Monthly Archives: October 2018

Takeaways From Tuesday’s City Council Budget Hearing

Tuesday night, hundreds packed Seattle City Council chambers and an overflow room for their first chance to offer public testimony on Mayor Durkan’s proposed 2019-2020 two-year budget, and potential council amendments to it. Some 140 people and groups signed up to offer testimony in what turned out to be a frequently emotional four-hour marathon that hopefully left council members – those that weren’t looking at their phones all evening – a lot to think about. To her credit,. CM Sally Bagshaw chaired the hearing with a notably fairer and more restrained hand than council President Bruce Harrell employs in contentious council meetings. Here are my key takeaways from the evening:

1) Durkan’s Social Service Cuts Would Come With a Death Toll:
Durkan’s homelessness spending came under withering criticism, including heart-wrenching testimony about the implication of cutting off all funding for the WHEEL women’s shelter; the complete de-funding of the SHARE emergency indoor shelter network; and an inexplicable 60 percent cut in homelessness prevention programs. Many of these cuts are being justified as necessary to come up with the money for the retroactive raises in the new Seattle Police Officers’ Guild contract (which council has yet to approve). Testifiers repeatedly invoked this year’s record-setting – again – death toll for people living on Seattle’s streets, which has already topped 100 by the King County Medical Examiner’s count.

Similarly, several people cited the King County Health Board’s recent finding that homelessness in Seattle now constitutes a public health crisis – particularly in support of the now-stalled plans for a safe consumption site in the city, which Durkan is also undercutting the funding for.

2) The City is Betraying Its Commitment to Race and Social Justice Equity:
Seattle’s pioneering Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI), begun in 2005, is our city’s “commitment to eliminate racial disparities and achieve racial equity in Seattle.” As with many programs that he hadn’t authored himself, the RSJI was badly undermined during former mayor Ed Murray’s tenure, and it looks like Durkan’s tenure will be similar. A majority of the public comments objected to one or another of Durkan’s social service cuts, frequently impacting communities of color – from homelessness issues to underfunding senior and other community centers to job training and internship programs. The City Council badly needs to stand up for the city’s RSJI.

3) Speak Out Seattle Wants To Legitimize Themselves: The anti-homeless hate group Speak Out Seattle had about a half-dozen members attending, in matching t-shirts and signs, who parked themselves directly in front of CM Kshama Sawant. They gave several interviews to local TV despite testimony that was frequently factually incorrect, booed by much of the crowd, and jarringly at odds with the tone of the rest of the evening. At one point, SOS ally and former council candidate David Preston – who has been the object of numerous police complaints for harassment and cyberstalking of local journalists and homeless service providers and volunteers – tried to cut in and testify after another SoS member finished, without having signed up. Thankfully, CM Bagshaw was having none of it. But the council’s sudden repeal last June of the Employee Hours Tax (EHT), in response to polling on a proposed initiative that SoS led the signature gathering for, gave SoS’s Trumpian rhetoric and tactics a legitimacy they don’t deserve. Local media should know better.

4) Trans Rights Are In An Existential Fight: In extreme counterpoint to the privilege SoS members exuded, testimony from Seattle’s trans community and allies underscored that the trans community, in the wake of recently announced Trump Administration plans to redefine gender, is in an existential fight for its rights that impacts everything they do – and that they need support from the city that’s utterly missing in Durkan’s proposed budget. This will be a major civil rights battle in 2019.

5) The Kids Are All Right:
At least a half-dozen groups of activists, mostly under the age 21 and mostly youth of color, gave powerful, articulate testimony, largely in support of social service funding. They all did great jobs, and provided a warm glow to an otherwise long, frequently dry evening.

A widely used truism, popularized largely by Jim Wallis of the liberal Christian goup Sojourners, holds that a budget is a moral document. Former mayor Mike McGinn liked to use that quote. The message Tuesday night was clear: Mayor Durkan needs to re-examine her budget’s moral priorities.

