Tag: kshama sawant

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.

Support PubliCola

This ad-free website is supported ENTIRELY by generous contributions from readers. At a time when real local news is more threatened than ever by declining revenues and the growing spread of misinformation, PublICola is a trusted source of breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter.

If you enjoy the work we do here at PubliCola, please help us KEEP IT GOING by donating a few bucks a month or making a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by check at P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. We’re truly grateful for your support.

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”

Who is Behind the “Solidarity Budget?”

By Paul Kiefer

During the City Council’s budget deliberations over the past two weeks, dozens of public commenters have urged the council to adopt something called the “Solidarity Budget.”

So what is the Solidarity Budget, and who’s behind it?

“We’re the convergence of labor, environmental, racial, transit and housing justice organizations,” Jonathan Fikru, one of the organizers behind the Solidarity Budget, told PubliCola. The Solidarity Budget’s list of more than 100 endorsing organizations include prominent grassroots groups like King County Equity Now and the Transit Riders’ Union as well as longer-established nonprofits like East African Community Services. “Our role is to organize and present a list of the budget priorities of this broad swath of groups to elected officials,” Fikru added.

The coalition transmitted a letter to the offices of Mayor Jenny Durkan and the members of the Seattle City Council two weeks ago outlining a familiar set of six budget priorities, including the expansion of affordable housing and emergency shelters, the preservation of funding for transit projects, and the reallocation of 50 percent of the Seattle Police Department’s budget to “Black communities [and] community-led health and safety systems” through a participatory budgeting process in 2021.

Practically all of the budget priorities are directly tied to legislative proposals brought forward by council members in the past week: for instance, the coalition expressly supports a proposal sponsored by council member Lisa Herbold to create a “duress” defense for people accused of misdemeanor charges. Some of those amendments reflect pressure and requests on councilmembers from organizations that signed the Solidarity Budget letter; others were developed through collaboration between councilmembers and those groups. But some of the policy proposals within the Solidarity Budget — namely divestment from SPD and preserving city services — go further than councilmembers’ proposals. 

The title of the “Solidarity Budget” is similar in concept to the “People’s Budget” that council member Kshama Sawant and her supporters have championed year after year, but according to Katie Wilson, a representative of the Transit Riders’ Union who also spoke to PubliCola, the two are not entirely identical. “We don’t see ourselves as competing one another,” Wilson said, “but we have a few differences of opinion when it comes to strategy.”

The strategic disagreements largely boil down to visions for police abolition. “For example, [the People’s Budget] folks have continued to show interest in a civilian oversight board for SPD,” Wilson said, “but we want to move towards a future entirely without SPD; we want to focus energy elsewhere.” Although the Solidarity Budget appears to have eclipsed Sawant’s People’s Budget this year, Sawant has continued to champion the People’s Budget while dropping references to the Solidarity Budget during council budget meetings.

Support PubliCola

PUBLICOLA NEEDS YOUR HELP.

This ad-free website is supported ENTIRELY by generous contributions from readers. At a time when real local news is more threatened than ever by declining revenues and the growing spread of misinformation, PublICola is a trusted source of breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter.

If you enjoy the work we do here at PubliCola, please KEEP IT GOING by donating a few bucks a month or making a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by check at P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. We’re truly grateful for your support.

 

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

This post originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

By Erica C. Barnett

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

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

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

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

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

The package of bills adopted Monday would also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPD Chief Who Accused CHOP Protesters of Extortion Racket Calls Sawant “Irresponsible” for Putting Out Dubious Information

Assistant Seattle Police Chief Deanna Nollette

Deanna Nollette, the Assistant Seattle Police Chief who told reporters that SPD had received “incredibly credible” reports that someone wanted to burn down the East Precinct, sent an email this morning to city council member Kshama Sawant excoriating for putting out information that was unconfirmed.

Nollette, who declined to provide any details about her claim that the precinct was in imminent danger, also pushed out the narrative that the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (known at the time as CHAZ) was guarded by armed forces engaged in an extortion racket, an assertion that the police department was later forced to retract.

