Tag: tim burgess

Council Pushes Back on “Growth Fund” Housing Preservation Proposal

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Freshman city council member Lisa Herbold has proposed resurrecting a pre-Eyman-era housing “growth fund” to pay for the preservation of naturally-occurring affordable housing–privately owned housing that, because of its age or state of repair, is more affordable than market-rate housing.   The original growth fund was created in 1985 to fund affordable housing construction; it consisted of a percentage of property tax revenues from new construction downtown, and brought in about $15 million in its 17-year existence. Herbold’s proposal would begin with a single demonstration project.

“I think it’s an important commitment to make in light of our current housing crisis,” Herbold says. “Between 1960 and 1985, nearly 16,000 housing units were lost downtown. … I think we are in a similar time now and if [Mayor Ed Murray’s] goal of 20,000 more net affordable housing units is going to be met, we have to do something about the fact that it is unlikely the units lost will be replaced or preserved without an explicit preservation strategy.”

Last Wednesday, Herbold invited affordable-housing advocates from groups like Puget Sound Sage and the Low-Income Housing Institute to pitch the council’s affordable housing committee on the fund proposal. 

“I think the public understands the linkage between all this new construction in a booming economy and the loss of affordable housing,” LIHI director Sharon Lee told council members. “We’ve got 1 Percent for the Arts. If housing is on the front page of the paper every day and people are being forced to leave Seattle [because of high housing prices], why aren’t we using 1 percent of the general fund for housing?”

Lee told the committee that former mayor Greg Nickels eliminated the growth fund when he first took office in 2002; “He said, ‘We have a housing levy; let’s just cut [the growth fund],’ and that was a disappointment to us,” Lee said.

But committee chair Tim Burgess and city budget office director Ben Noble strongly disputed Lee’s claim that Nickels had cut the fund for purely political reasons, noting that 2002 was the year that a Tim Eyman-backed measure capping annual property tax growth at 1 percent was adopted by the state legislature (the original initiative was ruled unconstitutional, but the legislature passed a copycat version). That meant that property tax revenues, which had been growing at about 6 percent a year, took a sudden, dramatic hit, forcing the city to scramble for funds to pay for basics and leading to the city’s current reliance on property tax levies to pay for everything from early-childhood education to libraries to housing.

“I think we should be real clear about why the city got rid of the growth fund in 2002,” Burgess said sternly. “It was not just the whim of Mayor Nickels.” After the 1 percent cap on property tax increases took effect, city leaders “determined that we should increase the size of the housing levy … and eliminate the growth fund because our property tax revenue options had been suppressed so much. That’s a much fairer explanation of that.”

Moreover, Noble and council member (and former private-sector CFO) Mike O’Brien pointed out that neither of Herbold’s proposals would create any new revenue; rather, the dedicated growth fund would take money from other city programs funded by the budget and spend it on housing preservation. Similarly, the bond proposal wouldn’t create any new money (Herbold protested: “It’s new in that it’s dedicated to this purpose”); instead, it would create new debt that would have to paid back, with interest, out of the general fund every year.

“Let’s not pretend that we get this [housing preservation fund] for free when we’re paying for that debt over 20 years, and there’s no new source of that money because it’s coming out of the general fund,” O’Brien said. “I expect and hope our experts will give us the best solution, so if using our bonding capacity is the best way to fund affordable housing, that intrigues me … and on the flip side, if it’s not a very good idea and there’s more efficient financing tools, I would not want to use a bad tool just because it sounds good.”

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“The bottom line,” Noble told me this week, “is that to do what council member Herbold is suggesting would require taking existing general fund resources and dedicating it to housing—which is a perfectly fine thing to do, but the general fund is already being relied upon on to pay for cops and fire and everything else.”  Noble says the city is still optimistic about passing a tax exemption for landlords who agree to keep their housing affordable, which narrowly failed in the state house this year thanks to opposition from house speaker Frank Chopp.

Both O’Brien and Burgess seem to agree that the source of additional funding for housing preservation is less important than providing the money, which led both to the idea of funding preservation through the housing levy.

“We’re getting ready to vote in two or three weeks on dedicating a huge amount of taxpayer money to housing, including preservation,” Burgess says. “This is really a discussion about how are we going to allocate all of the taxpayer money that we have at our disposal, and focusing on a specific method like a growth fund is less important to me than how we decide to use all our resources.” However, Herbold counters that the 2009 housing levy could have funded affordable housing preservation, but didn’t, in part because housing levy funds are less flexible than the growth fund was, and because the Office of Housing traditionally works on new construction, not preservation.

