The King County Council shelved a budget proposal by North Seattle council member Rod Dembowski yesterday that would have kept 47,000 hours of bus service inside Dembowski’s district after the Northgate light rail station opens next year. The proposal came in the form of a budget proviso, or restriction on spending, that would have withheld $5.4 million in funding for King County Metro unless the bus service went to North King County.
The hours will become available because King County Metro is shutting down its Route 41 bus line, which duplicates the light rail route. Instead of being redistributed throughout North Seattle to feed commuters to the new light rail line, as Dembowski proposed, those hours are likely to go to South King County, where King County Metro’s equity analysis shows the need is greatest.
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Dembowski argued that Metro’s usual practice is to reallocate service freed up by light rail into nearby neighborhoods, to make light rail more accessible. “We’re doing this all around the county,” he said. While this has been the practice in the past, it is not required—and Metro’s new Mobility Framework, created in collaboration with community groups over the past year, calls for new or reallocated service hours to go into communities where the need is greatest, regardless of where they originated.
“Every time there’s service changes, if we start to put our thumb on the scale or try and use the budget as a tool to try to slip through something that carves out hours, it undercuts established policies and it also undercuts our commitment to equity,” council member Dave Upthegrove, who represents South King County, says. “It goes around our established processes and guidelines, and that’s a dangerous road to go down.”
The debate, which centered on the question of what constitutes equitable transit service during a time of sweeping budget cuts, concerned a small slice of Metro’s overall budget. But it was also a preview for the battles that will play out over the next year, as Metro adopts new service guidelines that will benefit the county’s most underserved communities while diverting funds from areas that are, on average, wealthier and whiter.
“Every time there’s service changes, if we start to put our thumb on the scale or try and use the budget as a tool to try to slip through something that carves out hours, it undercuts established policies and it also undercuts our commitment to equity.”—King County council member Dave Upthegrove
Last year, before a global pandemic forced massive cuts to bus service and decimated transit agency revenues, King County Metro adopted a new “mobility framework” to guide future transit service decisions with an eye toward equity and economic and racial justice. Theframework, developed by Metro in collaboration with an Equity Cabinet made up of 23 community leaders from across the county, was a precursor for revised Metro service guidelines, which will replaceexisting guidelines that emphasize ridership and geographic distribution, including in “areas where low-income and minority populations are concentrated.” Among other changes, the new framework recommends concentrating new (and reallocated) service in areas with high density, a high proportion of low-income people, people of color, people with disabilities, and those with limited English skills.
Community members who turned out to speak against Dembowski’s proposal talked about the challenges they face as bus riders in South King County. Najhan Bell, a student and retail worker, described a grueling daily routine: Up at 9 to catch a 10:15 bus that will take her, via two transfers, to her noon-to-9 shift at IKEA in Renton; leave work at 9 to do the same grueling commute in reverse; and land home at midnight to study for a few hours before getting up to do it all again. Bell said that if Metro was going to uphold its commitment to equity, it “must continue to put efforts into increasing service in areas in South King County so that people like me don’t have to spend most of their day waiting on a bus.”
The members of the Equity Cabinet, along with Transportation Choices Coalition, Disability Rights Washington, and other advocacy groups, wrote a joint letter to the council on Tuesday opposing Dembowski’s amendment.
A pair of amendments to the King County charter on the ballot next month open a door for significant reshaping of the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO). The measures have sparked two opposition campaigns — one closely tied to the King County Police Officers’ Guild (KCPOG), which represents sheriff’s officers — that have cast the amendments as radical attacks on law enforcement, while the measures have received limited vocal support from the most prominent local police accountability advocates.
The first amendment, Charter Amendment 5, would make the King County Sheriff an appointed, rather than elected, position. The second, Charter Amendment 6, would grant the King County Council the ability to set the structure and duties of the sheriff rather than relying on the duties specified in the state code. While the amendments’ sponsors, including council members Rod Dembowski and Girmay Zahilay (who wrote a PubliCola op ed supporting it), crafted the ballot measures to stand independently of one another, their practical implications and political significance have bonded the two measures together. In fact, in a July 14th council meeting, council member Claudia Balducci called them the legislative equivalent of a “Reese’s peanut butter cup”: a natural pair.
