An encampment on property owned by the city of Burien could be swept as soon as this week, after a nonprofit animal shelter run by the director of Discover Burien, a local business group, secured the right to lease the property from the city starting on June 1, and—according to Burien City Manager Adolfo Bailon—evict the people living there. The shelter, Burien CARES, has said it plans to “revert” the property, which had been an informal dog park, “back to its most recent use by the community as a dog recreation and relief area.”
The encampment was originally located next to City Hall and the downtown Burien branch of the King County Library system, but was booted earlier this year after the condo association that owns the property, whose sole members are the library and the city, voted to make the area around the building a “no-camping” zone. Encampments are also banned in all city parks, limiting where people can legally sleep to bits of city-owned property like the one Burien CARES now plans to lease.
“If the city had taken the responsibility and said, ‘here’s a spot for the people living at City Hall,’ and put up some boundaries, [the encampment] probably wouldn’t have grown,” said Nancy Kick, a Burien resident and activist who opposes sweeping the encampment. “This was all foreseeable; if you don’t create a solution, then the solution creates itself. It’s going to just be what it is and you can’t control it at all.”
Although local advocates and outreach groups have asked King County and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority to help secure housing or shelter for the dozens of people who will be forced to move their tents elsewhere in Burien if the sweep takes place, those efforts have been unsuccessful.
Earlier this month, KCRHA director Anne Martens told PubliCola agency staffers have been meeting with outreach, shelter, and advocacy groups, as well as the city of Burien, and “continue to work together to seek housing and shelter placements.” However, as of last week, those talks hadn’t resulted in a solution for the dozens of people who stand to be evicted from the site this week.
Last week, King County Executive Dow Constantine informed the city of Burien that the county sheriff’s department, which provides Burien’s police force, would not help Burien CARES or city officials remove encampment residents from the property.
“Although the City currently owns the City Lot, it has not identified housing alternatives for the persons who live there despite constitutional duties imposed on the City under federal law,” the letter, signed by Constantine’s general counsel, David Hackett, says. “Instead, the City is attempting to circumvent those duties by entering a lease with a private party, who will maintain and continue the use of the City Lot as a public dog park while attempting to use criminal trespass to force unhoused persons from the premises.”
Meanwhile, the Burien City City Council has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday, May 30 to discuss—among other combatively worded agenda items—”the best response to the fact that Burien is one of the few, if not the only, jurisdiction other than Seattle to welcome a DESC facility, and yet King County refuses to help Burien help the unhoused” and “the value of the contract for King County Sheriff’s Office services since the Sheriff’s Office refuses to provide police services.”
Under a 2019 federal circuit court ruling called Martin v. Boise, governments can’t force people to move from public property if there is no suitable shelter available. Burien’s approach of leasing out its land and having its tenant evict encampment residents represents an attempt to “evade the holding in Martin,” Hackett wrote, because the land is still city property—and the city hasn’t offered the homeless people living there anywhere else to go.
Burien disagrees with this, arguing that the city doesn’t have an ordinance banning people from sleeping on city property in general, just parks, and that the city is “not asking for or seeking criminal penalties, fines, or even arrests” for the people it wants the sheriff’s department to assist in removing from its property.
Gallagher, a spokesman for Constantine, said the county has “continuously engaged with the City of Burien throughout the past few months to help the city identify a solution that meets the needs of our shared residents. Homelessness is a regional problem, and every jurisdiction plays a part in finding solutions. But that regional aspect doesn’t alleviate cities from the responsibility of serving their residents and taking action directly in their community.”
Last year the Burien City Council approved a new Downtown Emergency Service Center project that will provide 95 units of permanent supportive housing, with 30 percent of the units reserved for Burien residents. However, that building won’t come online until next year.
Meanwhile, the Burien City City Council has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday, May 30 to discuss—among other combatively worded agenda items—”the best response to the fact that Burien is one of the few, if not the only, jurisdiction other than Seattle to welcome a DESC facility, and yet King County refuses to help Burien help the unhoused” and “the value of the contract for King County Sheriff’s Office services since the Sheriff’s Office refuses to provide police services.”
The nine-member King County Council is expected to vote this afternoon to place the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy renewal on the August ballot, although the size of the levy was still up for debate going into Tuesday’s meeting.
The two options on the table are a flat renewal at 10 cents per $1,000 of property value—the plan King County Executive Dow Constantine sent the council for approval back in February. A levy renewal at that level would raise about $565 million over six years, but—due to inflation and increased construction costs—would produce only about half as much housing as the expiring levy and require 45 percent cut to housing-related services. The other option on the table is to increase the levy to 12 cents per $1,000, which would raise about $678 million over the same period. The higher levy would cost the owner of a median ($838,000) home about $17 more per year.
The levy pays for housing, domestic violence prevention, senior centers, and supportive services for low-income and homeless veterans, seniors, and other King County residents. Over the last six years, it has raised around $350 million. Placing a levy on the ballot requires a six-vote supermajority, which means that in order to pass a higher, 12-cent tax, at least six of the county council’s seven Democrats will need to be on board.