Her email accused Sawant of politicizing two recent shootings by suggesting that they may have been perpetrated by right-wing agitators, and called Sawant “irresponsible” for using “this crime to advance your own narrative.”

Support The C Is for Crank
During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you.

Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job. Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

Sawant is an elected official who represents the district in which CHOP is located; Nollette, who promoted an equally political narrative by suggesting that people protesting against police violence were engaged in an illegal protection racket and that the protests themselves were putting the precinct building in danger, is an appointed public servant.

Here is Nollette’s letter to Sawant in full:

Good Morning
I am the Investigations Chief for the Seattle Police Department and a Seattle resident. I read your comments on the Department’s homicide investigation for the shooting that occurred yesterday in the East Precinct neighborhood.
You speculate that it was a right wing hate crime. While it is early in the investigation we have not received ANY evidence that this is accurate. It is irresponsible of you to use this crime to advance your own narrative.
We are committed to a through, robust, and non biased investigation on the facts and evidence of the case (as we are on every homicide). Divisive rhetoric does not advance the investigation, calm the situation, or elevate the conversations about the underlying issues.
Should you have any evidence of your theory please contact me so that I can ensure the information is relayed to the case Detectives.
AC Deanna Nollette

Three people were shot in or near the CHOP, which covers six square blocks on Capitol Hill, over the weekend. In both cases, the victims were transported to the hospital by volunteer medics.

Mayor Jenny Durkan is meeting with a group of protesters this morning, reportedly to negotiate a deal that will completely or partially shut down the organized protest zone. Over the weekend, Durkan’s office issued a statement to reporters saying that she had met with “trusted messengers and de-escalators, led by Andre Taylor with Not This Time, to engage with many of the organizers. This work will continue and the City will be meeting with some of the organizers today on next steps. We believe there can be a peaceful resolution. Taylor has appeared alongside Durkan repeatedly at press conferences and events. The mayor’s office is expected to make an announcement about “next steps” later today.

Council Bans Use of “Less Lethal” Weapons and Chokeholds as Cop Funding Discussion Gets Underway

Police stand by during a recent encampment removal by the Navigation Team, which is made up mostly of Seattle police officers.

This story first appeared in the South Seattle Emerald.

The Seattle City Council voted unanimously today to ban the Seattle Police Department from owning or using so-called “less lethal” weapons such as blast balls, tear gas, and pepper spray for any purpose, and, in separate legislation, to ban the use of “chokeholds,” a term that includes various methods of restraining a person by cutting off their air supply or blood flow to their brain.

City council member Lisa Herbold, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, had proposed delaying the legislation barring less-lethal weapons for one week at the request of the Office of Police Accountability and the Office of Inspector General, which asked the council for one week to review the legislation and make recommendations. The OPA and OIG, along with the Community Police Commission, are the three accountability groups charged with implementing and overseeing police reforms required by a 2012 federal consent decree.

Delaying a week would not have allowed police to resume the use of blast balls, tear gas, and other weapons against protesters, thanks to a federal court ruling from Friday, June 12, barring the use of force against peaceful protesters for two weeks. However, council member Kshama Sawant, who sponsored the legislation, said on Monday morning that she was “at a loss to understand how any council member can play a role in delaying the passage of what is absolutely bare minimum legislation.” 

Support The C Is for Crank
During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before.

The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job. Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

Sawant continued to inveigh against Herbold at the full council meeting at 2pm, calling an amendment that would allow police to use non-lethal weapons under circumstances unrelated to free speech or “crowd control,” such as subduing individual suspects, “nothing less than a racist amendment [and] a betrayal of the movement and the Black community.” Earlier, Sawant called the same amendment “horrific” and suggested that it would “create giant, truck-sized loopholes that will allow these weapons to be used in virtually any situation.”

Herbold’s amendment mirrored language adopted by the Community Police Commission in 2015 and in 2020 recommending a ban on these weapons specifically for crowd control purposes. The CPC, OIG, and OPA have not weighed in on whether less-lethal weapons should be banned outright, a move Herbold—a longtime advocate for police reform—said she worries could have unintended consequences.

