Morning Crank: Shutting It Down in the 37th

State senator and mayoral candidate Bob Hasegawa

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

1. Last night, the 37th District Democrats made endorsements in the races for Seattle City Attorney, City Council, King County Sheriff, King County Executive, and a number of other in-district seats including Renton City Council. One race in which the Dems did not endorse: Seattle Mayor. After two rounds of ballots failed to yield the required 60 percent majority for either of the leading two candidates, Bob Hasegawa (far ahead with 55 percent) or Jenny Durkan (at 22 percent), the Dems decided to call it a night, arguing that—at 10:15, 15 minutes after they were supposed to vacate the meeting room at the Ethiopian Community In Seattle’s community center in Rainier Beach, too many district members had left for a representative vote.

In the first round of voting, former mayor Mike McGinn—who noted his support for Bernie Sanders in his stump speech—was dropped off the ballot, with the lowest support of the five nominated candidates. (The other two who remained were Jessyn Farrell and Cary Moon).

In the other races, the district dual-endorsed labor lobbyist Teresa Mosqueda and attorney and NAACP leader Sheley Seacrest for Position 8; incumbent council member Lorena Gonzalez for Position 9; City Attorney Pete Holmes; King County Sheriff John Urquhart; and King County Executive Dow Constantine.

I was live-tweeting the whole thing, and I’ve Storified the entire, sweaty blow-by-blow here.

2. One candidate who wasn’t on the Dems’ ballot last night—because he isn’t a Democrat—was Jon Grant, who is running as a Democratic Socialist. Grant touts his work on the $15 minimum wage campaign and last year’s statewide minimum wage initiative. Yesterday, his campaign put up an ad for a campaign organizer position that pays $2,500 a month, or $14.42 an hour assuming a 40-hour work week.

Grant responded to my post on Twitter, saying that using a “standard 2,000-hour work year,” the pay for this campaign job works out to $15 an hour. Payroll professionals, the federal and state governments, and simple math show that a standard work year (52 weeks at 40/hours a week) is 2,080 hours a year. At this rate, Grant’s campaign is offering less than the $15 minimum—and that’s assuming that this campaign employee never goes over 40 hours a week. My own very limited campaign experience (Jim Mattox for Texas AG ’98!), and the experiences many campaign workers have described to me over the years, suggest strongly that “campaign organizer” is not typically a 40-hour-a-week job, especially as Election Day approaches. Since the job is a salaried position, rather than hourly, that means that the more the campaign organizer works, the further below minimum wage his or her salary will drop.

Of course, a $15 hourly wage (rather than the flat $2,500 fee) would mitigate this issue. (It would also likely increase the amount Grant would have to pay his staffer.) And of course, campaigns jobs often pay sub-minimum wages. But it’s worth noting that Grant is, so far, the best-funded of all the candidates for Position 8—largely, as Grant himself has frequently pointed out, thanks to $25 donations in the form of publicly funded “democracy vouchers” to the candidate. A well-funded candidate running on his record advocating for higher wages for people struggling to afford to live in Seattle should probably make sure he isn’t contributing to the problem.

3. The Seattle Planning Commission issued a set of recommendations for implementing the Mandatory Housing Affordability program, a centerpiece of Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda. As Dan Bertolet of Sightline pointed out yesterday on Facebook, the recommendations call into question one of the key principles behind the program, which sets higher affordability requirements in areas, like the Central District and the Chinatown-International District, that the city has identified as areas at “high risk for displacement” because  of rising housing prices combined with a vulnerable population. The Planning Commission writes:

MHA is an essential anti-displacement tool when paired with complementary antidisplacement strategies. The Planning Commission is concerned that increasing MHA requirements in areas with a high risk of displacement may have negative consequences on Seattle’s historically marginalized communities by stagnating growth, exacerbating housing shortages, and further limiting access to jobs, housing, and amenities. While we acknowledge that some communities hope to combat displacement by deterring growth, discouraging new development to retain existing naturally-affordable units, this does not preclude rents from rising, and may in the future cause land to be underutilized. A lack of new units contributes to an overall scarcity of housing options that drives up competition and cost.

Instead of requiring larger payments toward affordable housing in high-risk areas, the Planning Commission recommends “alternative anti-displacement strategies,” like the city’s equitable development strategy, which seeks to prevent economic and cultural displacement by providing cultural, housing, and economic anchors. Read the Planning Commission’s whole letter, which includes nine other recommendations, here.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Nikkita Oliver

 

Image result for nikkita oliver

via Youtube.

Nikkita Oliver, an attorney, spoken-word poet, and educator who works for Creative Justice, a program that provides arts-based alternatives to youth incarceration, announced she was running for mayor back in early March, a month before allegations of sexual misconduct sidelined incumbent Ed Murray’s campaign, and two months before he announced he will not run for reelection. What once looked like a relatively simple choice between a popular incumbent and a social-justice advocate who promised to shake up the system has since become a free-for-all, with 13 candidates—including a former mayor, two state legislators, and an ex-federal prosecutor—in the race so far, with five more days remaining for other candidates (such as city council member Lorena Gonzalez, who would have to give up her council seat to run for mayor) to jump in.

Oliver is running as a representative of a new group called the People’s Party (city races are nonpartisan), which aims to “break down barriers and open doors for collective leadership that is willing, able, and experienced in divesting from practices, corporations, and institutions that don’t reflect the values and interests of our city,” according to its platform. Oliver argues for rent control, larger mandatory affordable housing contributions from developers than what is mandated by Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) and Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) programs, and restorative justice practices like mediation and restitution over incarceration. I sat down with Oliver at the Creative Justice Office at Washington Hall, in the Central District.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): Given that you aren’t raising money or hiring staff, some have raised questions about whether you’re actually hoping to win, or if you’re just running to lift up issues and raise questions. Can you talk a little bit about why you’re running and what you and the People’s Party hope to accomplish?

NO: Absolutely we’re running to win, but there’s also multiple lenses here. To become mayor would be incredibly transformative in and of itself. I’d be the first woman mayor in 91 years, the first woman of color mayor ever in Seattle, and I would certainly be someone who very progressively and honestly speaks to substantive issues, and I’m very well acquainted with the community.

But there are also all kinds of other wins. The conversation around housing and homelessness, around what economics looks like in our city, the gap between the rich and the poor, what does racial justice and equity actually look like—those conversations have been substantively pushed to a place that they would not have been pushed to if the People’s Party and myself had not joined in the race. And I think that’s an essential place for us to be. It’s challenging the unwillingness of our electeds to actually engage in talking about the substantive issues. They tend to talk about these things at the 30,000-foot level, and then they get into office, and what they promised doesn’t really happen.

ECB: You’ve focused on the issue of displacement, particularly in the Central District. What is your policy plan to prevent displacement? If you could erase HALA and MHA today, what would you replace them with?

NO: I don’t think it’s about erasing HALA and MHA. I think the real problem there is that the Grand Bargain [between social justice advocates and developers] really created a developer incentive to just build as much as they want to at whatever cost they want to, because they don’t have to actually invest in the communities that have been impacted by the very fast change that’s happened in our city.

The same areas have taken the brunt of that zoning over and over again, and there are solutions for that. Some of that’s [building] mother-in-law [apartments in single-family areas]. Some of that is simply saying to a neighborhood, ‘Look, our city is growing. We’re absolutely going to have to build some places, maybe somewhere in your neighborhood. Where would you want that density to go?’