The final Seattle City Council vote on the 2019-2020 budget will be on Monday, November 19. Council members can be contacted here with your thoughts and suggestions.

General Election 2018: The Vote to Save Democracy

Okay, so granted, the concept of “American democracy” is a bit tarnished: Citizens United, vote suppression, gerrymandering, ad nauseam. A 2014 Princeton study found that there was no statistical correlation between what, according to public polling, the American public wants Congress to do and what Congress actually does -but a very high correlation between what the very wealthy want (using the same metric) and what Congress actually does. That’s a plutocracy, not a representative democracy – which is, arguably, what America’s heavily worshiped “founding fathers” wanted to begin with.

You can still influence the outcomes you care most about, especially locally, whether or not they’re on your own ballot, by donating and/or volunteering. But there’s a broader and more critical reason for getting involved in this election: Because you still can.

What’s become clearer and clearer this year is that Donald Trump, like his handler, Vladimir Putin, is committed to tearing down our country’s democratic structures and replacing them with an authoritarian regime featuring himself (and maybe, in a few years, his kids…). What this vision does not include is any elections that offer meaningful choices to ordinary citizens. And yes, there is still a very meaningful difference between playing at democracy and full-on fascism. Which is the governing model Trump, and his Rape-ublican Party enablers, are (in some cases literally) gunning for. Vote now, so we can vote in 2020.

The appeal to getting involved in local political issues is that they’ve always been determined at a level where ordinary people can still have an impact. As Seattle gets bigger and wealthier, that seems like it’s becoming less true. But much of what’s undermining accountability to ordinary citizens by our local political leaders is happening at the national level; a political party whose decades-long commitment to voter suppression, gerrymandering, and unlimited corporate financing of elections has led, inevitably, to a reactionary Supreme Court and a president who thinks his personal interests (and wealth) should take precedence over – well, everything. Including fair elections and the rule of law, but excluding Mr. Putin, Saudi princes, and all of the other murderous dictators that he yearns to emulate.

Want to disempower Trump? Then vote. And get your friends to vote. And their friends. Get so many people to vote that the fucking Russians can’t possibly hide what the American people – and the people of our state and city – demand.

So what should we demand? I’m here – again – to help. And as has been true for each of the 23 (!) years I’ve been passing along my election recommendations, the usual caveats apply: this is one opinion. Take it for what it’s worth, which is, well, one opinion. Do your own research.

And be sure to return your ballot by Tuesday, November 6, but don’t think for a second the job of changing the world, or even our city, will be over when you do. Social change comes from below. Voting becomes most useful when people have already organized, not when the people and policies we empower are approved. Get out and make yourself heard all the time, not just by mailing in a piece of paper.

As for which lines to fill in the bubbles for…


US Senator: Maria Cantwell
US House of Reps. #1: Suzan DelBene
US House of Reps. #3: Carolyn Long
US House of Reps. #5: Lisa Brown
US House of Reps. #7: Pramila Jayapal
US House of Reps. #8: Kim Schrier
US House of Reps. #9: Sarah Smith
State LD #30 Senate: Claire Wilson
State LD #32 Senate: Maralyn Chase
State LD #34 Senate: Joe Nguyen
State LD #41 House #2: My-Linh Thai
State LD #47 Senate: Mona Das
King Co Prosecuting Atty: Daren Morris (sigh)
WSSC #8: Steve Gonzalez
NE Electoral Dist. Court, Pos.1: Marcus Naylor
I-1631 (carbon fee) Yes
I-1634 (Coca-Cola) No
I-1639 (guns) Yes
I-1640 (killer cops) Yes
Advisory Vote 19: Maintained, and go fk youself, Tim Eyman
Seattle Prop 1 (education levy): No


U.S. Senator: It’s a measure of how anemic the “talent” pool of our state’s Republican Party is that for its two biggest races this year, it’s trotting out has-beens who, combined, have never held elected office despite running for office a half-dozen times. In this race, that means former Seattle chuckle-buddy news icon Susan Hutchison, who memorably tried to cash in that good will in 2009 by running for King County Executive (against a then-youngish Dow Constantine) and trying to claim she was “independent,” because, then as now, being a Republican in a county-wide race was toxic. She lost, and lost again, and so now she’s chair of the state Republican Party. In that capacity, she suggested herself for this race, because otherwise the Republicans standard-bearer against Cantwell likely would have been Joey “Patriot Prayer” Gibson, who is, among many other things, possibly the most confused white nationalist neo-fascist in America – and that’s saying a lot.

