The C Is for Crank Interviews: Mayor Ed Murray

Until a month ago, Mayor Ed Murray had what looked like a clear path to reelection. Critics from the left and right certainly assailed aspects of his record—his response to homelessness, his Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, the phased-in $15 minimum wage—but no credible candidates had stepped forward to challenge Murray on his record. And, it seemed, none would.

All that changed on April 6, when the Seattle Times broke the news that a 46-year-old man, later identified as Delvonn Heckard, had filed a civil lawsuit accusing Murray of sexually abusing him when Heckard was a teenager and Murray was in his late 20s. In addition to Heckard, two other men had accused Murray previously of sexual misconduct, but neither pursued legal action and Murray vehemently denied their allegations; a fourth accuser stepped forward after Heckard filed his lawsuit. Initially, Murray seemed committed to staying in the race and trying to weather the allegations, but his  polling numbers  apparently suggested that the path to victory was not just narrow but nonexistent. Earlier this month, Murray supporters sought guidance from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission about the feasibility of creating a legal defense fund to help defray the costs of defending against the lawsuit.

I sat down with Murray in his campaign office last Friday. (Incidentally, as I was leaving, Martha Choe—a former council member for whom Murray was once a legislative aide—walked in. Choe, according to the Seattle Times, will oversee the defense fund if it is approved.) The purpose of the interview, at the time, was to talk about the campaign, Murray’s legacy, and whether there was a path to victory in spite of the scandal. But with the news today that Murray he will drop out of the race instead of seeking reelection, I’m highlighting the parts of our conversation that deal with Murray’s legacy—a legacy that has been sidelined, and perhaps made beside the point, by the shocking allegations against him.

ECB: How did the allegations against you sideline your agenda? 

EM: They have certainly made it harder.  But I work a lot, and I work all the time. I’ve had to work since I was 12 years old in one way or another—to buy school clothes, to pay for my dental work—so I just work a lot. I love this job, and yeah, it gets to be a strain, but man, we moved forward with a big announcement on homelessness with the Allen Foundation that we’d been working on for months, we continue to implement [the homelessness strategy] Pathways Home, we continue to work on the arena proposals, we’re doing HALA [the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda], I’m doing Find It, Fix It walks. I’m going to be at something like 6 to 10 events this weekend, as I was last weekend.

ECB: Earlier this year, you announced the formation of a Navigation Team that is supposed to go out when the city clears an encampment and offers shelter and services to the people living there. In the absence of abundant affordable housing and accessible 24/7 shelter, though, it’s inevitable that the city will simply be pushing the majority of those people from place to place. Is there a point at which you would say, “stop the sweeps, it isn’t working”?  

“I think this idea that we’re just doing sweeps is kind of borrowing language form the 1990s, when they did do sweeps. I look at the tents we’ve set up with donuts and coffee and social workers who are there to try to get them out of these encampments, and it’s very, very different than a sweep.”

EM: So first of all, we don’t do sweeps, and I would really encourage you to go back and look at when they used to just go in there, the sheriff and the police department, and just throw everybody out. As you know, the Navigation Teams are made up of folks that are police officers with deescalation training, an outreach worker who’s often a homeless person themselves, somebody with some medical skills, and others that may have addiction-related skills. So what we’ve done is, we have gone out there and tried to connect people with services. And what we have been told by these teams is, you know, you move someone three or four times, they eventually come in and say, ‘I want treatment.’ In fact, a woman I met the other day in one of the encampments, she said she broke her hip, and she decided she had been moved before and she didn’t want to be moved again. She took shelter. But it took moving her two or three times before we were able to get her to take [the shelter and services] she needed in the first place.

ECB: It seems to me that the problem isn’t so much that people refuse shelter, as that we don’t have actual housing and treatment beds for the people who are homeless or need addiction treatment.

EM: We don’t, but remember, I’m the guy who doubled the housing levy and tripled the number of affordable units that are being built. And that can’t be the end of it. My predecessor [McGinn] wasn’t able to get legal authorized encampments on public space; I did. We’re doing tiny houses in conjunction with nonprofits. We’re experimenting to see what we can do to stabilize people. So I think this idea that we’re just doing sweeps is kind of borrowing language form the 1990s, when they did do sweeps. I look at the tents we’ve set up with donuts and coffee and social workers who are there to try to get them out of these encampments, and it’s very, very different than a sweep.

ECB: How many sanctioned encampments do you think we’ll ultimately need?

EM: I actually don’t know. The growth of homelessness up and down the I-5 corridor in Washington State has grown exponentially over the last year, and now we have cities up and down the corridor in Washington asking, ‘What are we going to do?’ You have parks being taken over in California and suburban cities. I think the answer is not how many tent cities do you set up or how many little houses do you build. I think we have to have a much more significant conversation about what we’re going to do about housing affordability in this country and how we’re, once again, going to have to subsidize at the federal level.

“We weren’t seeing the county step up, and we weren’t seeing the level of leadership on homelessness from the county. So that’s why we put it in our proposal. Now that will be in a county proposal that will be paid for by, hopefully, county and city residents. So I see us as benefiting from that situation.”

ECB: Do you still stand by the Poppe Report, even though it has been used by people who oppose new taxes as a political weapon to argue that we don’t need more money for homelessness?

EM: First of all, [homelessness consultant Barb Poppe] never said that. You know what she said about the levy I proposed? She said she would vote for it. She recognizes that Seattle does not have enough [housing] stock. We asked her to look at our existing services and our existing programs and how our existing services were funded. So we created a box to put her in, because we wanted to know how to reform what we have, and that’s exactly the report that she offered.

The city is going to stick with Pathways Home. Pathways Home identified housing early on. It identifies diversions before people even become homeless. It wasn’t especially strong on the addiction part, but the county knows this.

There are people, particularly in the business community, who think that the city is the reason we have homelessness, and that if the city reforms its delivery of services, according to Barb Poppe, homelessness will go away. If they believe that, they are seriously spending too much time in our new legal marijuana stores. I mean, that’s seriously missing the entire problem.

ECB: What are they missing?

EM: They’re missing the fact that the middle class in this country has shrunk considerably. They’re missing that literally two-thirds of the housing that allowed working families to live, that kind of money that used to come through HUD for working families—that money is gone. That we have an addiction treatment crisis that’s the largest, at least according to the New York Times, in our country’s history, and we are not treating it. We are not paying for it. That we have a mental health system that we took apart the old fashioned way and we replaced it with nothing. So that’s what we need to be looking at. Homelessness, actually, is a word that does more harm towards trying to solve the underlying problem than any other phrase I can think of because we have more than homelessness crisis.

