West Seattle Bridge Update; 2020 Budget Rebalancing Deliberations; New Homeless Service Provider Funding; Director’s Rule for Exceptional and Significant Trees; Jump Start Investments; Seattle Transportation Benefit District; Letter to Mayor and Police Chief re: Free Press



West Seattle Bridge Update

Reminder: Reconnect West Seattle Survey

The Reconnect West Seattle Survey to support communities impacted by the West Seattle Bridge closure will be open through the end of July. As of Tuesday, there were 7,000 responses.

Neighborhood Prioritization Process Ballots are an additional opportunity specifically for people who live in Roxhill, Highland Park, Riverview, South Delridge, SODO, Georgetown, or South Park to identify the projects that would be most helpful to improve safety and traffic outcomes in their neighborhoods through which West Seattle Bridge detours are located.

Information and surveys are available in multiple languages at the Reconnect West Seattle website.

Declaration of Emergency

Since the West Seattle Bridge closure in March I have been asking DOT and the Mayor to consider the benefits of declaring a state of emergency. I am happy to report that on Thursday the Mayor issued a proclamation of civil emergency for the West Seattle Bridge,  and an emergency order requesting federal and state assistance.

I thank the Mayor for taking this step, and to SDOT for working with myself and Transportation and Utilities Committee Chair Pedersen to include language in the proclamation committing to monthly updates to the Council on uses of the emergency powers (SDOT is providing weekly updates to the Council separately from the proclamation).

SDOT’s update notes “The emergency proclamation signed by Mayor Durkan today is the first ever brought forward and put into effect by a Mayor of Seattle in response to a critical piece of infrastructure,” testifying to the importance of the bridge not just for West Seattle, but for the region. SDOT notes the proclamation will:

  • Strengthen funding efforts and flexibility at all levels of government; in other words to help get funding from the State and Federal government;
  • Enable critical actions around the High-Rise Bridge—no matter what repair or replacement path is selected—through streamlined permitting, materials and contract procurement;
  • Support West Seattle Low Bridge precautionary strengthening work; and
  • Support implementation of mitigation measures in the greater Duwamish Valley communities impacted by changed travel patterns while the High-Rise Bridge is closed

The statement Councilmember Pedersen and I released supporting the declaration of civil emergency is linked here.

Lower (Spokane Street) Bridge Maintenance

SDOT announced the low bridge will require reinforcement, and announced some changes to help maintain the bridge.

SDOT is planning to use carbon fiber wrap and/or additional steel post-tensioning cables, similar to the what is planned for stabilization of the West Seattle Bridge.

SDOT is lowering the speed limit from 30 to 25 mph, to reduce stress and vibration on the bridge, especially from heavy trucks. In addition, they are adding weight restrictions for trucks carrying weight loads over 207,000 pounds (20% heavier than a 737). Technically these are considered Over-Legal 2 or OL-2 class trucks. This will affect around a dozen trips per week; vehicles this heavy already are required to obtain a special state and city permit to carry loads this high.

At a presentation before the Council in late April, SDOT estimated a $5 million cost for maintenance of the lower bridge during 2020. Estimates are now $10 million.

SDOT installed intelligent monitoring systems on the lower bridge similar to the equipment places on the West Seattle Bridge.

I’ve asked SDOT if they expect any closures and they indicated there will be short term closures during the control system replacement, lift cylinder maintenance/change out of the strengthening program over the next two years. They noted work will be scheduled to minimize impacts (i.e. overnight, weekends, and in coordination with other projects that impact traffic in the corridor). A closure in late May for maintenance was done overnight on the weekend.

Technical Advisory Panel Update

The Technical Advisory Panel has recommended retaining consideration of long-term repair, as they haven’t seen anything that indicates it is infeasible or economically unviable.

They also note an understanding that analysis is ongoing, and that there is uncertainty with respect to capacity (number of travel lanes that a repair option would provide), and that they reserve the right to revise their statement as new information is presented to them.

