Tag: tammy morales

PubliCola Questions: City Council Member Tammy Morales, District 2

By Erica C. Barnett

The 2023 election will dramatically reshape the Seattle City Council. Four council members are not seeking reelection, while a fifth, Teresa Mosqueda, is running for King County Council and will be replaced by an appointee if she wins. Even if all three of the incumbents who are running win reelection, the council will probably have at least five new members next year—a new majority of freshmen on a council whose most experienced members will, at most, be entering their second terms. If all eight seats turn over, it would make Sara Nelson, an at-large council member who started her first term last year, the most senior member of the council.

Debates over issues and ideology are understandably front and center in campaigns. But with eight of nine council seats up for grabs, I want to focus for a moment on an often overlooked question that impacts how the city council makes decisions and functions on a daily basis:  Can these people work together? Among the current council, the answer is frequently no. At best, there’s a sense that council members aren’t talking to each other outside public meetings, which are still largely virtual. At worst, the hostility bursts out into the open—as it has during this election, when one council member, Sara Nelson, is actively campaigning against three of her incumbent colleagues.

In this setting, five—and up to eight—new council members could provide a needed reset and eliminate some of the bad blood that has built up over the past several years.

Less optimistically, an inexperienced council could leave Mayor Bruce Harrell’s exercise of executive power unchecked, allowing the mayor to push through any number of priorities that the current council has shot down—like raiding the JumpStart payroll tax, which is supposed to be spend on housing and equitable development, to pay for general city obligations.

The next council will have to get up to speed fast, because they’ll soon face challenges that are only growing in scope—from homelessness, gun violence, and addiction to a looming $250 million budget deficit that will require tough decisions and could mean significant service cuts.

To get a better sense of how council incumbents, challengers, and first-time candidates would tackle these challenges, PubliCola spoke with 10 of the 14 council candidates, representing every council district.

Two candidates—Rob Saka in District 1 and Tanya Woo in District 2—ignored our emailed requests to sit down for an interview and did not follow up after I asked again in person. One candidate, District 3’s Joy Hollingsworth, set up an interview but then canceled, and did not respond to my request to reschedule. Maritza Rivera, running in District 4, would not sit down for an interview but did provide emailed responses to written questions. And Cathy Moore, in District 5, declined my request in an email.

The number of candidates who declined, canceled, or ignored our requests for an interview is unusual. While PubliCola isn’t shy about expressing our views on issues, that has rarely been an impediment to dialogue in the past. These candidates’ refusal to sit down for an in-depth conversation about the issues they will have to address if elected could bode poorly for transparency on the new council; in our experience, candidates who refuse to talk to members of the press they perceive as critical rarely become more tolerant of tough questions under the pressure of public office.

I’ll be rolling out interviews with the council candidates in every race over the next two weeks. I hope readers will learn more about the candidates from these in-depth conversations and use them to inform your vote. Ballots go out on October 18.

Today’s interview is with District 2 Councilmember Tammy Morales, who represents Southeast Seattle and is running for reelection in District 2.

PubliCola [ECB]: Some of your colleagues have disavowed their support for reducing the police budget by 50 percent. Do you still think the council did the right thing in drawing this line in the sand in 2020, and what does the backlash say about where we are as a city?

Tammy Morales [TM]: I think the thing [to know] about all of that is that nobody [on the council] is talking about that anymore. The important thing for us to do now is to talk about accountability. Because when officers demonstrate contempt for the public, when they’re harassing neighbors, when they’re laughing at the death of a young woman, a death that was caused by one of their own, that’s public safety, too. That’s a safety issue for all of us. And I think we need to really start to have a conversation about this department that takes 47 percent of our general fud—what is the return on investment for us?

My hope is that we can have those conversations about the culture of the department, which is clearly very toxic, as demonstrated by the fact that the majority of members elected two very toxic leaders of their union. And we need to figure this out, because people are frustrated and angry, and rightfully so.

“Pushing a narrative of fear, and [portraying the city as] a dystopian situation is not helpful. And I don’t think just listing off all the challenges that the city has, as so many candidates are doing right now, is helpful either. We need serious solutions, we need to be able to pay for them, and we need to be able to provide our neighbors with the things that they need in order to thrive.”

ECB: You seem pretty pessimistic. Do you think that SPD can be reformed?

TM: Here’s the challenge that we face as a city: We have boxed ourselves into a corner. We allowed the guild to bargain, and to assume that they can continue to bargain, around accountability. I think we are going to have to have a conversation in the legislature about this as we’re trying to move the dial there. But as we’re moving toward the next contract, questions about arbitration, questions about allowing disciplinary decisions to be overturned—these are things that really need to be front and center, and we really need to get back to the accountability measures that we had in the 2017 accountability legislation.

I’m not part of those conversations anymore. I’m not on the [Labor Relations Policy Committee]. Even if it was, I couldn’t talk about it. But I will say that I don’t know how we change the culture. That has to come from the top. That has to come from expectations from the mayor, expectations from the chief. Loudly and clearly calling out when shit happens instead of excuses. I don’t see that happening right now. And so what we are left with as a council is the contract negotiation, and how and whether we support whatever that looks like.

ECB: The new council is going to consist largely or mostly of new members, and if you’re reelected, you’ll be a veteran by virtue of being in your second term. Are you worried that having so many newcomers getting up to speed at once will diminish the council’s ability to serve as a check on the mayor, especially when there are disagreements?

TM: I am actually not worried about that. Well, I guess it depends on the outcome. I do think that there are candidates who are coming in with some pretty clear visions for what they want to see in terms of how the city grows and changes, how we make sure that our communities are vibrant, strong, and healthy, and what that means for the way we hold ourselves accountable as a city and fund the things that need to happen in the city. So, again depending on the outcome, we could be moving in a really positive direction. I do think it is important to pay attention to the tone that’s being set.

ECB: Can you talk a little more about what you mean by tone?

TM: We’re a growing city, and we did not keep pace with the infrastructure or the services that we need to deal with the structural problems that we have. And then on top of that, we have a social service crisis brought on in part by the pandemic. So there’s absolutely a lot of work to do. But pushing a narrative of fear, and [portraying the city as] a dystopian situation is not helpful. And I don’t think just listing off all the challenges that the city has, as so many candidates are doing right now, is helpful either. We need serious solutions, we need to be able to pay for them, and we need to be able to provide our neighbors with the things that they need in order to thrive.

ECB: The council is in the middle of its annual budget process. What are your priorities for new investments, and how are you going to pay for them beyond this year, given that the city faces a looming budget deficit of $250 million a year starting in 2024?

TM: It’s going to be hard. There’s no doubt about that. We’re a growing city with growing needs. We were able to fund a lot of those needs with one-time federal money that we got during COVID. But that money is gone, and the needs still exist, and they are growing. So we’re going to have to talk about raising more revenue. I was one of three council members in last year’s budget who voted to increase the progressive payroll expense tax. And I think that needs to be on the table. I think the capital gains tax needs to be on the table. I don’t quite know how the executive pay disparity tax would work. But that I know, that was also a recommendation, and I think it’s something worth investigating more.

And I think we’re going to have to partner with the county, with the state, with the feds, to try to fill some of these other holes that we have, if we’re really going to get serious about meeting the needs of the folks who are most vulnerable in our community. And, you know, I can certainly think of one place that we could trim a little bit, but that conversation is fraught, and I don’t know that it would be terribly productive.

