Tag: city council

Alarm Over Potential Navigation Team Cuts Leaves Out One Crucial Detail


Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office sent council members a letter today outlining potential devastating consequences if the city council eliminates or reduces the size of the Navigation Team, a group of police officers and city staffers who remove unauthorized encampments. The letter, signed by the heads of seven executive departments that report to Durkan (plus the director of the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health), suggests that between 95 and 476 fewer people will receive referrals to shelter next year if the council reduces funding for the Navigation Team.

“The Navigation Team’s trained police officers, Field Coordinators and System Navigators engage people experiencing homelessness in some of Seattle’s most dangerous and inaccessible locations, establishing the rapport and trust needed to provide critical services,” the memo says.

But the biggest issue with the warning in the mayor’s memo is that no one, except embattled city council member Kshama Sawant, is seeking to “eliminate” the Navigation Team. In fact—alarmist headlines about “draconian budget cuts” aside—no one but Sawant has proposed cutting the program at all, and not one council member has expressed support for Sawant’s idea.

There are a few issues with this analysis. The first is that referrals to shelter matter less than how many people actually end up going to shelter. According to the city’s own numbers (first reported by The C Is for Crank), fewer than a third of all shelter referrals result in a person actually accessing a shelter bed, so the actual number of people who might not access shelter through the Navigation Team is more like 28 to 143 people a year.

The second issue is that the Navigation Team, by the city’s own admission, now focuses primarily on removing encampments it considers “obstructions,” an expansive term that can apply to any tent set up in a park or public right-of-way. According to outreach workers, these zero-notice removals do not establish “rapport” or “trust”; quite the opposite. That’s why the city’s nonprofit outreach provider, REACH, stopped participating in “obstruction” removals earlier this year.

But the biggest issue with the alarming memo is that no one, except embattled city council member Kshama Sawant, is seeking to “eliminate” the Navigation Team. In fact—alarmist headlines about “draconian budget cuts” aside—no one but Sawant has proposed cutting the program at all, and not one council member has expressed support for Sawant’s idea. The only other proposed restriction on the Navigation Team is the renewal of an existing budget proviso that requires the team to produce data on its progress, which isn’t the same thing as a cut. And at least one council member—Debora Juarez—actually wants to make the Navigation Team even bigger.

“I have ongoing concerns about pretending that the Navigation Team is actually connecting people to services and shelter when the numbers, in terms of performance, [are] dismal. If the Navigation Team was a service provider, their contract would have been canceled at this point.” — City Council member Lorena Gonzalez

The real targets for the executive department’s memo may have been council members like Sally Bagshaw, who remarked that she had never seen such consensus among city departments, and the local media, who ran with Durkan’s story line without mentioning that Sawant’s proposal has approximately a zero percent chance of passing. (Bagshaw’s comment about departmental unity led her colleague Lorena Gonzalez to quip, “I don’t disagree that there is consensus amongst the executive.”)

That isn’t to say that council members didn’t have critical things to say about the Navigation Team, which has ballooned in size during the Durkan Administration, from 22 members in 2017 to 38 this year. (After the team’s nonprofit outreach partner, REACH, stopped participating in no-notice “obstruction” removals this summer, Durkan added four more members to the team, funding two of them with one-time funds; her budget proposal, much like last year’s, seeks to make those positions permanent).

Gonzalez suggested that, given the team’s extremely low ratio of “contacts” to shelter acceptance (just 8 percent of those the team contacts end up in shelter), the city should stop pretending it is “navigating” anyone to anywhere and just start calling it a “cleanup” operation.

“I have ongoing concerns about pretending that the Navigation Team is actually connecting people to services and shelter when the numbers, in terms of performance, [are] dismal,” Gonzalez said. “If the Navigation Team was a service provider, their contract would have been canceled at this point.”

Bagshaw countered that the Navigation Team does more than “cleanups”; they also offer services and help combat what she called “a sense of less than safety in a neighborhood. … We’ve got to put our arms around the people in the neighborhoods as well,” she said.

Herbold’s proposed proviso would require the council to approve the Navigation Team’s funding every quarter based on whether it was making progress on responding to a set of recommendations the city auditor made back in 2018, many of which Herbold said the mayor’s office and HSD have “indicated that they have no intention of addressing.” One of those recommendations has to do with the Navigation Team’s staffing model and whether the current structure of the team makes sense. “We have not asked them to change the staffing model; we have asked them to do a staffing assessment. And the reason for that is that the staffing configuration might have an impact on the Navigation Team’s ability to meet our shared objectives,” Herbold said.

Juarez’s proposed budget add, in contrast, would expand the Navigation Team by two more members to serve north Seattle, which Juarez said has seen “a lot more unsanctioned encampments… that are just being ignored.” Gonzalez questioned Juarez’s proposal, asking why the existing Navigation Team couldn’t be deployed to serve the north end if that’s where the need is, and Herbold warned against making decisions about where to deploy the team based on complaints or anecdotes rather than data. “I am concerned that if we look at a geographic focus, that is going to really turn this whole body of work into one that is driven by what locations are getting the most complaints rather than what locations are creating the largest actual, objective problems,” she said.

Continue reading “Alarm Over Potential Navigation Team Cuts Leaves Out One Crucial Detail”

The 2019 City Council Candidates: Andrew Lewis

Image via Andrew Lewis campaign.

This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.

Today: District 7 candidate Andrew Lewis. Lewis, who got his political start as campaign manager for former city council member Nick Licata’s reelection bid in 2009, now works as an assistant Seattle city attorney.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): What is a recent vote where you disagreed with the current District 7 representative, Sally Bagshaw?

Andrew Lewis (AL): This isn’t a vote, but I do think the lack of attentiveness to a replacement for the Magnolia Bridge is one where I disagreed with council member Bagshaw. I went to the town hall in March of 2018 on the Magnolia Bridge, at the church over there near Magnolia Village, and there was not a single city council member there. Council member Bagshaw should’ve been there.

There was a room full of angry people who wanted to hear a plan. You know, they understand that the bridge is falling apart, and they understand that the bridge is going to have to be decommissioned. What they wanted was, you know, what’s the action plan, where are we going to do? And what I hear from a lot of the folks that I’ve talked to out in Magnolia is there has not been strong leadership from our district council member on that issue.

ECB: You’ve talked about a “one for one replacement” of the Magnolia Bridge. What do you mean by “one for one replacement,” and is there a breaking point for you in terms of cost?