In a special meeting last Friday, the county’s 12-member Regional Policy Committee, which makes recommendations to the county council, failed to reach agreement on the appropriate size for the levy, with five members voting for the lower rate and four holding out for the 12-cent option. (Because county council members on the RPC get two votes each, a 5-4 vote in favor of the smaller levy option resulted in a 6-6 vote).
Originally, the RPC was supposed to make a recommendation at its regularly scheduled meeting last Monday. Instead of voting then, the RPC decided to hold off on a recommendation until after Tuesday’s election on another countywide property tax levy—the King County Crisis Centers Levy, which will build five mental health crisis centers across the county, restore some residential mental health care beds, and increase behavioral health workers’ pay.
“Sadly, there is a bond measure for the Kent School District that failed by almost the same percentage, if not more, than [the crisis centers levy passed by] I think that is a pretty good indicator that there are individuals in our communities that have tax fatigue and are not looking for adding any new taxes.”—Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus
That levy is currently passing with nearly 57 percent of the vote. However, both County Councilmember Claudia Balducci, who represents Bellevue, and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus noted last week that the levy was failing in parts of rural and suburban King County—suggesting a lack of appetite for higher property taxes outside Seattle.
“Sadly, there is a bond measure for the Kent School District that failed by almost the same percentage, if not more, than [the crisis centers levy passed by],” Backus said. “I think that is a pretty good indicator that there are individuals in our communities that have tax fatigue and are not looking for adding any new taxes.”
“I have to say that I hear very clearly the message that Mayor Backus is sending,” Balducci said. “We need to look at what our voters are telling us.”
Last week, around the same time that the RPC was meeting, King County Executive Dow Constantine posted a “community survey” asking voters to pick which services to cut in light of a $100 million projected 2025-2026 shortfall Constantine said was “due to the state’s arbitrary one percent limit on property tax collection.” Constantine’s announcement noted pointedly that services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, gun violence prevention, programs for BIPOC youth, and public health clinics were all among the options on the chopping block.
In the legislative session that just concluded, lawmakers proposed, but did not pass, a bill that would have raised the cap to 3 percent. The bill never got a hearing. A fiscal analysis by legislative staff found that it would increase local tax revenues statewide by about $480 million during the 2025-2026 biennium. According to an analysis of the legislation by Constantine’s staff, however, a 3 percent cap would have increased property taxes for the median King County homeowner by $7.96 a year, an amount that would not make up for the $100 million biennial shortfall Constantine blamed on the legislature.
Alison Eisinger, the executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, said it was absurd for Constantine to blame the legislature for the county’s budget shortfall, especially when he chose to leave money on the table by proposing a flat renewal of the levy.
“Are people supposed to think that government can actually be part of the solution if, on the one hand, government is saying we have a $100 million shortfall and we’re going to have to cut critical services, and on the other hand, they’re debating something that would cost the average homeowner pennies?” Eisinger said. “This is about elected officials not having the courage of their convictions and taking the necessary votes to let the public decide whether or not we are going to house veterans and seniors and support our communities.”
The services identified in the county’s survey are funded with the general fund, not the veterans’ levy, and the county can’t legally use levy dollars to supplant items that would ordinarily be paid for by the general fund; Eisinger’s comments were about the contrast between Constantine’s complaint about the county’s taxing authority and his support for the smallest version of the levy under consideration.
The last time the veterans, seniors, and human services levy was on the ballot, in November 2017, it passed with 69 percent of the vote.
The city of Seattle spent $280,000 over the past year paying longtime local consultant Tim Ceis—a former deputy mayor widely known as “the Shark” for his combative, “Machiavellian” style—to lobby Sound Transit on a West Seattle-to-Ballard light rail extension, PubliCola has learned. The no-bid, sole-source contract falls just under the maximum amount, $285,000, that city agencies can legally pay consultants before they have to solicit public bids.
According to Ceis’ contract, his work included building “community consensus” on behalf of the city’s preferred light rail alternative—a controversial last-minute option that eliminates long-planned stations serving the Chinatown-International District and First Hill in favor of a second station in Pioneer Square and a new station a few blocks from the existing Stadium Station. Mayoral spokesman Jamie Housen said the contract amounts to around 20 hours of work a week, although it’s unclear how many hours Ceis has actually worked on the mayor’s behalf.
Harrell sponsored the new alternative with the support of King County Executive Dow Constantine, at a meeting where the Sound Transit board adopted Harrell’s proposal as its preferred alternative last week.
According to a redacted copy of Ceis’ amended contract, his work for the city involved “developing and representing the Mayor’s position” on the light-rail route, “developing positive board-level relationships that support Seattle’s goals for [the West Seattle-Ballard Light Rail Extension] and enable effective decision-making at the ST Board” and “encourag[ing] agreement around recommendations and modifications considered by the ST Board.” Formally, the contract is between the Seattle Department of Transportation, which answers to the mayor, and Ceis’ firm, Ceis Bayne East.
Update March 29: At PubliCola’s request, the city’s website has been updated to include Ceis’ original contract, which was not publicly available until today. The contract includes heavy redactions, including a blacked-out page titled “Consultant costs and estimated hours,” as seen above. State public disclosure law requires disclosure of public documents except in specifically, clearly defined cases; I’ve asked which exemption they believe Ceis’ contract terms fall under.
