The J is for Judge: It Takes One to Know One

Critics of Seattle’s out-of-whack zoning scheme—two-thirds of the city is zoned exclusively for single-family housing—have been arguing for decades now that Seattle needs to grow up (or build up, actually) and function like an actual city, not a suburb.

This isn’t an argument about aesthetics. It’s an argument for housing affordability and environmental sustainability, both urgent issues given the homelessness crisis and the latest climate change data from the U.N., respectively.

The blunt argument from pro-city urbanists is this: The Magnolia First ideology that single-family zoning stalwarts adhere to  (or Laurelhurst First ideology or Wallingford First ideology or Phinney Ridge First ideology) selfishly defends an unsustainable lifestyle of privilege and exclusion (including the delusion that people have a constitutional right to free parking in front of their houses).

In short: The NIMBYs’ aesthetic position—that we must preserve the “character” of exclusionary neighborhoods—is undermining Seattle’s livability and affordability for the rest of us.

If you think the urbanist critique of single-family zoning lacks credibility because hipster urbanists supposedly don’t have kids or haven’t lived here long enough or are too young or don’t own houses (most people in Seattle are renters, by the way), let me introduce you to the latest critic of Seattle’s refusal to grow up and act like a city: An actual suburbanite, who lives in an actual suburb, state Sen. Guy Palumbo (D-1, Maltby).

Palumbo is proposing a bill  that would make Seattle do something it refuses to do on its own: Upzone its suburban-style landscape to take on more density.

The 45-year-old state senator argues that Seattle’s failure to play its designated urban role in our region is undermining the state’s anti-sprawl Growth Management Act.  Palumbo’s point: Seattle’s refusal to accept more growth is causing sprawl, the very opposite of what smart cities are supposedly about. (Maltby is northeast of Kirkland and Woodinville, and due east of Lynnwood.)

Sen. Palumbo’s state legislative district (which largely overlaps with Snohomish County Council Districts 4 and 5 on the charts below) has, in fact, seen  growth on par with Seattle’s, at least as a percentage of population—around 14 percent, including 17.4 percent growth in portions of the district. It’d be one thing if that spike in growth simply represented small-town numbers growing to slightly bigger small-town numbers. But we’re talking an extra 40,000 people added to a population of 285,000. It’s as if everyone on Mercer Island picked up and moved to Palumbo’s district. And then a couple of years later, half of Mercer Island picked up and did it again.

Seattle itself has grown 17.2 percent over the same time (2010 to 2017). But Palumbo isn’t arguing Seattle hasn’t grown significantly; he’s pointing out that it should be growing a lot more than the suburbs if the region is going to grow sustainably.

“They are taking growth,” he says of Seattle. “The problem is the growth they aren’t taking is moving at too high a level to places that aren’t equipped to deal with it and service it. Snohomish is taking the growth that should be in Seattle,” he reasons. “If Seattle only built the types of housing people wanted and needed,” he adds, it would also increase housing supply, slowing the increase in housing prices that are nudging people out to the remote suburbs. Sprawl.

Palumbo condemns Seattle’s rigid zoning because, he says, it’s forcing families who would actually prefer to live in the city to move into his suburban southwest Snohomish County district instead. “Seattle is zoned low-density, single-family,” he says.  As a result, “people can’t even afford one of the few and overpriced houses there, and they have to move. And they move out to the suburbs. ”

Why, there oughta be a law!

Lucky thing Palumbo is a state senator.

According to Palumbo, his draft bill (which the Urbanist first reported earlier this month),  would require increased density within a mile of frequent transit service—areas near light rail stations or near bus stops where buses arrive at least every 15 minutes. Although the details of the bill could change, Palumbo envisions a mandatory density that slopes down as development fans out: 150 dwelling units per acre within a quarter-mile of frequent transit; 45 units per acre within half a mile of transit; and 14 units per acre within a 1 mile radius. (Asked whether cities could build more densely than the minimums required by his bill, Palumbo said he hadn’t thought of that.)

Palumbo tells me his legislation isn’t a one-size-fits-all bill, and those particular numbers are only intended for Seattle. Different numbers would apply to transit-friendly neighborhoods in smaller cities and towns where transit is less frequent and where target densities are lower. (He also acknowledged that his “units per acre” metric was a bit backwards—that is, you can’t logically prescribe units-per acre rules on an individual development without a universal picture of all the proposed developments in the upzoned area.)

