Tag: tim burgess

Morning Crank: Mayor Gonzalez?

1. City council president Bruce Harrell took the oath of office as Seattle’s emergency mayor yesterday (OK, real mayor, but only for another two and a half months max), promising to announce by today whether he will continue to serve as mayor until voters elect a successor to former mayor Ed Murray, who resigned this week after a fifth man accused him of sexual assault. .

The stakes for Harrell are high, although perhaps not as high as you might think: Although serving as mayor until the election results are certified at the end of November would require Harrell to give up his council seat, rumors have swirled since his most recent election in 2015 that this term, Harrell’s third, would be his last. Harrell ran for mayor and lost in the primary in 2013, so remaining as mayor would give Harrell a short-lived opportunity to serve in the position he lost to Murray four years ago.

If Harrell does stay on as mayor, Lorena Gonzalez would be next in the (informal) line of succession for council president. If he decides to return to the council, the council would choose another council member to serve as mayor. While Tim Burgess is an obvious choice—he’s stepping down this year, to be replaced in January by either Jon Grant or Teresa Mosqueda—the fact that Burgess chairs the council’s budget committee inserts a political wrinkle into the decision. If Burgess becomes mayor, the chairmanship of the budget committee would pass to council freshman Lisa Herbold—a member of the council’s left flank who might be more inclined than the centrist Burgess to tinker with Murray’s budget to reflect more left-leaning priorities (like, say, reducing the emphasis on rapid rehousing in the Human Services Department’s budget).

So who does that leave? Gonzalez, who was the first council member to call on Murray to resign, appears to be the next in line. She’s running for reelection this year, and assuming she wins, would be able to go right back to being a council member when the results are certified in November

Harrell has said he will make his decision before 5:00 this afternoon.

2. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission dismissed a complaint by one of the losing candidates in the August primary election against Seattle City Council Position 9 incumbent Lorena Gonzalez. That complaint alleged that Gonzalez had deliberately misled the commission about how many open debates she had participated in before the primary and demanded that the commission fine her and force her to  return all the money she has received from voters in the form of “democracy vouchers.”

“If the Commission terminates the candidate’s participation in the Program, it will invalidate the choice of the more than 2,100 residents to date who have assigned their vouchers to Councilmember González,” commission director Wayne Barnett wrote in his recommendation to the commission. “The Program exists to empower residents to participate in elections in ways they have not been involved in the past. The Commission should be cautious about exercising the ‘nuclear option’ in a way that disserves one of the primary goals of the Program.”

Although the commission ruled against Gonzalez’ erstwhile opponent, Barnett’s recommendation letter raises interesting questions about the breadth of the initiative that instituted public financing of local elections, and could have implications for what campaign forums look like in the future.

The democracy voucher program requires any council candidate seeking voucher funding to participate in at least three forums at each stage of the election (primary and general) to which all candidates have been invited to participate. The complaint argued that because the losing candidate was not invited to some of the forums Gonzalez listed as qualifying events (including a “women of color” forum), she should have to return all her vouchers. This interpretation could require candidates to figure out who was invited to every potentially qualifying event they attend. Or it could mean that every single candidate must be invited to every debate, regardless of whether they are viable. In the mayor’s race, Barnett points out, that would have meant that every debate could have included all 21 people who filed for the position, including “Nazi shitheads” screamer Alex Tsimerman—a prospect that would have rendered the debates more or less useless for people hoping to learn anything about any of the six candidates who were actually viable.

3. Some people just can’t take a joke. And some people just can’t get a joke—even when you explain it to them. Case in point: Last week, I ran an item about a going-away gift from the mayor’s staff to longtime City Hall staffer (and Murray chief of staff) Mike Fong—a giant fake check for $3.5 million made out to the “Michael Fong Community Health Engagement Location.” (CHEL is bureaucratic code for supervised drug consumption sites.) As I wrote at the time, “The joke, concocted by Murray’s comms director Benton Strong, is a little obscure.”

Too obscure, apparently, for Neighborhood Safety Alliance member Jennifer Aspelund, who filed a records request on Friday, September 8 seeking “any monies allocated for Michael Fong community health engagement location center and any discussion of such center.”

The city’s response? “This location center does not exist; therefore, the Mayor’s office or any other departments do not have any responsive records.”

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Afternoon Crank: I’m Shocked At the Scale of That

1. The city auditor has completed his investigation into the implementation of a new joint billing system for Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities customers (memorably known as the New Customer Information System, or NCIS), and concluded that the reason the NCIS went $34 million over budget is that … the system ended up being more complicated than anyone had anticipated, and took more time and manpower to implement.

Or, as assistant city auditor Jane Dunkel put it during a briefing before the council utilities committee Tuesday, “The simple answer is that it took … ten months longer than anticipated,” and the extra cost “was in labor—city labor and consultants.” Specifically, the city spent $10.8 million more than budgeted on consultants, and $20.6 million over budget on city staffing, in the 10 extra months it took to complete the new billing system.

Mike O’Brien, a former CFO himself, seemed incredulous at those figures. “When I look at $20 million over 10 months—so, $2 million a month— if a city employee is costing us $10,000 a month, that means 200 employees were on this project,” O’Brien said. “I’m shocked at the scale of that.” Dunkel said that many of those employees had probably been reassigned from other tasks, but acknowledged that 200 employees is a lot of city workers to dedicate full-time to a single project. (The city calculates costs in full-time equivalent employees, or FTEs, so 200 full-time workers is just a proxy for the total cost.) And, Dunkel said, the city decided to “prioritize quality over timeliness.”