At last week’s meeting, Office of Housing director Steve Walker seemed to agree, noting that buying up existing for-profit affordable housing is challenging, because of income requirements (if an existing resident makes too much to qualify for a unit in a newly city-owned building, would the city kick her out?) and because the city doesn’t have much experience in the housing-preservation business.

Herbold says she worries that “if we separate the conversation, the result will be that we are driven down the path of traditional OH programs. …  Separating the conversation about financing from the conversation about preservation from makes the need for preservation more and more abstract from the harm of displacement.”

The council will need a lot of convincing on that front (right now, Herbold’s proposal seems to have little traction), and that will likely have to wait until after voters consider the $290 million housing levy proposal in August.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Jungle?

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This morning, the city council was briefed on a recent interagency visit to the Jungle, the 150-acre greenbelt between Dearborn and S. Lucile Streets in Southeast Seattle. The full report on the state of things at the Jungle is available here.

Officials from the fire department, the Human Services Department, and King County Health described a place unfit for human habitation at which, nonetheless, an estimated 400 people are still living. Piles of human waste, needles, trash, and other detritus as well as an epidemic of violence in the rough encampment have led city officials and nonprofit service providers to keep their distance from the Jungle, staying on the periphery while chaos goes on inside.

“We are not going to ask our providers to go in that area and put themselves at harm,” HSD’s Jason Johnson told the council. King County Public Health’s Darrell Rodgers added that although the county “feels this is imminent and threatening,” they need data to get grants to fix the problem …and they can’t get data without going in to the Jungle, which they won’t do because it isn’t safe.

At the end of the briefing, two council members presented fundamentally conflicting proposals for dealing with the Jungle. Tim Burgess went first, suggesting that the place simply needed to be cleared out for the safety of its occupants and people in surrounding neighborhoods.

“There’s no ambiguity in my mind about these unsanctioned encampments. These unsanctioned encampments are inherently dangerous, they pose significant public health and safety challenges, and we’ve heard this morning a rather shocking assessment. I think the city has an obligation to act, not only for the residents who are living in these areas but also for the surrounding areas. This is a significant public safety threat in our city and we should not allow these unsanctioned encampments to happen in our city… This has been this way for decades and it’s not safe. If there are 400 people living in this area, those are 400 people who are at extreme risk of harm, and it’s the obligation of the city government to make sure that hey are not at risk of harm. We would not allow this in any other area of our city, so why would we allow it to happen here?” Burgess said.

O’Brien responded directly to Burgess’ question: “I believe the reason we allow that to happen here is through a set of policies that implicitly encourage this. We know the reality there are around 400 folks living in the Jungle. We also all recognize the challenge we face when we have hundreds of people in our communities in much more visible places, perhaps with better access to things like bathrooms and stores and sanitation, and in direct contact w residences and businesses. This is one of the few places where folks can go and essentially of out of sight, and people are making that decision for a variety of reasons.

“I agree with Council Member Burgess that it’s deplorable that this situation exists. What’s less clear to me is what the solution is. I would like to see no one living in the Jungle. I would like to see all those folks moved out to there and transitioned into something better. … I don’t know that our system has the capacity to take 400 people out of there today. And if we’re simply saying, you can’t be there today without providing an alternative, we are simply taking people who are in a bad situation and making it worse.”

Without a solution, what those who say, “Just move them out of there” are really saying is “let’s just throw them all in jail.” As long as we criminalize homelessness without providing alternatives, and without recognizing that many people face significant barriers (addiction, mental health issues, lack of socialization) to living in traditional shelters or housing, we’re saying, “I’d rather warehouse homeless people than find a solution that actually helps.”

And even if that notion doesn’t bother you, jail costs a hell of a lot more than providing a Dumpster and some portable toilets while we figure out how to meet people where they are instead of imposing one-size-fits-all solutions and sweeps that just push homeless people further out of sight and beyond our helping.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Tim Burgess

Now that the primary-election field of 47 has been narrowed to a comparatively manageable 18, I’m sitting down with all the council candidates to talk about what they’ve learned so far, their campaign plans going forward, and their views on the issues that will shape the election, including density, “neighborhood character,” crime, parking, police accountability, and diversity. I’ll be rolling out all 17 of my interviews (Kshama Sawant was the only candidate who declined, after repeated requests, to speak with me) over the next few weeks, starting today with incumbent city council member Tim Burgess, running for citywide Position 8 against former Tenants Union director Jon Grant.

