“We Have to Give Them Discipline,” and Other Things I Heard Moderating Three Council Candidate Forums

As I mentioned on Twitter last week, I wasn’t able to live tweet from three of the MASS Coalition-sponsored candidate forums (for city council districts 2, 4, and 7) because I was moderating them. However, I did make sure to record each forum so that folks who didn’t attend (and those who don’t have time to watch all three when the videos become available on Youtube) could catch some of the highlights.

This is absolutely not a definitive guide to where the 24 candidates who showed up for these three forums (out  stand on transportation and housing issues. Instead, it’s a selection of quotes that jumped out at me as I was moderating these forums, which give a flavor of where some of these candidates stand on a long list of questions that ranged from how they’ve tackled racial inequity to how they would address traffic violence, homelessness, and whether solowheels should be allowed in bike lanes (OK, that one was just District 4 candidate Frank Krueger).

The quotes I’ve chosen to highlight are ones that were unique in some way, either for their specificity, the fact that they made a candidate stand out in a group of candidates whose answers were all similar to one another’s, or because they suggested unique solutions to problems that every candidate in every race is grappling with. (In some cases, the answers that stood out did so because they were were off point or outrageous in some way, as you’ll see). The responses in these transcripts have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

For detailed information on each candidate, I suggest you visit their websites, which are all available on the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission website.

District 2 (Southeast Seattle)

“I oppose redevelopment or privatization of Jefferson Golf Course. It’s part of our fabric and we need to keep it.” – Mark Solomon, running in District 2

Ari Hoffman, in response to a question about how to house people with barriers to traditional housing, such as mental illness, disabilities, or substance use disorders:

“If you look at what happened with Licton Springs and a lot of the other low-barrier encampments,  the problem is that we weren’t treating the problems. We’re allowing them to come in, bringing their problems with them. We’re not assigning them social workers, we’re not making sure that treatment’s available. If you just just bring them into housing, you’re going to have the exact same problems that they had without housing. I know this from my own personal experience with my family: If you just give them everything, that’s enabling behavior. We need to make sure that they have the treatment they need, and that they have a support system they need.”

Tammy Morales, in response to the same question:

Image result for tammy morales seattle“For those who are chronically homeless,  providing treatment and services to those people is not giving them everything. It’s actually treating some of the issues that they have, and we need to do more of that i we’re really going to talk about transitioning folks into housing that they can stabilize in. And we do that by expanding the LEAD program, which is proven to be effective at helping people get into housing permanently. The navigation teams that we have are a waste of money. It’s unconstitutional, it’s not effective, and it wastes taxpayer dollars.”

Mark Solomon, responding to a question about protecting and expanding green spaces in the South End:

“The last thing we should be doing is removing the green space that we have in our community already. I oppose redevelopment or privatization of Jefferson Golf Course. There are a lot of trees, a lot of open space. and it’s community asset. It’s part of our fabric and we need to keep it.”

Chris Peguero, on the need for safe and accessible bike facilities:

We have a Bike Master Plan, and we need to build it. I [am concerned about] the expense of building protected lanes. I think we need them, but how do we build them? There was a dramatic number that came out about how expensive it was per mile. But if there’s a better way to do that is less expensive [we should do that]..The other concern that I have is making sure that bikes are accessible to all families. I think for the most part, communities of color oftentimes don’t think of bikes as an option. Bike cultures are often very white and male. So how do we build that access?”

District 4

“[Queen Anne and Wallingford] are what they are today because of the zoning that it existed before the mandatory downzone in 1957.” – Sasha Anderson, running in District 4

Cathy Tuttle, on strategic sidewalk construction:

Image result for cathy tuttle seattle city council“About 27 percent of Seattle streets do not have sidewalks. And the reason that we can only afford to put in about 10 blocks of sidewalks a year is that they cost so much. They cost about $300,000 per block face. That means close to half a million or sometimes $1 million per block. I think that there’s a role for home zones— streets without sidewalks where we can slow streets down, where cars are guests. I see sidewalks is having a lot of embedded carbon and a lot of stormwater impact. I don’t think we need sidewalks everywhere. We need them some places. Certainly with safe routes to school, safe routes for seniors. But  there are a lot of places where sidewalks are not the answer.”

Sasha Anderson, on the need to upzone single-family neighborhoods:

“In 1957, there was a mandatory downzone in Seattle. Before that, some of our most desirable and livable neighborhoods —Queen Anne and Wallingford, which are spoken about in the Neighborhoods for All report, were a beautiful mix of single-family houses, triplexes, duplexes, multiple houses on one lot, and it worked. Those neighborhoods are what they are today because of the zoning that it existed before the mandatory downzone in 1957. I think this is so important to bring up because it just shows that we already know this type of zoning works. It is not something that is scary. It is something that makes neighborhood livable, affordable, and provides easy access to transit, and it’s something that we should return to.”

Shaun Scott, on the need for progressive taxes at the city level:

Image result for shaun scott seattle

“I’d like to see a retooled employee head tax. I would like to see the city use a real estate speculation tax, I would like to see congestion pricing. I would like to see the city dip into its bonding capacity, because long-term fiscal solvency is not really going to be worth much where we’re headed at this rate, and I’d rather have a planet that we can live on in 40 years as opposed to a credit rating that we cannot use it because the world is literally on fire.”

Joshua Newman, on the city’s policy of moving encampments from place to place:

“Fundamentally, people are living in tent encampments because they have nowhere else to go, and chasing them around to somewhere else  is just throwing good money after bad. But it’s also not compassionate to just allow our neighbors to continue to live under the freeway and people’s porches and on the side of the road. So in the near term, we need to establish FEMA- style tent camps like we do after natural disasters. And I think we need to establish them in each of the seven [council] districts around the city. After that we can start working on more permanent solutions such as the tiny homes, additional mental support, etc.”

District 7

“When I drive, nothing infuriates me more than when there’s a biker in front of me and they’re not in the bike lane.”—Daniela Lipscomb-Eng, running in District 7

Andrew Lewis, on the need to replace the Magnolia Bridge at a cost of up to $420 million (which all nine candidates who showed up for the District 7 debate supported):

“A big part of shaping the neighborhood of Magnolia is going to be maintaining that essential connection to the rest of the city. The Magnolia Bridge serves 265 Metro buses every day, it’s the biggest mass transit connection that Magnolia has to the rest of the city. As I doorbell in Magnolia, I meet a lot of renters, and in some areas, including Magnolia, they are completely dependent on the bridge. They’re the ones who would be impacted most by removing it. And I think as we start tackling these conversations about densifying Magnolia Village, densifying at 34th and Government, it makes a lot of sense to replace the bridge.”

Michael George, same question:

“We should’ve been reserving for the Magnolia Bridge for a long time. We didn’t do it. That’s on city government, not on the people of Magnolia. So we have to replace that bridge. I think the biggest opportunity to add affordable housing in the city, definitely in our district, is Interbay. We’re going to have the light rail system running through there. We can not continue to put more traffic through 15th. We are also going to need to move cars through there.  I am going to do everything I can to replace that bridge and I’m also going to do everything. I can to connect it to density in Magnolia as well as developing Interbay the way it should be, which is with a lot of affordable housing.”

Daniela Lipscomb-Eng, in response to a question about how to make biking safer and accessible to everyone:

“When I’m in my car—because I do drive, I have four young boys under the age of five—nothing infuriates me more than when there’s a biker in front of me and they’re not in the bike lane. So I’ve went to the Cascade Bike Club and I asked them why, why do people do this? And they said to me that the street cleaners do not fit on these protected bike lanes, and so they’re full of garbage, full of glass, full of needles, and they’re dirty. So let’s work with the bike clubs and let’s work with these new bike lanes that we’re putting in to ensure that the city can clean them so that if bikers are going to use them, that they’re safe.”

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Jim Pugel, same question:

“We promised the Move Seattle levy voters that we were going to get ‘X’ amount of money to advance the bike use program, and they say now that it’s too expensive, so we have to cut some. [If we’re going to do that], then we have to take the same rate or the same amount of cuts to the Rapid Rides, to the sidewalk improvements, to the bridge improvements, to everything else, at the same percentage. It’s only fair. If we don’t, then we lose trust with our voters.”

