Tag: 2020 budget

Morning Fizz: Some Good Budget News, a Durkan Departure, and Putting Fare Evasion in Context

1. Last month, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff scoffed at the suggestion that the regional transit agency should stop sending riders to court over unpaid fines for fare evasion, arguing that efforts by King County Metro to offer alternative dispute resolution options have been a failure. “Within King County, some 90 percent of [alternative resolution participants] never show up for their appointment and then nothing becomes of those cases, which is to say that there is no consequence for persistent violators in that circumstance,” Rogoff said.

Rogoff’s number is correct—of the 4,039 fare violations Metro recorded in 2019, 403 were resolved (meaning that the person either paid a fine directly to Metro, added money to their ORCA card in lieu of a fine, or used another alternative resolution route), according to Metro’s latest fare violation report, issued last April. However, that statement is missing some important context about the mission and purpose of transit. And it ignores the fact that a 10 percent resolution rate actually represents a significant improvement over the previous resolution rate of just 3 percent under the previous, punitive system, in which all unpaid fines went to court and collections.

Fare enforcement has been a contentious issue for Sound Transit, where failure to provide proof of payment to fare inspection officers can result in a $124 fine plus late fees, damage to credit, and even misdemeanor charges if a rider fails to pay their fine. The agency has agreed to make some changes to its policies, including new uniforms, clearer signage, additional warnings, and lower fines.

But they have resisted adopting alternative resolution options for people who can’t pay, arguing that this concession would reduce revenues as people realized there was no real penalty for nonpayment, raising costs to taxpayers and potentially impacting future capital projects or service. (For perspective, fare evasion cost Sound Transit, on net, around $550,000 last year.)

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The debate over fare evasion is really about the purpose of transit and the mission of transit agencies.

Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer says the agency’s fare enforcement policy isn’t primarily about fare revenue at all. In taking fare enforcement out of the court system and offering alternatives to fines, “Our goal was to decriminalize fare evasion and work to get fare resources into riders’ hands,” while “reducing and minimizing harm to people and not involving law enforcement,” he said. This goal is reflected in Metro’s fare enforcement mission statement: “to help minimize King County Metro Fare Enforcement Program’s contribution to negative outcomes for some of King County Metro’s most vulnerable riders.”

“Our goal was to decriminalize fare evasion and work to get fare resources into riders’ hands,” while “reducing and minimizing harm to people and not involving law enforcement.” — Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer

But even Sound Transit’s more conventional fare enforcement mission—”to understand the impacts of our current program and develop recommendations that provide an equitable and customer-focused experience, including safety for all riders and integrity of decision making, while ensuring strong financial stewardship of taxpayer dollars—is still compatible with adopting a more lenient fare enforcement policy. That’s because in reality, few riders on either system actually fail to pay their fare.

Historically, Metro has set a fare evasion target of no more than 5 percent; in 2019, actual fare evasion on routes where Metro deploys fare enforcement officers averaged 4 percent, down from 5 percent the previous year. If the argument for sending people to court for failure to pay a $3 fare rests on the argument that not doing so will lead to rampant fare evasion, Metro’s example is showing that, so far at least, this worst-case scenario has not come to pass.

2. The city council and Mayor Jenny Durkan got some good budget news for once on Monday, when the city budget office issued a new revenue forecast for 2020 and 2021 that adds $36 million to the city’s general fund in 2020 and $32.5 million in 2021. The CBO attributed the new, higher projections to increased sales and business and occupation (B&O) taxes between July and September, “driven by significant improvement in the national and regional economic forecasts, particularly employment, personal income and personal outlays.” Continue reading “Morning Fizz: Some Good Budget News, a Durkan Departure, and Putting Fare Evasion in Context”

Morning Fizz: Will Durkan Veto the Council’s Budget?

1. Will Mayor Jenny Durkan veto the city council’s budget?

It may seem early to start asking whether the mayor will reject the council’s revisions of her 2021 budget proposal, since the council is only at the midway point of the budget process. But as the potential amendments and substantive policy changes add up, it’s clear that the council is intent on restoring funds to  housing, grassroots community safety projects, and COVID relief—which means cutting into the mayor’s flagship priority, a $100 million “equitable investment” fund for “investments in BIPOC communities,” in the last budget before the next mayoral election.

Durkan first floated the concept of funding “$100 million in community-driven programs for Black youths and adults” at the height of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, when every day produced new allegations of police brutality and overreach. A more detailed proposal came in September in the form of a plan to spend “$100 million on BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] communities. Specifically, Durkan proposed setting $100 million aside in next year’s budget until a task force appointed by the mayor comes up with recommendations for spending it.

To pay for such a large line item in a year of budget cuts, Durkan’s budget plan relies on revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax, which the council allocated to COVID-19 relief and homelessness and housing projects.

Separately, Durkan’s plan also eliminates $10 million the council allocated this year to scale up community-led alternatives to policing. And it “abandons” $30 million that was allocated to equitable investment projects during the sale of the Mercer Megablock property and spends these “flexible funds” on “critical City services in the 2020 Revised Budget and 2021 Proposed Budget.”

The clawback of the Megablock proceeds is perhaps the clearest case of a promise broken. Just last year, Durkan stood in a vacant lot in South Lake Union—at the time, one of the largest and most valuable publicly owned properties in the city— and announced that proceeds from the $143 million sale would help fund affordable housing and other projects that combat displacement in gentrifying areas. “I believe that years from now, people will look back at this chance and say we seized an incredible opportunity to make our City better by reinvesting the proceeds directly in housing across Seattle,” Durkan said at the time.