What HALA and MHA does is, one, it doesn’t ask for enough in investment from developers in the city. It makes us very reliant on the private market to develop enough housing to meet the needs of the people who are already here and the people who are coming, and we just know from basic supply and demand that that’s going to increase the cost of housing. So yeah, we do talk a lot about displacement, because Seattleites of all colors and ethnicities and backgrounds have actually been displaced from the neighborhoods. So when we think about displacement, there’s making sure we don’t continue to push people out, and there’s finding ways to build enough housing fast enough that people could in theory actually come back.

And I think it’s a multifaceted strategy. It’s not just MHA and HALA. It’s also thinking about market intervention strategies, like looking at who’s buying what, what places are left unused, addressing the conversation about speculative capital and how that’s impacting our overall economy.

And also, if the city truly cares about ensuring that people have the right to stay, the city will get invested in building housing and will expand what our own housing authority is doing around providing affordable housing, as well as redefining what is affordable.

ECB: Did you support the housing levy? 

NO: Which levy?

ECB: The one that passed last year, that will bring in $290 million to build affordable housing.

NO: Honestly I don’t remember.

ECB: It was a property tax levy that doubled the amount the city is spending to build affordable housing.

NO: That’s where we’re at, right? Using property taxes to pay for things. If we’re not asking developers to invest at a higher level, we’re going to have to continue to leverage the dollars of people that have already taken on the burden of what development is doing in our city instead of asking the developers to take their fair share of that burden.

The zoning issues do need to be differently distributed throughout the city. The same areas have taken the brunt of that zoning over and over again, and there are solutions for that. Some of that’s [building] mother-in-law [apartments in single-family areas]. Some of that is simply saying to a neighborhood, ‘Look, our city is growing. We’re absolutely going to have to build some places, maybe somewhere in your neighborhood. Where would you want that density to go?’

ECB: Having covered the issue for a long time, I think that for a lot of neighborhood activists, the answer would be, ‘Nowhere in my neighborhood.’ 

NO: And we’re going to have to deal with that, the same way communities of color are often pushed to continue being in conversations until we achieve a consensus or, in our case, typically a compromise. I think asking more wealthy, affluent communities to do the same is important.

ECB: The homeowners who don’t want density have gone so far as to sue the city to stop backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments, which are about the gentlest form of density there is. What makes you think you can work with them to reach a compromise?

NO: I think at either end, you’re going to have people with extreme [views]. You’re going to have people who say, ‘We want density everywhere, as much as possible,’ and you’re going to have people who say, ‘We want absolutely no additional density anywhere. That’s what the media talks about. Rarely do we see stories in the media about homeowners who have sat down and are willing to compromise in some areas, and I know those folks exist because we’ve had  really great conversations with them, where what we’ve been told is the three things they want are: Input in the process, connection to the offices that are making the decisions, and preservation of the culture of their neighborhood, of the space, as much as possible. I don’t think that’s impossible. I don’t think it will be a time-efficient process. I think it can be a very effective process.

“I think we need to adjust that approach and trust that when folks in encampments ask for certain services, that those are the exact services that will help them do better.”

ECB: Murray says his approach to homelessness is a compassionate middle ground – clearing encampments periodically but offering people services and shelter while working to rebid all the contracts for homeless providers who that they’re focused on permanent housing. What is your critique of that approach?

NO: I think they’re absolutely sweeps. I’m sure there’s an attempt to offer services, but are they the services that people are asking for? The city doesn’t have any 24/7 shelters or storage spaces. One of the most damaging things about a sweep is that people lose all of their belongings, but also what we’re missing is the personal agency and self determination that is created when people develop an encampment, that they are, together, developing a community that’s self-regulated and is also creating a certain amount of stability for those community members, and when sweeps occur, they disrupt all of that.

These are intelligent folks. To figure out how to survive outside is no easy task. I think that when people see folks who are living in encampments, they tend to think that they don’t know what they need and to assume that their requests are maybe not the solution. I think we need to adjust that approach and trust that when folks in encampments ask for certain services, that those are the exact services that will help them do better. I think the city has to actually philosophically shift, in some ways, the way that we view houseless and homeless folks and also understand that there is a certain amount of self-determination that has to be honored in order for any solution and any services provided to actually be effective.

ECB: Mayor Murray has gotten quite a bit of credit for moving the city forward on police accountability and complying with the Justice Department’s consent decree. What’s your specific critique of the way the city has responding to DOJ’s directives and dealing with excessive use of force and biased policing?

NO: The Community Police Commission has made tons of recommendations, many of which are very good solutions for how to move forward, but the CPC has no teeth currently and can’t actually enforce those changes. There’s a lot of distrust of police in the neighborhoods that are highly overpoliced. We need to figure out how you give people a voice in the actual process. How do we help officers figure out how to better engage with actual community members? How do we get more officers on foot in neighborhoods? How do we get more officers at community events, not just as officers but as community members? A lot of our officers don’t actually function as community members, so then they are just police. The overpoliced communities, the most impacted communities, should get community input into the community policing project.

“In 2008, we saw burglaries go up, we saw more youth snatching people’s phones out of their hands, and it’s because they didn’t have access to resources. We’ve created a system where for some people, the only way to access those resources is to take them.

ECB: You’ve said that you’d like to get to a place where we don’t need police. What would that look like?

NO: I grew up in a place where, if I got in trouble, I literally got in trouble on every block until I got home, which meant that I just didn’t get in trouble too often anymore after the first few times. And that was how me and all my siblings and my cousins grew up. Over time, as communities become gentrified and more policed and there’s less relationships between neighbors, I think what we see is the decrease in that accountability and ownership for each other. So you might see your neighbor’s house getting broke into, but you’re not going to say anything because that’s not your house. That’s not how I was raised. I think gentrification has really began to decrease how much communities know about each other. Most people do not know their neighbors. So I think part of the culture shifting that has to happen in our neighborhoods is, how do we get neighbors to know each other? It sounds kind of corny, but in a lot of places, block parties play a major role in that. Just having resources for neighborhoods to get out and be around each other is very valuable.

I’m not an unreasonable abolitionist. But those things have to happen simultaneously. We can’t just get rid of police. It’s not going to work like that. We do need an infrastructure for how we address harm. But I don’t think police have to be the first resort. I think police can be the last resort. I also think we have a fire department and EMT services when there is an actual physical harm, and there are processes we can go through, first of all, to see if people want to be involved in a restorative justice process.

It also has to be coupled with an economic, job opportunity and education response. Some of the harms that we see are literally a response to not having access to resources, and we know this because when we see recessions happen, like in 2008, we saw burglaries go up, we saw more youth snatching people’s phones out of their hands, and it’s because they didn’t have access to resources. We’ve created a system where for some people, the only way to access those resources is to take them. I think we tend to look at abolitionists and say, ‘Oh, y’all just want to get rid of police,’ but what I really want is to create a healthy, just system where people have a lot of options.

 

Think about what happens when you put someone in jail for a property crime, and the trauma that jail causes, and the likelihood that they will actually recidivize after being released, but not for another property crime, most likely for a crime that’s categorized as violent. What it shows is that we’re actually using an ineffective system. We’re neither rehabilitating, nor are we getting the retribution that people seem to want, because what we’re doing is we’re actually creating the likelihood that we’re going to end up with more crime, and with more violent crime, from folks who hadn’t actually quite yet reached that level.