AL: I do support a one for one replacement to the bridge that will meet the same level of service that the bridge currently provides to the city. For me, it’s about the impact that [tearing down the bridge] would have on public transportation—the 265 buses use that bridge on a daily basis. As I’ve gotten out to Magnolia and talked to folks who are in some of the more renter-dominated quadrants of Magnolia, I’ve actually been very surprised that there are corners of Magnolia that have a pretty high amount of housing density, and all of those communities are extremely dependent on bus service that goes between Magnolia and downtown. It would be extremely difficult to reroute those buses onto Dravus, onto Emerson, due to a lot of limitations of those entryways to Magnolia. So that’s what builds my sense of urgency for it.

Even though I say one for one, I do think that the new bridge should have some multimodal kind of components to it. I think we should have protected bike lanes or even grade-separated bike lanes on a new Magnolia bridge. I think that we could incorporate that into a new design of the bridge.

In terms of cost, I think that a lot of districts are going to have a similar conversation. As a region, what we’re increasingly seeing is a lot of our deferred infrastructure challenges are going to cost money and we’re going to have to figure out a way to meet those obligations through some kind of long-term bonding strategy.

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ECB: The National Guard is getting ready to move out of its armory property in Interbay, freeing up land there for potential development. One idea that’s being discussed is a hybrid industrial-residential model that would include housing mixed with light industrial uses. What do you think of that proposal?

AL: Preserving industrial lands within the Ballard Interbay industrial area is super important to me. I don’t want us to lose industrial land to gentrification that we’ll never get back, especially not industrial land that abuts the water. So whenever I look at a plan to redevelop or do something to property within the [Ballard-Interbay Manufacturing and Industrial Center], I always take a really careful look at it. I would be more hesitant to encroach on land that has historically been used for some kind of maritime industrial purpose.

However, while the armory is in the BINMIC, I don’t consider it historic industrial land. It’s been an armory for decades. It’s not like we’re displacing Ballard Oil or something. This is a publicly owned armory that happens to be in an industrial area. It is also really rare that we acquire plots of land that are this large that we can play with to get some kind of public housing. I think one thing we should be looking at doing is replicating the formula that we have nailed down with Fort Lawton, which I think is excellent project. There are some people who are saying that Interbay is the next South Lake Union. My preferred vision is that it be more like Georgetown where you have areas that are carved out for housing, and that housing be workforce housing.

“I think that what often happens is there’s at least a perception that the city comes into these conversations with a proposed route already in mind, and I think that contributes to a sense of polarization and to a sense of concern amongst business owners that they weren’t consulted, that they didn’t have a hand in shaping the route.”

ECB: Was the mayor right to postpone the Fourth Avenue bike lane, and would you push for completion of that bike lane?

AL: I’m not completely familiar with what the controversies are, if the businesses and neighbors have concerns specifically about the proposed route. One thing that I think we should be doing more of is having a process about protected bike lanes where we start with a Point A and point B without a proposed route in the middle. And then we start a process with the neighborhood, with the business owners, with the community, with stakeholders, in the biking  activism community and environmental groups. And we sit down and say, we got a Point A, we got a Point B,  how are we going to connect them? I think that what often happens is there’s at least a perception that the city comes into these conversations with a proposed route already in mind, and I think that contributes to a sense of polarization and to a sense of concern amongst business owners that they weren’t consulted, that they didn’t have a hand in shaping the route. Continue reading “The 2019 City Council Candidates: Andrew Lewis”

The 2019 City Council Candidates: District 1 Incumbent Lisa Herbold

Image via Lisa Herbold campaign

This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.

Today: District 1 City Council member Lisa Herbold, who represents West Seattle and South Park.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): Because so many council members are leaving, if you’re reelected, you’ll be one of the senior members of the city council. What are some of your top priorities for a second term?

Lisa Herbold (LH): I’m interested in working with council member [Teresa] Mosqueda on the work that she plans to do on the comprehensive plan—revisiting single-family neighborhood zoning, and looking at how we can do that in a way that brings people together and doesn’t become another big wedge issue for the city. And I think it’s important to figure out a way to have those conversations that doesn’t put people into camps—either NIMBYs or urbanists. So I want to play a role in that, because I think there’s a right way of having those conversations.

For instance, [Mandatory Housing Affordability], as it relates to single-family zoning, is focused on single-family zoning only within urban villages. The planning commission has made a set of recommendations for single-family zoning outside of urban villages, and I know that council member Mosqueda is very interested in the issue. I’m really concerned that the conversation won’t be held in a way that brings people together, because it hasn’t in the past. And then there’s the whole question of neighborhood planning around our urban village strategy. She has, for instance, asked for a [racial equity toolkit] on the urban village strategies. I imagine there’s going to be some recommendations that come out of that.

I think that we should have neighborhood-based input. I’m supportive of the direction that [the Department of Neighborhoods] has moved in [toward including communities that have been traditionally excluded from neighborhood planning], but not as a replacement for some sort of geographic-based engagement. In the efforts to involve people in these conversations that haven’t historically been at the table, I think that we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

I think for instance, when you’re talking about neighborhood matching funds or the neighborhood street fund, these participatory budgeting-type programs that seek to empower community to make decisions about improvements in their communities, I’m just concerned that, in our efforts to model our values of equity, we’ve alienated people who have something to contribute to our city, who care deeply about their communities.

“I’m supportive of the direction that [the Department of Neighborhoods] has moved in, but not as a replacement for some sort of geographic-based engagement. In the efforts to involve people in these conversations that haven’t historically been at the table, I think that we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater.”

ECB: The mayor’s budget continues the expansion of the Navigation Team [which removes unauthorized encampments from public spaces, often with no notice or offers of services to their displaced residents.] Are you going to be pushing for changes to the team’s current model or way of doing things?

LH: I’ve been working on implementing the recommendations of the city auditor, particularly on hygiene and garbage pickup. So for instance, I helped pilot the purple bag program [which provides purple trash bags and trash pickup to some encampments], but [Seattle Public Utilities] only visits 12 sites at any given time. I believe that our need to prioritize sites for removal might be mitigated if we make it possible for people that are living unsheltered to pick up their own garbage. I know Seattle Public Utilities feels good about the work that they’re doing. And this program has been replicated in Austin.

One of the things that the city auditor is doing is mapping all of the removed encampments over the last year, to find out where people return. Maybe the locations where people return aren’t locations that are inherently dangerous. Maybe there’s some logic for why people return there. Maybe for those locations, rather than chasing them away from them, we should make it possible for people to clean them.

I’m going to be working with the campaign that Real Change is doing in March, called Everybody Poops. It comes out of the recommendations of the city auditor that we ought to have a mobile pit stop like other cities do. It’s a way of providing people with something that they need and also providing opportunities for engaging in case management services. There’s also a slate of recommendations related to hygiene that the city auditor made. We have some of our community centers that have showers that have made them available to all members of the public, whether or not you’re signed up for programs, and so one of the recommendations is to open all of them. Another recommendation is to staff a couple of the standalone bathrooms in parks. And then of course there’s making sure that our permanent Urban Rest Stops are able to find spaces.

