Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Homeless Geov Update!

At long last, the various personal crises of the past few months have stabilized and settled down enough that I have the time – and the confidence things won’t change too much again in the next 24 hours – to pass along an update on our various triumphs and woes (and more woes) of recent months.

I’ve fallen far behind in personal communications with all of you who’ve expressed support and concern, for which I apologize. While I keep digging my way out of that hole, here’s a more general update for you all.

When we last left off, my 55th birthday in November found me, effectively, sick, homeless, and dangerously broke. A number of you were incredibly generous, financially and otherwise. My profound thanks for all of you who’ve helped us get through this incredibly difficult period in our lives. Special thanks to Bill Bradburd, Tim Morley, Ian Hagemann, and Gyan Davies for really going above and beyond on some logistical matters. But everyone’s support has helped. And now it’s spring (yay!), and we think renewal, and stability, is finally at hand.

The bad news is that this winter, quite a few additional things went south after that appeal in November. (If this is too much dull detail, just skip to the “Where We Are Now” bit.) In no particular order:

Housing: There have been two separate apartments, one in Seattle’s University District and one on Capitol Hill, where we signed leases (in August and November 2014 respectively) and then found that my fiance, Revel, was unable to stay there due to developing multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), a new complication to her multiple sclerosis. We successfully transferred the U-District lease to a new tenant (finally!) in December. But the Capitol Hill place that we were so hopeful about at my birthday turned out to be even more toxic than the first place (mold, solvents, and other contaminants) – even though Revel lived without any problems in the same building years ago. It’s now so dangerous, in fact, that among other things, it makes Revel’s breathing extremely difficult when she’s exposed to the apartment or to anything or anyone that’s recently been in contact with it, to the point that we lost several thousand dollars in furniture we could no longer use just because it sat in that waste site. The management, moreover, turned out to be staggeringly negligent and (in my opinion) malicious – I won’t bore you with the stories, but landlords in Seattle right now really do seem to believe they can get away with anything. Finally, out of both principle and necessity, we wound up refusing to pay rent last month – the place truly is uninhabitable, they evicted us, and it’ll all likely wind up in court.

The good news is that last month we also signed a lease on another place which is much more promising. It’s a small but extremely affordable unit in a building downtown run by the Pike Place PDA. We’re optimistic Revel can live there, but even if she can’t, I will. The building manager has worked with us over the past month to address Revel’s needs, and we’re preparing the apartment now with the hope of moving in by month’s end. (In fact, we were all set to do so last weekend when the apartment suddenly was awash in very strong – and toxic – paint fumes. Management can’t explain it, and we’re trying to clera it out. Honestly, if it’s not one thing it’s been another.) We’re still optimistic it’ll work out – and finally getting a stable place we can live, after seven months of couch-surfing and homelessness, would go a long way to helping with our other problems.

Meantime, huge thanks to Bill Bradburd and his family. His daughters and their mother are in Australia for the winter (summer there!) visiting family, so they’re graciously letting Revel and I stay in a basement room in their absence. It’s been workable enough that we’ve got a stable place to sleep while we prepare the new place, and, if need be, temporarily find a separate place for Revel.

And – thanks to all of the other folks who’ve either offered ideas or a place for us to stay. It was hard for us to follow up because of Revel’s lack of mobility in recent months (that’s the next section…), but just knowing that those options were out there was a huge comfort as we worked to find a safe place for her to recover.

Health: Happily, my kidney issues of last fall have stabilized. Unhappily, doctors still don’t know why a constellation of other symptoms (weight loss and loss of balance being the two most noticeable) have been plaguing me for the last 16 months. Just yesterday I had what I believe is my fifth MRI in the last year looking for what they thought might be one of a family of rare, aggressive, and hard-to-diagnose cancers that match my symptoms, but we seem to have mostly eliminated that possibility. That’s good – and my energy has actually gotten much better this year – but the symptoms are still unexplained and worrisome.