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This funding promise was one reason progressive groups like Puget Sound Sage did not vocally oppose the project, council member Lisa Herbold noted Thursday. She joined council members Tammy Morales, Andrew Lewis, and council president Lorena González in supporting a proposal by Kshama Sawant to restore funding for the projects promised as part of the Megablock sale last year.

2. Herbold’s proposal to create a new “duress” defense for some people facing misdemeanor charges won’t be heard until after the council adopts the 2021 budget. On Wednesday, González said council staffers were already overloaded with more than 120 budget amendment requests from members.

She also questioned whether Herbold’s proposal—which Herbold says would save the city money by reducing the number of jail beds it has to pay for—is truly budget-related. And she suggested it might not actually save much money, because former mayor Mike McGinn signed a long-term jail contract that commits the city for 30 years to paying for jail beds that they aren’t using now. Continue reading “Morning Fizz: Will Durkan Veto the Council’s Budget?”

Durkan Formally Nixes Navigation Team In Scorched-Earth Announcement

By Erica C. Barnett

This afternoon, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that she is suspending the operations of the Navigation Team, which removes encampments and provides outreach and shelter offers to their displaced residents, and pursuing “out of order” layoffs for 70 Seattle Police Department officers, “with the expectation that layoffs cannot be completed by November 1, 2020.”

The city council’s adopted budget, which Durkan unsuccessfully attempted to veto, calls for a reduction of 100 police positions and the elimination of the Navigation Team. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Navigation Team has not been removing encampments in significant numbers.

Durkan has stated repeatedly that she does not believe SPD can do “out of order” layoffs of more-senior officers based on their roles in the department or past disciplinary actions against them. Her 2021 budget would reduce the size of the police department by just 22 positions. The press release says that the mayor “continues to have significant concerns about compromising 911 response and public safety. A 100 officer net reduction would reduce SPD staffing levels to around 1,300 sworn officers.”

“Consistent with the City Council’s vote to eliminate the Navigation Team by stripping it of all funding, the City will suspend
operations until the Council restores funding for these positions,” the press release continues. “As Council was advised by the Human Services Department, the Council’s actions effectively return the City’s response to unsheltered homelessness to a pre-2017 model where service providers alone were the City’s response to encampments.”

“Council’s vote to eliminate the Navigation Team means the City must suspend its work and will no longer be deploying staff to conduct outreach or address unauthorized encampments until the Council restores funding for these positions,” the mayor said in a letter to council attached to the announcement.

The council did not express its intent to return to “a pre-2017 model” for addressing encampments (2017 was the year the Navigation Team started). Their amendment dismantling the Navigation Team explicitly redirected $1.4 million in funding from the Navigation Team “solely to expand and maintain homelessness outreach and engagement services, which may include flexible financial assistance, case management, and housing navigation services.”

In a joint statement Friday morning, city council members Lisa Herbold and Tammy Morales denounced the move.

“The Mayor’s response to Council’s budget decisions—ignoring the $1.4 million that Council provided to increase outreach, engagement, and resources available to service people living in encampments; the threat to dispose of property that the City is currently storing for people without homes—threaten to increase harm and misery and manufacture chaos,” the statement said. “Sadly, the people hurt most will be those struggling the most just to live.”

Eliminating the Navigation Team immediately, without any backup plan for 2020, is the nuclear option, and could have negative impacts on people living unsheltered as winter approaches. The Navigation Team currently has exclusive access to dozens of shelter beds and spots tiny house villages; getting a new team up and running, as Durkan’s 2021 budget proposes, would take significant time, and have a major impact on unsheltered homeless people who would ordinarily receive referrals to those Navigation Team-only beds.

Had the mayor and council agreed to eliminate the team as part of the 2020 budget rebalancing that took place over the summer, there could have been a plan in place to replace the team’s outreach and referral capacity.

Complicating matters, the mayor doesn’t actually plan to eliminate that capacity in the long term—just, it appears, for the rest of this year. In fact, her 2021 budget includes a brand-new, $7.5 million, eight-member homeless outreach and engagement team that will have some new name other than “Navigation Team.” (Homeless Engagement, Assistance, and Referral Team?) Also in the mayor’s budget, homeless encampment cleanup contracts would transfer to the Seattle Public Utilities department, and the police positions currently associated with the team’s work will remain funded, according to the budget.

The announcement also includes the news that the City Budget Office will not execute a $14 million interfund loan to the Human Services Department from  the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections to invest in historically underserved communities. Instead, Durkan says the council should figure out where that $14 million should come from through its own budget amending process.

“To be clear, the Mayor’s proposed 2021 budget will not include a funding source for this $14 million obligation. We will work with Council in the 2021 budget process with an assumption that the Council will identify the revenues needed to balance to this $14 million expenditure.”

This is a developing story.

As Black-Led Community Research Project Kicks Off, So Does Mayoral Task Force Charged with Allocating $100 Million to BIPOC Communities

Screen Shot from King County Equity Now press conference

Editor’s note: This story has been edited to reflect the fact that King County Equity Now says the group will hire some non-Black researchers for paid positions, in addition to volunteer researchers.

By Paul Kiefer and Erica C. Barnett

On Monday afternoon, members of the King County Equity Now (KCEN) coalition’s research team held a press conference to discuss their progress on a Black-led public safety research project they hope will be supported by a $3 million contract with the Seattle City Council.

Although their remarks revealed little concrete information about the Black Brilliance Project (as the undertaking is now known), one detail is clear: KCEN and its 14 Black-led nonprofit partners see the project as an opportunity to provide financial support and jobs for members of the city’s BIPOC communities, and Black communities in particular, as well as a way to lay the groundwork for a larger public safety-focused participatory budgeting process next year.