That brought O’Brien to his second question: Why, if project leaders knew they were slipping over budget and behind schedule, did they not inform the council sooner? (Committee chair Lisa Herbold had the same question.) Dunkel acknowledged that the trend toward being over budget and late was obvious “in retrospect,” but said the people working on the project may have thought they could make up the money and time. “Is it just well-intentioned people who are optimistic and thinking, ‘If we just keep working harder and faster, we’re going to make it’? Or is it people saying, ‘Wait a minute, we’re not going to make it and we need to let someone know that,'” Dunkel said.

“There were vacations and leaves, there was mandatory overtime—there wasn’t a point when they said, ‘Let’s stop and recalibrate.’ And part of it is that it’s hard to come back and report on that. You don’t want to do that until you’re really certain that you can’t make that date.”

You can read the auditors’ recommendations—which include requiring the city’s Chief Technology Office, Michael Matmiller, to report back to the council monthly on the status of the city’s IT projects—as well as the auditor’s presentation and a report on best practices by an outside consultant—on the city’s website.

2. On Wednesday, Mayor Ed Murray’s Human Services Department announced the location of a new, 24/7, low-barrier homeless shelter on First Hill. The shelter, which will accommodate about 100 men and women, will be located at First Presybterian Church, at 1013 8th Avenue. The city will hold one community meeting on the shelter at the church, on May 22 and 6pm, and hopes to open the shelter in June or July. If opposition to a methadone clinic in the neighborhood is any sort of guide, expect protests.

3. HSD and the mayor’s homelessness director, George Scarola, came to the council’s human services committee yesterday armed with numbers that they say demonstrate the success of the city’s new Navigation Team. The eight-member team, which includes both police and outreach workers, notifies residents of homeless encampments when the city plans to remove them from public property, and provides information on services and shelter, including other, authorized encampments. Scott Lindsay, the mayor’s special assistant on public safety, said that of 291 homeless people the team has contacted since it formed in February, 116 went into “alternative living arrangements”—about 70 to traditional shelters, and 46 to authorized encampments. “That’s more than just a referral—that’s actually a connection,” Lindsay said. “Those are people who were weeks or days or months ago living on streets unsheltered, who are now living inside or at an authorized encampment.”

But how big of a victory is that, really? People who live in camps tend to do so for many reasons: Shelters tend to be dirty and crowded, and most don’t allow people to come in with partners, possessions, or pets. Major addiction problems and mental illnesses that make it difficult to sleep in close quarters with hundreds of other people can also be issues. And sanctioned encampments fill up as fast as the city opens them—a point HSD deputy director Jason Johnson acknowledged.

Tuesday’s sweep of the encampment under the Spokane Street Viaduct, which the city said was necessary because of an RV fire at the site last week, was less successful by the city’s standards. Of 38 “total contacts,” Lindsay said, 15 “declined any form of services,” and 8 agreed to go to shelter or an authorized encampment. The rest took referrals to employment, case management, and other services, Lindsay said.

4. Chris Potter, director of operations for the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, updated council members on the city’s new delivery service, which allows people to retrieve  belongings confiscated from encampments without busing all the way down to the city’s storage facility on Airport Way. So far, Potter said, two people have asked for the belongings back, and one has gotten their “materials” returned. Pressed by council member Tim Burgess to explain why this was good news—given that the city has hundreds of bins full of unclaimed stuff taken from homeless encampments—Potter said, “Getting two calls represents a dramatic increase in the number of people who have reached out to us and said, ‘Hey, can I get my things back?'” But, he acknowledged, “It’s difficult to have a conversation with somebody whose material you’ve gotten and who hasn’t made a phone call to try to recover it from us.”

5. The Seattle Times ran a breathtakingly solipsistic, question-begging editorial this week calling on Mayor Ed Murray not to run for reelection. Their argument: Someone under such a “cloud” of “sordid” allegations can’t possibly win reelection, but could divide the electorate, leaving the city stuck with “Mayor Kshama Sawant, or some other extreme left-wing ideologue.” First of all, Kshama Sawant has repeatedly and explicitly said she does not plan to run for mayor—a minor detail the Times omits. (Obviously, people can change their minds, but this seems a somewhat crucial point.) Second, and more glaring: The Times itself is the publication that decided to publish all the sordid details about the allegations in the first place, including detailed allegations about rough sex and a mole on Murray’s genitals, so if anyone has created an environment of “sordid theater,” it’s them.

Finally, it requires a truly special sort of arrogance for a newspaper to first declare that its own story is “the biggest political scandal in Seattle in generation,” then claim that the subject of that story has been “transformed [by that story] from the bold big-city mayor into one who defers to his defense lawyer when he is invited to speak to The Seattle Times editorial board,” and then use that entirely reasonable deferral—which no one was aware of until the paper reported it, making the story about itself—as a justification for demanding his resignation.  Traditionally, a newspaper that wants a public official to step aside cites public opinion or some other outside evidence to shore up such a demand; the Times cites only itself, and its own declaration that its own reporters have uncovered the biggest scandal in generations.

As I said on Twitter:

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

 

Popular Jail Diversion Program Still Underfunded in Latest City, County Budgets

Last Wednesday, in a meeting about the mayor’s proposed budget for the Human Services Department, city council members raised alarms about what looked like a $150,000 cut to Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion–a successful pre-arrest diversion program aimed at reducing recidivism among low-level drug and nuisance crime offenders. LEAD started in Belltown, but has been so successful that it has been extended throughout downtown and the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct, which includes Capitol Hill; the $150,000 was one-time funding for that expansion. Neighborhoods across the city, from Ballard to far Southwest Seattle, are now clamoring for LEAD expansion into their neighborhoods.

Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed budget this year included $830,000 for LEAD funding, but did not renew the $150,000 expenditure for the East Precinct. The question council members raised, essentially, was whether that cut would be compensated by new funding from the county’s sales tax for mental health and addiction services, known as the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency II (MIDD II) tax, or whether the reduction would threaten the East Precinct expansion in 2017 and beyond. Previously, LEAD was funded through a combination of various county funding sources, private funds, and city dollars–now, its funding from the county will all come from MIDD sales tax revenues*.

Council member Lisa Herbold, a longtime ally of the Public Defender Association, which runs LEAD, said last week, “I believe the idea was that the MIDD II would fund that expansion, but apparently that’s not really how it’s working out. What I’m hearing is that moving the $150,000 will impact LEAD’s ability to even do their current work, much less expand to the East Precinct, and I understand there’s also interest in other areas of the city for LEAD expansion,” such as the Highland Park neighborhood in Herbold’s district. Other council members, including Rob Johnson, Mike O’Brien, and Lorena Gonzalez, piled on. “I’m really uncomfortable with betting on MIDD II funding to keep it going,” Johnson said. “I believe we should be propping up this existing program and expanding.”

The $150,000 reduction received some press coverage characterizing the reduction as a “cut,” which isn’t technically true: The mayor’s office points out that the plan was always to fund the East Precinct expansion of LEAD, and additional expansions in other Seattle neighborhoods, through the MIDD tax, starting in 2017. Scott Lindsay, the mayor’s public-safety advisor, says that “the city advocated for the significant MIDD II funding  for LEAD, and as a voting member of the MIDD II oversight body, we are not cutting this program.”

However, that isn’t entirely up to the city: The city may provide 42 percent of MIDD II’s tax base, but the city of Seattle holds just one of 28 positions on MIDD’s oversight board. Other cities in South and East King County are interested in LEAD, and they are also represented on the oversight body.

And LEAD has bigger challenges on its hands than backfilling the $150,000. Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard says that much of the county’s MIDD funding for LEAD–which totals $1.5 million in 2017 and $2 million in 2018–has already been allocated to pay for things that have historically been paid for out of the county’s general fund, including a King County prosecutor, clerical support staff,  and a new staffer in the county’s behavioral health and recovery division. Currently, LEAD’s total budget is about $2.3 million, which would just be covered by the total funding from the city ($830,000) and county ($1.5 million) in 2017. That funding does increase in 2018, but the extra half-million will be needed to fund items LEAD has identified as necessities to continue even existing operations, such as a dedicated city attorney, which could leave little or nothing to pay for expansion to other Seattle neighborhoods.

“By the time you allocate all these essential functions out of MIDD II, there’s very little room for growth,” Daugaard says. “The spirit is willing, but the capacity is not presently there. The city and the central budget office, in good faith, had every expectation that substantial expansion would be funded by MIDD II investments, but then a series of events took place” and the money became spoken for. (This past year, LEAD also lost about $800,000 in funding that had been provided by a private foundation, Daugaard says.)

Tim Burgess, chair of the city council’s budget committee, says it’s still unclear “how much of the MIDD money is going to supplant other county funding sources and how much will truly be new revenue. And we don’t know that, and we won’t know that, until the county makes their final decisions on their budget” in November, around the time when the city council will adopt its own budget. With that uncertainty in mind, Burgess says, many council members are telling him they want to make sure LEAD is fully funded regardless of what the county council decides, by continuing to fund the $150,000.

That’s certainly Herbold’s position. She says that “if we want LEAD to expand in Seattle, we cannot cut the funding intended for expansion. The theory from [the mayor’s office] was that the $150,000 was unnecessary because LEAD would have expansion funding in MIDD II–but that’s not actually how it’s working out.”

Herbold also says she expects that the county will want to spend any “extra” funding available for LEAD on expansion outside Seattle; indeed, the MIDD’s service improvement plan, released earlier this year, calls for gradual expansion “to other communities throughout King County” between 2017 and 2022.

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“The expansion that the county is contemplating is explicitly for non-Seattle King County cities,” Herbold says. That means that if the city wants to expand to areas like Highland Park (last year, the members of the Highland Park Action Committee wrote a letter to the mayor requesting LEAD expansion into their neighborhood), it may have to come up with the money itself. Daugaard says the PDA’s original expansion plan for LEAD, which would have extended the program into “all the communities that had expressed willingness to use LEAD,” would cost about $5 million a year.

Daugaard says she thinks the PDA could expand LEAD citywide by the end of 2018, but that would require funding beyond what’s in the current city budget and what the county is likely to allocate to Seattle in its MIDD II budget.

County budget officials did not respond to requests for additional details about MIDD funding.

* As a side note, it’s important to remember that sales tax revenues decline during economic downturns, so we can expect that MIDD revenues will be less robust than they are when the economy goes through its next down cycle.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into it as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

As Task Force Proposes “Guiding Principles,” Council Considers Amended Sweeps Protocols

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Mayor Ed Murray’s 18-member Task Force on Unsanctioned Encampment Cleanup Protocols held its final meeting on Tuesday morning, a day after Mayor Ed Murray released a budget that included $2.8 million to “implement [their] recommendations” and a day before the council committee in charge of updating and improving the city’s current policy on homeless sweeps held one of its final meetings on a set of new sweeps protocols that the mayor opposes.  The legislation in front of the council, which was originally drafted by the ACLU of  Washington and Columbia Legal Services, would bar the city from removing tents and property at encampments, except those in “unsuitable,” “unsafe,” or “hazardous” locations, without at least 30 days’ notice and referrals to “adequate and accessible housing.”

