HSD Director Nomination Stalls Out; Library Levy Moves Forward

1. The nomination process for interim Human Services Department director Jason Johnson appears to be stalled due to a lack of support from city council members, who have the final say on mayoral department director nominations. It’s unclear whether or when the city council will revive the confirmation hearings.

Last week, council member Sally Bagshaw canceled a scheduled meeting of the council’s select committee on homelessness and housing affordability, which included consideration of Johnson’s nomination, and has not rescheduled it. Some council members were reportedly unsatisfied with Johnson’s responses to their questions about inclusivity, Johnson’s personal commitment to race and social justice, independence, and his vision for the department.

Mayor Jenny Durkan has been criticized by HSD’s own internal Change Team (which leads the department’s implementation of the Race and Social Justice Initiative), as well as the Seattle Silence Breakers and the Seattle Human Services Coalition, for nominating Johnson without a “transparent and inclusive process” for selecting a new HSD leader. Earlier this year, city council member Kshama Sawant proposed a resolution to halt Johnson’s nomination and start a new search for a new HSD director. That resolution failed, with Sawant, Mike O’Brien, and Teresa Mosqueda casting the dissenting votes. But concerns about the process and about whether Johnson is the right person for the job seem to have grown since the council began holding hearings in March.

At the most recent committee meeting, on March 28, Johnson attributed the results of a survey showing widespread dissatisfaction among HSD employees, particularly those in the homelessness division, to the “instability” and “immense change” that comes with every new mayoral administration. Johnson also responded to questions about whether he’d be “independent” from Durkan—first saying that the department always employs “evidence-based strategies,” then acknowledging that he wouldn’t say it’s “my way or the highway” if Durkan disagreed with his recommendations on an issue. Council president Bruce Harrell then asked Johnson if he had considered the ways in which white privilege had greased his path to the nomination. Johnson said yes, he was aware “that I was going to have a much easier time” than his African-American predecessor, Catherine Lester, then noted that Lester  “brought me to this organization and… when she resigned and was talking about next steps, offer[ed] her full confidence in my abilities to the mayor.”

Mayor Durkan’s office declined to answer questions about the nomination process or the reason for the delay. They also repeatedly requested the names of specific council members opposed to Johnson’s nomination.

An audit earlier this year concluded that HSD is not doing enough to coordinate the efforts of the agencies that do outreach to unsheltered people; has failed to identify and prioritize people who have recently become homeless for the first time; does not provide nearly enough restrooms or showers for the thousands of people sleeping  outdoors throughout the city; and does not have a good system in place for evaluating the success of the city’s response to homelessness. (Last year, the city and county announced plans to create a new, merged agency to address homelessness, which could help address concerns about coordination; at the same time, the lack of certainty around what that agency will look like, and where current HSD employees will fit in the new structure, has likely contributed to low morale in HSD’s homelessness division.)

It’s unclear exactly how many council members would vote against Johnson if his nomination came up for a vote today (Sawant, of course, looks like a pretty hard no), but sources inside and outside city hall say that he does not currently have the votes to secure the permanent appointment. Johnson has served on an interim basis for nearly a year—a fact to which Durkan has pointed as evidence that he’s qualified for the permanent position.

Bagshaw, who would have to reconvene the committee to revive the nomination process, said she had no comment “yet” about the nomination, and other council members declined to speak on the record.

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2. The council added several million dollars to Durkan’s proposed $213 million library levy Wednesday and moved it one step closer to the ballot. The special committee on the library levy adopted the proposal after adding amendments that will, if the levy passes, expand the bilingual “Play and Learn” early-literacy program ($2.1 million); keep branch libraries, but not the downtown library, open an additional hour every day ($2.5 million); and add a youth services support social worker and a part-time case worker to do outreach to library patrons experiencing homelessness ($1.1 million). A couple of amendments that didn’t make it into the legislation: A study that would look into the feasibility of locating child-care facilities at library branches, and funding for two additional security officers.

The levy proposal goes to the full council next Monday, April 22.

For the basics on the levy, which would add library hours and eliminate library fines, check out my primer at Seattle magazine.

Golf Revenues Remain On Downward Trajectory, Raising Questions About Sustainability

A new report on Seattle’s municipal golf courses by three consultants (Lund, Scanlan, and Cocker Fennessy) concludes that none of the city-owned golf courses—Jefferson Park, Jackson Park, Interbay, and West Seattle—is sustainable without ongoing subsidies, and that all four courses have significant deferred maintenance needs, totaling more than $36 million. Under each of four scenarios the consultants considered, the golf courses, which collectively occupy 528 acres of city-owned land, will continue to lose money—between $4.1 million to $8.4 million a year by 2027. In 2017, the city spent about $8.4 million to operate and maintain the courses, or about 54 percent of their total cost (the rest is funded through fees, merchandise, and restaurant sales.) The city paid just over $104,000 for the study.

Chelsea Kellogg, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office, said the city will analyze “long-term models to see the financial sustainability of the courses.” At the same time, she said, the Parks Department, “working with other departments, will also begin to explore a range of potential options for these City-owned properties, which could include continuing these outdoor recreation facilities or other potential uses such as adding additional parks and green space, or creating affordable commercial space and housing.”

Since 2006, city policy has called for the golf courses to be self-sufficient, paying for all their own capital and operating costs and contributing 3.5 percent of their revenues—later increased to 5 percent—to the city’s Park Fund.

The report lays out a number of financial options to reduce the golf courses’ losses. They include: Reducing or eliminating the golf program’s ongoing contributions to the city’s Park Fund; increasing user fees; and farming out maintenance to a private vendor, which would reduce labor costs. Two of the four scenarios in the report also involve issuing bonds to pay for deferred maintenance, which would add annual debt service of up to $3.3 million a year to the cost of the program. The argument for doing this work now, according to the report, is that improving the courses and making them safer will make them more popular with golfers; for example, the nets at the Interbay driving range are too low for people to use clubs with long-ball flights, because of the risk of balls flying into the nearby Seattle Pacific University playing fields. “This is a significant safety liability and also a lost revenue opportunity,” the report says.

Promising projection or misguided optimism? Report predicts a total reversal of the trend of declining interest in golf.

