Tag: Lorena Gonzalez

In Surprise Vote, Seattle City Council Overrides Mayor’s 2020 Budget Veto

This story first appeared in the South Seattle Emerald.

The Seattle City Council voted 7-2 to override Mayor Jenny Durkan’s veto of the 2020 midyear “rebalancing” budget package they adopted in August, setting the stage for a showdown with the mayor in the upcoming 2021 budget discussions, which kick off formally next Tuesday.

The vote essentially reinstates the midyear budget the council passed back in August, after several feverish weeks of work to come up with a proposal that could win a veto-proof council majority. That budget included fairly modest cuts to the Seattle Police Department (a reduction of 100 positions, many achieved through attrition) and investments in community organizations that work to reduce violence and improve community safety, as well as a $3 million down payment on participatory budgeting.

Council members Alex Pedersen (D-4, Northeast Seattle) and Debora Juarez (D-5, North Seattle) voted to sustain the mayor’s veto. Pedersen said he supported most elements of a “compromise” bill that council president Lorena González introduced in case the veto override vote failed, and said he believed that “we get more done in a faster and more sustainable way when we work together.” Juarez, who frequently votes with Pedersen, was the only council member who didn’t offer any public explanation of her vote.

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Council members who voted to overturn the mayor’s veto said that community members had made clear that they want the city to reduce police spending and reinvest in community-based programs more quickly than Durkan is willing to move. “There is broad agreement in the community that there is an urgent need to divest [from] the systems that have acted” against the interests of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities, council member Teresa Mosqueda said.

After the vote, King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle, two groups that have been at the virtual council table during their budget discussions, issued a statement applauding the council for its vote and urging them not to backslide during budget negotiations this fall. “It should not take such prolonged, sustained community efforts for this minimal change but we recognize that Council’s move to override the Mayor’s anti-Black veto marks an urgent break from the decades of votes to expand racist policing,” the statement said. “Going forward, we expect Councilmembers to continue to resist the Mayor’s attempts to rewrite legislation that has already passed.  

The mayor immediately denounced the vote. In a statement, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said Durkan thought she and the council had reached a compromise—the backup “compromise,” which PubliCola described in detail this morning—but that “they chose a different path.”

Votes do have consequences,” the statement continued. “Because of Council’s actions today, the Navigation [T]eam will be eliminated, severely restricting the City’s ability to move people out of homelessness and deal with encampments for the rest of this year. The City will move forward with layoffs for the City staff who are coordinating and helping individuals experiencing homelessness at encampments across the City.” 

The mayor’s statement appears to refer only to the civilian members of the Navigation Team—the field coordinators who manage encampment removals and cleanups, and the three “system navigators” who do direct outreach to people living in encampments. The team also includes 14 police officers, whose positions are subject to bargaining through the Seattle Police Officers Guild.

Durkan has the ability to direct the Human Services Department to lay off these workers, but if she does so unilaterally, without funding alternative outreach strategies and equipping them to succeed, the result could be some level of chaos. The council’s budget didn’t just call for slashing the team—it also directed the mayor to spend the money saved through staffing cuts to expand existing contracts with outreach providers, such as the nonprofit outreach nonprofit REACH, and to transfer the Navigation Team’s outreach function to those providers.

The transition wouldn’t just be a matter of shifting personnel. Currently, the Navigation Team has exclusive access to hundreds of shelter beds, which team members can access through a proprietary program called NavApp. The Human Services Department would need to hand over access to this system to any new outreach provider if it wanted to prevent a disruption in services, and to comply with a council requirement that the team report regularly on referrals and other data.

Of course, the mayor’s statement could be bluster. (Her office did not immediately respond to an email asking if it was). Durkan’s 2021 budget announcement, coming next Tuesday, reportedly includes a proposal to transition the Navigation Team into a smaller group focused on outreach and engagement rather than encampment removals; the new-look Nav Team would also work with encampment residents to reduce their impact on surrounding communities instead of routinely declaring encampments “obstructions” and removing them without notice, according to people familiar with the document. 

Legislation that isn’t signed by the mayor takes 30 days to take effect. Durkan could wait until next week, roll out her proposal, and negotiate a new deal with the council that would keep the Navigation Team in a different form. Or she could stick with her initial statement, start sending out pink slips, and eliminate the changes to the Navigation Team from her budget. The council indicated today that they’re still open to amending the budget they adopted, which is now the official budget for the rest of 2020. The next move will be the mayor’s.

Morning Fizz: Veto Crunch Time, a $100 Million Mystery, and Other Budget News

Council President Lorena González, via
City council president Lorena González, via Youtube

1. Today at its special 3pm meeting, the Seattle City Council will vote on whether to overturn or uphold Mayor Jenny Durkan’s veto of their 2020 “rebalancing” budget package. The council’s version of the budget included modest cuts to the police budget, new spending on a process to reinvest city dollars in alternatives to policing, and the elimination of the Navigation Team, a crew of cops, sanitation workers, and three social workers that until recently removed hundreds of homeless encampments a year.

