Unredacted Documents Reveal Initial Megablock Proposal Was for Ground Lease, Not Sale

A newly unredacted version of Alexandria Real Estate’s initial proposal for the Mercer Megablock shows that the winning bidder to buy the three-property parcel initially proposed a ground lease—not a sale—that would have included a $31 million initial payment, followed by annual rent payments that would have started at $2.6 million a year. Renting the land out under a long-term ground lease would have kept the 3-acre parcel in public ownership, but could have been less lucrative for the city, which ultimately sold the land to Alexandria outright for $138 million, plus a $5 million payment for future homelessness programs.

The original request for proposals for the site made it clear that the city “has a strong preference to structure the transaction for the site as an unsubordinated long-term ground lease” but would consider a sale. “The value differential that we saw was really, really large between what was being offered on the lease relative to the cash up front,” city budget director Ben Noble says.

Alexandria’s initial proposal estimated the net present value of a ground lease—that is, the amount those annual payments would be worth in 2019 dollars by the end of the lease term—at $69 million, for a total value along with the initial payment of $100 million. This was a bit more than Alexandria’s initial proposal to buy the land outright for about $98 million. Since Alexandria’s offer to buy increased nearly 40 percent, however, it seems likely that their best and final offer for a ground lease would have increased, too, raising the total value of the bid to a level similar to what the city will get from the sale. It’s unclear whether Alexandria’s best and final offer included a ground lease option; I’ve requested a copy of this offer from the city.

Alexandria’s unredacted proposal, which is being published here for the first time, includes a number of details that have not been previously known about the real-estate firm’s plans for the three megablock properties.

The document Alexandria originally provided to the city included extensive redactions that concealed all of the information about the ground lease proposal. The company also blacked out details about what will go in the planned commercial space (including a business incubator and conference center), the address of a project in San Francisco that the company is currently building (88 Bluxome), the amount of open space that’s included in an Alexandria project in Cambridge (2.2 acres), and the height of each floor in its proposed life sciences buildings (13 feet).

My request for the documents, filed on August 7, led to a considerable amount of back-and-forth with the mayor’s office, which responded to my questions selectively and incompletely. (I still have several unanswered questions, for example, about the way the mayor’s office handled both Alexandria’s “proposed redactions” and my request.) Initially, the city informed me that if I wanted the unredacted documents, the mayor’s office would exercise their discretionary option to inform Alexandria so that the company could seek an injunction to keep them secret, exposing me to the potential for “lengthy litigation.”

The project will include 730 parking spaces—more parking than most of the other proposals, except for one (from Touchstone) which called for a massive underground parking lot for 1,000 cars. Tishman Speyer’s proposal included just 50 parking spots.

The city did not respond to followup questions. Instead, more than two weeks after I made my initial request, the budget office informed me that an email from me that included the phrase, “I am interested in seeing the materials redacted in Alexandria’s proposal,” followed by a list of questions asking what the implications would be if I did make a formal request for the redacted information, constituted a formal request that would trigger the third-party notice to Alexandria. Continue reading “Unredacted Documents Reveal Initial Megablock Proposal Was for Ground Lease, Not Sale”

Planning Director Seeks Job In Boulder, More Details on Derelict RVs, and Throwing Cold Water on Bike Lane Praise

Image via City of Seattle

As the city council goes on its annual summer recess (and I return from a quick vacation), some notes on what’s been happening in the city over the past couple of weeks:

• Seattle Office of Planning and Development director Sam Assefa is a finalist for a job as head of the planning department in Boulder, CO, where he served as senior urban designer for six years. Assefa, a holdover from the Ed Murray administration whose standing in the Durkan administration has been in question for a while, has presided over the passage and implementation of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), which included upzones in neighborhoods across Seattle, as well as the implementation of new rules designed to allow more density in single-family neighborhoods. Durkan has not made land use and zoning a top priority during her first two years in office, and many at the city have expressed surprise that Assefa has managed to stick around so long.

