“Lateral Transfers” at HSD, Nextdoor Comes to Cops’ Phones, Council Staff Unionizes, and More

1. Seattle Human Services Department director Jason Johnson told the council last week that the existing Homelessness Strategy and Investments Division, which runs the city’s day-to-day work on homelessness and will mostly be subsumed into the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority next year, is “a division of a little over 30 people.”

But a comparison of the agency’s organizational chart—which, indeed, includes more than 30 positions—and a separately compiled list of employees currently on staff shows that the true number is much smaller because people are leaving and not being replaced. In reality, the division appears to have fewer than two dozen employees left, and many of those are on loan from other divisions or departments, are temporary employees, or have given their notice.

The department has been slow to give staffers in the homelessness division clear direction on whether they will have jobs in the new regional authority, or elsewhere in the city, which could be contributing to the high rate of departures.

Last week, Johnson told HSI staffers in a memo that “in no way should be considered a layoff notification” that they would be eligible for “lateral transfers” to other HSD divisions, a new option that does away with the usual byzantine seniority-based “bumping” process. (Basically, if you get a layoff notice but have seniority over someone else with your position in another division, you can “bump” that person out of their job.) Under the new process, any time a job comes open in HSD, it will be held open for people in the homelessness division who want to transfer, which will happen after January 1, 2021, when the RHA officially replaces HSI.

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported 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, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations 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.

By effectively promising jobs to every homelessness division worker who sticks around, HSD could theoretically stem the exodus from the department.

“The Lateral Transfer strategy does not guarantee a placement for every HSI permanent employee,” Johnson wrote. “However, after extensive and 1 on 1 conversations with existing staff and extensive analysis of current and future job opening across HSD, we believe most staff that are interested in staying at HSD will be placed—should they desire to pursue this option.”

Council members have expressed frustration publicly that HSD has not been forthcoming about how many employees will lose their jobs in the upcoming transfer. Judging from the number of people who have left the department or who have reportedly put in their notice in recent weeks, they aren’t the only ones who are frustrated.

2. The city’s widely emulated Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, whose 2020 funding remains in limbo pending a consultant’s review of the program, is a law enforcement program that’s categorized by the city as a homelessness intervention, even though its main goal is reducing recidivism among low-level offenders, not getting its clients housed. Only about 70 percent of LEAD’s clients are homeless, and most of them score low on the county’s standard housing assessment, making then virtually ineligible for most housing when units do become available.

The city has decided to address this issue, which LEAD has brought up year after year, by moving LEAD next year to the division of Youth and Family Empowerment, which “supports positive youth and family development through strategic investments in community safety, youth employment opportunities, mentoring and educational supports, affordable living, family support, food and nutrition, and behavioral and mental health programs.” Continue reading ““Lateral Transfers” at HSD, Nextdoor Comes to Cops’ Phones, Council Staff Unionizes, and More”

Involuntary Treatment Bill, Modeled on California Law, to be Resurrected Next Session

Rep. Steve O’Ban, R-28

This story originally appeared in the South Seattle Emerald.

A state senate bill aimed at taking people with severe behavioral health issues off the street and putting them into involuntary treatment is off the table for this year, but its sponsor, Tacoma Republican Steve O’Ban (R-28) says he plans to resurrect it next session, because the problem of untreated mental illness and addiction isn’t going away.

“The reason for this bill is really the parents who have these kids … who devolve into a worse and worse condition and by the nature of their condition, they don’t think they need care,” O’Ban says. Under current law, people can only be detained and put under guardianship if a court determines that they’re incapacitated by a “mental disorder” and pose an imminent threat to themselves or others.

O’Ban’s proposal would allow judges in three counties—King, Pierce, and Snohomish—to appoint executors for people who have been involuntarily held for psychiatric evaluation five or more times in a 12-month period under the state Involuntary Treatment Act. That law allows people to be held in psychiatric hospitals (or emergency rooms if no psychiatric beds are available) for up to 180 days if a judge determines that they are incapacitated by mental illness. The proposed new involuntary guardianship, or “executorship,” would last one year unless the executor filed for an extension.

The program is modeled on a similar set of bills that passed in California in 2018 and 2019, which authorized three counties—San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles—to create a new “conservatorship” program for people with both severe mental illness and addiction. California state senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who sponsored both bills, says his legislation is intended to address “a very small percentage of homeless people … who are severely debilitated and not capable of accepting voluntary services.”

“One of the areas that’s been a particular concern is the lack of structure and necessary accountability for these patients who come out of involuntary treatment, or they’re in jail, where they should not be, and by the nature of their condition they don’t think they need care and they refuse the needed services.” – State Sen. Steve O’Ban (R-28)

Wiener says the new California laws create a “very narrow conservatorship to reach this small population so that we can save their lives. It is incredibly inhumane, and certainly not progressive, to allow people to die on the streets.” He estimates that the legislation would apply to as many as 100 people in San Francisco, but advocates who opposed the bill say the number is probably much smaller.

O’Ban’s bill, in contrast, would initially be limited to 10 people in each county.  Patients placed under executorship would cede most of their legal rights to a “court appointed resource officer,” or CARE officer, including the right to refuse treatment or choose their own medical providers, the right to decide where to live, and the right “to make decisions regarding social aspects of life,” according to a staff analysis of the legislation.

“One of the areas that’s been a particular concern is the lack of structure and necessary accountability for these patients who come out of involuntary treatment, or they’re in jail, where they should not be, and by the nature of their condition they don’t think they need care and they refuse the needed services,” O’Ban says.

At a hearing on the bill earlier this month, parents whose kids had died on the streets due to lack of housing and treatment testified that if the law had been in place when they were trying to get help for their children, they might still be alive today. Jerri Clark, the founder of Mothers of the Mentally Ill, told the committee that her son, who died last year at the age of 23, “cycled through hospitals that kept him just long enough that he wasn’t dangerous anymore” before releasing him.