Meanwhile, Revel underwent intravenous steroid treatments in December for an MS inflamation in her brain. It hit her hard, to the point where she spent most of the following month confined to bed. Happily, in recent weeks she’s been steadily healing and getting her strength back; the plantar fasciitis that’s been plaguing her foot for months, making it hard to stand on, also seems to finally be improving. She’s remarkable.

But, again, we keep getting hit – in two cases literally – with little things. Twice now, in December and February, we were in car accidents where I was OK but Revel got the worst of it – the first when someone backed into our parked car in a parking lot, the second when a driver ran a red light downtown and hit us in the intersection. There was also the severe allergic reaction to an escaped hamster – you can’t make this stuff up – and a host of lesser maladies. We cope, but it’s freakin’ exhausting.

Money: You have no idea how important the donations many of you sent were to us. It enabled us to get health care, health insurance, and prescriptions covered (Medicare Part D donut holes suck!); stay current so far on bills; put down the modest rent and deposit on the new downtown apartment; and, of course, stay safely housed and fed during a serious health crisis. The love and concern you all expressed has been deeply humbling and moving. I’ll be paying these gestures forward for the rest of my life.

Where We Are Now: Alas, financially we’re close but not quite there yet, and I need to ask for help one more time. Getting the new apartment in particular exhausted the last of our money, and dealing with the logistics of all this (not to mention my own health issues) has constrained my ability to work more with the candidates and writing projects that have offered me jobs or contracts. I’ve continued to be active in the community, with candidates, and with media work – most notably a new recurring column in Real Change – but I’d like be able to take on paying work. That requires moving into permanent housing, which requires money…it’s a Catch 22 you can help us solve.

I’ll be working more shortly regardless, but in the meantime we have some last pressing expenses we can’t meet. We’ll have rent, health insurance, and other bills coming up at month’s end. A lot of the furniture and housewares that we moved to previous apartments are now toxic for Revel and can’t be used by us, so we’ll need to replace them as we can. And, we need to consolidate our storage units and actually move into our new place. There’s a fair amount of furniture (not to mention books, music, housewares, etc.) that we can’t keep but that some of you might want. So we need to figure all of that out. In short, we could use money, muscle, and a day in the next two weeks or so to have a spring cleaning [out] and moving party!

Our most immediate need, though, is money – I literally, as of tonight, have less than $100 in cash and credit to last the next couple of weeks. More will be coming in soon enough, but in the meantime my best guess is that we need a minimum of an extra $2000, and more likely $4000, to bridge that gap and allow us to finally, after five long months, have a stable and permanent place to live. That, in turn, allows us both to focus on what we do best: manage our health and engage in the media, political, and nonprofit activism that sustains us and helps give back to the community.

If you can help (or help again!) financially, my PayPal account – which also takes credit cards – is here. Use the “send” tab and enter my e-mail as geovparrish(at)gmail(dot)com.

If you want to mail something, my mailing address is PO Box 85541, Seattle WA 98145. If you help out with our move or with other resources, please give me a call or text: 206-719-6947. And once again, feel free to pass this update and appeal on to others. Your help and concern have done more than you can imagine to help us weather this remarkable cascade of events – and reaffirm our faith in community and the possibilities for a better world. Thanks!

With love and appreciation, Geov.

But…But It’s For the Kids!!

Last fall, Seattle’s city council gave voters a choice between two competing ballot measures that never should have been juxtaposed. One, an SEIU initiative, would have mandated a raise and a certification program for Seattle’s woefully underpaid childcare workers. The other, a measure pushed by city council member Tim Burgess, funded a pilot program for what advocates hope will eventually become a citywide public preschool program.

