Tempers Fray Over Human Services Director Nomination

City council member Kshama Sawant has proposed delaying the appointment of a permanent director for the city’s Human Services Department until “a formal search process can be completed,” according to the text of a resolution Sawant plans to introduce next week. HSD has been operating without a permanent director for nearly a year, since Catherine Lester, the director under former mayor Ed Murray, left in March. Last month, Durkan formally nominated interim director Jason Johnson, who previously served as deputy director, for the permanent position. Sawant has not scheduled a hearing on the nomination, which is supposed to go through her Human Services, Equitable Development, and Renters’ Rights committee.* Sawant has only held one regular meeting of her committee, which is supposed to meet on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month, since last July,

Several groups, and at least three council members, have formally expressed misgivings about the process that led to Johnson’s nomination. On January 15,  the Seattle Human Services Coalition—a group that includes the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness as well as groups that advocate for seniors, people of color, domestic-violence survivors, and people with disabilities—sent a letter to council members urging them “to return the nomination to Mayor Durkan and request a full search process that includes integral participation of human service providers, program participants, HSD employees, and other public partners.” One week later, city council members Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena Gonzalez sent their own letter to Durkan, suggesting that the HSD appointment should go through to the same kind of public process as the nominations of Seattle City Light director Debra Smith and Police Chief Carmen Best. And one day after that, members of the Human Services Department’s Change Team, which oversees HSD’s implementation of the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative, wrote an email to council members saying that Seattle deputy mayor Shefali Ranganathan had told HSD staff that “there would be an inclusive process for the selection of the permanent director. … Instead, staff learned Mayor Durkan made the decision to directly appoint our interim director into a permanent position—foregoing an inclusive process that many believed would take place.”

“While the Mayor has had a thoughtful hiring process for each of her appointments, Councilmember Sawant  is refusing to move forward on confirming a qualified LGBTQ candidate who has a proven record, including over the last year as Interim Director. Jason has gone through the most exhaustive and exhausting process by actually doing his job. It’s time for Councilmember Sawant – who has been absent as chair of her committee – to do hers.”

In the middle of all this back and forth, on January 22, Sawant announced she would hold a special meeting of her committee to take public comment on the nomination  on the night of January 24, at the Miller Community Center on Capitol Hill. About 35 people spoke at the meeting—all but one opposed to either Johnson himself or to the process that led to his nomination.

No one else from the council came to at Sawant’s last-minute “listening session,” prompting Sawant to suggest that her colleagues had different “priorities” than she did. On Monday, she urged her colleagues to watch the video of the testimony, which she called proof that the community wanted a more inclusive nomination process.  Not only did Durkan “not even conduct a nominal process,” Sawant said Monday, she had ignored Sawant’s repeated requests for a meeting to discuss the nomination. “My office has been asking the mayor for [a discussion about the search process] and there was no response,” Sawant said. “Week after week after week there was no response, and then they just sent the nomination.”

The mayor’s office sharply disputes this characterization. Durkan spokesman Mark Prentice says Sawant never requested a meeting with the mayor or her office to discuss the nomination,  and has not attended any of her regularly scheduled monthly one-on-one meetings with the mayor in nearly a year.

“While the Mayor has had a thoughtful hiring process for each of her appointments, Councilmember Sawant, who fires and hires staff at the direction of an outside political committee, is refusing to move forward on confirming a qualified LGBTQ candidate who has a proven record, including over the last year as Interim Director,” Prentice said. “Jason has gone through the most exhaustive and exhausting process by actually doing his job. It’s time for Councilmember Sawant – who has been absent as chair of her committee – to do hers.”

Support

Last week, the mayor’s office sent two letters to council members defending Johnson’s the nomination. The first, addressed to Gonzalez and Mosqueda, thanked the council members for their letter and their “individual commitments to ensure Seattle is centered on equity, justice, and compassion in all our work.” The second, addressed to Sawant, castigated the council member for holding a public hearing on the nomination process “with no meaningful notice” and “without extending an opportunity to have Jason” attend and defend his record. “We look forward to you finally scheduling a meaningful hearing with Jason regarding his appointment as the permanent director of the Human Services Department in the coming weeks,” the letter concluded. In what is hard not to see as a deliberate slight, that letter was signed not by Durkan, but by her legislative liaison, Anthony Auriemma.

Sawant’s resolution, if passed with the blessing of a council majority, would effectively force the mayor to undertake a formal search process, led by a committee that includes HSD employees, for a new director. What’s unclear is how long such a process would take; at what point Sawant would consider the process sufficient to let the nomination move through her committee; and, importantly, whether a public, nationwide search would turn up a robust list of qualified candidates for a job that could be hard to fill. The HSD director implements the mayor’s priorities for funding human-services providers, oversees the controversial Navigation Teams, and is the conduit for public criticism of the city’s response to the homelessness crisis. Since 2014, the department has had four acting or interim directors, two of whom went on to become permanent  The director before Johnson, Catherine Lester, served as acting or interim director twice before her permanent appointment to the position.

* While director nominations typically go through the committee assigned to that subject area, the council has the authority to remove any legislation, including a nomination, from one committee and put it into another, although that would require extraordinary circumstances.

After Acrimony and Battles, Council Passes Mayor’s Budget Mostly Intact

L-R: David Helde, Downtown Emergency Service Center; Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena Gonzalez, Seattle City Council

After a surprising amount of acrimony for a document that contained so little fiscal wiggle room, the city council adopted a 2019-2020 budget today that increases the size of the Human Services Department’s Navigation Team, grants modest wages to front-line human service workers, spends tens of millions of dollars on retroactive back pay for police who have been working without a contract since 2015, and funds projects in every council district.

The debate over this year’s budget—during much of which I was out of town—centered largely on a few million dollars in human services funding, including, in the last few days, funding for the Navigation Team, which removes homeless encampments and offers services to people displaced by their activities. After council member Teresa Mosqueda proposed using some of the funds Durkan earmarked for Navigation Team expansion to broaden a 2 percent “inflationary” pay increase for city-contracted human services providers to include all such workers (rather than only general fund-supported workers, as Durkan initially proposed), Durkan denounced the move.

Describing the reduced expansion as a “cut” that would harm neighborhoods, Durkan’s office claimed that the new positions that she had proposed in her budget had already been filled and that reducing the amount of new funds would “cut” those critically needed jobs—a statement that local conservative media took as a cue to write largely inaccurate pieces claiming, for example, that Mosqueda was “slow[ing] tent cleanups with huge staff cut to Nav Team.” (Durkan also reportedly contacted council members to let them know that if they voted against the Navigation Team expansion, it would be on them to explain to their constituents why they had allowed crime to increase in their districts; all seven district council positions are on the ballot next year. UPDATE: Durkan’s office categorically denied that any such calls took place.) However, this turned out not to be the case; as a central staffer told the council in a followup memo, the positions have only been filled on a temporary or emergency basis. “These are all short term actions that are funded with the $500k [in one-time funding] from the County and would be discontinued” once the budget passes, the central staffer wrote.

No matter—despite all the drama, the council figured out a way to fund the full Navigation Team expansion and add one mental health counselor to the team while also giving service providers their 2 percent increase (which is actually below the local inflation rate). The money, a little less than $500,000 a year, came from eliminating the a business and occupation tax exemption for life sciences companies, which Mosqueda said has been dormant since 2017.

In a press conference between the morning’s budget meeting and the final adoption of the budget at 2pm, four council members, plus 43rd District state representative and former Downtown Emergency Service Center director Nicole Macri, joined several front-line human service workers and representatives from housing and human-service nonprofits at DESC’s offices in the basement of the Morrison Hotel homeless shelter.

David Helde, an assistant housing case manager at DESC,  said that since he started at the agency three years ago, every single person who worked in his position when he started had left the agency. Jobs at DESC start at just over $16 an hour, or slightly more than Seattle’s $15 minimum wage. “The rewards do not outweigh the benefits,” Helde said. Recalling a client with a traumatic brain injury who had short-term memory impairment but still remembered him when she returned to the shelter after a year away, Helde continued, “that is why the staff turnover is unacceptable—because it affects the quality of life for the most vulnerable people in this city.”

Council member Mike O’Brien, who has been raising the issue of human service worker pay for several years, said the city needed to figure out a way to “normalize” cost-of-living increases for employees at nonprofit human service agencies, in addition to city employees (and cops.) However, asked about how the city would ensure that (as Mosqueda put it) “we’re not back here every year,” O’Brien acknowledged that “the level of specificity is not extensive” about how to ensure future COLAs. “This is about expectation-setting,” O’Brien said. “In a budget where we have finite resources and we’re making tradeoffs, we have to figure out how we identify a three-, five-, ten-year [plan] to make changes” so that human-service workers can have not just sub-inflationary pay hikes, but living wages, in the future.

Although Durkan did (mostly) get what she wanted on the Navigation Team, the group will be required to submit quarterly reports showing progress on steps the city auditor outlined a year ago before the council will release funding for the coming quarter—a significant change that amplifies the council’s power over the team.