“If you look at the big picture, we’ve completely divested from mental health care and we’ve put people out on the streets where they’re completely disintegrating… and then the only care that they’re getting is in the back of police cars.” – Jen Flory, Western Center on Law and Poverty

But critics of the legislation, including advocates for people with disabilities and people who have struggled with mental illness themselves, say that taking away people’s civil rights is inhumane and doesn’t solve the underlying issues: An acute lack of funding for treatment, housing, and intensive case management.

“We do have concerns that adding another layer of legal process to compel people into care, rather than adding new treatment or housing resources, will mainly restrict civil liberties while not actually getting to the desired outcomes,” the Department of Community and Health Services said in a statement about the bill. “Instead of adding another layer of court involvement, we think a middle of the road approach – focusing on expanding flexible, community-based intensive services and added supportive housing resources – will more effectively meet the needs of this population.”

Laura Van Tosh, a behavioral health care advocate who testified against the bill, says the fact that people are involuntarily committed again and again “points to a problem that has nothing to do with people’s mental health. How can people be committed that many times in one year and nobody has ever talked about why the system didn’t work well enough the first time?” She says the current involuntary commitment system “is like going to a restaurant and getting E. coli over and over again, and never figuring out that you should go to a different restaurant.”

California’s conservatorship law requires treatment and housing to be available before people can be placed under conservatorship, although opponents say cities may meet this requirement by simply putting people in the new program at the front of the line for scarce treatment and services. “San Francisco will not conserve people unless they have somewhere to place them,” Wiener says. “In San Francisco, we’re expanding our mental health bed capacity and our shelter bed capacity, we’re building more supportive housing, but it’s definitely a challenge.”

Similarly, O’Ban’s bill says that a county could only implement the program if there are sufficient resources, including mental health treatment and housing, to serve potential clients. The loopholes will likely be the same, if a version of O’Ban’s bill passes in the future, as those in places like San Francisco. There are always beds in Seattle for some people—the question is who gets priority.

Jen Flory, a policy analyst at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, says that by putting people in involuntary treatment and stripping them of their rights, “we’re kind of skipping from A to Z. If you look at the big picture, we’ve completely divested from mental health care and we’ve put people out on the streets where they’re completely disintegrating… and then the only care that they’re getting is in the back of police cars being brought to psych emergency [wards]. And at the end of this journey, they’re like, ‘Okay, there’s something wrong with you and we need to force this care on you.’”

David Lord, the public policy director for Disability Rights Washington, says that before the state authorizes counties to appoint guardians for people struggling with mental illness and addiction, they should actually fund the services O’Ban’s bill enumerates, which include supportive community housing, outpatient counseling and treatment, peer support services, and substance use treatment.

“If you provide services, make them available, and do it in a way that is attractive to people, they’re much more likely to accept those services than if you try to force them,” Lord says.

Neither California’s law, nor O’Ban’s proposal, specifically focuses on people experiencing homelessness. But the subtext of both bills is that they will help put people exhibiting visible symptoms of severe mental illness and addiction—shouting, acting out, and behaving in ways that make other people uncomfortable—out of sight.

In our conversation, O’Ban referred to the 100 “prolific offenders” identified in a report by former Seattle City Attorney candidate Scott Lindsay as a group that might be eligible for executorships under his proposal. And he acknowledged that while his bill is “not exclusively for those who are homeless, I think many of the people who are eligible would be” homeless.

“I can tell you that there are familiar faces, frequent flyers, people who are well-known to the law enforcement community and in emergency rooms,” O’Ban says. “If you start focusing on that population, by identifying the top 100 who are heavily utilizing all those …. you would save the system literally hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.” And “clean up” downtown streets in the process.

I Am a Homeowner, I Speak for the Trees

Trees currently cover between 28 and 33 percent of Seattle’s land, making us one of the nation’s greenest cities. But advocates for a new, stronger tree protection ordinance believe the city should go further to protect its canopy, by restricting tree removal in ways that could prevent new housing development in the single-family neighborhoods where most of Seattle’s large trees are located. In doing so, they have insisted that the only way to mitigate climate change is to take actions that prevent development in their exclusive neighborhoods—a literal example of failing to see the forest for the trees.

The city is currently considering amendments to the city’s existing tree protection ordinance that would add new protections for significant trees, create a “fee in lieu” of preserving specific trees that would fund new tree plantings elsewhere, and require property owners to replace any tree they remove that’s more than six inches in diameter, among other new rules. Advocates want the city to go further, by reducing the maximum size and number of trees that can be removed from vacant lots, for redevelopment, and by individual homeowners.

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported 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, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations 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.

One impact of greater tree protections would likely be less development in areas where density is allowed, including both urban villages (which were just modestly expanded under the Mandatory Housing Affordability act) and single-family areas where homeowners just gained the ability to build auxiliary units, including backyard cottages. Trees, unsurprisingly, are concentrated in areas of Seattle that are wealthy and white, and scarce in areas that are not; a 2016 city analysis found that in “census tracts with high numbers of people of color, tree canopy is as low as 11% while in areas with not many people of color there is 55% canopy cover.”

Given that disparity, it was hardly surprising that the people who showed up at city hall this morning to advocate for more stringent tree protections/development restrictions were people who identified themselves as residents of neighborhoods like Laurelhurst, Ballard, and North Seattle. One by one, they came up to make their case. A group was given extra time to sing a song decrying development, and then a member of that group, dressed up as a tree, shouted “I am a magnificent tree! … Every tree counts, especially us mature trees!” into the microphone. A man said developers who were building “million-dollar townhouses and large apartment buildings” in his neighborhood probably go home to neighborhoods with “very nice trees.” A woman said that development and the resultant tree removal is destroying “opportunities for tire swings, hammocks, tree climbing, playing with sticks, cool spots to place your picnic blanket [and] piles of leaves to jump into.” And a man asked the council if they had thought about drivers, asking rhetorically, “When it’s hot, where do you want to park?” and argued that “you need the trees” to keep cars cool.

