The J Is for Judge Responds to the Stranger’s Showbox Nostalgia

The Stranger took issue yesterday with my debut column at the C is for Crank where I challenged the nostalgic movement to save the Showbox.

In the column, I argued that knocking down the Showbox to build apartments downtown wouldn’t just replace a two-story building with hundreds of units of sorely needed housing. It would also generate $5 million for affordable housing in one fell swoop. That’s nearly 11 percent of what the Stranger-supported (and since-repealed) head tax would have raised to address the housing crisis over the course of an entire year.

I pointed out that the city has lots of cultural spaces (including music venues) and that sentimental attachment to the Showbox isn’t a legit policy reason to stop a perfectly legal development. I’d add: It’s a slippery subjective standard to shut down new housing because Stereolab once played at the Showbox. Do we want to set the NIMBY precedent that sentimental value is more important than housing?

The Stranger pointed out that in using the numbers from the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture survey, I cited a countywide number for cultural spaces (1,132) instead of the Seattle-only number (821). It’s true. I did. Or put another way: Seattle is currently home to more than 70 percent of the region’s cultural spaces, making us the region’s cultural Mecca.

The Stranger should check its own packed arts calendar. This city is hopping. 

Meanwhile, the Stranger misrepresents me, implying I said there were 121 Showboxes out there. Nope. I said: Saving the Showbox won’t make you 21 again, but there are plenty of places for 21-year-olds to see shows in 2018. The Stranger should check its own packed arts calendar. This city is hopping.

My favorite packed show this year was seeing Stas Thee Boss with JusMoni and Falon Sierra at Chop Suey earlier this summer.

The Stranger article goes on to make the case that the answer to our housing crisis is to build more housing all over the city. I agree. I’ve been arguing that point for nearly 15 years, explicitly noting (back in 2004!) that an out of whack 60-plus-percent of the city is reserved exclusively for single-family housing.

However, saying we need to add more development capacity doesn’t mean we ought to stop development where it’s currently allowed—even if we personally like a business that’s currently there. Arguing against development downtown by saying it should go somewhere else is straight-up NIBMYism. I’ll leave the NIMBYism to the Stranger and say: More units and $5 million for affordable housing please.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t report that the Stranger takes ad money from the Showbox; the paper is currently running a full-page, full color ad from the club.  Stranger publisher Tim Keck would not tell me how much revenue his paper makes annually from Showbox advertising. To be clear, I’m not saying the Showbox called Keck and Keck told his reporter to write pro-Showbox articles. I was news editor at the Stranger for nearly a decade back in the 2000s, and I can tell you there’s nothing that tacky or nefarious going on. In fact, my experience was that Stranger  writers were given a great deal of freedom and independence. However, that independence existed within a business model that was financially symbiotic with successful clubs and nightlife culture leading us to go all in on night life issues like fighting the Teen Dance Ordinance.

Watch for the next installment of the J is for Judge here at the C is for Crank next week.

Bike Lanes Are For Everyone: Fact-Checking Claims that Only “The Privileged” Want Safe Cycling Infrastructure

Transportation Twitter is buzzing today about an anti-bike lane op/ed in Crosscut that argues, among other things, that new bike lanes in the overwhelmingly white neighborhood of Wedgwood will hurt minority-owned businesses; that the only people who ride bikes are a vaguely defined group known as “the privileged”; and that bike improvements that have dramatically reduced traffic violence in the Rainier Valley represent an imposition on a neighborhood that did not ask for and does not need those improvements.

(The piece, by Latino Civic Alliance board chair Nina Martinez, might as well have been ghostwritten by local attorney Gabe Galanda, who has been making almost word-for-word identical arguments against bike lanes in the Rainier Valley and Wedgwood on his Twitter page.)

Instead of arguing the issue on Twitter, I decided to fact-check the piece line by line to show why bike advocates are so worked up about its central claim, that “Seattle’s bike lobby needs to check its privilege,” and by the suggestion that low-income people and people of color don’t want or need safe places to ride. The text of Crosscut’s article, in its entirety, is in italics.

A downtown bike lane once estimated to cost $860,000 is now $12 million per mile.

The biggest inaccuracy in Crosscut’s editorial, and the easiest to fact-check, appears right in the very first line of the piece, which claims two things: A bike lane downtown was going to cost a total of $860,000, and now costs $12 million a mile.

Let’s take those two things in turn. Was a downtown bike lane supposed to cost just $860,000 total?

No. In fact, it doesn’t take much digging to realize that this is false on several levels. Go just one layer past the frothing, error-riddled Danny Westneat column linked in Crosscut’s editorial and you learn, via Times reporter Mike Lindblom, that “Actually, the city didn’t promise downtown bike lanes for only $860,000 a mile. Nor did it overrun budgets by a factor of 14. That figure is an average that includes much cheaper locations.” Whoops. So not only was there never any specific bike lane that was supposed to cost a total of $860,000, the $860,000 per mile figure that Westneat cites is actually a citywide average for all bike infrastructure.

As for $12 million a mile : The Times also reported that a huge percentage of that $12 million figure are costs that have nothing to do with bike lanes. In fact, Lindblom makes that abundantly clear early in his story, noting in the first few paragraphs that “There’s more to a project than paving a bike lane.” The $12 million per mile cost includes things that have absolutely nothing to do with bikes and that are in fact largely for the benefit of other roadway users, such as new sidewalks, repaving the entire roadway (not just the bike lane), adding new streetlights on both sides of the road, and replacing the subsurface sewer infrastructure. The actual cost for a representative $3.8 million, 4.5-block bike lane project on Seventh Avenue, once all the non-bike-lane portions of the project are factored out? $136,020.

The cost of the Burke-Gilman “missing link” in Ballard is now pegged at $23.5 million.

This, like the “$12 million for a bike lane?!?” figure, is misleading because it includes many expenditures that have nothing to do with bike lanes per se. The total cost of the “Missing Link” now includes many extra goodies demanded by industrial businesses in the vicinity of the trail, who have dragged the project out for years (and years) (and years), so that now, the bike path itself only makes up 30 percent of the cost of the trail extension, according to SDOT.

In fact, the Burke-Gilman “trail” extension has become more of a full-corridor project, thanks to those concessions to businesses, and now includes repaving part of NW Market Street, adding an brand-new intersection for freight access at 54th Avenue NW and Market, funding transit improvements on Market, adding signals that will make it easier for freight traffic to cross the trail, and rebuilding freight businesses’ driveways up and down the trail. These are not bike projects; they are car and freight mobility projects, and including them in the cost of the “trail” is highly misleading.

The city is removing small and minority-owned business parking in Northeast neighborhoods like Wedgwood and Roosevelt. The average Seattle taxpayer should be infuriated.

No citation is given for this claim that business owners in the Wedgwood and Roosevelt neighborhoods are largely “small and minority-owned,” but here are some demographics that help paint a picture of the part of town Martinez is talking about. The ZIP code that includes both Roosevelt and Wedgwood, according to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey,  is 81 percent white, 4 percent Hispanic or Latino, and just 2 percent African American. That’s much, much whiter than Seattle as a whole, which is 69 percent white and 7 percent Latino/Hispanic and African American, respectively. In comparison, the ZIP code that includes much of Southeast Seattle, 98118, is 35 percent white, 10 percent Hispanic/Latino, and 27 percent African American. I believe we can safely assert, based on those figures, that neighborhood businesses owned by local residents in Wedgwood are less likely to be owned by minorities than neighborhood businesses in other parts of the city.

Moreover, businesses on 35th Ave have been complaining about street parking being removed for bike lanes for much of the past five years, since the 2014 adoption of the latest version of the city’s Bike Master Plan. (The claim that the Businesses complain about parking every time bike lanes are proposed in a way that will remove free on-street public parking for cars. They complained about bike lanes on 65th Ave. NE, on 75th Ave NE, on Nickerson Street, on Stone Way… and they will complain about the next bike lane just as loudly.