ECB: You don’t think that talking about cutting the police budget at this point is going to be productive?

TM: What I will say is that I certainly don’t think we should be adding funding there. And I know there is more money added to the department [in Harrell’s proposed 2024 budget] from salary savings, from some other places, for some additional one-time funding [for things like Shotspotter and surveillance cameras]. I don’t think we need to be adding anything new that isn’t going to be sustainably funded.

“As a city, we have a responsibility to protect the safety of our community members, and that includes [drug users’] health and safety. That includes people who are experiencing homelessness and substance use disorder. So in my mind, this bill does not protect them. It doesn’t provide treatment, it doesn’t provide services, and in fact, basically defines the threat of harm as public drug use.”

ECB: What about Jumpstart? Every year, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda is a fierce advocate for preserving the Jumpstart spending plan instead of raiding that funding source for other purposes. If she’s elected to the county council, which seems likely, are you concerned about preserving that stable source of funding for housing and equitable developmemt?

TM: I want to have that conversation in the context of whether or not we will be able to increase [the Jumpstart payroll tax]. And I don’t know yet. There are some really important programs that Jumpstart is funding—some really important goals that we have for the city around affordability and housing. And it was really important to me to get the Equitable Development Initiative included in that package. And I fought to make sure that we had at least that 9 percent setaside because EDI needs a permanent funding source. And so the way that was set up was really, in my mind, a value statement—wanting to dedicate resources to the things that we say are important, and not letting it get sort of swept up in the general fund.

That said, you know, it has been an important way to fill some of the [budget] hole, and now that that hole is bigger. I don’t want all of the payroll expense tax to go into that gap. But we may need to at least extend the percentage that has been going [to the general fund]. And if we’re able to increase the tax, then that is another way to try to fill some of that hole.

ECB: What are some of your priorities for reducing gun violence in southeast Seattle, and why do you think the rate of gun violence has continued to rise, both in your district and throughout Seattle?

TM: What I have what I have said my entire term, and even before my term, is that what we really need to be doing is investing in neighborhoods that are underresourced, and investing in things that can change the community conditions that lead to violence in the first place. And part of the problem is we just don’t have a social safety net in this country. So we need to invest in our neighborhoods so that people have housing they can afford, and food security, and access to medical care, and high quality education and job opportunities, and after school programs, and mentoring, and all of those things. We need all of that.

And in addition to that very upstream answer, we need to be scaling up the kinds of programs that provide street activation and diversion programs and violence interruption programs—all of those things that can help activate the streets, that can identify the people who are involved in some of this activity, and either divert them after arrest or try to engage them before they’re arrested so that they get onto a different path. I think identifying the people who are at risk is important, and there are a lot of programs that do that kind of work.

And then trying to mitigate that risk, and making sure that we are providing groups like, you know, Southeast Safety Net and Choose 180—those groups that work on a pathway out of violence are also important. And then I think there is a role for the police to play after the fact in some of this— responding to violent calls, investigating incidents of drug trafficking, or sex trafficking, or any of the other things that that are really harming people.

ECB: You voted against the new drug criminalization bill, which put you in the minority on the council, and I wanted to just give you a brief opportunity to explain why and what you would like to see happen now.

TM:  For me, the issue remains that this bill was really about giving the city attorney the ability to prosecute [drug users], more than more than anything else. And I still believe that if our goal is to help people who are suffering from addiction, then we need to be taking a public health approach to solving that problem. And what public health professionals are saying is that we need to expand treatment options. We need to expand harm reduction options. We need to make sure folks can access the medications that they need that could help them with withdrawing from these drugs that they’re on.

I think something like 1,000 opioid-related deaths have happened in the last year. As a city, we have a responsibility to protect the safety of our community members, and that includes [drug users’] health and safety. That includes people who are experiencing homelessness and substance use disorder. So in my mind, this bill does not protect them. It doesn’t provide treatment, it doesn’t provide services, and in fact, basically defines the threat of harm as public drug use.

“The folks in the south end don’t consider [Link light rail] done yet, and won’t consider it done until you make the safety investments that you should have made in the first place. Because it’s great that you’ve learned all kinds of lessons, and you’re doing things differently, or plan to do things differently, up in Ballard or wherever else you’re going. But you learned those lessons at the expense of the folks in the Rainier Valley.”

ECB: You came out in favor of the new “North and South of Chinatown/International District” light rail option, which would eliminate stations in Midtown and the heart of the CID. There are a lot of people in the district who have advocated for a Fourth Avenue option that would provide the CID with a connection to the rest of the system, including the airport, in the future. Can you explain why you decided to support these new locations?

TM: There’s a real fear that if we move with the Fourth Avenue option, local businesses will be disrupted, local businesses will lose customers, and they will shut down. I think there’s something like 20 businesses around there. And the CID is changing rapidly already. There’s a lot of national chains coming in that I think are really changing the character of the neighborhood. And so the initial conversations were really like, how do we make sure that we’re preserving these businesses? And so the conversation started about the other two locations that [some neighborhood] advocates were proposing. This is a community, as we’ve all heard over and over again, that has regularly borne the brunt of these transit projects with very little engagement or seeming understanding from the agencies themselves about the impact they’re having. And they’re fed up, understandably.

So that’s where the conversation started. I will say that I realize the plans weren’t fully developed as we were having those conversations. And now that Sound Transit has identified that as the preferred alternative, and is beginning the process of diving deeper into what these are, I do want to see what it’s going to look like. And I think that regardless of what ends up happening, Sound Transit really needs to step up their community engagement there, and they need to be very clear about what mitigation measures and what community benefits they will commit to.

ECB: In Southeast Seattle, Sound Transit’s at-grade light rail trains continue to collide with vehicles along MLK Way SE on a routine basis, and a number of pedestrians have been struck and killed by trains. How are you working with Sound Transit to make the light rail crossings in Southeast Seattle safer for residents of those neighborhoods?

TM: I have quarterly meetings with Sound Transit about MLK, in particular. And there’s been some movement on [the Seattle Department of Transportation’s] side to add leading pedestrian intervals, different kinds of signal timing, and more lighting around the stations themselves. On Sound Transit’s side, there is beginning to be a conversation about what it would take to add [railroad] arms to the pedestrian pathway so that they can’t cross into the track. There’s all kinds of design and engineering reasons why they say that is problematic. But I think there’s finally a willingness to really have that conversation.

And as I say every time we talk, the folks in the south end don’t consider this project done yet, and won’t consider it done until you make the safety investments that you should have made in the first place. Because it’s great that you’ve learned all kinds of lessons, and you’re doing things differently, or plan to do things differently, up in Ballard or wherever else you’re going. But you learned those lessons at the expense of the folks in the Rainier Valley. And that needs to be addressed.


They Want to Stay: Tammy Morales and Andrew Lewis on Why They’re Running for Reelection

By Erica C. Barnett

A lot has been written—including here on PubliCola—about the coming mass exodus from the Seattle City Council. Five council members—Lisa Herbold, Kshama Sawant, Alex Pedersen, and Debora Juarez— have either said they will not run for reelection this year or that they will run for a different office. At least four, and probably five, council seats will be filled by new people next year; depending on how things shake out, the most senior council member could have just four years’ experience.

