Tag: kshama sawant

County Plans All-Gender “Potty Pilot,” Socialist Denounces Progressive, and Tiny House Villages Expand

Photo via LIHI.

1. The city council adopted legislation allowing up to 40 new “transitional encampments,” including so-called tiny house villages as well as tent encampments and safe parking lots for people living in their cars, but not without fireworks. The bill, sponsored by council member Kshama Sawant, also loosens several land-use restrictions that limit where encampments can be located and how long they can remain in place. Council freshman Alex Pedersen proposed several amendments that Sawant said would destroy the bill, including one that would reduce the number of permitted encampments from 40 to 15, one that would have limited permits to “tiny house villages,” rather than tent encampments, and one that would have reinstated a sunset date.

Pedersen’s amendments prompted a strong rebuke from Sawant, who called his proposal to reduce the number of permitted encampments “a no vote in disguise.”

“Since council member Pedersen obviously opposes expansion of tiny house villages, I would prefer that the was honest about it and voted no on the bill,” Sawant said. “It’s a sleight of hand that he’s engaging in. … I would urge the public to be aware of what is really going on.”

Sawant’s supporters, who had filled council chambers in response to one of her regular “PACK CITY HALL!” action alerts, applauded. After their cheers died down, council member Lisa Herbold implored Sawant to stop “impugning the motives of [her] colleagues” and noted that Sawant did not similarly denounce council member Andrew Lewis, who proposed a similar amendment limiting the number of encampments to 20 last week. “I would just like us to show a little grace for each other up on this dais,” Herbold said, to boos.

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

Sawant responded that she answered only to “ordinary people,” not politicians, and reiterated that Pedersen did not have “good intentions,” to more applause. Council member Debora Juarez, who was running the meeting, reminded the audience, “this is not a rally,” and said that the council agrees with each other “95 percent of the time.” When that comment was met with derisive laughter, Juarez gave up, muttering “Jesus” into the hot mic and moving on with the vote. The bill ultimately passed, without Pedersen’s amendments or support, 6-1.

2. Sawant also had harsh words for state Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43), the sponsor of legislation that would enable King County to pass a business payroll tax to pay for homeless services. Sawant’s beef with Macri is that, according to Sawant, she hasn’t done enough to ensure that the bill won’t contain language preempting the city from passing its own “big business” tax, which would derail Sawant’s “Tax Amazon” campaign.

Sawant proposed a resolution “oppos[ing] opposes the passage of any legislation which preempts the city from taxing big business” and denouncing Macri’s proposal for capping the county’s taxing authority at 0.2 percent of a business’s total payroll.

Macri, Sawant said, should not be viewed as a “progressive hero,” because “you only get to be called a progressive if you are absolutely fighting for a progressive agenda.” She then recounted a conversation with Macri, in which Macri supposedly told her that “‘as a fellow progressive, our lives are hard.'”

“I don’t think progressive politicians can complain that their lives are hard, because the lives of ordinary people are a thousand times harder,” Sawant said.

In her day job, Macri is deputy director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, which provides direct services, low-barrier shelter, and housing to some of the “hardest to house” people in Seattle. As a legislator, she passed a major eviction reform bill last year, and has championed funding for housing, health care, and services for people experiencing homelessness. By denouncing Macri as a tool of the ruling elite, Sawant is walking out on a very thin limb. There are Democrats in the legislature who are actually arguing for preemption. Macri isn’t one of them. Trashing her as a sellout may win applause (it certainly did at Monday’s meeting) but rallies don’t always pass legislation. That’s something Sawant learned again on Monday, when her resolution failed 5-2.

3. After an internal survey, numerous meetings, and the creation of an alliterative shorthand—#PottyPilotProject—King County and the city have abandoned plans to replace single-gender restrooms with gender-inclusive ones at the new Regional Homelessness Authority headquarters at the county-owned Yesler Building downtown. According to a July 27 memo obtained through a records request, the plan to retrofit existing restrooms as all-gender facilities “is not moving forward.” However, the “potty pilot” is still on track for other county departments.

