Morning Crank: “It Is Little Wonder that Many Good People Won’t Consider Public Service.”

 

1. Learn to trust the Crank: After I reported last week that the nomination of Jason Johnson, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s pick to head the Human Services Department, was on the rocks, Durkan withdrew his name from consideration, trashing the city council in a bitter and harshly worded statement for holding up the nomination with a “never-ending confirmation process.” Durkan’s office also confirmed that they would not submit a new nominee for consideration; instead, Durkan plans to keep Johnson on as an unappointed interim director “through at least next year,” according to Durkan’s spokeswoman Chelsea Kellogg.

Durkan appointed Johnson as interim director in May 2018, and did not forward his name to the city council for permanent appointment until New Year’s Eve. As a result, Johnson served for nearly seven and a half months before Durkan officially nominated him to the position. Since then, however, Durkan has emphasized the urgency of moving his nomination through as quickly as possible.

The Council’s failure to follow its own procedures or give Jason a fair confirmation process has been harmful to the work of the Human Services Department, impaired our effort to respond to the homelessness crisis and has been deeply unfair to a person that has served this city tirelessly on one of the toughest issues facing our city, region and country,” Durkan said in the statement. “It is little wonder that many good people won’t consider public service.”

“City Council has done something remarkable: nothing. The City Council’s inaction has done a disservice to Jason, to Human Services Department employees, and to the ability of the City to focus on the crisis of homelessness.” — Statement from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office announcing her decision to pull Jason Johnson’s nomination as head of the Human Services Department

Durkan (later echoed by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce) placed the blame for the length of the nomination process squarely on council member Kshama Sawant, who advocated for a new nomination process and refused to bring Johnson up for a hearing  in her human services committee. That may have been true initially, but once Johnson’s nomination was moved to a new committee, Sally Bagshaw’s Special Committee on Homelessness, it became increasingly clear that he didn’t have the votes to win confirmation. (In her statement, Durkan said that no one on the council except Sawant had “expressed publicly or to Mayor Durkan that they are opposed to Jason.” Last week, two Durkan staffers asked me to tell them which council members had expressed concerns to me about Johnson.)  

Council members raised questions in Johnson’s first confirmation hearing, on March 28, about low morale among HSD staff, particularly in the homelessness division, which he attributed to the fact that the agency is in the middle of a time of “instability” and “immense change,” including the new mayoral administration. (The fact that the city and county are planning to merge their homelessness programs into a single regional agency is also causing heartburn in the department). Some HSD employees and members of the Seattle Silence Breakers have also raised concerns about Johnson’s commitment to race and social justice, an issue that also came up at his confirmation hearing.

Council members were unavailable Monday to talk about Durkan’s decision to pull Johnson’s name from consideration. If Johnson does remain in his position through next year, he will be working with a much different council; all seven district council positions are on the ballot this year, and four incumbents are not seeking reelection.

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2. On Monday, the council appointed its newest member to replace Rob Johnson, who resigned his District 4 (northeast Seattle) council seat seven months before the end of his term:  Abel Pacheco, currently the strategic engagement director at a University of Washington STEM program. Pacheco, who has sought a position on the council twice before (once in 2015, when he ran for the seat Johnson won, and once in 2017, when he sought appointment to a different council seat), was one of ten candidates running for the permanent District 4 position but has committed to dropping out of that race. Pacheco will chair the council’s land use and zoning committee, which will take up legislation that would make it easier to build accessory dwelling units, as well as a proposal to upzone University Way Northeast, which Johnson stripped from the Mandatory Housing Ability plan adopted last month.

3. Also Monday, the council voted to move the $219 million Libraries for All levy proposal—amended to include additional library hours, programs for kids, and outreach workers for homeless youth—to the August ballot Monday. But even before the levy plan hit the mayor’s desk, anti-tax newspaper pundits were spinning the numbers to represent the new levy as a shocking increase over 2012’s $123 million proposal. The Seattle Times reported that the original levy proposal, at $213 million, represented a “73 percent increase” over the levy adopted in 2012. On Monday, the Seattle P-I’s Joel Connelly inflated that amount to a “doubling” of the levy, a claim that would be inaccurate even if inflation and population growth did not exist, as $219 million is not twice as much as $123 million.

But inflation and population growth do exist. Since 2012, the city has grown by more than 100,000 residents, and the value of a median house has more than doubled, from $361,000 to $726,000 last year. As a result, the actual levy that’s being proposed this year—that is, the number of cents levied per $1,000 of property value—is lower than it was in the initial year of the 2012 levy.  That plan raised property taxes by 15 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2013. (The actual assessment needed to raise $123 million went down in successive years as property values spiked.) The new plan raises taxes just over 12 cents per $1,000 in 2020—an amount that will also decline if property values continue their skyward trajectory.

Don’t expect to see accurate representations of property taxes in the Seattle Times or PI, though. Instead, get ready for three more months of misleading figures and tirades against “tax fatigue,” all capped off with a Times editorial urging a “no” vote on the levy in July.

Afternoon Crank: Council Candidates Include 15 Millionaires; Durkan’s Office Responds to Story on Workplace Conduct

1. The candidates for Seattle City Council this year include at least 15 millionaires and one near-millionaire. According to the candidates’ financial disclosure reports, provided by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, the wealthiest candidate in any race is District 4 (Northeast Seattle) candidate Cathy Tuttle, who has a net worth of $7.26 million. Tuttle is followed by District 6 (northwest Seattle) candidate Jay Fathi ($5.5 million); District 7 (downtown, Magnolia, Queen Anne) candidate Don Harper ($3.8 million), District 6 candidate Jon Lisbin ($3.5 million) and District 2 (Southeast Seattle) candidate Tammy Morales ($2.6 million). The amount each homeowning candidate is worth does not include the total appraised value of their home; rather, like all calculations of net worth, it includes the portion of their home that they have paid off and own outright. If a candidate owns a million-dollar home but has only paid off one-fifth of its value, the portion of that home that would show up in the candidate’s net wealth would be $200,000.

The other millionaires and multimillionaires running for city council this year, in order, are:

• District 5 incumbent Debora Juarez ($2.02 million)

• District 5 challenger George Liu ($1.86 million)

• District 3 challenger Pat Murakami ($1.75 million)

• District 7 candidate Daniela Eng ($1.5 million)

• District 6 candidate Heidi Wills ($1.25 million)

• District 5 challenger Ann Davison Sattler ($1.2 million)

• District 7 candidate Michael George ($1.1 million)

• District 2 candidate Mark Solomon ($1.1 million)

• District 7 candidate Naveed Jamali ($1.07 million)

• District 6 candidate Kate Martin ($1 million)

Alex Pedersen, running in District 4, is the near-millionaire, with $944,000 in net wealth.