Seattle could mandate that every tree removed from a single-family lot be replaced by one in public right-of-way currently used for parking, greening the streets that are used by everybody rather than just private backyards.

All this absurdity was just the precursor for what will likely be a lengthy debate over the proposed new tree protections. None of the proposals are especially unreasonable on their face. But it would be a shame if, taken together, they made it harder to build housing for the people that are moving here, the people who already live here, and the people who are being driven out by housing scarcity. Continue reading “I Am a Homeowner, I Speak for the Trees”

Morning Crank: “Please Be Respectful of the Art”

Photo by Tim Harris

1. The recent shooting at Third and Pine in downtown Seattle was a tragedy, but it has also served as an opportunity: For right-wing radio hosts chasing the latest inflammatory headline, for TV newscasters eager to keep frightened viewers in their chairs, and for law-and-order advocates, who used the violence as a justification to renew calls for more “active” policing of people suspected of low-level criminal activity downtown.

Late last October, the Downtown Seattle Association, which is responsible for managing Westlake Park, put up signs instructing people not to sit or lie on the stairs, pink granite slabs, fountain, and other sculptures that make up the “Westlake Star Axis/Seven Hills” installation that spreads across the triangular park.

The sculptures were never intended to be static objects for reverence and observation from a distance.

The signs read: “Maki’s Art: Do not sit or lay on sculptures. Created by Robert Maki with landscape architect Robert Hanna in 1988, Westlake Star Axis/Seven Hills is a series of sculptures made specifically for Westlake Park. The seven works include a granite column and six rectangular structures meant to represent the geography of Seattle. … Please be respectful of the art and do not sit or lay on the structures.” 

However, the sculptures were never intended to be static objects for reverence and observation from a distance. The seven sculptural elements, which include the “water wall” fountain at the northwest corner of the park, symbolize the seven hills of Seattle. According to a 1995 Seattle Times article praising the sculpture as a great example of public art, “Tourists, pamphleteers, chess-players, downtown workers and homeless folks share the space, and on a sunny afternoon you can almost feel like you’ve stepped into someone’s clubhouse or living room. A 24-foot-high rectangular arch at the north end of the square has become Seattle’s de facto Speaker’s Corner, while the pink granite cubes/columns at the south end — representing Seattle’s seven hills — serve as seats for other activities.”

In a statement, the DSA said that they had “taken action to update the language on our signage about the Seven Hills sculpture in Westlake Park, asking that park patrons be respectful of the art. … We provide ample seating within Westlake Park for all to use, as our goal with this space is to ensure it’s a park for everyone to enjoy.”

Photo by Tim Harris

Last week, the DSA wrote a letter asserting that Third Avenue “has been taken over by criminal activity, including drug dealing, gang warfare, rampant retail theft, daily overdoses, acts of violence, sexual assaults and robberies” and demanding “an aggressive safety strategy for downtown.” The shooting apparently occurred after a dispute outside the McDonald’s at Third and Pine, an area that is frequently described as an “open air drug market:; however, there is no specific evidence yet that it was related to “gang warfare” or drug dealing. 

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported 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, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations 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.

At a meeting of the city council’s transportation committee last week, DSA transportation policy director Emily Mannetti suggested that people will no longer “try transit or choose walking and biking if they feel like they could be a victim of violent crime just by coming and going” through downtown Seattle.

Maki’s daughter, the artist Andrea Maki, denounced the DSA’s directive on Facebook as “absolutely unacceptable and antithetical to the artwork, space, design and intent of Westlake Park” and “utterly disrespectful of the art and sculptor. … Interaction with the public and functionality are inherent, hence this signage, the garbage cans and fencing speak to absolute ignorance.” (Andrea Maki did not respond to a message seeking comment.)

The city of Seattle bans people from sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks or camping in downtown parks, but Real Change director Tim Harris, who posted about the signs on Facebook, said “it would be a reach” to interpret the ordinance as banning people from sitting on the bench-height granite sculptures.

2. A CityClub “Civic Cocktail” event last Wednesday featuring the four new city council focused primarily on downtown safety, with a majority of the questions from moderator Joni Balter and one of her two co-moderators, KING 5 reporter Chris Daniels, centering on whether there are enough police downtown and whether the city is doing enough to eliminate drugs and crime in the area. (As Crosscut has reported, the Seattle Police Department increased patrols in downtown Seattle by thousands of hours in the past year—one reason police were able to get to the scene of the shooting almost immediately.)

Alex Pedersen, who represents Northeast Seattle, said “we do need more police officers” to make people feel safe downtown, and added that the city is failing to prosecute enough people for misdemeanor crimes. (Felony crimes are handled by King County Prosecutor Dan Satterburg). Tammy Morales, who represents southeast Seattle, said the city needs to look upstream at “underinvest[ment] in neighborhoods” like those in District 2, which are more diverse and less wealthy than other parts of the city. And Lewis, who has already suggested opening a new storefront mini-precinct near Third and Pine, elaborated on the idea, saying that the area is “an ecosystem that has a McDonald’s, a check cashing place, and a smoke shop, so we need to provide into this ecosystem… more options for folks at Third and Pine who need services.”

3. At the full council meeting this afternoon, Lewis plans to propose an amendment to council member Kshama Sawant’s that could ameliorate concerns from landlords who say they can’t afford to go without income from nonpaying tenants five months out of the year. (The legislation would prohibit landlords from evicting tenants between November 1 through April 1, or nearly half the year.) The amendment would create a mitigation fund that low-income tenants and providers of low-income housing could access to pay rent during those months if the tenant would otherwise be evicted. Pedersen has also proposed an amendment to the bill, which would limit the eviction ban to landlords who own more than four units of housing.

Five Years

Five years ago today, I made a decision that would change the trajectory of my life, and lead—with many steps along the way—to the creation of the website you’re reading right now.

On February 6, 2015, I called a cab, packed a bag, and checked in to a detox center in Kirkland, where I stayed for five days before returning home and starting over—no job, no prospects, and no real faith in myself, but an ineffable feeling that this time, things were different.

