Murray Links Pro-Immigration Positions to Pro-Urbanist Policies

This post originally ran on Next City.

In an uncharacteristically fiery State of the City address Tuesday morning, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray laid out an explicitly urbanist, unabashedly activist agenda that drew a straight line between President Donald Trump’s executive actions against immigrants and refugees to Seattle’s own exclusionary zoning laws, which preserve more than 60 percent of the city’s land for single-family use. And he laid out that vision in an unusual location: the Idris Mosque in north Seattle, a venue chosen both as a symbol of Seattle’s commitment to inclusion and a message to the new administration that Seattle won’t be cowed by policies targeting ethnic and religious minorities.

Tuesday was the first time a Seattle mayor has ever delivered the State of the City inside a religious institution; typically, the mayor makes his remarks at City Hall, during a regular meeting of the City Council. In a statement last week, Murray said that by speaking at the mosque, he hoped to demonstrate that he and the city council were “standing with Seattle’s Muslim community in their house of worship as we fight state-sanctioned discrimination by the Trump administration.”

Although some conservative commentators raised questions about whether holding a speech in a mosque violated the constitutional separation of church and state, Murray’s office pointed out that the city has held many events over the years (though not the State of the City) in Christian churches.

Last year, a man claiming to be armed with an assault rifle made an online threat against the mosque; fortunately, police defused the situation after a brief standoff and no one was harmed. However, in the wake of that threat — and in recognition, mosque trustee Hisham Farajallah said Tuesday, of “the environment we now live in” — the mosque remains on high alert. Members of the public who attended the speech had to navigate a phalanx of armed security guards, who rifled through bags and backpacks and confiscated bottles and cans.

Before the speech, I asked Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole whether the city would have implemented such strict security precautions if the mayor had held the State of the City at, say, a church or community center. (Security is famously laissez faire at Seattle’s City Hall, where one regular shows up at every meeting to curse out the council on the record, concluding with a Nazi salute.) “We have no concerns today,” O’Toole said, but “we’d rather inconvenience everybody for a few minutes than not take precautions. It’s just the world we live in now.”

In his speech, Murray didn’t explicitly link Seattle’s zoning laws to Trump’s “state-sanctioned discrimination,” but he got the point across. “We cannot be a city where people protest the exclusionary agenda coming from Washington, D.C., while at the same time keeping a zoning code in place that does not allow us to build the affordable housing we need,” Murray said. “If we do not build more housing, we have seen what happens: more and more people compete for the same homes and prices go up, creating an invisible wall around our neighborhoods and locking people out.”

Specifically, Murray urged the City Council to finalize a controversial zoning plan for Seattle’s University District that would allow buildings as tall as 320 feet right next to a new light-rail station; called for a $55 million property tax levy and other investments to house the thousands living unsheltered on Seattle’s streets; and called attention to an alarming statistic: Every day, the city gains 67 new residents — and produces just 12 new units of housing.

Rejecting Trump’s “exclusionary agenda” is becoming a theme for Seattle’s mayor. Last month, Murray declared that he was “willing to lose every penny” of federal funding to protect undocumented immigrants and refugees in the city. He put an exclamation mark on that sentence Tuesday, when he threatened to sue the Trump administration if it refuses to turn over documents explaining the President’s definition of “sanctuary cities” and any actions the administration plans to take against cities that refuse to cooperate with Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration.

This is hardly the first time an elected official has observed that while Seattle liberals frequently claim they welcome immigrants and refugees, they often oppose zoning changes that would provide places for those immigrants and refugees to live. But it may be the first time a mayor has explicitly chided Seattle residents, in a major speech, for holding back policies — like the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, which calls for modest density increases and imposes affordable-housing requirements on developers — that would make inclusion a reality rather than just a rhetorical device.

Morning Crank: Half a Loaf

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Sen. Joe Fain (R-47)

1. City council member Lorena Gonzalez reportedly hopes to introduce legislation in the next few weeks that would require businesses to provide paid family leave to their employees—a significant expansion of a new law, adopted on Monday after a months-long delay, guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid parental leave to city employees. (Employees who need time off to care for other family members can receive up to four weeks off).

Expanding family leave to private employees—as Gonzalez talked about doing when she ran for office in 2015—would likely be far more controversial, especially among small businesses and those that primarily employ service workers, than the city-employee-only law. But the real opposition may come from Olympia, where state legislators are considering a fairly toothless family leave bill that includes a preemption clause that prevents any city from adopting a family leave policy more generous than what the state requires.

The Republican-backed bill, sponsored by 47th District Sen. Joe Fain, would provide up to eight weeks of family leave, increasing up to a maximum of 12 weeks by 2023. Employees who took the time off would be paid just half of their regular wages (rising to a maximum of 67 percent in 2023), and the program would be funded entirely by employees’ own contributions, making it more of a self-insurance policy than an actual benefit. It also requires employees to work for 26 consecutive weeks for a single employer before they receive benefits—a requirement that Economic Opportunity Institute policy director Marilyn Watkins says doesn’t acknowledge the current economic reality, where many people work multiple jobs or switch employers frequently. “It just leaves a lot of people out who are going to end up paying the premium but are never going to meet the qualification to get leave,” Watkins says. “Why should we put things in there that we know are going to be problems—that we know are going to cause inequities?”

According to the bill, “Cities, towns, and counties or other municipalities may enact only those laws and ordinances relating to paid family leave that are specifically authorized by state law and are consistent with this chapter. Local laws and ordinances in existence on the effective date of this section that are inconsistent with this chapter are preempted and repealed.” That means that if the bill passes, any city law providing more leave (and it wouldn’t be hard) will be repealed.