He said his metric was simply meant to describe the ultimate density he envisions, and that Seattle could apply units per lot and floor area ratio metrics to achieve the 14 units per acre within his 1-mile radius performance standard, for example.

Seattle is already (sorta) moving in this direction, though as cautiously as a cat burglar tip-toeing up the stairs.

This year, the council is taking up a plan that’s been in play since 2015 to upzone a tiny percentage of the city’s vast single-family neighborhoods. Focusing on the edges of single family zones that are near designated residential urban villages, the city proposal, known as  Mandatory Housing Affordability (it simultaneously makes developers fund affordable housing), would upzone six percent of single family zoned land into slightly denser residential small lot zones, low-rise zones, and Neighborhood Commercial zones. The changes would help create  what pro-housing urbanists call the “Missing Middle.”

The density increase Palumbo’s proposing within a half and quarter mile of frequent transit service—45 and 150 units per acre, respectively—would already be allowed (though not required) under both current Seattle zoning and under MHA changes to Lowrise zones and Neighborhood Commercial zones.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of the MHA rezone area  in strict single-family zones (so about four percent of that current zoning)—the   Residential Small Lot upzone—would permit density of about 20 units per acre, according to some back-of-the-envelope math city staffers did after they read about Sen. Palumbo’s proposal for comparison’s sake.

Again, while not required (as it is in Palumbo’s formula), that would actually be slightly more permissive than the density Palumbo is proposing a mile away from transit stops (his 14 units per acre). But that’s only in the sliver of single family areas rezoned under MHA; under Palumbo’s mandate, the larger swath of single family areas left untouched by MHA would face a significant upzone.

In other words, when it comes to the majority of Seattle’s single family zones, Mr. Palumbo of Maltby is far more woke about requiring dense, sustainable land use than Seattle and its leaders—even though today’s leading climate scientists are demanding dramatic action to address pending environmental calamity.

Seattle leaders do not have a good track record when it comes to standing up to the Magnolia First faction and making this change. Back in 2009, former Mayor Greg Nickels initially backed  a Futurewise/Transportation Choices Coalition state bill that would have promoted more density around transit hubs. But when traditional neighborhood activists said the proposal would turn Seattle into Mumbai, intimidating Nickels’ wary deputy mayor Tim Ceis, Nickels stepped away from the bill as his reelection loomed. (The legislation failed.)

And, of course, former Mayor Ed Murray folded on his original proposal to upzone all single family zones in 2015, watering his proposal down to the current six percent plan when the NIMBYs at the Seattle Times protested on behalf of their home-owning readers.

I contacted the Seattle City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office to see if they supported Palumbo’s urgent push for more density. A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said she hadn’t seen the bill, which is still in early draft form.

Meanwhile, Seattle City Council Member Rob Johnson, who’s leading the city’s limited MHA upzone effort, responded. Johnson, who was the director of TCC back in 2009 when the pro-transit  group went to the mat for the state upzone legislation, cautioned: “Been there done that.” He did note, though, that Palumbo was starting “an interesting conversation.”

Ultimately, Johnson argued that Palumbo’s statewide approach isn’t likely to succeed, pointing out that some suburban cities, such as Sammamish, Issaquah, and Federal Way, have gone so far as to impose moratoria on new development. (After a year, the Sammamish City Council effectively lifted the moratorium  as did the Issaquah City Council. )

However, Johnson has a point. Several Puget Sound cities have enacted development bans, making it clear that A) they’re queasy about more density and B) they’re not going to take kindly to some dude from the state legislature telling them how to manage growth.

Seattle is behaving like a suburb when the state is relying on it to be a city.

Johnson says the local approach he’s now heading up as a Seattle City Council member is more likely to work, although—recalling how Nickels backed away from the Futurewise/TCC bill—he acknowledged there’s dedicated resistance to new development in Seattle as well.  For example, he lamented the fact that single-family home owners are currently funding a legal effort to tie up the MHA upzone in a  battle in front of the City Hearing Examiner.

Resistance to development in Seattle has already undermined the rezones Johnson passed in 2016 and 2017 as part of MHA Part 1, when the city upzoned five (already) densely populated commercial/residential Urban Centers,  including downtown, plus one Residential Urban Village at 23rd & Union-Jackson.

