The C Is for Crank Interviews: City Attorney Candidate Scott Lindsay

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Scott Lindsay, the onetime public safety advisor to former mayor Ed Murray who is challenging City Attorney Pete Holmes, was in the news a few weeks ago for leaking draft legislation that would offer limited amnesty from fines and impoundment to people living in cars and RVs and create dozens of small safe lots for people to park their vehicles around the city. Lindsay released an early version of the bill, sponsored by city council member Mike O’Brien, last month, forcing O’Brien to quickly amend and release the proposal and to hold a hasty press conference to walk back some of the more controversial elements of the draft Lindsay leaked. Lindsay’s reputation as the guy who defended Murray’s encampment sweeps, and his efforts to kill legislation reviled by neighborhood activists, like O’Brien’s RV bill, helped earn him the endorsement of the Seattle Times, which effused about his “tougher,” “stronger,” more “aggressive” approach to homelessness and drug addiction. But Lindsay has also won endorsements from onetime Holmes supporters like Harriet Walden and Lisa Daugaard, two members of the Community Police Commission and longtime advocates for police accountability and reform. The CPC soured on Holmes when he proposed delaying police reform legislation earlier this year.

I sat down with Lindsay at Cupcake Royale in Madrona.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: When we set up this interview, you said you could make a strong case that people who lean further left should vote for you. From what I’ve seen so far, most of your support has been coming from the right, from places like the Seattle Times editorial board and neighborhood groups like Safe Seattle. If you’re the candidate for the left, why are those groups so convinced that you’re their guy?

Scott Lindsay [SL]: I have no idea what their impressions are. I’ve clashed in very public ways with them. What makes me different, and maybe what they might find attractive, is, I’m willing to go talk to them, and I’m actively trying to convince them that fighting supervised [drug] consumption [sites] is maybe not the smartest use of their resources. The thing that also may differentiate me is that I do think we have some public safety issues in the city of Seattle, and I’m willing to acknowledge that. I think  we’ve heard a lot of talk about a progressive approach to public safety. We have not seen action and we have definitely not seen results, and I’m a guy who is going to not only say it but do it.

ECB: What are some of the places where we haven’t seen results?

SL: Holmes, and in fact all of the Seattle political establishment, talks as if we have implemented significant criminal justice reforms in Seattle when we’ve not. We’ve not. The [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program has been in existence for five and a half years, and it’s barely grown outside of downtown into Capitol Hill. [Eligibility for LEAD] has not yet expanded out of the narrow classification of [criminal] charges that we started with. That program is touching just some tiny portion of the population that actually needs it. Holmes says that the cosponsored LEAD, but I haven’t seen any evidence of his engagement over the last three years. We’re not delivering on that program. We’re not delivering on  criminal justice reform within the court  system. And so the result is, people are cycling through the system repeatedly, and reoffending to a significant degree.

ECB: What do you say to neighborhoods when they’re already worried about Navigation Centers bringing more homeless people into their communities? It sounds like you’re saying to them, ‘We’re going to take people directly out of jail and bring them into your neighborhood.’

SL: Well, they’re going directly out of jail and into your neighborhood anyway.

What I told the Seattle Times is, I laid out a specific plan and I said we need to address the intersection of criminally involved individuals who are suffering from addiction and suffering from homelessness. And I brought to them specific data about how that population makes up the bulk of people currently being prosecuted by the city attorney and how we’re getting very crappy results in terms of trying to change the behavior of that population.

ECB: Do you believe that the population of homeless people with addiction is primarily responsible for crimes like car prowls and break-ins?

SL: Absolutely.

ECB: What makes you so confident?

SL: Because that’s what our data tells us, and that’s what our police tell us, and that’s what our courts tell us. Go to SPD and they will say that virtually 100 percent of the car prowls in the North Precinct are committed by people whose underlying issue is addiction, principally heroin and methamphetamine.

ECB: I find addiction as a contributing factor easy to believe. What I don’t know, and what I’m asking, is how many of the people committing property crimes are homeless. I have heard many people in the neighborhoods express the opinion that by cracking down on homeless people, the city will solve the problem of property times, and I’m wondering if you think that’s true.

SL: I am the first to say that we are not talking about all homeless. The county has done good work on this. What we know is, it’s people with addiction and who are unsheltered who are currently going through  the system. That does not mean that the vast bulk of homeless individuals are criminally involved or that they’re struggling with addiction, but the folks who are in the  criminal justice  system are very substantially homeless and suffering from addiction.

This is our status quo—the streets-to-jail cycle—right now. We’ve got a lot of folks who are coming out of the criminal justice system right back onto the streets, right back into homelessness, right back into drug addiction. So we have to go and do proactive outreach to folks where they are. The Navigation Team is a form of proactive outreach that’s trying to find low-barrier housing and services for folks to get them out of the cycle before they enter into  criminal justice  system.

The second [intervention] is diversion after arrest. That means expanding LEAD citywide and expanding the total number of qualifying crimes for LEAD. If somebody’s committing a car prowl right now, and they are arrested right here, and their underlying issue is addiction and homelessness, that would be a perfect client for LEAD. And yet because we’re outside of the geographic boundary [of LEAD] and car prowl is not a qualifying crime, they are not eligible to be diverted. Then, if we arrest somebody whose underlying issue is addiction and homelessness [and the case goes to court], we should tie that judge into the Navigation Team, into LEAD, and have, in effect, a street court that is oriented around a harm reduction approach.

And then, in jail, we have to have treatment options. The second somebody on a Seattle Municipal Court charge is booked into a jail and if they [have heroin] addiction,  we need to be offering them counseling and, if not methadone treatment, which can be more involved, then at the very least suboxone.

And finally, we need to have a serious warm handoff. Instead of pushing folks [leaving jail] out onto the street who we know came in homeless, came in with addiction, let’s crate warm handoffs, all tied into the Navigation Center and the Navigation Team.

ECB: So is idea they would exit jail and go straight into the Navigation Center?

SL: I think so, yes—or in a setting similar to the Navigation Center facility.

ECB: It seems like that would require a scaling up of our shelter facilities that isn’t anticipated in the Pathways Home plan (which proposes a shift from shelter to permanent housing) or in the city budget.

SL: This is a four-year plan, but absolutely, if we’re going to be serious about these things, we need to have a vision, have an architecture, and then fund these things appropriately.

ECB: What do you say to neighborhoods when they’re already worried about Navigation Centers bringing more homeless people into their communities? It sounds like you’re saying to them, ‘We’re going to take people directly out of jail and bring them into your neighborhood.’

SL: Well, they’re going directly out of jail and into your neighborhood anyway. And so the question is, can we do something to reduce the impact of that? We already have a lot of transitional and halfway housing around Seattle. We’ve been able to manage this in the past. The Navigation Center is a temporary way station on the way toward, hopefully, more permanent options.

ECB: Would you have released the draft [of Mike O’Brien’s RV legislation] if you were city attorney?

SL: Not if they were seeking my attorney-client privileged legal advice.

ECB: What if they weren’t, and you just didn’t like a piece of legislation and you wanted to slow it down?

SL: I think the city attorney should speak publicly on issues of significant importance to the city.

ECB: Why did you leak O’Brien’s RV legislation—or do you dispute the term ‘leak’?

SL: I dispute the term ‘leak.’

ECB: Okay, how come?

SL: So O’Brien had created his [vehicular living task force]. They’d made their recommendations in April. He then worked up the legislation and his office spread it to a lot of stakeholders. They briefed it to some other council members. They briefed it to city departments. And it spread to series of stakeholders. His office then put out an email out 15 to 20 stakeholders that they were introducing that version of the legislation imminently and it was in the law department for a final review—with minor revisions, but they made clear that it was final. That version of the legislation was in the hands of 50 to 100 people. It was not closely held. In that email, they said, we are introducing it imminently and we’re going to have two hearings on it his month and vote it out of committee right after Labor Day. It was a very truncated legislative process right in the middle of August, when a lot of people aren’t paying attention. That had me very concerned, because I thought the legislation was deeply flawed in a legal sense and a policy sense, and that O’Brien was going to try to shove it through at the wrong time. I wasn’t going to do anything with it until his office said they were introducing it imminently. Once they said they were doing that and on such a truncated timeline, I made it public.