Burgess’s staff wanted one grand package including both, but would not go along with SEIU’s desire to control the worker certification process. So SEIU collected signatures for its own initiative, and apparently out of pique, Burgess and city council took the unprecedented step of forcing voters to choose between the two measures based on the flimsy rationale that both involved kids under the age of six. And, presumably, because both were written in English. Or something. The calculation was obvious and, as it turned out, correct: far more voters’ families were directly affected by a program that gives children a better start on learning than one that pays a relative handful of childcare workers (about 1,500) a living wage ahead of the already-scheduled minimum wage increase. The preschool measure passed easily.

The back story is important because it explains why city council was eager to rush Proposition 1B onto the ballot last November despite some obvious logistical flaws, and why voters were willing to approve it despite those same concerns. But now that 1B is law and the city is actually implementing it, the problems are looking a lot more difficult. Call it tunnel vision.

On Feb. 27, Mayor Ed Murray’s office released its implementation plan for the first year of the program, which launches in September with the 2015-16 school year. Under the plan, the city will offer vouchers to the families of 2,000 children to attend about 14 (the exact number will depend on the city budget) existing, private preschools that meet a number of criteria, including academic achievement, curricula, class size, and teacher retention. While there are no specific requirements for location or racial diversity, the 40 centers currently believed to be eligible are evenly distributed through the city (27 are south of the Ship Canal), and one of the requirements is that the schools serve kids from families with mixed income levels.

That said, one of the simplest reasons the city decided to issue vouchers to existing centers rather than, say, develop a program though Seattle Public Schools, is that SPS literally has no place to put such a program. The district that only a few years ago sparked enormous controversy by its school closure process is now so overstuffed with new enrollment that some kids are learning in mobile trailers. With tens of thousands more new, mostly young tech workers and their families expected to move into the city this decade, that space shortage will only worsen.

Is using private childcare centers significantly better? It helps the city meet its immediate goals for the four-year pilot program, but only by displacing kids who’d have otherwise taken those spots – on short notice, childcare centers can’t expand their physical plants any faster than the school district can. Exactly the opposite, since the district has far greater financial resources. And since the pilot program may not be renewed, how many centers will build based on a market expansion that might go away in four years? At best, the city plan gives more income diversity to existing centers, but for families not in the city program, it’ll likely just make it harder to find a slot, or to find one that meets families’ location, schedule, or income limitations.

While the city program will help with income diversity, and (by extension) with racial diversity, one of the biggest challenges facing SPS is kids for whom English isn’t their first language and isn’t spoken at home. There is a “Priority Tier #3” bonus, in the criteria the city will use to pick centers, given to those who have “dual language programs,” but that’s not the same as ESL instruction – it’s meant for high-achieving kids, not the children of immigrant families. The mayor’s plan also includes a nod to instructors having “cultural competence.” But then, so does every SPS strategic plan, and it has some of the worst disciplinary rate gaps in the country between white students and students of color, especially African-Americans and Native Americans.

Overall, Murray’s implementation plan is full of such lofty sentiments. In real life, the best thing that can be said is that in a city that is rapidly getting whiter and wealthier, perhaps the pilot program will help generate the political support needed for a far more expensive, fully universal program, and perhaps that program will have worked out the worst of the wrinkles after the first four years. Until then, the headlines will likely be greater than the actual benefit.

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things?

It’s a cliche of every local election. The dynamic candidate, in search of Your Vote, is going to Do Something about Seattle’s awful traffic. Every state legislative candidate, every mayoral hopeful, every would-be county and city council member, and more than a few aspiring school board members, all pledge fealty to fixing Seattle’s traffic.

And then they get into office, and traffic seems to keep getting worse. Why don’t efforts to fix it work?

At the city level, the answer is obvious: nobody tries. Seattle doesn’t do transportation projects; it does real estate projects using transportation money. For the last decade, while bridge and road repairs back up and the earthquake-damaged Magnolia Bridge quietly awaits collapse, the city of Seattle has spent virtually all of its discretionary capital funds on first the Mercer Mess and then Mike McGinn’s streetcar folly. Traffic engineers correctly predicted that The Mess – aka the Paul Allen Beautification Project – would actually make South Lake Union traffic worse. But it made Allen’s extensive SLU real estate holdings prettier, which was far more important – at least to Seattle City Council – than gridlock or climate change or stuff.