Amid that churn, two freshman council members—Tammy Morales and Andrew Lewis, whose districts encompass southeast Seattle and downtown, respectively—have said want to stay on the job. (Dan Strauss, who represents northwest Seattle, has not announced his intentions yet.)

In conversations with PubliCola, both cited unfinished business, a need for continuity in the legislative branch, and a sense of optimism about the future among their reasons for running again despite a working environment that has been chaotic, toxic, and full of unexpected challenges—including the COVID pandemic, a racial reckoning whose promise is largely unfulfilled, and a mainstream backlash against people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

“None of us expected the kind of term we had… and it takes a toll,” Morales said. “There were definitely times when I was like, ‘What the hell? This was not what I expected.’ It’s stressful and I don’t begrudge any of my colleagues for wanting to find a different way to give back to the community.”

That said, Morales added, “given that I represent a district that has historically been ignored, I don’t want to lose momentum.”

When Morales ran for her seat four years ago, she focused on issues like preventing economic displacement and ending encampment sweeps. Four years later, she says she’s still focused on those issues, but with a deeper understanding of how the city’s policies promote gentrification and make long-term solutions to Seattle’s housing crisis a complex challenge. “I’m especially interested in seeing through the comprehensive plan”—a planning document that guides housing, parks, jobs, and transportation in Seattle—”and really trying to change the way we manage growth in the city … so we’re not just rubber-stamping a perpetuation of the existing strategy,” Morales said.

“We know that transit corridors have high rates of pollution associated with them, at least the way we have allowed them to be built. Now we’re saying, ‘put a lot of poor people there and let’s use them a as buffer between homeowners and the road.'”

For example, Morales said, one major reason for the housing shortage is the city’s decades-old “urban village” strategy, which concentrates dense housing along busy, polluted arterial roads while locking up most of the city’s residential land for suburban-style single-family houses. Next year, the city will adopt a new comprehensive plan that will guide development for the next 20 years, and some of the options under consideration would concentrate development along “transit corridors”—those same busy, polluted arterials.

Morales wants to work to ensure that doesn’t happen.

“We know that transit corridors have high rates of pollution associated with them,” Morales said, “at least the way we have allowed them to be built,” with buses and cars competing for space along fast-moving arterials like Rainier Ave. S. “Now we’re saying, ‘put a lot of poor people there and let’s use them a as buffer between homeowners and the road.'”

Morales, who has a background in urban planning, emerged as a vocal advocate for pedestrian safety during her term, a time when almost half the fatal crashes in the entire city of Seattle occurred in her district. For decades, the city has failed to meaningfully address traffic violence along most of Rainier Ave. S., with the exception of the gentrified Columbia City neighborhood, where a controversial road-narrowing project successfully calmed a section of the road where crashes were once frequent.

Morales has been critical of the Seattle Department of Transportation’s uninspiring traffic-calming efforts, like lowering the speed limit on arterials by five miles an hour and posting signs encouraging drivers to slow down.

“We need to design roads differently so that people slow down” while also enforcing traffic laws in places where people continue to speed—for example, with automated traffic cameras that result in warnings, then fines, Morales said. “I drive down Rainier and I see people blow past me in the bus lane, the turn lane—that is a problem. But we’re not going to solve it with a public education campaign.”

If she’s reelected, Morales said she plans to focus on building generational wealth for Seattle residents of color through programs like community land trusts, which enable low-income people to buy homes, programs that help potential homebuyers qualify for loans, and a pilot program, which she’s introducing this spring, to give developers incentives to work with small, community-based groups to build 35 small affordable housing project throughout the city.

In addition to securing public funds for public parks, beach restoration, sidewalks, and other “quote-unquote back to basics things,” Morales says her office has “really increased the explicit discussion of racial equity” on the council. “When I first got here and I was talking so much about racial equity, I feel like I got a lot of pats on the head,” she said. “Because of the team that I’ve built and the work [we’ve done[ on behalf of District 2, I think other council member are  talking more about the need to center racial equity and acknowledging the ways that the South End has been left out.”

Lewis, like Morales, said he’s motivated to run again by the desire to complete work that he started in his first term, particularly when it comes to alternatives to police response. For more than two years, the city has been debating whether and how to establish a program that would send unarmed civilian responders to some non-emergency calls, with little progress; last year, Mayor Bruce Harrell agreed to move forward with a small pilot program while his office and the police department continue to analyze 911 call data.

During his confirmation hearing last month, then-interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz estimated that over the next two years, the police department would gain a net total of about 18 officers, assuming the rate at which officers leave the department continues to decline. “We have to have leaders who are willing to soberly acknowledge that even that 982 number may unfortunately be an optimistic one,” Lewis said. “We have a civic consensus that we need more police, but where that conversation never goes is that it may be necessary, but it’s not in and of itself sufficient.”

While Lewis noted that Harrell has been far more willing to work with the council, in general, than his predecessor, Jenny Durkan, the time could eventually come to “call the question” on civilian responders by amending the city charter to create a new department dedicated to certain kinds of non-emergency calls.

“We have this really difficult and intractable public safety challenge that comes down to the fact that—very, very stubbornly—we haven’t been doing the things that we need to do as a modern American city to keep people safe,” Lewis said. “I don’t know what it is about our local politics that holds us back from making similar progress that other cities have,” like Denver and Albuquerque, which both set up alternative response programs in 2020, during nationwide calls to reduce reliance on police for many types of emergencies.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, a moderate Democrat, is “not too dissimilar from the folks who tend to be mayor in the city of Seattle, but … they have a very mature (alternative response) system while we are still screwing around on this,” Lewis said.

“To the extent that things are more collegial now, the council didn’t really change all that much but the mayor did. Maybe that is a clue to where the preponderance of the problem was.”

Lewis currently heads up the council’s homelessness committee, and has advocated for more spending on tiny house villages, in particular, throughout his term. If he gets a second term, he says he’d like to serve on the council’s transportation committee in addition to working on homelessness and police accountability.

“My district has quite a few bridges that need work done,” including the high bridge to Magnolia, Lewis said. “I think bridges are going to be a dominant infrastructure issue over the next decade, because we are going to see more bridge failures.” Part of the problem, he added, is that “there’s been a lot of instability” at the Seattle Department of Transportation, which has had five directors since 2018.

“Despite the fact that we’ve come up with a lot of resources that we’ve directed toward bridges as a council, SDOT hasn’t taken that money and actually done anything to help those bridges. A lot of that money gets reshuffled for other priorities or put on hold.” Urbanists, meanwhile, often understandably advocate for other priorities, like safe bike lanes and pedestrian safety projects, instead of road infrastructure that primarily serves cars. Continue reading “They Want to Stay: Tammy Morales and Andrew Lewis on Why They’re Running for Reelection”

In Reversal, Council Poised to Preserve Landmarked Drive-Through Walgreen’s

Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Erica C. Barnett

Update on Tuesday, Jan. 10: The council voted to adopt Councilmember Lisa Herbold’s amendment, described in more detail below, to impose controls and incentives preventing any changes to the landmarked Walgreen’s building on Denny Way while removing the surface parking lot from the area subject to landmark protections. Herbold’s “compromise” plan also included a new amendment from Andrew Lewis that added the driveway and a few other small elements of the property to the part of the lot that won’t be subject to restrictions, increasing the non-protected part of the property to around 14,000 square feet.

