Tag: tammy morales

Morales Proposes Eliminating Most Encampment Sweeps, Mayor’s Office Says Huge New “Shelter Tent” Is Coming, and More

Two of the beds the city is counting as “temporary housing” for homeless people, at an isolation/quarantine facility for COVID patients

1. City council member Tammy Morales plans to introduce a budget proviso that would restrict the Navigation Team’s ability to remove encampments that are not true hazards or obstructions. The proposal, a proviso on the adopted 2020 budget, would bar the city from spending money on sweeps except in a few specific circumstances.

The city has suspended most encampment removals during the COVID epidemic, but several homeless advocates expressed concern this week that the city plans to aggressively sweep encampments as soon as the crisis is over. Prior to the pandemic, the team, made up of police officers, outreach workers, and a cleanup crew, was removing most encampments without notice or mandatory outreach, thanks to a loophole in the city’s encampment rules. Although these rules, known as Multi-Departmental Administrative Rules, or MDARs, require the team to provide 72 hours’ notice and an offer of shelter to every encampment resident, the Navigation Team has gotten around this requirement by designating the overwhelming majority of encampments as “obstructions,” which allows them to remove encampments with no notice or outreach.

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During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job.

Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth. 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.

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Morales’ proposal would allow the Navigation Team to remove encampments only under a narrow set of circumstances. For example, if an encampment obstructed the entrance to a building; presented an immediate fire hazard; or was located inside a children’s play area, it could be removed without warning. A draft of the bill lists six situations when a removal would be justified.

Morales says the Navigation Team “is using this obstruction language as an excuse, really, to remove people, and so we are trying to limit the funds that can be used to remove encampments. … [Withholding funds] is the only leverage we seem to have. People have been calling on the executive branch since longer than Jenny Durkan’s been there to stop this process, and that message doesn’t seem to be getting through.”

2. During a presentation about the challenges the city faces in opening parks restrooms and standing up portable toilets for people experiencing homelessness during the COVID crisis, deputy mayor Casey Sixkiller repeated what has become one of the mayor’s favorite talking points: “We recently announced our partnership with the county in creating 1,900 new spaces” for people experiencing homelessness, he said. Sixkiller’s comments came shortly after street outreach workers and advocates described the situation on the ground, where thousands of homeless people without access to shelter or public restrooms lack places to use the restroom or wash their hands. Sixkiller said the new beds were part of the city’s efforts to “[move] people inside so hygiene can be accessed there.”

When council members pointed out that this number is not correct—the 1,900 spaces are mostly hospital and isolation/quarantine beds for people who are sick, and the 700 “new” shelter spaces are existing spaces that have been relocated during the crisis—Sixkiller called their objections “semantic.”

When council members pointed out that this number is not correct—the 1,900 spaces, which the mayor’s office has also described as “temporary housing,” are mostly hospital and isolation/quarantine beds for people who are sick, and the 700 “new” shelter spaces are existing spaces that have been relocated during the crisis—Sixkiller called their objections “semantic.” “The reality is that there are 1,900 beds coming online,” he said. King County’s website is the most accurate guide to these 1,893 beds, some of which may not yet be online; they include about 700 existing shelter spaces that have been relocating to achieve social distancing, plus more than 1,000 hospital beds for people in isolation, quarantine, or recovery.

3. SIxkiller also said the city planned to open a “shelter tent for 180 individuals” in partnership with the Salvation Army. Homeless advocates who were participating in, and watching, the meeting said that this was the first they had heard of such a tent, and it was unclear whether the new tent would be for redistribution or an entirely new shelter. (I’ve asked the city for additional details about the tent). Up and down the West Coast, cities are beginning to move away from congregate shelters, which put people in close proximity, with people sleeping head to foot on mats or cots six feet apart and sharing air and mass restroom facilities. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced this week that the state would pay for 15,000 motel rooms for people experiencing homelessness, and the city of Los Angeles plans to pay for 15,000 more.

A common objection to putting homeless people in hotel or motel rooms is that they need high levels of “staffing” to supervise them, a claim that advocates say is not true for most homeless people, who are capable of caring for themselves but lack the money to pay sky-high rents. Another objection, which came up at a county briefing on shelter and behavioral health on Wednesday, is that hotels aren’t interested. Some homeless advocates, including Seattle University law professor and Homeless Rights Advocacy Project director Sara Rankin, have suggested that the city or county should put out a request for qualifications to hotels and see who bites. “Right now [the Downtown Emergency Service Center] is trying to reach out to hotel and motel facilities themselves, which shouldn’t be DESC’s problem. That should be something that the city is streamlining,” Rankin says.

Temporary Sobering Center Opens, Private Security Firm Paid $30,000 a Week to Patrol Two Shelters, Sawant Loses Battle Over the Narrative, and More

New portable toilets and hand-washing station at Ballard Commons park.

1. Recovery Cafe, an organization that helps homeless and formerly homeless people recover from trauma and addiction, has  found a new purpose during the COVID epidemic: Serving as a temporary sobering center for people experiencing homelessness who have significant drug or alcohol issues who have no safe place to “sleep it off.” The organization’s building in SoDo, which has been closed since mid-March, reopened with 20 beds last night, and will expand to 40 beds, and 24/7 operations, later this month. Pioneer Human Services will operate the center.

Sherry Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Human and Community Services, emphasized that new location will not be a permanent replacement for the SoDo facility that closed last year and has only partially been replaced, by a temporary, nighttime-only facility with limited medical services in a county-owned building at Fourth and Jefferson. Opening up space in that location will allow the county to “further deintensify” the shelter it runs in the same building, Hamilton says.

A proposed replacement in Georgetown was shot down after neighbors sued, and the county still has not located a site for a permanent new facility.

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During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job.

Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth. 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.

