Tag: vehicular homelessness

“Exemption 2”: Heavily Redacted Documents Conceal Details About City’s Plans for Safe Parking Lot for Vehicle Residents

The C Is for Crank has appealed a decision by Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Human Services Department to heavily redact records related to a planned safe parking lot for people living in their cars. The city had planned to open a safe lot as a “pilot project” in Genesee Park in Southeast Seattle. After Mount Baker neighborhood activist (and current city council candidate) Pat Murakami and other South End residents became aware of the plans in late January, however, Durkan intervened, announcing in an email to community members and the media that she had been “briefed for the first time on a range of issues and options for a safe parking pilot” on February 27 and that she was sending the plan back to the drawing board for further evaluation.

The city redacted the documents on the grounds that the redacted information relates to the “deliberative process” for deciding whether and where to locate such a lot.

The deliberative process exemption to the state public records act, also known as “exemption 2,” allows cities to black out records when they relate to “Preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations and intra-agency memorandums in which opinions are expressed or policies formulated or recommended, except that a specific record shall not be exempt when publicly cited by an agency in connection with an agency action.”

The exemption only applies to discussions that involve setting policy (e.g., whether the city should create safe parking lots where people living in their cars to sleep); it does not, according to the state Open Government Resource Manual, apply to the implementation of policy or to “matters that are factual, or that are assumed to be factual for discussion purposes.” Additionally, cities can’t withhold information about a decision-making process once that decision has been made. In general, cities are directed to interpret the public records act as liberally as possible in the interest of disclosure.

The information Durkan’s Human Services Department has redacted for being related to ongoing policy deliberations and exchanges of opinion about policy decisions includes:

• The location of the city’s preferred site for a safe parking site, which the city has already acknowledged was Genesee Park. This location is blacked out in several places throughout the documents the city provided, including in a list of “Key Audiences and Stakeholders” that places Murakami at the very top of the list;

• Most of the details of a communications and outreach plan for the pilot;

• The responses to a list of FAQs from the community, which presumably consist of the factual information, along with some of the frequently asked questions themselves;

• An “about the pilot” list of bullet points (above) that presumably included much the same information HSD made public in an email to community members and local media back in February, which stated that the pilot “would serve no more than 30 vehicles, not RVs… open this spring and run through the end of the 2019… be overnight only, with no permanent infrastructure on the property, and offe[r] a safe place to stay overnight and a connection to a place to shower and use the restroom” as well as “services and case management to participants to assist in finding permanent housing.”

• Every media outlet on a list of “specific media targets” as well as every community member or group on  list of “specific community outreach targets”;

• The entire timeline for doing outreach to the community and eventually opening the lot;

• Every item on a list of “Tactics” as well as every item on a list of “Communications and Outreach Assets”; and

• Finally, the entire outreach timeline for the Genesee Park safe-lot proposal, all of which is, it is safe to assume, in the past.

The redactions include the location of a planned community meeting  as well as details about the pilot that HSD officials have discussed in some detail, including at that same public meeting. (Note: The mayor’s office clarified that the meeting the redacted documents referred to was not a community meeting that received widespread coverage, but a different planned meeting. They did not respond to questions about that meeting or any other meetings with community members that, according to unredacted internal emails between city officials, were planned for March, including questions about whether any of those meetings ever actually occurred.)

HSD directed questions about the redactions to the mayor’s office, which has not responded to a list of questions sent on Monday.

According to a city public disclosure officer, the mayor’s office may claim that because the city hasn’t decided on when, whether, or where to open a safe parking lot, the “deliberations” about the overall issue are technically still ongoing—an interpretation that could allow the city to exempt from disclosure, in perpetuity, any documents related to decisions they decided not to make, actions they never took, or policies they just left hanging. If the city just decides to never open a safe lot at all—which is basically what’s happening with a proposed mobile safe injection site, and there are plenty of other precedents—will that make every document related to that non-decision forever nondisclosable, existing in a permanent limbo of black lines and “Exemption No. 2″s? It seems ridiculous—but maybe.

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For now, I’m waiting to hear back from the city on my appeal, and will decide whether to take further action at that point.