At the same time, the city is hiring a chief of staff for the department. (A similar position was recently created in the Human Services Department’s homelessness division, whose former director, Tiffany Washington, has moved to a position in the Department of Education and Early Learning.) The department is small—about 40 employees—prompting some to wonder whether this position is necessary, and to whom the new chief of staff will be accountable—the director, or the mayor.

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• Council members continued to question Mayor Jenny Durkan’s legislation aimed at curbing abuse by RV “landlords” who buy up “extensively damaged vehicles” and rent them out to people who would otherwise be unsheltered. The legislation would create new penalties, including fines and restitution requirements, for anyone who “allows” another person to live in an RV that meets two or more criteria, including cracked windows, visible trash, and leaks. The restitution—up to $2,000—would be paid directly by the RV owner, not the city. A companion administrative action by the mayor’s office authorizes the city to impound derelict RVs and destroy them along with their contents.

Durkan’s staffers didn’t appear in person at last Wednesday’s finance and neighborhoods committee hearing, but her office did provide a memo answering some of the questions the council posed earlier this month, including how common the problem of predatory RV rental really is.

Continue reading “Planning Director Seeks Job In Boulder, More Details on Derelict RVs, and Throwing Cold Water on Bike Lane Praise”

Where Is Durkan’s $195,000 Cabinet-Level General? “Out and About,” According to His Schedule

When Mayor Jenny Durkan decided to hire retired Air Force general Mike Worden as a special, cabinet-level “director of mobility operations coordination,” she explained the move as a way of freeing up Seattle Department of Transportation director Sam Zimbabwe to focus on the day-to-day operations at SDOT while Worden dealt with crisis management. (Worden, whose most recent job was for defense contractor Lockheed Martin, was a runner-up for the SDOT director position, and his $195,000 salary is funded at least partially through SDOT.)

Worden, the mayor said, would “coordinate across all departments” to respond to emergencies that impact transportation; for example, “When a tree comes down and blocks a road, that’s not necessarily a Seattle Department of Transportation issue; it could be a City Light issue because it could take wires with it. It could be a Parks Department issue, because the tree was originally in a park.”

At the time, the city was dealing with the closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which many officials thought would result in nightmarish traffic jams. The city opened its joint operations center—essentially, an emergency traffic management center staffed 24 hours a day—to respond to the coming “period of maximum constraint” downtown. When that “carpocalypse” (predictably) failed to occur, Worden was assigned to more, ahem, general duties. (As I reported earlier this year, city staffers were initially instructed to refer to Worden as “the General” or “General Worden,” a directive that was reportedly later rescinded).

But what, exactly, are those duties? Worden has been one of the least visible members of the mayor’s administration, rarely appearing at press events and taking a back seat at major announcements; at the mayor’s recent housing speech, for example, he stood in the back of the room and left immediately after Durkan concluded her remarks.

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I asked the mayor’s office for a copy of Worden’s schedule, starting in March of this year—after the fears of Viadoom had mostly subsided.

The first thing that jumps out about the schedule is the large number of the pages in Worden’s schedule that are largely blank—unusual for a mayoral cabinet member.

The second obvious departure from a traditional high-ranking city employee’s schedule is that a huge amount of Worden’s time is unprogrammed “out and about” time. “Out and about,” in fact, makes up the largest category of time in Worden’s schedule other than unprogrammed time represented as blank spaces in the calendar—in the 85 work days represented in his March, April, May, and June calendars, 285 hours—or the equivalent of nearly 36 full eight-hour work days—is earmarked as “out and about.” Twelve more weekdays are blocked out as “DNS [do not schedule]—will attend cabinet or mayoral meetings.” 

Here are a few pages from Worden’s schedule (full calendar here). Below them is the schedule for SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe for those same days.