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Sobering centers are meant to reduce pressure on local emergency rooms—a role that’s more critical now than at any time in recent history. Hamilton says that once the Recovery Cafe space ramps up, the operator, Pioneer Human Services, will be able to “engage them in services” in a way that isn’t possible when people have to leave at 7am. “The hard part about it being night-only is that they come in, they’re inebriated, they wake up in the morning, and they leave,” Hamilton says. “You haven’t had the time to work with them and engage them in buprenorphine [a medication that treats opiate addiction] or detox and treatment.”

The Seattle region is experiencing a shortage of available behavioral health care workers equipped to treat people with severe mental health and substance use disorders in shelters and COVID isolation, quarantine, and recovery units. I’ll be posting an update on what the county is doing to staff these facilities with behavioral health care workers (and ensure that people engaged in medication-assisted treatment can access their methadone or buprenorphine) later this week.

The city is paying Spokane-based Phoenix Security about $30,000 a week to have a guard at both shelters around the clock. The shelters each serve 50 clients who have been temporarily relocated from existing shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. I’ve been hammering away for weeks at the fact that the city does not have sufficient restrooms and handwashing facilities for the thousands of homeless people who live on its streets. As I’ve documented in story after story (and on a crowdsourced map I created last month), many of the restrooms that Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office initially claimed are open are actually closed, including restrooms in parks, at community centers, and at playgrounds in every corner of the city. 

This may be finally be changing, however. Durkan’s office reportedly directed the Parks department to open most of the dozens of restrooms that had been locked by yesterday, April 6. Over the weekend, I visited a few parks restrooms in my neighborhood and found that one that had been closed the last time I visited was open, although a “closed” sign was still taped to the door and the restroom itself was filthy and covered with standing water. Readers reported that several other restrooms on the map that had been marked as “closed” were now open.

The mayor’s office is also working to create an interactive map with the locations of restrooms that are currently open. It’s unclear how this will differ from the interactive map the city rolled out in 2018, which showed a much smaller number of restrooms than the 128 the mayor’s office initially claimed were open.

The council’s special committee on homelessness will hold a special, previously unannounced meeting this Wednesday at 10am. The only item on the agenda: “Presentation on the City’s efforts to provide additional hygiene facilities.”

3. Two restrooms on the city’s map that are not currently open are the ones at Garfield Community Center and Miller Community Center, which are serving as “de-intensification” sites for 100 existing shelter beds. Both sites are staffed by Parks Department employees and are patrolled around the clock by private security officers. The city is paying Spokane-based Phoenix Security about $30,000 a week to have a guard at each building 24/7, or $90 an hour. Each shelter serves 50 clients who have been temporarily relocated from other shelters during the pandemic. 

According to Parks spokeswoman Rachel Schulkin, “staffing for these centers is a mixture of shelter staff and recreation staff—with many working in a shelter setting for the first time. Providing security at these facilities through a trained and prepared contractor, supports our ability to stand up a shelter in relatively short order and through reassignment of City employees.”

“I’m sort of bristling at this concept that the only way that we will pass a strong, progressive revenue bill is if it’s heard in the committee of Council Member Sawant.” -Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold

4. City council members squabbled Monday over two efforts by council member Kshama Sawant to control the narrative in the council’s virtual chambers—a harder task than usual, now that she is unable to organize physical “Pack City Hall!” rallies at city hall. First, Sawant tried and failed to introduce a proposal that would allow people to give virtual public testimony on any subject related to the COVID-19 epidemic, a sharp departure from standing council rules that require public commenters to speak to items on the agenda.

After that effort failed—”we need to have some semblance of order when it comes to council business,” council president Lorena Gonzalez said—Sawant tried to introduce her “Tax Amazon” legislation, which would now provide direct monthly payments to 100,000 Seattle residents, into the sustainability and renters’ rights committee, which she chairs and which her co-sponsor Tammy Morales co-chairs. Bills about taxation typically go through the council’s finance committee, which, unlike the smaller standing committees, includes all nine council members.

“If we really support the movement that has been fighting for this, I believe that it should be a committee that is chaired by me and Council Member Morales or a select committee that is being chaired by me,” Sawant said. “The only entity that is being undercut by all this is the movement itself.” Sawant then questioned Gonzalez’ motivation in wanting the bill to go through the finance committee.

Lisa Herbold, a Sawant ally on some issues, responded that the council had passed both the previous head tax and the 2017 high earners’ income tax through the finance committee, under former council members Sally Bagshaw and Tim Burgess, respectively. “I’m sort of bristling at this concept that the only way that we will pass a strong, progressive revenue bill is if it’s heard in the committee of Council Member Sawant,” she said. “Particularly in this crisis, I don’t think it’s helpful to promote that divisive approach to how the council does its business.”

Sawant’s proposal died for lack of a second, and Morales made a proposal to move the tax plan into the finance committee, which passed.

State Buys Central District Nursing Home for Hospital Relief, City Hall Shelter Clients Still Sleeping Inches Apart, and More COVID News

1. The Washington Department of Social and Health Services has purchased the former Paramount Rehabilitation and Nursing Home in Seattle’s Central District to serve as a hospital for people without COVID-19, at a cost of $13.5 million, The C Is for Crank has learned. The 165-bed nursing home closed down last month, after an analysis by the US Department of Health and Human Services called it one of the worst-performing nursing homes in the country.

Chris Wright, a spokesman for the state COVID Joint Information Center, said the goal of the purchase is “to free up beds in hospitals during the crisis by finding patients who are currently in hospitals, but could receive the same level of care in this nursing home.” He says the state is “trying to find a contractor to run the facility and hope to open by the end of April.” The facility will create about 100 job openings, for nurses, food service workers, maintenance workers, and supervisors, Wright says.

2. As homeless shelters run by the Downtown Emergency Service Center, Salvation Army, and other nonprofit groups “de-intensified” their existing shelters by moving some clients to new locations, people are still sleeping inches apart at the nighttime-only shelter at City Hall, which is run by the Salvation Army’s William Booth Center. Staffing is apparently an issue; expanding the shelter to the red-glass lobby on Fourth Avenue (as has been discussed) or moving some shelter clients elsewhere would require additional Salvation Army employees or other staff.