Don Harper, on how he would deal with encampments in District 1:

“I would remove them. One thing that’s happened is that we have lost contro of our city and we had an opportunity to start to correct this years ago and we just played around and we’ve been playing around with it for since Murray was elected. What I think we have to do is we’ve got to get our city back, because just in the same way we treat our children, we have to give them discipline, the same thing has to happen with [the homeless population.]”

Morning Crank: The Council Takes a Closer Look at the “Prolific Offenders” Report

1. Six of the seven District 2 city council candidates participated in a forum at the Georgetown Ballroom last night, and I livetweeted the whole thing. Check out the thread to find out what committee Ari Hoffman wants to chair, when Tammy Morales last called 911, why socialist Henry Dennison won’t answer yes/no questions… and also a lot of information about the candidates’ plans are for addressing homelessness, environmental racism, and how they would counter displacement in South Seattle.

2. City council members Lisa Herbold and Lorena Gonzalez invited leaders of several of the business groups that funded a recent report on so-called “prolific offenders” Wednesday, and raised questions about the methodology behind the report and some of its conclusions.

Mike Stewart, the head of the Ballard Alliance, said he and other business leaders got the idea for the report after they “started to realize that things are changing a lot” for business owners, who he said are dealing with a level of crime they’ve never experienced before. “It feels like  many of the instances of the criminal behavior that happens seems to be coming from many of the same people—so an individual might commit a crime in a business district one day and the next week, they’re back again,” Stewart said.  Erin Goodman, the head of the SODO Business Improvement Area, added, “One individual in our sample is quite simply terrorizing the Ballard business district. … In a single day in 2018, he shoplifted from five stores in a two-hour period, brazenly pushing a shopping cart full of the stolen items from store to store.”

These bookings include charges for failure to appear or comply with terms of release, which made up 41% of the charges in a King County assessment of its “Familiar Faces” program, which deals with a similar population.

The report, “System Failure,” was put together by former mayor Ed Murray’s public safety advisor, Scott Lindsay. It highlights the booking histories of 100 individuals, hand-picked by Lindsay and characterized in the report as “roughly representative of a larger population of individuals who are frequently involved in criminal activity in Seattle’s busiest neighborhoods.” Every person on Lindsay’s list had four or more bookings into King County Jail over a 12-month period and had “indicators” that they were chronically homeless and had a substance use disorder.

The criteria Lindsay used for his list are similar to those used in King County’s Familiar Faces initiative, which, in 2014, identified 1,252 people with four or more annual bookings (94 percent of them with a substance use disorder or behavioral health issue, or both), except that Lindsay chose to zero in specifically on frequent offenders who are homeless, which Familiar Faces does not. Just 58 percent of the people on the 2013 Familiar Faces list had indicators that they were homeless. By hand-picking a list of offenders who are homeless (and by choosing to highlight the stories of mostly people who moved to Seattle from elsewhere), Lindsay’s report feeds into the common, but unsupported, belief that most people who commit property crimes are homeless and that homeless people from across the country come to Seattle to mooch off the city’s generosity.

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Gonzalez and Herbold pressed the “System Failure” funders on some of the methodology in their report, including the fact that Lindsay determined the number of crimes each person had committed using police reports, complaints, and charging documents, without looking at anything the person said in their own defense or tracking whether they were ultimately found guilty. Goodman, from the SODO BIA, acknowledged that “some of these folks could have gone through the criminal system and been found innocent,” but added, “This is simply a snapshot based on bookings. [Lindsay] clearly states that it does not say how the case was adjudicated.”

Goodman expressed frustration that so many people were let out of jail within hours or days of being arrested; that so few of the people found incompetent to stand trial because of mental illness were subject to involuntary commitment; and that “there was zero accountability in the system for consequences for failure to comply with court-ordered release conditions.” Those conditions, according to the report, included things like appearing at every court date; abstaining from drugs and alcohol; submitting to random drug tests; and going to abstinence-based inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Underfunding services and then complaining that they aren’t working “is like sprinkling a little bit of salt over a giant bowl of soup and then [saying], ‘Oh, salt doesn’t work,'” Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard said.

One issue with these kinds of conditions is that there simply isn’t enough available capacity—in other words, funding—for the services that do exist to serve clients with mental health and substance abuse challenges. The Law Enforcement Diversion Program, for example, recently expanded with funding from the recent Trueblood court settlement to provide a vastly expanded suite of services (including mental health care, transitional housing, and intensive case management) to people whose competency to stand trial has been called into question. That funding will serve about 150 people who would not have previously been eligible for the program. But, as Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard, who was also at the table, pointed out, there are likely thousands of people who could benefit from similar services, while the total capacity for all such programs is in the hundreds. Underfunding services and then complaining that they aren’t working “is like sprinkling a little bit of salt over a giant bowl of soup and then [saying], ‘Oh, salt doesn’t work,'” Daugaard said. “We are not right-sizing the things that are effective.”

The other, related, issue with expecting people to comply with court conditions is that those conditions are often unreasonable. As long as the underlying issues that are causing someone to shoplift or act aggressively or loiter in the doorway of a business aren’t addressed, telling people to show up to day reporting or abstain from their drug of choice is a losing strategy. It’s little wonder that 100 percent of the people Lindsay chose for his report  failed to comply with the conditions imposed by the court.

Goodman’s frustration is understandable: Her group represents businesses in an area of the city with the highest concentration of people living in RVs, many of them with substance use disorders, untreated mental illness, or both. But there’s little point, experts say, in trying to force people into treatment when they aren’t ready. “If the clients aren’t ready, they aren’t ready, and therein lies the challenge,” Heather Aman, a deputy prosecutor at the city attorney’s office who works with LEAD clients, told me recently. “Anyone who isn’t addressing their substance use or mental health issues has an impact on their community, because there’s not an ability to force individuals to [get help or treatment] until they’re ready. And what do you do with the person that needs to be ready? That’s the million-dollar question.”

Council Races Top $1 Million Four Days Before Filing Deadline

It’s filing week at King County Elections; any last-minute candidates who want to jump into the seven city council races (or to run for any of the four King County Council seats that are on the ballot, including the two that are already contested) has until Friday to do so.

Meanwhile, the current crop of council candidates—57 in all—have reported their latest fundraising numbers, and the frontrunners (at least in terms of fundraising) are becoming clear. Readers who protest “horse-race” coverage should rethink their stance: In the era of democracy vouchers, which allow every Seattle resident can contribute up to $100, at no cost, to the candidate or candidates of their choice, fundraising is a pretty good proxy for support. Candidates who can’t qualify for democracy vouchers—because they couldn’t muster 150 signatures from registered voters and 150 $10 contributions—will have less money on the books, and candidates who qualify early and solicit vouchers often will have more. Outliers—the Kshama Sawants and Ari Hoffmans, who decline to participate in the voucher program and are exempt from spending limits—should be looked at individually, as I do below.

Collectively, the 57 candidates have raised just over $1 million.

In District 1 (West Seattle), the incumbent, Lisa Herbold, is taking full advantage of the voucher program, as well as the fact that no one particularly credible has stepped up to oppose her (and one of her opponents, Lil’ Woody’s Popcorn owner Jesse Greene, has dropped out). More than two-thirds of Herbold’s 830 contributions, which total nearly $56,000, have come from inside her district, and just 3 percent are from outside Seattle. (More than 80 percent of Herbold’s fundraising is from democracy vouchers, which enable every Seattle resident to contribute up to $100 in public funds to the candidate or candidates of their choice). Herbold’s nominal opponents, attorney Phil Tavel and SPD officer Brendan Kolding, lag far behind: Tavel has brought in about $14,000 in contributions and is more than $5,200 in the red despite spending $10,590 of his own money, and Kolding, who has qualified for vouchers, has raised just $9,800.