Similarly, city leaders were so anxious to build the South Lake Union Trolley that they didn’t even slow down to notice its acronym, much less its lack of passengers. But fixed rail projects permanently boost teal estate values, and so McGinn and now the council have soldiered on, expanding the network at an exorbitant cost per mile with projected riders drawn almost entirely from existing bus routes. It makes sense only when you realize that transportation isn’t the point; corporate welfare for developers is.

And those are the relatively good transportation policies. For the truly awful ones, turn to Olympia and our state legislature.

The downtown deep-bore tunnel, of course, was a state creation. It was then-Gov. Christine Gregoire and the state’s then-Democratically-controlled legislature who rammed the project down Seattle’s throats, eventually “winning” a vote (after voters had previously rejected the approach) by insisting that a tunnel would be built even if Seattle voters rejected it. Every warning from tunnel critics – that it was insanely expensive, risky, used largely unproven technology, and was a climate change-enhancing fiasco – has proven to be true, if not understated. But even if Bertha quietly applies for help under the state’s Death With Dignity law, the tunnel project will be a success for its backers. Moving goods and people by providing a replacement for the damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct was never the point; enriching waterfront-area property owners was, and is.

But at least with these projects, something is being built. What’s being generated by the current iteration of the state legislature, particularly the Republican-controlled State Senate (unofficial motto: “Let’s screw with the libtards in Seattle!”), is far worse.

For the past two legislative sessions, the state government has had no transportation budget at all. You read that correctly. Projects already planned from past years were continued, but otherwise, nada. Why? Because Republicans – despite being, until this year, a numeric minority – managed to block the senate from considering a transportation bill because it wasn’t totally focused on roads and because it didn’t eviscerate public transit. Blocking the passage of any transportation budget at all at least accomplished one of these goals: without state funding, public transit agencies around the state have been forced to scale back or even close operations. True to form, even at a time of record ridership King County Metro had to scramble last year to avoid devastating cuts. Even then, suburban routes have been gutted and in-city routes remain hopelessly crowded and inadequate.

Which brings us to this year, when the state senate has finally decided that it really ought to offer some, any budget proposal. And what it has coughed up makes all of the transportation disasters listed above seem like, well, really good ideas.

Essentially, the Senate’s 16 year, $15 billion proposal parties like it’s 1959, freeways are swell, and “climate change” never happened. Over half the money goes directly to “highway improvements” disproportionate funding projects outside the Puget Sound region where most of the state’s population growth is happening. Public transit gets hosed. A poison pill requires $750 million in transit and multimodal funds to be redirected to the Motor Vehicle Fund if either a carbon tax or stricter fuel economy standards are imposed. Sound Transit’s request to let it ask local voters for $15 billion for the next stage in light rail funding – which isn’t even state money, just an ask to let ST ask local voters to tax ourselves – gets reduced to $11 billion. (“You don’t need to carry that baby for a full nine months, do you? Let’s cut it to six and a half!”) Even then, Republicans tie that provision directly to approval of several road mega-projects, most notably a major new north-south freeway in Spokane. Another jewel: beyond a gas tax increase, some of the proposed funding comes from transfers from sales tax revenues, putting pressure on other parts of the already-gutted state budget.

In short, after two years of obstruction, Senate Republicans have come up with an ideologically driven transportation bill that actively blocks action on climate change, defunds all types of public transit, pours enormous new funding into highway construction, and penalizes Seattle pretty much for the sake of penalizing Seattle. Har, har, har. Facepalm.

In terms of moving people and goods, this is why we can’t have nice things. Everybody’s got a transportation agenda. Sadly, none of those agendas actually promote, you know, transportation.