Five Years

Five years ago today, I made a decision that would change the trajectory of my life, and lead—with many steps along the way—to the creation of the website you’re reading right now.

On February 6, 2015, I called a cab, packed a bag, and checked in to a detox center in Kirkland, where I stayed for five days before returning home and starting over—no job, no prospects, and no real faith in myself, but an ineffable feeling that this time, things were different.

I won’t belabor everything that it took to get me to Fairfax that rainy morning—suffice to say, this wasn’t the first time I’d checked myself in to a place where the doors locked from the outside—but something had clicked. More than six years after I first sought help—thinking, in my ignorance, that detox would be a “reset button”—I was done.

But putting it that way makes it sound like a foregone conclusion, and of course it wasn’t. Most people who struggle with substance use struggle to quit, and most of us relapse before we “get it.” Some of us have loving, supportive families who try to help; some of us lose the support of those families after a stint at treatment doesn’t “work,” and many of us don’t have support from family or friends at all, because we’ve burned every last bridge or never had bridges to support us in the first place. I had every advantage—a decent job, a family who wanted to help even if they didn’t know how, and friends who never stopped showing up for me, even when I was at one of my many “rock bottoms”—a concept, by the way, that is just a story we tell ourselves.

One of the reasons I write about homelessness and addiction with such conviction is that I know what it’s like to be addicted and I know the privilege that prevented me from becoming homeless myself. Another reason is that I want to dispel the myths about addiction that people choose to believe because it’s easier than acknowledging the ways in which we’ve failed people who don’t have comfortable cushions to fall back on.

For every conservative armchair addiction expert who says, “My brother was an alcoholic but he just decided it was time to quit,” there’s someone who tells me that they were doing fine on medication but then their doctor cut them off and they switched back to meth.

For every person who tells me they support a zero-tolerance policy for people who want to live indoors, there’s a guy who was able to quit drinking only after getting stable in a place where people didn’t judge him for having a disease.

For every person who says people live in tents and shoot heroin because they want life to be a nonstop party with no consequences or accountability, there’s me, an alcoholic, telling you that maintaining an addiction from day to day is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.

The people you see on the street muttering to themselves or committing crimes to feed a drug habit or living in squalid, deplorable conditions didn’t start out that way; they fell farther than I did, and probably farther than anyone you know, because they ran out of resources, and probably didn’t have many to begin with. The job of a just society isn’t to look at people who are struggling with a life-threatening, time-consuming, soul-annihilating disease and shame them for not curing themselves on their own. It’s to ask them what they need and help them get it.

My bias is for compassion toward people that too many others view with contempt and want to sweep away. This isn’t because I’m a better person than anyone else. It’s because I know that the cure for addiction isn’t tough love or making people’s lives harder or forcing them into treatment and then blaming them when a 28-day spin-dry doesn’t “work.” The cure for addiction is realizing that there isn’t one cure for addiction, that recovery looks different for every person, and that some people may never “get it.” That doesn’t make them less deserving of respect and human rights; it just means that they didn’t defeat a life-threatening disease.

It’s hard to fit public policy into a framework of uncertainty, but everything else is a waste of time.

Unlike many of the people I write about, I had resources, and I got sober in time. I could have become homeless. I could have died. But I didn’t.

And here are some of the things I’ve done because I didn’t: I got a job at a nonprofit that fights for reproductive rights. I created this website. I got a book deal, left the job at the nonprofit, and started writing full-time. I moved out of a lousy apartment in a great location and got a place with a view in a better one. I expanded this site into a full-time enterprise, supported by hundreds of readers in Seattle and beyond. I rebuilt my old relationships and built some new ones. I wrote that book. I stayed here, one day at a time.

“Eastlake Is Moving Forward,” Herbold to Pay Ethics Fine, and an Impasse on LEAD

1. During a Monday-morning “celebration” of the 14 miles of new bike infrastructure the city built last year, Mayor Jenny Durkan said that she was committed to building a protected bike lane on Eastlake Ave. a, rather than acceding to demands from neighborhood activists that the city ditch the bike lane for an unspecified neighborhood greenway somewhere else. “We need that bike lane,”  Durkan said. “We can’t have a connected [route] if people can’t get from the north end to downtown Seattle. … Eastlake is moving forward.”

The bike lane is included in plans for the Roosevelt RapidRide bus route that will replace King County Metro’s Route 70 bus; the Seattle Department of Transportation released an environmental assessment of the proposal last month. Neighborhood activists have protested that the bike lane will require the removal of parking along Eastlake, and city council member Alex Pedersen said last week that he would prefer to have cyclists use unspecified parallel “neighborhood greenways” for at least some of the route.

Neither Durkan nor SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe would commit to a specific timeline to complete the most contentious portion of the center city bike network—a long-delayed protected bike lane on Fourth Avenue. Durkan decided to press pause on the bike lane in anticipation of “mega traffic” downtown during demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and a number of other major construction projects downtown. Although Carmageddon failed, once again, to materialize, the Fourth Avenue bike lane remains delayed until 2021, and was scaled back last year from a two-way protected on the east side of the street to a one-way northbound lane on the west side, in the same spot as an existing unprotected lane.

Vicky Clarke, the policy director of Cascade Bicycle Club, made a point of mentioning “gaps in the system” repeatedly in her remarks, and noted pointedly that bike advocates are looking forward to the city “funding and building a two-way bike lane on Fourth Avenue next year.”