Other notable changes the council made to Durkan’s budget included:

• Additional funding for food banks, which will come from excess revenues from the city’s sweetened beverage tax. Council member O’Brien wanted to use some of the excess money from the tax—which Durkan had proposed using to replace general fund revenues that were paying for healthy-food programs, rather than increasing funding for those programs—to fund outreach programs, as a community advisory board had recommended. The budget puts a hold on the outreach spending, a total of about $270,000, but keeps it alive for future years; today, Juarez objected to this provision, arguing that  spending $270,000 promoting healthy food when the soda industry spent $22 million to pass the anti-soda-tax Initiative 1634 was tantamount to “wast[ing]” the money. “Why are we attempting to counter corporations prepared to spend millions of dollars on advertisements with a $250,000 campaign?” she asked.

• A total of $1.4 million for a supervised drug consumption site, which council member Rob Johnson—who sponsored the additional funding—said should be enough to allow the city to actually open a “fixed-mobile” site this year. Durkan’s initial budget simply held over $1.3 million in funding for a site that was not spent the previous year, with the expectation that no site would be opened this year.

Support

• About $100,000 for a new attorney to help low-income clients facing eviction. Council member Kshama Sawant had sought $600,000 for six more attorneys, but the rest of the council voted that down.

• An expansion of the city’s vacant building inspection program, which keeps tabs on vacant buildings that are slated for redevelopment to ensure that they aren’t taken over by squatters or allowed to fall into disrepair. The proposal, by council member Lisa Herbold (who proposed the original legislation creating the program last year) would ramp up monitoring and inspections of vacant buildings that have failed previous inspections, and would not take effect until next June. Council member Johnson continued to oppose Herbold’s proposal, on the grounds that it represented a sweeping and burdensome policy change that was inappropriate for the budget process; but council president Bruce Harrell reiterated his support for the plan, noting that the council would have time to hammer out the details next year before it took effect. “We’ll have, I think, ample time to work with the department [of Construction and Inspections, which sent a letter to council members last week raising concerns about the bill) to get their feedback,” Harrell said, and “if there has to be some tweaks there will be time to make tweaks.”

City Budget Office director Ben Noble sent a memo to council members today opposing the budget item, which Noble said would force the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections to expand the program too much, too fast. “As proposed, the enhanced program would likely be over 25 times the size of the current program,” Noble wrote, comparing the number of inspections last year—179—to a possible 5,000 inspections that would be required under the new program.  Noble said Herbold’s proposal did not reflect all the costs associated with increasing vacant building inspections so dramatically.

The budget put off the issue of long-term funding for additional affordable housing, which lost a major potential source of revenue when the council and mayor overturned the employee hours tax on businesses with more than $20 million in gross revenues earlier this year. Council member Sally Bagshaw has said that her priority in her final year on the council (she is not expected to run again next year) will be creating aregional funding plan to pay for thousands of units of new housing every year. Such a proposal might be modeled, she suggested recently, after a tax on very large businesses that was just approved by voters in San Francisco.

Budget dissident Kshama Sawant—who had earlier proposed numerous dead-on-arrival proposals to fund about $50 million in housing bonds by making cuts to various parts of the budget—delivered a 13-minute speech denouncing her colleagues for passing an “austerity budget” before voting against the whole thing. The room was noticeably subdued as Sawant quoted MLK and demonized Jeff Bezos—the red-shirted members of “the Movement,” whose efforts she cited repeatedly during her oration, were mostly absent, and instead of the usual applause, shouts, and cheers, Sawant spoke to a silent chamber.

Budget Crank: Juarez vs. Bike Lanes, Golf vs. Affordable Housing, and Climate Goals vs. Convenience

Mayor Jenny Durkan calibrated expectations for her first-ever city budget early, by asking every city department to come up with across-the-board budget cuts of between 2 and 5 percent—creating the impression that her budget would require difficult choices, while also ensuring that if popular programs did manage to escape the knife, the mayor’s office would get the credit. That, essentially, is what happened—Durkan unveiled a budget that modestly increases general-fund spending, from $5.6 billion to $5.9 billion (slightly more than the rate of inflation) while preserving homelessness programs that were paid for this year with one-time funding, minimizing layoffs, and handing out $65 million in retroactive pay to  Seattle police officers who have been working without a contract since 2015.

Shortly after she released her budget, Durkan’s office sent supporters a list of 18 suggested social media posts intended for use on social media. Each suggested post included messaging and images created by Durkan’s staff. For example, to illustrate the fact that her budget preserves funding for existing homelessness programs without raising taxes, Durkan’s office suggested the following Facebook post:

“To help our neighbors experiencing homelessness, @Mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget commits $89.5 million to support programs that we know work, including rapid rehousing, diversion, and enhanced shelters – without new taxes on businesses and residents.”

For a Twitter post on the new police contract, which also includes a 17 percent raise for officers,, Durkan’s office suggested the following:

. @SeattlePD officers haven’t had a raise since 2014. @MayorJenny’s new budget includes funding for the proposed @SPOG1952 contract that’s a good deal for our officers, good for reform, and good for Seattle. #SEAtheFuture 

Durkan appears to engage in the practice of distributing canned social-media materials, which more than one observer recently described as “very D.C.,” much more frequently than her predecessors. (Kshama Sawant may use city-owned printers to make hundreds of posters for her frequent rallies at city hall, but it’s still unusual for a mayor to use staff time to rally support for her initiatives on social media). As in D.C. politics,  the method is hit  or miss. A quick search of Twitter and Facebook reveals that the hashtag, and a handful of the posts, were mostly picked up by the social-media accounts of several city of Seattle departments—which, of course, report to Durkan.

2. The council got its first look at the budget this past week. And while this year’s discussions are shaping up to be more muted than 2017’s dramatic debate (which culminated in a flurry of last-minute changes after an early version of the head tax failed) council members are asking questions that indicate where their priorities for this year’s budget lie. Here are some of the issues I’ll be keeping an eye on, based on the first week of budget deliberations:

• Golf 

Did you know that Seattle has four taxpayer-funded public golf courses? (The city of Houston, whose population is more than three times that of Seattle, has six). The city is worried about its ability to sustain so many courses, which are supposed to bring in profits of 5 percent a year to pay back the debt the city took out to improve the golf courses to make them more attractive to golfers. (Guess that saying about spending money to make money doesn’t apply to sports with a dwindling fan base?)  This year, the city moved the cost of paying debt service on those upgrades out of the general fund (the main city budget) and into the city’s separate capital budget, where it will be paid for with King County Park Levy funding, as “a bridge solution to address the anticipated [golf revenue] shortfall for 2019,” according to the budget. The city is also considering the use of real estate excise tax (REET) money to pay for debt service on the golf course improvements.

All of this puts the future of municipal golf in question. Parks Department director Christopher Williams told the council Thursday, “We’ve got a sustainability … problem with our golf program. We’ve got a situation where rounds of golf are declining and the cost of labor for golf is increasing. … The policy question is, to what level should we subsidize public golf?

Council member Sally Bagshaw reminded Williams that affordable-housing advocates have suggested using some portion of the golf courses for affordable housing—they do occupy huge swaths of land in a city that has made all but a tiny percentage of its land off-limits to apartment buildings—but Williams demurred. “We feel we have an obligation to explore some of the more restorative steps that ask the question… can we sustain golf in the city? And does that come down to, maybe we can’t sustain four golf courses. Maybe we can only sustain the two most profitable golf courses in the city ultimately. But we don’t feel we have enough information to be in a place where we can make a compelling case that golf courses should become places for affordable housing.” The department is working on a fiscal analysis of the golf courses, which a parks department spokeswoman told me should be out in mid-October.

Budget director Ben Noble said the city is looking at alternatives such as carsharing and sharing motor pools with other jurisdictions, like King County and Sound Transit, to reduce the number of cars the city needs.

• Shrinking the City’s Car Dependence

During her budget speech and in an executive order that accompanied her budget, Mayor Durkan proposed reducing the city’s vehicle fleet, over an unspecified period of time, by 10 percent—a reduction that would mean getting rid of more than 400 city-owned cars. Lorena Gonzalez, who lives in West Seattle and is one of two at-large council members who represent the whole city, had some concerns. “Sometimes my office has to be way up in District 5 or way down in District 2 or over in District 1, and getting there and back in an efficient amount of time using a bus is pretty difficult, so we rely a lot on the motor pool, and I think that’s true of a lot of other departments throughout the city,” Gonzalez said.

“Certainly we try to encourage our employees to ride public transit into the city of Seattle, and I think one of the benefits of doing that, and one of the incentives for doing that, is that if an employee needs to get somewhere during the day, they have a motor pool car available to them.” Budget director Ben Noble responded that the city is looking at alternatives such as carsharing and sharing motor pools with other jurisdictions, like King County and Sound Transit, to reduce the number of cars the city needs.

