Tag: Royal Esquire Club

New SDOT Director Talks Scooters, Streetcar, and Sweeps; A Closer Look at City Grant to Social Club Harrell Headed

New SDOT director Greg Spotts
New SDOT director Greg Spotts

1. Greg Spotts, the newly confirmed director of Seattle’s transportation department, spoke with reporters Wednesday on a wide range of topics, including scooters, the proposed downtown streetcar connector, and his plan to do a “top to bottom review” of the city’s Vision Zero effort to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030, which is currently far off track.

Spotts, who previously headed up StreetsLA, a division of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Street Services, said he was currently agnostic on both the appropriate number of scooters the city should permit and the debate over whether to revive work on the downtown streetcar, which former mayor Jenny Durkan paused during her term. As Spotts noted, scooter sharing proliferated in LA after the city decided to allow any qualified company to operate in the city, but didn’t really serve low-income areas or communities of color.

“What it produced was an overabundance of scooters in the obvious places where there’s a lot of density and a lot of money, and … very few scooters in communities of color,” Spotts said. Even with incentives for placing scooters in underserved areas, they continued to cluster in wealthy, tourist-heavy neighborhoods like Santa Monica, Hollywood, and downtown LA. “So it’s not obvious how to make this public private partnership to produce all the public goods that you want, but maybe we’re in the very, very early stages of figuring that out.”

Similarly, Spotts said he might support expanding the streetcar if there’s evidence it will improve the economic climate in the areas it serves. The new downtown section of streetcar would create a loop connecting two separate streetcar lines, connecting South Lake Union to Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill. All three areas are already connected by frequent transit, which—along with low ridership on the existing streetcar—raises questions about whether a new streetcar segment would justify its cost, currently estimated at almost $300 million.

“There’s operational benefits, right? Instead of running two segments, running one big one,” Spotts said. “But what would push it over the top, I think, is it analysis that it could be an important catalyst for our small businesses in downtown, for our tourist economy, for our cultural institutions.”

One issue Spotts declined to address is SDOT’s role in removing homeless encampments from sidewalks; SDOT staffers (including some currently vacant positions) make up more than half the members of Mayor Bruce Harrell’s Unified Care Team, a group of about 70 staffers who removes encampment. (The UCT also includes six members of the city’s HOPE team, which does outreach and makes shelter offers prior to sweeps).

“At this early stage, I’m really deferring to the mayor’s office to utilize the departments as they want to for the larger policies that they’re pursuing,” Spotts said. “And I’m not looking to introduce some personal opinions into that. I’m just here to here to assist in whatever way they want us to assist.”

2. After we reported on the fact that the city awarded nearly $800,000 to a private men’s social club that Mayor Bruce Harrell chaired until late last year, we took another look at the record to see if there was any precedent for the city awarding Equitable Development Initiative dollars to any similar institution.

Over the five years the city has been making EDI awards, about three dozen organizations have received significant grants from the fund. Many of the groups that have received multiple grants are engaged in low-income housing development, create community spaces that are open to the public, or provide social or health services to particular communities.

For example, the Friends of Little Saigon, Africatown, the Rainier Valley Midwives, Chief Seattle Club, and the Ethiopian Community in Seattle have all received multiple EDI awards over the past five years. Other grant recipients in past years include Cham Refugees Community, the Somali Health Board, United Indians of All Tribes, and the Filipino Community of Seattle.

A few of the grant recipients provide cultural space and put on events that are open to the ticket-buying public, including Black and Tan Hall and the Wing Luke Museum. None is a private social club—except the Royal Esquire Club.

It’s unclear whether the Royal Esquire Club has sought public funding from the city in the past; we’ve requested a list of all previous EDI grant applicants through a public records request. The club, which was at the center of another controversy involving Harrell while he was City Council president, has never received an EDI award in the program’s history; the $782,000 the club will receive is more than twice its annual revenues for 2019, according to the group’s most recent tax filing.

Harrell Announces Grants that Include $800,000 to Private Men’s Club He Chaired for Years

By Erica C. Barnett

On Monday, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced the recipients of 20 financial grants through the Economic Development Initiative, which funds organizations “working on anti-displacement efforts in high displacement risk neighborhoods.” One of the largest grants, totaling almost $800,000, went to the Royal Esquire Club—a private Black men’s club in Columbia City where Harrell was board president for six years.

Mayoral spokesman Jamie Housen told PubliCola on Monday that Harrell resigned from the club in November and was not directly involved in choosing the recipients of the equitable development grants.

“Decisions on which organizations received funding were determined by the community through a competitive community-based process. The mayor had no role in deciding which organizations would receive the awards, and did not receive or score the applications,” Housen said.

Jason Kelly, a spokesman for OPCD, added that “we do a review for potential conflict of interest among EDI advisory board members prior to their participating in the process. Also, the Mayor’s Office reviews the results prior to the announcement to ensure that OPCD and the advisory board followed our established process.”

The award to the Royal Esquire Club is the fourth largest grant among 20 groups funded through the initiative; the club was one of only eight organizations that received the full amount requested. In contrast, for example, the Tubman Center for Health and Freedom, which is building a South Seattle health center for BIPOC patients, asked for $2 million for property acquisition and received $1 million.

According to a presentation on the awards from the Office of Planning and Community Development, the Royal Esquire Club will use the $800,000 to “support rehabilitation of existing cultural space.” In 2019, according to the group’s most recent IRS filing, the club’s total revenues were $359,000.

An additional 46 applicants did not receive EDI awards from the city. PubliCola has asked OPCD for a copy of the Royal Esquire Club’s grant application, along with the applications of the other award recipients.

Harrell’s longstanding connection to the Royal Esquire Club has been the source of controversy, and a formal ethics complaint, in the past. In 2018, when he was city council president, Harrell intervened in an investigation into wage theft involving five women who worked as servers at the club. When the city’s Office of Labor Standards began looking into the allegations, Harrell contacted the city employee who was investigating the case to remind him that the council and mayor had the power to cut OLS’ budget.  During public council meetings, Harrell called OLS’ investigators “extremely unprofessional” and their treatment of the Royal Esquire Club “horrible,” and sought to add $50,000 to the city’s annual budget for a survey of businesses about how the office had treated them.

According to the eventual settlement, the club had to pay the women about $12,000 in back wages and fines. The Ethics and Elections Commission closed the ethics investigation without a finding.