Readers who protest “horse-race” coverage should rethink their stance: In the era of democracy vouchers, which allow every Seattle resident can contribute up to $100, at no cost, to the candidate or candidates of their choice, fundraising is a pretty good proxy for support.

In District 2, second-time candidate Tammy Morales continues to lead the race with the help of more than $38,000 in voucher funding, raising a total of $75,000. Her closest opponent in the money race is conservative  bounce house rental company owner Ari Hoffman, who has raised nearly $45,000 in his non-voucher campaign (which allows him to accept contributions of up to $500, or double the limit imposed on Morales and other voucher candidates.) Rainier Valley Greenways activist Phyllis Porter saw a voucher-fueled surge in her fundraising last month, raising her take to more than $28,000 total. Former SPD officer Mark Solomon and current Seattle City Light employee Christopher Peguero are lagging, but both have qualified for vouchers and could see a surge this month.

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The real fundraising news is in District 3, where incumbent Kshama Sawant, who is not taking vouchers because, she says, her political opponents are likely to spend a million dollars or more to beat her, has raised more than any candidate in any race, with $102,000. Nearly half of that total—46 percent—comes not just from outside District 3, but outside city limits, and only 1 in 5 Sawant donations come from inside her nominal council district. Pot shop owner Logan Bowers, who has already been released from the $75,000 primary spending limit thanks to Sawant’s big numbers, has raised more than $82,000—most of that in vouchers, and 39 percent of it from the district (17 percent of Bowers’ contributors are from outside city limits). Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce leader Egan Orion and Seattle School Board member Zachary DeWolf, who each entered the race about a month ago, are roughly tied in fundraising with about $9,000 each, but both have qualified for vouchers—as has County public defender Ami Nguyen, who raised just $1,900 last month, bringing her total to just over $18,000. However, nearly two-thirds of Nguyen’s support so far comes from outside city limits, which could hinder her ability to raise money through vouchers, which can only be used by Seattle residents. (Update: After this piece ran, Nguyen reported receiving $56,000 in voucher funding, so so much for that prediction!)

Democratic Socialists of America-endorsed Shaun Scott outpaced former Tim Burgess aide Alex Pedersen in the District 4 race this month, with nearly $75,000 to Pedersen’s $53,000 (I’m not counting the $18,500 Pedersen has contributed to his own campaign.) Union-backed UW researcher Emily Myers got a boost from vouchers to bring her total above $44,000, and she’s using some of that money to pay a consulting firm, Northwest Passage, that has worked for many successful council candidates in the past. Cathy Tuttle, the founder of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, had a surprise surge last month, going from almost nothing to almost $24,000 with the help of more than $8,000 in vouchers.

Nearly half of District 3 incumbent Kshama Sawant’s campaign funding—46 percent—comes from outside the city of Seattle, and just 20 percent of her donations come from inside her district. For former council member Heidi Wills, running in District 6, those numbers are 36 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

The race for District 5 is a little sleepier, with only one challenger, attorney Ann Davison Sattler, making anything like a credible financial run at incumbent Debora Juarez, with about $11,000 in contributions (a number that’s less impressive when you consider that Sattler, like Hoffman and Sawant, is opting out of the voucher program and can take contributions of up $500. Juarez has had a slow start, but has raised about $32,000—none of that from vouchers, for which she has not yet qualified.

In District 6, where an astonishing 12 candidates are currently running to replace retiring incumbent Mike O’Brien, three candidates have raised between $40,000 and $55,000: Family physician Jay Fathi (just under $40,000), council member Sally Bagshaw aide Dan Strauss ($48,000), and former council member Heidi Wills ($55,000). All three fundraising frontrunner have qualified for vouchers, but only Fathi and Strauss have collected them so far. Of the three, Wills has the most money coming in from outside the district—82 percent, with 36 percent of her total coming from outside the city.

The race to replace retiring city council member Sally Bagshaw in District 7 has an equally absurd number of candidates, but is somehow less dynamic, pitting a former Nick Licata campaign manager-turned-assistant city attorney (Andrew Lewis, with $57,500) against a former interim Seattle police chief (Jim Pugel, with $43,000) against a downtown real-estate guy and urbanist (Michael George, with $39,000) against… nine other people, including Magnolia activist (and 2009 mayoral also-ran) Elizabeth Campbell and former Seattle Supersonic (and 2011 council also-ran) James Donaldson. Jason Williams, a Microsoft product marketer who lives in Magnolia, is in fourth place in the fundraising race with just under $20,000.

 

Morning Crank: Forgiving and Forgetting In Ballard, Renting In Seattle

1. After watching the King County Young Democrats’ three-hour candidate forum online last Sunday, I was struck by the response of the candidates in the most crowded race so far—District 6, where 11 candidates are running to replace retiring incumbent Mike O’Brien—to a question about the organized mob that shut down what was supposed to be a community discussion last year in Ballard. Moderator LaKecia Farmer, who is black, recalled her visceral reaction when watching hundreds of white Northwest Seattle residents screaming down a panel made up primarily of women of color, silencing council members and moderators by screaming “FUCK YOU!” “BULLSHIT!” and “RESIGN NOW!” before suggesting that the city, for example, “round up” homeless people in “a highly publicized event.”

How quickly we forget (or perhaps the candidates didn’t watch the footage in the first place.) All four invited candidates—Heidi Wills, Jay Fathi, Dan Strauss, and Melissa Hall—responded to Farmer’s question with variations on the statement, “I would listen more,” ignoring, perhaps, the fact that it’s hard to listen when several hundred people are screaming “O-PEN MIC! O-PEN MIC!” in your face.

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Fathi, a doctor, compared the crowd in Ballard to a patient seeking advice from a physician, whose job is primarily to listen and take the patient seriously before suggesting a course of action. Strauss said that after council members listen, they need to “follow up” with action; nobody likes getting yelled at, the lifelong District 6 resident added, but “I can tell you that Ballardites have been yelling at me my whole life. When I was a referee in middle school, I got yelled off the field by grown adults, and I can tell you I earned their endorsement yesterday.” Hall said the “problem is that we haven’t painted that hopeful vision of the future that these people can get on board with,” then pivoted to the need for walkable cities and an anecdote about an argument she once had over a chicken coop. And Wills, who is swiftly positioning herself as the candidate for angry neighbors who were frustrated that O’Brien didn’t support crackdowns on homeless residents, said she would open an office in the district and staff it at least one day a week, so that it’s easier for constituents “to have face time with the person who represents them in city hall.” (Although most district city council members have regular “office hours” in their districts, they typically hold them in public places, such as libraries and community centers, due to the cost of office space.) No word on how Wills, or any of the other candidates to replace O’Brien, would respond if constituents showed up and started screaming “NOOOOOOO!” in their faces or screamed “NOT TRUE!” when they tried to establish a baseline of basic facts.

2. On Wednesday, Mayor Jenny Durkan sent out a press release touting the city’s new “Renting in Seattle” portal, an online one-stop shop for people who rent (and the landlords who rent to them) to learn about landlord-tenant laws, periodic trainings, and tenant protections in Seattle. In her press release, Durkan announced that that the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections had, “after deep consultation across departments, and with community… identified the need for a dedicated, centralized resource” for tenants and landlords.

Perhaps it’s an indication of how the relationship between the mayor and council has deteriorated that multiple council sources immediately reached out to remind The C Is for Crank of the fact that the tenant portal is not actually “new”—it has actually been around in some form since last year, and was originally a council initiative, born in a Statement of Legislative Intent during the 2016 budget process, long before Durkan was in office. That SLI, which set a March 31, 2017 due date, directed SDCI to “develop a proposal, with resource needs identified, to launch a public facing tenant landlord resource center, in coordination with the Office of Housing (OH), the Department of Neighborhoods (DON), the Human Services Department (HSD), the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA), and the Customer Service Bureau.” The work on the tenant portal continued through the rest of 2017 and 2018, and the portal has been up in its current form since March.