For their most vocal proponents, namely Dembowski and Zahilay, the amendments are vital steps towards an accountable sheriff’s office with a more appropriate scope of duties and a sheriff that better represents the needs of the King County residents they serve. The opponents of the amendments, including the sheriff’s guild, cast the measures as part of the broader “defund” movement to undermine law enforcement and as a power grab by the executive and the council.
As contemporary as those arguments may seem, they’re part of a longstanding debate in King County. In November, voters will face a choice between two paths for KCSO; both have been tested in the county before, and neither has transformed the department in the ways the amendments’ opponents fear or the ways their champions hope.
By Paul Kiefer, with reporting by Erica C. Barnett
On Tuesday afternoon, the Metropolitan King County Council voted by a narrow margin against renewing Office of Law Enforcement Oversight Director Deborah Jacobs’ contract, which expired in June. (Jacobs was serving as de-facto head for the past two months). In her place, the council appointed OLEO’s current Deputy Director, Adrienne Wat, to serve as interim director.
Council Chair Claudia Balducci first proposed not renewing Jacobs’ contract two weeks ago. Her surprise announcement came a month after the council received the findings of an independent investigation into allegations by OLEO staff that Jacobs made a series of inappropriate or discriminatory remarks to them during her four-year term as director. For example, one staffer complained that Jacobs had commented (sarcastically, she says) that she could only see a white man as deputy director of OLEO, and, on a separate occasion, that she could not invite OLEO staff to a Roe v. Wade celebration because it was for women only.
OLEO community engagement manager Jenna Franklin praised Jacobs for hiring “people who are different and more diverse than her—that’s what a leader like that should do.” But she notes that “the ability to work with sensitivity in collaboration with diverse staff and communities is essential for public servants.” King County’s Equity and Social Justice rules state that “elected leaders and directors are ultimately responsible for ESJ,” Franklin notes, “including in regard to workplace and workforce.”
“In this case, she has acknowledged missteps and that impacts to staff did occur. Missteps shouldn’t be the sum total of a person, a system, or those [they] represent.”
“There’s a narrative that I push the boundaries and that’s probably true, because I have tried to fulfill the public’s expectation for strong oversight, and I’ve faced endless roadblocks in doing so. They have used that narrative as a basis to try to discredit my work.”—Deborah Jacobs
In today’s hearing, Balducci explained that her push to not reappoint Jacobs was driven by concerns about the OLEO work environment; an investigation into Jacobs substantiated five of the eight complaints against her. One of those sustained complaints stemmed from an incident in which Jacobs apparently commented that an employee’s weight and race made it easier for him to build rapport with sheriff’s deputies; the man, who has struggled with weight-related self-image problems, said he felt uncomfortable speaking to Jacobs directly about her comment.
“We are supposed to be about accountability and equity and fairness,” Balducci said in an interview before the vote. “I don’t think we really can accept less than achieving accountability and equity and fairness in our own workplace. If we are going to be about investigating and calling out a lack of equity in one place it makes [the need to have equity and accountability within OLEO] even more compelling.”
The vote not to reappoint Jacobs was closer than the August 18 vote of the council’s Employment and Administrative Committee to recommend removing Jacobs. (That committee includes all nine members of the council.) In the earlier vote, the council voted 7-2 to not reappoint Jacobs; on Tuesday, the full council reached the same conclusion with a 5-4 vote. Council members Dave Upthegrove and Rod Dembowski voted against the ouster both times; council members Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Jim McDermott changed votes.
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The most vocal opposition to Jacobs’ ouster on Tuesday came from Dembowski and Upthegrove, Both expressed concern that Balducci and other colleagues are being too harsh and that replacing her is not in the best interest of police accountability in the county. “The assets that I’ve seen [Jacobs] bring to this office,” Upthegrove said, “particularly as it pertains to community engagement and the tenacity with which she’s represented our interests, and what we’ve seen to be a passionate commitment to racial and gender equity, leads me to believe that the mistakes she made aren’t enough to lead me to this conclusion.” He also said removing Jacobs was an example of a double standard: “I can’t help but thing of members of law enforcement who continue to have their jobs today in the face of mistakes and judgement calls that—in my mind—are much more serious.”