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Districts 6 and 7 tied for the most millionaires running, with four in each district so far; District 1 (West Seattle) was the only district where no candidate has a net worth above $1 million.

Twenty-two of the 53 candidates whose financial disclosures I’ve received so far own their homes, including several who own their houses outright (Liu, Solomon, Tuttle, and Lisbin) and several who own second homes or properties in addition to their primary house (Fathi, Lisbin, Murakami, Juarez). Overall, the homeowning candidates’ average net worth of $1.85 million is more than twice that of the typical Seattle-area homeowner and more than four times the $399,000 median net worth in Seattle, as reported earlier this year by the Seattle Times’ Gene Balk. The renters who are running, moreover, are wealthier, on average, than the median renter in the city, with an average net worth of about $115,000, compared to the median $36,000. Only two of the non-property owners who are running for council reported negative wealth (i.e. debt that outweighs their savings).

Districts 6 and 7 tied for the most millionaires running, with four in each district so far; District 1 (West Seattle) was the only district where no candidate so far has a net worth above $1 million.

Keep in mind that these are averages compared to medians, so the comparison is not exactly apples to apples; the spread among homeowners ranges from $300,000 (Brendan Kolding, District 1) to Tuttle’s $7.2 million, and among renters, from negative $7,500 (Joey Massa, District 6) to $765,811 (Jesse Greene, District 1).

The two non-millionaire incumbents seeking reelection are District 1 council member Lisa Herbold (net worth: $527,000) and District 3 council member Kshama Sawant (net worth $470,000). I’ll update this post when I receive the remaining handful of outstanding financial disclosure reports from the city.

“We also know that workplaces are human endeavors, and there is no office that is free of workplace issues. The work we’ve done is critical to create a culture and a system that promotes respect, empowers employees to be able to raise or discuss concerns and then appropriately address issues that may arise.”

2. On Wednesday, Crosscut’s David Kroman had an exclusive story about two former staffers for Mayor Jenny Durkan who allege that she mistreated them. One alleged that Durkan grabbed her face and turned her head during an argument; the other accused the mayor of creating a hostile work environment and racial discrimination.

Early that same morning,  Durkan’s chief of staff, Stephanie Formas, sent an email to all cabinet-level staffers responding to the allegations in the story. The email enumerates the mayor’s accomplishments “including surviving the largest snow storm in 50 years, expanded preschool, free college, climate initiatives, gun safety, a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and much more,” and talks about the diversity of the mayor’s staff and the creation of an Anti-Harassment Interdepartmental Team. “With your leadership on this issue, we’ve worked to make significant changes to create a positive workplace across the City. We also know that workplaces are human endeavors, and there is no office that is free of workplace issues. The work we’ve done is critical to create a culture and a system that promotes respect, empowers employees to be able to raise or discuss concerns and then appropriately address issues that may arise.”

Formas’ email mentions the allegations themselves only briefly, noting that “senior leadership in the Mayor’s Office worked with Seattle Department of Human Resources to listen to the employees and work to reach a respectful and fair resolution that aligned with the employees’ desired outcomes” and referring them to Durkan’s official statement.

HSD Director Nomination Stalls Out; Library Levy Moves Forward

1. The nomination process for interim Human Services Department director Jason Johnson appears to be stalled due to a lack of support from city council members, who have the final say on mayoral department director nominations. It’s unclear whether or when the city council will revive the confirmation hearings.

Last week, council member Sally Bagshaw canceled a scheduled meeting of the council’s select committee on homelessness and housing affordability, which included consideration of Johnson’s nomination, and has not rescheduled it. Some council members were reportedly unsatisfied with Johnson’s responses to their questions about inclusivity, Johnson’s personal commitment to race and social justice, independence, and his vision for the department.

Mayor Jenny Durkan has been criticized by HSD’s own internal Change Team (which leads the department’s implementation of the Race and Social Justice Initiative), as well as the Seattle Silence Breakers and the Seattle Human Services Coalition, for nominating Johnson without a “transparent and inclusive process” for selecting a new HSD leader. Earlier this year, city council member Kshama Sawant proposed a resolution to halt Johnson’s nomination and start a new search for a new HSD director. That resolution failed, with Sawant, Mike O’Brien, and Teresa Mosqueda casting the dissenting votes. But concerns about the process and about whether Johnson is the right person for the job seem to have grown since the council began holding hearings in March.

At the most recent committee meeting, on March 28, Johnson attributed the results of a survey showing widespread dissatisfaction among HSD employees, particularly those in the homelessness division, to the “instability” and “immense change” that comes with every new mayoral administration. Johnson also responded to questions about whether he’d be “independent” from Durkan—first saying that the department always employs “evidence-based strategies,” then acknowledging that he wouldn’t say it’s “my way or the highway” if Durkan disagreed with his recommendations on an issue. Council president Bruce Harrell then asked Johnson if he had considered the ways in which white privilege had greased his path to the nomination. Johnson said yes, he was aware “that I was going to have a much easier time” than his African-American predecessor, Catherine Lester, then noted that Lester  “brought me to this organization and… when she resigned and was talking about next steps, offer[ed] her full confidence in my abilities to the mayor.”

Mayor Durkan’s office declined to answer questions about the nomination process or the reason for the delay. They also repeatedly requested the names of specific council members opposed to Johnson’s nomination.

An audit earlier this year concluded that HSD is not doing enough to coordinate the efforts of the agencies that do outreach to unsheltered people; has failed to identify and prioritize people who have recently become homeless for the first time; does not provide nearly enough restrooms or showers for the thousands of people sleeping  outdoors throughout the city; and does not have a good system in place for evaluating the success of the city’s response to homelessness. (Last year, the city and county announced plans to create a new, merged agency to address homelessness, which could help address concerns about coordination; at the same time, the lack of certainty around what that agency will look like, and where current HSD employees will fit in the new structure, has likely contributed to low morale in HSD’s homelessness division.)

It’s unclear exactly how many council members would vote against Johnson if his nomination came up for a vote today (Sawant, of course, looks like a pretty hard no), but sources inside and outside city hall say that he does not currently have the votes to secure the permanent appointment. Johnson has served on an interim basis for nearly a year—a fact to which Durkan has pointed as evidence that he’s qualified for the permanent position.

Bagshaw, who would have to reconvene the committee to revive the nomination process, said she had no comment “yet” about the nomination, and other council members declined to speak on the record.