I sat down with Burgess at Pegasus Coffee near City Hall earlier this month.

The C Is For Crank [ECB]: Now that the results are pretty final, it’s clear that you’re ending up the primary election well under 50 percent. [From an election-night high of 48.34 percent, Burgess slipped by the time results were certified to 45.74 percent. Grant ended up with 30.85 percent of the total].

Tim Burgess [TB]: I don’t know if I was surprised. I think he has been tapped in, both with the Stranger endorsement and some of the [independent expenditures] he got [from groups like SEIU 925],  to the whole equity issue. He has played on that effectively with his rent control approach and his anti-[Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda] approach. We’ll see if that can be more broadly based. We have to work hard. We wanted to have 48 to 52 percent on election night and we got 48. That’s gone down to 45 or 46 since.

He did well. The race is going to be much more difficult than what we expected.

ECB: What do you think the race will look like between now and November?

TB: He’ll do in the general what he’s done in the primary—all kind of accusatory, outlandish stunts. The classic so far is to point over to me and say, “Tim burgess is the biggest obstacle to police reform we’ve had in ten years.” He never gets specific. He makes the point that John T. Williams [the Native woodcarver who was shot in a crosswalk by a rookie SPD officer] was killed while [I] was chair of the public safety committee, as if I was complicit in that horrible murder. He points to 200-plus cases of excessive force and says I did nothing. Well, I was only public safety committee chair during my first term. I’m not even on the committee. I don’t even know where he got that number. For all I know, he’s just making it up.

I talk back when he says that and say, “Here’s what I’ve done.” At the downtown Seattle library forum, he made some comment that no police officer has been fired for excessive force under Tim’s watch, and I just pointed out that if he gets on the council, he’ll realize that the council has no power to do that. I think that will continue. That will be his MO—very accusatory.

ECB: The “council’s most conservative member” tag has dogged you since you were elected. It seems to me that on a liberal council, there’s some legitimacy to that label. [Burgess infamously sponsored a bill that would have cracked down on aggressive panhandlers, for example].

TB: People like to label people. I get that. But if you actually look at my record on the city council, it’s a progressive agenda. In fact, it’s a very liberal agenda. Just this week we passed the firearm tax [now being challenged by the NRA]. That’s a very progressive law.

I don’t like the label. I don’t think it’s accurate. I don’t have a need to label people or put them in boxes.

ECB: As we’re talking, Mayor Murray just backed down on a symbolically important part of the HALA plan—the recommendation to allow more housing types, including triplexes and row houses, in single-family areas. Do you think that, by doing so, he hurt the HALA cause?

TB: What people miss is that, for the first time in Seattle, we have an effective coalition of leaders of labor unions, environmentalists, housing advocates, and social justice advocates all on the same page and pulling in the same direction. That is huge. If you look back in the last eight years, during the battles around incentive zoning and height, those groups were all battling with each other. The mayor has created a coalition that’s really strong and committed to pulling things through. That is huge, and that is a game changer.

Jon opposed all that. He was the one negative vote against HALA, and his subsequent actions have been to pursue a set of policies that would break that coalition.

ECB: You announced that you were no longer supporting that portion of the recommendations before the mayor made his announcement. I heard he was really pissed at you about that. Did you try to tell him before you made your announcement backing off the single-family changes?

TB: I certainly had communicated with his staff for two and a half weeks. That’s when Ed was over in Rome, so he and I were not communicating directly on that. We probably could have done a better job. We had not communicated [that I was going to disavow the single-family changes] to him directly, but I told his staff Sunday night, and then Monday morning, I made the announcement.

ECB: Why did you decide to pull support for the most controversial part of HALA? Doesn’t that send a message that you’ll cave on other controversial recommendations, like citywide height increases in multi-family zones?

TB: That issue is too fractious. Single family was so volatile and toxic in the neighborhoods that it could have bogged down the whole process.

It’s really important to understand what we took off the table. We took off the table duplexes, triplexes, and stacked flats in all single-family zones. What we did not take off the table were [detached accessory dwelling units] and [attached accessory dwelling units] because we want to do that. I think there is a very broad acceptance that those are changes that will produce immediate affordable housing. There will likely be some opposition, but nothing like what we got with single-family.

I’m neutral in District 4,  but I was very disappointed when Michael Maddux went with the Jon Grant approach to HALA [by signing off on Grant’s HALA alternative].