Doesn’t matter. Cantwell’s going to win by 30 points anyway. She’s not the best Democratic senator, or the worst, which means the job is hers until she decides she doesn’t want it or Trump disbands Congress, whichever comes first. Maria Cantwell.

U.S. House of Representatives, Dist. #1: While Suzan DelBene isn’t the worst Democrat in Congress, either, she’s well below the median for such things: a “moderate” Microsoft millionaire who bought her way into Congress – against more progressive opponents – and has done nothing to speak of in her four terms since. However, she has no serious opposition on her left this year, and in this of ALL years, you should know not to even consider voting for anyone with a “prefers Republican,” “prefers GOP” (the chickenshit version), or “prefers throwing kids in cages” after his, or occasionally her, name. They could be the second coming of whichever deity you prefer, and if they’d vote for a Republican to replace Paul Ryan as House Majority Leader, it invalidates whatever other good works or miracles they have in mind. So, sadly, DelBene it is. Suzan DelBene.

U.S. House of Representatives, Dist.. #7: Note to long-term Seattleites who were in diapers the last time anyone other than Jim McDermott was Seattle’s congressperson: This is why so many of us wanted McDermott, nice guy though he was, to STFU and retire a decade ago. This is what a truly progressive Congressional representative looks and acts like. I warily supported Pramila Jayapal to replace the (finally!) retiring McDermott two years ago, my distrust tempered largely due to her brief Olympia career and higher upside than her opponents. She’s more than fulfilled that upside. Jayapal has gotten more done on more different issues in two years than DelBene has in eight, or McDermott did in 30. Now that our Racist-in-Chief is making daily headlines by scapegoating the immigrants Jayapal fought for the rights of for decades before running for office, she is kicking ass and freeing prisoners. Finally, Seattle has a congressional representative we can be proud of. Pramila Jayapal.

U.S. House of Representatives, Dist.. #8: Not much is at stake in this race, other than, oh, I dunno, the future of the world and stuff.

Specifically, after seven terms and far too many years, former King County Sheriff Dave Reichert is retiring as a Republican congressman serving eastern King County and Kittitas County. In 2012, state Republicans protected Reichert from the changing demographics of the Eastside by adding Kittitas County (and some pieces of other east-of-the-mountains counties) to the district – but this year, even that may not be enough. Ellensburg and Cle Elum just can’t compete with the many tens of thousands of new, Democratic-leaning voters the Eastside has added in recent years.

Democrats need to win a net of 24 seats currently held by Republicans to take back the House of Representatives. To say that having the Democrats win back at least one house of Congress dramatically increases the chance that we can save American democracy is, sadly, not so much hyperbole any longer. Another two years of Republicans running everything in DC and who knows which of us will be on the official Enemies of the People list by 2020. Vote now, so that we can vote later. The stakes in an American election have never been higher than they will be this November – and that includes the presidential election of 1860.

Every national list of possible Democratic pickups includes this local district (as well as tight races in two other Washington State congressional districts, #3 and #5, centered on Vancouver and Spokane, respectively.) Conversely, if Dems can’t take our Eastside district despite its surging urban (and Democratic-leaning) population growth, it likely won’t win back the House or Senate, either. And on a host of issues, from federal funding for social and education priorities to Seattle’s sanctuary city status to ICE depredations and supercharging racism and bigotry, what’s going on back there in the Era of Trump has a huge impact here.