That process, said KCEN researcher LéTania Severe, began in earnest last week when the coalition behind the Black Brilliance Project hired 50 researchers, using their own resources to tide the project over until city funding begins to flow. The coalition expects to hire a total of 133 paid researchers representing “the diversity of Black peoples in Seattle,” most of whom will be Black youth. 

Severe added that KCEN hopes to provide those researchers “living-wage jobs”; in their email to PubliCola after the press conference, KCEN’s press team expressed hope that the researchers would remain employed past December 2021. Their first task will be figuring out what barriers exist to participation in participatory budgeting, and an online community needs survey focuses on identifying those barriers.

At Monday’s press conference, KCEN research director Shaun Glaze dismissed the mayor’s task force as “cherry-picked by white, wealthy people with access to power,” and therefore a reflection of the mayor’s pre-determined priorities.

The Black Brilliance Project’s outline comes from the “2020 Blueprint for Police Divestment/Community Reinvestment,” a document assembled in collaboration by KCEN and the Decriminalize Seattle coalition outlining a $3 million “community-led research” project that would be the first step toward participatory budgeting. (PubliCola wrote about this process last month.)  The city council allocated $3 million for the project in its rebalanced 2020 budget; the mayor’s 2021 budget proposal does not extend the funding beyond 2020.

Although the council’s research contract dollars have not yet reached their team, KCEN research director Shaun Glaze said the coalition “moved forward with promises of seed money and [their] own funds” to pay the new staff. As of early September, the group’s primary source of funds was the Africatown Community Land Trust, although it’s unclear whether the group currently has funding from other sources. According to Severe, KCEN’s organizers have been working as volunteers since the group formed four months ago.

The 2021 city budget process is happening parallel to this work. On Tuesday morning, Durkan released her proposed 2021 budget, which includes $100 million in unallocated funds that will be spent in accordance with recommendations from a special “equitable investment task force” appointed by the mayor. (The money is parked in a budgetary waiting area called Finance General, where it will remain unallocated until the mayor decides how to spend it next year.)

This morning, Durkan called her task force—whose members she has not yet announced—”a form of participatory budgeting” and a “community-driven process” that will drill down on what BIPOC communities want to see in the city budget. Durkan provided several examples of areas where the task force may recommend improvements; none, notably, involved cuts to the police department, a key demand from Decriminalize Seattle, King County Equity Now, and other BIPOC groups during the budget rebalancing process this year.

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“Some time before the end of this year, the task force will come back” with recommendations, Durkan said. “They will be deciding those priorities with community—a broad-based community participation process.”

Durkan said she didn’t consider the work of her task force to be in conflict with the council-funded community research project. “I think those processes could be very complementary. Getting as many young people involved as possible, having community-driven research and the like, is complementary to having other voices coming in and engaging and making decisions collectively about what the future, and the future of that community, could look like with really broad-based investments,” she said. Continue reading “As Black-Led Community Research Project Kicks Off, So Does Mayoral Task Force Charged with Allocating $100 Million to BIPOC Communities”

Durkan Unveils 2021 Budget that Uses JumpStart Tax to Fill Shortfall, Fund $100 Million In Unspecified BIPOC Investments

Editor’s note: This is a developing story that will be updated.

In a pre-recorded message complete with swelling background music, multiple backdrops, and B roll from locations around Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan unveiled a 2021 budget proposal today that relies heavily, as PubliCola was first to report, on revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax passed by the city council earlier this year. The council expressed its intent to wall off the revenues from the tax for direct COVID-19 relief to Seattle residents in the first two years, and to spend the money in 2022 and beyond on affordable housing, non-housing projects outlined in the Equitable Development Initiative, Green New Deal investments, and small business support. Durkan vetoed the spending plan (the council overturned that veto) and allowed the tax to become law without her signature.

“We’ve balanced the 2021 budget, with a $100 million investment for BIPOC communities,” budget director Ben Noble said at a press briefing this morning, referring to the money the mayor has proposed parking in the city’s “general finance” budget until a Durkan-appointed “equitable development task force” comes up with recommendations for spending the money. (PubliCola was also first to report on the task force). “If we identify a sustainable source for that in 2022 and beyond,” such as a local one-percent income tax, “those resources could be redirected towards the council’s original intent. … Budget priorities for the city have changed, arguably, since that [JumpStart] plan was developed.”

Durkan first proposed spending $100 million on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities last summer, as protesters called on the city to defund the police department. This morning, she argued that it was appropriate to use the payroll tax revenues for this purpose. “Everyone wants to make deep, deep commitments to the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] communities and investing in those communities,” she said.

“‘Dedicated’ is not really the term used with resolutions,” Durkan continued, referring to the fact that the council’s JumpStart spending plan was not a budget ordinance. “We did everything we could this year to honor the allocations [for COVID relief], and next year we will have a discussion with council to really honor the city’s commitments going forward.”

Durkan’s budget includes a $21.5 million line item for COVID relief in 2021, and $86 million in combined “continuity of service and COVID relief” this year. It’s unclear how that combined $86 million differs from the $86 million that payroll tax sponsor Teresa Mosqueda proposed spending on COVID relief, specifically, this year. The budget presentation notes that the city will also fund COVID-related activities in various departments.

The mayor did not answer specific questions about the future of the city’s Navigation Team, a group of police and social workers that, prior to the pandemic, removed encampments and offered shelter referrals to some of their displaced residents.