Council members who voted for Herbold’s proposal cited various reasons for doing so. Lewis said he supported preserving the façade of the building (seen above) while allowing development; however, the protections the council imposed actually bar changes to the entire building unless the city’s landmarks board approves them.

Kshama Sawant railed against the council’s “Democrats” and housing developers in general, raising a straw-man argument about the fact that any potential housing on the site wouldn’t be affordable to low-income people, which no one suggested it would. And Sara Nelson, who voted against protecting the Walgreen’s just last week, justified her change of heart by saying that aligning the city’s housing goals with historic preservation would take a “long time” and would need to be done at some later date. Ultimately, the legislation passed unanimously, with Tammy Morales and Teresa Mosqueda voting against the initial Herbold amendment but supporting it once it was the only option on the table.

Original post follows:

In a reversal of a committee vote last week, the Seattle city council appears poised to preserve a drive-through Walgreen’s on the edge of South Lake Union, after Councilmember Tammy Morales (who previously opposed preservation) accepted as a “friendly amendment” a proposal by Councilmember Lisa Herbold to “protect” the one-story building and driveway, but not its parking lot. The legislation on the council’s agenda Tuesday afternoon would require Walgreen’s, or any subsequent owner, to obtain approval from the city’s landmarks board before making any visible changes to the building.

PubliCola has written extensively about the 1950 structure, which was originally a drive-through bank—a novel convenience at a time when American car culture was just ramping up. The building was one of many copies of a 1946 prototype created for Seattle-First National Bank, many of which are still standing in Seattle and across the region.

A lot of things have changed since the former bank building was landmarked in 2010. An explosion of jobs brought a need for new housing in Uptown and South Lake Union, and the council voted to upzone the area in 2017, allowing new apartment towers to serve the thousands of new people working in the burgeoning tech hub. The site where the Walgreen’s stands, for example, was rezoned to allow a 160-foot tower. Today, the building stands out as one of the only car-oriented, single-story businesses in the area.

How could it be that a parking lot that makes up less than half of the Walgreen’s site could yield more housing than the entire property? The answer is: It can’t, except on paper.

Morales, along with her colleague Andrew Lewis, appeared convinced Monday by a staff analysis that concluded a developer could actually fit more housing on the Walgreen’s block if the housing was squeezed onto the 12,000-square-foot parking lot—up to 310 units, or even more if the building included amenities like a school, which many downtown residents have been trying to site for years.

“Compared to what is possible if we completely remove the controls and incentives or if we leave the legislation as is, there are additional 30 to 60 units possible,” Morales said at the council’s weekly briefing.

“I really appreciate the the creativity of Councilmember Herbold in presenting all these incentives together to show the potential of what the maximum number of units could be,” Lewis added.

How could it be that a parking lot that makes up less than half of the Walgreen’s site could yield more housing than the entire property? The answer is: It can’t, except on paper.

Setting aside the unlikely possibility of a new school inside a skinny residential tower, getting to 310 units requires some creative math. To build that many units, a developer would have to qualify for every incentive available under city law, including one that allows a development to cover more of a lot if their building includes at least ten units of “family sized” housing with three bedrooms or more. In practice, apartment developers rarely build units that size, because they don’t pencil out—two-parent families who can afford to pay $5,000 to $12,000 a month (the going rate for the handful of available three-bedroom apartments in new buildings near South Lake Union) would usually be better off buying a place instead

Even in the analysis Herbold used to argue that a smaller building would have more apartments, a council staffer acknowledged that it “would be hard to fit [that many units] on the lot without building above the bank building”—that is, demolishing the Walgreen’s and putting up a new building in its place, perhaps preserving the façade. This alternative is basically the same as not preserving the building at all—except that it couldn’t happen without  the approval of the same landmarks board that requested protections for the building in the first place.

Another scenario would be a skinny tower on the site of the current parking lot, which, at just 11,700 square feet, would be among the smallest tower locations in the city. This would be unlikely to pencil out under any circumstances, because so much of the oddly-shaped site would be taken up by the building’s elevator shaft, but the presence of the SR 99 tunnel directly underneath the site would make building a tall, thin tower even more of an underground engineering challenge. For this scenario to pencil out, the building would almost certainly be limited (like many others in the area) to studio or micro-units, which rent for more per square foot than larger apartments—great for young tech migrants, but less ideal for producing a neighborhood with a diverse range of ages, incomes, and family types.

Even in the analysis Herbold used to argue that a smaller building would have more apartments, a council staffer acknowledged that it “would be hard to fit [that many units] on the lot without building above the bank building”—that is, demolishing the Walgreen’s and putting up a new building in its place, perhaps preserving the façade. This alternative is basically the same as not preserving the building at all—except that it couldn’t happen without the approval of the same landmarks board that requested protections for the building in the first place.

The other alternative—the one that preservationists like Historic Seattle and Herbold seem to actually support—is to allow Walgreen’s to sell off the development rights for the lot to another developer in the neighborhood, preserving the building and its drive-through lane in perpetuity while allowing development elsewhere.

The problem is that selling the development potential of the Walgreen’s site almost certainly wouldn’t lead to an equivalent number of new apartments. That’s because when property owners sell development rights, what they’re really selling is extra floor-area ratio (FAR), a measure of how much of a piece of land a building can occupy. The more FAR a developer has, the taller or wider the building, depending on the rules in that area. In the Uptown, where 160-foot building are already allowed everywhere, additional FAR will allow developers to build outward, eliminating amenities they would otherwise have to include, like open space, green streets, and setbacks between sidewalks and the building.

The council will vote on Herbold’s proposal tomorrow afternoon. So far, only Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda has publicly expressed reservations about the plan, saying she worried that Herbold’s proposal “would reduce the site to such [an extent] that it would not be feasible to build to build multifamily units on this site.”

The Era of Rubber-Stamp Landmark Preservation is Over

1. The era when Seattle leaders routinely rubber-stamped requests to protect old buildings from development without regard to context (is it in an area where new housing is needed and allowed?) or uniqueness (are there many examples of similar buildings elsewhere?) may have come to an end.

Exhibit A: Councilmember Tammy Morales’ amendment to legislation that would otherwise have made it difficult or impossible to build housing at the site of a former drive-through bank building in South Lake Union that the city’s landmarks preservation board designated as a historic landmark in 2006. The building is now a drive-through Walgreen’s store.

Last month, a council committee voted unanimously (with Councilmember Kshama Sawant absent) against imposing “controls and incentives”—restrictions on alterations or demolition and tax breaks or other financial incentives, respectively—on the building.. However, Morales said, that vote may not have gone far enough to ensure that Walgreen’s wouldn’t have to go back to the landmarks board to renegotiate a new agreement.

To prevent that, Morales’ amended legislation says explicitly that there will be “no” controls or incentives on the building.

“[S]nce the original designation of the Building, the Uptown Urban Center has been rezoned, and the area that the Building is located in has been rezoned to allow significantly larger buildings, including residential development,” the amended legislation reads, and “the benefits of allowing development on this site outweigh the preservation of the Building.”

The 1950 structure —which now houses a Walgreen’s—is one of several copies of a prototype that can still be seen around Seattle drive-through concept, which was new at the time, helped usher in 1950s car culture, which is one of the arguments preservationists have made for saving it.

The building will retain its landmark status. “The role of council in this whole process is not to modify the landmark designation itself,” Morales said. “Our role is to decide whether to accept the controls and incentives agreement, given the disagreement over whether this [building] is significant at all.”