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If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  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 time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

2. The council added several million dollars to Durkan’s proposed $213 million library levy Wednesday and moved it one step closer to the ballot. The special committee on the library levy adopted the proposal after adding amendments that will, if the levy passes, expand the bilingual “Play and Learn” early-literacy program ($2.1 million); keep branch libraries, but not the downtown library, open an additional hour every day ($2.5 million); and add a youth services support social worker and a part-time case worker to do outreach to library patrons experiencing homelessness ($1.1 million). A couple of amendments that didn’t make it into the legislation: A study that would look into the feasibility of locating child-care facilities at library branches, and funding for two additional security officers.

The levy proposal goes to the full council next Monday, April 22.

For the basics on the levy, which would add library hours and eliminate library fines, check out my primer at Seattle magazine.

Golf Revenues Remain On Downward Trajectory, Raising Questions About Sustainability

A new report on Seattle’s municipal golf courses by three consultants (Lund, Scanlan, and Cocker Fennessy) concludes that none of the city-owned golf courses—Jefferson Park, Jackson Park, Interbay, and West Seattle—is sustainable without ongoing subsidies, and that all four courses have significant deferred maintenance needs, totaling more than $36 million. Under each of four scenarios the consultants considered, the golf courses, which collectively occupy 528 acres of city-owned land, will continue to lose money—between $4.1 million to $8.4 million a year by 2027. In 2017, the city spent about $8.4 million to operate and maintain the courses, or about 54 percent of their total cost (the rest is funded through fees, merchandise, and restaurant sales.) The city paid just over $104,000 for the study.

Chelsea Kellogg, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office, said the city will analyze “long-term models to see the financial sustainability of the courses.” At the same time, she said, the Parks Department, “working with other departments, will also begin to explore a range of potential options for these City-owned properties, which could include continuing these outdoor recreation facilities or other potential uses such as adding additional parks and green space, or creating affordable commercial space and housing.”

Since 2006, city policy has called for the golf courses to be self-sufficient, paying for all their own capital and operating costs and contributing 3.5 percent of their revenues—later increased to 5 percent—to the city’s Park Fund.

The report lays out a number of financial options to reduce the golf courses’ losses. They include: Reducing or eliminating the golf program’s ongoing contributions to the city’s Park Fund; increasing user fees; and farming out maintenance to a private vendor, which would reduce labor costs. Two of the four scenarios in the report also involve issuing bonds to pay for deferred maintenance, which would add annual debt service of up to $3.3 million a year to the cost of the program. The argument for doing this work now, according to the report, is that improving the courses and making them safer will make them more popular with golfers; for example, the nets at the Interbay driving range are too low for people to use clubs with long-ball flights, because of the risk of balls flying into the nearby Seattle Pacific University playing fields. “This is a significant safety liability and also a lost revenue opportunity,” the report says.

Promising projection or misguided optimism? Report predicts a total reversal of the trend of declining interest in golf.

Last year, the city budget moved about half a million dollars from the parks department into the city’s capital budget to help keep the golf courses afloat. At the time, budget director Ben Noble suggested that one reason for shrinking golf revenues is that “golf just isn’t as popular as it used to be.” The report released last week affirms this conclusion—showing that the total number of rounds declined from 242,868 in 2013 to 206,010 in 2017, and that in the Seattle metropolitan area, golfers play about 12 percent fewer rounds per capita than the national average. (Jackson Park, in North Seattle, and Jefferson Park, on Beacon Hill, both had about 22 percent fewer rounds in 2017 than in 2013.)  According to a 2017 survey by EMC Research, about 13 percent of Seattle residents use the golf courses at least twice a year; in that same survey, however, respondents overwhelmingly named golf as their lowest parks spending priority.

Support The C Is for Crank
If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  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 time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

In spite of the downward trend in golfing in Seattle, the report projects that golf rounds will rebound dramatically between 2019 and 2020, spiking 4 percent “when full course play resumes at Jefferson following capital improvements to repair damaged holes.” Overall, the report projects that the number of rounds played will increase, on average, increase 1 percent a year between now and 2027.

The report, which includes comments from a list of 60-plus “stakeholder” in the golfing community, acknowledges that golf is widely considered an “elitist” sport, but attributes this to the fact that private golf courses and country clubs are expensive and exclusive. “If the City does not offer golf as a recreational opportunity, golf will indeed be limited to only those who can afford private or privately-owned public courses where fees are substantially higher than those charged at the City’s four municipal golf courses. In addition to direct cost of fees, players would need to travel outside of the City to find a course.”

These numbers, which use widely varying age ranges, indicate that the only course where a majority of patrons are under 50 is the Interbay Golf Center, which has a 9-hole course, a driving range, and a mini-golf course.

One reason for the perception that golf is elitist and expensive that the report does not mention is that although it is—as the report puts it—”open to all,” golfers must either invest in and transport their own equipment or rent it on-site, which adds significant costs—golf clubs, for example, cost $20 a round. That’s on top of fees of $33.75 per round for adults ($38 on weekends). The report recommends that the city consider a new fee for a maintenance fund at each golf course, while noting that raising fees “runs counter to providing access to lower income people,” and that the more discount programs the golf courses offer to schools, youth groups, and off-peak players, the more revenue they lose.

The city has limited demographic information about who uses its golf courses. They do know that the participation rate among women, at 10-17 percent, is lower than the national average of 24 percent, and that participation among people under 50 is well below 50 percent at all of the 18-hole courses. At the Interbay Golf Center, which has 9 holes and includes a driving range and mini-golf course, 53 percent of patrons are under 50.  According to the report, however, “There is no data available regarding minority participation rates at Seattle public golf courses.” The report suggests increasing marketing to women and people of color, tracking golfer demographics, and “enhanc[ing] the clubhouse experience to be welcoming to all, including non-golfers.”

Golf in Seattle remains an overwhelmingly male sport.

Affordable-housing proponents have suggested closing down at least one of the city’s golf courses and using the land to develop new affordable housing. Last year, then-parks director Christopher Williams said, “Maybe we can’t sustain four golf courses. Maybe we can only sustain the two most profitable golf courses in the city ultimately. But we don’t feel we have enough information to be in a place where we can make a compelling case that golf courses should become places for affordable housing.” Another potential obstacle to the affordable-housing plan is that golf courses count as part of the city’s public green space, so that closing even the smallest golf course, the Interbay Golf Center, would represent a loss of 52 acres of “public” parkland.

Durkan’s office says they’re open to the idea. “As we weigh options for the future of the City of Seattle’s four golf courses, Mayor Durkan believes we have an opportunity to examine our golf courses with the goals of supporting our parks and green space, addressing affordability and meeting our racial equity goals as we build a city of the future.”

