Tag: King County Equity Now

Judge Strikes Homelessness Charter Amendment from Ballot; King County Equity Now Gets New City Contract

1. Late Friday afternoon, King County Superior Court Judge Christine Shaffer struck Charter Amendment 29, the “Compassion Seattle” homelessness initiative, from the November ballot, agreeing with opponents of the measure that it went beyond the scope of the initiative process. Specifically, Shaffer said, the amendment attempted to overrule the city of Seattle’s authority to determine its own homelessness and land-use policies—authority granted to local jurisdictions by the state legislature that cannot, she said, be overturned by an initiative at the local level.

The amendment, if adopted, would require the city council to spend a minimum of 12 percent of its general fund revenues on homelessness, dictating further that in the first year, that money would have to pay for 2,000 new units of “emergency housing” (shelter). It would also change local land use and zoning laws by requiring the city to waive code requirements, regulations, and fees to “urgently site” the projects it would mandate.

The groups that sued to remove the proposal from the ballot, including the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness and the ACLU of Washington, argued that the voters of Seattle lack the authority to overturn these sort of legislative decisions, and that the amendment would effectively undo the agreement the city and county made to create the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority. Judge Shaffer agreed.

“There’s a direct effort in Charter Amendment 29 to control the city’s budgetary authority and that is not disputed in this record, any more than the efforts to control zoning and land use is disputed,” Shaffer said. “These are measures specifically required by Charter Amendment 29, and they both are outside the scope of a proper initiative in a way that is not even close. There are so many prior Supreme Court cases on both those topics.”

In arguing for the amendment, Compassion Seattle’s attorney Tom Ahearne said the court should let the proposal move forward and give opponents a chance to challenge it if and when it’s adopted. “When thousands of voters have signed a petition, opponents should not be able to hold the people’s measure hostage, merely because it opposes the policy or raises questions about the measure’s validity,” he said. “Instead of rushing to suppress the vote, this court should allow citizens to consider this charter amendment in November, and if citizens adopt it, allow the plaintiffs’ claims to be fully litigated and resolved through the trial court and appellate process.”

Judge Shaffer said she personally liked the solutions proposed in the amendment, and might vote for it if it was on the ballot. “But as judge,” she continued, “it cannot stand, and I am required to strike it from the ballot.”

“Judge Shaffer’s ruling affirms well-established limits to the local initiative process and recognizes the importance of the proper functioning of our democratic systems,” ACLU of Washington staff attorney Breanne Schuster said in a statement. “We are pleased that CA 29 will not stand as an impediment to solutions that meaningfully address our housing crisis and do not punish people for trying to meet their basic life-sustaining needs like shelter, sleep, and food.”

In a statement issued after the ruling, the Compassion Seattle campaign said that while they were “gratified that Judge Shaffer said that she would have voted for Charter Amendment 29 if given that option, we strongly disagree with her ruling today denying Seattle voters the opportunity to have their voices heard on the number one issue facing our city.” Because an appeal could not play out before the November election, the campaign continued, “We can still make our voices heard in the elections for Mayor, City Council, and City Attorney. In each race, the difference between the candidates is defined by who supports what the Charter Amendment was attempting to accomplish and who does not.”

2. Last month, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and the city’s Human Services Department (HSD) announced that 33 community organizations would share the $10.4 million set aside to invest in “community safety capacity building,” one of many simultaneous efforts to support non-law enforcement approaches to public safety sparked by last summer’s protests.

One of the groups that will receive funds is King County Equity Now (KCEN), the coalition-turned-nonprofit that led the push for a city-wide participatory budgeting program—and, when the council supported their plan, took the reins of the Black Brilliance Research Project, intended to lay the foundations for public-safety-focused participatory budgeting in Seattle. KCEN’s brief tenure as a city sub-contractor ended ignominiously when the project’s head researchers left the organization because of alleged financial mismanagement, as well as alleged mistreatment of queer researchers and researchers born outside Seattle. The group lost their city subcontract, and the research project finished weeks later without KCEN.

But after several months out of the spotlight, KCEN is making its quiet return to the world of city contracting. With the new grant, KCEN says it will partner with “incredible local Black-led housing service providers, like First Place Schools [a charter school provider] and Monica’s Place,” a housing development in the Central District, to conduct another research project. KCEN initially asked for $789,391; however, HSD capped grants at $585,410 because of the volume of applications. The group will have a new fiscal sponsor—Parents for Student Success, a nonprofit cofounded by King County Equity Now board chair Dawn Mason.