Continue reading “County Plans All-Gender “Potty Pilot,” Socialist Denounces Progressive, and Tiny House Villages Expand”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s Up, Who’s Down, and What’s Changing as the City Council Returns

The city council, now headed up by council president Lorena Gonzalez, announced its roster of standing committees on Thursday. While committee structures are far from the only power map for the council, a few things are clear from the leadership and membership of the council’s new committees, starting with the fact that there are now eight regular committees—for nine council members. Andrew Lewis, who was just elected to represent District 7 (downtown, Magnolia, Queen Anne) is the odd man out, with the chairmanship of the council’s select committee on homelessness as a consolation prize. It’s worth noting that the homelessness committee met less than once a month in 2019, when the council was negotiating the details of a regional homelessness authority, and will have even fewer duties once the city’s homelessness response transfers to that authority this year.

More highlights of who’s up, who’s down, and who gets to spend more time away from Seattle in a moment, but first, it’s worth looking at the broader context for some of this year’s committee changes. Last year, open government activists sued the city for violating the state Open Public Meetings Act when Mayor Jenny Durkan and eight council members privately negotiated the repeal of the controversial “head tax.” The open meetings act prohibits a quorum of a governing body like the city council or one of its committees from deliberating privately. Under the previous committee structure, each committee had just three members, meaning that any discussion between two or more committee members could constitute an open meetings act violation.

The new rules will force council members to actually show up at meetings, and it will discourage one-off special meetings like council member Kshama Sawant’s frequent “pack city hall” rallies, at which Sawant was often the only council member present.

The new committee rules address this issue in a couple of ways. First, every committee must have at least four members (and, in practice, each current committee has five), increasing the size of a quorum from two members to three. Second, the new rules require that at least three members of a committee be present just to hold a committee meeting, a significant shift from previous years, when council members frequently held meetings with only the committee chair present and voting. This will force council members to actually show up at meetings, and it will discourage one-off special meetings like council member Kshama Sawant’s frequent “pack city hall” rallies, at which Sawant was often the only council member present.

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

The rules offset these new attendance requirements in a couple of ways as well. First, half of the committees will meet just once a month, a change that reduces the total number of monthly meetings from 18 to 12. Second, regular meetings will be confined to two days a week, giving council members two days free of mandatory public meetings. Finally, the rules bar council members from just showing up at committees they don’t belong to. Non-committee members can only attend committee meetings at the request of the chair, and can’t vote—a change that eliminates the incentive for council members to simply drop by committees when they want to influence an issue on the agenda.

Returning to the details, the new committees are imbalanced in a couple of obvious ways. First, newcomer Alex Pedersen is starting his term with an unusually large portfolio, overseeing three of the city’s biggest departments (transportation, City Light, and Seattle Public Utilities) as chair of a single mega-committee called Transportation and Utilities. Advocates for transportation alternatives have raised alarms that Pedersen—a Sound Transit opponent who also backed efforts to kill a long-planned bike lane on 35th Ave. NE—will be heading up transportation. But it’s also worth noting that his fellow committee members include newcomer Dan Strauss and Gonzalez, who could serve as moderating influences. Gonzalez may also be wagering that it’s best to keep Pedersen busy.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Sawant, who—despite being the council’s most senior member—will oversee just two issue areas, sustainability and renters’ rights, and will head up a committee that meets monthly rather than twice a month. (Housing is the subject of another committee headed up, along with budget, by Teresa Mosqueda.) It’s easy to interpret this as a diminishment of Sawant’s power on the council, but bear in mind that holding regular committee meetings has never been the way Sawant has exercised her influence; in 2019, she held just nine regular meetings of the human services committee (out of 24 scheduled), fewer than any other committee chair. Instead, she used her chairmanship to call special meetings on single issues important to her political base, such rent control (which is prohibited by state law) tiny house encampments. Sawant’s new assignment, along with the rule changes, will make it harder for her to hold such meetings through the council’s official committee structure; on the other hand, the changes could free her up to spend more time holding rallies, events, and  outside the confines of city hall, or to do more work building her party, Socialist Alternative, outside the city.