A spokesman for the city’s Emergency Operations Center said that “Many shelter operators, including the operator at the City Hall shelters, are facing staffing capacity constraints that make it challenging to split operations between multiple sites quickly. City staff have been stepping in to help staff shelters to meet this need, and we are working with the service provider to identify solutions.” A spokeswoman for the Salvation Army said the group had nothing new to announce about the shelter.

The basic shelter at City Hall consists of 75 mats on the floor inside the Fifth Avenue lobby, which is open daily from 7pm until 7 in the morning.

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During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before.

The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job. Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

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 supporting, The C Is for Crank.

3. Staff at the city’s Human Services, Parks, and Seattle Center departments are being reassigned to front-line positions working in some of the new shelter spaces that have been opened for residents at  as part of the city’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic, and distributing food through HSD’s division of Youth and Family Empowerment. These reassignments apply not just to the approximately 70 workers who have been specially trained to work in shelters, but also to other staffers who will be reassigned as part of the departments’ Continuity of Operations Plans (COOPs), which shut down certain city facilities and functions while defining others as “mission essential.”

It’s unclear what, if any, long-term plan exists for city employees who would ordinarily be reassigned to front-line jobs but are in a high-risk group for COVID exposure. The mayor’s order authorizes departments to provide “full or partial compensation” to these workers, but the city did not provide any specific details about what that will look like, or whether some employees may eventually have to be furloughed until front-line services can open again.

4. Governor Jay Inslee confirmed on Saturday that the state is using prison labor to make hospital gowns during the COVID crisis. According to the Washington Department of Corrections, the gowns are being produced by inmates at the Coyote Ridge medium-security prison in Franklin County. Inslee said Saturday that the prisoners were “very eager for this job, and we’re eager for their success in this regard.” Prisoners in Washington State make a fraction of the state minimum wage.

Prison reform advocates across the country, including in Washington State, have argued that state prison systems should release many incarcerated people to protect their health during the COVID crisis. Inslee said Saturday that “we have a commitment … to keeping these incarcerated individuals as safe as humanly possible” during the pandemic.

5. The Seattle City Council adopted a nonbinding resolution this afternoon asking Gov. Inslee to use his emergency powers to implement a moratorium on all residential and commercial rent and mortgage payments in the state, and to forgive any debt accumulated by renters and property owners after the COVID crisis has passed. The resolution, which also calls on the federal government to enact a similar policy nationwide, passed unanimously, though not without a bit of incredulous guffawing from council member Debora Juarez, who (along with her colleague Alex Pedersen) seemed skeptical about the idea of effectively canceling all rent and mortgage payments for the indefinite future.

“So you’re saying that a commercial [landlord] that owns 20-plus units, or apartments, who also has a mortgage to pay … that we are lobbying for them as well, under this administration and to our governor, that they too don’t have to pay their mortgage to the bank?” Juarez asked.

“That’s right,” the resolution’s sponsor, council member Tammy Morales, responded.

Pedersen expressed doubt about the legality of preemptively forgiving all rent and mortgage debt, and seemed to question whether renters would really need the help. “I’m concerned that [if] people are getting other relief, why would we want to then suspend the payments that are due when they’re getting relief from other angles?” he said. On the other hand, Pedersen said, “I have received lots of emails from constituents who are expressing their major concern and fear and pain that they’re suffering during this crisis, so I wish we had more time to think this through.”

Evening Crank Part 2: Unanswered Questions

Coming soon to a sidewalk near you?

1. Since the COVID crisis began, it has become tougher than usual to get information directly from city departments, which now respond to pretty much any inquiry with some version of “all questions have to go through the mayor’s office.” (There is one exception, but I won’t tell you what it is.) The mayor’s office, in turn, typically responds to these requests with some version of, “We will have an announcement on that in the coming days,” which may or may not be followed by an announcement.

Things the mayor’s office was unable to tell me about in the past few days include:

When the city (specifically, Seattle Public Utilities) plans to deploy the portable toilets announced on the Human Service Department’s website one week ago; how many toilets there will be; where they will be located; and how (and how often) they will be maintained.

Where four mobile hygiene trailers funded in last year’s budget (funded last year but re-announced in the same HSD blog post) will be deployed, and on what schedule.

How, specifically, the city plans to fill the 50 new shelter beds, and 50 new spots in two tiny house villages, it plans to open in response to the COVID crisis, and how the city will choose who gets this scarce resource. Specifically, I’ve asked how many of those beds and slots will be reserved for people referred by the Navigation Team, which is providing outreach and information at unsanctioned encampments, and how many will be open to people who are contacted by other outreach workers, such as those at REACH, which is still doing encampment outreach during the pandemic.

These questions, particularly the ones about restrooms, are of critical and immediate importance to the thousands of homeless people, both unsheltered and staying in nighttime-only emergency shelters, in Seattle. Most of the city’s public restrooms, including those inside private businesses and those in libraries, hygiene centers, and social service agencies, have closed, giving people without homes few options in a city where restroom availability already fell far short of international standards.

Support The C Is for Crank
During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job.

Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

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 supporting, The C Is for Crank.

2. This afternoon (12 days ago in COVID time), the city council approved a plan to reallocate about $1 million (out of about $12 million total) in community development block grants originally designated for housing construction to pay for grants to low-income small business owners. Only council member Kshama Sawant voted against the plan, arguing that the city should dip into its “rainy day fund” instead of taking money that could have theoretically gone to housing (although it was not allocated to any particular project.)

The city has two emergency funds, the rainy day fund and the emergency subfund, which can be used to pay for unanticipated spending needs or to mitigate cuts during budget downturns. Earlier this month, city budget director Ben Noble estimated that the city could face a revenue shortfall this year of $110 million. Together, both emergency funds total about $125 million.