Afternoon Crank: More Precise Homelessness Exit Numbers, More Library Levy Asks

1. After initially saying it would require a “700-page PowerPoint” to explain how many actual people moved from homelessness into housing last year, the city’s Human Services Department has done just that, producing numbers from 2017 and 2018 that show precisely how many households and how many individual human beings have exited from city-funded homelessness programs.

In her State of the City speech, Mayor Jenny Durkan claimed the city had “helped more than 7,400 households move out of homelessness and into permanent housing”; after I reported that this number actually accounted for exits from programs rather than “households,” resulting in duplication,  HSD’s deputy director suggested that the actual number mattered less than the trajectory; “no matter how you look at it, it’s getting better,” she said. On Tuesday, at a meeting of the council’s human services committee, interim HSD director Jason Johnson confirmed another way households could be duplicated—if someone exits from a shelter with a rapid rehousing voucher, then uses the voucher until it runs out, that person counts as two “exits.”

This number is a far more precise (though still imperfect) way of looking at exits from homelessness. And it actually confirms HSD’s contention that the city’s focus on new strategies such as enhanced shelter, with case management and services, is paying off. In 2018, HSD-funded programs helped move 3,559 households, representing 5,792 individual people, into housing from homelessness. That’s an increase from 2017, when HSD-funded programs moved 3,374 households, representing 4,447 people, into housing. (The numbers in the chart HSD provided when I requested year-over-year data, below, don’t quite add up because 36 households used homeless prevention programs and, at another point in the year, were homeless and then exited from homelessness. And, as Kshama Sawant’s aide Ted Virdone confirmed ) City-funded homeless prevention programs served 71 fewer people last year than in 2017, which HSD spokeswoman Lily Rehrman attributes to the fact that six prevention programs—Chief Seattle Club Prevention, Mother Nation Prevention, Seattle Indian Health Board Prevention, St. Vincent de Paul Prevention, United Indians Prevention, and Somali Youth and Family Club (SYFC) Prevention—were new last year.

HSD’s presentation to the council committee earlier this week also showed that the while the total number of basic shelter beds declined by 296, the total number of shelter beds overall went up by 366, thanks to 662 new enhanced shelter beds—a term that, according to the city, refers to shelters with “extended or 24/7 service” that offer “many services” such as meals, storage, and case management.

2. The city council’s special library levy committee had its first evening hearing on the details of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed $213 million levy renewal Thursday night, and the conversation was almost entirely free from the topic that dominated the committee’s discussion on Monday: Whether the library should do away with fines for late returns, which disproportionately impact people in the city’s most diverse and least wealthy areas.

Despite what certain radio talk-show hosts and the Seattle Times editorial board might have you believe, there was no evidence of public outrage at the idea that kids might no longer punished for failing to return their books on time. Instead, most public commenters spoke about about the importance of the library in general (one speaker, historian Paula Becker, described how important the library was as a refuge for her late son, Hunter, during his active heroin addiction) or in favor of specific programs they used, like a book club for people with sight impairment. (Council president Bruce Harrell, who suggested earlier this week that fines send an important message about civic responsibility, did get in one plug for fines as a way to pay for some of the items his colleagues have suggested adding to the proposal). The bulk of the meeting was about five proposed amendments that would increase the cost of the proposal, and other ideas that aren’t formal amendments but could add millions more to the plan.

Those amendments include:

• A proposal by council member Lorena Gonzalez to fund existing programs for kids under 4  and youth through high school with levy funds, rather than through the Seattle Library Foundation, at a cost of $4.2 million over seven years;

• An amendment by council member Mike O’Brien to keep libraries open one hour later on weeknights throughout the system (on top of the additional hours in Durkan’s proposal, which would add morning and evening hours to three branches and open four libraries on Fridays), at a cost of $6.2 million over seven years;

• An proposal by council member Teresa Mosqueda to study the feasibility of co-locating child care services at library branches, at an unknown cost;

• Another proposal by Mosqueda that would add two more security officers to the library system, bringing the total from 19 to 21, at a cost of $1.3 million over seven years; and

• A final proposal by Mosqueda to fund three more case managers and a youth services support worker from the Downtown Emergency Service Center to connect patrons experiencing homelessness to housing and services, at a cost of $2.1 million over seven years.

In addition, the council will consider adding more funding for digital materials like e-books to reflect their rising cost; adding air conditioning and/or elevators at the Columbia City, Green Lake, and University branches; funding a small new South Lake Union library branch in the new Denny Substation.

Support The C Is for Crank
If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  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 time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

City council member Debora Juarez, who chairs the library committee, said the amendments “all make sense and are great, but that “we still have to be mindful that we are in levy mode; we are not in general budget mode. … We don’t want to put a poison pill where [the levy] goes down because taxpayers are not going to be comfortable” with the amount. “We’re not voting on a child care levy. We’re not voting on a public safety levy. We are voting on a library levy. So we have to keep that in mind.”

3. Learn to trust the Crank: As I first reported on Twitter yesterday, council member Juarez is King County Executive Dow Constantine’s pick to replace former council member Rob Johnson (who left the council before the end of his term for a job as the transportation planner for NHL Seattle). The King County Council will have to approve Juarez’s appointment (technically, she will represent North King County on the regional board). One question that will likely come up is whether Juarez, who fought tooth and nail for the N. 130th St. light rail station in her council district, will be able to broaden her horizons as a member of the regional Sound Transit board. Perhaps anticipating such questions, Juarez said in her announcement, “I plan on working as hard for the people of the tri-county Sound Transit service area as I do for my North Seattle district.”

“You Uppity F*cking Bitch”: The Response to the Viral Public Comment Video Was Predictable and Avoidable

A couple of weeks ago, a video of the city council’s public hearing period went viral, spurred on by local conservative media and amplified by national right-wing talk show and podcast hosts. The video showed a man, Richard Schwartz, asking council member Debora Juarez, who was chairing the meeting, to stop the two-minute timer so that he could address her directly about the fact that the council didn’t seem to be listening to him with the kind of rapt attention he felt he deserved. Schwartz, who has met one-on-one with council members and complains to them frequently about cyclists going “too fast” in the Westlake bike lane, was breaking the public-comment rule that requires commenters to speak to items on the agenda; I’ve watched the council for a long time and seen them cut off many people’s mics over many years for violating this rule, but they didn’t do so in this case. (If you want to know more about Schwartz’s pet issue, KUOW did a  piece about him two days after his viral public comment). Instead, Juarez told him the clock was running and said he had her attention. Once the two-minute video clip started to spread via Facebook and Reddit, of course, none of that context mattered. The only thing many people saw was a kindly old man begging for attention from a bunch of rude government officials, mostly women, who ignored his sincere pleas for “just two minutes” of their attention.