ECB: What do you think the media has gotten wrong about you?

NO: I think that they’ve labeled me as a protest candidate, and this is not about protest. It’s about transformation. It’s about, this is a system of inaccessibility and inequality that I’ve lived in my entire life, and other people in the People’s Party have as well, and instead of being complacent and giving in to it we continue to strive to be organizers who are solution-oriented. I think that the media has purposely tied to strip me of my merits and my credentials. It is easier to label me a Black Lives Matter leader, which I’m not. I’m black, so I do advocate for my life and the life of my family, but I’m also a lawyer and an educator, and I have worked very hard to get those credentials. I have done a lot of work in the community that has given me a lot of trust and respect with community members.

When you see the way that [fellow mayoral candidate] Cary Moon is talked about, she’s an urban planner, an engineer, and a civic leader. The term ‘civic leader’ has never been used for me, but I’ve probably been to more council meetings than most of the other candidates in the race. Is that not civic leadership? Is that not civic engagement? I think the media has played into a trope or a stereotypical narrative. It’s an easier box to put me in as a woman of color than it is to actually talk about me as a human being with merits and credentials and substantive work that I’ve done around education and juvenile incarceration and community development. I don’t ever get tied to substantive issues. I think it is an unfair characterization. It’s not unexpected, though.

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

Morning Crank: Keep Seattle What Now?

 

1. In announcing plans for a 1.75-cent-per-ounce soda tax last week, Mayor Ed Murray emphasized what he considers the nexus between sugary soda consumption (which has disproportionate impacts on low-income and minority communities) and what the tax will fund (programs that attempt to close the education and opportunity gap in those communities). As he did during his State of the City speech in February, Murray placed a particular emphasis on improving outcomes for young black men in Seattle Public Schools, by expanding mentoring programs aimed at keeping black male teenagers in school and out of the school-to-prison pipeline. The city’s program, Our Best, is based on an Obama-era program called My Brother’s Keeper that was widely criticized for focusing on male achievement while ignoring the specific, and different, challenges facing young black women. For example, African American Policy Forum director Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw wrote in the New York Times that young black women are more likely than other young women to be victims of sexual violence, become pregnant at a young age, get suspended from school, die violently, and be victims of sex trafficking than other girls. “The disparities among girls of different races are sometimes even greater than among boys.”

Crenshaw notes that “supporters of My Brother’s Keeper use the analogy of ‘the canary in the coal mine‘ to justify both a narrow focus on individual-level interventions — as opposed to systemic policies to narrow the persistent racial gaps in education, income and wealth — and the exclusion of women and girls. Black boys are the miner’s canary, the argument goes, and so efforts to save them will trickle down to everyone else.”

When I asked Murray last week why he, like Obama, planned to emphasize young black men to the exclusion of young black women, his response was straight out of the Obama playbook. “Lots of the programs I listed—STEM, extracurricular activity programs, and other programs that will be enhanced—those are for young men and young women in our high schools,” Murray said. “They’re not limited to just men.”

Dwane Chappelle, director of the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning, jumped in. “At Aki Kurose Middle School, they are doing My Brother’s Keeper for young black men, but they’re also focusing on young black women and Hispanic women as well, making sure that students are all taken care of. They just use the My Brother’s Keeper framework” for both boys and, Chappelle said. But when I asked Chappelle whether the Aki Kurose program focuses on problems that are specific to girls, like teen pregnancy, he said he didn’t know the specifics.

2. A neighborhood effort to prohibit a four-story, 57-unit apartment building from going in along a commercial stretch of Greenwood, where the zoning has allowed apartments for many years, has passed the point of absurdity and is becoming downright surreal. Neighbors of the development, which is located right next to the frequent Route 5 bus line, argue that its residents will have to have cars because they won’t have access to transit, that by building small apartments, the developers are trying to “force” people to live in “Soviet-Union-like” dwellings, that it is “inhumane and unacceptable” for people to live without air conditioning in Seattle, and that a small garden on the roof would be an invitation for renters to “party” and cause disturbances.

Encouraged by a city planning and development department that subjects small projects like this one to design review, and the passivity of a design review board that failed to challenge or reject any of their complaints (virtually none of them the province of design review), the residents filed a challenge to the building under the State Environmental Policy Act, arguing, among other things, that the apartments will inconvenience neighbors by making it harder for them to park their cars.

livablephinney.org

Last week, the group opposing the building, which calls itself (of course) Livable Phinney, released the list of witnesses they would like to hear from and exhibits they hope to introduce at their first appearance before the city’s hearing examiner. (That hearing examiner, Sue Tanner, recently found in favor of Queen Anne homeowners who argued that allowing people to build mother-in-law apartments would harm the environment by, among other things, making it harder for people to park their cars.) A typical witness list might include five or six witnesses; Livable Phinney’s includes a dozen, plus 47 separate exhibits. The proposed witnesses include a Metro employee who will testify that Metro’s Route 5 is often behind schedule, making it less than “frequent,” an architect who will testify that the new apartments will create shadows on a nearby high-end condominium complex, a resident of that complex, and several nearby neighbors who oppose the project. The hearing, which is expected to last three days, starts on Tuesday.

3. Washington State Wire, which “relaunched” in January after several years as a conservative-leaning blog whose chief writer, Erik Smith, now works for the Republican-led Majority Coalition Caucus, has given consultant John Wyble a weekly column, where, last week, he tried to explain his client Mike McGinn’s perplexing campaign slogan, “Keep Seattle.” Says Wyble: “It simply means keep Seattle a welcoming place for all.”

Wyble continues: “I understand that this shorthand phrase could be confused with nostalgia. I remember riding in my Dad’s Ford Falcon along Boeing Field in the early 70s when Seattle was a blue-collar scrappy fishing town and SeaFair was the biggest event of the year. While I remember that fondly, this campaign knows that cities evolve and change. But for who?

“This is a campaign about keeping the promise of a great city for every person who lives in it.”

I guess that… clears that up?

Washington State Wire editor DJ Wilson says Wyble will write a total of eight columns for the website. No word yet on whether they plan to give equal time to consultants or spokespeople for the other mayoral campaigns.

4. David Preston and Harley Lever, two of the activists behind the Safe Seattle Facebook group, announced on their Facebook page that they plan to announce their candidacies for unspecified city offices this afternoon. (I’m guessing council Position 8 and mayor.) Anyone who reads my Twitter feed has a pretty good sense of my thoughts on Preston, who has mocked me relentlessly and even filed a frivolous city ethics complaint after I published a public record that showed another activist in an unflattering light, but you can find out even more about him by Googling his name and checking out his web page, which is a pastiche of conspiracy theories, images of city council aides and other private citizens lifted from their Facebook pages and Photoshopped, and overwrought imitations of hard-boiled journalism, minus the journalism.  You can also check out the video of his appearance before a flabbergasted Ethics and Elections Commission, starting around the two-minute mark.

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

 

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Cary Moon

Cary Moon, a civic activist and urban planner best known for leading the fight against the downtown tunnel (read my 2004 story about that effort here) is an unlikely candidate for mayor. A wonk who recently cowrote a four-part series about neoliberalism and gentrification for the Stranger, Moon has never made herself the center of attention, and seems more comfortable debating the granular details of housing policy than she does speaking directly into a camera, as she did in the video announcing her candidacy. She’s running, she says, because she wants to address the growing divide between Seattle’s “haves and have-nots,” with progressive taxation, a crackdown on speculative property buyers, and by having a conversation with Seattle residents about “what kind of city we want to be.” I spoke to Moon by phone on Thursday.

