After Defeat of Head Tax, Council Scrambles for Plan B

City council budget committee chair Lisa Herbold made a risky gamble this week, and she lost. As a result, the council will pass a budget this coming Monday whose details were thrown together largely at the last minute, after a budget proposal that hinged on the passage of the controversial employee hours tax failed to secure a majority.

The gamble Herbold took was fairly straightforward, First, she proposed a version of the budget that incorporated revenues from the head tax—a $125-per-employee tax on businesses with more than $10 million in gross receipts, known as the HOMES tax. Second, she made sure that city council members’ top-priority projects would be on the chopping block without the tax, so that any council member who voted against the tax would risk losing funding for her favorite projects. Third, instead of coming up with a backup plan in collaboration with head tax opponents, she crafted a “Plan B” that included draconian cuts to council members’ priorities (including the criminal justice diversion program LEAD, housing for homeless Native Americans, and trash removal at homeless encampments), giving them an additional incentive to vote “yes” on the tax.

The problem was with step 4—the one where a majority of council members were supposed to fall in line and support the tax. That didn’t happen, for a number of reasons. First, some council members were simply dead set against passing the tax, or—to hear council members like Lorena Gonzalez tell it—opposed to passing it on a rushed timeline without an opportunity to do deeper analysis and look at other alternative revenue sources. (Council members have had less than three weeks to consider the proposal.) Second, several council members bristled at the way Herbold’s initial balancing package, in council member Debora Juarez’s words, “held hostage” so many important projects by putting them “in the head tax parking lot.” Juarez, in particular, was indignant about this forced tradeoff. And third, potentially persuadable council members may have been put off by the behavior of the head-tax supporters who showed up, many at Sawant’s behest, day after day, screaming invectives (“Shame!” “Their deaths are on your hands!” “Republican!”) at council members who didn’t fall in lockstep behind the proposal.

After the tax failed, it became clear that Herbold didn’t have a backup, and the council ended up canceling a scheduled budget meeting to hammer one out. The result was that the process that led to a final budget package was disorganized and chaotic, with some council members reportedly in the dark about budget amendments until less than an hour before they had to vote them up or down. (Many amendments weren’t available in hard-copy form until minutes before they were voted on.)

A few things stand out about the substance of the budget package that will go before the council on Monday. First, it includes aggressive cuts to incoming mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget. If the budget passes unchanged on Monday, the city’s first female mayor in nearly a century will have to reduce her budget 17 percent, the equivalent of five mayoral staffers. (This was one of the budget amendments that reportedly came through at the last minute). Much of the money that would have gone to the mayor’s office will now fund new contract management positions in the Human Services Department.

Council members who supported cutting the mayor’s budget, including Mike O’Brien, said they were merely bringing it down to the “baseline” level established under former mayor Mike McGinn. However, that characterization is misleading: McGinn had a skeleton staff because he became mayor during the worst economic recession in recent memory, and made the cut at a time when the city faced ongoing annual revenue shortfalls in the tens of millions. As the economy recovered and all city departments expanded back to pre-recession levels, McGinn’s successor, Ed Murray, staffed up too. While budget cuts during recessions are standard, I can recall no recent precedent for slashing the mayor’s budget so dramatically in the middle of an economic boom. Notably, the council did not propose any cuts to its own staff budget, which council members increased by 33 percent just last year.

Outgoing mayor Tim Burgess fired off a sassy response to the council’s cuts, saying that if the council, “in their wisdom[,] believes these funds are needed for other purposes, and remembering that the Legislative Department’s budget is twice the size of the Mayor’s budget, then the funds should come proportionately from the Mayor’s Office and the Legislative Department.” Should Durkan want to respond to the cuts more directly than Burgess did, she could take a hard look at the dozens of statements of legislative intent the council also adopted today, each of which constitutes a request for the mayor’s office to craft legislation or produce reports and analysis. Or the council could decide to dial back the cuts on its own; they still have until Monday to find cuts elsewhere if they don’t want to pick this fight with the new administration. Durkan, it’s worth noting, did quite well in several council members’ districts, including O’Brien’s (Northwest Seattle) and Herbold’s (West Seattle). Both council members are up for reelection in two years.

The cuts to Durkan’s office highlight another unusual aspect of today’s budget proposal: It shifts a significant amount of money into the city’s Human Services Department from other departments, primarily the Department of Finance and Administrative Services. Although intuitively, it makes sense to move funding for things like homeless encampment removals to the department that hands out contracts for homeless services, HSD was not necessarily clamoring for the change, and will need time to hire seven new employees and train them to do the work FAS has been doing. Durkan, meanwhile, presumably has her own ideas about how the department should be run, and who should run it (the current director is Catherine Lester).

Today’s budget debate also solidified the ideological fault lines on the council—and highlighted the need for someone to serve as de facto council leader. As budget chair and a council veteran (before her election in 2015, Herbold was a staffer for former council member Nick Licata for 17 years), Herbold had a chance to be that leader, by counting votes and dealing with both sides to come up with a best-case scenario for the council’s left wing as well as a viable Plan B that could win the support of a council majority. Instead, Herbold went for broke—proposing a budget that was, in essence, an ultimatum, and declining to work with council moderates like Rob Johnson on a backup plan. That gamble didn’t pay off, even with a reliable ally like Kirsten Harris-Talley temporarily on the council. Once the council equation shifts in November (when Teresa Mosqueda, who handily defeated Herbold-endorsed socialist Jon Grant, replaces Harris-Talley), she could find herself increasingly isolated—insufficiently socialist for Sawant (whose supporters yelled “Shame!” and “Republican!” as fervently at Herbold as they did at Johnson), insufficiently “moderate,” (which is to say, conventionally liberal) for the council’s new majority.

I’ll have more to say about the final budget package on Monday.