ECB: But now that you’ve changed your mind on single-family, what’s to say you won’t change your mind on other aspects of the plan?

TB: I think you’re not going to see me cave. During the Roosevelt upzone [a density increase for transit-oriented development near light rail], the neighbors were furious. I pushed it through. In Pioneer Square, I tried to get one more story. I had the votes and in the last week, the historic preservationists turned some of my colleagues against it, but I tried.

ECB: Right after doing a 180 on single-family in HALA, the mayor made what many consider another political misstep, when he announced city plans to shut down all 11 of Seattle’s hookah lounges because, he said, they were linked to violent crime and possibly the death of International District community leader Donnie Chin. You backed the mayor up on that. Why?

TB (putting head in hands): All of those hookah lounges have been cited for illegal behavior, including smoking indoors. I get the legal basis of his decision. I’m very conscious of the use of the city’s police power in situations like this. I think the mayor will [back off on shutting down] hookah lounges that don’t have certain activities associated with them. I have not heard any  indication that [Chin’s] death was connected with hookah lounges. I don’t know. Some of them do have problems. We’ve had mismanagement, and I know some of them don’t pay the city taxes. In its enforcement of tax laws, the city is very focused on education and compliance, and we don’t shut businesses down for a minor offense.

Process of Elimination

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After a weekend of behind-closed-doors deliberations, the council has announced the eight–not five, as originally suggested–finalists for the city council seat recently vacated by Sally Clark. Eight, incidentally, is also the number of council members putting forward nominations, which could be the only sign of disagreement among council members that the public will ever see.

Let’s hope not, though, because the candidates give the public and the council plenty to talk about.

They are: Former city council member and interim King County Council member Jan Drago; Progressive Majority Washington director and onetime Gael Tarleton opponent Noel Frame; Low-Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee; interim Human Services Department director John Okamoto; former NAACP chapter president and recent state senate candidate Sheley Secrest; former Washington State Ferries director David Moseley; and Democratic Party activist and former Sound Transit diversity advisor Alex Stephens.

I’m going to go out on a limb and make some predictions here, with the caveat that my record at making correct predictions is atrocious. With that said, let’s take a look at this appointment as a process of elimination.

Secrest, the longtime head of the local NAACP and a bulldog on police accountability, is probably too politically polarizing and outspoken about police brutality to make the cut. (She’s also clashed with the council in the past.) Lee faces a similar challenge–she’s a single-issue (affordable housing) candidate with a big political agenda, who went so far as to trash one of the other candidates, interim HSD head Okamoto, for refusing to give $100 in HSD funds to a homeless family for a night in a hotel. Frame isn’t well-known outside state politics, and hasn’t been active on the local level. And Stephens, an attorney and South End resident who’s active in the 37th District Democrats, is virtually unknown. (I’m guessing, based on neighborhood and occupation, that Stephens was a Harrell pick).

That leaves us with our top three contenders: Maeda, Drago, and Okamoto. Here’s why I’m going to go out on a (very precarious) limb and predict the council goes with Maeda: Drago would be an odd choice. She’s served in a similar capacity before, when the King County Council picked her as a caretaker to temporarily replace Dow Constantine when he was elected King County Executive. That does give her experience (and demonstrates that she’s true to her word–she did not run for reelection to the county council), but it also makes her an odd choice. Plus she’s already been on the council in recent years–will council members elected since her departure in 2008 welcome her back with open arms?

Okamoto could get the nod, but one note of caution: As Lee’s application suggests, his tenure has been somewhat controversial. Lee’s application also notes that HSD has so far failed to release funds allocated for tent encampments, and charges that the department “decided not to use” $40,000 in unspent shelter funds in 2014. That same year, a state audit slammed the department for failing to document payments it made to service providers, a charge that didn’t directly attach to Okamoto (the charges were from 2013, before he was appointed), but which did happen during his time at the top. He’s also a Mayor Ed Murray appointee, which could make some council members view him with suspicion.

Maeda, in contrast, is an elder stateswoman in the world of racial and social justice advocacy. She’s retired, after a 40-year career working, among many other positions, as a union activist, a Clinton appointee working in the office of the U.S. secretary of housing, a public-radio CEO, and a women’s studies professor. She’s passionate about grassroots organizing but gimlet-eyed about political realities. And she managed to win the support of eight council members at a crucial point during the last appointment process, eventually losing to Sally Clark in a convoluted, multiple-vote process. That was a different council, but her across-the-spectrum support could translate to today’s council, which ranges from Socialist firebrand Kshama Sawant to hard-nosed “conservative” Tim Burgess.