From the budget itself, it appears that the work of the existing team will be dispersed among various departments, and that some of the funding for Navigation Team positions (though not necessarily the people themselves) will be moved into a new Safe and Thriving Communities division of the Human Services Department. That division will include staff from the existing Youth and Family Empowerment Division, domestic violence advocates that already work in HSD, and domestic violence victim advocates that would be transferred out of SPD. Some DV advocates have opposed this transfer from SPD, which is a subject I’ll write about in greater detail in a future post.

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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. I’m truly grateful for your support.

All HSD contractors will see their contracts extended at the same levels as 2020, with a small inflationary increase, and will not be subject to the previously required performance reviews that determined whether they would receive fully funding. The decision to extend these contracts is related to the fact that the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is supposed to take over most of these contracts, has been unable to hire a director on its original time frame, which has pushed the schedule to get the authority up and running further into 2021.

The mayor didn’t dwell much this morning on her Seattle Police Department budget, which she said she will have more to say about in the spring. So far, it includes the reductions she has already announced, which mostly result from transferring items that can be civilianized, such as the 911 call center, into other departments. Durkan vetoed the council’s revised budget in August over the council’s plans to cut the police department by 100 positions, not all of those resulting from layoffs. (That veto was also overturned.)

The $100 million for BIPOC communities is a “blank” item in the budget. The mayor wants that spending to be determined through the work of the task force whose members she will announce this week. At the same time, the city council allocated $3 million to a separate “community research” effort headed up by King County Equity Now; at a press conference yesterday, the group announced that they had already hired dozens of staff and planned to employ more than 130 researchers. (Paul will have more on that story later today.)

Durkan’s plan would keep some parks facilities, including many pools, closed throughout 2021, and would cut back spending on many transportation projects, including bike, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure improvements.

Overall, Durkan’s budget includes about 40 outright layoffs, a number the budget office was able to keep down by drawing down on revenues such as the payroll tax and levy funding, and by reducing the city’s emergency reserves to $5 million next year. The revenue forecast for 2021 is actually less dire than the shortfall that resulted in major budget reductions in the budget the council adopted in August, which just withstood a mayoral veto—the budget office expects the city to take in about $1.7 billion in revenues, including the payroll tax, next year, compared to just $1.4 billion this year. In addition to the general 2020 economic collapse, this year’s shortfall resulted in lower revenues from funding sources that were impacted by COVID, including parks fees, parking taxes, and taxes on real estate transactions. “We do see that there’s hope on the horizon,” Durkan said.

 

 

What is Participatory Budgeting, and How Could It Shape the City’s Approach to Public Safety?

Annotation 2020-08-23 110400

By Paul Kiefer

When Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced her decision to veto the City Council’s midyear budget rebalancing package on Friday, she specifically called out an ordinance appropriating $3 million for the council to contract with community-based groups to create a “roadmap for future equitable participatory budget processes related to public safety” by gathering public input to shape the city’s public safety budget priorities.

Council member Tammy Morales, the sponsor of that ordinance, has said that the research would be the first step toward “participatory budgeting,” a process some cities use to guide public spending, often by allowing residents to vote on how to spend a designated pot of money (a federal grant, for instance).

The mayor’s office, the council, and the most prominent police abolitionist groups have all expressed various levels of support for participatory budgeting. If the city ends up using participatory budgeting to guide a significant portion of next year’s public safety budget next year, then Seattle will become the testing ground for participatory budgeting on an unprecedented scale. But whether those three parties see eye to eye about what participatory budgeting would entail—and how much weight public input would carry—remain open questions.

King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle

King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle, two of the most prominent voices in the push to cut the Seattle Police Department budget and invest in alternative public safety programs, were the first to call for the city to launch a participatory budgeting process to redirect the city’s public safety budget toward alternatives to policing and investment in BIPOC communities. The bill Durkan vetoed emerged out of those two groups’ demands.

In partnership with a nonprofit called The Participatory Budgeting Project, the two groups developed a detailed outline for how the city could lay the groundwork for a participatory budgeting process, called the’ “Blueprint for Police Divestment/Community Re-Investment.” That blueprint describes a $3 million “community-led research process to generate true public safety informed by community needs” which is the model for the research described in the vetoed bill.

The council would direct the money to a nonprofit, which would subcontract the work out to other groups—presumably, though not necessarily, KCEN and Decriminalize Seattle. The two groups estimate that roughly $1 million of the $3 million would go toward hiring staffers, including researchers, many of whom they hope will be young people from BIPOC communities. The rest would go to recruit and compensate people in BIPOC communities to participate in the survey and for data collection and reporting, plus $500,000 for unspecified “cash assistance and direct support for community members” to “address economic and other urgent needs.”

In essence, those expenses would serve two purposes.  The first would be to provide jobs—in the form of researcher positions—and financial support to community members who participate in the research process. In their blueprint, KCEN and Decriminalize Seattle write that “community members should not be expected to come up with solutions on a volunteer basis.”

“In part because of the City’s long track record of supporting harmful policies and procedures, many community members do not trust the City to lead an effective research process. The pattern of collecting data and recommendations and then doing little to nothing with the results must end.” —King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle Blueprint for Police Divestment/Community Re-Investment

The second would be to prepare for a large-scale, accessible participatory budgeting process that would influence the 2021 city budget, starting with surveys and interviews of city residents (with a focus on BIPOC communities) about their public safety concerns and thoughts on how the process should be run: for instance, whether a steering committee should develop community proposals, and if so, who should be on that steering committee. Based on the findings of those surveys and interviews, the nonprofit contractor would then sort out the details of the participatory budgeting process: how the public could give input (in the form of budget proposals, for instance), how that input would be turned into budget items, and who would be responsible for reviewing and developing citizens’ proposals.

