Alarm Over Potential Navigation Team Cuts Leaves Out One Crucial Detail


Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office sent council members a letter today outlining potential devastating consequences if the city council eliminates or reduces the size of the Navigation Team, a group of police officers and city staffers who remove unauthorized encampments. The letter, signed by the heads of seven executive departments that report to Durkan (plus the director of the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health), suggests that between 95 and 476 fewer people will receive referrals to shelter next year if the council reduces funding for the Navigation Team.

“The Navigation Team’s trained police officers, Field Coordinators and System Navigators engage people experiencing homelessness in some of Seattle’s most dangerous and inaccessible locations, establishing the rapport and trust needed to provide critical services,” the memo says.

But the biggest issue with the warning in the mayor’s memo is that no one, except embattled city council member Kshama Sawant, is seeking to “eliminate” the Navigation Team. In fact—alarmist headlines about “draconian budget cuts” aside—no one but Sawant has proposed cutting the program at all, and not one council member has expressed support for Sawant’s idea.

There are a few issues with this analysis. The first is that referrals to shelter matter less than how many people actually end up going to shelter. According to the city’s own numbers (first reported by The C Is for Crank), fewer than a third of all shelter referrals result in a person actually accessing a shelter bed, so the actual number of people who might not access shelter through the Navigation Team is more like 28 to 143 people a year.

The second issue is that the Navigation Team, by the city’s own admission, now focuses primarily on removing encampments it considers “obstructions,” an expansive term that can apply to any tent set up in a park or public right-of-way. According to outreach workers, these zero-notice removals do not establish “rapport” or “trust”; quite the opposite. That’s why the city’s nonprofit outreach provider, REACH, stopped participating in “obstruction” removals earlier this year.

But the biggest issue with the alarming memo is that no one, except embattled city council member Kshama Sawant, is seeking to “eliminate” the Navigation Team. In fact—alarmist headlines about “draconian budget cuts” aside—no one but Sawant has proposed cutting the program at all, and not one council member has expressed support for Sawant’s idea. The only other proposed restriction on the Navigation Team is the renewal of an existing budget proviso that requires the team to produce data on its progress, which isn’t the same thing as a cut. And at least one council member—Debora Juarez—actually wants to make the Navigation Team even bigger.

“I have ongoing concerns about pretending that the Navigation Team is actually connecting people to services and shelter when the numbers, in terms of performance, [are] dismal. If the Navigation Team was a service provider, their contract would have been canceled at this point.” — City Council member Lorena Gonzalez

The real targets for the executive department’s memo may have been council members like Sally Bagshaw, who remarked that she had never seen such consensus among city departments, and the local media, who ran with Durkan’s story line without mentioning that Sawant’s proposal has approximately a zero percent chance of passing. (Bagshaw’s comment about departmental unity led her colleague Lorena Gonzalez to quip, “I don’t disagree that there is consensus amongst the executive.”)

That isn’t to say that council members didn’t have critical things to say about the Navigation Team, which has ballooned in size during the Durkan Administration, from 22 members in 2017 to 38 this year. (After the team’s nonprofit outreach partner, REACH, stopped participating in no-notice “obstruction” removals this summer, Durkan added four more members to the team, funding two of them with one-time funds; her budget proposal, much like last year’s, seeks to make those positions permanent).

Gonzalez suggested that, given the team’s extremely low ratio of “contacts” to shelter acceptance (just 8 percent of those the team contacts end up in shelter), the city should stop pretending it is “navigating” anyone to anywhere and just start calling it a “cleanup” operation.

“I have ongoing concerns about pretending that the Navigation Team is actually connecting people to services and shelter when the numbers, in terms of performance, [are] dismal,” Gonzalez said. “If the Navigation Team was a service provider, their contract would have been canceled at this point.”

Bagshaw countered that the Navigation Team does more than “cleanups”; they also offer services and help combat what she called “a sense of less than safety in a neighborhood. … We’ve got to put our arms around the people in the neighborhoods as well,” she said.

Herbold’s proposed proviso would require the council to approve the Navigation Team’s funding every quarter based on whether it was making progress on responding to a set of recommendations the city auditor made back in 2018, many of which Herbold said the mayor’s office and HSD have “indicated that they have no intention of addressing.” One of those recommendations has to do with the Navigation Team’s staffing model and whether the current structure of the team makes sense. “We have not asked them to change the staffing model; we have asked them to do a staffing assessment. And the reason for that is that the staffing configuration might have an impact on the Navigation Team’s ability to meet our shared objectives,” Herbold said.

Juarez’s proposed budget add, in contrast, would expand the Navigation Team by two more members to serve north Seattle, which Juarez said has seen “a lot more unsanctioned encampments… that are just being ignored.” Gonzalez questioned Juarez’s proposal, asking why the existing Navigation Team couldn’t be deployed to serve the north end if that’s where the need is, and Herbold warned against making decisions about where to deploy the team based on complaints or anecdotes rather than data. “I am concerned that if we look at a geographic focus, that is going to really turn this whole body of work into one that is driven by what locations are getting the most complaints rather than what locations are creating the largest actual, objective problems,” she said.

Continue reading “Alarm Over Potential Navigation Team Cuts Leaves Out One Crucial Detail”

The 2019 City Council Candidates: Phil Tavel

Image via Phil Tavel campaign.

This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.

Today: District 1 candidate Phillip (Phil) Tavel. Tavel, an attorney, is making his second run at the West Seattle seat, after being defeated in 2015 by Lisa Herbold. Like last time, Tavel was endorsed by the Seattle Times; this time, he also has backing from groups like the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce and former council member Tim Burgess’ People for Seattle PAC.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): You’ve talked about being someone who will listen to everyone, not just the “vocal minority.” What vocal minority do you think has too much influence, and who do you believe they’re drowning out?

Phil Tavel (PT): That comment actually came from some of the times I’ve been down at city hall. There was one particular time, I think it had to do with the police contract, when Sawant had had a lot of followers in their T-shirts, and they waited to put out the table for signups until their crowd kind of jumped right in and got in front of a lot of people. And so they were able to stand up and yell and shout and get very vocal in city hall. And it seems like they get listened to as the other people just sort of get pushed out and when they stand up, they get shouted down.

And a lot of times it’s the very energetic activist crowd that will be there, be in front and they will champion their issue, which is a wonderful thing. You want it to be that way. But the way Seattle can be sometimes is, the voice that just wants to say, ‘What’s going on?’ or ‘I don’t agree with this,’ but they don’t do it in that same vocal manner, kind of gets pushed to the side.

ECB: You think it’s kind of intimidating?