This second project will include “an inventory of Black community resources, hubs, places to tap in, needs, current and potential Black partnerships, current policies successes, failures, and gaps to address anti-gentrification and spatial community toward building holistic support,” according to KCEN’s response to the city’s request for proposals. The core question that would guide KCEN’s proposed research—”what does community safety and wellness look like for you in place?”—is nearly identical to the central question of the Black Brilliance Research Project. The results of the research, they wrote in their proposal, would help them and their partners create “scalable, replicable anti-gentrification models.”

The organization asked for funds to pay existing staff, to hire more people to work on the new research project, and to pay for consultants, office space, and supplies.

Since the organization’s unwilling exit from the Black Brilliance Research Project, KCEN has focused on anti-gentrification projects; the group is an offshoot of the Africatown Community Land Trust, which focuses largely on land acquisition in the Central District.

During the Black Brilliance Research Project, measuring the success of multiple wide-ranging research teams became a key challenge for KCEN. In their latest grant application, KCEN says they will track their project’s success by assessing the number and “effectiveness” of their community meetings and workshops, the “thoroughness” of their partnerships and the “quality and reach of community-led research,” among other metrics.

Community Safety Research Effort Splinters, Leaving Future of $3 Million Project Unclear

Black Brilliance Research Project co-lead Shaun Glaze

By Paul Kiefer

Editor’s note: This post has been updated. See below for update.

On Monday afternoon, the Black Brilliance Research Project announced a split with King County Equity Now, the organization that the city selected last year to coordinate research that will lay the groundwork for a public safety-focused participatory budgeting process later this year. The Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP) is the name of that research effort.

In a post published on Medium, Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP) co-lead Shaun Glaze wrote that Freedom Project Washington, the nonprofit that serves as a “fiscal agent” for the $3 million contract, will now be responsible for coordinating the project, with the BBRP conducting research as a direct contractor to the Freedom Project. At the same time, King County Equity Now (KCEN), the group that’s contractually in charge of the research effort, announced its own new “community research panel” that it says will complete the research.

Under the terms of the Freedom Project’s contract with the city council, KCEN—as the lone sub-contractor to Freedom Project—is responsible for a list of deliverables, including three reports and presentations to the council. KCEN fielded its own team of researchers, including Glaze, but also contracted much of the research out to other nonprofits and community organizations.

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Glaze told PubliCola on Monday night that research teams that previously contracted directly with KCEN will now contract directly with Freedom Project. However, Freedom Project’s role as a fiscal sponsor is strictly constrained by the terms of the contract. For example, the contract does not allow Freedom Project to add or remove subcontractors at will; any substantive changes to the contract must to be approved by the city council, which is likely to have some major questions about the project now that the BBRP and KCEN have said they are going their separate ways.

The BBRP is, in large part, Glaze’s brainchild; Glaze joined KCEN in June 2020 and, alongside co-lead LéTania Severe, assembled KCEN’s research team last fall. Glaze and Severe have also been the primary authors of the work plan and research progress reports submitted to the city council.

In the letter, Glaze wrote that the BBRP’s core staff lost confidence in KCEN’s leadership team after KCEN incorporated as a nonprofit at the end of 2020. “When KCEN represented a collective of Black community organizations, having KCEN facilitate the research made sense,” Glaze wrote. “However, once KCEN chose to incorporate, the community partnership dynamic changed, and this created obstacles and barriers to the research.”

Glaze’s letter claims that KCEN leadership locked researchers out of their email accounts and research databases, “[cut] off communication when requests for transparency and accountability were made,” delayed paying research staff and “dismiss[ed] the lived experiences of some Black community members, including Black people who live in but were not born in Seattle and trans and queer people.”

Of the eight research teams that previously sub-contracted with KCEN, two were notably absent from the signatories of Glaze’s letter: artist collective Wa Na Wari and South Seattle-based nonprofit East African Community Services. PubliCola has contacted East African Community Services and Wa Na Wari about the future of their involvement in the BBRP.

Meanwhile, in a community meeting Monday afternoon, KCEN’s leadership team announced the creation of a new “community research panel” that will “help steward research efforts moving forward,” producing its own report at some point in the coming year.