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

Council Passes Short-Term Rental Tax, Puts Airbnb Regs on Ice Until After Thanksgiving

Council members Lisa Herbold and Rob Johnson, on opposite sides of the short-term rental debate.

After several hours of discussion and a number of convoluted parliamentary procedures, the city council voted this afternoon to impose a new tax on people and businesses that provide short-term rental housing through online platforms like Airbnb—$14 per night for an entire home, and $8 a night when the rental is a single room in a larger residence. They did not resolve a key question about the underlying legislation, which would limit each short-term rental operator to just two units, down from an unlimited number today—namely, how many existing units would be exempt from the new requirements. (The legislation, as written, would exempt existing short-term rental units in parts of downtown, Lower Queen Anne, South Lake Union, and some units on First and Capitol Hill.) Council member Rob Johnson argued that it made little sense to adopt the tax without knowing how many rental units it would apply to (and therefore how much revenue it could generate); others, including council member Kirsten Harris-Talley, argued that delaying the vote could give lobbyists for companies like Airbnb time to pressure  community groups into supporting their preferred version of the legislation.

Ultimately, the council put off, for at least two weeks, several amendments that would raise or lower the number of existing short-term rental units that would be exempt from the two-unit restriction. On one end of the revenue-vs.-regulation axis, Johnson suggested exempting all existing short-term rental units from the new two-unit limit; on the other, council members Lisa Herbold and Mike O’Brien proposed requiring short-term rental operators who currently rent out several or many units to reduce their rental stock to two or less, with no location-based exemptions. (O’Brien, along with Sally Bagshaw, also offered a middle-ground amendment that would restrict the area in which short-term rental operators could continue to have more than two units to a small area of downtown).

The big-picture question today, as it has been since the city began discussing how to regulate short-term rentals a couple of years ago, was whether short-term rentals remove affordable housing units from circulation in sufficient quantities to drive up housing prices. Advocates argue that they do, but come armed mostly with anecdotes, not data—for every story about a person who got priced out of their old apartment only to see it turned into an Airbnb, there’s one about a homeowner who was able to pay her mortgage by turning her kid’s old room into short-term lodging for a few days every month. The point is—we just don’t know, and arguments that rely on anecdote and correlation-causation fallacies (2,000 people had to move last year because they couldn’t pay their rent and the number of Airbnbs increased; therefore, Airbnbs caused the displacement) aren’t convincing.

For one thing: The total supply of housing in the city has increased faster than the number of short-term rental units—an important factor for people making supply-side arguments against short-term rentals to consider. For another: Many Airbnbs are rooms in people’s homes, and there’s little evidence to suggest that people who want to rent their spare room out a few nights a month would be just equally eager to take on a full-time roommate if Airbnb were not an option. (The difference between a tourist who comes home late at night and a roommate who’s always underfoot is self-explanatory). And for still another: Airbnbs serve the same function as hotels; that’s who the company is competing against. Shutting down Airbnb or dramatically reducing the number of short-term rentals in Seattle would only increase demand for hotel rooms—and hotels are single-purpose buildings that can’t be easily adapted to serve as permanent rental housing if the economy slows or demand for hotel rooms dries up.

Full disclosure: I stay in Airbnbs almost exclusively, whenever I go to another city where I don’t have friends or family I can stay with. I also live in a building where one of the three rental units is an unregulated Airbnb with random people coming and going at all hours of the day and night. Having seen the short-term rental from at least two angles (and talked to plenty of homeowners who rent out rooms in their houses for extra cash), I think they should be taxed and regulated, but not run out of town. As someone who likes to hit the road every chance I get, my options are generally: Airbnb, or chain motel by the freeway. And when travelers like me stay at chain hotels near highways, or even at corporate hotels in the parts of town where such amenities tend to concentrate (downtown; near convention centers), our money goes to Hilton and Starbucks (or Motel Six and Bucky’s), not local boutiques and coffee shops.

Afternoon Crank: IlluminaTCC Takes Over the Mayor’s Office!

That muffled sound you hear in the distance is Brier Dudley’s head exploding at the news that Shefali Ranganathan, director of the urbanist transit advocacy group Transportation Choices Coalition, is the co-chair of mayor-elect Jenny Durkan’s transition team. Dudley, who by all accounts ran this year’s Seattle Times endorsement interviews, foamed at the mouth for 3,000 words earlier this year over TCC’s supposed omnipotence over state and local government agencies and officials, but there was no there there—the worst crime Dudley could hang on the supposed IlluminaTCC was being a successful advocacy group. (HT to my pal Josh Feit—a monthly TCC donor!!!—who now works at SDOT. Confidential to Dudley: The conspiracy goes deep.) Durkan’s other co-chairs are Plymouth Housing Group director Paul Lambros and former King County Executive Ron Sims, who served as deputy secretary of the federal Housing and Urban Development department under Obama.

TCC’s political arm, Transportation for Washington, endorsed Durkan over Moon, sparking a mini-feud with a number of urbanist groups who considered Durkan too “establishment.” (One, Seattle Subway, implied without evidence that T4WA had endorsed Durkan for reasons having nothing to do with her qualifications or ability to deliver on her promises, and even insinuated that Durkan was racist. Ranganathan is an Indian-American woman; Subway is run primarily by white men.) Other urbanists who endorsed Moon (including The C Is for Crank) noted Durkan’s support for the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda and her commitment to a pro-housing approach to addressing Seattle’s affordability crisis.

Ranganathan is a clear-eyed advocate who knows the local political landscape as well as anybody and has no patience for bullshitters or obstructionists. She’s a good person to have on your team.

Durkan will announce the rest of her transition team next Monday, according to a campaign spokeswoman.