That part was predictable: Right-wing bloviators love to crow about government (particularly liberal governments) not listening to the little guy. But so was what happened next: A torrent of abusive phone calls and emails from around the country, directly primarily at Juarez but also at every woman of color on the council, including one who was not even at the meeting. This was predictable because it’s basically what happened the last time the women on the council did something controversial. Last time, the council’s five female members voted against vacating a public alley for would-be stadium developer Chris Hansen. This time, they failed to pay sufficiently rapt attention to an older white man who was demanding that they hang on his every off-topic word.

I went through more than 1,000 emails that poured into council offices over the five-day period when the video was at its viral peak. Strung together and put into 12-point type, they made a 216-page Word document more than 130,000 words long. Some of the abusive emails went to subsets of the council, or to every council member (including the two, Bruce Harrell and Teresa Mosqueda) who weren’t there. Many others were targeted specifically at the female council members. In fact, more emails were addressed explicitly to Mosqueda—who, again was not even at the meeting—than to Mike O’Brien, who was.

In reading the emails, a few themes emerge. The first is sexist name-calling, most of it targeted at Juarez, who is referred to as “that cunt”; “a vile piece of trash”; “an entitled bitch”; an “uppity bitch” whose “ugly ass really should pay more attention to the citizens immediately in front if [sic] you, instead of looking up recipes for tortillas”; “A grotty, lazy, rude good for nothing stereotype”; a “disrespectful bitch”; a “vile old clam”; an “ugly fucking cow”; a “fat disgusting cow”; “the literal scum of the earth” whose “dusty old bones will most likely fill up all 6 feet of space [in her coffin] just by itself”; a “bitch” who should “suck my fucking dick,” and a variety of other slurs. Writers also targeted council member Kshama Sawant with sexist and racist slurs, including “a truly revolting individual and a cancer that plagues the Jewel of the Pacific Northwest”; a “racist hypocrite against the usa [sic] worthless politician”; a “piece of shit” “fucking Muslim” who should “go back to your ducking [sic] country”; and, of course, a bitch. Callers to Gonzalez’s office left messages saying she “should honestly get the fuck out of this country because you don’t belong here”; that she should “go fuck yourself, you fucking piece of shit”; and calling her “a vile and disgusting load of shit, you fucking bitch.”

Other themes: The council is being racist and sexist against Schwartz because he’s a white man (“Are you a bunch of misandrist [sic] (look that word up dummies) or just a bunch of chauvinist [sic] that are sticking up for the women but, really attacking men?.”); “I am appalled at your callous and arrogant demeanor toward the white male CITIZEN”); “Kiss America’s Ass & My White Male Veteran Ass. Now sit your Fat Ass Down.” They’re “arrogant” (a word that shows up 38 times in the emails), “entitled” (22) “elitists” (20) because they’re “Democrats” (or “Demo-craps” or “DEMON-CRAT[s]!!!!!” or “DemocRATs”). And they deserve to be “hit,” “slapped,” have someone “beat the fuck out of them” because of the way they acted. These comments, while sometimes directed at the entire council, were most often directed at Juarez, and often tended to be gendered, suggesting that while the entire council may be “DEMON-CRATS,” only the women on the council needed to be told (as Juarez was) that they are “Smug, elitist, dismissive, bored, annoyed, ignorant and ugly both inside and out.”

 

People often wonder why more women don’t go into politics, and there are many reasons—sexist double standards that require women to “prove ourselves” capable of roles men are assumed to be able to do by default; sexist societal expectations that make women primary parents, caregivers, housecleaners, and errand runners even in “progressive” cities like Seattle; gendered ageism that says that women are too young to be effective right up until the moment that they’re too old to be relevant. But the fact that women in public office are far more likely face threats, harassment, and gender-based verbal abuse is another reason, one we shouldn’t just ignore. In the weeks since the initial burst of hate speech that a staffer described as “the hurricane,” the media has moved on and the cameras (many of them trained directly on Juarez, demanding “answers to the questions” people commenting on the video were raising) have gone away. But we shouldn’t just ignore these attacks, or say the female council members “knew what they were signing up for”—or, as some members of the Seattle media did, fan the flames in order to juice our own ratings or clicks. Putting up with sexist, racist harassment and gender-based threats shouldn’t be a job requirement at any workplace, particularly one where women have to work three times as hard to be taken half as seriously.

Support The C Is for Crank
If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  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 time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Fines Are a Barrier to Access: And Other Facts About the Proposed Library Levy

City council members discussed Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal to renew Seattle’s library levy and increase its size from $123 million to $213 million on Monday, and proposed some possible adds of their own.

The most controversial aspect of the levy, besides its size (which council member Mike O’Brien noted is an increase of about 35 percent once population growth and inflation are accounted for—not 78 percent, as the Seattle Times has claimed) is a proposal to eliminate fines for overdue materials, which studies from other cities have shown is an effective way to ensure access for low-income residents while actually increasing the number of books and other materials that get returned.

Council staffer Asha Venkataraman explained this somewhat counterintuitive conclusion. First, she noted, fines really are a barrier to access: About one in every five library cardholders currently has a blocked account, meaning that they can’t access library materials unless they pay their fines. The areas of the city with the largest numbers of blocked accounts, as well as the highest average outstanding fines, are mostly south of I-90, in Southeast Seattle, plus parts of far north Seattle—areas with lower average incomes and more people of color. Those areas also happen to be the places where wifi and computer usage in libraries is highest (suggesting the lack of computers at home).

Second, Venkataraman explained, a San Francisco study that looked into eliminating library fines found that patrons in cities that had partially or completely eliminated fines returned materials at the same rate or slightly faster, and that circulation increased overall (which makes sense, because when people fail to return books, the number of books in the system is reduced and circulation goes down.) The study also found that a major reason people avoided going in to get their account restored was “the negative interaction of having to go and pay off fines.”

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If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  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 time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Council president Bruce Harrell expressed concern that eliminating fines might discourage people from doing their civic responsibility, and suggested (perhaps tongue in cheek) that if the city is going to eliminate fines, they should also eliminate fees for people who simply fail to return books, which account for about $200,000 of the $1.1 million the library system takes in annually from fines and fees. (“Some people are operating in a higher theft area than others and I don’t want them being prohibited from being able to borrow from this public asset just because they couldn’t afford to pay the book back,” Harrell said.)  Harrell also suggested that the city create a system where people who want to pay can do so, but people who don’t want to pay won’t be penalized. “I don’t understand the policy reasons for waiving millions of dollars when some people might be willing to pay,” Harrell said. The library’s revenues from fines have been steadily declining, thanks largely to the growing use of online materials. Since 2013, fine revenues have decreased by 31 percent.

