Morning Crank: Trump Didn’t Give Me Enough Notice

anti-keystone-council1. An anti-Keystone XL Pipeline resolution proposed by council member Kshama Sawant’s resolution would direct the city’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services to come up with a plan to avoid doing business with the 17 banks that have invested in the pipeline. On Monday,  council members said they needed more time to look at the proposal, which Sawant sent out at 9:00 Monday morning hoping for a 9:30 discussion and a 2:00 full council vote.

Sawant’s resolution directs FAS “to investigate ways to establish contracting criteria to prioritize the City’s goals to avoid contracting for banking services to The City of Seattle with financial institutions that provide credit-level facilities or project-level loans to TransCanada.” At the council’s Monday briefings meeting, council member Sally Bagshaw said she felt “steamrolled” by Sawant’s last-minute proposal. “I appreciate the political stripes that we’re trying to show here. That said, I want  to make sure that we’re not making a political decision that’s going to have an negative impact on the fiscal health of the city,” Bagshaw said. To Bagshaw and other council members who said Sawant didn’t give them enough notice before introducing her resolution, Sawant responded, “Well, Trump didn’t give me enough notice” that he was approving Keystone construction.

Tim Burgess, chair of the council’s budget committee, pointed out that when the city decided to divest from Wells Fargo, which is financing the Dakota Access Pipeline, they took their time and “got over 10 legal opinions,” as opposed to passing the resolution the day it was introduced. Another difference between the two resolutions is intent: Originally, the reason the city moved to divest from Wells Fargo was because it committed fraud against its customers; the pipeline issue was tacked on later. That resolution committed the city to partnering with businesses that are “committed to and consistently demonstrate engaging in fair and responsible business practices and avoid conducting City business with partners that engage in criminal or systematic deceptive, fraudulent, or abusive business practices.” It was silent on the issue of banks that aren’t breaking the law, but merely do business with companies, like TransCanada, that the city opposes for political reasons.

It would be one thing if the city had a lot of banking options, and only some banks were “bad.” The problem, according to sources familiar with the proposal, is that insisting on ideological purity could leave the city without a viable banking option. If the city won’t do business with banks that lend to polluters, what justification will it have for turning around and working with banks that finance union-busting corporations, or companies that deny women birth control? The city is reportedly looking into options that would allow it to put some of its money in smaller banks, but state law mandates that the bulk of the city’s money be in large institutions that are stable enough to weather financial storms, to avoid putting city employees’ paychecks and pensions—not to mention many progressive city programs aimed at counteracting Trump Administration policies—at risk.

The council will take up Sawant’s resolution sometime in the next two weeks.

2. When voters passed Initiative 122  last year, creating a public financing system that gives every voter $100 in “democracy vouchers” to spend on the city council candidates of their choice, opponents predicted that businesses and labor would take advantage of the early money, holding “voucher parties” to encourage their members to donate en masse. (The initiative encourages early spending in two ways: It requires the city to mail vouchers out in January, when only the most organized candidates have declared they’re running, and actually funds only a fraction of the vouchers in circulation, creating an incentive for business and labor to anoint and fund their candidates early).

Labor and business groups haven’t thrown their weight behind any candidates yet, but voucher parties have come to pass. The first one is happening this Thursday, when a group of urbanist techies calling themselves “Sea Tech 4 Housing” meet at Optimism Brewing Company on Capitol Hill to support Teresa Mosqueda, one of 10 candidates running for citywide Position 8. The suggested donation: $100—or four $25 democracy vouchers.

3. While some local news stations are wringing their hands over the safety of children playing during the day near a temporary men’s shelter that doesn’t open until 9:30 at night, Operation Nightwatch is worried about where it will go next. The 75-bed men’s shelter was recently displaced from its longtime home in the International District’s Pearl Warren Building, after the city announced it was opening a new 24-7 low-barrier Navigation Center shelter at the site. Last week, the city told the Compass Housing-run shelter it could set up in the Next 50 Pavilion at Seattle Center until April 17, but it’s unclear what will happen after that; Human Services Department spokeswoman Meg Olberding says “We are calling on community members who might have space we can use to let us know, and we are combing our networks to try and find space.”

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: How Many of You Guys Are Catholics?

1. Earlier this week, I talked to state Sen. Mark Miloscia about a heated conversation he had with a group of student lobbyists from OneAmerica. (A source in Olympia had told me Miloscia grilled the students about their religious affiliations and belittled their views). In Miloscia’s version, he asked the students whether they were “Catholic or Christian” to illustrate a point: Representatives don’t have to have the same skin color or background as constituents in order to represent them. ” I said, ‘You can be represented based on religion, not just skin color,'” Miloscia said. Awkwardly, the group included multiple young women wearing headscarves who were obviously Muslim.