Last year, the city budget moved about half a million dollars from the parks department into the city’s capital budget to help keep the golf courses afloat. At the time, budget director Ben Noble suggested that one reason for shrinking golf revenues is that “golf just isn’t as popular as it used to be.” The report released last week affirms this conclusion—showing that the total number of rounds declined from 242,868 in 2013 to 206,010 in 2017, and that in the Seattle metropolitan area, golfers play about 12 percent fewer rounds per capita than the national average. (Jackson Park, in North Seattle, and Jefferson Park, on Beacon Hill, both had about 22 percent fewer rounds in 2017 than in 2013.)  According to a 2017 survey by EMC Research, about 13 percent of Seattle residents use the golf courses at least twice a year; in that same survey, however, respondents overwhelmingly named golf as their lowest parks spending priority.

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In spite of the downward trend in golfing in Seattle, the report projects that golf rounds will rebound dramatically between 2019 and 2020, spiking 4 percent “when full course play resumes at Jefferson following capital improvements to repair damaged holes.” Overall, the report projects that the number of rounds played will increase, on average, increase 1 percent a year between now and 2027.

The report, which includes comments from a list of 60-plus “stakeholder” in the golfing community, acknowledges that golf is widely considered an “elitist” sport, but attributes this to the fact that private golf courses and country clubs are expensive and exclusive. “If the City does not offer golf as a recreational opportunity, golf will indeed be limited to only those who can afford private or privately-owned public courses where fees are substantially higher than those charged at the City’s four municipal golf courses. In addition to direct cost of fees, players would need to travel outside of the City to find a course.”

These numbers, which use widely varying age ranges, indicate that the only course where a majority of patrons are under 50 is the Interbay Golf Center, which has a 9-hole course, a driving range, and a mini-golf course.

One reason for the perception that golf is elitist and expensive that the report does not mention is that although it is—as the report puts it—”open to all,” golfers must either invest in and transport their own equipment or rent it on-site, which adds significant costs—golf clubs, for example, cost $20 a round. That’s on top of fees of $33.75 per round for adults ($38 on weekends). The report recommends that the city consider a new fee for a maintenance fund at each golf course, while noting that raising fees “runs counter to providing access to lower income people,” and that the more discount programs the golf courses offer to schools, youth groups, and off-peak players, the more revenue they lose.

The city has limited demographic information about who uses its golf courses. They do know that the participation rate among women, at 10-17 percent, is lower than the national average of 24 percent, and that participation among people under 50 is well below 50 percent at all of the 18-hole courses. At the Interbay Golf Center, which has 9 holes and includes a driving range and mini-golf course, 53 percent of patrons are under 50.  According to the report, however, “There is no data available regarding minority participation rates at Seattle public golf courses.” The report suggests increasing marketing to women and people of color, tracking golfer demographics, and “enhanc[ing] the clubhouse experience to be welcoming to all, including non-golfers.”

Golf in Seattle remains an overwhelmingly male sport.

Affordable-housing proponents have suggested closing down at least one of the city’s golf courses and using the land to develop new affordable housing. Last year, then-parks director Christopher Williams said, “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.” Another potential obstacle to the affordable-housing plan is that golf courses count as part of the city’s public green space, so that closing even the smallest golf course, the Interbay Golf Center, would represent a loss of 52 acres of “public” parkland.

Durkan’s office says they’re open to the idea. “As we weigh options for the future of the City of Seattle’s four golf courses, Mayor Durkan believes we have an opportunity to examine our golf courses with the goals of supporting our parks and green space, addressing affordability and meeting our racial equity goals as we build a city of the future.”

“The Mayor Does Not Care About Bikes”: Advocates United In Opposition to Bike Plan Cuts

Bike advocates Apu Mishra and Tamara Schmautz symbolically shred the city’s bike master plan in council chambers Tuesday.

The fiery debate over Mayor Durkan’s proposal to dramatically reduce the scope of the city’s planned bike network, often in ways that directly contradict the recommendations of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board, showed no signs of abating Wednesday, as bike board members expressed their frustration directly to new Seattle Department of Transportation director Sam Zimbabwe and deputy mayor Shefali Ranganathan at their monthly meeting.

SDOT released its latest Bike Master Plan update a few minutes after 5:00 last Friday evening. Besides lowering the total number of miles of bike facilities, it de-emphasizes protected bike lanes on arterial streets (the current gold standard for safety and rider usability) in favor of neighborhood greenways (typically sharrows—markings on the shared roadway— and speed bumps on slower streets that are typically several blocks away from destinations). The new plan also eliminates a number of connections between underserved neighborhoods in Southeast and Southwest Seattle and downtown, including a planned protected bike lane between 12th Ave. South between South Charles Street and Yesler, where a cyclist was hit by a car just last week. That project was one of about a dozen that seem to have simply vanished from the plan since its most recent iterationin 2017, without any explanation in the update.

“Simply adding projects back … without saying, ‘Here are the things that we’re willing to give up that are not on the funded list’—right now, it’s not going to help us get to a final list if it’s all adds and no subtracts.” — SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe

Ranganathan and Zimbabwe attempted to reframe the cuts as the mayor’s attempt to rightsize a bloated plan as part of the Move Seattle levy “reset,” which cut back on levy-funded transportation projects of all kinds in response to lower-than-anticipated grant funding and cost estimates that the mayor’s office maintains were unrealistic. “It was really important for her and the department to rebuild public trust [and] to put together what we think is SDOT’s best estimate of what we should build,” Ranganathan said. The deputy mayor, who previously led the Transportation Choices Coalition, also maintained that the Durkan administration wanted to shift the emphasis from “miles” of bike facilities to “connections” between destinations, implying that previous administrations had focused mostly on mileage and that Durkan’s would not. (Insert “hmm” emoji here.) Bike board members have pointed out that many of the projects erroneously marked “SBAB removed” in the bike plan update were actually among the board’s top priorities. “You say you want to listen to the community,” said former bike board chair Casey Gifford, whom Durkan abruptly dismissed last year. “SBAB is designed to advise… but hardly any of the recommendations that were made were incorporated into the plan.” SDOT and the mayor’s office have both apologized for the suggestion that the projects were removed by the bike board, saying it was an oversight. However, this represents a significant shifting of the goalposts—just four days ago, mayoral spokesman Mark Prentice told me that the designation referred to “projects that SBAB opted not to prioritize. This does not mean that SDOT and SBAB do not consider these worthy projects, but just that based on resources and preferred connections, these did not rise to the top of the list.”