Asked about Worden’s current duties, Durkan spokeswoman Chelsea Kellogg said he’s focused on “implementing citywide process improvements to better address traffic incidents” like the fish truck spill in 2015, which took place under the previous administration and eventually led to 30 recommendations for improving traffic incident management. “Director Worden manages the Traffic Incident Management and Congestion Management program, which is a cross-department, City-wide coordination effort,” Kellogg said. “This work is happening in coordination with the regional Seattle Area Congestion Management Joint Operations Working Group to implement region-wide process improvements.”

As for all that “out and about time,” Kellogg said: “During that time Mike rides buses, light rail, or the [S]ounder to talk to transit drivers and riders.” (Sounder and light rail are run by Sound Transit, not the city; the buses are run by King County Metro). “Sometimes Mike goes to traffic pinch points or other points of observation to watch traffic, incident responses, traffic clearing, traffic officers, etc.  When there is an incident, Director Worden often goes to see response in person, sometimes hitching a ride with a responder. If required, Director Worden corrects response protocols on the spot unless there is a serious unresolved trend which needs to be elevated.”

Referring to the unscheduled stretches in Worden’s calendar, I asked Kellogg whether I was “missing things that are happening that are not explicitly on the schedule,” and for examples. Kellogg responded: “To your question about his day-to-day responsibilities outside of City projects, that would be reflected in the regular working time not taken up by meetings.”

“Each member of cabinet has different responsibilities. Some cabinet members manage large teams of people and huge departments; some do not. We believe it valuable to have a cabinet member like Director Worden who can focus on and elevate the cross-departmental work of departments on incident management and congestion management,” Kellogg said.

A New Criminal-Justice Approach That Acknowledges “Addiction Isn’t a Choice”

This story originally appeared in the August issue of Seattle magazine.

On a day in late spring, David Lucas, 26, is standing in front of Seattle Municipal Court Judge Damon Shadid, waiting to find out if he gets to go home.

Lucas (not his real name) has been locked up in the King County Jail in downtown Seattle for nearly a month. Today, he’s facing a charge of trespassing at a grocery store—the same store where he’s been arrested many times, usually for stealing food. He’s been homeless off and (mostly) on for about a dozen years, and has a chronic mental illness that’s been exacerbated by his habit of smoking meth. Unless he can convince Shadid that he’ll stay out of trouble, he could be going back to jail for a while.

Lucas is part of Seattle’s visibly homeless population, the cohort featured in a KOMO-TV special called “Seattle Is Dying,” which aired in the spring. Although this group makes up a small percentage of the city’s overall homeless population, its members commit an outsize percentage of the kind of low-level drug and property crimes—such as shoplifting, trespassing and public urination—that KOMO highlighted in its special, which amplified the conversation about this subset of the homeless population.

Cases like Lucas’ pose a fundamental question: Is the arrest of people with severe addiction and mental illness who break laws a solution to chronic homelessness? Or is patience and compassion a more effective approach?

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Under ordinary circumstances, a judge might look at Lucas’ file—which includes dozens of arrests since 2011—and send him straight back to his cell. But Lucas is no ordinary defendant, and this is no ordinary court session. Like many other clients who sit at the defendants’ table in this courtroom every Wednesday morning, Lucas is supported by a new program that provides case management, legal aid and mental health services to people who, like him, have complex mental health challenges and whose competency to defend themselves in court has been called into question. His advocates this morning include Daniel Garcia, his case manager; Heather Aman, the prosecutorial liaison with the Seattle City Attorney’s Office; and Judge Shadid, who talks at length about the progress Lucas has made.

After a few minutes of deliberation, Shadid decides to release Lucas on the condition that he stay away from the neighborhood where he keeps getting arrested. And when Lucas leaves jail tomorrow, he’ll leave with Garcia, who has been assigned to help him stay on track. He’ll go to sleep tonight not on the street, but in transitional housing, a kind of way station between homelessness and permanent housing. Later in the week, he’ll have an appointment with the occupational therapist who is helping him with the life skills he’ll need to stay out of this courtroom. And his mental health care will be supervised by a team from the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), including a mental health professional who will monitor his progress and adjust his meds if needed.