PT: Well I know from talking to some of those people, they literally feel intimidated out of the room. I don’t bring up Sawant for any reason other than that she is that poster child for the loud voice, which I’ve got to admit, when she ran against Richard Conlin, I thought it was awesome. But what I think has happened is that loud crowd takes over, and then a lot of the more moderate voices and a lot of the people who are just citizens that care because their life’s been affected, but that’s not their entire life, [aren’t heard]. They still have a job and a family and other things. And so it feels like those people kind of get pushed to the side.

ECB: At the Human Services Coalition forum, you said that you think the city has enough funding for homelessness; they just need to spend it better. Can you elaborate on where you think the city could find efficiencies?

It’s not that they have enough, so much as that it feels like there could be enough, but until we know what’s actually spent and what’s returned and what’s that gap, we don’t know. This is partially from my own sense as just a citizen, not as a candidate. And then the people I talk to say, come on, we have $6 billion, and we’re not talking about caring for a quarter of a million people living on the street or even the size of LA’s problem. It seems that if we marshaled our resources better, that would go farther.

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ECB: When you say $6 billion, you’re referring to the total size of the city’s budget?

PT: Yes, $5.9 billion.

ECB: But a lot of that is capital spending that the city council can’t touch and that has nothing to do with services.

PT: Yeah, and I do recognize that. But again, this is just from that general public standpoint of, we are a very rich city. The amount of money we have to spend on these things does keep growing and we just need to have a better understanding of what’s there. What are we getting back? It was [National Alliance on Mental Illness founder] Eleanor Owen, actually, at the NAMI panel that we did, who sort of chastised all the candidates [by] saying, ‘You do realize who’s making out in this whole thing? It’s the providers. Look at how much money we spend on administration and bureaucracy that doesn’t get to that person who’s really in need.’ And that resonated with me and I had a really long conversation with her about that.

Go take a look at the  and look at the number of providers that are not meeting the county standards. And you know, a lot of it is self-reported. When Tim Burgess was mayor briefly, I remember reading an article that he wanted to see the service providers give quarterly reports as to what are their targets, what are their goals? Are they meeting them? And that type of thing has not happened. We haven’t seen that followup. After having gone through some of the things with the SCALE group [which filed multiple appeals to stop the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan, and of which Tavel was a member], we weren’t getting accurate information back from the city. And also I hear it from people in city departments. I mean, I get people from multiple departments coming to me saying, we spend our money badly and they give me examples of how much we’ve wasted.

I’ve been in meetings where I’ve had the city throw up statistics, then tell us they won’t answer questions, and then walk away. And you know, you’re sort of left with this [feeling of], ‘Well, wait a minute, okay, there are stats and numbers, but I’m dubious about where they comes from.’ I mean, I worked at the National Science Foundation, where every time you did a press presentation about a program, you had to make sure you’d triple checked everything. And I don’t get that same sense out of Seattle.

“For the last couple of years, I’ve been primarily doing private [cases]. But I’ve still got a handful of public [conflict] cases. I identify as a public defender because for 13, 14 years, that was 95% of the legal work I did.”

ECB: You’ve been supported by the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the employee hours tax that your opponent supported. How closely do you align with the Chamber on taxes, and would you propose an alternative to raise revenue for homelessness?

PT: I’m opposed to the way [the head tax] was put out. I’m for talking to [businesses] first about contributing to this issue.  I don’t feel that any conversations ever took place between the council and the largest, most successful companies to say, Hey, you know, we’ve got a choice. We can either attack you or maybe we can step up and work on something together. A couple of the larger food distributors said, ‘Our margins are pretty thin, we will pass 100 percent of this on’ [to consumers] and we’ll end up with a $25 hamburger in Seattle. I think we should looked for a higher threshold. And if we had gone out to those large companies and they were like, ‘No, we’re not going to chip in,’ fine, then let’s pick a good number and tax their net profits because clearly they’ve got enough to spend. I just didn’t like the fact that there was no real plan for how that money was going to be spent, what it was specifically needed for, and no early conversations with those people to say, would you work with us first?

ECB: You went on Saul Spady’s show and agreed with his idea of putting people on “regional homeless farms.” [Editor’s note: On his show, Spady praised the Malaysian government for its approach to “really, really low-level crime,” including prison farms. After summarizing the Malaysian policy as he understood it, Spady asked Tavel if he supported this approach. Tavel replied, “Oh, absolutely, in fact, I do,” then went on to describe the program he described to me.] I want to give you a chance to elaborate or explain what you meant, in case something got lost in translation.

PT: So a friend of mine down in southern Oregon, they had a really successful program where there was a neighborhood farm that took families where the parents were having real substance abuse issues and brought them into this cooperative model. This was just a program that where you get services, you get classes, you get daycare, you participate in this farm, you learn the farming side of things, you learn about sustainability and conservation and you’re dealing with your substance abuse issues. And if there’s associated mental health issues, they’re also taken care of. So it was basically that idea of the cooperative community model for helping people, where it was providing some work and some fresh food for the neighborhood.

I think I remember that Saul had mentioned his idea, which was like a foot-long [idea]. And he said, how do you feel about farms, which was one inch long. And so as I answered that question. It made me think about what my friend had been involved with and so I said, yeah, that’s cool. I wasn’t supporting his entire idea. I was saying that I actually do think you could have these cool cooperative models that do things that are really good for both the community and for the environment and for the people.

“My feeling is, you break the law, you get arrested for committing a crime, you are then charged with a crime you’ve committed. Because if you don’t arrest and you don’t charge, you’re sending a message that all of these things are just no longer crimes.”

ECB: You also proposed a transitional program for people coming out of jail, which sounds similar to what the city and county have proposed for responding to so-called prolific offenders downtown. Why does there need to be a program inside the criminal justice system, and would this be in lieu of expanding Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion [LEAD]?

PT: Over the years I have had literally hundreds of clients in this position where, you know, they end up getting arrested for something they’ve done attached to kind of the life that they’ve gotten on the street and impacted by the people they’re surrounded by. So they go to jail for a week to a couple of months, they come out, and they’re still in that same position. And so instead of having that cycle, the jail would [offer] a place for you to go that is close enough to social services, where there’s case manager, where there’s someone who is going to become your support mechanism. So you would either have housing available near the jail or enhanced shelter.

We have to find a way to help the people that want help. The ones that have those moments where they’re like, yeah, if there was a bed for me tonight, I would take it and I would get into services to start that path. Because once you take care of those people who will voluntarily take this assistance and get into that path going up, you’re going to then be left with that group of the longterm substance abusers, the longterm undiagnosed mentally ill, the longterm people with criminal problems. The program I’m talking about is something that would take everybody that wants a chance [and say] they get a chance.