In addition to the new portal, Durkan announced that the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections would be  “administering more than $600,000 in grants to community partners who provide assistance to renters such as education, counseling, and legal services for eviction defense.” (SDCI spokeswoman Wendy Shark says the grants will be announced “in the coming weeks.”) The reason the grants are being allocated by SDCI, rather than HSD, is because of a budget action last year by city council member Mike O’Brien, who moved the $600,000 allocation from HSD to SDCI after HSD ignored the council’s 2017 directive to spend the money on grants to community-based groups that do proactive outreach to tenants at risk of eviction. As I reported last year, the money allocated to the grants in 2018 “was inexplicably spent expanding a hotline tenants can call when they need help, rather than letting tenants know that the hotline and other resources exist.”

According to Shark, “Managing tenant grants in SDCI where both the program and rental regulation enforcement are housed means a closer working partnership with service providers and better outcomes for renters.”

Morning Crank: Perverse Incentives

FEMA tent in New Orleans via Wikimedia Commons

1. Interim Human Services Department director Jason Johnson looked visibly shaken at a meeting of the city council’s special committee on homelessness and housing affordability this past Monday, hours after Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that she was pulling his nomination to serve as permanent director. Johnson’s inability to secure council approval came up only once during the meeting—committee chair Sally Bagshaw mentioned briefly that “I know that today is a tough day in particular”—but the fact that he is serving without council approval will almost certainly be a factor in his relationship with the council at least through the next council election.

Although Durkan has the authority to keep Johnson on as an interim director indefinitely, council member Lorena González said this week that he will need to answer some of the questions that were raised during his appointment process about the culture at HSD and the relationship between management and employees. (A recent survey of HSD staff found that employees, especially those in the homelessness division, felt unappreciated, unheard, and out of the loop).

“Regardless of what [interim Human Services Department director Jason Johnson’s] title is, whether he’s permanent or interim, I think he has a responsibility to address the concerns that are being expressed by the people that we ask to do this hard work day in and day out.” —Council member Lorena González

“Regardless of what his title is, whether he’s permanent or interim, I think he has a responsibility to address the concerns that are being expressed by the people that we ask to do this hard work day in and day out in HSD,”  González told me. “The HSD director serves at the pleasure of the mayor. The mayor is his direct supervisor. And as a council member, it’s my expectation that the mayor provide Jason with the direction and the support he needs to be able to address some of the reasonable, legitimate concerns that I heard from HSD employees about the culture” of the department.

2. The subject of Monday’s meeting was how the city measures “success” among homeless service providers and when and how HSD will provide publicly accessible information about its performance metrics and how well providers are meeting them. As council member Teresa Mosqueda noted, the council has been requesting a “dashboard” showing which programs are working and which are underperforming. Johnson noted that while the city has been “laser-focused” on “exits from homelessness”—a term that refers to the number of exits from programs that get logged in King County’s homeless tracking system—”there is also debate about whether that is the right metric to pay attention to,” or whether returns to homelessness—a term that refers to people who leave the homelessness system in King County and then reenter the homelessness system in King County—is a better measure.

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If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  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 reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

However, members of a second panel, which included representatives from Family Works, Solid Ground, and the Public Defender Association, pointed out that the “returns to homelessness” metric is incomplete, and may actually discourage providers from accurately reporting information about those they serve. “When we look at returns to homelessness, I think it’s an important metric to look at, but we also have to keep in mind that it is an inaccurate number, because it only includes people that are coming back into homelessness that then go into another program” in King County, Solid Ground’s Shannon Rae said. “Folks that returned to the street and [are] not actually accessing other services… don’t show up” in the system—that is, the city may be counting them as “successes” when they have simply given up on trying to use local services. Additionally, a lot of the folks who Solid Ground serves end up homeless in neighboring counties, “so we’re not capturing all the returns to homelessness,” Rae said. On the flip side, she said, service providers get dinged by the new performance metrics—which determine whether agencies receive full funding or have a portion of their funding withheld by the city—when families decide to move in with other people, go into transitional housing, or do something else that’s “best for them” but doesn’t count in the system as an “exit to permanent housing.”

Lisa Daugaard, director of the Public Defender Association, added that the current measures of “success” create a perverse incentive for providers to serve people who are the easiest to serve, because clients who are the hardest to house—for example, chronically homeless men with severe addiction and criminal records related to that addiction—are also, by definition, the ones who are the least likely to result in “success” by the city’s measures. (They also tend to rank lowest on the county’s “vulnerability index,” putting them at the back of the line for housing and services.)

Instead of rewarding providers who manage to get the most difficult-to-serve people into better living situations, the city penalizes and rewards providers on the basis of how many bodies they get into permanent housing, without regard for the difficulty of housing certain populations, and no matter how much impact they have on neighborhoods, property crime rates, and the kind of general “disorder” that was highlighted (sensationalistically and misleadingly) in KOMO’s viral “Seattle Is Dying” report. As a result, Daugaard said, service providers end up “run[ning] away from the most difficult folks out there” for fear of getting dinged. “We should flip that on its head.” That, in fact, is one of the key recommendations homelessness consultant Barb Poppe made in 2016, when she advised the city of Seattle to “[p]rioritize for housing interventions those families and individuals who have the longest histories of homelessness and highest housing barriers” even if they don’t score highest on the vulnerability index.

The city did not put this recommendation into practice, and continues to penalize human service providers for falling short on five measures, which include exits to housing and returns to homelessness. This year, 20 of 46 service providers with HSD contracts failed to meet HSD’s standards and had 12 percent of their funding temporarily withheld by the city. “Financial incentives in contracts to do hard and important work should be true incentives rather than penalties,” Daugaard said Tuesday. “This really was one of the important national realizations in No Child Left Behind”—the George W. Bush-era law that withheld funding from schools that failed to meet testing-based performance standards—”that taking money away from  an institution that’s struggling to do hard work is generally not the best way to improve their ability to do that work.”

3. The question of how to measure success was on my mind when I watched a District 6 city council candidate forum held by the activist group Speak Out Seattle on Tuesday night. The questions for this forum, which featured ten of the candidates running for the Northwest Seattle’s seat, were similar to those at previous SOS forums—written, generally speaking, in a way that implied that homelessness is a choice caused primarily by the decision to become addicted to illegal drugs, and that the most effective solutions to homelessness tend to involve some kind of involuntary commitment. (One question at a recent SOS forum, written by an audience member and read verbatim by KIRO Radio’s Mike Lewis, was: “How do you plan to get the drug-using free campers off the streets? Will you enforce current ordinances about vagrancy, littering, public urination, [and] public drug use?”) Such questions can provoke interesting discussions if candidates are willing to pivot (as council member Lisa Herbold did, skillfully, at SOS’s forum in District 1); but sometimes they’re just the wrong questions.

A good case in point was a question at Tuesday’s forum, about whether the candidates would support erecting “FEMA-style tents or other emergency-type shelters to get people out of their vehicles”—which, practically speaking, would mean leaving their cars or RVs behind.

The assumption behind this question, as well as the city’s outreach to people living in vehicles, is that rational people will give up their last asset for a mat on the ground. The reason this is the wrong framing is not only because this isn’t what rational people will do—given the choice, most people would prefer the autonomy and relative dignity of sleeping in their own vehicle—but because people living in their vehicles consistently say that they don’t want to give them up to move into a shelter. When outreach workers (or policy makers, or candidates for office) offer a mat on the ground in a large group tent as an “alternative” to vehicular living, they’re actively insulting people living in their cars by ignoring their wishes. This is dehumanizing, and if you don’t care about that, it also doesn’t work. People experiencing homelessness, like people who are housed, do things for reasons, and when we listen to those reasons, we can craft solutions that actually help.

Creating safe lots for people living in their cars is a much better option than taking people’s cars away and relocating them into camps, because it respects people’s stated wishes and doesn’t require them to give up their last remaining asset, which happens to double as their home. (Someone living in their car could, theoretically, stay in a shelter as long as they make sure to return to their car and move it every 72 hours, but it’s pretty hard to justify adding another poverty chore to the long list faced by people existing on the margins of society, just because we don’t think people should sleep in cars.) And there’s another reason safe lots make more sense than FEMA tents, too: People living in vehicles tend to need fewer services than chronically homeless folks or those who run a circuit from treatment to shelter to jail. Given limited resources, it makes little sense to pour millions into “wraparound services”—another popular buzzword among the candidates at Tuesday’s District 6 forum—for people who really just need some help paying rent.