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The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

2.City council member Lisa Herbold will pay a $500 fine for violating the city’s ethics code when she contacted Police Chief Carmen Best over a trailer that was parked in front of her house last year, on the grounds that she was using, or appeared to be using, her elected position for “private benefit” or a non-city purpose. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission will take up  the case at its meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

The case stems from an incident last year in which KIRO radio host Dori Monson and conservative activist Ari Hoffman had encouraged listeners of Monson’s show to buy up derelict RVs and park them in front of council members’ houses to protest the presence of “drug RVs” in Seattle. When a trailer showed up in front of Herbold’s home in West Seattle, Monson assumed someone had taken him up on his idea, and encouraged listeners to show up and join the “protest.”

In response to the trailer and the crowd of people outside her home, Herbold texted police chief Carmen Best and asked her to look into whether the U-Haul that brought the RV to her street had been rented by Hoffman and, if so, to consider charging Hoffman with theft. Best declined to investigate and suggested that Herbold call SPD’s non-emergency number.

“If someone has reported a trailer stolen, one has been delivered to the street in front of my house,” Herbold wrote. “I’m not complaining, I want to ensure the property is returned to its owner.” In a followup, Herbold continued, “I’m not asking you to move it. Ari [Hoffman] will twist that as [a] special SPD response for a Councilmember. I would like to find out if 1. anyone has reported it stolen, 2. Give you the license plate number of the uhaul so you can confirm from Uhaul that Ari rented the uhaul & towed it there and you can consider whether it’s appropriate to charge him with theft.”

As it turned out, the trailer was owned by a homeless woman and her family, who had planned to tow it away later that week and did not know that they had parked it near a council member’s house. They returned to the trailer to find that random people, including a reporter for KIRO Radio, had entered the trailer and rummaged through it without permission, and that the outside of the trailer had been covered in graffiti, including the words “DORI MONSON FOR PRESIDENT” across one side. The woman who owned the trailer, who was pregnant, was reportedly threatened with a knife by one of the “protesters.”

Monson never apologized for encouraging his listeners to show up and vandalize the trailer (an act he called “pretty great!!” on Twitter), though he did put give the woman and her family a “hunski” from his money clip on the air the following day. The reporter who entered the trailer, Carolyn Ossario, was reportedly fired over the stunt.

3. Last week, the members of the city council’s public safety committee, led by Herbold, sent a letter to Mayor Durkan asking her to release the full $3.5 million allocated in the city’s 2020 budget for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program by March 1, and to affirm that LEAD—which offers alternatives to arrest for people suspected of committing low-level crimes—is a crime prevention program, not a homelessness program. The letter requested a response no later than last Friday.

Durkan’s office did get back to Herbold’s office on Friday, but they did not agree to fully fund LEAD by March, and they had no response to the committee’s request that the mayor acknowledge that LEAD is not a homelessness program. Supporters of LEAD consider this an important distinction, because the city requires homeless services to focus on moving clients into permanent housing, whereas LEAD is focused on keeping them out of the criminal justice system.

Last year, the council added $3.5 million to LEAD’s budget in an effort to reduce caseloads and allow the program to take on new clients. Instead, Durkan reduced LEAD’s approved budget to the $2.6 million she had proposed in her initial budget, and made the rest of the funding contingent on the findings of a consultant hired to review and craft new performance metrics for the program. As a result, LEAD has delayed expansion plans and is considering cutbacks. A compromise plan the mayor’s office proposed last week would provide enough funding for LEAD to reduce caseloads and take care of a backlog of low-priority cases, but program director Lisa Daugaard says this defeats the purpose of the program, which is to reduce crime by working with individuals who have the greatest impact on neighborhoods.

The response from the mayor’s office is signed by Tess Colby, Durkan’s homelessness advisor. On the issue of funding, Colby wrote: “The split of the contract budget into two phases will not impede LEAD’s ability to staff in accordance with its needs. LEAD is not proposing to hire 52 case managers in the first quarter of 2020, but rather over the course of the year. I note this because the budget we have requested from LEAD will cover expenses associated with the addition of new case managers to right-size their case management ratios. This is consistent with LEAD’s plan to grow in response to referrals and intakes. Thus, the pace of hiring will not be slowed during the first phase of the contract.”

Daugaard said LEAD has no plans to expand until they know they can actually retain the new case managers for the rest of the year; it makes no sense, she told me, to hire people and start ramping up their client base now if the funding might run out in the middle of the year. For now, it seems that the council, LEAD, and the mayor are at an impasse: Durkan says LEAD can proceed as normal, LEAD says they can’t move forward without a guarantee of funding, and the council can do little except register their protest, since the mayor holds the purse strings.

Cyclists Pack Pedersen Forum, Libraries Still Lack Narcan, and an Update on LEAD

1. Bike and bus advocates showed up in force for a “town hall” meeting featuring District 4 city council member Alex Pedersen in Eastlake last night, but many said afterward that the moderators who chose the questions from a stack of cards submitted by the public—a representative from the Eastlake Community Council and a Pedersen staffer—rejected or ignored their questions.

I was live-tweeting the forum, and noticed early on that most of the questions seemed to be from people opposed to a planned protected bike lane on Eastlake, rather than the dozens of bike lane supporters in the audience. For example, early questions centered on how businesses were supposed to deal with the loss of hundreds of parking spaces directly on Eastlake Avenue; why cyclists couldn’t just ride on a parallel greenway somewhere near, but not on, Eastlake’s business district; and what can still be done to prevent King County Metro from replacing the milk-run Route 70 with a RapidRide bus route that will be faster and more frequent but won’t have as many stops.

During the meeting, I noticed that a pile of questions had been set aside, and that the moderator seemed to be favoring questions from people who opposed bike lanes and RapidRide over questions from the bike lane supporters who packed the room. So I asked via Twitter: If you were at the forum and asked a question that didn’t get answered, what was it?