“I don’t think there’s a lot of confidence from this board or from the advocacy community generally that when projects are politically challenging …that we are going to keep those commitments.” —Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board co-chair Emily Paine

Zimbabwe said that the bike advocates would have more luck getting their priority projects added back into the plan if they also came up with a list of projects that could be cut.  “Simply adding projects back … without saying, ‘Here are the things that we’re willing to give up that are not on the funded list’—right now, it’s not going to help us get to a final list if it’s all adds and no subtracts,” Zimbabwe said. That comment prompted a round of responses from the board that could be summarized by board member Patrick Taylor’s comment that “we’re being thrown under the bus a bit. When we went through the process we were not told the costs” or that they should keep costs in mind when making their recommendations. “I have in my head a whole bunch of little data points that say the mayor does not care about bikes,” Taylor added, “and the only data point I have that says that she does is and Sam and other people telling me that.”

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If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Durkan, SDOT Get an Earful from Advocates About Proposed Bike Plan Cuts

Dozens of bike safety advocates lined up in city council chambers this afternoon to express their frustration at a Bicycle Master Plan update from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Seattle Department of Transportation that eliminates dozens of projects, replaces planned protected bike lanes with neighborhood greenways on distant, often hilly, parallel streets, and gives especially short shrift to neighborhoods in Southeast Seattle, where two of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board’s top-priority projects, on Rainier Ave. S and Beacon Ave. S, have been cut. Just prior to the meeting, the advocates held a rally and press conference in the lobby of City Hall, where council members Teresa Mosqueda and Mike O’Brien joined them in condemning the cuts.

Last year, SDOT announced significant cuts to many of the projects included in the $930 million Move Seattle levy, to reflect reduced federal funding and higher cost estimates for some projects.Meg Wade, from the climate action group 350 Seattle, talked about the abuse she has received from drivers as a queer cyclist and pedestrian. “I have been called a cunt; I have been called a bitch taking up too much space on the road; I have stepped into a crosswalk and asked a driver to move their car and been told ‘I am sick of you people’ I have been told ‘Fucking get out of my way.’ What this says is, it is okay for the harassment to continue.” Wade continued, her voice shaking: “It is astonishing to me that the mayor, who comes out of the gay community, would not understand that saying… ‘Go hide out of the public vision; get out of our public spaces’—that she wouldn’t understand the similarities” between anti-LGBT harassment and harassment of cyclists.

“Working-class people, middle-class people, families with little children, elderly individuals, community members—all of them have spoken [against the cuts]. When the mayor says it’s about community engagement, it’s about public feedback—well, whose feedback are you actually listening to?”

Immediately after Wade spoke, two cyclists, Apu Mishra and Tamara Schmautz, stood up to dramatically “mourn the loss” of three plans previously adopted by the city—the Bicycle Master Plan, the Climate Action Plan, and the Complete Streets—by destroying copies of each document in a hand-cranked portable shredder.

Members of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, including its current co-chair, Emily Paine, expressed dismay that the plan labeled 13 of the eliminated projects “SBAB removed,” implying that the bike board had recommended those projects for removal. Some of those projects, Paine said, were not only “not recommended by SBAB to be removed,” they “were actually given our highest endorsement,” including a protected bike lane on Beacon Hill and a PBL on Rainier Avenue South.

SDOT attempted to walk back the “SBAB removed” designation on Tuesday, calling it an inadvertent error and apologizing for the confusion. (SDOT traffic engineer Monica DeWald said, “We should have rephrased that to ‘SBAB prioritized but funding limited,’ just so we sent the message that it was still an SBAB top priority but we just didn’t have the funding.”) But agency staffers were undoubtedly aware that the list of cuts included some of the bike board’s top priorities when they came up with the list. In an email to bike board members and SDOT staff, including DeWald, from last November, SDOT senior transportation planner Serena Lehman compiled a list of the board’s top priorities, which included both the Beacon Avenue and Rainier Ave. bike lanes. SDOT has not elaborated on why these two top-priority projects have been cut other than to say that the city doesn’t have the money to build them.

Bike board members also expressed concern Tuesday that SDOT has designated about half of all the bike projects that are scheduled for completion between 2019 and 2024 projects as having high levels of “risk,” which they worried might provide cover to remove them from the plan.  “A pattern has emerged in this administration of delaying and eliminating bike lanes that prove challenging or controversial,” bike board member Patrick Taylor said. “When I look at the implementation plan, I see most of the projects listed as ‘risky,’ which in an administration that does not have the gumption to follow through with projects designated as challenging, I view as concerning.”

“Our perception on the Bike Advisory Board is that this administration does not care what we think, and that when we send letters, we might as well send them as a paper airplane.”

Council members, including O’Brien, committee chairman Rob Johnson, and Kshama Sawant, expressed frustration that the mayor had rolled the bike plan back so dramatically. Sawant, who has not historically been among the council’s most vocal bike advocates, was particularly vociferous, arguing that it was “meaningless” for SDOT staffers to tout the city’s progress on bike infrastructure “at the same time that the mayor’s office and SDOT leadership has dealt a significant blow to the whole plan. … Working-class people, middle-class people, families with little children, elderly individuals, community members—all of them have spoken [against the cuts], Sawant said. “So I don’t really understand. When the mayor … says it’s about community engagement, it’s about public feedback—well, whose feedback are you actually listening to?” Sawant’s comments were a rebuke to activists who helped defeat a long-planned protected bike lane on 35th Ave. NE, who argued that only “privileged” white people ride bikes or care about safe bike infrastructure.

Members of the Move Seattle Levy Oversight Committee hit on many of the same themes at their monthly meeting Tuesday night, and discussed issuing formal recommendations to the council in response to the scaled-back plan. Committee  member Joseph Laubach, who noted that the new plan delivers only about 60 percent of the miles of new bike lanes, trails, and greenways included in the original levy, called the new strategy “unfair” even in light of the Move Seattle “reset.” Taylor, who also sits on the Move Seattle committee, noted that the bike board prioritized projects in South Seattle neighborhoods like Beacon Hill and the Rainier Valley precisely because they connected those historically neglected neighborhoods to downtown. “All the projects that rose to the top of our list for extra emphasis are in Southeast Seattle… and those were the projects that disappeared without a trace,” he said. [Editor’s note: This paragraph initially said that the new plan eliminates 60 percent of the new bike lane-miles; in fact, it eliminates 40 percent and preserves 60 percent.]

Both O’Brien, who attended Tuesday night’s committee meeting, and Taylor, who noted that the bike board itself will discuss the new plan at its own meeting tomorrow night, urged the committee to consider making a formal recommendation to the council. “Our perception on the Bike Advisory Board is that this administration does not care what we think, and that when we send letters, we might as well send them as a paper airplane,” Taylor said. “Having this board’s letter as well might elevate [the concerns] to a higher level.”