Council member Tammy Morales, who sponsored the legislation, raised one concern last week that she said she’ll revisit after the funds are allocated and the current crisis has abated: Online application materials for the grants were initially only in English, potentially putting small business owners who don’t speak English as their native language at a disadvantage when applying for the grants.

“When those who don’t speak English have extra barriers put in place in order to participate… [it’s] an example of how often our city government operates with blinders on to anyone who isn’t part of the dominant culture,” Morales said at a council meeting last week. But, “rather than slow down the disbursement of this particular fund, I’m asking that we hear back from the [Office of Economic Development] this summer on how these funds were distributed” to make sure that non-English-speaking business owners had equal access to the funds.

Evening Crank Part 1: Hunker Down Edition

Cracks visible in the girders supporting the West Seattle Bridge. SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe says the discolored areas visible around the damage are “a result of the preventive maintenance we’ve done over the past few years, so don’t in and of themselves illustrate all of the issues we are concerned about right now.”

1. How long has the COVID-19 epidemic been going on? Only six years, you say? Well, in the words of Gov. Jay Inslee, hunker down…

It was a big news day, and not just because Gov. Jay Inslee finally told us all to go to our rooms and not come out until he said so. (Find a list of “essential” businesses that will stay open, which includes everything from veterinarians to food banks to recreational pot stores, here). Earlier in the day, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that the high West Seattle Bridge will be completely closed to traffic until further notice, due to cracks in the concrete girders that support the bridge’s weight. Durkan said the new discoveries mean that the bridge “cannot safely support vehicular traffic.”

During a press conference conducted via Skype, Seattle Department of Transportation director Sam Zimbabwe said the closure could last weeks or months. Zimbabwe said there hadn’t been a single incident or catastrophic event that led to the new damage; rather, crews inspecting the bridge last night discovered that cracks in the girders that had already allowed “incursions” of water and air had grown dramatically wider. Most of the weight of the bridge—about 80 percent—consists of the bridge itself, but heavier vehicles, and more of them, may have contributed to the damage, Zimbabwe said.

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Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

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Drivers hoping to use the lower West Seattle bridge are out of luck; the secondary bridge will be open only to first responders, transit, and freight. People who choose to commute by car will have to go far afield of their usual routes, using West Marginal Way, First Ave. S., or SR 509 to get off the peninsula.

The announcement was so sudden that the two city council members who live in West Seattle, Lisa Herbold (District 1) and Lorena Gonzalez (Position 9) found out about the closure just a few hours before the public did. (The same was true of King County Council member Joe McDermott, who said in an email to constituents  this evening that he just found out about the closure “this afternoon.”) Mayor Durkan did not specify exactly why the closure had to happen with so little notice.

In a statement, Herbold, who represents West Seattle, questioned the decision to completely shut down the lower bridge to private auto traffic, saying she wanted  to know “how soon it can be opened for traffic given lower traffic volumes in Seattle” because of the COVID-19 epidemic and stay-at-home order. “My office has requested that SDOT appeal to the Coast Guard to make fewer bridge openings of the lower level bridge to allow for more buses and cars to cross, like they did in early 2019 when the Alaskan Way Viaduct closed and the SR99 tunnel was not yet open.”

A spokeswoman for Kimpton Hotels, which owns the Alexis and and Palladian—two hotels that have been in contact with the city—said that “neither has agreed to set up any isolation rooms nor is either equipped to do that.”

2. At a city council briefing this morning, Position 8 city council member Teresa Mosqueda expressed optimism that “downtown boutique hotels” would soon begin offering rooms to people who were healthy but needed to self-isolate because they are members of a vulnerable group. “I really want to thank some of the hotel owners, especially some of the downtown boutique hotel owners,” for offering to help house people impacted by the COVID epidemic, Mosqueda said.

Council member Andrew Lewis, whose district (7) includes downtown, also said he hoped that downtown hotels would be able to offer rooms “to get people off the street and get people inside quickly on a temporary basis,” an arrangement that could also “give a boon to our struggling hospitality industry that has suffered from a massive dropoff in tourism” because of COVID-19. Kimpton Hotels, which owns the Alexis and Palladian hotels downtown, has reportedly been in contact with city about providing rooms for this purpose.

The city’s Office of Labor Standards has seen an uptick in labor complaints this month—from 78 in the entire month March last year, to 85 in the first three weeks of this March alone.

However, it was unclear Monday whether any hotels had actually stepped up and offered rooms, either for people experiencing homelessness or for first responders and others who need to be isolated because of potential COVID-19 exposure. A spokeswoman for Kimpton Hotels, which owns the Alexis and and Palladian—two hotels that have been in contact with the city—said that “neither has agreed to set up any isolation rooms nor is either equipped to do that.” The spokeswoman, Brandyn Hull, added that the hotels “have offered to support the city with very low rates” for first responders, medical workers, and representatives of the CDC.

3. After getting reports that restaurants and other businesses that had to lay off workers during the COVID crisis had failed to pay employees for time they’d already worked, I contacted the city’s Office of Labor Standards to see what recourse people in this situation might have. After initially writing that “All media inquires must go through the Mayor’s office,” they got back to me with more specific responses  this morning.

If you’ve been laid off and your employer did not pay you for time you worked—for example, if your boss told you they couldn’t pay your last paycheck—that “may be considered administrative wage theft,” so try contacting OLS or the state Department of Labor and Industries to see if they can resolve it. If you didn’t get paid for vacation or sick time you accrued, you’re probably out of luck, unless you can prove that getting paid out was a condition of your employment.

OLS has seen an uptick in labor complaints this month—from 78 in the entire month March last year, to 85 in the first three weeks of this March alone.

 

Council Members Respond to Shootings and Pass a Nonbinding Resolution on Nonbinding Resolutions

(Center-to-right): Mayor Jenny Durkan, council member Lisa Herbold, council member Andrew Lewis

1. City council member Tammy Morales was the only council member to vote yesterday against a resolution by council member Alex Pedersen broadly  condemning “all forms of oppression affecting communities throughout the world.” Pedersen proposed the resolution in response to legislation by council member Kshama Sawant weighing in on national policy in India and Iran, saying he hoped it would prevent the council from passing resolutions against “every horrible thing that our president or any world leader does” in the future. At the request of other council members, Pedersen amended the resolution to stipulate that it does not impede future resolutions, winning praise—and votes—from three of his colleagues.