Update April 3: After PubliCola asked for a legal justification for redacting Ceis’ costs and estimated hours, the Seattle Department of Transportation provided unredacted copies of the original contract and the amended version. Both show that Ceis claimed 20 hours of work per week at $250 an hour—a rate that’s significantly lower than what consultants at Ceis’ level (both as a partner in his own firm and with his decades of experience) generally charge. Ceis’ contract does not require a specific accounting of hours.
Harrell and King County Executive Dow Constantine have repeatedly suggested that “the CID community” was united in support of a light rail alternative that bypasses their neighborhood, but the illusion of that consensus was decisively broken when thousands of people signed a petition supporting a station in Chinatown, and dozens showed up to hold signs and testify against a route that skips their neighborhood, last week.
Under the contract, Ceis was responsible for getting “key constituencies” to support the mayor’s preferred route and station locations and helping them craft their “comments and positions” in favor of this route.
Supporters of the “north-south” alternative have argued that “the CID community” was united in support of a light rail alternative that bypasses their neighborhood, but the illusion of that consensus was decisively broken when thousands of people signed a petition supporting a station in Chinatown, and dozens showed up to hold signs and testify against a route that skips their neighborhood, last week.
Ceis and his firm are being paid significantly more per year than Anne Fennessy, a consultant hired by then-mayor Jenny Durkan to serve as the city’s dedicated representative to Sound Transit in 2018. Fennessy’s $180,000-a-year contract raised eyebrows both for its size and the fact that Fennessy was a personal friend of Durkan’s. Fennessy’s work consisted largely of representing the city in meetings with Sound Transit staff and coordinating technical input, according to her contract.
Ceis’ firm, which helped draft the Compassion Seattle initiative, received $25,000 for its work on Compassion Seattle, the failed initiative on homelessness that Harrell adopted as a pillar of his homelessness policy. Ceis maxed out to Harrell’s mayoral campaign in 2021 and worked behind the scenes on an independent expenditure committee supporting Harrell.
Ceis directed our questions about his contract to Harrell’s office. Housen said Ceis “filled a gap” when the city was transitioning between dedicated representatives to Sound Transit, “providing expertise, analysis, and historical context over the last year.”
On Wednesday, in advance of a Sound Transit board meeting that could reshape a long-planned light rail expansion linking downtown Seattle to Ballard and West Seattle, King County Councilmember and Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci proposed an alternative route that preserves the existing “spine” of the system while eliminating a planned station in the Chinatown International District (CID). Voters approved the expansion, called “ST3,” in 2016.
The last-minute proposal is a direct response to, and amendment of, another last-minute proposal backed by King County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Bruce Harrell, who is sponsoring the motion. That “north-south” plan, which has no cost estimates, engineering, or design, would take a new light rail station on Fourth Avenue in Chinatown off the table, eliminate a planned “Midtown” station that would have served First Hill, and add a new “south of CID” station a few blocks north of the existing Stadium station south of downtown.
The big advantage to his plan, according to Constantine, is that in addition to eliminating the disruptive and harmful impacts of construction in Chinatown, it would set the stage for a whole new “neighborhood” centered around the site of the current King County Administration Building.
Compared to the “north-south” proposal, Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducc said, “this option would mean less out of direction travel and better connections for South and East riders [and] retain a one seat ride from South Seattle, South King and Pierce to the CID.”
Balducci’s proposal, co-sponsored by Washington State Department of Transportation director Roger Millar, would re-connect the “spine” of the system—which, under all previous plans, would be split into segments when expansion lines to Ballard and West Seattle open in the 2030s—keeping a one-seat ride from Lynnwood to Tacoma and, importantly, preserving the existing connection between South Seattle and the CID, which Constantine’s plan would eliminate. Essentially, it would create a true Ballard-to-West Seattle line (which no previous plans would do) while preserving connections to Chinatown from the east and south.
Compared to the “north-south” proposal, Balducci said, “this option would mean less out of direction travel and better connections for South and East riders [and] retain a one seat ride from South Seattle, South King and Pierce to the CID.”
Either of the two north-south options would eliminate the “Midtown” station, which would come the closest of any station to the dense First Hill neighborhood—echoing a similar decision in 2005, when the Sound Transit board voted to scrap a long-planned station in the neighborhood, a decision that eventually produced the First Hill streetcar.
“If Midtown Station goes away, then they need to understand that what they’ve done is eliminate the highest ridership station in all of ST3 and that is going to require that they mitigate the hell out of it,” said Transportation Choices Coalition Alex Hudson, who noted that many of the people who work in First Hill hospitals live south of Seattle and could have used the new light rail line to commute to their jobs. “That’s 15,500 people who were counting on excellent [rail] service and have been paying for it and won’t get it—that’s not small change. That’s a real harm.”
Mitigating for the loss of the Midtown station, which could come in the form of expanded bus or other transit service in the area, will add costs to the project—eating into any savings from eliminating the station, Hudson said.
