As COVID Cases Surge, How Will Shelters Cope? Plus More on that Mystery Campaign and Details on Seattle Magazine Sale

 

Sale price: $2 million. Paying freelancers: Not included

1. As of last night, a motel in Kent and four isolation sites scattered throughout King County remained empty of COVID-19 patients, according to King County Public Health. Meanwhile, the city has confirmed that—beyond the 100 new spaces for Downtown Emergency Service Center clients that just opened at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall—they have not yet identified new shelter sites to allow for social distancing among the thousands of people living in emergency shelter in conditions that do not allow six feet of spacing between cots, bunks, or mats.

A rough calculation based on last year’s point-in-time count (which does not include a detailed geographic breakdown of people in emergency shelter and other types of “sheltered” homelessness) suggests that around 2,800 people were staying in emergency shelter on a typical night, a number that may be inflated by the way the Homeless Management Information System counts people entering shelters. Whatever the true number is, it is certainly many times higher than 100.

Kamaria Hightower, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jenny Durkan, says the city, King County, and the state are “evaluating multiple avenues for bringing additional resources online and we will have new information to share in the coming days. At this time, there are no known confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the unsheltered community or within shelters. However, we are working closely with the County to ensure there are adequate resources and the right strategies in place to meet this public health need when it arises.”

The mayor will be at a press conference tomorrow along with Gov. Jay Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and other regional officials, and I’ll be posting live updates on Twitter.

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2. Stuck inside, with no council meetings to attend and no other immediately pressing business, I decided yesterday to continue down a rabbit hole I entered last week when I started looking into Seattle for a Healthy Planet, a mysterious campaign that may or may not be planning to put an initiative on the Seattle ballot to create a new tax to fund research into lab-grown meat.

As I reported last week, the campaign has already reported more than $365,000 in contributions, most of that from a California-based cryptocurrency firm called Alameda Research with links to animal-rights groups. Alameda did not return my messages seeking comment; nor did the company’s founder, a Hong Kong-based 20-something named Sam Bankman-Fried.

I explained that I was calling about Seattle for a Healthy Planet, and he told me his name was included on campaign documents because of “a mistake by our filing people,” promised to have someone get back to me, and hung up.

Undaunted, I turned to the other side of the campaign ledger, zeroing in on a consulting firm called The Hicks Group that was paid a flat $15,000 for one week of unspecified work between Christmas and New Year’s, and another $15,000 for the month of January. The headquarters for the Hicks Group appears to be a Brooklyn apartment that was recently occupied by Seattle for a Healthy Planet campaign manager David Huynh, a former Hillary for America staffer in the campaign’s New York office who now lives in Baltimore. (Huynh was one of the people who did not call or email me back). Huynh’s old apartment is now occupied by one of his former H4A coworkers, Jeremy Jansen, whose own consulting firm is registered in Wisconsin and is not called The Hicks Group.

Most consulting firms (including Jansen’s) are registered with a state licensing body, and are typically organized as LLCs. The Hicks Group is not a registered business in New York, and I could find no evidence for its existence prior to the Seattle for a Healthy Planet campaign.

Since I now knew that Huynh was both a former resident of the apartment where the Hicks Group is now located and one of the two main contacts for Seattle for a Healthy Planet, I decided to try him again. This time, he picked up. I explained why I was calling, and he told me his name was included on campaign documents because of “a mistake by our filing people,” promised to have someone get back to me, and hung up. The whole call lasted less than 20 seconds.

It’s impossible to tell from campaign documents, and without talking to anyone associated with the campaign, what The Hicks Group did to earn $30,000 during those five weeks in December and January, a good six months before a typical initiative campaign would start ramping up its public-facing work. But several local consultants told me that $15,000 a month (much less for a single week) is unusually high for a local campaign in this stage. (“They can pay me that much to do nothing!” one consultant who works on local issues snarked).

Fifteen thousand dollars a month is in line with what the Mike Bloomberg campaign was paying experienced campaign consultants with business licenses in Washington, D.C. and New York, and that’s a campaign for the nation’s highest office; the most I could find a strategic consultant being paid for a local initiative campaign was when Sound View Strategies made $12,500 for one month of work on the Seattle Families and Education Levy—and that was in the final month of the campaign.

Again, this could all add up to nothing—Seattle for a Healthy Planet could simply be a deep-pocketed campaign funded by an unusually secretive group of crypto-rich out-of-towners who want to convince Seattleites to tax themselves to fund research into lab-grown meat. But it’s hard to say. Attempts to reach the other listed contacts for the campaign, as well as Jensen, the consultant who lives in the Hicks Group apartment, were unsuccessful.

3. Last month, Seattle Magazine’s bankrupt owners, Minneapolis-based Tiger Oak Media, sold the magazine to Geekwire founder Jonathan Sposato for an undisclosed sum and under undisclosed terms. The news was greeted ecstatically by the local press who covered it, including Geekwire (Sposato will”reinvigorate the 54-year-old publication as a voice for the growing and influential city that has been his longtime home,” they reported), Folio (“Seattle magazine is coming home” and Seattle Business, which is owned by Tiger Oak (“Sposato has the media chops and entrepreneurial track record to pull it off.”)

Freelancers, photographers, and vendors who were never paid for their work by the former parent company of Seattle magazine, Minneapolis-based Tiger Oak Media, were less thrilled. On Tuesday, many of them (including me) received more details about the sale via US mail. According to the notice, Sposato is buying the magazine for a total of $2 million (part up-front, the remainder to be paid over the next three years). More crucially to freelancers still hoping to be paid, the sale comes free of “debt or debt-like obligations,” meaning that the debt remains with Tiger Oak in bankruptcy court, where small local vendors are last in line behind banks, printing companies, and lawyers (including the lawyers working on the bankruptcy case itself, who do not figure in among the creditors).

Tiger Oak owes just its top 20 creditors a total of well over $3 million, according to its bankruptcy filing, and claims to have essentially no assets. A $2 million sale doesn’t provide enough money to pay off even those creditors in full—to say nothing of the more than 550 creditors that are owed less than $16,510 each (the smallest debt of the top 20, which are listed individually in the bankruptcy filing).

 

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