I’m not counting Okamoto or, especially, Drago out, but if I was a betting woman (and–see above–I am), I’d pick unobjectionable Maeda over the contentious department head or the been-there-done-that-twice ex-council member.

The Eight Least Likely To

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Image via Seattle.gov.

 

Now that council president Tim Burgess has ruined everyone’s fun by shutting the public out of the process to appoint a new council member to replace Sally Clark (after discussing the matter in closed session Friday, Burgess and Co. are meeting by phone privately all weekend to narrow the list down to five by Monday), all that’s really left is to wait and see what amendments his colleagues offer, if any, to surface the names of favored candidates who didn’t make the top five. After that, each candidate gets his or her three minutes on Friday (the public, including unsuccessful applicants, will be relegated to one-minute public comments), and the council will make its choice over the next weekend, followed by a pro forma vote the following Monday.

Rather than speculate on who might make the cut, then (although, fine: The likely finalists include former council member Jan Drago, former interim human services director John Okamoto, former state ferries chief and mayor’s housing affordability committee member David Moseley, longtime community activist and two-time council appointment candidate Sharon Maeda, and Low Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee, whose application letter swings at Okamoto), here’s a look at some of the candidates least likely to make the cut.

None of them are raving public-comment staples like Alex “you fucking Nazis” Tsimerman; hell, some of them (hi, Dick Falkenbury!) might be viable candidates for a district council seat. What unites most of them is a failure to (in some cases, even nominally) meet the main criteria for the appointment, as decided by the council: An ability to “hit the ground running” (which implies a working knowledge of how the city’s legislative branch works in relation to the other branches, familiarity with the issues that will be on the docket between now and November, and a resume that suggests they have some experience relevant to the job.)

While I admire the pluck it takes to apply for a position in public service, I also think opportunities like this one draw in people who know they aren’t qualified, and who may be in it for the exposure. Others may be utterly sincere, but not self-aware enough to know that an application for a job like city council member should at least look professional, and include some information about why the person wants the job and thinks he or she can handle it.

With that said, here are the eight candidates least likely to make the council’s cut:

• Dick Falkenbury. Actually, I think onetime monorail visionary Dick Falkenbury is probably qualified for the council; hell, I was about ready to die on that hill during his first run back in 2003—but this time around, Falkenbury’s phoning it in. His application consists of a one-line cover letter and a half-page, slapped-together resume that ends in 2002. All this “application” does is get Falkenbury’s name back in the news. And see? It’s working. Falkenbury Falkenbury Falkenbury.

• Self-described male model David Caseletto, whose current job title is “True Boss” at True Boss Promotions, which “focuses on monetizing the outsourcing of services for small businesses,” and manager at a bar on Beacon Hill. On his application, he notes that “it was always my dream to be a bartender,” but adds that “we all have to have hobbies, I like public policy.”

• Kyle Bowman, a sheet metal worker who didn’t submit a resumé but “graduated from Snohomish High School with a reasonably good gpa.”

• Timothy Janof, an electrical engineer who points out that although “I am not a policy wonk” and has no relevant experience, his principal in junior high was former council member Cheryl Chow, and he graduated from Garfield High. “Although born in Paris, France, I consider myself about as ‘Seattle’ as you can get,” Janof writes.

• Giovanni Rosellini (not, as far as I can tell, related to those Rosellinis), a legal assistant who lists among his qualifications the ability to “interview witnesses,” “photograph the crime scene,” and “testify in court to impeach a witness in pre-trial criminal defense investigation.” His qualifications are less specific: They include being a U.S. citizen and being registered to vote.

• Earl Sedlik, who actually seems reasonably qualified (his current positions include head of the Mount Baker Club, and he ran four council twice before, in the ’90s), but whom I’m including on this list because his application is one of the longest of the bunch, because his subject line is written like a press release (“Re: EARL SEDLIK APPLIES FOR THE OPEN CITY COUNCIL POSITION – CONTACT INFORMATION”), and because his cover letter includes decades-old commendations from two late former city council members, George Benson and Charlie Chong, and former council member Margaret Pageler… ‘s son.

David Toledo, who is also running quite enthusiastically for the four-year District 5 council seat, putting his commitment to serving only as a short-term “caretaker” (one of the criteria the council has specified for the seat) very much in doubt.

• And finally, Karen Studders, if only because the experienced attorney’s four-page, single-spaced resumé is an example of what job coaches mean when they tell you less is more.