Update on Myers Way / District 1 Parks Updates / Elder Abuse Awareness Day Proclamation / Council Vote on Bill to Incorporate State Law on Drug Possession & Public Use into Municipal Code


Update on Myers Way

I wrote last week about hearing from many of you concerned about the encampment at Myers Way.  On May 31st, I requested that the King County Regional Homelessness Authority consider this location for its State-funded work removing encampments in State Right of Way.  The funding supports shelter and services to people living at a site.  I’ve also learned that last week the Executive also reached out to WSDOT (which owns most of the land under the encampment), also recommending the site for joint resolution. I was told that the decision was made recently to move forward with that joint resolution at Myers Way, which I fully support.

Because this work is supported with blended funding, both from the State Right of Way program, King County Funding, and City of Seattle funding, the LEAD Policy Coordinating Group, of which I am a member, also has to agree that LEAD should take on the project.  The City contract for LEAD services requires resources focused on geographic areas.  So, we have LEAD resources specifically focused on South Delridge and Highland Park, you may remember the work they did at the Rosella Building in December and the Roxbury/Delridge Triangle before that.  The Myers Way/Arrowhead Gardens area is not currently included as a focus area, but that will hopefully change.  On Friday, I requested that LEAD refocus its District 1 specific work to Myers Way.  I hope to have an outcome of that request to report out next week.

The City’s Unified Care Team, which responds to encampments, reports it’s been a complex site for the City to work in for several reasons: because the majority of the site is not City property, and

the site has challenging topography and requires an in-depth safety plan that take into consideration EPA regulations in run-off areas, soil saturation levels that affect use of heavy machinery used in site resolutions, and land inclines and soil shifting.

Nonetheless, the UCT has been on site providing trash mitigation and geo cleans for RVs; along with 3-4 visits per week from outreach workers who also mitigate fire hazards and conduct needs assessments for residents.

District 1 Parks Updates

I’m happy to pass along some local updates from our Department of Parks & Recreation.

Space is still available in High Point Community Center Summer Day Camp!  School age childcare camps offer all-day care with robust programming, activities, field trips and more! Camps run July 3-August 30, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Financial aid is available for reduced/subsidized cost at Scholarships & Financial Aid. Details and registration information here: https://arcseattle.org/Summer-Break-Camp-Ages-5-12

Delridge Playfield Turf Replacement: A low bidder was identified and the project is planned for construction to begin in July. This project will replace the aging synthetic turf at Delridge Playfields; address any structural repairs to curbing, sub-subsurface and drainage; and install a new state of the art synthetic turf system. The project will also address some accessibility issues at the field to access exterior restrooms at Delridge Community Center.

Construction Contract Executed for Hiawatha Synthetic Turf Replacement: Construction begins Monday, June 12th for the Hiawatha Playfield turf replacement project with estimated completion in September 2023. SPR awarded the construction contract to FieldTurf USA Inc.   This project will replace the aging synthetic turf and provide markings for baseball, soccer, football and softball. Seattle Public Schools will provide safety fencing for the outfield when baseball and softball are in play. This project will include replacing the batting cage and resurfacing the rubberized three-lane running track. View the Layout Plan here.

Morgan Junction Park Addition Planning and Design Restarted: The project team has been coordinating with the community to do an outreach event at the park during the Morgan Junction Festival on June 18th. More info here

South Park Playfield Renovation & Community Center Stabilization Permitting: The permitting process for this project progressed in May. The final building approval is now waiting on the Land Use permit approval from City Council. The project is anticipated to bid in 3rd quarter of 2023 and for construction to begin in 4th quarter 2023.  The community center will stay open through August 31st.   More info here

Seattle Parks and Recreation Summer Hiring: More than 200 positions are available for recreation, aquatics, and summer camp roles. More info here

Summer Hours at Alki Beach: Seattle Parks and Recreation will enact a second phase pilot shortening the hours at Golden Gardens and Alki Beach during the 2023 summer months from 4 A.M.-10:30 P.M. from May 26-September 4. And a return to 4 A.M. – 11:30 P.M after September 4.  More info here

Elder Abuse Awareness Day Proclamation

This week, I brought forward a proclamation recognizing June 15th to be Elder Abuse Awareness Day in Seattle. This proclamation was authored by the Human Services Department and Mayor Harrell added his signature. This proclamation highlights Seattle’s participation in a multi-jurisdictional Elder Abuse Multidisciplinary Team that works to addresses cases involving elder abuse or neglect. It calls upon the people of Seattle to increase awareness of elder abuse issues and support community connections for older people that reduce the likelihood of abuse.

This proclamation also encourages resident to learn the signs that abuse may be occurring and know that confidential and professional resources for abused elders are available in our community.