The C Is for Crank: A lot of people seem to be jumping in to this race because they perceive that Murray is newly vulnerable. Do you have a specific critique of Murray’s record and positions?

Cary Moon (CM): I think he has done quite a bit and he deserves to be proud of that. He’s made a lot of good changes for the future. [But] I feel like we have had a lot of big, transformative changes in the city. We’ve become a city of haves and have-nots, and I don’t think he has the right analysis of why that’s happening. I feel like in a time of change, we need a really strong vision and idea of what we’re aiming for, and we need an action plan to get there, so people feel like they have a voice on housing affordability, and on building a local economy that circulates [wealth] back into small businesses and local businesses. There’s things the city and state could and should be doing to increase the ability of the city to share prosperity.

“Housing used to be local. It used to be local players, building housing for local people. Now they’re acting more and more like Wall Street, where outside predators are piling on just left and right.”

ECB: Can you give some specific examples of times when Murray has used the wrong analysis to inform his policy choices?

CM: I think we missed some opportunities with HALA. There’s some good things in it. I like the mandatory affordability proposal. I like the proposals about what to do in single-family zoning to add townhouses and duplexes and accessory dwelling units—building the missing middle. But I think we’re missing some good opportunities. We’re not really understanding everything that’s driving up demand. So yes, let’s build houses for everyone who wants to live here, but there are other causes that are escalating housing prices that the city is not considering. We need to figure out what to do with those.

ECB: Like what?

CM: If you look at what’s happening in other world-class cities, you see this phenomenon of outside investors piling on and taking advantage of everyone wanting to move here. It’s just like Wall Street—when Wall Street sees a stock go up two days in a row, all of Wall Street piles on to that stock. That same phenomenon is going on in our housing market.

Housing used to be local. It used to be local players, building housing for local people. Now they’re acting more and more like Wall Street, where outside predators are piling on just left and right.

ECB:  You’ve mentioned this theory before—that foreign investors from places like China are snapping up properties here as investments and leaving them vacant, which helps drive up housing prices. But all the available data seems to show that while this is happening in Vancouver, it isn’t happening here. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen in the future, but what evidence do you have that so-called hot money is driving up housing prices now?

CM: I don’t have any secret information that nobody else has, but the dynamic is there. I’ve read enough articles that have said that investors that have been in Vancouver are now looking at other cities, and Seattle is one of their choices. It’s not just hot money, it’s not just foreign investors, but everything has changed in the last 10 years. It used to be, you buy property, you build a building, you get a certain rate of return, and you get your money back, maybe 7 percent in 20  years. It’s completely different now. Now, you buy a building and sell it right away, and the return on investment comes not from the slow, long revenue stream of rents coming in, but from the quick turn of selling at a higher rate and doing the same thing again and again and again and again. Our development world is behaving more like Wall Street than it used to. It’s developers leaving buildings vacant, it’s people buying investment properties, it’s Airbnb, it’s people building second and third and fourth homes that might not have anybody living in them for most of the year. Real estate is a great place to put your money, if you have money.

“It’s very attractive to anybody that’s trying to find a place to live that’s affordable, so everyone piles on. ‘We can live in the Central District. It’s close to downtown, close to work.’ It’s escalating.”

ECB: Isn’t the bigger problem that a lot more people want to live here, and that housing supply isn’t keeping up with demand? Wouldn’t the obvious solution to that be just—build more housing?

CM: I think people are moving here because there are jobs here, and that’s great—I don’t want people to stop moving here—but there’s additional pressure on neighborhoods that have been traditionally redlined, where society and government and banks and the real estate industry kept prices low and kept segregation happening, and now those prices are different than the rest of Seattle. It’s very attractive to anybody that’s trying to find a place to live that’s affordable, so everyone piles on. ‘We can live in the Central District. It’s close to downtown, close to work.’ It’s escalating. We need to take a very careful look at what can we do to preserve access to the neighborhood for people from the community, with cultural ties and family ties in the community, so that we’re not blasting out those people and filling the neighborhood up with a bunch of wealthy white people.

ECB: So what do you propose to prevent displacement from those communities?

CM: Strong tenants’ protection rights are a part of it. I think looking at rent stabilization—not rent control, but are there things you can do to dampen rent escalation, to slow it down? Are there things you can do with the community to benefit the people from the community that already live there? There are a lot of subtle things that you can do that are going to benefit folks from the community.

I think [HALA] wasn’t enough. I think it was a good step. But where we were three years ago when HALA started—that was as far as developers were willing to go. I would like to revisit and look at some of the solutions we proposed, things we didn’t do yet in single-family-zoned lands, like townhouses and duplexes and accessory dwelling units. I want to have that conversation.

ECB: Those things were all originally part of HALA, and they all got shot down during that process. How would revisiting HALA change that outome?

CM: I think it’s a matter of leadership and vision. The way I think people perceived HALA was that it was a power struggle between stakeholders, and everybody fighting for their own interests. I would like to set aside that way of operating for a minute and ask the people of Seattle what kind of city we want to be. How do we want to welcome young families? How do we want to welcome all communities and restart this debate towards a constructive goal around what kind of city we want to be? We need to change the framework, change the context, and talk to  people about what kind of city we want to be.

ECB: Homelessness has become a huge issue during Murray’s term. What do you think of his approach to homelessness—from the ongoing sweeps of homeless encampments to Pathways Home, which focuses on rapid rehousing and rebidding city contracts with service providers?

CM: The proposal that was put forward by the organizations involved in homelessness and Mike O’Brien and the ACLU—that was much closer to what we should be doing. I would like to go back to that proposal and figure out the best way to do this in a way that respects people’s human rights and dignity.

[In general] ,my feeling is that there are a few things we need to do differently. First, we need to get better data, a better sense of collaboration, and a commitment to those values across city agencies and the nonprofit community and providers. It feels like Barb Poppe was possibly right that there was a lot of duplication of effort and a need for efficiencies. I like the idea of housing first—people need shelter to get back on their feet, and you can’t really accomplish anything if you don’t have a place to sleep. I like low-barrier shelters, and I like the idea of looking at the shelters where people are staying for months and months and months and not moving. I like the idea of figuring out what those folks need to do to move on.

I’m concerned about the voucher system. Unless we address the root cause of affordability, vouchers are not going to do it. Vouchers might work for a family that just had a temporary crisis and lost their job and had a fairly easy time getting back on their feet. But for people whose incomes are low and are going to stay low, the voucher system is very impractical. We need to figure out how to build more affordable housing or people are going to be back out on the street.

“Low-income people, middle-income people, have been generous enough. They pay, as a proportion of their income, seven times more than wealthy people do in taxes.”

ECB: You and ex-mayor McGinn hold a lot of the same views, support many of the same policy positions, and seem likely to draw support from the same set of progressive young urbanists and social justice advocates. What distinction would you draw for voters who are torn between you and him?

I’m wondering what he’s all about with his slogan of Keep Seattle, because it’s signaling, like, a direction I don’t quite understand. We might have a lot more policy differences than I thought we did. Definitely, our style of leadership is different. I want to build will and momentum toward a common vision, and I think he loves the street fight of scrappy power struggles. And I believe I have a much deeper analysis of how to tackle the affordable housing crisis and how to build affordable housing. I’ve spent the last two years working on that as well as democracy reform—how to spread power across spectrum, not just to wealthy white people.