The council expects a final report on the findings of the BBRP by February 26. According to Glaze, the BBRP team expects to meet that deadline despite the shake-up. It remains unclear what will happen if the council ends up with two separate reports with conflicting recommendations.

Update on 2/11/2021:

The details of the split between KCEN and the core leadership of the BBRP are still difficult to track, but a representative from Freedom Project Washington says that their group will now directly oversee the research teams. (Previously, KCEN was responsible for supervising the work and budgets of the research teams.) In an email to PubliCola on Tuesday, Freedom Project spokeswoman Sauda Abdul-Mumin said the group will also take responsibility for the final research report to the council, which is due on February 26.

The contract for the work, which is held by the Freedom Project, makes King County Equity Now the only subcontractor on the project, and explicitly states that the Freedom Project, as the city contractor, “shall not assign or subcontract its obligations under this Agreement without the City’s written consent, which may be granted or withheld in the City’s sole discretion.” The city attorney’s office is advising the city council (which holds the contract) on what it needs to do to change the contract now, less than two weeks before the final report is due to the city.

Both Glaze, who spoke to PubliCola by text Monday night, and Abdul-Mumin said the re-shuffling of responsibilities won’t hinder the research project. “This change does not impact the contract schedule,” Abdul-Mumin said, “and we are still anticipating a final report and hearing to take place this month. Very little has changed in terms of the research facilitation. This transition occurred to safeguard the stewardship of public funds and remain aligned in our commitment toward making our communities safe for everyone, especially those who have for so long been targeted by systemic racism and oppression.”

Abdul-Mumin didn’t confirm whether KCEN’s own research team on KCEN’s subcontract) will remain involved in the project. However, in an email on Tuesday, KCEN’s press team wrote that the “nearly finalized” research project outlined in the city contract will remain “under KCEN’s Black research umbrella”; they did not clarify whether they intend to submit their own final research report to the council. Instead, the KCEN press team highlighted other advocacy efforts in which their organization is involved; some of those efforts, including calls for the city to set aside $1 billion for an anti-gentrification fund, appeared in past research reports KCEN submitted to the council.

KCEN’s press team also responded to the allegations that their leadership delayed payments to research staff, saying that the city didn’t provide “significant funding” until January. The press team also said that KCEN has paid a total of $1.8 million to the project’s research teams, including more than $1 million that KCEN raised from donors.

The payment schedule included in the city’s contract with Freedom Project Washington specified that the council would release the $3 million allotted to the project in four payments: a $250,000 payment after the council finalized its contract with Freedom Project; a $1 million payment after KCEN submitted a work plan and schedule; a $1.5 million payment after KCEN submitted its preliminary research findings; and a final $250,000 payment after the council received a final research report.

Financial records obtained by PubliCola show that Freedom Project Washington – which, until Monday, was solely responsible for distributing city dollars to its subcontractors and reporting their budgets to the council – show that the nonprofit submitted invoices for the first three payments in November, December and January. PubliCola has reached out to the Seattle City Auditor’s office, which is overseeing the contract’s payment schedule, to determine when Freedom Project received those three payments.

According to their contract with the council, Freedom Project cannot “transfer or reassign” any “essential” research staff without the “express written consent of the city”; Glaze and Severe, the project’s co-leads, qualify as essential staff, so their transfer from KCEN to Freedom Project will likely require city council approval.

Additional reporting by Erica C. Barnett

Five Months In, a Closer Look at Seattle’s $3 Million Community Safety Research Project

By Paul Kiefer

Seattle City Council central staff and representatives from King County Equity Now (KCEN) joined forces during Monday’s council meeting to provide a progress update on the Black Brilliance Research Project, a city-funded effort by nine community organizations to distill the public safety and community development priorities of marginalized communities in Seattle, particularly Black communities. The research is supposed to be the first step toward a citywide participatory budgeting process, which will shape how the city spends nearly $30 million the council set aside for investments in community safety projects in the 2021 city budget.

Councilmember Tammy Morales, whose office oversees the $3 million contract that funds the Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP), prefaced the presentation by drawing a line between the project and the upcoming participatory budgeting process. “This is not a presentation about the participatory budgeting process,” she said, preempting any discussion of the project’s ultimate goal.

After months of preparation, the concrete details of the participatory budgeting process are still hazy; meanwhile, the deadline for transitioning from the Black Brilliance Research Project to the participatory budgeting process is approaching.

