October 2023

Budget Amendments are Coming!

Seattle News

Budget

In budget news, Budget Chair Mosqueda released her balancing package late last week. Yes, ShotSpotter is still in there, and I encourage you to continue to tell your councilmembers about all the problems with it

Councilmembers had to turn in their budget amendments by noon on Tuesday. We will hear all about them at the budget meeting on Friday 10/27, with a chance to give public comment at 10am. 

I will be giving a virtual budget workshop with journalist extraordinaire Ryan Packer, sponsored by The Urbanist, on Monday, October 30 from 7-8:30pm, where we’ll fill you in on everything going on with those amendments, answer questions about the budget process, and more. Sign up for your free ticket here.

Elections

Money is pouring into the Seattle city councilmember races, with real estate companies and other business interests outspending labor 4 to 1, supporting the more conservative candidate in each race. Amazon tried a similar spending strategy back in 2019 only to have most of their preferred candidates lose, but it remains to be seen whether Seattle voters will be equally savvy this year. If big business wins out this year, The Stranger has shared some insights of what we can expect.

Dual Dispatch

CARE’s new dual dispatch alternative response program has officially launched. I have already covered this program in depth, but I will note the pilot is initially focusing on downtown, including the CID and SODO.

New Drug Law

The ordinance criminalizing public drug use went into effect last Friday, and SPD was ready. On Friday afternoon they targeted 12th Ave S and Jackson St in the CID and 3rd and Pine downtown and arrested about two dozen people, ten of whom went to jail. Chief Diaz says he intends to run similar operations on a weekly basis. This would seem to lend credence to the capacity concerns around the LEAD diversion program.

Other Seattle News 

The King County Prosecutors’ Office has hired an independent investigator to look into the death of Jaahnavi Kandula due to a potential conflict of interest of having SPOG being involved in the initial investigation. The work is supposed to be completed sometime in November.

The South Seattle Emerald did a great write-up of the new, very promising Guaranteed Basic Income program being run by Hummingbird Indigenous Family Services. This is the first GBI program in the country focusing exclusively on Indigenous communities. Their director, Patanjali de la Rocha, was one of the panelists for Solidarity Budget’s GBI panel earlier this month. 

Recent Headlines

Budget Amendments are Coming! Read More »

SPD’s Unfavorable Rating Soars to 64% in Local Poll

Seattle News

CARE Department Issue Identification

Last Friday, City Council discussed budget issues concerning the new CARE department. The new community response teams will start responding on Thursday, October 19, working 7 days a week from 11am to 11pm. The six responders will be costing $840k annually. 

While discussing the possibility of violence prevention programs currently housed within HSD moving over to CARE, CM Herbold mentioned there has been a group already at work on an assessment of the city’s gaps in violence prevention programming and where county offerings complement or duplicate the city’s offerings, which is wonderful to hear, as I’ve been asking pointed questions about this for some time and haven’t yet gotten any satisfactory answers. However, Central Staff was unsure of the degree of alignment between this assessment project and the potential scope of projects and programs that could move into the CARE department. 

The Director/Chief (this title is currently under debate) of CARE, Amy Smith, said that since they’re starting with only 6 responders, they will only be able to answer person down and wellness check calls for the foreseeable future. She expects her first recommendation to be to expand the service to provide response 24/7, which would require 12 responders. 

Senior Deputy Mayor Burgess said that at some point in the future (he mentioned 6-18 months), the 911 center will have 3 options for dispatch: the police, a joint response of police and the community response team, and just the community response team. However, Chief/Director Smith made it clear that to begin, the community response teams will indeed be answering all calls with police present, and she seemed to imply it will be up to the police to recommend whether they should stop being present for every call, as opposed to being the decision of the community response team members.