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If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Bike Master Plan Update: Fewer Protected Lanes, Longer Delays

South Seattle’s Bike Master Plan projects have been reduced to “a few scattered hilly segments,” according to one bike advocate,

Days after announcing that the city had decided to kill a long-planned protected bike lane on 35th Ave NE in response to “many concerns we’ve heard from the community,” there was more bad news for cyclists. Three days later, the Seattle Department of Transportation released an update to the city’s Bike Master Plan that eliminates additional protected lanes, pushes other bike projects back several years or indefinitely, and contains no reference to about a dozen projects that were in the most recent update, back in 2017.

Last year, SDOT announced significant cuts to many of the projects included in the $930 million Move Seattle levy, which voters approved in 2015, to reflect reduced federal funding and higher cost estimates for some projects. (In the implementation plan, SDOT says the original cost estimates were not “realistic.”) Although a council resolution requires the agency to provide an updated implementation plan for the bike plan every year, SDOT skipped last year, making this the first update since the reset. This also means that any comparisons are necessarily between the 2017 implementation plan and the 2019 plan that was just released—an exercise the mayor’s office has suggested does not compare apples to apples. However, even within the reduced scope of the new plan post-“reset,” it’s possible to glean the city’s priorities (protected bike lanes on arterials, the widely accepted gold standard for safe bike infrastructure, are largely out; neighborhood greenways, which typically consist of sharrows and speed humps on slower side streets parallel to main streets, are largely in.)

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If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Of two dozen projects that were supposed to be completed last year, only one —a 0.65-mile neighborhood greenway serving Eagle Staff Middle school in north Seattle—appears to have been completed on the original schedule. None of the 19 projects originally scheduled for completion in 2019 are on track to be done this year. Instead, they are pushed forward to 2020 or 2021—the final years included in the update. And the majority of the projects that were originally scheduled for completion in 2020 and 2021 are no longer being built, either because they have been explicitly removed from the plan or because they no longer appear on the list.

This last group of projects include planned protected bike lanes on Greenwood Ave. N, Broad Street, Fauntleroy Ave. SW, and Montlake, as well as planned neighborhood greenways on Beacon Ave. S and a protected bike lane on Rainier Ave. S., one of the deadliest street for cyclists and pedestrians in the city. The southeast corner of the city, which also happens to be one of the poorest and most racially diverse areas of Seattle, is left with what Seattle Neighborhood Greenways leader Gordon Padelford called “a few scattered hilly segments.”

In contrast, all but one of the projects that were supposed to be finished in 2017 under the original plan have been completed, and all but three of those were finished on time (the three exceptions were finished in 2018). The one project that was not completed was the Fourth Avenue protected bike lane, which Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the city was delaying last year.

The most common reason given for delays to projects that are being finished late is “weather.” The most common reason given for removing projects from the plan is “SBAB removed”—a reference to the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board.

Durkan spokesman Mark Prentice says “SBAB removed” refers to “projects that SBAB opted not to prioritize. This does not mean that SDOT and SBAB do not consider these worthy projects, but just that based on resources and preferred connections, these did not rise to the top of the list.”

However, as member Patrick Taylor noted on Twitter, the bike board actually did recommend several projects, including the Beacon Avenue greenway and the Rainier protected bike lane, that were nonetheless cut from the list. (Instead of a protected bike lane, the plan now calls for a “focus on spot transit improvements.”)

Asked about the Beacon Ave. project, which was included for study in the 2018 draft implementation that was never released, Prentice said, “The current board members thought it was an important connection but due to the limited funding to select projects (and the fact that there is an existing separated ped path) they dropped it for other projects.” The project, Prentice says, “would have looked at upgrading the pedestrian path in the median to a multi-use path and review of in-street minor sections on roadway.”

Advocates have also pointed out that at least two projects appear to be double-counted as being completed in both 2017 and 2018—a protected bike lane on Banner Way near Maple Leaf and a PBL along S. Dearborn St. Both projects are counted toward the total “miles delivered” in each year, contributing to a total of 10.81 miles of new bike facilities in 2017, and 10.26 miles in 2018. The city painted buffered bike lanes (bike lanes with painted double stripes to visually separate them from cars) on Banner Way in 2017 and converted them to (arguably) protected bike lanes (still double-striped lanes, but with flexible posts to let drivers know when they are veering into the lane) in 2018. To date, the Dearborn project has not been completed.

Prentice says counting buffered-to-protected bike lane projects twice was “the direction back in 2017,” adding, “Both projects (Banner and Dearborn) are shown as PBLs in our 2018 six-month progress report that went to Council. No one mentioned anything about double counting when that document was posted.”

And he points out that the new plan explicitly does not “double count” three neighborhood greenways that are scheduled for “upgrades” this year. He said he would have to get back to me on the Banner Way and Dearborn projects. Prentice also said he would get back to me with more details about a list of 11 projects that appear to have disappeared between the 2017 and 2019 versions of the plan. I’ll update this post when I hear back.

The city council’s transportation committee will get a briefing—and take public comment—on the new implementation plan at 2:00 this coming Tuesday afternoon in council chambers.

Mayor Kills Controversial Northeast Seattle Bike Lane; New Design Also Lacks Parking

Learn to trust the Crank: As I reported this morning, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office met with advocates for and against a proposed one-way protected bike lane on 35th Ave. NE to tell them that the city does not plan to move forward with the long-planned lane.

According to a notice from the Seattle Department of Transportation, SDOT is going with an “alternative design” that includes no bike lane at all. The protected bike lane has been a part of the city’s adopted bike master plan since 2014. Recently, a group of opponents has argued that adding a protected bike lane on one side of the street would harm businesses by removing parking spaces—despite the fact that a city parking utilization study found that only 40 percent of the parking spaces near the proposed bike lane were occupied on an average weekday.

Ironically, the new design actually eliminates just as much parking as the bike lane plan, which was already designed, contracted, and shovel-ready. In a statement, SDOT said cyclists could use an existing “parallel neighborhood greenway” several blocks away which bike advocates called an inadequate substitute for a protected lane on an already existing major bike arterial.

The most recent report on the Move Seattle levy revealed that the Seattle Department of  Transportation has continued to fall behind on plans to build out the bike network laid out in the 2014 Bike Master Plan, particularly when it comes to protected bike lanes.

Here’s SDOT’s statement on the decision. I have calls out to SDOT and the mayor’s office and will update this post with any additional information.