As City Moves Forward With Modest Upzones, Single-Family Housing Advocates Lawyer Up

Mayor Tim Burgess released the final environmental impact statement for what will likely be the most controversial set of upzones required to implement HALA yesterday.  The proposal, known as the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan, will increase allowable building heights in urban villages, multifamily zones, and commercial areas across the city, including modest upzones to just six percent of the city’s single-family land. The remaining 94 percent, which represents more than 60 percent of the city’s residentially zoned land, will still be preserved exclusively for detached single-family houses). In exchange for increased building heights, developers will have to make between 5 and 11 percent of their units affordable to people of modest means, or pay the equivalent (between $5 and $32.75 per square foot) into a fund that will finance housing construction elsewhere. City staffers say they expect about half of developers will decide to build on site and half will pay into the fund; however, this estimate is based not on empirical data (there isn’t any) but on the fact that the city tried to make the cost of building and the cost of paying the fee roughly equivalent. [*See wonky footnote for more on how this 50-50 split came to pass.]

 

To single-family preservationists, the new rules represent an unprecedented incursion on their right to own property without having to live in close proximity to (and share scarce on-street parking space with) renters who may be younger and lower-income.

 

The MHA proposal splits the baby between two earlier alternatives—one that would spread new density evenly between all parts of the city and one that would limit housing production in areas the city considers at “high risk of displacement” with “low access to economic opportunity,” like Rainier Beach and South Park. To housing advocates, this is maddening—by artificially restricting housing development in the places where demand and the risk of economic displacement is highest, the rules practically ensure that more low-income people will be forced out of those areas. To single-family preservationists, the new rules represent an unprecedented incursion on their right to own property without having to live in close proximity to (and share scarce on-street parking space with) renters who may be younger and lower-income.

 

The city has built some cushion into its timeline for the inevitable lawsuits. Residents and groups that oppose the upzones have until the Monday after Thanksgiving to appeal the FEIS, and neighborhood groups are already lawyering up; last month, the West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Organization (JuNO), the Seattle Displacement Coalition, and Seattle Fair Growth distributed a call for neighborhood groups to sign on to their planned lawsuit against the proposal, and neighborhood groups in Wallingford and Miller/Madison Park have also expressed strong opposition to the proposal. Any appeal would go to the city’s hearing examiner (who has already ruled in favor of single-family preservationists in another case involving backyard cottages); that process generally takes about six months, although a successful appeal could require the city to make changes to the plan and prepare a supplemental EIS, which would take longer. After the city council actually passes the legislation, opponents will have another opportunity to challenge the law, by taking the city to King County Superior Court.

City staffers and officials stuck by their timeline yesterday. Council member Rob Johnson, chair of the council’s land use committee, said the council “can do all the work that is necessary to get the bill ready for a vote while litigation is occurring—we just can’t take action. If we’re still under litigation this time next year, we just won’t be able to vote.”

The plan also includes new tree planting requirements, mandatory setbacks for buildings over a certain size, rules designed to discourage development near freeways, and new standards designed to encourage food-production businesses near the Rainier Beach light rail station, where development has been slow to follow light rail.

Read the EIS for yourself here, or check out the interactive map to see what the city has planned for your neighborhood.

* Wonky footnote, as promised: This is a change, though a subtle one, from the preliminary discussions that led to HALA; originally, during discussions of the voluntary “incentive zoning”  proposal in South Lake Union, council members proposed making the so-called “fee in lieu” more costly than actual construction, to encourage developers to build on site. By abandoning this plan to make the fee roughly equivalent to the cost of building, the city has eliminated the incentive for developers to build, which could push affordable housing away from the most desirable parts of the city. The MHA plan has provisions to mitigate this effect—by “distribut[ing] affordable housing units generated by in lieu MHA payments, and which will be developed by or for the City’s Office of Housing (OH), in locations proportionate to the area’s share of anticipated citywide residential growth”—but acknowledges that the city rejected the notion of encouraging affordable housing development generated by the fees in any particular area as “extremely speculative,” given that the city can’t predict where land will actually become available. The bottom line is that under the proposal, developers can pay fees to build housing in other neighborhoods, and the city has no real ability to require affordable housing in high-end neighborhoods like Wallingford or South Lake Union. A higher fee-in-lieu might have accomplished this.

Here’s how the city expects the distribution of housing generated by the fees to shake out:

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

Was John Urquhart’s Election Night ‘Joke’ on a Seattle Times Reporter Retaliation?

This post originally appeared at Seattle Magazine.

Local politics Twitter blew up late Tuesday night over the news, buried in a piece about the King County Sheriff’s election by Seattle Times reporters Steve Miletich and Mike Carter, that incumbent Sheriff John Urquhart had directed Miletich to a nonexistent election party, presumably in retaliation for the Times’ coverage of sexual harassment and assault allegations against the sheriff.

The Times reported that Urquhart “sent its reporter to a non-existent campaign party across town from where the sheriff showed up Tuesday night at Shaun O’Donnell’s American Grill and Irish Pub in the Smith Tower. When the reporter tracked him down, Urquhart said he had sent the reporter to the wrong place as a ‘joke.’”

Contacted by phone, Urquhart campaign manager Juliana da Cruz said she thought Urquhart’s misdirection “might have just been a misunderstanding.”

“I personally didn’t know about our election night plans until the very last minute,” she added.

Another Urquhart staffer, who did not want to speak on the record, suggested that what Urquhart called a “joke” was just that—an obvious goof between Urquhart and a reporter, Miletich, with whom he had a good relationship. The location where Urquhart said he was having his party, according to the staffer, closed several years ago, a fact Urquhart reportedly highlighted by sending Miletich a Seattle Times story on the closure. The Urquhart campaign posted the actual location of the sheriff’s election-night party on Facebook on November 6.

Both Miletich and Carter declined to comment on Urquhart’s “joke” or confirm that Urquhart had sent an email pointing to the Times’ story about the closure of the fake party location.