(Incidentally, SDOT’s survey of parking utilization in the area around the planned bike lane found that on-street parking was never more than 50 percent full within a block of the project, demonstrating that removing a small number of on-street parking spaces on one side of 35th Ave NE will not significantly impact drivers’ ability to find parking near neighborhood businesses.)

 

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Bottom line: This isn’t about minority-owned businesses—it’s about business owners who feel, contrary to what the law actually says, that they own the public streets in front of their establishments. Business owners are free to provide parking for their patrons; what they are not free to do is claim that the public street right-of-way, which we all pay for, belongs exclusively to them and their car-driving customers.

I am concerned about the proliferation of bike lanes for another reason: because they displace the underprivileged and reapportion to the privileged, public monies that should be dedicated to mitigating our city’s homelessness crisis, income inequality and neighborhood gentrification.

There is no evidence whatsoever that bike lanes themselves are somehow “displac[ing] the underprivileged.”  As for the rest of the claim, it’s a standard canard used for any number of issues: Why are we spending any money on X, when we should be spending all our money on Y?  The fact is that the city has had a bike master plan since the Nickels Administration, and that bike safety has been a longtime priority for Seattle (at least in theory) for many reasons, among them: Making it possible for people who don’t own or can’t afford cars to get around the city safely; decreasing carbon emissions that disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color; improving safety for all roadway users, not just cyclists; reducing the number of people who are killed and injured by drivers on our streets; improving public health and reducing obesity in the city; and reducing car dependence so that people of all ages, incomes, and abilities can get around the city comfortably and safely. In any case, the ten-year Bike Master Plan adopted in 2014 clocked in under $100 million; even if all of that money had been allocated to “mitigating our city’s homelessness crisis” alone (leaving aside the other goals of fixing “income inequality and neighborhood gentrification”) it would scarcely make a dent in the need. (In contrast, the recently overturned head tax was projected to raise about $75 million a year). And more people, including people of color in neighborhoods where cyclists are forced to share street space with zooming automobiles, would die as a direct result.

For all of our progressive political ideology, Seattle is one of the most racially hegemonic cities in America.

Fifty years after city law was changed to declare housing discrimination illegal, historical neighborhoods of color like the Central District, International District and Beacon Hill are now some of the most desired areas to live in our city. Those neighborhoods have been gentrifying over the last 30 years. But the people of color business owners who were once segregated into these neighborhoods — by further adverse housing practices like “redlining” in the 1970’s — are being priced out of those same neighborhoods today. 

This is accurate. And has nothing whatsoever to do with whether business owners in Wedgwood get free parking, or whether bike lanes benefit communities of color.

And the challenges of small businesses in our city are not limited to those historically disenfranchised neighborhoods. Seattle ranks first in the country for small business growth. Yet Black and Latino residents who together comprise 15 percent of our city’s population, for example, own less than 5 percent of businesses citywide. It remains a real struggle for people of color and immigrant members of our community to realize the American Dream of small business ownership.

Again, this is true enough, but what does it have to do with businesses in wealthy, white neighborhoods who think city taxpayers should subsidize free parking for their patrons? It’s like writing an op/ed trashing Mayor Jenny Durkan for her policy on homeless sweeps but making every other paragraph about the problems facing women in STEM fields.

What is missing from Seattle’s governance and infrastructure planning is honest discourse about these difficult issues — about our checkered racial and socioeconomic history, and about how past and recent development decisions in City Hall have displaced and still displace historically marginalized communities and small businesses. Instead, city planning officials too frequently pay homage to the special interests of the privileged, like the small but loud bicycle lobby. 

You’ll get no argument from me that we need to talk more about our checkered racial and socioeconomic history—particularly Seattle’s history of redlining people of color out of “desirable” single-family neighborhoods and then perpetuating that formal segregation in the post-Jim Crow era with zoning rules that effectively bar low-income people and people of color from buying or renting homes in the vast majority of the city even today. The idea that the “bicycle lobby” is “privileged,” however, is straight out of the business lobby’s playbook. Remember when “Save 35th Ave. NE,” the group that is pushing to preserve parking for cars at any cost, put out a dog-whistle tweet suggesting that low-income “single moms” don’t ride bikes? Not only did single moms quickly disabuse the group, en masse, of that sexist, classist notion, they staged a protest ride to make the point that single moms, moms with partners, and women in general can and do ride bikes all over the city. The notion that “techbros” are the only people out on bikes is quickly dispelled by walking or riding on the Burke-Gilman Trail, much less in any neighborhood where biking is actually relatively safe—which makes the case for more bike infrastructure, not against it.

A 2017 SDOT survey found that only 3 percent of trips to local businesses are made by bicycle, as compared to by foot (40 percent), car (35 percent), or transit (18 percent). For small business owners, brick and mortar and customer access are vital, as is their workforce. Yet Seattle continues to spend tens of millions of dollars to replace parking spots with bike lanes, for the benefit of the privileged few.

Well, yes. People tend to walk to neighborhood businesses, because, well, they’re located within walking distance. People tend to bike for slightly longer distances. And they tend to drive when they have to carry things home with them, or run errands with kids. But wouldn’t it be great if neighborhoods were safe enough that some of those people who are running local errands by car felt comfortable cycling to local businesses instead? The fact that a lot of people currently drive isn’t actually an argument that our transportation system should or will always be this way, it’s evidence of the fact that we have spent the past 100 years designing a transportation system for the past 100 years for cars, and we’ll have to work just as hard, on a much faster timeline, to make our streets welcoming places for cyclists and other road users as well.

As for “the privileged few”: It’s a common canard that only rich, white men need, want, or benefit safe bike infrastructure. It’s also patently false and, in light of the actual demographics of bike riders, paternalistic and insulting to the many low-income people, women, and people of color who ride bikes. As a former Southeast Seattle resident who gave up riding to work because Rainier Ave., the most direct and least hilly route to downtown or Capitol Hill, is so demonstrably dangerous, I am an avid advocate for safe bike infrastructure. But let’s not rely on anecdotes from one person who commuted from Southeast Seattle daily for years, taking her life into her own hands. Let’s look at the numbers.

• Biking is rising fastest among people of color, particularly African Americans and Asian Americans. Meanwhile, Latinx people ride bikes more than any other ethnic or racial group.

• People of color are also more likely than other groups to say they ride bikes for transportation, rather than recreation, belying the claim that bike commuting is for rich white people only.

• Although most Americans say they would like to bike more often than they do, people of color are most likely to say this, and to say that protected bike lanes, in particular, would make them more likely to make them get on a bike.

• Latinx cyclists are the group proportionately most likely to die from traffic violence, followed by African Americans, giving them a direct stake in improving bike safety in their neighborhoods.

• Finally, the lowest-income Americans bike far more for recreation and transportation than people in the highest income brackets, largely because many low-income people cannot afford to own a car.

Access to safe bicycle facilities is thus a racial and social-justice issue. To pretend otherwise by relying on lazy stereotypes about Spandex-clad bros on racing bikes is to willfully ignore the facts about who’s riding bikes, and why.

“Bike Lanes Are White Lanes” author Melody Hoffman explains that the emergence of bike lanes in once segregated and now gentrified neighborhoods sends a clear message to those who live and own businesses there — that their voices don’t matter. She urges “urban planners and bike advocates who are planning this infrastructure to not just bring projects into neighborhoods.” Instead, bike lane projects should be “community-driven.” Hoffman calls out the privilege we are seeing here: “For the white middle class person, they feel that their one barrier is they need a protected bike lane to feel safe, but that is not the lived experience of all people.”