The Republican candidate for Reichert’s seat in November is that other retread: Dino Rossi, who nearly won the governorship in 2004 (and still thinks he did) by pretending to be a lot more moderate than the frothing, Trump-adoring self that he’s fessing up to as the 2018 Rossi. And Rossi 4.0, despite having already lost three statewide gubernatorial and U.S. Senate campaigns, can still draw on nearly unlimited money, and the love of fellow Trump fetishists everywhere. So the paramount task for our eastern and southern suburban neighbors in this primary is to beat Rossi. Most polling of this race rates it as too close to call.

The Democrat facing Rossi is Kim Schrier, a Sammamish pediatrician who has been running a Hillary Clinton-style campaign of trying not to offend anyone – which might fit this historically Republican district, but definitely doesn’t fit our political landscape in 2018. Nonetheless, she’d be a massive upgrade over Dave Reichert (or the sleazy Rossi). Kim Schrier

U.S. House of Representatives, Dist.. #9: Once upon a time – in 1990 – Adam Smith was a dynamic young politician. That year, he was elected to the state senate at age 25, becoming, at the time, the youngest state senator in the country. Six years later, he was elected to Congress.

He’s been there ever since. This year, he’s seeking his 12th two-year term in a district that has completely changed under him. What was once a bucolic suburban/exurban district where Smith could carve out a comfortable career representing Boeing and Fort Lewis is now the state’s only minority-majority congressional district, covering south King and parts of Pierce Counties. Smith, a hawkish Democrat who’s risen over the years to become the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, hasn’t faced a serious challenge in years. But now he’s got one, in a district he no longer fits.

His challenger, Sarah Smith, is being compared by a lot of observers to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the young Bronx firebrand who in June upset powerful incumbent Democrat Joe Crowley (who is white) in an almost entirely Latino and Black district. The parallels aren’t exact, but Smith’s politics are similar enough to Ocasio-Cortez that it will be fascinating, and telling, to see how she does in a district that doesn’t even remotely resemble the one Adam Smith, like Joe Crowley, was first elected in.

Locally, Pramila Jayapal has shown what we can get when we replace stale, establishment white guys. Let’s try it. Sarah Smith.

Selected State Legislative Races: As usual, most Seattle races are unopposed incumbents or non-competitive races. But there are a few interesting ones – as with the congressional races, mostly in the burbs:

State Senate, LD #30: As with the congressional races to replace Reichert (and Adam Smith), for the state legislature most of the interesting action is in the ‘burbs. Federal Way is one of those suburbs whose demographics have changed a lot in recent years, with a large influx of immigrants and other non-whites fleeing Seattle rents. Inexplicably, they are still represented in the state senate by Mark Miloscia, one of the most obnoxious of Olympia’s Republicans. (Yes, that’s a high bar.) You may remember this homophobic, anti-abortion culture warrior from his PR stunts in Belltown last summer bashing The Big City for trying to house the homeless. Yeah, that guy. Belltown still has a faint sulfuric odor from his visit.

Happily, for the first time in ages Miloscia has drawn a strong opponent: Claire Wilson, a former teacher who is Federal Way’s school board director. Wilson represents Democrats’ best chance for buttressing the slim one-vote margin by which Democrats took back control of the state senate in 2016, breaking years of Republican-backed gridlock in Olympia. The legislature always needs more education advocates, As a bonus, she’d also be removing one of the legislature’s most malignant d-bags. Vote for her twice if you can. Claire Wilson.

State Senate, LD #32: Over the past two decades, two things have been constants in local politics: 1) Seattle’s legislative districts are dominated by Democrats; 2) Of those Democrats, the ones in North Seattle and Shoreline’s Legislative District 32 are always at war with each other.

The basic split is between corporate centrists and progressives. In the ’90s it was remnants of the Rainbow Coalition at war with Clinton supporters. Now, it’s Bernie Sanders fans against…uh, Clinton supporters. The song remains the same.