Preemption bills like this aren’t uncommon; they pop up pretty much any time  Seattle passes or discusses progressive policies, such as rules allowing safe-injection sites, encampment sweeps policies that Republicans view as soft on homelessness, or a $15 minimum wage. What could be different this year is that Fain’s bill has bipartisan support; in addition to the usual Republican suspects like Michael Baumgartner (R-6) and Mark Miloscia (R-30), the bill is sponsored by Democrats like Steve Hobbs (D-44) and Guy Palumbo (D-1). A competing bill, sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33), would provide more extensive benefits and does not include a preemption clause.

Fain said at a hearing last month that he hopes advocates recognize that “nobody ever went hungry on half a loaf”—meaning, some progress toward true paid family leave is better than none. But advocates may decide they want a full loaf after all, and take the family leave issue directly to voters if legislators offer them only crumbs.

2.  Miller Park Neighbors member Jonathan Swift, who emceed a Wednesday-night prep session for an upcoming city-sponsored meeting about proposed upzones in Northeast Capitol Hill—said he was interested in a balanced discussion. Then he characterized the two sides in the zoning debate as those who liked neighborhood character and those who didn’t. (A flyer distributed with anti-upzone talking points drove the point home, claiming that the  city’s proposal, part of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), would “destroy the character of the neighborhood” and asserting that “family-sized housing is most appropriate.” )

Anti-HALA architect Greg Hill followed the soft-spoken Swit, telling the crowd of about 100 people that HALA was dominated by an unnamed “right-wing” group and insinuating that HALA, which calls for expanding the city’s urban villages and allowing more multifamily housing along transit corridors, is a sinister, profit-driven developer plot that will decimate Seattle’s environment by reducing the city’s tree canopy. In reality, building housing near transit is the definition of green urbanism, reducing reliance on cars, maximizing energy efficiency, and reducing water usage.

One of the few African-American people in the room—as HALA pointed out, single-family zoning tends to exclude people of color from “character”-filled neighborhoods like Northeast Capitol Hill—was Spencer Williams, a staffer for urbanist city council member Rob Johnson. Johnson has openly criticized Seattle’s brand of reactionary utopianism, which stars NPR-style liberals who denounce Trump for wanting to build a wall to keep newcomers out while defending zoning codes that have the same effect.

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 it 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.

Morning Crank: Not an Act of Bravery

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1. City council member Rob Johnson caught flak last week from anti-density activists like John Fox, of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, after questioning self-identified liberals who say they welcome immigrants and refugees and oppose zoning changes that would create more housing. Speaking at a forum sponsored by the Transportation Choices Coalition, which Johnson directed prior to his election in 2015, Johnson said, “[I]t’s really disturbing for me when I hear … somebody talking about how glad they were to see the neighborhood district councils stand up for single-family zoning and then, in the next breath, disparage the president for wanting to build a wall between the US and Mexico. I see those two things as actually linked.”

Fox, along with fellow activist Carolee Coulter, wrote that Johnson’s comments were “intensely insulting and polarizing, not to mention wrong. He should be ashamed of himself.” Fox and Coulter compared Johnson to Trump; others who emailed me or made comments on my original post have complained that Johnson is comparing them to Trump supporters, the kind of people who chant “Build the wall!” at his Nuremberg-style election rallies. One Johnson constituent who wrote me called his comments “outrageously inflammatory and insulting”; another called it “a divisive and totally clumsy comparison coming from a white man of considerable privilege.”

I called Johnson Friday to see if he wanted to elaborate or clarify what he said last week. Speaking from a crowded bus on his way home to Northeast Seattle, Johnson doubled down. “We are a city that wants to welcome people of all races, all different economic statuses, and all different immigration statuses,” Johnson said. “If we’re truly going to be welcoming to all those different folks, we need to create more housing.”

Does he regret using the metaphor of Trump’s border wall? Not at all: “When we talk about zoning, we need to recognize that zoning is a metaphorical wall around communities. We need to talk about that. We also need to make sure that we understand the ramifications of the decisions that we make—when we choose to either rezone areas or not rezone areas, both of those decisions have real impacts.”

2. The Seattle Department of Transportation came to week’s transportation committee meeting armed with charts and stats showing that the city has made huge strides toward increasing the number of people who bike, walk, and take the bus to jobs downtown; a report from Commute Seattle last week showed that while the city added 45,000 jobs downtown, the number of car trips only increased by about 2,400 per day.

But SDOT staffers were confronted, first, by a disturbing litany of pedestrian injuries and deaths from Johnson and committee chair Mike O’Brien, who noted that even as the city has reduced the number of people who drive to work alone, it has not made similar strides toward eliminating pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries. In the past five weeks, O’Brien noted, six pedestrians have been seriously injured or killed by drivers. If that many people had been killed in the same period by gunshots, O’Brien said, “we would be convening task forces and committees to figure out what we need to do. And yet somehow, when it’s folks walking across the street or biking between jobs, it gets kind of buried in the news and we just go on about life.”

Noting that the city has committed to “Vision Zero”—that is, zero pedestrian deaths or serious injuries—O’Brien said he was asking SDOT to come back to the council in early March with a list of specific short- and long-term recommendations to address the city’s lack of progress. “We should have a city where, whether you’re walking to work or biking to go to the park or walking across the street to get groceries or go get a cup of coffee, that’s not an act of bravery but an act of daily living.”

3. Another number that jumped out at Friday’s briefing: 11 percent. That’s the percentage of Seattle residents who are eligible for a low-income transit pass, known as ORCA Lift, who have actually taken advantage of the program. In our conversation Friday, Johnson said the city should consider enrolling people in the ORCA Lift program when they sign up for other income-limited programs, the way the Seattle Housing Authority now enrolls tenants in the city utility discount program when they rent SHA apartments—or the way King County signed people up for the program when they signed up for the Affordable Care Act last year. “It just goes to show that we have a lot of work to do, not just in our marketing program—as I’m staring the side of the bus, there’s a huge ad for ORCA Lift—but in making sure that that marketing is getting through to the folks that need it most.”