To wit: After unanimously passing the downtown upzone, the city council halted one of the first proposed developments proposed under the new zoning (even drafting talking points for the opposition) when a developer wanted to tear down the talismanic  Showbox music venue to build more housing.

Johnson does have a point about state legislation: The merits of Palumbo’s bill are likely to be overshadowed by a meta question of governance that could stall the state senate legislation: Should the state have the right to micromanage local land use issues?

But Palumbo has a point too. When local policies spill over legislators’ borders to threaten a green and progressive state law like the Growth Management Act, which was intended to combat regional problems like sprawl, then yes, the state has a role to play.

It takes one to know one. Suburbanite Palumbo is telling it like it is: Seattle is behaving like a suburb when the state is relying on it to be a city.

Morning Crank: “Unprecedented” Bipartisan Testimony

1. The state Public Disclosure Commission, which enforces campaign finance rules, keeps tabs on lobbyists, and provides a library’s worth of public information about every campaign in the state, has been inundated over the past year by citizen complaints. One very particular citizen, actually: Glen Morgan, the former Freedom Foundation fellow and director of the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, who has filed nearly 300 complaints with the agency against Democrats and progressive groups in the past three years. (He has filed a smaller number of complaints with the attorney general’s office, which has 45 days to respond before a citizen filing a complaint can indicate their intent to file a lawsuit; if another 10 days go by with no action from the state, the citizen complainant can sue the person or campaign he feels is violating campaign-finance law.)

Some Democratic organizations have spent down their treasuries and dissolved their political arms in response to the onslaught; others are facing fines of tens of thousands of dollars for violations ranging from  late reports to reports they failed to file at all. This is less of an issue for large, well-funded organizations like the state Democrats or unions like SEIU 775 than it is for small, volunteer-run district party organizations, which often have only a few hundred dollars in the bank and can scarce afford to pay attorneys, much less cough up $10,000-plus fines. The complaints Morgan files are often about violations most observers would find trivial—failing to report the number of copies that were made when paying a printer, for example, or filing a required report one day late.

Morgan, who started filing complaints after local Democrats alleged he violated campaign finance law in a series of misleading robocalls against Democrats running for Thurston County Commissioner in 2016, has only filed complaints against Democratic groups, but he contends his point isn’t that Democrats are uniquely bad at following the law—it’s that the whole system is broken. “Nobody cares about a conservative activist saying all this. It’s irrelevant,” Morgan says. “So you have to demonstrate it by proving that there’s a problem with the widest variety of people possible.”

But Dmitri Iglitzin, a Seattle attorney who has represented several of the Democratic Party groups Morgan is pursuing, says that while Morgan “says he wants to create a crisis and show how screwed up the system is—which he’s done—the fact that he’s only gone after progressive groups and is a former Freedom Foundation Fellow and head of a right-wing organization (the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights) shows that his agenda is to wipe out Democratic party organizations and progressive organizations from the political sphere.”

Whether or not that’s the case, reforming the original law that led to the current, rather byzantine system of campaign-finance reporting—and that turned the Attorney General’s office into a useful bludgeon for activists like Morgan—is a bipartisan issue. Yesterday, the heads of the King County Democrats, Bailey Stober, and the King County Republicans, Lori Sotelo, testified together before the House State Government, Elections, and Information Technology Committee about a bill proposed by Rep. Zach Hudgins that would force complainants like Morgan to file their complaints at the PDC first instead of filing simultaneous complaints with the attorney general’s office. The PDC would have 60 days to take action on a complaint before a citizen could escalate it up to the AG, and the AG would have a longer time—60 days, not 45—to decide whether to take action. The bill would also bar citizens from filing complaints with the AG’s office for violations that amount to less than $25,000.

In his testimony, Stober said the PDC had been “weaponized” against political parties. Sotelo added that the two party leaders had taken the “unprecedented action” of appearing together to demonstrate how important it was to reform the state public disclosure law. They were less sanguine about a separate provision in the bill that would increase the maximum the PDC can fine a candidate or committee from  $10,000 to $50,000.

Morgan testified too, calling the bill an inadequate response to the problems with the public disclosure law. He did not say whether he was on board with the provision quintupling the fine for violating the law.