Whether he intended to send Miletich astray as a “joke” or whether his prank was more malicious, there’s a history of bad blood between Urquhart and the Times. Last year the paper began reporting on sexual misconduct allegations against the sheriff. As criticism of Urquhart’s handling of the allegations resurfaced last week, Patch Seattle reported that Urquhart’s attorney sent a strongly-worded letter to the Times discouraging the paper from running a story about a $160,000 settlement to a former King County deputy sheriff who claimed that Urquhart had touched him inappropriately and attempted to keep him from exposing wrongdoing within the department.

Late Wednesday morning, Times reporter Mike Rosenberg tweeted a list of “some of the stories that upset the sheriff,” suggesting that Urquhart’s “joke” was retaliation for coverage he perceived as negative. Among those stories: A piece about advocacy groups who accused the sheriff of mistreating deputies who had accused him of sexual assault, and a story about a finding by the King County ombudsman’s office that Urquhart had mishandled the sexual assault allegations against him. Times reporter Mike Baker also responded to Urquhart on Twitter.

Urquhart did not return a call to his office seeking comment.

Results in the King County sheriff’s race remain inconclusive, but were trending strongly toward Johanknecht. As of the latest count Wednesday afternoon, Johanknecht led Urquhart 52.61 percent to 47.69 percent—a margin of 15,778 votes.

Election 2017: Vindications and Repudiations

Y’all, I’ve been traipsing all over Europe on my trust fund for the last few weeks (note: A JOKE) and I came back just in time to see Seattle elect our first female mayor in nearly a century, Jenny Durkan, and the first 6-3 female majority on the city council since the 1990s. Meanwhile, King County  voters may have elected their second-ever female sheriff, if early returns hold and Mitzi Johanknecht defeats incumbent John Urquhart for that position. Pundits elsewhere were dubbing last night a “great night for women,” and it was, but let’s get a few more female mayors, sheriffs, council members, and state legislators (not to mention pay equity, affordable day care, and hiring parity) before we declare the glass ceiling shattered to dust.

On to the celebrations!

I arrived at council member-elect Teresa Mosqueda’s party at Optimism Brewing Company at around 7 last night and the mood was already ebullient, although some supporters I talked to were still gritting their teeth as they waited for the 8:15 results. They shouldn’t have worried: The first vote drop showed Mosqueda winning decisively with 61.51 percent of the vote (to Grant’s 38.49 percent)—a rout that turned the cavernous room into a veritable nerd mosh pit.

Council member Lorena Gonzalez, who also won decisively over neighborhood activist Pat Murakami last night, introduced Mosqueda to the stage, shouting no fewer than three times that Mosqueda won because “she gets shit done!” In response to the results, the Grant campaign sent out a tepid non-concession, holding out hope that the remaining ballots would somehow reverse a yawning 23-point gap. (I was told that the statement he made at his own election-night party, down in Hillman City, was more decisively a concession speech.) At any rate, Grant’s defeat showed that not only is an endorsement from the Democratic Socialists of America not a slam-dunk in Seattle (and that, in fact, it may be a liability), neither is an endorsement from the Seattle Times or the Stranger, both of which effusively supported Grant. (Although the two papers have decidedly different politics, they both backed Grant in large part because of his position on zoning and development—he opposed the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, which chips away at exclusionary Seattle zoning rules that restrict new housing to a small fraction of the city’s residential land, and supported punitive developer fees that would have contributed to Seattle’s housing shortage.)

Grant’s campaign was also hampered by charges that he had created a hostile work environment for women and people of color as head of the Tenants Union, and by persistent questions about why, if his campaign was truly about “giving a voice to the most marginalized,” he was running at all. Grant, who grew up on Bainbridge Island, is white; Mosqueda, who grew up in Olympia, is Mexican-American. Mosqueda, who was lambasted by Grant and his supporters for her support from labor unions, kept her job lobbying  for the rights of women, children, and workers in Olympia right through the end of the campaign, noting that she had to do so to pay her rent. (In addition to bein the third Latina on the council, Mosqueda will be the only renter.) Grant, in contrast, has been campaigning full-time since January, and lives in a house in South Seattle that was initially purchased for him by his parents after the previous owners lost their home to foreclosure. That class divide between the two candidates might not have been immediately apparent to the casual voter, but Grant’s insistence on portraying Mosqueda as an “establishment” candidate beholden to business and nefarious unions spurred Mosqueda to make Grant’s own more rarefied background an issue, and may have turned off voters initially inclined to support Grant because he purported to be the candidate of the people.

Speaking of which: Density was also a big winner last night, with HALA fan Jenny Durkan winning big (Moon, who touted urbanist values in front of urbanist audiences, was wishy-washy in front of neighborhood groups and on the citywide stage, proposing to start the HALA process over and let neighborhood groups have a larger say in the “character” and “culture” of their neighborhoods when deciding whether to let density in—as they did under “the great Jim Diers.”

Other takeaways from last night:

• Democracy vouchers and the Honest Elections initiative, once touted as a way to get money out of politics, have done nothing of the sort. Early on, both Grant and Mosqueda began filing requests to exceed the mandatory limits on contribution size and overall spending imposed by the 2015 initiative, and the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission promptly granted all their requests. Closer to Election Day, both candidates for city attorney—incumbent Pete Holmes and challenger Scott Lindsay—were also released from the initiative’s strictures. Mayoral candidates Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon didn’t have access to democracy vouchers (they’ll kick in for the mayor’s race in 2021), but it probably wouldn’t much matter—as of today, Durkan has raised a record-breaking $937,410 and is well on track to burst through the $1 million ceiling by the time late contributions come through, and Moon’s contributions, currently $347,734, will top $500,000 once she pays off her debts, which total $182,682. Unless the ethics commission has a dramatic change of heart, it’s unlikely that they’ll force mayoral candidates to abide by limits that they haven’t enforced on candidates for city council or city attorney.