Council member Kshama Sawant responded that even if payment is “voluntary,” such a system would still require people returning books to indicate that they weren’t going to pay, and why. “What’s going to happen if you introduce that kind of policy … would be a sort of implicit shaming of people who can’t pay,” Sawant said. “There are children who shouldn’t have to figure out whether their parents are able to pay or not. That just seems to put the onus on the individual families to decide what they should do.”

Council members also discussed the question—raised, most recently, in a Seattle Times editorial that argued that the city should find alternative sources to pay for library capital projects—of whether revenues from the real estate excise tax on new development, or REET, could be used to supplant a significant portion of levy funding and lower the levy ask. The Times also claimed, erroneously, that the city has “slashed” REET spending on libraries from $3.8 million in 2016 to “only $564,000 this year.” (Over the life of the proposed levy, annual REET spending would be $500,000 to $800,000 a year, according to a staff analysis.) In fact, the higher spending in 2016 (and 2017) represented a historic anomaly. According to the adopted library budgets from those years, the city spent a total of $2.3 million in REET revenues on library capital projects in 2016, and a total of $1.9 million in 2017, largely  to  fund unanticipated repairs to the downtown library, including repairs to a sinking floor. Between 2013, when the last version of the levy went into effect, and 2015, average REET spending was $593,000 a year. “Not all library needs will and can be met to the scale that is needed by simply relying on REET,” council member Lorena Gonzalez said.

Source: Council central staff memo, April 8

Council members indicated that they were interested in adding a few items to the plan, including extended weeknight hours (council member O’Brien), programs targeted at kids under 4 (Gonzalez), and adding air conditioning and elevators at the Columbia City, Greenlake, and University branches.

The council will hold its first public hearing on the levy in council chambers starting at 5:30 this Thursday, April 11.

School Board Member Enters Race Against Sawant With Endorsements from Two Current Council Members

via Zachary DeWolf campaign

District 3 council member Kshama Sawant has a sixth opponent: School board member and former Capitol Hill Community Council president Zachary DeWolf, who declared his candidacy this morning and already has the endorsements of two city council members, Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena Gonzalez. (Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce director Egan Orion announced his candidacy last Tuesday.) In addition to serving on the Seattle School Board since last year, DeWolf works at All Home, the regional homelessness agency. He was also instrumental in transforming the Capitol Hill Community Council from a semi-exclusive club of older homeowners into a group that’s actually representative of the community, including renters, queer folks, young people, and women.

I spoke with DeWolf, who told me he would (unlike Sawant) seek public financing through the city’s democracy voucher program, at his home on Capitol Hill last Friday. What follows are some excerpts from that interview.

On why he’s running :

I’m not running against whoever’s in that office. My opponent is homelessness. We are not spending enough money on the crisis. We spend about $198 million here in the city on a $400 million crisis. We can’t stop the inflow. We can’t serve everybody that’s on these wait lists, and we don’t have anywhere to put people because we don’t have enough affordable housing. It’s really frustrating when there are folks in our community who are snake oil salesmen, who traffic in sensationalism, dehumanization, misinformation and othering of our neighbors. Something like a hundred of our neighbors died last year in the streets, [including one who was] 24 days old. So we’re not operating under an urgency that this crisis deserves. I want to be running and really prioritizing that crisis, because no other issue of our time will have a greater impact on the health and vibrancy of the city. And we’ve risen to challenges before, like the a $15 minimum wage. This city can do great things when we come together and I think we can do that with homelessness.

On how to deal with that crisis:

One of the programs I manage [at All Home] is a specific fund for diversion, which is one of the lowest-cost  financial supports and resources we can give to our neighbors who are  experiencing homelessness.  We’re trying to scale this up in King County. The diversion approach says, ‘You have your own solutions; let’s help you discover them together.’ And sometimes that looks like, you know, ‘My grandma says I can live in her basement as long as I help pay for groceries.’ Okay, so let’s help you do that. And then you have a housing solution and some family reunification. It’s not that all people need the full menu [of services]. Sometimes it’s just that one-time financial assistance … [or] a shallow rent subsidy… to make sure that each month people can pay their rent and stay in their homes.

It  also has to [involve] facing some hard truths. It’s really easy to have a fundraiser for Mary’s Place [which serves homeless women and kids]. It’s really easy to have a fundraiser for Youth Care. That’s a really compelling image. It is the folks that are often left out that we were not as sympathetic to.

On the council’s recent vote to approve the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan, which includes modest upzones to 6 percent of Seattle’s single-family land:

I think we need it to be more bold. We’re the kind of district that has a community council that advocates for safe consumption sites, that advocates for low0barrier shelter. We want to do something; we want to be a part of shaping that change. And we recognize that we’re in a growing city. We chose to live in density. We want to see more people here. And we recognize that we have access to more things because we do have density, and that more people should share in that prosperity. I think there’s probably a lot more areas of our district that could have and should absorb more multifamily housing. Especially here in Capitol Hill, we’re like 80 percent renters. We chose to live here because it’s dense and it feels like a vibrant city.

I think there’s a lot of fear about change in neighborhoods. What I truly believe is a city is truly made up of its people and bringing more people in. It’s not a bad thing.

On why he won’t participate in forums sponsored by Speak Out Seattle, an organization that fought against the head tax for homelessness, opposes tiny house villages and encampments, and backed an initiative to ban safe consumption sites:

If people aren’t going to come in good faith to the conversation with information and knowledge about an issue, then it doesn’t feel like we’re coming to the table together equally. And, the things that they purport and the ways that they otherize particularly our neighbors experiencing homelessness… It’s those types of voices who have the megaphone to do it. ‘I’m going to be more concerned about making sure that my neighbors who are experiencing homelessness have a voice and are heard, because they don’t often have access to do that. And I would rather focus on the people furthest away from justice.

Support The C Is for Crank
If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  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 time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Bonus Council Crank: Thirteen people have applied to replace former city council member Rob Johnson (D4) until the council election in November, including some names that may be familiar to people who pay close attention to council politics. They include Abel Pacheco, who ran against Johnson for an open seat in 2015 and is also a candidate for the permanent position (Pacheco’s campaign says he will drop out of the race if he’s chosen for the temporary position); Brooke Brod, a University District homeowner who recently testified in favor of Mandatory Housing Affordability; Darby DuComb, who served as chief of staff to city attorney Pete Holmes and recently argued against a proposed special taxing district on the downtown waterfront; smart-growth advocate and smart-ass tweeter David Goldberg; Mayor Jenny Durkan staffer Maritza Rivera; and former PCC Farmland Trust director Kathryn Gardow.

The council has until April 25 to hold hearings on the appointment and make their decision.