ECB: Would you have released the draft if you were city attorney, rather than a candidate for city attorney?

SL: Not if they were seeking my attorney-client privileged legal advice.

ECB: What if they weren’t, and you just didn’t like a piece of legislation and you wanted to slow it down?

SL: I think the city attorney should speak publicly on issues of significant importance to the city. I have very specific experience with this. I was the guy who created the RV safe lots [a safe RV parking program that the city abandoned after deciding it cost too much.] I tried to make those work. I saw what the challenges were. So I have experience. I’ve also seen how Mike O’Brien’s program, Road to Housing, which we spent several hundreds of thousands of dollars on, was a serious flop. [Road to Housing was a program that encouraged churches to allow people living in vehicles to park in their lots. Ultimately, it only created a dozen safe parking spots]. So I’m not coming at this as, ‘Oh, I got a special document and I’m just going to throw it out there.’

“They had a small group of investigators that were able to make sure the domestic violence cases were able to be filed right away. Holmes says domestic violence is a top priority, but he took away these investigators. SPD’s domestic violence unit is telling me, ‘Here’s why we’re getting shitty results out of our domestic violence cases.'”

ECB: Why did you think O’Brien’s plan wouldn’t work? What was the issue?

SL: I think the blanket amnesty [from fines and towing] is just a very legally problematic policy. The thought that we could create 50-some safe lots is unfortunate—it’s counterproductive because we already have experience with this. At the end of the day, what we found was that trying to serve people in their vehicles and to help them stay in their vehicles is the most expensive way to try to service this population.

ECB: So what is a more effective and affordable solution?

SL: I think we need to vastly ramp up the outreach, and outreach to somewhere. Just going and sending an outreach worker alone and cold to a situating and saying, ‘Hey, would you like services?’—the answer is almost always ‘No, thank you.’ Having a police officer try to resolve the legal issues and the social and health issues at the same time is a more effective model.

ECB: You said that ‘blanket amnesty’ isn’t workable from a legal perspective. It seems to me that from a ‘managing homelessness’ perspective, towing people’s vehicles away isn’t working either, since they go from being homeless people in cars to being homeless people in tents and doorways.

SL: There’s a way to do this with appropriate controls and forgiveness, where we say, if your vehicle’s broken down and you received tickets and all you need is $250 for a new starter, we’re going to forgive the tickets and we’ll help you with the starter, but you have to get your vehicles back into basic legal compliance. We absolutely should not be towing somebody’s vehicle away if it’s just a matter of some basic economics. At the same time, to say that there’s blanket amnesty if you’re living in a vehicle creates a whole host of significant issues.

Go under Spokane Street. We had massive fire hazards. We had major public health problems. We had widespread exploitation of women. We had serious drug dealing and other issues. And we had a homicide just three weeks ago. How is the city going to manage the impacts of significant accumulations of vehicles in one location if there’s a blanket amnesty?

ECB: Let’s shift gears and talk about domestic violence. You accuse Pete of declining to file more DV cases than any city attorney in recent history. His counter is that he’s been boosting more DV cases to felony status, which goes through the county court system, and that the number of DV cases that come before the city attorney are cyclical. How do you respond?

SL: The decline rate, at which they refuse to file cases up front, is 65 percent. That is the highest that it’s been in Seattle’s history. In 2009, it was under 50 percent. So, per the city attorney’s own stats, they are declining to file more cases than they ever have in the history of Seattle. [Ed: The city attorney can decline to file a domestic case for prosecution for many reasons, including a victim who is unwilling to testify, incomplete or unclear paperwork, or an accuser who decides it’s safer not to press charges; charges that are boosted to felonies also show up as declines].

One of the major problems is that Pete Holmes has been shuffling and reshuffling the criminal division and moving people around. They had a small group of investigators that were able to make sure the domestic violence cases were able to be filed right away. Holmes says domestic violence is a top priority, but he took away these investigators. SPD’s domestic violence unit is telling me, ‘Here’s why we’re getting shitty results out of our domestic violence cases.’ It used to be the case that when there was some missing information, the investigators would complete that—no problem, it’s a little Google search, boom, complete. Now the city attorney’s office says, ‘Okay, SPD, this case isn’t ready to file,’ and they send it back to the officer who’s out on the street. And that officer may be on vacation, or maybe he has a really full workload. Maybe it gets pushed to the back of pile, and they maybe complete it a week, two weeks later. The case gets more and more stale.

Domestic violence cases are hard, but they haven’t fundamentally changed in the last 30 years, and Holmes has a burden to explain why, if you are an abuse survivor in the city of Seattle, the prospect of you making it through  this process and holding your abuser accountable is slim to none. He says it’s a priority. Those numbers don’t show that. Those numbers show that, in fact, we are badly failing survivors.

Read my pre-primary interview with Lindsay, where we discussed even more issues, including the role of the Community Police Commission in police reform, here; and check out both my recent conversations with City Attorney Pete Holmes here.

In the Trump Era, a Seattle-Only Health Care Option?

This story originally ran at Seattle Magazine.

As the Trump Administration cracks down on undocumented immigrants and threatens to overturn the Affordable Care Act, pushing more than 20 million people off their health care plans, some Seattle leaders are looking for ways to ensure that people living in the city can access health care regardless of their income or immigration status.

To figure out how to accomplish this, they’re looking to the south—specifically, to San Francisco, another high-cost West Coast “sanctuary city” that just happens to have the only truly universal health care coverage system in the country.

The plan, known as Healthy San Francisco, isn’t technically health insurance—only San Francisco residents are covered, and only inside San Francisco’s borders. But it does provide comprehensive health care—everything from annual exams to mental health care to lab tests to addiction treatment—to people making up to 500 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $60,000 for an individual. This group includes independent contractors, lower-middle-class people without employer-provided insurance, and, increasingly, undocumented immigrants, who do not qualify for benefits under the Affordable Care Act.

The idea, according to San Francisco Health Department spokeswoman Rachel Kagan, is to “reduce the dependence of uninsured people on emergency rooms health care,” by getting them “plugged into the health care system earlier, where they can get preventative care.” At its peak, Healthy San Francisco had about 65,000 members; once Obamacare was up and running, enrollment declined to about 14,000.

People who qualify for Medicaid are ineligible for Healthy San Francisco, as are people who already have insurance. (Uninsured people who qualify for the Affordable Care Act can decide to pay the federal penalty and join Healthy San Francisco instead). “It’s supposed to be a program of last resort,” says Alice Kurniadi, a senior program planner at SFDPH, which oversees the program. Healthy San Francisco is funded by the city’s general fund, fees from participants, which max out at $1,800 a year, and a payroll tax on businesses—$2.64 per employee, per hour for businesses with more than 100 employees, and $1.76 an hour for businesses with 20 to 100 workers.

Seattle had a similar tax—derisively referred to as the “head tax” by opponents—for a brief period in the mid-2000s, when the city council passed a $25-per-employee tax to pay for transportation projects. That tax was repealed in 2009, and efforts to reinstate it for other purposes (most recently, to fund the city’s Office of Labor Standards) have failed. (Restaurants challenged the law in San Francisco, but lost; a subsequent court case concluded that the “Healthy San Francisco fees” many had instituted in protested went straight into restaurant owners’ pockets.)

City council Position 8 candidate Teresa Mosqueda, who says she will propose a “Healthy Seattle” plan here if she’s elected in November, acknowledges that there are significant differences between the fiscal and political climates in San Francisco and Seattle that will need to be addressed for the plan to have a shot here.

“The biggest difference is that [San Francisco] already has so much more revenue that they’re able to play with,” including a statewide income tax, Mosqueda says. “Because we have a different revenue system here, we need to have a larger conversation with businesses and employees” about the best way to fund a citywide health-care plan.

One thing Seattle does have in common with San Francisco, Mosqueda notes, is a large system of community health-care providers that could form the backbone of a public provider network. San Francisco’s “medical homes” are mostly community clinics, along with a few private providers. “They had three dozen health care centers and hospitals in their city,” Mosqueda says. “I’ve counted—we have almost four dozen community health centers in our city, and even more hospitals and a VA.”