Dembowski echoed those concerns, adding that he saw the council’s approach to replacing Jacobs as legally dubious. “I’ve been very troubled by this process,” he said during the council meeting. “It’s generated a $2 million claim,” in the form of a tort Jacobs filed in Pierce County two weeks ago alleging sex and gender discrimination by the county. “I think that we mixed discipline from the report with reappointment, and I think they should have been kept separate.”
Local police accountability watchdogs also expressed their concerns about the council’s move to oust Jacobs, whom they see as a brave and determined force for greater oversight of the King County Sheriff’s Office. Annalesa Thomas, a co-founder of the police accountability group Next Steps Washington and the mother of Leonard Thomas (killed in 2013 by Fife Police while unarmed and holding his son) appeared during Tuesday’s public comment period to voice her support for Jacobs; in an interview before the vote, Thomas said Jacobs “has brought to the forefront many of the issues that family members [of police shooting victims] raise. She didn’t go along to get along.”
“We are supposed to be about accountability and equity and fairness. I don’t think we really can accept less than achieving accountability and equity and fairness in our own workplace.”—King County Council member Claudia Balducci
For her part, Jacobs acknowledges that she was sometimes reckless in her comments to coworkers and hoped for a chance to make amends, but she is also convinced that the council’s decision was driven by politics and a lack of support for accountability itself. “It’s been an unjust process and I wouldn’t wish this treatment on anyone else,” she said in an interview. “It’s going to be really hard for anyone to survive because it’s a hostile climate, there is little support, and mistakes are seized upon.”
Jacobs also says her record as a fierce defender of accountability—and the resulting tensions between her and the KCSO—has left her constantly defending herself since she took the position in 2016. “They [KCSO]don’t trust me,” she explained. “There’s a narrative that I push the boundaries and that’s probably true, because I have tried to fulfill the public’s expectation for strong oversight, and I’ve faced endless roadblocks in doing so. They have used that narrative as a basis to try to discredit my work.”
Balducci denied that her proposal against Jacobs was intended to assuage the KCSO. “I cannot state in strong enough terms how important it is to me that we have a strong, courageous, diligent leader of our Office of Law Enforcement Oversight. Those things are not bad. Those are good things,” she said. “There is a kind of inherent tension and even conflict that can exist in the role itself, and you need somebody who isn’t intimidated by that and who need to go forward with what needs to be done.” Continue reading “In Narrow Vote, County Council Ousts Police Accountability Director”→
King County Council members and officials from suburban cities raised new concerns yesterday about a proposal to merge the city of Seattle and King County’s homelessness programs into a single agency during Wednesday’s meeting of the county Regional Policy Committee, which county council members as well as representatives from Seattle and several suburban cities. In addition to questions about whether the new body will be too “Seattle-centric,” officials pressed county staffers on two key points: Will this new agency make real strides toward addressing “root causes” and actually solving homelessness? And will its governing board be accountable to … well, anyone?
The first question was posed most pointedly by King County Council chair Rod Dembowski, who is on the fence about whether to support the restructure. Looking back to the five “root causes” of homelessness that were identified at the end of the lengthy One Table process, Dembowski asked county Department of Community and Human Services director Leo Flor if it was accurate to say that the regional consolidation “Will not play in a meaningful way to addressing those root causes; rather it is narrowly tailored to the crisis response to folks living unsheltered.” Flor responded, “You are exactly correct,” adding that if programs addressing root causes can be thought of as branches of primary care, “what we are describing and proposing is a more efficient and consolidated emergency room.”
“What improvement in people’s lives would you expect to see if we did what the executive and mayor were asking us to do?” Dembowski pressed.
“Consistent improvement on a problem that’s been hard to improve consistently,” Flor responded.