Herbold didn’t directly address Sawant’s accusation, but did agree to withdraw the portion of her amendment to Sawant’s bill that would have allowed less-lethal weapons to be used for purposes other than crowd control. Her amendment, which ultimately passed, added language to Sawant’s bill asking the OPA, CPC, and OIG to “make a formal recommendation to the City Council on whether the Seattle Police Department should be reauthorized to use less-lethal weapons for crowd dispersal purposes” by August 15.

The council is sending the legislation to the Department of Justice, Federal District Court Judge James Robart, who presides over the consent decree, and court monitor Merrick Bobb, who was appointed to oversee the decree. The consent decree is an agreement, signed by the city in 2012, that committed the city to police reform after the federal court found a pattern of excessive force and racially biased policing. 

In early May, Mayor Jenny Durkan asked the judge to find the city in long-term compliance with federally mandated reforms, one of the final steps before the dissolution of federal oversight SPD. Less than three weeks later, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis and police in Seattle responded to mostly peaceful protests with violent force. 

The discussions about less-lethal weapons are just the first phase of discussions about the size and purpose of the police department, which will continue on Wednesday at 2pm with a discussion in the council’s budget committee about proposals to defund the department and invest in community organizations that provide alternative approaches to community safety and prosperity.

 

Sawant’s “Tax Amazon” Meeting May Be a Solo Affair

Council member Kshama Sawant’s rule-violating council committee meeting/online rally Thursday evening is looking more and more like it will be a solo affair: Tammy Morales, the co-sponsor of Sawant’s “Tax Amazon” legislation, will not attend.

Sawant decided to take up the legislation in her Sustainability and Renters’ Rights Committee in violation of council rules that say legislation can only be heard in the committee to which it was referred. (In this case, that’s the budget committee). She’s holding an online meeting on Thursday, which attorneys for the city and state say is a violation of Gov. Jay Inslee’s order barring online meetings on non-COVID matters. And her meeting will not have a quorum, which is a third violation: Council rules adopted this year require a minimum of three committee members to hold any committee meeting.

On Monday, Sawant rejected all these arguments, telling colleagues during the council’s weekly briefing that she considered them “legally unsupportable” and in violation of “common sense.”

Support The C Is for Crank
During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you.

Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job. Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

Sawant’s proposal would increase payroll taxes on the top-grossing 800 businesses in the city, raising an estimated $500 million a year for low-income housing. By borrowing from existing funds that are dedicated to other purposes, it would have also provided $200 million up front to pay for COVID-19 stimulus checks to low-income people. 

Although an emergency declaration by Gov. Jay Inslee’s bars online meetings on non-COVID matters, Sawant argued that her bill qualified as a response to the pandemic, because of the up-front payments and the fact that housing is an ongoing emergency. The city attorney and state attorney general disagreed, as did council president Lorena González, who took it off the council agenda until the governor lifts the order, budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda, former assistant city attorney-turned-council member Andrew Lewis, and renters’ rights committee member Debora Juarez.

Morales’ office did not provide a reason for her decision not to participate in the hearing in Sawant’s committee, although the city attorney’s office has reportedly advised council members that participating in meetings that violate Inslee’s order could open them up to personal legal liability. Lewis and Mosqueda have both said publicly that they will not attend, and Juarez confirmed today that she won’t be there, either. Pedersen did not immediately respond to an email asking whether he will join the meeting, but even if he did—a long shot, since he opposes the underlying legislation—the committee would not have a quorum.

Sawant could decide to limit the legislation to the part that responds directly to the COVID emergency—the $200 million fund for immediate direct payments to low-income people, which would be funded by borrowing from the city against future tax proceeds. However, that would not allow for an ongoing tax after the crisis is over, which is the main point of the “tax Amazon” legislation.

There are two other plausible endgames. First, the council could take it up through the normal process once the governor lifts his order. Sawant is busy burning bridges left and right, accusing colleagues who are allies on this issue, like Mosqueda and Lisa Herbold, of worshiping at the altar of “big business,” so that possibility is dimming. Second, tax supporters could put the proposal up to a citywide vote. That would require them to gather signatures in person—or, as Kevin Schofield has pointed out, rewrite the city charter to allow online signatures, a move that would itself require a public vote.

