stunning 36 percent population growth overall and declined to about 5 percent of the population in 2019. Nonetheless, driven by an increase in people identifying as Asian and mixed-race, the white population declined from around 78 percent to 71 percent of the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, there’s been no real change in the average age over the past decade: 31.6 now compared to 31.8 a decade ago, according to the ACS data. In short, Capitol Hill is still youth-centric.

Of course, there’s no denying that Capitol Hill has become a more expensive place to live. The average income has climbed from $32,765 in 2010 to $51,041 in 2019 (all in 2019 dollars) and average rent for a one-bedroom has gone from about $1,000 to as much as $2,400—or around $1,700 for a smaller one-bedroom. Capitol Hill is not in the top ten most expensive neighborhoods, but certainly, like every neighborhood in the city, it needs more publicly funded, affordable housing.

As for the ubiquitous related criticism that “artists” can no longer afford to live on Capitol Hill, I say this: With the bevy of venues and spaces, there are more opportunities for artists to actually work in the neighborhood now. According to the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture’s cultural space inventory, there are 50 cultural spaces on Capitol Hill, including music venues, art galleries, performance spaces, and dance clubs—not to mention a potpourri of dining options, versus, what, chains like Taco Bell and Jack in the Box in the ’90s? And, oh, there was Café Septieme for stepping out!

Only Pioneer Square, with its concentration of art galleries, and the University District, amped by UW arts programming, comes even close to supporting as many arts and culture hives. The city didn’t catalog cultural spaces 10 or 20 years ago, but I can tell you from experience, there weren’t as many venues to see artists perform “back in the day.”

You know what else Capitol Hill has today that it didn’t in its supposed heyday? A light rail station—a busy one too. The Capitol Hill station is the third most crowded stop in Sound Transit’s system, with nearly 8,500 daily pre-pandemic weekday riders. That 2019 number represents a 12 percent jump from just two years earlier, indicating the increasing momentum Capitol Hill’s got right now. And soon, as the pandemic recedes, it will be even more crowded as college students discover the new light rail route between the U District and Capitol Hill, just a seven-minute ride.

The successful Capitol Hill station may help explain Capitol Hill’s “walker’s paradise” Walkscore designation and also the neighborhood’s increase in non-single-occupant-vehicle commuting. The share of commuters who drove to work alone declined from 35 to 27 percent, according to the ACS. Indeed, with no more parking minimums required for development on Capitol Hill, biking and walking to work also increased, helping make the neighborhood far more green and sustainable than it used to be.


Protected bike lanes now criss-cross Pike/Pine and Broadway. There's a farmer's market. And there's an activated park—Cal Anderson—for skateboarding, basketball, soccer, gleeful dog owners, or just reading a book on one of the benches by the reservoir.

None of this existed 10 or 20 years ago. And, don't worry, you can still slip into the nondescript door on 11th and climb the stairs to see a play at Capitol Hill's Annex Theater—the longest-running fringe theater in town.

Capitol Hill is certainly not the gay enclave it was in the post-Bowers v. Hardwick, pre-Obergefell v. Hodges era of the mid-1980s and 1990s. But with Gay City and Lifelong maintaining prominent footprints in the Pike/Pine Corridor, including Gay City's library, plus hangouts such as the Wild Rose, Queer Bar, the Madison Pub, and Pony among the bounty of gay bars in the neighborhood, queer-centric establishments and services are alive and well on Capitol Hill. In fact, GenPride, an advocacy group for LGBTQ+ seniors, just broke ground at Broadway between Pike and Pine on its 1,800-unit affordable housing development, Pride Place, with a 4,400-square-foot community and health services center. It opens in 2023—just in time for Gen Xers to be eligible! Continue reading "Maybe Metropolis: Sorry Gen Xers, Capitol Hill is Cooler Than It Used To Be. And Less White."

With Changes on the Horizon for the King County Sheriff’s Office, a New Police Oversight Director Looks for Opportunity

OLEO director Tamer Abouzeid
Tamer Abouzeid

By Paul Kiefer

Next January, a new, appointed King County sheriff will replace the elected incumbent, Mitzi Johanknecht,  just as the county’s contract with its largest police union expires.

For Tamer Abouzeid, the new director of the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO)—the county’s independent police oversight agency—the changes are an opportunity for his office to expand its impact. “When someone comes in as an elected sheriff, they believe that they can do what they want because the people elected them,” Abouzeid said. “That’s not going to be true of the next person.”

OLEO’s two most recent permanent directors each served a single term, in part because of strained relationships with current and past sheriffs, who rarely adopted the policy changes OLEO recommended. Although King County voters passed a law in 2015 allowing OLEO to investigate uses of deadly force and misconduct complaints—transforming them from an advisory agency to an investigative one—the county’s 2020 contract with the King County Police Officers Guild defanged the new law by preventing the office from investigating misconduct allegations against union members.