In fact, the very lengthy process for bringing protected bike lanes into the Rainier Valley was spearheaded and championed by a community-based organization called Rainier Valley Greenways, which led the charge for a series of “road diets” on Rainier Ave. S that have reduced crashes in the corridor, which has long been known as “the most dangerous street in Seattle” for the literally hundreds of injuries and fatalities caused by car crashes every year. After years of work that included a protest march in Columbia City and countless meetings with community members and city officials, the group finally won changes that have resulted in dramatic (95%) reductions in aggressive speeding, a 41% reduction in the number of people injured while walking and biking, and no significant delays to bus or car traffic driving through the corridor. According to the owner of one Columbia City small business, quoted by KING 5 in 2016, “The benefits far outweigh the downside.”

Seattle is at a crossroads. We are the fastest growing U.S. city. But we also have major societal problems caused by the unprecedented insurgence of wealth. As a city we must decide how to spend taxpayer dollars responsibly and equitably, ensuring that we are also serving and protecting small businesses. It is unacceptable for city officials to impose a bike lane agenda on neighborhoods like those proposed throughout the Rainier Valley without bothering to stop, look around and listen to peoples’ life experiences.

Again, the changes that have been made in the Rainier Valley, specifically, came from the community and would not have happened without strong advocacy from within the community—a community that was tired of seeing its residents maimed and killed by cars and trucks speeding down a street that was originally designed as a highway for cars traveling between Seattle and Renton.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Seattle City Council must now hit the pause button to allow transparent community development conversation to occur. Until then, there will only be more discord — with underrepresented communities still feeling that nobody in City Hall cares what they think.

I understand that this is an editorial, and that sometimes editorials aren’t fact-checked as assiduously as reported stories. However, even editorial opinions are stronger when they’re based on facts and data rather than opinions and innuendo. In this case, those opinions lead to some startling and problematic conclusions of their own. Asserting, contrary to evidence, that only privileged white people ride bikes, for example, is a way of erasing the people of color who are endangered every day by terrible or nonexistent bike facilities in their neighborhoods. Suggesting that Rainier Valley residents had bike lanes and road diets shoved down their throats erases the Rainier Valley residents who volunteered their time for years in the fight to get safe bike facilities on at least a small stretch of the most dangerous street in Seattle.

Ultimately, I think people who pit bike lanes against other priorities (bike lanes or solving homelessness; bike lanes or fixing income inequality) know that defunding safe infrastructure for cyclists won’t mean more money for homelessness or stopping gentrification or anything else. They just see “bike lanes” as a froufrou, unnecessary expenditure that benefits rich white guys in Spandex. It’s up to news outlets, including Crosscut, to examine the facts and determine whether that claim holds water. I hope they will follow up and do so.

* This story initially misidentified local attorney Gabe Galanda as Galanda Broadman, which is the name of Galanda’s law firm.

Fact-Checking the Weekly’s Fact Check On My Fact Check (Yes, We’re Talking About YIMBYs)

Last Friday, Seattle Weekly appended a lengthy editor’s note to its error-riddled story about Seattle’s YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) movement, which was written by a California activist who wrote an article last year asserting that YIMBYs are members of the “alt-right.” 

After a couple of perfunctory corrections (more on those in a moment), the editor’s note spends four paragraphs chiding me for a post I wrote fact-checking the Weekly’s piece and pointing out the ways in which the writer misrepresented himself to people he interviewed and mischaracterized the views of groups with which he disagreed.

This post is my response to the Weekly’s “Editorial Response,” which ran in both the print and online editions of the paper.

The note begins by arguing that my “criticism … relies heavily on her own imagined projections about how the story was put together.”

For example, Barnett suggests that we were completely unaware of the writer’s background and should’ve “googled him.” That’s simply not true. We were aware that Meronek (a San Francisco-based, Seattle native) had written articles in the past that had drawn the ire of people within the YIMBY movement. Perhaps that could’ve been framed better, but the idea that a reporter shouldn’t be able to write on a topic because of backlash they’ve received from the subject’s side would have a chilling effect (it would be incredibly difficult to write about the current Presidential administration, for example).

Well, I am just a silly girl given to flights of fancy and “imagined projections,” but even my ladybrain is capable of parsing that paragraph: The Weekly is saying that their editor, Seth Sommerfeld, was familiar with Meronek’s work, and was aware that it had caused an uproar because Meronek got a bunch of facts wrong, mischaracterized people’s comments and views, and made outrageous statements about YIMBYs, the subject of his piece. (Just this week, Meronek accused San Francisco YIMBYs of ethnic cleansing on his Twitter feed.)  He knew about Meronek’s error-riddled polemic calling YIMBYs members of the “alt-right.” He knew, too, about Meronek’s piece arguing that YIMBYs’ “politics are rooted in racist and anti-poor conservative neoliberal ideologies first inaugurated by Ronald Reagan.” He dismissed attempts to fact-check Meronek’s polemics by women (they were all women) in the Bay Area as “ire” aimed at a writer whose perspective they just didn’t like. And he decided Meronek would be a great person to cover the YIMBY movement in Seattle.

Given all that, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that my suggestion that the Weekly could have found a local reporter, with actual reporting credentials, would get me compared to Trump. After all, isn’t suggesting that reporters ought to meet some basic standards—like characterizing people accurately, getting their facts straight, and not misrepresenting themselves to people they interview—exactly the same thing as saying that people whose opinions are controversial should be banned from writing? It’s like I always say: If you piss anyone off with your writing, you should pick another profession, because the point of journalism is to make everybody happy. Oh, wait. I don’t say that. In fact, some days I feel like my Twitter feed, emails, and comments are just a firehose of vitriol. If you aren’t pissing anyone off, you aren’t doing your job. The problem with Meronek isn’t that he made all those YIMBYs in California mad. The problem is that he misrepresented himself, mischaracterized them, and got a ton of verifiable facts wrong—and then came and did the same thing here.

The paragraph about the Central District being even more cost-prohibitive for people of color due to market-rate development (which is factual) at no point says that it’s the only reason for the demographic shift in the neighborhood. Barnett goes on for paragraphs about the issue, but this article wasn’t about the Central District, so a comprehensive history would’ve been a diversion.

First: Just saying something is “factual” doesn’t make it true (my post outlines, apparently at great length, why this claim is not supported by facts.) Second: I wasn’t asking for a “comprehensive history” of the Central District, nor did I attempt to provide one, even if I did “go on for paragraphs” (two) about Meronek’s error. My point was that Meronek’s claim that recent market-rate development has forced people out of the Central District is simply inaccurate, belied by history; market-rate development in the Central District is a very recent development, and at the risk of quoting from the piece where I apprently droned on for so long even Seattle Weekly got bored, my issue with Meronek’s claim was that the Central District began gentrifying dramatically years ago, thanks largely to high taxes, poor loan terms, and a lack of affordable housing. I don’t think the Weekly needed to publish a “comprehensive history” of the Central District. I think taking out the section that blamed the recent “unleash[ing] of market-rate development” on the area for gentrification that started 30 years ago (and maybe not referring to the area as “The District”) would have sufficed.

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In regards to the email contact between Seattle Weekly and Sightline, the numbers and money flow regarding Sightline and Good Ventures were corrected and clarified in a previous update. The quote about a “matter of perception” was willfully taken out of context and had nothing to do with Sightline’s money, but was a response to the other portions of the Sightline email which were not mentioned. (While Barnett was in contact with Sightline, she made no effort to contact Seattle Weekly.)

