November 2020

The Council passed the 2021 budget.

In a budget season that seemed last to last forever in a year in which time has lost all meaning, I’m happy to inform you that today the Seattle City Council adopted a new 2021 budget. Further, Mayor Durkan has announced she does not intend to veto the budget this time around. The last few budget-related amendments were discussed this morning, and the budget and related legislation were all passed at this afternoon’s full council meeting. Live Twitter threads can be found here and here.

The bulk of this morning’s meetings consisted of heated debate on one last minute amendment proffered by CM Mosqueda. Based on the receipt of new data received from the SPD on Friday that their attrition was higher than expected in 2020 and might also be in 2021, the amendment sought to reclaim a further $2m of anticipated payroll savings via proviso to go toward participatory budgeting. The Mayor did not want this amendment passed, saying the SPD might be able to hire more than the anticipated 114 new hires and further that the SPD would need this money for overtime to potentially backfill patrol positions and for separation pay. There was concern this amendment might be seen as a hiring freeze, which it is not, or a fulfillment of the demand of #NoNewCops, which it also is not, but ultimately it was passed as being in keeping with previous budget actions, with only CM Pedersen voting against it.

The Council went on to pass the main budget bill with all CMs voting in favor except for CM Sawant’s protest vote against what she calls a harsh austerity budget. According to CM Sawant, this budget represents an 8.2% decrease in the police budget, not including the transfer of units outside the department. It represents about a 20% cut including those transfers. You can read more about the details in my previous post.

Neither extreme of the political spectrum will be pleased with this budget and how it shrinks the SPD. The Right will be upset because they want ever-increasing investments in the police force in order to perpetuate this country’s racist policing and incarceral system and to defund social investments in things like housing, transportation, and education. The Left thinks this budget falls far short of earlier promises to defund the SPD by 50% (or abolishing the police altogether) and was hoping to institute a hiring freeze at the very least.

Instead this budget represents a compromise that should mollify the more moderate among us. It acknowledges the racism inherent in policing and the criminal justice system and takes measured steps to begin addressing this through increased investment in community-led alternatives while giving these alternatives time to scale up and begin to take on some of the work now being done by police. It doesn’t drastically reduce the size of the force—which would result in widespread media hysteria, if nothing else—while suggesting ongoing work to ultimately right-size it.

The importance of this work is undeniable. Seattle is one of the only cities in the country still pursuing the project of reimagining the police at this scale (I believe the other city to check out is Austin, Texas). A 20% cut, while not the size that activists hoped for, is still significant. If the work does continue, Seattle could become a model for the nation of what divestment and reinvestment looks like. But opponents will be looking for any chance to place barriers in the way and declare the efforts to be a failure, thus nullifying the entire experiment.

In the months to come, it will be critical to remain informed about the Seattle City Council’s continued actions in this matter and to create a bulwark against the inevitable backsliding, which we’ve already seen this last month in CM Pedersen’s statements. The SPOG contract negotiation will inform what is possible, as will any legislation passed by the Washington State legislature in its upcoming session. A potential expanded role for Seattle’s parking enforcement officers could be negotiated, and a new 911 dispatch system will be stood up. The participatory budgeting process will direct the investment of millions of dollars into community-led alternatives to policing, while other investments into those alternatives will begin to be dispersed early next year.

If there is one thing this last five months have taught me, it is the importance of local awareness and action. We have the chance here in Seattle to lead a better way forward: to create increased equity and more safety for our BIPOC neighbors and to continue the work of decriminalizing poverty, divesting in racist policing, and reinvesting in community services that will lead to better outcomes for everybody. The decrease of 20% from the police department’s budget shows us concretely that our engagement with these issues does matter. I hope we can all take heart, dig in, and prepare to continue the work.

Until next time, friends.

The Council passed the 2021 budget. Read More »

The Seattle budget process is nearing the finish line.

Today the Seattle City Council completed its budget deliberations on Form Cs, which were proposed amendments to the budget. You can take a look at all the Form Cs under discussion here. There were no major changes to the SPD portions of the budget from what we’d discussed earlier. Depending on your source, in 2021 the SPD budget will be cut 17-20%. CM Sawant kindly did the math for us to let us know if you remove the transfers of units outside of SPD from these numbers, the cut to the SPD budget is 7.7%.

Twitter avatar for @amysundberg

Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
All right, let’s listen in to this budget meeting, shall we? We just heard 156, which would require SPD to report on policies that would re-militarize officer tactics, equipment, and culture.
Twitter avatar for @amysundberg

Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
Wow, CM Morales is really going to bat for an SPD hiring freeze, or at least a partial hiring freeze. This was proposed by CM Sawant, but CM Morales is speaking very passionately about it.