Originally, the mayor’s encampment task force was charged with crafting new encampment cleanup protocols, which would be integrated into legislation that the mayor would transmit to the council by the end of September. Instead—after the ACLU and Columbia Legal Services circumvented the mayor by proposing legislation of their own, which District 6 council member Mike O’Brien sponsored—the task force ended up producing a general, innocuous list of “guiding principles” that are now supposed to guide the council as it amends the ACLU legislation.

Former city council member Sally Clark, who chaired the task force, said its mission got muddied “the moment that the task force was announced, because pretty much in the same moment, the legislation was proposed at council to change the basis of the protocols that the city uses for intervening in situations where people are living outside.” The charge of the task force, Clark says, “made lot of sense in the weeks before, but then we were like, ‘Which protocols are we supposed to be looking at? The ones in this legislation, or existing protocols?'”

Once the charge of the task force changed, Clark says, the question became, “do you want to spend five meetings looking at protocols that the council may change five days after you’ve stopped meeting, or do you want to spend your time arriving at these principles that you hope the council will use when looking at these protocols?” They went with the principles.

Downtown Emergency Service Center director Daniel Malone, who sat on the task force, says the group “definitely did not accomplish some of what it was charged with doing, which was reviewing and making recommendations on specific cleanup protocols. We never even got to that stuff.

“That said,” Malone continues, “I think the task force achieved something that may have some utility for the city, which is that it got pretty clear agreement across a spectrum of people as to these principles that I do believe go beyond what the city would consider to be its curet principles on these matters.” In Malone’s view, getting a group that included both members of the Magnolia-based Neighborhood Safety Alliance and the King County Coalition on Homelessness to agree on shared assumptions was a feat in itself. (Clark and other task force members I spoke with agreed with this assessment.)

Another reason the task force never got around to drafting its own protocols for encampment sweeps is that they spent so much time during their three-hour meetings getting members up to speed on the basics (“there was a lack of common understanding,” Clark says) and letting members reiterate their personal views on the impacts and causes of homelessness. (The NSA representative, Gretchen Taylor, was particularly fond of asking rhetorical questions about why the task force had been convened at all, given that camping is illegal.)

“[The task force] definitely did not accomplish some of what it was charged with doing, which was reviewing and making recommendations on specific cleanup protocols. We never even got to that stuff.” -DESC director Daniel Malone

The result was that the task force meetings felt at times like group therapy, and the “guiding principles” reflect it: They include broad statements such as “action must be taken to enhance and reform the effectiveness of our human services system,” and “do no more harm,” as well as almost meaninglessly inclusive statements such as “We recognize that the city’s current approach to managing and removing encampments has negatively impacted homeless individuals and neighborhoods and that new approaches are needed to make sure that our actions match our community values.”

The outcome is far from a win for the mayor, who certainly saw the ACLU legislation coming but may have not anticipated that the council would so eagerly embrace it; instead of undercutting the council with his own, more restrictive encampment bill, Murray is left, at best, with the option of claiming collaboration with the council after they “integrate” the principles of his task force into the ACLU legislation. Even Murray’s promise of $2.8 million to implement the task force’s recommendations falls somewhat flat; since no one knows exactly how the other $12 million Murray’s budget dedicates to programs addressing homelessness will be allocated, the committee couldn’t reach agreement on how to allocate the $2.8 million, particularly in the 20 minutes they had to discuss the matter at the very end of their final meeting Tuesday.

 

The council’s human services committee, meanwhile, has continued to move forward with the ACLU legislation, introducing several amendments Wednesday in response to neighborhood concerns. Specifically, commenters at last week’s meeting, along with residents who have flooded council members’ inboxes with mass emails opposing the legislation, have argued that bill as originally written would allow encampments in schools, playfields, sidewalks, and recreational areas in parks around the city. Although the bill’s sponsors and supporters said such locations would obviously be considered “unsuitable” for encampments, an amended version introduced today tightens up those restrictions, declaring schools, “improved areas” of public parks, and sidewalks in front of residences or commercial areas, as “per se unsuitable” for encampments. “A common question that I’m getting is, ‘Are we going to allow people to camp in parks or play fields where my kids are playing?'” District 4 council member Rob Johnson said. “The answer to those questions is very clearly, ‘no’.”

The new version of the bill also clarifies that the legislation only applies to city-owned property (public schools, Port of Seattle property, and other public property not owned by the city would not have to comply with the rules), removes RV and car campers from the legislation, and sets a two-year sunset date.

Although most of the council seemed pleased with the changes, at-large council member Tim Burgess, whose comments opposing the original bill sparked applause in council chambers a week ago, continued to argue that it was a waste of “energy, time, and resources,” and suggested that the council should instead work on implementing the “creatively disrupting” recommendations in a recent report that said the city could provide shelter for every homeless person within a year by simply allocating resources more efficiently. (Burgess and conspiracy-minded neighborhood activists alike are fond of the report’s somewhat simplistic, and poorly understood, conclusions.)

Burgess, along with District 2 council member Bruce Harrell, raised the specter of neighborhood micromanagement by demanding to know whether specific parts of specific parks—the grassy areas around Green Lake and the woods adjacent to proposed mountain bike trails in Cheasty Greenspace, respectively—would be considered “suitable” for camping. O’Brien countered that if the city opens up the definition of a “suitable” location to every individual neighborhood,  “I think most folks will say, ‘I don’t think right next to me is OK,’ and pretty soon we get to a place where every single place in the city is unsuitable.”