The full council will take up Morales’ legislation on Monday.

2. Also this week, members of the council’s public assets committee raised questions about another landmarked property, a 95-year-old, six-unit apartment complex in the University District that was landmarked in 2018. The owner is seeking a property tax exemption that would reduce the assessed value of the undeveloped half of his property by 50 percent in exchange for preserving the “open space resource” at the site. The open space in question: A small strip of lawn around the building.

The law granting this kind of tax exemption is fairly obscure. Basically, it provides a property tax reduction for open space buffers around landmarked buildings by taxing these areas at their “current use”—undeveloped open space—rather than the “highest and best use” for the property. The point of the program, according to King County, is to “encourage the conservation of natural resources in King County by conserving its land and water resources, which include important wildlife habitat, wetland and streams, working forests and productive farmlands.”

Council members questioned how a small, grassy private yard in the middle of the city qualified as open space. ” This just feels like a slippery slope to be offering these reductions for something that isn’t really contributing to public space,” Morales said. A council staffer said the grass served as a kind of “visual buffer” between the building and the street, prompting Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda to note that many apartment buildings, including buildings with far more housing, include strips of grass and shrubs.

I just want to make sure that when we’re thinking about promoting and preserving public space, that we really are creating accessible public space that can be used and enjoyed by members of the public in the area, especially if there’s a tax benefit argument tied to this,” Mosqueda said.

Despite those concerns, the committee approved the application unanimously, along with another open-space application for a (non-landmarked) house in Wedgewood that backs up onto a ravine.

Council Budget Eliminates 80 Vacant Police Positions, Preserves Human Service Pay, Moves Parking Officers Back to SPD

City Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda

By Erica C. Barnett

The Seattle City Council’s budget committee, which includes all nine council members, moved forward on a 2023-2024 budget yesterday that will move the city’s parking enforcement division back to the police department, preserve inflationary wage increases for human service workers, and increase the city’s funding for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority—all while closing a late-breaking budget hole of almost $80 million over the next two years.

Every fall, the mayor proposes a budget and the council “rebalances” it, adding spending for their own priorities and removing items to keep the budget balanced. In November, after many council members had already proposed substantial changes to Mayor Bruces Harrell’s initial budget proposal, the city received news that tax revenues would be even lower than previously anticipated. The biggest unanticipated shortfall came from a decline in real-estate taxes, which pay for long-term capital projects, but other revenues, including parking taxes and money from the sweetened beverage tax, also declined.

Last week, council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda proposed a balancing package that saved money by declining to fund most of the new programs and program expansions Harrell proposed in his budget, while making several substantive policy changes. Among the most controversial: A proposal to eliminate 80 vacant positions in the police department, and a related plan to to keep the city’s parking enforcement officers at the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), rather than moving them back to SPD, while the city decides on a permanent home for the unit.

“Our mayor’s budget did not delete these 80 [vacant police] positions, and if we trust in what the mayor asks for regarding public safety and the budgeting knowledge and skills and best practices of the city budget office, I don’t think we should do anything different here.”—Councilmember Alex Pedersen

The budget the committee adopted Monday night, nearly 12 hours into a meeting that began at 9:30 that morning, will eliminate the 80 vacant positions, while preserving another 160 vacant positions in future years. Vacant positions continue to be funded year after year unless the mayor or council takes action to defund them temporarily and use the money for other purposes, as Harrell’s budget does this year. Both the proposed budget and the one adopted by the committee on Monday use money  that would have gone to the 80 vacant positions to augment the city’s general fund, while using the savings from another 120 positions to pay for new spending within the police department. This week, the council got word that SPD had identified another 40 vacant positions, for a total of 240.

Council member Alex Pedersen opposed eliminating the 80 unfilled police positions, arguing that it would be wrong for the council to go against the “wisdom” of the City Budget Office, the mayor, and police chief Adrian Diaz, who want to keep as many positions vacant but funded as possible.

“Our mayor’s budget … did not delete these 80 positions, and if we trust in what the mayor asks for regarding public safety and the budgeting knowledge and skills and best practices of the city budget office, I don’t think we should do anything different here by abrogating or deleting these 80 positions,” Pedersen said.

Council member Sara Nelson added that eliminating vacant positions as a recurring budget line item could discourage people from applying for jobs at SPD and send a message to existing officers that the city did not support police hiring.

In response, council public safety chair Lisa Herbold pointed out that the budget fully funds the mayor and SPD’s hiring plan, which would increase the department by a net total of 30 officers in the next two years. (This hiring plan assumes a complete reversal, and then some, of current SPD hiring trends). It also keeps the remaining 160 vacant positions on the books, where they will be funded again automatically in 2025. For the city to need the 80 positions the council eliminated Monday, it would have to hire at least 190 net new officers, not counting new recruits who replace officers who leave the department. If that very unlikely scenario came to pass, the council could add funding for more officers—as it has many times in the past.

“It’s really disappointing that … some people seem unwilling to say that the hiring budget is fully funded for the next biennium for the council to act on,” Herbold said. “That would send a positive factual message, rather than … distort what an abrogation of positions would do for the budget.”

Nelson and Pedersen also cast the only votes against a Herbold-sponsored proviso, or spending restriction, requiring the police department to get council approval if they want to use their staffing budget for anything other than salaries and benefits, arguing it was important to give SPD special flexibility to spend their budget how they want to.

“I believe we should stop micromanaging the use of salary savings and exercise some humility going forward because we simply don’t know what needs will need to be met,” Nelson said. “[Extra] overtime, for example, if there’s an earthquake or a mass shooting or something.”

In a last-minute compromise with Harrell’s office, the council agreed to move parking enforcement from SDOT to SPD, as PubliCola reported Monday. The compromise amendment uses administrative savings from the move (almost $9 million a year) to pay for several council spending priorities, including $1 million in one-time funds to support the Public Defender Association’s LEAD and Co-LEAD programs, which Harrell’s budget partially defunded; $1 million to “activate” City Hall Park in Pioneer Square, which has been fenced off since the summer of 2021; and $1 million for RV parking and storage “associated with non-congregate shelter,” among other new spending.

In a separate amendment, the council provided an additional $2 million a year for LEAD and Co-LEAD, which the PDA says still leaves them $5.3 million a year short of what it needs to fully fund both programs. The two programs provide case management and (in the case of Co-LEAD) hotel-based shelter for people involved in the criminal legal system, including many with behavioral health conditions that make it harder to find housing.

Morales had more success with another amendment that would place a budget proviso, or restriction, on $1 million in 2023 spending from the city’s transportation levy, requiring SDOT to spend it replacing plastic bollards that do not actually “protect” bike lanes with concrete barriers that do.

Here are some more highlights from Monday’s meeting, which was the last chance for council members to make substantive changes to the budget; for budget changes the council agreed on prior to Monday’s meeting, check out our coverage of those changes from last week.

• The council turned down proposals to place extra scrutiny on two programs that the council’s more conservative faction, led by Pedersen and Nelson, generally oppose. For example, they voted to remove $1.2 million in funding (all numbers are two-year figures) that Nelson wanted to spend on two full-time city staffers who would evaluate the JumpStart tax, which was just implemented last year.