KCEN has spent the last five months advertising the BBRP as the vital first step toward “true community safety”: Its product, they maintain, will be a set of problems and priorities that Seattle’s public safety budget should address. To reach that end, KCEN has spearheaded a research process that has involved paying more than 100 community-based researchers to conduct surveys and interviews, produce photography projects, and host podcasts that address themes of public safety and community health. (The organizations that make up the BBRP are subcontractors to the nonprofit Freedom Project Washington, which is serving as the fiscal sponsor for the project.)

But after months of preparation, the concrete details of the participatory budgeting process are still hazy; meanwhile, the deadline for transitioning from the Black Brilliance Research Project to the participatory budgeting process is approaching.

The Black Brilliance Research Project began last September, guided by the Blueprint for Police Divestment/Community Reinvestment that KCEN co-produced with the Decriminalize Seattle coalition in the wake of last summer’s protests against police violence and calls to defund the Seattle Police Department. The Blueprint specified that the research would focus on defining “what health and safety actually means, including (but not limited to) alternatives to policing”; it also outlined an ambitious plan to spend roughly $1.2 million to cover the immediate needs of research participants, including transportation and childcare, as well as direct cash assistance. According to the Blueprint, the research project’s final product would be a “road map for how to engage in an accessible and equity-centered” participatory budgeting process by 2021.

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The city contract that supports the research, as well as the ordinance appropriating money for the project, set broad deliverables for the BBRP. Aside from a work plan, a community needs assessment, and three data-driven presentations before the council, the contract asks KCEN to produce a “community participatory budget process” focused on public safety and a road map to repeat that process in the future.

Based on Monday’s presentation, as well as the 1,045-page research report that KCEN released last Friday, most of the researchers’ work has gone into interviews, focus groups and surveys—some to assess barriers to civic engagement, some about policing and the criminal justice system, some about mental health, housing and education, and others that posed open-ended questions about public safety.

In a presentation to the city council, KCEN research director Shaun Glaze distilled those suggestions into the same high-level priorities for public safety spending that KCEN has identified in presentations and reports since September

In the work plan they submitted to the council in November, KCEN wrote that all of the research would seek to answer three questions: “What creates true community safety, what creates true community health, [and] what do we need for our communities to thrive?”

While the qualitative data they’ve gathered can be a valuable guide when weighing budget priorities, the data collection itself has some holes: Elderly people, as well as Latinx and Asian American communities, are noticeably underrepresented among the 4,000 people who have participated in the research so far. Additionally, while KCEN has translated its online surveys into more than a dozen languages, the BBRP’s research teams only include one Spanish-speaking member, one Chinese-speaking member, one member who speaks Amharic and Oromo, and no members who speak Vietnamese, Khmer, or Tagalog. (The primary non-English language spoken by researchers, by far, is Somali.)

The researchers’ expanding collection of qualitative data includes hundreds of suggestions for city investments in public safety or community well-being. Some, like investments in arts education for young people, are relatively broad. Others, like the suggestion of a city program to transform vacant buildings into affordable housing, are more specific.

Continue reading “Five Months In, a Closer Look at Seattle’s $3 Million Community Safety Research Project”

King County Equity Now Presents Preliminary Research Findings to City Council

By Paul Kiefer

Monday morning’s Seattle City Council briefing began with an hour-long presentation by researchers affiliated with King County Equity Now’s Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP) about the preliminary findings from their research on the public safety and community health priorities of Seattle residents. The presentation was KCEN’s first council appearance since the execution of a $3 million research contract between the council and Freedom Project Washington, the nonprofit serving as the project’s fiscal sponsor, in late November.

The contract itself provides only a broad description of its purpose: to fund “research processes that will promote public safety informed by community needs.” Nevertheless, the research project looms large in the council’s discussions about developing public safety alternatives because it will lay the groundwork for a public safety-focused participatory budgeting process in 2021 that will allocate $30 million to public safety investments chosen by Seattle residents; that process will play a significant role in shaping Seattle’s path away from police-centered public safety.

But the BBRP is largely separate from the project-development element of participatory budgeting. The research itself—which includes online surveys and focus groups—is delegated to “research teams” hired and managed by nonprofits that subcontract with Freedom Project Washington, including a team fielded by Freedom Project Washington itself. Each of these research teams has a distinct focus; PubliCola reviewed one survey, created by East African Community Services, that specifically targeted East African youth between 11-24.