The new committees give new power to other (relative) council veterans such as Mosqueda, who will go head to head with Durkan during this year’s budget process, and police reform advocate Lisa Herbold, who will head up the public safety committee. Strauss, who identifies as an urbanist, will oversee land use and neighborhoods, while the council’s other newcomer, District 2 (South Seattle)’s Tammy Morales, will head up a smaller committee overseeing community economic development that meets just once a month. One additional factor to be determined is how much power vice chairs and committee members will have over the committees on which they serve; with the new attendance requirements, council members could decide to share duties more broadly than they did under the previous structure.

Nickelsville Gets a Reprieve; Regional Homelessness Discussions Get an Extension

1. King County’s Regional Policy Committee passed a much-amended plan to create a regional homelessness authority yesterday morning, but supporters acknowledged that it would go through more amendments once it reached the Seattle City Council, which has raised increasing alarms over a proposal some members say merely “shifts the deck chairs on the Titanic”—a metaphor that has been in constant rotation during the regional planning process.

Although the plan passed the RPC unanimously with some new amendments (an effort by Seattle council president Bruce Harrell to increase the number of governing board votes required to amend budgets and policies and hire and fire the executive director of the new authority failed), the city council sounded more skeptical of the plan than ever at a special committee meeting Thursday afternoon.

The council’s main objections highlighted the rift between suburban cities (who want several seats on the governing board, explicit suburban representation on the board of experts, and the authority to draft their own sub-regional homelessness plans) and the city of Seattle.

The first point of contention: Why should Seattle give suburban cities so much say over composition and policies of the new authority when they’re contributing nothing financially? The legislation the RPC adopted yesterday explicitly bans the regional authority from raising revenues, which means that the only funding sources are Seattle—contributing 57% of the authority’s initial budget—and King County. (Residents of suburban cities, like Seattle, also pay county taxes, but their contribution is small and indirect compared to what Seattle is putting on the table.)

“The city of Seattle has been very generous in subsidizing the needs of non-Seattle residents … and yet that reciprocity is pretty much nonexistent in terms of how this deal is structured.” — Seattle city council member Lorena Gonzalez

“I had always had the impression, going all the way back to One Table”—a task force that was supposed to come up with regional solutions to homelessness—”that we were going to have a conversation about our funding needs,” council member Lisa Herbold said. “I don’t know why we would, in the structure, foreclose our option to do that.”

Council member Lorena Gonzalez added: “The city of Seattle has been very generous in subsidizing the needs of non-Seattle residents … and yet that reciprocity is pretty much nonexistent in terms of how this deal is structured.” 

Council members raised similar objections about the fact that the legislation now requires “regional sub-planning,” which means that different parts of the county could create their own homelessness policies, and that the new authority’s five-year plan would be required to reflect (and fund) those policies, even non-evidence-based strategies like high-barrier housing that requires sobriety. Gonzalez said that the question for her was, “Should municipalities who want to primarily or solely focus on non-evidence-based strategies to address homelessness… be able to qualify to receive money from these pooled resources? And the answer for me is no, they should not.”

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

A larger, but related, issue council members raised Thursday is the fact that the new body would keep power where it has always been—in the hands of elected officials, who would make up two-thirds of the governing board that would wield most of the power over the new authority. Originally, the idea behind creating a new regional authority was to create a “de-fragmented system” where experts, including people with lived experience of homelessness, could make decisions on policy without feeling swayed by political considerations like the need to get reelected. The new plan, as Herbold pointed out, “flips [that] script.”

Gonzalez agreed, saying that without new revenue authority, and with a structure controlled by elected officials, the regional authority will be “AllHome 2.0″—a powerless body controlled by people making decisions for political reasons. “I don’t want us to fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing something transformative,” she said..

For a moment near the end of the meeting, council member Sally Bagshaw, who has spent months negotiating the plan with the county, seemed to agree. Moving toward a regional approach to homelessness, she said, was “a journey worth taking.” But “whether I would say that it’s transformational— I can’t go that far.”