Support

• Fort Lawton

The former Army base next to Discovery Park has been mothballed for years, awaiting the end of hostilities over a plan to build affordable family, senior, and veteran housing on the grounds. (The Army owns the land but offered it to the city for free more than a decade ago in exchange for an agreement to build affordable housing on the property. The city has been unable to hold up its side of the bargain due to ongoing challenges to its plans for housing.) While neighbors squabble over whether to allow low-income people onto the  high-end peninsula, squatters moved into some of the vacant buildings on the property, and the Army decided it was tired of paying to keep them out. That’s how the cost of securing Fort Lawton fell to the city‚ and ultimately, how a line item for hundreds of thousands of dollars in “Fort Lawton Security and Maintenance Costs” ended up in this year’s city budget.

Gonzalez was the one who noticed the eye-popping number—the Office of Housing and the Department of Finance and Administrative Services are each responsible for about $167,000 in 2019 and $172,455 in 2020—and asked OH director Steve Walker about it. “Throughout 2018, the city took responsibility for maintaining that property, as opposed to the Army maintaining that property, and that was part of the Army’s way of saying, ‘You guys are taking a long time and it’s costing us a lot of money. If we’re going to extend this window of opportunity for you, we want you the city to own those costs,’ and we agreed to do so.” Budget director Noble said the city isn’t in a great position to ask the Army to take on more of the costs to secure the property, given that the city was supposed to build housing there years ago, but added that if the city does manage to reach a deal to develop Fort Lawton, the Seattle public school district—which hopes to purchase some of the property—would be on the hook for some of the costs that the city is incurring now, so “we may even get a rebate.”

“We have two bike lanes in Seattle in District 5 that aren’t even used —125th and, barely, Roosevelt. … Some neighborhoods just don’t need bike lanes—it  just doesn’t make sense to have them.” —District 5 city council member Debora Juarez

• And—What Else?—Bike Lanes

Council member Debora Juarez, who appears to view bike and pedestrian safety improvements as a zero-sum game, sounded frustrated when her colleague Sally Bagshaw talked about the need to connect bike lanes in her downtown district so that people will feel safer riding bikes. (Last year, the percentage of commuters riding their bikes downtown actually declined.)  Juarez said she had “a different take on bike lanes than council member Bagshaw.” Then she unloaded on the idea of spending money on bike lanes in her North Seattle district when many areas don’t even have sidewalks. (This is a perennial complaint about North Seattle that stems largely from the fact that the area was built without sidewalks and annexed to the city in the 1950s.)

“We have two bike lanes in Seattle in District 5 that aren’t even used —125th and, barely, Roosevelt,” Juarez said—a claim that was immediately refuted by North Seattle cyclists on Twitter. “So I’m going to ask you to be accountable to us, to tell me how you’re justifying those bike lanes and their maintenance, particularly when I heard some numbers about … how much are we spending per mile on a bike lane… Was it $10 million or something like that?” This misconception (and it is a misconception) stems from the fact that the city’s cost estimates for bike infrastructure also include things like total street repaving, sewer replacement and repair, streetlight relocation and replacement, sidewalks, and other improvements that benefit the general public. Although bike lanes make up only a fraction of such estimates (a fact that should be obvious, given that simple bike lanes involve nothing more than paint on a road), many opponents of bike safety improvements have seized on the higher numbers to claim that bike lanes are many times more expensive than their actual cost.

Juarez continued, noting that her constituents have griped that bike lanes do not have to go through a full environmental review under the State Environmental Protection Act (a review intended to determine whether bike lanes are bad for the environment). “If you’re just putting them in to slow down traffic, then tell us you’re putting in something to slow down traffic,” Juarez said, adding, “Some neighborhoods just don’t need bike lanes—it  just doesn’t make sense to have them. In some neighborhoods, it does make sense to have them. I wasn’t around when the pedestrian bike plan was passed, but I am around now, and I do have a base that … are still scratching their heads [avout] why there are particular bike lanes and what their costs are.”

The council will hold its first public hearing on the budget at city hall (400 5th Ave.) at 5:30pm this Thursday, October 4.

Controversial Head Tax Passes After Weeks of Bruising Debate

After a weekend of negotiations between city council members and Mayor Jenny Durkan (and, according to council president Bruce Harrell, “conversations with Amazon, big business, small business, [and] homeless advocates”) the city council unanimously approved a new version of the controversial employee hours tax today, imposing a $275-per-employee tax on about 585 businesses with gross receipts of more than $20 million a year.  The $275 figure was a  “compromise” between the $500 tax passed out of committee last week by a slim majority of council members and the $250 tax proposed by Harrell and Durkan, which emphasized short-term shelter and garbage cleanup over permanent housing, and would have built just 250 new units of housing over five years. Durkan had threatened to veto the larger tax proposal, and as several council members noted on the dais this afternoon, the council majority was unable to convince one of their colleagues (such as council member Rob Johnson) to switch sides and give them a veto-proof majority. The $500 head tax proposal was the result of months of work by the city’s progressive revenue task force, which was appointed after a last year’s budget process and charged with coming up with a proposal to tax businesses to pay for homeless services and affordable housing. (Johnson, who was seen as a potential swing vote, cited the need for a process like the one the task force went through in voting against an early head tax proposal last year.) The task force issued their report in March.

The tax, which sunsets after five years (and which will no longer be replaced, as in previous versions of the legislation, with a business payroll tax), would raise about $47 million a year for new housing, rental subsidies, and supportive services. According to the spending plan the council also adopted this afternoon, that would be enough to build about 591 units of housing—288 for low-income people making between 30 and 60 percent of Seattle’s area median income and 303 permanent supportive housing units for formerly homeless people making between 0 and 30 percent of median. (The full spending plan is available here.) The plan also includes rental subsidies to get homeless people into “immediate housing,” funding for a total of about 250 new shelter beds and authorized encampments, more parking lots for people living in their cars, and sanitation facilities. The adopted spending plan, which allocates about two-thirds of the head tax revenues to housing, reverses the priorities in the spending plan proposed last week by Mayor Jenny Durkan and council president Bruce Harrell, which would have spent 70 percent of the revenues from the head tax in years 1 and 2 (and 60 percent in years 3 through 5) on short-term emergency shelter, garbage cleanup, and a new Navigation Team to coordinate the removal of unauthorized encampments and the people in them.

Prior to their vote for the tax, several council members expressed regret that they failed to come up with a compromise that could convince at least one of their colleagues to join them in a veto-proof majority in favor of a larger tax, such as the $350 compromise council member Lisa Herbold floated Friday. Council member Lorena Gonzalez, who was one of the co-chairs, along with Herbold, on the progressive revenue task force, said, “While I’m excited that we will be taking this vote… to reestablish a head tax… it’s regrettable that we were unable to find a path amongst our colleagues and with the mayor that they would be willing to support a higher taxation rate than $275.” Council member Mike O’Brien, who recently weathered hours of verbal abuse at an out-of-control forum on the head tax in Ballard, sounded grim as he conceded, “I’m settling for this level of service.”

Business leaders continued to grumble about the tax. The Downtown Seattle Association issued a statement decrying the tax as “bad economic policy [that] will negatively impact Seattle’s economy and city tax revenues,” and Amazon said in a statement that the “tax on jobs” makes the company “very apprehensive about the future created by the council’s hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here.”

The next battle for homeless advocates at city hall will be over the spending plan for the tax—a component of the plan that is in many ways more critical than the amount of money the tax produces. Durkan’s proposed spending plan, with its emphasis on emergency shelter, encampment removals, and tiny houses, would have largely backfilled spending on programs for which funding is about to run out (the plan contained a $15 million-$16 million annual line item to “continu[e] programs which had one-time funding in the 2018 budget, or insufficient funding, plus unspecified “new emergency, temporary, and enhanced shelters, navigation centers… and/or service and safe parking for vehicular living”), reducing the impact of the new revenues to whatever is left over once all the programs that are running out of money are funded. Although the council adopted the spending plan, that vote was narrow (5-4, along the same lines as Friday’s vote) and the actual implementation plan will have to be proposed by Durkan and adopted by the council as part of this year’s budget process.

Before the vote, council member Teresa Mosqueda said the new revenues from the head tax “are supposed to be in addition to” existing spending, not a replacement for it. Asked specifically about this concern at a press conference after the vote, Durkan pivoted to talking about the need to examine the council’s proposed spending plan itself, which she said would fund “a number of programs, such as shelter and supportive housing,” for which long-term funding is not secure. She did not answer the question about whether she would push for a spending plan that used new dollars to pay for existing funding commitments.

The insistence on funding existing shelter beds, from some of the four-member council minority as well as Mayor Durkan, is somewhat ironic. After all, it was the city council itself (with then-mayor Tim Burgess’ support) who adopted a spending plan for homeless service providers last year that eliminated funding for many basic shelters, on the grounds that they failed to demonstrate that they could move their clients into permanent housing quickly. The new standards for shelter providers, for example, withhold funding if those shelters fail to move 40 percent of their clients into housing within three months, a standard that few emergency shelters can meet, particularly those serving the clients who are hardest to house.