Since the early stages of the 35th Ave NE Project, we’ve heard support from the community for changes to the street that improve safety. When the project began, the goal was to better organize the street, increasing safety for everyone. To meet this goal, we proposed a design that included bike lanes consistent with recommendations in the Bike Master Plan.

In response to the feedback we heard about the design, and based on industry best practices, data analysis, and continued conversations with the community, we’ve chosen to move forward with a new design that includes 1 travel lane in each direction, a center turn lane (north of 65th) and parking maintained on the east side of the street (between NE 47th and NE 85th streets).

Better street design can lead to safer streets. The new design helps us improve safety and operations for all travelers on 35th by providing a dedicated space for turning vehicles. We’ve seen decreased vehicle speeds and decreased collision rates on streets with 1 lane in each direction and a center turn lane. Examples include NE 75th St, NE 125th St, and Nickerson St. By slowing vehicle speeds and better defining the travel lanes, this helps increase safety for everyone on 35th, including people crossing the street. While there would be no protected bike lanes on 35th, people riding in the street would still benefit from slower vehicle speeds and clearly defined travel lanes. We will also be making enhancements to the parallel neighborhood greenway on 39th Ave NE that provides a route for people that prefer to bike on a quieter street.

To make space for the center turn lane, parking will be maintained on the east side of the street, instead of both sides. Throughout this project, we’ve worked with businesses and religious organizations along 35th to better understand parking, loading, and access needs. With the new design, we have decided to prioritize parking on the east side of the street. This decision is based on community feedback and the location of several existing load zones and ADA parking spaces on the east side of the street. We’ve heard these spaces are critical for people with limited mobility that are attending services at the religious institutions on 35th.

The new design addresses many concerns we’ve heard from the community however, we’ve also heard requests for additional enhancements along the corridor. SDOT is evaluating these requests and will share more information as we have it.

Support The C Is for Crank
If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: HSD Changes Homeless Contract Requirements; 35th Ave Bike Lane Approaches Resolution

1. The city’s Human Services Department is revising its benchmarks for withholding funds from underperforming homeless service providers after 20 of 46 service providers who received contracts with the city last year failed to meet new standards adopted in 2017. The new benchmarks will reduce the total amount of contracted pay HSD can withhold from 12 percent to 8 percent per year, and will reward providers for improvement over the course of a year, even if providers don’t hit their targets for things like exits to permanent housing and returns to homelessness.

As I reported last month, 20 of 46 city-contracted homeless service programs failed to meet the city’s new performance standards by the end of 2018, and were docked part of their pay under a new contracting system adopted by HSD in 2017. That system, which represented a major shift in how HSD contracts with human-services providers, enables the city to withhold 12 percent of a service provider’s contract if they fail to hit specific numbers on five metrics, including the percentage of clients who exit to permanent housing and the number of clients who end up back in the county’s homelessness system (a metric known colloquially, and somewhat imprecisely, as “returns to homelessness.”) Officials with the city refer to this system as “performance pay,” and say it’s meant as a reward for good results; providers have argued that withholding contracted funds makes it harder for them to meet the city’s ambitious new goals for moving people from homelessness to permanent housing.

A look through the performance improvement plans (PIPs) for the 16 programs that initially failed to receive their full contract pay last year, which I obtained through a records request, shows that many are falling far short of their targets—so far, in some cases, that it’s difficult to see how they will ever catch up.

Lindsey Garrity, with HSD, says the city will provide performance pay in increments of 25 percent, depending on how much progress providers are making toward their goals. “We have room to move around how we structure the performance pay and how we look at rewarding programs as they move toward performance,” as opposed to the previous “all or nothing approach,” Garrity says. “As it was structured, we weren’t rewarding improved performance and that is something we’re going to change in 2019.”  HSD’s Lily Rehrmann adds. The standards, which vary by program type, will remain the same.

Whether the programs that failed to meet HSD’s stringent new standards in 2019 will be able to do so next year remains an open question. A look through the performance improvement plans (PIPs) for the 16 programs that initially failed to receive their full contract pay last year, which I obtained through a records request, shows that many are falling far short of their targets—so far, in some cases, that it’s difficult to see how they will ever catch up.

A shelter run by Compass Housing Alliance, for example, is supposed to move a minimum of 40 percent of its clients into permanent housing when they leave. Throughout 2017, and during the first three quarters of 2018, that number never rose above 19 percent. Youthcare’s Catalyst shelter for young adults, from which no more than 20 percent of clients are supposed to return to homelessness, had a homelessness return rate, in one quarter, of 67 percent (and the number never went below the 20 percent target.) Santos Place, a transitional housing program run by Solid Ground, has an average stay in 2017 of 844 days, a number that had declined to 705 by the second quarter of last year. The target length of stay is no more than 150 days.

In some cases, the performance improvement plans, which are largely boilerplate, provide a glimpse at providers’ objections to the one-size-fits-all performance metrics. Catholic Community Services, for example, argued that their nighttime-only shelter for homeless men over 50 lacked funding for the kind of intensive case management that would allow to hit the target of 40 percent exits to permanent housing. Compass Housing Alliance pointed out that their rate of exits to permanent housing at the Peter’s Place shelter was artificially low (between 8 and 19 percent last year, against a goal of 40 percent). because the shelter accepts a high volume of one-night-only referrals from Operation Night Watch—people who stay at the shelter for one night and leave without accessing the services that are provided to regular guests. The Downtown Emergency Service Center raised a similar concern about its downtown night shelter, noting that many overnight clients are one-time-only direct referrals from Harborview and the Seattle Police Department who are “often not interested in engaging with services.” And several organizations cited staffing shortages as a major challenge—a problem that presumably requires  more funding, not less.

Garrity says HSD is committed to making sure its contractors succeed. “The city cannot do the work it does without the providers. Our goal is to always keep it moving forward and keep it a relationship that works for both entities,” she says. “Sometimes performance pay is talked about as if its purpose is very punitive, but we need [providers] to succeed in order for us to be successful.”

Support The C Is for Crank
If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

2. Advocates and opponents of a long-planned protected bike lane on 35th Ave. NE are meeting Tuesday with new Seattle Department of Transportation director Sam Zimbabwe and staff from the mayor’s office to discuss the resolution of the debate over the lane. Bike lane proponents have told me that they anticipate Mayor Jenny Durkan to side with bike lane opponents and agree to eliminate the lane. Neither the mayor’s office nor SDOT provided any details about the meeting, which will reportedly also include the mediator hired by the city last September.