Technically, none of the $3 million would fund a full-scale participatory budgeting process; the closest the city would see before next year would be a small test run. However, according to King County Equity Now Research Director Shaun Glaze, the two organizations want to see a full participatory budget process come to fruition before budget discussions next year. More specifically, Glaze says her organization hopes that the participatory budgeting process will help determine how the city spends half of SPD’s 2021 budget— a figure in the range of $200 million, which would be an unprecedented use of the process both in Seattle and nationwide.

<strong>Support The C Is for Crank</strong>

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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.

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.

The City Council

The legislation the council passed says the contractor should produce a “community participatory budgeting process,” but it is silent on exactly what that process should look like.

When I asked Morales to clarify how the council planned to spend the $3 million, she pointed to the King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle blueprint as the model; the council also adopted $3 million figure itself from that blueprint. However, that blueprint doesn’t provide any details about how the participatory budgeting process would function, nor does either organization intend to have full control over the process themselves.

Participatory budgeting is nothing new in Seattle. After a push by former council member Nick Licata, the city’s first experiment with participatory budgeting began in 2015 with the Youth Voice, Youth Choice program. In 2017, the council renamed the program Your Voice, Your Choice, and opened it to input from all city residents. Like most participatory budgeting programs, Your Voice, Your Choice allows city residents to submit ideas for neighborhood-level capital projects.

The Your Voice, Your Choice program differs substantially from the research process proposed in the ordinance, not least because Your Voice, Your Choice is run by the city. Although KCEN and Decriminalize Seattle have said explicitly that they are not interested in controlling how the entire process plays out, they argue that the research portion of the participatory budgeting process for public safety should not be under direct city control.

The two groups explain why in their blueprint, writing, “in part because of the City’s long track record of supporting harmful policies and procedures, many community members do not trust the City to lead an effective research process. The pattern of collecting data and recommendations and then doing little to nothing with the results must end.”

The startup costs for the community-safety research process mark a significant shift in how Seattle uses participatory budgeting. The city spends roughly $2.2 million on the entire Your Voice, Your Choice program, of which $2 million funds the actual projects. In contrast, the council’s ordinance would spend $3 million on preliminary research alone.

Mayor Durkan

Near the end of Friday’s press conference, Durkan responded directly to a recent demand from King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle that the city use participatory budgeting to allocate $100 million that she has pledged to invest in BIPOC communities next year. In short, she said she wouldn’t be doing that, but that she supports the idea of participatory budgeting in theory.

“I’ve been very clear from the beginning that the community—and I mean community being larger than just one organization—will be at the table helping us decide what they need and how we get there,” Durkan said. “King County Equity Now wants to be the deciders in that.” (KCEN has denied this.) “We want those voices at the table, but we will have a broader process.”

“We need to have trusted community partners going into communities to bring information and proposals back,” Durkan continued, “whether it’s a task force or a joint group [created by the council and the mayor].” Continue reading “What is Participatory Budgeting, and How Could It Shape the City’s Approach to Public Safety?”

Council Takes a Small Bite Out of Police Budget As New Forecast Predicts Even Bigger Shortfall

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

By Erica C. Barnett

Advocates for an immediate 50 percent cut to the Seattle Police Department’s budget may have walked away unsatisfied Monday evening, when the city council passed a midyear budget package that lopped just 7 percent off SPD’s remaining 2020 budget. But the council majority left no question that they consider the short-term cuts a down payment on a more substantive proposal next year—one that, importantly, has a shot of making it through labor negotiations with the powerful police officers’ union.

The budget would eliminate the equivalent of 100 full-time officers through a combination of layoffs and attrition. The council made requests for specific layoffs—zeroing in, for example, on the Navigation Team, the mounted patrol, and the sworn portion of SPD’s public affairs office—but they have no power to actually dictate how the police department spends it budget, which is why no “defund the police” proposal (short of eliminating the department altogether) actually requires the chief to spend her budget in the way the council wants.

As a result, the rhetoric around the council’s cuts has often been far more heated than the modest changes suggest.

Council member Kshama Sawant, who cast the lone “no” vote against the rebalancing package (Debora Juarez was absent), accused her colleagues of passing an “austerity budget” that “fails working people” because it did not include her version of the so-called “Amazon” (payroll) tax. (Budget chair Teresa Mosqueda’s retort: “No one is siding with Jeff Bezos.”)

Mayor Durkan, who has held numerous press conferences to denounce the council majority’s more modest plan, issued a statement after the vote saying it was “unfortunate Council has refused to engage in a collaborative process to work with the Mayor, Chief Best, and community members to develop a budget and policies that respond to community needs while accounting for – not just acknowledging – the significant labor and legal implications involved in transforming” SPD.

The package of bills adopted Monday would also:

• Express a commitment to creating a new a civilian-led Department of Community Safety & Violence Prevention by the end of next year—a proposal Sawant mocked as “resolution to hope to study defunding the police”;

• Start the process of civilianizing the 911 system by putting a civilian director and deputy director in charge of the 911 call center (which is already run by non-sworn SPD personnel);

• Reallocate funding that Durkan originally allocated for an expansion of probation to community groups working to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations;

• Cut the salaries of SPD’s command staff (with the exception of Best, who would see her $294,000 salary reduced by less than $20,000);

Allocate $1.7 million to non-congregate shelter, through a proviso that would prohibit Durkan’s Human Services Department from spending the money on any other purpose

• Empower the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program to enroll new clients into its Co-LEAD program, which has been held up by the executive branch for months, without SPD participation; and

• Earmark $17 million for community organizations working to create new systems of community safety outside the police department.