Revenue Forecast Update and Budget News

The City Council received an updated revenue forecast on Tuesday, and this time it was mostly good news, with the General Fund receiving $9.8 million more than expected and JumpStart collecting $14.2 million more than expected. There are slight decreases in REET (real estate excise tax) and combined transportation revenues. Mayor Harrell suggests spending these additional funds on “restoring investments in school safety through automated traffic enforcement cameras, resolving open labor contracts for our City employees, and paying down the looming deficit in 2025.

Budget chair Mosqueda stated she was interested in investing in “our city contracts, support for our frontline workers, access to basic needs like food and housing, and investments to help make our community healthier and infrastructure safer.”

Councilmembers’ budget amendments are due early next week. The next chance to give public comment about Seattle’s budget is Friday, October 27 at 10am. 

Meanwhile, Real Change ran an op-ed last week by Solidarity Budget entitled Seattle’s Budget Should Meet the Basic Needs of our Residents.

Other Seattle News

Hannah Krieg wrote a helpful primer on the Mayor’s continued shenanigans related to the budget and JumpStart tax dollars.

Erica C. Barnett reported on SPD signing a $2.6 million contract with a marketing firm to “create an ‘SPD recruitment brand’ and produce video, online, radio, and social media ads for the department.” 

KOMO conducted a poll with Strategies 360 that found that approval of SPD has plummeted since last year. Everyone continues to love hating the City Council. And Bruce Harrell is less popular than pickleball. 

The light rail came out on top in terms of popularity. 

The expansion of light rail, fav 84% unfav 14%The Seattle Kraken, fav 68%, unfav 6%
A potential new NBA basketball team in Seattle, fav 61%, unfav 15%
Pickleball, fav 44%, unfav 11%
Bruce Harrell, fav 41%, unfav 35%
The Seattle Police Department, fav 33%, unfav 64%
The Seattle City Council, fav 20%, unfav 70%
Source: KOMO News (https://komonews.com/news/local/poll-finds-strong-support-mass-transit-professional-sports-seattle-voters-strategies-360-nba-franchise-opinion-civic-pride-crime-homelessness-drug-use-housing-affordability-upcoming-election-coverage#)

The New Drug Bill

Tobias Coughlin-Bogue, the associate editor at Real Change, had an op-ed this week in the South Seattle Emerald about the recently passed drug bill and what a performative waste of time the whole process was. I am going to share a few quotes from it, and I highly recommend you click over and read the entire piece for yourself.

“Long story short, under the new bill, the experience of people suffering from substance use disorder in our city will be, as it has always been, almost entirely dependent on what kind of mood cops are in.”

and

“Why, when we are facing unprecedented crises in housing affordability, homelessness, climate change, public transit, mental health care, infrastructure, and many, many other areas, are we playing political theater? Why is our City Council so obsessed with the optics of things rather than the actuality of them? Why, when we need policy that rapidly and tangibly improves the material reality of everyday Seattleites, do we get nonbinding resolutions and 26-member task forces and symbolic commissions and studies that no one ever reads?”

Marcus Harrison Green had an op-ed in the Seattle Times, also about the new drug bill, advocating for funding for treatment and safe consumption sites:

We already have people dying on our streets and in their homes who will continue to die in the absence of a well-thought-out, well-funded plan. We have people who need drug treatment who can’t find it in an overstretched system. What we don’t have is a serious plan to address this crisis. We have words, failed solutions and unkept promises that will change nothing.”

King County News

King County has announced a new Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be headed by Eleuthera Lisch, formerly the Director of Public Health Seattle & King County (PHSKC)’s Gun Violence program. And indeed, it sounds like this new office is going to be doing exactly what the PHSKC was already in the process of doing. It will have a budget of $6.75 million; in 2022 PHSKC’s Gun Violence program had a budget of around $6 million. This appears to be mostly a re-organizational move as the overall investment level isn’t increasing significantly, which is unfortunate, since this is an area in which both Seattle and King County are deeply underinvesting in spite of the current need, as I wrote about last June.