Bagshaw said she expects to spend the next week in “continued negotiations” with Murray’s office over the details of the legislation, but added that time is running short. “We want to get the decision we make here into the budget for 2017 [and] make sure there’s enough money to focus on outreach and services,” Bagshaw said. “If we miss this window, it could [be] a long time before we’re able to collectively talk about it [again.] The full council could vote on the legislation as soon as October 10.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is run entirely on contributions from readers, which pay for my time (typically no less than 20 hours a week, but often as many as 40) as well as costs like transportation, equipment, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Council Pushes Back on “Growth Fund” Housing Preservation Proposal

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Freshman city council member Lisa Herbold has proposed resurrecting a pre-Eyman-era housing “growth fund” to pay for the preservation of naturally-occurring affordable housing–privately owned housing that, because of its age or state of repair, is more affordable than market-rate housing.   The original growth fund was created in 1985 to fund affordable housing construction; it consisted of a percentage of property tax revenues from new construction downtown, and brought in about $15 million in its 17-year existence. Herbold’s proposal would begin with a single demonstration project.

“I think it’s an important commitment to make in light of our current housing crisis,” Herbold says. “Between 1960 and 1985, nearly 16,000 housing units were lost downtown. … I think we are in a similar time now and if [Mayor Ed Murray’s] goal of 20,000 more net affordable housing units is going to be met, we have to do something about the fact that it is unlikely the units lost will be replaced or preserved without an explicit preservation strategy.”

Last Wednesday, Herbold invited affordable-housing advocates from groups like Puget Sound Sage and the Low-Income Housing Institute to pitch the council’s affordable housing committee on the fund proposal. 

“I think the public understands the linkage between all this new construction in a booming economy and the loss of affordable housing,” LIHI director Sharon Lee told council members. “We’ve got 1 Percent for the Arts. If housing is on the front page of the paper every day and people are being forced to leave Seattle [because of high housing prices], why aren’t we using 1 percent of the general fund for housing?”

Lee told the committee that former mayor Greg Nickels eliminated the growth fund when he first took office in 2002; “He said, ‘We have a housing levy; let’s just cut [the growth fund],’ and that was a disappointment to us,” Lee said.

But committee chair Tim Burgess and city budget office director Ben Noble strongly disputed Lee’s claim that Nickels had cut the fund for purely political reasons, noting that 2002 was the year that a Tim Eyman-backed measure capping annual property tax growth at 1 percent was adopted by the state legislature (the original initiative was ruled unconstitutional, but the legislature passed a copycat version). That meant that property tax revenues, which had been growing at about 6 percent a year, took a sudden, dramatic hit, forcing the city to scramble for funds to pay for basics and leading to the city’s current reliance on property tax levies to pay for everything from early-childhood education to libraries to housing.

“I think we should be real clear about why the city got rid of the growth fund in 2002,” Burgess said sternly. “It was not just the whim of Mayor Nickels.” After the 1 percent cap on property tax increases took effect, city leaders “determined that we should increase the size of the housing levy … and eliminate the growth fund because our property tax revenue options had been suppressed so much. That’s a much fairer explanation of that.”

Moreover, Noble and council member (and former private-sector CFO) Mike O’Brien pointed out that neither of Herbold’s proposals would create any new revenue; rather, the dedicated growth fund would take money from other city programs funded by the budget and spend it on housing preservation. Similarly, the bond proposal wouldn’t create any new money (Herbold protested: “It’s new in that it’s dedicated to this purpose”); instead, it would create new debt that would have to paid back, with interest, out of the general fund every year.

“Let’s not pretend that we get this [housing preservation fund] for free when we’re paying for that debt over 20 years, and there’s no new source of that money because it’s coming out of the general fund,” O’Brien said. “I expect and hope our experts will give us the best solution, so if using our bonding capacity is the best way to fund affordable housing, that intrigues me … and on the flip side, if it’s not a very good idea and there’s more efficient financing tools, I would not want to use a bad tool just because it sounds good.”

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“The bottom line,” Noble told me this week, “is that to do what council member Herbold is suggesting would require taking existing general fund resources and dedicating it to housing—which is a perfectly fine thing to do, but the general fund is already being relied upon on to pay for cops and fire and everything else.”  Noble says the city is still optimistic about passing a tax exemption for landlords who agree to keep their housing affordable, which narrowly failed in the state house this year thanks to opposition from house speaker Frank Chopp.

Both O’Brien and Burgess seem to agree that the source of additional funding for housing preservation is less important than providing the money, which led both to the idea of funding preservation through the housing levy.

“We’re getting ready to vote in two or three weeks on dedicating a huge amount of taxpayer money to housing, including preservation,” Burgess says. “This is really a discussion about how are we going to allocate all of the taxpayer money that we have at our disposal, and focusing on a specific method like a growth fund is less important to me than how we decide to use all our resources.” However, Herbold counters that the 2009 housing levy could have funded affordable housing preservation, but didn’t, in part because housing levy funds are less flexible than the growth fund was, and because the Office of Housing traditionally works on new construction, not preservation.

At last week’s meeting, Office of Housing director Steve Walker seemed to agree, noting that buying up existing for-profit affordable housing is challenging, because of income requirements (if an existing resident makes too much to qualify for a unit in a newly city-owned building, would the city kick her out?) and because the city doesn’t have much experience in the housing-preservation business.

Herbold says she worries that “if we separate the conversation, the result will be that we are driven down the path of traditional OH programs. …  Separating the conversation about financing from the conversation about preservation from makes the need for preservation more and more abstract from the harm of displacement.”

The council will need a lot of convincing on that front (right now, Herbold’s proposal seems to have little traction), and that will likely have to wait until after voters consider the $290 million housing levy proposal in August.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Jungle?

jungle

This morning, the city council was briefed on a recent interagency visit to the Jungle, the 150-acre greenbelt between Dearborn and S. Lucile Streets in Southeast Seattle. The full report on the state of things at the Jungle is available here.