All of these services are available to Lucas thanks to a $3 million, 18-month expansion of the existing Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, a collaboration between law enforcement agencies, the Public Defender Association and Reach, the street-based case management program for which Garcia works. The expansion, which zeroes in on offenders with mental illness, traumatic brain injuries, addiction and other debilitating cognitive conditions, was funded by a 2018 settlement in a landmark case known simply as Trueblood. The settlement created a pool of money for programs to help defendants at risk of being “warehoused” in jails while they await hearings on their competency to stand trial.

Continue reading “A New Criminal-Justice Approach That Acknowledges “Addiction Isn’t a Choice””

Council May Push to Regulate PACs, Which Spent As Much As $18 Per Vote in August Primary

Big spenders: Moms for Seattle’s pro-Murakami push cost $7 per vote.

1. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission expressed skepticism yesterday about a long-shot effort by council member and state attorney general candidate Lorena Gonzalez to stem the influence of political action committees on local elections by imposing new contribution limits and disclosure requirements on such groups. Commissioners said they supported the idea of limiting corporate campaign contributions as a policy, but questioned whether it was a good idea for the city to pass a law that would be subject to immediate legal challenge.

“I support the legislation, but I am also incredibly pragmatic [and] I’m not sure I support Seattle paying for this lawsuit,’” SEEC commissioner Eileen Norton said.

Gonzalez’ legislation would prohibit companies with foreign ownership (such as Uber) from contributing to independent expenditure campaigns; cap contributions to PACs at $5,000; and require PACs to maintain detailed, publicly available records about their contributors and how they spent their money. Currently, there are no caps on how much a person, company, or organization can contribute to a PAC, and no requirement that PACs detail where their money is going.

The proponents’ legal theory rests on the hope that the Supreme Court, or an en banc panel of the entire federal Ninth Circuit District Court, will overturn previous rulings (by a D.C. circuit court and a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit, respectively) concluding that local governments do not have the authority to regulate PAC contributions. In the Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court struck down restrictions on corporate spending on the grounds that corporations have the same rights to free “speech” as individual citizens.

“I’m not a betting woman, but I think I would be willing to bet my mortgage on [a lawsuit].”—Seattle Ethics and Election commissioner Eileen Norton.

Predictably, corporate spending ballooned across the nation, including in local races like Seattle’s mayoral and council elections. PAC spending on this year’s seven city council races has already outpaced total independent spending in the 2015 election, when all nine council seats were up for grabs; in every case, the candidate supported by corporate or (in one case) labor spending made it through to the general election.

The contribution limit would be the most significant shift, and the one most open to legal challenge. This year, for example Amazon contributed $250,000 to the Seattle Metro Chamber’s PAC, while Bellevue charter-school proponent Katherine Binder poured $25,000 into Moms for Seattle, a group that targeted liberal incumbents with Photoshopped images of playgrounds taken over by homeless encampments, graffiti, and trash. And UNITE HERE Local 8, a New York City-based union, spent $150,000 on TV ads promoting Andrew Lewis in District 7.

Support The C Is for Crank
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean 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 site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. 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.

John Bonifaz, an attorney with the group Free Speech for People who helped draft the legislation, said yesterday that Long Beach, FL is the only other US city that has passed similar regulations. So far, that law has not been subject to legal challenge. In Seattle, there is little doubt that someone will sue to stop Gonzalez’ proposal from taking effect. “I’m not a betting woman, but I think I would be willing to bet my mortgage on that one,” Norton, the SEEC commissioner, said.