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The other issue was about governance—specifically, the structure of the two boards that will sit atop the new regional authority like tiers of a layer cake. The smaller of two boards would be a steering committee made up of up to six elected officials and two people who have experienced homelessness, whose duties would be limited to confirming members of the governing board that would actually be in charge of the agency; approving that board’s five-year plan and budget without amendment; and confirming or removing governing board members, all by a majority of a plurality vote. (In other words, if four or five members showed up to a meeting, three members would constitute a majority of those present). Continue reading “Questions Raised about Accountability and Goals of New Regional Homelessness Authority”→
1. A new group calling itself Unified Seattle has paid for Facebook ads urging people to turn up in force to oppose a new tiny house encampment in South Lake Union. The ads include the line “SOLUTIONS NOT SHACKS,” a reference to the fact that the encampments are made up of small wooden structures rather than tents. The encampment, which was funded as part of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s “bridge housing” strategy, will include 54 “tiny houses” and house up to 65 people; it may or may not be “low-barrier,” meaning that it would people with active mental illness or addiction would be allowed to stay there. A low-barrier encampment at Licton Springs, near Aurora Avenue in North Seattle, has been blamed for increased crime in the area, although a recent review of tiny house villages across Seattle, including Licton Springs, found that the crime rate typically goes down, not up, after such encampments open.
“URGENT community meeting on NEW Shack Encampment this Thursday, June 28!” the ad says. “The City Council is trying to put a new shack encampment in our neighborhood. Join us to tell them NO!” Despite the reference to “our neighborhood,” the ads appear to directed at anyone who lives “near Seattle.” Another indication that Unified Seattle is not a homegrown South Lake Union group? Their website indicates that the group is sponsored by the Neighborhood Safety Alliance, Safe Seattle, and Speak Out Seattle, all citywide groups in existence long before the South Lake Union tiny house village was ever announced.
“The city has imposed an unconstitutional income tax on residents which was ultimately struck down by the courts,” the website claims. “It passed a job-killing head-tax that was embarrassingly repealed. Now, it has undertaken a campaign to seize valuable land and build crime-infused shack encampments to house city homeless. All this in the course of six months.” The income tax, which actually passed a year ago and was struck down by a court, was never implemented. The head tax was never implemented, either. And no land is being “seized” to build the encampment; the land is owned by the city of Seattle.
The meeting is on Thursday night at 6pm, at 415 Westlake Avenue N.
2. Overshadowed by yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling upholding Trump’s Muslim Ban 3.0 was another ruling that could have significant implications for pregnant women in King County. The Court’s ruling in NIFLA v. California struck down a state law requiring that so-called “crisis pregnancy centers”—fake clinics run by anti-choice religious organizations that provide false and misleading information to pregnant women in an effort to talk them out of having abortions—post signs saying what services they do and don’t provide. In its 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the California law violated the center’s First Amendment rights (to lie to women).
Earlier this year, the King County Board of Health adopted a rule requiring so-called crisis pregnancy centers to post signs that say “This facility is not a health care facility” in 10 different languages. Crisis pregnancy centers typically offer sonograms, anti-abortion “counseling,” and misinformation about the risks associated with abortion, including (false) claims that abortion is linked to breast cancer and a higher risk of suicide.
In a statement, Board of Health director and King County Council member Rod Dembowski said that he and the county’s legal team were mindful of the California challenge when drafting the rule. “We intentionally crafted King County’s rule to be less broad than the California … requirements, while still ensuring that women who are or may be pregnant understand that limited service pregnancy centers are not health care facilities,” Dembowski said. “If we need to fine tune the particulars of the form of the disclosure, we will do so. Regardless, I am optimistic that the County’s more narrow regulation that was supported with a strong factual record is constitutional and will remain in place.”
3. A presentation by the city’s Human Services Department on how well its programs are performing supported the narrative that the Pathways Home approach to getting people off the streets, which emphasizes rapid rehousing and diversion programs over temporary shelter and transitional housing, is working. But it continued to raise a question the city has yet to answer directly: What does the city mean by “permanent housing,” and how does they know that people who get vouchers for private-market apartments through rapid rehousing programs remain in their apartments once their voucher funding runs out?