Fines Are a Barrier to Access: And Other Facts About the Proposed Library Levy

City council members discussed Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal to renew Seattle’s library levy and increase its size from $123 million to $213 million on Monday, and proposed some possible adds of their own.

The most controversial aspect of the levy, besides its size (which council member Mike O’Brien noted is an increase of about 35 percent once population growth and inflation are accounted for—not 78 percent, as the Seattle Times has claimed) is a proposal to eliminate fines for overdue materials, which studies from other cities have shown is an effective way to ensure access for low-income residents while actually increasing the number of books and other materials that get returned.

Council staffer Asha Venkataraman explained this somewhat counterintuitive conclusion. First, she noted, fines really are a barrier to access: About one in every five library cardholders currently has a blocked account, meaning that they can’t access library materials unless they pay their fines. The areas of the city with the largest numbers of blocked accounts, as well as the highest average outstanding fines, are mostly south of I-90, in Southeast Seattle, plus parts of far north Seattle—areas with lower average incomes and more people of color. Those areas also happen to be the places where wifi and computer usage in libraries is highest (suggesting the lack of computers at home).

Second, Venkataraman explained, a San Francisco study that looked into eliminating library fines found that patrons in cities that had partially or completely eliminated fines returned materials at the same rate or slightly faster, and that circulation increased overall (which makes sense, because when people fail to return books, the number of books in the system is reduced and circulation goes down.) The study also found that a major reason people avoided going in to get their account restored was “the negative interaction of having to go and pay off fines.”

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If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  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 reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Council president Bruce Harrell expressed concern that eliminating fines might discourage people from doing their civic responsibility, and suggested (perhaps tongue in cheek) that if the city is going to eliminate fines, they should also eliminate fees for people who simply fail to return books, which account for about $200,000 of the $1.1 million the library system takes in annually from fines and fees. (“Some people are operating in a higher theft area than others and I don’t want them being prohibited from being able to borrow from this public asset just because they couldn’t afford to pay the book back,” Harrell said.)  Harrell also suggested that the city create a system where people who want to pay can do so, but people who don’t want to pay won’t be penalized. “I don’t understand the policy reasons for waiving millions of dollars when some people might be willing to pay,” Harrell said. The library’s revenues from fines have been steadily declining, thanks largely to the growing use of online materials. Since 2013, fine revenues have decreased by 31 percent.

Council member Kshama Sawant responded that even if payment is “voluntary,” such a system would still require people returning books to indicate that they weren’t going to pay, and why. “What’s going to happen if you introduce that kind of policy … would be a sort of implicit shaming of people who can’t pay,” Sawant said. “There are children who shouldn’t have to figure out whether their parents are able to pay or not. That just seems to put the onus on the individual families to decide what they should do.”

Council members also discussed the question—raised, most recently, in a Seattle Times editorial that argued that the city should find alternative sources to pay for library capital projects—of whether revenues from the real estate excise tax on new development, or REET, could be used to supplant a significant portion of levy funding and lower the levy ask. The Times also claimed, erroneously, that the city has “slashed” REET spending on libraries from $3.8 million in 2016 to “only $564,000 this year.” (Over the life of the proposed levy, annual REET spending would be $500,000 to $800,000 a year, according to a staff analysis.) In fact, the higher spending in 2016 (and 2017) represented a historic anomaly. According to the adopted library budgets from those years, the city spent a total of $2.3 million in REET revenues on library capital projects in 2016, and a total of $1.9 million in 2017, largely  to  fund unanticipated repairs to the downtown library, including repairs to a sinking floor. Between 2013, when the last version of the levy went into effect, and 2015, average REET spending was $593,000 a year. “Not all library needs will and can be met to the scale that is needed by simply relying on REET,” council member Lorena Gonzalez said.

Source: Council central staff memo, April 8

Council members indicated that they were interested in adding a few items to the plan, including extended weeknight hours (council member O’Brien), programs targeted at kids under 4 (Gonzalez), and adding air conditioning and elevators at the Columbia City, Greenlake, and University branches.

The council will hold its first public hearing on the levy in council chambers starting at 5:30 this Thursday, April 11.

School Board Member Enters Race Against Sawant With Endorsements from Two Current Council Members

via Zachary DeWolf campaign

District 3 council member Kshama Sawant has a sixth opponent: School board member and former Capitol Hill Community Council president Zachary DeWolf, who declared his candidacy this morning and already has the endorsements of two city council members, Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena Gonzalez. (Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce director Egan Orion announced his candidacy last Tuesday.) In addition to serving on the Seattle School Board since last year, DeWolf works at All Home, the regional homelessness agency. He was also instrumental in transforming the Capitol Hill Community Council from a semi-exclusive club of older homeowners into a group that’s actually representative of the community, including renters, queer folks, young people, and women.

I spoke with DeWolf, who told me he would (unlike Sawant) seek public financing through the city’s democracy voucher program, at his home on Capitol Hill last Friday. What follows are some excerpts from that interview.

On why he’s running :

I’m not running against whoever’s in that office. My opponent is homelessness. We are not spending enough money on the crisis. We spend about $198 million here in the city on a $400 million crisis. We can’t stop the inflow. We can’t serve everybody that’s on these wait lists, and we don’t have anywhere to put people because we don’t have enough affordable housing. It’s really frustrating when there are folks in our community who are snake oil salesmen, who traffic in sensationalism, dehumanization, misinformation and othering of our neighbors. Something like a hundred of our neighbors died last year in the streets, [including one who was] 24 days old. So we’re not operating under an urgency that this crisis deserves. I want to be running and really prioritizing that crisis, because no other issue of our time will have a greater impact on the health and vibrancy of the city. And we’ve risen to challenges before, like the a $15 minimum wage. This city can do great things when we come together and I think we can do that with homelessness.

On how to deal with that crisis:

One of the programs I manage [at All Home] is a specific fund for diversion, which is one of the lowest-cost  financial supports and resources we can give to our neighbors who are  experiencing homelessness.  We’re trying to scale this up in King County. The diversion approach says, ‘You have your own solutions; let’s help you discover them together.’ And sometimes that looks like, you know, ‘My grandma says I can live in her basement as long as I help pay for groceries.’ Okay, so let’s help you do that. And then you have a housing solution and some family reunification. It’s not that all people need the full menu [of services]. Sometimes it’s just that one-time financial assistance … [or] a shallow rent subsidy… to make sure that each month people can pay their rent and stay in their homes.

It  also has to [involve] facing some hard truths. It’s really easy to have a fundraiser for Mary’s Place [which serves homeless women and kids]. It’s really easy to have a fundraiser for Youth Care. That’s a really compelling image. It is the folks that are often left out that we were not as sympathetic to.

On the council’s recent vote to approve the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan, which includes modest upzones to 6 percent of Seattle’s single-family land:

I think we need it to be more bold. We’re the kind of district that has a community council that advocates for safe consumption sites, that advocates for low0barrier shelter. We want to do something; we want to be a part of shaping that change. And we recognize that we’re in a growing city. We chose to live in density. We want to see more people here. And we recognize that we have access to more things because we do have density, and that more people should share in that prosperity. I think there’s probably a lot more areas of our district that could have and should absorb more multifamily housing. Especially here in Capitol Hill, we’re like 80 percent renters. We chose to live here because it’s dense and it feels like a vibrant city.

I think there’s a lot of fear about change in neighborhoods. What I truly believe is a city is truly made up of its people and bringing more people in. It’s not a bad thing.