No one I spoke to in either city was placing bets on whether Trump will manage to overturn the Affordable Care Act this year, but both San Francisco health officials and Mosqueda said it’s a good idea for cities to prepare for the worst.

“If we can actually create a pool that will allow people to get the comprehensive services that they need, then we should,” Mosqueda says. “I think it’s definitely possible in a post-ACA world” to deliver health-care services at the city level. “And also in a post-whatever-Trump-does world,” she adds.

 

Morning Crank: Mayor Gonzalez?

1. City council president Bruce Harrell took the oath of office as Seattle’s emergency mayor yesterday (OK, real mayor, but only for another two and a half months max), promising to announce by today whether he will continue to serve as mayor until voters elect a successor to former mayor Ed Murray, who resigned this week after a fifth man accused him of sexual assault. .

The stakes for Harrell are high, although perhaps not as high as you might think: Although serving as mayor until the election results are certified at the end of November would require Harrell to give up his council seat, rumors have swirled since his most recent election in 2015 that this term, Harrell’s third, would be his last. Harrell ran for mayor and lost in the primary in 2013, so remaining as mayor would give Harrell a short-lived opportunity to serve in the position he lost to Murray four years ago.

If Harrell does stay on as mayor, Lorena Gonzalez would be next in the (informal) line of succession for council president. If he decides to return to the council, the council would choose another council member to serve as mayor. While Tim Burgess is an obvious choice—he’s stepping down this year, to be replaced in January by either Jon Grant or Teresa Mosqueda—the fact that Burgess chairs the council’s budget committee inserts a political wrinkle into the decision. If Burgess becomes mayor, the chairmanship of the budget committee would pass to council freshman Lisa Herbold—a member of the council’s left flank who might be more inclined than the centrist Burgess to tinker with Murray’s budget to reflect more left-leaning priorities (like, say, reducing the emphasis on rapid rehousing in the Human Services Department’s budget).

So who does that leave? Gonzalez, who was the first council member to call on Murray to resign, appears to be the next in line. She’s running for reelection this year, and assuming she wins, would be able to go right back to being a council member when the results are certified in November

Harrell has said he will make his decision before 5:00 this afternoon.

2. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission dismissed a complaint by one of the losing candidates in the August primary election against Seattle City Council Position 9 incumbent Lorena Gonzalez. That complaint alleged that Gonzalez had deliberately misled the commission about how many open debates she had participated in before the primary and demanded that the commission fine her and force her to  return all the money she has received from voters in the form of “democracy vouchers.”

“If the Commission terminates the candidate’s participation in the Program, it will invalidate the choice of the more than 2,100 residents to date who have assigned their vouchers to Councilmember González,” commission director Wayne Barnett wrote in his recommendation to the commission. “The Program exists to empower residents to participate in elections in ways they have not been involved in the past. The Commission should be cautious about exercising the ‘nuclear option’ in a way that disserves one of the primary goals of the Program.”

Although the commission ruled against Gonzalez’ erstwhile opponent, Barnett’s recommendation letter raises interesting questions about the breadth of the initiative that instituted public financing of local elections, and could have implications for what campaign forums look like in the future.

The democracy voucher program requires any council candidate seeking voucher funding to participate in at least three forums at each stage of the election (primary and general) to which all candidates have been invited to participate. The complaint argued that because the losing candidate was not invited to some of the forums Gonzalez listed as qualifying events (including a “women of color” forum), she should have to return all her vouchers. This interpretation could require candidates to figure out who was invited to every potentially qualifying event they attend. Or it could mean that every single candidate must be invited to every debate, regardless of whether they are viable. In the mayor’s race, Barnett points out, that would have meant that every debate could have included all 21 people who filed for the position, including “Nazi shitheads” screamer Alex Tsimerman—a prospect that would have rendered the debates more or less useless for people hoping to learn anything about any of the six candidates who were actually viable.

3. Some people just can’t take a joke. And some people just can’t get a joke—even when you explain it to them. Case in point: Last week, I ran an item about a going-away gift from the mayor’s staff to longtime City Hall staffer (and Murray chief of staff) Mike Fong—a giant fake check for $3.5 million made out to the “Michael Fong Community Health Engagement Location.” (CHEL is bureaucratic code for supervised drug consumption sites.) As I wrote at the time, “The joke, concocted by Murray’s comms director Benton Strong, is a little obscure.”

Too obscure, apparently, for Neighborhood Safety Alliance member Jennifer Aspelund, who filed a records request on Friday, September 8 seeking “any monies allocated for Michael Fong community health engagement location center and any discussion of such center.”

The city’s response? “This location center does not exist; therefore, the Mayor’s office or any other departments do not have any responsive records.”

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The C Is for Crank Interviews: Lorena Gonzalez

Incumbent city council member Lorena Gonzalez may have only been on the council for two years, but she has already made her mark as head of the council’s public safety and gender equity committee, which has spent the past five years, give or take, overseeing the implementation of police reforms in the city. (In 2012, the US Department of Justice ordered the Seattle Police Department to implement reforms to curb excessive force and racially biased policing, and a US district judge has refused to release the city from the consent decree until he is satisfied that the city is in compliance). Gonzalez, a civil rights attorney who was Mayor Ed Murray’s chief counsel before running for council in 2015, was the first council member to call on Murray to resign after the Seattle Times reported on records related to the sex-abuse case against him in Oregon, where a child-welfare investigator concluded that Murray had sexually abused his foster son in 1984.

I sat down with Gonzalez late last month at Uptown Espresso in West Seattle.

Image result for lorena gonzalez seattle

The C Is For Crank [ECB]: You were first council member to call for Murray to step down. How do you feel about that decision now?

LG: I feel as strongly today as I did then about needing to take a very strong moral position that the mayor should step down. It was hard for me to realize that I would be standing alone on that for quite some time, and I’m okay with that, because it was the right thing to do. I will always choose the side of survivors, and so if I could go back, I would do it all again.

ECB: I assume it’s damaged your relationship with the 7th floor.

LG: (Laughs.) I think I have had the great benefit of having really strong relationships with a lot of the mayor’s staff because they’re former coworkers and colleagues of mine, and I continue to work collaboratively with a lot of my former colleagues on the 7th floor to get done what we need to finish getting done. That being said, the mayor and I have not personally communicated since my announcement.

ECB: That must be hard, since you worked with him so closely in the past.

LG: This whole thing is hard because of that. He’s somebody that I respected. He’s somebody that I trusted. He’s somebody who motivated me enough to leave a ten-year-long career doing civil rights work and sexual survivor advocacy work that I really fundamentally believed in and loved. And personally, it was difficult for me to process and accept that the what I saw in the investigation file from Oregon was true. So that was very personally difficult to reconcile all that.

ECB: The city has made progress on police reform, but there are still gaps and calls for reform. What additional efforts would you like to see on police accountability and reform?

LG: I actually think we have made significant strides, but that doesn’t mean that we are close to being there yet, whatever ‘there’ is. The reality is that the [police accountability] ordinance that I sponsored, that was approved by unanimously by the council in May of 2017, hasn’t been implemented yet. And it hasn’t been implemented yet because we haven’t been able to convince the federal court to allow us to move forward with the ordinance, and part of that is because [federal district judge James Robart] has legitimate concerns around the powers that our police union holds in the collective bargaining process. And until we are able to convince the judge that we are willing to prioritize constitutional policing above all else, even in the collective bargaining process, then we will continue to be in  a place where this ordinance is in limbo and where some of the huge significant policy changes that are reflected in the ordinance won’t be implemented until we convince the judge that we’re willing to hold the line.

“I feel as strongly today as I did then about needing to take a very strong moral position that the mayor should step down. It was hard for me to realize that I would be standing alone on that for quite some time, and I’m okay with that, because it was the right thing to do. I will always choose the side of survivors, and so if I could go back, I would do it all again.”

ECB: Some reform proponents have suggested that police union negotiations be held in public. Why do you oppose that idea?