2. The last major hurdle preventing the city from completing the “Missing Link” of the Burke-Gilman trail in Ballard fell yesterday, when Seattle deputy hearing examiner Ryan Vancil decided that the city’s environmental impact statement is adequate and rejected opponents’ arguments against building the trail. “The weight of the evidence presented supports the determination of the [final environmental impact statement] that the Preferred Alternative will improve safety for non-motorized users over existing conditions,” Vancil wrote in a 20-point, 21-page opinion dismantling every argument the opponents made.

It has been a long road for trail proponents, who have been battling to complete the 1.4-mile gap in the trail for nearly three decades. Currently, cyclists heading through Ballard on the Burke-Gilman must detour through a path that is poorly maintained and crisscrossed by multiple railroad tracks; accidents and injuries are common. Missing Link opponents, including Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel and the King County Labor Council, argued that the presence of cyclists in an industrial area would threaten businesses’ viability and endanger jobs.

In a tweet posted right after the decision came down, council member Mike O’Brien—a daily cyclist and Missing Link proponent since before his election to the council, in 2009—said, “At last! We can move forward to complete the missing link of the Burke-Gilman Trail. I look forward to [Mayor Jenny Durkan] and [the Seattle Department of Transportation[ taking quick action to complete the Burke-Gilman, providing a safer and sound alignment for pedestrians, bicyclists, cars and trucks.”

3. The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce picked a new leader to replace outgoing CEO (and former deputy mayor) Maud Daudon yesterday: Former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, who will be the first black woman (and the second woman ever) to lead the business group. As Sound Transit board vice-chair, Strickland was a vocal advocate for light rail and a cautionary voice against legislation, just passed by the state  House, that could cut funding for ST3 by more than $2 billion.

By business-establishment standards, Seattle’s business community is unusually progressive, often endorsing measures (like the recent Sound Transit 3 ballot measure and the recent housing levy) supported by the left. The choice of Strickland over other potential leaders (former deputy mayor and Downtown Seattle Association head Kate Joncas was rumored to be in the running) may help assuage fears that the Chamber would respond to recent tax talk in Seattle (including discussion of the employee hours/”head” tax, which they oppose) by choosing a more conventional or conservative leader to take the chamber in a more conservative direction.

 

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! 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 time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

GOP Proposed More than a Dozen Bills to Preempt Cities This Session

State preemption bills as of March 1, 2017

Conventional wisdom holds that Republicans are the party of “local control,” arguing that towns and counties, not big-government bureaucrats in state legislatures or the federal government, should be able to decide what rules and laws work best for them. Small-c conservatives feared overreach from distant authorities, and argued that top-down rules, like state minimum wage laws, could threaten local economies and communities in ways that legislators in faraway capital cities could never anticipate.

That orthodoxy has never been entirely true, of course—for most of the last century, the GOP has been the party that advocates for regulating women’s bodies and peeking into couples’ bedrooms—but the shift has been especially pronounced in the Washington State Legislature in the past few years, as a newly emboldened clique of rural and exurban Republicans have proposed dozens of preemption bills aimed at stopping progressive laws in liberal cities like Seattle.

This past year, according to Seattle’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations, legislators proposed 16 bills that would preempt local authority. Most are aimed at local Seattle laws or proposals that frustrate the business community—such as SB 5149, sponsored by Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn, which would put the kibosh on Seattle City Council members’ efforts to require paid family leave, or SB 5620, from Sen. Curtis King of Yakima, which would bar Seattle from regulating transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft.

Others are aimed at stopping Seattle from passing socially liberal legislation, such as two bills by Sen. Mark Miloscia, from Federal Way, to prevent Seattle from opening supervised drug consumption sites (SB 5223) and authorizing homeless encampments (SB 5656). Still others take aim at local anti-discrimination laws, like the one in Seattle prohibiting landlords from refusing to rent to tenants using Section 8 vouchers or other nontraditional income sources.

“We’re a home rule state here in Washington, but if there are jurisdictions that have an idea and want to proceed with something that bothers [legislators], especially if it’s in the business arena—because there are businesses that work across jurisdictional lines—that can create tensions and conflicts,” says Seattle Democratic Sen. Reuven Carlyle, who recently wrote a blog post panning the preemption trend. But the larger fear, Carlyle says, isn’t just businesses will have to navigate a complicated web of overlapping rules—it’s that once progressive ideas take hold in one place, they tend to spread across the state.