The Form C about the SPD that got the most discussion was CM Sawant’s proposal to maintain the SPD hiring freeze through 2021. When it became apparent that wasn’t going to fly, CM Morales proposed a 50% hiring freeze through 2021, which was also backed by CM Mosqueda. Nevertheless, neither of these proposals had enough support to move forward.

This echoed what CM Herbold said at a town hall last week. We’ve talked a lot about how police union contract negotiations and the consent decree are barriers to resizing the police force, but another barrier is the CMs themselves, who are reluctant to cut the force any further until community alternatives are stood up, scaled up, and ready to respond. Those alternatives are less ready than we hoped due to the rigamarole earlier this year with the Mayor’s veto, which delayed the promised investments from being dispersed. Several CMs have stated that they remain committed to the process of shrinking the SPD, but they wish to do so in a methodical and data-driven way.

In addition, Interim Chief Diaz has repeatedly stated his primary commitment is to maintain 911 response times; he will continue to transfer officers from specialty units to patrol in order to achieve this. This means that modest cuts to the number of police officers on the force (which is what either hiring freeze would achieve) won’t impact the size of patrol in any meaningful way, while pulling resources from specialty units that CMs believe are important, such as units investigating human trafficking and domestic violence. The CMs have discussed at length how to measure public safety, what public safety actually is, and how to best determine the proper SPD staffing plan, and I think we can expect those discussions to continue.

The last budget meeting of the season is on Monday, November 23 at 10am or as soon as the Council finishes their regular briefing. This meeting is primarily to tie up loose ends and make technical fixes to the budget as it currently stands. The final vote on the 2021 budget will be on the afternoon of Monday, November 23 at 2pm. There will be an opportunity for public comment beginning at 2pm, with signups opening at noon. This will be your last chance to weigh in on the version of the 2021 budget upon which the CMs will be voting.

In the meantime, the Black Brilliance Project released their own public safety agenda this week, and you can read more about that here.

In other news, now that the election is over, our State Senators and Representatives are gearing up for the next Washington State legislative session, which begins on January 11. Police reform is one of the legislature’s top priorities during this session, and there are a large number of bills on the topic being introduced. Now is a great time to email, call, or meet remotely with your state senator and representatives and let them know that police reform is a priority for you. If you don’t remember your district, you can look it up here.

This legislative session is particularly important because the issues around police reform have been gathering momentum for the past six months, meaning there’s more of a chance for useful legislation to be passed. This legislation would have impact throughout the state, including King County and Seattle specifically. I’ll be writing more about specifics on state-wide legislation in upcoming months.

Until Monday, and have a lovely weekend!

The Seattle budget process is nearing the finish line. Read More »

Seattle City Council’s 2021 Draft Budget

Today CM Mosqueda presented the City Council’s 2021 draft budget. No big surprises here, but let’s dig right in. You can take a look at the presentation slide deck yourself, and you can read the live tweet threads here and here.

Proponents of the Solidarity Budget and large-scale change and divestment in SPD might be disappointed by this proposal, which falls far short of requests to defund from SPD by 50%, maintain the SPD hiring freeze, and make large-scale investments into community. In her opening remarks on public safety in Seattle, CM Mosqueda suggested she thinks the City is on the right path but has not yet reached a turning point. She emphasized this was the first year the Council had not increased SPD’s budget, and referenced the roadblocks they have faced. Her goal appears to be to introduce measured steps towards divestment in police and reinvestment in community resources and organizations, giving those organizations time to scale up and build capacity.

The main danger with this approach is perhaps the possibility that the political will to make this large-scale change in how the City approaches public safety will diminish as time passes. Indeed, we already saw CM Pedersen today distancing himself from the quite modest cuts to SPD represented in this proposed budget in spite of lots of assurances in past weeks that he stands against systemic racism. CM Juarez, on the other hand, was much more supportive of this plan than she was of the summer plan. At its best, this plan could cause further divestment from SPD to be more successful, with community organizations being better prepared to step in and serve their communities after 2021’s round of investments.

Interestingly, in a press release yesterday the Mayor signaled tentative approval of this new budget proposal. In spite of her $100m BIPOC communities investment being significantly shrunk (more on that in a moment), she has to be pleased that the Council is not attempting to downsize the police force any further than they committed to this past summer. It seems possible the Mayor might not feel the need to veto this budget. Opponents will say this means the budget didn’t go far enough, but on the bright side, this increases the likelihood that investments this budget makes will actually be spent.