Monica Roman, one of the students who confronted Miloscia about his views on voting rights outside the senate chamber, tells a different story. She says this was actually the second time her student club, Fuerte (“strong” in Spanish) had met with Miloscia. Both times, Roman says, the students argued with Miloscia about the Voting Rights Act, a long-delayed bill that would give citizens a path to challenge voting systems that result in unequal representation. (In Yakima, citizens challenged the city’s at-large city council system, which resulted in an all-white city council in a city with a large Latino population, forcing the city to switch to more representative district elections). Both the Democratic and Republican versions of the bill would make it easier for citizens to challenge local election systems in court, but the Republican bill, sponsored by Miloscia, includes fewer protections and gives cities more time to address unrepresentative systems.

“Last year, we asked if he could represent us, and we said ‘No.’ He asked us again this year,” Roman says. The students told him that “as a white, straight male, he views things from a place of privilege, and he can’t really comprehend our experience. I think that really triggered him. He said, ‘I feel like  you guys are attacking me.'” That’s when Miloscia brought religion into the conversation, Roman says.

“He was like, ‘How many of you guys are Catholics?’ when he could clearly see that we had multiple girls wearing hijabs. We were like, ‘You’re completely disregarding these Muslim girls right in front of you.'” When the group pointed out that some members of the group were Muslim, Roman says Miloscia “pointed out one of our hijabi girls and was like, ‘Can you not represent me?'”

Roman says that unlike last year, when she felt too “awkward” in the private conference room where they met with Miloscia to stand up for herself, this year, she “just laughed in his face. … I just didn’t back down. I was kind of proud of myself. I just didn’t let him yell at me.”

2. Operation Nightwatch, the overnight shelter for men that is being displaced from its current location, the Pearl Warren Building in the International District, has found a temporary home in the Next 50 Pavilion at Seattle Center, Crank has learned. Operation Nightwatch had been renting the space in the Pearl Warren which provides beds for about 75 men a night, from Compass Housing Alliance for $3,100 a month. The city previously told Operation Nightwatch it would help the group find a new space; according to Nightwatch director Rick Reynolds, the city initially handed the group a list of commercial spaces in places like Georgetown and the Rainier Valley, which rented for more than twice as much as their current space.

Meg Olberding, spokeswoman for the city’s Human Services Department, says Operation Nightwatch will not have to pay rent for the space, and can stay at Seattle Center until April 17. ”  The City continues to provide resources through FAS, HSD and OEM to locate a new permanent site for this shelter program,” Olberding said in an email. “Compass is also using its relationships to find a new site, and is considering using the dining hall and lobby of its own administrative facilities as a backup in the case a location cannot be identified.”

 3. At this week’s presentation about paid family leave (council member Lorena Gonzalez is proposing up to 26 weeks of paid leave for all employees in Seattle), consultant Maggie Simich presented some data that starkly illustrates the need for paid time off. Based on a survey of 400 Seattle residents who work in Seattle and 400 Seattle companies of all sizes, the survey found:

  • 41 percent of Seattle residents did not have access to paid parental leave;
  • The smaller the company, the less likely it is to offer paid parental leave; 70 percent of those who worked for a company with fewer than 50 employees said they had access to paid parental leave;
  • Zero percent of employees said they had access to 12 weeks or more of paid leave, not counting vacation and sick time;
  • Half of all companies surveyed do not offer any form of paid family leave at all;
  • Companies in the health care, education, restaurant, and hotel industries were the least likely to offer any kind of paid leave;
  • And, somewhat surprisingly, six out of ten employers who offered paid leave said fewer than 10 percent of their workers had taken any kind of paid family leave within the previous year, belying the common assumption that employees (particularly women, who are most likely to take parental leave) will take advantage of paid leave if it’s offered.

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: “We Are the Dakota Access [Pipe]line Tribe.”

Last night, the Mercer Island City Council voted unanimously to sue Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), in part, to preserve the right of island residents to drive alone in the westbound I-90 HOV lanes.

The island has been fighting to preserve this highly unusual privilege for decades, despite the fact that the original agreement granting them special access to carpool lanes, signed in 1976, anticipates a future when transit lanes, or fixed-rail transit, will supplant some freeway lanes and require island residents to give up their access. (Mercer Island also wants its residents to be permanently exempt from tolls on I-90, to restrict parking at the Mercer Island park-and-ride serving light rail to Mercer Island residents only, and to prohibit bus transfers on the island, keeping the people who ride buses from deboarding in the wealthy enclave.) The lawsuit seeks to force the state and Sound Transit to grant all these privileges, which, as Zach Shaner at Seattle Transit Blog has noted, would be “completely unique to Mercer Island.”

If you weren’t following along last night, I Storified all my tweets here.

2. Jan Angel, a conservative Republican legislator from Port Orchard, has introduced a bill that would prohibit cities from passing laws barring landlords from discriminating against tenants based on their source of income—a proposal that would, if passed, slap down Seattle’s new law that says landlords can’t refuse to people because their income comes from sources like Social Security or unemployment, and requiring them to rent to the first qualified applicant. (The Seattle law also prohibits landlords from offering special deals to employees of specific companies, such as Amazon.)