“It’s music to my ears to hear you say that we want to honor future requests” for resolutions, council member Lisa Herbold said before voting “yes.” Andrew Lewis, who said he would not allow the resolution to “inform, limit, or stymie” any future resolutions on world affairs, added. “I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to my colleague and vote for this.”

In the end, all four of the council’s white members voted for Pedersen’s resolution, while Morales—the only person of color on the dais—voted no.

Before casting her vote, Morales said, “it’s important to condemn oppression, but we must caution against universalizing the shared experiences of oppression itself [because] doing so can minimize the ways that different groups experience oppression.”

I contacted Morales after the meeting and asked her if she was especially conscious of being the only council member of color on the dais during Monday’s discussion. “I didn’t feel it when I started speaking, but the more I kind of processed that list of specific resolutions”—a litany of resolutions in Pedersen’s legislation that appears intended to illustrate the pointlessness of resolutions—”it did.” Most of the resolutions Pedersen included in his legislation aren’t about oppression in far-flung places at all, but about US immigration policy.

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Morales says council resolutions “aren’t intended to be a distraction from the other work that the council has to do,” as Pedersen suggested when he introduced the legislation. Instead, “they are intended to reflect the priorities of our local community as well as the families and friends that our neighbors have in other parts of the world, and I think it’s important that we respect that.”

2. Pedersen, who is head of the council’s transportation committee, sent a letter to Uber and Lyft this week asking whether they charged any customers higher-than-normal prices in the aftermath of last week’s shooting downtown, which, he said, “would be deeply disturbing in a city that permits you to use our public streets. Access to mobility during emergencies should not be determined by ability to pay.”

Several people tweeted last week that they tried to call an Uber or Lyft downtown shortly after the shooting, only to see “surge” prices of $100, $150, or more.

This isn’t some radical Marxist argument; it’s basic capitalism. If you want to jump the line in front of everyone else who’s trying to do the same thing you are, you should be willing to pay for the privilege. Otherwise, you can wait on the bus with the rest of us.

While both companies have said that they’ve issued refunds to anyone who paid extra-high surge rates to leave the downtown area during the shooting and its immediate aftermath, Pedersen’s letter seeks to ensure that anyone who paid even “relatively higher rates during the crisis as they attempted to flee downtown while suspects were still at large” receives a refund.

As someone who was downtown during the shooting myself, let me offer a counterpoint: There is no “right” to a low-cost ride from a private company. Instead, there is the market—a market determined by supply (the number of drivers willing to drive into an active shooting area) and demand (the number of people in that area who want to leave by car.) Because there was heavy traffic into and out of downtown during the shooting, what might have ordinarily been a $20 ride to Wallingford became more valuable—because a driver’s time, like an office worker’s, is worth money, and a 90-minute ride is worth more than a 20-minute one.

Second, private cars aren’t public transit; drivers decide where they want to go and which rides to take based on whether the money justifies the time and risk. No driver is obligated to come into an active-shooting area just because someone on the app really, really wants them to. This, in fact, is the whole reason for surge pricing—to give drivers an incentive to go one place when they would, left to their own devices, go somewhere else. If you don’t think drivers should be paid extra to come into an area you are trying to “flee,” you’re saying that you value their safety less than your own.

This isn’t some radical Marxist argument; it’s basic capitalism. If you want to jump the line in front of everyone else who’s trying to do the same thing you are, you should be willing to pay for the privilege. Otherwise, you can wait on the bus with the rest of us.

3. In other downtown shooting-related news, council member Lewis (District 7) has proposed stationing at least six Community Service Officers—unarmed civilian employees of the Seattle Police Department—in a storefront office somewhere in the Third Avenue corridor. The idea, Lewis says, is to have a permanent location, open 24 hours a day, to take police reports, provide “deescalation and mediation,” and “increase the visibility” of police in the area in a way that “can have a potential deterrence effect” on crime.

“The budget action [in 2019] to expand to 18 CSOs [was intended] to allow them to work in teams in the five police precincts. Calling for six of 18 to be in the West Precinct seems to be an inequitable approach unaligned with the Council’s budget actions in November.” —District 1 City Council Member Lisa Herbold

“Having a new location in the Pike-Pine corridor that is brick and mortar, that won’t be relocated like a mobile precinct, sends a message that our commitment is locked in—that we’re going to have a presence here beyond just a traditional law enforcement-based response,” Lewis says.

SPD opened a storefront in the area in 2015 as part of the “9 1/2 block strategy,” in which police arrested dozens of drug users and dealers in an area of downtown that included the site of last week’s shooting. That storefront was shut down after the operation wrapped up, and Third Avenue remained much the same as it has been for decades—a place where people buy and sell drugs, hang out, and sometimes get into fights.

But Lewis thinks a CSO storefront would be different, because CSOs aren’t a traditional law-enforcement approach. During the first iteration of the program, which ended in 2004, CSOs dealt with low-level calls, including minor property crimes, freeing up sworn officers to respond to calls that required an armed response. The program is starting up again this year, with funding for 18 full-time officers.

Lewis’ proposal would deploy six of those officers in his downtown district, leaving just 12 for the rest of the city. That idea doesn’t sit well with District 1 council member Herbold, who notes that she has been working to get a similar storefront office in South Park, where shootings are common, since last year. “The budget action [in 2019] to expand to 18 CSOs [was intended] to allow them to work in teams in the five police precincts,” Herbold says. “Calling for six of 18 to be in the West Precinct seems to be an inequitable approach unaligned with the Council’s budget actions in November.”