“Once you start to see some of these policies get some momentum at the local level—and, worst of all, actually start to work—people in other towns and cities say, ‘Hey, maybe I’d like to make a higher minimum wage too,’ and it takes off,” Carlyle says. (So far, three cities—Seattle, SeaTac, and Tacoma—have passed local minimum wages that are higher than the statewide minimum, prompting legislators to propose a bill last year that would have preempted local minimum wage laws). “That’s the fear.”

The trend isn’t just taking place in Washington; as the New York Times reported in 2015, “So-called pre-emption laws, passed in states across the country, have barred cities from regulating landlords, building municipal broadband systems and raising the minimum wage.” Many of the bills are backed or drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a national group that provides model legislation to conservative state legislators. The Times noted that the states where such bills have actually passed—as opposed to bubbling up perennially but never quite making it through both houses, as they do in Washington—are Republican-controlled states like Texas and Arkansas.

With the state legislature split by the slimmest of margins (Republicans hold an effective 25-24 majority in the senate and Democrats control the house 50-48, it’s still hard for any of these local preemption bills to get through. But that could change, if Republicans manage to take control of both houses. “We’re one vote away from those types of bills passing,” Carlyle says. “If the Republicans took over, they would very quickly raise preemption to the top tier of legislative priorities.”

Then again, would the Democrats behave any differently if the tables were turned? Dave Williams, government relations director for the Association of Washington Cities, says both parties tend to favor preemption once they get in power. “Our experience is that the things we have to defend against are different depending on who’s in charge,” Williams says. For example, Williams says Carlyle himself “was problematic in the past about how we deal with some of the issues relating to marijuana revenues.” (Carlyle opposed past efforts to give cities a greater share of tax revenues from recreational marijuana sales).

“It goes back and forth—it’s not a one-party deal,” Williams says. “It just so happens that right now, especially on some business issues, the Republicans want to preempt” cities like Seattle. When Democrats had more power, “We tended to get mandates on environmental regulations without the money to support enforcing them.”

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

Morning Crank: How Many of You Guys Are Catholics?

http://markmiloscia.src.wastateleg.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

County, State Officials Raise Specter of Treatment Cutbacks

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Just three months after the joint Seattle-King County Opiate Addiction Task Force issued its recommendations for addressing the opiate addiction epidemic in the region, the federal government appears poised to slam the door on many of those proposals, county officials, state legislators, and experts on addiction and mental illness said Wednesday. Speaking at the county’s annual legislative forum on behavioral health at Town Hall, King County Executive Dow Constantine described a grim future if Congressional Republicans repeal the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, a move Constantine said “would reduce or roll back access to treatment, particularly for people with substance use disorders. And even if there is treatment, it is more likely to be involuntary”–in places like lockdown mental hospitals and jails, Constantine said.

CARA, which President Obama signed into law this year, funds local programs to address heroin and opiate addiction, including traditional inpatient and outpatient treatment, medication disposal, distribution of the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, and medication-assisted treatment for opiate addiction with drugs like buprenorphine.

National Council on Behavioral Health president Linda Rosenberg noted that president-elect Trump and Congressional Republicans want not only to repeal the Affordable Care Act—eliminating mental health coverage for millions of newly insured Americans—but to turn Medicaid, the program that provides health care for the very poorest Americans, into a block grant to states, which would effectively end health care as an entitlement. Without ongoing funding for Medicaid expansion, King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division Director Jim Vollendroff added, the county could find itself unable to fund drug treatment and other recommendations of the opiate task force recommendations. At the same time, “the county’s overall financial crisis threatens its ability to keep us all safe and healthy,” Vollendroff said.

One of the task force’s recommendations, supervised drug-consumption sites—where drug users could consume heroin, crack, meth, and other illegal substances under medical supervision—could be threatened from another corner of the new administration. Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, has made no secret of his opposition to drug legalization, speaking out strongly against legal weed. (“Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” Sessions once said.) It’s hard to imagine this drug warrior will sit idly by while a liberal city creates a space for people to use illegal drugs with impunity, and county officials say they are waiting on tenterhooks to see whether the new administration will crack down on innovative experiments like safe-consumption spaces.

So although the county distributed a short but ambitious list of federal legislative priorities—including full funding of CARA,  preservation of Medicaid expansion, and federal funding for 30-day treatment stays, rather than the current 15-day limit—it’s pretty clear that any real progress on improving the state’s treatment capacity will have to come from the state. The legislators gathered on stage at Town Hall last night promised to introduce a full slate of bills promoting addiction prevention and education, drug takeback programs, and programs to encourage people to enter the mental health-care field and keep them there. “The need is outstripping the number of workers in the field who can serve this community,” said freshman state Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-41. “We need to work, we need to educate, and we need to make sure this is a good paying job that people want to serve in.”