• Move millions of dollars from levy funds that were supposed to pay to expand programs or create new ones to pay for the ongoing operations of city departments, such as the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Department of Education and Early Learning;

The changes adopted Monday amend Mayor Durkan’s original budget-balancing proposal, which relied heavily on a hiring freeze, emergency funds, federal grants, and levy dollars that had been allocated for other purposes to close an anticipated shortfall of more than $200 million. On Monday morning, just minutes before the weekly council briefing meeting, the mayor’s office distributed a memo from CBO director Ben Noble projecting an additional revenue shortfall of $26 million this year alone.

Near the end of almost eight straight hours of budget discussions, council member Lisa Herbold said she wanted to state for the record that “we as a council and the mayor’s office are in a really unique position to seize upon a moment in the city and in this country” by taking seriously community demands to redefine public safety and defund the police. “I am hopeful that we are more aligned in our desire to do that than it has appeared in the last two weeks.”

That hope seems optimistic. In adopting the midyear budget Monday, the council rejected Durkan’s proposal to discard the historical practice of two-year budgeting, demanded a report that would provide more transparency into how SPD is actually spending its budget, and prepared to overturn Durkan’s veto of a COVID relief plan that would temporarily drain the city’s emergency reserves until they can be replenished with funds from the new payroll tax that goes into effect in 2022. The council will start the whole process over again next month, when the mayor proposes her 2021 budget.

Ending the Navigation Team Isn’t As Easy As Just Cutting their Budget

By Erica C. Barnett

Tomorrow, the Seattle city council will take its most definitive action yet to eliminate the Navigation Team—a group of police, litter removal workers, and outreach staff that removes encampments from public places—by voting on a mid-year package of budget cuts that eliminates funding for the program. But the ultimate fate of the team will lie with Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best, who have the final say over departmental spending.

The two votes attempt to cut the team, which costs the city around $8.4 million a year, using two different types of budget actions. The first vote would prohibit SPD from spending money allocating 14 of its officers to the Navigation Team, using a spending restriction called a proviso to remove police from the team. The second would cut funding for the rest of the team, which includes staffers from the Human Services and Parks departments, and direct the mayor to reallocate that funding to contractors that do outreach and engagement to people experiencing homelessness, such as the nonprofit group REACH. REACH was originally part of the Navigation Team, but stopped participating alongside police as the team shifted its emphasis to encampment removals.

“The Navigation Team exists for the purpose of forcing people to move without giving them somewhere better to go,” Alison Eisinger, the longtime director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, said after last week’s vote.Shelters and tiny house villages were routinely full before the pandemic, when the team performed multiple sweeps every week, and since then, the city has added fewer than 100 new shelter beds.

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“The number one thing that determines whether or not somebody who is homeless and without shelter gets off the streets is whether or not there is an accessible, appropriate, available better alternative—and the person who can connect them to that alternative is a person who has some kind of trust relationship with them,” Eisinger said.

Although the team was originally envisioned as collaboration between police and human service providers that would combine the stick of enforcement with the carrot of shelter and services—the “navigation” part of the equation—its role shifted under Mayor Jenny Durkan, and in recent years it has focused primarily on removing “obstruction” encampments from parks and other public spaces, a type of action that does not require any prior notice or offer of services or a better place to go.

Durkan has resisted every effort to cut the Navigation Team, which has nearly doubled in size since it was created in 2017. In 2018, Durkan even characterized a move by the council efforts to merely slow down the expansion of the team as a devastating “cut.”

Given that history, council members and advocates are worried that Durkan will simply ignore their budget directives. Although the budget proviso says SPD can’t spend the money it had allocated this year for the Navigation Team, it acknowledges that any effort to lay off the officers on the team will create labor issues—a problem Paul wrote about in detail on Friday.

“This action will dramatically restrict the City’s ability to address unauthorized encampments on City property and will significantly impact the City’s ability to ensure that Seattle is safe, healthy, clean, and accessible for all residents, both unhoused and housed.”—Human Services Director Jason Johnson

Additionally, the chief could ignore the council’s directive to reassign the 14 officers and look for savings elsewhere in the department, or move the officers off the Navigation Team without actually cutting the size of the police force. Hammering out those issues could delay any cuts to the sworn portion of the team.

A bigger barrier for those hoping to eliminate the Navigation Team is that unless the council uses a proviso to explicitly restrict spending, city law does not require the mayor to obey the council’s budget directives. Historically, this hasn’t been a problem, because the council and mayor have had an understanding that, with some exceptions, the mayor will spend the budget in the manner the council directs. But Durkan has repeatedly ignored the council’s directions when she has disagreed with them, leaving open the possibility that she will do so with the Navigation Team as well.

For example, Durkan recently used $1.4 million intended for non-congregate shelter on rental assistance; failed to spend money the council allocated for mobile showers; and has refused to approve an expansion of the LEAD program that could have temporarily housed dozens of people and provided them with case management and a path out of the criminal justice system. The open warfare between the mayor and council could well lead to a situation where the council issues a forceful directive to defund the Navigation Team—and the mayor shrugs.

“There’s no reason to believe that the city will not pick up garbage without having the Navigation Team in existence. It did it before and it can do it again.”—City Council member Tammy Morales

REACH director Chloe Gale, who testified before last week’s vote that the Navigation Team “conduct[s] expedient, politically motivated transactions that result in continuous displacement and trauma,” says Durkan “has a lot of opportunities to not implement this, and she also can set things up to fail by not having responses where you need to have responses in the community.”