Traffic

Here’s the most recent traffic data, which shows continued heavy traffic on West Marginal and Highland Park Way, as well as increasing traffic on the lower (Spokane Street) bridge.

Below are the most recent travel times:

2020 Budget Rebalancing Deliberations

There has been a lot reported in the media recently about the 2020 budget rebalancing deliberations as it relates specifically to the SPD budget.  Unfortunately, some of which has been reported doesn’t reflect my, or the Council’s, efforts. I’d like to set the record straight regarding my position on the Seattle Police Department’s budget.

The first thing I want to address is the Southwest Precinct. No one on the Council, to my knowledge, is proposing to cut the Southwest Precinct.  It’s disappointing that Chief Best is proposing to do so in advance of any Council proposals.  Furthermore, if there ever was an effort to close the Southwest Precinct, as the Councilmember for District 1, I would unequivocally fight that effort. The Southwest Precinct is needed more now than ever before with the closure of the West Seattle Bridge. Finally, while under the Charter, it is wholly under the purview of the Police Chief to decide how to deploy officers, the Charter also states that “there shall be maintained adequate police protection in each district of the City.”  The Council can, within the City Budget, ensure that there is a “Budget Control Level” for each precinct, and it is the Council that has budget authority for the funding for each Budget Control Level or the spending for each precinct.

It has also been recently reported that the Chief says that she will need to reduce patrol staff to 630 employees – this prognostication from the Chief about an unknown future Council action seems designed to delay an important conversation about policing in Seattle and this Country.

Specifically, Chief Best has stated that we would lose more than 50% of our Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) officers due to typical layoff procedures which would require firings in reverse order of seniority. This system of layoffs is based upon institutional racism and speaks only to what we cannot do, not to what we must do. Now is the time to ask ourselves what we can do and how we can change a system badly in need of reforms. The Chief is empowered, under Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC) to request authority to implement layoffs in a way that is called “out of order.” This means the Chief does not have to fire the newest hired and more diverse officers first. She can request the PSCSC Executive Director for permission to lay off out of order when doing so is in “the interest of efficient operations of his or her department.” The Chief is making the argument to the public that firing BIPOC members of the SPD would be harmful,  I agree and I know that the Chief can argue just as convincingly that maintaining the employment of BIPOC officers is in the interest of efficient operations of the SPD. Specifically, the Chief should be arguing to remove those officers with the most number of disciplinary complaints first, regardless of their seniority.  Contrast Chief Best’s support for SPOG’s status quo approach with that of Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo who last month broke with their police union in recognition that “it’s debilitating for a chief when an officer does something that calls for termination, but the union works to keep that person on the job.”

Finally, I want to address the size of our police force. A recent report by the Vera Institute of Justice titled What Policing Costs compiled data from fiscal year 2020 adopted budgets from 72 of the largest cities in the US. There are two data points I want to highlight:

  • Seattle has one officer for every 340 residents, more officers per population than most West Coast cities. Under Public Safety Civil Service Commission rules we use seven comparative cities on the West Coast (Long Beach, Oakland, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose) as a benchmark for wages, hours, and conditions of employment. For instance, Portland has one officer for every 501 people, Sacramento, one officer for every 475 people, San Diego, one officer for every 537 people, and San Jose one officer for every 609 people.
  • Seattle spends $546 per resident for police, the 11th highest rate among the 72 largest cities in the country, and more than 6 of the 7 comparable West Coast cities.

It is true that in the past I have been an ardent advocate for and supported the hiring of additional police officers, in an effort to “grow the size” of our police force. As a community organizer working in low-income communities of color in the ‘90’s, I worked to lift the voices of community members seeking a fair allocation of police resources to meet the public safety needs of those low income communities.  As an aide to a Councilmember, I worked to pull residents across city precincts to advocate for hiring more officers citywide to ensure that public safety needs in one precinct were not addressed by “borrowing officers” from another, in a “rob Peter to pay Paul” situation and in 2006 we funded the first new positions to SPD since the 70’s.  And then, as a Councilmember myself representing some of the most diverse neighborhoods in the City receiving slow and inadequate police response, I have supported an additional $110 million dollars of annual funding for SPD in my four years on the Council, increasing the budget from $300 million 2016 to $410 million in 2020.