ECB: Barb Poppe did sort of say that she doesn’t consider homelessness an affordability issue—that she thinks the main problem is just that we aren’t we’re allocating our services efficiently. Do you think it’s an affordability issue?

EM: I believe it is both an affordability issue and an issue about how we’re allocating our resources. Look at our shelter system. One of the things that she pointed out is our shelter system is basically broken. We haven’t competitively bid that system in 10 years. So we just write checks. We don’t ask [providers], ‘Did Jill Smith stay stable when she left your shelter for two years?’ And then we find out we have people living in shelters for 16, 17 years, and we’re calling that housing.

“There are people who think that the city is the reason we have homelessness, and that if the city reforms its delivery of services, homelessness will go away. If they believe that, they are seriously spending too much time in our new legal marijuana stores. I mean, that’s seriously missing the entire problem.”

So she’s absolutely right that there’s a resource issue, that the existing resources are absolutely broken. We definitely have a system that’s disconnected from itself and we can reduce the problem significantly. Just look at the fact that homeless kids—these kids who are first-graders, fifth-graders. who are sleeping in cars or couch-surfing with their parents and going to school every day—those kids would go to the county and be put on a list. And the list, not intentionally, had a perverse incentive that said, ‘You need to be homeless longer.’ We went with the Pathways Home reforms and we now house those people immediately. We have a goal, I think it’s probably an 18-month goal, to try and house all of our school-age children and their families.

ECB: You announced recently that the city is postponing the opening of the Navigation Center [a 24/7, low-barrier shelter for homeless men, women, and pets] because of objections from the Chinatown/International District community. Is the Navigation Center still going to happen, and do you regret how you handled the outreach for that project?

EM: I have regretted things about the outreach in every single neighborhood that we’ve tried to place services for the homeless, because every single neighborhood has had a problem. So I have not found yet, as mayor, the way that you get people to approve a homelessness facility in a process that doesn’t veto the facility itself.

I believe it will be built. We are having discussions with the community. We are identifying issues that we can work with. And I have also made a commitment to the community, as I’ve made around all these things: If it doesn’t work, we’ll close it down. It’s an experiment. It’s a pilot project. Maybe it works in San Francisco and it doesn’t work in Seattle .

ECB: Does the pushback you’ve received on the Navigation Center, and the delay on that project, bode poorly for a safe drug consumption site, if neighborhood protests are enough to derail a controversial project?

EM: I think it makes it very difficult. It’s going to be a really difficult discussion, and it’s not just difficult because of the siting problems.

But it was very interesting in Canada, talking to people who deal with this issue, they saw it as a value, because at least it keeps the person alive. They leave hope for another day for treatment. What I hear a lot in Seattle, or maybe just up and down the radios on the West Coast, is that there’s some kind of, like, Puritan aspect in our DNA. It’s like, ‘Well, if they’re using it, it’s immoral. It’s this idea that if you’re using something that might kill you, that’s your choice. So I think there’s going to be a pretty significant battle over this issue.

ECB: Do you feel that HALA has accomplished everything you wanted it to, given all the compromises you ended up making, such as taking small-scale density increases like backyard cottages off the tbale?

EM: When a version of the proposal was leaked before it was even written or even in a final form, the issue of accessory dwellings—ADU, DADU, whatever you want to call them—was the first issue to blow up, and [council members] Mike O’Brien and Tim Burgess and the Times thought we might need to take another look at it. We get most of our growth not from ADUs or DADUs—we get most of our growth and most of our affordability from the [HALA] Grand Bargain. I didn’t want to let anything upset the Grand Bargain. We are proceeding now on a separate track on the ADU/DADU thing. And you know, I have done this before—you break things in pieces and you do it incrementally and you get the whole. And we’re really close to getting the whole.

ECB: Traditional neighborhood groups were furious at you when you cut ties with the neighborhood district councils. What are you hearing from them now, and how have the city’s efforts at community engagement worked out since then?

EM: It’s probably the thing I’ve heard the least amount of criticism about, maybe because the different techniques we’ve been using to engage people in civic and city issues seem to be getting people excited.

 We used to have a town hall meeting when I was in the legislature, with whoever my seatmate was—Pat Thibadeau and Frank [Chopp], and then Frank and Jamie [Pedersen], and every year we’d have 100 people from one side of the spectrum, very, very, very loud and often very, vert angry. And then we started doing these telephone town hall meetings, both in the legislature and on issues like HALA, where you’d have 3,000 to 7000 people on the phone, who stay on the phone for an hour and ask questions and give you input. That’s very, very different than the people who show up in one room.

Let me just give you one example: Millennials don’t give up summer evenings to sit in a room of people yelling at each other. We have to change. The world is changing how it communicates and we in the city need to change how we communicate. And the fact that [the district councils] took it as a threat—they shouldn’t have. They should have taken it as an opportunity to say, ‘Wow, we can do something really exciting. And in regards to [the funding the city provided district councils], it didn’t meet our [Race and Social Justice Initiative] demographic requirements for when we spend money. We were basically asking a group of people like me –older white homeowners, almost entirely—to make all these decisions, and to me, that is a violation of our own city policy.

ECB: Bike sharing is starting or expanding across the country—except here. Was the failure of Pronto a failure on your part? Why did you abandon it rather than trying to emulate what other successful cities have done?

EM: I’ll take responsibility. We chose the wrong model. We chose a nonprofit model that didn’t work. The way it was run, the administrative cost overheads of that nonprofit, their financial model didn’t work, and probably we should have had a better understanding of that from the very beginning.

We probably have read  20 articles on a loss of a million and a half dollars to the city of Seattle [on Pronto] versus a 70-and-a-half-million dollar loss on the seawall that sort of had a one-page article [in the Seattle Times] on my first day in office and then disappeared. So yeah, we made a mistake. But will Seattle have bikeshare? Yeah, Seattle will have bikeshare some day, and it’ll be bikeshare that is based on a much better model, a financial model that pencils out—and also, I think, an equipment model that pencils out and is more usable in a city that has topography like we do.

ECB: You were a supporter of the tunnel project. Even though Bertha has broken through, there is still heated debate about who will pay for the cost overruns on the project. Do you consider the tunnel project a success, and will the city ultimately be on the hook for overruns?