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The core of the BBRP’s preliminary findings are five high-level priorities that KCEN hopes will inform the project proposals put to a vote during the participatory budgeting process: Expanding housing and small-business options (specifically “more Black-led residential and Black-led commercial spaces”); “culturally responsive and caring” mental health services; “childcare and out-of-school time supports… particularly for children facing systemic violence and trauma”; economic relief; and an alternative crisis response system.

These five priorities have remained consistent since KCEN first announced the launch of the BBRP in September. However, according to KCEN, the qualitative data gathered by researchers during this phase of the project will help sharpen more concrete budget and programming proposals at some point in the future.

Research teams have also been conducting “community needs surveys” as part of a parallel effort to address accessibility problems (like language barriers, cost of childcare or lack of internet) that could exclude marginalized residents from taking part in the participatory budgeting process. During Monday’s briefing, Glaze said that KCEN and their partners are distributing the community needs surveys through social media and the social and professional networks of researchers themselves, most of whom are Black and between 20-35 years old.

This could help explain why more than half of the participants in the survey have been Black, and why nearly 55% are younger than 35. KCEN’s efforts to reach older residents through community meetings and in-person interviews have been hindered by COVID-related restrictions on gatherings.

Because the contract between Freedom Project Washington and the council did not outline a budget for the project, the only guide to how contract dollars are spent is the Blueprint for Police Divestment/Community Re-investment released by KCEN and the Decriminalize Seattle Coalition last summer. Though that initial budget is not set in stone, it included nearly $300,000 in spending on “internet connectivity supports” and computers to ensure widespread access to online surveys, focus groups and educational materials. KCEN was not immediately able to say how many internet hotspots and computers it has distributed or how much it has spent on that infrastructure.

Though the work plan KCEN submitted in November included a timeline for the current research project, it’s unclear exactly how this project will lead to a citywide participatory budgeting process in 2021. During Monday’s presentation, Glaze said KCEN doesn’t intend to control the participatory budgeting process. Instead, Glaze spoke about a still-to-be-formed “steering committee” that will work with multiple city departments to set the ground rules for the process, review community-generated proposals and shape them into a list of viable projects. KCEN has not said who will select the committee’s members or when the committee will begin its work.

When asked by Council President Lorena González about city departments that could partner with the steering committee to launch the participatory budgeting process, Glaze pointed to the Equitable Development Initiative, housed in the Office of Planning and Community Development, as a prime candidate, as well as the Office of Civil Rights and the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. Glaze said those offices could offer technical support to the process and award grants to the winning projects, though the steering committee would remain responsible for gathering project proposals from community members.

KCEN is scheduled to submit a full report, including preliminary recommendations for the structure of the participatory budgeting process, on December 21.

More Details Emerge About Black Brilliance Project’s Research Plan

By Paul Kiefer 

PubliCola has obtained a copy of King County Equity Now’s (KCEN) work plan for the public safety research project that’s intended to lay the groundwork for a participatory budgeting process next year. About $30 million of the $1.5 billion general fund budget is supposed to be allocated using participatory budgeting—a process that enables the public to vote on which projects and priorities they want to fund—next year.

The Seattle City Council finalized a $3 million contract with Freedom Project Washington, a nonprofit that offers programs inside and outside prisons to help with reentry and prevent re-incarceration, to fiscally sponsor KCEN’s research last week. With the contract finalized and the work plan submitted, Freedom Project Washington now has access to the first $250,000 of that total. Freedom Project Washington is allowed to subcontract with other groups to conduct parallel research. Currently, though, KCEN is the group’s only subcontractor.

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The work plan offers the most detailed glimpse yet into the workings of the Black Brilliance Research Project, which KCEN launched in mid-September. KCEN has hired more than 100 paid researchers—largely Black—who will work until at least next spring and present findings from their research to the council twice: once in December and again in the first quarter of 2021.

The work plan includes a step-by-step guide for the new researchers, for whom KCEN hopes the experience will be an “opportunity for personal and community growth.” The instructions give the researchers significant leeway in devising their own research areas, questions and methods.

Broadly, the researchers are responsible for studying the “community safety” and “community health” priorities of specific demographic groups; the work plan names “Afro-Latinx people who use wheelchairs” or “second-generation Somali youth” as examples of possible focus areas. The work plan also outlines possible methods for answering research questions: for instance, to study the effectiveness of community response teams as an alternative to 911 responders, the work plan suggests that researchers could measure changes in 911 use after the establishment of a community response team.