Moreover: The Honest Elections initiative limits contributions to $500. Neither Moon nor Durkan had an average contribution close to that. Moon’s average contribution was $174, and Durkan’s was $234. Finally, both campaigns were heavily supported by funding that was outside the scope of the initiative: Durkan was backed by $727,139 in independent expenditures by a business-backed political action committee, People for Jenny Durkan, and Moon has spent $176,521 of her own money (so far) to self-fund her campaign, nearly as much as the $181,766 she received from 1,043 supporters. Until PAC spending is dealt with (unlikely, given the ruling in Citizens United that money is speech) or self-financing is banned (ditto), big money—whether from wealthy candidates or deep-pocketed donors—will continue to be a major factor in Seattle politics.

• The King County Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services levy, which King County Executive Dow Constantine and advocates for homeless residents argued should be even larger, passed so overwhelmingly that it’s tempting to second-guess the county council’s decision to play it safe with the ballot measure. As I’ve reported, Constantine initially proposed renewing the levy at 12 cents per $1,000, which would have added $9 to the typical property owner’s annual tax bill and funded an additional  $67 million in services over six years, but the county council rejected his proposal, arguing (among other things) that voters might be suffering from tax fatigue. Advocates for homeless services argued for an even higher rate, 15 cents, to extend services to the hardest to house. Last night’s results suggest that that council underplayed its hand in going with the lower, “compromise” rate.

• Outside Seattle: Manka Dhingra’s election to the (traditionally Republican) 45th District state senate seat solidifies the Democrats’ hold on both houses of the state legislature and is part of a wave of Democratic victories across the country, including in Virginia, Minnesota, and New Jersey. (Vox has a roundup of all of last night’s barrier-busting wins here.) In Bellevue, the results were a mixed bag: Supporters and opponents of a proposed men’s homeless shelter—which turned out to be a key issue in this year’s divisive council races—each one two council seats. Newcomer Jared Nieuwenhuis and incumbent Conrad Lee oppose the shelter, and newcomer Janice Zahn and incumbent Lynne Robinson support it. Down in Burien, where a slate of city council candidates calling themselves “Burien Proud Burien First” focused on Burien’s status as a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants, to races were still too close to call; in the other two, a conservative and progressive candidate have strong leads, according to KUOW, which reports that “Nearly a quarter of Burien’s population is Latino but none have ever been elected to City Council.”

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

Urban Values Voters Endorse Teresa Mosqueda

Urban Values Voters are: Erica Barnett, The C is for Crank;  Keiko Budech, environmental leader; Elisa Chavez, poet/writer; Emilio Garza, youth civic engagement leader; Jessyn Farrell, former State Representative, 46th District; Josh Feit, PubliCola founder; Shefali Ranganathan, transportation leader; David Sarju, strategist; Brady Walkinshaw, former State Representative, 43rd District; Nicole Willis, political consultant.

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This is new. You haven’t seen something from this group before. Who are we? We are a group of civic-minded folks who believe our city is at a crossroads, and we need city leaders who will work collaboratively with the community to get things done on homelessness, affordable housing, education, transportation and other urgent challenges facing Seattle. Call us Urban Values Voters.

We were disappointed last week when the city’s two most prominent news publications, the Seattle Times and The Stranger, erred by endorsing Jon Grant over Teresa Mosqueda in the important citywide Position 8 Seattle City Council race.

Frustrated by the overlapping endorsements, we have written an alternative—a resistance as it were—to say clearly: Teresa Mosqueda is the best candidate in the race.

Will this new group endorse in the future? Maybe. Who knows. We might become the definitive source for Seattle endorsements. We might not. But for now, our civic crew is endorsing Teresa Mosqueda for City Council.

We are in the midst of a housing affordability crisis. We need more housing options and we need them now. Yet, the city’s two most prominent editorial boards chose to endorse a candidate who is pandering to Seattle’s anti-growth status quo with untenable policy ideas and no real track record of getting things done.

On the other hand, Teresa Mosqueda is the rare kind of all-star candidate who has the potential to transform City Hall.

Mosqueda, currently a hyper-competent advocate in Olympia for the Washington State Labor Council, is an inspiring longtime champion for workers, women, children, and other marginalized people. Her resume is several pages long—unlike white guys, women of color still need to be overachievers to be taken seriously in Seattle.

In addition to her current job fighting for workers in Olympia, Mosqueda has worked as the campaign chair for Raise Up Washington, 2016’s statewide minimum wage and paid sick leave initiative; the legislative director for the Children’s Alliance; and the consumer advocate on the Washington Affordable Care Act Exchange Board, where she lobbied successfully to require insurance companies to be more transparent about what was in their plans.

Mosqueda’s resume certainly reflects Seattle’s progressive values. But more germane to the job she’s seeking, and less common, her resume is also a tally of serious results.

Under her leadership, Raise Up Washington won its fight for a higher statewide minimum wage and paid sick leave. The Children’s Alliance successfully implemented Apple Health for Kids, the state’s cutting-edge health care program for low-income families. And with Mosqueda as their representative in Olympia’s fast-paced negotiating fray, the WSLC won legislation that will provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for workers so they can take time off to care for a new or newly adopted child, to recover from a serious illness, or to take care of a sick family member.

Mosqueda, some sort of super hero it seems, continued to work on family leave even after she declared her candidacy—a reflection both of her strong commitment to women and families and the reality for many women of color that she, unlike her opponent, couldn’t afford to quit her job to run for office full-time. (Grant left his job as director of the Tenants Union to run for council, unsuccessfully, in 2015; his most recent job was working for Mosqueda, as an organizer for the 2016 minimum wage campaign.)