In this race, the war features incumbent Senator Maralyn Chase. She’s abrasive and fearless and one of the few members of Seattle’s legislative delegation – the safest and most left-leaning Democratic districts in the state – who’s progressive AF. None of that will ever do. The corporate wing’s challenger, Shoreline deputy mayor Jesse Salomon, has, remarkably, raised far more money than Chase. Salomon fully has establishment Dems in his corner. Nuff said. Maralyn Chase.

State Senate, LD #34: This race again features two Democrats – one progressive, one corporatist – seeking to replace the retiring Sharon Nelson. The corporatist is Shannon Braddock, last seen in 2015 losing her Chamber-backed bid for Seattle City Council to Lisa Herbold by the narrowest of margins, despite outspending Herbold by a 3-1 margin.

Her opponent is Joe Nguyen – who, like Herbold three years ago, is a far better choice than Braddock. Joe Nguyen

State LD #41 House #2: My-Linh Thai is a truly remarkable candidate – and, if elected, the first refugee ever to serve in Olympia. She’s also president of the Bellevue School Board and would add another, desperately needed, voice for public education in our state legislature. My-Linh Thai.

State Senate, LD #47: Republican Joe Fain made headlines of the wrong kind last month when, in the thick of the Kavanaugh confirmation battle, he was credibly accused of rape by a City of Seattle analyst, Candace Faber, in 2007. Naturally, Fain refused to suspend his campaign. IOKIYAR. Let’s suspend it for him, and elect a well-qualified woman of color (who’s unlikely to ever be credibly accused of being a rapist) to replace him. Mona Das.

King County Prosecuting Attorney What could have been…incumbent Dan Satterberg officially left the Republican Party and became a Democrat earlier this year, probably due to the fact that for the first time in his three terms, he had a strong challenger this year: local attorney Daren Morris, who was running a strong campaign against the institutional racism that still pervades our local “justice” system. Alas, Morris suspended his campaign in September, reportedly due to health problems. We wish him the best, and hopefully a similar candidate will emerge in 2022. In the meantime, we’re stuck with the now-unopposed Satterberg. Skip it.

Washington State Supreme Court, Pos. 8: Our state supreme court is currently the most progressive it’s been in decades – despite the late Paul Allen’s attempts in years past to stack it with charter schools enthusiasts. Incumbent Steve Gozalez is an important reason why we’re finally getting long-overdue rulings like the abolition of capital punishment, and sentences of life without parole for minors. His opponent, Nathan Choi, ran for a lower court last year and lost – suggesting he’s not appropriate for our state’s highest court, either. Steve Gonzalez.

Northeast Electoral District Court, Pos.1: Of the candidatess, one clearly stands out as having the most appropriate experience and the most progressive endorsements: Marcus Naylor


I-1631: It’s bad enough that the federal government is being run by people who deny climate science. But our state legislature has been notable for its failure to act on climate change, too, despite Gov. Inslee’s attempts to introduce carbon fee legislation every single year he’s been governor. Hence, this initiative, whose main opponents, naturally, are oil and gas companies whose concern-trolling PACs have been dumping a ton of money into this campaign to spread specious arguments – objections like “it has too many exemptions” – which is true, but that can be fixed later. The planet isn’t waiting around for political consensus or the perfect legislation; it’s more important that we do something. Now. Yes.

I-1634: This initiative was literally written by the sugared drink industry, which has been barraging voters with perhaps the most blatantly dishonest campaign I’ve seen in the two decades since our state supreme court ruled that dishonesty in campaign ads is protected free speech. The whole point of this initiative is to prevent other cities in our state from imitating Seattle’s successful sugared drink tax – which has been cutting sugared drink consumption and raising a bunch of money for critical education programs, and which is grandfathered under this initiative and would not be repealed by it. So, to be clear: “politicians” are not going to tax your groceries, despite the claims of worried (and woefully misinformed) seniors on TV ads paid for by Coca-Cola, Pepsico, and Dr. Pepper (the three biggest donors to this initiative). Sales taxes on the types of items those seniors are ostentatiously putting in their shopping baskets are currently illegal, and NOBODY has seriously proposed changing that. Plus, do you really want your state laws to be written by some government affairs hack from Coca-Cola? Me neither. No.