LG: I think that that’s a fundamentally anti-labor position. The reality is that the state really does dictate what the rules are around collective bargaining, and we as a city are beholden to those rules. I think what we have historically seen in the city of Seattle is that our agreed-upon system of accountability and discipline has historically been eroded in the collective bargaining process. So I think for me, what is more important is how do we engage in collective bargaining with unions where we make sure that there is no backsliding on the intent and purpose that we’re trying to accomplish through our legislation.

Something that I think could be incredibly powerful in that context, that has been suggested by people like retired judge Anne Levinson, is the idea of having a special monitor in the labor negotiation processes that would just be focused on tracking whether or not the proposed parameters or a final tentative labor agreement have caused some backsliding on what the actual intent and purpose is, as reflected in the police accountability legislation.  I think that level of technical assistance provides more real information about whether or not there’s backsliding than just allowing sort of people who might not understand the intricacies of these policies to speculate as to whether or not they’re working.

ECB: Would part of the aim of creating a monitor position be to satisfy the objections of people who want to give the CPC more authority over things like hiring and firing the police chief and instigating investigations?

LG: I think we’ve empowered the Community Police Commission to the extent that they want to be empowered.  The CPC did not ask for a system that doesn’t look like what it looks like now. They asked to have the role that they currently have in this version of the ordinance. They did not ask for the power to fire the chief. They did not ask for the ability to discipline or do individual investigations. And they fundamentally wanted to stay focused on, how can we create a table of community leaders and members who would have the power and ability to do systemic review and make fundamental recommendations to change those systems if the system becomes unhealthy. And that’s what they decided as a democratic body to advocate for in this legislation, and that’s what’s reflected in the legislation.

ECB: Given that we’ll have a new mayor next year,  I wondered if there’s any part of HALA that you would want to revisit once Murray is out of office.

LG: I’d like to spend more time thinking about displacement tools. A lot of times, people think the mandatory housing affordability program is an anti-displacement tool, but in reality, it really is designed to increase the stock of affordable housing for people of a certain income. It’s not the very low or extremely low-income folks. And so I do think there’s an opportunity for city council to really step into the anti-displacement arena.

“The CPC did not ask for a system that doesn’t look like what it looks like now. They asked to have the role that they currently have in this version of the ordinance. They did not ask for the power to fire the chief. They did not ask for the ability to discipline or do individual investigations.”

I continue to be really interested in having the conversations around opening up more of our single-family zones to multifamily housing. And it’s obviously a very delicate conversation to have, and it’s delicate for a variety of reasons. But just because it’s a tough conversation doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have it. And we should explore best practices in terms of how we can best engage the community and how we can pilot at least a version of what I think there is interest in doing.

ECB: Given how controversial the mandatory housing affordability (MHA) program was at first, it’s been interesting to watch the council pass every upzone unanimously.

LG: But it’s because it’s in urban villages.

ECB: Right—the problem is that we have single-family zones where you can’t even build a duplex. Were you disappointed when Murray pulled back on opening up single-family zones to more types of development so quickly?

LG: I think it’s fair to say that I wish we could have had more of an opportunity to really see how the conversation could have unfolded. These conversations are really tough, right, because we’re talking about fundamentally changing parts  of the city that have never had to change, so I think we could have potentially benefited from allowing the city and its residents more time to have that public conversation.

ECB: How do you think the mayor’s navigation teams have been performing, in terms of getting people in tents into safer shelter as well as into permanent housing?

LG: I think it’s better than what we had before. I will say that I share concerns about having the Office for Civil Rights being effectively the auditor of how that outreach is occurring around the encampment conversation as a whole, which is where these navigation teams are being used primarily. The Office for Civil Rights has an inherent conflict because they are a department of the executive and it’s a very small office, and I just don’t know how a small office like that could reconcile that conflict of interest and be a true independent auditor.

ECB: How would you resolve that conflict?

LG: I think that the Office for Civil Rights should be its own independent office that has stand-alone authority, similar to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission and hopefully someday soon similar to the Community Police Commission, or to shift that work to the city auditor’s office. I’m not sure that there is any other way to ensure that that work isn’t being unduly influenced by the political will of the executive.

 

“I think that impounding somebody’s vehicle as a result of unpaid fines and tickets is not helping our homelessness situation.”

 

ECB: Mike O’Brien has proposed creating a new program where people living in cars and RVs could get immunity from tickets in exchange for accepting services. Is that approach something you’ll support?

LG: Council member O’Brien’s approach is one that makes some sense to me in terms of requiring people to sign up to be part of this registration program. And that would allow outreach workers to know exactly where you’re at, and it also requires you as a person who’s camping to commit to be engaged in service efforts. So I think that that component of give and take is an important one, and it imposes a responsibility on campers that doesn’t currently exist.

I think that impounding somebody’s vehicle as a result of unpaid fines and tickets is not helping our homelessness situation. That, to me, is not a harm reduction approach to the situation. The only thing that we gain by continuing to tack on legal fees that lead to an impoundment is moving people from camping in cars to camping outside and I don’t think that that’s what any of us want. I think the big, tough question will be, how do we administer it? How do we fund this program? And at this point we don’t know what the funding would be. And is that how we should be using our funds in the context of also shifting towards upping our investments in permanent supportive housing?

 

ECB: When the Poppe Report on homelessness came out and the city started moving away from transitional housing in favor of a rapid rehousing approach, you expressed concern that domestic violence victims and others who currently use transitional housing might be shut out in the new housing-voucher-based system. Do you still have those concerns?

LG: I will continue to track that particular issue. I had heard from the Human Services Department that that is a question of prioritization of the funds and have been assured that those individuals—families and survivors—are at the top of the priority list, as some of the most vulnerable populations within a vulnerable population.

ECB: How did you feel when the Seattle Times endorsed your opponent, Pat Murakami?

LG: Oh gosh—it was really disappointing to me, and on a professional level, it felt more like a referendum on the entire  city council, on the work that we have been doing over the last two years. And I accept the fact that I am the only incumbent running for reelection in the city government besides the city attorney, but it really just felt like there was an unloading of sorts that needed to happen, and I was going to be the person who was going got be on the receiving end of that. I think it’s unfortunate, because I do believe that the city is moving in the right direction, and I think that that is in part because of the leadership that the city council has provide over the last two years. I think that, at the end of the day, my primary election results show that people are still happy with the work that I’m doing on the city council and with the direction of the city.

Quick PSA: 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 doing interviews like this one, which take an average of about 8-10 hours from start to finish). This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers like you. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Why Are There So Many Vacant Properties Near Rainier Beach Light Rail Station?

This post originally ran at the South Seattle Emerald.

Plans to turn some of the land immediately adjacent to the Rainier Beach light rail station into the centerpiece of a new “food innovation district”—a proposed network of food businesses and food-related activities aimed at creating living-wage jobs and preventing displacement in the Rainier Valley—remain stalled, after a property that advocates hoped would serve as the hub for that district sold last month to a company controlled by a local landlord who owns numerous single-family homes in the area.

As the Emerald reported back in May, the Rainier Beach Action Coalition had hoped to purchase the property on the southeast corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way and S. Henderson St., which is currently the site of a Mexican grocery store. Those plans were thwarted when another bidder, former city council member (and onetime food innovation district champion) Richard Conlin, outbid RBAC. (At the time, Conlin said he had no idea RBAC was bidding on the property, which he planned to develop as affordable artist housing). However, Conlin subsequently withdrew his bid, and the property sold to a mystery backup bidder.

The new owner, the Emerald has learned, is Greg Goodwin, a Rainier Beach landlord who owns and leases about a dozen single-family houses in the blocks surrounding the light-rail station. (Goodwin is the son of the late Albert (A.C.) Goodwin, a longtime property owner and manager in the area; the Goodwin family companies now include Greg D. Goodwin Co., Civetta Properties, and Roan Properties, which purchased the light-rail station property through a Las Vegas-based subsidiary called Radner Properties).

Neither Goodwin nor his sister Gael Goodwin, who is listed as the agent for the now-defunct A.C. Goodwin Properties, returned calls seeking comment about their plans for the property. David Sauvion, the co-founder of RBAC and coordinator for the food innovation district, says RBAC has tried to reach out to the family but “they don’t want anything to do with us. They are difficult to engage.” However, Sauvion says he has heard that “they have no short-term plan for the property; as far as we know, the space will stay vacant.”