The emphasis in the Durkan/Harrell plan on funding shelters rather than housing also flies in the face of what virtually every expert, from the city’s homelessness consultant Barb Poppe to the city’s Human Services Department to a Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce-commissioned report to former All Home King County director Mark Putnam, which is that a solution to homelessness requires getting people into housing, not tents and “tiny houses” (which Putnam recently referred to as “glorified garden sheds.”) Asked why she supported a split that favored spending on shelters over housing, Durkan responded, “because I think the people of Seattle think that we’ve got to make a difference in homelessness tomorrow. We need to get  people off the streets and get them a safe place to live. None of this housing will come online for years.”

Mosqueda told me before the vote that she was “not interested” in a spending plan that funds temporary shelter “that evicts people in five years and fails to build the housing we need.” The problem in Seattle, Mosqueda argued, is not so much lack of mats on the floor as a lack of affordable housing, and providing more temporary shelter beds is only a “Band-Aid” that fails to address the larger affordability problem at the root of Seattle’s inability to move people from shelter to housing. In a memo released earlier today, Mosqueda staffer Michael Maddux wrote that in the Durkan/Harrell plan, “There does not seem to be increased capacity in funding to support short-term enhanced shelter, and with the draconian cuts to the housing component, no plan appears in place to provide permanent housing for people moved into the few new beds created (about 1,000) by the Mayor’s plan.”

One thing everyone on both sides agreed on is that homelessness is a regional, not a Seattle-only, problem. “Seattle can’t go it alone,” Durkan said during her press conference. “This is a regional crisis that demands a regional response.” That quote might have been lifted verbatim from any other number of press conferences by any number of Seattle officials, past or present. Seattle officials routinely implore “the region,” usually meaning King County, to step up and pay their fair share to address every challenging problem, whether it’s inadequate transit or inadequate funds for housing.  Whether that additional funding will materialize is uncertain. Durkan announced this morning that the state has come up with an additional $40 million for behavioral health services in 2018, and $18 million to $20 million a year after that, and that King County has said it will provide the city with $5.7 million to expand shelter and “safe alternatives for people living outdoors” in 2018. Little is currently known about what strings are attached to this funding or how it can be spent.

Beyond the $5.7 million announced this morning, the county has been parsimonious with its funding to address the crisis. (It did adopt a resolution today declaring May 14-20 “Affordable Housing Week” in King County,  “all county residents” are encouraged “to embrace affordable housing opportunities in their communities.”) Last week, King County Executive Dow Constantine suggested last week that the city needs to slow down and work on a regional approach through the massive “One Table” task force, which began meeting back in January. One Table was supposed to have finished up its meetings and announced its recommendations for a regional approach to addressing homelessness by now; instead, they have canceled their past two meetings and have been very quiet since April. One Table may ultimately come back with a recommendation for a countywide levy, or a sales tax to pay for housing and services (two of the only options available to local governments in Washington State), or it may not. Either way, Seattle is moving forward with what is at least an attempt to address the crisis of homelessness within its borders. Whether the scaled-back proposal adopted today makes a perceptible, measurable dent in homelessness, or whether it merely provides more fodder for anti-tax activists who insist that the city is wasting its money because the problem isn’t getting any better, will be clear soon enough.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! 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. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Employee Hours Tax Passes Over Durkan, Amazon Objections, But Veto Looms

This story originally appeared at Seattle magazine.

With the city council poised to pass a proposed $500-per-employee “head tax” on Seattle’s 600 largest businesses, and Mayor Jenny Durkan equally prepared to veto the proposal in its current form, the question now is: What’s next?

With council members heading into a weekend of negotiations, it’s possible that both sides could emerge on Monday with a compromise solution that splits the difference between the tax that passed on Friday and the “compromise” version that Durkan and council president Bruce Harrell support, which would cut the council’s proposal in half. However, if the two sides fail to reach a compromise, the larger version of the head tax will almost certainly pass on Monday by a 5-4 majority, which is one vote shy of the 6-3 margin supporters need to override a mayoral veto.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Durkan made it clear that she would veto the tax in its current form, but said she still held out hope that the council “will pass a bill that I can sign.” However, Durkan’s ally Harrell, also made it clear on Friday that he would not support a compromise floated by council member Lisa Herbold to lower the tax to $350 per employee, indicating that he and Durkan may not be open to a proposal that merely closes the gap between what Durkan and the council majority want. It’s possible, in other words, that when Durkan says “a bill that I can sign,” she merely means a bill that cuts the tax to $250 per employee—the amount Amazon, which has threatened to stop construction on its Seattle headquarters if the tax passes in its original form, has said they are willing to accept. Amazon contributed $350,000 to a pro-Durkan PAC in last year’s mayoral election.

A quick backgrounder on the tax: Last year, at the end of its annual budget process, the council formed a task force to come up with a progressive tax to pay for housing and services for Seattle’s homeless population. After several months of meetings, and numerous compromises in response to objections from small and low-margin businesses, the task force came up with a plan that would generate about $75 million a year—a $500-per-employee annual tax on businesses with gross revenues above $20 million, a threshold that excludes companies with high gross revenues but tight margins, such as restaurants. The proposal also came with a spending plan that emphasized long-term affordable housing over short-term emergency shelter services, and a provision that would convert the head tax into a business payroll tax starting in 2021, with no sunset date.

On Thursday night, Mayor Durkan released her own “compromise” head-tax proposal, which would cut the recommended head tax in half, to $250 per employee, ditch the provision transitioning the head tax into a business payroll tax, and sunset the whole thing in five years unless the council voted proactively to renew it. On Friday, Harrell introduced a proposal identical to the Durkan plan, along with a spending plan that emphasizes shelter over permanent housing and would pay for just 250 new rental units over five years. The Durkan/Harrell plan also includes a four percent wage increase for social service workers (many of whom make just over $15 an hour) and funding for a second Navigation Team to remove tent encampments and refer their residents to services.

When a council vote is 5 to 4 and a veto hangs in the balance, talk inevitably turns to “swing votes”—that is, who can be swayed to join the council majority to make the bill veto-proof?

Right now, it appears unlikely that anyone in the council’s four-person minority will budge over the weekend to support the full $500 tax, or even Lisa Herbold’s proffered $350 compromise, but a lot can change in the course of two days. So perhaps there will be a compromise that convinces one of the council members who opposes the larger tax to join the council majority. (The opposite scenario—that one of the five members who voted for the original $500 tax will join the four-member minority that wants to cut it in half—seems highly unlikely, since all five council members have consistently supported the proposal that came out of the task force, and since they stand to gain more, politically speaking, by forcing Durkan into a veto fight than by switching sides and handing the mayor a bloodless victory.)

However: If, as seems more likely as of Friday afternoon, the vote remains 5-4, the question becomes what will happen in the 30 days after Durkan vetoes it.

Judging from council members’ past positions and their comments Friday, the most likely “swing vote” when the decision comes down to passing something or doing nothing appears to be council member Rob Johnson, who seemed more tentative in his position than either Debora Juarez (“If we tax jobs to build houses and the jobs leave because of the tax, then no houses get built”) or Sally Bagshaw, who said virtually nothing at Friday’s meeting but is typically not the first council member to make dramatic vote switches.

Last year, when the council was debating whether to include the head tax in the budget, Johnson argued that proponents needed to come up with a more detailed spending plan to justify such a substantial tax. They did exactly that—and Johnson voted instead for a hastily sketched-out proposal that some council members didn’t see for the first time until this morning. On Friday, the most enthusiastic comment Johnson managed to muster about Durkan’s proposal was that it “allows for us to continue that pay-as-you-go process that has been a hallmark of most of the affordable housing investments that we’ve made as a city.”  If tax proponents are looking for a swing vote to help them override Durkan’s veto (and there is precedent for this kind of vote-switching), Johnson may be their best bet.

The council will be in discussions all this weekend, and will meet again on Monday morning to discuss the proposal (and any compromises reached over the next two days). A final vote on the head tax is scheduled for 2:00 Monday in council chambers.

 

Morning Crank: To Think Otherwise is Really Idealistic

1. Council members expressed concern and some skepticism Wednesday at a committee discussion of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s plan to spend around $7 million in proceeds from the sale of a city-owned piece of property in South Lake Union on “tiny house” encampments and housing vouchers—so much concern and skepticism, in fact, that they decided to put off a decision on the tiny houses until mid-March, and could end up tabling the voucher program  as well.

Durkan’s proposal, called “Building a Bridge to Housing for All,” includes two one-time expenditures on homeless shelters and homeless prevention. The shelter funding, about $5.25 million, will initially be used to open a single “tiny house village” for chronically homeless women, but could ultimately be used to add as many as 10 new authorized encampments with a total of 500 tiny houses, across the city. According to city council staffer Alan Lee, each tiny house would cost about $10,500, a number that includes on-site security and 24/7 case management for residents (according to council staff, case management and other operating expenses for 500 tiny houses would cost the city about $500,000 a year.) Durkan has convened an “interdepartmental housing strategy” group to come up with a final proposal in June; Lee said at yesterday’s meeting that the numbers were intended to “give a very rough framework of what direction this money could go… whether or not that’s the strategy that comes out in June.” But it’s hardly going out on a limb to suggest that the strategy that comes out in June will include a heavy emphasis on tiny-house encampments;  Durkan even held her press conference announcing the Bridge to Housing program at the Seattle Vocational Institute, with two under-construction tiny housesas her backdrop.