Morning Crank: A Professional Disagreement

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1. Extra Crank: 

2. A large and vocal but mostly civil crowd gathered last night at North Seattle Community College to ask officials from city departments—including the Seattle Police Department, Parks, and the mayor and city council—pointed questions about the city-sanctioned low-barrier encampment scheduled to open in March just off Aurora Ave. N in Licton Springs. Mayor Ed Murray announced that the city would be opening four new sanctioned encampments (including one low-barrier encampment that would not require its residents to be clean and sober) last fall; since then, that number has been reduced to three because the city has had trouble finding suitable sites that neighbors will accept.

Unlike meetings for previous encampments—I’m thinking particularly of Nickelsville in Ballard, where neighbors showed up to scream and berate District 6 city council member Mike O’Brien—last night’s comments were a mixture of the usual concerns about public safety, garbage, and that perennial favorite, “lack of public process”—and supportive remarks from neighbors who said they welcomed the site, including several who encouraged opponents to actually go out and meet some of the homeless people they were vilifying. For those who weren’t following along on Twitter, I’ve Storified my tweets here.

3. District 5 council member Debora Juarez stole Mayor Murray’s thunder last night when she announced, almost offhand, that the mayor’s State of the City speech would be held at the Idriss Mosque near Northgate—a symbolically powerful gesture intended to signify that Seattle is serious about its status as a sanctuary city. (Previously, Murray has said that he is “willing to lose every penny” the city receives from the federal government in order to protect immigrants and refugees here). “I don’t think this is even public yet,” Juarez said. Nope.

4. I grabbed homelessness director George Scarola briefly before the meeting to ask him about a tension I noticed during last week’s panel on homelessness.  Barb Poppe, the city consultant who published a plan called Pathways Home that emphasizes short-term rental vouchers as a solution to homelessness, seemed to push back on Scarola’s insistence that Seattle was experiencing a “perfect storm” that includes an affordable-housing shortage, the opioid addiction epidemic, and a huge number of people who became homeless after growing up in foster care. “There does seem to weirdly be this acceptance that it’s actually okay for people to be on the streets,” Poppe said. “You’ve had very low accountability for results and that low accountability for results, I would find to be a mystery.” The solution, Poppe suggested, was not short-term shelter like tent cities or tiny houses, but housing, and the city’s resources should go toward providing rental vouchers for people to move off the streets instead of those short-term solutions. At the time, Scarola pushed back, noting that with more than 3,000 people living unsheltered in Seattle (and more than 80,000 very low-income people in line for just 32,000 affordable apartments), immediate housing for every homeless person was an unrealistic short-term goal.

Last night, Scarola told me he and Poppe had a “professional disagreement” about the right short-term solutions. “Her overall view is absolutely right—she wants stable housing,” he said. “I just don’t know how you get there without going through steps A, B, C, and D”—where at least the first few of those steps involve getting people out of doorways and into demonstrably better shelter like tent cities.

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 it 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.

Morning Crank: “Not Gonna Happen”

1024x10241. Update on an item earlier this week about the Washington State Democrats’ Executive Committee had about possibly reducing the salary of the party chair now that Tina Podlodowski has been elected to that position. According to several Democrats who were present at the meeting (including members of the executive board itself), the person who raised the possibility of reducing Podlodowski’s salary was executive board member Ed Cote, who suggested reexamining the salaries for both the chair of the party and its executive director. After some discussion, another male board member, Don Schwerin, reportedly asked Podlodowski point-blank if she was willing to take a pay cut; she said no. Folks I talked to who were in the room said they were “horrified,” “appalled,” and “shocked” at both Cote’s line of questioning and Schwerin’s request.

The former party chair, Jaxon Ravens, was paid about $120,000, according to board members, plus a car allowance.

Cote says he raised the question of Podlodowski’s salary as part of a broader conversation about whether both the party chair and executive director should be paid, and how much. But it wasn’t lost on many in the room that Podlodowski is only the second woman to ever serve as state Democratic Party chair—and that the board discussing the possibility that she didn’t deserve the same salary as her male predecessors, Jaxon Ravens and Dwight Pelz, was two-thirds men.

“I just brought up that when [Podlodowski] presents a [Party] budget, I thought it would be good that we have a conversation around the right administrative structure going forward,” Cote says. “We have a paid chair and a paid executive director, and many states have one or the other. … I wasn’t suggesting that the chair was paid too much. … I wasn’t trying to suggest that she was overpaid or anything of that nature.”

Podlodowski says she thinks it’s possible that Cote didn’t think about how his question would come across (and indeed, those who questioned Cote’s suggestion reportedly did so by discussing what similar positions paid at other large nonprofits, rather than observing that the whole conversation was sexist). But, she adds, “when someone did ask me if I would take a pay cut, I was like, ‘Not gonna happen,’ and I’m certainly not going to cut pay of anybody who’s female. But I am going to look at the budget, because it’s always important to make sure that we’re paying people appropriately.”

Podlodowski says that when she signed up for her new insurance plan, she learned that it didn’t cover children, only spouses. (Podlodowski and her wife have three children.) That’s another example, she says, of “why women should rule.”