On why he won’t participate in forums sponsored by Speak Out Seattle, an organization that fought against the head tax for homelessness, opposes tiny house villages and encampments, and backed an initiative to ban safe consumption sites:

If people aren’t going to come in good faith to the conversation with information and knowledge about an issue, then it doesn’t feel like we’re coming to the table together equally. And, the things that they purport and the ways that they otherize particularly our neighbors experiencing homelessness… It’s those types of voices who have the megaphone to do it. ‘I’m going to be more concerned about making sure that my neighbors who are experiencing homelessness have a voice and are heard, because they don’t often have access to do that. And I would rather focus on the people furthest away from justice.

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If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  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 reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Bonus Council Crank: Thirteen people have applied to replace former city council member Rob Johnson (D4) until the council election in November, including some names that may be familiar to people who pay close attention to council politics. They include Abel Pacheco, who ran against Johnson for an open seat in 2015 and is also a candidate for the permanent position (Pacheco’s campaign says he will drop out of the race if he’s chosen for the temporary position); Brooke Brod, a University District homeowner who recently testified in favor of Mandatory Housing Affordability; Darby DuComb, who served as chief of staff to city attorney Pete Holmes and recently argued against a proposed special taxing district on the downtown waterfront; smart-growth advocate and smart-ass tweeter David Goldberg; Mayor Jenny Durkan staffer Maritza Rivera; and former PCC Farmland Trust director Kathryn Gardow.

The council has until April 25 to hold hearings on the appointment and make their decision.

 

Morning Crank: “As a Seattle Native”

If we allow backyard cottages, it could open the door to neighborhood character-destroying duplexes like this

1. The city’s hearing examiner heard final arguments late last month in the latest effort by Queen Anne activist Marty Kaplan to prevent homeowners from building mother-in-law units and backyard cottages (accessory dwelling units, or ADUs) on their property. (Kaplan has been filing legal challenges “as a Seattle native” since 2016, arguing that allowing two ADUs—e.g., a backyard cottage plus a basement apartment—will destroy the character of Seattle’s exclusive single-family neighborhoods and lead to rampant speculation by developers). The preferred alternative (there’s no actual legislation yet, since the proposal has been locked up in litigation) would also remove the existing parking mandate; establish restrictions on the size of new single-family houses in an effort to thwart McMansion-style developments; and lift the current owner-occupancy requirement in favor of a new rule requiring that a homeowner who has one ADU and wants to build a second must own the property for at least a year before beginning to build.

If the hearing examiner rules that the environmental review of the ADU proposal, sponsored by council member Mike O’Brien, was adequate, the council can move forward with actual legislation as early as next month. Their goal is to finalize and vote on the legislation no later than August.

But hold up. Mayor Jenny Durkan reportedly hopes to negotiate with the council to get some amendments to the legislation, starting with the owner-occupancy requirement. ADU opponents, including Kaplan, have argued that allowing up to two secondary units on a lot will open single-family neighborhoods up to “speculative development,” unless the city mandates that any homeowner who wants to build an ADU has to live on that property in perpetuity. The specter of developers descending greedily upon single-family property for the privilege of building a secondary unit (and then, after owning the property for a full year after that, building a third) might strike anyone familiar with Seattle’s existing real-estate market as absurd, but to spell it out: There’s no evidence of a speculative boom in backyard apartments in other cities, like Portland and Vancouver, where they’re easier to build; the scenario in which developers build backyard apartments, then sit on those properties for the year before building another unit, makes little financial sense; and fans of missing-middle housing for middle-class people who can no longer afford to buy anything in Seattle might consider a little development a good thing. Nonetheless, Durkan reportedly wants to put owner-occupancy requirements back on the table, and to reopen the discussion about parking requirements. Council sources say the parking idea in particular is probably a nonstarter.

The hearing examiner is expected to make his ruling by mid-May.

Support The C Is for Crank
If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  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 reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

2. The city’s Human Services Department found itself on the defensive in late February, after Mayor Durkan claimed in her state of the city speech that the city had “helped more than 7,400 households move out of homelessness and into permanent housing.” As I first reported, that number was misleading at best—the city actually counted 7,400 exits from programs, a number that almost certainly overstates the number of actual people who have gotten out of homelessness because it counts every program as an exit (so that, for example, a household of two who stopped using five homelessness programs would count as five “exits.”)

At the time, HSD officials and the mayor’s office expressed frustration to reporters who asked questions about the discrepancy, insisting that they should have “known all along” that when the city said “households,” they really meant “exits from programs,” and that reporters should focus not on what the numbers specifically represent, but on the fact that they’re going up.  “No matter how you look at it, it’s getting better,” HSD deputy director Tiffany Washington said. Nonetheless, several other reporters considered it newsworthy that the city did not know how many people it was actually helping, despite the city’s insistence that it was not a revelation.

Even as the city was telling reporters that they shouldn’t have been surprised that “households” does not mean “households,” internal communications between mayoral and HSD staffers, which I obtained through a records request, show that prior to the mayor’s press conference to discuss the numbers the Monday after my story ran, the city decided to remove all references to “households” in a talking-points memo bound for the mayor’s desk.

The shift was fairly abrupt. On Thursday, February 21, for example, HSD spokeswoman Meg Olberding wrote in an internal email that one of the department’s top speaking points was “30% More Households Exit (Maintain) to Permanent Housing.” One day later, and several hours after my initial story on the “households” vs. “exits” discrepancy, the mayor’s homelessness advisor, Tess Colby, emailed the mayor’s office and HSD staff to say that she had “revised the memo to Mayor to replace ‘HHs’ with ‘exits’ solely in the interest of precision.”

In all, 12 references to “households” were removed from the memo. For example, the top bullet point, which referred to “the 7,400-goal … for exiting households from the system and maintaining permanent supportive housing clients” was changed to “exits from the system and maintaining permanent supportive housing clients.” A sentence that originally read, “In 2018 431 Native American/Alaska Native households exited  homeless services programs …and 2,979 Black/African Americans households exited homeless services programs” was changed to read, “In 2018 there were 431 exits among Native Americans/Alaska Natives from homeless services programs …  and exits of Black/African Americans increased to 2,979.” And a reference to enhanced shelters “exiting nearly twice as many households” in 2018 than the previous year was changed to say, “Exits to permanent housing increased nearly two-fold.”

These changes may seem minor, but they (and their timing) are significant. The mayor’s office got called out for overstating its success in responding to homelessness. Publicly, they went on the defensive, telling reporters they were making a big deal out of nothing. Privately, though, the mayor’s office appeared to realize the confusion was warranted.

3. Speak Out Seattle, a group that fought against the head tax for homelessness, opposes tiny house villages and encampments, and backed an initiative to ban safe consumption sites,  held a forum for District 2 council candidates Thursday night, although only four of the seven declared candidates decided to attend. (Two, Tammy Morales and Christopher Peguero, had previously stated their intent to boycott the forum). The remaining candidates were bounce-house rental company owner Ari Hoffman, Socialist Workers Party Henry Dennison, Seattle Police Department crime prevention coordinator Mark Solomon, and Rainier Valley community organizer Phyllis Porter.

I live-tweeted the event, which was attended by an incongruously white audience given that D2 is the least-white district in the city. I’ve included a few key moments below, and collected all my tweets in a Twitter moment here.

Morning Crank: Litmus Tests and Red Meat in West Seattle

The audience at Speak Out Seattle’s council forum in West Seattle (screen shot)

1. Speak Out Seattle, a group that fought against the head tax for homelessness, opposes tiny house villages and encampments, and backed an initiative to ban safe consumption sites in Seattle, kicked off the 2019 local campaign season with a forum last night in West Seattle. All five candidates—attorney Phillip Tavel, popcorn entrepreneur Jesse Greene, police lieutenant Brendan Kolding, and Isaiah Willoughby, plus incumbent Lisa Herbold.

It was probably inevitable that I’d be frustrated with this forum, though not for the reasons you might expect. Sure, I get frustrated with misconceptions about homelessness, and I’ve heard enough people who have never held public office (and never will) call for harsh law-and-order policies for several lifetimes. But my real issues with this forum—the first of several SOS plans to hold this year—were unrelated to the group’s conservative policy prescriptions.