The council’s finance committee agreed to hold off on the $5 million for a few weeks and vote on it, at the earliest, at the full council meeting on March 12. Meanwhile, they decided to move forward with the plan to spend $2 million on short-term housing assistance vouchers for a small number of people on the Seattle Housing Authority’s waiting list for federal Section 8 housing vouchers, which recipients use to rent housing on the private market. (Or not—although landlords aren’t allowed to discriminate against people who use Section 8 vouchers to pay their rent, it can be hard to find housing that fits the program criteria, including a maximum monthly rent of around $1,200 for a one-bedroom apartment in the Seattle area.) The assistance, which staffers estimated would work out to about $7,300 per household per year (about half that $1,200 maximum), would help just 150 of the 3,500 or so on the SHA waiting list for vouchers—those who make less than half the area median income and are at high risk of becoming homeless. (My earlier estimate, which worked out to a much lower per-month subsidy, was based on the assumption that the city planned to help 15 percent of those on the SHA waiting list, rather than 15 percent of a smaller subset of 1,000 wait-listed people in need of housing. The fact that the city’s estimates for monthly subsidies are higher reflects the fact that the $2 million it plans to spend will only help a relatively small number of people.)

Quite a few council members questioned the wisdom of moving forward with a housing assistance program without identifying a long-term funding source (the $2 million is a one-time windfall from the sale of city property), and some wondered whether the city should be spending its limited resources on people who aren’t actually homeless, instead of, say, the 536 people on SHA’s waiting list who are either actually homeless or unstably housed.

“What I’m concerned about,” council member Lorena Gonzalez said, addressing staff for the mayor’s office and SHA, “is that we’ve identified a gap in the system and are proposing to address that gap in the system in a short-term fashion with a finite amount of resources. … I guess I don’t have a level of confidence that in two years, we will have patched the gap in the system that you have identified. So if that gap still exists, then there will be an expectation created” that the city will continue to fund the program, even though the money has all been spent. To think otherwise, Gonzalez added pointedly, is “really idealistic.”

It’s unclear what the council will do next Tuesday. Of seven council members at the table, four—Gonzalez, Lisa Herbold, Teresa Mosqueda, and Mike O’Brien—abstained from voting to move the allocation of the $2 million (part of an ordinance meant to accompany a separate bill authorizing the sale of the property for a total of $11 million) onto next Tuesday’s full council agenda. Because abstentions aren’t “no” votes, the measure passed, with Bruce Harrell, Sally Bagshaw, and Rob Johnson voting “yes.”

2. The progressive revenue task force, which has been meeting for the past two months after the failure of a proposed employee hours tax, or “head tax,” last year, will hold its final meeting at 9am on March 1 in the Bertha Knight Landes Room at City Hall. The group is expected to propose a new version of the EHT rejected by the council during last year’s budget process, which would have required businesses with more than $10 million in gross receipts to pay an annual tax of $125 per employee. The task force held its penultimate meeting yesterday morning.

3. ICYMI: Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, I was able to watch two simultaneous committee hearings—a meeting of the council’s planning, land use, and zoning (PLUZ) committee, to take comment on the city’s plans to upzone and require affordable housing in Northeast Seattle’s District Four, and a public hearing/rally against cuts to homeless shelters the city made last year—online. For about three hours, I whiplashed between a barrage of testimony against shelter cuts by council member Sawant’s army of invited supporters (as usual, she advertised her hearing with a “PACK CITY HALL!” invitation, turning what was ostensibly a council committee hearing into a standard Sawant protest rally) and public comments on zoning changes that ranged from earnest (the upzone, one speaker said, will allow “more neighbors to share the amenities” she already enjoys) to entitled (“I choose to live in Seattle,” a Wallingford homeowner said. “I like it. Other people want to live in Seattle too, and they want to take my spot”) to ridiculous (“It seems the department of planning has specifically targeted Wallingford for destruction of neighborhood character.”) If you missed the opportunity to follow along in real time (or if you just want to relive the whiplash) I’ve gathered my tweets in a Twitter Moment.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! 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. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Election 2017: Vindications and Repudiations

Y’all, I’ve been traipsing all over Europe on my trust fund for the last few weeks (note: A JOKE) and I came back just in time to see Seattle elect our first female mayor in nearly a century, Jenny Durkan, and the first 6-3 female majority on the city council since the 1990s. Meanwhile, King County  voters may have elected their second-ever female sheriff, if early returns hold and Mitzi Johanknecht defeats incumbent John Urquhart for that position. Pundits elsewhere were dubbing last night a “great night for women,” and it was, but let’s get a few more female mayors, sheriffs, council members, and state legislators (not to mention pay equity, affordable day care, and hiring parity) before we declare the glass ceiling shattered to dust.

On to the celebrations!

I arrived at council member-elect Teresa Mosqueda’s party at Optimism Brewing Company at around 7 last night and the mood was already ebullient, although some supporters I talked to were still gritting their teeth as they waited for the 8:15 results. They shouldn’t have worried: The first vote drop showed Mosqueda winning decisively with 61.51 percent of the vote (to Grant’s 38.49 percent)—a rout that turned the cavernous room into a veritable nerd mosh pit.

Council member Lorena Gonzalez, who also won decisively over neighborhood activist Pat Murakami last night, introduced Mosqueda to the stage, shouting no fewer than three times that Mosqueda won because “she gets shit done!” In response to the results, the Grant campaign sent out a tepid non-concession, holding out hope that the remaining ballots would somehow reverse a yawning 23-point gap. (I was told that the statement he made at his own election-night party, down in Hillman City, was more decisively a concession speech.) At any rate, Grant’s defeat showed that not only is an endorsement from the Democratic Socialists of America not a slam-dunk in Seattle (and that, in fact, it may be a liability), neither is an endorsement from the Seattle Times or the Stranger, both of which effusively supported Grant. (Although the two papers have decidedly different politics, they both backed Grant in large part because of his position on zoning and development—he opposed the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, which chips away at exclusionary Seattle zoning rules that restrict new housing to a small fraction of the city’s residential land, and supported punitive developer fees that would have contributed to Seattle’s housing shortage.)

Grant’s campaign was also hampered by charges that he had created a hostile work environment for women and people of color as head of the Tenants Union, and by persistent questions about why, if his campaign was truly about “giving a voice to the most marginalized,” he was running at all. Grant, who grew up on Bainbridge Island, is white; Mosqueda, who grew up in Olympia, is Mexican-American. Mosqueda, who was lambasted by Grant and his supporters for her support from labor unions, kept her job lobbying  for the rights of women, children, and workers in Olympia right through the end of the campaign, noting that she had to do so to pay her rent. (In addition to bein the third Latina on the council, Mosqueda will be the only renter.) Grant, in contrast, has been campaigning full-time since January, and lives in a house in South Seattle that was initially purchased for him by his parents after the previous owners lost their home to foreclosure. That class divide between the two candidates might not have been immediately apparent to the casual voter, but Grant’s insistence on portraying Mosqueda as an “establishment” candidate beholden to business and nefarious unions spurred Mosqueda to make Grant’s own more rarefied background an issue, and may have turned off voters initially inclined to support Grant because he purported to be the candidate of the people.

Speaking of which: Density was also a big winner last night, with HALA fan Jenny Durkan winning big (Moon, who touted urbanist values in front of urbanist audiences, was wishy-washy in front of neighborhood groups and on the citywide stage, proposing to start the HALA process over and let neighborhood groups have a larger say in the “character” and “culture” of their neighborhoods when deciding whether to let density in—as they did under “the great Jim Diers.”

Other takeaways from last night:

• Democracy vouchers and the Honest Elections initiative, once touted as a way to get money out of politics, have done nothing of the sort. Early on, both Grant and Mosqueda began filing requests to exceed the mandatory limits on contribution size and overall spending imposed by the 2015 initiative, and the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission promptly granted all their requests. Closer to Election Day, both candidates for city attorney—incumbent Pete Holmes and challenger Scott Lindsay—were also released from the initiative’s strictures. Mayoral candidates Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon didn’t have access to democracy vouchers (they’ll kick in for the mayor’s race in 2021), but it probably wouldn’t much matter—as of today, Durkan has raised a record-breaking $937,410 and is well on track to burst through the $1 million ceiling by the time late contributions come through, and Moon’s contributions, currently $347,734, will top $500,000 once she pays off her debts, which total $182,682. Unless the ethics commission has a dramatic change of heart, it’s unlikely that they’ll force mayoral candidates to abide by limits that they haven’t enforced on candidates for city council or city attorney.