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2. If you think you’re confused about what to do with the four “democracy vouchers,” worth a total of $100, that appeared in your mailbox earlier this year, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Seattle City Council members and staffed grilled Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission director Wayne Barnett on some basic details of the program yesterday—details that were all laid out in the language of Initiative 122, which voters passed last year, but which, in fairness, you might have missed in the 15 pages of fine print. Some of the council members’ questions, answered:

  • Why is the city mailing vouchers to 508,000 people—are there even that many voters in Seattle? Under the initiative, vouchers must be mailed to every registered voter in the city, which includes “inactive” voters who have long since moved away.
  • Could the city cover the cost if all 508,000 voters tried to “spend” their vouchers at once? The cost of the program, which will cost the city $3 million a year, is limited by campaign spending limits, not the number of vouchers; I-122 specifically says that there must be enough in the budget to pay for three council races in which a total of 18 candidates run using voucher money exclusively. That works out to around $3 million.
  • Can organizations or employers bundle contributions from their members or employees and make a big contribution to a single candidate that way? Not that way—bundling, where a person collects many individual donations and then writes a big check for the entire amount—is illegal, but a campaign is free to ask the members or employees of a large group or company to spend their vouchers on a particular candidate.
  • Since the requirement to qualify for voucher funding is a minimum of 400 contributions of $10 each, couldn’t a candidate just get someone to write them a check for $4,000? No, because viability is determined by how many contributions (100 or more), not the total (a minimum of $4,000, but in all likelihood more).

3. All Home, the coalition that coordinates efforts to reduce homelessness in King County, used a different approach and a different vendor to conduct its point-in-time count of people living unsheltered this year, and homeless advocates like Tim Harris at Real Change have questioned one major change this year: Unlike in every previous year, All Home won’t announce the number of people it counted right away. Previously, All Home and its former partner, the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, released the number the day after the count; this year, the number won’t be released until June. All Home says it needs the extra time to survey people experiencing homelessness to get a better count of people living in vehicles and tents.

The delay also isn’t sitting easy with Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw, who heads up the council’s human services committee. She said yesterday that she wrote a email to Putnam asking him for the raw count number now, figuring that even if a more accurate number is issued later, at least the city would have a baseline for comparison when discussing its strategy for addressing homelessness. “Mark, I’d love an informal update on how the count went and how you’re doing with data when you get a chance,” Bagshaw wrote. “It’s important that we have a baseline and provide my committee with some trend information.”

Morning Crank: New Sweeps Rules and New Dem Party Chair

1. The city’s department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) released new draft rules for encampment sweeps this morning, after months of delay and a lengthy debate over whether the sweeps rules should be radically revised (as council members Lisa Herbold and Mike O’Brien, along with the ACLU of Washington, proposed last year) or beefed up.

A few highlights:

  • Before removing an encampment, the city must offer “alternative locations for individuals in an encampment or identify available housing or other shelter for encampment occupants.”
  • People living in unauthorized encampments that obstruct sidewalks or other city property can be removed immediately, with no advance warning.
  • In other cases, the city will provide 72 hours’ notice of an encampment removal, and will remove the encampment within a week.
  • “Encampments” are redefined to include a single tent, giving people sleeping in isolated tents the right to notice before their tents are removed and their belongings confiscated.
  • When deciding which encampments to sweep immediately, the city will give priority to those where illegal activity is occurring, with the exception of simple “illegal substance abuse.” The city can also prioritize encampments for sweeps based on the presence of garbage and undefined “active health hazards” to homeless campers or the surrounding community, or proximity to schools or facilities serving the elderly.
  • The city will throw away or donate all personal property it removes from encampment sites within 60 days. (Practically speaking, when the city confiscates the personal property of people experiencing homelessness, they never get it back–as the Seattle Times documented in an excellent piece last summer.) The city will also offer a delivery option for people who can’t get to the storage facility.
  • Areas where people camp frequently–such as a longtime site behind the Ballard Locks, or the infamous Jungle–will be designated as “emphasis areas” and subject to daily inspections, and can be fenced off to deter people from camping there. (A proposal by Murray and 36th District state Sen. Reuven Carlyle to surround the Jungle with razor-wire fencing was rejected last year as impractical and inhumane.)

The public has two weeks to comment on the new rules, which you can read in full here.

2. Shortly after the Washington State Democratic Party elected former Seattle city council member and Murray police reform advisor Tina Podlodowski as its new chair  (Podlodowski, although a vocal, longtime Clinton supporter, ousted longtime chair Jaxon Ravens on the strength of a resurgent cadre of disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters on the party’s central committee), the Dems’ executive committee met to reportedly discuss, among other things, reducing the salaries of both Podlodowski and the state party’s executive director, currently Karen Deal. The committee is currently composed of 12 men and six women. I have calls out to confirm the details of the meeting and to find out more about the reported pay-cut proposal.

“Willing to Lose Every Single Penny”: Mayor Doubles Down on Seattle’s Sanctuary Status

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At a hastily called press conference Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Ed Murray declared he was “willing to lose every single penny” of federal funding that flows to Seattle in order to protect undocumented immigrants and refugees living in the city. Murray’s remarks came after President Donald Trump signed an executive order declaring that the federal government would withhold all federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities”—a catchall term for cities, like Seattle, that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agents by handing undocumented immigrants over for deportation.

Calling January 27, 2017 “the darkest day in immigration history since the internment of Japanese-Americans,” Murray said, “We will not, as we did in World War II, allow our police to become deputies of the federal government and round up immigrants in this city.” The city argues that any federal order requiring SPD to ask demand detainees’ immigration status would violate the 10th Amendment, which states that the federal government can’t force states to enforce any federal law.

The city stands to lose as much as $85 million in federal funding if Trump makes good on his threat and pulls every federal grant the city receives. In that scenario, the department that would be hardest hit is the Human Services Department, followed by the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Office of Housing. Anticipating that worst-case scenario, Murray said, he has asked every department to “reprioritize” its budget for a post-federal-funding future; specifically, he said, “I’m going to give them a number and ask them to cut their budget to that number.” When I asked whether he would order all departments to cut a certain percentage from their budgets, as previous mayors have done when economic downturns necessitated major cuts, Murray said, “I need more than a couple of hours [after the executive order was released] to answer your question.”