2. Speaking of unfettered campaign spending, here’s a quick-and-dirty look at how much this year’s three most active (and largest) campaign PACs—Moms for Seattle, People for Seattle, and the Chamber’s Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy—spent promoting their candidates (or tearing down their opponents) on a dollars-per-vote basis. These numbers are rough (and probably a little on the low side) because these PACs chose not to itemize many of their expenditures, and because more expenditures will show up on future reports as the campaigns pay off rolling debts. (In lieu of an exact breakdown, I’ve divided the total amount of non-itemized expenditures by these groups and added it to their itemized expenditures on specific candidates, except in the case of Moms, whose record-keeping is almost completely opaque.) Despite those caveats, the numbers are a way of measuring how much these groups are willing to spend to influence your vote. Continue reading “Council May Push to Regulate PACs, Which Spent As Much As $18 Per Vote in August Primary”

Unprecedented Spending on Ballard Park “Concierge”; Car2Go Will Let You Park in South Seattle, But It’ll Cost You

1. Last week, Share Now, formerly Car2Go—one of two surviving private car-sharing services in Seattle—announced that it was instituting a new “zoned pricing” policy that imposes penalties for parking their cars in certain areas (generally speaking, most of West Seattle, Southeast Seattle starting at Rainier Beach, and parts of far North Seattle). Anyone who drives into these new “Zone B” areas (designated as dark blue on Share Now’s map) from a light-blue “Zone A” area will have to pay a $4.99 penalty, plus tax. People who drive from “Zone B” to “Zone A” will receive a bonus of up to $4.99, according to the announcement.

The new policy is reminiscent of Car2Go’s initial “service area,” which barred members from parking anywhere in South or West Seattle, parts of town that a Car2Go rep described as “new and developing” areas. Those areas, like the new “Zone B” coincide closely with neighborhoods that are lower-income and more racially diverse, leading to charges that Car2Go was only serving wealthier, whiter neighborhoods.

Kendell Kelton, the North America communications manager for Share Now, says the new policy is designed to eliminate the problem of cars getting “stranded for 12 hours or more, effectively making them unavailable for a majority of our Seattle members who would otherwise use those vehicles.” Currently, she says, one in five Share Now cars has to be relocated “in order to be close enough for members who need them.” (That might explain why it’s consistently so hard to find cars in West and Southeast Seattle.) “It should be noted we see much higher usage in more commercialized areas than residential ones,” Kelton says.

Ethan Bergerson, a spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation, say Share Now did not have to seek the city’s permission to start charging its customers more to park in certain areas. SDOT consulted with the city attorney’s office, and they “advised us that because Car2Go continues to serve the entire geography of the city, they are in compliance with the municipal code and their permit,” Bergerson says.

A spokesman for Lime, which runs the city’s other remaining carsharing service (a third, ReachNow, shut down abruptly last month), told me they do not charge differential fares based on where a car is parked.

The Ballard Commons has the unique distinction of being the first park outside the city core to get this extra attention and funding, the city is spending about three times as much on Ballard’s concierge program than it has on similar parks activation programs.

2. As KOMO reported last week, the city is instituting a “concierge” program at the Ballard Commons Park in order to (as the “Seattle Is Dying” TV station put it) “make sure families feel comfortable using the space.”  Parks spokeswoman Rachel Schulkin says the program will consist of two new staffers, whose jobs will be to “program activities and events for park users and assist in making the park welcoming to all visitors.” The staffers will cost the city $130,000. Continue reading “Unprecedented Spending on Ballard Park “Concierge”; Car2Go Will Let You Park in South Seattle, But It’ll Cost You”

The City Council Just Called for a Green New Deal. Here’s What’s Next.

Wastewater tanks at fracking site, via Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Alec Connon, an organizer with 350 Seattle, a group that has instrumental in pushing for a local Green New Deal for Seattle.

The Seattle City Council just passed a resolution calling for a transformational Green New Deal that will eliminate our city’s climate pollution by 2030, address current and historical injustices, and create thousands of jobs. So — what now? Does that mean we’ve solved even our portion of the global climate crisis? Hardly.