Elder abuse is both widespread and underreported.  Confidential and professional resources for abused elders are available by calling 1-866-EndHarm.

Council Vote on Bill to Incorporate State Law on Drug Possession & Public Use into Municipal Code

You may recall that in April, City Attorney Davidson and Councilmembers Nelson and Pedersen proposed a bill to make public consumption of illegal drugs a simple misdemeanor last month. At the time, I issued a statement that I wanted to wait for the outcome of the Governor Inslee’s special session of the state legislature before the City Council considered a bill specific to Seattle, to avoid a patchwork of different regulations across the state and to ensure that the legislation was considered with full knowledge of the new state law.

During a Special Session called by Governor Inslee, in May, the state legislature adopted Senate Bill 5536, which makes possession and public use of illegal drugs a gross misdemeanor.

As a result of Governor Inslee’s special session, the legislature approved a bill that adopts a statewide standard of gross misdemeanor for both possession and public consumption of drugs.  Had Council acted on the April bill, the City bill would have been in conflict with State Law.  By waiting, and not rushing, there is now a clear, statewide standard, and there is not a patchwork of differing regulations across the state.

Under the state law, the Seattle Police Department officers have the authority to make arrests.

Because the bill originally proposed by the City Attorney and Councilmembers Nelson and Pedersen was now in conflict with the new State Law enacted in the special session, they subsequently proposed a new bill that instead proposed to incorporate the changes in state law into the City’s code.

The Council had 2 options.

Option 1:  Vote against the bill.  Under these circumstances, and under RCW 3.66.060 the King County Prosecutor has authority to prosecute the cases associated with arrests in Seattle.  The March 2023 filing standards for the King County Prosecutor’s Office state that they will file certain behavior related to drugs as misdemeanors.  Consistent with RCW 39.34.180, the County could, but doesn’t have to, require that the City enter an interlocal agreement that the City compensate the County for the costs associated with prosecutions.

Option 2:  Vote in favor of the bill.  If the Council adopted the state law to the Seattle Municipal Code the authority for and costs associated with the prosecution of these cases would shift from the King County Prosecutor to the Seattle City Attorney, thereby transferring prosecutorial authority over some elements of the drug law to the City Attorney, for the first time.

The measure failed, by a 5-4 vote; I voted no. This letter from more than a hundred doctors opposing the ordinance calls for “smart, data-proven policy that will achieve our intended goals, not naive, reactive, and harmful policy that repeats the mistakes of the past.”

A lot of inaccurate information has circulated about this, so here’s a brief explainer:  Setting the record straight on Seattle City Council’s decision not to give City Attorney unprecedented powers.

Below is additional background and detail.

Possession of illegal drugs was a felony in Washington State until February 2021, when the Washington State Supreme Court declared the state law unconstitutional (the “Blake” decision). In April 2021 the state legislature consequently adopted Senate Bill 5476 to make simple possession of drugs a misdemeanor, with mandatory diversion for the first two arrests. The bill did not include public consumption and is in effect through the end of June.

There was never any proposal to incorporate Senate Bill 5476 into the Seattle Municipal Code during the entire two years it has been in effect.  During all that time, possession has been a misdemeanor, with authority given to the King County Prosecutor to prosecute.

Seattle Municipal Court faces a heavy backlog. Even with the fact that 70% of Seattle Municipal Court cases assigned to the Department of Public Defense are dismissed by the Seattle City Attorney, the Seattle Municipal Court currently has a three-month delay on hearings due to a massive backlog.  That backlog is likely to grow with the recent decision of the Seattle City Attorney to terminate Community Court, effective June 12.

My consideration of the bill included the impact of drug possession and public use on our community and downtown revitalization efforts, on the Court as described above, as well as how incarceration destabilizes individuals with substance use disorder who exit the criminal legal system lacking housing, behavioral health supports, and especially susceptible to overdose, a leading cause of death among people who have recently been incarcerated.  Thomas Fitzpatrick, an infectious disease physician with the University of Washington and an expert in harm reduction and public health approaches to drug use reminds us that research has shown in the first two weeks after people are released from incarceration, they have nearly 10 times the risk of overdosing than the general population or people who are otherwise exposed to opioids.

The Seattle Fire Department and Seattle Police Department have responded to overdoses and saved lives. Breaking down all the data is challenging. In 2023, Fire personnel have responded to approximately 10 incidents each and every day to help a patient “with suspected drug use” in a public place. Since spring 2021, they have responded to public locations more frequently than residential locations (in line with fentanyl arrival). SPD had used Naxolone 43 times so far in 2023 as of a few weeks ago. Criminalization would put into the shadows, with deadly results, the life-saving work of our first responders.

In addition, the impact of this bill on the enforcement priorities of SPD as declared by Chief Diaz during a recent press conference, as well as Mayor Harrell’s recent Executive Order must be considered.   These are enforcement priorities that I support.