However, few legislators described how they would actually fund all these programs—Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-36, talked about directing taxes from recreational marijuana toward treatment instead of the state’s general fund, a perennial Democratic goal—and none talked about safe consumption, the most controversial element of the task force’s recommendations. Sen. Mark Miloscia (R-30), the only Republican on the stage, has been vocal about his opposition to safe consumption sites—yesterday on Twitter, he characterized “decriminalization/legalization of heroin, rather than elimination” as “Death!”—and has proposed legislation that would prevent any local jurisdiction, such as the city or the county, from opening a safe consumption site.

Check out King County’s full list of state and federal legislative priorities here.

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

Safe Injection Opponent Miloscia: “My Opinion Didn’t Change At All” on Safe-Consumption Sites

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Insite founder Liz Evans and Portland Hotel Society manager Coco Culbertson at the Rainier Hotel in Vancouver

Yesterday, I gave a brief account of my recent trip with state Sen. Mark Miloscia and city council member Lisa Herbold to Vancouver, B.C., where we visited Insite, North America’s only supervised injection site for illegal drugs, a zero-eviction women’s housing project eviscerated by government budget cuts, and a prescription heroin clinic. After the trip, I sat down with Miloscia, who is running for state auditor, to talk about his impressions of the trip and his own views about the role of government in responding to addiction.

Miloscia, a Republican, has said publicly that he plans to introduce legislation preempting King County from moving forward with two supervised drug-consumption sites recommended by a county task force on opiate addiction. A former B-52 pilot with, as he puts it, “18 nukes on my wing,” Miloscia says he had a religious awakening during his time in the service and became a pacifist; his political views also did a 180, and he became a vocal opponent not only of abortion rights and the death penalty, but of drug decriminalization, which he previously supported.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: Did anything you saw in Vancouver surprise you?

MM: A few things surprised me. One is the passion and compassion of Liz [Evans, the founder of Insite] and the people there. Two, I think in the big scheme of things, we’re not that far apart. She gets the failures of the system absolutely, and I’m the same way. She said she’s a disrupter, and so am I, because we both recognize the evils and the shortfalls of the current system. It’s not working. That’s why I got into government, why I ran for office–because the human services and criminal justice side is a complete failure, and we don’t want to fix it, and people die. It’s mind-boggling to me.

The first question out of the first reporter [at KING 5, which did a brief story about the visit] was, ‘What struck you there?’ And I said, ‘That street.’ [East Hastings Street, where Insite is located, has long been Ground Zero for the drug trade in Vancouver]. I never saw that many drug addicts on one street. I grew up in New York City, but that was horrible. I saw that need, our brothers and sisters dying on the street. And then you have that clean, very well-maintained facility, government-run, and it’s like, we’re contributing to that. We’re not helping them. They’re already on death’s doorstep. They’re dying right there, and we should be helping them five years before they get to that point.

ECB: But Insite does save lives. The data, which Liz and the other Insite staff cited to you, prove that it saves lives that would have been lost to overdoses, HIV, or wound infections.

MM: You’re absolutely right. Maybe they are. But I talked to Liz about this and Liz admitted that it’s just a little patchwork process in the entire homeless heroin addiction system, which is completely broken. It’s like, stupid government! What are they doing? Do something! They have all the money, all the authority, and they’re blowing it.

“The entire way our planet operates is about telling people what to do. Criminal justice, societal pressure—everything is about telling people what to do. Now, when they have an addiction, when the drug takes over their life, that’s when they need that more than ever before.”

And she said that she hated the government getting involved, because it’s gold-plated and ineffective and the compassion goes away when bureaucrats are running it. And ultimately it doesn’t work. I believe there’s got to be accountability and prevention, because once they get into that… What’d she say, it’s going to cost $30,000, $24,000 a year? I can’t remember what figure she gave but it was an insane act of money. We’ve got, what, 50,000, 40,000 addicts in King County? Do the math.

ECB: But they’re already costing us money. The highest number I heard for any service while we were in Vancouver was around $25,000 for someone to use the prescription heroin program, and the director pointed out that that was still much cheaper than jail, which can cost as much as $150,000 a year.