I-1639 This is often being referred to as the most ambitious gun reform package in our state’s history, which, while true, is a really depressing statement on the insanity of our gun laws. There’s nothing radical in I-1639 – it’s all popular, common-sense reforms like expending background checks and raising the legal purchase age to 21 for semi-automatic weapons. Yes.

I-1640: Speaking of insane laws…it’s currently all but impossible to prosecute law enforcement officers for bad on-duty killings due to our uniquely high bar for such prosecutions: proving the officer had “personal malice” toward his or her victim. The state legislature tried to pass a compromise bill that would have fixed this, but the legislation was struck down by the state supreme court – so it’s on the ballot instead. I-940 would also require more training in de-escalation and in dealing with people suffering from mental health crises – also long overdue provisions. Yes.

Advisory Vote 19: This is another of the tedious, money-wasting, pointless “advisory” votes Tim Eyman got passed a few years ago, requiring an “advisory vote” every time the state legislature raises a tax or fee. On general principle, these should be yes votes (or skipped entirely), but in this case it’s worth actively supporting, because the legislature did something it should do a lot more: close a corporate loophole, this one exempting oil and gas companies from paying for pipeline safety. Maintained, and go fk youself, Tim Eyman.

City of Seattle, Proposition One:This huge education levy does a lot of good things, notably expanding citywide the successful pilot program for universal preschool that Seattle voters passed a few years back. But as former Seattle School Board member Sally Soriano points out, buried in the fine print is money for corporate, for-profit charter schools. That’s a problem. A big one.

In the ’90s, an education levy got submitted, and re-submitted, four times before voters finally passed a less problematic version. Back then, the school board was controlled by corporatists. They. Never. Quit. And neither should we. No.

[Author’s note: For decades, despite chronic financial and health pressures, I’ve dedicated myself to activism and to reporting and commentary from and for those of us fighting for our rightful place in a city that is increasingly turning its back on many of us. If you find my reporting and commentary valuable – and would like to see me spending more time doing this and less time stressing over how I can pay for food, rent, and medical care – please consider donating whatever you can to help support my work. The PayPal button is on the lower right on’s home page. Many thanks for your help! – Geov Parrish]

The Fallout

Four months after the abrupt repeal of the Employee Hours Tax, subsequent developments are underscoring just how hard it will be for local governments to find money to seriously address our region’s affordable housing and homelessness crises.

It’s been four months since Seattle City Council, in apparent violation of the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, abruptly decided behind closed doors to repeal the compromise Employee Hours Tax (EHT) it had unanimously passed only a month before. Since then, a lot has happened on the homelessness front locally – almost none of it positive, from the standpoints of saving lives or getting people off Seattle’s streets.

Instead, a succession of developments have underscored the disingenuousness of EHT opponents, and the lack, even in a booming local economy, of any real political prospects for meaningful solutions. Partly, this is a matter of political will. Nobody likes being screamed at on the job, and every elected official, no matter where they stood on the EHT debate, seems traumatized by the rancor that the EHT debate stirred up. Yet the coming debate over Mayor Durkan’s proposed 2019-2020 budget – aspects of which seem deeply regressive on the city’s approach to homelessness – is all but certain to whip up similar rancor. Trust is in short supply on all sides of the issue.

Two lawsuits filed against the city for allegedly violating the Open Public Meetings Act have turned up texts between Mayor Durkan, her office, key political allies, and every city council member except Kshama Sawant on the weekend before the council’s hastily called special meeting on Tuesday, June 12 to repeal the EHT. Aside from showing a return to the Bad Old Days of Seattle politics, when allies had easy access to the mayor and important decisions were often made behind closed doors and then presented to the public as a fait accompli, the catalyst for the repeal appears to have been private polling done on a repeal initiative which was then being qualified for the November ballot. The polling – which has still never been released publicly – reportedly showed not only overwhelming public opposition to the EHT, but that the opposition was unlikely to change over time.