According to HSD’s first-quarter performance report, which department staffers presented to the council’s housing committee on Tuesday, 83 percent of people in rapid rehousing ended up in “permanent housing” after their vouchers ran out. Meanwhile, according to HSD director Jason Johnson, aggregated data suggests that 95 percent of the people enrolled in rapid rehousing were still housed after six months. In contrast, the department found that just 59 percent of people in transitional housing moved directly into permanent housing, and that just 3.8 percent of people in basic shelter did so, compared to more than 20 percent of people in “enhanced” shelter with 24/7 capacity and case management. Ninety-eight percent of people in permanent supportive housing were counted as “exiting” to permanent housing, giving permanent supportive housing the best success rate of any type of program.
However, there are a few factors that make those numbers somewhat less definitive than they sound. First of all, “permanent housing” is not defined as “housing that a person is able to afford for the long term after his or her voucher runs out”; rather, the term encompasses any housing that isn’t transitional housing or shelter, no matter how long a person actually lives in it. If your voucher runs out and you get evicted after paying the rent for one month, then wind up sleeping on a cousin’s couch for a while, that still counts as an exit to permanent housing, and a rapid rehousing success.
Second, the six-month data is aggregated data on how many people reenter King County’s formal homelessness system; the fact that a person gets a voucher and is not back in a shelter within six months does not automatically mean that they were able to afford market rent on their apartment after their voucher ran out (which, after all, is the promise of rapid rehousing.)
Third, the fact that permanent supportive housing received a 98 percent “success” rate highlights the difficulty of basing performance ratings on “exits to permanent housing”; success, in the case of a program that consists entirely of permanent housing, means people simply stayed in the program. To give an even odder example, HSD notes an 89 percent rate of “exits to permanent housing” from diversion programs, which are by definition targeted at people who are already housed but at risk of slipping into homelessness. “Prevention is successful when people maintain housing and don’t become homeless,” the presentation says. It’s unclear how the city counts “exits to permanent housing” among a population that is, by definition, not homeless to begin with. I’ll update if and when I get more information from HSD about how people who are already housed are being counted toward HSD’s “exits to permanent housing” rate.
4 .Last week, after months of inaction from One Table—a regional task force that was charged with coming up with regional solutions to the homelessness crisis—King County Executive Dow Constantine announced plans to issue $100 million in bonds to pay for housing for people earning up to 80 percent of the Seattle-area median income (AMI), calling the move an “immediate ste[p] to tackle the region’s homelessness crisis.”
That sounds like an impressive amount of money, and it is, with a few major caveats: First, the money isn’t new. Constantine is just bumping up the timeline for issuing bonds that will be paid back with future proceeds from the existing tax on hotel and motel stays in King County. Second, the $100 million—like an earlier bond issuance estimated at $87 million—won’t be available until 2021, when the debt on CenturyLink Field (for which the hotel/motel tax was originally intended) is paid off. King County has been providing some funds to housing developers since 2016 by borrowing from itself now and promising to pay itself back later. Both the $87 million figure and the new $100 million figure are based on county forecasts of future tourism revenue. And third, the amount of hotel/motel tax revenue dedicated to affordable housing could, under state law, be much higher—two-thirds more than what Constantine proposed last week—if the county weren’t planning to spend up to $190 million on improvements at Safeco Field that include luxury suite upgrades and improvements to the concession stands. That’s because although state law dictates that at least 37.5 percent of the hotel/motel tax be spent on arts and affordable housing, and that whatever money remains be spent on tourism, it does not limit the amount that can be spent on either arts or housing. Theoretically, the county could dedicate 37.5 percent of its revenues to arts spending and the remaining 62.5 percent to housing.
The fact that Constantine is describing the new bonds as a solution to homelessness is itself a matter of some debate. Under state law, the hotel/motel tax can only be used to build “workforce housing” near transit stops, which the county interprets to mean housing for people making between 30 and 80 percent of AMI. Homeless people generally don’t earn anywhere close to that. Alison Eisinger, director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, says that although “taking steps that will help to address the critical need for affordable housing for low-wage workers and people who can afford housing at 30 to 80 percent is a good thing, unless there’s a plan to prioritize those units for people experiencing homelessness, along with resources to help buy down some of the rents for people for whom 30 to 80 percent is out of reach, I’m not sure how that helps address homelessness.”