The issue wasn’t “the numbers and money flow”; the issue was the outrageous claim that Alan Durning, Sightline’s director, had “funneled at least 1.3 million dollars to YIMBY organizations through the charity Good Ventures, founded by Facebook billionaire Dustin Moskovitz.” This suggests that Durning, and Sightline, have directed out-of-town money through mysterious channels to shady groups (the “shady” is implied). The fact that the reverse is true (Good Ventures/Open Philanthropy gave Sightline a total of $800,000 in two chunks over three years) isn’t just a matter of fixing “the numbers and money flow”; any correction should also correct the original implication, not just the direction the money went.

Sommerfeld accuses me of “willfully taking” his email to Sightline “out of context.” My response to that one is simple: The email is short, I characterized it accurately, and I took nothing out of context, “willfully” or otherwise. Here’s how I described Sommerfeld’s response to the error (which was, at least initially, to add up a bunch of numbers that didn’t actually total $1.3 million and claim that no error existed):

This is confirmed by an email from Weekly editor Seth Sommerfield to Sightline, in which Sommerfield explained that the $1.3 million number was “the approximate sum of these grants specifically: Sightline $350,000 10/17; East Bay Forward $40,000 4/17;  Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp. $300,000 7/16; California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund $300,000 6/16; Sightline $450,000 10/15.” … Sommerfeld then said that any issues with the way the Weekly characterized Sightline were just “a matter of your perception, not based on false reporting.”

And here’s the entire email from Somerfeld to Kelsey Hamlin, Sightline’s communications associate:

Finally, the Weekly is bent out of shape that I didn’t contact them directly when fact-checking their story. This is a weird objection. A fact-checker is no more obligated to contact the author of an erroneous piece to go over his errors with him (or with his editor) than a reporter citing a set of statistics in a government document is obliged to contact the author of the report. Facts are either right or wrong. To use another Trump analogy, it’s like insisting that NPR’s crack annotation team get the president  on the phone when they know he’s lying to give him a chance to explain his own interpretation of the facts.

And speaking of which, the story is still wrong. In the original version of his piece, Meronek claimed that a single, childless person making up to $84,000 would be eligible for affordable housing through the city’s inclusionary zoning program, which he described as a program where “developers must set aside a few units in new condo complex as below-market-rate.” This was wrong on a whole bunch of levels: “New condo complexes” aren’t getting built in Seattle, for a whole bunch of reasons, and Seattle’s inclusionary zoning program, known as Mandatory Housing Affordability, creates rental units, not condos. (Inclusionary zoning is a catchall term for programs that give developers height and density bonuses in exchange for paying into an affordable housing fund or building affordable units on site.) The Office of Housing does invest in homeownership programs, for which a single person making up to $84,000 would be eligible, but those are separate from MHA. Only people making up to 80 percent of median income, or about $56,200 for a single person, can qualify for MHA. So that whole section is a mess.

But the “corrected”version  actually compounds the error:

Another solution would be to put more controls on who can apply for the city’s major affordable-housing push: inclusionary zoning, wherein developers must set aside a few units in new condo complexes as below-market-rate. As it stands, in Seattle an unmarried, childless buyer can make up to $84,000—or 120 percent of the area median income—and still be eligible for this affordable housing via the Multifamily Tax Exception. (Under the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability program, renters making around $40,000—which is 60 percent area median income—are considered eligible for this affordable housing.) 

His description of inclusionary zoning is still inaccurate, but now even more confusing (and inaccurate). People making up to 120 percent of median can indeed qualify for homeownership assistance under the Multifamily Tax Exemption (not “tax exception”) program, but that program—which provides a property tax exemption to developers who agree to set aside some units as affordable for 12 years—isn’t an inclusionary zoning program. It has nothing to do with zoning at all.

Oh, and $40,000 is not 60 percent of the Seattle area median income; the real number is $42,150.

My point in pointing all this out isn’t to gloat or suggest that I don’t make errors, or that I never inadvertently mischaracterize people’s positions. Believe me, I do—every reporter does. The responsible thing to do when that happens, though, is to quickly make sure you understand what the facts are and why you got them wrong, append a correction/retraction identifying and addressing the specific error, express regret, and try to do better in the future. Not issue a condescending editor’s note accusing the person who pointed those errors out of imagining things, taking quotes “out of context,” and trying to stifle free speech, of all things, by suggesting that people shouldn’t be allowed to report on a topic if they’ve ever elicited a “backlash.” That kind of stuff may get clicks, but it doesn’t build long-term trust in your publication—and it may elicit a backlash of its own.

Seattle Weekly Prints Error-Riddled Piece by Bay Area Activist Who Compared YIMBYs to “Alt-Right”

This week, Seattle Weekly ran an error-riddled piece by a San Francisco activist and writer named Toshio Meronek titled “The Growing Power of Seattle YIMBYs.”

As someone who has covered the YIMBY movement  in Seattle (and attended the first-ever national YIMBY conference two years ago), I was intrigued by the headline, which echoed my own reporting on the increasing influence of YIMBY activists in Seattle and other high-cost cities. Unfortunately, the headline was just about the only thing about the story that was accurate.

Generally speaking, YIMBYs can be described as people who support the development of housing affordable to people at every income level, from formerly homeless individuals and families to those who can afford market-rate housing in an expensive city like Seattle. Since YIMBYs span the political spectrum, making the term itself a somewhat slippery catch-all, they might better be described as pro-housing: They support zoning and other regulatory changes that make it easier for affordable and market-rate housing developers to add housing to cities, and oppose exclusionary zoning and other restrictions that keep single-family homeowners’ house values on an ever-rising trajectory while pushing people who lack the means to buy single-family homes out of cities. Many YIMBYs explicitly oppose exclusionary single-family zoning because of its roots in racist redlining policies; others do so because it artificially drives up land values by excluding whole classes of people from huge swaths of growing cities. Some YIMBYs support more government-subsidized housing and protections for incumbent tenants; others oppose regulations like rent control on the grounds that they can drive up housing costs. But on one thing, they agree: They say “Yes in My Backyard.”

I wasn’t familiar with the writer, Toshio Meronek. So I did what the editor who green-lighted the story probably should have done in the first place: I googled him. As it turns out, Meronek is a Bay Area activist with a long history of making inflammatory, unsubstantiated claims about YIMBY activists. In a piece for the lefty online publication Truthout titled “YIMBYs: The Alt-Right Darlings of the Real Estate Industry,” Meronek made the bizarre claim that YIMBYs’ goal is to turn cities into playgrounds for the tech nouveau riche while driving poor people into “debtors’ prisons” with the aid of “militarized policing ” and “social control.” In a followup piece for the San Francisco Examiner titled “The Problem with YIMBY,” he doubled down, claiming that  YIMBYs’ “alt-right” views are “rooted in racist and anti-poor conservative neoliberal ideologies first inaugurated by Ronald Reagan. Further, they collaborate with the real estate industry to rebrand these racist and conservative policies as hip and edgy — this is the ‘alt-right’s’ method of spreading right-wing politics beyond its old white men in suits image.”  Victoria Fierce, a YIMBY activist whose group, East Bay Forward, was featured (and mischaracterized) in Meronek’s Truthout piece, had a particularly scathing, and thoughtful, rebuttal.

Meronek imported the template he employed in San Francisco to Seattle, writing a poorly researched polemic for the Weekly that pits tenants’ rights activists such as the Seattle Tenants Union against YIMBYs writ large, to the diminishment of both.

The piece is a mashup of unrelated policy arguments and mischaracterizations of YIMBY views that reveals Meronek’s ignorance of Seattle’s policy debates and his disdain for accurately reporting basic facts that interfere with his agenda of portrayingYIMBY activists as wealthy, racist, Silicon Valley-funded proxies for the real estate industry.