 

Eleven Projects Vanished From the City’s Bike Master Plan Update. Here’s What Happened to Them.

Your mileage may vary. This grand total, for example, is actually more like 30. (Full list available here.)

As I reported in March, the city’s updated bike master plan implementation plan (sorry for the unwieldy mouthful, but that’s what it’s called) eliminates more than just the list of projects the Seattle Department of Transportation chose to highlight on pages 36-37 of the update.  It also quietly eliminated nearly a dozen projects without including them on the list of official cuts. (I came up with this list by manually checking every project in the 2017 plan against every project in the 2019 update, then figuring out which projects went unmentioned in the 2019 plan.) Those missing projects include protected bike lanes around the city—from the University District to SoDo to Beacon Hill to the Rainier Valley—as well as basic bike lanes and neighborhood greenways. After compiling the list, I sent it to the Seattle Department of Transportation and asked them where the projects went.

Here’s what they had to say.

1. 11th / 12th Ave NE 2018 Paving (1.94 miles)

This project, originally a 1.94-mile bike lane along 11th and 12th Ave. NE between the University Bridge and Roosevelt, is partly accounted for under the new list of “Projects Removed,” which includes a half-mile protected bike lane along 12th between NE 67th and NE 75th Streets. The remainder of this bike lane is, according to SDOT spokesman Ethan Bergerson, accounted for as part of the “Roosevelt RapidRide multimodal corridor,” which could begin construction as soon as 2021.

The 2019 bike plan update describes the Roosevelt RapidRide project as “fully funded through construction pending [Federal Transit Agency] funds.” According to the Move Seattle Levy “reassessment” last year, which examined which of the projects promised in the 2015 levy could actually be completed given costs that turned out to be higher than the original estimates and federal funding constraints, “[a]ll budgeted funds [for Roosevelt RapidRide] are not yet secured. In addition, uncertainty related to Small Starts funding persists, particularly with regards to the schedule to secure a funding commitment from FTA. SDOT anticipates having to continue to advance the project at SDOT’s risk until at least late 2020 before securing funding.”

2. N 50th St 2019 Paving (0.64 miles)

SDOT all but eliminated this planned 0.64-mile protected bike lane connecting Phinney and Green Lake along NE 50th St—first by cutting it down to 0.27 miles (and pushing it back a year), then by reducing the scope of the project, which will now consist of two short segments of slightly wider, unprotected bike to the east and west of Aurora Ave. N. SDOT spokesman Ethan Bergerson says the city decided not to move forward with the original plan because “the roadway is not wide enough to accommodate protected bike lanes. Widening the bike lanes allows us to increase safety while also retaining parking in the area.” The need to preserve parking is the same argument that ultimately doomed a long-planned protected bike lane on 35th Ave. NE, which was killed after activists complained that eliminating on-street parking would destroy local businesses.

The bike lanes, according to Bergerson, will be one additional foot wide. Here’s the city’s fact sheet on the project.

3. N / NE 40th St 2019 Paving (1.12 miles)

This 1.12-mile unprotected bike lane on 40th St., which was supposed to be completed this year, gets a brief and partial mention in the bike plan update, which mentions that a 0.29-mile protected bike lane on N 40th has been eliminated from the package “due to design constraints & funding risk.” Bergerson says this PBL and the longer unprotected bike lane are the same project, although 0.83 miles of the original bike lane remain unaccounted for in the new update.

According to Bergerson, “During our recent outreach, we heard concerns about the plan to add a protected bike lane. In addition to concerns from neighbors and businesses about parking removal and loading access needs, we also heard safety concerns about the design from people who bike through this area. … Since there are nearby alternative east/west bike routes (Burke Gilman Trail and the N 44th St Neighborhood Greenway), we postponed the N 40th PBL to evaluate other potential spot connection improvements on or near N 40th St.” Seattle bike advocates generally prefer protected bike lanes over neighborhood greenways because they offer physical protection from cars, don’t force cyclists onto circuitous parallel paths full of obstacles like traffic circles and speed bumps, and make it easy for people to ride bikes to destinations along arterials, rather than on parallel paths that may be many blocks away from where they want to go.

5. Ballard Neighborhood Greenway – Eastern Segment (0.25 miles)

Bergerson says this project—described in the 2017 plan as a 0.25-mile neighborhood greenway along N 83rd St. between Fremont Ave. N and Aurora Ave. N—has been renamed the “Green Lake to Interurban Connection,” to “highlight the connection between the Green Lake PBLs and the Interurban/Fremont Ave NGW.” Although the 2019 draft plan lists this as a 0.38-mile project, Bergerson said that was in error, and the final version of the plan will reflect that the project is 0.25 miles long.

Support The C Is for Crank
If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  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 time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

5. One Center City – Spring Street BL (five blocks)

This five-block bike lane from 4th Ave. to 9th Ave. now appears on a list of “completed” projects, although the project that was actually completed was a scaled-back three-block version of the original project.

Update: In a followup email, Bergerson says the city has “additional paving work planned in this area” and will “reinstall and extend the PBL from 1st Ave to 9th Ave once the pavement construction is complete.”

6. Madison RapidRide (G Line) Complementary Route (20-22 blocks)

This approximately 1.5-mile bike facility between Boylston and roughly Martin Luther King Way S, the details of which were listed as “TBD” in 2017, was removed from the project list and “replaced,” in some places, “with other routes serving similar goals,” according to Bergerson. The “replacement” projects that roughly parallel the original proposal include a three-block stretch of bike lane on Union Street between 11th and 14th, one block of which has already been completed by a private developer, and a 0.67-mile protected lane that’s supposed to be finished this year as part of the Madison Multimodal Corridor project. Four other projects related to the (possibly former) Madison Street bus-rapid transit project are also listed as “removed” in the update, but none appear to exactly parallel the original 2017 project.

7. One Center City – Bell and/or Blanchard Protected Bike Lane

Bergerson says this six-to-seven-block bike lane project, which was originally scheduled for completion in 2020, will now be finished in 2021 and was ” left out of the draft Implementation Plan due to a copying and pasting error.”

8. One Center City – Vine Street

This six-block bike lane, originally scheduled for completion in 2020, should have been included in the list of project cuts, Bergerson says. He says SDOT will add this project to the list of projects removed from the plan.

9. S Spokane St 2020 Paving

This 0.39-mile bike lane on Beacon Hill was also supposed to be finished in 2020, and also should have been included in the list of project cuts. Bergerson says SDOT will add it to the list of removed projects.