ECB: Do you agree with McGinn that people in Seattle are overtaxed, and that the city should adopt an income tax, even one that’s unlikely to hold up in court?

CM: I see the same problem as he does. Low-income people, middle-income people, have been generous enough. They pay, as a proportion of their income, seven times more than wealthy people do in taxes. I want to have a big, broad conversation with the city and all the most creative lawyers in the city about how do we do this. Wealthy people should be paying their fair share, and a lot of wealthy people believe that too. We have to build the public will and the right legal strategy. I’ve heard that a capital gains tax is a better place to start [than income tax] because it’s more likely to hold up, but I need more information on that. I would say yes, I’m for finding new sources that are more progressive.

 

ECB: When they were teasing your candidacy before you announced, Moxie Media described you as a “well-resourced” candidate. How much of your own money are you willing to put into this race?

CM: I don’t know. I’m fundraising like hell, because that’s important to building commitment and credibility and expanding the movement. I’m going to do that first.

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

Morning Crank: There Has Been One Bump in the Road

Lauren McGowan, Marty Hartman, Barb Poppe

1. The third of three panel discussions on homelessness in Seattle (sponsored by the Downtown Seattle Association, Seattle Chamber, Visit Seattle, and the Alliance for Pioneer Square) featured an all-female panel (KIRO radio host Dave Ross, who moderated, made a cringeworthy joke about bringing “gender diversity” to the stage) that covered a lot of the same territory as the previous two. The panelists (consultant Barb Poppe, King County Human Services director Adrienne Quinn, Seattle Human Services Department director Catherine Lester, Mary’s Place director Marty Hartman, and United Way of King County financial stability director Lauren McGowan) agreed on the need for more accountability and better data; lamented the fact that homelessness is growing faster than the city or county’s ability to place people in housing; and disputed the notion, suggested by some audience members, that arresting people for sleeping in tents and panhandling was a good solution. I livetweeted the event and Storified those tweets here.

One new theme in yesterday morning’s discussion, which I hadn’t heard leaders acknowledge openly before, was the city’s inability to convince private landlords to voluntarily rent their units to formerly homeless individuals and families. The city’s Pathways Home homelessness strategy, which is based on a report Poppe produced last year, relies heavily on landlords to decide to participate voluntarily in a “housing resource center” that will, in theory, link people experiencing homelessness, including those with histories of eviction or criminal records, to landlords. The idea is to entice landlords to rent to people who might not meet their usual screening criteria by providing incentives such as on-call emergency assistance, a “mitigation fund” to pay for any damage caused by tenants, or flat financial payments to landlords who take on formerly homeless tenants. The center, Lester acknowledged, “has been an area where we have not been able to accelerate as quickly as we would like to.”

The view from Belltown: “I feel like I’m living in a war zone.”

Poppe appealed to landlords’ sense of obligation to help their communities. “There has been one bump in the road, which is the housing resource center, and they need your help on this,” Poppe told the audience of business community members. “They need those landlords to come forward. I really encourage the business community to engage and help get back on track.” Without much larger incentives, or a market crash that drastically slows or reverses population growth, that strikes me as wishful thinking—as things stands, landlords clearly see no reason to voluntarily rent to high-risk tenants in a market where they can easily find tenants with stable jobs and perfect credit.

2. The discovery of $3.4 million in “missing” money from the city’s incentive zoning program—which required developers in certain neighborhoods to build affordable housing or pay into a fund in exchange for greater density—wasn’t quite the bombshell news some media made it out to be; the error was discovered by the city auditor and corrected last year. However, the news raised obvious concerns about both accountability—are developers fulfilling their affordable-housing obligations?—and transparency—how do citizens know developers are fulfilling their obligations?— and both issues were on the table yesterday morning, when the council’s planning, land use, and zoning committee looked at the audit findings and a list of recommendations aimed at ensuring no more multi-million-dollar obligations slip through the cracks. The city is replacing the old incentive zoning program, which allowed developers to build taller as an incentive for affordable housing payment or production, with a new mandatory affordable housing program, which requires developers across the city to build affordable housing or pay into the affordable housing fund.

In addition to the need for better controls and more frequent checks to make sure that developers pay what they owe the city, council members pointed to the need to make sure developers are producing the housing they say they’re producing under the new program—and to ensure that the public can easily access that information as well.

“When I’m in the community talking about the MHA program, there’s a skepticism around the payments,” District 6 council member Mike O’Brien said. “I hear from folks in the community that they just pay and who knows where that money goes? The reality is that that money is going to a bunch of cool program, but the more clarity we can provide to people so they can see that ‘that project next to me or down the street is producing this many units or they wrote this check and we can actually see that project—it’s down the street,” the better. “My goal is not to create an overwhelming burden on the process or slow it down, but just to make sure that folks who are trying to access this information can look at that,” O’Brien said.

Office of Housing director Steve Walker said his office had made progress toward creating a public system that tracks new units built under various affordable housing programs, and Department of Construction and Inspections director Nathan Torgelson said DCI was working on a system to track how new developments plan to meet their MHA obligations, and where those developments are in “the pipeline.”

“I know the audit turned up, certainly, a couple of high-profile things that we’re all embarrassed by, and should be,” O’Brien said. “While this isn’t a shining moment of how everything worked perfectly at the city, I think it’s an example of how checks and balances are in place, and we have people dedicated to working through the process and informing the public” in the future.

3. Tensions in council chambers were high Monday morning,  when the council met for the first time as the Select Committee on Civic Arenas, a committee that was formed after the council voting against handing control of a public right-of-way over to billionaire hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen, who wants to build a new NBA arena in SoDo.

The street vacation went down by a 5-4 vote, which happened to break down along gender lines, prompting an awful lot of grown men (and a few women) to spend an awful lot of time and mental energy thinking up creative new ways to call the majority of the city council bitches and cunts. One of those women, Lorena Gonzalez, said yesterday that she’s hopeful that having a whole committee dedicated to the arena discussion will give people an opportunity to air substantive issues related to the arena debate issues “in a way that is more public and transparent” than last year’s street vacation discussion, which took place in the transportation committee, to which most council members do not belong.  “My hope is that the pro-SoDo arena crowd will, at a minimum, recognize that there is an effort by this council to air out potential issues early and to have conversations about those issues and concerns in a way that is productive,” Gonzalez said.

Fingers crossed.

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

Morning Crank: An Excuse to Remove Us Immediately

1. The city council’s approval of the HALA upzone in South Lake Union and downtown yesterday—which requires developers to make between 2 and 5 percent of their new units affordable, or pay a fee of up to $13.50 per square foot into an affordable-housing fund—played out pretty much as everybody expected it would. aAnti-development activists booed loudly and shouted “Shame!” when council members Rob Johnson and Tim Burgess spoke in favor of the legislation, the Raging Grannies sang, and Lisa Herbold proposed an amendment that would have required developers to contribute more to affordable housing, which lost.

Oh, and Kshama Sawant gave a speech.