I won’t belabor everything that it took to get me to Fairfax that rainy morning—suffice to say, this wasn’t the first time I’d checked myself in to a place where the doors locked from the outside—but something had clicked. More than six years after I first sought help—thinking, in my ignorance, that detox would be a “reset button”—I was done.

But putting it that way makes it sound like a foregone conclusion, and of course it wasn’t. Most people who struggle with substance use struggle to quit, and most of us relapse before we “get it.” Some of us have loving, supportive families who try to help; some of us lose the support of those families after a stint at treatment doesn’t “work,” and many of us don’t have support from family or friends at all, because we’ve burned every last bridge or never had bridges to support us in the first place. I had every advantage—a decent job, a family who wanted to help even if they didn’t know how, and friends who never stopped showing up for me, even when I was at one of my many “rock bottoms”—a concept, by the way, that is just a story we tell ourselves.

One of the reasons I write about homelessness and addiction with such conviction is that I know what it’s like to be addicted and I know the privilege that prevented me from becoming homeless myself. Another reason is that I want to dispel the myths about addiction that people choose to believe because it’s easier than acknowledging the ways in which we’ve failed people who don’t have comfortable cushions to fall back on.

For every conservative armchair addiction expert who says, “My brother was an alcoholic but he just decided it was time to quit,” there’s someone who tells me that they were doing fine on medication but then their doctor cut them off and they switched back to meth.

For every person who tells me they support a zero-tolerance policy for people who want to live indoors, there’s a guy who was able to quit drinking only after getting stable in a place where people didn’t judge him for having a disease.

For every person who says people live in tents and shoot heroin because they want life to be a nonstop party with no consequences or accountability, there’s me, an alcoholic, telling you that maintaining an addiction from day to day is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.

The people you see on the street muttering to themselves or committing crimes to feed a drug habit or living in squalid, deplorable conditions didn’t start out that way; they fell farther than I did, and probably farther than anyone you know, because they ran out of resources, and probably didn’t have many to begin with. The job of a just society isn’t to look at people who are struggling with a life-threatening, time-consuming, soul-annihilating disease and shame them for not curing themselves on their own. It’s to ask them what they need and help them get it.

My bias is for compassion toward people that too many others view with contempt and want to sweep away. This isn’t because I’m a better person than anyone else. It’s because I know that the cure for addiction isn’t tough love or making people’s lives harder or forcing them into treatment and then blaming them when a 28-day spin-dry doesn’t “work.” The cure for addiction is realizing that there isn’t one cure for addiction, that recovery looks different for every person, and that some people may never “get it.” That doesn’t make them less deserving of respect and human rights; it just means that they didn’t defeat a life-threatening disease.

It’s hard to fit public policy into a framework of uncertainty, but everything else is a waste of time.

Unlike many of the people I write about, I had resources, and I got sober in time. I could have become homeless. I could have died. But I didn’t.

And here are some of the things I’ve done because I didn’t: I got a job at a nonprofit that fights for reproductive rights. I created this website. I got a book deal, left the job at the nonprofit, and started writing full-time. I moved out of a lousy apartment in a great location and got a place with a view in a better one. I expanded this site into a full-time enterprise, supported by hundreds of readers in Seattle and beyond. I rebuilt my old relationships and built some new ones. I wrote that book. I stayed here, one day at a time.

“Eastlake Is Moving Forward,” Herbold to Pay Ethics Fine, and an Impasse on LEAD

1. During a Monday-morning “celebration” of the 14 miles of new bike infrastructure the city built last year, Mayor Jenny Durkan said that she was committed to building a protected bike lane on Eastlake Ave. a, rather than acceding to demands from neighborhood activists that the city ditch the bike lane for an unspecified neighborhood greenway somewhere else. “We need that bike lane,”  Durkan said. “We can’t have a connected [route] if people can’t get from the north end to downtown Seattle. … Eastlake is moving forward.”

The bike lane is included in plans for the Roosevelt RapidRide bus route that will replace King County Metro’s Route 70 bus; the Seattle Department of Transportation released an environmental assessment of the proposal last month. Neighborhood activists have protested that the bike lane will require the removal of parking along Eastlake, and city council member Alex Pedersen said last week that he would prefer to have cyclists use unspecified parallel “neighborhood greenways” for at least some of the route.

Neither Durkan nor SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe would commit to a specific timeline to complete the most contentious portion of the center city bike network—a long-delayed protected bike lane on Fourth Avenue. Durkan decided to press pause on the bike lane in anticipation of “mega traffic” downtown during demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and a number of other major construction projects downtown. Although Carmageddon failed, once again, to materialize, the Fourth Avenue bike lane remains delayed until 2021, and was scaled back last year from a two-way protected on the east side of the street to a one-way northbound lane on the west side, in the same spot as an existing unprotected lane.

Vicky Clarke, the policy director of Cascade Bicycle Club, made a point of mentioning “gaps in the system” repeatedly in her remarks, and noted pointedly that bike advocates are looking forward to the city “funding and building a two-way bike lane on Fourth Avenue next year.”

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported 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, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations 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.

2.City council member Lisa Herbold will pay a $500 fine for violating the city’s ethics code when she contacted Police Chief Carmen Best over a trailer that was parked in front of her house last year, on the grounds that she was using, or appeared to be using, her elected position for “private benefit” or a non-city purpose. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission will take up  the case at its meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

The case stems from an incident last year in which KIRO radio host Dori Monson and conservative activist Ari Hoffman had encouraged listeners of Monson’s show to buy up derelict RVs and park them in front of council members’ houses to protest the presence of “drug RVs” in Seattle. When a trailer showed up in front of Herbold’s home in West Seattle, Monson assumed someone had taken him up on his idea, and encouraged listeners to show up and join the “protest.”