That Angel has introduced such a bill is hardly news—in recent years, the conservative Republican has proposed drug testing for welfare recipients and business-friendly changes to the workers’ compensation system. What was surprising is who showed up to testify in favor of the anti-Seattle bill: Smart Growth Seattle lobbyist Roger Valdez, who once worked for a liberal environmentalist think tank, the Sightline Institute, and a liberal city council member, Peter Steinbrueck.

“At a time when demand for housing is outpacing supply, producers and operators of housing have faced an ever-expanding gauntlet of rules, regulations, fees, fines, inspections, infringements, and limitations that are confusing for both housing providers and consumers,” Valdez said. “It’s time for the state to take back the control. … What’s also important is that the mayor and council have pursued this improvisational regulatory spree with no consultation of housing developers, property managers, or anyone in the housing business whatsoever. None. That’s true. They have not talked with us at all. That’s why this was a problem.”

Sen. David Frockt (D-46) pointed out that developers were very much represented on the Housing Affordability and Livability Committee, which worked to create many of the rules Valdez was opposing so vociferously; in fact, supposed overrepresentation by developers is one reason many neighborhood groups and anti-development liberals oppose HALA. In a testy back and forth, Frockt challenged Valdez, who eventually allowed that the city did give developers a seat at the table, but that “sitting in the room on a large committee is not consultation.”

Historically, anti-discrimination laws have come from cities first before being adopted by the state; it is unprecedented for the state to adopt renter protection laws before they have first emerged at the municipal level.

3. Crank hears that another candidate may soon be jumping in the race for City Council Position 8, the citywide seat that Tim Burgess will vacate next year: Stephan Blanford, a Seattle Public School director who has focused on closing the achievement gap between black and white students in Seattle schools. Blanford, who was endorsed in his 2013 school board run by local Democratic groups and elected officials as well as the political arm of the Chamber of Commerce and former King County Executive Ron Sims, would join a crowded race that already includes 2015 Burgess challenger and tenant organizer Jon Grant and Washington State Labor Council policy director Teresa Mosqueda.

Grant sent out two job announcements this week seeking a campaign manager and an organizer; his campaign will rely heavily on the city’s new Democracy Voucher program, which provides $100 in vouchers for Seattle residents to donate to the candidate or candidates of their choice.

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

Morning Crank: “Not Gonna Happen”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charging “Ethnic Discrimination,” Dems Seek to Stop Vote on 37th State Senate Appointment

Members of the 37th District Democrats have filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the King County Council from voting to fill the state Senate seat left vacant by the election of Sen. Pramila Jayapal to Congress in November. [UPDATE: According to Knoll Lowney, one of the attorneys representing the Democratic Party members seeking to stop the appointment of a new 37th District state senator, a judge has rejected the Democrats’ request for a temporary restraining order. The order would have enjoined the King County Council from appointing a successor to Pramila Jayapal, who was elected to represent the 7th Congressional District last month. Lowney says that more than who ultimately gets appointed, “it’s critically important that we not have a process that is flawed.” The next hearing in the case is scheduled for December 23; the county council could vote on Monday, or decide on their own to wait.

Original post follows.]

The plaintiffs, calling themselves Democrats for Diversity and Inclusion, argue in their complaint that the appointment process was effectively rigged to preclude certain precinct committee officers (PCOs) from participating, leading to the nomination of Rory O’Sullivan, the white former chairman of the district, to represent the majority-minority 37th in the Senate. The King County Council is ultimately responsible for appointing legislators to fill vacant seats, but they typically follow the lead of the PCOs. However, they are not required to do so, and have diverged from that practice in the past, as Josh Feit pointed out on PubliCola this week.

In addition to stopping the vote scheduled for Monday, the lawsuit seeks to force the King County Democratic Central Committee to hold a second vote, this one including all the appointed PCOs (PCOs who were appointed by other PCOs, in this case PCOs from parts of the district that are more heavily populated by people of color) excluded from the process, and submit the list of candidates that results from that process to the council for a decision. (According to the lawsuit, 115 PCOs were excluded from voting; of the 106 who were eligible under the disputed rules, 82 voted.)

In 2012, the 37th was created explicitly as a majority-minority district, and the second- and third-place runners-up in the PCO vote were Puget Sound Sage director Rebecca Saldana and Shasti Conrad, both women of color. Another woman of color, NAACP leader Sheley Secrest, was also in the running. The lawsuit claims the exclusion of the appointed PCOs constitutes deliberate “ethnic discrimination” that led to the choice of O’Sullivan instead of one of the many people of color on the ballot. “The 115 PCOs who were illegally disenfranchised represent more than 40,000 registered 37th District voters in precincts that are primarily African Americans, Hispanics, immigrants and People of Color,” the proposed order says.

It continues:

In total disregard for state law and party rules and to create a favorable electorate for certain candidates, former KCDCC Chair Richard Erwin delayed the nominating caucus until the terms of all 115 appointed PCOs expired, but before the party organization could reconvene to appoint replacement PCOs. KCDCC then refused all appointed PCOs their right to vote in the nominating caucus, something that is unprecedented in the history of the 37th District. Such procedural gamesmanship is not permitted. Party rules explicitly mandate that the nominating caucus include both elected and appointed PCOs. Furthermore, federal and state law prohibit KCDCC from disenfranchising and discriminating against appointed PCOs.