EM: I think it was the right move. This is a city that has grown exponentially since this project was conceived, and if we’re going to keep that corridor moving, we need the tunnel. We need the street level [roadway]. We need the transit that’s going to come through that corridor between West Seattle and Ballard. That’s the only way that system is going to work. We’re going to get a world-class park that will become the most iconic thing that’s happened to Seattle since the World’s Fair.

The attorney general of the state of Washington at the time [the tunnel was approved], a Republican [Rob McKenna], issued an opinion that said that you cannot make a local jurisdiction pay for a state road. And by the way, I would love to see this pass the legislature, and all those Republican legislators would have to realize, ‘Oh, if we’re going to enforce this, we’re going to have to do some follow-up legislation based on the attorney general’s opinion which means I’m going to put my small city in my rural Republican district on the hook for having to pay for a state road.’ It’s not happening. As someone who spent most of my legislative career on transit, I feel pretty strongly that Seattle will not pay for the cost overruns for a state road.

ECB: What are your biggest regrets from your term?

My biggest regret is that one of the thing I focused on in my inaugural address was the need to focus on partnerships for education. And while the Education Summit was a success—as successful as the one 25 years ago under Norm Rice—part of the work we haven’t gotten to is taking it to scale—identifying the money, building a different relationship with the private sector in our school system, and taking it to the next step. We made some good progress in building a relationship with the school district—[Seattle School Board member] Betty Patu told me this was the best relationship she’s ever seen between the city and the school district —but these things are all in just their beginning stages. I had thought this, not homelessness, would be one of the key issues I would be working on reforming.

ECB: And your legacy? What do you want to be remembered for?

EM: I ran it [the office of the mayor] equity. Ninety percent of that growth you’ve seen out there was permitted before I became mayor, but we had no successful plan to grow affordably. HALA is a huge accomplishment in getting towards affordability. The minimum wage could easily have turned into a ballot measure; instead, we phased it in and we had a process that other cities are hoping to copy. The police department has gone from a city with a mayor that was fighting with a justice department – the Obama justice department – and the federal court and the federal monitors, to a city with the new chief and new leadership cooperating with the federal monitor, cooperating with the federal judge. Again and again, we have seen progress, and we have seen that progress recognized. A lot of public pensions are sideways. Ours isn’t. I inherited a seawall that had $71 million in cost overruns because they basically hid the numbers. We now have that back on target and balanced.

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Surprise Bidder Threatens Plans for Rainier Beach Food District

This story originally appeared on the South Seattle Emerald

Image result for richard conlinUPDATE: Conlin says he ahas withdrawn his bid for the Rainier Beach property, after conversations with the Rainier Beach Action Coalition about partnering on a development at the site.

Conlin says he and his business partner, Ben Rankin, “have been in discussions with RBAC and had much encouragement from city and other folks who said working with a good developer could have really helped the project. Our last communication from RBAC said that they supported our investment and looked forward to good negotiations on making the project work.” “Although RBAC is not in a position to provide any financial contribution towards a down payment right away, we would like to convey our support for the investment and look forward to developing a mutually acceptable partnership for the project.”

Conlin says the RBAC told him that they were unable to help out with a downpayment on the property themselves, but were interested in becoming partners on a development that would include the Food Innovation Hub. “While we felt that an agreement was likely, we ultimately had to respond to them by telling them we had decided not to make the payment, [because] there were too many uncertainties and possible risks around the community relationship, the potential upzone, and some physical attributes of the property,” including its irregular shape and wet soils that would likely require expensive support piles to develop.

Original story follows.

Years-long efforts to create a food innovation district—a network of food businesses and food-related activities aimed at creating living-wage jobs and preventing displacement in the Rainier Valley—saw a major setback last month when the Rainier Beach Action Coalition (RBAC) learned that another buyer outbid them on a property, next to the Rainier Beach light rail station, where they hoped to site the food innovation hub at the center of the district.

The food innovation hub, as the RBAC and its partners envisioned it, would have included a network of food-related uses to promote jobs and entrepreneurship in the food industry—not just jobs “busting suds” in restaurant kitchens, as Thomas puts it, but higher-paying positions like truck driver, food packer, chef, caterer, and accountant. According to the city of Seattle, which has been an intermittent partner on the project, the Rainier Beach station hub could have included classrooms, a co-packing facility for food startups, a food bank grocery store, tests kitchen, and a computer lab.

The winning bidder? Former Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin. As a council member from 1997 to 2013, Conlin was an outspoken advocate for improving access to food and food-industry employment through his Food Action Initiative, and is far better known as an environmentalist than as a developer—largely because he hasn’t been one until this project.

Conlin, whose firm is a joint venture with developer and former theater manager Ben Rankin, says he had no idea the Rainier Beach Action Coalition had made its own bid for the property, a 23,000-square-foot plot that currently houses a rent-to-own furniture shop and a Mexican grocery and restaurant. “We weren’t even aware that somebody else was competing for it,” Conlin says. “We just had this property come on the market and were informed about it and weren’t really aware of their intent.” The RBAC made its bid in collaboration with South East Effective Development, a community development nonprofit, and Forterra , an environmental preservation group that has recently begun investing in equitable development projects.

RBAC strategist Patrice Thomas says that if Conlin wanted to find out what the group’s intentions were, he had every opportunity to seek them out. “We shouldn’t have to reach out to him—he knows the process,” Thomas says. “There are multitudes of avenues by which he could have found anyone in the neighborhood to reach out to, to ask, ‘What’s up with the bid that was going on? I’m thinking of doing X Y Z.’ He did none of that. He chose not to speak with anybody.”

David Sauvion, RBAC co-founder and coordinator for the food innovation district, says “it was particularly harsh” to be unexpectedly outbid by Conlin “because we put all this time and effort into this, and now we have about 10 potential tenants who were talking to their boards, saying, ‘Things are progressing, we put in an offer,’ and having to go to their boards and say ‘there’s been another setback—they decided to go with another buyer’. It’s a terrible thing. You never want to be in that position.” The RBAC also received a significant grant to work on the food innovation district from the Kresge Foundation’s Fresh, Local, and Equitable initiative, and the food innovation district (and hub) was identified as a priority in the 2012 Rainier Beach Neighborhood Plan. Sauvion says the foundation is still supporting the initiative.