Moreover: The Honest Elections initiative limits contributions to $500. Neither Moon nor Durkan had an average contribution close to that. Moon’s average contribution was $174, and Durkan’s was $234. Finally, both campaigns were heavily supported by funding that was outside the scope of the initiative: Durkan was backed by $727,139 in independent expenditures by a business-backed political action committee, People for Jenny Durkan, and Moon has spent $176,521 of her own money (so far) to self-fund her campaign, nearly as much as the $181,766 she received from 1,043 supporters. Until PAC spending is dealt with (unlikely, given the ruling in Citizens United that money is speech) or self-financing is banned (ditto), big money—whether from wealthy candidates or deep-pocketed donors—will continue to be a major factor in Seattle politics.

• The King County Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services levy, which King County Executive Dow Constantine and advocates for homeless residents argued should be even larger, passed so overwhelmingly that it’s tempting to second-guess the county council’s decision to play it safe with the ballot measure. As I’ve reported, Constantine initially proposed renewing the levy at 12 cents per $1,000, which would have added $9 to the typical property owner’s annual tax bill and funded an additional  $67 million in services over six years, but the county council rejected his proposal, arguing (among other things) that voters might be suffering from tax fatigue. Advocates for homeless services argued for an even higher rate, 15 cents, to extend services to the hardest to house. Last night’s results suggest that that council underplayed its hand in going with the lower, “compromise” rate.

• Outside Seattle: Manka Dhingra’s election to the (traditionally Republican) 45th District state senate seat solidifies the Democrats’ hold on both houses of the state legislature and is part of a wave of Democratic victories across the country, including in Virginia, Minnesota, and New Jersey. (Vox has a roundup of all of last night’s barrier-busting wins here.) In Bellevue, the results were a mixed bag: Supporters and opponents of a proposed men’s homeless shelter—which turned out to be a key issue in this year’s divisive council races—each one two council seats. Newcomer Jared Nieuwenhuis and incumbent Conrad Lee oppose the shelter, and newcomer Janice Zahn and incumbent Lynne Robinson support it. Down in Burien, where a slate of city council candidates calling themselves “Burien Proud Burien First” focused on Burien’s status as a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants, to races were still too close to call; in the other two, a conservative and progressive candidate have strong leads, according to KUOW, which reports that “Nearly a quarter of Burien’s population is Latino but none have ever been elected to City Council.”

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! 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 substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

The C Is for Crank General Election Endorsements

Mayor: Cary Moon

The 2017 election season began in earnest when former mayor Ed Murray, once considered a shoo-in for reelection, was felled by charges of sexual assault. Twenty-one people put their names in the running, and things have only gotten more interesting since then. For the first time in Seattle’s history, women came in first, second, third, and fourth, and you had to go all the way down to sixth place to find a white guy (former mayor Mike McGinn, for the record, at 6.5 percent). That’s amazing, but of course, it shouldn’t be—the fact that Seattle hasn’t elected a female mayor in nearly a century (and has never elected a woman to a full four-year term) is a sign of how far this “progressive” city has to go.

Perhaps predictably, there have been complaints from certain quarters that neither of the two women who made it onto the general election ballot—Cary Moon and Jenny Durkan—has the requisite “experience” or “gravitas” to be mayor. While it’s true that neither Moon nor Durkan has experience directly relevant to the job of mayor—neither has ever served in elective office, nor run an organization with thousands of employees—I think concerns about “experience” are overblown. Durkan has experience managing a US Attorney’s office with dozens of staffers and a complex portfolio, and is familiar with the way the city works from her time working on the historic consent decree between the US Department of Justice and the city; Moon has a long record as a civic activist working on land use and transportation issues in Seattle, most notably on the waterfront, where she fought against the downtown tunnel (and, for the record, was right). Either candidate will face a learning curve; both bring skills and knowledge that will serve them well as mayor of Seattle.

I’m endorsing Moon because her vision of Seattle is the Seattle I want to see—a Seattle where people of modest means can afford to live in city limits, where all parts of the city are accessible to all people via high-quality, high-frequency transit, and where solutions to homelessness don’t begin and end with market-based vouchers and punitive encampment sweeps. Homelessness is a go-home, bottom-line issue for the future of Seattle; the next mayor can choose to pursue half-measure solutions that only help a few people on the margins while pushing the rest from place to place while dozens more join their ranks every day; or she can go big, tackling Seattle’s homelessness problem like the crisis that it is.

Moon is best known for her work to stop the construction of the downtown waterfront tunnel, which she argued would do little to improve traffic flow through downtown while decimating the waterfront with a massive highway-like “boulevard” that cuts off the waterfront from the rest of downtown as surely as the elevated viaduct does today. Moon was right about that (and about the inevitability of cost overruns) and her vision for a car-lite waterfront remains the single most forward-thinking proposal for the future of downtown in the last 20 years. Although her idea for the waterfront was ahead of its time, the vision Moon showed back in 2004 demonstrates her capacity to think about the city at a 20,000-foot level, and—importantly—to prioritize people over automobiles. Her opponent has expressed general support for transit, sidewalks, and electric cars, but Moon’s record demonstrates a real commitment to, and understanding of, the fact that thriving 21st century cities cannot put cars—any kind of cars—first.

As the city grows at an astounding pace, we don’t have time for leaders who cater to narrow constituencies (like the aging minority of Seattle residents who own single-family homes) or spend their days rushing from crisis to crisis (sweeping homeless people from place to place to placate housed residents who would prefer that humanitarian crises happen somewhere else). When asked whether she would revisit the portions of the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda that preserve 1950s-style single-family zoning indefinitely, Durkan has been noncommittal, suggesting that HALA is the best we’re going to get; Moon has said she supports reopening single-family areas to row houses, townhomes, duplexes, and stacked flats, which is the bold plan that Murray abandoned as soon as he came under pressure. Both candidates are clearly committed to increasing density to accommodate population growth, but Moon will make pro-housing policies a priority.

More than any other issue, Seattle’s response to the homelessness crisis (and the separate but related addiction epidemic) will determine what kind of city we will be in the coming decades. Under Murray (and on the basis of two reports by out-of-town consultants), the city has pushed homelessness policy in the direction of “market-based,” “results-oriented” solutions that look good on paper but won’t pencil out in an expensive city where homelessness is directly tied to a lack of affordable housing. The city’s Pathways Home plan, which Durkan supports, assumes that a majority of homeless people will be able to go from living on the street to making a living wage within just a few months—an unrealistic plan that privileges the easiest-to-house while leaving people suffering from addiction, mental health issues, or simply long-term joblessness behind. Moon is the only candidate in any race who has zeroed in on this plan, criticizing its unrealistic promise to “permanently” house thousands with short-term housing vouchers.

At a time when Seattle is deciding what kind of 21st century city it wants to be, it needs a leader who can think in broad strokes, not one who promises more incremental changes. Moon has shown the capacity to be that kind of leader. More than Durkan, she has expressed broad support for big-picture solutions, and a healthy skepticism that the “free market” will solve problems like the lack of affordable housing for low-income and homeless individuals and families. She has also demonstrated a willingness to listen to people and perspectives that have historically had trouble getting a foot in the door at city hall, and—importantly—to reconsider her views when challenged with new information. Mike McGinn, the former mayor to whom Moon is often compared, had a fatal flaw—he didn’t listen. Moon listens, even to people with whom she disagrees. She’s collaborative, not combative, and driven not by ego but by a genuine desire to build a more inclusive city, even if that means listening to people with whom she disagrees.

Moon’s platform isn’t perfect, by any stretch. Her plan to expedite Sound Transit expansion by offering to extend loans to the agency is almost certainly unworkable and unaffordable. Her commitment to city-funded broadband, after study after study (and mayor after mayor) has failed to justify its expense, feels like pandering. She has continued to insist that Vancouver-style property speculation is a major driver of housing prices here despite evidence that this is not the case. And her commitment to “inclusiveness” and “collaboration” in city government could tip too far in the wrong direction—listening to stakeholders is important, but excessive stakeholder input is a major reason Seattle is stuck with a 1990s zoning code in 2017.

All mayors learn on the job. My hope is that, if elected, Moon will learn which of her campaign ideas are realistic and worth pursuing and which should be abandoned. If she achieves a fraction of the vision she has outlined, the city will be visibly changed for the better. I’m voting for that vision.

The C Is for Crank endorses Cary Moon.

City attorney: Pete Holmes

City attorney Pete Holmes has a long record of fighting for progressive causes. He defended protections for hotel workers against a lawsuit by their employers; ended the widespread practice of prosecuting drivers who lost their licenses (and often their cars and livelihoods) because they couldn’t pay their traffic fines; and reduced sentencing for minor crimes to protect undocumented immigrants from unjust deportation. He has also been deeply involved in the city’s efforts to counteract the Trump Administration’s efforts to crack down on progressive cities, defending Seattle’s status as a sanctuary city.