10. NGW Connections (2018-2021) (4 miles)

This item, which referred to a total of about 4 miles of unspecified neighborhood greenways throughout the city, has been removed. According to Bergerson, the ill-defined greenways have been replaced in the latest plan by more specific “Safe Routes to School neighborhood greenway connections.” These projects—which include two greenways, totaling 1.32 miles, that were included in both the 2017 and 2019 plans—add up to about 9 miles of new neighborhood greenways.

11. 12th Ave S Protected Bike Lane (0.53 miles)

The new plan eliminates most of a protected bike lane along 12th Avenue S, including a segment between S. King Street and Yesler Way that passes by Bailey Gatzert Elementary School. In place of that 0.53-mile protected bike lane, the city will build a quarter-mile protected lane from the Jose Rizal Bridge (near the original southern terminus of the bike lane) to S. King Street. Advocates who noticed the cut have pointed out that the 12th Avenue south of Yesler includes many bike collision hot spots.

The city will hold a series of four evening open houses on the proposal, starting on April 23. Details on each of the meetings are available on the city’s website.

Morning Crank: “As a Seattle Native”

If we allow backyard cottages, it could open the door to neighborhood character-destroying duplexes like this

1. The city’s hearing examiner heard final arguments late last month in the latest effort by Queen Anne activist Marty Kaplan to prevent homeowners from building mother-in-law units and backyard cottages (accessory dwelling units, or ADUs) on their property. (Kaplan has been filing legal challenges “as a Seattle native” since 2016, arguing that allowing two ADUs—e.g., a backyard cottage plus a basement apartment—will destroy the character of Seattle’s exclusive single-family neighborhoods and lead to rampant speculation by developers). The preferred alternative (there’s no actual legislation yet, since the proposal has been locked up in litigation) would also remove the existing parking mandate; establish restrictions on the size of new single-family houses in an effort to thwart McMansion-style developments; and lift the current owner-occupancy requirement in favor of a new rule requiring that a homeowner who has one ADU and wants to build a second must own the property for at least a year before beginning to build.

If the hearing examiner rules that the environmental review of the ADU proposal, sponsored by council member Mike O’Brien, was adequate, the council can move forward with actual legislation as early as next month. Their goal is to finalize and vote on the legislation no later than August.

But hold up. Mayor Jenny Durkan reportedly hopes to negotiate with the council to get some amendments to the legislation, starting with the owner-occupancy requirement. ADU opponents, including Kaplan, have argued that allowing up to two secondary units on a lot will open single-family neighborhoods up to “speculative development,” unless the city mandates that any homeowner who wants to build an ADU has to live on that property in perpetuity. The specter of developers descending greedily upon single-family property for the privilege of building a secondary unit (and then, after owning the property for a full year after that, building a third) might strike anyone familiar with Seattle’s existing real-estate market as absurd, but to spell it out: There’s no evidence of a speculative boom in backyard apartments in other cities, like Portland and Vancouver, where they’re easier to build; the scenario in which developers build backyard apartments, then sit on those properties for the year before building another unit, makes little financial sense; and fans of missing-middle housing for middle-class people who can no longer afford to buy anything in Seattle might consider a little development a good thing. Nonetheless, Durkan reportedly wants to put owner-occupancy requirements back on the table, and to reopen the discussion about parking requirements. Council sources say the parking idea in particular is probably a nonstarter.

The hearing examiner is expected to make his ruling by mid-May.

Support The C Is for Crank
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2. The city’s Human Services Department found itself on the defensive in late February, after Mayor Durkan claimed in her state of the city speech that the city had “helped more than 7,400 households move out of homelessness and into permanent housing.” As I first reported, that number was misleading at best—the city actually counted 7,400 exits from programs, a number that almost certainly overstates the number of actual people who have gotten out of homelessness because it counts every program as an exit (so that, for example, a household of two who stopped using five homelessness programs would count as five “exits.”)

At the time, HSD officials and the mayor’s office expressed frustration to reporters who asked questions about the discrepancy, insisting that they should have “known all along” that when the city said “households,” they really meant “exits from programs,” and that reporters should focus not on what the numbers specifically represent, but on the fact that they’re going up.  “No matter how you look at it, it’s getting better,” HSD deputy director Tiffany Washington said. Nonetheless, several other reporters considered it newsworthy that the city did not know how many people it was actually helping, despite the city’s insistence that it was not a revelation.

Even as the city was telling reporters that they shouldn’t have been surprised that “households” does not mean “households,” internal communications between mayoral and HSD staffers, which I obtained through a records request, show that prior to the mayor’s press conference to discuss the numbers the Monday after my story ran, the city decided to remove all references to “households” in a talking-points memo bound for the mayor’s desk.

The shift was fairly abrupt. On Thursday, February 21, for example, HSD spokeswoman Meg Olberding wrote in an internal email that one of the department’s top speaking points was “30% More Households Exit (Maintain) to Permanent Housing.” One day later, and several hours after my initial story on the “households” vs. “exits” discrepancy, the mayor’s homelessness advisor, Tess Colby, emailed the mayor’s office and HSD staff to say that she had “revised the memo to Mayor to replace ‘HHs’ with ‘exits’ solely in the interest of precision.”

In all, 12 references to “households” were removed from the memo. For example, the top bullet point, which referred to “the 7,400-goal … for exiting households from the system and maintaining permanent supportive housing clients” was changed to “exits from the system and maintaining permanent supportive housing clients.” A sentence that originally read, “In 2018 431 Native American/Alaska Native households exited  homeless services programs …and 2,979 Black/African Americans households exited homeless services programs” was changed to read, “In 2018 there were 431 exits among Native Americans/Alaska Natives from homeless services programs …  and exits of Black/African Americans increased to 2,979.” And a reference to enhanced shelters “exiting nearly twice as many households” in 2018 than the previous year was changed to say, “Exits to permanent housing increased nearly two-fold.”

These changes may seem minor, but they (and their timing) are significant. The mayor’s office got called out for overstating its success in responding to homelessness. Publicly, they went on the defensive, telling reporters they were making a big deal out of nothing. Privately, though, the mayor’s office appeared to realize the confusion was warranted.

3. Speak Out Seattle, a group that fought against the head tax for homelessness, opposes tiny house villages and encampments, and backed an initiative to ban safe consumption sites,  held a forum for District 2 council candidates Thursday night, although only four of the seven declared candidates decided to attend. (Two, Tammy Morales and Christopher Peguero, had previously stated their intent to boycott the forum). The remaining candidates were bounce-house rental company owner Ari Hoffman, Socialist Workers Party Henry Dennison, Seattle Police Department crime prevention coordinator Mark Solomon, and Rainier Valley community organizer Phyllis Porter.

I live-tweeted the event, which was attended by an incongruously white audience given that D2 is the least-white district in the city. I’ve included a few key moments below, and collected all my tweets in a Twitter moment here.