Officials from the fire department, the Human Services Department, and King County Health described a place unfit for human habitation at which, nonetheless, an estimated 400 people are still living. Piles of human waste, needles, trash, and other detritus as well as an epidemic of violence in the rough encampment have led city officials and nonprofit service providers to keep their distance from the Jungle, staying on the periphery while chaos goes on inside.

“We are not going to ask our providers to go in that area and put themselves at harm,” HSD’s Jason Johnson told the council. King County Public Health’s Darrell Rodgers added that although the county “feels this is imminent and threatening,” they need data to get grants to fix the problem …and they can’t get data without going in to the Jungle, which they won’t do because it isn’t safe.

At the end of the briefing, two council members presented fundamentally conflicting proposals for dealing with the Jungle. Tim Burgess went first, suggesting that the place simply needed to be cleared out for the safety of its occupants and people in surrounding neighborhoods.

“There’s no ambiguity in my mind about these unsanctioned encampments. These unsanctioned encampments are inherently dangerous, they pose significant public health and safety challenges, and we’ve heard this morning a rather shocking assessment. I think the city has an obligation to act, not only for the residents who are living in these areas but also for the surrounding areas. This is a significant public safety threat in our city and we should not allow these unsanctioned encampments to happen in our city… This has been this way for decades and it’s not safe. If there are 400 people living in this area, those are 400 people who are at extreme risk of harm, and it’s the obligation of the city government to make sure that hey are not at risk of harm. We would not allow this in any other area of our city, so why would we allow it to happen here?” Burgess said.

O’Brien responded directly to Burgess’ question: “I believe the reason we allow that to happen here is through a set of policies that implicitly encourage this. We know the reality there are around 400 folks living in the Jungle. We also all recognize the challenge we face when we have hundreds of people in our communities in much more visible places, perhaps with better access to things like bathrooms and stores and sanitation, and in direct contact w residences and businesses. This is one of the few places where folks can go and essentially of out of sight, and people are making that decision for a variety of reasons.

“I agree with Council Member Burgess that it’s deplorable that this situation exists. What’s less clear to me is what the solution is. I would like to see no one living in the Jungle. I would like to see all those folks moved out to there and transitioned into something better. … I don’t know that our system has the capacity to take 400 people out of there today. And if we’re simply saying, you can’t be there today without providing an alternative, we are simply taking people who are in a bad situation and making it worse.”

Without a solution, what those who say, “Just move them out of there” are really saying is “let’s just throw them all in jail.” As long as we criminalize homelessness without providing alternatives, and without recognizing that many people face significant barriers (addiction, mental health issues, lack of socialization) to living in traditional shelters or housing, we’re saying, “I’d rather warehouse homeless people than find a solution that actually helps.”

And even if that notion doesn’t bother you, jail costs a hell of a lot more than providing a Dumpster and some portable toilets while we figure out how to meet people where they are instead of imposing one-size-fits-all solutions and sweeps that just push homeless people further out of sight and beyond our helping.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Tim Burgess

Now that the primary-election field of 47 has been narrowed to a comparatively manageable 18, I’m sitting down with all the council candidates to talk about what they’ve learned so far, their campaign plans going forward, and their views on the issues that will shape the election, including density, “neighborhood character,” crime, parking, police accountability, and diversity. I’ll be rolling out all 17 of my interviews (Kshama Sawant was the only candidate who declined, after repeated requests, to speak with me) over the next few weeks, starting today with incumbent city council member Tim Burgess, running for citywide Position 8 against former Tenants Union director Jon Grant.

I sat down with Burgess at Pegasus Coffee near City Hall earlier this month.

The C Is For Crank [ECB]: Now that the results are pretty final, it’s clear that you’re ending up the primary election well under 50 percent. [From an election-night high of 48.34 percent, Burgess slipped by the time results were certified to 45.74 percent. Grant ended up with 30.85 percent of the total].

Tim Burgess [TB]: I don’t know if I was surprised. I think he has been tapped in, both with the Stranger endorsement and some of the [independent expenditures] he got [from groups like SEIU 925],  to the whole equity issue. He has played on that effectively with his rent control approach and his anti-[Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda] approach. We’ll see if that can be more broadly based. We have to work hard. We wanted to have 48 to 52 percent on election night and we got 48. That’s gone down to 45 or 46 since.

He did well. The race is going to be much more difficult than what we expected.

ECB: What do you think the race will look like between now and November?

TB: He’ll do in the general what he’s done in the primary—all kind of accusatory, outlandish stunts. The classic so far is to point over to me and say, “Tim burgess is the biggest obstacle to police reform we’ve had in ten years.” He never gets specific. He makes the point that John T. Williams [the Native woodcarver who was shot in a crosswalk by a rookie SPD officer] was killed while [I] was chair of the public safety committee, as if I was complicit in that horrible murder. He points to 200-plus cases of excessive force and says I did nothing. Well, I was only public safety committee chair during my first term. I’m not even on the committee. I don’t even know where he got that number. For all I know, he’s just making it up.

I talk back when he says that and say, “Here’s what I’ve done.” At the downtown Seattle library forum, he made some comment that no police officer has been fired for excessive force under Tim’s watch, and I just pointed out that if he gets on the council, he’ll realize that the council has no power to do that. I think that will continue. That will be his MO—very accusatory.

ECB: The “council’s most conservative member” tag has dogged you since you were elected. It seems to me that on a liberal council, there’s some legitimacy to that label. [Burgess infamously sponsored a bill that would have cracked down on aggressive panhandlers, for example].