The mayor actually vetoed three separate bills. Two require a six-vote majority to overturn; the third, which actually appropriates funding for the remainder of 2020, requires seven votes—so seven is the number council members who want to overturn the mayor’s veto will need to shoot for. A vote to overturn all three vetoes would restore the council’s budget. A vote to sustain the veto(es) would lead to a vote on a separate, “compromise” piece of legislation, put forward by council president Lorena González, that would preserve the police department at existing levels, eliminate a loan between city departments that would pay for city and community human services programs, and keep the Navigation Team at current levels while requesting that the Seattle police chief reduce the total size of the team by eliminating two police positions that are already vacant.

On Monday, it looked unlikely that there would be seven votes to overturn the mayor’s veto, although several council members were conspicuously silent during the discussion. Interestingly, González herself tweeted on Monday night that she would vote to overturn the veto, in support of “the work to divest from a broken model of policing.”

A vote for the compromise bill would hand Durkan a significant victory on the eve of her 2021 budget speech next week, and on the threshold of her 2021 reelection campaign. Council members suggested Monday that they believe their hands are tied—if they overturn Durkan’s veto, the mayor can simply ignore any budget provisos that restrict police spending (forcing the council to overturn those provisos so that officers will continue to get their paychecks) and any negotiation with the Seattle Police Officers Guild would probably take three months anyway, pushing the discussions into 2021.

“I think we’re faced with the unfortunate reality that even though we can appropriate money, we can’t compel the mayor to spend the money, and that is sort of the condition we found ourselves in with a lot of these projects around how we’re going to restructure and defund” SPD, District 7 council member Andrew Lewis told PubliCola after the vote.

The consolation prize, to the extent that there is one, consists of $3 million that, according to the legislation, “is intended to be spent on providing non-congregate shelter,” like tiny house villages and the hotel rooms Durkan has resisted funding in response to the COVID-19 crisis. That funding is secured through what council members called a “verbal agreement” with the mayor’s office; Lewis said after the meeting that because the council discussed the agreement publicly, “it’s on record that that’s going to be the understanding of how this is going to work. We are about to [discuss] the 2021 budget and we can make sure this is in there, and we would be fully within our rights to be very indignant about that if there’s not a shared commitment to keeping that deal.”

There’s also $500,000 to be divided among a long list of human service needs, including behavioral health investments, “support[ing] the work of the Navigation Team,” diversion funding, and rapid rehousing funds. The entire half-million would flow through the Navigation Team, even though some of the programs—such as rapid rehousing, a kind of short-term rent subsidy that assumes a person will be able to pay full market rent within a few months—are not really geared toward people experiencing long-term unsheltered homelessness.

Under the compromise bill, the $3 million allocated for research into community-led alternatives to policing in the council’s budget is shrunk to $1 million, with the rest to follow, also apparently by verbal agreement, next year. And there’s $2.5 million for “organizations engaging in community safety,” such as (for example) Choose 180 and Community Passageways.

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2. If the compromise passes, Durkan will also get to keep the Navigation Team at its current level. The future of the team was a major sticking point in the budget negotiations (the other two being whether the council would overturn the veto—which Durkan was adamantly against even if the council immediately adopted a compromise—and cuts to police) and a vote for the compromise bill will only forestall the debate over the fate of the team.

Already, Durkan has reportedly indicated that she plans to keep the team going through 2021, although Lewis—who chairs the council’s special committee on homelessness—says the team’s role, like public safety in general, may be “reimagined.” What that might look like remains unclear, but it could involve renegotiating the terms under which the city can remove encampments, or—as Lewis puts it—”pivoting to more of a coordinating and clearinghouse kind of space to coordinate service providers.”

The council voted unanimously to remove police from the team last month through another budget proviso. The compromise bill also states the council’s “policy intent” to cut five positions from the Navigation Team total; Lewis indicated during the meeting that the additional cuts would come from removing non-SPD staffers from the team.

3. With the 2020 budget almost the rearview mirror, it’s time for Durkan’s 2021 budget proposal, which she will send to the council next Tuesday. The biggest-ticket promised item—”$100 million in community-driven programs for Black youths and adults,” as she put it when she first committed to the funding in June—will also be the hardest to pay for. Durkan has not said publicly where she plans to come up with $100 million in a budget that will have to address ongoing revenue shortfalls in 2021.

Will the money be new revenue—something like a flat income tax, with rebates to low- and middle-income people to get around a court ruling quashing the city’s high-earners’ income tax? Will the revenue come by reallocating funds from a tax that already exists? Or will the mayor use budgetary magic—similar to the math that turned an interdepartmental transfer of 911 call center staff into a huge “cut” to the police department—to conjure $100 million from existing dollars?

FBI Says There Was Specific Threat Against East Precinct; Durkan Letter Dodges Protesters’ Three Demands

This morning, city council president Lorena González and public safety committee chair Lisa Herbold said they were both briefed last week by police chief Carmen Best on what the chief had previously described as “credible threats” to the east police precinct in early June, and that the chief described the threats as generalized threats to government buildings in cities up and down the East Coast rather than a specific threat to bomb, burn down, or otherwise damage the East Precinct. Best cited the alleged threats in June as one of the reasons police needed to keep protesters away from the building using tear gas, pepper spray, and eventually physical barricades in the area that became known as CHOP.