Gaming Out the Latest “Amazon Tax” At the Start of an Unprecedented Recession

Let’s start out by stating the obvious: Barring a miracle, the “Amazon Tax” proposed by Seattle council members Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales will not become law in its current form. The bill, which the council will continue discussing into next month, would slap a 1.3 percent payroll tax on companies with more than $7 million in payroll expenses, raising more than $500 million a year from about 800 Seattle companies.

Sawant and Morales decided to designate the bill as an “emergency,” which makes it invulnerable to a future voter referendum; the tradeoff is that they need 7 votes for approval, plus the support of Mayor Jenny Durkan, since the city charter requires mayoral approval of all emergency legislation. In other words, even if Morales and Sawant got five other council members on board—unlikely, if comments at Wednesday’s budget committee from council members who are ordinarily sympathetic to tax-the-rich arguments are any indication—the mayor could simply let the proposal die without a formal veto. Durkan fought Sawant’s last effort to “tax Amazon,” a $275-per-employee tax on employees of companies with gross receipts of more than $20 million, and is implacably opposed to this one as well.

Support The C Is for Crank
During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you.

Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job. Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

There is also some question whether the proposal complies with an emergency order issued by Gov. Jay Inslee in March, and extended this week, barring public agencies from adopting or discussing legislation unless it’s “routine” or “necessary to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and the current public health emergency.”

Despite all that, it’s still worth taking a look at the legislation, which dwarfs the “head tax” the council passed in 2018, then overturned, by a factor of more than ten. What would happen if, against all apparent odds, the bill were to pass in its current form?

In its first year, 2020, the legislation would fund cash payments of $2,000 over four months to 100,000 low-income Seattle residents to respond to the COVID crisis. (This is the part of the bill most obviously compliant with Inslee’s order). Because revenues from the tax wouldn’t be available until 2021, the bill would fund these checks by taking a short-term loan from six city funds that, according to a companion bill, have “sufficient cash” to contribute up to $50 million each. Those funds would be paid back in 2021, plus $5 million interest.

From then on, assuming all the assumptions that went into the proposal remain correct, the tax would pump more than $500 million a year into funding for “social housing” for people making between 0 and 100 percent of the Seattle median income, operational support for permanent supportive housing, and funding to implement the Green New Deal, which includes strategies like weatherization and converting buildings from gas to electric heat. The amount of funding from the tax would be less, of course, if the number of businesses spending more than $7 million annually on payroll declined because of the recession.

Even if the legislation is safe from any future referendum, it would still be subject to lawsuits, and there’s no guarantee that litigation over the tax would be resolved quickly, or in the city’s favor.

The $200 million “interfund loan” would come from six voter-approved levies and taxing districts, including the Move Seattle levy; the Families and Education Levy; the Seattle Parks District; and the Library Levy. Some of these funds do have “sufficient cash” to give up $50 million in the short term, but it’s worth taking a look at why that is, and how this might impact their ability to fund promised projects.

The Low Income Housing Fund, which receives money from the Housing Levy and payments from developers through the Mandatory Housing Affordability program, has more than $146 million on hand because property taxes have continued to flow in to fund future projects that are not yet off the ground. That money is in the city’s “bank,” but it’s already spoken for. Other funds, such as the Library Levy Fund, the Move Seattle Fund, and the Parks District Fund, have significantly less than $50 million lying around. The Parks District fund, in fact, is actually in the red; the 2020 budget makes up a $6 million shortfall with an interfund loan, to be repaid as more revenues come in. Some of these funds simply aren’t that big to begin with—the library levy, for example, is supposed to raise just over $200 million, total, over seven years,

None of that might matter if the $200 million could be repaid in just one year as proposed. But even if the legislation is safe from any future referendum, it would still be subject to lawsuits, and there’s no guarantee that litigation over the tax would be resolved quickly, or in the city’s favor. If funding from the tax didn’t come through quickly, or ever, it’s unclear how the $200 million would be repaid. If, say, the Library Levy found itself short $50 million, that could significantly impact the library’s ability to provide services promised to voters—especially as the recession eats into the city’s tax base.