In September, KCEN launched an online survey, available in 15 languages, to determine what kind of barriers exist for potential research participants. Since September, 850 people have taken the survey: over half of the respondents have been Black, and a similar proportion have been younger than 34.  According to the survey’s findings, more than half of potential participants would need help paying for gas to attend research sessions, roughly half requested help paying for groceries, and more than a third requested access to high-speed internet, laptops or tablets.

Both the survey and the group’s tentative budget reflect an assumption that much of the research would take place at in-person community meetings and focus groups. According to the “Blueprint for Divestment/Community Reinvestment” released by KCEN and Decriminalize Seattle last summer, the group intended to spend more than $200,000 on transportation and childcare to help research participants attend in-person meetings (though those dollars could also be used to provide childcare for participants taking online surveys).

In a conversation with PubliCola, a KCEN spokesperson noted that they intend to spend a sizeable portion of the contract dollars to improve internet and computer access for potential research participants, which would become essential if the Black Brilliance Research Project shifts to an online-only model.

The work plan does not include a clear explanation of how the research findings will inform the structure of next year’s participatory budgeting process, but it does include a list of preliminary recommendations for changes to the city’s budget priorities, based on feedback from respondents to the project’s surveys and from interviews with Black residents. These priorities include reducing the size of the Seattle Police Department, more investment in community-based alternatives to policing, and less spending on “government responses to harm,” such as social workers employed by the city.

Morning Fizz: Participatory Budgeting Project Moves Forward, Deputy Mayor Moves Out

1. On Tuesday morning, the Seattle City Council’s legislative department provided a copy of their newly finalized $3 million contract with Freedom Project Washington to PubliCola. The Freedom Project will oversee King County Equity Now’s Black Brilliance research project, which is working on a plan to allocate about $30 million in city funding through a participatory budgeting process next year. Freedom Project Washington is expected to subcontract with other nonprofits to run parallel research projects, but the city has yet to publish the names of the other subcontractors.

The contract has been months in the making. KCEN began laying the groundwork for a Black-led research project to determine the city’s public safety priorities before the council funded the work through its midyear 2020 budget balancing package passed in August. The group launched the Black Brilliance Research Project in September, spending their own reserves while waiting for the arrival of city dollars; since then, KCEN has fielded nine research teams to conduct interviews, surveys, and community meetings. KCEN has not responded to questions for more details about the community meetings and interviews.

Freedom Project Washington has close ties to KCEN—its executive director, David Heppard, has been a regular speaker at the group’s online press conferences—but it was not the city’s first choice of contractor. The council and KCEN originally planned to contract with the Marguerite Casey Foundation but decided to go with the Freedom Project because the Freedom Project, which has been a fiscal sponsor of other nonprofits in the past and has previously received city contracts, could get up and running more quickly. Freedom Project Washington will process payments and expenses on KCEN’s behalf; in return, KCEN will manage the “day-to-day operations” of the Black Brilliance Research Project.

The budget also designated roughly $300,000 to “COVID-related support,” including face masks and “internet connectivity support” for research participants, as well as nearly $400,000 for accessibility resources (childcare at community meetings, transportation, translation) and $500,000 for “cash assistance and direct support for community members.”

The only window into how KCEN plans to spend $3 million on community research is their “Blueprint for Divestment/Community Reinvestment,” a document released last summer that includes KCEN’s own recommendations for city policy and budget priorities and a tentative budget for the Black Brilliance Research Project. As PubliCola reported in August, that budget allocated only around $1 million to pay research staff, though senior KCEN researcher LéTania Severe later said that the group intends to hire as many as 133 staffers over the coming year.

The budget also designated roughly $300,000 to “COVID-related support,” including face masks and “internet connectivity support” for research participants, as well as nearly $400,000 for accessibility resources (childcare at community meetings, transportation, translation) and $500,000 for “cash assistance and direct support for community members.”

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KCEN has not clarified how those resources would be allocated, nor whether and how their budget has changed to reflect tightening restrictions on in-person gatherings like community meetings. The contract with Freedom Project Washington does not include any directives about how to spend the contract dollars, so the project’s budget items will be decided by Freedom Project Washington and KCEN.