In a scathing letter to the council last week, HSD director Jason Johnson suggested that without the Navigation Team—specifically, the four “field coordinators” from HSD and Parks— the city would be unable to respond to the more than 16,000 calls for service it receives about encampments each year.

“This action will dramatically restrict the City’s ability to address unauthorized encampments on City property and will significantly impact the City’s ability to ensure that Seattle is safe, healthy, clean, and accessible for all residents, both unhoused and housed,” Johnson wrote. “The Council’s actions effectively returns the City’s response to unsheltered homelessness to a pre-2017 model where service providers alone were the City’s response to encampments. This model was a failure, demonstrated by the proliferation of large, unsafe and unhealthy encampments that spread across Seattle.”

Council member Tammy Morales, who sponsored the amendment to defund the Navigation Team, countered last week that the council has heard from outreach workers that litter pickup and removing tents that are blocking entire sidewalks “is really important, but they would like someone else to be doing it so they can focus on outreach and engagement.” Eisinger adds: “There’s no reason to believe that the city will not pick up garbage without having the Navigation Team in existence. It did it before and it can do it again.”

Eliminating the Navigation Team would not prevent the police from removing encampments without prior notice—a fact Gale says still needs to be addressed, whatever happens to the official team. Police are still authorized to remove encampments that constitute “obstructions” with little or no notice, and will retain the ability to do so even if the Navigation Team goes away. Police were taught to “define an obstruction or hazard [as] all right-of-way and every piece of park property,” Gale says—a definition that has allowed the Navigation Team, as well as regular SPD officers, to remove encampments without any notice or offers of shelter or services.

Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda says Johnson is wrong when he says the council has no plan to respond to encampments without the Navigation Team. “There is a plan, and it’s not just a plan it’s a program that’s already in place,” she says. “We have partners like REACH and LEAD who are already doing this work and are already showing better outcomes at getting folks into housing options and shelter options. It’s a matter of directing funding out of the Navigation Team and into REACH and LEAD and other organizations that have already built trust” with people experiencing homelessness, she says.

Johnson’s letter explicitly calls out REACH, specifically, as a “data-less model” that “cannot produce the same level of data, detail, or examples of success” as the Navigation Team. “This is another example of a budgeting process that is untethered from operational impact, designed to achieve a near-sighted and expedite political outcome— with little regard to City employees or the people the Navigation Team serves.”

Eisinger counters that existing providers could be very effective if they were actually funded sufficiently, empowered, and provided access to shelter and housing options. (Currently, the Navigation Team has exclusive access to many of the enhanced shelter beds that people prefer, including the entire Navigation Center). “I think what’s going on now is a much longer, larger, long-overdue conversation about where to prioritize public dollars,” Eisinger says.Eight point four million dollars a year could go a log way towards increasing quality, culturally appropriate, community-based, non-congregate, accessible shelter and affordable housing.

“Out-of-Order” Layoffs at Center of Police Defunding Debate

Seattle police chief Carmen Best

By Paul Kiefer

For the past several weeks, Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best have argued that the City Council’s plan to reduce SPD’s budget through targeted layoffs would be infeasible and potentially illegal. Council members say that isn’t true, and argue that the mayor and police chief are digging in their heels because they don’t want to do any layoffs at all.

The council’s proposal would use a series of provisos (legally binding restrictions on spending) to eliminate 70 sworn staff, although the council assumes some of this reduction would be through higher-than-normal attrition. The cuts would come both from specific areas—such the elimination of the Navigation Team—and SPD’s general budget. Council members have suggested that the police department prioritize officers with multiple sustained misconduct complaints when making discretionary layoffs.

The mayor and police chief have said labor rules require SPD to lay off its newest hires first. Those rules are the purview of the Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC): a three-member quasi-judicial body with one member appointed by the council, another by the mayor, and a third elected by the city’s civil service employees.

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Implementing the PSCSC rules as written would require laying off the youngest, most diverse group of recruits in SPD’s history—a group, Durkan said during a press conference Wednesday, who “joined the force knowing that [SPD was] under federal oversight” and are therefore “committed to reform.”  Conversely, doing layoffs out of order would require eliminating the jobs of more white men—a move that Durkan and Best argue could constitute racial discrimination against white officers.

“You can’t make layoffs based on race,” Chief Best said during a press conference Thursday. “I think the [council’s] request would be to skip over some folks in order to retain people based on race and I don’t think that’s allowable.”

“The executive and council should work together to figure out how to use it to meet our shared objectives, and we should not start with the supposition that a rule that exists to be used can’t be used.”—Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold

Best isn’t alone in this concern. In a council discussion of the proposal late last month, council member Debora Juarez said out-of-order layoffs could constitute “discrimination based on age and sex” and a violation of the 14th amendment. “The means doesn’t always justify the ends if it’s illegal,” Juarez said.

Council member Lisa Herbold, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, and the other council members who support the proposed cuts, are counting on a rarely (if ever)-used clause in the PSCSC’s rules that allows the police chief to request the permission of the PSCSC director for out-of-order layoffs if they would serve the “efficient operation” of the department.

The problem, according to a letter that Office of Labor Relations director Bobby Humes sent to Durkan’s office on Tuesday, is that “[t]his rule has never before been cited or tested, and there is no definition of what the ‘efficient’ operation of the department looks like.”

However, it’s unclear that it’s true that the rule hasn’t been tested; on Wednesday, for example, Durkan said the rule has “historically been used” for individual layoffs. And Durkan’s assertion that Best would “have to justify every single” request for an out-of-order layoff is somewhat at odds with Humes’ memo, which only mentions a possibility that Best may have to justify each individual layoff.

