Tag: 2020 budget

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.

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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.

 

City Budget Hunger Games: Mercer Megablock Money Grab, Probation Expansion Skeptics, Homelessness, “High-Barrier Offenders,” and More

With literally hundreds of budget amendments in play during the final weeks of city council budget deliberations, it’s almost impossible to cover every issue that’s currently in contention: From the way the police department responds to sex workers to how the proceeds of the Mercer Megablock should be spent, nearly every aspect of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget has been the subject of debate among a council that will say goodbye to at least four of its current members at the end of the year. What follows is a highly selective list of some of the proposals and policies that were in contention this past week.

The caveat for this entire post, of course, is that the city will have to completely retool its budget if Tim Eyman’s I-976, which would decimate funding for local transit, road, bridge, and transportation maintenance projects, passes on Tuesday.

• Mercer Megablock proceeds

A number of proposals would redirect or restrict funding from the sale of the Mercer Megablock property away from Durkan’s spending priorities toward other projects. Among the changes council members have proposed:

– Adding $15 million to the Office of Housing’s budget to fund low-income housing projects that are shovel-ready but unfunded under the city’s annual Notice of Funding Availability, which is perennially unable to fund all the projects that are ready to go. The funds would come from Durkan’s proposed Strategic Acquisition Fund (intended to buy land for future projects near transit) and homeownership and accessory dwelling unit loan programs that are aimed at helping moderate-income home buyers and existing homeowners get loans.

– Spending $2.45 million originally earmarked for that same fund to build a four-room child care center serving between 58 and 69 children in the basement of City Hall. Durkan, sponsor Sally Bagshaw noted, has proposed sidelining the City Hall facility and funding existing child care centers elsewhere, but “I do think that King County has solved this problem in the building right next door to us,” which has a child care center, so the city should be able to do the same thing.

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– Redirecting $2.5 million of the sale proceeds to pay for protected bike lanes in South Seattle, for a total of $10.9 million dedicated to bike facilities in the area. South Seattle—particularly Southeast Seattle—has been historically neglected in the city’s bike infrastructure spending, a fact the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board acknowledged when it recommended prioritizing projects in southeast Seattle neighborhoods in the scaled-back spending plan for the Move Seattle levy. The Seattle Department of Transportation’s implementation plan for the levy basically ignored the board’s recommendations, leaving south Seattle without a single complete connection to downtown. The $2.5 million, O’Brien said, would allow the city to either build a full protected bike lane along Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, or finish out a bike lane on Beacon Hill and connect the South Park and Georgetown neighborhoods.

The current bike master plan map, which includes huge gaps in South Seattle.

• “High-barrier offenders”

The council has been generally skeptical of Durkan’s proposal—based on controversial report by former city attorney candidate Scott Lindsay— to expand programs inside the criminal justice system to address people with severe addiction or mental illness who repeatedly commit low-level crimes. Durkan’s plan would expand probation and add funding for several still largely undefined programs such as “case conferencing” (in which cops and prosecutors discuss how to deal with “high-impact” individuals) and a jail-based “connector” program to direct people leaving jail after short stays to shelter and services.

Several proposals from the council would require that the city auditor take a look at how the mayor’s entire “high-barrier offender” plan would impact low-income people and people of color. Public safety committee chair Lorena Gonzalez, who also proposed zeroing out Durkan’s $170,000 proposal to expand probation, said that when she has asked judges what they’re doing to determine whether probation disproportionately harms people of color, “they have been unable to answer that question.” As for the case conferencing and “connector” pilots, Gonzalez said, “we need a concrete, developed plan from the executive and the law department before we agree to just give them the money… in a hope and prayer that they’re going to structure it appropriately.”

Bagshaw, who supports the mayor’s plan, suggested that the city auditor might not have the “expertise” to determine whether the proposal would harm people of color, and said she would prefer to set up a “roundtable” including judges and prosecutors, who generally support the proposal, and “get moving on it.” Gonzalez responded that the mayor’s plan was “admittedly a half-baked idea, and I think if we are serious about meeting some of the public safety and harm reduction strategies we have as a city, then we have to be serious about creating concrete plans with specific outcomes.” Advocates for harm reduction and pre-arrest diversion programs say the proposal simply throws more money at strategies that aren’t working.

In several related items, Gonzalez proposed funding arrest-diversion options for sex workers (who’ve been targeted by recent stings from the Seattle Police Department) and requiring SPD to work on correctly identifying people by race, including Latinx/Hispanic people. Currently, SPD doesn’t consistently track the ethnicity of the people it arrests, making it difficult to determine how Seattle’s criminal justice system impacts Latinx people.

• Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion

As I’ve reported, LEAD—a successful pre-arrest diversion program that provides case management and services to people committing low-level crimes in certain parts of the city—says it needs an additional $4.7 million a year in additional funding to keep up with growing caseloads. (Durkan’s budget essentially held LEAD’s funding steady at previous levels even though the program’s caseloads and geographic reach have been vastly expanded in recent years). The council seems poised to split the baby, partially funding LEAD with $3.5 million in new spending and directing the program’s backers to come up with private funding to pay for the rest.

“I have every bit of faith in Ms. [Lisa] Daugaard [the director of the Public Defender Association, which runs LEAD]  and the rest of us to be picking up the phone and talking to the private sector” to fund the remaining $1.2 million, Bagshaw said. Gonzalez, one of the co-sponsors (along with Kshama Sawant and Like O’Brien O’Brien) of proposals to fund the full $4.7 million with city dollars, said she had some “anxiety” about the restrictions that might apply to the private funding.

Image via Low-Income Housing Institute

• Tiny house villages

Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who’s on maternity leave (so this item was introduced by Bagshaw), proposed adding $900,000 for 100 new “tiny house village” encampment spots, which Bagshaw said she would like to earmark in some way for LEAD participants. This item, which had the support of all seven council members present, was notable mostly because of Gonzalez’ comments criticizing the so-called “Poppe Report,” which (along with a related report from Focus Strategies) suggested that the city has enough funding for homelessness and opposed tiny house villages and other kinds of interim encampments. The city and King County are about to release another series of reports, including one by Focus Strategies, as part of the Regional Action Plan that will inform the planned consolidation of the city and county’s homelessness agencies.

“One of the most unfortunate things that came out of that Poppe report was her absolute expression of disdain for tiny villages, [which] has hurt our city’s efforts to really provide meaningful solutions,” Gonzalez said. “I have really appreciated the fact that as city leadership we have, in a lot of ways, bucked that predisposition or ideology that she expressed in her report and really have committed to the tiny house village concept.”

• The Navigation Team

Durkan’s budget (like last year’s) seeks permanent funding for two new Navigation Team members (out of four added outside the normal budget process this year), both of whom were funded this year with one-time funds. Sawant’s proposal to eliminate the team—the subject of much hand-wringing among right-wing and even mainstream media last month—predictably received no support, while Lisa Herbold’s extension of a proviso that requires the team to report on what it’s doing appears poised to pass. The biggest debate last week was actually over a proposal, from Debora Juarez, to expand the team yet again to include two new members dedicated specifically to her North Seattle district, which Juarez says is overrun with dangerous encampments that need to be removed. Continue reading “City Budget Hunger Games: Mercer Megablock Money Grab, Probation Expansion Skeptics, Homelessness, “High-Barrier Offenders,” and More”