Although the first leg of Sound Transit’s Link light rail opened nearly a decade ago, the corridor still has no shortage of vacant properties. Many are owned by Sound Transit—recognizable by their chain link fences and gravel lots, which leaf-blower-wielding workers periodically clear of trash and other detritus. So why are there so still many empty lots along the southern leg of the light rail line in the Rainier Valley? And why is it so hard to build new housing at light rail stations in South Seattle, given that “transit-oriented development” is such a critical component of new light-rail stations elsewhere in the city?

To answer those questions, you have to go back to the early 2000s, when light rail was still immensely controversial in the Valley. At the time, a group called Save Our Valley (whose members included Pat Murakami, a current candidate for Seattle City Council) was fighting to force Sound Transit to run its rail line underground instead of at-grade in order to minimize the impact on neighborhood businesses. Although SOV lost that battle, Sound Transit tacitly acknowledged their objections in its approach to buying land-use for light-rail construction staging in the area; they aimed, in the words of Sound Transit land use and planning director Brooke Belman, to “take the smallest amount of property as possible and acquire as minimal a footprint as possible. … The [Sound Transit] board, at the time, was certainly cognizant of not wanting to buy too much property from the existing property owners down there.”

The result was that Sound Transit was left with a large number of oddly shaped “remnant” properties that can’t be easily developed, including parking strips, narrow parcels immediately in front of existing businesses, and those weird fenced-in lots that dot the length of the light rail line.

Today, Belman says, Sound Transit’s approach to property acquisition “has done about a 180” since a decade ago. If light rail was being built in the Valley today, “We probably would have consolidated a lot of the staging that we did instead of just leaving those remnants.”

One issue Sound Transit didn’t anticipate, Belman says, is the failure of the private market to build housing, retail, and services in Rainier Beach on its own. “There was a lot of hope that private development would come right behind us in the Rainier Valley” and start to create residential and retail hubs at the stations, she says. But that hasn’t happened—at least not yet.

Sound Transit isn’t the only agency responsible for the lack of development at the Rainier Beach station; the city—specifically the mayor’s office and the city’s planning department, now known as the Office of Planning and Community Development—bears some of the responsibility as well. Right now, much of the land near the light rail station is still zoned for exclusive single-family use, rendering it off-limits for new apartment, townhouse, row house, duplex, or retail developments. The rest is low-rise or neighborhood commercial—land use designations that allow things like townhouses and four-story apartment buildings, not the kind of intense development seen at other stations (like Columbia City a few miles up the road.)

That is slated to change under HALA—the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, which would upzone much of the station area, allowing four-to-seven-story buildings—but the fact remains that the zoning throughout much of the Rainier Beach station area is more fitting for a sleepy area with limited transit access—say, Blue Ridge—than a growing, but still relatively affordable, community within a few blocks of a major light rail hub.

Robert Scully, OCPD’s point person on Rainier Beach station development, says former mayor Mike McGinn directed the department to begin work on rezoning the area, but that work stalled under new Mayor Ed Murray, who wanted to take a more comprehensive approach to updating land use throughout the whole city. “We had a rezone proposal kind of ready to go up to the mayor’s office; we just got held up,” Scully says. That proposal would have provided incentives for food production facilities—in other words, a food innovation hub. Now, Murray is focused on affordable housing, not food production.

The land also presents other challenges—it’s shoehorned into a valley, with rising hills on each side, which makes large developments challenging and expensive. The single-family lots around the light-rail station are owned by dozens of different property owners, so any developer who wanted to build, say, a large affordable-housing complex would have to convince many different people to sell. And there’s really no way, Scully says, for the city to force land owners to include food production in private developments.

“We live in a political system and an economy that’s heavily based on property rights and the real estate market,” he says. “In doing this for the past five years, I’ve kind of arrived at the conclusion that the best tool is for the community, maybe in partnership with a developer or a nonprofit, to actually [purchase] some land down there—enough so that they could actually develop this facility, and that could help influence other development in the area.” Of course, that’s what RBAC had hoped to do. For now, the land will remain vacant.

“We tried,” Sauvion says.

Morning Crank: I’m Sorry That Got a Little Heated

1, Jon Grant, the former Tenants Union director and a candidate for city council Position 8, recently confronted and photographed a woman who was out canvassing for his opponent, Teresa Mosqueda, in an incident Grant calls “an uncomfortable situation” and that the canvasser calls “offensive,” “infuriating,” and unprecedented in her years of working and volunteering for political campaigns.

The canvasser, Lorin Walker, is director of operations and human resources for SEIU 775; she says she was out canvassing for Mosqueda as a volunteer when a man she didn’t know came up the driveway to the doorstep she was standing on and tried to grab one one of her flyers. “He said, ‘Are you with SEIU 775?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I am. We’re out here volunteering our time to canvass for Teresa Mosqueda,’ He said, ‘That’s against campaign finance law.”  Walker says she handed Grant one of her flyers, “and then he took his phone out and started taking my picture. I said, ‘What the hell are you doing walking up to me on someone’s doorstep and taking my picture?’ He said, ‘It’s public property,’ and perhaps I should know that he could take my picture. I said, ‘I’m on somebody’s doorstep—perhaps you should know that.” After Grant—who Walker still believed was a volunteer canvasser—walked away, Walker says she decided to chase him down. “I said, ‘What is wrong with you?’ I didn’t know he was the candidate. I said, ‘Give me one of your fliers,’ and he said, ‘No, why would I do that?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding? You violated me.'”

Grant recounts the story somewhat differently. He says he saw “a paid canvasser for SEIU” and went up to ask her if she was on SEIU’s payroll. When Walker said she was, Grant says, “that was concerning to me because that would have potentially constituted a campaign finance violation. An organization can’t pay their staff members to do campaign work. I specifically asked if they were staff because if they were volunteering, there was no problem. The concern here was that there was a campaign finance violation going on.” Pointing to the Democratic Party trackers who regularly follow Republican candidates around, video camera in hand, Grant says, “It’s not irregular behavior to document another campaign.” Grant also points to the fact that SEIU filed paperwork for its pro-Mosqueda PAC, Working Families for Teresa, on July 17—two days after he said the confrontation occurred—as evidence that the union was potentially violating campaign finance law. “Just to put this in context, SEIU is under state investigation for using staff time for a campaign and not reporting it. I find it curious that it was only after we had documented a potential campaign finance violation that they filed the paperwork to get into compliance.”

After Grant and Walker parted ways, Walker called SEIU secretary-treasurer Adam Glickman to let him know what had happened. Glickman called Grant’s consultant, John Wyble, and Wyble encouraged Grant to apologize to Walker, which she says he did, a few minutes after he confronted her. “He came up to me and he said, ‘I just want to apologize for that interaction we had. I’m sorry that got a little heated.’ And I said, ‘I’m sure you are,'” Walker says.

Wyble, Grant’s consultant, says Grant was “making  choices in a situation where he thought there were hundreds of canvassers out there not getting disclosed.” Once Glickman had assured Wyble that SEIU’s canvassers were volunteering their time, he says, “everybody went on with their lives.”

I asked Wyble whether he or Grant had considered that confronting a woman out canvassing on her own might be seen as aggressive or creepy. He paused, and said, “I’m not saying it was a perfect interaction,  by any means. It was the last week of campaign, and things were heated.

Walker, who says she has “campaigned a lot over many years,” disputes that her interaction with Grant was the kind of thing that happens in the heat of a pitched campaign. “I’ve never had somebody walk up to me on a doorstep, I’ve never had someone take my picture, and I’ve certainly never had a candidate running for office to come up like that on a doorstep and take my picture.

“That just never happens.”

2. The side bar at Fado Lounge was jam-packed with city hall habitues dating from 2001 to the present day this past Tuesday night, as friends and former coworkers and bosses—former council members Tom Rasmussen and Jan Drago made appearances, as did former deputy mayor Tim Ceis and current mayor Ed Murray, who stayed until the end—gathered to fete Murray’s chief of staff, Mike Fong, who’s leaving to join the office of King County Executive Dow Constantine as his chief operating officer.