The texts show Durkan’s and council members’ frustration and fatigue with the issue, which was first proposed as part of last fall’s budget proposals. They found themselves caught between a noisy public demand that the city start acting with appropriate urgency for what has now been an official state of emergency, with an ever-increasing death toll, for three years; and major local business leaders who simply don’t want to be taxed. The EHT debate marked the first time in the city’s decades-long, deeply paternalistic approach to homelessness – long been predicated on the assumption that homeless people are on the street because of bad personal choices rather than systemic problems – that the city has acknowledged that the dramatic shortage of affordable housing is directly linked to increasing homelessness.

“There is No Plan B”

The problem that city leaders face is that building housing is expensive. A Chamber of Commerce-commissioned study earlier this year concluded that “without dramatically increasing the region’s supply of affordable housing options, solving the region’s homelessness crisis is all but impossible,” and estimated that it would cost over $400 million a year, for the next several years, just to create the affordable housing capacity that could house our county’s current homeless population. Meanwhile, the city has few politically feasible alternatives for finding such money.

The lessons of city council’s abrupt EHT capitulation are many and sobering, and extended far beyond homelessness. Seattle has had a 20-year commitment to ambitious population growth targets (density!) that have more than been met; but concomitant investments in essentials like utilities, schools, transportation, affordable housing, and social services haven’t come close to keeping pace. City leaders pushed a downtown tunnel plan that was billions of dollars more expensive than other Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement alternatives; They also chose to spend billions more each on waterfront development, Mercer Mess beautification and other South Lake Union amenities; another $1.7 billion (and counting) on convention center expansion, and still more on a streetcar system nobody asked for and few are using.

While those and other pricey real estate schemes got funded, utilities are aging, traffic is frequently gridlocked, road and bridge repairs are backlogged by up to two decades, schools and buses are overflowing, and on, and on. Homelessness isn’t a sympathetic issue for much of the public; it’s easy to demagogue against as a spending priority, and Seattle business leaders (and their Seattle Times stenographers) were happy to oblige. As a consequence, one of the unfortunate side effects of the EHT repeal, and the campaign of public disinformation that helped fuel it, is the apparent legitimization, complete with local hate radio cheerleaders, of anti-homeless hate groups.

Cities routinely use economic boom times to invest in those kinds of basic, big-ticket projects – made even bigger, in Seattle’s case, by its past planning failures. Instead, city leaders have now effectively given Amazon and other big businesses effective veto power over paying for any of them, and allowed a vocal anti-tax contingent to further delegitimize attempts to raise new revenue. The feds and state aren’t helping any time soon. With a state ban on personal or corporate income taxes, the city is forced to rely on regressive sales, property, and B&O taxes for much of its revenue, and has already raised those as much as it’s politically feasible to do.

Lost in the EHT debate is that the hours tax or something similar was about the only tool Seattle had left that could pay for a major new initiative. Now that option appears dead, too. As councilmember Teresa Mosqueda presciently noted in her “no” vote on the EHT repeal, “There Is No Plan B.”

“Doing Something”

Leaders like Mayor Durkan are under enormous pressure to “do something” about homelessness, without the resources or the political support to do the one thing that would clearly help: build affordable housing. The past four months has been a firehose of supposed developments, noisily touted as somehow making a difference in the battle against homelessness,

One of the most common mantras of EHT opponents last spring – most notably by King County Executive Dow Constantine – was that we needed a “regional approach” that was somehow being undermined by Seattle’s EHT proposal. The regional initiative on homelessness is called One Table. It met once this summer and appears to not be doing anything of note.