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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 subscriptions 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.

ECB: The mayor has proposed legislation that would crack down on people renting run-down RVs to people who would otherwise be unsheltered. What do you think of the legislation as proposed? [Editor’s note: After our conversation, the council dramatically revised the legislation to add tenant relocation funding and to limit the scope of the proposal; further amendments are expected when the council takes the proposal up again after budget deliberations, which end in November]

LH: We have a way to pay tenants of rental housing that the city is shutting down under emergency order because there are life safety issues that are so severe that somebody can’t continue to live there. The city advances the relocation assistance and then they work on pursuing the landlord later. But they pay first.

So I actually see this very similar to that, depending on how it’s administered. People could say about that rental housing, ‘Well, it’s better than living unsheltered.’ Okay, but nevertheless, it is the city’s policy to not let rental housing providers exploit tenants by collecting rent and forcing them to live in places that they have refused to fix and that have significant life safety violations. That is the city’s policy. So I see this as in many ways being very consistent with that. But the thing I’m worried about is whether or not the city is going to be looking for these instances as a way to accomplish a different objective [getting RVs off the street].

Continue reading “The 2019 City Council Candidates: District 1 Incumbent Lisa Herbold”

More City Hall Churn, Council Staffers Organize, Farewell to a “Feisty” Neighborhood Activist, and More

Seattle City Hall

Image via OZinOH on Flickr.

In keeping with how quickly news piles up the moment after Labor Day ends, here are a few quick-hit items—in two parts!—from City Hall and beyond.

Round 1, City Hall edition:

1. This week, the city’s Human Services Department posted an announcement for a new deputy director overseeing homelessness, HSD spokeswoman Meg Olberding confirmed. The position is separate from the job of homelessness division director, a job filled by Diana Salazar last month after the former director, Tiffany Washington, left for a job in the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning. Asked why HSD needed to hire two new high-level employees to oversee homelessness at a time when the city plans to hand most of its homelessness programs over to a new regional agency, Olberding said that the city will continue to oversee homelessness until at least 2021 and that the position would be temporary.

2. Barb Graff, the longtime director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, is retiring at the beginning of next year after 15 years in that position. OEM oversees disaster and emergency preparedness for the city, including physical disasters such as earthquakes and declared emergencies like the homelessness crisis, which prompted a nine-month activation of the city’s Emergency Operations Center. The city posted the job publicly yesterday.

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.

3. The Seattle City Council’s central staff—the policy shop for all nine council members—is trying to unionize. Protec17, which represents other city employees, filed a petition to represent the staffers to the Public Employee Relations Commission this week after central staffers submitted enough signatures to form a bargaining unit. The staffers’ exact grievance is unclear, but it reportedly relates to concerns that their work—providing unbiased and apolitical advice and analysis to all nine council members, regardless of what they want to hear—has been politicized. Central staffers make between about $58 and $64 an hour, putting them among the highest-paid workers at the city.

In response to questions about central staffers’ organizing efforts, council spokeswoman Dana Robinson Slote provided this statement: “Council recognizes employees’ right to seek representation and is aware of the petition to represent Central Staff Legislative analysts in the Council Central Staff division. A Labor Relations negotiator has been assigned the matter.  Out of respect for the process, Council has been advised against making any public statements at this time.”

4. Faye Garneau, the North Seattle businesswoman, Aurora Avenue Merchants Association leader, transit funding opponent, district elections advocate, antagonist to urbanists, and “feisty” neighborhood fixture for many decades, has died. Garneau—a garrulous, strong-willed, and committed advocate to the causes she believed in—was 85.

5. Learn to trust the Crank: As I reported last week, city council member Mike O’Brien is proposing legislation to ban new natural gas hookups as of July 1, 2020. O’Brien plans to discuss the legislation in his Sustainability and Transportation Committee this Friday, September 6.

 

PAC Spending Pays Off, Sawant’s In Trouble, and Other Lessons from Election Night

Yes, those are District 3 campaign mailers I received this year. No, that is not even all of them.

Seattle voters sent mixed messages in Tuesday’s primary election, backing many of the candidates who were supported by hundreds of thousands of dollars in independent spending by two conservative-leaning PACs while sending three incumbent city council members to the general election at the top of their respective packs, although some of those incumbents will face a tougher road than others.

Lightning rod city council member Kshama Sawant got less than a third of the vote in her reelection bid in District 3, leading second runner-up Egan Orion by just nine points (33 to 24) in a six-person race. Orion benefited from an incendiary anti-Sawant campaign funded by People for Seattle, the PAC started by her former council colleague Tim Burgess, as well as independent spending by the conservative Moms for Seattle PAC and the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, the political arm of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

In District 5, incumbent Debora Juarez was doing a bit better than Sawant, with 42 points to challenger Ann Davison Sattler’s 28 percent in a six-way race. (Sattler, whose campaign has been promoted heavily by the online group Safe Seattle, did not get the support of any PAC.) And in District 1 (West Seattle), incumbent Lisa Herbold got 48 percent in a three-way race, besting challenger Phil Tavel, who was supported by People for Seattle, Moms, and CASE but barely topped 33 percent of the vote.

In District 2, Tammy Morales (45 percent) and Mark Solomon (25 percent) will advance to the general; in District 4, Alex Pedersen (45 percent) and Shaun Scott (19 percent) will move forward; in District 6, Dan Strauss (31 percent) and Heidi Wills (23 percent) will advance; and in District 7, the winners are Andrew Lewis (29 percent) and Jim Pugel (24 percent).

So what should we make of these results? A few early takeaways:

1) PAC money (maybe) matters; democracy vouchers (maybe) don’t.

A lot has been made of the fact that Seattle voters now have the ability to direct public funds to the candidate or candidates of their choice, through property-tax-funded system called democracy vouchers. (Yes, that’s a link to my own story). The idea was that by giving every Seattle voter $100 to spend as they want in the primary and general elections, democracy vouchers would help temper the influence of corporate money in local politics.

But in every race but two (more on those in a moment), upstart conservative PACs—with a heavy assist from legacy groups like CASE—managed to push relatively obscure candidates through to the general election by spending huge amounts of money on campaigns targeting incumbents or presumptive frontrunners like Tammy Morales. In nearly every election where People for Seattle and Moms for Seattle bombarded voters with negative ads and mailers, their candidate moved through to the general election.

Overall, PACs have reported spending more than $875,000 in the primary election alone, a number that is likely to rise as late reports come in. That number is larger than the total amount of independent expenditures on all nine primary and general city council elections in 2015.