TB: People like to label people. I get that. But if you actually look at my record on the city council, it’s a progressive agenda. In fact, it’s a very liberal agenda. Just this week we passed the firearm tax [now being challenged by the NRA]. That’s a very progressive law.

I don’t like the label. I don’t think it’s accurate. I don’t have a need to label people or put them in boxes.

ECB: As we’re talking, Mayor Murray just backed down on a symbolically important part of the HALA plan—the recommendation to allow more housing types, including triplexes and row houses, in single-family areas. Do you think that, by doing so, he hurt the HALA cause?

TB: What people miss is that, for the first time in Seattle, we have an effective coalition of leaders of labor unions, environmentalists, housing advocates, and social justice advocates all on the same page and pulling in the same direction. That is huge. If you look back in the last eight years, during the battles around incentive zoning and height, those groups were all battling with each other. The mayor has created a coalition that’s really strong and committed to pulling things through. That is huge, and that is a game changer.

Jon opposed all that. He was the one negative vote against HALA, and his subsequent actions have been to pursue a set of policies that would break that coalition.

ECB: You announced that you were no longer supporting that portion of the recommendations before the mayor made his announcement. I heard he was really pissed at you about that. Did you try to tell him before you made your announcement backing off the single-family changes?

TB: I certainly had communicated with his staff for two and a half weeks. That’s when Ed was over in Rome, so he and I were not communicating directly on that. We probably could have done a better job. We had not communicated [that I was going to disavow the single-family changes] to him directly, but I told his staff Sunday night, and then Monday morning, I made the announcement.

ECB: Why did you decide to pull support for the most controversial part of HALA? Doesn’t that send a message that you’ll cave on other controversial recommendations, like citywide height increases in multi-family zones?

TB: That issue is too fractious. Single family was so volatile and toxic in the neighborhoods that it could have bogged down the whole process.

It’s really important to understand what we took off the table. We took off the table duplexes, triplexes, and stacked flats in all single-family zones. What we did not take off the table were [detached accessory dwelling units] and [attached accessory dwelling units] because we want to do that. I think there is a very broad acceptance that those are changes that will produce immediate affordable housing. There will likely be some opposition, but nothing like what we got with single-family.

I’m neutral in District 4,  but I was very disappointed when Michael Maddux went with the Jon Grant approach to HALA [by signing off on Grant’s HALA alternative].

ECB: But now that you’ve changed your mind on single-family, what’s to say you won’t change your mind on other aspects of the plan?

TB: I think you’re not going to see me cave. During the Roosevelt upzone [a density increase for transit-oriented development near light rail], the neighbors were furious. I pushed it through. In Pioneer Square, I tried to get one more story. I had the votes and in the last week, the historic preservationists turned some of my colleagues against it, but I tried.

ECB: Right after doing a 180 on single-family in HALA, the mayor made what many consider another political misstep, when he announced city plans to shut down all 11 of Seattle’s hookah lounges because, he said, they were linked to violent crime and possibly the death of International District community leader Donnie Chin. You backed the mayor up on that. Why?

TB (putting head in hands): All of those hookah lounges have been cited for illegal behavior, including smoking indoors. I get the legal basis of his decision. I’m very conscious of the use of the city’s police power in situations like this. I think the mayor will [back off on shutting down] hookah lounges that don’t have certain activities associated with them. I have not heard any  indication that [Chin’s] death was connected with hookah lounges. I don’t know. Some of them do have problems. We’ve had mismanagement, and I know some of them don’t pay the city taxes. In its enforcement of tax laws, the city is very focused on education and compliance, and we don’t shut businesses down for a minor offense.

Process of Elimination

lee

After a weekend of behind-closed-doors deliberations, the council has announced the eight–not five, as originally suggested–finalists for the city council seat recently vacated by Sally Clark. Eight, incidentally, is also the number of council members putting forward nominations, which could be the only sign of disagreement among council members that the public will ever see.

Let’s hope not, though, because the candidates give the public and the council plenty to talk about.

They are: Former city council member and interim King County Council member Jan Drago; Progressive Majority Washington director and onetime Gael Tarleton opponent Noel Frame; Low-Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee; interim Human Services Department director John Okamoto; former NAACP chapter president and recent state senate candidate Sheley Secrest; former Washington State Ferries director David Moseley; and Democratic Party activist and former Sound Transit diversity advisor Alex Stephens.

I’m going to go out on a limb and make some predictions here, with the caveat that my record at making correct predictions is atrocious. With that said, let’s take a look at this appointment as a process of elimination.

Secrest, the longtime head of the local NAACP and a bulldog on police accountability, is probably too politically polarizing and outspoken about police brutality to make the cut. (She’s also clashed with the council in the past.) Lee faces a similar challenge–she’s a single-issue (affordable housing) candidate with a big political agenda, who went so far as to trash one of the other candidates, interim HSD head Okamoto, for refusing to give $100 in HSD funds to a homeless family for a night in a hotel. Frame isn’t well-known outside state politics, and hasn’t been active on the local level. And Stephens, an attorney and South End resident who’s active in the 37th District Democrats, is virtually unknown. (I’m guessing, based on neighborhood and occupation, that Stephens was a Harrell pick).

That leaves us with our top three contenders: Maeda, Drago, and Okamoto. Here’s why I’m going to go out on a (very precarious) limb and predict the council goes with Maeda: Drago would be an odd choice. She’s served in a similar capacity before, when the King County Council picked her as a caretaker to temporarily replace Dow Constantine when he was elected King County Executive. That does give her experience (and demonstrates that she’s true to her word–she did not run for reelection to the county council), but it also makes her an odd choice. Plus she’s already been on the council in recent years–will council members elected since her departure in 2008 welcome her back with open arms?