I think we missed the opportunity to use the criminal justice system as the safety net. We’re pretty good with the cooperative courts, but they could be expanded. But it’s that when someone’s released that moment is such an opportunity to help people because all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Aw, man, I did something wrong. I ended up in jail. I don’t want to be here. I’ve been released. I want something better for myself.’ Continue reading “The 2019 City Council Candidates: Phil Tavel”

Election Crank: Three Weeks Out

I’ll be rolling out my remaining city council candidate interviews, with Phil Tavel, Mark Solomon, and Debora Juarez, this week. (Kshama Sawant and Alex Pedersen did not respond to repeated requests to sit down for an interview, and Ann Davison Sattler canceled our interview and has not yet responded to a request to reschedule.)

In the meantime, a quick roundup of campaign news from the past week:

• Heidi Wills, the former city council member who’s running to represent District 6, held a fundraiser last week that was hosted by a who’s who of anti-Burke Gilman Trail, anti-transit, anti-authorized encampment, and anti-worker interests, along with some elected officials and neighborhood activists.

Among the sponsors:

Pacific Merchant Shipping Association director Jordan Royer, who was a spokesman for Save 35th, the group that fought to kill a planned bike lane on 35th Ave. NE  in Wedgwood;

Sonja Foster, the former vice president of Enterprise Washington and current Seattle director of the Associated General Contractors, which gave $25,000 to the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee. AGC is currently suing to overturn the state’s new prevailing wage law;

Eugene Wasserman, president of the anti-Burke Gilman Trail North Seattle Industrial Association, which sued to stop the Move Seattle transit initiative; 

Ballard Alliance director Mike Stewart, who once called on Ballard residents and businesses to  flood the city’s Find It Fix It app with reports of homeless encampments; and

Former Seattle Times reporter Marty McOmber, who organized a meeting for people opposed to a city-authorized encampment in Ballard and created a petition blaming current District 6 council member Mike O’Brien for homelessness and crime in Ballard.

Both Wills and her opponent, Dan Strauss, oppose completing the Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman trail as originally planned; Wills wants to go back to the drawing board and build an elevated pathway, while Strauss supports a plan, endorsed by the business-backed group whose court challenges have stalled the trail’s completion for years, to add a bike lane to Leary Way in lieu of the trail.

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• As I mentioned above, District 4 council candidate Alex Pedersen did not respond to my repeated requests to sit down for an interview. Turns out I’m in good company: Pedersen has failed to appear at a number of events, and respond to a number of questionnaires by, groups ranging from the Seattle Human Services Coalition to the Seattle Police Officers Guild. The group Share the Cities has been keeping a running tally.

The groups Pedersen has failed to respond to also include the MASS Coalition (Pedersen skipped their forum); Citizens for a Progressive Economy, sponsored by Working Washington, OneAmerica, and other progressive groups (Pedersen did not respond to their questionnaire); Rooted in Rights and Disability Rights Washington (Pedersen skipped their forum); and Seattle Subway and the Urbanist (Pedersen did not respond to their questionnaires). Continue reading “Election Crank: Three Weeks Out”

The 2019 City Council Candidates: Andrew Lewis

Image via Andrew Lewis campaign.

This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.

Today: District 7 candidate Andrew Lewis. Lewis, who got his political start as campaign manager for former city council member Nick Licata’s reelection bid in 2009, now works as an assistant Seattle city attorney.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): What is a recent vote where you disagreed with the current District 7 representative, Sally Bagshaw?

Andrew Lewis (AL): This isn’t a vote, but I do think the lack of attentiveness to a replacement for the Magnolia Bridge is one where I disagreed with council member Bagshaw. I went to the town hall in March of 2018 on the Magnolia Bridge, at the church over there near Magnolia Village, and there was not a single city council member there. Council member Bagshaw should’ve been there.

There was a room full of angry people who wanted to hear a plan. You know, they understand that the bridge is falling apart, and they understand that the bridge is going to have to be decommissioned. What they wanted was, you know, what’s the action plan, where are we going to do? And what I hear from a lot of the folks that I’ve talked to out in Magnolia is there has not been strong leadership from our district council member on that issue.

ECB: You’ve talked about a “one for one replacement” of the Magnolia Bridge. What do you mean by “one for one replacement,” and is there a breaking point for you in terms of cost?

AL: I do support a one for one replacement to the bridge that will meet the same level of service that the bridge currently provides to the city. For me, it’s about the impact that [tearing down the bridge] would have on public transportation—the 265 buses use that bridge on a daily basis. As I’ve gotten out to Magnolia and talked to folks who are in some of the more renter-dominated quadrants of Magnolia, I’ve actually been very surprised that there are corners of Magnolia that have a pretty high amount of housing density, and all of those communities are extremely dependent on bus service that goes between Magnolia and downtown. It would be extremely difficult to reroute those buses onto Dravus, onto Emerson, due to a lot of limitations of those entryways to Magnolia. So that’s what builds my sense of urgency for it.

Even though I say one for one, I do think that the new bridge should have some multimodal kind of components to it. I think we should have protected bike lanes or even grade-separated bike lanes on a new Magnolia bridge. I think that we could incorporate that into a new design of the bridge.

In terms of cost, I think that a lot of districts are going to have a similar conversation. As a region, what we’re increasingly seeing is a lot of our deferred infrastructure challenges are going to cost money and we’re going to have to figure out a way to meet those obligations through some kind of long-term bonding strategy.

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Without belaboring the details of everything that goes into these interviews, let me tell you: It’s a LOT. From prep work, to the interviews themselves, to transcribing and writing up each post and getting it in shape for publication, each interview can take 6 hours or more to complete. I can ONLY afford to spend as much time as I do creating this content because I’m supported entirely by readers like you. If you enjoy reading my conversations with council candidates, along with breaking news, exclusive investigations, and thoughtful analysis of local news, please consider supporting this work by kicking in a few bucks a month, or a one-time donation. You can find all the details on my support page. I’ll let you get back to reading now. Thanks for your support!

ECB: The National Guard is getting ready to move out of its armory property in Interbay, freeing up land there for potential development. One idea that’s being discussed is a hybrid industrial-residential model that would include housing mixed with light industrial uses. What do you think of that proposal?

AL: Preserving industrial lands within the Ballard Interbay industrial area is super important to me. I don’t want us to lose industrial land to gentrification that we’ll never get back, especially not industrial land that abuts the water. So whenever I look at a plan to redevelop or do something to property within the [Ballard-Interbay Manufacturing and Industrial Center], I always take a really careful look at it. I would be more hesitant to encroach on land that has historically been used for some kind of maritime industrial purpose.