Both the Times and Stranger supported Grant, in large part, because he opposed the Housing Affordability and Livability agenda—a transformational plan that wedded housing affordability and housing growth by allowing upzones in exchange for mandatory payments into an affordable housing fund.

Given that the underlying link between the Times and Stranger endorsements is a knee-jerk provincialism that wrongly couples opposition to gentrification with policies that preserve Seattle’s exclusive single-family zones, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Grant is a homeowner himself and Mosqueda is a renter. Although the majority of Seattleites are renters, their council members are not; if elected, Mosqueda will be the only renter on the council.

As the City’s Department of Neighborhoods has moved in the last year to institute formal
policies to build equity for renters, immigrants, people of color, and young people into local decision-making processes, the council needs more members who will be keenly aware of that perspective and can bring the aspiration for equity to fruition at the legislative level. As young woman, a Mexican-American, and a renter herself, Mosqueda will be an unwavering voice for the underrepresented majority in our city.

Seattle must not squander the rare opportunity to elect a candidate like Mosqueda, a political community leader talent with a track record of successfully advocating for and enacting substantive policies that prioritize universal equity by lifting up the people in our city who have been unable to share in its success.

Out of Office Notification

I’ll be out of the country—that’s right, the country—until November 7, doing my best to stay out of local politics for the final two weeks of the election while I visit friends on a long-planned trip.

Answers to your frequently asked questions below.

Has the election literally driven you out of the country? 

No, but who knows? It might have if I hadn’t planned this trip several months ago, when I found a ridiculously cheap ticket that just happened to take me far away right at the end of the campaign cycle, when everybody has made up their minds and yet all the campaigns are still yelling.

Does this mean we won’t benefit from your insights during the final weeks of the election cycle?

Yes and no! I won’t be posting here regularly, if at all, but you can always check out my campaign coverage by clicking on the Election 2017 tag. And if you still haven’t decided how to vote, check out my endorsements.

What are you doing? Why are you abandoning us? 

I’m visiting some dear friends that I haven’t seen in a long, long time. And possibly some castles!

But I want to yell at you! 

Yelling is for Twitter.

Who should I support for mayor? 

That’s easy: Cary Moon, Teresa Mosqueda, Lorena Gonzalez, and Pete Holmes. Find out why in  my endorsements!

When will we see you again? 

I’ll be back on Election Day. In the meantime, if you want to show your support for the work I do here—which, believe me, necessitates a vacation from time to time— you can always become a sustaining supporter on Patreon or give a one-time contribution through Paypal.

The C Is for Crank General Election Endorsements

Mayor: Cary Moon

The 2017 election season began in earnest when former mayor Ed Murray, once considered a shoo-in for reelection, was felled by charges of sexual assault. Twenty-one people put their names in the running, and things have only gotten more interesting since then. For the first time in Seattle’s history, women came in first, second, third, and fourth, and you had to go all the way down to sixth place to find a white guy (former mayor Mike McGinn, for the record, at 6.5 percent). That’s amazing, but of course, it shouldn’t be—the fact that Seattle hasn’t elected a female mayor in nearly a century (and has never elected a woman to a full four-year term) is a sign of how far this “progressive” city has to go.

Perhaps predictably, there have been complaints from certain quarters that neither of the two women who made it onto the general election ballot—Cary Moon and Jenny Durkan—has the requisite “experience” or “gravitas” to be mayor. While it’s true that neither Moon nor Durkan has experience directly relevant to the job of mayor—neither has ever served in elective office, nor run an organization with thousands of employees—I think concerns about “experience” are overblown. Durkan has experience managing a US Attorney’s office with dozens of staffers and a complex portfolio, and is familiar with the way the city works from her time working on the historic consent decree between the US Department of Justice and the city; Moon has a long record as a civic activist working on land use and transportation issues in Seattle, most notably on the waterfront, where she fought against the downtown tunnel (and, for the record, was right). Either candidate will face a learning curve; both bring skills and knowledge that will serve them well as mayor of Seattle.

I’m endorsing Moon because her vision of Seattle is the Seattle I want to see—a Seattle where people of modest means can afford to live in city limits, where all parts of the city are accessible to all people via high-quality, high-frequency transit, and where solutions to homelessness don’t begin and end with market-based vouchers and punitive encampment sweeps. Homelessness is a go-home, bottom-line issue for the future of Seattle; the next mayor can choose to pursue half-measure solutions that only help a few people on the margins while pushing the rest from place to place while dozens more join their ranks every day; or she can go big, tackling Seattle’s homelessness problem like the crisis that it is.

Moon is best known for her work to stop the construction of the downtown waterfront tunnel, which she argued would do little to improve traffic flow through downtown while decimating the waterfront with a massive highway-like “boulevard” that cuts off the waterfront from the rest of downtown as surely as the elevated viaduct does today. Moon was right about that (and about the inevitability of cost overruns) and her vision for a car-lite waterfront remains the single most forward-thinking proposal for the future of downtown in the last 20 years. Although her idea for the waterfront was ahead of its time, the vision Moon showed back in 2004 demonstrates her capacity to think about the city at a 20,000-foot level, and—importantly—to prioritize people over automobiles. Her opponent has expressed general support for transit, sidewalks, and electric cars, but Moon’s record demonstrates a real commitment to, and understanding of, the fact that thriving 21st century cities cannot put cars—any kind of cars—first.

As the city grows at an astounding pace, we don’t have time for leaders who cater to narrow constituencies (like the aging minority of Seattle residents who own single-family homes) or spend their days rushing from crisis to crisis (sweeping homeless people from place to place to placate housed residents who would prefer that humanitarian crises happen somewhere else). When asked whether she would revisit the portions of the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda that preserve 1950s-style single-family zoning indefinitely, Durkan has been noncommittal, suggesting that HALA is the best we’re going to get; Moon has said she supports reopening single-family areas to row houses, townhomes, duplexes, and stacked flats, which is the bold plan that Murray abandoned as soon as he came under pressure. Both candidates are clearly committed to increasing density to accommodate population growth, but Moon will make pro-housing policies a priority.