Now I’m hearing loud and clear from many in community that more officers does not equal more public safety. And I am listening.  I am reading, researching, and learning. This local effort, bolstered by the national dialogue about bloated police budgets in cities across the nation, without better public safety outcomes and ongoing racial disparity impacts to communities of color is causing me to reexamine my own assumptions about whether “growing the size of the SPD” will deliver better public safety outcomes.

I continue to support funding to address public safety. However, what has evolved in my position is that it should not be only the police addressing public safety concerns. Too often we ask the police to do too much and they are ill-equipped to handle these issues. Former Dallas Police Chief Brown noted in 2016, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country. We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it… Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops… That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

A review of 911 calls I requested in Seattle, to begin the process of identifying what work currently done by police officers might best be done by other types of professionals, found that in 2019 56% of dispatched calls were non-criminal.

It is past time that we work to solve these problems upstream, so that we don’t have to so heavily invest in a police force that’s unable to address all of the issues we’ve asked them to use policing in order to address. This why I support shifting funding away from SPD and into upstream programs – identified through community engagement – that are better situated to address the root concerns we have thus far failed to. In a 2016 report from the Obama White House’s Council of Economic Advisers found that “a 10 percent increase in wages for non-college educated men results in approximately a 10 to 20 percent reduction in crime rates.” This is just one small example of how investing upstream will not only save money, but prevent crime from occurring in the first place.

The new Southwest Precinct Captain, Kevin Grossman, who was recently interviewed by the West Seattle Blog said:

He’s hoping “the rhetoric calms down a bit” – he agrees that there’s an overreliance on 911 to solve our society’s problems, and acknowledges that police have traditionally ben asked to do a lot of things they shouldn’t do. “There’s room for a bigger conversation about what police should be doing, shouldn’t be doing.” but he hopes there’s room for a rational conversation, though he says 50 percent would be too big a cut – “a cut like that would be devastating and would seriously affect the level of service we would provide.” As for specific types of change, Grossman offered support for the CAHOOTS model. “That would take a lot of work away from us – that’s all right, but that’s not in place yet. … Would probably save the city a bunch of money and might turn out better than some of our calls.”

Even Captain Grossman agrees that we should be reexamining what we’re asking the police to do, and this means changing the level of service we expect from our police officers and shift some of those responsibilities to better equipped professionals that address these concerns upstream.

In support for Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now’s goal of reducing SPD spending by 50% and reallocating funds to community needs, I proposed a Council Budget Action (beginning on slide 32) in the July 15th Council Select Budget Committee with a range of options for cuts in the SPD budget, some of which, if approved by the Council, can be immediately reinvested in community-based alternatives to public safety issues. Cuts in this package, or any other that the Council approves, that have labor implications, would be available over time after negotiations with the police unions, just as required for cuts in personnel for any city staff.

Another important budget update is about my efforts in the 2020 Budget rebalancing process to support Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), a nationally-replicated program developed here in Seattle that diverts individuals away from arrest and toward a community-based intervention program for low-level criminal offenses (such as drug possession, sales, and prostitution offenses).  In Seattle, there are currently two ways to be referred to LEAD’s unique services:

  1. Referrals directly from law enforcement.
  2. Referrals – approved by law enforcement – from community sources and other agencies, such as the Seattle Fire Department, the Mobile Crisis Team, the Crisis Diversion Facility, the King County Prosecutor, the Seattle City Attorney, the King County Jail, the Department of Public Defense, Business Improvement Associations, other neighborhood groups and business groups, housing and health care providers.

Both pathways require the Seattle Police Department to play an active role in approving all referrals.  Unfortunately, for the past weeks and months, law enforcement has not had the capacity to make or approve these referrals.  As a result, LEAD’s scarce and desperately-needed resources, such as specialized case management and individual hotel rooms, have gone to waste – even though they are clearly and desperately needed.