A hearing is reportedly under way right now in King County Superior Court; I’ll post an update when the court issues a ruling on the case. Read the full complaint here, and the proposed order enjoining the county council from voting here.

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.

No, Trump Won’t Be “Good For Cities”`

TrumpPointing

Over the last few days, I’ve seen a number of urbanists claiming that even if Donald Trump does deport millions of undocumented immigrants, ban abortion, eliminate health care coverage for 20 million Americans, and devalue the lives of women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and religious minorities, at least he’ll be “good for cities.”

After all (the argument goes), Trump is a developer, and a New Yorker—which makes him fundamentally urbanist, right? I mean, check it out: Not only did he help build the biggest, most urban city in the nation, he made a promise to “rebuild America’s inner cities,” which could definitely use some sidewalks and pothole fixes. And he vowed to spend $1 trillion on “rebuilding America’s infrastructure”—which can only be good news for mass transit, sidewalks, and crumbling city streets. (Finally, a Pothole President!) And just think: By clearing away local and state regulations that hamper housing production—like environmental laws that keep housing away from freeways, and zoning restrictions that draw borders around developable areas–President Trump will clear the way for a new urbanist renaissance.

Bullshit. Trump would be a disaster for cities, and not just because his ascension represents a total rejection of the diversity of thoughts, ideas, opinions, and people that makes cities great. He would be a disaster for cities because every policy he has espoused is (like his largely rural support base) profoundly anti-urban—and if you believe, as I do, that Trump means what he says, then it’s time to take a gimlet-eyed look at what Trump has said he will do in, and to, cities. Urbanists must stop indulging in the fantasy that there is a “real” Donald Trump who supports investments in public transit, urban housing, and programs that will give poor people in cities opportunities to succeed. There is only one Donald Trump. Here is what that Donald Trump seems likely, based on his own words and actions, to do.

Cut federal funding for mass transit.

When Republicans talk about transportation “infrastructure,” they mean, first, big highway projects, and second, roads and bridges in rural areas. The GOP platform adopted this year says this quite explicitly. “One fifth of (trust) funds are spent on mass transit, an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities,” it says. “We propose to phase out the federal transit program.” Sound Transit 3, which voters overwhelmingly adopted Tuesday, relies heavily on that transit program–it includes $5 billion in matching funds from the federal government—as do most of the transit funding measures passed by urban voters across the nation last week.

Privatize roads, highways and bridges–and leave those that can’t turn a profit to crumble.

If you think a President Trump will not only renege on his party’s promise but reject it wholeheartedly then you haven’t looked at his infrastructure plan. In effect, Trump’s proposal would privatize the nation’s roads, bridges, and highways by providing tax credits to subsidize $1 trillion in private investment in infrastructure. Companies would make their money back for charging people to drive on those roads, bridges, and highways, and any project that doesn’t pencil out—that is, that doesn’t turn a profit for investors—won’t get built. (On Friday, Trump announced his pick to head up his “transportation and infrastructure” team—literal asphalt lobbyist Martin Whitmer.)

This will lead not only to a widening gap between poor counties and cities and wealthy ones, but a disinvestment in inner-city transit infrastructure. (picture wealthy exurban homeowners driving on pristinely maintained toll roads while overcrowded buses ferry carless city dwellers through traffic-jammed, pothole-riddled streets. Rail and express-bus lines that serve the suburbs will be able to pay for themselves through higher user fees, but public transit, which relies heavily on federal funding as well as local subsidies, won’t. (Think about it: Even if King County Metro raised bus fare to, say, $10 a ride—about what it would cost absent other funding sources—the vast majority of riders would be forced to stop riding, making the system unprofitable. Oh, and there’s that whole equity and social justice thing.)

Privatization also creates a perverse incentive for builders to cut corners and endanger public safety, by saving costs on bridge reinforcement, for example, or using less-reliable or less-durable materials. It also means that cities whose citizens can’t afford to pay for improvements  themselves—say, struggling citizens of Flint, Michigan poisoned by lead in their water pipes, or parents in low-income school districts with school buildings that are unsafe and out-of-date—will be left behind. Inner cities aren’t the crumbling, post-apocalyptic hellscapes Trump made them out to be on the campaign trail—far from it—but his privatization plans would send them spiraling in that direction.

Eliminate some federal housing subsidies, and abandon commitments to fair housing made by President Obama.

Trump hasn’t yet said who he’ll appoint to head up the Department of Housing and Urban Development,  and in fact, the issue of housing—particularly housing for the homeless, a population that has boomed in cities even as the economy has recovered—didn’t really come up during the campaign. That’s a shame, because it would be instructive to know how Trump plans to address the growing crisis, which has led three West Coast cities (including Seattle) and Hawaii to declare an official state of emergency.