In response to the trailer and the crowd of people outside her home, Herbold texted police chief Carmen Best and asked her to look into whether the U-Haul that brought the RV to her street had been rented by Hoffman and, if so, to consider charging Hoffman with theft. Best declined to investigate and suggested that Herbold call SPD’s non-emergency number.

“If someone has reported a trailer stolen, one has been delivered to the street in front of my house,” Herbold wrote. “I’m not complaining, I want to ensure the property is returned to its owner.” In a followup, Herbold continued, “I’m not asking you to move it. Ari [Hoffman] will twist that as [a] special SPD response for a Councilmember. I would like to find out if 1. anyone has reported it stolen, 2. Give you the license plate number of the uhaul so you can confirm from Uhaul that Ari rented the uhaul & towed it there and you can consider whether it’s appropriate to charge him with theft.”

As it turned out, the trailer was owned by a homeless woman and her family, who had planned to tow it away later that week and did not know that they had parked it near a council member’s house. They returned to the trailer to find that random people, including a reporter for KIRO Radio, had entered the trailer and rummaged through it without permission, and that the outside of the trailer had been covered in graffiti, including the words “DORI MONSON FOR PRESIDENT” across one side. The woman who owned the trailer, who was pregnant, was reportedly threatened with a knife by one of the “protesters.”

Monson never apologized for encouraging his listeners to show up and vandalize the trailer (an act he called “pretty great!!” on Twitter), though he did put give the woman and her family a “hunski” from his money clip on the air the following day. The reporter who entered the trailer, Carolyn Ossario, was reportedly fired over the stunt.

3. Last week, the members of the city council’s public safety committee, led by Herbold, sent a letter to Mayor Durkan asking her to release the full $3.5 million allocated in the city’s 2020 budget for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program by March 1, and to affirm that LEAD—which offers alternatives to arrest for people suspected of committing low-level crimes—is a crime prevention program, not a homelessness program. The letter requested a response no later than last Friday.

Durkan’s office did get back to Herbold’s office on Friday, but they did not agree to fully fund LEAD by March, and they had no response to the committee’s request that the mayor acknowledge that LEAD is not a homelessness program. Supporters of LEAD consider this an important distinction, because the city requires homeless services to focus on moving clients into permanent housing, whereas LEAD is focused on keeping them out of the criminal justice system.

Last year, the council added $3.5 million to LEAD’s budget in an effort to reduce caseloads and allow the program to take on new clients. Instead, Durkan reduced LEAD’s approved budget to the $2.6 million she had proposed in her initial budget, and made the rest of the funding contingent on the findings of a consultant hired to review and craft new performance metrics for the program. As a result, LEAD has delayed expansion plans and is considering cutbacks. A compromise plan the mayor’s office proposed last week would provide enough funding for LEAD to reduce caseloads and take care of a backlog of low-priority cases, but program director Lisa Daugaard says this defeats the purpose of the program, which is to reduce crime by working with individuals who have the greatest impact on neighborhoods.

The response from the mayor’s office is signed by Tess Colby, Durkan’s homelessness advisor. On the issue of funding, Colby wrote: “The split of the contract budget into two phases will not impede LEAD’s ability to staff in accordance with its needs. LEAD is not proposing to hire 52 case managers in the first quarter of 2020, but rather over the course of the year. I note this because the budget we have requested from LEAD will cover expenses associated with the addition of new case managers to right-size their case management ratios. This is consistent with LEAD’s plan to grow in response to referrals and intakes. Thus, the pace of hiring will not be slowed during the first phase of the contract.”

Daugaard said LEAD has no plans to expand until they know they can actually retain the new case managers for the rest of the year; it makes no sense, she told me, to hire people and start ramping up their client base now if the funding might run out in the middle of the year. For now, it seems that the council, LEAD, and the mayor are at an impasse: Durkan says LEAD can proceed as normal, LEAD says they can’t move forward without a guarantee of funding, and the council can do little except register their protest, since the mayor holds the purse strings.

Cyclists Pack Pedersen Forum, Libraries Still Lack Narcan, and an Update on LEAD

1. Bike and bus advocates showed up in force for a “town hall” meeting featuring District 4 city council member Alex Pedersen in Eastlake last night, but many said afterward that the moderators who chose the questions from a stack of cards submitted by the public—a representative from the Eastlake Community Council and a Pedersen staffer—rejected or ignored their questions.

I was live-tweeting the forum, and noticed early on that most of the questions seemed to be from people opposed to a planned protected bike lane on Eastlake, rather than the dozens of bike lane supporters in the audience. For example, early questions centered on how businesses were supposed to deal with the loss of hundreds of parking spaces directly on Eastlake Avenue; why cyclists couldn’t just ride on a parallel greenway somewhere near, but not on, Eastlake’s business district; and what can still be done to prevent King County Metro from replacing the milk-run Route 70 with a RapidRide bus route that will be faster and more frequent but won’t have as many stops.

During the meeting, I noticed that a pile of questions had been set aside, and that the moderator seemed to be favoring questions from people who opposed bike lanes and RapidRide over questions from the bike lane supporters who packed the room. So I asked via Twitter: If you were at the forum and asked a question that didn’t get answered, what was it?

Pedersen was fairly circumspect in his responses, suggesting repeatedly that people contact his office and promising he would get back to them by email. He did, however, say he supported changing the Eastlake bike lane plan—which has been debated, studied, and affirmed repeatedly over a period of several years—so that cyclists would have to shift back and forth between the arterial and short stretches of “greenway” on unnamed parallel streets. “I think [the Seattle Department of Transportation] should look harder at a combination of protected bike lanes on some part of it and greenways on some of it,” Pedersen said.

Invoking the specter of 35th Ave. NE, where a long-planned bike lane was scuttled after neighborhood activists complained that the loss of on-street parking would destroy local businesses, Pedersen added: “There was a lack of transparency” about the proposed bike lane, which he opposed. “People were just trying to figure out what was going on with it.”