The Downtown Seattle Association has been enthusiastic about the proposal, saying in a statement that “locating a Seattle Police Community Storefront along Third Avenue is a welcome first step toward improving public safety in the heart of downtown.” However, Mayor Jenny Durkan was less effusive. Asked if Durkan supported Lewis’ approach, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office responded, “Our 12 CSOs are currently finishing their months-long training, and will be deployed in February in neighborhoods throughout Seattle. Their deployment plan already includes a presence downtown as well as neighborhoods throughout Seattle.”

Afternoon Crank: Slightly NSFW Edition

1. Monday’s city council meeting featured the official swearing-in ceremonies for all but one of the council’s seven reelected and newly elected members—the odd one out being District 3 council member Kshama Sawant, who is holding a special ceremony for herself in a week. Sawant still took the opportunity to give a speech denouncing “big business,” Amazon specifically, and other opponents before describing her charge as head of the council’s new sustainability and renters’ rights committee—implementing rent control, placing a moratorium on winter evictions, and passing a tax on Amazon. The council’s new rules will require Sawant (and all other committee chairs—sorry, Andrew Lewis) to convince at least two of their four fellow committee members to show up if they want to hold a meeting, because committees can no longer meet without at least three council members present.

The council also adopted its new committee roster without amendment, preserving an apparent power imbalance among the council’s newcomers that I pointed out last week. While Alex Pedersen, who joined the council in November, will oversee several of the city’s largest departments—transportation, City Light, Seattle Public Utilities, and IT—and Dan Strauss will chair the important land use committee, Tammy Morales will lead a once-monthly committee overseeing community economic development, and Lewis, as mentioned, won’t chair any standing committees. One thing Morales and Lewis have in common: Both were out of town for much of December, the critical month when council members typically negotiate their committee assignments.

Although attendees were reportedly told that performer Beyonce St. James was volunteering her time at the annual All Home conference on homelessness last November, King County confirms that she received $500 for the performance, paid by Department of Community and Human Services director Leo Flor out of his own personal funds

2. Pedersen’s primary and general-election field manager, Joseph Rouse, got into a social-media scrap with several Pedersen critics a few days ago, posting a link on the District 4 Facebook page to a piece by Safe Seattle leader David Preston that revealed where one of the Pedersen critics lives and works. The link to the doxxing post was removed by an administrator, but not before several group members pointed out that Rouse edited and wrote for a conservative campus satire publication called the Oregon Commentator when he was a student at the University of Oregon several years ago.

Rouse wrote for and held a variety of positions at the paper, whose mission statement endorses a “political philosophy of conservatism, free thought and individual liberty,” between 2011 and 2013. The publication, which is now defunct, ran numerous articles endorsing guns (“If women are to actually prevent rapes from occurring, and actually protect themselves and not ‘women’ as a social construct, then it is time we discussed women equipping themselves with firearms”), taking potshots at women, left-wing students, and people of color (“As I approached one hall, I could hear people speaking Spanish. So I walked up to one of the students and naturally said, ‘Hey, so are you guys waiting to water some begonia or what?”). How edgy was this publication? SO edgy that they ran a hardcore porn money shot as a full-page ad (page 15, and obviously NSFW).

At the end of one of his columns, which seems to be a confusing parody of the concept of “rape culture,” Rouse described himself this way: “Joseph Rouse is the publisher of Oregon Commentator and has a bitch tied up in his truck right now.” In another, trashing a proposed campus ban on smoking, he and a cowriter decry “the promotion of diversity and suffocating political correctness”  and the whole “back-patting, cum-spouting” smoking ban proposal. “Because blacks, whites, gays, straights and many others use tobacco, it can’t be grouped into a minority and, hence, isn’t worth shit. Well, fuck that,” Rouse and his coauthor wrote.

Pedersen said in an email that he was not aware of Rouse’s views or writing, and that the writings do not reflect his values. (Pedersen, notably, did not hire Rouse as a council aide.) Rouse has not returned messages seeking comment. But he has continued to aggressively argue with Pedersen critics on Facebook, where he says he “invested seven months of my life getting [Pedersen] into office and “actually know[s] the man.” (Rouse confirmed on Facebook that he wrote for the publication but said it was not a “right-wing periodical.”)

According to campaign records, Pedersen paid Rouse a total of $3,500 for “campaign operations work” in August and November. Rouse’s local campaign contributions include $75 to Pedersen and $25 to Pat Murakami, who ran unsuccessfully for the District 3 council seat last year.

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3. Mike Solan, a Seattle police officer and vice president of the Seattle Police Officer Guild who has carved out a niche for himself as the voice of the far right wing of the Seattle Police Department, is running to lead the SPOG on a campaign focused on “thwarting the anti-police activist agenda that is driving Seattle’s politics,” “Fundamentally chang[ing] the activist narrative,” and… pepper-spraying anti-fascist demonstrators? Continue reading “Afternoon Crank: Slightly NSFW Edition”

The 2019 City Council Candidates: District 2 Candidate Tammy Morales

Image via Tammy Morales campaign.

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

Today: Tammy Morales, an organizer for the Rainier Beach Action Coalition and former Seattle Human Rights Commission member. Morales ran in 2015 against District 2 incumbent Bruce Harrell and lost by just over 300 votes. She’s running for the same position this year, but without Harrell (who’s retiring) in the running.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): Four years ago, you ran as a progressive alternative to Bruce Harrell, but you certainly strike me as the kind of candidate that would join the DSA or call yourself a socialist. So how have your positions changed in the four years since you last ran?

Tammy Morales (TM): I don’t know if my positions have changed. I think for me, I’ve gotten clearer about sort of the macro economic structure that is driving the inequality in our country. That’s why I was really interested in learning more about what DSA is. And tied to that is my deeper understanding about racial inequality and how so much of that is rooted in every structure and system that we have in this country and this sort of extractive economy that is driven by this constant need to grow and expand the markets. And it all just sort of came together for me in a way that it was less clear before.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in small business or that I don’t believe in having a market-based economy. But it does mean that I think even more so strongly now that the role of local government is to intervene when the market is failing the most vulnerable in our community.