Some background: The city’s official Bike Master Plan has included a separated bike lane on 35th Ave. NE between Wedgwood and Ravenna since it was last updated in 2014. The project has already been both designed and contracted, and was supposed to be completed in 2018. Last year, however, opponents of the bike path began a concerted effort to convince Mayor Jenny Durkan to kill the proposal. Their efforts included both standard-issue arguments (eliminating on-street parking will destroy businesses; cyclists can just shift their route six blocks to the east or west) and more novel approaches, like arguing that bike lanes are only “for the privileged”—a claim that is surely news to groups like Rainier Valley Greenways, which have been begging the city for safe bike infrastructure on or near the most dangerous street in the city, which happens to run through many of Seattle’s least-privileged neighborhoods.

After death threats, vandalism, a bomb scare, and the creation of a single-issue PAC dedicated to supporting to “transportation-related causes like Save 35th and candidates for local office who are not ideologues when it comes to local transportation planning” (they’ve raised $21,125 so far), the city hired mediator John Howell, at a cost of nearly $14,000, to “explore areas of concern” between opponents and advocates of the bike lane. The result, ultimately, was the creation of a new “compromise” plan that did not include any bike lanes at all, including any kind of alternative path for bike commuters. Strangely, the city’s proposed compromise eliminated just as much parking as the city’s original designed and contracted plan.

Evening Crank: “There Is No Plan to Close SHARE Shelters.”

Image via Seattle City Council on Flickr

1. City council member Rob Johnson, who has already accepted a post-council position as a transportation advisor to Seattle NHL, has carefully dodged rumors that he will be leaving the council much sooner than the end of his term. But here are the facts: Johnson’s signature legislation, the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan, will pass on March 18. Another major milestone—the final meeting of Sound Transit’s Elected Leadership Group, which will issue recommendations on route and station locations for light rail to Ballard and West Seattle—takes place April 26. After that, Johnson has nothing scheduled.  (He’s actually the one who pointed this out to me, while refusing to officially confirm he’s leaving early.) Meanwhile, council members are quietly discussing who might replace him. All of which leads to the conclusion that Johnson will probably leave in May, sparking a potentially contentious process for appointing someone to fill his seat for the remaining seven or so months of his term.

If Johnson left the council after the filing deadline for the November election, which is May 17, the appointee would serve as a placeholder—filling the position until the next elected council member could be sworn in, most likely in November rather than January 2020, when other elected council members will take office. This happened, most recently, in October 2017, when Kirsten Harris-Talley was appointed to replace at-large council member Tim Burgess, who became mayor after incumbent Ed Murray resigned and was not running for reelection. Teresa Mosqueda won the seat formerly held by Burgess and was sworn in on November 28.

If Johnson decides to leave earlier, whoever gets the appointment could theoretically enter the race for his position, although they would probably face pressure to agree not to run.

Support The C Is for Crank
If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

2. A fight over funding for the controversial shelter and housing provider SHARE/WHEEL continued to play out in council chambers this morning, with council member Lisa Herbold curtly correcting council member Kshama Sawant’s assertion that Mayor Jenny Durkan had “threaten[ed] the closure of the SHARE/WHEEL shelters at the end of June.”

Last week, Sawant accused Durkan of retaliating against SHARE for opposing the nomination of Jason Johnson as director of the Human Services Department by ending the organization’s city contract early, in June, with further funding contingent on improved performance. (This is what Sawant was characterizing as a “threaten[ed] closure.”) Specifically, SHARE supported a Sawant resolution (which failed today) that would have blocked Johnson’s nomination and established a new process, led by a committee including HSD employees and service providers who receive HSD contracts, to find a director.

God forbid we talk to each other and try to make something good, something better, something that doesn’t violate our charter or our responsibilities.

Herbold, a longtime SHARE supporter, said, “There is no planned closure of SHARE shelters in June,. It is true that they have been given only a half-year contract and [HSD has] identified specific  areas of desired improvement.” But, she reiterated, “There is no proposal for SHARE shelters to close in June.”

SHARE’s basic shelters, which provide high-barrier, nighttime-only shelter to about 200 people every night, failed to qualify for any funding last year under the city’s new performance standards, which require programs to demonstrate progress toward moving people in to permanent housing. Nonetheless, the council and mayor agreed to fund its shelters on a temporary basis through this year.

Last week, the city’s Human Services Department announced in a memo that funding for SHARE’s shelters after June would depend on whether the organization continued to improve its data collection practices, which “directly impact the ability of the SHARE/WHEEL shelters to serve the most vulnerable population.” Herbold called the memo “a sincere statement on behalf of HSD, not that they are intending to end provision of this service in June, but rather that they are trying to work… to improve the number of people who are participating in the HMIS system.”

Sawant is holding a special meeting of the city’s special committee on homelessness to discuss SHARE funding next Tuesday, in lieu of her regularly canceled human services committee meeting. Sawant has not held a regular committee meeting since last September. She does have another “community speak-out”/”special committee meeting” scheduled for Saturday, March 16, to rally supporters against the demolition of the Chateau Apartments, a 21-unit Section 8 apartment complex in the Central District.

3. Sawant’s resolution to reject Johnson and start a new process may have failed (council member Lisa Herbold said she might have felt “differently” if “council member Sawant had made her expectations known [to Mayor Durkan] prior to the nomination process”), but council member Teresa Mosqueda, who voted with Sawant, has proposed a kind of alternative: A resolution outlining the steps that mayors must follow for department director nominations in the future.

The resolution requires the mayor to describe the process she wants to use to make an appointment in advance, including any advisory groups she wants to appoint; gives the council authority to review the appointment process prior to any nomination, using on a list of criteria that focuses on inclusion and race and social justice; and lays out evaluation criteria for the council to use in the future.

The contents of Mosqueda’s resolution, as council member Lorena Gonzalez pointed out, are not “earth-shaking”; in fact, they’re “pretty run-of-the-mill, ordinary pieces of information that are traditionally transmitted from the mayor to whoever the committee chair responsible for the confirmation process is.” Her comment, which Gonzalez suggested was aimed at the mayor, also read as a subtle dig at Sawant, who has claimed repeatedly that she reached out to the mayor prior to Johnson’s nomination and never heard back. (The mayor’s office maintains that Sawant has not shown up for any of their scheduled monthly check-ins since Durkan took office in 2017).