“I think [the Seattle Department of Transportation] should look harder at a combination of protected bike lanes on some part of [Eastlake] and greenways on some of it.” — City council member Alex Pedersen

During the meeting, I noticed that a pile of questions had been set aside, and that the moderator seemed to be favoring questions from people who opposed bike lanes and RapidRide over questions from the bike lane supporters who packed the room. So I asked via Twitter: If you were at the forum and asked a question that didn’t get answered, what was it? Here are some of their (slightly edited) answers:

• Given that every study shows bike lanes make streets safer for everyone and are good for business (and that cyclists spend more than drivers), what data are you paying attention to? How will you incorporate the data that already exists about protected bike lanes around the world?

• Have you seen any analysis of the percentage of people who are NOT in Eastlake that commute to Eastlake for any of the businesses that are afraid of losing 320 parking spots? Do people drive to 14 Carrots from other parts of the city?

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• Have you seen any research about the actual impact of bike lanes on businesses?

• What options are you prioritizing to help my whole family get around without using a car?

• Many people bus and bike through Eastlake, but don’t stop because traffic is so dangerous. What can be done to make Eastlake more welcoming to visitors and encourage fewer single occupancy vehicles, supporting the goal of Vision Zero?

• When will the city consider a residential parking zone in Eastlake (which prevents people from commuting in by car and parking all day in neighborhoods)?

• Why is the RapidRide and bike lane project important for Eastlake and the surrounding area?

Jessica Westgren from Welcoming Wallingford, a group that supports housing density and alternatives to driving, asked Pedersen verbally why he wouldn’t return calls and emails from her organization. Pedersen responded that she should send him an email, ideally including specific information such as “I’m having this issue on my block.”

 

Mayor Jenny Durkan, flanked by parents who lost their son to an opioid overdose and local officials

2. Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that the city will be distributing 700 doses of naloxone (Narcan), a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses, in response to a surge in overdoses from fentanyl in counterfeit oxycodone pills—and, in particular, an increase in the number of teenagers who have died of fentanyl overdoses. Fentanyl is especially deadly, and overdoses happen quickly; an overdosing person can die long before first responders arrive, which is why having Narcan on hand (and knowing how to use it) is so critical.

Durkan said that kits will be distributed in schools, bars, and nightclubs—”any place where it is likely that someone might overdose.” The city is also planning 25 Narcan training workshops.

Since Seattle public libraries are among the places people use opioids—and are, because staff are always present, safer consumption sites than alleys or parks—I asked if the libraries would also start stocking Narcan, and if library workers would be trained to use it. (The library system has been slow to adopt harm reduction policies, and only added sharps containers in restrooms after I published several stories on the issue last year.) Durkan said “we’d like them in the libraries,” but her staff added later that this would be an issue for the library union to negotiate.

Library spokeswoman Andra Addison later confirmed that the library does not have current plans to stock Narcan or train library workers to use it. “The Library currently uses 911 for all medical emergencies. Use of Narcan in our libraries would involve union representatives, and those discussions are just under way,” Addison says. Asked to clarify what the issue would be for the library union, Addison said, “working conditions and the impact on working conditions.”

3. City council member Lisa Herbold has released a copy of the letter I mentioned on Wednesday, urging Durkan to confirm that she will release all the funding the council provided for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program in its adopted budget no later than March 1, and to affirm that LEAD—which offers alternatives to arrest for people suspected of committing low-level crimes—is a crime prevention program, not a homelessness program. Durkan has hired a consultant to look at LEAD’s performance and to determine performance metrics for the program; currently, LEAD is classified as a homelessness intervention and required to meet housing goals, even though more than a quarter of its clients are not homeless. Continue reading “Cyclists Pack Pedersen Forum, Libraries Still Lack Narcan, and an Update on LEAD”

Durkan Proposes Compromise on LEAD Funding, but Supporters Call It a Half-Measure

Mayor Jenny Durkan and the city’s Human Services Department have proposed a partial-funding plan for the Public Defender Association’s Law Enforcement Diversion Program, an arrest-diversion program for people involved in low-level criminal activity that has been replicated in cities across the country. However, the mayor’s plan would only pay to reduce case managers’ existing caseloads, and to eliminate an existing backlog of people referred to the program through “social contacts”—a lower priority for LEAD than new referrals made through arrest diversion, which the PDA considers the heart of the program.

In an email to council members on Monday, Durkan’s homelessness advisor, Tess Colby, outlined what she called a two-phase plan for funding LEAD in 2020. (As I reported earlier this month, the city budget included $3.5 million in new funding for LEAD to reduce caseloads and expand into new parts of the city, but that funding is now on hold pending a study by a consultant.)

The first phase, according to Colby, would include “the costs and timing associated with the ramp-up of staff to reach an appropriate case management ratio that addresses their current client base (roughly 700 persons) and backlog (roughly 300 persons) of clients.”

The second phase would come after the consultant review, which is supposed to wrap up sometime this spring. The consultants are tasked with assessing “LEAD’s approach to diversion and case management in light of its theory of change and national best practices” and coming up with “LEAD-appropriate performance measures,” according to Colby’s letter.

PDA director Lisa Daugaard, who won a MacArthur “genius” Grant last year for her work on LEAD, says the program’s model “breaks” if only existing caseloads and the backlog of social-contact referrals are funded. “LEAD by definition entails responding to new arrest diversions and priority referrals from local businesses,” Daugaard says. “If we don’t help respond to current problems, we’re not an alternative public safety and order strategy—we’re just a case management program for people who, in the past, committed crimes.”

Council member Lisa Herbold echoed Daugaard’s comments at a meeting of her public safety committee on Tuesday, calling LEAD a “public safety program that exists to prioritize responding to emerging public safety and disorder issues that are identified by the communities where we live and work.” Herbold said the mayor’s proposed funding plan “makes it impossible for LEAD to take high-priority arrest referrals, and they cannot operate as a program without being able to” do so.