Public Safety/Community Investments

  • The Mayor’s $100m investment into BIPOC communities, otherwise known as the Equitable Communities Initiative, will be shrunk to $30m, with a proviso: “The Council intends that these funds should be allocated towards investments that reflect alignment between the Task Force’s recommendations and recommendations from the Participatory Budgeting process.”
  • $30m will be restored to the Strategic Investment Fund
  • $18m will be allocated to the participatory budget process, in addition to $12m for this process obtained through SPD cuts, for a total of $30m
  • the $10m promised in the summer’s rebalancing will be allocated to community-led public safety investments
  • $1.08m will be restored for the Office of Civil Rights to provide funding for community organizations providing alternatives to or alleviating harm caused by the criminal justice system

SPD Changes/Alternatives to Policing

  • oh so many reports! The Council is asking for all the reports they asked for in the summer, as well as reports on SPD overtime use, monthly reports on police staffing, a traffic stops report, a report on using PEOs for special events, and a report on 911 response times.
  • Creation of the new Community Safety and Communications Center
  • a Statement of Legislative Intent about the new 911 Call Center
  • annualizing various SPD budget cuts from travel, training, and discretionary purchases from the summer
  • abrogating 93 vacant police officer positions
  • moving mental health providers to HSD and hiring eleven additional
  • cut $6.1m from SPD for vacancy savings and $3.7m from SPD for overtime savings; also proviso $5m for potential salary savings
  • Proviso for out-of-order layoffs for 35 officers (this is a carry-over from summer)
  • Health One expansion
  • a consulting nurse and crisis counselor for SFD’s dispatch
  • $550k for a DEEL restorative justice pilot program and a few other small expenditures

Other Budget Points of Note

The Council’s proposal refills the City emergency funds to almost $40m, which is in contrast to the Mayor’s proposal, which drained them, leaving them practically empty. It also continues work towards figuring out a replacement for the Navigation Team. I believe the cuts to the SPD still amount to around 17%, most of which is achieved through moving units outside the force.

Next Steps

After the CMs turn in their Form Cs by Thursday evening, the Council will discuss amendments on November 18 and 19, and vote on the final budget on Monday, November 23. There will be public comment at the beginning of each of these meetings.

Seattle City Council’s 2021 Draft Budget Read More »

Lots of budget and police accountability news

Lots of news to cover this fine November Monday!

Seattle’s Police Contract Negotiations Team

Seattle announced last week that a member of Central Staff will be at the police contract bargaining table, and that the head of the OPA, the head of the OIG, and a member of the CPC will all serve as bargaining advisors. This step is a big deal and should serve to increase accountability during the bargaining process. The CPC has been pushing to be more involved with contract negotiations for some time now, and by making this move the City is presenting a united front when coming to the bargaining table. Having a member of Central Staff present should mean CMs are better kept in the loop as well. You can find more analysis here.

State law states these police union contract negotiations must be confidential. However, look to the next state legislative session for a bill that might make these negotiations public, which would improve accountability even more.

New City Revenue Forecast

The new Seattle revenue forecast came in as expected last week, and the news is positive! The City expects some additional $40m in funds than previously anticipated for 2020 and 2021, and the CMs have plenty of ways to spend it. Mayor Durkan wrote her own letter expressing her interests in how these funds should be spent; she talks about funding priorities that encapsulate a lot more than the new funds available, but it is noteworthy that many of her priorities seem to line up with priorities expressed in the budget talks the Council has been having.

I wondered if this presaged a new, more conciliatory attitude between the Executive’s Office and the City Council, but the preview we’ve had today of the Council’s proposed budget suggests this probably won’t be the case.

Black Brilliance Research Project and BLM-ACLU vs Seattle Lawsuit

The Black Brilliance Research Project, led by Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now, released their preliminary report on budget priorities based on their research findings thus far. If interested, you can read a summary of the qualitative research they’ve been doing.

Kevin Schofield also wrote an analysis of the City of Seattle’s response to the BLM-ACLU lawsuit regarding crowd control weapons. He collected the officer declarations, incident reports, and video footage (mostly from body cameras) that the City submitted as part of their defense, which you can review at your leisure at the link above.

Today’s Seattle City Council Briefing

The bulk of today’s Council Briefing was a presentation from SDOT and a member of Central Staff about the West Seattle Bridge and the choice between repair and replace. The main new piece of information discussed was the report of an independent contractor the Council hired for an outside opinion on the bridge, who said since the Cost Benefit Analysis is trying to compare all options at the same high view level, it neglects the fact that we can learn a lot more information about the repair option than is presented in the CBA. This seems to suggest these contractors see the repair option more favorably than presented, while I got the impression SDOT Director Zimbabwe was leaning more towards replacement. CM Herbold, the CM of West Seattle, supports the repair option.