Debora Juarez, no fan of Sawant’s efforts to derail Johnson’s appointment by forcing Durkan to launch an entirely new appointment process, was less circumspect. Thanking Mosqueda for distributing the legislation in advance and asking her council colleagues for feedback, she said, “I think it’s the height of good government when you give your colleagues an opportunity, notice, an opportunity to question, to discuss. God forbid we talk to each other and try to make something good, something better, something that doesn’t violate our charter or our responsibilities, and is also very clear about our role in the legislative branch.”

Fact-Checking the Homelessness Claims in the Mayor’s State of the City Speech

As I mentioned in my post about Mayor Jenny Durkan’s second State of the City speech, the mayor’s statements touting the city’s achievements on homelessness deserve some additional scrutiny and context. In her speech, the mayor claimed that the city had “helped more than 7,400 households move out of homelessness and into permanent housing” in 2018 alone. Separately, the mayor stated that the city had made “historic” investments in new enhanced shelter beds “that are moving more people out of homelessness than basic shelters ever have.”

Let’s look at each of those claims in turn.

The mayor’s claim that the city “helped more than 7,400 households move out of homelessness and into permanent housing” in 2018—an increase from about 5,500 in 2017— is misleading. In fact, it overstates the likely number of actual households (or “families,” as the mayor’s office put it in a social media graphic that accompanied the speech) in two key ways. First, the number is based on data from the Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS), used nationwide to track homeless people’s use of services. HMIS doesn’t track households; it tracks exits from programs. This means that Durkan is conflating the number of exits from programs with the number of families exiting homelessness.

For example: Under HMIS, every exit from a single program (say, food assistance, shelter, hygiene, or case management) counts as a single “exit.” That means a single household using three different services would count as three exits, not one. (“Household” refers to heads of households; according to King County, 77 percent of people who are homeless are in households consisting of one or two adults.) If the average household used just two services over the time they were homeless—and the city is working to get people to access more services, not less, in an effort to help people find housing faster—that would mean that Durkan would be overstating the number of exits from homelessness by 100 percent. This is a hypothetical—the city was unable to provide the actual number of families exited from homelessness—but given that the city has moved toward enhanced shelters, which allow people to access many services in one place, it seems more likely that people are simply using more services than that there are thousands of new people successfully moving through the homeless service system and into housing every single year.

Meg Olberding, a spokeswoman for the city’s Human Services Department, acknowledges that the 7,400 number “doesn’t reflect the number of individuals” moving from homelessness into housing. She says the exit numbers “are really meant to show how our programs are doing overall. So from our point of view, it doesn’t matter to us if somebody uses one or two or six programs to get to housing, it matters that they get there.”

That makes sense—but it’s not the same thing as “help[ing] over 7,400 households move into permanent housing,” as Durkan put it. Olberding says that the city currently has no way to extrapolate a number of households from that figure. “This is the imperfection of the system as we have it, “she says.

The city’s own guidance on homeless service terminology flags this as an issue (emphasis added):

• Exits are captured for each project type (Prevention, Rapid Rehousing, Emergency Shelter, for example) in HMIS. One exit does not equal one household in HMIS. An exit represents an activity of a household in HMIS.

• For this reason, in the count of total exits to permanent housing, there may be duplicated households. This duplication would occur, for example, when one household uses the services of outreach, shelter, and rapid rehousing to find permanent housing and exit the system. This example would result in three exits, from three project types, for one household.

• HMIS cannot currently support de-duplicating households in the number of total exits to permanent housing.

To characterize each of those “exits” as a “household” or “family” who successfully found housing, therefore, is almost certainly to overstate the success of local programs in getting people into housing—perhaps dramatically. This kind of overstatement can have the perverse result of making it harder to win public support for initiatives to help the thousands of people currently experiencing or at risk of homelessness in Seattle. It isn’t a trivial matter, and it’s something the city itself has noted is a problem.

The second issue with the claim that the city has moved 7,400 families from homelessness to housing in the past year is that the number includes an unknown number of people who are already housed in permanent supportive housing, and stayed in that housing—that is, people who aren’t actually homeless. (People who are actually homeless can be moved into permanent housing through a variety of means, including diversion, prevention, rapid rehousing, and permanent supportive housing, among others.)

The city acknowledges that their count includes people who live in permanent supportive housing and maintain their housing, but they don’t track how many. However, All Home, the agency that tracks homeless service results in King County, does. Extrapolating from the numbers on All Home’s System Performance Dashboard, which includes countywide numbers for 12 months starting in July 2017, and the group’s latest Count Us In report, which estimates that about 70 percent of King County’s homeless population lives in Seattle, it’s possible to estimate that about 3,900 households in Seattle that are counted as exiting from homelessness are in that category because they maintained their existing permanent supportive housing, not because they were homeless and became housed. Durkan took office at the end of 2017, so that extrapolation is obviously not apples to apples. But it does give a sense of how much lower the likely number of actual households moved from homelessness into housing is than the “7,400 households” the mayor claimed.

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 3.08.35 PM.png

The mayor also claimed in her speech that the city has “made investments in our 24/7 shelters that are moving more people out of homelessness than basic shelters ever have” and  “delivered on an historic 25 percent expansion of our City’s shelter space – opening more than 500 new safe places in Seattle.” This statement is confusing, because it conflates a number of different programs—including enhanced shelters (24/7 low-barrier shelters that provide one-stop access to many different services), basic shelters (overnight-only shelters with minimal services) and other kinds of “safe spaces” like authorized encampments. Overall, the city did add 516 new “safe places” between 2017 and 2019. But 220 of these are brand-new basic shelter beds of the kind Durkan (accurately) derided as less effective in her speech, including 100 new overnight beds in a King County shelter at Harborview Hall, plus 80 mats in the lobby of city hall. The 516 “safe spaces” also include motel vouchers for 40 rooms (which accounts for up to 60 “beds”) and space in tiny house encampments for about 100 people. (Under federal HUD criteria, these people are technically considered unsheltered.) Overall, the city added about 366 actual shelter beds (of all kinds) between 2017 and 2018—an achievement, but one that has to be put in context. And the context is that, far from being the kind of enhanced shelter spaces that, as the mayor put it, “are moving more people out of homelessness than basic shelters ever have,” these new spaces are largely examples of the kind of shelters that have shown little success at moving people into permanent housing.

The mayor actually could have highlighted a different number—a promising sign buried in the statistics. Since 2017, the city has done a significant amount of work converting basic shelter beds to enhanced shelters—a significant and important move in the direction of spending money on what works. Here’s what numbers provided by the mayor’s office show:  In 2017, there were 1713 total shelter beds, of which 749 were enhanced—meaning that they included services, allowed people to keep their pets and possessions, and do not kick people out in the morning or require people to line up at night.  By the end of 2018 (“2019” in the chart below), there were 2079 total beds, of which 1411 were enhanced. That’s a major shift away from basic shelter to enhanced shelter—an improvement that the city should absolutely be touting as a success.