Pedersen was fairly circumspect in his responses, suggesting repeatedly that people contact his office and promising he would get back to them by email. He did, however, say he supported changing the Eastlake bike lane plan—which has been debated, studied, and affirmed repeatedly over a period of several years—so that cyclists would have to shift back and forth between the arterial and short stretches of “greenway” on unnamed parallel streets. “I think [the Seattle Department of Transportation] should look harder at a combination of protected bike lanes on some part of it and greenways on some of it,” Pedersen said.

Invoking the specter of 35th Ave. NE, where a long-planned bike lane was scuttled after neighborhood activists complained that the loss of on-street parking would destroy local businesses, Pedersen added: “There was a lack of transparency” about the proposed bike lane, which he opposed. “People were just trying to figure out what was going on with it.”

“I think [the Seattle Department of Transportation] should look harder at a combination of protected bike lanes on some part of [Eastlake] and greenways on some of it.” — City council member Alex Pedersen

During the meeting, I noticed that a pile of questions had been set aside, and that the moderator seemed to be favoring questions from people who opposed bike lanes and RapidRide over questions from the bike lane supporters who packed the room. So I asked via Twitter: If you were at the forum and asked a question that didn’t get answered, what was it? Here are some of their (slightly edited) answers:

• Given that every study shows bike lanes make streets safer for everyone and are good for business (and that cyclists spend more than drivers), what data are you paying attention to? How will you incorporate the data that already exists about protected bike lanes around the world?

• Have you seen any analysis of the percentage of people who are NOT in Eastlake that commute to Eastlake for any of the businesses that are afraid of losing 320 parking spots? Do people drive to 14 Carrots from other parts of the city?

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The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

• Have you seen any research about the actual impact of bike lanes on businesses?

• What options are you prioritizing to help my whole family get around without using a car?

• Many people bus and bike through Eastlake, but don’t stop because traffic is so dangerous. What can be done to make Eastlake more welcoming to visitors and encourage fewer single occupancy vehicles, supporting the goal of Vision Zero?

• When will the city consider a residential parking zone in Eastlake (which prevents people from commuting in by car and parking all day in neighborhoods)?

• Why is the RapidRide and bike lane project important for Eastlake and the surrounding area?

Jessica Westgren from Welcoming Wallingford, a group that supports housing density and alternatives to driving, asked Pedersen verbally why he wouldn’t return calls and emails from her organization. Pedersen responded that she should send him an email, ideally including specific information such as “I’m having this issue on my block.”

 

Mayor Jenny Durkan, flanked by parents who lost their son to an opioid overdose and local officials

2. Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that the city will be distributing 700 doses of naloxone (Narcan), a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses, in response to a surge in overdoses from fentanyl in counterfeit oxycodone pills—and, in particular, an increase in the number of teenagers who have died of fentanyl overdoses. Fentanyl is especially deadly, and overdoses happen quickly; an overdosing person can die long before first responders arrive, which is why having Narcan on hand (and knowing how to use it) is so critical.

Durkan said that kits will be distributed in schools, bars, and nightclubs—”any place where it is likely that someone might overdose.” The city is also planning 25 Narcan training workshops.

Since Seattle public libraries are among the places people use opioids—and are, because staff are always present, safer consumption sites than alleys or parks—I asked if the libraries would also start stocking Narcan, and if library workers would be trained to use it. (The library system has been slow to adopt harm reduction policies, and only added sharps containers in restrooms after I published several stories on the issue last year.) Durkan said “we’d like them in the libraries,” but her staff added later that this would be an issue for the library union to negotiate.

Library spokeswoman Andra Addison later confirmed that the library does not have current plans to stock Narcan or train library workers to use it. “The Library currently uses 911 for all medical emergencies. Use of Narcan in our libraries would involve union representatives, and those discussions are just under way,” Addison says. Asked to clarify what the issue would be for the library union, Addison said, “working conditions and the impact on working conditions.”

3. City council member Lisa Herbold has released a copy of the letter I mentioned on Wednesday, urging Durkan to confirm that she will release all the funding the council provided for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program in its adopted budget no later than March 1, and to affirm that LEAD—which offers alternatives to arrest for people suspected of committing low-level crimes—is a crime prevention program, not a homelessness program. Durkan has hired a consultant to look at LEAD’s performance and to determine performance metrics for the program; currently, LEAD is classified as a homelessness intervention and required to meet housing goals, even though more than a quarter of its clients are not homeless. Continue reading “Cyclists Pack Pedersen Forum, Libraries Still Lack Narcan, and an Update on LEAD”

Durkan Proposes Compromise on LEAD Funding, but Supporters Call It a Half-Measure

Mayor Jenny Durkan and the city’s Human Services Department have proposed a partial-funding plan for the Public Defender Association’s Law Enforcement Diversion Program, an arrest-diversion program for people involved in low-level criminal activity that has been replicated in cities across the country. However, the mayor’s plan would only pay to reduce case managers’ existing caseloads, and to eliminate an existing backlog of people referred to the program through “social contacts”—a lower priority for LEAD than new referrals made through arrest diversion, which the PDA considers the heart of the program.

In an email to council members on Monday, Durkan’s homelessness advisor, Tess Colby, outlined what she called a two-phase plan for funding LEAD in 2020. (As I reported earlier this month, the city budget included $3.5 million in new funding for LEAD to reduce caseloads and expand into new parts of the city, but that funding is now on hold pending a study by a consultant.)