It does mean that the current City Council recognizes that we are in the midst of a global emergency that requires unprecedented action across all levels of government. It does mean that the City Council has recognized that unless we act Seattle greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise, as they have in recent years. And it does mean that our city may be poised to finally do much more on climate.

The City Council should begin implementing a Green New Deal for Seattle by ensuring that we’re not making the problem even worse than it already is. We can do that by passing common sense legislation that will ensure all new buildings in Seattle get their heating from renewable sources, and not climate-destroying fossil fuels, such as fracked gas. (Seattle’s natural gas provider, Puget Sound Energy, is heavily dependent on fracking.)

Last month, the City of Berkeley passed a first-in-the-nation policy that has been widely heralded as an innovative way to protect the health and safety of its residents. The Berkeley ordinance ensures that all new residential and commercial buildings receive their heating and power sources from electricity, and not fossil fuels.

The Seattle City Council just unanimously passed a resolution calling for a transformational Green New Deal for Seattle. The first step to making that a reality is to stop making the problem worse.

It’s a common-sense policy for a number of reasons. 

The use of natural gas in our buildings causes asthma and other respiratory health issues. Half of residences that use gas for cooking with no range hood have indoor air pollution levels that exceed EPA pollution standards for outdoor air. This fact is doubly startling when you consider that air pollution kills an estimated 8.8 million people around the world every year — more than war, terrorism, and malaria combined.

In addition to threatening our health, gas in our homes threatens us with death by fireball. Gas pipelines connected to our homes explode and endanger communities. Remember that explosion that decimated several Greenwood businesses a couple of years back? That was a gas pipeline. It also wasn’t unusual. Gas pipelines explode with alarming frequency. The last deadly gas pipeline in the explosion in the U.S at the time of writing? Eleven days ago. This is of additional consequence for cities like Seattle that sit atop earthquake zones. Should “the big one” hit Seattle one thing we can be assured of is that gas pipelines will explode. Unless, of course, there aren’t any. Continue reading “The City Council Just Called for a Green New Deal. Here’s What’s Next.”

Council Overrides Mayor’s Soda Tax Veto, More Shakeups at the City, and Reframing the RV Crackdown

1. For those keeping track of the wave of departures from the mayor’s office and city departments, there’s a big one coming: Deputy Mayor David Moseley, who has been with Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office since the beginning of her administration (and who is married to Durkan’s longtime associate and frequent city consultant Anne Fennessy) is reportedly leaving at the end of the year. Moseley, the former head of Washington State Ferries, came out of retirement to take the job in 2017, so his departure isn’t a huge surprise, but it could engender a shift of power in the mayor’s office, depending on whether Durkan decides to appoint a new deputy (Moseley is one of three deputy mayors, along with Mike Fong and Shefali Ranganathan) or redistribute his responsibilities. Among other issue areas, Moseley oversees the mayor’s response to homelessness.

Durkan’s policy director, Edie Gilliss, recently left the mayor’s office for a job at the city’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment; her replacement, Adrienne Thompson, was previously Durkan’s labor policy advisor. Kiersten Grove, who advises the mayor on transportation, will leave Durkan’s office next month to become deputy director of the city’s Department of Finance and Administrative Services. And Michael Shiosaki—a Seattle Parks division director who’s perhaps better known as former mayor Ed Murray’s husband—reportedly lost his job at Parks last week, and will be transferring to a position at Seattle Public Utilities.

Support The C Is for Crank
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean 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 site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. 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.

Meanwhile, the homelessness division of the city’s Human Services Department—whose director, Tiffany Washington, is leaving for a position at the Department of Education and Early Learning next month—just got a new director: Diana Salazar, the former director of Imagine Los Angeles, an organization that helps homeless families in LA with case management and mentorship, started this morning. HSD director Jason Johnson’s announcement to staff on Friday reportedly coincided with the resignation of Ali Peters, the city’s planning and performance director for homelessness, who just came to the office in May. Jackie St. Louis, who headed up the Navigation Team and reportedly applied for the director position after Washington said she was stepping down, left last month.