First, many of the questions had little to do with policies the candidates would fight for if they were elected; instead, they were simplistic, red-meat, litmus-test questions, things like “What did you think of the ‘Seattle Is Dying report on KOMO?; “What grade would you give the city council?”; and “Do you support a state income tax?” Not only was there only one “right” answer to these questions (“I agreed with it completely”; “F”; and “no,” respectively), the answers meant very little, beyond giving an audience that came with its mind made up an opportunity to cheer or boo.

Second, facts didn’t seem to matter very much. (I know, I know—but wouldn’t it be nice if they sometimes did?) Herbold, who is not just the incumbent but a 20-year city hall veteran with a deep understanding of a vast range of city issues, had no opportunity to respond to false or misleading claims—like when her opponents referred to former mayoral staffer Scott Lindsay’s alarmist spreadsheet detailing crimes by 100 hand-picked offenders as a “study” that proved the need for harsher policies, or when Greene claimed that police can’t arrest people who have fewer than 30 “hits of methamphetamine or heroin” on their person. The one time Herbold did get a chance to respond directly to a piece of misinformation, it came from the moderator, KOMO’s Mike Lewis, who asked why, when the city council “radically increased business license fees” a few years back, didn’t they spend any of that money hiring new police officers. (Answer: They did.) Herbold also pushed back on an irrelevant question about whether she would support a “safe injection site” in West Seattle, pointing out that no one had ever suggested or even brought up such a proposal, and brandishing a fake flyer advertising an injection site in Pigeon Point—a sleepy area north of Delridge—as an example of how false rumors create panic.

Support The C Is for Crank
If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  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 reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

The result wasn’t a shitshow, exactly (the crowd only shouted Herbold down once, when she gave the city council a B-minus grade), but neither was it an opportunity for undecided voters to find out what the candidates would actually do if they were elected. Knowing what challengers think of a head tax that was defeated last year might provide some information about their views on taxes (though not much, since all of Herbold’s challengers said they hated it), and questions like “Why does Seattle have such a high property crime rate?” might give candidates a chance to pontificate for 60 seconds on that very broad issue, but to what end? Speak Out Seattle is a relatively new group, still struggling to escape its association with Safe Seattle, the volatile online group that recently claimed—falsely—that the Seattle Police Department was trying to cover up a grisly “beheading” at a homeless encampment in South Seattle. One way to accomplish that would be to ask, “Is the premise of this question true?” before posing it to candidates. Another would be to treat candidate forums not as an opportunity to quiz candidates on their top-five general issues (What causes homelessness? Is property crime getting worse?) but to find out what specific policies they would fight for on the council, and how they would work with other council members to make them happen. Elections aren’t about ideas; they’re about people. Candidate forums should be too.

2. With Rob Johnson leaving the city council on April 5 (sooner than I predicted here, since Johnson has apparently decided he does not need to stick around until Sound Transit’s Elected Leadership Group makes its Ballard-to-West-Seattle route recommendations), the council will need to pick a new member—and King County Executive Dow Constantine will need to pick a new Sound Transit board member.

The council’s process, outlined by council president Bruce Harrell here, will likely result in the appointment of a “caretaker”—someone who will serve out the rest of Johnson’s single term through the budget in November, and agree not to run for the position. Constantine’s process is more of a wild card. Under state law, the county executive must appoint a representative from North King County to Johnson’s position; historically, this has been a member of the Seattle City Council, and it would be unusual for Constantine to break from this tradition for a short-term appointment.

Currently, the two most likely candidates appear to be council member Lorena Gonzalez and council member Debora Juarez—Gonzalez because she’s a council veteran who represents the whole city (and, not for nothing, a West Seattleite like Constantine), Juarez because of her enthusiasm for getting into the weeds of the project in her North Seattle district, which includes two future light rail stations. Two other factors: Gonzalez, who heads up the council’s public safety committee, may have too much on her plate to take over a big new transportation job; Juarez, meanwhile, is up for reelection, and will be spending much of her time over the next few months on the campaign trail. Mike O’Brien, who was displaced from the board by Johnson in 2016, could be a dark-horse candidate, but given his previous conflict with Constantine over the proposed new King County juvenile jail, his appointment looks like the longest of long shots.

3. Leaders of the Seattle Department of Transportation, Sound Transit, and King County Metro watched as workers carefully lowered a new gunmetal-colored bus shelter into place on Fifth Avenue on Thursday, one of the final touches on a new northbound transit priority lane that will open this coming Saturday, when all bus routes come out of the downtown transit tunnel and 15 routes are redirected onto different streets. Northbound and soutbound transit lanes on Fifth Avenue will pair with southbound lane a northbound transit priority lane on Sixth Ave. (Info on Metro services changes here, and Sound Transit service changes here.)

Also Thursday, the Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) Coalition called for the immediate implementation of a temporary bus priority lane on Third Avenue between Stewart and Denny Streets to meet transit demand in Belltown and South Lake Union when the buses come out of the tunnel. MASS formed last year to push for more city investments in safe nonmotorized transportation infrastructure (including the completion of the downtown bike network.) In a statement, the coalition noted that 100,000 riders use that section of Third Avenue every day, yet “this section of 3rd Avenue still prioritizes single-occupant vehicles and parking — even though it carries only 7300 cars a day.

Asked about the proposal, Zimbabwe said it was the first he’d heard of it. “We’re looking at all sort of things as we continue to monitor the situation, he said. “It’s not something that’s going to happen right away.” Heather Marx, the director of downtown mobility for the city, said after the press conference that the city’s transportation operations center, which opened last year in anticipation of a Viadoom that never came, has remained open on a 24-7 basis ever since it opened, and would continue to stay open on a constant basis indefinitely, or at least through 2019, when the current budget cycle ends. Marx said the city still has some tricks up its sleeve if the buses get stuck in traffic, including adding more bus lanes, signal timing to give buses priority, and rerouting buses again.

Council Campaign Fundraising: Who’s Raking It In and Who’s Lagging Behind

We’re about two months away from the May 15 filing deadline for city council elections, the point when no more candidates can add their names to the 52 (as of this posting) who have put their names in contention. Will the number grow to 70, for an average of 10 candidates per council race on the ballot? Will any of these candidates raise any money, or are the top two in most races already a foregone conclusion? How much money will be spent in this election, the first election under the new district system in which none of the candidates are holdovers from the pre-district system?

Those questions are obviously speculative, but a look at the money—who’s raising it, who’s spending it, and who’s benefiting—can provide some clues. Here are a few observations from the first month in which candidates have ramped up (or, in some cases, slacked off) on raising and spending on their campaigns.

A quick note about campaign fundraising figures: Cash on hand numbers are approximate, because campaigns only disclose expenditures at the end of the month. I haven’t provided cash on hand numbers for every candidate, because those numbers are less relevant now than they will be further along in the campaign, when candidates need money to drum up votes and every dollar really counts. Because many candidates choose to report contributions as they come in—a practice that becomes mandatory in the final days of the campaign—contributions are often more up to date than expenditures. When a candidate has not reported any contributions after their most recent monthly filing, I will note “as of February 28” to make that clear.

Democracy vouchers are a form of public campaign financing the city of Seattle first started using in 2017. To qualify, candidates must get at least 150 signatures and 150 donations of $10 or more from Seattle residents. Every Seattle resident received four vouchers worth $25 each, which they can contribute to any qualifying candidate. Candidates who accept democracy vouchers are subject to campaign contribution and spending limits, including an individual contribution cap of $250. Candidates who don’t participate aren’t subject to those limits, and can take contributions up to $500.

Support The C Is for Crank
If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  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 reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

In District 1 (West Seattle), incumbent Lisa Herbold has raised the most from actual contributors, with $13,014 in contributions and about $11,996 on hand. Phillip Tavel, an attorney who got 18 percent of the vote in his run for the same seat in 2015, reported more contributions as of February 28—$17,571—but $10,590 of that was Tavel’s own money. Meanwhile, Tavel has spent $16,565. Once other debts are factored in, Tavel has a negative balance of $9,599.