There are also other interests competing for that money. As city budget director Ben Noble noted in his grim revenue forecast presentation Wednesday, the city may have to dip into some of the dedicated levy funds to pay for basic services—using the parks levy to fund basic maintenance instead of new capital projects, for example. “If the base levels of funding for which the levies were intended to be additive are no longer feasible, the question is whether it would make sense to use the levy funds for operational purposes,” Noble told the council Wednesday. Continue reading “Gaming Out the Latest “Amazon Tax” At the Start of an Unprecedented Recession”

Temporary Sobering Center Opens, Private Security Firm Paid $30,000 a Week to Patrol Two Shelters, Sawant Loses Battle Over the Narrative, and More

New portable toilets and hand-washing station at Ballard Commons park.

1. Recovery Cafe, an organization that helps homeless and formerly homeless people recover from trauma and addiction, has  found a new purpose during the COVID epidemic: Serving as a temporary sobering center for people experiencing homelessness who have significant drug or alcohol issues who have no safe place to “sleep it off.” The organization’s building in SoDo, which has been closed since mid-March, reopened with 20 beds last night, and will expand to 40 beds, and 24/7 operations, later this month. Pioneer Human Services will operate the center.

Sherry Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Human and Community Services, emphasized that new location will not be a permanent replacement for the SoDo facility that closed last year and has only partially been replaced, by a temporary, nighttime-only facility with limited medical services in a county-owned building at Fourth and Jefferson. Opening up space in that location will allow the county to “further deintensify” the shelter it runs in the same building, Hamilton says.

A proposed replacement in Georgetown was shot down after neighbors sued, and the county still has not located a site for a permanent new facility.

Support The C Is for Crank
During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job.

Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104.

Thank you for reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

Sobering centers are meant to reduce pressure on local emergency rooms—a role that’s more critical now than at any time in recent history. Hamilton says that once the Recovery Cafe space ramps up, the operator, Pioneer Human Services, will be able to “engage them in services” in a way that isn’t possible when people have to leave at 7am. “The hard part about it being night-only is that they come in, they’re inebriated, they wake up in the morning, and they leave,” Hamilton says. “You haven’t had the time to work with them and engage them in buprenorphine [a medication that treats opiate addiction] or detox and treatment.”

The Seattle region is experiencing a shortage of available behavioral health care workers equipped to treat people with severe mental health and substance use disorders in shelters and COVID isolation, quarantine, and recovery units. I’ll be posting an update on what the county is doing to staff these facilities with behavioral health care workers (and ensure that people engaged in medication-assisted treatment can access their methadone or buprenorphine) later this week.

The city is paying Spokane-based Phoenix Security about $30,000 a week to have a guard at both shelters around the clock. The shelters each serve 50 clients who have been temporarily relocated from existing shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. I’ve been hammering away for weeks at the fact that the city does not have sufficient restrooms and handwashing facilities for the thousands of homeless people who live on its streets. As I’ve documented in story after story (and on a crowdsourced map I created last month), many of the restrooms that Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office initially claimed are open are actually closed, including restrooms in parks, at community centers, and at playgrounds in every corner of the city. 

This may be finally be changing, however. Durkan’s office reportedly directed the Parks department to open most of the dozens of restrooms that had been locked by yesterday, April 6. Over the weekend, I visited a few parks restrooms in my neighborhood and found that one that had been closed the last time I visited was open, although a “closed” sign was still taped to the door and the restroom itself was filthy and covered with standing water. Readers reported that several other restrooms on the map that had been marked as “closed” were now open.

The mayor’s office is also working to create an interactive map with the locations of restrooms that are currently open. It’s unclear how this will differ from the interactive map the city rolled out in 2018, which showed a much smaller number of restrooms than the 128 the mayor’s office initially claimed were open.

The council’s special committee on homelessness will hold a special, previously unannounced meeting this Wednesday at 10am. The only item on the agenda: “Presentation on the City’s efforts to provide additional hygiene facilities.”