Moms for Seattle spent about $33,000 in each of four target districts, bombarding voters with oversized mailers featuring heavily Photoshopped images on one side and the group’s endorsed candidates on the other. Given that two of their candidates (Michael George in the 7th and Pat Murakami in the 3rd) didn’t make it out of the primary, tonight was a mixed result that probably didn’t justify an outlay of more than $130,000.

People for Seattle, a PAC started by former city council member Tim Burgess, seems to have been more effective. In almost every case, the candidates People for Seattle supported were also backed by the Chamber’s Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy PAC, providing a double punch of conventional campaign materials bolstered by negative, and in many cases inaccurate or misleading, mail.

In District 1, Herbold challenger Tavel—who got 18 percent of the vote against Herbold in 2015 despite being endorsed by the Seattle Times—benefited from nearly $34,000 in spending from People for Seattle, more than half of that targeting Herbold. (CASE threw in another $102,000).

In District 2,  sleeper candidate Solomon—a civilian employee of the Seattle Police Department with no prior involvement in local elections—benefited from $23,000 from People for Seattle, including $2,700 in negative mailers targeting Morales (whose name the group’s reports consistently and inexplicably misspell “Moralas.”) CASE spent another $88,000 on Solomon.

In District 3, People for Seattle spent $12,500 against Sawant, $12,500 targeting a Sawant challenger, Zach DeWolf, and another $15,000 supporting Orion. (CASE spent another $122,000 on Orion, and $12,000 against Sawant)

In District 4, the PAC spent $19,000 backing Pedersen, who happens to be Burgess’ former council aide, and $11,000 targeting Emily Myers, a UW doctoral student who had labor backing and came in fourth. (Pedersen got a $13,000 boost from CASE).

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.

People for Seattle stayed out of Districts 5, where they endorsed Juarez, and 6 and 7, where three of their non-endorsed but recommended candidates, Heidi Wills in District 6 and Jim Pugel and Andrew Lewis in District 7, came through. CASE spent $6,900 on Juarez, $6,600 on Wills, $6,600 on Jay Fathi, $12,000 on Michael George (D7), and $6,000 on Pugel.

Other notable expenditures from legacy PACs include $148,000 from UNITE HERE 8, the New York City-based labor union, supporting Andrew Lewis.

Overall, PACs have reported spending more than $875,000 in the primary election alone, a number that is likely to rise as late reports come in. That number is larger than the total amount of independent expenditures on all nine primary and general city council elections in 2015. Continue reading “PAC Spending Pays Off, Sawant’s In Trouble, and Other Lessons from Election Night”

Half the “Moms for Seattle” Don’t Vote in Local Elections. But You Should!

via King County Elections.

Moms for Seattle—a brand-new election PAC whose biggest contributors are a Bellevue charter-school advocate and the wives of local multi-millionaires such as Forbes-lister Tom Pigott, telecom mogul John McCaw, and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz—continues to portray itself as just a small group of concerned local moms, telling KUOW last week that they decided to form a PAC after talking on the phone and realizing how frustrated they were with the current state of the city council. They “thought this was the best way for us to actually make a difference,” one of the Moms told KUOW.

So let’s take them, for a moment, at their word—Moms for Seattle, a PAC that raised more than $25,000 in a single day when it launched, is just a group of four politically inexperienced moms who wanted to make a difference in their city. (Since then, Moms for Seattle has raised more than $200,000, including about $10,000—almost 90 percent of it from men and people who live outside city limits—in the last few days.) How engaged have the four Moms been in local politics over the years, not counting their recent campaign contributions?

KUOW mentioned that most of the Moms haven’t given much money to local campaigns, which isn’t that unusual in itself—very few people, relatively speaking, do. What the radio station didn’t mention is whether they’ve shown their interest in local elections in the past by doing the bare minimum of voting in them, particularly in the council elections that would presumably be of greatest interest to people concerned about the state of the city council.

So here’s a look at the voting records of the four women who serve as the public face of the Moms for Seattle organization, obtained through the Washington Secretary of State’s voter database.

Celeste Garcia Ramburg and Betsy Losh have voted in most recent elections, including recent city council and mayoral primaries.

Before this year, Laura McMahon has voted just five times since 2004, a period that included seven primary and seven general city council elections as well as three special elections on local measures (and, of course, state and federal primary and general elections, as well as special elections, in even years). She skipped every Seattle election those except the general election in 2017. This year marks the first time she’s ever voted in a local primary election.

And finally, Jeannine Christofilis has also rarely voted, casting ballots in just six elections since 2008. Until now, she has only voted in a single local election—the general election in 2015.

The final tally: Half of the four women who say they formed Moms for Seattle because they’re concerned about local politics vote regularly, but the other two have never voted in a Seattle primary election, and have each voted in exactly one local election before this year. According to KUOW, the group believes that “the most effective way to reach [their electoral] goal would be to form a PAC and endorse the candidates they liked across the city.” The rest of us will have to reach our own electoral goals the old-fashioned way: By actually showing up and voting.

Other big-money PACs that are trying to influence this year’s council elections through independent expenditures—digital and print ad campaigns, mailers, and phone calls—include the Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s PAC, Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (over $800,000 as of July 31); People for Seattle, the PAC formed by former council member Tim Burgess, which sent out mailers attacking two of his former council colleagues (more than $300,000 as of yesterday); and the labor PAC Unite Here Local 8 (about $158,000 as of July 31).

Ballots must be postmarked by today, August 6, or dropped in a ballot drop box by 8pm tonight. 

Will Durkan’s High-Stakes Gamble With Soda Tax Revenues Pay Off?

On Monday, the city council is poised to pass legislation sponsored by council member Mike O’Brien that would require any unanticipated revenues from the sweetened beverage tax (SBT) to be spent on their intended purpose—increasing funding for healthy food programs in the low-income communities most impacted by the soda tax.

Mayor Jenny Durkan has portrayed the move as a “cut” to programs that have historically been funded through the city’s general fund, but which the mayor’s 2019 budget started funding with the new tax, allowing her to use the “excess” general fund money to pay for other things. After Durkan and her department heads contacted human services providers last week to let them know that their funding could be eliminated if they didn’t help defeat O’Brien’s legislation, dozens of organizations—and the city’s own soda tax advisory board—rebelled, sending emails to Durkan and the council denouncing the hardball move. UPDATE: As of Sunday night, the groups opposing Durkan’s position—and supporting the idea that soda tax revenues should be spent on new or expanded programs, not used to backfill funding for existing ones—included groups representing the city’s farmers markets, human service providers, advocates for equitable investment in South Seattle, the Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board, and 27 food banks.