The churn at the homelessness division comes as the city and county prepare to consolidate countywide homelessness operations into a single regional agency, with many city jobs moving over to that agency. According to city documents, the new regional authority will take over all programs having to do with homelessness prevention, outreach and engagement, diversion, day and hygiene centers, shelters and tiny house villages, rapid rehousing, transitional housing, data collection, and services associated with permanent supportive housing. The city would retain control of a handful of homelessness-related responsibilities, including the Navigation Team and building permanent supportive housing.

 

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

2. After a tense hearing last week over Mayor Durkan’s legislation that would allow the city to confiscate derelict vehicles and fine anyone who “allows” another person to live in one, city council members indicated this morning that the bill is unlikely to pass without significant amendments. Council member Mike O’Brien, who has proposed helping people living in RVs by creating “safe lots” for them to park en masse, said he would propose using surplus budget authority to create a $100,000 fund to assist people displaced from vehicles the city deems uninhabitable whether or not the council ultimately passes the underlying legislation.

“I asked the mayor’s folks last Friday, are there spaces available right now? Could we identify places for people to go that are 24/7 if we were to say you can’t live in this RV? I didn’t get a ‘yes’ answer.”—Council member Sally Bagshaw 

The mayor’s legislation, which would require RV “landlords” to pay restitution directly to their former tenants, does not guarantee payment and includes no funding to increase access to enhanced shelter or “tiny house village” encampments, which allow people to remain with their partners, pets, and possessions and are basically always at full capacity. Instead, the mayor’s staff said that vehicular residents displaced by the program would be shelter and services by the city’s Navigation Team, and acknowledged that just 10 to 15 percent of RV residents “accept” those services. Continue reading “Council Overrides Mayor’s Soda Tax Veto, More Shakeups at the City, and Reframing the RV Crackdown”

Tense Meeting Sets Up Fight Over Durkan’s “RV Ranching” Legislation

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal to allow the city to fine and prosecute anyone who “allows” another person to live in an “extensively damaged” vehicle met with a cool reception in city council chambers this morning, particularly after the mayor’s director of Finance and Administrative Services, Calvin Goings, likened homeless people living in RVs to “dogs” living in inhumane conditions. (FAS oversees the city’s towing program).

Goings’ comment came after a testy exchange with council member Teresa Mosqueda, who took issue with Goings’ statement that “the foundational question” for the council was, “does the council agree this is a problem?” Goings said. If they agreed that it was a problem for people to be living in “squalor conditions,” Goings said, they had a “moral obligation” to support some version of the mayor’s legislation.

“If there were animals living like this, then we would seize those animals. Please tell me that Seattle is not a place where we would not allow a dog to live where we would allow human beings to live.”–Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services director Calvin Goings

“It’s very clear to me that the full council shares the concerns,” Mosqueda responded, noting that they have continued to push for more funding for shelter and services and have repeatedly increased the size of the mayor’s Navigation Team. But, she added, “when we’re looking at specific legislation, we have to look at the language here. Words matter. The words in the legislation matter.”

Goings responded: “If there were animals living like this, then we would seize those animals. Please tell me that Seattle is not a place where we would not allow a dog to live where we would allow human beings to live.”

Mosqueda was leaving the meeting during Goings’ comments, but council member Mike O’Brien piled on, noting that the mayor’s legislation neither defines “RV ranchers” (people who buy derelict RVs and lease them out) nor says how common the problem is. Although Goings and other mayoral officials at the table reiterated that the bill was meant to target “the predatory rentals of unsafe vehicles,” the legislation as written would allow the city to go after people who live in RVs with family members as well as people living in cars or RVs that meet just two of a long list of deficiencies that includes things like cracked windshields and leaking fluids.