(Morales followed up later to say that she would consider a business and occupation tax rebate program for micro-businesses with fewer than 20 employees, commercial rent control or longer leases for small businesses, community land trusts for commercial spaces, and a public bank that could provide small-business loans).

ECB: When you say “growth,” are you referring to economic growth or growth in terms of population?

TM: Well, I think the people growth is driven by our idea that we have to constantly attract more businesses. We have to expand industry. We have to provide the incentives that let Amazon bring 53,000 people here. And at some point, you reach capacity and it’s just not a sustainable model, especially when we haven’t really prepared all the infrastructure that we need to absorb that.

“We’re talking about permanent, affordable housing, things like community land trusts that could ensure long-term affordability, right of return, affirmative marketing of projects, and preserving existing affordability rather than allowing for affordable buildings to be torn down and replaced with market-rate buildings.”

ECB: When you talk about infrastructure, are you talking about concurrency [the idea that the city shouldn’t allow more density without providing infrastructure to support it]?

TM: We’re witnessing the result of this confluence of things. The feds have disinvested in public housing, our housing policy has been driven by serving developers that are interested in facilitating more market-rate construction, and then there’s the fact that we grew by 100,000 people in 10 years and our projections were that we would do that in 20. We just weren’t ready. And so we’re playing catch up. And what that means is that because so much of what has been in the pipeline for construction has been market-rate and not workforce housing or low-income housing, we’re witnessing displacement, especially in this district. So one of the priorities for me is dealing with that displacement.

ECB: Tell me about some of the policies you would want to implement to deal with displacement.

TM: We’re talking about inclusionary zoning—revisiting that and making it mandatory to include some percentage [of affordable housing on-site at new developments] rather than chipping into a pot of funds. We’re talking about permanent, affordable housing, things like community land trusts that could ensure longterm affordability for rental or homeownership opportunities, right of return, affirmative marketing of projects, and preserving existing affordability rather than allowing for affordable buildings to be torn down and replaced with market-rate buildings or something that people can’t afford anymore. So I think there are a slew of things that we could be doing to acknowledge that we can’t keep pushing out low-income folks out of the city.

ECB: When Kathy Nyland was head of the Department of Neighborhoods, she pushed for a new kind of outreach and engagement strategy that reached neighborhoods who had been excluded from traditional policymaking discussions. The idea was to expand the idea of community engagement beyond the traditional neighborhood district councils. How do you think that’s going now?

TM: I just spent a year working on a racial equity analysis with the office of civil rights, and the thing that we talked about for a year was the lack of commitment to authentic community engagement. So I think we need to reinvest in that department. We need to bring back the neighborhood service offices, so that people don’t have to go downtown, so that the resources that folks need to help them navigate the city departments are here for them, and to provide it in language  and during hours that people can actually access.

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The other thing is that if we are going to hold ourselves accountable to being a race and social justice city, a human rights city, then we have to commit to what it takes to do authentic community engagement. I think what I would like to see is that every city department has, in their budget, a line item for community engagement. So you budget for public education, for outreach, for events in the neighborhoods. And that needs to include funding for translators, for childcare, for food, for stipends for community members who you’re asking to come and give up their time to share their expertise about their neighborhood.

ECB: In response to recent news about fare enforcement, a lot of people are calling for free transit. That would obviously impact District 2, which has both light rail and some of the heaviest-ridership buses in the county along with a lower-income population than most other council districts. What do you think of that idea?

TM: I know Metro gets cranky whenever candidates start talking about this. This is where I do start thinking about revenue in the city and in the state, and, um, what it would take to be able to provide free transit, which is why I supported the statewide income tax, capital gains tax or whatever we can do to try to generate a more progressive funding stream in the city and in the state. Because I do think that we have a role to play in providing basic ways for people to get around.

ECB: You’ve been a food security advocate for a number of years. What are some steps that the city counts that you as a city council member would take to improve food security in District 2, which is a district where a lot of residents lack access to healthy food?

TM: We need longterm, local food resiliency. People need to learn how to grow food again, needs to learn where food comes from. And so, to the extent that we can expand community gardens, support people in growing their own foods so that they could start to understand what that means, that’s important. As part of the local Food Action Plan, we created and expanded the Fresh Bucks program [which gives SNAP recipients access to fresh fruits and vegetables], and it’s oversubscribed. Continue reading “The 2019 City Council Candidates: District 2 Candidate Tammy Morales”

An Unscripted Forum and Open-Mic Nite in Southeast Seattle’s District 2

Bruce Harrell does not need your "yes or no crap."
Bruce Harrell does not need your “yes or no crap.”

It’s nearly impossible to judge candidate “performance” at an unscripted, barely moderated event like last week’s District 2 forum without writing first about why it was a fiasco, and in this case the answer boiled down to three words: Josh Farris acolytes. Or: Unprepared forum moderator. Or, even shorter: No crowd control.

Whichever way you characterize it, the issue was that Farris, the relatively soft-spoken, seemingly reasonable, socialist-leaning third candidate in the Southeast Seattle district, showed up accompanied by a cadre of noisy, boisterous, disrespectful fans. Meanwhile, the moderator, Lakewood Seward Park Community Club board member Jeannie O’Brien, made essentially no effort to discipline the Farrisites by asking them to be quiet or stop heckling, creating an atmosphere of chaos that allowed them to commandeer a mic later and stretch the two-hour forum—which, again, featured just three candidates—until nearly 10:00 at night. (The Lakewood forum became the community’s de facto introduction to the three candidates after the 37th District Democrats canceled a forum for the 2nd and 3rd District races because Kshama Sawant, the popular Socialist council incumbent, like Farris, is not a Democrat).