Council member Mike O’Brien proposed the legislation after Mayor Jenny Durkan balanced her budget last year by taking away $6 million in general-fund spending on healthy-food initiatives (like food banks, Fresh Bucks, and school-lunch-related programs) and replacing that money with soda tax revenues; Durkan’s budget switcheroo went against the intent of the soda tax by using soda tax revenues to fund the city’s existing healthy food programs rather than expanding them or creating new ones. Effectively, Durkan’s budgetary sleight-of-hand eliminated the race and social justice compromise embedded in the tax: Instead of reinvesting the tax in the hardest-hit communities, the new budget maintained those programs at existing levels. Put another way, a regressive tax with a race and social justice component became just a regressive tax. O’Brien’s legislation would prevent this from happening in the future, by stating that (as a council staff memo puts it) “no SBT revenues could be used to supplant (i.e. take the place of) General Fund (GF) monies or other funding sources.”

In a letter to human services providers urging them to testify against O’Brien’s legislation Monday, interim Human Services Department director Jason Johnson Johnson wrote, “Your contract is in jeopardy because of a recent Seattle Council legislative action.

Although O’Brien made clear a year ago that he planned to propose this legislation (giving the mayor’s office ample time to make their case against it), Durkan didn’t respond publicly until this week, when she sent out a blistering press release “denounc[ing]” and “condemn[ing]” the council for “a proposed plan … that would cut $6.3 million funding they had approved for critical programs that provide nutrition assistance, child care for struggling families, and nursing care for low-income pregnant women.” (Durkan’s public statement followed a letter her budget director, Ben Noble, sent to the council making many of the same points late last month.)

Durkan’s press release went on to enumerate some of the previously existing programs that the city, under her budget, began funding with soda-tax revenues instead of general fund dollars last year, including the Fresh Bucks food voucher program, food banks, child care assistance, and the Nurse Family Partnership. (The council approved the budget 8-1. Durkan’s letter cites this vote to suggest that the the council supported this specific aspect of the budget, which many of them did not).

Council members O’Brien, Lisa Herbold, Lorena Gonzalez, and Teresa Mosqueda responded with a letter of their own, arguing that the legislation merely codifies what the law already said—that new soda tax revenues should go toward new programs promoting healthy food, not be used to supplant general fund revenues used to fund existing programs. “Community advocates led the fight to ensure sweetened beverage tax revenue have a direct community benefit for the most impacted community by this regressive tax,” the council members wrote. “[T]he very programs the Mayor claims would be ‘cut’ should see increases in funding to expand those programs in the Mayor’s proposed 2020 Budget, assuming she does not chose to once again raid those funds for alternate priorities.”

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Durkan’s lobbying efforts didn’t stop at the council; her deputy mayor, Mike Fong, directed interim Human Services Department Director Jason Johnson and Department of Education and Early Learning director Dwane Chappelle to send letters to the agencies whose operations were funded by the tax last year informing them “that they should commence contin[g]ency planning as soon as possible” and urging them to show up and testify against the proposal during the council’s public comment period on Monday. In his letter to providers, Johnson wrote, “Your contract is in jeopardy because of a recent Seattle Council legislative action.” (Bolds in original.)

Johnson’s letter continued:

Last November, the adopted and endorsed 2019-2020 Biennium Budget, passed by an 8-1 vote and signed by the Mayor, allocated Sweetened Beverage Tax revenues to support food and education related assistance programs. The law currently permits soda tax revenues to be used for food and nutrition programs, education and child-based programs, job retraining and placement programs for workers adversely impacted by the tax. Unfortunately, the Council has now changed its mind and would rather have this $6.3M in revenue support unspecified new programs next year while providing no funding to back-fill the cuts to currently funded programs.

This legislation is scheduled for the vote of Full Council at its Monday, July 22 meeting, which starts at 2:00 p.m. Councilmembers will take public testimony on the legislation before final action.

The effort appears to have backfired. Instead of agreeing to show up and lobby on the mayor’s behalf, the Seattle Human Services Coalition and Got Green, an organization that fights displacement and promotes economic opportunity and equitable investment in South Seattle, wrote letters of their own denouncing the mayor’s tactics. UPDATE: Four more organizations representing farmers’ markets, including the Pike Place Market Foundation and the Seattle Farmers Market Association, have signed a separate letter condemning the mayor for blaming any future budget cuts by her office—which writes the budget—on the council. To do so, the groups wrote, “assumes that we are uninformed of the City’s budget process and the funding sources used to support the totality of our programs.”

“If the mayor does not propose funding in the 2020 budget from a source other than [Sweetened Beverage Tax], as your Council Bill would direct, it would be the mayor who is proposing the cut, not Council.” —Letter from the Seattle Human Services Coalition about Durkan’s response to the council’s soda tax legislation

The Human Services Coalition, which represents nonprofit human services providers, wrote that they are “disappointed by the communications from HSD, DEEL, and the Mayor’s Office to our organizations. … Characterizing this legislation and its impact as ‘jeopardizing’ 2020 contracts to current, successful services is at best misleading.

“It is the Mayor’s role in our three-branch system to implement policies which City Council legislates, and so up to the mayor if she will propose cutting the services instead of identifying an alternate fund source from the $6 billion annual revenue that comes into the City of Seattle.  If the mayor does not propose funding in the 2020 budget from a source other than SBT, as your Council Bill would direct, it would be the mayor who is proposing the cut, not Council.”

“It is entirely in the Mayor’s power, and in fact, is her responsibility, to find an appropriate, more stable funding source for the programs where SBT revenues were used to supplant general fund dollars.”—Letter from local farmers’ market organizations

Separately, Got Green urged its members and supporters to show up Monday to support the legislation and prevent Durkan from “pull[ing] millions of dollars that the council and previous mayor had promised for Food and Early Childhood Education programs and dump[ing] it in the general fund (where it becomes impossible to track and she can spend it on whatever she prioritizes.”

The email calls Johnson’s letter to providers an “ultimatum that organizations will have funding reduced unless they show up at a council meeting on Monday to provide public testimony against the ordinance to protect Food Security and Early Education Dollars.”

“Efforts to portray this legislation and its impact as causing funding cuts to organizations in POC and low income communities is not only misleading, but intentionally deceptive,” Got Green’s letter continues. “As community-based organizations working tirelessly to serve vulnerable Seattle residents, most are allied and will refuse to take your bait in attempting to pit our organizations and our issues against each other in the name of scarce funding and funding cuts.”

The farmers’ markets’ letter notes that the soda tax is an unpredictable funding source (increasing when soda consumption is up and decreasing when it is down) that should be used for one-time programs, not to fund ongoing needs that would ordinarily be paid for by the more stable general fund. “In order for programs to establish themselves, show impact, and grow to meet the rising need for food security in the City of Seattle, reliable and consistent sources of funding for these critical programs are needed,” their letter says. “It is entirely in the Mayor’s power, and in fact, is her responsibility, to find an appropriate, more stable funding source for the programs where SBT revenues were used to supplant general fund dollars.”