“I had heard that it was general threats to all city facilities, which would obviously include the police precinct, but it would also include City Hall and sewer facilities and all other facilities owned by the city of Seattle,” González said. “These were generalized threats, as opposed to specific threats to the East Precinct, that were garnered as the result of what would seem like a generalized bulletin that was received by police chiefs of all cities, not just Seattle.”

“These were generalized threats, as opposed to specific threats to the East Precinct, that were garnered as the result of what would seem like a generalized bulletin that was received by police chiefs of all cities, not just Seattle.”—City Council president Lorena González

However, a spokesman for the FBI in Seattle said the threat was specific to the East Precinct, not a general threat against city buildings. “While I cannot get into specifics of threats, it would be accurate to report we did share intelligence regarding threats to the East Precinct,” the spokesman said. And the mayor’s chief of staff, Stephanie Formas, says the police chief “was provided both direct information from the Seattle FBI Special Agent in Charge confirming that, not only were government and law enforcement facilities known targets along the West Coast —including Seattle; but that the East Precinct was specifically included in these threats” as well as the West Precinct in Belltown. Formas pointed to an apparent arson attempt on June 12, when a man from Tacoma was arrested for lighting a fire outside the precinct building. That fire was quickly put out by people in the area.

“Not only were government and law enforcement facilities known targets along the West Coast [but] the East Precinct was specifically included in these threats.”—Stephanie Formas, chief of staff for Mayor Durkan

A month after the heads of the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative “change teams” sent a letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan asking her to substantively address the demands of protesters, Durkan has responded, with a letter outlining many of the same actions the mayor has highlighted in her press appearances since George Floyd’s murder sparked protests against police violence in late May. The letter from Durkan summarizes what she sees as actions she’s taken to address protesters’ demands; the fact that it does not directly respond to the demands in the letter suggests that she still does not take those demands entirely seriously, and sees incremental changes, such as additional staff for the groups that investigate police misconduct, a sufficient response to the protests that continue to rage across the city.

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The change teams are groups of city employees tasked with monitoring the implementation of the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative. The letter from the team leaders asked Durkan to defund the Seattle police by 50 percent, protect and expand community safety investments in Black and brown communities; stop removing homeless encampments and cut police from the city’s Navigation Team; and release all jailed protesters, among other demands. The list is less radical than the demands made by some protesters, and the effectiveness of the Change Teams is a matter of debate within the city, but their action items were similar enough to protesters’ high-level demands that the mayor’s response can serve as a proxy response to those demands.

Durkan’s letter, which is dated July 6, first listed a number of actions the city has already taken, including: “A full review by [the four police accountability authorities] of the crowd management policy,” an investigation by SPD’s Office of Professional Accountability of misconduct complaints related to the protest, a new policy (proposed and passed by the city council) banning police from covering their badge numbers with “mourning bands,” and a request that the city attorney not charge protesters arrested and jailed for minor offenses, such as obstruction and failure to disperse.

None of these action items are a direct response to the the three primary demands from protesters, which are: Defund the police by 50 percent; reinvest in Black and brown community safety; and release all protesters who have been jailed.

The mayor also described a number of future actions that have already been announced, including $100 million in still-undefined investments in BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and other people of color) communities, accelerating the transfer of several city-owned properties to community groups as part of the Equitable Development Initiative, cutting $20 million from the police department budget (a proposal that, in reality, would cut just $5 million more than the reduction Durkan had already proposed before the protests), and a greater role for “community leaders” in negotiating the next police contract.

None of these action items are a direct response to the the three primary demands from protesters, which are: Defund the police by 50 percent; reinvest in Black and brown community safety; and release all protesters who have been jailed. Continue reading “FBI Says There Was Specific Threat Against East Precinct; Durkan Letter Dodges Protesters’ Three Demands”

Durkan Praises Police As Tear Gas Engulfs City

The lens of crisis shifts so quickly now that it can be hard to keep everything in our heads at once. Last week, the city held a five-and-a-half-hour hearing on the injustice of our city’s policy toward its homeless residents, which includes pushing them from place to place if they do not “accept” a specific shelter bed on a specific day—a one-size-fits-all policy that is especially inept at responding to the conditions of vulnerable people in the middle of a nationwide public health crisis.

Over the weekend and today, and almost certainly tomorrow and the rest of the week as well, the city and nation have focused our attention on another crisis that, like the criminalization of homelessness, has racism and dehumanization at its core: Police violence against black and brown Americans.

The cameras don’t look away, even when political leaders do.

The protests against the murder of George Floyd are multifaceted and raise real questions about whether cities have the right to dictate the “proper” way to protest, as well as legitimate concerns that a movement for justice (“peaceful,” as that term is defined by law enforcement, or not) has been hijacked by outside forces on the right or left. But they also may be an inflection point (it seems far too optimistic to talk of turning points) in the debate over the role of police in Seattle and other cities, and to what extent cities should allow police to act with impunity, and unquestioned, for behavior that any rational person would consider unreasonable: Putting a knee on a young man’s neck, or spraying mace indiscriminately into a mostly peaceful crowd, or covering up badge numbers with rubber tape on the grounds that it is an inviolable “tradition.”