“Do you know what we do for animals that need a home? We shelter them. We give them food. We give them a bath. This legislation does none of those things for these individuals.”—City Council member Teresa Mosqueda

“Are are we talking five? Are we talking 300?” O’Brien asked. (The city estimates that between two and five individuals are renting out RVs to other people, but has no exact number or estimate of how many RVs those two to five people own).  “I would expect someone to get that information.” O’Brien also noted that some of the photos Goings and staffers from the city’s RV remediation program and the mayor’s office showed in council chambers looked like examples of hoarding, which is also fairly common among people with homes.

Council member Sally Bagshaw asked why the legislation didn’t include any additional funding for enhanced shelter or tiny house villages, which would allow people living in tents or RVs to keep at least some of their possessions and wouldn’t require people to separate from their partners or pets. Tess Colby, the mayor’s homelessness advisor, described the Navigation Team’s outreach on “the day of the clean” (which, as I’ve reported, no longer routinely includes nonprofit outreach workers) and said that only 10 to 15 percent of people living in RVs tend to “accept services” when they’re offered.

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The penalty for “RV ranchers” who rent substandard RVs will be up to $2,000—payable directly to their former “tenant” in the form of restitution—plus a $250-a-day fine and potential criminal charges. Bagshaw asked whether it’s realistic to believe people who own derelict RVs have that kind of money. “We believe that they do, and we also think that this is an important message to send to ranchers and  a disincentive to continue to do this,” Colby said.

After the meeting, Mosqueda said she found Goings’ comments comparing people living in RVs to “animals” living in abusive conditions “shocking” and off point. “Do you know what we do for animals that need a home?” Mosqueda said. “We shelter them. We give them food. We give them a bath. This legislation does none of those things for these individuals.”

“We’re actually supportive of is getting people into safe living situations, and nothing in that legislation was actually targeted toward helping individuals.”

The city council’s central staff wrote a memo outlining what the legislation would do, along with a number of questions for the council to consider, that is very much worth a read.

Here’s a Look at All the Megablock Proposals (Including a Redacted Plan from the Winning Bidder to Keep the Land in Public Hands)

Alexandria Real Estate’s proposed development at 800 Mercer

Here are the six proposals for the Mercer Megablock, including the one that the city chose, by Alexandria Real Estate. Alexandria’s proposal, like several of the proposals that were not chosen, includes an option for a ground lease, which would have allowed the land to remain in public hands. Ground leases are typically for about 99 years, include a rent escalation factor so that rent goes up each year, and can sometimes be renegotiated at different points during the lease term.

Alexandria Real Estate 

Vulcan

Touchstone

BioMed Realty

Tishman Speyer

Kilroy

Bidders that included a ground lease option included Kilroy (which did not provide details); Touchstone (which proposed an initial annual rent of $7.7 million if the project didn’t include affordable housing, and $4.675 million if it did, escalating 10 percent every five years); Tishman Speyer (which proposed a $70 million downpayment and initial rent of $4 million without affordable housing, and an initial payment of $40 million with affordable housing and initial rent of $2.75 million, both escalating annually at 2 percent) and Alexandria.

Here, in stark contrast, are the details Alexandria provided about its ground lease proposal:

The city budget office told me that I had the right to request an unredacted version of the proposal—which, to be clear, was redacted by Alexandria, not the city. However, they cautioned me that they would exercise their right under RCW 42.56.540 to inform Alexandria that I had asked for this information, at which point Alexandria could seek a court injunction to withhold the redacted records from public view.  “If they chose to pursue an injunction, you will likely be named as a necessary party to the lawsuit and lengthy litigation may ensue,” a city public disclosure officer warned.

I believe these records are of interest to the public, as many advocates argued that the land should remain in public, rather than private, hands. I have asked the city for a more detailed explanation of the process for finding out what’s behind all those black bars.