Seattle, in response to HUD policies under Obama that direct federal funds into “rapid rehousing” vouchers, recently released a plan called “Pathways Home” that reflects this approach, but if HUD dramatically changes direction, reducing the federal subsidies on which cities like Seattle rely or relying on privatization schemes like the one Trump has proposed to pay for other kinds of infrastructure, cities could find themselves trying to dig out of an ever-deeper funding hole. (That’s assuming that those cities that have declared themselves “sanctuary cities” for immigrants, including Seattle, still receive any federal funding at all).

Trump’s family, famously, was accused of discriminating against African American tenants in New York City in the 1970s, when Trump was president of Trump Industries. (A New York Times investigation uncovered “a long history of racial bias at his family’s properties, in New York and beyond.”) On the campaign trail this year, Trump vowed to overturn a rule adopted by the Obama administration called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, which requires local jurisdictions that receive federal housing funds to address housing segregation and other disparities in housing access, in part by encouraging affordable housing development in more affluent, whiter neighborhoods. Right-wing outlets and pundits, from the Daily Caller to the Daily Sturmer, effusively praised Trump for his promise to reject Obama’s efforts to, as one alt-right site put it, “force ‘diversity’ on white neighborhoods.”

One day after the election, Mayor Ed Murray said he would consider floating another levy (in addition to the $290 million housing levy voters adopted earlier this year) to address the city’s homelessness crisis. As the impact of Trump’s presidency sets in, we’ll see how serious he is about that idea.

• Adopt policies that make the homelessness and addiction crises worse.

Last year, the One Night Count of the homeless counted about 10,000 homeless people living in King County, about half of them sleeping unsheltered. (Service providers suggest doubling that amount to get an accurate figure). Reducing that number will require funding not just for housing but for drug and alcohol treatment, mental health care, and job assistance.

Trump hasn’t said anything specific about dealing with those root causes of homelessness, but his health care plan consists of repealing the Affordable Care Act, which will leave some 20 million Americans, most of them lower-income, without health care. That includes mental health care, including treatment for addiction. Meanwhile, Trump’s only public statements about drug addiction have consisted of wonderment that an opiate epidemic could exist in America’s beautiful rural areas (“How does heroin work with these beautiful lakes and trees?”), and a promise to build a wall with Mexico to cut off the flow of drugs, War on Drugs-style. Neither of these statements bodes well for reducing the addiction epidemic, or for helping people who are homeless because of addiction get housing and health care.

This is far from a comprehensive list of reasons urbanists, and those who love cities, should be alarmed about the next four years—there’s also the promised crackdown on religious and sexual minorities, the prospect of mass deportations, the rejection of climate science, and the imposition of a 1950s good-ol-boy culture that is fundamentally provincial, anti-intellectual, and conformist. The next four years will reveal how much of this vision Trump manages to inflict on America, and how much cities react by pulling up the drawbridges and becoming not so much urban archipelagos as urban islands.

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Major South Park Landlord Will Urge Tenants to Vote “No” on Annexation

Wikimedia Commons

As early as this November, in a down-down-down-down-down-ballot election in the Southwest Seattle-area neighborhood of South Park, a few dozen residents will decide if they want to remain an oddball sliver of unincorporated King County in the middle of Seattle, or if they want to become part of the city. The landlord to more than a few of them, George Harris, is strongly against annexation–and he’s letting his tenants know how he feels, urging them to vote “no” when the proposal, decades in the making, finally comes up for a vote as soon as this November.

Only about 80 registered voters live in the section of South Park known as the “sliver by the river,” a stripe of unincorporated King County that includes several blocks of single-family houses along the western bank of the Duwamish River. The fate of the sliver, along with an adjacent industrial area known as the Duwamish Triangle, is a longstanding anomaly within city limits; after an annexation boom at the turn of the last century, Seattle mostly stopped expanding, and has not added any new land to its boundaries since 1986.

Tukwila has expressed interest in annexing the Triangle, which includes the headquarters of the luxury yacht company Delta Marine, but not the Sliver, due to the significant cost of providing sewer, fire,  and police service to the people who live there.

For a similar reason, Seattle only wants to annex the Sliver if it also gets the Triangle and the business tax revenues that go along with. Complicating matters further is the fact that the South Park Bridge bisects the Sliver, and if Seattle takes it over, it will also be responsible for tending and maintaining that structure.

Add to this complicated mix a group of taxpayers who aren’t convinced that joining the city will be in their best economic interest, and you begin to see why the fate of the sliver has been debated since at least the 1970s.

Harris, who got involved in the annexation debate back in 1978, counts himself among the skeptics.  “I don’t look forward to being part of the city of Seattle,” Harris says. “Their whole mentality  is that they need to take more money out of an area than they put in, so that does not bode well for sidewalks or sewers.” Currently, the Sliver has no sewer service and is served by the North Highline Fire District, not the City of Seattle.

Harris says as a member of the Rental Housing Association and a longtime landlord, “I’ve been taking care of my houses and my tenants for 30 years, and I don’t need the city telling me how to do it.” He anticipates a giant regulatory headache if Seattle annexes his houses, which are around 100 years old and have the outdated wiring common to houses of that era.