The first phase, according to Colby, would include “the costs and timing associated with the ramp-up of staff to reach an appropriate case management ratio that addresses their current client base (roughly 700 persons) and backlog (roughly 300 persons) of clients.”

The second phase would come after the consultant review, which is supposed to wrap up sometime this spring. The consultants are tasked with assessing “LEAD’s approach to diversion and case management in light of its theory of change and national best practices” and coming up with “LEAD-appropriate performance measures,” according to Colby’s letter.

PDA director Lisa Daugaard, who won a MacArthur “genius” Grant last year for her work on LEAD, says the program’s model “breaks” if only existing caseloads and the backlog of social-contact referrals are funded. “LEAD by definition entails responding to new arrest diversions and priority referrals from local businesses,” Daugaard says. “If we don’t help respond to current problems, we’re not an alternative public safety and order strategy—we’re just a case management program for people who, in the past, committed crimes.”

Council member Lisa Herbold echoed Daugaard’s comments at a meeting of her public safety committee on Tuesday, calling LEAD a “public safety program that exists to prioritize responding to emerging public safety and disorder issues that are identified by the communities where we live and work.” Herbold said the mayor’s proposed funding plan “makes it impossible for LEAD to take high-priority arrest referrals, and they cannot operate as a program without being able to” do so.

All four public safety committee members signed on to a letter to Durkan on Tuesday. The letter, written by Herbold, asks the mayor to commit to fully funding LEAD this year; to release the $3.5 million the council has already approved by March 1, with the concession that the contract can be modified after the consultants come back with their report; and to affirm that LEAD is a public safety program, not a homelessness program.

This last point may sound like a small nit to pick, but it gets to the heart of the issue that has led Durkan to hire a consultant to look at LEAD’s approach. LEAD has long been classified as a homelessness intervention and required to meet the same sort of performance metrics as shelters and day centers, such as referring at least 60 percent of all clients to emergency shelters. (LEAD estimates that 70 percent of its clients are unhoused). The PDA has argued that these metrics are not the right ones for for a program designed to improve public safety by reducing crime, and have suggested their own metrics in the past, but the city has continued to treat LEAD as a homelessness program.

Through a spokeswoman, Durkan’s office said the mayor “believes LEAD provides a valuable service to some individuals who have been cycling through our justice system” and “looks forward to continued discussion with LEAD, as Bennett Midland [the consultant] helps us to determine the performance measures that will help us assess the impact of the program on both the individuals they serve and surrounding communities.”

 

Council Members Respond to Shootings and Pass a Nonbinding Resolution on Nonbinding Resolutions

(Center-to-right): Mayor Jenny Durkan, council member Lisa Herbold, council member Andrew Lewis

1. City council member Tammy Morales was the only council member to vote yesterday against a resolution by council member Alex Pedersen broadly  condemning “all forms of oppression affecting communities throughout the world.” Pedersen proposed the resolution in response to legislation by council member Kshama Sawant weighing in on national policy in India and Iran, saying he hoped it would prevent the council from passing resolutions against “every horrible thing that our president or any world leader does” in the future. At the request of other council members, Pedersen amended the resolution to stipulate that it does not impede future resolutions, winning praise—and votes—from three of his colleagues.

“It’s music to my ears to hear you say that we want to honor future requests” for resolutions, council member Lisa Herbold said before voting “yes.” Andrew Lewis, who said he would not allow the resolution to “inform, limit, or stymie” any future resolutions on world affairs, added. “I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to my colleague and vote for this.”

In the end, all four of the council’s white members voted for Pedersen’s resolution, while Morales—the only person of color on the dais—voted no.

Before casting her vote, Morales said, “it’s important to condemn oppression, but we must caution against universalizing the shared experiences of oppression itself [because] doing so can minimize the ways that different groups experience oppression.”

I contacted Morales after the meeting and asked her if she was especially conscious of being the only council member of color on the dais during Monday’s discussion. “I didn’t feel it when I started speaking, but the more I kind of processed that list of specific resolutions”—a litany of resolutions in Pedersen’s legislation that appears intended to illustrate the pointlessness of resolutions—”it did.” Most of the resolutions Pedersen included in his legislation aren’t about oppression in far-flung places at all, but about US immigration policy.

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The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morales says council resolutions “aren’t intended to be a distraction from the other work that the council has to do,” as Pedersen suggested when he introduced the legislation. Instead, “they are intended to reflect the priorities of our local community as well as the families and friends that our neighbors have in other parts of the world, and I think it’s important that we respect that.”

2. Pedersen, who is head of the council’s transportation committee, sent a letter to Uber and Lyft this week asking whether they charged any customers higher-than-normal prices in the aftermath of last week’s shooting downtown, which, he said, “would be deeply disturbing in a city that permits you to use our public streets. Access to mobility during emergencies should not be determined by ability to pay.”

Several people tweeted last week that they tried to call an Uber or Lyft downtown shortly after the shooting, only to see “surge” prices of $100, $150, or more.

This isn’t some radical Marxist argument; it’s basic capitalism. If you want to jump the line in front of everyone else who’s trying to do the same thing you are, you should be willing to pay for the privilege. Otherwise, you can wait on the bus with the rest of us.

While both companies have said that they’ve issued refunds to anyone who paid extra-high surge rates to leave the downtown area during the shooting and its immediate aftermath, Pedersen’s letter seeks to ensure that anyone who paid even “relatively higher rates during the crisis as they attempted to flee downtown while suspects were still at large” receives a refund.