This weekend, the city described young white men showing up in Seattle from elsewhere bent on sowing “chaos” and destruction, using projectiles, Molotov cocktails, and “frozen water bottles” to attack police. By today, those young men had morphed into “thousands of people out there with nothing but ill intent,” as Best put it, and their weapons had evolved into huge backpacks full of the aforementioned projectiles along with rocks, “urine, and feces.”

This afternoon, Mayor Jenny Durkan and her police chief, Carmen Best (and fire chief Harold Scoggins, who always looks and sounds like he knows he isn’t going to be quoted at these things) stood up and intoned the same lines they have been reciting all weekend, repeated with a bit more fervor and flourish. A protest by “peaceful people” of color and allies got hijacked by outside forces, “young white men,” probably right-wing or perhaps left-wing, “bent on destruction and chaos,” with “nothing but ill intent” in their hearts. (The phrase “ill intent” was repeated so often that it started to sound more like a mantra than a talking point.) The nightly curfews, initially imposed with less than 15 minutes’ notice, are meant to “take the lawful people off the street” and are necessary, night after night, to “protect public health and safety.” Looting, rioting, fighting back when police throw tear gas canisters and flash bangs indiscriminately into crowds: “This is not what people trying to express their opinions do,” Best said. “This is what criminals do. So we have to differentiate between the two.”

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As the protests have stretched into their second week, the rhetoric from the mayor’s office and the police department has grown more pitched and baroque. This weekend, the city described young white men showing up in Seattle from elsewhere bent on sowing “chaos” and destruction, using projectiles, Molotov cocktails, and “frozen water bottles” to attack police. By today, those young men had morphed into “thousands of people out there with nothing but ill intent,” as Best put it, and their weapons had evolved into huge backpacks full of the aforementioned projectiles along with rocks, “urine, and feces.”

Mourning bands, black bands that many officers placed over their badge numbers, making them harder to identify, had evolved from something people might not be aware of (“Google it,” Durkan said this weekend, helpfully spelling it out: “M-O-U-R-N-I-N-G bands”) to a tradition so hallowed and ingrained that it was actually offensive for the public to suggest that concealing badge numbers during a protest about police accountability might send the wrong message. Durkan, exasperated, insisted, “There was no attempt by anyone to cover badge numbers” and called the very existence of badge numbers on officers’ badges “a fallback and in some ways an unnecessary redundancy” to the first-initial, last name identification on officers’ name tags.

Herbold, who heads up the council’s public safety committee, was hardly the only council member who raised concerns about the behavior of police this week, or who will be demanding answers from the mayor and police chief about why police acted with such apparent indiscretion during protests against police violence. (One reasonable answer might be that they felt empowered to do so.)

Durkan even expressed surprise when a reporter asked about reports (described, videotaped and posted on social media by hundreds of witnesses for anyone to see) that officers had fired tear gas, flash grenades, and pepper spray indiscriminately into crowds that were mostly peaceful, saying that she would follow up with city council member Lisa Herbold, who had spoken earlier in the day about witnessing many such instances herself over the weekend. “I don’t know the facts of the case that she’s indicating… but we’ll reach out to the council member to find out what she’s concerned about,” Durkan said. Continue reading “Durkan Praises Police As Tear Gas Engulfs City”

Advocates Beg for Toilets, Running Water; Deputy Mayor Cites Cost and “Challenges” Like Vandalism and “Theft of Hand Sanitizer”

The city is paying $35,000 apiece for six portable toilet sites, the deputy mayor revealed Wednesday.

Human shit clinging sliding down the street and squishing under a nonprofit director’s shoe as she walked to her car in Pioneer Square. Women bleeding through their clothes because they lack menstrual supplies and a place to get clean. Street-level social service workers forced to pee in alleys because all the restrooms are locked.

These are some of the stories front-line workers told the city council on Wednesday during a meeting of the city council’s homelessness committee. Committee chair Andrew Lewis called the meeting in response to the lack of clean, accessible places for people experiencing homelessness to use the restroom and wash their hands during the COVID crisis—a shortage that, as I first reported,  has contributed to an outbreak of hepatitis A in Ballard.

Dawn Whitson, an outreach worker for REACH – Evergreen Treatment Services who works in Georgetown, said she has resorted to handing out toilet paper to homeless people in the area, because the restroom at the Georgetown Playfield—which she said is open only sporadically—often lacks both toilet paper and soap. “I actually have been out in the field and have had to use the restroom in several different alleys myself” since all the businesses have closed, Whitson said.

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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.

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As streets, parks, and playfields have become restrooms of last resort, Whitson said the city has stopped talking to social service providers about whether and when more portable toilets and accessible hand-washing stations are coming. “We’ve managed to develop a field hospital [in CenturyLink Field], and we haven’t been able to get any port-a-potties and we haven’t been able to get any answers,” she said. “I have pointedly asked, ‘Who do we need to call to express our concerns, and I was pretty much stonewalled and told that there was no one I could speak to.”

Casey Sixkiller, Durkan’s deputy mayor in charge of homelessness, launched into his prewritten presentation not by responding to the advocates’ concerns, but by praising Human Services Department employees for “putting their lives at risk” to stand up hygiene stations and asserting that “at least 127” park restrooms are currently open.