“The [council’s] request would be to skip over some folks in order to retain people based on race and I don’t think that’s allowable.”—Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best


A memo explaining the mayor’s position on out-of-order layoffs distributed to members of the media this week does not list legal precedents to back her statement that out-of-order layoffs would need to be argued individually.

In a press conference with council president Lorena Gonzalez and council member Tammy Morales on Thursday, Herbold responded to some of the mayor and police chief’s claims, starting with Durkan’s claims that out-of-order layoffs are impossible. “The rule exists, and thus it can be used,” said Herbold. “The executive and council should work together to figure out how to use it to meet our shared objectives, and we should not start with the supposition that a rule that exists to be used can’t be used.”

Herbold added that she and her colleagues hope to collaborate with Best to craft the requests for out-of-order layoffs to be sent to PSCSC Director Laura Scheele. The question now, according to Herbold, “is whether [Best] will work with us in developing a request… that has the best chance to preserve the diversity of the police department in a way that is constitutional, legal according to labor law, does not choose layoffs by race, and preserves the efficient functioning of the department as the rule itself requires.”

Best has not yet said whether she would be willing to bring a request for out-of-order layoffs to the PSCSC. At Thursday’s press conference, she said that the council had not asked her to sit down with them (although the council has talked to other members of SPD’s command staff), and said “it definitely feels very personal to me.”

Herbold and her colleagues are still working with the city’s law department to review their options for arguing that out-of-order layoffs serve the “efficient operation” of SPD. She says one of the council’s proposed strategies– targeting officers with extensive records of complaints – would be based on the argument that the time and resources spent processing complaints, disciplinary actions, and appeals undermine the department’s efficiency. However, Herbold acknowledged that the council will have to grapple with the possibility that their strategy will be challenged on the grounds that it involves punishing officers twice for the same offense, which could be illegal.

At the front of Herbold’s mind, however, is convincing Best to bring requests for out-of-order layoffs to PSCSC Director Laura Scheele. “She’s the one who has to make the argument,” says Herbold. “She runs the department, so she’s best placed to make the argument.”

Durkan, Best Decry Council’s Proposed SPD Budget Cuts as Too Fast, “Wrong Year”

By Paul Kiefer

In a joint press conference Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Jenny Durkan responded to the City Council’s proposal to cut the Seattle Police Department’s remaining 2020 budget by about $3 million with backhanded praise, saying the council was “looking in the right places but in the wrong year.”

The majority of the council, with the exception of Kshama Sawant, has united around a plan that would cut 100 positions from SPD’s budget, relying on a combination of attrition and layoffs that would, if all goes according to schedule, start in November. The midyear budget discussions were sparked by an unanticipated 2020 budget shortfall of more than $300 million.

In her remarks, Durkan emphasized that any major reforms to SPD will take a year or more to implement because of the combined challenges of the pandemic, the West Seattle Bridge closure and (ironically) months of protests. “2020 is not the best playing field to discuss further reductions to SPD and reinvestment in community,” Durkan said.

The proposed layoffs, though they would only amount to about half the cuts, have been a point of contention for Best and Durkan, who maintain the council has no legal authority to propose “out of order” layoffs of more-senior officers.

Ordinarily, the least-senior police officers are subject to layoffs first. But this, Durkan and Best said, would “gut” the most diverse group of officers in SPD’s history and reverse progress on improving the diversity of the police department. (Best characterized this possibility as the council proposing “layoffs based on race.”) To get around this problem, the council has proposed “out of order” layoffs targeting officers doing functions the council wants to reduce or eliminate, like SWAT and the Navigation Team.

According to Durkan, while a Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC) rule allowing the police chief to request out-of-order layoffs has been used in the past for individual cases, doing so on the scale suggested by the city council would require Chief Best to “justify every single decision,” which would draw out the layoff process well past the end of the year. I have followed up with the mayor’s office for clarification about the legal reasoning behind this claim.

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Best also criticized the council for proposing that her department lay off dozens of officers “basically overnight,” arguing that there would be a “service gap” while the city researches and organizes alternative emergency response teams. This gap could mean, she claimed, that when someone called 911 at midnight to report a rape or robbery in process, an officer might not be able to respond right away. None of the specific positions the council has proposed cutting are patrol officers who respond to 911 calls.

Durkan and Best did not accurately characterize several of the council’s other proposals, including their plan to civilianize data-driven policing by transferring this division—which analyzes policing data and makes much of it available to the public— from SPD to the Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS). Although the council has said they proposed the move to put police data in more objective civilian hands, Best said the council believed that “we would be better off as a police department if we do not use data.”

In another instance, Best said the council’s proposed layoffs would completely eliminate SPD’s public affairs unit, forcing the media to submit all questions to the separate public records division. In fact, although one council amendment would result in the layoffs of all four sworn staff in the department’s Public Affairs Unit, that proviso would not affect the unit’s civilian staff, who also respond to press questions.

Similarly, Mayor Durkan accused the council of proposing the complete elimination of implicit bias training from the department. In reality, the council’s proposal would withhold funding for implicit bias trainings “until the Executive submits a report describing the effectiveness of shifting officer behavior through implicit bias trainings,” and would direct the department to look into online trainings as a cheaper option. 

Durkan has already proposed $76 million in cuts to SPD budget in 2021, but most of those savings would result from transferring some functions, like the 911 call center and the Office of Police Accountability, out of SPD. Only $20 million would come from cuts to the SPD budget, mostly through attrition, leaving positions vacant, and cutting the budget for security at special events.

The council will take up the budget proposals—including council member Kshama Sawant’s competing package, which calls for much deeper and more immediate cuts—tomorrow morning at 10am.