2. The Northlake tiny house village, which had been slated for closure on Monday, December 9, got a reprieve Thursday morning in the form of a memo from Human Services Department Director Jason Johnson saying that the encampment could stay in place until March of next year. (I reported the news on Twitter Thursday morning).

Continue reading “Nickelsville Gets a Reprieve; Regional Homelessness Discussions Get an Extension”

City Contractor Charged Homeless Men for Shelter; Orion Campaign Failed to Report Using Ike’s-Owned Office Space

1. Compass Housing Alliance, a nonprofit housing and shelter agency, was charging men $3 a night to sleep at the Blaine Center shelter on Denny Way until last month, when the city’s Human Services Department informed them that charging for shelter violated the expectations of their contract with the city.

The city became aware that Compass was charging shelter clients when a former shelter resident contacted council member Sally Bagshaw to complain. (The specific details of the resident’s claims are in dispute). Meg Olberding, a spokeswoman for HSD, says the department was unaware that Compass was charging its residents what amounted to $90 in monthly rent until officials talked with the Blaine Center client in late September. At that point, Olberding says, “we instructed Compass that charging a shelter fee was a violation of their contract expectations and that they must stop the practice immediately.  Secondarily we communicated an expectation that Compass refund every person in the shelter the entirety of the payments that have previously been collected.”

Compass’ chief advancement officer, Suzanne Sullivan, says the agency used the $3 nightly charge as “a teaching tool about managing finances” and says residents get the money back in the form of a check once they find permanent housing

Olberding says that every resident who paid money to stay at the Blaine Center—or other charities, such as the Millionair Club, that paid the fees on their behalf—was reimbursed in cash. “Since receiving the complaint, the HSD Contract Manager has spoken with Compass leadership to reflect the concerns that they are implementing rules and policies inconsistently,” Olberding adds.

Compass’ chief advancement officer, Suzanne Sullivan, says the agency used the $3 nightly charge as “a teaching tool about managing finances” and says residents get the money back in the form of a check once they find permanent housing. “A lot of people who are in Blaine Shelter are employed, so it was an element of helping them to figure out how to budget their money,” Sullivan says. She does not know precisely how long the Blaine Center has charged for shelter, but says that no one is turned away from Blaine Center if they don’t have the money to pay.

However, charging for shelter creates, at a minimum, the perception of a financial barrier that could lead unsheltered people who don’t know about the shelter’s fee waiver policy to stay away. And the promise that any nightly fees will be paid back in the future, if and when a person gets permanent housing, does not alleviate the burden of coming up with an extra $3 a day in the short term.

Most shelters do not charge fees or rent for service, and HSD says it is unaware of any other city contractor that does so. The Emerald City Resource Guide published by Real Change indicates that one other shelter charges for beds—the Bread of Life Mission men’s shelter (which charges $5 a night, according to the resource guide.

2. District 3 city council candidate Egan Orion’s campaign, which was just fined $1,000 for failing to properly identify the campaign as the sponsor of a controversial ad on the front cover of the Stranger, has failed to report its use of a property owned by Uncle Ike’s pot shop owner Ian Eisenberg as an in-kind contribution to the campaign, The C Is for Crank has learned. The campaign moved into a former Shell station owned by Eisenberg at 21st Ave. and East Union Street back in September. The free office space should have been reported either as an expenditure or an in-kind contribution by Eisenberg to the campaign.

City council contributions, including in-kind contributions, are limited to $250 for candidates participating in the city’s Democracy Voucher public-financing program (as Orion is). The Shell property has a taxable value of $1.8 million, according to King County Tax records. Kshama Sawant, the incumbent Orion is challenging in District 3, pays $1,558 a month to Madrona Apartments, LLC for her office space.

Orion campaign manager Olga Laskin says the campaign’s failure to report an expenditure or contribution for the use of Eisenberg’s space “was an oversight on the part of our treasurer. She is amending the C4 [expenditure report] so we should be set.” The campaign did not respond to a followup question about the fair-market value of the space. Wayne Barnett, the head of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, says that any campaign office space that has a fair-market value has to be reported as an expenditure or in-kind contribution.