TCC wants the Sound Transit board to keep an existing option, the Fourth Avenue “shallower” option, on the table; as long as they’re considering an unstudied plan, she said, the board should keep a more thoroughly vetted option on the table. Balducci has introduced a second amendment that would keep that option on the table, and said that since the new Constantine-Harrell plan will require a supplemental environmental impact statement, “we should use that time to also study and improve the 4th option as much as possible. Then we’ll have the ability to make the most informed choice,” Balducci said.
“Before we walk away from the option to have a great transit hub on 4th that could both serve the CID and connect our light rail lines most effectively to each other, Sounder, Amtrak and other modes, I’m asking that the agency look harder at ways to address community concerns,” Balducci added.
It’s unclear whether Balducci and Millar’s proposals will gain traction, or if the Constantine-Harrell plan has so much momentum that it will steamroll efforts to keep other options on the table. The board meets tomorrow at 1:30 pm.
King County Executive Dow Constantine announced on Friday that in response to “community feedback,” the county will abandon plans to provide new shelter beds and a sobering center on vacant land next to the existing 270-bed Salvation Army shelter in SoDo. In a statement, Constantine said, “It is clear that building trust and resolving underlying concerns about the conditions in the community today will take considerable time before we can move forward with any added service capacity.”
Residents of the Chinatown International District have held protests outside the shelter and during King County Council meetings objecting to the shelter expansion, which many described during county and city public comment sessions as another example of “dumping” services for homeless people in a neighborhood that was hard-hit by the pandemic and has seen an increase in both crime and gentrification over the past few years.
Tanya Woo, a Chinatown-International District business owner who has helped organize opposition to the shelter expansion, told PublICola before today’s announcement that she wanted the county to put its plans on “pause” and have more conversations with neighborhood residents, including discussions about potential shelter locations in other parts of the city.
“It doesn’t matter what side the community is on this shelter issue, the most important thing is having our voices heard,” Woo said. “My one wish is that the county and city can come to a conclusion that may include looking at other sites and looking at a more equitable distribution of shelter resources so that it’s not all concentrated in one area.”
In addition to community members, paid outside advocates have involved themselves in the debate, including the King County Republican Party (which paid for and handed out “Down With Dow” signs to tweak the county executive, who has a history of being rattled by vocal criticism) and the Discovery Institute, a creationist think tank that launched the career of far-right activist Chris Rufo.
Pointing toward a large encampment that has grown up next to the existing shelter, DCHS director Leo Flor told reporters, “Some of the folks in that encampment actually came from the shelter. They’ve got behavioral health conditions that we need a different type of solution for.” With today’s decision, Constantine has put off that solution indefinitely.
Reporters received tours of the existing shelter, and the areas where the shelter would have been expanded, earlier this month. In total, the expansion would have added 90 new shelter beds: 40 beds at a new high-acuity shelter, focused on bringing people with the greatest health needs (and visible impact on the surrounding neighborhood) off the street, plus 50 new tiny house-style Pallet shelters. In addition, the county would have moved the existing sobering center, currently housed in the Yesler Building in Pioneer Square, to the complex, adding up to 60 non-shelter beds.
The high-acuity shelter has been a longtimepriority for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which is an independent entity funded jointly by the city of Seattle and King County. A spokeswoman for the KCRHA did not immediately respond to a request for comment about this latest setback for the shelter.
The director of King County’s Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS), Leo Flor, said last month that the new shelter would help get many people off the street who are unable to access traditional shelter like the Salvation Army’s SoDo shelter because of serious physical and behavioral health needs—the kind of needs that often lead to disruptive behavior and neighborhood complaints.
Pointing toward a large encampment that has grown up next to the existing shelter, Flor told reporters, “Some of the folks in that encampment actually came from the shelter. They’ve got behavioral health conditions that we need a different type of solution for.” With today’s decision, Constantine has put off that solution indefinitely.
Constantine’s office did not provide any information about whether the county is planning to revisit any of the new services and shelter that were canceled today. The decision will save the county some money, though it’s unclear how much; a planned lease with the property owner, developer Greg Smith of Urban Visions, would have rolled the existing lease for the Salvation Army shelter up in a new six-year contract that would have cost King County $10 million a year.
Nor is it clear when the onsite encampment will be resolved. A spokesman for Constantine directed questions about the encampment to the KCRHA; a spokeswoman for the authority told PubliCola that the site is “within the Partnership for Zero focus area” and will be addressed as part of that work and, presumably, closed down once the homelessness authority moves the people living there into housing or shelter.
In July 2020, King County Executive Dow Constantine committed publicly to closing down the Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC), saying it was time to shift “public dollars away from systems that are rooted in oppression and into those that maintain public health and safety.”
“Today I commit King County to converting the remaining youth detention units at the CFJC to other uses as quickly as possible, and no later than 2025,” Constantine announced in a Twitter thread that noted the connection between police murders of Black people and mass incarceration. About half the kids King County incarcerates are Black, a group that makes up about 6 percent of the county population, and about 18 percent are white, compared to 69 percent of the county.
Constantine’s announcement came at a time of heightened public scrutiny of the criminal legal system in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis. The youth detention center had opened just five months earlier, replacing a decrepit, 212-bed facility next door, and stood largely empty because of COVID and a general reduction in youth arrests. The population would hover at about 20 young people throughout the next year, peaking at 26 and dipping to just 17 in August 2021.