As someone who was downtown during the shooting myself, let me offer a counterpoint: There is no “right” to a low-cost ride from a private company. Instead, there is the market—a market determined by supply (the number of drivers willing to drive into an active shooting area) and demand (the number of people in that area who want to leave by car.) Because there was heavy traffic into and out of downtown during the shooting, what might have ordinarily been a $20 ride to Wallingford became more valuable—because a driver’s time, like an office worker’s, is worth money, and a 90-minute ride is worth more than a 20-minute one.

Second, private cars aren’t public transit; drivers decide where they want to go and which rides to take based on whether the money justifies the time and risk. No driver is obligated to come into an active-shooting area just because someone on the app really, really wants them to. This, in fact, is the whole reason for surge pricing—to give drivers an incentive to go one place when they would, left to their own devices, go somewhere else. If you don’t think drivers should be paid extra to come into an area you are trying to “flee,” you’re saying that you value their safety less than your own.

This isn’t some radical Marxist argument; it’s basic capitalism. If you want to jump the line in front of everyone else who’s trying to do the same thing you are, you should be willing to pay for the privilege. Otherwise, you can wait on the bus with the rest of us.

3. In other downtown shooting-related news, council member Lewis (District 7) has proposed stationing at least six Community Service Officers—unarmed civilian employees of the Seattle Police Department—in a storefront office somewhere in the Third Avenue corridor. The idea, Lewis says, is to have a permanent location, open 24 hours a day, to take police reports, provide “deescalation and mediation,” and “increase the visibility” of police in the area in a way that “can have a potential deterrence effect” on crime.

“The budget action [in 2019] to expand to 18 CSOs [was intended] to allow them to work in teams in the five police precincts. Calling for six of 18 to be in the West Precinct seems to be an inequitable approach unaligned with the Council’s budget actions in November.” —District 1 City Council Member Lisa Herbold

“Having a new location in the Pike-Pine corridor that is brick and mortar, that won’t be relocated like a mobile precinct, sends a message that our commitment is locked in—that we’re going to have a presence here beyond just a traditional law enforcement-based response,” Lewis says.

SPD opened a storefront in the area in 2015 as part of the “9 1/2 block strategy,” in which police arrested dozens of drug users and dealers in an area of downtown that included the site of last week’s shooting. That storefront was shut down after the operation wrapped up, and Third Avenue remained much the same as it has been for decades—a place where people buy and sell drugs, hang out, and sometimes get into fights.

But Lewis thinks a CSO storefront would be different, because CSOs aren’t a traditional law-enforcement approach. During the first iteration of the program, which ended in 2004, CSOs dealt with low-level calls, including minor property crimes, freeing up sworn officers to respond to calls that required an armed response. The program is starting up again this year, with funding for 18 full-time officers.

Lewis’ proposal would deploy six of those officers in his downtown district, leaving just 12 for the rest of the city. That idea doesn’t sit well with District 1 council member Herbold, who notes that she has been working to get a similar storefront office in South Park, where shootings are common, since last year. “The budget action [in 2019] to expand to 18 CSOs [was intended] to allow them to work in teams in the five police precincts,” Herbold says. “Calling for six of 18 to be in the West Precinct seems to be an inequitable approach unaligned with the Council’s budget actions in November.”

The Downtown Seattle Association has been enthusiastic about the proposal, saying in a statement that “locating a Seattle Police Community Storefront along Third Avenue is a welcome first step toward improving public safety in the heart of downtown.” However, Mayor Jenny Durkan was less effusive. Asked if Durkan supported Lewis’ approach, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office responded, “Our 12 CSOs are currently finishing their months-long training, and will be deployed in February in neighborhoods throughout Seattle. Their deployment plan already includes a presence downtown as well as neighborhoods throughout Seattle.”

A “Filibuster” on City Layoffs, a Resolution on Resolutions, an Accusatory Letter, and More

Acting HSD director Jason Johnson and mayoral advisor on homelessness Tess Colby

1. City council member Lisa Herbold struggled Wednesday to get Human Services Department Director Jason Johnson to answer her question about future layoffs from HSD’s Homeless Strategy and Investment (HSI) division, which is merging with King County’s homelessness division as part of the creation of a new regional homelessness authority. At a meeting of the council’s special committee on homelessness, Herbold asked Johnson repeatedly how many HSI employees would be moving to new offices in the county-owned Yesler Building as part of a temporary “co-location” of city and county staff, and how many are expected to have jobs with the new authority. “I’m hearing a lot of speculation about which positions are going to be eliminated,” Herbold said. “Given that the entire HSI division is being relocated [in March and we aren’t making final decisions about who will stay at the regional authority until much later, is there something happening that we should be aware of?”

Johnson responded first by describing the history that led to the current organizational structure of HSI, then talked at length about the successive organizational structures that will be put in place over the next year. “What is going to occur is colocation in March 2020, then after the hiring of the CEO, we will begin what is termed a loan period where day to day decisions are made by the CEO, but there will also be existing lines of authority back to the city and the county…”

“I’m frustrated that Interim Director Johnson seemed to filibuster in a way that made it very difficult for me to ask my specific question and he definitely didn’t answer it.”—Council member Lisa Herbold

His explanation—which did not include an answer to Herbold’s question about layoffs—went on for so long that council member Kshama Sawant jumped in to say that she hoped the council could wrap up talking about the regional authority quickly so that the committee could move on to “the most substantive issue” on the agenda, her proposal to vastly expand tiny house villages in the city, since she had somewhere else to be. (Council member Debora Juarez said that while she appreciated Sawant’s desire to move on to her own item, “I want to point out that we spent 90 minutes on a resolution that we didn’t even pass”—Sawant’s resolution condemning India’s National Register of Citizens and Citizenship Amendment Act—and “I, for one, want to hear how this is going to get implemented.”)