The current union contract still limits OLEO to the mostly advisory role of reviewing the sheriff’s internal investigations after the fact and issuing policy recommendations. With its authority reduced, OLEO has struggled to make an impact: Of 16 sets of policy recommendations issued by OLEO since 2018, the sheriff’s office has taken no action on more than half, including a recommendation to extend the sheriff’s policy against discrimination to cover off-duty conduct.

OLEO can review the sheriff’s misconduct investigations and determine, or certify, that an investigation was thorough and objective; however, whether OLEO certifies an investigation has little practical impact. According to OLEO’s annual report, the office only declined to certify 12 investigations out of the 116 they reviewed, including five that included allegations of excessive force.

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King County Executive Dow Constantine and the county council will begin considering candidates for sheriff by the end of this year, and with or without a permanent replacement, Johanknecht leaves office by January. But Abouzeid says OLEO isn’t putting things on hold for the next three months. “We get a chance to put our business in order so that the next sheriff has a clear picture of what OLEO can do, what we’ve recommended, and what they would need to do to get our recommendations off the ground,” Abouzeid told PubliCola on Wednesday, one day after presenting OLEO’s annual report to the King County Council.

Those preparations, he said, will include getting a better sense of what data the sheriff’s office collects and prioritizing OLEO’s backlog of policy recommendations. Some of OLEO’s unimplemented recommendations include mandating in-car and body-worn video cameras, requiring undercover officers to receive specialized undercover training, and instructing officers that “speculative, generalized concerns about a subject escaping and harming innocent third parties is an insufficient basis for the application of deadly force.” Continue reading “With Changes on the Horizon for the King County Sheriff’s Office, a New Police Oversight Director Looks for Opportunity”

Other US Transit Agencies Stiff Riders on Restroom Access. Sound Transit Should Defy the Trend.

An earlier version of this graphic, from 2019, touted 18 future stations; the two non-Sound Transit stations (in gray, and added to Sound Transit’s own facilities here) are at the ferry terminal in Mukilteo and at the Tacoma Dome.

By Erica C. Barnett

Sound Transit’s current plan for public restrooms at its light-rail stations calls for a grand total of 14 agency-operated restrooms between Lynnwood and Tacoma Community College more than 50 miles away—a sparse distribution that will leave many riders, including those in Seattle and most of the Eastside, with little or no restroom access.

The restrooms, when they open, will be for customers only, and may require riders to ask a security guard to unlock the restroom for them. Currently, the only public restrooms Sound Transit provides in the city of Seattle are at Union Station (upstairs from the Chinatown/International District station, and only open until 5pm) and Northgate (accessible only by requesting access from a security guard.)

Lack of access to restrooms impacts everyone using transit, but the problem is particularly acute for people with travel patterns that don’t mirror traditional home-work-home commutes, including but hardly limited to: People with disabilities that require regular restroom access; women, who tend to use transit for household errands that require many individual stops; students; people experiencing homelessness; low-income people and others who use transit to access services; and anyone who wants to rely on transit for more than a few hours at a time, in a city where restrooms for the general public are already few and far between.

Additionally, requiring riders to seek permission to relieve themselves from security guards is a barrier to anyone who doesn’t speak English or prefers to avoid encounters with law enforcement.

On Thursday, Sound Transit staff justified the sparse restroom distribution by noting that only a few locations met the criteria the agency established—a circular argument that makes it seem as if Sound Transit has no authority over its own rules. To merit a restroom, a station must be the served by at least five transit routes, have at least 10,000 boardings a day, and be at least 20 minutes away from the nearest station with a restroom by train. This standard assumes that many people—those whose final destination isn’t a station with a restroom—will plan extra time into their day to ride the train to a station with a restroom, use it, and then board another train to go on to their destination.

Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci, who represents Bellevue and much of the Eastside on the King County Council, pointed out on Thursday that “when you apply these criteria, you end up with an entire section of our system that has truly no restroom access, which I don’t think we were going for.” Board chair Kent Keel, a member of the University Place city council, added, “When I look down at Pierce County as well, there’s none. I see the gray one at the Tacoma Dome—one of two restrooms provided by other public agencies Sound Transit has included on its own list—but that’s been there forever.”

Public-transit restrooms, which are ubiquitous in other countries, are relatively rare in the United States. Sound Transit staffers noted Thursday that they had looked at nine other “peer” transit agencies, including New York, Washington, D.C., Miami, and Los Angeles, and all offered very limited restroom access, within fare-paid zones and at major transit hubs; all require passengers to seek out a staffer to unlock the restrooms for them. To people from countries where using transit is the norm, depriving riders of such a basic amenity smacks of barbarism; in 2015, he UK Guardian described the lack of public restrooms in US transit systems as a sign that we lack “urban civilization.”

Historically, Sound Transit has rarely chosen to blaze trails when it comes to passenger access, comfort, or accessibility. For years, the agency mostly ignored complaints about its punitive fare enforcement policies, which can lead to crushing fines and even criminal charges, and continues to maintain that it must crack down on “fare evaders” because otherwise, everyone might decide to ride for free

In the case of restrooms, though, there’s still plenty of time to revamp existing policy. Instead of making restrooms rare and inaccessible, Sound Transit could decide, today, to make restroom access part of its commitment to customer service, by providing restrooms not just at far-flung transit hubs but throughout the system. Doing so would not only improve passenger comfort; it would also send a message that all kinds of people are welcome to use the system at all times of day, to go anywhere they want—whether it’s commuting straight from home to work or exploring the region from Bellevue to Ballard to Federal Way, with no particular destination in mind. Isn’t that also what transit is for?