Harris says if and when annexation does come to a vote, “I will make sure [my tenants] are all registered and I will encourage them” to vote against annexation. In August of last year, at a meeting of the Washington boundary review board for King County, Harris testified against the annexation, arguing (according to the minutes) that residents’ taxes would increase and it would become harder for homeowners to improve their properties. In addition, according to two people who were there, Harris testified that he would instruct his residents that if they voted for annexation and it passed, he would have to raise their rents around $100.

 “I don’t look forward to being part of the city of Seattle. …  “I will make sure [my tenants] are all registered and I will encourage them” to vote against annexation.” – South Park landlord George Harris

“Basically, what he said was that if the community joined Seattle, the taxes would be higher–which is actually not necessarily the truth–and the costs for permits would be higher; therefore, he couldn’t keep his rents low to help out his tenants,” boundary review board executive secretary Lenora Blauman recalls. Dagmar Cronn, a longtime resident of the sliver and an annexation supporter who was also at the meeting, says Harris “told us a couple of times during the evening that he had told his renters that if it passed, he was going to raise the rent $100 a month–he said it several times throughout that evening.”

Cronn, who, like Harris, has lived in South Park for decades and is past president of the South Park Neighborhood Association, says her husband, Bob, had to spend weeks convincing a county electrical inspector that the property he wanted to upgrade was in the county’s jurisdiction, not the city’s. “It’s an odd little sliver of land, and a lot of the county maps are just wrong,” Cronn says. The boundary confusion has had more serious consequences for Cronn and her husband; in 2011, they had to wait 33 minutes for an ambulance to arrive during a medical emergency, even though there’s a Seattle Fire Department station just five blocks from their house.

Kenny Pittman, a senior advisor at the city’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations and  the city’s point person on South Park annexations, says residents of the Sliver “look across the street and see the City of Seattle fire department, and they can’t get service from them. The City of Seattle police department is right there too.”

Pittman has showed Cronn and Harris spreadsheets detailing how and why their taxes will go down, not up, if they join the city. “It drops a couple hundred dollars for a $240,000 home”–the median in South Park–because city residents don’t have to pay taxes for the North Highline Fire District, the King County library levy, or the King County Road District,” Pittman says.

Cronn believes Pittman; Harris does not. In fact, he calls Pittman’s tax claim “absolute baloney” and “propaganda,” adding, “the City of Seattle’s policy is to take more money out of any annexed area than they put into it. That’s just all there is to it.” He also objects to the city’s rental housing inspection program, its “ban the box” efforts to end housing discrimination against felons, and the general “mentality that, by nature, I am at war with my tenants, when nothing could be further from the truth.”

Pittman says he’s “feeling good about” completing all the necessary reviews for an annexation measure in time for a November election, or, failing that, an election early next year. Campaigning in such a small district is likely to be fierce, with annexation opponents like Harris arguing that joining Seattle will mean more taxes and unnecessary regulations, and proponents like Cronn making the case that this part of South Park deserves the same services and identity the rest of the neighborhood enjoys.

 

Council Pushes Back on “Growth Fund” Housing Preservation Proposal

presfund

Freshman city council member Lisa Herbold has proposed resurrecting a pre-Eyman-era housing “growth fund” to pay for the preservation of naturally-occurring affordable housing–privately owned housing that, because of its age or state of repair, is more affordable than market-rate housing.   The original growth fund was created in 1985 to fund affordable housing construction; it consisted of a percentage of property tax revenues from new construction downtown, and brought in about $15 million in its 17-year existence. Herbold’s proposal would begin with a single demonstration project.

“I think it’s an important commitment to make in light of our current housing crisis,” Herbold says. “Between 1960 and 1985, nearly 16,000 housing units were lost downtown. … I think we are in a similar time now and if [Mayor Ed Murray’s] goal of 20,000 more net affordable housing units is going to be met, we have to do something about the fact that it is unlikely the units lost will be replaced or preserved without an explicit preservation strategy.”

Last Wednesday, Herbold invited affordable-housing advocates from groups like Puget Sound Sage and the Low-Income Housing Institute to pitch the council’s affordable housing committee on the fund proposal. 

“I think the public understands the linkage between all this new construction in a booming economy and the loss of affordable housing,” LIHI director Sharon Lee told council members. “We’ve got 1 Percent for the Arts. If housing is on the front page of the paper every day and people are being forced to leave Seattle [because of high housing prices], why aren’t we using 1 percent of the general fund for housing?”

Lee told the committee that former mayor Greg Nickels eliminated the growth fund when he first took office in 2002; “He said, ‘We have a housing levy; let’s just cut [the growth fund],’ and that was a disappointment to us,” Lee said.