One year later, however, the trend has reversed. In August, the average daily population at the youth jail was 41; on October 3, it was 42, including four kids charged as adults. While the population at the jail has grown, the number of guards at the jail has declined; as of September, 22 of 91 juvenile detention officer positions were unfilled, down from about six vacancies in the fall of 2020—a shortfall of 24 percent.
The timeline for closing down the youth detention center could also get a reality check. Closing the jail requires alternatives to incarceration that don’t exist yet, and the process to come up with those alternatives, which will likely include restrictive housing for youth who present a danger to the community, is proceeding slowly.
The increase in the number of young people incarcerated at the CFJC is exacerbated by a similarly steep decline in the number of people working at the jail. A representative of the Juvenile Detention Guild told PubliCola that juvenile corrections officers are leaving their jobs more than twice as fast as the county can hire replacements. Understaffing has also impacted other positions at the facility, which has at times been short on nurses and other medical staff. The high attrition rate has created a shortage not just of workers but experience—a gap that shows no sign of closing even as the county ramps up financial incentives to get new hires in the door.
Understaffing has contributed to the frequent use of solitary confinement, a practice that persists even though it was officially banned in 2017. Jail officials acknowledge that they use “room confinement” when there aren’t enough staff to let kids into common areas safely, but there is no legal distinction between “room confinement” and other euphemisms for isolating kids in their cells for up to 20 hours a day.
Solitary confinement leads to stress, boredom, and fights, and has contributed to a reported uptick in assaults on guards and other staff. According to the juvenile guards’ union representative, “We hire staff who want to work with youth, but they are leaving [because] it is an unsafe work environment, we have to lock youth in their dorms for extended periods of time, [and we] do not have sufficient staffing to provide services to the youth.”
King County officials are aware that keeping kids in their cells is a problem, but the use of the practice has been escalating. In July, there were 13 days when kids were locked in their cells between 18 and 20 hours a day because of short staffing at the jail. Additionally, an independent monitor’s report released in May found a “significant increase” in the number of times youth were put in “restrictive housing” (solitary confinement) because of a risk of “imminent and significant physical harm to the youth or others,” along with a spike in the length of this form of confinement; in the first quarter of this year, 41 kids were put in restrictive housing for an average of 6 hours per session.
Nick Straley, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services, says the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) is skirting laws that were passed specifically to prevent the department from doing exactly what it’s doing now. “The King County Council should get involved and pass strict requirements that force DAJD to do the right thing because we know they aren’t” on their own, Straley said.
King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay—who, like most of the nine county council members, visited the CFJC recently to get a better sense of conditions at the jail—said he was “shocked” to learn recently that the county still effectively allows solitary confinement for youth.
“If we literally don’t have the staffing to monitor people, I understand why that creates a different kind of situation, but it still is alarming, because from an experiential perspective rather than a technical perspective, the youth experience that the same way,” Zahilay said. “All the reasons we don’t want solitary confinement for youth are still true in that scenario, and we have to do everything we can to change those circumstances.”
For adolescents, confinement is a particularly harsh punishment, depriving them of not only of chances to interact with other kids and adults but making it harder to schedule visits with attorneys and family members. During visits, kids are separated from their family members by Plexiglas, depriving them of the chance to hug their parents or hold their own children.
“There have been issues with parents not being able to have contact with their kids and only being able to see each other through Plexiglas,” a COVID-era innovation that prevents direct contact between family members and incarcerated youth, CLS’ Straley says. “The reality is that you’ve got the bare minimum level of humane treatment, and simply not having enough staff isn’t the only reason. They need to have more staff, and/or they need to have fewer kids in jail.”
There’s little consensus about why the county is locking up more kids at a time when youth detention is supposedly on a path to extinction. Jimmy Hung, who leads the juvenile division of the King County Prosecutor’s Office, attributes the reversal to an uptick in violent crime among both young people and adults. “And it’s not isolated to King County; it’s throughout the country,” Hung said. “We are dealing with aftermath of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, and that has also collided with the continuing escalation and increase in just the sheer number of firearms we have in our community.”
Straley believes the “perception out there that crime is running out of hand” is also contributing to harsher sentences from judges. “I think that perception is not accurate, but that’s the perception, and judges are aware of that and they adjust the sentence accordingly,” he said.
A DADJ spokesman, Noah Haglund, said another reason more kids are being detained is that incarcerated youth are being incarcerated longer, particularly the small percentage of kids charged as adults, whose average stay at the CFJC is 284 days; for kids detained on juvenile charges, it’s 17. Both averages have increased over the last five years.
Whatever the reasons, the number of kids at the youth jail is growing, and the number of staff at the jail is not keeping up.
DAJD director Allen Nance, appointed to the position last month after three years as head of the juvenile division, told PubliCola recently that the department “recognize[s]that not only do we need to do a better job recruiting quality folks to work with our young people in custody, but we also have to work diligently to implement strategies to keep the employees that we have today.”
Currently, the department offers hiring bonuses of $7,500 for new hires and $15,000 for lateral hires, as well as $5,000 to any county staffer who recruits a new detention officer for the adult or youth detention center. (Jobs at the adult jail pay slightly better).