I’m sponsoring a budget action, along with Councilmember Morales, that will remove SPD from that “gatekeeping” function it currently plays in LEAD, at the request of LEAD’s project managers and with the support of Police Chief Carmen Best.  The proviso will create a “third pathway” for referrals from non-law enforcement sources, without requiring SPD to approve them.  It would be one of several changes that LEAD has made recently to respond to the very changed environment in which they are operating – and the growing need for their work.

This new pathway will not change the positive, collaborative relationship LEAD has built with SPD officers over the years.  It just removes them from the administrative hurdle at the start of a new referral.  This Crosscut article goes into more depth on the need for this budget action.

New Homeless Service Provider Funding

A week ago, Council voted to appropriate $13 million in one-time funding from the state Department of Commerce to support COVID response.  These are sorely needed and anxiously awaited funds to reimburse frontline homelessness providers for their extraordinary efforts and unanticipated costs to serve people during the pandemic.

Less than 24 hours after Council’s vote, the Human Services Department released a Request For Proposals (RFP) for $4.85 million of the funds. The intent of the RFP is to help nonprofits sustain the new practices and protections recommended by Public Health and the CDC to keep their employees and the people they serve safe.   Proposals are due July 17th, and awards will be made by July 27th.  Funding awards will cover the period of March 1, 2020-December 31, 2020.

I appreciate the extraordinary speed with which HSD acted after receiving the green light from Council.  Their efforts will keep more people safe during the public health emergency.

Director’s Rule for Exceptional and Significant Trees

On Thursday the Department of Construction and Inspection released a draft Director’s Rule for the “Designation of Exceptional and Significant Trees, Tree Protection, Retention, and Tree Removal during land division, including tree service provider requirements.”  This is the most recent development in what has been a long and ongoing conversation that I know a lot of people in District 1 and throughout the city care deeply about.

The conversation left off when former Councilmember Bagshaw and her staffer, now Councilmember Dan Strauss – in coordination with the Mayor – authored a resolution that included a timeline and requested quarterly reporting on the progress of the development of the legislation from the Executive beginning January 31, 2020. In the resolution, the Council also requests that legislation prioritize:

  • Retaining protections for exceptional trees and expanding the definition of exceptional trees.
  • Adopting a definition of significant tress as at least 6 inches in diameter and creating a permitting process for the removal of these trees.
  • Adding replacement requirements for significant tree removal.
  • Simplifying tree planting and replacement requirements, including consideration of mitigation strategies that allow for infill development while balancing tree planting and replacement goals.
  • Reviewing and potentially modifying tree removal limits in single-family zones.
  • Establishing an in-lieu fee option for tree planting.
  • Tracking tree removal and replacement on both public and private land throughout Seattle.
  • Providing adequate funding to administer and enforce tree regulations.
  • Requiring all tree service providers operating in Seattle to meet minimum certification and training requirements and register with the City.

The Council voted unanimously to pass this resolution in September 2019.

We have since received the first and second joint reports required by this resolution from the Seattle Department and Construction and Inspection and the Office of Sustainability and Environment.  The first report was presented to the Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee, chaired by Councilmember Strauss on February 12. Included in that report was an updated timeline, which may need to be revisited due to the COVID-19 public health crisis. The second report will be presented to the Land Use and Neighborhood Committee on July 22 beginning at 9:30am.

With this draft Director’s rule the public will have until July 28 to comment, and you can send those comments here: SCI_DRulesComments@seattle.gov.

Jump Start Investments

Jump Start is the payroll expense tax passed by Council on July 6th.  It’s a narrowly-targeted tax on only the largest businesses paying the highest salaries and driving our city’s affordability crisis.  Only companies with annual payroll greater than $7 million will be taxed and they will only be taxed on their pay to employees making more than $150,000 per year.  Jump Start is projected to bring in $215 million annually.

At Wednesday’s Select Budget Committee, Councilmembers approved spending plans associated with the new Jump Start revenue.

CB 119812 authorizes spending from the City’s two “reserve funds” in 2020 to support people and businesses impacted by COVID, including support for small businesses, nonprofits, immigrants and refugees; food security; rental assistance; and immediate housing needs.