All four public safety committee members signed on to a letter to Durkan on Tuesday. The letter, written by Herbold, asks the mayor to commit to fully funding LEAD this year; to release the $3.5 million the council has already approved by March 1, with the concession that the contract can be modified after the consultants come back with their report; and to affirm that LEAD is a public safety program, not a homelessness program.

This last point may sound like a small nit to pick, but it gets to the heart of the issue that has led Durkan to hire a consultant to look at LEAD’s approach. LEAD has long been classified as a homelessness intervention and required to meet the same sort of performance metrics as shelters and day centers, such as referring at least 60 percent of all clients to emergency shelters. (LEAD estimates that 70 percent of its clients are unhoused). The PDA has argued that these metrics are not the right ones for for a program designed to improve public safety by reducing crime, and have suggested their own metrics in the past, but the city has continued to treat LEAD as a homelessness program.

Through a spokeswoman, Durkan’s office said the mayor “believes LEAD provides a valuable service to some individuals who have been cycling through our justice system” and “looks forward to continued discussion with LEAD, as Bennett Midland [the consultant] helps us to determine the performance measures that will help us assess the impact of the program on both the individuals they serve and surrounding communities.”

 

Council Members Respond to Shootings and Pass a Nonbinding Resolution on Nonbinding Resolutions

(Center-to-right): Mayor Jenny Durkan, council member Lisa Herbold, council member Andrew Lewis

1. City council member Tammy Morales was the only council member to vote yesterday against a resolution by council member Alex Pedersen broadly  condemning “all forms of oppression affecting communities throughout the world.” Pedersen proposed the resolution in response to legislation by council member Kshama Sawant weighing in on national policy in India and Iran, saying he hoped it would prevent the council from passing resolutions against “every horrible thing that our president or any world leader does” in the future. At the request of other council members, Pedersen amended the resolution to stipulate that it does not impede future resolutions, winning praise—and votes—from three of his colleagues.

“It’s music to my ears to hear you say that we want to honor future requests” for resolutions, council member Lisa Herbold said before voting “yes.” Andrew Lewis, who said he would not allow the resolution to “inform, limit, or stymie” any future resolutions on world affairs, added. “I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to my colleague and vote for this.”

In the end, all four of the council’s white members voted for Pedersen’s resolution, while Morales—the only person of color on the dais—voted no.

Before casting her vote, Morales said, “it’s important to condemn oppression, but we must caution against universalizing the shared experiences of oppression itself [because] doing so can minimize the ways that different groups experience oppression.”

I contacted Morales after the meeting and asked her if she was especially conscious of being the only council member of color on the dais during Monday’s discussion. “I didn’t feel it when I started speaking, but the more I kind of processed that list of specific resolutions”—a litany of resolutions in Pedersen’s legislation that appears intended to illustrate the pointlessness of resolutions—”it did.” Most of the resolutions Pedersen included in his legislation aren’t about oppression in far-flung places at all, but about US immigration policy.

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Morales says council resolutions “aren’t intended to be a distraction from the other work that the council has to do,” as Pedersen suggested when he introduced the legislation. Instead, “they are intended to reflect the priorities of our local community as well as the families and friends that our neighbors have in other parts of the world, and I think it’s important that we respect that.”

2. Pedersen, who is head of the council’s transportation committee, sent a letter to Uber and Lyft this week asking whether they charged any customers higher-than-normal prices in the aftermath of last week’s shooting downtown, which, he said, “would be deeply disturbing in a city that permits you to use our public streets. Access to mobility during emergencies should not be determined by ability to pay.”

Several people tweeted last week that they tried to call an Uber or Lyft downtown shortly after the shooting, only to see “surge” prices of $100, $150, or more.

This isn’t some radical Marxist argument; it’s basic capitalism. If you want to jump the line in front of everyone else who’s trying to do the same thing you are, you should be willing to pay for the privilege. Otherwise, you can wait on the bus with the rest of us.

While both companies have said that they’ve issued refunds to anyone who paid extra-high surge rates to leave the downtown area during the shooting and its immediate aftermath, Pedersen’s letter seeks to ensure that anyone who paid even “relatively higher rates during the crisis as they attempted to flee downtown while suspects were still at large” receives a refund.

As someone who was downtown during the shooting myself, let me offer a counterpoint: There is no “right” to a low-cost ride from a private company. Instead, there is the market—a market determined by supply (the number of drivers willing to drive into an active shooting area) and demand (the number of people in that area who want to leave by car.) Because there was heavy traffic into and out of downtown during the shooting, what might have ordinarily been a $20 ride to Wallingford became more valuable—because a driver’s time, like an office worker’s, is worth money, and a 90-minute ride is worth more than a 20-minute one.

Second, private cars aren’t public transit; drivers decide where they want to go and which rides to take based on whether the money justifies the time and risk. No driver is obligated to come into an active-shooting area just because someone on the app really, really wants them to. This, in fact, is the whole reason for surge pricing—to give drivers an incentive to go one place when they would, left to their own devices, go somewhere else. If you don’t think drivers should be paid extra to come into an area you are trying to “flee,” you’re saying that you value their safety less than your own.

This isn’t some radical Marxist argument; it’s basic capitalism. If you want to jump the line in front of everyone else who’s trying to do the same thing you are, you should be willing to pay for the privilege. Otherwise, you can wait on the bus with the rest of us.

3. In other downtown shooting-related news, council member Lewis (District 7) has proposed stationing at least six Community Service Officers—unarmed civilian employees of the Seattle Police Department—in a storefront office somewhere in the Third Avenue corridor. The idea, Lewis says, is to have a permanent location, open 24 hours a day, to take police reports, provide “deescalation and mediation,” and “increase the visibility” of police in the area in a way that “can have a potential deterrence effect” on crime.

“The budget action [in 2019] to expand to 18 CSOs [was intended] to allow them to work in teams in the five police precincts. Calling for six of 18 to be in the West Precinct seems to be an inequitable approach unaligned with the Council’s budget actions in November.” —District 1 City Council Member Lisa Herbold

“Having a new location in the Pike-Pine corridor that is brick and mortar, that won’t be relocated like a mobile precinct, sends a message that our commitment is locked in—that we’re going to have a presence here beyond just a traditional law enforcement-based response,” Lewis says.