However, while the armory is in the BINMIC, I don’t consider it historic industrial land. It’s been an armory for decades. It’s not like we’re displacing Ballard Oil or something. This is a publicly owned armory that happens to be in an industrial area. It is also really rare that we acquire plots of land that are this large that we can play with to get some kind of public housing. I think one thing we should be looking at doing is replicating the formula that we have nailed down with Fort Lawton, which I think is excellent project. There are some people who are saying that Interbay is the next South Lake Union. My preferred vision is that it be more like Georgetown where you have areas that are carved out for housing, and that housing be workforce housing.

“I think that what often happens is there’s at least a perception that the city comes into these conversations with a proposed route already in mind, and I think that contributes to a sense of polarization and to a sense of concern amongst business owners that they weren’t consulted, that they didn’t have a hand in shaping the route.”

ECB: Was the mayor right to postpone the Fourth Avenue bike lane, and would you push for completion of that bike lane?

AL: I’m not completely familiar with what the controversies are, if the businesses and neighbors have concerns specifically about the proposed route. One thing that I think we should be doing more of is having a process about protected bike lanes where we start with a Point A and point B without a proposed route in the middle. And then we start a process with the neighborhood, with the business owners, with the community, with stakeholders, in the biking  activism community and environmental groups. And we sit down and say, we got a Point A, we got a Point B,  how are we going to connect them? I think that what often happens is there’s at least a perception that the city comes into these conversations with a proposed route already in mind, and I think that contributes to a sense of polarization and to a sense of concern amongst business owners that they weren’t consulted, that they didn’t have a hand in shaping the route. Continue reading “The 2019 City Council Candidates: Andrew Lewis”

The 2019 City Council Candidates: Dan Strauss

 

 

Support The C Is for Crank
Without belaboring the details of everything that goes into these interviews, let me tell you: It’s a LOT. From prep work, to the interviews themselves, to transcribing and writing up each post and getting it in shape for publication, each interview can take 6 hours or more to complete. I can afford to spend as much time as I do creating this content for you because I’m supported entirely by readers. If you enjoy reading my conversations with council candidates, along with breaking news, exclusive investigations, and thoughtful analysis of local news, please consider supporting this work by kicking in a few bucks a month, or a one-time donation. You can find all the details on my support page. I’ll let you get back to reading now. Thanks for your support!

This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.

Today: Dan Strauss, a legislative aide to retiring District 7 council member Sally Bagshaw and nearly lifelong Ballard resident who is running to replacing District 6 representative Mike O’Brien, who’s leaving the council after 10 years. We sat down at Ballard Coffee Works on NW Market Street, which becomes pertinent a couple of times during this interview.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): When you’re knocking on doors, how do you respond to complaints that the city isn’t doing enough to address visible homelessness in District 6, particularly in Ballard?

Dan Strauss (DS): I talk to them about the need to be able to provide everyone who is experiencing homelessness the opportunity to come inside four walls with a door that they can lock, that’s connected to the services that they need. I mean, that’s the baseline of what we need to be doing. And it’s a travesty that we aren’t providing enough enhanced shelters or places for people to be able to keep their things during the middle of the day, that folks are pushed out of their overnight shelters very early in the morning and haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep, and so now they’re sleeping during the day. That’s what we need to be focusing on. And that’s how I direct their commentary.

When I was growing up, there was a single resident occupancy hotel [in Ballard], which burned down in 2000. That was a place where people would be able to have four walls and a door that they could lock if rent was short that month, or if they were off of a fishing boat for a minute, or something like that. And so I think that’s something that is sometimes lost when we’re talking about what’s going on in Ballard—there have always been people experiencing homelessness in our community.

“In my perfect world, we would be bonding against our existing tax streams, using our total bonding capacity to build the housing we need today.”

ECB: You’ve also mentioned that you supported safe consumption sites. It’s been more than three years since the King County Opiate Task Force recommended opening two safe consumption sites in the county, and obviously it hasn’t happened. Are you just stating your values, or are you planning to actively push for safe consumption if you’re elected?

DS: There’s not a legal pathway given the federal government’s current position. So these are values I hold, because I know that harm reduction models work. This is the most extreme harm reduction model available, and there’s other ways that we can reduce harm in our communities. We know that there are drug addiction is a medical disease and it can be treated with medical interventions.

ECB: You said at a recent forum that you don’t support sweeping homeless people from place to place. What would you do with the Navigation Team, and is there more nuance that you weren’t able to express in that yes/no question?

DS: The nuance with that is that the Navigation Team, in its essence, is supposed to navigate people to services and to a safe, warm, dry place to live. And the problem is that we don’t have enough of those resources, right? So if we did have enough places with four walls and a door that someone can lock, that has the services on site, the Navigation Team would be effective.

ECB: In the absence of that, what would you propose to address people’s short-term needs?

DS: In the short term, we need to treat this like the emergency that it is. The fact that it’s taking three to five years for the modular houses from King County to come online—that’s not satisfactory. We know what the solutions are and that we need to get going, and we need to put this at the front of the queue.

All [the Office of Police Accountability] does is file complaints and grievances. We should also be giving commendations and saying, ‘You did a good job.’

ECB: You’ve mentioned finding efficiencies in the system as one way to save money and be able to invest more in things like housing and shelter. Do you think that there needs to be a new revenue source as well?

DS: I mean, at this point, especially for the capital side of things, there’s no way around that. The ride share tax that [Mayor Jenny Durkan just proposed]—that’s another revenue source. I would love to see the state do more. I’d love to see the county do more. I’d love to work with my colleagues to develop good proposals that aren’t putting the burden on property or sales tax. What I would love to see is us fully use our bonding capacity. In my perfect world, we would be bonding against our existing tax streams, using our total bonding capacity to build the housing we need today.  We’re in an emergency—we’re just straight-up in an emergency. If there is any untapped [bonding] capacity, that needs to be used.

ECB: What do you think of how the mayor has proposed allocating the revenues from the ride share tax, splitting it between housing and the streetcar?

DS: I think we’re at the point where we’re going to need to connect the streetcars or rip them up. It’s just such an example how Seattle does things halfway. And we’ve had such a long history of doing things halfway. And that’s one of the reasons that I decided to run. I’m tired of seeing it done that way. We need to have Yesler Terrace connected to South Lake Union and South Lake Union connected to the International District. The frustrations that I have with the streetcar is it needs to have dedicated lanes, and we need to have a connected system. It’s also frustrating that this was a premier mode of transportation when it was first proposed and we never got behind it and now we’re behind the times.