According to the contract, KCEN is expected to present their work plan and a preliminary report on their community research projects, including digital documentation of “community research that was presented as visual/performing arts, spoken word, etc.,” to the council in November, though the group’s opportunities to present at a council briefing before the end of the month are dwindling.

A final report on their “findings and recommendations for [a] participatory budgeting framework and mechanisms” informed by “community dialogues” is due in the first quarter of next year.

2. Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan will leave the city at the end of the year, to be replaced by former deputy Human Services Department director for homelessness Tiffany Washington. PubliCola broke the story on Twitter Monday morning. Continue reading “Morning Fizz: Participatory Budgeting Project Moves Forward, Deputy Mayor Moves Out”

City’s Recession-Era Budget Includes Modest Cuts to Police, Promises of Future Investments in Community Safety

This story originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

by Erica C. Barnett

The Seattle City Council adopted a 2021 budget today that reduces the Seattle Police Department’s budget while funding investments in alternatives to policing; repurposes most of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed $100 million “equitable investment fund” to council priorities; and replaces the encampment-removing Navigation Team with a new program intended to help outreach workers move unsheltered people into shelter and permanent housing. 

And although council member Kshama Sawant, who votes against the budget every year, decried the document as a “brutal austerity budget,” it contained fewer cuts than council members and the mayor feared they would have to make when the economy took a nosedive earlier this year. 

The council received two major boosts from the executive branch this budget cycle. First, the council’s budget benefited from a better-than-expected revenue forecast from the City Budget Office that gave them an additional $32.5 million to work with. And second, Durkan expressed support for the council’s budget, portraying it as a compromise that preserved all of the $100 million she had proposed spending “on BIPOC communities,” albeit not in the form she initially imagined. This show of goodwill (or political savvy) from the mayor signaled a sharp turnaround from this past summer, when she vetoed a midyear spending package that also included cuts to police.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest changes the council made to the mayor’s original proposal. 

Seattle Police Department

The council’s budget for police will be a disappointment to anyone who expected the council to cut SPD’s funding by 50%, as several council members pledged last summer at the height of the protests against police brutality sparked by George Floyd’s murder in May. Council members acknowledged that the cuts were smaller and slower than what protesters have demanded but said that the City is just at the beginning of the process of disinvesting in police and investing in community-based public safety. 

“Our goal is not about what the golden number of police officers is in this moment,” council public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold (West Seattle) said. “It’s about shifting our vision of what public safety is into the hands of community-based responses in those instances where those kinds of responses not only reduce harm but can deliver community safety in a way that police officers sometimes cannot.” 

Council member Tammy Morales (South Seattle), who acknowledged earlier this month that “we will not reach our shared goal of a 50% reduction in one budget cycle,” said that in her estimation, “increasing police staffing wrongly presumes that they can fill the roles” of the “nurses and support staffers and housing specialists” that the City plans to hire in the future.

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Although the 2021 budget does cut police spending by around 20%, the bulk of that reduction comes from shifting some police responsibilities, including parking enforcement and the 911 dispatch center, out of the department. The rest of the cuts are largely achieved through attrition — taking the money allocated to vacant positions and spending it on other purposes. 

For example, the council’s budget funds a total of 1,343 SPD positions next year, down from 1,400 in Durkan’s budget, for a total savings (including a last-minute amendment adopted Monday) of just over $8 million. That money will be removed from the police department and spent on future community-led public safety projects, which will be identified by a participatory budgeting process led by King County Equity Now.

At Monday’s council briefing meeting, some council members expressed hesitation about a last-minute amendment from Mosqueda cutting an additional $2 million from SPD’s budget, noting that the department now predicts it will be able to hire more than the 114 new officers it previously projected for next year. And at least one council member found it odd that the number of SPD employees the amendment predicts will leave next year — 114 — is exactly the same as the number of new hires predicted in the mayor’s budget, for a net gain of exactly zero officers.

“The fact that we are anticipating 114 attritions seems a little cute to me, to be honest, given that the number [of hires] in the [mayor’s] staffing plan … is 114,” Herbold said during the council’s morning briefing. “It just feels like it is an attempt to respond to the call for no new net officers and it confuses the situation, I think.” In the end, only Alex Pedersen, who represents Northeast Seattle, voted against the cuts.