If you’re wondering, by the way, what’s going on with the proposal for a safe lot, which was originally supposed to open on January 1 and was pushed back several times before the plans for the Genesee Park location were scuttled, HSD spokeswoman Meg Olberding provided this response to a detailed list of questions about the pilot:

“The Mayor has asked HSD to look at a variety of sites across the City. The department is in this process now. Mayor Durkan will choose the sites at which to begin community engagement based on the results of this process. She has not made a final decision at this time, so no external work has begun. We are moving it along, but have no precise timeline.”

I hope to have another update on this story later today.

Morning Crank: Maybe He Meant Because No One Can Afford To Live There

1. I’ve known Mike Fong, Mayor Ed Murray’s chief of staff, since he worked as an aide to city council member Heidi Wills. In fact, he started at the city right around the same time I started covering city hall, in the late spring of 2001.

Back then, he looked like this:

After 16 years working for the city—as a council staffer and, for the past two years, the mayor’s chief of staff—Fong is leaving city hall behind. (Other mayoral staffers surely won’t be far behind him, as the seventh floor of City Hall empties out in anticipation of current Mayor Ed Murray’s departure in December). He isn’t going far, though—just across the street to the office of King County Executive Dow Constantine, where he’ll be chief operating officer, overseeing Constantine’s cabinet.

Fong has been at city hall (and not just THIS city hall—the old one, too) through some of the biggest stories (and transformations) in the city’s history—from Strippergate to the ouster of former City Light director Gary Zarker to the council’s review of then-mayor Greg Nickels’ response to the 2009 snow storm, which ultimately contributed to Nickels’ loss (to Mike McGinn) that year. During that time, the old City Hall itself was razed, Seattle’spopulation grew from around half a million people to more than 700,000, and Amazon’s value rose from $3.6 billion to more than $500 billion. But as far as I can tell, Mike hasn’t changed all that much. He’s the kind of easygoing, no-bullshit staffer journalists love—he doesn’t spin or offer bland talking points, and his grasp on policy is peerless—and the kind of guy I’d want on my side if I was an elected official with aspirations for higher office. I know I don’t speak just for myself when I say he’ll be missed at city hall.

2. Constantine’s office has seen quite a few shakeups recently, including the departure of his longtime chief of staff (and onetime aide to former mayor Greg Nickels) Sung Yang last month. Yang, who also moved to Constantine’s office after a long  career at the city, left to join Pacific Public Affairs, the consulting firm owned by Constantine’s former deputy chief of staff, Joe Woods. Rachel Smith, the county’s government relations director (and another former Nickels staffer), is Constantine’s new chief of staff. Constantine’s campaign manager, Mina Hashemi Mercer, is also reportedly leaving to become the next Director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, where she previously worked for two and a half years.

Constantine is eternally rumored to be considering a run for governor.

3. The city council’s housing and human services committee discussed legislation that would protect some people living in their vehicles from ticketing or towing for certain parking violations and provide them with access to services; in exchange, vehicle residents would register with the city and agree to abide by certain rules. The recommendations are designed to get people into permanent housing faster while recognizing the reality that homeless people don’t have the money to pay fines or get their vehicle out of impoundment. Another reality: Homeless people who lose their vehicles don’t just disappear; usually, they become homeless people living on the street, destabilized and in even more desperate straits.

North end neighborhood activists, including members of the so-called Neighborhood Safety Alliance, made familiar arguments yesterday against people living in RVs, claiming that they were responsible for an E. coli spike in Thornton Creek, accusing them of leaving literal “tons of garbage and human waste” all over neighborhoods, and suggesting that they, the north Seattle homeowners, might just decide to buy an RV and live in it so they, too, could enjoy the good life, exempt from rules and “homeowner taxes.”

One speaker, Phil Cochran, used his public comment time to demand that Mike O’Brien answer a “simple question.” Actually, he had two: “Do you believe that this ordinance will result in more RVs and more homeless junkies in the city of Seattle, yes or no?” and “What happens when some of these rolling meth labs—which we know they are—catch fire? Who should we sue?” Because public comment is not Adults Play High-School Debate time, O’Brien did not respond, except to say that he’d be happy to discuss the issue at literally any other time. And a member of the Interbay Neighborhood Association said the area around W Thorndyke Drive—at the base of Magnolia, near Dravus—was so totally taken over by RVs that that part of Magnolia is now “unlivable.”

Huh.

Maybe he meant “because no one who isn’t wealthy can afford to live there.”

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