Mayor Ed Murray and budget office director Ben Noble had a parting gift for Fong, whose last day is today: A giant check in the amount of $3.5 million, made out to the “Michael Fong Community Health Engagement Location” and payable “upon 2018 opening.” The joke, concocted by Murray’s comms director Benton Strong, is a little obscure, so bear with me: The city of Seattle has promised to help King County fund a supervised consumption site in the city, but the county pressed pause on the sites in mid-July; the check is a symbolic challenge from the mayor’s office to Constantine to challenge the council to stop dragging their feet and fund the site by 2018 (and name the new site after Fong while they’re at it). Rachel Smith, Constantine’s chief of staff and Fong’s new boss, watched from the sidelines as Murray presented the check (and the challenge.):

3. Just ahead of Labor Day, both candidates for mayor released their proposals for a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights on Thursday—Jenny Durkan at 4:23 in the afternoon, and Cary Moon two hours later at 6:21. Their wording, like their timing, is so similar that if the two women weren’t running against each other, you might suspect they’d coordinated their efforts.

Moon’s proposal appears to apply primarily to live-in domestic workers, and would: Extend Seattle’s $15 minimum wage to live-in workers; mandate meal and rest breaks and a day off every seven days; and extend overtime to live-in workers. Moon also says she would ensure domestic workers are fully protected by laws against sexual harassment and discrimination, and “encourage and support efforts” by domestic workers to collectively bargain with their employers.  In a statement, Moon said the proposal was only “a starting place,” and promised to “invite people working as, and employing, household helpers, nannies, au pairs, housekeepers, and others to give their feedback and offer their expertise.”

Durkan’s bill of rights, like Moon’s, would guarantee that domestic workers receive overtime pay, breaks, tax withholding, and rest periods.) Also like Moon’s proposal, Durkan’s plan would “bring stakeholders…together to establish a permanent mechanism for setting minimum standards of pay and benefits in the domestic work industry … establish a mechanism for providing employment benefits, such as workers compensation and health insurance … and suppor[t] efforts by domestic workers to collectively bargain with their employers.”

Both Durkan and Moon also say they’ll announce proposals to protect freelance and “gig economy” workers in the coming days. (Maybe they could hold a joint press conference!)

Durkan and Moon have each been endorsed by different Service Employees International Union locals representing low-wage workers—Moon by SEIU 925 and 6, and Durkan by 775.

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.

Does “Our Best” Leave Black Girls Behind?

This piece originally ran in Seattle Magazine

In 2012, only 57 percent of African-American boys graduated from high school in Washington state, compared to 73 percent of their white counterparts.

The achievement gap for young black men goes far beyond their graduation rates. Nationally, African-American boys are twice as likely to drop out of high school as white boys, and are three times as likely to be suspended. In Seattle, African-American boys are nearly three times as likely as white boys to be referred to special education, and these students in general fall far behind their white counterparts on nearly every standard measure of success—from third-grade reading scores to seventh-grade math proficiency to graduation rates. In 2015, 56 percent of white Seattle Public Schools graduates ended up going to a four-year college; just 30 percent of black students did the same. This achievement gap has lifelong ramifications; nearly 70 percent of young black men who drop out of school will end up in prison, and one in three black boys will be incarcerated in their lifetime.

“If you look at discipline data or graduation data or just regular third-grade test data, you’ll see just a huge discrepancy in the gaps between black males and their counterparts,” says Dwane Chappelle, director of Seattle’s Department of Education and Early Learning.

The achievement gap between black and white boys has been documented for decades, but the emphasis on programs targeted at improving the outcomes for black boys is a more recent phenomenon. Last year, after the City of Seattle’s first Education Summit, Mayor Ed Murray convened a 32-member advisory committee to come up with recommendations to close the gap. This year, to help accomplish this audacious goal, Murray organized a Youth Opportunity Cabinet, which includes African-American city department heads, such as Chappelle and Brian Surratt, director of the Office of Economic Development, and announced a new initiative focused on improving young black male achievement, called Our Best. (“If they are given resources that others take for granted, our young black men are our best,” Surratt says.)

The city has allocated $300,000 for the first year of the program (with few details on exactly how the money will be spent), which is modeled after former President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program, but aimed at boys and youth between the ages of 14 and 24. A good portion of that money will support a one-year pilot project, which began in July, to double the number of black male mentors, by providing a clearinghouse and technical support for existing programs; the money will also fund a new special adviser to the mayor on young black male achievement.

Mentors, Surratt says, can give black boys the kind of positive role models they may be lacking in home or at school, and from experience can provide lessons on how to cope with challenges. “It’s not a cultural deficiency model,” says Surratt, referring to a model that says young black men are broken and need to be fixed. “It’s an asset richness model”—one that takes the assets that already exist in the African-American community and puts them to work guiding young men who may be struggling into responsible adulthood.

Our Best also includes a new mayor’s council on black male achievement, with the goal of increasing the number of black boys who graduate high school; providing young black men between the ages of 14 and 24 more pathways to “meaningful,” well-paid employment; and reducing the percentage of young black men entering the criminal justice system.

While the city’s renewed focus on young black male achievement is both admirable and necessary, some worry that male-focused programs like Our Best leave black girls behind.

Black girls are six times as likely as white girls to get kicked out of school—a racial gap in suspension rates that dwarfs the gap between black and white boys.

Like those of their male counterparts, black girls’ reading and math scores are at or near the bottom level, and four in 10 black girls who drop out of school cite pregnancy or parenthood as the reason. Black girls who drop out may suffer greater economic consequences than black boys, largely because the jobs that are available for female high school dropouts pay significantly less than those available to male dropouts. Black girls are also far more likely to be single parents without other sources of support, which compounds the impact of lower wages. Little wonder, then, that the median net worth of single black women is $100, compared with almost $7,900 for black men and $41,500 for single white women.

Moreover, black girls experience harm at school that the standard “achievement gap” yardstick simply fails to measure, such as sexual violence, suicide, harassment and the consequences of single parenting, says Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, the founder and director of the African American Policy Forum and a law professor at UCLA and Columbia University.

“There is a whole range of ways that girls are impacted by these environments that people aren’t even talking about because the point of departure is always the boy,” says Crenshaw. Much like health research that for many years only used male subjects, the data available on African-American student achievement is largely centered on outcomes that primarily impact boys, such as the school-to-prison pipeline, creating a feedback loop that leaves girls out. “It’s not just one gender that’s struggling, [but] the conversation up ’til now has assumed that the only students in crisis were boys,” says Crenshaw.

Proponents of Our Best say they’re aware that girls face specific challenges that boys don’t. “We all know that our young ladies need support as well,” Chappelle says. But, he says, “We have to get that infrastructure in place first, and then we will be able to provide the young ladies with support, too.” Supporters of Our Best also insist that by helping young men, the program will benefit young black women as well, by fixing systems that hurt everybody when they’re broken.

“The intent is that if you fix a demographic that is clearly doing statistically the poorest, you are in fact fixing the institutional problems for the other demographics as well,” says City Council member Bruce Harrell, an Our Best proponent. “In fixing a lot of the institutional practices that work to the detriment of young black males, I think young black females and even others will reap the benefits.”

Surratt adds, “Unfortunately, across almost every metric that you can imagine, every social, economic and health indicator, young black men are suffering the most, and so we wanted to tackle this part of the community first.”

Crenshaw, who criticized Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program for excluding girls in a New York Times op-ed piece, is less convinced, calling that theory “trickle-down social justice” that “doesn’t work any better than Reaganomics did.”

Chappelle points to the fact that at least one school in Seattle that implemented the My Brother’s Keeper program, Aki Kurose Middle School, has since added an analogous Our Sister’s Keeper program for girls as evidence that the program will probably expand—eventually.

“Once we get Our Best down as far as young black men are concerned, then I would anticipate we would figure out a way to make sure that we are weaving in the support we need for our young black women, and also other young women of color who have historically been marginalized,” Chappelle says. The question is, how long will it take? And will it be soon enough to help the latest generation of young black girls who are at risk of falling through the cracks?

Morning Crank: Maybe He Meant Because No One Can Afford To Live There

1. I’ve known Mike Fong, Mayor Ed Murray’s chief of staff, since he worked as an aide to city council member Heidi Wills. In fact, he started at the city right around the same time I started covering city hall, in the late spring of 2001.