3. Two restrooms on the city’s map that are not currently open are the ones at Garfield Community Center and Miller Community Center, which are serving as “de-intensification” sites for 100 existing shelter beds. Both sites are staffed by Parks Department employees and are patrolled around the clock by private security officers. The city is paying Spokane-based Phoenix Security about $30,000 a week to have a guard at each building 24/7, or $90 an hour. Each shelter serves 50 clients who have been temporarily relocated from other shelters during the pandemic. 

According to Parks spokeswoman Rachel Schulkin, “staffing for these centers is a mixture of shelter staff and recreation staff—with many working in a shelter setting for the first time. Providing security at these facilities through a trained and prepared contractor, supports our ability to stand up a shelter in relatively short order and through reassignment of City employees.”

“I’m sort of bristling at this concept that the only way that we will pass a strong, progressive revenue bill is if it’s heard in the committee of Council Member Sawant.” -Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold

4. City council members squabbled Monday over two efforts by council member Kshama Sawant to control the narrative in the council’s virtual chambers—a harder task than usual, now that she is unable to organize physical “Pack City Hall!” rallies at city hall. First, Sawant tried and failed to introduce a proposal that would allow people to give virtual public testimony on any subject related to the COVID-19 epidemic, a sharp departure from standing council rules that require public commenters to speak to items on the agenda.

After that effort failed—”we need to have some semblance of order when it comes to council business,” council president Lorena Gonzalez said—Sawant tried to introduce her “Tax Amazon” legislation, which would now provide direct monthly payments to 100,000 Seattle residents, into the sustainability and renters’ rights committee, which she chairs and which her co-sponsor Tammy Morales co-chairs. Bills about taxation typically go through the council’s finance committee, which, unlike the smaller standing committees, includes all nine council members.

“If we really support the movement that has been fighting for this, I believe that it should be a committee that is chaired by me and Council Member Morales or a select committee that is being chaired by me,” Sawant said. “The only entity that is being undercut by all this is the movement itself.” Sawant then questioned Gonzalez’ motivation in wanting the bill to go through the finance committee.

Lisa Herbold, a Sawant ally on some issues, responded that the council had passed both the previous head tax and the 2017 high earners’ income tax through the finance committee, under former council members Sally Bagshaw and Tim Burgess, respectively. “I’m sort of bristling at this concept that the only way that we will pass a strong, progressive revenue bill is if it’s heard in the committee of Council Member Sawant,” she said. “Particularly in this crisis, I don’t think it’s helpful to promote that divisive approach to how the council does its business.”

Sawant’s proposal died for lack of a second, and Morales made a proposal to move the tax plan into the finance committee, which passed.

“At an Impasse”: Arrest Diversion Program Still Lacks Contract, Full 2020 Funding

This piece is an expansion of an item in yesterday’s Morning Crank, which includes additional information and comments from Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard. It originally ran in the South Seattle Emerald.

When two Seattle bike patrol officers busted Andre Witherspoon for selling drugs, then said they would let him go if he agreed to enroll in a program, Witherspoon initially said no.  “I said, I can’t agree to that—I’m not no snitch,” he said Monday. When the officers explained that the program could get him help with his drug addiction and get him into housing, Witherspoon signed up.

At the time, he said, “I was just thinking, this’ll be my way out. … Later on, I discovered it was a good choice, because the program was very, very helpful.”

The program was LEAD—Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion—and it has helped hundreds of Seattle residents involved in low-level criminal activity get out of the criminal justice system and into housing, health care, and recovery. Last year, the city council approved (and Mayor Jenny Durkan signed) a city budget that included about $6 million in funding for LEAD—enough to reduce caseloads and expand the program, and $3.5 million more than Durkan proposed in her initial budget.

In January, The C Is for Crank reported that the mayor planned to hold back the additional $3.5 million until consultants from the New York-based firm Bennett Midland could complete an $86,000 evaluation. The goal of that evaluation, according to the mayor’s office, is to “surface best practices,” come up with performance standards, and decide on appropriate caseloads for LEAD. The program has been emulated around the country; its founder, Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard, just won a MacArthur “genius grant” because of her work on LEAD. Daugaard has said that without a signed contract that guarantees full funding, LEAD will have to start shutting down offices and stop taking on new clients.