Conlin says he’s open to the idea of a food innovation hub in his development, but the vision he describes—low- to moderate-income apartments, marketed to artists and funded by low-income tax credits and tax-exempt bonds, built over “community-oriented” ground-floor uses—isn’t an obvious fit with the RBAC’s ground-up proposal focused on economic and food security. “I’d say we don’t really have a vision as yet—we’re just starting on this particular piece of property,” Conlin says. But, the Madrona resident adds, “We’re community-oriented developers. We’re not in this to make a ton of money. It is a for-profit [business] so we will make a little bit.”

Few of those in the negotiating and bidding process would talk on the record about what happened. Michelle Connor, executive vice president of Forterra, said only that her organization “made an offer that was not accepted by the sellers” and “received no information beyond that the sellers selected another offer.” The property owners, Jack and Peggy Solowoniuk, declined a request to talk about the deal; Jack Solowoniuk told me only that “the property is for sale and we have a backup offer” before hanging up on me. Another person involved in the process said on background that the owners, who don’t live in the neighborhood, probably didn’t care about what happened on the property once it was sold; their interest was in selling to the highest bidder.

“They don’t have a developer, like us, committed to their vision, who’s willing to leverage their financial capacity, because that’s what it takes,” says Tony To, director of the nonprofit developer Homesight. To says HomeSight would be interested in the Rainier Beach station project if they weren’t already overextended—HomeSight is all-in on another project, the Southeast Economic Opportunity Center at the Othello light rail station, one stop away.

Sauvion thinks the pending approval of Mayor Ed Murray’s mandatory housing affordability upzones around the Rainier Beach station, which will increase the height of any potential development from four to seven stories, may already be driving up land values in the area. That, in turn, enables complex agreements led by nonprofit coalitions without a lot of cash up front, to win in bidding wars. If the developments that result follow the typical pattern—mixed-income housing built above retail—they will fail to provide the kind of living-wage jobs and business opportunities the RBAC envisions.

“I really want to be clear: retail doesn’t work,” Sauvion says. “Retail doesn’t create good jobs.”

Rankin, Conlin’s partner, says that assuming he and Conlin do move forward with their project (their bid is not a final sale; it simply forecloses other bids on the property), “we do indeed hope and plan to incorporate the good work already done on a Rainier Beach food innovation district.”

Connor, the Forterra VP, says her group isn’t giving up on the food innovation hub, or pulling out as a partner on the project. “We stand ready to re-engage on behalf of RBAC should the property come back onto the market in the future.” And if it doesn’t? The RBAC and its partners say they’ve seen setbacks before, and are ready to roll up their sleeves and get back to work.

Gonzalez Holds Out Hope for State Family Leave Plan

Over at Seattle Magazine, I took a closer look at council member Lorena Gonzalez’s plan for paid family leave for private employers in Seattle. Gonzalez told me she remains optimistic that lawmakers will come up with a compromise statewide plan that will adequately cover Seattle workers, but that if they don’t, she’ll move forward with a city plan. That’s if Republican Joe Fain’s proposal is unsuccessful; it would provide a very limited form of employee-funded family leave and prevent cities, like Seattle, from passing more generous benefits of their own. 

The numbers are stark. According to a survey conducted for the City of Seattle by Maggie Simich of Patinkin Research, a Portland-based consulting firm, 41 percent of Seattle residents lack access to paid parental leave. Half of all companies offer no paid parental leave at all. Workers in the lowest-paying industries, such as restaurant workers, hotel employees, and education were the least likely to receive paid leave. And the smaller a company is, the less likely it is to offer paid family leave.

City council member Lorena Gonzalez hopes to improve those statistics. Last month, she released a “proposed policy model”—a framework for future legislation—for paid family leave in Seattle that would require private employers to provide up to 26 weeks of paid family leave for new parents and employees who need time off to take care of family members, and up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave for employees with a serious illness. The benefits would kick in after an employee has worked 340 hours (about two and a half months for full-time employees and longer for part-time) for a business, and would pay 100 percent of a workers’ wages up to $1,000 a week.

Earlier this year, the city council adopted legislation guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid parental leave to City of Seattle employees, but expanding family leave to private employees is already proving more controversial. The opposition comes not from Seattle businesses, which met with Gonzalez for months before she rolled out her policy model and are generally on board with Gonzalez’ proposed framework—but from Republicans in Olympia, who have proposed their own family leave law that would provide fewer benefits and preempt Seattle from adopting its own more generous leave policy.

The Republican-backed family leave bill, sponsored by 47th District Sen. Joe Fain, of Auburn, would have provide up to eight weeks of family leave, increasing up to a maximum of 12 weeks by 2023. Under the Fain proposal, employees who opt to take time off to care for newborns or sick family members would be paid just half of their regular wages (rising to a maximum of 67 percent in 2023), and the program would be funded entirely by employees’ own contributions, making it more of a self-insurance policy than an employer-provided benefit. It also requires employees to work for 26 consecutive weeks for a single employer before they receive benefits.

That bill didn’t make it through committee during the regular 2017 legislative session, but could be revived during the special session that is currently underway.

“It just leaves a lot of people out who are going to end up paying the premium but are never going to meet the qualification to get leave,” Marilyn Watkins, policy director for the left-leaning Economic Opportunity Institute, said when Fain introduced the bill in February. “Why should we put things in there that we know are going to be problems—that we know are going to cause inequities?”

Gonzalez is careful to say that she has no interest in proposing local legislation until legislators have finished their own negotiations over a statewide bill. “I am working really closely with communities and with labor advocates and with state representatives to try to deliver a paid family leave program for all working families in Washington State, including those in Seattle,” Gonzalez says.

“I prefer strongly that this policy would be a statewide policy and want to provide my colleagues and advocates at the state level an opportunity to see if they can deliver that type of a program to all working families. “I won’t be entertaining a timeline of any sort until I’ve had an opportunity to hear from labor advocates and our state delegation as to where the negotiations [on a compromise bill] are going,” Gonzalez says.

Morning Crank: Keep Seattle What Now?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

livablephinney.org

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

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

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

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

I guess that… clears that up?

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

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

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

 

Morning Crank: “Let’s Actually Do It.”