The city plans to add eight more port-a-potties to the six locations it announced last week, Sixkiller said, but it would be prohibitively expensive to add many more. Each portable toilet, he said, costs $35,000 a month, a price tag that some council members said sounded like price gouging to them. Honey Bucket does not have an exact price list on its website. In 2017, Willamette Week in Portland reported that the company’s prices had skyrocketed during the solar eclipse—from $140 a week to a whopping $650 per unit.

According to council member Lisa Herbold, as of late February—around the time the first US death from COVID was reported in a Kirkland nursing home—executive-branch staffers were still requesting “basic information about what a mobile pit stop was.”

Sixkiller said he didn’t “know that it’s price gouging” for Honey Bucket to charge what the “market conditions” will allow. “We are competing with everybody else for those resources,” Sixkiller said. “It’s just simple supply and demand.”

The deputy mayor also cited other “challenges” the city has faced in standing up portable toilets and handwashing stations, including “vandalism” and “theft of hand sanitizer” by homeless people—a comment that brought to mind reports of desperate people “looting” food in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Council president Lorena Gonzalez said whatever the price, “when we are talking about 14 toilets”—the six existing sites, plus eight new ones—”for upwards of 6,000 people, I just feel like we aren’t having a conversation based in reality in terms of what the actual need is.” Continue reading “Advocates Beg for Toilets, Running Water; Deputy Mayor Cites Cost and “Challenges” Like Vandalism and “Theft of Hand Sanitizer””

Evening Crank Part 1: Hunker Down Edition

Cracks visible in the girders supporting the West Seattle Bridge. SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe says the discolored areas visible around the damage are “a result of the preventive maintenance we’ve done over the past few years, so don’t in and of themselves illustrate all of the issues we are concerned about right now.”

1. How long has the COVID-19 epidemic been going on? Only six years, you say? Well, in the words of Gov. Jay Inslee, hunker down…

It was a big news day, and not just because Gov. Jay Inslee finally told us all to go to our rooms and not come out until he said so. (Find a list of “essential” businesses that will stay open, which includes everything from veterinarians to food banks to recreational pot stores, here). Earlier in the day, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that the high West Seattle Bridge will be completely closed to traffic until further notice, due to cracks in the concrete girders that support the bridge’s weight. Durkan said the new discoveries mean that the bridge “cannot safely support vehicular traffic.”

During a press conference conducted via Skype, Seattle Department of Transportation director Sam Zimbabwe said the closure could last weeks or months. Zimbabwe said there hadn’t been a single incident or catastrophic event that led to the new damage; rather, crews inspecting the bridge last night discovered that cracks in the girders that had already allowed “incursions” of water and air had grown dramatically wider. Most of the weight of the bridge—about 80 percent—consists of the bridge itself, but heavier vehicles, and more of them, may have contributed to the damage, Zimbabwe said.

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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.

Drivers hoping to use the lower West Seattle bridge are out of luck; the secondary bridge will be open only to first responders, transit, and freight. People who choose to commute by car will have to go far afield of their usual routes, using West Marginal Way, First Ave. S., or SR 509 to get off the peninsula.

The announcement was so sudden that the two city council members who live in West Seattle, Lisa Herbold (District 1) and Lorena Gonzalez (Position 9) found out about the closure just a few hours before the public did. (The same was true of King County Council member Joe McDermott, who said in an email to constituents  this evening that he just found out about the closure “this afternoon.”) Mayor Durkan did not specify exactly why the closure had to happen with so little notice.

In a statement, Herbold, who represents West Seattle, questioned the decision to completely shut down the lower bridge to private auto traffic, saying she wanted  to know “how soon it can be opened for traffic given lower traffic volumes in Seattle” because of the COVID-19 epidemic and stay-at-home order. “My office has requested that SDOT appeal to the Coast Guard to make fewer bridge openings of the lower level bridge to allow for more buses and cars to cross, like they did in early 2019 when the Alaskan Way Viaduct closed and the SR99 tunnel was not yet open.”

A spokeswoman for Kimpton Hotels, which owns the Alexis and and Palladian—two hotels that have been in contact with the city—said that “neither has agreed to set up any isolation rooms nor is either equipped to do that.”

2. At a city council briefing this morning, Position 8 city council member Teresa Mosqueda expressed optimism that “downtown boutique hotels” would soon begin offering rooms to people who were healthy but needed to self-isolate because they are members of a vulnerable group. “I really want to thank some of the hotel owners, especially some of the downtown boutique hotel owners,” for offering to help house people impacted by the COVID epidemic, Mosqueda said.

Council member Andrew Lewis, whose district (7) includes downtown, also said he hoped that downtown hotels would be able to offer rooms “to get people off the street and get people inside quickly on a temporary basis,” an arrangement that could also “give a boon to our struggling hospitality industry that has suffered from a massive dropoff in tourism” because of COVID-19. Kimpton Hotels, which owns the Alexis and Palladian hotels downtown, has reportedly been in contact with city about providing rooms for this purpose.

The city’s Office of Labor Standards has seen an uptick in labor complaints this month—from 78 in the entire month March last year, to 85 in the first three weeks of this March alone.