Originally, I had planned to address every discursive non sequitur in the piece, but then I realized that that’s the entire point: Meronek is attempting to dazzle us with bullshit. By suggesting that YIMBYs are somehow on the wrong side of local, national, and international debates over everything from rent control to rent bidding web sites to Airbnbs to the relative number of public housing units in New York City and Singapore, Meronek manages to implicate them by mere proximity in issues that are barely related, if at all, to the availability of housing in Seattle—which, after all, is what YIMBYs are actually working to increase. The straw men Meronek sets up can then be knocked down with a whisper. The Tenants Union wants more affordable housing? Imply that YIMBYs are against that. The Seattle City Council wants restrictions on rent bidding websites? I bet YIMBYs are super into rent bidding, too. The waiting list for Section 8 vouchers in King County is absurd, and has been for decades? Sure, they weren’t even around when the problem first materialized, but let’s blame YIMBYs for that, too. Some venture capitalist in San Francisco who has nothing to do with the YIMBY movement compares housing to sandwiches? Attribute that same belief to an unrelated think tank researcher in Seattle, while presenting no reason whatsoever for making that connection. Think about it for two seconds and it’s too late, because we’ve crossed ten lanes of traffic to get to an anecdote about Airbnb regulations in New York City.

In the end, the YIMBY becomes a comical straw capitalist with blinking dollar signs in his eyes—the kind of imaginary person who isn’t himself “impacted by the housing crisis” but has figured out how to benefit from it, one greasy backroom deal at a time.

So I’ll just stick, for the most part, to the many mischaracterizations and factual errors  in the Weekly’s piece, starting with the claim that the Sightline Institute, a sustainability think tank for which I have written about equitable development and affordable housing solutions, “promote[s] a libertarian, free-market solution to the housing crisis based on trickle-down economics.” Sightline, formerly Northwest Environment Watch, is in reality a Seattle-based think tank that promotes policies that advance sustainability, environmental justice, and social equity. Even if you aren’t familiar with the group, their mission statement and a description of the work they do is right on their website. And even if you’re skeptical of things like mission statements—perhaps  you read “We strive to identify injustice and work to dismantle the systems that perpetuate it” and think, “That sounds like free-market libertarianism based on trickle-down Reaganomics to me!”—you can always look over Sightline’s exhaustively archived research, or interview local Seattle sources about their work, or actually talk to the group itself about their mission. There is no evidence that Meronek did this.

Instead—after an 11-word, out-of-context quote from Bertolet, the only YIMBY voice in this story ostensibly about YIMBYs—Meronek accuses Sightline of funneling money… to itself.

Specifically, Meronek makes the bizarre and nonsensical claim that Alan Durning, the director of Sightline, has “funneled at least 1.3 million dollars to YIMBY organizations through the charity Good Ventures, founded by Facebook billionaire Dustin Moskovitz.” This claim is so ridiculous on its face that I’m going to take a second to unravel it, because it speaks to the poor level of reporting in this piece overall, and is the kind of thing that should have made an editor or fact-checker question the veracity of the entire story.

Open Philanthropy, the foundation created by Good Ventures, is a nonprofit that provides grants to a long list of mostly left-leaning organizations, including Sightline and other sustainability groups. Sightline is not itself a granting organization and does not control the giving of any organization that provides its funding.

What Meronek appears to have done is look at Open Philanthropy’s grants database, picked a few groups more or less at random, including Sightline, and added those up to get to (approximately) $1.3 million. (I say “more or less at random ” because there are several groups that received funding from Open Philanthropy, including California YIMBY, that have “YIMBY” right in their name but did not make Meronek’s list of YIMBY groups). What’s bizarre about Meronek’s statement is not only that he’s claiming that Sightline made funding decisions for Open Philanthropy, a group that gave Sightline money and not the other way around, but that Sightline gave Open Philanthropy’s money to itself.

This is confirmed by an email from Weekly editor Seth Sommerfield to Sightline, in which Sommerfield explained that the $1.3 million number was “the approximate sum of these grants specifically: Sightline $350,000 10/17; East Bay Forward $40,000 4/17;  Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp. $300,000 7/16; California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund $300,000 6/16; Sightline $450,000 10/15.” (Those numbers actually add up to $1.44 million, not $1.3 million, which seems like a weird rounding error if those were in fact the numbers Meronek used to get to $1.3 million.) Sommerfeld then said that any issues with the way the Weekly characterized Sightline were just ” a matter of your perception, not based on false reporting.”

“We have not found any inaccuracies in the reporting,” Sommerfeld wrote.

What the Weekly is saying, and standing by, then, is that of the funding it is claiming Sightline “funneled” to nonprofits through Open Philanthropy, a funder that is not controlled by Sightline, approximately $800,000 went to Sightline itself. Put another way, they’re claiming that Sightline granted itself $800,000 from an organization it does not control. There’s no way to make these numbers make sense. They just don’t. It’s like saying that a group that gets money from the United Way—say, the Downtown Emergency Services Coalition—is in control of all of United Way’s charitable giving because they received a grant from United Way.  Claiming that a group controlled the funding decisions of one of its benefactors, and somehow gave money to itself, is not a matter of perception, or a different way of looking at the numbers. It is a falsehood, represented as fact.

But the YIMBYs at Sightline aren’t the only thing Meronek mischaracterizes. He also blames YIMBYs—an acronym that barely existed before 2016—for gentrification in the Central District, implying that it is a new phenomenon that can be laid at their feet.

The city’s Central District is a stark example of what can happen when market-rate development is unleashed on a neighborhood. Once a majority-black area, the District is now cost-prohibitive to many black Seattleites, who make, on average, less than Asians or whites. The city now faces what its own Race & Social Justice Initiative calls an “extreme racial disproportionality in homelessness,” with—no surprise—black people ending up on the street in droves.

I couldn’t find an online source for that RSJI quote, which gives me pause in the context of a story that is so littered with misrepresentations and sentence-fragment quotes throughout, but that isn’t the part that’s wrong—Seattle’s homelessness crisis is also a racial equity crisis, with Native Americans and African Americans ending up homeless far out of proportion to their representation in the population. The problem is that the Central District (or, as Meronek adorably calls it, “The District”) lost the bulk of its African American population long before the current boom. See, for example, this 2005 Seattle Times article bemoaning gentrification from a wave of white newcomers to the area. Or this 2007 Seattle PI article describing the  same trend.

In fact, you can go all the way back to the year 2000, when the Central District’s African American population had been reduced to more than 70 percent in the 1960s to just over a third.  (Today, it’s closer to 20 percent).  People were trying to figure out what to do about the problem then, too. At the time, though, the issue wasn’t a wave of market-rate development—that didn’t happen until recently—it was a lack of housing affordable to people who were being priced out of the area by taxes and losing their homes to predatory housing lenders. (Policies that would have allowed and incentivized more housing in the area, including affordable units, could have helped with that.) The current wave of market-rate development that is being “unleashed on” the Central District is not responsible for gentrification that emptied the neighborhood of African American residents 20 years ago, or 10 years ago. These are complicated problems that shouldn’t be placed, ahistorically and unfairly, at the feet of present-day activists who are, in real time and on the ground, trying to solve them. There are certainly groups, particularly in the Bay Area, that promote market-rate housing at the expense of other solutions. But that’s not what’s happening in Seattle—nor, for the most part, anywhere. Pro-housing YIMBY groups here in Seattle have actually supported equitable development projects that are attempting to slow the trend of gentrification in the CD, like the recent partnership between Forterra (a sustainability nonprofit that has recently gotten into urban development) and Africatown, to develop affordable housing and support black-owned businesses in the heart of the neighborhood.

After blaming historical gentrification in the Central District on a movement that just started in the last few years, Meronek pivots back to Sightline, which is when he makes his most bizarre

The next misrepresentation, which has little to do with the YIMBYs, is minor in comparison: Meronek claims that an electricity survey showed that Vancouver was overrun with foreign investors buying up apartments and leaving them vacant. (The evidence was that 12,000 units had very low electricity usage, a stat that advocates for foreign investor taxes have used to argue that those units are sitting vacant.) Bertolet himself actually did a great job debunking this survey, using historical electricity usage data and occupancy data over time to show that the rate of low-usage units has remained flat over time, as has the occupancy rate of apartments in Vancouver. His research, headlined “Stop Blaming Foreign Home Buyers,” is well worth reading in full.