Some of Tavel’s expenses, interestingly, came in the form of refunds to supporters who gave $500—the maximum contribution for candidates who aren’t accepting democracy vouchers. Tavel’s largest contribution is now $250, indicating that he now hopes to take advantage of the public financing program. As of February 28, he had 61 contributors from Seattle—89 shy of the 150 Seattle voters whose signatures and contributions he will need to qualify.

The other District 1 candidates haven’t made much of a play so far; one, SPD lieutenant and two-time state house candidate Brendan Kolding, has seemingly done nothing except loan himself money and pay it back. He has contributions from 33 Seattle residents, plus four out-of-towners with the last name Kolding.

In District 2, Ari Hoffman—the Safe Seattle-backed candidate who was in the news, most recently, for promoting an unfounded conspiracy theory about a beheading-by-saw in a homeless encampment near the Mount Baker light rail station—leads the pack in fundraising with $20,280, in part because he is not seeking democracy vouchers and can accept $500 contributions. (His latest contribution list includes two dozen such donations). Hoffman shares a campaign manager named Veronica Garcia with Ann Sattler, who is running against incumbent Debora Juarez in District 5. He has spent about $350 on Facebook ads so far.

Tammy Morales—who made it through the primary for the same seat in 2015 and narrowly lost to council incumbent Bruce Harrell—has brought in $17,699 in contributions so far, a number that will likely grow quickly (in 2015, running against an incumbent, she raised nearly $75,000). As of the end of February, Morales had a negative balance of $2,609; $3,075 in new contributions reported on March 13 should just push her into the black.

Christopher Peguero, a Seattle City Light employee and community advocate, has raised just $6,435 so far—$3,544 of that from Peguero himself—but is making decent progress toward qualifying for vouchers, with 118 contributors. South Seattle bike advocate Phyllis Porter has raised $2,618, but had already spent $12,212 as of February 28—most of that on consultants CD Strategic ($7,857) and Blue Wave Political Partners ($4,366), putting her $10,285 in the hole. Mark Solomon, SPD’s crime prevention coordinator for south and southwest Seattle, has raised $4,307. The majority of that money (53%) comes from outside city limits, but it also includes a large number of small, democracy voucher-level contributions of $10 or $20; so far, Solomon has 45 contributions toward the 150 required to qualify.

The race for District 3 presents an interesting financial picture because the incumbent, Kshama Sawant, is not taking democracy vouchers (she says she needs to be able to raise as much as possible in anticipation of “big-business” groups spending up to a million dollars to defeat her.) Partly as a result, Sawant is blowing her opponents away in fundraising, with $50,948 in contributions so far, including a Bernie-approved $27 donation to herself. So far, the overwhelming majority (84 percent) of Sawant’s contributions come from outside her district, with half her contributions coming from outside the city of Seattle itself. More than half of Sawant’s donations are maxed-out $500 contributions.

So far, the onslaught of corporate-backed candidates Sawant predicted has not materialized. King County public defender Ami Nguyen has raised about $11,398, mostly (72%) from out of town. Sawant’s closest competitor, Hashtag Cannabis owner Logan Bowers, has raised $30,572 so far, including $5,800 in democracy vouchers. A quarter of that money comes from inside District 3 (for incumbent Sawant, that number is 16%.) Bowers has spent a fair amount—about $1,300—to access the Washington State Democrats’ donor database.

Nine candidates are running in District 4, which incumbent Rob Johnson is abdicating after a single term, so I’ll limit my fundraising-related comments to the handful with significant contributions. (Obviously, it’s early days, so any of the candidates I don’t mention here, like Abel Pacheco and Cathy Tuttle, could have a fundraising surge later on.) First on that list is Alex Pedersen, a former aide to ex-council member Tim Burgess who expressed some potentially incendiary views about transit and homelessness on his since-deleted neighborhood newsletter. Pedersen has raised $44,954 so far, including $12,050 from democracy vouchers—a number that goes down to $26,518 once $18,436 of Pedersen’s own money is excluded. Pedersen’s contributors include 2015 District 4 candidate Tony Provine (creator of the infamous “bulldozers are coming” campaign mailer), Fremont property magnate and anti-bike-lane activist Suzie Burke; and well-known anti-density activists Toby Thaler, Bill Bradburd, and Susanna Lin (Lin and Thaler are on the board of Seattle Fair Growth, a group that helped sue to stop the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan the city council is finally adopting on Monday).

Emily Myers, a Ph. D candidate at the University of Washington, has raised $8,028 so far, including several hundred in $27 contributions (and 86% of it from outside her district). Shaun Scott, who is running as a member of the Democratic Socialists, has raised $14,884, including about 60 $27 contributions. No District 4 candidate other than Pedersen has qualified for democracy vouchers so far, although Scott appears to have enough qualifying contributions (the city’s democracy website does not indicate how many signatures a candidate is gathered until he or she turns them in). Nineteen-year-old college student Ethan Hunter, the subject of several fluffy media profiles when he announced he was running earlier this year, has reported no campaign activity since December 12.

District 5 incumbent Debora Juarez rarely lets a turn at the mic go by without mentioning her North Seattle district, and her relentless advocacy for her district has paid off in the form of a fairly frictionless campaign so far. Her opponents include two perennial candidates, plus Thornton Creek Alliance activist John Lombard, and attorney and former Seattle Supersonics employee Ann Sattler, who appears to be running on a law-and-order platform and is not seeking democracy vouchers. Sattler has raised $9,237,  a number that includes $4,137 of her own money. (Most of the remaining $5,000 is from $500 contributions). Juarez, meanwhile, has raised $10,500 and has registered, but not yet qualified for, democracy  vouchers.

District 6, the seat being vacated by 10-year incumbent Mike O’Brien, is the most crowded council race so far, with a dozen candidates competing to represent Northwest Seattle. It’s safe to say, though, that most of those candidates aren’t viable, and that one, former council member Heidi Wills, is already a likely frontrunner based on name recognition alone, even though she hasn’t raised much money (just $1,370, for a negative balance of $2,285 after the cost of building her website is factored in) since declaring her candidacy earlier this month. Jay Fathi, a Fremont doctor who hired local campaign veteran Christian Sinderman as his campaign consultant, is seeking to qualify for vouchers (he has 102 qualifying contributions so far), and is in the red, or just above it, despite $15,695 in contributions because he owes $12,769 to Sinderman’s firm.

Two other candidates raising money in District 6 are Jon Lisbin, who received 13% in his 2015 candidate for the same position (he’s raised $13,036, including $6,010 in contributions from himself), Dan Strauss, a legislative aide to District 7 incumbent Sally Bagshaw ($11,133), and Kate Martin, who previously ran for school board and mayor and was behind an unsuccessful campaign to preserve a section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct as part of an elevated waterfront park ($6,175).

District 7 incumbent Sally Bagshaw is the fourth council incumbent to announce her retirement this year, and eight candidates have lined up so far to seek her old job. So far, the clear frontrunner appears to be former interim police chief Jim Pugel, who has started racking up progressive endorsements and has raised nearly twice as much as his two leading competitors, with $35,796 in contributions (about a third of them, interestingly, from people who list “not employed” as their employment status, which usually indicates someone is retired). Pugel also appears to be using Sinderman’s firm, Northwest Passage, as his primary consultant. Andrew Lewis, the onetime campaign manager for former council member Nick Licata, has raised $19,155, which includes contributions from several former local, county, and state elected officials (Peter Steinbrueck, Martha Choe, Larry Phillips). Kidder Matthews development consultant Michael George has raised $18,325, largely from people in the development and building industry (and 51% from outside city limits). Naveed Jamali and Jason Williams also have relatively active campaigns; I’ll report more on their fundraising if it picks up significantly. So far, only Lewis has qualified for democracy vouchers (and has received $2,950 in voucher form); George and Williams are both seeking to qualify, and Jamali is not participating.

For up-to-date election information, check out the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission’s campaign website. For current information on democracy vouchers, go to the city’s Democracy Voucher page.