More than any other issue, Seattle’s response to the homelessness crisis (and the separate but related addiction epidemic) will determine what kind of city we will be in the coming decades. Under Murray (and on the basis of two reports by out-of-town consultants), the city has pushed homelessness policy in the direction of “market-based,” “results-oriented” solutions that look good on paper but won’t pencil out in an expensive city where homelessness is directly tied to a lack of affordable housing. The city’s Pathways Home plan, which Durkan supports, assumes that a majority of homeless people will be able to go from living on the street to making a living wage within just a few months—an unrealistic plan that privileges the easiest-to-house while leaving people suffering from addiction, mental health issues, or simply long-term joblessness behind. Moon is the only candidate in any race who has zeroed in on this plan, criticizing its unrealistic promise to “permanently” house thousands with short-term housing vouchers.

At a time when Seattle is deciding what kind of 21st century city it wants to be, it needs a leader who can think in broad strokes, not one who promises more incremental changes. Moon has shown the capacity to be that kind of leader. More than Durkan, she has expressed broad support for big-picture solutions, and a healthy skepticism that the “free market” will solve problems like the lack of affordable housing for low-income and homeless individuals and families. She has also demonstrated a willingness to listen to people and perspectives that have historically had trouble getting a foot in the door at city hall, and—importantly—to reconsider her views when challenged with new information. Mike McGinn, the former mayor to whom Moon is often compared, had a fatal flaw—he didn’t listen. Moon listens, even to people with whom she disagrees. She’s collaborative, not combative, and driven not by ego but by a genuine desire to build a more inclusive city, even if that means listening to people with whom she disagrees.

Moon’s platform isn’t perfect, by any stretch. Her plan to expedite Sound Transit expansion by offering to extend loans to the agency is almost certainly unworkable and unaffordable. Her commitment to city-funded broadband, after study after study (and mayor after mayor) has failed to justify its expense, feels like pandering. She has continued to insist that Vancouver-style property speculation is a major driver of housing prices here despite evidence that this is not the case. And her commitment to “inclusiveness” and “collaboration” in city government could tip too far in the wrong direction—listening to stakeholders is important, but excessive stakeholder input is a major reason Seattle is stuck with a 1990s zoning code in 2017.

All mayors learn on the job. My hope is that, if elected, Moon will learn which of her campaign ideas are realistic and worth pursuing and which should be abandoned. If she achieves a fraction of the vision she has outlined, the city will be visibly changed for the better. I’m voting for that vision.

The C Is for Crank endorses Cary Moon.

City attorney: Pete Holmes

City attorney Pete Holmes has a long record of fighting for progressive causes. He defended protections for hotel workers against a lawsuit by their employers; ended the widespread practice of prosecuting drivers who lost their licenses (and often their cars and livelihoods) because they couldn’t pay their traffic fines; and reduced sentencing for minor crimes to protect undocumented immigrants from unjust deportation. He has also been deeply involved in the city’s efforts to counteract the Trump Administration’s efforts to crack down on progressive cities, defending Seattle’s status as a sanctuary city.

Holmes was active in the creation of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, which connects drug users with health care, human services, housing, and treatment instead of throwing them in jail for minor crimes, and has worked to reform laws against drugs and prostitution—most notably, by directing police to target sex buyers, not sex workers, in prostitution stings. He was an early, vocal leader on drug reform, working to pass I-502, which legalized recreational pot, while leading a crackdown on shady (and illegal) “medical” dispensaries and home-delivery services that gave the legal weed industry a bad name. And he has led on police reform, navigating a tricky process in a way that has, at times, angered both the police union (which has opposed efforts to impose additional oversight on its members) and some police reformers (who want the power to reject or approve contracts and to hire and fire the chief of police.)

Holmes’ opponent Scott Lindsay, a former public-safety advisor ex-mayor Ed Murray, has shown a troubling affinity for law-and-order approaches to the problem of homelessness and downtown “disorder” (a Rudy Giuliani-style dog whistle if ever there was one). Earlier this year, Lindsay leaked legislation sponsored by council member Mike O’Brien that would have provided additional protections for homeless people living in their vehicles, in a transparent effort to torpedo the proposal. Lindsay’s willingness to violate city officials’ trust for political ends speaks to a lack of judgment that’s concerning in a candidate for a job that requires strict attorney-client privilege. Lindsay raises concerns about declining prosecutions for domestic violence that appear to be legitimate, but it’s hard to know whether to believe him when, for example, he also claimed recently that Seattle has the highest property crime in the country, an alarmist assertion that turned out to be misleading. (Holmes disputes Lindsay’s interpretation of the domestic-violence numbers). Lindsay has also exaggerated the impact of the Navigation Teams (groups of police and social-service workers who do outreach to homeless people living in unauthorized encampments) and suggested that homeless people are far more likely to commit crimes than data suggests—a disturbing tendency toward alarmism for someone seeking an office where measured realism is a far more important quality than the ability to rally a reactionary base.

Holmes could be more active on certain issues, like expanding LEAD to the rest of the city and promoting restorative justice for people accused of low-level crimes. However,  sometimes a steady hand is better than an itchy trigger finger. The C Is for Crank endorses Pete Holmes. 