After a quote from “Capitol Hill staple” Dennis Saxman (an old-school lefty with little influence but who’s always game for a quote about how development is bad) describing YIMBYs as advocates for “uber-development,” the aforementioned non sequitur about New York and Singapore, and some random  statistics about Airbnbs in Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, and New York, the piece winds down with a plea for rent control and inclusionary zoning. But Meronek gets that one wrong, too. After implying that Seattle doesn’t have inclusionary zoning, Meronek pivots and says we do, but that “an unmarried, childless buyer can make up to $84,000—or 120 percent of the area median income—and still be eligible for this affordable housing.” Seattle’s inclusionary zoning program, known as Mandatory Housing Affordability, provides rent-stabilized apartments to people making up to 60 percent of the Area Median Income, or $42,150 for a single person with no children, and homeownership assistance is available for people making up to 80 percent of AMI, or $56,200 for that same single, childless person. It’s unclear where Meronek got his 120 percent figure, which also remains uncorrected.

Would a local writer with some familiarity with local organizations and issues have done a better job writing about this issue? Probably. Would an established journalist have done a better job than an activist with an (easily Googleable) ax to grind? Almost certainly. But the biggest issue I see with this story isn’t even its writer’s mangling of the truth. It’s that the writer decided he wanted to tell a story—about a shadowy cabal of corrupt Silicon Valley capitalists and associated sham nonprofits lining their pockets with the spoils of late-stage capitalism—but he didn’t have the goods. That’s why the story, on its face and setting aside all the errors it contains, makes no sense. What do Singapore’s public housing policies, Facebook, Airbnb, Chinese investors in Vancouver, and Rentberry have to do with a bunch of activists in Seattle? Nothing, really, but when you glue them all together with a few quotes from tenant advocates and random Capitol Hill activists, it sure sounds sinister, doesn’t it?

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Morning Crank: The Dizzying Array of Potential Pedestrian Treatments

1. I’ll be on KUOW today at noon talking about sexual harassment, tolling I-405, and more with Civic Cocktail host (and ex-Seattle Times editorial board member) Joni Balter and former state attorney general Rob McKenna. Who won’t be on KUOW tomorrow? Tavis Smiley, who was suspended by PBS this week after an investigation found “multiple, credible allegations” of sexual misconduct by the host. The allegations include having multiple sexual relationships with subordinates, some of whom believed their “employment status was linked to the status of a sexual relationship with Smiley,” and creating a “verbally abusive and threatening environment.” Smiley has responded by denying that he “groped, coerced, or exposed myself inappropriately” to any of his coworkers, which, it should be noted, are not the acts he is accused of committing.

KUOW pulled Smiley’s radio show (which is separate from his public TV show) voluntarily, and will run the second hour of “Here and Now” in its place.

2. George Scarola, former mayor Ed Murray’s director of homelessness, made an odd comment the other day about his current status at the city. “Up until the new mayor took office—Mayor Durkan—I was the director of homelessness. I promptly submitted my resignation,” Scarola said, adding that he did so “just to give her a clean shot at exactly what she wants to do, and that hasn’t had any effect yet.” Scarola is still at the city—in fact, he attended a Ballard District Council meeting where neighbors complained about the ongoing presence of homeless people at the Ballard Commons park just last night—but his position is now at the Department of Finance and Administrative Services, not the mayor’s office.

3. Jessyn Farrell, the state-legislator-turned-mayoral candidate who came in fourth in the August primary election, is going to work for Civic Ventures, the progressive think tank founded by Seattle venture capitalist and billionaire do-gooder Nick Hanauer. Earlier this year, Hanauer said he would bankroll the campaign for a homelessness levy proposed by then-mayor Ed Murray; although the city later abandoned that proposal in favor of a joint city-county proposal that kicked the conversation about a homelessness tax into 2018, Hanauer will likely be involved in that campaign as well. Farrell, who also headed up the Transportation Choices Coalition before she was elected to represent the 46th legislative district in the state house, did not say what her title will be, but did say that she’ll be working on “rebuilding the middle class” and “making cities work for people.”

4. If you want to get an idea of of how complicated traffic planners’ jobs are, and how hard it can be to balance road users’ needs and rights without creating ridiculously out-of-whack hierarchies (where drivers can move freely and pedestrians are constantly at risk) or unintended consequences (long periods where pedestrians are just stuck waiting at corners, unable to move in any direction), check out this presentation that Seattle Department of Transportation transportation operations manager Ahmed Darrat presented to the Pedestrian Advisory Board on walk signal timing last night.  Twenty minutes went by as Darrat explained eleven ways SDOT can shift the balance of mobility between cars and pedestrians—assuming slower walking speeds near hospitals and retirement homes, giving pedestrians the option of pushing a button for several seconds to extend the walk time, “passive detection” of pedestrians using thermal sensors—and then Darrat switched to the next slide, which listed another dozen options. (More details on the dizzying array of potential pedestrian treatments here).

The biggest point of contention right now in conversations about how quickly pedestrians should be able to cross the street is the existence of so-called “beg buttons”—buttons a pedestrian (or, in many cases, cyclist) must push to alert the traffic system that cars need to stop to allow people to cross the road. The problem with beg buttons isn’t just that they feel insulting—cars don’t have to ask permission to drive, because we’ve built a system that either assumes they will be there or that senses them when they roll up to an intersection—but that they contribute to a culture in which people walking and cycling are an anomaly on the road. Beg buttons give drivers who hit pedestrians a built-in excuse—he didn’t have the walk sign, officer!—empower cities to crack down on “jaywalking,” and contribute to the overall sense that cars rule the road. And if a pedestrian isn’t aware that they won’t get permission to cross the street unless they push the button, they may get stuck waiting through several light cycles while cars move through unimpeded. Blind people, people with limited English reading skills, people who can’t read, and other people with sensory impairments are particularly impacted by beg button requirements.

Darrat said federal standards require accessible pedestrian signals at every intersection; push buttons just happen to be the only option currently available to SDOT; however, he said, “we’re committed to looking at how we treat pedestrian signals from a more global perspective and coming up with some ideas as to how we’re going to take steps toward standardizing it” so pedestrians don’t have to figure out dozens of potential signal situations—different walk cycles by time of day; half cycles for cars; “pedestrian recall”; leading pedestrian intervals”—to cross the street. Imagine if instead of figuring out whether to push the button and if it’s safe to run and whether the signal will change when you push it if the light’s already green and how long you’ll have to wait if you don’t make this cycle, you could just go out into the street at regular intervals. You know, like cars do.

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

Fake News, Anecdata, and Things that Feel True

I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon at the Hilton Airport Conference Center (steps from the light rail station!), attending the Washington State Wire’s first-ever Re–Wire conference, where I was on a panel with WSW founder Jim Boldt, TVW president Renee Radcliffe Sinclair, and Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen. The topic: Polarization, fake news, and the future of media. The topic was way too big for four people to handle in 45 minutes, obviously, so I spent my 10 minutes or so (gently) pushing back against the notion that newspapers are going to save us (they aren’t) and the idea that local news consumers can’t tell the difference between “real” news and “fake” news. Boldt, in particular, seemed sold on this notion, claiming that nearly 9 in 10 news stories we read are generated by artificial intelligence. I find that number highly implausible, simply because local coverage is obviously generated by human beings; you can follow their bylines and see them in the flesh if you go to a community meeting or hang out at city hall. It could be that what he  meant is that nearly 9 out of 10 things that are posted online, or 9 out of 10 things that are posted on Facebook are AI-generated, but that’s a different problem than “why there isn’t much reliable local news.”