Elections are Coming Up

People Power Washington has released their 2023 Policing and Public Safety Voter Guide, which covers the City Council races in Seattle and Burien, as well as the King County Council races.

Recent Headlines

SPD’s Unfavorable Rating Soars to 64% in Local Poll Read More »

Will ShotSpotter CCTV Cameras Roam Seattle’s Streets Next Year?

Seattle Budget News

Budget-Associated Events

If you’re interested in learning more about Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI), you can view the presentation and panel of local experts from this week here. If you’d like to contact your councilmembers in support of a publicly funded GBI program in Seattle, you can find talking points here.

If you’d like to read talking points from the Seattle Solidarity Budget, you can read them here. These should be updated to reflect new information learned during issue identification by the end of the day Monday.

Seattle Solidarity Budget is also hosting a virtual public comment workshop on Monday, October 16 from 6-7:30pm. An overview of Solidarity Budget’s call to action will be provided, as well as help writing up and giving public comment. You can register here.

There are two chances to give public comment related to the budget next week. A public hearing for public comment will be held on Wednesday, October 18 at 5pm. CM Nelson also pushed strongly for a public comment period to be added to the budget meeting on Monday, October 16 at 10am. As always, you can also email or call your councilmembers and share your budget priorities and concerns with them.

Investments associated with the New War on Drugs Bill

I finally have a breakdown on the plan for the $7 million for capital costs and $1.4 million for services that Mayor Harrell promised during the discussion of the New War on Drugs bill. 

The $7 million will be spent on two facilities; we’ve already spoken about the post-overdose site at some length, but the other facility will be an outpatient treatment center for individuals with opioid use disorder and/or other drug dependencies that will offer low-barrier access.

As for the $1.4 million, it will be spent for the following:

  • $470k for existing programs for drug user health and harm reduction
  • $325k for 2 new positions at Health One as well as relevant supplies
  • $582k one-time investment to support service delivery at the post-overdose stabilization center
  • $516k for ongoing costs at the post-overdose stabilization center
  • $164k administrative costs
  • $164k for a planning & development specialist to oversee the work supported by these monies

It is unclear where the money needed to operate the low-barrier access outpatient treatment center will come from.

CM Nelson objected to the use of the funds for harm reduction programs.

Meanwhile, SPD has estimated the requirements from this new legislation will result in it making 700-800 new diversion referrals every year. Right now LEAD is funded with $9.9 million, which allows it to serve 750 program participants. HSD believes this funding level will be sufficient, but how this can be the case when LEAD might not even have enough funding to serve all the new SPD drug referrals, let alone their normal caseload, is something of a mystery at present. Pre-filing diversion programs are also not receiving any increase in funding. 

SPD Budget Issues

The budget issue identification pertaining to SPD was discussed by City Council on Friday afternoon. You can see the presentation and the associated memo

Between January and September of 2023, SPD missed its hiring goals by 36, only hiring 46 officers and only 6 of those being lateral hires (meaning those officers are experienced and can be deployed quickly). They had 77 officer separations during that same time period (the projection was 72). Therefore, they experienced a net decrease of officers of 27.

At best, SPD’s staffing will remain flat for 2024, but this depends on an ambitious plan to hire 120 officers next year, with a full 30 being lateral hires. Unless something changes vastly in the next few months, this projection appears to be removed from reality. Iin 2024, SPD is proposing to fund 1,131 sworn FTEs.

SPD expects to exceed their overtime budget by $9.3 million for 2023, reaching a total of $40.6 million for overtime. The total number of events worked by SPD in 2023 was greater than that in 2019 before the pandemic began. Interestingly, Chief Diaz reported the department uses a combination of sworn officers and parking enforcement officers (PEOs) to staff events. 

SPD has been having trouble staying ahead of attrition while hiring new parking enforcement officers (PEOs) this year, so there might be as much as $1.5 million in PEO salary savings to help plug this overtime spending gap. Yes, now that the PEOs have moved back to SPD, it gets to use PEO salary savings as well as sworn officer salary savings. There are 22 open PEO positions right now, and these are planned to be filled by April 2024. 