But there were some familiar faces who were missing from today’s HALA hearing—namely, the single-family homeowners and erstwhile affordable housing advocates who turn out in droves (and even sue the city) when a proposed upzone threatens to allow apartments (or cottages) in their North Seattle backyards. When the U District upzone was up before the council, for example, homeowners from across North Seattle filled council chambers, decrying developers as heartless opportunists and demanding greater concessions in the form of large affordable housing mandates that would have made the upzone unworkable. And yet, when an upzone that actually constitutes more of a giveaway to developers, because it will require them to build less affordable housing than in any other upzoned part of the city, came up, they were nowhere to be found.

Weird. It’s almost as if they care more about preserving exclusive single-family zoning in their own neighborhoods than they do about making sure developers provide affordable housing in every part of the city.

2. Homeless residents of the West Seattle bridge encampment where an RV caught fire last week said they have been informed that the city will sweep their camp tomorrow morning at 9. The fire destroyed two RVs at the camp, which has been home to dozens of people in recent months. It was ruled an accident.

Rebecca Massey, who has lived at the encampment for the last eight months, told the council yesterday morning that the city was using the fire as “an excuse to remove us immediately.

“They’re offering a few individuals places to go, but most of the people that live there are not being told where to go—they’re just being told you have to leave,” Massey said. “The housing solution for the homeless is great, [but] it’s a long-term solution—it’s an eventual solution—and there’s people living under the bridge in my community that have been on the waiting list for housing for years.”

3. Council president Bruce Harrell, who would become mayor if Mayor Ed Murray were to resign in the wake of a lawsuit alleging he molested a teenage boy in the 1980s, said yesterday that the council would have no comment on the allegations, then went on to comment:

“Our city cannot afford to be distracted. There is a judicial process that will address the serious allegations that this situation has presented, and we will respect that process and the rights of all parties involved. All accusations of abuse require a thorough investigation. It is in our human nature to immediately want answers, but I ask we not cast aspersions to the parties involved before we have all the facts through the legal process. I am confident that through this process, truth and justice will prevail.”

Murray isn’t hiding from public view. Yesterday, he attended a naturalization ceremony at the downtown library (where he was trailed by multiple TV cameras) and went to the Mariners’ opening game.

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

How Seattle Is Dismantling a NIMBY Power Structure

Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Director Kathy Nyland (Credit: The Rose Center for Public Leadership)

This story first appeared on Next City as part a series focused on community-engaged design made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

For decades, activist homeowners have held virtual veto power over nearly every decision on Seattle’s growth and development.

In large and small ways, these homeowners, who tend to be white, more affluent and older than the average resident, have shaped neighborhoods in their reflection — building a city that is consistently rated as one of the nation’s most livable, as well as one of its most expensive.

Now — in the face of an unprecedented housing crisis and a dramatic spike in homelessness — that may be starting to change.

Last July, Mayor Ed Murray and the director of the city’s Department of Neighborhoods, Kathy Nyland, announced that Seattle was cutting formal ties with, and funding for, the 13 volunteer Neighborhood District Councils that had been the city’s chief sounding boards on neighborhood planning since the 1990s. Through this bureaucratic sleight of hand, Murray and Nyland signaled their intent to seek more input and feedback from lower-income folks, people of color and renters — who now make up 54 percent of the city — and away from the white baby boomers who have long dominated discussions about Seattle’s future. The message: We appreciate your input, but we’re going to get a second opinion.

A few months later, the Department of Neighborhoods doubled down on its commitment to community engagement, putting out a call for volunteers to serve on a new 16-member Community Involvement Commission, which will be charged with helping city departments develop “authentic and thorough” ways to reach “all” city residents, including underrepresented communities such as low-income people, homeless residents and renters. Finally, DON will also oversee and staff a second new commission, the Seattle Renters’ Commission, which will advise all city departments on policies that affect renters and monitor the enforcement and effectiveness of the city’s renter protection laws.

The shakeup has rattled traditional neighborhood groups, which have grown accustomed to outsized influence at City Hall, and invigorated some groups that have long felt ignored and marginalized by the city.

The shift toward a more inclusive neighborhoods department, and neighborhood planning process, is more than just symbolic; it’s political. The homeowner-dominated neighborhood councils have typically argued against land use changes that would allow more density (in the form of townhouses and apartment buildings) in and near Seattle’s traditional single-family neighborhoods, which make up nearly two-thirds of the city. Including more renters and low-income people in the mix could dilute, or even upend, those groups’ agendas.

“Our city has changed dramatically since our district councils system was created three decades ago, and we have seen them over time become less and less representative not only of their neighborhoods but of Seattle itself,” Murray said last year.

His statement echoed a point Nyland made in a memo to the City Council back in May: “We have heard from residents active in the system that ‘District Councils work for us.’ … However, they don’t work for everyone.”

Nyland should know. She came up through the council system, first getting involved in the Georgetown Community Council where she questioned the purpose of a new trash dump in the largely industrial neighborhood where she lived and owned a boutique called George with her partner, Holly. She also got involved with the Greater Duwamish District Council and helped fight down a proposal that would have turned Georgetown into the city’s official strip club district. She eventually became the chair of the citywide Neighborhood Community Council, and recalls sending emails “at 1 in the morning in my pajamas sitting in my living room, because that’s when I had time to do it.

“We have systems in place that are not easy to navigate,” Nyland says, and people in established groups who say that “people are just choosing not to come to the meetings. … What if someone works at night? What if someone has kids and can’t get a babysitter? What if someone can’t speak English? What if someone just didn’t know about the meetings? They’re not making a choice not to come. They can’t come!”

 

Mohamud Yusuf came to Seattle as a refugee from Somalia by way of Nairobi, Kenya, in 1996, when the Somali community in Seattle was still “very small,” he recalls. Today, his community is thriving in areas like southeast Seattle, which is still one of the most affordable parts of the city, although rising costs are pushing many immigrants and refugees farther south, outside Seattle. Yusuf was a writer, activist and photojournalist in Somalia in the 1980s and 1990s, and 10 years ago, he started a newspaper called Runta News; “runta,” in Somali, means “the truth.” Today, Yusuf also works as a community liaison to the city, earning $50 an hour to connect community members to city programs and services.

The changes at City Hall excite Yusuf. “I’ve been involved in the community since I was here but I’ve never seen this kind of involvement,” he says. “What we needed was to be included, to be at the table and have a voice.”

Credit: Alex Garland

Mohamud Yusuf came to Seattle as a refugee from Somalia in the 1990s and now works as a community liaison to the city.

Yusuf recounts a recent effort to get the Somali community involved in a long-range plan for Seattle Public Utilities, which provides the city’s trash service and drinking water. Instead of just making materials available in Somali and other languages upon request, the city sent outreach workers to meet with community members where they already were — in neighborhood community centers, in libraries and during English-language classes at the local Goodwill — and talked with them, in their own language, about what forthcoming changes will mean. They taught the immigrants how the city’s sanitation system works too, equipping residents with knowledge they will be able to use next time there is a question about trash collection or clean water in their community.

“The people I talked to were so happy to know more about where the water goes,” Yusuf says. “They would say, ‘We all know our garbage goes away, but we didn’t know where it was going. We are drinking clean water now at home, but we didn’t know who was doing it.”

Nyland’s reform can be traced back to a 2009 audit of the district councils that found an obsolete system that did not reflect the city’s true demographics. “The system is dominated by the presence of longtime members whose point of view is overly dominant at both the district council and city neighborhood council levels and potentially not representative of their communities,” the city audit found. “The district councils in general are not sufficiently representative of the communities they nominally represent,” it concluded.