City Council Position 8: Teresa Mosqueda

The C Is for Crank stands by its endorsement of Teresa Mosqueda, a longtime labor leader who has spent her entire career fighting for workers, women, children, and other marginalized people. Back in July, I wrote,

As the campaign chairwoman for Raise Up Washington, Mosqueda helped draft and lead the successful campaign last year for Initiative 1433, which increases the statewide minimum wage to $13.50 an hour and requires employers to provide paid sick leave. As legislative director for the Children’s Alliance, she fought for implementation of Apple Health for Kids, the state’s Medicaid program. And as campaign director for the Washington State Labor Council, she was deeply involved in this year’s paid family leave negotiations, which resulted in a bill that will provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for workers who take time off to care for a new or newly adopted child, to recover from a serious illness, or to take care of a sick family member. Mosqueda continued to work on family leave even after she declared her candidacy—a reflection both of her strong commitment to women and families and the fact that she, unlike some of her opponents, can’t afford to quit her job to run for office full-time. If she wins, she’ll also be the only renter on the city council. (No wonder the Seattle Times didn’t endorse her.)

Much of Mosqueda’s work has been behind the scenes—the kind of efforts that tend to go unnoticed but have lasting and important consequences. As the head of the state’s largest health care advocacy coalition, the Healthy Washington Coalition, Mosqueda served on the state’s health insurance exchange board, where she fought to require insurance companies to disclose what services they provide, including reproductive health care. She also insisted that the state of Washington provide information about voter registration to people buying plans on the exchange, an ACA requirement the state tried to circumvent. These issues aren’t flashy. They don’t make headlines. But they matter.

The C Is for Crank endorses Teresa Mosqueda.

Seattle City Council Position 9: Lorena Gonzalez

Image result for lorena gonzalez seattle

Lorena Gonzalez, the capable head of the city’s public safety committee, a leader on gender equity issues on the council, and the first council member to publicly call on former mayor Ed Murray to step down, is being challenged by Pat Murakami, a Mount Baker neighborhood activist who has spent decades fighting against density and light rail in the South End. The choice in this race is obvious. If you’d like to learn more about  Gonzalez’s record and plans for her first full four-year term on the council, I encourage you to read my interview with her from earlier this year, where we discussed a wide range of issues, including displacement, homelessness, and police accountability. And then vote for Lorena Gonzalez.

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

After Two-Year Gap, Detox Center Will Open on Beacon Hill

King County Executive Dow Constantine stands next to a detox bed at the soon-to-open Recovery Place.

The new detox and inpatient treatment center that will open later this year on Beacon Hill doesn’t look like much from the outside. A low-slung institutional building surrounded by a black iron fence and fronted by a small parking lot, it looks somewhat out of place in a residential neighborhood where brightly colored townhouses have sprouted like dandelions in recent years.

Even from the inside, you have to squint to imagine the transformation—from what Valley Cities Behavioral Health Care CEO Ken Taylor called a “ghastly” institution, run by Recovery Centers of King County, into a modern, brightly lit facility with fitness rooms, two large kitchens, and rooms for group meetings and private counseling.

The opening of the new facility, called Recovery Place, marks a significant milestone for detox and treatment in King County—the restoration of 32 beds for people needing medical detoxification from alcohol, heroin, and other drugs, and the first residential detox center in King County where people can access treatment for addiction and mental health issues simultaneously. (Most treatment centers do not deal with dual diagnoses).

The city’s Navigation Center, a new low-barrier shelter less than a mile away, will direct clients to Recovery Place, which will also take patients directly from emergency rooms and (eventually) on a walk-in basis. In addition to detox and a traditional two-to-four-week inpatient treatment program, the center will offer medication-assisted treatment with drugs like buprenorphine to heroin and opiate addicts. “We’re embracing a harm-reduction approach as much as an abstinence-based approach,” Milena Stott, Valley Cities’ director of inpatient services, said.

Valley Cities CEO Ken Taylor in the detox wing of Recovery Place

The last tenant to occupy the building, Recovery Centers of King County, went bankrupt and shut down abruptly in 2015, and since then, the 27 detox beds they provided have been distributed all over King County through contracts with institutions like Fairfax Hospital in Kirkland and the Seadrunar long-term treatment center in Georgetown.  Before RCKC closed down, Taylor said, the building “was dark and damp, and all throughout the central corridors there was plumbing and electrical running literally right down the middle of the corridor.” Outreach workers told me last year that RCKC was known for treating clients rudely and asking “inappropriate” personal questions in earshot of other patients; the new facility, in contrast, will have private consultation rooms. After RCKC closed, the building itself was taken over by squatters and stripped bare, with everything from the toilets to the copper wiring stolen and carted away.  Morgan Irwin, a Republican state representative (R-31) and Seattle Police Department officer who was on hand for yesterday’s tour, said that the last time he was inside the building, which is on his beat, “It was literally flashlight and gun out.”

The building cost $4 million to buy, plus $9 million to renovate. A million dollars of the budget to buy and fix up the building came from King County; the rest came from a combination of state and grant money and a $4.5 million loan that Valley Cities took out from Bank of America to cover the remaining costs. The state’s capital budget, which remains in limbo, is supposed to provide about $2 million toward the cost of repaying the loan, but Taylor said Valley Cities “is going to be able to repay the loan” ion its own if state funding doesn’t come through. “We’re very fortunate. Not every agency can do that.” Ongoing operations will cost about $5 million a year; that funding will come from the state and federal governments as well as from patients’ insurance payments. RCKC went bankrupt, King County Human Services Department director Adrienne Quinn told me, in part because of unfavorable state reimbursement rates, which she was quick to add have been addressed.

Contrary to common belief, not every person with addiction needs detox, although medication can ease the suffering and make it less likely that people withdrawing from opiates, for example, abandon treatment. (Severe alcoholism does require detox because going cold turkey can cause seizures, DTs, and fatal heart conditions.) Buprenorphine, and other opiate substitution medications, can help short-circuit the withdrawal process and get opiate addicts on a path to stability. “I hope that everyone for whom buprenorphine is appropriate will elect to do that,” Taylor said, “but sometimes it takes them time to get to that point.”

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