Finally there was much discussion of the crime prevention pilot, for which the Mayor is asking for a $1.8 million investment that is being paid for by salary savings (the rest of the $8.1 million in projected salary savings for 2024 is being proposed to be spent on additional SPD overtime). $280k would be spent on additional automatic license plate reader technology. The remainder, $1.5 million, would be spent on deploying CCTV cameras with acoustic gunshot locator capabilities (aka ShotSpotter with cameras). 

The Mayor’s Office has chosen the 3rd Avenue corridor, Belltown, and/or Aurora Ave N as potential locations to deploy this new technology, although they are not yet sure how many locations they will be able to cover with the money available. These locations were chosen from SPD data, looking for places where gun violence, human trafficking, and high felony crime concentration are present. There is also no information available on what a scaled up version of this pilot might look like or how much it would cost. 

The Mayor has suggested this new technology would be deployable by March of 2024, even though it would first need to undergo a surveillance technology review and a racial equity analysis. 

A particularly disturbing detail of the plan is the desire to develop an omnibus surveillance policy. This policy would allow any CCTV cameras in the pilot to be moved around the city at will, without having to undergo any oversight from the City Council. The Mayor has said he will engage with each community to which the cameras are moved, but given some of the community engagement efforts we’ve seen in the past from this administration, this loose commitment doesn’t exactly ease fears of potential issues with this policy.

Several councilmembers, including CMs Nelson, Pedersen, Lewis, and Strauss signaled their potential support for this Shotspotter CCTV pilot. 

I will try to cover the new CARE department budgetary issues next week, but in the meantime, you can see their presentation and memo.

Overall Budget Issue

The critical conversation about potential new progressive revenue sources for 2025 and beyond has yet to truly begin, but Pubicola reports the Mayor’s proposed 2024 budget increases the projected 2025 deficit from $212 million to $247 million. 

And what about the JumpStart tax revenues?Harrell’s budget transfers $27 million from the Jumpstart tax fund to the general fund, an ongoing practice that the council has approved every year for the past several years to keep COVID-era programs going. Much of that includes new spending beyond what the council approved last year in the “endorsed” 2024 budget.”

Other News

The City of Seattle settled with the estate of Derek Hayden, a man killed by SPD in January of 2022. To resolve this wrongful death claim, they paid $1.5 million

The trial of the police who killed Manuel Ellis continues in Tacoma. Before she testified on Monday, Ellis’s mother says she found an AirTag tracking device on her car, as well as having her tires slashed earlier on the weekend. As a result, Ellis’s sister alleged witness intimidation.

Recent Headlines

 

Will ShotSpotter CCTV Cameras Roam Seattle’s Streets Next Year? Read More »

Mayor Harrell Has No Plan to Prevent Budget Austerity Next Year

Guaranteed Basic Income panel:

If this week’s newsletter seems a bit lean, it is because I am spending large amounts of time preparing for Solidarity Budget’s upcoming Guaranteed Basic Income panel. And I hope you’ll consider attending!

When: Tuesday, October 10th, 6-8PM

Where: Rainier Arts Center, 3515 South Alaska St, Columbia City

Food will be served, and I’ll be giving a short presentation on Solidarity Budget and GBI. Then we’ll learn more from a truly amazing line-up of panelists, local experts with lots of knowledge and experience with GBI.

You can RSVP here. If you can’t make it in person, the recording will be available here.

Seattle Budget News:

We’re all discussing Mayor Harrell’s proposed 2024 budget. Released last week, the proposed budget stays largely true to that approved by the City Council last year, but it wouldn’t be budget season if there weren’t some interesting nuggets buried in there. 

Probably most noteworthy is the failure of this proposal to address the large revenue shortfall we’re expecting beginning in 2025. The city could easily be short $250 million in the 2025 budget, and that’s only the beginning of several years of projected shortfalls. 