1. For a few weeks, a rumor has been going around that Scott Lindsay, Mayor Ed Murray’s public safety advisor and the most vocal defender of encampment sweeps in the mayor’s office, was thinking of running for city attorney against longtime incumbent Pete Holmes. Yesterday, Lindsay put those rumors to rest, announcing that not only is he running, he’s leaving the mayor’s office in one week, presumably to campaign full-time. Perhaps most interesting, Lindsay’s announcement included two unlikely endorsements, from Mothers for Police Accountability founder Rev. Harriet Walden and Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard. Walden is a longtime police accountability advocate and Daugaard has been highly critical of Murray’s homeless encampment sweeps; both serve on the Community Police Commission, the civilian body that oversees police reform efforts at the city.

Daugaard’s decision to support Lindsay is surprising not only because she supported Holmes in the past (over two campaign cycles, Daugaard  contributed $246 to Holmes’ campaigns), but because Lindsay is widely seen as a law-and-order guy and a strong defender of Murray’s encampment removal policies. (Shortly after Lindsay announced, Safe Seattle—a group opposed to homeless encampments, safe drug-consumption sites, and Murray’s pro-density policies—sung his praises on their Facebook page.

I asked Daugaard why she was supporting Lindsay. Her response: “We need to do more with the office of City Attorney. We’re entering an era when we had better be doing things worth defending here in Seattle. If we’re saying safe consumption [sites for drug users], let’s do it. If we’re saying we can care for people and reduce crime through community based alternatives, let’s actually do it.

“Scott’s analysis that we can take a more serious approach to all of these issues is correct. I haven’t always agreed with him and that may continue, but I respect his energy and openness to evidence about it what works.”

Daugaard says she’s concerned that after eight years with Holmes as city attorney, misdemeanor defendants “still serve long sentences on cases with excessive probation, are held in lieu of bail because they are poor, and are made to give up their trial rights to get services in too many cases. Jail utilization has climbed.”

“I give Pete great credit for hiring Kelly Harris as his criminal division chief last year. Kelly has made important improvements. But we need to get serious about making more effective city wide use of community based diversion. This has to work—we don’t have an infinite time frame to get it right and take it to scale. Scott is very serious about showing that we can achieve strong neighborhood-level outcomes through a public health-based approach. We need that kind of energy or people are going to get fed up.”

Murray’s campaign confirms that he will continue to support Holmes, whom he endorsed before Lindsay got in the race. The timing of Lindsay’s announcement puts Murray, who is running for reelection himself amid allegations that he sexually abused teenage boys in the 1980s, in a tough position—having a top staffer abandon ship during a tough reelection campaign does not exactly inspire confidence.

There may be another reason Lindsay decided to leave Murray in the lurch: Because polling suggested he could win. So far, Lindsay has reported one expenditure: A $20,000 phone poll, conducted between April 21 and April 23.

2. Four years after denouncing a soda tax proposal by his then- (and future) opponent, Mike McGinn (and getting trounced by his opponents as a shill for the beverage industry) on soda and sugar-sweetened beverages, Mayor Murray rolled out the details of his own soda tax proposal Thursday. The proposal would impose a 1.75-cent-per-ounce on all sodas, including diet sodas, to be paid by soda distributors, who would almost certainly pass the cost on to customers. (This, I should note, hits Crank where she lives. Don’t mess with my garbage water, Mr. Mayor, SIR.)

The money—an estimated $18 million a year, depreciated from the $23 million the city budget office estimates it would taken in on current soda sales to account for the fact that soda taxes reduce consumption—would pay for programs that support education and access to healthy food in low-income communities, including: $469,000 a year to expand school-based mentorships; $1.1 million a year for workplace learning programs for kids in high school; $1.1 million a year for case management and training to reduce racial disparities in discipline; and a one-time investment of $5 million to create an endowment that, Murray said Thursday, will provide “one free year of college at Seattle colleges [formerly known as community colleges] to all public schools students who graduate.”

Acknowledging that a soda tax is regressive—not only does it hit lower-income people hardest, lower-income people buy more soda—Murray said, “To those who say that we are resorting to a regressive tax, I say, you know what is more regressive? You know what is really taking money out of African American communities? Tolerating an education system that is failing students of color every day and leaving them without a future and giving them food that will only lead to health problems.” Excessive soda consumption has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart and liver problems, Murray noted. Murray said he decided to include diet soda in the tax for equity reasons—higher-income white people are more likely to drink diet soda than sugar-sweetened drinks—but the expansion to diet drinks also allowed him to lower the tax slightly from the 2-cents-per-ounce tax he originally proposed in his State of the City speech in February.

The soda tax requires council approval; two council members, Rob Johnson and Tim Burgess, flanked Murray at yesterday’s press conference.

Immediately after Murray’s press conference, a group of Teamsters and other soda-tax opponents gathered in the lobby of City Hall to denounce the proposal.  Pete Lamb, a representative from Teamsters Local 174, said similar taxes had already forced companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi to cut jobs in Philadelphia, where a 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax on soda went into effect this year. (The mayor of Philadelphia pointed out that the two companies saw gross profits of more than $6 billion last year, and called the company- and union-led efforts to blame the tax for layoffs a “new low.”) “We will not support a tax that puts our members’ jobs on the line,” Lamb said.

“Just in the soda and beverage industry alone, we have 1,200 to 1,300 workers, plus distributors and warehouse workers—when you really look at the full scope of it, you’re looking at thousands of jobs being potentially impacted,” Lamb said. “We support … working to combat obesity, but to just target soda when we have so many things in our food chain that are sugary—we can’t support that.”

Interesting foot note: The spokesman for the soda tax campaign, the Seattle Healthy Kids Coalition, is Aaron Pickus—the longtime spokesman for former Mayor McGinn, who proposed the original soda tax four years ago.

3. This morning, the city will once again remove a persistent unauthorized encampment above the Ballard Locks and provide its residents with information about open shelter beds and services in the hopes that some will accept their offers. The Locks encampment has been swept numerous times thanks in large part to repeated complaints by Ballard residents about garbage and erosion at the site.

George Scarola, Murray’s homelessness director, acknowledged Thursday that “of course [the decision to clear a particular encampment] is in part based on complaints. He says the Locks encampment is a “longstanding issue—as long as I’ve been here, I’ve heard people complain about it.” But, he says, the city is getting better about offering real services and shelter, rather than simply directing people to line up at bare-bones shelters downtown. “Are we simply moving people from one place to another? We are doing some of that,” Scarola acknowledges. But, he says, “We are getting 40 percent who are accepting services.” And “moving people around is somewhat useful, because we can remove some of the garbage,” which is a major source of neighborhood complaints.