In their individual reports, CMs discussed the spike in COVID cases, the results of the national election, and several CMs expressed dismay at the continuing issue of the SPD’s harsh treatment of protesters, as well as journalists, legal observers, and medics.

Budget Season Continues!

Tomorrow we have an all-day budget meeting, where CM Mosqueda will present the Council Draft Budget. You can sign up for public comment starting at 7:30am, and they will be hearing at least an hour of public comment beginning at 9:30am. You can expect me to begin live tweeting around 10:30am, and I’ll be there all day tweeting and then compiling the day’s discussions into a summary for you all.

Skimming the released budget documents, I don’t see any huge surprises, but it does look like the Council is proposing a huge cut to the $100m for BIPOC communities to spend elsewhere and wants whatever is left over to be allocated by participatory budget process instead of via the Mayor’s task force. So expect more discussion of that tomorrow, among other points.

Twitter avatar for @SCC_Insight

SCC Insight @SCC_Insight
Taking a first pass through @CMTMosqueda ‘s “balancing package” for the 2021 city budget. It cuts Mayor Durkan’s proposed $100 million Equitable Communities Initiative to $30 million, and restricts it to be spent only in alignment with its own participatory budgeting process.

CMs’ Form Cs proposing amendments to the budget that are self-balancing are due this Thursday at 10am, and they will be discussed publicly next Wednesday and Thursday. The budget is scheduled for a final vote on Monday, November 23, a few days before Thanksgiving.

Finally, I’d like to mention the great news that the King County Charter Amendments related to police accountability all look like they’re going to pass, several by large margins. That is something definitely worth celebrating! Thank you for voting and spreading the information about these amendments.

I’ll see you tomorrow, and in the meantime, have a wonderful evening!

Lots of budget and police accountability news Read More »

On Seattle’s state lobbying agenda

Just a quick update on this eve of the election, covering today’s Council Briefing.

Today’s Council Briefing included a presentation about the City’s lobbying agenda with the state legislature. The next session of the Washington State legislature is scheduled to begin on January 11, and Seattle has a lobbying team to represent its interests.

This year the team has heard that lawmakers have three priorities: the budget (like Seattle, the state is facing a revenue shortfall due to the pandemic), COVID relief, and police reform. The legislature is still working out the logistical challenges of being in session during a pandemic, and as such, they are focused on only a few issues and will probably be passing less legislation than normal. There is hope that CMs can be more effective advocates for the City’s interests since so many of the meetings will be remote.

Lawmakers are saying nothing is off the table when it comes to progressive taxation to raise additional revenue, with a possible capital gains tax or tax on excess income being seen as the most likely. There are also rumors that the state might preempt the JumpStart tax, but there has been no definitive movement on that front. In terms of transportation, the team is pushing for more progressive options but adding a local option of a gas tax is gaining momentum. There is also talk of a carbon pricing system as a potential funding source. They are also waiting to see what happens with the election, as that will determine the amount of federal funding that might be expected.

In terms of police reform, there are currently over sixty bills on police reform being introduced. Obviously some of these bills will be eliminated or combined into omnibus packages. There is a decertification proposal led by Senator Pedersen and Representative Goodman that is a significant piece of legislation, as well as legislation pertaining to qualified immunity. Much of the legislation being discussed is for reforms that have already been adopted in Seattle at the city level. Both CM Herbold and CP Gonzalez spoke about the possibility of legislation related to arbitration that could change the police union negotiation process; this legislation will be worth following closely come January.

Another presentation on the lobbying agenda will be taking place at Council Briefing on November 30 (aka after budget season), with a final vote on the agenda expected in December.

A reminder about the remainder of budget season: We might get a new revenue forecast sometime this week. CM Mosqueda will present her rebalancing package next week on Tuesday, November 10th. Then the CMs have a chance to turn in Form Cs by November 12th, which must be self-balancing. The CMs will discuss these Form C amendments the following week, with a final vote on the budget scheduled for Monday, November 23, which is a few days before Thanksgiving. Remember that the budget vote generally requires a 3/4 majority instead of the normal 2/3. And, were the Mayor to veto the budget, the Council would need to decide whether to sustain or overturn the veto sometime in December.

Meanwhile, next Monday SDOT will be attending Council Briefing to give a presentation on the West Seattle Bridge.

And tomorrow is Election Day. Whatever the results, there will be a lot of work to continue to do, and I look forward to doing that work with all of you.

Be safe, and during this time of high stress, embrace patience and kindness if you can, both for others and for yourself. I’ll see you next week.

On Seattle’s state lobbying agenda Read More »