I don’t think that the housing dollars should expire in five years. And I would love to see a way that we could get those funds to be bondable. Continue reading “The 2019 City Council Candidates: Dan Strauss”

Durkan’s Comms Director To Depart; Mayor’s $250,000 General Submits One-Pager on What He Does All Day; and HSD Expects Long Contract Delays

Buried in paper: A screen shot from one of several PowerPoints and memos provided to city council members in response to the question, ““Please provide the official job title, job description, salary and source of funding for the Director of Citywide Mobility Operations. Please describe the position’s responsibilities, accomplishments and anticipated deliverables.”

1. Mark Prentice, a spokesman for Mayor Jenny Durkan who served as her communications director for the past year, is leaving Durkan’s office before the end of the year to “explor[e]opportunities to elect Democrats in 2020 and continue advocating for the issues we all care about,” according to an internal email from Durkan’s chief of staff, Stephanie Formas.

Prentice joined the mayor’s office after working for the developer Vulcan; prior to that, he (like Formas) worked for various Democrats in Washington, D.C. “Anyone who has worked with Mark knows it’s a 24/7 job that has meant countless early mornings, late nights, and weekends. I can’t think of a dull moment or a slow week, and Mark and the entire Communications Team have been critical to our major accomplishments,” Formas wrote.

The city has already advertised Prentice’s job, which pays between $102,458 and $169,023, on the Government Jobs hiring website.

Many of these departments have little or nothing to do with traffic management, and the job of reforming the city’s overall management strategy appears nowhere in Worden’s official job duties.

2. As the city council debates Mayor Durkan’s budget, one very specific line item has sparked several council members’ interest: The $200,000 position of “mobility operations director,” created for retired Air Force general Mike Worden, who was one of the runners-up for Seattle Department of Transportation director. (Worden, whose salary is partly funded with SDOT dollars, reports directly to Durkan.) Late last month, several council members asked for more details about what Worden (whom city staffers have been instructed to call “the General”) actually does; as I reported in August, his official schedule consists largely of “out and about time” during which the mayor’s office told me Worden is riding transit and talking to riders and drivers. “Not to say that work is not happening, but I am not aware of any of the work,” council member Mike O’Brien said.

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During that meeting, city budget director Ben Noble said the executive had provided O’Brien with a memo describing some of Worden’s specific duties, prompting council members Sally Bagshaw, Lisa Herbold, and Lorena Gonzalez to ask for a public discussion of that information, which they had not seen. Since then, I requested and received copies of what the mayor’s office provided as evidence that Worden’s position is a full-time job that merits his $200,000 salary ($250,000 when benefits are included). For reference, here is Worden’s job description:

And here is the memo Worden produced with examples of his work so far, along with PowerPoints and other documents related to the items on his list. The one-page list—which does not purport to be comprehensive— includes the following four items:

• Writing a memorandum of understanding for traffic incident and congestion management that “updated, sharpened and expanded to other Departments who respond to incidents, to ensure they all get necessary training” in traffic incident response;

• Co-writing a grant with the state Department of Transportation and the University of Washington for a statewide “Virtual Coordination Center” aimed at improving responses to traffic incidents.

• Implementing a “Lean/Six Sigma initiative throughout the city,” starting with SDOT, the Parks Department, Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle City Light, the Department of Information Technology, the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, and Human Resources, according to a PowerPoint included with the memo. Many of these departments have little or nothing to do with traffic management, and the job of reforming the city’s overall management strategy appears nowhere in Worden’s official job duties. In a memo included in the PowerPoint,, deputy mayor Mike Fong says Worden was tapped for this job because of his “considerable private sector and governmental experience in process improvement techniques.”

Buried in jargon: A screen shot from a PowerPoint about Gen. Worden’s “Lean/Six Sigma” training for eight city departments, which is not listed in his official job description or duties as the city’s Director of Mobility Operations.

• “Informal activities” related to the “Seattle Squeeze,” including “government wide debriefs and prebriefs with the City’s Private Sector” and meeting periodically with representatives from other government agencies.

Also included on this “informal activities” list: Riding transit throughout the city, an activity that made up the plurality of his official schedule.

3. According to an October 3 memo from the risk manager for the Human Services Department, “2019 review of contracts are and will be significantly delayed,” after the departure of the last remaining member of the HSD’s contract review unit, which ensures that contracts between the city and nonprofit service providers are legally compliant and accurate. “We are hoping to have a plan in place very soon,” the memo says.

The department decided to dismantle the office that reviewed provider contracts earlier this year in an effort to reallocate funding to  “reducing operational burdens on providers.” With the departure of the contract review specialist Joanna Armstrong, whose last day was Friday, the department has no one left whose full-time job consists of reviewing contracts and ensuring that they’re ready to go out the door.

The contract review unit (known as the Leadership and Administration Contracts Unit, or LADCU), was put in charge of contract compliance after a scathing state audit in 2014 concluded that HSD lacked “adequate controls” to monitor how contracts were being written or how human service providers were spending the money they received from the city. The audit found that the city did not “consistently verify the information it receives” from nonprofit human service providers or keep records adequate to ensure that public dollars were being spent appropriately by providers.

Long-term, the city plans to devolve the job of ensuring contract compliance to various department staffers who are already working other jobs, including contract specialists who write—but don’t currently review—contracts as well as others who have not been trained in contract compliance. Short-term, the lack of contract reviewers will likely mean funding delays for human service providers who rely on city funding to pay their staff and serve their clients.

Most Navigation Team Referrals Don’t Lead to Shelter, Previously Unreleased City Data Shows

Overall, just 30 percent of Navigation Team referrals to shelter in the first half of 2019 resulted in a person actually accessing shelter. Referrals represent only about a quarter of the total number of people “engaged” by the Navigation Team. Overall, only about 8 percent of Navigation Team “engagements” this year resulted in shelter—a number the city says is a reflection of the fact that they are now recording every contact, however brief, in their new NavApp system.

The director of Seattle’s Human Services Department told the city council last week that he was unable to provide data that would back up his assertion that the Navigation Team, which removes unauthorized encampments from public spaces, is successfully connecting people to shelter, saying there was still a lot of work to do before a “dashboard” including this data could be made available.

In fact, the dashboard is already live, and it shows that the vast majority of people who receive “referrals” to shelter—70 percent in the first half of 2019—never actually show up at those shelters. And those referrals only reflect a fraction of the total number of individuals “engaged” by the Navigation Team as it removes encampments. If all those individuals are included, only about 8 percent of people the Navigation Team contacts when they’re removing encampments—128 out of 1,583—actually end up in shelter.

According to council member Lisa Herbold(who, along with her colleague Teresa Mosqueda, has been asking HSD to provide the number of shelter enrollments, as opposed to referrals, for months), the the city requires nonprofit homeless service providers to meet a much higher standard than the Navigation Team—60 percent of their referrals are supposed to result in actual shelter enrollments, or twice as many shelter enrollments as the Navigation Team’s current average. And the nonprofit providers are hitting that higher number—according to data provided by the mayor’s office, nonprofit providers funded by the city made a total of 246 referrals and 147 enrollments in the first half of this year, an enrollment rate of 60 percent.