After the meeting, Herbold told me that she never did get answer to her question: “If the entirety of HSI staff are colocating and layoff decisions aren’t being made final until either a 2020 supplemental or 2021 proposed budget, when exactly between those two points in time will HSI staff learn their jobs are proposed to be eliminated?” Herbold says she was “frustrated that Interim Director Johnson seemed to filibuster in a way that made it very difficult for me to ask my specific question and he definitely didn’t answer it.”

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The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

2. Juarez was hardly the only council member casting shade on Sawant’s nonbinding resolution on India, which—along with a resolution opposing war in Iran—took up most of the council’s two-hour-plus regular meeting on Monday. Freshman council member Alex Pedersen said he would propose a resolution condemning all forms of oppression everywhere, just to cover all possible bases. “There’s many disturbing issues going on today for which we do not have resolutions, and my resolution is broad enough to capture instances of oppression that we might be missing,” Pedersen said. “Allow me to ask that we try to not craft a city council council resolution for every horrible thing that our president or any world leader does.”

Pedersen’s resolution, if it ever does see the light of day, is unlikely to find traction among his colleagues, who seemed to consider it a stunt designed to embarrass Sawant. Sawant, for her part, immediately used the proposal as an opportunity to drag her colleagues for lacking the “moral and political courage” to address housing and homelessness. “Passing resolutions is not the barrier. The barrier is lack of courage,” she said.

3. Tomorrow afternoon, Beyonce St. James—the formerly homeless drag artist who spoke and performed at All Home King County’s annual conference last year—will appear in court to seek an injunction against the release of public records that include her legal name and other identifying information. I received a notice of the hearing because I requested St. James’ invoice for the event, for which she charged $500. (Attendees reported that they were told St. James was volunteering her time and performing for tips; video of the event shows attendees tossing and handing her cash.) St. James (not her legal name) is asking that all her personal information be kept private because she has already been threatened and harassed over her performance and fears further harassment if her address and other details are made public.

Continue reading “A “Filibuster” on City Layoffs, a Resolution on Resolutions, an Accusatory Letter, and More”

Human Services Department Opposes Biometric Screening for Homeless, But Refuses to Hand Over Memo Saying So

Staffers for the city’s Human Services Department who looked into “biometric” screening of homeless shelter clients last year strongly recommended that the city not move forward with the idea, emails obtained through a public disclosure request reveal. The emails also show that HSD staffers asked the mayor’s office to include their recommendations in the official response to questions I asked about biometrics in December, but they did not..

Last year, as I reported, Durkan directed HSD to look into the possibility of requiring homeless Seattleites to undergo biometric screening—for example, a fingerprint scan—to access shelter. The mayor’s office said mandatory screening was one possible solution to data duplication in the Homeless Management Information System, a database that keeps track of what services people experiencing homelessness are using, and that it would create “efficiencies” as well as better “customer service” for people staying in shelters. Opponents of such screening argue that collecting homeless people’s fingerprints or other biometric data raises significant privacy concerns, and that it will discourage vulnerable people from accessing services.

The Human Services Department does not recommend converting to biometrics in shelters.  The cultural, social, and legal considerations have not been explored among relevant departments … nor with any potential clients who would use any biometric systems to access shelters.”

Several of the emails the city provided in response to my records request originally included a memo (titled “Shelter Memo”) containing HSD’s rationale for recommending that the city abandon the idea of biometric screening. However, an HSD public disclosure officer removed this memo from the records, claiming it is exempt from disclosure because it “reflects the expression of opinions, recommendations, and possible policy formulations that make up the pre-decisional free flow of opinions and ideas to policymakers, the disclosure of which would harm the ongoing decision making process.” This “deliberative process” exemption is the same exemption HSD used to justify heavily redacting documents about a proposed safe parking lot for people living in their cars. Typically, this exemption is used to withhold early drafts of legislation.

However, the agency did, perhaps inadvertently, provide an email that included a draft memo outlining the reasons HSD opposes biometric screening of homeless clients. It’s unclear how much, if any, of this early memo ended up in HSD’s final shelter memo. The memo begins, “The Human Services Department does not recommend converting to biometrics in shelters.  The cultural, social, and legal considerations have not been explored among relevant departments … nor with any potential clients who would use any biometric systems to access shelters.”

It continues: “Resources indicate that using biometrics at shelters (i.e. fingerprint scans or facial recognition software) will alienate people living outside and/or potentially seeking shelter. This may result in a lower percentage of people using shelter and increase the percentage of people who live outside as opposed to using available indoor shelter.”

“From our perspective at [HSD], we do not consider the loss of scan cards to be such a substantial issue that we believe they outweigh our concerns with the use of biometrics.”

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“Shelter staff will be needed at entry to facilitate fingerprint scans and enroll anyone with cold, burned or otherwise damaged hands or any other struggles or refusal to fingerprint scanning—a potentially higher or increasing percentage of users than anticipated by policy makers,” the memo says.

“Some people regard biometrics as unnecessary surveillance tools and oversimplified, automated methods that objectify and separate groups of already marginalized people. Use of biometrics at shelters may further reinforce perceptions that shelters are ‘institutional spaces for government intrusion and surveillance of low-income and homeless people.'” For example, “[t]he finger scanning method could trigger traumatic memories of people who have previously been fingerprinted.”

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

 

Emails from HSD staffers show a department frustrated by Durkan’s request to quickly study and make recommendations on an idea that many at HSD viewed as highly problematic from the start.