At the local level, I argued, the problem isn’t so much that there’s “fake news” (Nextdoor and your neighborhood Facebook group excepted), but that the interpretations of the news that does get reported are increasingly polarized. (Maybe this happens more in Seattle, where an army of newly minted socialists swarms my Twitter feed every time I sound too skeptical about a policy they support, than it does in, say, Tacoma or Kent). A neutral headline like “Rents increase for fourth quarter” will be spun as “excessive regulations force landlords to avoid poverty by increasing rents” by those on one end of the spectrum and as “greedy landlords bleed tenants dry” by those on the other. The problem arises, I said, when media who are deeply invested in one perspective being true dispense with fact-checking and rely on anecdata and alternative facts (or seem to eschew fact-checking altogether) to support their preordained conclusions.* For example, former mayoral candidate Cary Moon insisted, in the Stranger, that “hot money” flowing “out of China” was one of the main reasons housing prices have been going up in Seattle, and the paper, whose endorsement undoubtedly helped push Moon through the primary, did not dispute those claims.

Ultimately, Moon was never able to present evidence supporting her assertion that “hot money” was to blame for high housing prices, and brushed off evidence that refuted it with statements like, “We need to look at the data” and “Something’s going on.” But her supporters had already taken her initial sweeping claim—that foreign capital is a major reason housing prices are high in Seattle—and run with it. Foreign buyers snatching up property and leaving it vacant, creating an artificial market shortage? Feels true. And it’s certainly easier to blame “wealthy foreign investors” than have a complex and heated debate about Seattle’s restrictive zoning codes.

Recently, I’ve encountered the same resistance to numbers and reliance on anecdata in the debate over Airbnb regulations. (This week, the council passed new rules restricting most short-term rental operators, except those already operating in the downtown core, to two units total.) Opponents of services like Airbnb argue that they obviously increase housing prices by taking units off the market. And it feels true, especially when you happen to live near an Airbnb that used to be a long-term rental.  (As, it so happens, I do.) But when you confront them with facts, they often respond with anecdotes or observations, which are data points but are not the same thing as data.

Fact: There are, according to the website Inside Airbnb, a total of 426 units that meet the definition typically used by advocates who argue that short-term rentals are removing apartments from the long-term rental market. These units are whole units (that is, not rooms in someone’s house) that are frequently booked (too often to allow a long-term renter to live there), highly available (meaning they are listed as available to rent most or all of the time) and owned by people with more than one listing (meaning that they aren’t someone’s primary residence.) Even assuming that every single one of those Airbnb hosts would switch to being a full-time landlord (unlikely, given that, according to occupancy numbers, most hosts rent their units out only part-time), 426 units simply isn’t enough to influence rents one way or another in a city with hundreds of thousands of apartments and thousands more people moving here every month.

And yet anecdotes seem to win the day. “I know two people who have Airbnbs that they could be renting out as full-time units.” “We live in an era of landlords sitting on vacant properties.” “I watched two neighboring buildings get converted to full-time Airbnbs [in San Francisco] It’s a thing.” I mean—no one said it wasn’t “a thing.” There’s an important argument we should be having right now about revisiting ex-mayor Ed Murray’s decision to preserve restrictive single-family zoning across the city, but that’s such a difficult, fraught conversation. Easier to blame foreigners and rich people making a killing off their Airbnb empires. It feels true.

This is not to condemn people for basing their policy views on anecdotes from people they know, or their gut feelings. Everybody does that sometimes, especially when they lack full information. Instead, it’s a lament that there aren’t enough local media sources with the time or inclination to challenge assumptions that feel true—rent control will lower rents citywide because my rent won’t go up anymore; offering homeless people a bed in a crowded shelter will work because a shelter is obviously better than a tent—by presenting facts that are true.

* I should say here that I have my own biases—I’m pro-housing,  favor moving people over moving cars, and oppose punitive approaches to crimes of poverty and addiction—but I’ve changed my mind on issues plenty of times when the facts have pointed in a different direction than I thought they did. But this is usually in favor of a more nuanced position (it turns out some kinds of involuntary treatment do work) rather than a polar opposite extreme view (addicted people should be dragged off the streets and thrown into hospitals against their will.)

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

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

This post originally appeared at Seattle Magazine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election 2017: Vindications and Repudiations

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

On to the celebrations!

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

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

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

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

Other takeaways from last night:

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

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

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

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

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

Morning Crank: Women Should Get Credit for the Work We Do

1. Yesterday, in response to a Seattle Times endorsement that cited former Tenants Union director Jon Grant’s superior “experience,” “reasonable[ness], and “objectiv[ity], more than 100 women—including elected officials, women’s rights advocates and both of Seattle’s mayoral candidates, Cary Moon and Jenny Durkan—signed on to an “open letter to the people of Seattle” denouncing the Times’ dog-whistling dismissal of Mosqueda’s achievements.

“Women should get credit for the work we do, and for our hard-won experience,” the letter reads. “We must stop making excuses or standing by while others overstate their resumes at the expense of women whose qualifications, experience, and track record are indisputable. The Seattle Times Editorial Board lauds the ‘experience’ of Teresa’s opponent, yet Teresa spent years helping craft the minimum wage and sick leave policy and leading the state-wide initiative that her opponent was hired for a period to work on.”

As I noted in my primary election endorsement of Mosqueda, the longtime advocate for women, people of color, and workers has “a mile-long resume and an incredible track record fighting successfully for equitable health care, fair wages, and paid sick and family leave.” I also noted Grant’s propensity for taking credit for work he has done as well as work he hasn’t done, including his brief tenure campaigning for the sick-leave initiative Mosqueda helped draft (where—note to the Seattle Times—he worked for Mosqueda). “The most effective city council members,” I wrote, “aren’t the ones who grandstand and take credit; they’re the ones who do the unglamorous, nose-to-the-grindstone work of drafting legislation and rounding up support.”

When I wrote about the letter (and the Times’ seeming preference for a white person—any white person—over qualified women of color in this year’s council races), Times editorial board member Donna Blankinship demanded an apology and offered “data” (the Times has endorsed a number of women and a few people of color) as a refutation of my “opinions.” I hardly expect deep self-examination from a paper that called anti-Casa Latina, anti-El Centro de la Raza, and anti-development activist Pat Murakami a longtime “advocate” for “Seattle’s underserved communities,” but the fact that more than 100 prominent Seattle women share my “opinion” should give them pause, unless they’re going to demand apologies from every woman who signed the letter.

2. Throughout his campaign, city council Position 8 candidate Jon Grant has touted the Honest Elections initiative, which created a system of public financing for city council elections and imposed campaign spending limits, for “leveling the playing field and supporting grassroots candidates” like himself. Just yesterday, however, he requested—and got—his second exemption from the spending limits imposed by the Honest Elections program, allowing him to not only raise more money but raise it in larger contributions—up to $500, or twice what the law prescribes.

It’s unclear how raising the cap will close the fundraising gap between the two candidates unless Grant gets a sudden influx of $500 contributions, since the issue is simply that more people have chosen to donate to Mosqueda.