I sponsored a successful amendment (incorporated into Amendment 1) that will provide advice and assistance to recipients of direct assistance.  Eligibility for income-tested benefits such as food stamps can be complex for households to navigate.  In a year when households may receive more than one type of unplanned-for assistance from local, state or federal government, it’s especially complex.  And the community-based organizations who help clients navigate these programs may themselves have questions about how benefit and support programs interact.  My amendment will make it possible for organizations to access and provide advice to the people they are working with, so that no family inadvertently loses its needed benefits.

Resolution 31957 outlines how Jump Start revenue will be spent in 2021 and on.  In 2021, it replenishes the reserve funds that were appropriated in CB 119812; and continues investments in COVID relief and  services that are lifelines to Seattle residents.  In 2022 and beyond, it provides for significant investments in affordable housing, equitable development, economic revitalization, and Green New Deal efforts.

I sponsored two successful amendments to this resolution, both of which earned unanimous support.

Affordable Homeownership: Amendment 8 sets aside approximately $6 million annually for permanently affordable homeownership opportunities available to households earning up to 80% of Area Median Income.  The funds would specifically be reserved for households at risk of displacement from their communities, or who have faced barriers to homeownership due to past discriminatory policies and practices such as redlining and restrictive racial covenants.  I’m grateful to Budget Chair Mosqueda for her co-sponsorship of this amendment with me.

Home ownership is key to building intergenerational wealth, and a key driver of the racial wealth gap.  While the funds appropriated here will not address that problem at scale, they will give more BIPOC households every year the opportunity to bridge that gap for their own families, after being shut out from this opportunity by Seattle’s own past discriminatory policies.  Depending on the investments made, this funding stream could result in anywhere from 35 to 100 new permanently affordable homes per year.  No small feat in Seattle’s housing market!

Rental Assistance:  Amendment 6A asks the Executive to study developing a new rental assistance program, which could be funded using Jump Start revenue in the future.  Rental assistance is a much-needed lifeline for many Seattle households.  Even before COVID, Seattle’s runaway rental market was increasingly out of reach for many residents and workers, putting their homes and stability at risk.  And when Council takes actions to level the playing field for renters in this out-of-reach market, I consistently hear from small “mom and pop” type landlords concerned about losing their often naturally-affordable rental property that they are counting on for retirement or other income.

So it’s critical that rental assistance take the correct form, so that in the long-term, it does not become a public subsidy propping up an unaffordable rental market but that it supports both tenants and the small “mom and pop” landlords from whom they rent.  This amendment threads the needle among these concerns by asking the Executive to develop a plan that will accomplish multiple goals:

  • Help those most in need
  • Preserve long-term tenancies
  • Prevent evictions
  • Preserve affordable housing
  • Examine the role of small landlords in providing safe, affordable homes.

Many thanks to Council President González who took the lead in developing this amendment, and our co-sponsor Councilmember Morales.

Seattle Transportation Benefit District

Today the Council considered renewal of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) in committee, and voted to move the legislation to full council on July 27th.

In 2014 Seattle voters approved funding for additional bus service, low-income bus passes, and related services. The measure provided funding from 2015 through 2020.

The proposed 2020 measure includes funding for “emerging needs,” and specifies funding for West Seattle due to the closure of the West Seattle Bridge.

I  co-sponsored an amendment to note the Council’s intent to consider developer impact fees, which are allowed under the state Growth Management Act for capital improvements, and the STBD for transit service. It passed 8-0.

I  also sponsored an amendment to increase equity. The current criteria for service funding does not allow for funding routes such as the 131, 128 and 113 in Highland Park and South Delridge, or the 132 in South Park, because of the number of stops they have outside Seattle. The amendment would add as eligible routes “any King County Metro route serving historically low-income communities in Seattle.”

The amendment also notes the need for transit funding in to meet the mobility goal shift of increasing transit use from 17% to 30%, established by SDOT, for West Seattle during the bridge closure. This amendment also passed 8-0.