“My focus [in asking the Navigation Team for its results] has been ensuring that the Navigation Team is having success in our shared understanding of what the outcomes should be and accountability in meeting those outcomes,” Herbold says. “So I ask myself, Why are the referrals to shelter so much lower than what we expect of the outreach providers, and what could make them better?”

I started calling the mayor’s office and HSD about the website, which had not been publicly disclosed to council members who were requesting it, on Friday. HSD sent out a memo to council members providing a link to the site, which has apparently been live for weeks, late this afternoon, shortly after I talked to them and three days after I asked them directly about the website.

“We’re happy with the fact that we’re seeing conversions of [shelter] referrals to enrollments increasing, and the information pushes us to continue to try to do better.”—Tess Colby, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office

In the memo, HSD interim director Jason Johnson draws a distinction between “contacts” made by the Nav Team and “referrals to shelters, which is the result of relationship building, time, conversations, and matching an individual (or sometimes groups of individuals) to a unique shelter resources.” In other words, Johnson is saying that the 8 percent number isn’t as bad as it looks, because the Navigation Team has to make a record of every single “contact” with people they encounter in encampments, effectively diluting the number of successes. In contrast, HSD says, nonprofit outreach providers aren’t required to (and don’t) track every single contact—so their numbers look better.

The city has acknowledged that the Navigation Team is now dedicated primarily to removing tents and people from public spaces, rather than providing referrals to shelter or services. But the new numbers confirm that even when the Navigation Team does make what it considers  a successful “referral,” most unsheltered people never actually access the shelter they’re referred to.

Tess Colby, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s chief homelessness advisor, says the mayor’s office is “happy with the fact that we’re seeing conversions of [shelter] referrals to enrollments increasing, and the information pushes us to continue to try to do better. We want to continue to see that upward trend moving forward.”

The new numbers confirm that even when the Navigation Team does make what it considers  a successful “referral,” most unsheltered people never actually access the shelter they’re referred to.

Homeless advocates say that the Navigation Team, which is made up primarily of police officers, works under protocols (such as a mandate to remove many encampments with no prior notice) that makes it impossible to build relationships or engage in meaningful outreach to unsheltered people. “The Navigation Team is more and more evidently about policing than about providing needed and effective service interventions to human beings, and that is really concerning,” says Alison Eisinger, director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. “A good referral is a referral that results in someone being able to accept it.”

Herbold added a proviso to last year’s budget requiring the Navigation Team to provide quarterly reports on various issues, including a staffing assessment to determine whether the Navigation Team has the proper mix of police officers and outreach workers. That assessment was never done. “In essence, they just said they weren’t going to do it,” she says.

Earlier this year, the nonprofit that used to outreach during encampment removals, REACH, stopped participating in most “cleans” after the Navigation Team shifted its focus to removing encampments deemed to be “obstructions,” a designation that exempts the team from the usual requirements to provide outreach and prior notice to residents. However, REACH is still technically part of the Navigation Team, and the referrals they make as part of their ongoing Navigation Team-related outreach work gets counted toward the Navigation Team’s successful shelter referrals.

Currently, the Navigation Team does not transfer most clients to shelter directly; when they do, it’s in the back of a police car,  because system navigators are not authorized to give rides to shelter residents in their own vehicles—another potential barrier to converting a shelter referral into an actual shelter stay.

REACH director Chloe Gale says the Navigation Team’s low rate of actual shelter enrollments, as opposed to referrals, “really indicates that it takes more than just a referral to move somebody into shelter. You have to make sure that it’s a good fit, that they’re eligible for the shelter, that they really want to go and don’t just feel pressure to go and that they provide basic assistance such as help with transportation.” Currently, the Navigation Team does not transfer most clients to shelter directly; when they do, it’s in the back of a police car,  because system navigators are not authorized to give rides to shelter residents in their own vehicles—another potential barrier to converting a shelter referral into an actual shelter stay.

Eisinger says that because the Navigation Team only counts people who happen to stick around on the day of an encampment removal in their list of official “contacts,” even the 8 percent shelter rate, which the city says is the result of carefully tracking even the briefest engagements, may be high.

“What I have observed, what others have observed, and what I think continues to be the story is that the Navigation Team shows up and some people simply leave. They do not expect to offered anything that is actually useful to them,” Eisinger says. “And so there is some question about the number of engagements compared to the number of people actually living in public spaces.”

The mayor’s office is requesting a total of $8.4 million for the Navigation Team, which includes $362,000 for new positions that were paid for in 2019 with one-time funding from unspent revenues. (This is the second budget in a row in which Durkan has funded Navigation Team expansions with one-time funding and asked the city council to backfill those positions with general-fund dollars in the next year’s budget.)

The Navigation Team will be one of the only major homelessness-related efforts to stay at the city when King County and Seattle merge their homelessness agencies into a single regional body. Herbold says she’ll be asking pointed questions about the Navigation Team’s results and composition during the upcoming budget discussion.

The 2019 City Council Candidates: District 2 Candidate Tammy Morales

Image via Tammy Morales campaign.

This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.

Today: Tammy Morales, an organizer for the Rainier Beach Action Coalition and former Seattle Human Rights Commission member. Morales ran in 2015 against District 2 incumbent Bruce Harrell and lost by just over 300 votes. She’s running for the same position this year, but without Harrell (who’s retiring) in the running.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): Four years ago, you ran as a progressive alternative to Bruce Harrell, but you certainly strike me as the kind of candidate that would join the DSA or call yourself a socialist. So how have your positions changed in the four years since you last ran?

Tammy Morales (TM): I don’t know if my positions have changed. I think for me, I’ve gotten clearer about sort of the macro economic structure that is driving the inequality in our country. That’s why I was really interested in learning more about what DSA is. And tied to that is my deeper understanding about racial inequality and how so much of that is rooted in every structure and system that we have in this country and this sort of extractive economy that is driven by this constant need to grow and expand the markets. And it all just sort of came together for me in a way that it was less clear before.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in small business or that I don’t believe in having a market-based economy. But it does mean that I think even more so strongly now that the role of local government is to intervene when the market is failing the most vulnerable in our community.

(Morales followed up later to say that she would consider a business and occupation tax rebate program for micro-businesses with fewer than 20 employees, commercial rent control or longer leases for small businesses, community land trusts for commercial spaces, and a public bank that could provide small-business loans).

ECB: When you say “growth,” are you referring to economic growth or growth in terms of population?