MM: And that’s why I’m a big believer in any sort of diversion program at all. You need to be able to identify people as being a danger to self or a danger to others, and once you do that, you can force people into treatment.

ECB: Liz told you that there’s no evidence to suggest that forcing people into treatment works—it just gets them off the street for a few days or weeks, at huge expense, just like jail. What do you say to that?

MM: That is a crock. The entire way our planet operates is about telling people what to do. Criminal justice, societal pressure—everything is about telling people what to do. Now, when they have an addiction, when the drug takes over their life, that’s when they need that more than ever before, and the question is getting them into a treatment that works. And to be honest, it’s almost a lifetime of treatment they need, because 30 days is the worst type of treatment. You might as well not even try. You might as well get them into detox and then kick them out onto the street. And that’s what we’re not fixing.

ECB: If 30 days of treatment isn’t enough, and that costs tens of thousands of dollars already, how are you going to pay for more intensive treatment for more people?

MM: You’ve got to focus on prevention. That’s the only way you rightsize the problem. Do an analysis of why people are turning to drugs. If you want to solve the problem rather than just maintain it, slow the growth. To solve any problem, it’s all about preventing the causes. That’s where it’s cheaper. That’s where you get results. And that’s, to be honest, where the bulk of the money needs to be spent. We’re triaging now. If we do everything in a system-wide manner, yes, there’s a way I see her program working–if it’s just a temporary stair-step program to get people into treatment. I try not to get visibly angry over the destigmatization of drugs and ‘It’s all about choice’–but that’s the wrong approach. It’s hard for people to choose to get out of their addiction. It’s carrots and sticks, for all of history–that’s how you motivate people. If you have no stick, you’ll never get a person to the point [of entering treatment] unless they hit literally rock bottom and are at death’s doorstep.

ECB: But if every addict decided they wanted to get into treatment tomorrow, we’d be thousands of beds short. And we don’t currently have the capacity to put every heroin addict on Suboxone or methadone. Are you in favor of funding treatment on demand?

MM: What I believe is when people want treatment now, you get them treatment now. So yes, that’s where you probably get your most success. If I was going to put money into triage, absolutely, get that right now. But do the math. We’re going to need $5 billion. And that’s why we’ve got to do prevention and stop it.

“I try not to get visibly angry over the destigmatization of drugs and ‘It’s all about choice’–but that’s the wrong approach. It’s hard for people to choose to get out of their addiction.”

ECB: Will you concede that you’re never going to stop from using drugs and doing dumb stuff through prevention, though? You can conceivably reduce it, but it’s going to be above zero, because people are going to continue to use drugs. What do you do with the people who are going to still use drugs and end up getting addicted?

MM: I’m going to slightly disagree with your assumption, because at the end of the day, this whole discussion we’re having is a distraction from, what is our plan to cut heroin drug use down from 50,000 down to a manageable 1,000? [It needs to be] done right, with a huge cultural stigmatization–this is controversial when I say it–and going after the root causes.

“I firmly believe that just like with homelessness, literally half the money we’re spending is spent on ineffective programs, wasteful programs, and we don’t get results because we don’t measure that.”

I started having that conversation with Liz, I said, ‘Why do people start using drugs?’ And she said, ‘Pain, broken relationships.’ That’s just another name for religion, family, community: Those networks that keep people sane and that stabilize people before it reaches the state of, you’re living in the Jungle with your heroin buddies and part of a gang. When you‘re part of a strong community like that, it’s really hard to move there. The societal, community, family, pressure prevents you from going there. The bottom line is that’s what it takes for people to get out of their addiction. You’ve got to develop that support structure around them.

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A nurse at the Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver, where addicts come several times daily to inject prescription heroin.

ECB: You’ve said you don’t want a safe injection or consumption site in King County. Why do you want to interfere with local control by passing legislation making Seattle’s desire to experiment with that model impossible?

MM: Part of the reason is, if you look at where Canada’s going, with medicinal heroin, they’re still not getting rid of the root causes. They’ve still got a heroin epidemic going on, so they’re not solving the root problem. So while in the short term, I believe it slowed the deaths–instead of it taking you five years to die on the streets, it’s now taking you ten years–at the same time, it’s not solving the underlying root causes that ultimately lead to addiction.