The council also rejected two proposals by Nelson to apply extra scrutiny to LEAD and Co-LEAD, which take a harm reduction approach to addiction and low-level criminal activity rather than the abstinence-only approach Nelson favors (more on that in a moment). Specifically, Nelson wanted detailed information about the PDA’s subcontracts with REACH, the homeless outreach provider, and the basic details of both programs.

“What services are provided to the clients of LEAD?” Nelson asked Monday. “Which contractors do what for which program?”  because they do receive so much funding?” Additionally, Nelson proposed an amendment that would require quarterly reports on LEAD and Co-LEAD clients’ shelter and housing “acceptance” rates. Continue reading “Council Budget Eliminates 80 Vacant Police Positions, Preserves Human Service Pay, Moves Parking Officers Back to SPD”

Inmates Say Jail Water Still Coming Out Brown; Morales Opposes Expansion of “Inequitable” Seattle Promise Program

1. Last week, King County’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) announced that it had resumed the use of tap water for drinking and cooking “after new tests, like all other tests performed recently, confirmed that tap water in the jail meets EPA and Washington Department of Health drinking water standards.” The jail began distributing bottled water after complaints that the tap water in cells, ordinarily the only water source for drinking, hygiene, and heating packaged foods, was cloudy or brown.

According to DAJD spokesman Noah Haglund, the county’s facilities division “has worked diligently with water quality experts to assess the quality of the water and attempt to determine the cause of any discoloration or turbidity in the water.” (PubliCola reported exclusively on the water shutdown last month). Inmates at the jail lacked tap water for more than a month while the county was doing tests, and two current inmates told us they did not have access to adequate bottled water.

Haglund provided copies of testing results that indicated the water is safe to drink. However, multiple reports from inside the jail continue to indicate that the water is brown and cloudy. According to one defense attorney, a client at the jail reported that running the faucet in his cell “causes it to turn brown/black with visible film on top and particles in it.” The mother of another inmate said her son reported that “the water is still brown” and that guards are no longer handing out water.

Haglund confirmed that the jail is no longer handing out bottled water, and said that after following up on a complaint about water quality, a jail captain “did not observe any discoloration, abnormalities, or any other inconsistencies in the water” in the south wing of the jail. “We will continue to follow up if we receive additional reports about water issues,” Haglund said.

2. As part of the city budget deliberations that are still ongoing, City Councilmember Tammy Morales, who represents Southeast Seattle, has proposed several amendments that would claw back most of $5.7 million in unspent dollars from the Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise (FEPP) levy, which funds preschool, college assistance, and other programs. Mayor Bruce Harrell has proposed investing this underspend in Seattle Promise, whose scholarships have turned out to disproportionately benefit white students, rather than the preschool programs for which the funding was originally intended.

Morales’ amendments would reduce Harrell’s proposed new spending on Seattle Promise by $1 million in 2023 and $3.7 million in 2024 and require the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning to come up with a new plan to prioritize low-income kids, first-generation immigrants, and students of color for Seattle Promise enrollment. The amendments would not reduce overall funding for the program, and it wouldn’t eliminate funding Harrell’s office has already allocated for Seattle Promise purposes in advance of this year’s budget process.

“White students get more access to more [Seattle Promise] dollars. They also have better retention rates and better outcomes than scholars of color. Until the structural problem is fixed, we shouldn’t be expanding it.”—City Councilmember Tammy Morales

The Seattle Promise program, which provides scholarships (“Tuition”) and financial assistance (“Equity Scholarships”) to Seattle high school students who attend a local college in Seattle. Most of the funding for Seattle Promise goes toward tuition, with a smaller portion paying for grants to help kids of color and low-income kids, who often don’t qualify for scholarships because they receive tuition assistance through state and federal programs, to pay for other college necessities like food and transportation.

The implementation plan for the levy says that if demand for tuition exceeds available funds, “tuition funds will be prioritized for low-income, first-generation” students and students of color. It also says that any levy funds that go unspent at the end of the year, including tuition and scholarship funds, will supplement the preschool programs that make up the bulk of FEPP levy spending. However, this language has never been adopted into law, which is why Harrell was able to propose rolling $5.7 million in unspent Seattle Promise dollars back into the tuition side of the program, rather than spending it on preschool.

Seattle Promise was explicitly designed to close race-based opportunity gaps that keep kids of color from attending college. In reality, according to Morales, almost half the program’s tuition funding has gone to white students. “The way that it is currently structured is inequitable,” Morales said at a committee meeting late last month. “White students get more access to more dollars. They also have better retention rates and better outcomes than scholars of color. … Until the structural problem is fixed, we shouldn’t be expanding it.”

Council Questions Landmark Protections for Walgreen’s, Woodland Park Encampment Efforts In “Final Phase”

1. On Tuesday, the city council will impose new restrictions on construction or alterations at two historic landmarks: The Center for Wooden Boats in South Lake Union, and an early-20th-century houseboat known as the Wagner Floating Home.

One building that won’t be getting new protections—at least, not yet—is a one-story former bank building near downtown that, for more than a decade, has housed a drive-through Walgreen’s store. Fifteen years ago, the Seattle landmarks board granted landmark status to the building, which has a handsome facade on one side but is otherwise unremarkable. In its “statement of significance,” the landmarks board seemed to struggle to explain why, exactly, the building on Denny Way—one of multiple copies around Seattle of a building designed by a different architect—merited extraordinary protection. Among other points largely unrelated to the 1950 building itself, the board cited the defunct bank’s connection to the city’s logging history and the Denny Regrade, the history of drive-through banking in the US, and the “unprecedented freedom” of mid-century Modernist style.

It doesn’t take much for a building to win landmark status in Seattle; a building is only required to be at least 25 years old and meet one of a list of criteria that includes being “associated in a significant way with a significant aspect of the cultural, political, or economic heritage of the community, city, state or nation” or being characteristic of an area.

Landmarks status usually leads to limits on the demolition of, or changes to, buildings; the Walgreen’s building is unusual in that 15 years have passed since it first received landmark status. During a meeting of the council’s neighborhoods committee two weeks ago, an attorney with McCullough Hill, representing Walgreen’s, explained that protections would result in profits for the company, which could sell off the development rights for the site. This “transfer of development rights” would allow another developer add density elsewhere while preserving a one-story, car-oriented building in the middle of one of the city’s densest neighborhoods.

Committee chair Tammy Morales decided to delay imposing controls on the building, saying she was “just trying to understand what the benefit for the city is” of protecting the one-story Walgreen’s. We asked a similar question on Twitter. In our highly nonscientific poll, 89 percent opposed protecting the former bank. The committee will take up the landmarks question again at its next meeting on May 14.

2. Woodland Park, which Mayor Bruce Harrell used as the backdrop for his campaign vow to remove troublesome encampments, is still the site of a large encampment, several months after Harrell initially told neighboring residents it would be removed. The delay has allowed the city to use the same deliberate approach that was largely successful in relocating most of the people living at the Ballard Commons, which the city closed and fenced off last December. City Councilmember Dan Strauss and advocates for unsheltered people have been championing this approach, even as sweeps have ramped up dramatically since Harrell took office.

According to outreach workers and advocates who have been working with encampment residents over the past several months, the city has worked effectively to find shelter or temporary housing for several dozen people living at the encampment. As they did at the Commons, outreach workers with the nonprofit REACH and the Human Services Department’s HOPE Team created a list of 61 people living at the encampment in February and began working to move people on that list off site. At the same time, the city’s Parks Department set up portable toilets and started removing trash—two key factors that reduce the amount of visible garbage and human waste, which result when people don’t have places to throw stuff away and relieve themselves.