Community Safety

The council’s budget puts $32 million toward future investments in community-led public safety efforts that would begin to replace some current functions of the police department, such as responding to mental health crises and domestic violence calls.  Continue reading “City’s Recession-Era Budget Includes Modest Cuts to Police, Promises of Future Investments in Community Safety”

Compromise City Budget Avoids Major Cuts, Including to Police Department

By Erica C. Barnett

The cessation of open warfare between Mayor Jenny Durkan and the city council over the 2021 budget doesn’t make for the most dramatic headlines (see above), but the detente between the two feuding branches could mean a budget compromise that won’t end in another spate of open warfare.

The council’s budget proposal makes dramatic cuts to Durkan’s proposal to designate $100 million in funding “for BIPOC communities,” fulfills the city’s 2019 promise to invest proceeds from the the sale of publicly owned land in South Lake Union into housing and anti-displacement programs, and cuts the size of the police department by about 20 percent, with a commitment to spend the savings from those reductions on community safety projects through a participatory budgeting process, which the budget also funds.

On Monday, Durkan issued a statement praising the council’s budget for “continuing that historic $100 million for communities through slightly different community-led processes.” This was a departure from Durkan’s previous position on the council’s spending priorities. Last month, a mayoral spokeswoman responded to questions about the racial equity implications of Durkan’s $100 million plan by suggesting that the council’s own spending proposals, including plans for COVID relief, participatory budgeting, and police department cuts, had not gone through a proper vetting to see if they truly benefited Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities.

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During a press conference on Tuesday, I asked about this seeming contradiction. Durkan responded that while she hasn’t read all of the council’s budget amendments, “my read on it is that they are also committing $100 million to community investments, and I am really heartened that they have followed my lead to do so.” Durkan said she was “disappointed” that the council wasn’t spending even more on BIPOC added, given a new revenue forecast that adds more than $32 million to the 2021 budget.

“I’m very hopeful that when we come out of this, and when there’s a final budget, that we actually have a path forward that makes real on the commitment that we will invest generational investments in the city of Seattle” over the next 10 years, she said.

The council’s proposal is still a recessionary budget. Instead of massive spending increases, it reprioritizes limited dollars, in ways that advocates for sweeping, immediate change may find frustrating. But it also puts significant leverage in the hands of the community groups leading the process of participatory budgeting, and promises significant funding for that process.

“They are also committing $100 million to community investments, and I am really heartened that they have followed my lead to do so.” — Mayor Jenny Durkan, referring to the city council

In reporting on the council’s previous budget discussions, I’ve talked about many individual, one-off budget changes council members are proposing—from an analysis of “transportation impact fees” levied on new housing to funding for energy efficiency audits to the restoration of the city’s nightlife advisor position. This post will look at a few high-takes, big-ticket spending areas, including investment in community-led alternatives to police,

Major cuts to the mayor’s Equitable Communities Initiative

As I mentioned, the council’s budget chops $70 million from the mayor’s $100 million fund to pay for future investments in BIPOC communities. That money would be redistributed as follows:

• Durkan’s budget “abandoned”—and yes, that’s the technical term—$30 million that she promised last year for affordable housing and efforts to prevent displacement in gentrifying areas. The money came from the sale of the Mercer Megablock project, and was key to getting anti-displacement groups like Puget Sound Sage not to protest the sale. The council’s budget restores this money to its original purpose.

• The Human Services Department would get $10 million to distribute to community organizations “to increase public safety through technical support, capacity building, and expansion of capacity.” The council allocated this money in 2020, but the city didn’t spend it, and Durkan zeroed it out in her proposed budget.

• Another $18 million would go toward the participatory budgeting project that the council began funding in 2020, which I’ll discuss separately in a minute.

• The remaining $12 million or so would replenish the city’s emergency reserve fund, which Durkan’s budget almost zeroed out (see graph above); restore funding for a restorative pilot program in schools; and restore funding for community-based alternatives to policing, among other smaller-ticket items.

As for the $30 million that remains out of the mayor’s initial $100 million: That money would still get allocated, through a process that would still include the mayor-appointed Equitable Communities task force, but only after the city council approves the spending plan.

Participatory budgeting

A total of $30 million, including the aforementioned $18 million, would fund community safety projects chosen through a participatory budgeting process; these projects would replace some functions (such as responding to crisis calls) that are currently performed by SPD. Continue reading “Compromise City Budget Avoids Major Cuts, Including to Police Department”

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

Screen Shot from King County Equity Now press conference

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

By Paul Kiefer and Erica C. Barnett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?”