“The mayor’s office is asking the LEAD project management team to provide data that only our local government partners have access to. We need the government agencies we partner with here to prioritize this if it’s what the Mayor wants, and we have no ability to compel that.”

Last week, Durkan sent a statement to reporters saying that the city “fully expects to contract to LEAD for $6.2 million in services and has been working for months collaboratively to receive important information such as their budget.”’

However, Daugaard says the mayor’s office and LEAD remain “at an impasse,” and on Monday, former clients, staff, and supporters of the program held a press conference in Rainer Beach to urge the mayor to release the funds. In addition to Witherspoon, the speakers included city council member Kshama Sawant, who said that if the mayor doesn’t sign LEAD’s contract, she will consider proposing a supplemental budget amendment. “I hope the mayor doesn’t bring us to that point,” she added.

Durkan’s chief of staff Stephanie Formas says the city and LEAD are working on a letter of agreement about the contract, and that the contract itself is currently going through internal review by the Human Services Department. The letter of agreement is not standard for HSD contracts. Nor are some of the monthly and quarterly reporting requirements, including a requirement that LEAD provide an update every three months on client recidivism. LEAD says they have no way of providing this information, because the police department and county jail do not share that data.

“The mayor’s office is asking the LEAD project management team to provide data that only our local government partners have access to,” Daugaard says. “We urge them to obtain the data they’re seeking from the city’s own departments. We have requested access to those data for the [LEAD] database Microsoft is helping us build, and have been told that can’t happen. We need the government agencies we partner with here to prioritize this if it’s what the Mayor wants, and we have no ability to compel that.”

LEAD and the mayor’s office also have not reached an agreement on what “recidivism” means. This won’t make or break the current contract negotiations, but it could be an issue in future evaluations of the program, since recidivism is on a list of reporting requirements for LEAD—along with “housing placements,” which remains on the list despite the fact that LEAD is not a homelessness program and serves many non-homeless clients.

At the press conference Monday, Witherspoon said that “the primary reason why many addicts slide or relapse is because of the stress involved in just being sober”—finding stable housing, accessing medical care, and securing a legal source of income. LEAD walked him through all that, he said. They “helped eliminate that stress.”

A $350,000 Mystery Campaign, LEAD Says Funding Is Still “At An Impasse,” and Planning for COVID-19 Among the Unsheltered

City council member Kshama Sawant

1. Mayor Jenny Durkan may have announced her intention to release full funding for the Public Defender Association’s  Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program last week, but LEAD staffers, advocates, and former clients said Monday that it’s still too soon to celebrate, since significant aspects of the contract remain unresolved. In the words of PDA director Lisa Daugaard, the mayor’s office and LEAD remained “at an impasse” as of Monday night.

At a press conference at Community Passageways in South Seattle Monday morning, advocates for the program urged Durkan to sign a contract for the full $6.2 million the included in last year’s adopted budget. I broke the news that Durkan had decided to release only the $2.5 million she proposed in her initial budget last year, rather than the $6 million that was included in the final budget, in January.

“The mayor has recently been in dialogue with LEAD about getting this funding released so that they can run their program,” Real Change executive director Tim Harris said. “I’m here to say that dialogue is not enough. We need commitment. We need a signed contract.”

Contacted in South Africa, where she’s attending a conference, Daugaard said, “We’ve seen some progress since the Council sent two letters [asking for the release of LEAD funds] and set a March 1 deadline for release of full funding, and the community letter started circulating. That’s hopeful, but we’re one-sixth of the way through the year and still have no contract. We’re in dialogue with the Mayor’s office and look forward to putting this chapter behind us and doing the work.”

Last week’s statement from the mayor’s office says LEAD will be expected to report on a set of metrics including client recidivism, which LEAD has repeatedly said it has no way to track, because that information is held by the county and the Seattle Police Department.

LEAD has been working for two months without a contract, and Daugaard has said that in the absence of clear direction on funding, the organization will have to stop taking on new clients and begin serving fewer parts of the city.