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

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: Streetcar Questioned, Sawant Challenged, and Fort Lawton Moves Forward

1. Ever since Mayor Jenny Durkan announced she was moving forward with the stalled First Avenue streetcar last month, supporters and skeptics have been honing their arguments. Fans of the project, which a recent report costed out at $286 million, say it will create a critical link between two disconnected streetcars that each stop on the outskirts of downtown, boosting ridership dramatically while traveling swiftly in its own dedicated right-of-way; skeptics point to a $65 million funding gap, the need for ongoing operating subsidies from the city, and past ridership numbers that have been consistently optimistic.

Today, council members on both sides of the streetcar divide got their first chance to respond publicly to the latest numbers, and to question Seattle Department of Transportation and budget staffers about the viability of the project.  I covered some of the basic issues and streetcar background in this FAQ; here are several additional questions council members raised on Tuesday.

Q: Has the city secured the $75 million in federal funding it needs to build the streetcar?

A: No; the Federal Transit Administration has allocated $50 million to the project through its Small Starts grant process (the next best thing to a signed agreement), and the city has not yet secured the additional $25 million.

Q: Will the fact that the new downtown streetcar will parallel an existing light rail line two blocks to the east be good or bad for ridership? (Herbold implied that the two lines might be redundant, and Sally Bagshaw noted that “if I was at Westlake and I wanted to get to Broadway, I would jump on light rail, not the streetcar.” Rob Johnson countered that “redundancy in the transportation system is a good thing,” and suggested the two lines could have “network effects” as people transferred from one to the other.)

A: This is a critical question, because the city’s ridership projections for the two existing streetcar lines were consistently optimistic. (Ridership is important because riders are what justify the cost of a project, and because the more people ride the streetcar, the less the city will have to subsidize its operations budget). The city’s answer, basically, is that it’s hard to say. Lines that are too redundant can compete with each other; on the other hand, the existence of multiple north-south bus lines throughout downtown has probably helped ridership on light rail, and vice versa. SDOT’s Karen Melanson said the city took the existence of light rail (including future light rail lines) into account when coming up with its ridership projections, which predict about 18,000 rides a day on the combined streetcar route, or about 5.7 million rides a year.

Q. Can the city afford to operate the streetcar, especially when subsidies from other transit agencies run out? King County Metro has been paying the city $1.5 million a year to help operate the existing streetcars, and Sound Transit has kicked in another $5 million a year. Those subsidies are set to end in 2019 and 2023, respectively. If both funding sources do dry up (city budget director Ben Noble said yesterday that the city could make a case for the Metro funding to continue), the city will have to find some other source that funding as part of an ongoing operating subsidy of between $18 million and $19 million a year.

A: It’s unclear exactly where the additional funding for ongoing streetcar operating costs would come from; options include the commercial parking tax and street use fees. Streetcar supporters cautioned against thinking of the ongoing city contribution as a “subsidy.” Instead, Johnson said, council members should think of it as “an investment in infrastructure that our citizens support,” much like funding for King County Metro through the city’s  Transportation Benefit District—or, as O’Brien chimed in, roads. “Roads are heavily subsidized,” O’Brien said. “When we talk about roads, we don’t talk about farebox recovery, because we don’t have a farebox.”

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2. In response to reporting by Kevin Schofield at SCC Insight, which revealed that the Socialist Alternative party decides how District 3 Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant will vote and makes all the hiring and firing decisions for her council office, an anonymous person has filed an ethics complaint against Sawant at the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.

The complaint, signed, “District 3 Resident,” charges that Sawant:

• Violated her obligation to represent her constituents by allowing Socialist Alternative to determine her actions on the council;

• Misused her position as a council member by allowing SA to make employment decisions for her council office;

• Improperly “assisted”  SA in matters involving her office by allowing them to determine her council votes;

• Accepted gifts in exchange for giving SA special access and “consideration,” including extensive travel on the party’s dime; and

• Either disclosed or withheld public information by discussing personnel matters on private email accounts, depending on whether that information turns out to have been disclosable (in which case, the complaint charges, she withheld it from the public by using a private account) or confidential (in which case Sawant violated the law by showing confidential information to outside parties, namely the SA members who, according to SCC Insight’s reporting, decide who she hires and fires.)

“Sawant is not independent, not impartial, and not responsible to her constituents,” the complaint concludes. “Her decisions are not made through the proper channels, and due to her actions, the public does not have confidence in the integrity of its government.”

It’s unclear when the ethics commission will take up the complaint, which was filed on January 8. The agenda for their committee meeting tomorrow, which includes a discussion of the rule requiring candidates who participate in the “democracy voucher” public-financing program to participate in at least one debate to which every candidate is invited, does not include any discussion of the complaint against Sawant.

According to the Seattle Ethics and Elections website, “Seattle’s Ethics Code is a statement of our shared values — integrity, impartiality, independence, transparency. It is our pledge to the people of Seattle that our only allegiance is to them when we conduct City business.”

3. On Monday, the city’s Office of Housing published a draft of the redevelopment plan for Fort Lawton, a decommissioned Army base next to Discovery Park in Magnolia, moving the long-delayed project one step closer to completion. For years, the project, which will include about 200 units of affordable housing, has stagnated, stymied first by a lawsuit, from Magnolia activist Elizabeth Campbell, and then by the recession. In 2017, when the latest version of the plan started moving forward, I called the debate over Fort Lawton “a tipping point in Seattle’s affordable housing crisis,” predicting, perhaps optimistically, that Seattle residents, including Fort Lawton’s neighbors in Magnolia, were more likely to support the project than oppose it, in part because the scale of the housing crisis had grown so immensely in the last ten years.

The plan is far more modest than the lengthy debate might lead you to expect—85 studio apartments for homeless seniors, including veterans, at a total cost of $28.3 million; 100 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments for people making up to 60 percent of the Seattle median income, at a cost of $40.2 million; and 52 row homes and townhouses for purchase, at a total cost of $18.4 million. Overall, about $21.5 million of the total cost would come from the city. Construction would start, if all goes according to the latest schedule, in 2021, with the first apartments opening in 2026—exactly 20 years, coincidentally, after the city council adopted legislation designating the city of Seattle as the local redevelopment authority for the property.