The sweep begins at 8:30 this morning.

4. A new website that includes a petition to “recruit” 2016 Republican. gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant for mayor appears to be the handiwork of Matthew Donnellan, Bryant’s campaign manager in his unsuccessful effort to unseat Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee last year. Although the owner of the site paid to register it through a service that hides site owner identity, Ben Krokower of  the consulting firm Strategies 360 noticed Donnellan’s name in the source code and pointed it out on Twitter. Bill Bryant received 32 percent of the vote in King County in his race for governor.

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.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Cary Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

ECB: Like what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Morning Crank: If Those Conversations Are Not Happening in Good Faith

1. Mayor Ed Murray’s surprise announcement, at a campaign forum last week, that he would put forward “a proposal for a high-end income tax” came at a particularly inopportune time for a group of progressive taxation advocates that has been working for months to craft just such a proposal. Proponents of a local income tax, including council member Lisa Herbold, met last week with city budget director Ben Noble to discuss putting together an income tax proposal that could withstand legal scrutiny. On Monday, Herbold announced she was introducing a resolution—”drafted with the assistance of the mayor’s office” and reviewed by the city attorney—that lays out a timeline and questions that need to be resolved in drafting a local income tax ordinance. The goal, Herbold said, is to begin considering a local income tax proposal by the end of May and to adopt an ordinance in July.

Trump Proof Seattle has proposed a 1.5 percent income tax on incomes over $250,000 a year; Herbold said Monday that one of the goals of the council process will be to decide on an income threshold and what kind of income (earned or unearned) will be taxed. Prior to Murray’s announcement last week, former mayor and current mayoral candidate Mike McGinn said he supported an income tax; Cary Moon, an urban planner and civic activist who announced she was running last week, says she would prefer a capital gains tax.

2.  Council member Lorena Gonzalez had a message for legislators who are dithering over whether to require companies in Washington State to provide paid family leave: If they won’t do it, she will. Time is running out for lawmakers to reach a compromise between two dueling proposals, including one (sponsored by Sen. Joe Fain, R-47) that would preempt Seattle from adopting more generous requirements. The details of the two plans vary in the ways you might expect; the Republican proposal is entirely employee-funded and would provide new parents or people who need time off to care for a sick family member just two months of leave at half pay, while the Democratic version is partly employer-funded and provides more generous benefits.

“I feel that a statewide solution is the best solution for all working families, including Seattle working families,” Gonzalez said.  “But I have still have a very strong interest, and am incredibly ready to advance, a Seattle-only policy if those conversations are not happening in good faith.”

3. A new job opportunity opened up this week for those with thick skin and a willingness to work for a company that has been widely panned as hostile to unions: Community manager for social responsibility for New Seasons Market in Seattle. New Seasons, you may recall, sparked controversy with its plan to bid on a new location above the Capitol Hill light rail station; labor groups criticized the Portland-based company for being “anti-union,” and the United Food and Commercial Workers  organized an “unwelcome ceremony” when the company opened its first Seattle-area location on Mercer Island last year. New Seasons is also rumored to be the anchor tenant at another controversial development at 23rd and Jackson, where the luxury condo behemoth Vulcan plans to build hundreds of new apartments and tear down the unionized Red Apple store that has been a community fixture for more than 25 years. The community manager for social responsibility in Seattle, in other words, is going to have their work cut out for 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 for your support.

The C Is For Crank Interviews: Former Mayor Mike McGinn

Last week, former mayor Mike McGinn took many in the local political community by surprise when he announced he was running again for his old position. Although McGinn’s name had certainly circulated in the past as a potential challenger to Mayor Ed Murray, who defeated the then-incumbent in 2013, he always demurred when asked, calling the question of whether he planned to run “unanswerable.” It became answerable, it appears, after a man named Delvonn Heckard sued the mayor, alleging Murray had sexually abused him when Heckard was a teenager in the 1980s. McGinn announced his run with a press conference in his Greenwood backyard and the perplexing campaign slogan “Keep Seattle,” which he told me means “Keep Seattle for people.” I sat down with McGinn on Capitol Hill last week.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): I know you don’t want to comment on the charges against Mayor Murray, but I do wonder whether your decision to run now, instead of declaring before the scandal broke, is a bit opportunistic. Did you decide to run because you have specific issues with the mayor’s record, or because you saw an opportunity open up and you want another bite at the apple?

Mike McGinn (MM): I do care a lot about the city, and I’m interested in how we can make it so that people can move here and live here, and that we’re still a place for immigrants and refugees to land, that we’re still a place for young people and artists, and that we’re not driving people out. This has been the dominant issue of the day. I’ve been watching the land use and transportation issues with concern. The homelessness issues also concern me. And all of this is in the context of a budget that’s growing and growing and not really being managed very well. When I saw Ed come out at the State of the City speech and say, ‘Here are my solutions: two more taxes,’ [a tax on sugary soda and a property tax increase to address homelessness], I just decided we’re not managing the city for the people who are here or who want to come here.

ECB: In your announcement, you said specifically that growth has been responsible for driving up rents, and that the city needs to adopt policies to mitigate those impacts. To me, that sounds very different than the Mike McGinn of 2013 or 2009, when you ran as a pro-growth candidate. What’s changed?

MM: I think that my views on land use and transportation issues have really been consistent over time. I think the biggest thing that’s changed is the incredible growth in jobs at Amazon and other companies. It’s like a different environment. That’s the biggest difference. Things really change when we have a situation where tens of thousands of jobs are being added, and that puts demand on housing and increases rents and housing prices. And then the taxes. Our overall tax system is very regressive. So it turns out that there are people benefiting from the growth, but the people who are objectively benefiting the least, those with the lowest income, are actually getting priced out. And that’s a different place than the city has been. When I was at Great City [the pro-growth nonprofit McGinn co-founded], we were still working on, how do we get major employers to locate downtown? And that, historically, has been the issue for cities like Seattle that saw big employers depart for the suburbs, whether it’s Microsoft or T Mobile or A&T Wireless—all of these companies were moving out.  We went from zero cranes in my term to many, many cranes now, and that calls for a more aggressive policy response than we’ve had.

ECB: What do you mean by a more aggressive policy response?