However, it was unclear Monday whether any hotels had actually stepped up and offered rooms, either for people experiencing homelessness or for first responders and others who need to be isolated because of potential COVID-19 exposure. A spokeswoman for Kimpton Hotels, which owns the Alexis and and Palladian—two hotels that have been in contact with the city—said that “neither has agreed to set up any isolation rooms nor is either equipped to do that.” The spokeswoman, Brandyn Hull, added that the hotels “have offered to support the city with very low rates” for first responders, medical workers, and representatives of the CDC.

3. After getting reports that restaurants and other businesses that had to lay off workers during the COVID crisis had failed to pay employees for time they’d already worked, I contacted the city’s Office of Labor Standards to see what recourse people in this situation might have. After initially writing that “All media inquires must go through the Mayor’s office,” they got back to me with more specific responses  this morning.

If you’ve been laid off and your employer did not pay you for time you worked—for example, if your boss told you they couldn’t pay your last paycheck—that “may be considered administrative wage theft,” so try contacting OLS or the state Department of Labor and Industries to see if they can resolve it. If you didn’t get paid for vacation or sick time you accrued, you’re probably out of luck, unless you can prove that getting paid out was a condition of your employment.

OLS has seen an uptick in labor complaints this month—from 78 in the entire month March last year, to 85 in the first three weeks of this March alone.

 

Seattle’s New Campaign Finance Legislation, Explained

This story originally appeared in the South Seattle Emerald.

Seattle’s city council recently passed two significant new pieces of campaign finance legislation aimed at reducing the influence of big corporations like Amazon in local elections, with a third bill still ongoing revisions. The first bill bans contributions from “foreign-influenced” corporations; the second creates new disclosure requirements for political ads, and the third—which sponsor Lorena Gonzalez has said she will bring back once she returns from maternity leave this spring—would limit contributions to political groups to $5,000.

If you’re wondering what this means for future elections, you’re not alone. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions about the Clean Campaigns Act—starting with the big one.

Does this mean Amazon will be banned from throwing millions of dollars at the next election? 

Amazon, which helped quash efforts to tax large corporations to fund homeless services in 2018, gave nearly $1.5 million to Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, a political action committee (PAC) run by the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, last year. The contribution, which made up 60 percent of CASE’s 2019 funding, paid for ads, mail campaigns, and direct outreach to voters on behalf of “pro-business” candidates in all seven council races.

The package of legislation could limit the influence of Amazon and other big companies in two crucial ways. First, the legislation passed this month bars contributions from “foreign-influenced” companies—defined as companies of which a single foreign owner controls more than 1 percent, or where a group of foreign owners control more than 5 percent. This, as Kevin Schofield has reported at SCC Insight, would bar contributions from Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb, among others.

The second piece of legislation—the one the council hasn’t passed—would limit contributions to independent expenditure groups to $5,000, while allowing groups with a large number of small (under $100) donations to give up to $10,000 to PACs. If the contribution limit had been in place last year, Amazon wouldn’t have been the only company affected: The Chamber PAC alone received $2.24 million in contributions above the proposed new limit, an amount that dwarfs the $183,000 they received in contributions of $5,000 or less.

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.

Why is the council going after foreign ownership? Seems a little… Specific.

Supporters of the legislation have argued that because federal law bans direct contributions by foreign nationals, a ban on giving by “foreign-influenced” contributions closes a loophole that allows citizens of other countries to influence elections by investing in US companies, which are allowed to spend money on political campaigns.

But the real issue at play is that the infamous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which gave corporations nearly infinite power to spend money to influence elections, leaves few avenues for governments to place limits on corporate spending. One such avenue is the ban on direct foreign contributions, which the Court has upheld. So the gamble here is that if the legislation is challenged up to the Supreme Court level, the Court will be more sympathetic to arguments about foreign influence than it would be to arguments for limiting corporate spending in general. Continue reading “Seattle’s New Campaign Finance Legislation, Explained”

Who’s Up, Who’s Down, and What’s Changing as the City Council Returns

The city council, now headed up by council president Lorena Gonzalez, announced its roster of standing committees on Thursday. While committee structures are far from the only power map for the council, a few things are clear from the leadership and membership of the council’s new committees, starting with the fact that there are now eight regular committees—for nine council members. Andrew Lewis, who was just elected to represent District 7 (downtown, Magnolia, Queen Anne) is the odd man out, with the chairmanship of the council’s select committee on homelessness as a consolation prize. It’s worth noting that the homelessness committee met less than once a month in 2019, when the council was negotiating the details of a regional homelessness authority, and will have even fewer duties once the city’s homelessness response transfers to that authority this year.

More highlights of who’s up, who’s down, and who gets to spend more time away from Seattle in a moment, but first, it’s worth looking at the broader context for some of this year’s committee changes. Last year, open government activists sued the city for violating the state Open Public Meetings Act when Mayor Jenny Durkan and eight council members privately negotiated the repeal of the controversial “head tax.” The open meetings act prohibits a quorum of a governing body like the city council or one of its committees from deliberating privately. Under the previous committee structure, each committee had just three members, meaning that any discussion between two or more committee members could constitute an open meetings act violation.