Back then, he looked like this:

After 16 years working for the city—as a council staffer and, for the past two years, the mayor’s chief of staff—Fong is leaving city hall behind. (Other mayoral staffers surely won’t be far behind him, as the seventh floor of City Hall empties out in anticipation of current Mayor Ed Murray’s departure in December). He isn’t going far, though—just across the street to the office of King County Executive Dow Constantine, where he’ll be chief operating officer, overseeing Constantine’s cabinet.

Fong has been at city hall (and not just THIS city hall—the old one, too) through some of the biggest stories (and transformations) in the city’s history—from Strippergate to the ouster of former City Light director Gary Zarker to the council’s review of then-mayor Greg Nickels’ response to the 2009 snow storm, which ultimately contributed to Nickels’ loss (to Mike McGinn) that year. During that time, the old City Hall itself was razed, Seattle’spopulation grew from around half a million people to more than 700,000, and Amazon’s value rose from $3.6 billion to more than $500 billion. But as far as I can tell, Mike hasn’t changed all that much. He’s the kind of easygoing, no-bullshit staffer journalists love—he doesn’t spin or offer bland talking points, and his grasp on policy is peerless—and the kind of guy I’d want on my side if I was an elected official with aspirations for higher office. I know I don’t speak just for myself when I say he’ll be missed at city hall.

2. Constantine’s office has seen quite a few shakeups recently, including the departure of his longtime chief of staff (and onetime aide to former mayor Greg Nickels) Sung Yang last month. Yang, who also moved to Constantine’s office after a long  career at the city, left to join Pacific Public Affairs, the consulting firm owned by Constantine’s former deputy chief of staff, Joe Woods. Rachel Smith, the county’s government relations director (and another former Nickels staffer), is Constantine’s new chief of staff. Constantine’s campaign manager, Mina Hashemi Mercer, is also reportedly leaving to become the next Director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, where she previously worked for two and a half years.

Constantine is eternally rumored to be considering a run for governor.

3. The city council’s housing and human services committee discussed legislation that would protect some people living in their vehicles from ticketing or towing for certain parking violations and provide them with access to services; in exchange, vehicle residents would register with the city and agree to abide by certain rules. The recommendations are designed to get people into permanent housing faster while recognizing the reality that homeless people don’t have the money to pay fines or get their vehicle out of impoundment. Another reality: Homeless people who lose their vehicles don’t just disappear; usually, they become homeless people living on the street, destabilized and in even more desperate straits.

North end neighborhood activists, including members of the so-called Neighborhood Safety Alliance, made familiar arguments yesterday against people living in RVs, claiming that they were responsible for an E. coli spike in Thornton Creek, accusing them of leaving literal “tons of garbage and human waste” all over neighborhoods, and suggesting that they, the north Seattle homeowners, might just decide to buy an RV and live in it so they, too, could enjoy the good life, exempt from rules and “homeowner taxes.”

One speaker, Phil Cochran, used his public comment time to demand that Mike O’Brien answer a “simple question.” Actually, he had two: “Do you believe that this ordinance will result in more RVs and more homeless junkies in the city of Seattle, yes or no?” and “What happens when some of these rolling meth labs—which we know they are—catch fire? Who should we sue?” Because public comment is not Adults Play High-School Debate time, O’Brien did not respond, except to say that he’d be happy to discuss the issue at literally any other time. And a member of the Interbay Neighborhood Association said the area around W Thorndyke Drive—at the base of Magnolia, near Dravus—was so totally taken over by RVs that that part of Magnolia is now “unlivable.”

Huh.

Maybe he meant “because no one who isn’t wealthy can afford to live there.”

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.

Rapid Rehousing Didn’t Work Out. Now Lisa Sawyer May Face Eviction.

Image via Facing Homelessness.

Five years of living on the street takes a toll on a person.

You get used to little indignities—constantly being told to move along, a lack of safe places to use the restroom after 5pm—as well as big ones, like the total lack of privacy, or having all your possessions stolen while you sleep.

For Lisa Sawyer, a Real Change vendor and advocate for homeless services who testifies frequently at Seattle and King County Council meetings, the past five years have been a constant struggle against hopelessness and despair. Rejected for housing over and over by landlords who took one look at her bulky pack and street clothes and decided she wasn’t worth the risk, Sawyer finally signed a lease earlier this year. At $1,350 a month, the one-bedroom apartment in Greenwood was more than she and her boyfriend, a veteran who works as a contractor, could afford, but they had made ends meet despite daunting odds before.  They decided they could make it work. Anything was better than sleeping outside.

Eight months later, Sawyer is once again at risk of ending back on the street, this time with an eviction on her record—a  black mark that would make it all but impossible for her to find housing in the private market. Last month, $2,900 behind on rent, she received a three-day pay or vacate notice—the precursor to a formal eviction. A few days later, the organization Facing Homelessness stepped in and paid her arrears, but next month presents another challenge—and the next month, and the next.

Sawyer’s path from homelessness to housing and, potentially, back again is a case study in how Seattle’s system for housing people experiencing homelessness can fail, and a cautionary tale for leaders who want to go all-in on programs that rely on the private market to catch people at risk for falling through the cracks.

Sawyer, who graduated from Cleveland High School and has lived in Seattle all her life, lost her housing when a roommate lit a candle near some cleaning supplies and the house where she was renting a room burned down. She never imagined she would be homeless this long. “I thought that was the worst day of my life,” she says. “I never thought that having a place could be so much more difficult than being outside.”

Sawyer started out her search for housing armed with a “rapid rehousing” voucher, which would have temporarily paid a portion of her rent in a privately owned apartment. Rapid rehousing, which is the centerpiece of Seattle’s Pathways Home plan to combat homelessness, provides case management and short-term housing vouchers for people experiencing “literal homelessness”—meaning people who are actually living outside or in shelters. The idea behind rapid rehousing is that most homeless people just need a short-term financial boost before they can start making enough money to pay rent on their own. Critics say the program makes unrealistic assumptions about how quickly a person can go from homelessness to full self-sufficiency, and fails to take into account how expensive housing in Seattle can be.

Downtown Emergency Services director Daniel Malone, whose organization distributes some rapid-rehousing vouchers, says “there are a few circumstances where you could use rapid rehousing very confidently and feel very confident that there’s going to be longterm success,” including a situation “where the person has a really good income and is already working a full-time job that pays them enough to rent in the private market.” In that situation, Malone says, rapid rehousing might provide enough money to get a person in an apartment and on their feet. But, he adds, “that’s not the case with a ton of people that are homeless.”

The other circumstance where rapid rehousing works well, Malone says, is when a person with very high service needs—say, a physically disabled person with a serious mental illness—is about to move into permanent supportive housing but just needs a place to stay until a spot becomes available. Sawyer, who works full-time selling Real Change papers at Fourth and Union in downtown Seattle, doesn’t need service-intensive supportive housing, but is unlikely to make enough at her job (which pays as little as $40 a day) to afford a market-rate apartment.

In any case, Sawyer never got a chance to try out rapid rehousing, because she couldn’t find a place that would accept her. From 2015, when she received her voucher from DESC, until this year, when she and her boyfriend moved into their market-rate apartment, Sawyer says she got rejected more than 20 times. “I just gave up hope of finding an actual place, because every time I went to a housing interview, I had all my stuff with me. A lot of people look down on that,” she says. When she did find landlords willing to give her a chance, they weren’t willing to sign a 12-month lease—a requirement for federally funded rapid-rehousing vouchers. The 12-month mandate is meant to ensure rent stability—a landlord can’t sign a three-month lease, then raise the rent beyond a level a voucher recipient can afford—but it also creates a loophole that allows landlords who don’t want to participate in the program to opt out by offering shorter leases.

Eventually, Sawyer got approved for the apartment in Greenwood—but she would have to sign a ten-month lease, making her ineligible for the rapid rehousing program.

Desperate to get indoors, and fed up with caseworkers who urged her to hold out hope, she signed. “We were just fed up with going from interview to interview and getting denied, denied, denied,” she says.