MM:  I’m in favor of the policies that I’ve always been for. I’ve been a supporter, as you know, of missing middle housing. In my term, we tried to make it easier to build small apartment buildings, microapartments, backyard cottages, and the like. We were for those things. The critique I’ve had—and this is, I think, where some of the confusion arises—was of the HALA process. It was good-hearted in the sense that a bunch of people came together to promote their best ideas, but coming from my own experience as mayor and my own experience in the green community, I could sense what was going to happen, and it did happen, which is that there were a lot of people who were left out of that process and there was an immediate backlash against the proposals, which led to some of the more promising proposals just being dropped entirely right off the bat.

ECB: Are you actually saying that you don’t think there would have been a backlash if Murray had included all the groups that feel they were left out of the process, even if they arrived at the same set of recommendations?

“The HALA process was good-hearted, but there were a lot of people who were left out of that process and there was an immediate backlash against the proposals, which led to some of the more promising proposals just being dropped.”

MM: There may have, but we know the result we ended up with. The debate over growth, as we can see ,is becoming a really polarizing one in the city. People want to label each other—’Oh, they’re an urbanist,’ or ‘Oh, they’re a NIMBY’—you’re not going to make that go away. There are people on either pole who aren’t necessarily going to be persuadable, but in my experience working in neighborhoods, there are people in the middle who are persuadable. But if you can’t overcome the process objection, your’e never going to be able to get there.

ECB: So are you saying that you think the HALA process should be revisited, even though the council has already adopted a lot of the upzones?

MM: I think that process is going to obviously run its course through the council. There’s a number of things happening and we can quibble over specific policy details, but I do think it’s not going to produce the types of changes in housing policy that we ultimate need. It’s just not the scale that we need. So we’re still going to have to revisit the issue of, how do we make it so that people can live here.

ECB: One specific thing Murray has done is to distance the city from the neighborhood councils, and as you know, there was a backlash to that. His response to that backlash, and I think it was a appropriate one, was to say, ‘We’re not excluding you, we’re just including other people too.’

 

“Now I’m not saying that all of a sudden everyone says, ‘Oh, I’m for a bike lane.’ There are going to always be some people who hate a bike lane. But when you have neighbors talking to neighbors about what an outcome should be, you remove the process objection.”

MM: I personally was bothered by the way Ed kind of got rid of them. I do think they have a place but—you should go reread the article I wrote on Crosscut. I expressed that there were weaknesses. But I think that [cutting ties with the councils] was a divisive act. It was perceived by those folks as an attack. And I think there’s a way to say, ‘Look, you’re a voice and we’re going to continue to solicit your views, but we’re also going to invite more people in. That’s a process issue as well.

ECB: But I feel like those people hated you anyway. So how are you going to convince people that Ed is divisive but you’re not?

MM: You have to define what you mean when you say [divisive]. Are there are people in every neighborhood who are resistant to changes? Sure. But I think there are also people in every neighborhood who are open to change. I’ll give you an example: Bicycling in the the city. When it was portrayed as, the mayor is imposing his will on neighborhoods on biking, that was not something that went so well. That was one of the beauties of the road safety action plan. We actually brought folks in the room and we found a different way of talking about and approaching the issue. That helped change the debate. Now I’m not saying that all of a sudden everyone says, ‘Oh, I’m for a bike lane.’ There are going to always be some people who hate a bike lane. But when you have neighbors talking to neighbors about what an outcome should be, you remove the process objection. I look at the HALA focus groups. The reason people dropped out is that ultimately, it didn’t feel meaningful to them, for whatever reason. And so that’s what I’m trying to get at, is you need to have that engagement on the front end. When I went to a town hall and had a group of people saying we can’t do something on this street, and we had other people saying, ‘I live in this neighborhood, and I do those things.’ That fundamentally changes the debate.

ECB: It’s my impression that the neighborhood-versus-city or homeowner-versus-renter divide is much sharper now than it was when you were mayor. What’s the breaking point, when you have to say, ‘Sorry, you might not like this policy, but we’re going to do it anyway’?

MM: Ultimately, you have to make the call, but first you have to listen.

And I walked into rooms with hundreds of people yelling at me, and I brought my staff with me and I brought my department heads with me. Has [Murray] ever just walked into the room and said, ‘Anybody in the neighborhood who wants to ask me a question, go, one after the other’? I did. And what I learned was, the first meeting, people really unload. And the second meeting, it’s like, ‘Oh, he’s showing up again.’ And by the third meeting, maybe you feel like you’re starting to make some progress. But you need to show that you’re going to have a continued commitment to showing up in the room, and the next time you show up in the room, you show that that you’ve delivered something, and that you’ve heard what they say and you’re trying to deliver an outcome. Who you speak to, who you let question you, changes what you do, and if you’re just in the room with the lobbyists, if you’re just in the room with the donors, certain things are going to become priorities. If  you don’t hold yourself accountable to the neighborhoods, other things become priorities.

When you talk about the divisiveness issue, you should look at who’s getting upset and saying that. I think a lot of groups in the city thought I was far more inclusive than they had seen. But there are hard issues where there are deep divisions, like land use, zoning, bike lanes, and you can do things as mayor, inadvertently, to drive that division.

ECB: Can you give me an example of something you did to inadvertently exacerbate a division?

MM: Fire station 39. [In 2012, Lake City residents opposed plans to use a decommissioned fire station in their neighborhood for shelter and services for homeless people. Last year, the city reached an agreement with the Low-Income Housing Alliance to develop workforce housing at the site.] There were neighbors that were upset about that. They didn’t want it there. And this was an example where we were like, ‘Okay, who are the neighbors who support it?’ And the breakthrough, as time passed, was that we realized that there was a division in that neighborhood that already existed, between people who were fine with it and supported it and people that were adamantly opposed. And we started a Lake City planning process to talk about how we deal with these issues, and projects came out of that that people could agree on who disagreed w other things.

The HALA process is very divisive, it is tense, but we’re going to have to revisit it.

ECB: But the HALA upzones are all passing the council unanimously.

MM: Yeah, but I think at the end of the day, I don’t think that those upzones are going to be sufficient, and the measurement of sufficiency is in the rents and housing prices that we’re going to see.

ECB: So what do you want to see? Higher incentives? Higher payments? Just more process? What would you change?

MM: I think we could have gotten a little more out of luxury condos and we’re probably getting too much out of small apartment buildings, as an example, and one of the ways to get more out of the bigger buildings was to let a tower be more of a tower. It’s harder to get as much out of small apartment buildings. But having said that, let’s not forget that in the last couple years we also saw microapartments ruled illegal as well.