Durkan initially said she would release the funding after a consultant had finished reviewing the program to “surface best practice,” come up with performance standards, and decide on appropriate caseloads. The additional funding was meant, in part, to reduce caseloads from levels that LEAD case workers say are unsustainably high. Last week, the mayor released a statement saying that the city “fully expects to contract to LEAD for $6.2 million in services and has been working for months collaboratively to receive important information such as their budget. … Last week, the City received the final detailed budget proposal from LEAD that outlines its proposal to reduce caseloads, reduce the backlog, and accept new referrals.”

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

On Monday, Durkan chief of staff Stephanie Formas said the city has sent a letter of agreement to LEAD for review, and that the contract (which the mayor’s office said previously will be in LEAD’s hands by next week) is currently going through internal review by the Human Services Department. Worth noting: Last week’s statement says LEAD will be expected to report on a set of metrics including client recidivism, which LEAD has repeatedly said it has no way to track, because that information is held by the county and the Seattle Police Department, and housing placements, which LEAD has said are not the point of the program). If the funding does not materialize, Sawant said Monday, she will consider proposing a supplemental budget amendment. “I hope the mayor doesn’t bring us to that point,” she said.

No social distancing at the press conference on COVID-19.

2. As COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, continues to spread, public health and human services officials are just beginning to contend with the likelihood that a significant portion of King County’s 12,000 homeless residents will contract the virus and need places to go after initial treatment, when they’re under quarantine or in isolation during recovery. King County Executive Dow Constantine said the county would set up modular units and dormitory-style buildings to house about 100 infected unsheltered people, and is purchasing a motel to isolate patients in general.

Constantine said Monday that the county believes this new capacity “will be sufficient in the short term, but we are going to continue to push to create capacity, because, one, we want to make sure that those who don’t have housing have an appropriate place to be, and two, we want to make sure that hospital capacity is not being taken by people who need to be in isolation or need to be in recovery.”

The city, meanwhile, activated its Emergency Operations Center on Monday, but it was not immediately clear what measures the city, its Human Services Department, or the Navigation Team are taking to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spreading among the unsheltered population. Social-distancing guidelines suggest that people maintain a distance of at least six feet from each other—a guideline that’s obviously near-impossible to meet in the crowded conditions of a typical shelter.

3. A mystery local initiative campaign called Seattle for a Healthy Planet just received a $315,000 infusion from a Silicon Valley cryptocurrency company called Alameda Research, deepening the mystery around just what kind of 2020 ballot measure the campaign plans to propose. Earlier this year, the Seattle Times’ Daniel Beekman speculated (based largely on previous clients of the law firm listed as the campaign’s primary contact) that it had something to do with promoting natural gas. 

My own speculation, and a deep dive into the connections between the campaign’s primary contributors and consultants, led me to a different, perhaps equally ill-founded, conclusion: Seattle for a Healthy Planet is a group that wants to do research into lab-grown meat, and they want Seattle tax dollars to help them do it.

Follow me down the rabbit hole. The founder of Alameda, Sam Bankman-Fried, sits on the board of a group called Animal Charity Evaluators, which used to employ another major contributors to the campaign, Ashwin Acharya, who gave $10,000. Animal Charity Evaluators, whose motto is “helping people help animals,” ranks charities based on measures of animal welfare. The first hit on Google for Animal Charity Evaluators is an ad, which takes you to this link, a story on “cost-competitive cultured animal products”—actual meat grown in a lab, as opposed to plant products that taste like meat.

But wait—it goes deeper. At the top of ACE’s website: A list of four “charity recommendations,” which includes a nonprofit called the Good Food Institute. Its purpose: Promoting plant-based meat and “clean meat”—that is, meat grown in a lab. The Good Food Institute is also a contributor to Seattle for a Healthy Future.

Bankman-Fried, whose Facebook wall currently includes for the Humane League featuring the McDonald’s arches splashed in blood, did not return a message seeking comment. Nor did any of the donors, listed contacts, or consultants for the campaign. (I attempted to contact them all.) Animal Charity Evaluators did get back to me, but they said they had never heard of the campaign.

Three hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money for a local election. Maybe Seattle for a Healthy Planet will eventually get back to reporters and let us know how they plan to spend it.