ECB: Have you read the heroin task force report?

MM: Yeah, ten times already.

ECB: It seems to me that they’re trying to do exactly what you’re saying you want.

MM: There’s a lot of good things in there. But we know how task forces are done, and there’s really nothing in there that I haven’t seen before. It’s all the same stuff. And anybody who’s been involved in this knows that the problems haven’t changed from the 80s. It’s the same problems. The solution is the same thing. But government never does it. Government screws up the implementation every single time. But they get to spin that report and say, ‘Oh, we’re doing something.’ But does the system, the boots on the ground, really change?

ECB: The task force is only recommending safe consumption sites for two years, as a pilot project. Why not let them try and see what happens?

MM: OK, so let’s think. We’re going to take this radical change. If we scale it up, we’re going to need to do 80 sites in King County alone. Then we’ll do medicinal heroin and we’re going to continue down that path.

ECB: But nobody’s talking about doing that here.

MM: They’re doing it in Canada! It’s the next step. It doesn’t work unless you go to the next step. That’s why everybody wants to put it in that little silo: ‘Oh, this is all we’re doing.’ But no, no–if we want to change the system, we have to have real reform. How does this scale up and look systemwide? And then when you look at that you go, ‘All our resources are going into this, it doesn’t work, per se, and we’re ignoring the key factor of prevention.’

ECB: What do you think does work?

MM: Show me the numbers. No one talks about efficiencies or effectiveness. I firmly believe that just like with homelessness, literally half the money we’re spending is spent on ineffective programs, wasteful programs, and we don’t get results because we don’t measure that. But that’s the data I want. I want to know that, ‘Okay, Mark, if you do this program systemwide, it’ll save “X” lives.’

ECB: But the only way to get data on harm reduction is to do harm reduction.

MM: Oh, true, right. But what I’d like to see is, let’s fix the $1 billion we’re spending right now, which we know at least half a billion of it are wasteful, are ineffective, are not getting results. Let’s design a plan to focus on prevention, versus, let’s get distracted and put us on the path to, frankly, legalization and decriminalization.

ECB: What do you think of the LEAD program, which diverts people committing drug crimes out of the jail system?

MM: Oh, it’s fantastic.

ECB: But that involves not arresting people.

MM: As long as they get them in a treatment plan, I’m fine. Do harm reduction and treatment, I’m fine. But there’s got to be no choice. It can’t be, ‘Well, I’m going to do this for ten years.’ It’s like Housing First. I’m for Housing First, but after 30 days, pick a time, you’ve got to get with the program. Come up to me with programs that get them from Point A to Point B. Show me the data. I know behavior modification and I know this: Human behavior has been the same for as long as we’ve been on this planet. Carrots and sticks.

ECB: Do you have an opinion on long-term buprenorphine treatment?

MM: I want to see an efficient, effective, ethical program that works, that gets results. So I’m not opposed to it, but it’s a different focus from just giving you free government help and, we’re just waiting for a light bulb to magically turn on, versus being in a program where you’re monitored with ankle [bracelets], diversion programs, all that stuff. I want to be part of that solution. I think that’s the way to go, with that public stigma. And people don’t like doing this, but you have to scare the kids and scare the adults.

ECB: I grew up in the age of Just Say No and it didn’t work. Neither did DARE. Both of those programs were geared toward trying to scare kids.

MM: Of course it didn’t work. Those are government-run programs. When the program doesn’t work, you know that within 45 days of the program starting and you change the program. But that doesn’t stop you from trying to find a program that scares people and stigmatizes them. Look at Korea. Look at Japan. There’s all kinds of cultures where it does work. But it takes thought. It’s all about culture and attitudes, so people don’t turn to drugs. There’s a whole science about why people turn to drugs or do self-destructive behaviors, and it brings us back to the family and religion discussion, or the values discussion, or the culture discussion. That’s the heart and soul of how people decide to avoid listening to the little devil on their shoulder versus the angel on their shoulder. That’s just human nature. We all struggle. All of us deal with the choices that we make.

ECB: Was your mind changed by anything that you saw or heard in Vancouver?

MM: Like I said, Liz completely shocked me. She gets the problem and the gets the solution and she admits that her thing isn’t solving the problem. She’s trying to break up the system. But the practice per se of clinics–I think, no. My opinion didn’t change at all. I still think it’s a distraction from us working on the really tough issue.

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