“[F]or everyone’s clarity purposes, we at HSD aren’t advocating for this,” strategic advisor Dusty Olson wrote in a December 11 email asking staffers to come up with information about biometrics at the mayor’s request. “It will be our recommendation in the memo that it not be pursued for multiple reasons. But we have to answer the question that was asked of us which is what would it take to do it.”

The preliminary memo identifies a number of other potential “unintended consequences” and potential “harms” of biometric scanning and tracking of people experiencing homelessness. Among them: The  likelihood that a large number of people (particularly those with paranoia or psychosis) would refuse to submit to fingerprinting and scanning, and the fact that advocates would likely decry biometrics as an “oversimplified” method of tracking people that “objectif[ies] and separate[s] groups of already marginalized people.”

“Use of biometrics at shelters may further reinforce perceptions that shelters are ‘institutional spaces for government intrusion and surveillance of low-income and homeless people,'” the memo continues. “The finger scanning method could trigger traumatic memories of people who have previously been fingerprinted.” Continue reading “Human Services Department Opposes Biometric Screening for Homeless, But Refuses to Hand Over Memo Saying So”

Seattle’s New Campaign Finance Legislation, Explained

This story originally appeared in the South Seattle Emerald.

Seattle’s city council recently passed two significant new pieces of campaign finance legislation aimed at reducing the influence of big corporations like Amazon in local elections, with a third bill still ongoing revisions. The first bill bans contributions from “foreign-influenced” corporations; the second creates new disclosure requirements for political ads, and the third—which sponsor Lorena Gonzalez has said she will bring back once she returns from maternity leave this spring—would limit contributions to political groups to $5,000.

If you’re wondering what this means for future elections, you’re not alone. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions about the Clean Campaigns Act—starting with the big one.

Does this mean Amazon will be banned from throwing millions of dollars at the next election? 

Amazon, which helped quash efforts to tax large corporations to fund homeless services in 2018, gave nearly $1.5 million to Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, a political action committee (PAC) run by the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, last year. The contribution, which made up 60 percent of CASE’s 2019 funding, paid for ads, mail campaigns, and direct outreach to voters on behalf of “pro-business” candidates in all seven council races.

The package of legislation could limit the influence of Amazon and other big companies in two crucial ways. First, the legislation passed this month bars contributions from “foreign-influenced” companies—defined as companies of which a single foreign owner controls more than 1 percent, or where a group of foreign owners control more than 5 percent. This, as Kevin Schofield has reported at SCC Insight, would bar contributions from Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb, among others.

The second piece of legislation—the one the council hasn’t passed—would limit contributions to independent expenditure groups to $5,000, while allowing groups with a large number of small (under $100) donations to give up to $10,000 to PACs. If the contribution limit had been in place last year, Amazon wouldn’t have been the only company affected: The Chamber PAC alone received $2.24 million in contributions above the proposed new limit, an amount that dwarfs the $183,000 they received in contributions of $5,000 or less.

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The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

Why is the council going after foreign ownership? Seems a little… Specific.

Supporters of the legislation have argued that because federal law bans direct contributions by foreign nationals, a ban on giving by “foreign-influenced” contributions closes a loophole that allows citizens of other countries to influence elections by investing in US companies, which are allowed to spend money on political campaigns.

But the real issue at play is that the infamous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which gave corporations nearly infinite power to spend money to influence elections, leaves few avenues for governments to place limits on corporate spending. One such avenue is the ban on direct foreign contributions, which the Court has upheld. So the gamble here is that if the legislation is challenged up to the Supreme Court level, the Court will be more sympathetic to arguments about foreign influence than it would be to arguments for limiting corporate spending in general. Continue reading “Seattle’s New Campaign Finance Legislation, Explained”

Free Transit Off the Table, Sound Transit Says, Defending Its Fare Enforcement Policies

Sound Transit staffers emphasized that the agency would not consider eliminating fares or fare enforcement in light of recent controversies about its fare enforcement policies, saying that “high fare payment rates and compliance rates” was key to the agency’s financial stability. (Sound Transit has a higher fare recovery rate than many other transit agencies, and fares from Link Light Rail totaled about $41 million last year.) The emphatic rejection of free fare came during a  “process update” on a recent rider survey about fare enforcement at the agency’s executive board meeting this morning. Staffers said they were still analyzing the survey results and couldn’t provide any details yet about the survey findings or how the agency plans to address the fact that black riders are far more likely to receive tickets for nonpayment than other groups.

Sound Transit often points to its method of checking riders—from the outside in, checking everyone on the car—as an inherently unbiased model because, in theory, it prevents fare officers from singling anybody out. The agency frequently displays a slide of a train marked with arrows to demonstrate the method during presentations on fare enforcement. They used the slide (below), for example, after advocates raised concerns that fare enforcement officers were intimidating kids on their way to their first day of school. That day, the agency issued (and later voided) more than a dozen formal warnings to kids under 18 for not presenting proof of payment—the precursor to a $124 fine. (Once you get a warning, it starts a 12-month clock; if you get caught without fare again in those 12 months, you get an automatic $124 ticket along with the potential for criminal charges if you fail to pay).

At the time, staffers cautioned behind the scenes that the issue advocates were raising about fare enforcement wasn’t the method officers used, but the outcomes for low-income people and people of color. At the public meeting this morning, however, they focused on the method. “This practice has been cited by Transit Center as a good practice for reducing potential discrimination and profiling in our fare enforcement interactions,” said Rhonda Carter, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff’s chief of staff.