The disconnect was even deeper in 2016, when a report by the neighborhoods department found that while the population of Seattle was becoming younger, more diverse and more evenly split between homeowners and renters, “residents attending district council meetings tend to be 40 years of age or older, Caucasian and homeowners.”

“If you’ve ever gone to some of these community meetings, they’re just deadly dull, and the same 25 people have been there for 100 years,” City Council Member Sally Bagshaw says.

At a meeting of the Ballard District Council in northwest Seattle immediately after the announcement, district council members seemed shell-shocked by the city’s decision to cut them off. Sitting around a horseshoe of tables at the area’s branch library in northwest Seattle, they took turns grousing about the change. One member argued that the mostly white, mostly middle-aged council should be considered diverse, because “this group represents homeowners, environmental groups, businesses and other organizations.” “We have people here from every state,” he added. Another suggested that the city had made the move in haste, without a plan to replace the councils. “If you’re going to get rid of the current plan, you need to have a new plan in place before you get rid of the old one,” he said.

“Right now, we’re just planting seeds. We might not see the results for a long time.”

At another recent meeting of the group formerly known as the Magnolia/Queen Anne District Council, which represents a wealthy enclave just south of Ballard, one member asked plaintively, “Why do we have to encourage certain groups to come? Why can’t it just be an open forum?”

In a sense, traditional neighborhood groups are right to feel threatened. Nyland’s announcement, coupled with her department’s new emphasis on outreach to communities that have rarely had a say in city decisions, represents a fundamental shift in the very definition of the “neighborhoods” department. By emphasizing outreach to underserved groups such as renters, immigrants and refugees, Nyland is shaking up traditional notions of community engagement and redefining community as something based not on geographic proximity, but on personal and cultural affinity.

“It’s kind of taking off in a way that I can’t keep up with,” says Sahar Fathi, a member of Nyland’s team. “We get a lot of emails from people who are like, ‘We want this to come to our community. We’re starting to go into places where people have never heard of us, and they don’t even know what government services are” — including, she says, “communities we didn’t even know existed.” In Seattle, a city of about 650,000, 25,000 residents were born in another country; of the 120 languages spoken there, the city’s liaisons collectively speak at least 65.

Fathi is one of Seattle’s relative newcomers. The Boston-born Iranian-American moved to the Emerald City a decade ago, when she was in her early 20s. After a stint as a legislative aide to City Council Member Mike O’Brien and an unsuccessful run for the State House of Representatives, she put her background as a lawyer and immigrant rights advocate to work as a policy analyst for the city’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. These days, Fathi oversees DON’s Public Outreach and Engagement Liaison program, which recruits and pays community members like Yusuf to serve as links between the city and marginalized groups. The liaisons’ job duties include everything from driving people to resource fairs where they can sign up for city assistance programs, to facilitating meetings at community gathering places and interpreting for city staffers, to engaging people in their first language in larger community discussions over neighborhood spending, parks programs, and planning debates.

“Before, the city would say, ‘We have a pedestrian master plan meeting, and we want people to come and give us feedback,’” Fathi says. “With all due respect to the pedestrian master plan, there are a lot of people who can barely afford to pay rent. So how do we meet people’s needs first and then build their capacity” to come to meetings about city policies that affect their neighborhoods.

Seattle’s modern neighborhood movement dates back to at least the late 1980s, when then-Mayor Charles Royer appointed neighborhood activist Jim Diers to head up the new Department of Neighborhoods and create the 13 neighborhood district councils and a citywide council made up of representatives from all the councils. Ever since, the district councils have enjoyed outsized influence at City Hall, staking out and defining “neighborhood” positions on issues and channeling city grant dollars toward their own pet projects, such as National Night Out events, neighborhood welcome signs and security lighting.

For decades, the councils advised the neighborhoods department on what “the neighborhoods” wanted, and if that advice happened to coincide precisely with the interests of the comfortable, white homeowners who dominated the council, nobody at the city seemed to mind. The councils frequently advocated against zoning changes to allow more development in or near the city’s single-family neighborhoods, including Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, which would upzone much of the city and require developers to build affordable rental housing. Neighborhood activists have shown up in force at council meetings and community briefings by city staff to oppose the HALA recommendations, and one neighborhood group has successfully sued to block an approved HALA rule change that would make it easier for homeowners to build backyard cottages.

In recent years, though, groups that have traditionally been left out of the process have started demanding seats at the table, including advocates for transit-oriented development and immigrants and refugees, and renters. At a recent City Council briefing on the new renters’ commission, Erin House, a renter, told the council, “I see conversations at both City Hall and in neighborhoods dominated by homeowners, often at the expense of renters’ best interests. As a city, we need to find ways to correct this trend and give renters a seat at the table on conversations about Seattle’s future.”

Last year’s announcement severing ties with the neighborhood councils was a first step in that direction. For the first time since its inception in the late ’80s, the city’s neighborhoods department would spend as much time engaging with underrepresented communities as it did listening to the concerns of white property owners.

“DON has great programs,” Nyland says, “but the department has not evolved with the changing demographics of the city.”

Nyland’s department is small relative to other city agencies, but it has found ways to connect with residents without a huge infrastructure. Ice cream giveaways at summer events. Crowd canvassing at the West Seattle Farmers Market. Plopping down in a temporary parklet on the annual (PARK)ing day. And partnering with organizations like the local Goodwill training center once a quarter, to offer services and information about opportunities to get involved with city initiatives. Some of the department’s efforts have had mixed success. A recent push to engage people of color and low-income residents in the HALA planning process fizzled after the city failed to adequately prepare new participants and follow up when they stopped showing up. But others have been effective at getting new people connected to City Hall.

Nyland notes that many people bemoan the loss of neighborhood service centers, the “little city halls” where residents could talk to city staffers face-to-face. Most of those closed down years ago, the victims of city budget cuts and a population that increasingly does business with government online. Today, Nyland says, what people need more than storefronts is opportunities to engage with the city on their own time. That means telephone town halls instead of in-person presentations by city staffers; online surveys instead of public comment cards; and Skype calls instead of nighttime meetings in library activity rooms and church basements.

“My mantra is, people should be able to participate on their own timeline, from their own location,” Nyland says. “DON has been in existence for 30 years, and it has a lot of really important programs, but I think its mission and its purpose has gotten lost. We haven’t kept up with change. We haven’t refreshed. … I mean, I can’t force people to participate, but we can create opportunities to make it easier.”

At the most recent Goodwill event, Fathi says, the public outreach liaisons came in and took over the second hour of a group of immigrants’ English as a Second Language class. First, they talked briefly — in 17 different languages — about the mayor’s upcoming education summit, which aimed to find solutions to address racial disparities in Seattle schools. Then, they signed the residents up for “all the services the city had to offer” — utility discounts, low-income transit passes and summer programs for kids. This may seem superficially unrelated to the kind of community building and neighborhood planning that is DON’s primary mission, but Fathi says it isn’t. “There are a lot of people who can barely afford to pay rent, so we ask ourselves, how do we meet people’s needs first and then build that capacity, and we think being a good government neighbor is the first step.”