Holmes was active in the creation of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, which connects drug users with health care, human services, housing, and treatment instead of throwing them in jail for minor crimes, and has worked to reform laws against drugs and prostitution—most notably, by directing police to target sex buyers, not sex workers, in prostitution stings. He was an early, vocal leader on drug reform, working to pass I-502, which legalized recreational pot, while leading a crackdown on shady (and illegal) “medical” dispensaries and home-delivery services that gave the legal weed industry a bad name. And he has led on police reform, navigating a tricky process in a way that has, at times, angered both the police union (which has opposed efforts to impose additional oversight on its members) and some police reformers (who want the power to reject or approve contracts and to hire and fire the chief of police.)

Holmes’ opponent Scott Lindsay, a former public-safety advisor ex-mayor Ed Murray, has shown a troubling affinity for law-and-order approaches to the problem of homelessness and downtown “disorder” (a Rudy Giuliani-style dog whistle if ever there was one). Earlier this year, Lindsay leaked legislation sponsored by council member Mike O’Brien that would have provided additional protections for homeless people living in their vehicles, in a transparent effort to torpedo the proposal. Lindsay’s willingness to violate city officials’ trust for political ends speaks to a lack of judgment that’s concerning in a candidate for a job that requires strict attorney-client privilege. Lindsay raises concerns about declining prosecutions for domestic violence that appear to be legitimate, but it’s hard to know whether to believe him when, for example, he also claimed recently that Seattle has the highest property crime in the country, an alarmist assertion that turned out to be misleading. (Holmes disputes Lindsay’s interpretation of the domestic-violence numbers). Lindsay has also exaggerated the impact of the Navigation Teams (groups of police and social-service workers who do outreach to homeless people living in unauthorized encampments) and suggested that homeless people are far more likely to commit crimes than data suggests—a disturbing tendency toward alarmism for someone seeking an office where measured realism is a far more important quality than the ability to rally a reactionary base.

Holmes could be more active on certain issues, like expanding LEAD to the rest of the city and promoting restorative justice for people accused of low-level crimes. However,  sometimes a steady hand is better than an itchy trigger finger. The C Is for Crank endorses Pete Holmes. 

City Council Position 8: Teresa Mosqueda

The C Is for Crank stands by its endorsement of Teresa Mosqueda, a longtime labor leader who has spent her entire career fighting for workers, women, children, and other marginalized people. Back in July, I wrote,

As the campaign chairwoman for Raise Up Washington, Mosqueda helped draft and lead the successful campaign last year for Initiative 1433, which increases the statewide minimum wage to $13.50 an hour and requires employers to provide paid sick leave. As legislative director for the Children’s Alliance, she fought for implementation of Apple Health for Kids, the state’s Medicaid program. And as campaign director for the Washington State Labor Council, she was deeply involved in this year’s paid family leave negotiations, which resulted in a bill that will provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for workers who take time off to care for a new or newly adopted child, to recover from a serious illness, or to take care of a sick family member. Mosqueda continued to work on family leave even after she declared her candidacy—a reflection both of her strong commitment to women and families and the fact that she, unlike some of her opponents, can’t afford to quit her job to run for office full-time. If she wins, she’ll also be the only renter on the city council. (No wonder the Seattle Times didn’t endorse her.)

Much of Mosqueda’s work has been behind the scenes—the kind of efforts that tend to go unnoticed but have lasting and important consequences. As the head of the state’s largest health care advocacy coalition, the Healthy Washington Coalition, Mosqueda served on the state’s health insurance exchange board, where she fought to require insurance companies to disclose what services they provide, including reproductive health care. She also insisted that the state of Washington provide information about voter registration to people buying plans on the exchange, an ACA requirement the state tried to circumvent. These issues aren’t flashy. They don’t make headlines. But they matter.

The C Is for Crank endorses Teresa Mosqueda.

Seattle City Council Position 9: Lorena Gonzalez

Image result for lorena gonzalez seattle

Lorena Gonzalez, the capable head of the city’s public safety committee, a leader on gender equity issues on the council, and the first council member to publicly call on former mayor Ed Murray to step down, is being challenged by Pat Murakami, a Mount Baker neighborhood activist who has spent decades fighting against density and light rail in the South End. The choice in this race is obvious. If you’d like to learn more about  Gonzalez’s record and plans for her first full four-year term on the council, I encourage you to read my interview with her from earlier this year, where we discussed a wide range of issues, including displacement, homelessness, and police accountability. And then vote for Lorena Gonzalez.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! 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 substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: Mayor Gonzalez?

1. City council president Bruce Harrell took the oath of office as Seattle’s emergency mayor yesterday (OK, real mayor, but only for another two and a half months max), promising to announce by today whether he will continue to serve as mayor until voters elect a successor to former mayor Ed Murray, who resigned this week after a fifth man accused him of sexual assault. .

The stakes for Harrell are high, although perhaps not as high as you might think: Although serving as mayor until the election results are certified at the end of November would require Harrell to give up his council seat, rumors have swirled since his most recent election in 2015 that this term, Harrell’s third, would be his last. Harrell ran for mayor and lost in the primary in 2013, so remaining as mayor would give Harrell a short-lived opportunity to serve in the position he lost to Murray four years ago.

If Harrell does stay on as mayor, Lorena Gonzalez would be next in the (informal) line of succession for council president. If he decides to return to the council, the council would choose another council member to serve as mayor. While Tim Burgess is an obvious choice—he’s stepping down this year, to be replaced in January by either Jon Grant or Teresa Mosqueda—the fact that Burgess chairs the council’s budget committee inserts a political wrinkle into the decision. If Burgess becomes mayor, the chairmanship of the budget committee would pass to council freshman Lisa Herbold—a member of the council’s left flank who might be more inclined than the centrist Burgess to tinker with Murray’s budget to reflect more left-leaning priorities (like, say, reducing the emphasis on rapid rehousing in the Human Services Department’s budget).

So who does that leave? Gonzalez, who was the first council member to call on Murray to resign, appears to be the next in line. She’s running for reelection this year, and assuming she wins, would be able to go right back to being a council member when the results are certified in November

Harrell has said he will make his decision before 5:00 this afternoon.

2. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission dismissed a complaint by one of the losing candidates in the August primary election against Seattle City Council Position 9 incumbent Lorena Gonzalez. That complaint alleged that Gonzalez had deliberately misled the commission about how many open debates she had participated in before the primary and demanded that the commission fine her and force her to  return all the money she has received from voters in the form of “democracy vouchers.”

“If the Commission terminates the candidate’s participation in the Program, it will invalidate the choice of the more than 2,100 residents to date who have assigned their vouchers to Councilmember González,” commission director Wayne Barnett wrote in his recommendation to the commission. “The Program exists to empower residents to participate in elections in ways they have not been involved in the past. The Commission should be cautious about exercising the ‘nuclear option’ in a way that disserves one of the primary goals of the Program.”

Although the commission ruled against Gonzalez’ erstwhile opponent, Barnett’s recommendation letter raises interesting questions about the breadth of the initiative that instituted public financing of local elections, and could have implications for what campaign forums look like in the future.

The democracy voucher program requires any council candidate seeking voucher funding to participate in at least three forums at each stage of the election (primary and general) to which all candidates have been invited to participate. The complaint argued that because the losing candidate was not invited to some of the forums Gonzalez listed as qualifying events (including a “women of color” forum), she should have to return all her vouchers. This interpretation could require candidates to figure out who was invited to every potentially qualifying event they attend. Or it could mean that every single candidate must be invited to every debate, regardless of whether they are viable. In the mayor’s race, Barnett points out, that would have meant that every debate could have included all 21 people who filed for the position, including “Nazi shitheads” screamer Alex Tsimerman—a prospect that would have rendered the debates more or less useless for people hoping to learn anything about any of the six candidates who were actually viable.

3. Some people just can’t take a joke. And some people just can’t get a joke—even when you explain it to them. Case in point: Last week, I ran an item about a going-away gift from the mayor’s staff to longtime City Hall staffer (and Murray chief of staff) Mike Fong—a giant fake check for $3.5 million made out to the “Michael Fong Community Health Engagement Location.” (CHEL is bureaucratic code for supervised drug consumption sites.) As I wrote at the time, “The joke, concocted by Murray’s comms director Benton Strong, is a little obscure.”

Too obscure, apparently, for Neighborhood Safety Alliance member Jennifer Aspelund, who filed a records request on Friday, September 8 seeking “any monies allocated for Michael Fong community health engagement location center and any discussion of such center.”

The city’s response? “This location center does not exist; therefore, the Mayor’s office or any other departments do not have any responsive records.”

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! 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 substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Lorena Gonzalez

Incumbent city council member Lorena Gonzalez may have only been on the council for two years, but she has already made her mark as head of the council’s public safety and gender equity committee, which has spent the past five years, give or take, overseeing the implementation of police reforms in the city. (In 2012, the US Department of Justice ordered the Seattle Police Department to implement reforms to curb excessive force and racially biased policing, and a US district judge has refused to release the city from the consent decree until he is satisfied that the city is in compliance). Gonzalez, a civil rights attorney who was Mayor Ed Murray’s chief counsel before running for council in 2015, was the first council member to call on Murray to resign after the Seattle Times reported on records related to the sex-abuse case against him in Oregon, where a child-welfare investigator concluded that Murray had sexually abused his foster son in 1984.