Eisenberg responded to questions about Orion’s use of his space by saying, “I don’t think it is appropriate to talk about tenants and their leases.” In fact, state campaign-finance law requires campaigns to report all contributions and expenditures, including rent.

This article has been edited from its original version to remove a reference to the YWCA charging women to stay at the Angeline’s Center enhanced shelter. A representative from the group contacted me to say that the information in the Real Change Emerald City Resource Guide linked above is inaccurate, and that some residents voluntarily put 30% of their incomes into savings accounts held by the agency.

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”

“She Told Me She Was There To Make Money and She Enjoyed It”: Diversion Funding Discussion Derailed by Crass Cop Comments

The topic that was actually on the table: LEAD’s ballooning caseload.

A council discussion about whether to expand funding for the successful Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which is understaffed and over capacity, was derailed Wednesday afternoon when deputy police chief Marc Garth Green defended SPD’s recent return to the old, widely discredited policy of targeting sex workers, rather than buyers, for arrests. (That story was reported by Crosscut.)

The exchange came after council member Teresa Mosqueda challenged claims that the city needed tools besides diversion, such as “enhanced probation,” to address “prolific offenders” because LEAD wouldn’t work for certain people. (Mosqueda’s point was that there’s no way to prove diversion doesn’t work for people who have never had the chance to enter a diversion program, and that the problem was funding, not lack of evidence that LEAD works).

I’ve transcribed much of the exchange, but here’s where it got heated: 

Garth Green: We have people who are working the streets that aren’t necessarily substance abusers. They have homes. Some of them choose to do what they’re doing. [From the dais, Mosqueda can be heard saying, “No.”] We need to have some type of intervention with them, whether it be LEAD or something else, but we have to address these types of things. To simply go about doing the same thing over and over again becomes problematic. … We’ve had two homicides in the North Precinct on Aurora directly related to prostitution activities and we have to make that population safe as well. [At this point, Mosqueda tried to speak.] Please, ma’am. I firmly believe in LEAD. We should fund LEAD. All I’m saying is I need a lot of resources to deal with the complex problems that we have up there.

“We have people who are working the streets that aren’t necessarily substance abusers. They have homes. Some of them choose to do what they’re doing… That [knowledge] comes from my experience of actually working the street up there and talking to a young lady who specifically told me that she was there to make money and enjoyed it “—Seattle Police Department Deputy Chief Marc Garth Green

MosquedaYou’re talking about people on Aurora making choices? The only people making a choice in terms of prostitution are the johns on Aurora who are stopping to see if people are willing to get in their car. Those folks who are working on the street are not making a daily choice to go out there. They are… sustaining themselves, their families, their kiddos. This is not a choice people are making, as in, they’re housed, they have all access to health services, and they feel economically stable. … If you’re basing referrals for arrests instead of to LEAD based on your assumption or gut or sense that somehow it was better to arrest them than to get them into LEAD, then I want to see the data.

I’d also like to see data that shows that people are making this choice, because absolutely, in my 15 years of working on this issue, from human trafficking and labor trafficking and standing up for workers’ rights, I have never been so shocked by such an assertion.

Garth Green: I appreciate that, councilwoman. And that comes from my experience of actually working the street up there and talking to a young lady who specifically told me that she was there to make money and enjoyed it and I still believe that that young lady had some problems—

Sawant: This is just unacceptable. Did you just say that that young lady enjoyed it? I mean—

Garth Green: That’s her words, not mine, but what I’d like to say—

Sawant: I don’t think you should be speaking for women at all, much less in the context of the worldwide statistics that the people who get into sex work primarily get into it because of financial constraints imposed on them by the system.

Deputy Seattle Police Chief Marc Garth Green

Later in the afternoon, SPD’s official Twitter account responded with a statement attributed to Garth Green, clarifying his “earlier remarks that I was unable to finish at City Council today.” The statement suggested that, contrary to his previous “she enjoyed it” claim, SPD considers all sex workers to be trafficked victims who may be safer behind bars.