Turning to legal remedies, Murray said the city “is prepared to take any legal avenues that we need to to ensure that immigrants, regardless of their documentation, remain in this city and that the United States Constitution is not violated.” He also suggested what form that legal action might take, noting that the federal government is supposed to prove there is a “nexus” between any funds they withhold and their reason for withholding it. That’s a potentially risky move, though, because it could leave grants the Seattle Police Department receives through the Department of Justice especially vulnerable to cuts, since police would be the ones refusing to follow federal orders to turn undocumented immigrants over to federal agents.

img_0652City attorney Pete Holmes, who showed up to the press conference with a copy of the Constitution tucked in his inside jacket pocket, said he found it ironic that a “law and order” administration would specifically target funding for police. “[Federal] law enforcement funds help increase the security of the country,” Holmes told me before the press conference. “It’s difficult to match up. The prescribed remedies do exactly the opposite.”

Holmes said he’s “asking all the departments to identify all grants and federal funding” but declined to specify which departments stood to lose the most. “I’d rather not engage in shadowboxing these general assertions about grants,” he said. “I’d rather drill down on the specifics.”

 

Lisa Daugaard, head of the Public Defender Association, which works on police reform was in the audience during the mayor’s press conference. Afterward, she suggested another potential avenue for legal action in the fact that the executive order gives the US attorney general “general, limitless jurisdiction” to define which cities are “sanctuary cities” and punish them accordingly. There’s no official definition of a “sanctuary city,” but the Trump Administration appears to be targeting large cities whose voters did not support him, such as New York and Chicago. By defining sanctuary cities “arbitrarily,” Daugaard argues, Trump and his attorney general are  overstepping their authority under federal law and opening themselves up to a legal challenge by local jurisdictions.

“Federal agencies, and the attorney general as an agency, can’t arbitrarily choose to take action or not take action because they don’t like the lawful choices cities make,” Daugaard says. “The problem with the executive order is it gives the attorney general limitless authority, without any standards, to make arbitrary decisions about who loses federal funding. That’s the poison pill.”

Daugaard holds out hope—if you can call it that—that Trump will be forced to back down on enforcing the order when his own supporters in the hundreds of jurisdictions that have declared themselves sanctuary cities or counties start feeling the impact the loss of millions of federal dollars will have on their communities. “It’s unlawful, but it’s also untenable,” Daugaard says. “It will be devastating to hundreds of cities and counties, which will lead to a huge loss of support and momentum” for the administration.

How Seattle’s Well-Intentioned Planning Experiment Went Wrong

This post originally appeared on Next City; learn more about Next City and its mission here.

When the city of Seattle began drafting a proposal to increase density and improve housing affordability across the city, known as the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, or HALA, city officials knew the plan would be controversial.

They also knew that if they didn’t have buy-in from residents, it would be difficult to pass the many interlocking pieces of legislation needed to implement the plan — legislation that includes citywide density and height increases, affordability requirements for new apartment buildings, and the expansion of areas where multifamily housing is allowed in this predominantly single-family city.

Finally, they knew current community involvement efforts weren’t working — meetings and public comment periods were dominated by homeowners from the city’s more affluent areas. Often, they came to the meetings because they opposed the HALA changes — and the city was well aware of their opposition. Now decision makers wanted to hear from everyone else — renters, immigrants and refugees, and people who live in lower-income neighborhoods.

So they decided to do something different. Instead of sending out meeting notices by email and postcard and hoping a diverse group of people show up, the city’s Department of Neighborhoods proposed a series of focus groups to help shape and provide feedback on the HALA proposal over a period of months, rather than in two-minute bursts at public comment periods. After meeting for nine months, the focus groups would come back to the city with recommendations to improve the HALA proposals, and those recommendations would be incorporated, in some form, into the final legislation.

From the beginning, the process was bumpy. After an initial call for applicants produced a pile of applications from the same activists from wealthier parts of the city who already dominate neighborhood meetings, DON broadened its outreach, enlisting community groups that work in marginalized and underrepresented communities and offering translation services, child care and financial incentives for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate.

They even recruited a local social justice organization, Puget Sound Sage, to recruit focus group members and provide support like education and transportation throughout the process. “It’s a core principle of Sage that the communities most impacted [by development shifts] need to be part of decision making, so it was clear that we need to have more people representing communities of color” involved in the process, says Giulia Pascuito, a research and policy analyst with Sage.

Of the initial group of more than 600 applicants, the city selected 181 — many of them renters, people of color and immigrants — to serve on the focus groups. Eight were recruited by Sage; the rest responded to the city’s expanded outreach efforts.

What happened next shows that it isn’t enough to just recruit marginalized people to participate in a process that has traditionally excluded them; you have to keep them engaged, and that requires sustained, ongoing effort. Since the focus groups began meeting in April 2016, attendance has fallen off a cliff — from 76 percent at the initial meeting to 41 percent in September, the last month for which attendance records were available.

And although the city hasn’t taken any demographic surveys, monthly attendance sheets, along with anecdotal accounts from participants and city staffers, indicate that many of the no-shows seem to be people of color, immigrants and residents of the city’s less-affluent, more racially diverse South End — the exact folks DON had hoped would help bring some new perspectives to the process.

Jesseca Brand, the DON staffer who headed the city’s outreach and recruitment for the focus groups, says that although she expected some drop off in attendance during the months-long focus group process, she had hoped that by the end of the process, “we would have close to the same demographic split that we started with and we wouldn’t be losing any one set of people … but the numbers tell me that I was not totally correct in that [hope].”