The mayor’s office has confirmed that she plans to veto the legislation, which means it will eventually need the support of a veto-proof six-member majority to override her veto even if it passes with just five votes on Monday. If the council does decide to call the mayor’s bluff, it will mark a major shift in council-mayor relations: Although this council has frequently fought with Durkan over spending, they’ve typically gone along in the end—voting, for example, to kill the controversial “head tax,” which Durkan opposed, after passing it last year. Lately, council members (particularly Gonzalez, Mosqueda, and Herbold) have been pushing back on Durkan more forcefully—including last week, when the three called on the mayor to reopen police contract negotiations in light of a judge’s finding that the city is partially out of compliance with federally mandated reforms.

The council’s soda tax legislation passed out of committee unanimously, with five votes, on July 10. I’m calling around to council offices and will update this post if I find out more about how the remaining council members plan to vote.

Is Seattle’s Experiment in Public Campaign Finance Working?

This story, which I reported several months ago, just appeared in the July 2019 print edition of Seattle magazine. Many of the numbers have changed; for example, 35 candidates have now qualified for and are receiving democracy vouchers, and of those, 27 have been released from either total spending limits or total contribution limits or both, a process I covered in more detail here. Meanwhile, as I predicted in my piece, independent spending—the primary impediment to the idealistic goals of the democracy voucher program—continues to balloon, outpacing both individual cash donations and democracy vouchers in many races. I’ve lightly edited this version of the story to reflect some of the changes since the story went to print; the version that ran in the magazine is available on Seattle magazine’s website.

This year’s Seattle City Council races have produced a bumper crop of candidates—55 people running for seven council seats. Of those, more than 40 have signed up to participate in the city’s audacious experiment in campaign funding: democracy vouchers, a unique form of public campaign financing in which voters determine who gets public funds.

The goals of the program are twofold: to increase the number and diversity of candidates running in local races; and to make it possible for more ordinary residents, including noncitizens and people who are not registered to vote, to donate directly to candidates even if they lack the personal funds to do so.

Two elections in since the program began in 2017, it’s clear that more candidates are running. In 2015, the first year that most council positions were elected by district (there are seven district and two at-large council seats), the same seven seats drew 41 candidates. And more people than ever before are also contributing to local races. Whether that participation translates into a different kind of city council—one that includes, for example, renters and people without connections to deep-pocketed donors—remains an open question.

First, some history. Four years ago, in an election that was closely watched by voting-reform advocates across the country, Seattle voters passed Initiative 122, which radically changed how city elections are conducted and financed. Although the initiative was sweeping—limiting contributions from city contractors, prohibiting lobbying by former elected officials and lowering contribution limits—the most dramatic change was the creation of an unprecedented financing system that sets aside public money for Seattle residents to spend on candidates for city offices.

Financed through a $30 million, 10-year property tax, the experimental Democracy Voucher Program allocates four “vouchers” worth a total of $100 to every Seattle resident, who can earmark the vouchers to the qualifying candidate or candidates of their choice. Nominees qualify for the program by collecting a specified number of signatures and contributions. (See sidebar.) Once they qualify, candidates also must abide by contribution and spending limits and participate in at least three public forums. The program is voluntary; this year, several candidates, including District 3 (central Seattle) incumbent and socialist Kshama Sawant, are not participating, freeing them from the program’s spending and contribution caps.

In 2015—before the Democracy Voucher Program was in place—only 1.3 percent of Seattle residents donated to local campaigns, most of them residents of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, according to an analysis that year by Sightline Institute, which drafted I-122. In 2017, the first year of the program, that number nearly tripled, to 3.4 percent.

“If your wallet is empty, you’re still able to participate in this part of the political process,” says Liz Dupee, who directs the Washington Democracy Hub at the Win/Win Network, a progressive advocacy group. Last year, a Win/Win analysis found that democracy vouchers had “diversified the pool of donors” to include more young people, people of color and residents of less affluent neighborhoods.

District 2 City Council candidate Tammy Morales, who narrowly lost to incumbent Bruce Harrell in her first run for the southeast Seattle seat in 2015, says democracy vouchers have been a game changer for her. “The last time I ran, I would knock on somebody’s door who might feel very compelled by my message and the things I was hoping to do, but I wasn’t about to ask them for a contribution because they couldn’t afford it, and now I can ask them for their vouchers,” Morales says. “They’re providing a way for people who don’t have a lot of resources to participate.”

Other studies back this up. A city-commissioned report by BerkConsulting found that 88 percent of people who used vouchers in 2017 had never contributed to a local campaign before.

So far, vouchers haven’t made campaigns cheaper. In 2017—the first year that City Council candidates could participate in the voucher program—Position 8 candidates Jon Grant and Teresa Mosqueda spent a combined total of $818,000, making the race one of the most expensive council races in recent Seattle history. Both Grant and Mosqueda participated in the Democracy Voucher Program, but the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (which has the discretion to do so) raised the cap on individual contributions from $250 to $500 and lifted the total spending limit for both candidates after Mosqueda’s fundraising repeatedly blew past Grant’s.

In 2017, when just two council seats were on the ballot, spending for City Council campaigns increased 60 percent over 2015, when all nine seats were up for election.

If one of the goals of the program is to make campaigns less expensive, it may seem counterintuitive to raise the caps. But Ethics and Elections Commission executive director Wayne Barnett argues that it’s important for campaigns to have the ability to combat well-funded outside groups—in other words, political action committees (PACs), which are not subject to contribution or spending limits. “If you’re not going to give a candidate an opportunity to remain competitive when outside forces start spending heavily on behalf of their opponent, I don’t think candidates are likely to remain in the [Democracy Voucher] program.”

Morales, who announced her candidacy in January, says the spending caps can make it hard to pay campaign workers a living wage while also budgeting for expenses like ads and campaign mail. And Mosqueda notes that the cap on democracy vouchers made it impossible for people who wanted to contribute to her campaign to do so after she hit the $300,000 maximum for voucher contributions. “We need to either say that we need to stay within these caps or get rid of them,” Mosqueda says. “There were a lot of people [last year] who were very frustrated that they couldn’t use their democracy vouchers.” Two-thirds of Mosqueda’s campaign funding in 2017 came from democracy vouchers.

It’s also unclear whether democracy vouchers are accomplishing their second goal: producing a larger, higher-quality and more diverse field of local candidates. Much has been made of the sheer number of people running for the City Council this year. But most of them are white and wealthier than average; according to financial disclosure statements (which, thanks to I-122, now include each candidate’s net wealth), 15 of this year’s candidates have a net worth of over $1 million, and only a handful are people of color.