In order to address this, the city has two main choices: to cut, aka adopt an austerity budget, or to pass new progressive revenue. The Mayor hasn’t proposed any new progressive revenue and says he wishes to leave that problem to next year’s Council. The problem with this approach is that any new progressive revenue passed will take some time to implement and begin to collect, which means if we wait until next fall to discuss this, it will already be too late for any measures to meaningfully impact 2025’s budget. 

And making $250 million of cuts in 2025’s budget will be a painful process that will likely result in fewer services, less money for housing in particular (as the Mayor seems likely to raid JumpStart tax revenues to staunch the bleeding), and potential layoffs for city workers. 

Worse yet, the city will have to turn around and deal with a similarly sized shortfall in the 2026 budget.

Also in this budget proposal are funds for SPD to use Shotspotter, now rebranded as SoundThink, an ineffective gunshot location technology that does nothing to prevent gun violence and disproportionately impacts poor communities of color. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we defeated a similar proposal last year, but apparently the Mayor’s Office felt ready for some Groundhog Day-type antics.

The proposed budget also includes funding for what appears to be 213 ghost cops, or positions for sworn officers within SPD that the department has no plans or ability to fill. This continued position authority, not generally given to any other department, allows them access to their own private slush fund for unfortunate ideas like Shotspotter and officer hiring bonuses that don’t appear to actually work. 

Glaringly absent from the budget is any additional funding for diversion services as was obliquely promised during the discussion about the new War on Drugs legislation passed last month.

The budget also includes increased funding for the city’s dual dispatch alternative response pilot, which I wrote about at greater length this week over at The Urbanist

City Council will be meeting for three issue identification sessions around the budget next week, and there will be a chance to give public comment before the first one, at 10am on Wednesday, October 11. As always, you can also email your councilmembers and let them know your budget priorities. 

Other News:

The SPD officer and SPOG VP Daniel Auderer, who was caught joking about Jaahnavi Kandula’s death, has been moved off the streets and assigned to review red-light camera footage. The CPC has called for Auderer to be put on administrative leave without pay while the OPA investigates his case.

Last week Mayor Harrell released his executive order pertaining to the new War on Drugs legislation passed last month. Notably, he defines harm as pertaining to the impact on the ability of others to use shared public space as opposed to actual physical harm of another individual, which seems to confirm this new legislation is mostly another mechanism of control and criminalization over those who are unhoused.

As Publicola reports:

Harrell’s order is mostly suggestive rather than prescriptive. Officers who believe a person’s drug use inherently threatens those around them can decide, based on their training and “the totality of the circumstances,” to arrest a person or attempt to divert them to LEAD, the city’s primary diversion program. The number of arrests that officers will actually make is constrained by the booking capacity of the downtown jail, which is severely limited due to a shortage of guards.”

The executive order also requires outreach providers to create a “by-name list” of people significantly affected by the opioid crisis in a certain area of the city, which some advocates say is an inappropriate use of such a list.

In addition, the order minimizes the changes to the legislation made by Councilmember Nelson that would have given officers additional discretion over arrests.

Finally, the Stranger reported on the tragic story of Thomas J. Sturges. Ruled incompetent to stand trial due to mental illness, Sturges waited in the King County Jail for almost a year for the state to pick him up for competency restoration, his mother unable to afford to pay his $15,000 bail. Once a hospital “restored” him, he was returned to King County Jail in June of this year. 

The health department was prevented from meeting with him for a few months because of extreme understaffing, even though he needed to see them in order to resume taking medication for his mental illness. By August 27, he was transferred back to the hospital because he couldn’t stop vomiting and had lost almost half his body weight. At his most recent hearing “the judge noted he couldn’t appear because ‘he was severely malnourished in jail.’”

Recent Headlines:

Mayor Harrell Has No Plan to Prevent Budget Austerity Next Year Read More »