Data show that between September and March, just 196 of 534 people who received shelter referrals from the HOPE Team actually showed up at shelter within 48 hours and stayed for at least one night—an enrollment rate of less than 37 percent.

The result, according to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office, has been “at least 30 referrals to shelter or housing,” including three housing referrals and 26 referrals to enhanced shelter or tiny house villages, in addition to 10 people who have “voluntarily relocated from the park” and are presumably living unsheltered elsewhere.

A spokesman for HSD said outreach “efforts will continue over the coming weeks in an attempt to resolve this encampment through outreach strategies alone.” However, advocates working at the encampment note that unsheltered people have continued to move to the area since February, when the city created its list; as a result, the encampment is scarcely smaller than it was when the city’s outreach efforts began. (The HSD spokesman notes that the city has referred at least five of the new people to shelters).

“We’re seeing people get into at least transitional shelter or tiny houses,” a neighbor who has been doing volunteer outreach at the encampment told PublICola. “We wish there were more staff to do [outreach and placements] and, really, more resources behind it.” Continue reading “Council Questions Landmark Protections for Walgreen’s, Woodland Park Encampment Efforts In “Final Phase””

Report Says Hiring Incentives May Not Work; 11 City Appointees Kept Hanging for Lack of Council Quorum

1. The Seattle City Council has discussed introducing a hiring incentive program to help fill critical vacancies in the city’s workforce—a discussion dominated by some council members’ concerns about a staffing shortage at the Seattle Police Department and the end of a short-lived hiring incentive program for police officers and 911 dispatchers earlier this year.

According to a memo from Seattle’s Human Resources Department, however, the city’s staffing shortages extend well beyond SPD, and financial incentives alone may not be enough to address them.

Durkan’s program allowed both SPD and the Community Safety and Communications Center, which handles 911 dispatch, to pay new employees who transferred from other departments up to $25,000, and new recruits up to $10,000. The report found that SPD “did not experience an increase in hiring since implementing a hiring incentive into their process in October 2021,” but that the CSCC did. A separate report about an earlier (and smaller) hiring bonus from 2019 found that about 18 percent of applicants said the hiring bonus was one reason they applied.

The report warns that the 2021 program wasn’t in place long enough to suss out trends—a fact City Councilmember Sara Nelson, who has proposed re-instituting the bonuses for police, emphasized during the council’s weekly briefing on Monday. ” I do not believe that hiring numbers are an indication of whether or not that that program was a success, because the SPD hiring process is, at minimum, six months long,” Nelson said.

In an email to her colleagues on Sunday, Nelson said that according to interim police chief Adrian Diaz, the number of new recruits dropped from 17 in January (when the incentives were in place) to just 6 in March. Nelson also wrote that media reports about the expiration of the incentive program “may have caused applicants to apply elsewhere.”

Overall, the report concluded, the main things keeping people away from city employment are structural problems that aren’t fixed by one-time payouts—things like a lack of access to full-time, permanent jobs, limited promotion opportunities, and “uncompetitive wages.”

Across all city departments with staffing shortages, the SDHR report pointed to another structural reason for the shortage of qualified candidates: An outdated job classification system with minimum qualification requirements that frequently have little bearing on whether an applicant can do the job.

2. Last Friday, Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales was forced to cancel a committee meeting at the last minute for lack of a three-person quorum—scuttling two scheduled presentations from city departments and sending 11 would-be appointees to the city’s Arts Commission and Community Involvement Commission home without appointments. Of the five members of Morales’ Neighborhoods, Education, Civil Rights and Culture committee, only one—newcomer Sara Nelson—showed up.

Of course, showing up at a council meeting, only to be turned away, is less of inconvenience in the virtual era.. And the problem of making quorum hasn’t come down to the wire like this since the council changed its rules to bar committees from meeting with fewer than three members (and prohibit non-committee members from counting toward a quorum) at the end of 2019, when now-Mayor Bruce Harrell was council president; committees often canceled because not enough people can attend, but not usually at the last minute.

Still, the situation was embarrassing enough that it led Morales to apologize to the 11 appointees (whose appointments will move forward at Tuesday’s full council meeting without going through Morales’ committee) and implore her colleagues to show up at meetings when they’re supposed to.

“These appointments are an important part of conducting the people’s business, which is what we all signed up to do. Whether it’s high-profile policy work or the more routine work that really keeps the gears of government moving, we have an obligation to show up and do the work,” Morales said. “I do have a lot of appointments in my committee. Some of them are a couple years old, and so I’d like to move through them. And we do have lots of legislation coming through as well. So it’s important that we actually be able to hold these meetings and be able to vote.”

Prior to 2019, there was no quorum requirement for council committee meetings, which sometimes led to an odd spectacle: A single council member proposing legislation, seconding the proposal, and approving the proposal, all over the course of a few seconds.

3. This week’s “Seattle Nice” podcast probes the question: What are the boundaries of “advocacy journalism“? Former KOMO reporter Jonathan Choe was fired last week—not for his on-camera harassment of homeless people or relentless mockery of mutual aid volunteers (who he insists on referring to as “Antifa”), but for live-tweeting a Proud Boys rally and encouraging his viewers to “mingle” with them and learn “more about their cause and mission.” Continue reading “Report Says Hiring Incentives May Not Work; 11 City Appointees Kept Hanging for Lack of Council Quorum”

Participatory Budgeting Moves Forward, Diaz Says He Supports Alternatives to Policing, Durkan’s Office Denies Withholding Texts

1. A Tuesday city council committee meeting revealed new details about the next steps toward launching a participatory budgeting program in 2022.

The road to participatory budgeting, which the council intended as a tool to direct city dollars away from SPD and toward upstream public safety investments and alternatives to policing, has been mired by delays and ethical concerns—including an ongoing investigation by the state auditor’s office into how the council awarded a related $3 million research contract to one of the activist groups that lobbied for participatory budgeting during the summer of 2020.

Though the council initially hoped that Seattle-area residents would be able to submit and vote on project proposals this spring, Councilmember Tammy Morales told PubliCola last week that the council now expects that the scaffolding for participatory budgeting will be in place by the end of 2021 at the earliest, with voting delayed until 2022.

On Tuesday, a member of the council’s central staff presented the committee with proposed legislation that would move the city closer to launching participatory budgeting, though the plan does not fully clear up uncertainty about who will administer the program.

The proposed legislation would partially lift a proviso that the council imposed last year on nearly $30 million in the city’s general fund to free up roughly $17 million to cover the costs of administering the participatory budgeting program and to pay for the winning, community-generated projects. It would also provide $1 million to pay staffers at the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and community members to conduct a search for an organization that will set up the program and shape proposals into workable city programs.

The same organization will also spearhead efforts to increase participation by distributing WiFi hotspots, paying for translators and offering transportation to planning meetings. Morales’ office did not directly respond to PubliCola’s questions about whether Freedom Project Washington, the nonprofit that ran the months-long research process that was billed as the first stage of participatory budgeting, would be eligible to lead the participatory budgeting process itself.