The one clear exception to the pattern is the eight focus group members who were recruited by Sage. Pascuito says that sustaining those long-term commitments required long-term investment from her organization. Sage didn’t just make sure their members could afford to attend the focus groups; they also held a “meeting after the meeting” each month, for members to ask questions and get up to speed on the technical details of the zoning and affordable housing proposals.

“This is really complicated, and this is why people go to planning school. You can spend years learning about the intricacies of land use decisions, and it’s hard to mash it all into a six-meeting process where you’re meeting once a month,” Pascuito says.

That sort of intervention may have proven useful for Laura Bernstein, a community activist from Seattle’s University District who resigned from her focus group in September. She says she got frustrated when she saw her group being dominated by longtime neighborhood activists who were far more knowledgeable about the intricacies of local land-use law and asserted their authority as “experts” over newcomers who struggled to just get up to speed. “What was the point of getting such a diverse group of people if the people with power weren’t going to do more to foster an inclusive environment to retain them at the table[?],” Bernstein’s resignation letter concluded. “This is what fake equity looks like.”

In a survey of 46 focus group members conducted in August, 34.9 percent of respondents said they were “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the process. About 20 percent said it was too soon to say. In written comments, many participants said they were “confused” by the process and the content of the presentations (“so much is above my head,” one complained) or didn’t get enough help getting up to speed (“Does not feel like we are getting the true knowledge base we need to understand the choices we are being asked to comment on,” another said.)

DON director Kathy Nyland says the focus groups have been a learning experience for the city, one that she vows to learn from. “We did all this work up front, and I think the lesson was, we need to continue that work until the end [of the process] and beyond. We knew [participating in] the focus groups was a big ask, and a long ask. The work doesn’t end when the recruitment process is over.”

And she says DON will do much more in the future to get people who are new to the city’s sometimes byzantine processes up to speed before throwing them into dense debates about land use and zoning. “We have to acknowledge that everyone has different starting points, and everyone has a different knowledge base, and craft our plans [in the future] so everyone feels comfortable participating,” Nyland says.It’s probably too late to apply those lessons to HALA — the final focus group meetings were held in December — but Nyland says that next time DON manages a major outreach and engagement process like the focus groups, she hopes to make it easier for people to participate in planning processes on their own terms and time, whether that means making sure translators are always available, holding meetings in neighborhoods outside downtown Seattle, or holding virtual meetings online. (After all, when Nyland first got involved in her own neighborhood council years ago, she did most of her work “at 1 in the morning, in my pajamas,” she says.)

As City Revives Civilian SPD Patrols, Role of Unarmed Officers Remains Open Question

Last month, the Seattle Police Department and City Council member Mike O’Brien announced that the city would spend $2 million over the next two years to reinstate the mothballed Community Service Officer program and hire around a dozen new CSOs—unarmed SPD employees trained to respond to low-level calls, including minor property crimes, landlord-tenant disputes, runaway kids, and “nuisance” crimes like public intoxication. Over the course of 2017, a team of representatives from city departments, along with the independent Community Police Commission, will decide what the CSOs’ job descriptions will be, what kind of services they will and won’t provide, and even to whom they will report.

The CSO program, which lasted 33 years before it was shut down in 2004 under then-mayor Greg Nickels and his police chief Gil Kerlikowske, was originally launched in response to allegations of racially biased policing and excessive use of force against African Americans in the Central Area in the late 1960s. The goal of using unarmed officers was twofold: To deescalate tensions between SPD and Central Area residents, and to create a recruiting and training pipeline to hire more African American police officers. In practice, the CSOs did everything from mediating landlord-tenant disputes, to driving children home from court when their parents were taken into custody, to reuniting homeless youth with their families.

csos-1971

Seattle Daily Times, 1971

“It was sort of the civilian version of the fire department pulling cats out of trees,” says Lisa Daugaard, director of the Public Defender Association and co-chair of the CPC. “A lot of times, sworn officers with weapons are just not the right profile for those jobs.” Council member Tim Burgess, who served on the police force in the 1970s when the program was just getting off the ground, recalls that the program was “an attempt to have an arm of the police department that was not perceived as enforcement oriented, as a positive community relations effort.”

Community activist Nancy Amidei, who has worked with homeless youth in the University District since the ’90s, says that when the program was in effect, “no matter what was going on, you knew that if you called on them the situation would get defused, because everyone quickly learned that they don’t make arrests. … They managed to build up enormous trust among businesses, church people, and street youth” alike. In its heyday, the program boasted three dozen civilian officers, who carried radios instead of guns and could call for backup when they needed—which, according to the former CSOs I spoke to, was almost never.

“We could help you or we could hinder you,” says Michale Crooks, who worked as a CSO from 1993 to 2002. “We could get officers to deal with a situation if there was a problem, and so there was a certain authority that came along with it, even though we didn’t have the arresting powers or gun.”

Nearly 13 years after the CSO program ended, a lot has changed in Seattle. Crime, including property crime, has declined across the board since the late 1990s and early 2000s, although Washington’s property crime rate remains one of the highest in the nation. Homelessness has increased in scale and become common in neighborhoods where visible poverty was once rare. The heroin and opiate addiction epidemic has put increasing numbers of people with substance use disorders on the streets, where they leave needles in public places and are themselves a newly visible presence. And the city is under a consent decree from the department of justice because of racially biased policing—a sign, perhaps, that some things change more slowly than others.

“No matter how much progress we have made in recent decades, one could argue that we’re back to where we were decades ago,” says council member Bruce Harrell, who vowed in his campaign last year to reinstitute the CSO program. “The tensions between the African American community, and other underrepresented communities [and SPD] are still there. … I continue to go to places in 2017 where you see many officers who routinely do not speak, do not smile, and do not interface with the community, and what I liked about the CSOs is that they epitomized what a personable representative of the police force could look like.”