Letter to Mayor and Police Chief re: Free Press

On July 10 I sent the letter below to the Mayor and Police Chief regarding the arrest or threat of arrest of members of the media by SPD. The City Attorney declined to prosecute the case for the arrest mentioned in the letter. I have not yet received a response to my letter, but will report back when I do.

I am writing about the recent arrest or threat of arrest of members of the media by the Seattle Police Department.

First Amendment protections for the press in the United State Constitution are a lynchpin of American democracy. Unless respected by government, the quality of our democracy is diminished and eroded.

After the filing of the Mayor’s July 1 Executive order in and around Cal Anderson Park, and subsequent city action, two members of the media have reported about their experiences regarding arrest, or the threat of arrest, that are neither in line with the First Amendment, nor the City’s Municipal Code.

First of all, Omari Salisbury of Converge Media, a regular press presence during the protests on Capitol Hill, tweeted “Citing order of @MayorJenny SPD is now giving @WWConverge a final warning to stop broadcasting or face arrest. Our offices are right next door to the East Precinct. This is where we broadcast from daily.”

While Mr. Salisbury was not arrested, such actions can have a chilling effect on press coverage.

In addition, a correspondent for the Independent, Andrew Buncombe, was arrested for “failure to disperse” on July 1 while covering the closure.  He subsequently wrote an account of his experience.

I am deeply concerned about the treatment of members of the media, and arrests, or use of threat of arrests. 

Seattle Municipal Code section 12A.12.020, Failure to Disperse, explicitly exempts news reporters in the event of a public safety order:

12A.12.020 – Failure to disperse.

  1. As used in subsection B of this section, “public safety order” is an order issued by a peace officer designed and reasonably necessary to prevent or control a serious disorder, and promote the safety of persons or property. No such order shall apply to a news reporter or other person observing or recording the events on behalf of the public press or other news media, unless he is physically obstructing lawful efforts by such officer to disperse the group. (emphasis added)

The City Council adopted an Observer’s Bill of Rights in 2017, which clearly states the right to observe the actions of officers:

SMC 3.28.610 Public observation, recording, or expression in the vicinity of police actions

  1. A person not involved in an incident may remain in the vicinity of any stop, detention, or arrest occurring in a public place, and observe or record activity and express themselves, including making comments critical of an officer’s actions, so long as the person’s conduct and presence are otherwise lawful. The person’s conduct and presence must not: hinder, delay, or compromise legitimate police actions or rescue efforts; threaten the safety of the officers or members of the public; or attempt to incite others to violence. These conditions on the conduct do not prohibit conduct that creates a slight inconvenience for an officer, such as minor delay caused by escorting the person to a nearby location.
  1. No employee of the Seattle Police Department nor an agent thereof shall prevent a person from engaging in an action or actions protected by this Section 3.28.610.

Mr. Buncombe ends his article by saying:

“In Trump’s America, where the media is routinely cast as evil and dishonest and where an African American reporter for CNN can be arrested live on air, the need to defend journalism and its centrality to an informed democracy has never been greater. And the foundational act for journalists is to show up, either literally or else in spirt and commitment and focus. Whether we’re covering the actions of a city council, the workings of Wall Street, or the faltering, long-overdue attempt of a nation to confront the racial inequities that underpin its creation, the most important thing is to pledge ourselves to the task of doing so, and then get on with it.

Our job is not to disperse. Our job is to be present.”

It is our job as elected officials to ensure the press remains free and is able to carry out its work, in accordance with the Constitution and City law. The Constitution and Municipal Code protections for the press, and observers, do not exist for the convenience of government, to be cast aside whenever they happen to be inconvenient to government.

Please explain your plan to remedy this unacceptable abridgement of 1st Amendment rights and improper use of City law.

That charges may be dropped by the City Attorney does not excuse the arrest of a reporter.  The action of removing the reporter from the scene prevented him from covering the story and informing the public of what he saw; neither Mr. Buncombe nor Mr. Salisbury should be subjected to even the threat of arrest.

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