However, the county lacks any significant programs to retain jail staffers once they’re hired—a major problem, given how many leave after they experience the challenges of the job; according to the union representative, “many staff will forfeit the money versus staying due to conditions” at the jail, including low morale, lack of support from DAJD leadership, poor schedules, and a lack of transparency about what will happen to CFJC staff if and when the facility closes.
Rod Dembowski, a King County council member who has been skeptical of the 2025 closure date, said during a recent council meeting that one reason the CFJC may be having trouble hiring guards is that the jobs offer no long-term security. “Why would someone come on to this job or stay in this job if it’s going to be gone in two or three years?” Dembowski said. “It’s not a real great career incentive and that may be hampering us.”
Hiring bonuses remain the primary tool the county uses to recruit new guards at both the juvenile and adult jail, which is also facing a crippling staff shortage. But county rules require newly hired jail staff to pay part of their bonuses back if they stay less than three years, which means that a guard hired today would have to stay at the CFJC until 2025, when the facility is supposed to close, with no guarantee of a new position.
“Our office’s position has always been that zero youth detention is a goal that we should strive for, and it’s aspirational. I don’t believe that we can truly reach zero youth detention before I’m gone, but maybe for my daughter and my grandkids we can see that [happen].”—King County Prosecutor’s Office Juvenile Division Director Jimmy Hung
At the same time, the juvenile detention department currently relies heavily on mandatory overtime, which falls primarily on new hires. Nance, the DAJD director, said “we definitely intend to reduce over-reliance on mandatory overtime, and in fact, incentivize individuals to voluntarily work overtime,” but did not offer specifics when we asked him about the issue in September.
Nance also said the department is “in the process of finalizing” retention incentives for existing staff, “recognizing that those individuals who have already made the commitment to stay at the detention facility through 2025 deserve an opportunity to work in an environment where they are valued, where they where they are well compensated, and where we go above and beyond wherever we possibly can to support their continued employment in the department.”
Nance did not offer more details about the department’s strategy to keep the staff it has.
1. King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed a new property-tax levy to fund five behavioral health crisis centers across King County, along with higher wages for health care workers and the restoration of residential treatment beds that have been lost in recent years. The levy, assessed at 14.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value—about $121 for a median $694,000 house—could be on a countywide ballot in April 2023, if the King County Council approves it this year.
Currently, there are no walk-in crisis centers anywhere in King County, and the wait for a residential treatment bed averaged 44 days as of July, according to the county. Since 2018, the county has lost more than 110 residential treatment beds and is down to 244 beds countywide. “A question that doesn’t get asked enough to the person who says ‘get people into treatment,'” King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said Monday, is “‘get people into treatment where?'”
In a county with 2.3 million residents, Zahilay said, we have one crisis care facility with 46 beds”—the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s Crisis Solutions Center in the Central District, which only accepts referrals from police and other first responders. “If you break a bone in King County, you can walk in and get urgent care. If you’re going through a mental health crisis or a substance use disorder crisis, you have zero urgent care options.”
The nine-year levy proposal would also create apprenticeship programs and other supports for people entering the behavioral health care field, and would “invest in equitable wages for the workforce at crisis care centers,” according to the announcement, plus mobile or co-located crisis services that would operate until the first crisis clinics were open.
“If you break a bone in King County, you can walk in and get urgent care. If you’re going through a mental health crisis or a substance use disorder crisis, you have zero urgent care options.”—King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay
It’s unclear how many people would see higher wages under Constantine’s proposal, which his office released only in summary form. Pay for behavioral health care workers is so low that many employees qualify for the same services they sign clients up for, said Kristen Badin, a crisis counselor and representative of SEIU 1199NW.
The King County Regional Homelessness Authority has asked the city and county to provide an additional $15.4 million to permanently service providers’ baseline budgets by 13 percent in order to increase provider wages—part of an overall budget request that would add about $90 million to the regional agency’s budget, which is funded by the city of Seattle and King County through their annual budget process.
That process kicks off for both the city and county tomorrow, when Harrell and Constantine announce their 2023 budget proposals. On Monday, Constantine said he considered the KCRHA’s budget request “aspirational,” and confirmed that he does not plan to provide all the money the authority’s CEO, Marc Dones, requested.
That budget request, Constantine said, “was essentially a statement of need, and that neither the county nor the city’s budget could support that full request.” Harrell added that “we weren’t able to meet all of the requests, but you’ll see [during Tuesday’s budget announcement] the support we have moving forward with RHA and the support we have the people on the ground doing this important work.”
2. In 2019, the City Council passed legislation requiring the Human Services Department to build a cost of living increase into all new or renegotiated contracts with service providers, based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). At the time, inflation, as represented by the increase in CPI, was modest—between two and three percent.
“I drew a line in the sand [on the use of the JumpStart tax to backfill the city budget], and I want to make sure that we’re sticking to that, not only because it’s what we passed in statute, but because the agreement to use the higher-than anticipated revenue was to prevent austerity.”—City Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda.