The new rules will force council members to actually show up at meetings, and it will discourage one-off special meetings like council member Kshama Sawant’s frequent “pack city hall” rallies, at which Sawant was often the only council member present.

The new committee rules address this issue in a couple of ways. First, every committee must have at least four members (and, in practice, each current committee has five), increasing the size of a quorum from two members to three. Second, the new rules require that at least three members of a committee be present just to hold a committee meeting, a significant shift from previous years, when council members frequently held meetings with only the committee chair present and voting. This will force council members to actually show up at meetings, and it will discourage one-off special meetings like council member Kshama Sawant’s frequent “pack city hall” rallies, at which Sawant was often the only council member present.

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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.

The rules offset these new attendance requirements in a couple of ways as well. First, half of the committees will meet just once a month, a change that reduces the total number of monthly meetings from 18 to 12. Second, regular meetings will be confined to two days a week, giving council members two days free of mandatory public meetings. Finally, the rules bar council members from just showing up at committees they don’t belong to. Non-committee members can only attend committee meetings at the request of the chair, and can’t vote—a change that eliminates the incentive for council members to simply drop by committees when they want to influence an issue on the agenda.

Returning to the details, the new committees are imbalanced in a couple of obvious ways. First, newcomer Alex Pedersen is starting his term with an unusually large portfolio, overseeing three of the city’s biggest departments (transportation, City Light, and Seattle Public Utilities) as chair of a single mega-committee called Transportation and Utilities. Advocates for transportation alternatives have raised alarms that Pedersen—a Sound Transit opponent who also backed efforts to kill a long-planned bike lane on 35th Ave. NE—will be heading up transportation. But it’s also worth noting that his fellow committee members include newcomer Dan Strauss and Gonzalez, who could serve as moderating influences. Gonzalez may also be wagering that it’s best to keep Pedersen busy.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Sawant, who—despite being the council’s most senior member—will oversee just two issue areas, sustainability and renters’ rights, and will head up a committee that meets monthly rather than twice a month. (Housing is the subject of another committee headed up, along with budget, by Teresa Mosqueda.) It’s easy to interpret this as a diminishment of Sawant’s power on the council, but bear in mind that holding regular committee meetings has never been the way Sawant has exercised her influence; in 2019, she held just nine regular meetings of the human services committee (out of 24 scheduled), fewer than any other committee chair. Instead, she used her chairmanship to call special meetings on single issues important to her political base, such rent control (which is prohibited by state law) tiny house encampments. Sawant’s new assignment, along with the rule changes, will make it harder for her to hold such meetings through the council’s official committee structure; on the other hand, the changes could free her up to spend more time holding rallies, events, and  outside the confines of city hall, or to do more work building her party, Socialist Alternative, outside the city.

The new committees give new power to other (relative) council veterans such as Mosqueda, who will go head to head with Durkan during this year’s budget process, and police reform advocate Lisa Herbold, who will head up the public safety committee. Strauss, who identifies as an urbanist, will oversee land use and neighborhoods, while the council’s other newcomer, District 2 (South Seattle)’s Tammy Morales, will head up a smaller committee overseeing community economic development that meets just once a month. One additional factor to be determined is how much power vice chairs and committee members will have over the committees on which they serve; with the new attendance requirements, council members could decide to share duties more broadly than they did under the previous structure.

Nickelsville Gets a Reprieve; Regional Homelessness Discussions Get an Extension

1. King County’s Regional Policy Committee passed a much-amended plan to create a regional homelessness authority yesterday morning, but supporters acknowledged that it would go through more amendments once it reached the Seattle City Council, which has raised increasing alarms over a proposal some members say merely “shifts the deck chairs on the Titanic”—a metaphor that has been in constant rotation during the regional planning process.

Although the plan passed the RPC unanimously with some new amendments (an effort by Seattle council president Bruce Harrell to increase the number of governing board votes required to amend budgets and policies and hire and fire the executive director of the new authority failed), the city council sounded more skeptical of the plan than ever at a special committee meeting Thursday afternoon.

The council’s main objections highlighted the rift between suburban cities (who want several seats on the governing board, explicit suburban representation on the board of experts, and the authority to draft their own sub-regional homelessness plans) and the city of Seattle.

The first point of contention: Why should Seattle give suburban cities so much say over composition and policies of the new authority when they’re contributing nothing financially? The legislation the RPC adopted yesterday explicitly bans the regional authority from raising revenues, which means that the only funding sources are Seattle—contributing 57% of the authority’s initial budget—and King County. (Residents of suburban cities, like Seattle, also pay county taxes, but their contribution is small and indirect compared to what Seattle is putting on the table.)

“The city of Seattle has been very generous in subsidizing the needs of non-Seattle residents … and yet that reciprocity is pretty much nonexistent in terms of how this deal is structured.” — Seattle city council member Lorena Gonzalez

“I had always had the impression, going all the way back to One Table”—a task force that was supposed to come up with regional solutions to homelessness—”that we were going to have a conversation about our funding needs,” council member Lisa Herbold said. “I don’t know why we would, in the structure, foreclose our option to do that.”

Council member Lorena Gonzalez added: “The city of Seattle has been very generous in subsidizing the needs of non-Seattle residents … and yet that reciprocity is pretty much nonexistent in terms of how this deal is structured.” 