From Mayor Harrell’s Executive Order:

Recognizing the harm caused by illegal opioids and synthetic drugs, the Seattle Police Department will prioritize enforcing sales and distribution related crimes to the fullest extent permissible.”

The Council Central Staff memo notes “SPD has indicated that it believes arresting individuals on these charges provides a meaningful opportunity to divert rather than default to jail.”

With the passage of Senate Bill 5536, which makes possession and public use of illegal drugs a gross misdemeanor, SPD can arrest persons under State law. Similarly, the King County Metro Transit Police Department has authority to arrest on buses, and Sound Transit Police has authority to arrest on light rail.

Unlike the City Attorney’s Office, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has operated a Therapeutic Alternative to Drugs/Therapeutic Alternative Diversion (TAD) program, which is a partnership between the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO) and the Office of Public Health to target those individuals charged with possession of less than 3 grams of a controlled substance or charged with a property offense which does not include restitution.  The TAD program is only offered on expedited felonies, which are felony cases that the KCPAO charges in King County District Court with an immediate offer to plead guilty to a gross misdemeanor.  TAD aims to provide a connection to treatment services in the community at the earliest possible opportunity in order to help individuals address their needs for substance abuse treatment or behavioral health services and avoid further involvement in the criminal justice system.  While the TAD program now focuses on property cases post-Blake, its historical focus on drug cases and ability to partner with public health is clear.

Most current funding for evidence-based treatment lives at the County level which is why it is so important to leave prosecution of drug possession and use there, where they have the infrastructure and funding streams to address it as effectively as possible. If the City Attorney were to be granted this authority, supporting more, and scaling up, what SPD refers to as “meaningful opportunities to divert rather than default to jail,” must first be developed.

Over our northern border, after engaging First Nations communities and broad stakeholders, and effective January of this year, and as a public health response to substance use disorder, adults in the province of British Columbia are no longer subject to criminal charges for the personal possession of small amounts of certain illegal drugs.  In support of that, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police stated,

“We the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police agree that evidence suggests, and numerous Canadian health leaders support, decriminalization for simple possession as an effective way to reduce the public health and public safety harms associated with substance use”

Their statement also endorses alternatives to criminal sanctions for simple possession, access to diversion measures, increasing community capacity, and similar to our own Mayor and Chief, “agree that police services remain committed to combatting organized crime and disrupting the supply of harmful substances coming into our communities by targeting drug trafficking and illegal production and importation”.

What are we doing to address the tragic increase in overdose deaths?

Led by Mayor Harrell’s Executive Order, the City is working on several fronts, here are some of the strategies:

  • The Seattle Fire Department, working with Local 27, has expanded its Health One program to include an overdose response unit.
  • The City is expanding access to naloxone, buprenorphine, and methadone in high-overdose areas.
  • A new non-clinic-based contingency management pilot program has been launched to reduce participants’ consumption of synthetic opioids, stimulants, and alcohol.
  • The City is convening a workgroup to address gaps in the existing systems available to treat and respond to the opioid and synthetic drug crisis and make recommendations on how to better coordinate a treatment-first approach to reducing substance abuse disorders and overdose rates and using Opioid Settlement funds.
  • Finally, the CIty is convening a task force, inviting the City Attorney’s Office, King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and federal, and state partners, including the United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Homeland Security, to collaborate on and develop innovative approaches to target dealers and traffickers of illegal drugs.

The success rate of mandatory treatment is not better than voluntary treatment.  Many of us know of someone who got sober after jail.  These are anecdotes that are representative of the experience of some individuals, but the data shows that mandatory treatment is not effective.  Up to 95% of opioid users who chose voluntarily to go into treatment relapse. To the myth that jail is an effective pipeline to treatment, I want to quote a constituent who wrote to tell me that her father was sent to Vietnam and came back a broken and abusive alcoholic. Though her mother had sole custody of her, the sister grew up in the same house as her father. She asked, where is our societal responsibility for addressing the downstream effects of failing to provide the services their father needed and deserved and that her sister needed and deserved for being on the receiving end of his not receiving those services?  About her experiences helping her sister, she wrote:

“I have spent the last 8 months helping my half-sister survive jail, then transition into addiction treatment and now begin addressing the underlying challenges that contributed to both of those. Not only is jail not treatment, it is actively harmful and counterproductive to recovery in a number of ways. Jail caused my sister to lose most of her possessions and almost caused her to lose her home after her mother passed away. From our journey, I can tell you that the threat of jail is not what keeps her sober. What keeps her sober is a combination of having access to services and then also having strong relationships with family and friends — which jail actively undermines, especially for families without both the money and the schedule flexibility to make use of the jail’s phone system.”

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