“If you tell a person who’s been outside for a long period of time that they can move in, of course we’ll say yes,” Sawyer says. “It’s heartbreaking.  We were giving up. We were getting at each other’s throats because of being outside this long.” Sawyer’s problems were compounded by the fact that she is not in the county’s “coordinated entry” program, which is run through the shelter system. Like many people experiencing homelessness, Sawyer and her boyfriend avoided the shelter system, which separates opposite-sex couples and can be full of, as Sawyer puts it, “bedbugs and drama.” Sawyer preferred sleeping outside or in motels, where she and her boyfriend could have a semblance of privacy. She put her name on the lottery for several low-income housing developments, but never won; when the Seattle Housing Authority briefly allowed people to sign up for a lottery to get on the waiting list for Section 8 federal housing vouchers, she didn’t bother, because the waiting list is currently several years long. (Section 8 vouchers distributed through the Seattle Housing Authority expire after 120 days, and many people return them unused because they were unable to find housing they could afford or landlords willing to rent to them.)

“I thought this program was going to be a good experience for me, because with that voucher, we thought our housing problems were over,” Sawyer says. “Instead, we got stuck in a place that we cannot afford.” She says she has often been forced to choose between paying rent and buying food; when she makes enough money selling papers at Fourth and Union downtown, she spends “$30 or $40” at the nearby Safeway, but says “that food doesn’t last more than a couple of days, especially if you haven’t eaten in a while.”

Sawyer says she hopes to hang on to her apartment through the end of her lease in September, when she’ll try to find another place—without an eviction on her record. “I can’t be outside again. It’s too heartbreaking,” she says. “We want to get into an apartment so bad. When you have housing, but you know that you might be back outside again soon—that’s the worst feeling that anyone can have. … I’ve worked so hard fighting for affordable housing, fighting for these programs to get more funding, and when it all comes down to it, I wonder: ‘Why are you fighting if you got a voucher that doesn’t really help you?'”

Malone, who has expressed some skepticism at the city’s wholesale embrace of rapid rehousing as a one-size-fits-most solution to homelessness, still thinks living indoors is always preferable to sleeping outside—even when a person has to go through the trauma of losing their home to eviction. “You need to guard against eviction, for sure, but I don’t know that the way you guard against it is eliminating the possibility of it happening by never putting somebody in a rental situation in the first place,” he says. “I don’t want to keep people homeless to protect them or ‘for their own good,’ because the situation of being homeless is so harsh that we should do as much as we can to get people out of it—even if we are far from resolving all their problems.”

Rapid rehousing proponents say stories like Sawyer’s aren’t, in themselves, a repudiation of the program. Mark Putnam, director of All Home—the quasi-governmental agency that oversees King County’s homelessness programs—says rapid rehousing gives people a choice over where they live and how much they want to pay. Putnam says that ideally, someone like Sawyer would have a case manager who would sit down and talk to her about whether $1,350 in rent was realistic, given her current and potential future income; however, case managers in housing programs turn over frequently, and Sawyer herself said she felt desperate enough to sign a lease with any landlord who would rent to her.

“Clearly, the system didn’t work for her, so the question is: What can we learn from it?” Putnam says.

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.

Morning Crank: How About You Just Rent Them the Apartment?


Image result for no vacancy sign

1. The council’s civil rights, utilities, economic development, and arts committee unanimously passed legislation yesterday morning that will bar landlords from considering potential tenants’ criminal records, unless they were convicted of a sex offense as an adult. Council member Mike O’Brien offered two amendments to the legislation, which I wrote about last week: The first removes an exemption to the new rule for landlords of buildings with four units or fewer who live on site, and the second removes the so-called two-year lookback, which would have allowed landlords to consider a tenant’s criminal history going back two years.

Council member Debora Juarez, a former Superior and Municipal Court judge, said both amendments addressed a fundamental problem with the original bill: It created different classes of landlords and renters. The four-unit exemption, she said, gave extra privileges—essentially, the right to discriminate—to landlords who happened to own smaller buildings and live in one of the units, and the two-year lookback put tenants with more recent criminal histories in the position of begging landlords, on a case-by-case basis, to take them despite their criminal record. “It’s pretty clear that people of color and low-income people are being disproportionately denied and discriminated against … based on the fact that they have criminal records,” Juarez said. “I think you should just eliminate [the lookback period]. How about you don’t consider anything [other than a tenant’s ability to pay]—you just rent them the apartment?”

Herbold, who expressed concern last week that some small landlords might get out of the business if they had to rent to people with recent criminal records, said yesterday that she had decided “to vote according to my values and what I feel is best for renters in this city.” The proposal goes to the full council next Monday.

2. Council member Sally Bagshaw’s health and human services committee will take up the recommendations of the Vehicular Living Workgroup, which has been meeting since March to come up with “solutions that meet the needs of vulnerable populations living in vehicles due to inaccessible housing and address neighborhood impacts of vehicular living,” at 2:00 this afternoon. The meeting will be just for discussion; no legislation will be introduced.

The recommendations include a mitigation fund to help RV residents and other people living in their vehicles pay their parking tickets; additional outreach services; and a citywide “safe parking” program that would allow people living in vehicles to park safely in small groups (no more than five or six vehicles at one place) around the city. The recommendations do not, notably, include banning the estimated 1,000 people who live in their vehicles from parking inside city limits, and that has gotten the attention of the folks at Safe Seattle, a group opposed to allowing people to live outdoors or in their vehicles. Commenters on the group’s Facebook page have called Bagshaw “dangerous,” accused the council of “turning our precious city streets into desolate drug & crime ridden RV parks,” included the hashtag “shitforbrains,” and accused council member O’Brien of intentionally unleashing “blight” throughout the city as part of a conspiracy to drive families to the suburbs so the whole city can be redeveloped into apartments.

The public comment period will be 20 minutes.

3. Every year, lefty candidates in Seattle races try to distinguish themselves by pledging “not to accept any money from corporations or developers,” suggesting by implication that their opponent is financed by (and in the pocket of) big corporations. For example, in this year’s mayoral race, Cary Moon, and Nikkita Oliver both pledged that they would not take direct contributions from corporations or developers, and in the race to fill city council Position 8, both Jon Grant and Teresa Mosqueda made a similar vow Moon and Oliver were trying to distinguish themselves from their business-endorsed opponent Jenny Durkan, and Grant and Mosqueda from their business-endorsed opponent Sara Nelson.

It all sounds very principled: “Even if it costs me the election, I will decline all corporate contributions, because my values aren’t corporate values.” But it’s just about the easiest promise any candidate can make—because corporate contributions are basically nonexistent in Seattle.

Obviously, the Seattle Chamber and other business groups support certain candidates (often, in recent years, by funding independent expenditure campaigns), but corporations don’t typically give to individual candidates, making this perennial pledge little more than an empty applause line. I took a look at the contributor lists for the frontrunners in this year’s mayoral and council races, and found that, after Oliver and Moon (who, indeed, took no direct contributions from business), the candidate who took the smallest percentage of contributions from businesses—just 1 percent—was actually … Jenny Durkan. (Jessyn Farrell tied Durkan’s 1 percent.) Three percent of populist state legislator Bob Hasegawa’s contributions came from businesses, as did 2 percent of Mike McGinn’s. Worth noting: 60 percent of Moon’s money came from her own bank account; as Moon herself has said, she was able to self-finance largely because of family money, which came from the family … business.

In Position 8, the pattern is similar. While neither Mosqueda nor Grant received any money from businesses, “business” candidate Nelson got just 4 percent of her money from businesses.

All candidates, including Oliver, Moon, Mosqueda, and Grant, received contributions from people who work for corporations, including Amazon, Microsoft, Vulcan, and Google.

So the next time a candidate points to “refusing corporate contributions” as a point of pride, you might want to point out that businesses don’t really contribute to Seattle campaigns—even to “business” candidates.

* Of course, businesses do fund independent expenditure campaigns, which cannot be coordinated with candidates.

** Part of the reason business contributions make up such a small percentage of campaign war chests in Seattle is that contributions are limited to $500. The limit is designed to reduce the influence any one contributor can have over a candidate, and it serves its purpose.

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.