Okamoto could get the nod, but one note of caution: As Lee’s application suggests, his tenure has been somewhat controversial. Lee’s application also notes that HSD has so far failed to release funds allocated for tent encampments, and charges that the department “decided not to use” $40,000 in unspent shelter funds in 2014. That same year, a state audit slammed the department for failing to document payments it made to service providers, a charge that didn’t directly attach to Okamoto (the charges were from 2013, before he was appointed), but which did happen during his time at the top. He’s also a Mayor Ed Murray appointee, which could make some council members view him with suspicion.

Maeda, in contrast, is an elder stateswoman in the world of racial and social justice advocacy. She’s retired, after a 40-year career working, among many other positions, as a union activist, a Clinton appointee working in the office of the U.S. secretary of housing, a public-radio CEO, and a women’s studies professor. She’s passionate about grassroots organizing but gimlet-eyed about political realities. And she managed to win the support of eight council members at a crucial point during the last appointment process, eventually losing to Sally Clark in a convoluted, multiple-vote process. That was a different council, but her across-the-spectrum support could translate to today’s council, which ranges from Socialist firebrand Kshama Sawant to hard-nosed “conservative” Tim Burgess.

I’m not counting Okamoto or, especially, Drago out, but if I was a betting woman (and–see above–I am), I’d pick unobjectionable Maeda over the contentious department head or the been-there-done-that-twice ex-council member.

The Eight Least Likely To

Screen shot 2015-04-19 at 9.52.16 AM
Image via Seattle.gov.

 

Now that council president Tim Burgess has ruined everyone’s fun by shutting the public out of the process to appoint a new council member to replace Sally Clark (after discussing the matter in closed session Friday, Burgess and Co. are meeting by phone privately all weekend to narrow the list down to five by Monday), all that’s really left is to wait and see what amendments his colleagues offer, if any, to surface the names of favored candidates who didn’t make the top five. After that, each candidate gets his or her three minutes on Friday (the public, including unsuccessful applicants, will be relegated to one-minute public comments), and the council will make its choice over the next weekend, followed by a pro forma vote the following Monday.

Rather than speculate on who might make the cut, then (although, fine: The likely finalists include former council member Jan Drago, former interim human services director John Okamoto, former state ferries chief and mayor’s housing affordability committee member David Moseley, longtime community activist and two-time council appointment candidate Sharon Maeda, and Low Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee, whose application letter swings at Okamoto), here’s a look at some of the candidates least likely to make the cut.

None of them are raving public-comment staples like Alex “you fucking Nazis” Tsimerman; hell, some of them (hi, Dick Falkenbury!) might be viable candidates for a district council seat. What unites most of them is a failure to (in some cases, even nominally) meet the main criteria for the appointment, as decided by the council: An ability to “hit the ground running” (which implies a working knowledge of how the city’s legislative branch works in relation to the other branches, familiarity with the issues that will be on the docket between now and November, and a resume that suggests they have some experience relevant to the job.)

While I admire the pluck it takes to apply for a position in public service, I also think opportunities like this one draw in people who know they aren’t qualified, and who may be in it for the exposure. Others may be utterly sincere, but not self-aware enough to know that an application for a job like city council member should at least look professional, and include some information about why the person wants the job and thinks he or she can handle it.

With that said, here are the eight candidates least likely to make the council’s cut:

• Dick Falkenbury. Actually, I think onetime monorail visionary Dick Falkenbury is probably qualified for the council; hell, I was about ready to die on that hill during his first run back in 2003—but this time around, Falkenbury’s phoning it in. His application consists of a one-line cover letter and a half-page, slapped-together resume that ends in 2002. All this “application” does is get Falkenbury’s name back in the news. And see? It’s working. Falkenbury Falkenbury Falkenbury.

• Self-described male model David Caseletto, whose current job title is “True Boss” at True Boss Promotions, which “focuses on monetizing the outsourcing of services for small businesses,” and manager at a bar on Beacon Hill. On his application, he notes that “it was always my dream to be a bartender,” but adds that “we all have to have hobbies, I like public policy.”

• Kyle Bowman, a sheet metal worker who didn’t submit a resumé but “graduated from Snohomish High School with a reasonably good gpa.”

• Timothy Janof, an electrical engineer who points out that although “I am not a policy wonk” and has no relevant experience, his principal in junior high was former council member Cheryl Chow, and he graduated from Garfield High. “Although born in Paris, France, I consider myself about as ‘Seattle’ as you can get,” Janof writes.

• Giovanni Rosellini (not, as far as I can tell, related to those Rosellinis), a legal assistant who lists among his qualifications the ability to “interview witnesses,” “photograph the crime scene,” and “testify in court to impeach a witness in pre-trial criminal defense investigation.” His qualifications are less specific: They include being a U.S. citizen and being registered to vote.

• Earl Sedlik, who actually seems reasonably qualified (his current positions include head of the Mount Baker Club, and he ran four council twice before, in the ’90s), but whom I’m including on this list because his application is one of the longest of the bunch, because his subject line is written like a press release (“Re: EARL SEDLIK APPLIES FOR THE OPEN CITY COUNCIL POSITION – CONTACT INFORMATION”), and because his cover letter includes decades-old commendations from two late former city council members, George Benson and Charlie Chong, and former council member Margaret Pageler… ‘s son.

David Toledo, who is also running quite enthusiastically for the four-year District 5 council seat, putting his commitment to serving only as a short-term “caretaker” (one of the criteria the council has specified for the seat) very much in doubt.

• And finally, Karen Studders, if only because the experienced attorney’s four-page, single-spaced resumé is an example of what job coaches mean when they tell you less is more.