“There is a reason we refer to those engaged in prostitution as High Risk Victims,” the SPD account said. “In our experience, victims are forced into prostitution through violence, deception, and other factors not of their choosing. Diversion options can be limited, and we may need to arrest them to disrupt the cycle of violence and abuse. For people trafficked in prostitution, jail can be a safer place than out on the street. That said, our primary enforcement focus will ALWAYS be those who profit from and support this form of human trafficking.”

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 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.

Garth Green’s comments came in the middle of a presentation on LEAD by representatives from the budget office, the mayor’s office, and the police department, who were defending the mayor’s decision to effectively flatline LEAD’s funding in 2020. (The mayor’s office proposed a $288,000 increase, but Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard said that increase will be eaten up by rent increases and boosts to caseworker pay aimed at reducing turnover). Continue reading ““She Told Me She Was There To Make Money and She Enjoyed It”: Diversion Funding Discussion Derailed by Crass Cop Comments”

The 2019 City Council Candidates: District 3 Challenger Egan Orion

Image via Egan Orion 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.

First up: My interview with Egan Orion, running against Sawant in a race that’s shaping up to be the most expensive City Council contest in Seattle’s history. Orion has been a retail worker, a barista, a tour guide, and a data analyst. He’s also worked as a web designer, a Microsoft engineer, and an event producer—and, for a brief time, the head of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, which shut down after Orion left (after two months on the job) to run for council. We started out by talking about his departure from the Chamber.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): Why did you decide to leave the Capitol Hill Chamber to run for council? They shut down right after you left, and it seemed like the two events were related.

Egan Orion (EO): They had been working on the expanded [business improvement area] effort across Capitol Hill for about five years. And they had spent so much time and energy on that—to the neglect, in my mind, of some of the basics of expanding a local chamber—and it was clear that they needed more leadership. And they didn’t have an executive director at the time, just an admin who was very good at keeping things going. So I helped them write the Only In Seattle grant to get funding for 2019, and helped them plan the State of the Hill event on February 1, and then we started talking about, what would it look like if I came on board as a part time ED? So I gave the State of the Hill address on my first day working for them, and it wasn’t a week or ten days later that the admin who had been with the organization for so long decided abruptly that she was going to start to make her exit. And there wasn’t enough time for that transition. And that’s when the snowstorms happened as well.

I was doing the best that I could with what I knew about the organization. And then, two weeks into my tenure at capital chamber, Beto [Yarce] dropped out of the city council race. And I just started to think about it. I was really just praying that someone would step up that could defeat Kshama. And as the weeks passed, I just kept on waiting and not seeing anyone. And I started to think maybe this was a better way for me to advocate for my community. So I made that decision, and the chamber decided that they didn’t have the capacity to hire someone.

ECB: You’ve been the biggest beneficiary of spending by outside groups like People for Seattle and the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), the Chamber of Commerce PAC. Do you have any misgivings about the fact that the business lobby and Tim Burgess’ PAC have decided to invest so heavily in getting you elected?

EO: Oh, sure. I’ve got misgivings about it. I would prefer to run a race where we didn’t have to worry about money coming from outside the city, from powerful forces from within the city—where we as candidates had to connect with voters in our district. Districts are fairly small in the scheme of things. They’re very walkable. I know because I’ve walked all those precincts at one point or another connecting with voters. And I think that that’s one of the reasons why people responded to my campaign, is that me and my campaign manager and our volunteers knocked on 16,500 doors for the primary alone, and we’re going to surpass that in the general. We’ve been running a very local race and talking about the issues that matter, not just to a narrow set of constituents, like Kshama Sawant, but to all the communities in the district.

I look at this as a quality of life election. And the quality of life for someone that lives in Portage Bay or Madrona is just as important to me as the quality of life for people on Capitol Hill.

Support The C Is for Crank
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ECB: So is there any position where you would say you dramatically differ from CASE?

EO: I didn’t realize CASE had political positions. What they laid out for us [during endorsement discussions] was some basic stuff around transportation, safety and prosperity. And of course, I had a small business background and also represented a couple of different nonprofits that represent small business. I really had an obvious resume that they would respond to, because they have 2,000 small businesses that are part of their chamber.