Shortly after the repeal, Mayor Durkan also unveiled an “Innovation Advisory Council,” which included many of the tech companies that mobilized against the tax. This group is supposed to offer suggestions for improving the city’s real-time data coordination on availability of shelter, or something. The IAC recently met for the first time; the corporate representatives attending clearly had no background at all in homelessness, and little awareness of the daily struggles of life on the streets. The prospects that this group of people is somehow magically going to come up with solutions that have thus far escaped service providers, experts, and the homeless themselves seems… fanciful. But it’s another initiative that Durkan can now point to as “doing something.”

And then there’s the mayor’s proposed 55.9 billion biennial budget for 2019-2020, which city council is now considering. The mayor’s office touted the budget as pouring $3 million in new resources into the battle against homelessness. But a closer look suggests that some of Durkan’s priorities are seriously counter-productive.

Chief among these: for the second year in a row, themyor’s proposal cuts out completely funding for SHARE/WHEEL, the organization that contracts with the city to provide most of its emergency shelter. Last year, city council had to step in to restore funding for the year. This year, SHARE/WHEEL and its allies will need to fight that battle all over again – a drain on critical time and resources.

The heart of the conflict is a clash of missions. For the second year, the HSD, the city department that oversees homelessness policy, is prioritizing shelters with a proven track record of placing its clients in permanent affordable housing. Of course, since our city doesn’t have any affordable housing, this requires games with definitions to demonstrate “progress.” For example, a homeless person given a three- to nine-month voucher for market rate housing is considered “permanently housed” by the city; there is no follow-up to find out whether, after the vouchers expire and our now-permanently-housed person must come up with $2,000 or more in rent each month, they are actually able to do so, with or without the help of a case manager.

By contrast, “emergency shelter” has a simpler, less ambitious mission: to get people off the streets and into shelter each night. In winter, this can literally be a matter of life and death. Already this year, the King County Medical Examiners’ Office has tallied over 150 deaths of people with no permanent housing..We’re only a few weeks away from the first freezing nights of winter.

A Public Health Disaster

Last ,month, the King County Board of Health unanimously approved a resolution calling homelessness a “public health disaster” and urging local governments to do “whatever is necessary” to get people indoors during the coming cold months. That, presumably, would not include planning to dismantle much of Seattle’s existing emergency shelter network. An outbreak of HIV infections among homeless people in North seattle has also recently been discovered, underscoring the public health concerns of homelessness. Meanwhile, a stalled plan to set up safe injection sites as a response to the opioid abuse epidemic received another blow last month, as the Trump administration indicated it would aggressively try to prosecute backers of a similar facility proposed in Philadelphia.

Durkan’s budget is also proposing funding another expansion of the city’s”Navigation Teams,” the workers who try to place homeless people (especially those about to be swept) in shelter. The proposal would increase the full time staff of the Teams from 22 to about 30. A recent City Auditor’s report could draw no clear conclusions on the efficacy of the teams, owing to the city’s poorly organized data collection – but did recommend several changes in how team members are trained, including adding trauma training – a seemingly obvious step for anyone who has spent significant time among the homeless. The lack of data on the Navigation Teams’ efficacy – even as the program continues to expand – underscores how seemingly random the city’s “data-driven” approach to homelessness has been. emergency shelters are being de-funded – for not meeting arbitrary goals they’re not designed to meet – yet the Navigation Teams seem to not be held to any such standard. And, inexplicably, Durkan’s budget proposal dramatically cuts funding for prevention of homelessness (e.g., emergency rent assistance), from $43 million to only $19 million. Why?

Durkan’s budget proposal does have a bit of good news – a long-overdue, $250,000 line item to help accommodate the roughly one-third of local homeless people living in their vehicles. After a disastrous attempt to set up a safe lot in Ballard two years ago, the city has had literally no policy – other than ticketing and towing, a vehicular version of the record numbers of sweeps of unsanctioned homeless encampments the Durkan administration continues to pursue.

The budget proposal now moves to city council, whose first public hearing on the budget and proposals for amending i9t will be on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at 5:30 PM in City Council Chambers, Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Ave.