ECB: With the support of your ally, Mike O’Brien. What did you think of that vote [effectively barring new microhousing developments]?

“Murray did not recognize that this problem is scaling up, and that we need to scale up the response—not just ring the fire alarm, ask the feds to come in, and then just run out of the building. You’ve got to be the fireman on this one.”

MM: I think that they were not for everyone, but they are for some people, and it’s disappointing to me that we don’t make that option available. With backyard cottages, Mike had to try to carry that alone, really without much support from the mayor’s office at all, and now it’s tied up in litigation. [A neighborhood activist sued to stop the implementation of rules that would making it easier for homeowners to build accessory dwelling units, and O’Brien announced last month that the city would do a full environmental review of the impact of backyard cottages and basement apartments]. Maybe it would have happened anyway,  but that’s something where the mayor basically walked away from those recommendations because he thought it was too hot.

ECB: The issues you hear people getting worked up about now are not things like a single fire station. They’re, ‘I see encampments 400 times a day.’ How do you think the mayor has been doing at addressing the issue of homelessness?

MM: Not well. I think what we saw was the scale of the problem grew dramatically but not the scale of the response. Declaring an emergency is a good thing, but it was then followed by, ‘Let’s wait for the state.’ The strategy was that [the declaration of emergency] will encourage the state or the federal government to give us more, and I don’t think that was good judgment. When I was mayor, we had Obama as President and community development block grants were being cut. It was happening even without Trump. And the idea that he federal government was going to rapidly change course was not realistic. We spent a lot of time not responding. The number of sweeps picked up and we weren’t picking up the scale of our response. It’s a management issue around effectively handling the sweeps, but there was also the policy issue of prioritizing our resources.

ECB: You use the word ‘sweeps,’ which is itself a loaded word. Are you now opposed to sweeps?

MM: I did them as mayor too, but my view was always that if we needed to do it, we needed to be able to say to the public that we were providing more options for somewhere to go.

ECB: Murray says his new Navigation Team does offer meaningful alternatives. Do you think that’s b.s.?

MM: No, I don’t think it’s b.s., and I’m sure there are some really good things happening there, but we are three years and three months into his term, and he finally figured out how to do it, and that’s a serious problem. He did not recognize that this problem is scaling up, and that we need to scale up the response—not just ring the fire alarm, ask the feds to come in, and then just run out of the building. You’ve got to be the fireman on this one.

ECB: You’ve said you want to find efficiencies in the city before asking voters for another tax. Do you think there’s enough room in the budget to pay for the growing need for homelessness services?

MM: We may indeed need more resources—I suspect we will, as a way to get through it—but I don’t want to say we need another tax until we take a really close look at spending. I believe there’s real money in that budget to be reprioritized.

“When I was mayor, we had Obama as President and community development block grants were being cut. It was happening even without Trump. And the idea that he federal government was going to rapidly change course was not realistic.”

And if we are going to tax, what I would look at would be what happens if you, for example, increased the business and occupation tax on businesses over a certain size and expanded the exemption so that small businesses have lower costs. There’s actually a lot of money to be had. The dreaded employee hours tax—what came to be known as the head tax—is another example. And these are things, by the way, that the city council can do without passing a ballot measure.

And I think, let’s answer the income tax question, for crying out loud. [State law prohibits a state income tax, but both McGinn and Murray have said they want to propose a local tax to see if it stands up in court]. I would get that going as soon as we could so we could get an answer on that. I actually think a city income tax, if legal, could probably be better than the corporate tax I was just describing.

ECB: Do you think that since you left office, the city council has moved in your direction politically?

MM: Absolutely. Yeah. For example, the city council’s big response to homelessness the first year I took office was an anti-panhandling statute [which Tim Burgess proposed but which never passed]. They opposed the temporary  encampments again and again—in fact they took a vote and told me I had to evict them back then, and for that, some labeled me divisive because I was standing up for the homeless. And now we’re starting to see people putting tiny houses in the encampments, and they’re really better places than they were when the council was trying to stomp them out.

Municipal broadband, while it’s certainly been quashed by Ed, the demand is still out there. (Ed. note: In fact, McGinn commissioned a study that found that municipal broadband would cost between $700 million and $900 million and did not pursue the idea further, instead announcing a partnership with a small, new company, Gigabit Squared. That deal fell apart when Gigabit ran out of funding and left the city with thousands of dollars in unpaid bills; the company’s president soon stepped down over the botched deal.) I remember when I first ran, people were going, ‘Municipal broadband—what does that have to do? Fiber optic—what does that have to do?’ That has changed. When I ran, a lot of people criticized me for wanting to get involved in the school district, and now the it’s taken for granted that the city should be part of education and the school district, and a partner on things like expanding youth violence prevention. So has the city moved more in my direction and the things I was fighting for then? Yeah. And that’s where I thought the city was going.

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: It’s On

The big news from the first joint mayoral-city council election forum of 2017, sponsored by the 46th District Democrats last night at the Mennonite Church in Lake City, was Mayor Ed Murray’s announcement that he will propose a local income tax on high earners, taking away a major campaign talking point from one opponent, former mayor Mike McGinn, and potentially overshadowing efforts by a coalition called Trump-Proof Seattle that has been working for months to come up with a local income tax that will pass legal muster.

At the forum, Murray said he planned to “send to council … a proposal for a high-end income tax.” Murray announced the proposal in response to a question about solutions to homelessness, and preceded McGinn in the order, knocking the former mayor a bit off balance. “In my announcement, I proposed an income tax,” McGinn said. “If that is found not to be legal, we need to tax the big corporations that are benefiting from the growth” in Seattle.

Murray said a high-earners income tax would probably face an immediate legal challenge, one reason he has cited in the past for not proposing such a tax. (Murray initially proposed a new local property tax to pay for programs to address homelessness, but abandoned that plan in favor of a countywide sales tax, which he endorsed along with King County Executive Dow Constantine last month.

Of the eight mayoral candidates on stage last night, only one—Cary Moon—raised her “no” sign to the lightning round question, “Do you support a local income tax?” Moon told me yesterday afternoon that she is more interested in a capital gains tax, which she believes is more likely to hold up in court.

I live-tweeted the entire event, including the Position 8 city council debate, and Storified all those tweets here.

Welcome to Election 2017. Much, much more to come.

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.

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.