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the lay of the land in District 2. Bruce Harrell, longtime council incumbent and Seward Park resident, is running for the new District 2 seat. His main challenger is food-systems nonprofit manager Tammy Morales, another Seward Park resident who is running on a platform of affordability, police accountability (an issue on which she frequently attacks Harrell, who’s head of the council’s Public Safety Committee), and general “progressive values.: Flanking both of them on the left is Farris, a Occupy Wall Streeter and Iraq war veteran who’s running on an anti-eviction platform.

The trouble started right after Farris’ intro wrapped up and his supporters, mostly young guys who had ringed the room, started screaming and cheering uproariously, prompting an elderly lady in the front row to whisper to the Farris supporter next to hear, “Please stop screaming. I’m wearing hearing aids.” When the screamer continued screaming anyway, she explained further the hearing aids are “basically little microphones in my ears,” prompting the women next to her to begin openly mocking her,  setting the tone for an evening that was frequently punctuated by cheers and interruptions from hecklers.

Through all the noise (or perhaps because of it), I was reminded of something I forget about Bruce Harrell between elections: The man suffers no bullshit from his audience. And despite his affinity for binders full of notes (a security blanket that was clearly visible on the table in front of him), Harrell’s a strong campaigner, and he doesn’t back down when challenged even if his challenger, like Morales (and Farris), doesn’t pose much of a threat. Last week’s forum was no different, and at times it was fun to watch Harrell (act? play?) indignant when Morales tried to paint him as “someone who claims to be a social justice advocate but fails to step up for working people,” or who only became interested in “investing in the community after he’s been [on the council] eight years.”

"My question is a series of statements."
“My question is a series of statements.”

Harrell—who previously said he’d “never had so much fight in me as I have [in running] for this position”—responded, in full non sequitur battle mode, “I’ve never been afraid of anything—never. I don’t do things on the basis of fear. That’s a baseless accusation.”

The most striking difference between this debate and the council forums I’ve been to in the North End was the extent to which the issues down south are almost the reverse image of those that dominate up north. Whereas in the North End, people expressed concern about ugly apartment buildings coming in and depreciating single-family property values, the Lakewood forum centered on preserving racial diversity, keeping rents affordable, and preventing gentrification. Whereas everyone in the North End seemed obsessed with sidewalks to connect their single-family neighborhoods to local schools, the main transportation issues that came up in Southeast Seattle were the proposed restriping of Rainier Ave. S. to accommodate bike or bus lanes, and the fact that Sound Transit light rail has been so successful that many rail commuters are driving into Southeast Seattle and parking their cars on neighborhood streets, reducing the parking supply for residents.

All three candidates bemoaned gentrification, but they differed on what (if anything) to do about it. Morales suggested that the city should subsidize “not just very low-income housing, but housing for average workers who need a place to stay,” while Harrell said he would help improve Southeast business districts by prohibiting the “clustering” of marijuana retailers in the Rainier Valley. Currently, Rainier Ave. S is home to around a dozen medical-marijuana shops, some of which feature signs boasting “Open until midnight!” and offering free samples for first-time buyers.

And all three candidates agreed that the city needs to adopt a “linkage fee,” a citywide tax on new development, to help make developers “pay their fair share,” in Harrell’s words, to subsidize affordable housing. Farris, a new homeowner who called himself “basically homeless” (he was recently kicked out of his apartment following a long dispute with his landlord and is currently in between those two places), also said the city should adopt anti-eviction laws, a “blight tax” on banks that buy foreclosed homes, and rent control.

 

When the issue of transportation came up, all three displayed the familiar mix of conflicting opinions that often come up in discussions about “road diets,” the (fictitious) “war on cars,” and bike lanes. For example, while Harrell declared himself a passionate supporter of restriping Rainier to slow traffic and improve safety (“I don’t want another life lost on Rainier Avenue … If it takes a minute off your schedule, then start a minute earlier!”), he also said cyclists should be content to ride on “neighborhood streets” and that “I don’t think there should be a prohibition” on new park-and-ride lots in the city.

Morales followed up on Harrell’s park-and-ride comment by declaring herself “flummoxed” at the fact that the city does not allow new park-and-rides next to light rail stations (city officials prefer transit-oriented development to acres of bare pavement) and said she generally can’t walk the mile between her house and light rail because “sometimes I like to wear heels” and because she has young kids.

Farris, who is white, awkwardly attempted to demonstrate his cultural competency by talking about the need for more crossings on Rainier: “You see elderly folks crossing [Rainier] who  don’t understand that when a car’s coming, you have to stop. It’s not part of the culture. I’ve been to Vietnam, and when a car’s coming, you just walk out into the street and expect them to stop. That doesn’t happen here.”

The evening ended in what was supposed to be a Q&A with the audience. The problem was, no one was screening questions, and O’Brien neither enforced nor even provided any parameters before declaring it open-mike. Or, as I tweeted:  Screen shot 2015-06-15 at 9.14.23 PM

And guess what, I was right. The unscreened “questions” turned out to be mostly lengthy speeches by Farris supporters about everything from the new juvenile detention center (Harrell: “The jail is not controlled by the city …  You can shake your head all you want, but I want some bad people locked up”), to how to solve the affordable housing crisis (Harrell again: “I’m 56 years old. I don’t need people to applaud the linkage fee… Let’s not cheapen this process with this yes or no crap”), to whether the candidates would “give up” most of their salaries, as Farris has promised to do in the alternate universe in which he gets elected.

While new homeowner Farris used this last question as a chance once again to highlight his poverty (“I’m sleeping on a couch… It’s hard to be poor”), Harrell responding by saying that he earns his keep.

“If your question is, Would I give 50 percent of my salary to charity?, the answer is no,” Harrell said. “I would not be willing to do that. I have two kids in college and bills to pay, and I work very, very hard for it.”

After several more questions, and many more speeches (including one by a Farris supporter who claimed to have come to Harrell’s office seeking help “with tears in my eyes, representing Latino families and all families in the city”), the forum was over and everyone drifted into the night, a bit more knowledgeable and probably a little more confused than when they went in.