Candidates who want to participate in the voucher program aren’t guaranteed funding. Before they can receive any vouchers, they have to collect a minimum number of signatures (400 in citywide races; 150 for each district council seat) and get donations of at least $10 from an equal number of registered voters.

In 2017, when the two citywide seats were on the ballot, the candidates were required to get signatures and donations from the same 400 people, a requirement that 2017 candidate Hisam Goueli says forced him to spend most of his time chasing contributions and signatures rather than meeting with voters. “We believed in the Democracy Voucher Program; we were just broken by it,” Goueli says. “We were devastated to find out the program we thought would be the thing that helped us get our message out would be the hamstring to the campaign.” The rule has since been changed. Voucher candidates still have to get a minimum number of signatures and contributions, but the signatures and contributions can now come from different people.

On the plus side, Alex Pedersen, a candidate in northeast Seattle’s District 4, says the signature requirement (and the limitations imposed by the voucher program itself) gives a leg up to candidates who are willing to engage with voters face-to-face. “Even those [candidates] accustomed to using social media are now required to put on their walking shoes and knock on doors, which I think will help to build greater trust between the people and their elected officials and make politics more fun and engaging,” Pedersen says.

Candidates who have declined to participate in the Democracy Voucher Program give various reasons for their decision. At her January kickoff for reelection, council member Sawant, the District 3 incumbent, said that she expected to have “probably a million [dollars] thrown at this race” by “corporate PACs and big business lobbyists and big developers,” and would need to raise and spend more money than the voucher program would allow.

Ari Hoffman, who’s running in District 2, opposes the voucher program for philosophical reasons. “I made the decision at the beginning of the campaign not to take democracy vouchers, because I do not believe that taxpayer money should be used to finance political campaigns,” Hoffman says. “My campaign is about fiscal accountability in our local governments, and I would be a hypocrite if I took taxpayer money to fund it.”

And Naveed Jamali, who’s running in District 7 (downtown, Magnolia and Queen Anne), says he prefers to focus on policy rather than “chasing vouchers”; when he knocks on people’s doors, he says, “the first question is about ‘What issues are important to you?’ It’s not about making the sale.”

Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program is still very new, and proponents say they’re well aware of its shortcomings and that it wouldn’t be surprising if the program—assuming it continues—receives some fine-tuning in the future. But Margaret Morales, a researcher with Sightline, notes that no amount of tinkering can fix what many reform advocates consider the most troubling trend in recent years: the growing impact of independent spending, which totaled more than $1 million in 2017. To change that, Morales and other voucher proponents note, will require overturning the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which opened the floodgates for unlimited spending by political action committees. In the meantime, Morales says, candidates “just have to do the best they can regardless of independent expenditures.”

 

Democracy Vouchers 101 

Candidates for Seattle offices who file all the required paperwork can choose to participate in the Democracy Voucher Program.To be eligible for vouchers*, candidates for the City Council’s district positions must:

• Collect signatures from 150 Seattle residents (including from at least 75 in their district)
• Collect at least $10 from 150 residents (including from at least 75 in their district; the financial contributions and signatures do not need to come from the same people).

• Limit their campaign valuation—the total amount of money raised or spent—to $75,000 in the primary election and $75,000 in the general election.

Additionally, candidates accepting democracy vouchers must:

• Adhere to an individual contribution cap of $250 (the cap for candidates not accepting democracy vouchers is $500).

• Not collect any more vouchers once they have reached their total campaign valuation cap.

Candidates—both those who accept vouchers and those who choose not to—can appeal to the Seattle Ethics and Election Commission to have the caps on fundraising and expenditures raised.

*The required number of signature, dollar amounts, and spending and contribution caps vary depending on whether a candidate is running for a district council seat, an at-large council seat or another elected city office. 

Big Business, Labor, and Activist Money Set to Dwarf Individual Spending on Council Campaigns

With ballots landing in mailboxes any day now, independent campaigns representing business, labor, and, vaguely, “moms,” are spending thousands of dollars—sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars—on ad campaigns, mailings, canvassing, and other efforts to influence your vote in the August 6 primary election. The money spent by outside groups threatens to dwarf spending by the campaigns themselves, particularly in District 7 (downtown, Magnolia, and Queen Anne), where labor has spent nearly half a million dollars on a single candidate.

As I reported for Seattle magazine (in a story that went to print long before the latest fundraising totals started rolling in), despite the advent of direct public campaign financing through democracy vouchers, “no amount of tinkering can fix what many reform advocates consider the most troubling trend in recent years: the growing impact of independent spending.”

Here’s a breakdown of the latest independent-money financing, where it’s coming from, and how it’s being spent:

• Moms for Seattle, a new PAC that first announced its existence on Speak Out Seattle’s Facebook page earlier this week, has raised more than $150,000 in just over a month and spent $115,000 of that on consulting and Facebook ads for four council candidates: Real estate consultant Michael George in District 1; neighborhood activist Pat Murakami in District 3 (where Kshama Sawant is the incumbent); former Tim Burgess aide and erstwhile newsletter publisher Alex Pedersen in District 4; and former council member-turned-golf advocate Heidi Wills in District 6. All four candidates also received top ratings from Speak Out Seattle.

The money spent by outside groups threatens to dwarf spending by the campaigns themselves, particularly in District 7 (downtown, Magnolia, and Queen Anne), where labor has spent nearly half a million dollars on a single candidate.

The top donors to the group include Bellevue charter school proponent Katherine Binder ($25,000); Jeannine Navone, wife of hedge-fund manager Dino Christofilis Diane Langstraat, wife of investment manager Brian Langstraat; and numerous other women who list their occupation as “stay-at-home mom” or “homemaker.” Their chief consultant is Western Consultants, LLC, which has a PO box as its local address and has never played in local campaigns before Moms for Seattle started throwing money their way ($69,000 so far) this year.

The group’s other consultant, Seattle-based Clear Path Partners, has not worked directly on local campaigns until this year; however, its founders have. Clear Path’s partners include Joe Quintaña, who started a business-oriented PAC called Forward Seattle a dozen years ago; former Strategies 360 VP John Engbar; and former King County Realtors’ lobbyist Randy Bannecker.

I’ve reached out to Laura McMahon, the woman who announced the group’s creation on Facebook, as well as Speak Out Seattle to find out more about the group and whether they’re connected to SOS, and will update this post if I hear back.

UPDATE: McMahon responded to my message asking about the group (I’ve edited out the part of her response that appeared to be responding to social media speculation about the group by people other than me): “We are moms who have never before been involved in politics, but are deeply disturbed by what is happening to our city. We seek to engage other moms, friends and concerned citizens in funding independent campaigns to elect city councilmembers with the common sense to balance caring for the homeless, addicted and mentally ill with keeping Seattle citizens safe in public areas and green spaces – something the current council seems incapable of doing. … The candidates we are endorsing are experienced leaders who want to make positive change for Seattle and are capable of achieving the balance I describe above. No one wants the status quo as it is NOT working. We have no further comment at this time.”