Committee vice chairman Paul Roberts asked whether Sound Transit had looked at other transit systems to see how they dealt with the fact that some people can’t pay their fare. Metro, for example, recently reduced fines for fare evasion, eliminated the possibility of criminal charges for nonpayment, and created multiple new avenues for addressing fare evasion tickets, including enrollment in the ORCA Lift low-income fare program. Carter responded that Sound Transit’s “practice for how we check fares is seen as a model for how to do this work equitably,” and that often, “other agencies will come to us” for advice on how to do it right.

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The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.
K

ing County Executive and Sound Transit board member Dow Constantine brought up a letter his office received from a parent whose daughter, a Seattle school student, had received two $124 tickets for “fare evasion” despite the fact that she has a free ORCA pass. Fare enforcement officers frequently give “evasion” tickets to people who have simply failed to properly “tap” their cards, have tapped twice, or didn’t tap at all but have fully paid free ORCA passes. Under Sound Transit policy, anyone who fails to show proof of payment four times is referred to the King County Prosecutor’s office for a misdemeanor criminal charge. Policy director Carrie Avila-Mooney said Sound Transit has suspended that policy temporarily while the review is ongoing.

Rogoff said he had responded directly to the child’s parents, “in part because we obviously had great empathy for the child who was very concerned about what happened, but more importantly, the parents really did come forward with some thoughtful proposals. A lot of people complain but have no thoughtful proposals. They really thought about it and, indeed, some of their ideas are on the list.” He did not specify which ones.

While reducing fare enforcement or eliminating fares is off the table, Sound Transit is considering a few other options to address disparity in fare enforcement, including “Expand[ing] and target[ing] communications and marketing about how to access and use valid fare media,” flipping the calendar on warnings at 6 months instead of 12, replacing Securitas fare enforcement officers with in-house staffers, and moving fare enforcement from the trains to station platforms. They’re also considering some of the policies Metro has already adopted, such as reducing fines and giving low-income people alternatives to fines or charges.

Sound Transit will hold an open house at El Centra de La Raza, 2524 16th Ave S, from 6-8 pm on February 19 to provide more information about the survey findings.

 

Navigation Team Switches Gears During Storm, More Homelessness Funds on Hold? And Speculation on KC Exec’s Political Future

Left: HSD director Jason Johnson; right: Mayor Durkan

1. UPDATE on Thursday, Jan. 16: According to HSD, the Navigation Team made 41 referrals to shelter on the first two nights of the winter storm—14 on Monday and 27 on Tuesday. Additionally, HSD spokesman Will Lemke said that there was no shortage of mats or other supplies at any of the emergency winter shelters. “The City is not low on supplies,” Lemke said. “Far from it. The City has strategic caches of supplies placed around Seattle for events like this. These supplies include supplies, cots, mats, sleeping bags, blankets, and first aid-kits.” A source who works for the Salvation Army, which staffed the downtown shelters, said people were sleeping on the floor or in chairs at the Seattle Municipal Tower on Tuesday night with only “thin blankets” to protect them in the chilly lobby, which has a revolving door.

At a briefing on winter storm response on Tuesday, officials with the city’s Human Services Department emphasized efforts by the city’s Navigation Team to get people living in encampments into shelter during the freezing weather, noting that members of the team—which ordinarily removes encampments—were out “from 7 am to midnight” on Monday making contact with encampment residents. What they weren’t able to say was how many people actually accepted an offer of transportation or shelter from the team, whose job ordinarily involves removing encampments and telling their displaced residents about available shelter beds, typically with few takers. HSD director Jason Johnson would not answer followup questions about the Navigation Team’s success rate, pointedly ignoring calls of “Jason!” from several reporters as he rushed out of the briefing room at the city’s Emergency Operations Center.

In a followup conversation, HSD spokesman Will Lemke said he would not have an exact number of shelter referrals, contacts made, or the number of people who received transportation from the Navigation Team until the city had crunched the numbers and entered them into the Homeless Information Management System. “I just haven’t been able to verify those numbers yet. Everything is very much in flux because everyone’s out in the field right now,” Lemke said when I asked for more detailed information. The number is reportedly in the single digits.

Last year, the city did publish the numbers right away, and did not issue any subsequent corrections to indicate their early numbers were wrong. On the first major snow day last year, February 8, the Navigation Team reported getting 18 people into shelter. On the 9th, 50. On the 10th, 67.

At the briefing, Durkan said that the city “saw greater uptake [on offers of shelter] last year on the second or third day of the storm. … We had a great deal of success with the Navigation Team going out to encampments and saying, ‘Hey you should come inside. It’s a good place. It’s safe.'” 

Johnson said that none of the shelters were over capacity and denied that there were any issues providing enough mats or other supplies to its severe weather shelters, which include space at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, in the lobby of the Seattle Municipal Tower, and at the Bitter Lake Community Center. There is also space for men only at the King County Administration Building. All shelters are operated by the Salvation Army.

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

2. Last week, I reported on the fact that Mayor Jenny Durkan has hired an $86,000 consultant to evaluate the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program and make recommendations that will inform whether LEAD will receive funding approved in last year’s city budget to reduce caseloads and expand into new parts of the city. But LEAD isn’t the only human services program that might not receive operational funds that were approved last year. At least two other programs are under review by the mayor’s office.

One, a $700,000 pilot program called Homes for Good that would provide small “shallow” rent subsidies to people who receive federal disability payments and are at risk of homelessness, is under review because Durkan is reportedly cautious about funding a pilot program without a plan to continue paying for it in the future. David Kroman wrote several stories about this issue for Crosscut. Continue reading “Navigation Team Switches Gears During Storm, More Homelessness Funds on Hold? And Speculation on KC Exec’s Political Future”