But committee chair Tim Burgess and city budget office director Ben Noble strongly disputed Lee’s claim that Nickels had cut the fund for purely political reasons, noting that 2002 was the year that a Tim Eyman-backed measure capping annual property tax growth at 1 percent was adopted by the state legislature (the original initiative was ruled unconstitutional, but the legislature passed a copycat version). That meant that property tax revenues, which had been growing at about 6 percent a year, took a sudden, dramatic hit, forcing the city to scramble for funds to pay for basics and leading to the city’s current reliance on property tax levies to pay for everything from early-childhood education to libraries to housing.

“I think we should be real clear about why the city got rid of the growth fund in 2002,” Burgess said sternly. “It was not just the whim of Mayor Nickels.” After the 1 percent cap on property tax increases took effect, city leaders “determined that we should increase the size of the housing levy … and eliminate the growth fund because our property tax revenue options had been suppressed so much. That’s a much fairer explanation of that.”

Moreover, Noble and council member (and former private-sector CFO) Mike O’Brien pointed out that neither of Herbold’s proposals would create any new revenue; rather, the dedicated growth fund would take money from other city programs funded by the budget and spend it on housing preservation. Similarly, the bond proposal wouldn’t create any new money (Herbold protested: “It’s new in that it’s dedicated to this purpose”); instead, it would create new debt that would have to paid back, with interest, out of the general fund every year.

“Let’s not pretend that we get this [housing preservation fund] for free when we’re paying for that debt over 20 years, and there’s no new source of that money because it’s coming out of the general fund,” O’Brien said. “I expect and hope our experts will give us the best solution, so if using our bonding capacity is the best way to fund affordable housing, that intrigues me … and on the flip side, if it’s not a very good idea and there’s more efficient financing tools, I would not want to use a bad tool just because it sounds good.”

housingpres

“The bottom line,” Noble told me this week, “is that to do what council member Herbold is suggesting would require taking existing general fund resources and dedicating it to housing—which is a perfectly fine thing to do, but the general fund is already being relied upon on to pay for cops and fire and everything else.”  Noble says the city is still optimistic about passing a tax exemption for landlords who agree to keep their housing affordable, which narrowly failed in the state house this year thanks to opposition from house speaker Frank Chopp.

Both O’Brien and Burgess seem to agree that the source of additional funding for housing preservation is less important than providing the money, which led both to the idea of funding preservation through the housing levy.

“We’re getting ready to vote in two or three weeks on dedicating a huge amount of taxpayer money to housing, including preservation,” Burgess says. “This is really a discussion about how are we going to allocate all of the taxpayer money that we have at our disposal, and focusing on a specific method like a growth fund is less important to me than how we decide to use all our resources.” However, Herbold counters that the 2009 housing levy could have funded affordable housing preservation, but didn’t, in part because housing levy funds are less flexible than the growth fund was, and because the Office of Housing traditionally works on new construction, not preservation.

At last week’s meeting, Office of Housing director Steve Walker seemed to agree, noting that buying up existing for-profit affordable housing is challenging, because of income requirements (if an existing resident makes too much to qualify for a unit in a newly city-owned building, would the city kick her out?) and because the city doesn’t have much experience in the housing-preservation business.

Herbold says she worries that “if we separate the conversation, the result will be that we are driven down the path of traditional OH programs. …  Separating the conversation about financing from the conversation about preservation from makes the need for preservation more and more abstract from the harm of displacement.”

The council will need a lot of convincing on that front (right now, Herbold’s proposal seems to have little traction), and that will likely have to wait until after voters consider the $290 million housing levy proposal in August.

Chasing Ballots

With Lisa Herbold taking the lead in West Seattle’s District 1 on Friday—a lead she holds by just 27 votes—the November 3 election is far from over. Although there are over 300 ballots that remain uncounted in the district—the next vote drop, tomorrow around 4:30, could solidify Herbold’s advantage or put Braddock back in the lead—a parallel and equally important ballot-gathering effort is going on behind the scenes in both campaigns.

Known as “ballot chasing,” the campaign-led effort involves finding challenged ballots that are likely to favor a particular candidate and making sure those voters get their ballots counted.

Here’s how it works. Ordinarily, King County Elections initially rejects, or “challenges,” a ballot if the signature doesn’t match the one on file at the elections office, or if a voter fails to sign his or her ballot. At that point, Elections sends the voter a letter and asks them to remedy the problem. Many people just ignore or never get around to filling out the response form, and those ballots are never counted.

That’s no big deal in races where the margin is wide, but in close races like that in District 1, literally every ballot counts. Ballot chasers match up the list of voters whose ballots were challenged with voters who are likely to vote for their candidate, based on demographics, past voting history (did they vote in previous council races, or stick to just the top of the ballot?) and doorbelling records from the campaign. Interestingly, because the election is technically over, spending limits and rules barring coordination between independent expenditure groups and campaigns no longer apply, giving rise to efforts by outside groups that support campaigns to do all they can to pitch in.

And to emails like this one, from the director of the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), the political arm of the Seattle Chamber (bolds mine):

Good afternoon,

This weekend is make or break for Shannon Braddock’s campaign for Seattle City Council. With so few votes between candidates in District 1, the campaign with the strongest ballot chasing effort is expected to win this election.