TM: Well, I think the people growth is driven by our idea that we have to constantly attract more businesses. We have to expand industry. We have to provide the incentives that let Amazon bring 53,000 people here. And at some point, you reach capacity and it’s just not a sustainable model, especially when we haven’t really prepared all the infrastructure that we need to absorb that.

“We’re talking about permanent, affordable housing, things like community land trusts that could ensure long-term affordability, right of return, affirmative marketing of projects, and preserving existing affordability rather than allowing for affordable buildings to be torn down and replaced with market-rate buildings.”

ECB: When you talk about infrastructure, are you talking about concurrency [the idea that the city shouldn’t allow more density without providing infrastructure to support it]?

TM: We’re witnessing the result of this confluence of things. The feds have disinvested in public housing, our housing policy has been driven by serving developers that are interested in facilitating more market-rate construction, and then there’s the fact that we grew by 100,000 people in 10 years and our projections were that we would do that in 20. We just weren’t ready. And so we’re playing catch up. And what that means is that because so much of what has been in the pipeline for construction has been market-rate and not workforce housing or low-income housing, we’re witnessing displacement, especially in this district. So one of the priorities for me is dealing with that displacement.

ECB: Tell me about some of the policies you would want to implement to deal with displacement.

TM: We’re talking about inclusionary zoning—revisiting that and making it mandatory to include some percentage [of affordable housing on-site at new developments] rather than chipping into a pot of funds. We’re talking about permanent, affordable housing, things like community land trusts that could ensure longterm affordability for rental or homeownership opportunities, right of return, affirmative marketing of projects, and preserving existing affordability rather than allowing for affordable buildings to be torn down and replaced with market-rate buildings or something that people can’t afford anymore. So I think there are a slew of things that we could be doing to acknowledge that we can’t keep pushing out low-income folks out of the city.

ECB: When Kathy Nyland was head of the Department of Neighborhoods, she pushed for a new kind of outreach and engagement strategy that reached neighborhoods who had been excluded from traditional policymaking discussions. The idea was to expand the idea of community engagement beyond the traditional neighborhood district councils. How do you think that’s going now?

TM: I just spent a year working on a racial equity analysis with the office of civil rights, and the thing that we talked about for a year was the lack of commitment to authentic community engagement. So I think we need to reinvest in that department. We need to bring back the neighborhood service offices, so that people don’t have to go downtown, so that the resources that folks need to help them navigate the city departments are here for them, and to provide it in language  and during hours that people can actually access.

Support The C Is for Crank
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean entirely— by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly subscriptions allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. 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 keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

The other thing is that if we are going to hold ourselves accountable to being a race and social justice city, a human rights city, then we have to commit to what it takes to do authentic community engagement. I think what I would like to see is that every city department has, in their budget, a line item for community engagement. So you budget for public education, for outreach, for events in the neighborhoods. And that needs to include funding for translators, for childcare, for food, for stipends for community members who you’re asking to come and give up their time to share their expertise about their neighborhood.

ECB: In response to recent news about fare enforcement, a lot of people are calling for free transit. That would obviously impact District 2, which has both light rail and some of the heaviest-ridership buses in the county along with a lower-income population than most other council districts. What do you think of that idea?

TM: I know Metro gets cranky whenever candidates start talking about this. This is where I do start thinking about revenue in the city and in the state, and, um, what it would take to be able to provide free transit, which is why I supported the statewide income tax, capital gains tax or whatever we can do to try to generate a more progressive funding stream in the city and in the state. Because I do think that we have a role to play in providing basic ways for people to get around.

ECB: You’ve been a food security advocate for a number of years. What are some steps that the city counts that you as a city council member would take to improve food security in District 2, which is a district where a lot of residents lack access to healthy food?

TM: We need longterm, local food resiliency. People need to learn how to grow food again, needs to learn where food comes from. And so, to the extent that we can expand community gardens, support people in growing their own foods so that they could start to understand what that means, that’s important. As part of the local Food Action Plan, we created and expanded the Fresh Bucks program [which gives SNAP recipients access to fresh fruits and vegetables], and it’s oversubscribed. Continue reading “The 2019 City Council Candidates: District 2 Candidate Tammy Morales”

Sound Transit Tickets Disproportionate Number of Black Riders, New Numbers Show

Sound Transit staffers presented new data on fare enforcement at Thursday’s Rider Experience and Operations meeting, which showed that despite the agency’s purportedly neutral fare-enforcement policy, black riders were far more likely to receive citations and warnings than white or Asian American riders. African Americans made up just 9 percent of riders on Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail and Sounder trains, but represented 21 percent of all tickets and warnings—more than double their representation among Sound Transit’s ridership. White and Asian American riders, conversely, received proportionally fewer tickets than their ridership would suggest.

The race of a rider is determined by fare enforcement officers. Sound Transit public safety director Ken Cummins told me yesterday that if a person’s race “is not obvious,” a fare enforcement officer is supposed to “tactfully” ask the person how they prefer to be identified.

The issue of fare enforcement was in the news last month, when Sound Transit officers were seen checking fares and scanning the IDs of students on their way to collect their free ORCA passes on the first day of school.

Sound Transit frequently touts its use of “equal treatment” in fare enforcement using the following slide, which shows that fare enforcement officers enter trains in a specific pattern and check fares until they come to someone who hasn’t paid:

But the glaring racial disparity in Sound Transit’s new fare enforcement stats led some public commenters to argue that  “equal” treatment doesn’t necessarily lead to equitable outcomes. Kelsey Mesher, advocacy director for the Transportation Choices Coalition, noted that “communities of color and low-income people have different relationships to policing and enforcement.” What may seem like a friendly interaction with a uniformed officer to a white rider may look entirely different to someone whose community has a history being targeted by police, she said.

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Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean entirely— by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly subscriptions allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. 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 keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

The current fine for failing to pay fare on Sound Transit buses and trains is $124, and failing to pay it can result in criminal charges and cascading debt. In contrast, King County Metro recently reduced fines for nonpayment, eliminated the possibility of criminal charges, and created multiple new avenues for addressing fare evasion tickets, including enrollment in the ORCA Lift low-income fare program.

Sound Transit didn’t provide a detailed breakdown of ticketed riders by income or primary language, or detail what percentage of “ticket or warning” actions by fare enforcement were warnings vs. formal citations. However, an audit of Metro fare-evasion infractions showed that low-income riders and people experiencing homelessness were far more likely than other groups to be cited for fare evasion, and that the primary reason people failed to pay for bus rides was because they couldn’t afford the fare. Sound Transit maintains that in order to keep their fare recovery much higher than industry averages, they need to inspect about 8 percent of all riders for proof of payment—”the sweet spot” that keeps evasion below 3 percent, according to Cummins.