But what the next step holds is a question that some critics say hasn’t yet been substantively answered. Dustin Washington is an experienced community organizer in Seattle and the director of the American Friends Service Committee’s local community justice program. He used to be a member of a race and social justice roundtable created by Murray and is no stranger to City Council. To him, DON’s community outreach efforts are little more than meaningless lip service to cover for the mayor’s pro-gentrification, developer-friendly agenda. “When the mayor and the City Council want to engage with developers — the folks who really hold the power in the city — they don’t have to create any of these mechanisms,” Washington says. “You can set up any mechanism that you want, but I don’t think this mayor is truly interested in engaging with voices that have been left out of the process.”

In many ways, community activists who question the mayor’s sincerity and neighborhood activists who think the mayor is trying to shut them out are coming from the same place — a profound skepticism that the city is interested in hearing what they have to say. Nyland says she understands those concerns. “Right now, we’re just planting seeds,” she says. “We might not see the results for a long time.” Nyland urges skeptics on both sides to be patient and give her a chance to earn their trust.

Over in Magnolia, at the meeting of the group formerly known as the Magnolia/Queen Anne District Council (they’re still searching for a new name), members spent more than an hour crafting a new vision statement to reflect their new mission as an organization. On the second pass, they came up with this: “This group is a catalyst for enhancing quality of life and community building by being a forum for all voices, leading to effective influence on government and in our communities through innovation, education and advocacy.” Hardly a full-throated endorsement of Nyland’s agenda, but it’s a start.

Morning Crank: The War on Immigrants Is a War on Cities

1. “The war on facts has become a war on cities.” 

That was Mayor Ed Murray’s latest volley in his own war against the Trump Administration, launched yesterday along with a lawsuit charging that Trump has no legal right to pull federal funds from “sanctuary cities” that refuse to enforce federal immigration statutes according to the new Administration’s harsh interpretation of those laws.

Yesterday, the mayor and City Attorney Pete Holmes announced they were filing suit against the US Justice Department, whose director, KKK apologist Jeff Sessions, announced this week that he would pull Department of Justice grants to cities that refuse to assist federal agents in tracking down and detaining undocumented immigrants. Seattle’s 2017 budget assumes $2.6 million in DOJ grants for domestic violence prevention, officer body cams, human trafficking prosecution, and more.

The lawsuit contends that Sessions’ order violates the 10th Amendment, by dictating the way the city enforces federal laws, and the Spending Clause from Article 1 of the Constitution, by attempting to coerce the city into aiding immigration agents by threatening to withhold federal funding if it doesn’t.

“We have the law on our side: the federal government cannot compel our police department to enforce federal immigration law and cannot use our federal dollars to coerce Seattle into turning our backs on our immigrant and refugee communities,” Murray said.

Trump’s war on immigrants is a war on cities because cities are made stronger, politically, culturally, and economically, by the presences of immigrants, and he’s waging that war because city values—diversity, inclusion, resistance, queerness, intellectualism, and unconformity—are anathema to his backward-looking vision of a nation united by fear and mutual distrust. Seattle is the first city to formally resist Sessions’ and Trump’s unconstitutional bullying by filing a lawsuit. If cities’ response to the last unconstitutional order targeting immigrants was any indication, we won’t be the last.

2. A Queen Anne homeowner’s dogged, well-financed effort to kill backyard cottages in Seattle won a victory that will further delay a proposal to make it easier for homeowners to build accessory units and cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in the process.

This week, city council member Mike O’Brien announced that thanks to activist Marty Kaplan‘s successful effort to delay new rules that would loosen the regulations that currently make it prohibitively expensive for many homeowners to build accessory units, the city will do a full environmental impact statement to determine the impact accessory units will have on the city’s environment. The intuitively obvious conclusion would be that backyard cottages improve the environment, because they add density, which helps prevent suburban sprawl and reduce auto dependence. In addition, they allow homeowners to age in place, promoting multigenerational households and preventing the development of lot-line-to-lot-line McMansions that often sprout in neighborhoods when single-family properties change hands.

O’Brien proposed his backyard cottage legislation in May 2016. With any luck, he will be able to introduce new legislation sometime in the summer of 2018.

3. Bikesharing advocates will say goodbye to Pronto with a group ride tomorrow afternoon. Pronto riders will gather at 3rd Ave. and Broad Street at 5pm (there are two Pronto stations within two blocks, but the clunky green bikes are available all over downtown) and ride slowly up Capitol Hill, ending at a bar TBA. “Ed Murray’s house for bell ringing party optional.” Murray announced he was killing the money-losing bikeshare system in January.

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

Morning Crank: Kind of the Magic of the Place

1. In a State of the City address that focused on major initiatives like a $55 million property tax levy for homelessness and a potential lawsuit against the Trump Administration, Mayor Ed Murray’s brief announcement that he was activating the city’s Emergency Operations Center to respond to the homelessness emergency was easy to miss.

Murray didn’t explain how he planned to repurpose the facility, which is designed to respond to short-term emergencies like riots and weather events, to address the slow-drip homelessness crisis.  So I called up Finance and Administrative Services director Fred Podesta, who serves as the operations director for the city, to ask him how the mayor’s plan would work.

First, Podesta clarified that the EOC won’t be addressing homelessness full-time; rather, from 8:30 to 10:30 on weekday mornings., representatives from every city department—from the Seattle Police Department to the Office of Film and Music—will sit down to discuss the day’s top homelessness-related priorities and come up with a solution for addressing them. For example, if the city’s new “navigation team,” which will be headquartered at the EOC, is heading out to clear an encampment, representatives from FAS, Seattle Public Utilities, and the Human Services Department will be on hand to advise the team on connections to shelter, trash pickup, and any law-enforcement issues that might arise. (Why would Film and Music need to be at the table? Podesta says they might think of something other departments wouldn’t—like an idea for a benefit, or an impact the homeless community has on the nightlife industry that wouldn’t have occurred to other departments.)

That’s kind of the magic of the place, because it’s a very different sort of setting [than city hall], and a big place where we can get everyone in one room might shake loose some sorts of innovations that we might not have thought of before,” Podesta says. “If you lock everybody in the room and say, ‘I want a solution to this on Tuesday,’ it happens faster. Half of it is working on things we were already working on anyway. This is a way to accelerate it and get solutions that are faster and more comprehensive.”

2. UPDATE: Mayor Ed Murray’s office denies that the city has any plans to authorize more encampments. Murray spokesman Benton Strong says the city’s goal is to open just seven encampments total, including existing camps such as Nickelsville in Ballard. Four new sanctioned homeless encampments are reportedly planned as part of the city’s response to unsheltered homelessness. Last time the city announced four new encampments, they ended up opening only three, after community opposition made it hard for the city to find a suitable location. The three sanctioned encampments that opened most recently are in Highland Park, Georgetown, and Licton Springs in North Seattle.

3. Image may contain: textRemember the Women’s March, or Black Lives Matter, or the Stand With Immigrants rally at Westlake Park?

This is exactly like that, except instead of  “women”/”black people”/”immigrants fighting for their human rights,” this rally is more of a “residents of an exclusive high-rise whining that other rich people are building an equally exclusive high-rise next door” kind of thing.

To recap: Residents at the Escala condos, where units list for around $3 million, are mad because another developer plans to build a 45-story apartment and hotel tower directly across the alley from them. They want the city to intervene and enforce their nonexistent right to water views and “air,” arguing that two towers on two adjacent blocks represents too much density for downtown Seattle. I’ve been assured that this  homeowners association alert is real, so make sure you adjust your travel plans accordingly. I hear they’re bringing the Mercer Island Pipeline protesters with them.

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.

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.

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.