Council members raised similar objections about the fact that the legislation now requires “regional sub-planning,” which means that different parts of the county could create their own homelessness policies, and that the new authority’s five-year plan would be required to reflect (and fund) those policies, even non-evidence-based strategies like high-barrier housing that requires sobriety. Gonzalez said that the question for her was, “Should municipalities who want to primarily or solely focus on non-evidence-based strategies to address homelessness… be able to qualify to receive money from these pooled resources? And the answer for me is no, they should not.”

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.

A larger, but related, issue council members raised Thursday is the fact that the new body would keep power where it has always been—in the hands of elected officials, who would make up two-thirds of the governing board that would wield most of the power over the new authority. Originally, the idea behind creating a new regional authority was to create a “de-fragmented system” where experts, including people with lived experience of homelessness, could make decisions on policy without feeling swayed by political considerations like the need to get reelected. The new plan, as Herbold pointed out, “flips [that] script.”

Gonzalez agreed, saying that without new revenue authority, and with a structure controlled by elected officials, the regional authority will be “AllHome 2.0″—a powerless body controlled by people making decisions for political reasons. “I don’t want us to fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing something transformative,” she said..

For a moment near the end of the meeting, council member Sally Bagshaw, who has spent months negotiating the plan with the county, seemed to agree. Moving toward a regional approach to homelessness, she said, was “a journey worth taking.” But “whether I would say that it’s transformational— I can’t go that far.”

2. The Northlake tiny house village, which had been slated for closure on Monday, December 9, got a reprieve Thursday morning in the form of a memo from Human Services Department Director Jason Johnson saying that the encampment could stay in place until March of next year. (I reported the news on Twitter Thursday morning).

Continue reading “Nickelsville Gets a Reprieve; Regional Homelessness Discussions Get an Extension”

As Council Seeks Funding for Successful Arrest Diversion Program, Mayor Proposes “Doubling Down on Probation”

Mayor Jenny Durkan began rolling out her public-safety budget in mid-September.

Several council members expressed skepticism at Mayor Jenny Durkan’s plan to deal with so-called “prolific offenders” Monday, wondering aloud why the proposals were still so ill-defined and expressing concern that they contradicted an earlier work group’s recommendations to focus spending on things like prevention and restorative justice rather than traditional criminal-justice responses like probation.

As I reported last month, Durkan’s plan—which came out of a work group that was made up almost entirely of elected officials, judges, prosecutors, and government staffers—would create a number of new programs inside the criminal justice system, including expanded probation and a new “rapid-reentry connector” who would refer people leaving jail after short periods to shelter and services. The work group that came up with last year’s recommendations, in contrast, was led by the Office for Civil Rights and “centered the voices and leadership of those who have lived experience of incarceration.”

Council member Lorena Gonzalez, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, said she had “concerns about the mayor’s proposal to continue to double down on probation, particularly for this population. I continue to believe that [probation] is not the best use of our dollars, nor that it will actually address the needs of individuals who have many complex co-morbidities”—issues like addiction and mental illness. Council members Bruce Harrell and Sally Bagshaw defended Durkan’s plan, particularly the “enhanced probation” proposal, noting that several municipal court judges had endorsed the proposal. “I’m hearing from judges that it’s in alignment with restorative justice, not a very penalizing probation system,” Harrell said. Bagshaw invited Seattle Municipal Court Judge Damon Shadid to the microphone to defend the current probation system—he called Gonzalez’s description of probation “simply not accurate—prompting Kshama Sawant to complain that advocates for alternatives to probation weren’t given any time to speak.

Part of the problem is that it’s unclear what, exactly, the $532,000 Durkan has proposed spending on three new programs—expanded probation, the jail referral staffer, and a new case conferencing pilot that would bring law enforcement officials together to discuss “high-barrier” clients’ cases—will buy. All three programs are still in the planning phase, and have not been analyzed for race and social justice impacts or for effectiveness. For example, Gonzalez asked, what it saved more money and produced better outcomes to simply not jail people for very short periods instead of providing them “reentry” services when they get out?

“I have concerns about the mayor’s proposal to continue to double down on probation, particularly for this population”—Council public safety chair Lorena Gonzalez

As for the probation program, Gonzalez said, “We have no idea what this is other than the adjective that it will be ‘enhanced.’ I don’t know what that means. It has not been clearly defined. We have no performance metrics.”

All of the mayor’s proposals are pilot programs, which means they won’t cost much money (the biggest-ticket item in Durkan’s “high-barrier individuals” bucket, funding for a new enhanced shelter in the decommissioned west wing of the county jail, is uncontroversial) and are unlikely have a major impact if the council does decide to fund them. (The council could also place the proposals under a budget proviso—essentially, a funding hold—until the mayor provides more information about the programs.)

The discussion of the mayor’s proposal came directly before a separate, but related, conversation about funding for a program that approaches low-level crimes from a completely different perspective ]—Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, a pre-arrest diversion program that provides case management and services to people caught committing misdemeanor crimes in certain parts of the city. Continue reading “As Council Seeks Funding for Successful Arrest Diversion Program, Mayor Proposes “Doubling Down on Probation””