I sat down with Gonzalez late last month at Uptown Espresso in West Seattle.

Image result for lorena gonzalez seattle

The C Is For Crank [ECB]: You were first council member to call for Murray to step down. How do you feel about that decision now?

LG: I feel as strongly today as I did then about needing to take a very strong moral position that the mayor should step down. It was hard for me to realize that I would be standing alone on that for quite some time, and I’m okay with that, because it was the right thing to do. I will always choose the side of survivors, and so if I could go back, I would do it all again.

ECB: I assume it’s damaged your relationship with the 7th floor.

LG: (Laughs.) I think I have had the great benefit of having really strong relationships with a lot of the mayor’s staff because they’re former coworkers and colleagues of mine, and I continue to work collaboratively with a lot of my former colleagues on the 7th floor to get done what we need to finish getting done. That being said, the mayor and I have not personally communicated since my announcement.

ECB: That must be hard, since you worked with him so closely in the past.

LG: This whole thing is hard because of that. He’s somebody that I respected. He’s somebody that I trusted. He’s somebody who motivated me enough to leave a ten-year-long career doing civil rights work and sexual survivor advocacy work that I really fundamentally believed in and loved. And personally, it was difficult for me to process and accept that the what I saw in the investigation file from Oregon was true. So that was very personally difficult to reconcile all that.

ECB: The city has made progress on police reform, but there are still gaps and calls for reform. What additional efforts would you like to see on police accountability and reform?

LG: I actually think we have made significant strides, but that doesn’t mean that we are close to being there yet, whatever ‘there’ is. The reality is that the [police accountability] ordinance that I sponsored, that was approved by unanimously by the council in May of 2017, hasn’t been implemented yet. And it hasn’t been implemented yet because we haven’t been able to convince the federal court to allow us to move forward with the ordinance, and part of that is because [federal district judge James Robart] has legitimate concerns around the powers that our police union holds in the collective bargaining process. And until we are able to convince the judge that we are willing to prioritize constitutional policing above all else, even in the collective bargaining process, then we will continue to be in  a place where this ordinance is in limbo and where some of the huge significant policy changes that are reflected in the ordinance won’t be implemented until we convince the judge that we’re willing to hold the line.

“I feel as strongly today as I did then about needing to take a very strong moral position that the mayor should step down. It was hard for me to realize that I would be standing alone on that for quite some time, and I’m okay with that, because it was the right thing to do. I will always choose the side of survivors, and so if I could go back, I would do it all again.”

ECB: Some reform proponents have suggested that police union negotiations be held in public. Why do you oppose that idea?

LG: I think that that’s a fundamentally anti-labor position. The reality is that the state really does dictate what the rules are around collective bargaining, and we as a city are beholden to those rules. I think what we have historically seen in the city of Seattle is that our agreed-upon system of accountability and discipline has historically been eroded in the collective bargaining process. So I think for me, what is more important is how do we engage in collective bargaining with unions where we make sure that there is no backsliding on the intent and purpose that we’re trying to accomplish through our legislation.

Something that I think could be incredibly powerful in that context, that has been suggested by people like retired judge Anne Levinson, is the idea of having a special monitor in the labor negotiation processes that would just be focused on tracking whether or not the proposed parameters or a final tentative labor agreement have caused some backsliding on what the actual intent and purpose is, as reflected in the police accountability legislation.  I think that level of technical assistance provides more real information about whether or not there’s backsliding than just allowing sort of people who might not understand the intricacies of these policies to speculate as to whether or not they’re working.

ECB: Would part of the aim of creating a monitor position be to satisfy the objections of people who want to give the CPC more authority over things like hiring and firing the police chief and instigating investigations?

LG: I think we’ve empowered the Community Police Commission to the extent that they want to be empowered.  The CPC did not ask for a system that doesn’t look like what it looks like now. They asked to have the role that they currently have in this version of the ordinance. They did not ask for the power to fire the chief. They did not ask for the ability to discipline or do individual investigations. And they fundamentally wanted to stay focused on, how can we create a table of community leaders and members who would have the power and ability to do systemic review and make fundamental recommendations to change those systems if the system becomes unhealthy. And that’s what they decided as a democratic body to advocate for in this legislation, and that’s what’s reflected in the legislation.

ECB: Given that we’ll have a new mayor next year,  I wondered if there’s any part of HALA that you would want to revisit once Murray is out of office.

LG: I’d like to spend more time thinking about displacement tools. A lot of times, people think the mandatory housing affordability program is an anti-displacement tool, but in reality, it really is designed to increase the stock of affordable housing for people of a certain income. It’s not the very low or extremely low-income folks. And so I do think there’s an opportunity for city council to really step into the anti-displacement arena.

“The CPC did not ask for a system that doesn’t look like what it looks like now. They asked to have the role that they currently have in this version of the ordinance. They did not ask for the power to fire the chief. They did not ask for the ability to discipline or do individual investigations.”

I continue to be really interested in having the conversations around opening up more of our single-family zones to multifamily housing. And it’s obviously a very delicate conversation to have, and it’s delicate for a variety of reasons. But just because it’s a tough conversation doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have it. And we should explore best practices in terms of how we can best engage the community and how we can pilot at least a version of what I think there is interest in doing.

ECB: Given how controversial the mandatory housing affordability (MHA) program was at first, it’s been interesting to watch the council pass every upzone unanimously.

LG: But it’s because it’s in urban villages.

ECB: Right—the problem is that we have single-family zones where you can’t even build a duplex. Were you disappointed when Murray pulled back on opening up single-family zones to more types of development so quickly?

LG: I think it’s fair to say that I wish we could have had more of an opportunity to really see how the conversation could have unfolded. These conversations are really tough, right, because we’re talking about fundamentally changing parts  of the city that have never had to change, so I think we could have potentially benefited from allowing the city and its residents more time to have that public conversation.

ECB: How do you think the mayor’s navigation teams have been performing, in terms of getting people in tents into safer shelter as well as into permanent housing?

LG: I think it’s better than what we had before. I will say that I share concerns about having the Office for Civil Rights being effectively the auditor of how that outreach is occurring around the encampment conversation as a whole, which is where these navigation teams are being used primarily. The Office for Civil Rights has an inherent conflict because they are a department of the executive and it’s a very small office, and I just don’t know how a small office like that could reconcile that conflict of interest and be a true independent auditor.

ECB: How would you resolve that conflict?

LG: I think that the Office for Civil Rights should be its own independent office that has stand-alone authority, similar to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission and hopefully someday soon similar to the Community Police Commission, or to shift that work to the city auditor’s office. I’m not sure that there is any other way to ensure that that work isn’t being unduly influenced by the political will of the executive.

 

“I think that impounding somebody’s vehicle as a result of unpaid fines and tickets is not helping our homelessness situation.”

 

ECB: Mike O’Brien has proposed creating a new program where people living in cars and RVs could get immunity from tickets in exchange for accepting services. Is that approach something you’ll support?

LG: Council member O’Brien’s approach is one that makes some sense to me in terms of requiring people to sign up to be part of this registration program. And that would allow outreach workers to know exactly where you’re at, and it also requires you as a person who’s camping to commit to be engaged in service efforts. So I think that that component of give and take is an important one, and it imposes a responsibility on campers that doesn’t currently exist.

I think that impounding somebody’s vehicle as a result of unpaid fines and tickets is not helping our homelessness situation. That, to me, is not a harm reduction approach to the situation. The only thing that we gain by continuing to tack on legal fees that lead to an impoundment is moving people from camping in cars to camping outside and I don’t think that that’s what any of us want. I think the big, tough question will be, how do we administer it? How do we fund this program? And at this point we don’t know what the funding would be. And is that how we should be using our funds in the context of also shifting towards upping our investments in permanent supportive housing?

 

ECB: When the Poppe Report on homelessness came out and the city started moving away from transitional housing in favor of a rapid rehousing approach, you expressed concern that domestic violence victims and others who currently use transitional housing might be shut out in the new housing-voucher-based system. Do you still have those concerns?

LG: I will continue to track that particular issue. I had heard from the Human Services Department that that is a question of prioritization of the funds and have been assured that those individuals—families and survivors—are at the top of the priority list, as some of the most vulnerable populations within a vulnerable population.

ECB: How did you feel when the Seattle Times endorsed your opponent, Pat Murakami?

LG: Oh gosh—it was really disappointing to me, and on a professional level, it felt more like a referendum on the entire  city council, on the work that we have been doing over the last two years. And I accept the fact that I am the only incumbent running for reelection in the city government besides the city attorney, but it really just felt like there was an unloading of sorts that needed to happen, and I was going to be the person who was going got be on the receiving end of that. I think it’s unfortunate, because I do believe that the city is moving in the right direction, and I think that that is in part because of the leadership that the city council has provide over the last two years. I think that, at the end of the day, my primary election results show that people are still happy with the work that I’m doing on the city council and with the direction of the city.

Quick PSA: If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue doing interviews like this one, which take an average of about 8-10 hours from start to finish). This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers like you. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.