To prevent any loss of text/iMessages of any City employee, the CAO, IT, and the Mayor’s Office are piloting a third-party vendor that will allow for automatic cloud-based data collection and make production of records more efficient. Beginning in March 2021, this pilot currently has 5 participants in the Mayor’s Office.—Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office

2. As Seattle’s major media expressed (justified) outrage that Mayor Jenny Durkan had deleted 10 months of text messages last year, PubliCola was surprised to learn that the mayor had provided text messages to other media at all. In Durkan’s last three years in office, PubliCola has filed more than 20 records requests for text messages and other forms of communication from Durkan and her staff; in all that time, we’ve never received a single text from Durkan’s phone, and have only received texts from staff on two occasions. In some instances, we were able to go back through our own text exchanges with Durkan staffers and find texts that would have been responsive to our requests, but which the mayor’s office did not produce.

Last week, we asked the mayor’s office why they had apparently not produced texts that would have been responsive to our requests; then, when they didn’t respond, we asked again. Here’s an excerpt of what the mayor’s communications director, Anthony Derrick, said in response; his full response is included after the jump.

I want to push back against your suggestion that Mayor’s office staffers do not search their phones for responsive messages. Staff have on several occasions taken screenshots of text messages and sent them over to Public Disclosure Officers to include in a records request. […]

Public Disclosure Officers are empowered with a number of technological tools to search and pull responsive records from email, documents, text messages/iMessages, social media, and all other communication methods in order to deliver those records to the requester.

    • Emails: Public disclosure officers have access to all e-mails.
    • Text Messages/iMessages: It is standard practice Citywide – for PDOs to provide notice to individuals who may have text messages so they can conduct a search of their own devices to provide any responsive messages. Employees would respond with screenshots of text messages.[…] To prevent any loss of text/iMessages of any City employee, the CAO, IT, and the Mayor’s Office are piloting a third-party vendor that will allow for automatic cloud-based data collection and make production of records more efficient. Beginning in March 2021, this pilot currently has 5 participants in the Mayor’s Office. It costs approximately $50,000 for every 150 phones.
    • Chats: Speaking directly to your question about records involving internal messaging tools, the Mayor’s Office has used two separate applications, Skype messaging (prior to 2020) and Teams (implemented in 2020). Skype chats were automatically logged to email, and should have turned up in any standard public records search. Teams messages are archived, and would be produced by individuals in accordance with public records requests.

I also want to reiterate that, as previously stated, the Mayor believed and had assumed at all times that all her text messages, calendar, and emails were available to anyone through the Public Records Act and would be quickly and fully produced. The report reflects that commitment and the extensive efforts to disclose any thousands of copies of messages that were lost due to an unknown technology issue.

The report to which Derrick is referring, by an independent public disclosure expert, found that Durkan and her office had not only attempted to “recreate” the mayor’s texts by obtaining messages from the people on the other end of her conversations (without telling requesters that is what they were doing), but that Durkan’s lawyer directed public disclosure officers to interpret requests narrowly, so that any request for messages from mayoral staff automatically excluded the mayor herself.

“When there’s a shooting, we can’t go to every RV and try to develop relationships ourselves, because we just don’t have the time. But there are people who already do that work, and we need them.”—Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz

3. In his conversation with PubliCola last week, Seattle Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz reiterated his support for shifting substantial portions of police officers’ workloads to new, community-led programs or civilian departments. “Do I need officers involved in policing homelessness? Really, honestly, I don’t believe we do,” he said. To respond to shootings and other violence within encampments—like the shooting in an RV in Ballard on April 25 that injured two people—Diaz suggested that SPD would benefit from a stronger network of conflict prevention or intervention teams made up of people who have experienced homelessness. “When there’s a shooting, we can’t go to every RV and try to develop relationships ourselves, because we just don’t have the time. But there are people who already do that work, and we need them.”

From Diaz’s perspective, one of the keys for reducing police responsibilities of police will be expanding the number of service providers available around the clock. “We’ve been one of the few services during COVID that’s been responding to calls for service in the middle of the night,” he said. “So when someone is in crisis at two in the morning on 3rd Avenue, unfortunately, that comes to us. Our highest call loads come in after hours.” Using city dollars to hire mental health counselors and nurses to field crisis calls after-hours, he said, “could really reduce the number of calls for service we handle.”

But where will those dollars come from? Not from SPD’s budget, Diaz said—at least for the time being. Instead, he said, any 24-hour civilian crisis response program the city creates needs to prove its effectiveness before SPD’s budget and staffing shrink further.

Continue reading “Participatory Budgeting Moves Forward, Diaz Says He Supports Alternatives to Policing, Durkan’s Office Denies Withholding Texts”

Participatory Budgeting “Clearly Delayed Until Next Year,” Councilmember Confirms

An early version of the proposed budget for the Black Brilliance Research Project’s administrative model.

By Paul Kiefer

Seattle’s participatory budgeting process, which received $30 million in the 2021 city budget adopted last year, “is now clearly delayed until next year,” Seattle City Councilmember Tammy Morales confirmed by email Wednesday.

The city council identified participatory budgeting as a way to allocate spending on alternatives to policing last year. But the timeline to get the process underway has been unclear for months because of uncertainty about who will manage the process. The council is considering two options, but Morales has been reluctant to move forward with either alternative.

The first option would follow the plan the Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP) team laid out in their final presentation to the city council in March. According to that plan, a third-party contractor—likely a nonprofit—would be responsible for hiring a 26-person “steering committee,” made up of people representing various marginalized groups. The steering committee would gather proposals from Seattle-area residents, shape them into viable projects, and supervise a citywide voting process to choose which projects get funded; through the contractor, the city would pay steering committee members an annual salary of around $112,000, including benefits. 

Despite the delays and controversies, Morales still hopes that a larger-scale participatory budgeting process can become an annual part of the city’s budget.

The third-party contractor would also be responsible for reducing barriers to participation in the participatory budgeting process, including by distributing wifi hotspots and computers to low-income residents and providing translation services. 

Because of all these new hires, the BBRP researchers’ proposed budget for administering the participatory budgeting process is close to $8 million, with an additional $6 million set aside to cover unexpected costs; that would leave roughly $16 million to fund community safety projects.

Because of its high overhead costs, Morales has called called the BBRP’s proposal “unworkable” in its current form. But she is no more confident in an alternative proposal, offered by Deputy Mayor Tiffany Washington during talks with the council with BBRP researchers, that would put the Department of Neighborhoods (DON) in charge of participatory budgeting at a lower cost and on a shorter timeline. Under that model, DON would hire 15 contractors to serve on a steering committee for $75 an hour; overall, the mayor’s office estimates that the scaled-down approach would cost $2.6 million, but the office maintains that the mayor isn’t advocating for any model in particular.

The Department of Neighborhoods runs a small, four-year-old participatory budgeting program called Your Voice, Your Choice, which allows residents to suggest and select small capital improvement projects—new speed bumps in front of Leschi Elementary School, for instance—for the department to fund.

From Morales’ perspective, the alternative participatory budgeting plan doesn’t reflect input from Black Seattle residents; according to the BBRP researchers’ final report to the council, members of the public who responded to their questionnaires and participated in their town halls were specifically opposed to entrusting DON to oversee the project. Instead, the respondents favored using staffers from the Office of Civil Rights to support the work of a community steering committee. Continue reading “Participatory Budgeting “Clearly Delayed Until Next Year,” Councilmember Confirms”