1. Anti-choice activists bombarded King County Board of Health members with hundreds of emails this week opposing a proposed rule change that would require so-called crisis pregnancy centers—fake “clinics” run by anti-choice nonprofits that bait pregnant women with promises of medical care and counseling, then try to talk them out of having abortions, often by providing medically inaccurate information—to disclose the fact that they do not actually provide any health-care services. (CPCs generally provide pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, and may offer samples of formula and diapers. Their main purpose, however, is to frighten women out of terminating even risky pregnancies by providing misinformation about abortion and birth control, including claims that abortion leads to cancer, suicide, and “post-abortion syndrome.”)
The rule change would require anti-abortion pregnancy centers to display a sign on their doors that says, “This facility is not a health-care facility” in at least 48-point type, and to include the disclaimer on all its written materials.
King County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles says that in the past week, she has received more than 500 letters from CPC proponents, all with the same pre-written message:
Pregnancy Centers are reputable organizations that provide much-needed services. While special interests may claim that these centers deceive and disrespect women, the facts show otherwise- Care Net of Puget Sound boasts a 99.7% positive response rate from those they have served in King County over the last two years. Women in crisis need MORE options for health services, not fewer, and it is unconscionable that the Board of Health would pass regulations intended to harm those providing women with the services they need.
That 99.7 percent satisfaction rate isn’t represented in Care Net’s Yelp reviews, which focus on the fact that they don’t provide any actual reproductive health care services. “I can only imagine a scared, or worried person calling about an unintended pregnancy and getting this casual attitude about having a baby and changing your life,” one reviewer write. “Heaven forbid someone be on the wrong end of a crime and need resources like birth control that these people refuse to give.”
Kohl-Welles says the vast majority of the emails have come from outside her district, and many are from people outside King County.
On Monday, county council member Kathy Lambert said she was disturbed by the CPC advocates’ claims that they had not heard about the board of health rule change in advance. The board of health held a public discussion about the proposed rule in June.
The board of health will discuss the rule change at 1:30 tomorrow afternoon in King County Council chambers.
Full disclosure: From April 2015 to April 2017, I was the communications director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, the pro-choice advocacy group, and currently contract with them for approximately three hours a week.
2. Despite overwhelming support from advocates for veterans, seniors, and homeless King County residents, the county council seems unlikely to support a proposal to increase the Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services levy ballot measure to 12 cents. On Monday, after a dizzying back-and-forth between the county council and a regional policy committee (RPC) that includes representatives from Seattle and several suburban cities, the council tentatively approved a ballot measure that would renew the existing Veterans Levy at 10 cents and expand it to cover seniors and human services for non-veterans, rather than the 12 cents originally proposed by County Executive Dow Constantine.
The measure would also do away with a provision that would have split the levy proceeds evenly between veterans, seniors, and human services, weighting the proceeds more heavily toward veterans. The plan, which the RPC will take up this afternoon, calls for a ten-cent tax, with one third for veterans and one third for human services; the remaining third would be allocated first to senior veterans, until 75 percent of the county’s homeless veterans are housed, at which point the money could be spent on services for non-veteran seniors.
This last, convoluted change came at the behest of council member Rod Dembowski, who has said he would be open to a 12-cent levy but only if a larger percentage of the revenues go to veterans. Kohl-Welles, who has supported the 12-cent, evenly split proposal, said Monday that “I have a lot of trouble saying that one category in our King County population deserves more than other categories—they’r all people.”
After the RPC votes out its own version of the measure—depending on who shows up to vote, the proposal could be 10 or 12 cents, and could be either evenly split or weighted more heavily toward veterans—the measure will move back to the full council, which has to make a decision before the end of the week to avoid triggering a special meeting that will require a six-vote supermajority for any proposal. Council members have been asked to clear their calendars for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings.
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