Sound Transit is considering a number of strategies for addressing concerns about aggressive fare enforcement and excessive punishment for unpaid fares, including providing “on-the-spot information about ORCA Lift” and allowing people to work off their fines through community service, but getting rid of fines for nonpayment isn’t amongthem. Seattle City Council member Debora Juarez, who sits on the Sound Transit board, seemed to suggest Thursday that maybe it should be. She compared the cascading consequences of fare evasion fines to the city’s old policy of impounding the cars of people whose licenses had been suspended over minor infractions, such as unpaid parking tickets, which often pushed them further into poverty. “When it comes down to the ability to drive, the ability to have transportation, those are basic… rights,” Juarez said.

The 2019 Council Candidates: District 7 Candidate Jim Pugel

Image via Jim Pugel campaign

This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.

Today: Jim Pugel, the former Seattle police chief who worked in the West Precinct, which overlaps much of District 7, for many years. After leaving the force, Pugel became chief deputy at the King County Sheriff’s office. He’s running to replace Sally Bagshaw, who’s retiring.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): You were West Precinct Commander at SPD when the city and a group of public defenders set up the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, which offers pre-arrest alternatives to people facing low-level drug and prostitution charges. You’ve mentioned in the past that you were initially reluctant to adopt alternatives that didn’t involve arresting people and sending them through the court system. Can you talk a little bit about your reluctance at first and how that evolved?

Jim Pugel (JP): I had had limited exposure to harm reduction and it was only for alcohol [with the 1811 Eastlake project]. And then, um, uh, from the time you’re a baby police officer in the academy, you’re taught if you have drugs, you go to jail, end of story. It was a bipartisan issue. Whether there was a Democrat or Republican in the White House, whoever controlled Congress, judges, prosecutors, presidents—all of them said if you have drugs, you go to jail.

So we had this group of chronic drug consumers and nonviolent sellers in Belltown, and that’s when [now-Public Defender Association director] Lisa Daugaard approached and said, ‘Let’s work with the community and figure out a better way. You keep arresting them, and we keep defending them, and we’re expecting a different outcome and that’s insanity.’ So the more I thought about it, [I realized] we were spending more money doing the buy-busts, and the arrests, and the prosecution, and the defense, and the jailing, and then the probation of people, than it would cost to try to get them healthy and at the same time return the neighborhood to a semblance of order so that there wasn’t this feeling of insecurity and visible disorder. So that’s what got me. But it wasn’t like a light came on. It was more evolutionary than revolutionary. Although people look at this program and say it was revolutionary, it evolved. And it took a while to get the police officers on board. Just because that was counterintuitive to what we always been taught.

ECB: What do you think of the mayor’s latest proposals to deal with so-called prolific offenders?

JP: There is a core group of people, 150 to 200 people, that cause a disproportionate amount of crime. Many of them are committing crimes to feed their habit. And if they’re not amenable to diversion or treatment, which we should offer, then they have to be held accountable. [At the same time], we should build our capacity for diversion. Because I think just from my experience with LEAD and then my experience with 1811 Eastlake, most people do want some type of recovery, whether it’s abstinence-based or whether it’s harm reduction. So let’s get them so that they’re not harming the society that they’re living in individuals themselves.

ECB: How would you hold people accountable if they aren’t interested in LEAD or treatment?

JP: I’m open to any reasonable solution, but there is a certain number of people out there who I call the will-nots—they just won’t do anything unless they want to do it. And there comes a point where you have to incapacitate them and whether they want treatment while they’re incapacitated or not, that’s up to them. You can’t force it on them, but you can’t allow everyone to be victimized because of them.

“There is a certain number of people out there who I call the will-nots—they just won’t do anything unless they want to do it. And there comes a point where you have to incapacitate them and whether they want treatment while they’re incapacitated or not, that’s up to them. You can’t force it on them, but you can’t allow everyone to be victimized because of them.”

ECB: Speaking of harm reduction, you’ve taken a couple of positions on safe drug consumption sites. [Pugel represented the King County Sheriff’s office on the county’s Opiate Task Force, which unanimously recommended safe consumption sites in 2017]. You now say they’re a bad idea. Why?

JP: The more I’ve looked at it, I think it would take too much money. The current administration out of Washington DC would come flying in—and they’re the biggest law firm in the world—and [City Attorney] Pete [Holmes] or [King County Prosecutor] Dan [Satterberg] or both would have to spend a bunch of money on attorneys to defend them. Number two, the more I’ve looked at it, when a person is dope sick, when they need to consume—there’s probably only going to be one location—the only people who are going to use it are people who can walk there. Because you’re not going to score your dope in Enumclaw  or Duvall or Woodenville and take three transfers downtown to shoot up. And who’s going to spend the political capital to say we’re going to put it in our backyard? No one’s going to do it right now. I looked at the morbidity, and 82 percent of the people who passed from an overdose are housed, so they’re doing it in their house or in their apartment. So it’s not out on the street.

I think we could spend the money better and more efficiently on treatment, on medically assisted therapy, on syringe exchange programs.

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ECB: There’s been quite a bit of concern about safety and the perception of safety all along Third Avenue downtown, which is in your district. There are concerns about the area around the King County Courthouse, which is across from DESC’s biggest shelter, and separate concerns about Third and Pine, which has been the site of a large number of shootings and stabbings over the years, including just this month. How would you respond to those concerns?

JP: Let’s start with the courthouse. Having worked in the King County courthouse and going through that door for four years, I would say that there’s a distinction between people in front of the DESC shelter and those in front of the courthouse. The ones in front of the courthouse were a little bit more aggressive. They would defecate right on the sidewalk and urinate around the corner, in that kind of dead space on Jefferson Street. And now the Downtown Seattle Association has tried to activate that with games, chairs, and lighting. They’ve opened it up a little bit. But you need physical presence. And one thing I’m going to really push if I’m elected is for officers on foot. That really sends a statement to those who are not familiar with the area that they’re safe. There are officers here.

At Third and Pine, that’s where almost every single bus route from the County converges. That’s where this county brings people and picks them up. If you look at some of the tenants in those stores between Pike and Pine, it’s check cashing, vaping, fingernail polish. So you need economic development.
It’s tough. You have aggressive shoplifters, which borders on a robbery. And the margins for some of these boutique stores are pretty narrow margins, so they can only have one employee there, and this one employee is a young kid, quote often a female who doesn’t live in the city. She commutes in and these people come in and will defecate in the doorway or in use the employee only bathroom. You can’t have that and expect the healthy business environment. You’re always going to have some degree of loss, but when it’s so cascading, you can’t run a business that way. Continue reading “The 2019 Council Candidates: District 7 Candidate Jim Pugel”