The first time Grant requested an exemption from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, he argued that Mosqueda had raised more than the $300,000 cap imposed by the law, when independent expenditures made on Mosqueda’s behalf (but without coordination with her campaign) were added to the amount she had raised in conntributions. Grant’s campaign calculated that the total spending by Mosqueda’s campaign and on her behalf exceeded the cap by $118,000, and argued that “In digital advertising alone, $118,000 could reach hundreds of thousands of voters. Under the current spending cap, our campaign is constrained by our budget to respond to such expenditures.”
Less than a month after receiving his first exemption, Grant was back before the Commission, arguing that because Mosqueda has more donors than he does (4,952, with an average contribution of $83, compared to Grant’s 4,304, with an average contribution of $79), she has an unfair advantage over him. Once again, the amount Grant mentions is $118,000, although this time, it doesn’t include independent expenditures—it’s just how much Mosqueda has exceeded the $300,000 cap (which Grant initially petitioned to lift) on her own. The language, in fact, is identical: “In digital advertising alone, $118,000 could reach hundreds of thousands of voters. Under the current spending cap, our campaign is constrained by our budget to respond to such expenditures.” It’s unclear how raising the cap will close the fundraising gap between the two candidates unless Grant gets a sudden influx of $500 contributions, since the issue is simply that more people have chosen to donate to Mosqueda.
As she did last month, Mosqueda will have to follow up with her own petition to lift her contribution cap from $250 to $500 so that she can compete on an even playing field with Grant. She plans to do so next Monday.

3. Blankinship’s tweet did pique my interest, so I looked at the Times’ endorsements, and what I found was this: Out of 22 endorsements for this year’s general election, The Times endorsed a total of four women of color. Two were nonincumbents running for open seats—Jinyoung Lee Englund for state senate in the 45th District, and Janice Zahn for Bellevue City Council. Zahn is running against another person of color. So is Englund. Englund is an interesting choice to illustrate the Times’ support for women, given that she is opposed to abortion rights and even sent out numerous anti-Planned Parenthood and anti-choice tweets before she scrubbed her Twitter feed. Before moving into the 45th District in April, Englund was a lobbyist for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin in Washington, D.C. Her opponent, Manka Dhingra, is a moderate Democrat and a woman of color.

As for the two instances where the Times endorsed an woman of color who is an incumbent: The first, state Rep. Vandanna Slatter, is a Democrat with no Republican opponent, and the second, My-Linh Thai, has an opponent funded almost entirely by a group suing the Bellevue school board over football sanctions whose campaign, the Times wrote, was full of “red flags.”

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: “Meets All Necessary Privacy Requirements”

Image via Hope to the End.

1.  Some little-picture observations about the proposed city budget, which interim mayor Tim Burgess released on Monday:

• The budget includes extremely sunny ridership projections for the South Lake Union and First Hill streetcars, assuming that farebox revenues from the two streetcars combined will be 25 percent higher than actual 2016 revenues, and 21 percent higher than the assumption that was used for the 2017 budget.

• The budget includes $343,000 to expand the city’s Our Best program, which is aimed at increasing mentors for young African American men and improving black male outcomes. As I’ve reported, this fix-boys-first focus can black girls, who face very different challenges than black boys, behind; programs like Our Best also tend to emphasize traditional gender roles, including a heteronormative family structure in which the man is the breadwinner and the wife stays at home.

• The phrase “African American/Black” occurs 10 times in the city budget itself. Nine of those 10 times, it precedes either “male” or “boys.”

• In addition to increasing funding for homelessness-related programs and services by $2 million, the budget for the city’s Human Services Department includes funding for new Homeless Management Information scan cards, which are just what they sound like—bar-coded scan cards identifying and tracking homeless people who use the city’s shelter system. According to the budget book, the cards will, “for a small investment, significantly decrease the burden on people using homeless services to provide information and decrease the burden on agencies to enter duplicative data while significantly increasing efficiencies in the homeless service delivery system by ensuring data quality.” The proposed new homeless scanning system, HSD assures readers, “meets all necessary privacy requirements and is used in homeless response systems around the

• In another nod to HSD’s renewed emphasis on “performance-based contracting” and “measurable outcomes,” the department’s budget also includes two new data analysis staffers.

• And in a nod to the fact that addressing homelessness was never going to be a short-term problem, the budget takes two positions that were created in 2017 to execute the city’s interim response to homelessness and makes them permanent.

 

“The Navigation Center is finding that mapping out a strategy to get them housed could take more than 60 days.”

 

2. Speaking of homelessness as a long-term problem: The first annual report on Pathways Home, the new city homelessness framework that emphasizes “rapid rehousing” and “performance-based contracting,” is out. Overall, the city gives itself high marks for moving people from unsanctioned to sanctioned encampments and for getting people into safer (if still precarious) living situations. HSD praises itself, in particular, for the work of its new Navigation Teams—groups of police and outreach workers who offer services and safer shelter or housing to people living in unsanctioned encampments that are about to be swept by the city—and for two new low-barrier shelters, the city-run Navigation Center and a new low-barrier shelter run by Compass Housing, which together provide 175 new shelter beds.

However, the number of people served by the city-run Navigation Center remains low. (The Compass facility just opened last month). Between July and September, according to the report, the center has seen just 105 people—and 30 percent of those left the program in the first 45 days it was open. The goal of the Navigation Center is to get hard-to-house and chronically homeless clients with complicated problems, including addiction, into long-term shelter, permanent housing, or treatment. When the center opened, HSD said it would aim to get people through the shelter and on to their next living situation within 60 days; the progress report released Monday, however, concedes that “[p]eople coming inside from being unsheltered have a big adjustment to make and multiple issues to address and many barriers to housing stability; the Navigation Center is finding that mapping out a strategy to get them housed could take more than 60 days.” Next year, the city will switch to a system that awards contracts to shelter providers based in part on how many of their shelter clients “exit shelter to permanent housing,” which could weigh against shelters like the Navigation Center that serve clients that are among the most challenging to house.

“There is an urgent need to provide unsheltered people with real time referrals to shelter and housing by using scan card technology in the field to link outreach workers and housing resources.”

 

The report also touts the Navigation Teams, praising the groups for getting people living in unsafe encampments into “safer alternative living spaces.” Overall ,64 percent of the people the Navigation Teams “engaged” accepted some kind of services (down from the 69 percent an SPD lieutenant described as “staggeringly high” back in May). Thirty-nine percent accepted alternative living arrangements (up from 32 percent), which include other (sanctioned) encampments; although the city tracks this number closely, HSD has told me it does not know how many people in that group actually got permanent housing, as opposed to a shelter bed or reassignment to another outdoor encampment.

In a nod to the budget line item adding funding for homeless scan cards, the Pathways Home report says “there is an urgent need to provide unsheltered people with real time referrals to shelter and housing by using scan card technology in the field to link outreach workers and housing resources.”

3. Eli Sanders, the Stranger writer-turned-speechwriter/deputy communications director for interim Mayor Tim Burgess, has said he plans to use what he sees and hears while embedded at the mayor’s office as material for a piece of “experiential journalism” when he returns to his job at the paper full-time in November. (Sanders will continue to host the Stranger’s political blog, “Blabbermouth,” one day a week.) On Monday, the city provided me with Sanders’ offer letter for the position, which consists primarily of writing Burgess’ speeches and public remarks, not taking media calls or dealing with external communications. Sanders, according to the letter, will make $55.598 per hour, plus a five percent bonus for his first 520 hours; after that point (which Sanders will likely never hit, given the short-term nature of his assignment), he will receive a ten percent bonus.

Doing the math: Sanders started his new job on September 19; the job will conclude on November 28, when a new mayor takes office. At 8 hours a day, and assuming he receives no pay for additional hours or other bonuses, Sanders will make $26,153.30 for his 56 full days of work for Burgess, which (if extrapolated out to the full year) would amount to a salary of $125,762.78. This places Sanders’ starting salary within the top third of mayoral staff salaries; only 16 of the 47 mayoral staffers make more than Burgess’ new hire.

Also Monday, I got a request to remove Sanders’ personal email information from his offer letter, which is a public record available to anyone. The ask was reasonable, and I removed the address, but I couldn’t help but note a certain irony in the request, as I told the staffer who asked for the redaction:

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please considerbecoming 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.