Lambert’s Colleagues Denounce Racist Mailer, Cops Debate Use of Projectile Launchers, and a Provider Recounts Street Sink Frustration

1. Six members of the King County Council—all Democrats—condemned Republican County Councilmember Kathy Lambert yesterday for a campaign mailing to some of East King County constituents that implied Lambert’s opponent, Sarah Perry, is being controlled by a shadowy cabal made up of Jews, socialists, and people of color.

The mailer showed three unrelated elected officials of color—Vice President Kamala Harris, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, and Lambert’s own colleague, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay—along with US. Sen. Bernie Sanders, looming above a Photoshopped image of Perry as a marionette, a classic anti-semitic trope. Harris, Sanders, and Sawant appear to be laughing while Zahilay pulls Perry’s strings.

The message to white Eastside voters is as clear as an “OK” hand sign: If you don’t reelect Lambert, brown, Black, and Jewish Democrats will take over the Eastside and impose their left-wing values on you and your family. But just in case the dog whistles were too subtle, the mailer is emblazoned: “SARAH WOULD BE A SOCIALIST PUPPET ON THE EASTSIDE PUSHING THEIR AGENDA. SARAH PERRY IS BACKED BY SEATTLE SOCIALIST LEADER GIRMAY ZAHILAY WHO WANTS TO DEFUND THE POLICE.” The flip side calls Perry an “ANTI-POLICE PUPPET.” 

Lambert is currently fighting for her political life in a diversifying East King County district where 60 percent of primary-election voters supported one of two Democrats over the 20-year Republican incumbent.

“Put simply, this is a racist piece of political mail. It has no place in any public or private discourse here in King County,” the six council members said. “Planning, authorizing and mailing a communication like this betrays ignorance at best, deep seated racism at worst. Regardless, it demonstrates disrespect for the fundamental duty that the residents of King County give to all of their elected representatives—the duty to respect and serve everyone who resides in King County, regardless of race or ethnicity.”
The council members—Zahilay, Claudia Balducci, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Dave Upthegrove, Joe McDermott, and Rod Dembowski—demanded that Lambert apologize to Zahilay and Perry “for subjecting everyone, especially our friends, families and constituents of color, to this hurtful and painful communication.”
PubliCola first posted the full mailer on Twitter Wednesday morning.

“Although it’s led and orchestrated by the city, the city is not interested, really, in bringing anyone to help us… They’re looking for partners like nonprofit organizations that have direct access to water that would be able to make their water available. So it’s like—now you’re relying on us.”—David Sauvion, Rainier Beach Action Coalition

2. The Rainier Beach Action Coalition, which works to promote affordable housing and equitable development in Southeast Seattle, was one of many organizations that expressed an interest in setting up a street sink to help prevent the spread of communicable diseases, particularly among people experiencing homelessness.

But, according to RBAC Food Innovation District strategist David Sauvion, the organization decided against installing a sink after the city informed them that they would be wholly responsible for providing water to the location, making sure it was ADA compliant, and maintaining the sink, all without any direct support from the city.

“Although it’s led and orchestrated by the city, the city is not interested, really, in bringing anyone to help us… They’re looking for partners like nonprofit organizations that have direct access to water that would be able to make their water available. So it’s like—now you’re relying on us.”

Sauvion said RBAC wouldn’t have minded paying for the water; the problem was that RBAC wanted to install a sink where it would actually get some use, next to a bus stop on the southeast corner of South Henderson Street and MLK Way South, rather than directly in front of their office, which is in a house on a quiet corner across the street. “It’s just not a place where we see a lot of homeless people,” Sauvion said.

As for the city’s insistence that nonprofit groups should be willing to provide ongoing maintenance, including graywater disposal, without help from the city, Sauvion said, “why don’t we do that? Why don’t we just rely on everybody else to provide the services the city should be providing?”

The founders of the Street Sink project, Real Change, spoke to about 100 organizations about hosting a street sink. Of those, just nine met all of the city’s requirements, and only five told the city they were interested in moving forward. Since the Street Sink project started in May 2020, just one sink has been installed.

3. During Seattle’s Community Police Commission (CPC) meeting Wednesday, Mark Mullens—the sole police officer on the commission—revisited an ongoing point of tension between the Seattle Police Department’s command staff and its rank-and-file.

“Is it not true that the 40 millimeter launcher is banned?” he asked Interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz, referring to a gun that fires large rubber projectiles as an alternative to live ammunition.

“That is not true,” replied Diaz, who was attending the meeting to answer questions from the commission. Continue reading “Lambert’s Colleagues Denounce Racist Mailer, Cops Debate Use of Projectile Launchers, and a Provider Recounts Street Sink Frustration”