Last year, the CPI-W increased 8.7 percent, meaning that compared to 2021, it cost 8.7 percent more to pay for the same goods and services. Any wage increase that’s lower than the CPI effectively constitutes a pay cut—something social service providers whose wages are funded by the city will likely be watching for tomorrow when Harrell rolls out his budget.
Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda said she’ll also be watching for any effort by Harrell to transfer additional funds from the JumpStart payroll tax, which is earmarked for housing, small business support, Green New Deal programs, and equitable development. Earlier this year, Mosqueda proposed using excess payroll tax revenues to help close the budget gap; those extra revenues are projected at $71 million and $84 million in 2023 and 2024, respectively.
“I drew a line in the sand,” Mosqueda said Monday, “and I want to make sure that we’re sticking to that, not only because it’s what we passed in statute, but because the agreement to use the higher-than anticipated revenue was to prevent austerity. And part of preventing austerity is keeping our promises, [including] our promises to human service providers.”
King County Executive Dow Constantine previewed his 2023 public safety budget on Monday, announcing his plans for new spending on police recruitment, diversion programs, corrections officers in the adult and youth jails, and body cameras for sheriff’s deputies—along with 140 new security officers for Metro buses and other investments.
The proposed new investments, which are part of an upcoming annual budget proposal that will be amended and approved by the King County Council, include:
$2.4 million for Vital, a program that targets “high utilizers” of the criminal justice system by providing case management and wraparound services;
$7.3 million for Restorative Community Pathways, a pre-filing diversion program for youth who commit certain first-time felonies;
$5 million for body-worn cameras, which every deputy would be required to wear by the end of 20205;
$21 million to hire 140 new security officers for King County Metro buses, transit centers, and stops.
King County Metro deputy general manager Michelle Allison said the bus agency needs more uniformed security officers on and off the buses to respond to concerns from riders and bus drivers that the bus system is unsafe. “Having more safety personnel is helpful for our riders and for our employees,” Allison said. “These folks acts act as a deterrent, and provide support for our customers and our colleagues.”
Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall said the sheriff’s office has supported body-worn video for officers for at least the past decade, but that “it just takes time” to implement major changes. “We have to complete collective bargaining,” she said. “I think the time is right for cameras because our deputies actually want them. The community expects us to have them that accountability and transparency piece. It’s happening now, and I think that’s the important thing.”
Responding to questions about hiring,Cole-Tindall said her office has already hired 50 new deputies this year, and hopes to hire another 70 in the next two years.
The sheriff’s office isn’t the only county agency that has had trouble not just recruiting but retaining staff. The problem has been particularly acute at the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention, where understaffing at both the adult and youth jails has led to repeated lockdowns and the increased use of solitary confinement, including in the county’s Child and Family Justice Center (CFJC), which is supposed to shut down by 2025.
Retention, particularly at the juvenile jail, is a problem: more than 20 of the 90 juvenile detention officer positions are currently vacant, and far more officers have left their jobs at the CFJC than the county has been able to hire.
Nance said his department is “currently working on a plan” to restore in-person visits for family members and social service providers by the end of the year. Additionally, he said, the department plans to restore full booking hours at the Kent and downtown Seattle jails by early next year; currently, bookings at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent are by appointment only, and the downtown jail has shut down booking three times in recent months because of staffing shortage.
Over the next two years, Nance added, DADJ will bring on 100 new adult correctional officers and 30 officers for the juvenile jail. Currently, the county offers hiring bonuses of up to $15,000 for new recruits. However, retention, particularly at the juvenile jail, is a problem: more than 20 of the 90 juvenile detention officer positions are currently vacant, and far more officers have left their jobs at the CFJC than the county has been able to hire. New recruits have to pay the bonuses back if they don’t stay for three years; with the youth jail slated for closure in 2025, this presents a challenge: It’s harder to nail new employees to a three-year commitment when they know they may be out of a job at the end of that period.
1. Officials from King County and advocates from community-based diversion programs responded Tuesday to what King County Executive Dow Constantine called “misinformation” about Restorative Community Pathways, a diversion program for young people that provides services and support for young people accused of first-time felony offenses, along with restitution and services for the people they’ve harmed.
“We’ve heard a lot of misinformation recently about the county’s juvenile diversion program and demonstrably false correlation to increased crime,” Constantine said. Earlier this year, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, a Republican, called for putting a “pause” on the program, which had just been approved two months earlier.
Federal Way mayor Jim Ferrell, who’s running for prosecutor this year, has called the program an “outrageous breach of public trust” that contributes to gun violence, something Constantine and the current prosecutor, Dan Satterberg, deny. “Officials and others in positions of public trust should take care to rely on facts, not hyperbole and data, not anecdotes,” Constantine said.
Satterberg emphasized that the county is still prosecuting serious crimes. “Lest people think this is all we’re doing, that we’re diverting all our cases away, I want to make it quite clear that the context here is that diversion … is but a small facet of the complex approach to public safety, crime, and justice that we have here in King County,” Satterberg said.
So far, about 380 kids have been referred to RCP programs, which are run by nine different community-based organizations, including Community Passageways, a youth diversion program that uses credible messengers to divert young people from the school-to-prison pipeline. Of those 380, 145 have completed the program, and just 8 percent have committed another offense, compared to about 20 percent of kids who go.through the traditional juvenile justice system.