Shannon is in urgent need of volunteers.

Please consider stepping up to volunteer this weekend and recruit your friends. A script and instructions will be provided for you to contact likely Shannon supporters whose ballots have been invalidated by the county.

[…] This is the homestretch! Let’s make it count.

Best,

[Mark] Markham

 

Ironically, perhaps, Braddock herself sent an email to her supporters last week expressing indignation that council member Kshama Sawant had called “on her supporters to intervene in our election process in favor of Lisa Herbold.” In fact—as the Herbold campaign pointed out in its own response email to supporters—the letter in question from Sawant is mostly focused on District 2 candidate Tammy Morales, who is trailing council incumbent Bruce Harrell by 357 votes, though it does urge Sawant’s supporters to  help “defeat the developer-approved candidate in District 1, Shannon Braddock.” In her email, Herbold said that although “help offered is appreciated,” the campaign told Sawant, “like we’ve told others, that we have a strategy to win this race. Our team continues to work to implement our strategy for our district.

An automatic recount is triggered if two candidates are separated by 0.5 percent or less of the total vote in their race.

Binders Full of Men

Reposted, with edits, from Facebook. The Times’ panel did not respond to questions from readers who wanted to know why they chose an all-male panel, and editorial board (and panel) member Jonathan Martin referred my questions to Times editorial page editor Kate Riley.

Days after an election in which Seattle elected the first majority-female city council since the 1990s, the Seattle Times and Crosscut are each holding all-male panels to analyze and discuss the election. Crosscut’s panel consists of three white guys–Christian Sinderman, John Wyble, and Charley Royer. The Times’ consists of one man of color, Sandeep Kaushik, and two white guys, Jonathan Martin and Danny Westneat.

Item No. 7304. City Council Inspection Tour on Kinnear Park Lawn, 1900. (Record Series 8200-13)

Seattle City Archives.

I wish I didn’t have to say this again so soon after the Times held an all-white-male panel to discuss the region’s transportation issues, and justified it by saying that they were looking for diversity of opinions, not diversity diversity, but here goes again: Actual diversity matters, not just “diversity of opinions.”

When panel planners say “we just got the best possible people available,” I think immediately of all the boys’ clubs from which I and women like me are excluded, not because we don’t have something to say but because we aren’t a friend of the guy who guards the door to the clubhouse. Blogs link blogs by their friends, public intellectuals and politicians and pundits signal boost for people they already know and just feel “comfortable” with, and the media give a boost to those who are already in power. When media gatekeepers say they just couldn’t find any women or people of color who were “qualified” to talk about an issue, I can almost without exception spout off a dozen examples of people outside the professional pundit class to prove them wrong. The only difference is that the middle-age white guys who always get picked have sat on those stages many times before, and are therefore the first people that come to mind for lazy panel planners.

Yes, it takes two seconds to think of and reach out to people who aren’t your default idea of “panelist.”

Yes, it’s easier to just ask the likes of Charley Royer, Christian Sinderman, and John Wyble to sit on the same stage they’ve sat on dozens of times before and offer their perspectives.

But let’s not forget that there are many, many women, including consultants and pundits, who actively participated in and commented these elections who are more than capable of sitting on a panel and offering their opinions and analysis–and that, importantly, their analysis will be qualitatively different because they are women.

In the comments, the Times’ Martin and an editorial member who moderated the all-male panel I wrote about previously, Thanh Tan, said that they had to throw the panel together at the last minute (why? the election date was no surprise), that, as Tan put it, “These guys are strong allies of women,” and that moderating a discussion by other people is just as important as actually expressing opinions or appearing as an expert on a subject. The two Times editorial board members also did backflips to note that the Times has women in leadership, that the moderator, Caitlyn Moran, is a woman, and that some of their previous “Livewire” discussions have included women. (Actually, the two panels that did have two or more women were about education and affordable housing, while panels on “hard” subjects like China were reserved exclusively for men.)

 

I hope it’s clear that whether some of their best friends are women or not, there is no excuse for an all-male panel in 2015, especially on this election. And frankly, I don’t care if your moderator is a woman. Facilitation, in contrast to speaking, has always been a traditionally female role, and while facilitating the discussions of others is important, it is not at all the same as being the one on stage who gets to express their perspective and opinions.  As Lauren Burgeson pointed out when I wrote about the Times’ all-male transportation panel, you can’t be what you can’t see, and hidebound institutions like the Seattle Times and Crosscut (whose writing staff, unlike the Times, actually consists entirely of white men, and which just hired another white man as editor) to inspire women to enter public spaces (and run for office) when the only examples you elevate are the same old white dudes who get pushed onstage every election.

It’s 2015. Let’s end this. It’s time for the Seattle Times, Crosscut, and other power-wielding institutions to stop making excuses and start elevating women, people of color, and other marginalized populations. If you haven’t done so on Facebook already, or even if you have, please help me out by naming some folks you would suggest for panels in the future, in the hope that they’ll listen and amplify voices that actually represent the Seattle of today, not the Seattle of 150 years ago.