Tensions between SPD and communities of color are so fraught, in fact, that some advocates are suggesting that the CSO program should be housed outside the police department altogether, perhaps as an independent body or within a community group not affiliated with the city. Dustin Washington, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s community justice program in Seattle, says the the only way to establish “authentic relationships” between CSOs and the communities they serve is “for [the program] not to be housed in SPD. I think it needs to go through a more rigorous community process, [where] what’s important is engaging in communities who have a sense of their own power.”

O’Brien, who represents a largely white district where community complaints are mostly about property crime, rather than negative interactions with police, says, “frankly,  as a white male from the upper middle class, I don’t particularly feel intimidated by police officers, but I know that a lot of folks do.  So having someone that’s in uniform, that carries some authority but is clearly not a police officer, is a middle ground that I think addresses some of that concern.”

SPD, for its part, seems adamant that CSOs should be an in-house operation with police-like responsibilities; otherwise, SPD chief operating officer Brian Maxey says, CSOs will just be “softer police officers with community engagement responsibilities.” Maxey says that, ideally, CSOs would act more like “a civilian patrol support unit” that responds to lower-priority 911 and nonemergency calls, like domestic disturbances and car prowls, than “one-stop social service workers” that take care of problems that communities don’t trust SPD to address.

“This concept that somehow police officers are unable to successfully have community engagement—I reject that, and I do not think we should create a specialized unit to do that,” Maxey says. “I hear that a lot from some of our city partners, that we need CSOs who are unarmed and not as scary or intimidating as regular cops that can help with community engagement. They’re missing the point. The point is that every police officer has got to be capable of engaging with the community.”

Harrell, who represents Southeast Seattle, is skeptical that uniformed cops will be able to turn on that particular dime. “Whatever department they ultimately report to, it’s very critical that they have autonomy from the police department,” Harrell says. “Many times, they might take action that the police department might not have preferred, and they have to have that autonomy. To me, the critical issue is how the public perceives them, and if they just see this persona as a uniformed police officer without a gun, that’s not going to work.”

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Neighborhoods Director Kathy Nyland, Accidental Activist

This story was published in the January issue of Seattle Magazine; I highly recommend picking up the hard copy, which has a very cool two-page spread of the photo at the top of this post, at your local grocery or bookstore. (I also recommend Knute Berger’s column from the same issue on the coming Trump era in Seattle, which takes a long view of the arc of progress.)

One hot August night in 2015 at the Leif Erikson Lodge in Ballard, Kathy Nyland, the city’s new Department of Neighborhoods (DON) director, struggled to be heard above the shouts from people who showed up to oppose a new, sanctioned homeless encampment in the neighborhood. Over boos, catcalls and cries of “How about we put it in the mayor’s neighborhood?” Nyland struggled to explain that, like those in the room, she had been through her own battles with the city as a neighborhood activist in Georgetown. “We want this to be a successful operation,” she said, her voice shaking slightly. “We’re trying to make it work.” Then she hustled off to the sidelines of the hall.

A year and a half later, Nyland isn’t on the sidelines anymore. But as the person on Mayor Ed Murray’s leadership team charged with upending the traditional balance of power in neighborhood planning, she’s still in the hot seat.

Last July, Murray had Nyland at his side when he cut formal and financial ties with 13 neighborhood district councils, which had served as informal advisory bodies since the 1990s. The homeowner-dominated councils typically argue against allowing more density (for example, townhouses and apartment buildings) in and near Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods.

Murray has charged Nyland with bringing underrepresented communities into the inner circle of neighborhood planning, including people of color, immigrants, newcomers and renters (with tenants making up about half the city).

District council leaders feel blindsided by the move, and see downgrading the councils as an effort to cut them out of neighborhood planning. Many blame Nyland.

“It was a surprise attack,” says Dan Sanchez, chair of the Central Area Neighborhood District Council. “Nobody knew about the mayor’s decision until [less than] 24 hours before his press conference.” Sanchez also criticizes Nyland for canceling her appearance at a City Neighborhood Council meeting. “How could she say, ‘No, I can’t answer your questions about this dramatic thing that’s going to affect your lives?’”

Nyland has come a long way since the night she stood nervously in front of angry Ballard residents, afraid to speak. A diminutive woman who is partial to simple, crisp collars, black-and-white patterns and Toms flats, she is gregarious and prone to sudden laughter. And although she’s no fan of confrontation, she’s getting used to it. “My voice doesn’t quiver as much. I haven’t passed out. I just have to remind myself that I know this stuff. I’ve been part of it. I’ve got some credibility,” she says.

Nyland started finding her voice as a neighborhood activist after she and her partner, Holly Krejci (now the mayor’s operations manager), moved into their new house in 2003. A neighbor showed up at their door and asked, “Hey, did your Realtor tell you there’s 20 level-3 sex offenders who live down the street?”

The county had just put neighboring SoDo on the list of potential locations for transitional sex offender housing—and just like that, Nyland and Krejci were sucked into the world of neighborhood activism.

After that first effort—when she learned, among other things, to put all neighborhood representatives in matching T-shirts for maximum visual effect—Nyland went on to organize the opposition to a “red light district” for strip clubs, a new trash transfer station and a proposed expansion of Boeing Field. “I’ve worked with this department for 10-plus years, so it’s dear to me,” Nyland says.

An overachieving middle child raised in the San Francisco Bay Area by a single mom, Nyland graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and quickly became disenchanted with her onetime dream of becoming a designer at a high-powered New York City ad firm. Adrift after a year of travel to Europe, Nyland illustrated a few greeting cards for a friend who owned a San Francisco card shop. Within a day, all her cards had sold. Soon, she had national clients, including Nordstrom and Papyrus. “I truly was self-employed—I would work three months at a time. In September, October, I’d be painting hearts for Valentine’s Day, and then take six weeks off.”