So I don’t really pay attention to the political desires of CASE beyond those general values that, that I share with them. I don’t mean to be coy about that either. I really don’t look at the positions of what CASE wants. Businesses are as varied as voters in their views.

ECB: Mayor Durkan has continued expanding the Navigation Team, which has shifted its focus to removing encampments without providing 72 hours’ notice or offers of shelter and services. Do you support this approach?

EO: In general, no. I think that that when REACH was really embedded with the Navigation Team, they really brought that human services touch to that work. I mean, at the end of the day, if we’re sweeping people from a public place where they’re camping and we’re not providing any place for them to go,  I see that as inhumane and a waste of money, because they’re just going to pop up somewhere else and then we’re just going to spend the money to sweep them somewhere else. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Continue reading “The 2019 City Council Candidates: District 3 Challenger Egan Orion”

One-Way Tickets Out of Town, Tiny House Villages’ Future In Question, and a Poll Asks, Hey, Did You Know Sawant Is a Socialist?

1. Reagan Dunn, a Republican King County Council member who has been vocal in his opposition to a proposal to merge Seattle and King County’s homelessness agencies, told me last week that one of his concerns about the plan was that it would be responsible for implementing the same policies he believes have failed at reducing homelessness, including lenient “Seattle-centric” policies like the (basically moribund) plan to open a safe drug consumption site in King County and county prosecutor Dan Satterburg’s decision not to prosecute people for simple drug possession. On Tuesday, he proposed a few policies he thinks will work better.

The first proposal would allocate at least a million dollars a year for bus tickets to send homeless people to “reunite” with family members out of town—as long as those family members don’t live in King or any adjacent county. These “Homeward Bound” programs have had mixed success, both at getting homeless people to go somewhere else and actually reuniting people with their families; according to a 2017 Guardian investigation, there’s often little tracking of what happens to homeless people once they’re sent away, and little way of knowing if they’ve been reunited with loved ones or simply become some other city’s problem. “Seattle has nothing like [Homeward Bound] and we’ve become a dead-end street,” Dunn says. “Sometimes you have to have a tough-love solution.”

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.

Surveys of people experiencing homelessness in King County consistently show that the overwhelming majority—84 percent of those surveyed as part of the 2019 point-in-time count—lived (in housing) in King County before becoming homeless.

Dunn’s other two proposals would set up a county team to do outreach to homeless people in Metro bus shelters and on buses (two of the principle places people without homes go to get dry and warm), and a plan to notify opiate prescribers when a patient dies of an opiate-related overdose.

Dunn says he thinks the proposed new regional body, which would be governed by a board of “experts” that would not include any elected officials, would be “unaccountable to the public” and could siphon funding away from King County’s other cities to Seattle. He may not be alone. County Council members Dave Upthegrove and Rod Dembowski, both Democrats, are reportedly on the fence, and Bellevue Democrat Claudie Balducci expressed some misgivings last week. The county’s regional policy committee, which includes members from many of the cities that were not included in the plan, meets to discuss the proposal this afternoon.

The language is so similar to the verbiage on People For Seattle’s vitriolic, often highly misleading primary election direct mail pieces (particularly that “back to basics,” anti-“ideology” stuff) that I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is their poll.

2. A lawsuit by the group Safe Seattle that sought to shut down a “tiny house village” in South Lake Union was rejected just as the city announced plans to extend the permits for the three officially temporary villages—in Othello, Georgetown, and West Seattle—for six more months. But the future of these “tiny house” encampments is still in question.

The three villages originally supposed to move after two years, but their permits have been extended twice, and it’s unclear whether the Human Services Department has a long-term plan for what to do with them after the extensions are up. (When I asked HSD about the future of the villages, a spokeswoman initially said they would have something to announce “soon,” then pointed me to the agency’s blog post about the six-month extension.) Continue reading “One-Way Tickets Out of Town, Tiny House Villages’ Future In Question, and a Poll Asks, Hey, Did You Know Sawant Is a Socialist?”

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”