“These young men standing behind me are the perfect model of what restorative justice looks like and how it works in our community,” Community Passageways director Dominque Davis said, gesturing toward four young men who went through his group’s program. “Right now, they shouldn’t be standing behind me. But because of the collaboration with county departments, and because of the work we’ve done in community with our partner organizations,” he said, they had not only graduated from the program but were working as case managers and business owners in their communities.
When Discovery Institute activist Jonathan Choe contacts county departments, including the executive’s, they have a standard response: “We decline to participate in your project.
2. Former KOMO reporter Jonathan Choe, who now produces anti-homeless videos for the far-right creationist think tank that spawned Chris Rufo, attended Tuesday’s press conference but didn’t ask any questions, despite the fact that only two reporters—myself and Omari Salisbury from Converge Media—plus a handful of camera operators were in the room, which left a lot of dead air.
Once the press conference was over and people started leaving, Choe began loudly demanding that Constantine respond to a question “about public safety.” When Constantine continued to walk away, Choe chased him down a hallway, nearly mowing down his chief of staff, “Mr Constantine, I’m asking about the Chinatown International district — why are you ignoring me?” he shouted theatrically, demanding to know if he would place a “moratorium” on a planned homeless shelter expansion in SoDo that, according to Choe, “the vast majority of the Chinatown-International District community opposes.”
Standing outside the elevator, Constantine responded: “You are not actually a journalist.” Reminding Choe why he was holding an iPhone, not a TV microphone, he added: “You were fired for promoting the Proud Boys.” (Choe was fired by Sinclair-owned KOMO TV after praising the insurrectionist group and posting a montage from their rally, encouraging viewers to attend the rally and learn about the Proud Boys’ “cause and mission.”) Choe continued arguing with Constantine’s staff, bellowing “I’m a journalist” when they told him they would only talk to legitimate media outlets.
Constantine’s response to Choe stood in marked contrast to that of Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, who has been known to let press conferences run long in order to politely answer Choe’s questions. When Choe contacts county departments, including the executive’s, they have a standard response: “We decline to participate in your project.”
The shelter complex, which would add 150 shelter spots, a tiny house village, and an RV safe lot to an existing 270-bed shelter in SoDo, has been the subject of significant debate in the nearby Chinatown/International District community. Advocates such as Friends of the CID have argued that the complex, which will be run by the county, is another example of systemic racism—concentrating services for homeless and low-income people in an already vulnerable community without consulting them.
On Thursday morning, King County Executive Dow Constantine announced his plan to introduce a plan to expand services for people experiencing behavioral health crisis as part of his 2023 budget proposal in September. The plan will attempt to address the worsening shortage of short- and long-term treatment for people with behavioral health conditions and substance use disorder. As of this year, Constantine said, the county has lost a third of its residential behavioral health care beds, “and it would have been more but for our intervention. And more facilities are potentially closing their doors in the months ahead.”
Currently, there is only one 16-bed crisis stabilization unit—the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s Crisis Solutions Center—in the entire county. A person in crisis who needs help right away can call 911 or the new 988 mental health crisis line, but people who need immediate, intensive intervention generally have nowhere to go but emergency rooms, which are ill-equipped to deal with behavioral health crises, or jail.
:I’m glad we’re here to be talking about potentially expanding [the crisis] system, but we can’t just expand it. We need to fix what is broken. And if I’m being honest with you, I am part of what’s broken, and every other behavioral health worker, because the system has put us in an impossible situation.” —DESC registered nurse Naomi Morris
Gesturing toward the King County Correctional Facility across the street from the county building where the press conference was taking place, Constantine noted that of about 1,530 people in the county jail, more than 600, or two in five, are in some kind of treatment for behavioral health conditions. Many of those have been jailed for crimes that are often related to mental health conditions and poverty, such as theft, trespassing, and assault.
“We cannot accept having the county jail as the main place for people to get behavioral health care. And right now, the fact is that the jail across the street is the second largest behavioral health facility in the state of Washington. We can’t accept relying on law enforcement to solve what is ultimately the health care challenge,” Constantine said.
Constantine did not provide any details about the scope or cost of his plan, which the county is working on as part of a coalition with other elected officals—including state Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43), Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, and King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay—and health care providers. However, he did indicate that in addition to new walk-in crisis centers, it will include better pay for behavioral health-care workers, such as Naomi Morris, a registered nurse who works for DESC.
“I’m glad we’re here to be talking about potentially expanding [the crisis] system,” Morris said, “but we can’t just expand it. We need to fix what is broken. And if I’m being honest with you, I am part of what’s broken, and every other behavioral health workerm because the system has put us in an impossible situation.” Morris said a coworker recently had to take unpaid leave to deal with the trauma caused by their job as a case manager and found themselves unable to meet their basic needs because “the amount of money they make [is] barely above what the clients we serve get.”
Earlier this year, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority asked the city to pay for salary increases for people who work for agencies like DESC; the KCRHA also funds its own in-house outreach team and pays them significantly more than nonprofit employees doing similar work.