Eventually, San Francisco got too expensive, and she relocated to Seattle, ending up in a two-bedroom apartment on Capitol Hill, doing marketing and communications for Pacific Science Center and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. In 2003, she and Krejci opened a gift shop and gallery called George, where they sold work by local artists, jewelry and T-shirts that read, “Georgetown: It’s not just for hookers anymore.” George closed in 2009 when Nyland took a job as a legislative aide to Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw. Murray snapped her up to work in his Office of Policy and Innovation in 2014.

Nyland doesn’t draw much anymore—“I don’t even recognize that part of my life,” she says, laughing—but she does channel her creative spirit. She recently suggested doing a Shark Tank–style challenge for the neighborhood matching fund—small grants for neighborhood projects such as park benches. But on tough days, she says, she still seeks out nice paper. “That’s one of my coping mechanisms—I go into Paper Source.”

Nyland’s focus these days is on rebuilding the Department of Neighborhoods. Her signature line is “New Day, New DON!” That means figuring out ways to connect with residents who can’t be reached through the channels developed 30 years ago.

“My mantra is, people would like to participate on their own timeline and from their own location,” she says. So instead of relying on community council mailing lists, postcards and leisurely neighborhood meetings, she looks into town hall meetings via phone and Skype, and sending DON staffers with interpreters to meetings of immigrants and refugees. “It’s broadening those access points,” she says.

Traditional neighborhood meetings, which tend to take place in the early evening and are not widely advertised, exclude people who aren’t on neighborhood mailing lists: renters, night-shift workers or people who don’t speak English fluently. Those people, Nyland says, “are not making a choice not to come—they can’t come! I want to turn those obstacles into opportunities.”

Some have resisted Nyland’s changes at DON, which hasn’t had a major shakeup since founding director Jim Diers retired in 2002.

“There are so many programs at DON that were kind of parked there over the years,” says Tom Van Bronkhorst, a strategic adviser helping to revamp the department’s community outreach process. Besides neighborhood planning, Nyland’s 50-plus employees administer grants for neighborhood improvement projects, P-Patch and historic preservation programs, outreach and engagement services for other city departments, and the popular “Find It, Fix It” program. “They’ve been successful individually, but I think what Kathy wants to do, and what the department needs, is a bigger sense of what the overall mission is. Maybe DON has had more issues with change because it’s so program-focused,” says Van Bronkhorst.

“I remember the first meeting after I was selected, saying, ‘I don’t know if you guys are ready for me,’” Nyland says. “DON has been in existence for almost 30 years, and it has a lot of really important programs, but I think the mission and its purpose has gotten lost. We haven’t kept up with change.”

Van Bronkhorst first met Nyland during the battle over the proposed Georgetown transfer station back in 2005, when he was a staffer for then City Council member Jean Godden. He says Nyland immediately “struck me differently because she was very, very strategic and politically savvy from the beginning. That came up again later when [then council member] Peter Steinbrueck was talking about strip clubs,” and whether they should be dispersed or concentrated in one area, in 2007.

“I think one of the reasons we bonded so quickly is because we both tend to think that way—she’s constantly three or four steps ahead,” Van Bronkhorst says. Plus, “She knows more about politics, about legislation, more about just getting things done than most anyone else that I’ve ever met.”

Another thing that sets Nyland apart from a stereotypical activist: She isn’t reflexively opposed to development—or, for that matter, to strip clubs. “I had no problem with strip clubs. I live in a city. That’s part of urban life,” she says. “I just thought it was bad policy to have them all concentrated in one area.” Ultimately, in no small part due to Nyland’s willingness to lead her neighborhood toward a compromise, the “red light district” proposal fizzled, and the city dispersed the clubs throughout the city.

Van Bronkhorst and council member Bagshaw describe Nyland as a borderline workaholic who puts in longer hours than anyone—the consummate straight-A student. “She would have been your nightmare in school, because you’d be thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll go out tonight,’ but you’d know that Kathy would be home on Friday night getting her homework done,” Bagshaw says. “I don’t think the girl ever sleeps. She’s the kind of person who loves to give people credit—she never wants to be out front.” Bagshaw adds, “From the time when I first saw her speaking [as DON director] to today, I have seen her become more settled and more confident.”

Nyland says there’s only one thing she absolutely cannot abide: People speaking ill of her dogs. Earlier this year, after she single-handedly overturned the decision of a city preservation board and approved the construction of an 11-story building in Pioneer Square, someone called her to say he was glad her dog had died.

“That crushed me,” says Nyland, whose office features a large black-and-white photo of her late border collie/Lab/terrier mix, Fannie Mae. “You can say whatever you want about me, but don’t wish death on my dogs, because those are untouchable.”

Nyland, like all department directors, serves at the pleasure of the mayor—in this case, a mayor given to firing and reassigning staff with little notice, and one who seems unusually sensitive to criticism. Ask Deputy Mayor Kate Joncas, who reportedly got the silent treatment from Murray for a few weeks, then suddenly was reassigned to a lesser role. By all accounts, though, Murray is fond of Nyland, and trusts her political instincts and efforts to shake up DON.

“Since his first day in office, he’s been very clear that the status quo was not an option,” Nyland says. “DON has great programs, but the department has not evolved with the changing demographics of the city.” Nyland claims she has never seen Murray lose his temper or lash out unreasonably at high-level staffers. “I think the mayor’s really passionate and he wants to get things done, and my job is to help that agenda,” she says. So, does she think she’s above the fray? “I don’t even know if there is a fray,” Nyland says. “I think I’m in the mix.”

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 it 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.

Read even more reasons to support The C Is for Crank here!