• People for Seattle, the PAC started by former city council member and mayor Tim Burgess, has raised a quarter-million dollars and spent about $165,000 of that so far—the overwhelming majority of it ($100,000) on direct mail by a Massachusetts-based firm called Daylight Communications. (Another $40,000, as I previously reported, went toward messaging research by the local polling firm EMC Research.) PFC’s candidates include Phil Tavel in District 1, Mark Solomon in District 2, former Capitol Hill Chamber director Egan Orion in District 3, ex-Burgess aide  Pedersen in District 4, and council incumbent Debora Juarez in District 5.

The state Public Disclosure Commission doesn’t break down the $100,000 the group is spending on direct mail by candidate, but the city’s ethics and elections commission lists, so far, negative mailings targeting Herbold, Sawant, and (in an unusual move) District 3 Sawant challenger Zachary DeWolf as well as mailings in favor of Orion and Tavel.

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• I covered spending by the Chamber-sponsored Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE) here; since then, CASE has spent another $87,000 on mailings and Facebook ads on behalf of Tavel, Solomon, Orion, Pedersen, Juarez, Wills, Fathi, George, and former police chief and District 7 candidate Jim Pugel, plus overhead expenses to the Chamber.

The state Public Disclosure Commission doesn’t break down the $100,000 former council member Tim Burgess’ People for Seattle PAC is spending, but the city’s ethics and elections commission lists, so far, negative mailings targeting Herbold, Sawant, and (in an unusual move) District 3 Sawant challenger Zachary DeWolf.

• Not to be outdone, perhaps, by business spending, UNITE HERE Local 8, the hotel workers’ union, is spending more than $425,000  $150,000 on cable TV and online ads buys on behalf of former Nick Licata campaign manager Andrew Lewis, who’s running for District 7 with strong union support. (Editor’s note: After this posted, Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission director Wayne Barnett contacted me to say the “jaw-dropping” number on the SEEC’s website was the result of a “bug” that had been fixed, and that the actual expenditure was closer to $150,000. This update reflects the SEEC’s corrected information.)

The enormous union push to get Lewis through the primary, which according to Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission reports is being funded through the group’s national arm in New York City, appears to be the only big spend on cable TV in the council primary so far.

• The Service Employees International Union 775, which represents health-care workers, has written checks to two marketing firms (one in Seattle and one in Beaverton, OR) for a digital campaign supporting District 6 candidate Jay Fathi, a physician who has also been endorsed by several other unions as well as the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, the Seattle Metro Chamber’s political arm. They’ve also paid Fuse Washington for digital ads for council incumbent Lisa Herbold (D-1, $3,500) and District 2 candidate Tammy Morales ($1,500).

• Finally, the group District 1 Neighbors for Small Business—funded by a few relatively small donations from the owners of West Seattle businesses like the West Seattle Bowl, Menashe Jewelry, and Nucor Steel—has spent just over $400 on stickers for Tavel.

 

Morning Crank: “I Have Not Seen Any Speculative ADU Bubble”

1. The city council finally adopted legislation to loosen regulations on backyard and basement apartment construction Monday, 13 years after the city allowed homeowners to build backyard cottages in Southeast Seattle on a “pilot” basis in 2006.  The city’s analysis found that the new rules, which would allow homeowners to build up to two accessory units (such as a basement apartment and a backyard cottage) on their property, will add up to 440 new units a year across Seattle, or about one unit for every 80 acres of single-family land.

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The city expanded its initial backyard cottage pilot to include the rest of Seattle in 2009, but it never took off in a major way, thanks in large part to restrictions on lot and unit size, owner-occupancy requirement, and parking mandates that made accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, difficult and expensive to build. Efforts to make it easier to build second and third units ran against the usual objections from single-family homeowner activists, who claimed that changing the law would turn Seattle’s exclusive neighborhoods into triplex canyons, and from left-leaning development opponents, who claimed  that loosening the rules would lead to a frenzy of speculative development, with builders snatching up affordable single-family rental houses and destroying them to make way for new houses with two additional units, which they would rent out at higher prices or turn into Airbnbs.

Litigation by a group of homeowner activists dragged the process out for years, but the city prevailed in May, enabling the legislation to finally move forward. Although council members generally supported the proposal, some of them wanted to add new restrictions, such as owner occupancy and ownership requirements and even a ban on leasing the units as short-term rentals, which would have subjected backyard cottages and basement apartments to more stringent anti-Airbnb rules  than any other kind of housing in the city.

Ultimately, the only one of those amendments that saw the light of day on Monday was Lisa Herbold’s proposal to require homeowners to own a property for one year before building a second accessory unit—a provision Herbold said was necessary “to address the speculative market that will flip these units”—with even socialist council member Kshama Sawant saying that she saw no reason for the restriction. While she is concerned about “corporate developers” building luxury apartment towers, Sawant said, “I have not seen any speculative ADU bubble anywhere.”

The legislation, which Sightline called “the best rules in America for backyard cottages,” passed 8-0, with council member Bruce Harrell absent.

2. Often, when the council passes a piece of legislation they have been working on for some time, Mayor Jenny Durkan sends out a press release praising the council for passing “the Mayor’s legislation.” That didn’t happen with the ADU bill that passed yesterday—not because Durkan didn’t have her own version of the proposal, but because she never sent her own version of the ADU legislation to the council. Instead, after a team of staffers spent months working on draft legislation and crafting an outreach plan for an alternative proposal, the mayor apparently decided to support O’Brien’s legislation after all.

It’s hard to quantify how much staff time the mayor’s office and city departments dedicated to drafting legislation that never saw the light of day, but the sheer volume of communications in the first three months of 2019 suggests it was a substantial body of work. (I filed my request at the end of March and received redacted records in mid-June, which is why I don’t have any documents dated later than March 31).

At the moment, it’s also hard to know what problems Durkan had with O’Brien’s proposal, since most of the documents her office provided about her strategy and legislation look like this:

I would show more, but it just goes on like this.However, series of text messages between two mayoral staffers that were provided without redactions shows that one of the changes Durkan was considering was an even longer ownership requirement than what  Herbold proposed—two years, rather than one, before a homeowner could build a second accessory unit.

I’ve asked the mayor’s office for unredacted versions of the documents I received in  and will post more details about her proposal  when I receive them. In the meantime, here’s one more page from those redacted documents—this one a list of ideas the mayor’s office had to “further allay concerns” about “speculative development.”