SPD opened a storefront in the area in 2015 as part of the “9 1/2 block strategy,” in which police arrested dozens of drug users and dealers in an area of downtown that included the site of last week’s shooting. That storefront was shut down after the operation wrapped up, and Third Avenue remained much the same as it has been for decades—a place where people buy and sell drugs, hang out, and sometimes get into fights.

But Lewis thinks a CSO storefront would be different, because CSOs aren’t a traditional law-enforcement approach. During the first iteration of the program, which ended in 2004, CSOs dealt with low-level calls, including minor property crimes, freeing up sworn officers to respond to calls that required an armed response. The program is starting up again this year, with funding for 18 full-time officers.

Lewis’ proposal would deploy six of those officers in his downtown district, leaving just 12 for the rest of the city. That idea doesn’t sit well with District 1 council member Herbold, who notes that she has been working to get a similar storefront office in South Park, where shootings are common, since last year. “The budget action [in 2019] to expand to 18 CSOs [was intended] to allow them to work in teams in the five police precincts,” Herbold says. “Calling for six of 18 to be in the West Precinct seems to be an inequitable approach unaligned with the Council’s budget actions in November.”

The Downtown Seattle Association has been enthusiastic about the proposal, saying in a statement that “locating a Seattle Police Community Storefront along Third Avenue is a welcome first step toward improving public safety in the heart of downtown.” However, Mayor Jenny Durkan was less effusive. Asked if Durkan supported Lewis’ approach, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office responded, “Our 12 CSOs are currently finishing their months-long training, and will be deployed in February in neighborhoods throughout Seattle. Their deployment plan already includes a presence downtown as well as neighborhoods throughout Seattle.”

A “Filibuster” on City Layoffs, a Resolution on Resolutions, an Accusatory Letter, and More

Acting HSD director Jason Johnson and mayoral advisor on homelessness Tess Colby

1. City council member Lisa Herbold struggled Wednesday to get Human Services Department Director Jason Johnson to answer her question about future layoffs from HSD’s Homeless Strategy and Investment (HSI) division, which is merging with King County’s homelessness division as part of the creation of a new regional homelessness authority. At a meeting of the council’s special committee on homelessness, Herbold asked Johnson repeatedly how many HSI employees would be moving to new offices in the county-owned Yesler Building as part of a temporary “co-location” of city and county staff, and how many are expected to have jobs with the new authority. “I’m hearing a lot of speculation about which positions are going to be eliminated,” Herbold said. “Given that the entire HSI division is being relocated [in March and we aren’t making final decisions about who will stay at the regional authority until much later, is there something happening that we should be aware of?”

Johnson responded first by describing the history that led to the current organizational structure of HSI, then talked at length about the successive organizational structures that will be put in place over the next year. “What is going to occur is colocation in March 2020, then after the hiring of the CEO, we will begin what is termed a loan period where day to day decisions are made by the CEO, but there will also be existing lines of authority back to the city and the county…”

“I’m frustrated that Interim Director Johnson seemed to filibuster in a way that made it very difficult for me to ask my specific question and he definitely didn’t answer it.”—Council member Lisa Herbold

His explanation—which did not include an answer to Herbold’s question about layoffs—went on for so long that council member Kshama Sawant jumped in to say that she hoped the council could wrap up talking about the regional authority quickly so that the committee could move on to “the most substantive issue” on the agenda, her proposal to vastly expand tiny house villages in the city, since she had somewhere else to be. (Council member Debora Juarez said that while she appreciated Sawant’s desire to move on to her own item, “I want to point out that we spent 90 minutes on a resolution that we didn’t even pass”—Sawant’s resolution condemning India’s National Register of Citizens and Citizenship Amendment Act—and “I, for one, want to hear how this is going to get implemented.”)

After the meeting, Herbold told me that she never did get answer to her question: “If the entirety of HSI staff are colocating and layoff decisions aren’t being made final until either a 2020 supplemental or 2021 proposed budget, when exactly between those two points in time will HSI staff learn their jobs are proposed to be eliminated?” Herbold says she was “frustrated that Interim Director Johnson seemed to filibuster in a way that made it very difficult for me to ask my specific question and he definitely didn’t answer it.”

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2. Juarez was hardly the only council member casting shade on Sawant’s nonbinding resolution on India, which—along with a resolution opposing war in Iran—took up most of the council’s two-hour-plus regular meeting on Monday. Freshman council member Alex Pedersen said he would propose a resolution condemning all forms of oppression everywhere, just to cover all possible bases. “There’s many disturbing issues going on today for which we do not have resolutions, and my resolution is broad enough to capture instances of oppression that we might be missing,” Pedersen said. “Allow me to ask that we try to not craft a city council council resolution for every horrible thing that our president or any world leader does.”

Pedersen’s resolution, if it ever does see the light of day, is unlikely to find traction among his colleagues, who seemed to consider it a stunt designed to embarrass Sawant. Sawant, for her part, immediately used the proposal as an opportunity to drag her colleagues for lacking the “moral and political courage” to address housing and homelessness. “Passing resolutions is not the barrier. The barrier is lack of courage,” she said.

3. Tomorrow afternoon, Beyonce St. James—the formerly homeless drag artist who spoke and performed at All Home King County’s annual conference last year—will appear in court to seek an injunction against the release of public records that include her legal name and other identifying information. I received a notice of the hearing because I requested St. James’ invoice for the event, for which she charged $500. (Attendees reported that they were told St. James was volunteering her time and performing for tips; video of the event shows attendees tossing and handing her cash.) St. James (not her legal name) is asking that all her personal information be kept private because she has already been threatened and harassed over her performance and fears further harassment if her address and other details are made public.

Continue reading “A “Filibuster” on City Layoffs, a Resolution on Resolutions, an Accusatory Letter, and More”