Truleo

A Mixed Seattle Budget, While a $221 Million Deficit Still Looms

Seattle News:

This week the Seattle City Council voted on all the amendments for the 2024 budget. Votes of particular note are as follows:

  • The funding for ShotSpotter remains in the budget, with CMs Strauss, Lewis, Juarez, Pedersen, and Nelson voting in favor. (This is in spite of a press release from City Council PR talking about how bad ShotSpotter is.) This also means services for tiny house villages will be cut in 2024. The next step to implement ShotSpotter in Seattle will be a surveillance impact report (SIR), which includes a racial equity toolkit.
  • The Council increased the JumpStart tax a small amount to generate $20m in order to fund mental health supports for Seattle’s students. Voting in favor were Mosqueda, Sawant, Herbold, Morales, and Juarez. The Stranger covered this vote as well.
  • A proviso telling SPD to re-initiate a contract with Truleo was passed, in spite of objections from ACLU Washington.
  • Both amendments offering additional resources for domestic violence victims were passed.
  • The $4.5 million for SPD special events bonuses to support the MOU with SPOG was included in the budget, taken from planning reserves. The vote on the actual MOU will take place at Full Council sometime in December. 
  • All human service workers, including those working under Continuum of Care contracts, received their 2% raise.
  • Funds were added to increase food security and violence prevention programs, and a SLI was requested to evaluate current gun violence prevention programs.
  • Money was removed from SPD for the Affected Persons Program, and money was added to HSD ($100k) for the same, to be contracted out to a community-based organization.

You can also read a budget wrap-up at Publicola.

Some light was also shed on the new progressive revenue sources conversation. As previously mentioned, the JumpStart tax will be increased to generate an additional $20m. CM Pedersen would like to repeal a water fee and use a 2% city-wide capital gains tax (with a $250k standard deduction) to make up the lost revenue. Projections show such a capital gains tax might generate $38 million, although it comes from a small pool of taxpayers and has an unusually high degree of uncertainty, due to market volatility and the ability for taxpayers to potentially avoid the tax by declaring a permanent home outside Seattle. CM Pedersen’s hope is that the repeal of the water fee and passage of the capital gains tax would be revenue neutral. The Council could, however, choose to pass only the capital gains tax in order to try to begin to address the 2025 budget deficit.

As for the CEO high pay ratio tax that we’ve been hearing about, we learned bad news. The original plan was to build this tax as another level of the JumpStart tax, which would make it easier to implement. However, doing it in this fashion would only generate about $7.5 million annually, which is much lower than expected. There are potentially other ways to implement a tax like this that don’t use JumpStart as a vehicle and might collect significantly more revenue, but the work has not been done by the City to enable this at present.

If the Council’s budget passes next week without substantial changes, the revenue deficit the city will be facing in 2025 stands at $221 million. The Budget Committee will vote on the final budget package on Monday, November 20, with a Full Council final budget vote on Tuesday, November 21. There will be one additional budget meeting on Thursday, November 30 for CMs to vote on the capital gains tax and water fee as well as various budget processes and transparency legislation. These further budget-related matters will receive a Full Council vote in December.

We also learned a bit more about the MOU with SPOG. First, the special event bonuses will expire at the beginning of 2026 and will not be automatically included as a line item in the full SPOG contract currently being negotiated. Second, the MOU will allow SPD officers to clear the scene for the new CARE responders without being physically present if they so choose. And third, the $225 bonuses were calculated to basically provide SPD officers performing a special events shift with double time pay (normal overtime is time and a half) at their current pay rate. However, when their pay rate goes up in the next SPOG contract, the bonus will remain at the same amount. You can read more about this at The Stranger.

The plan is for this MOU to be voted on at Full Council on Tuesday, December 5 at 2pm. There will be an opportunity to give public comment at this meeting.

In other labor news, the office of Mayor Harrell sent a condescending email to city workers with tips about spending less money. The reason these workers are struggling financially? Because they are not being given raises commensurate with inflation. Classy move.

In election news, it looks like the Seattle City Council will move further towards the center, a movement that has been ongoing as is exemplified by votes this year for the drug criminalization bill and ShotSpotter, among others.

Housekeeping:

As I don’t expect much to change with Seattle’s budget at this point, and due to the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ll be taking the rest of November off. There’ll be another edition of the newsletter published the first week of December.

Recent Headlines:

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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 »

Alternative Response in Seattle is Behind…Again

Seattle News

There’s a lot to catch up on, so let’s start off with the big news that the Social Housing Initiative 135 has passed! Next steps include bringing together a board of directors and seeking funding.

Mayor Harrell gave his State of the City speech last week. Apparently the white paper about a third public safety department that was supposed to be completed last year is still forthcoming. As this was supposed to be the main tangible step forward in 2022, the failure to deliver this white paper in a timely fashion is disappointing to say the least. But at least the new department has a name now, which obviously took many hours of painstaking work: CARE, the Civilian Assisted Response and Engagement Department. Apparently we’ll also be hearing more about police officer hiring this year, which is hardly a surprise, although given the difficulty police departments across the country are having hiring, these are conversations that seem unlikely to deliver the desired results.

Last week the Adley Shepherd case was dismissed by a U.S. District Court Judge. Adley Shepherd is a former SPD officer who was fired after punching a handcuffed woman in the back of a squad car. His case has been filtering through arbitration and courts ever since, most recently as a suit brought by him against the City of Seattle.

The City of Seattle settled the CHOP lawsuit for $3.65m, $600k of which was due to the missing texts of former Mayor Durkan, former SPD Chief Best, and others. This money, as well as additional costs of defending the lawsuit, comes from taxpayer dollars.

At this week’s Public Safety and Human Services committee meeting, the CSCC presented on their 911 Protocols Software that would enable them to dispatch calls to responders other than the police. Right now the plan is to implement dual dispatch including SPD, although CM Herbold was quick to remind us that dual dispatch doesn’t necessarily mean a police officer will be on the scene in every instance, but rather in some cases SPD would simply be situationally aware of the dispatch of a civilian responder. That being said, it was made clear at the meeting that the nature of the dual dispatch model has yet to be determined

Shocking no one, given we’ve been holding our breath for a particular white paper since December, all the work on alternative response appears to be behind schedule. None of the deliverables outlined on the term sheet regarding developing alternative response between the Mayor’s Office and Central Staff appear to be complete. Some of this delay was attributed to the hiring and on-boarding of the new interim Director of the CSCC, Rebecca Gonzales, although of course everyone already knew when deliverable dates were set that a new director would need to be found. CM Lewis was frustrated enough to say that if more progress isn’t forthcoming in future briefings, the Council might need to take a more assertive role in this work. Given Seattle has been waiting two and a half years for alternative response with nothing to show for it, this reaction seems quite measured.

The protocols and work flow of the new triaging dispatch system also won’t be complete until late this year. CM Herbold called out that we continue to be told of reasons why we can’t move forward on implementation of alternate response: SPD’s RMD analysis, the overdue white paper from the Mayor’s Office outlining the new third public safety department, and now this triage dispatch system. She expressed her hopes that launching an alternate response pilot for person down and wellness checks won’t depend on the dispatch system being complete. CM Lewis pointed out other cities with alternative response have triage systems that dispatch to fully civilian responses, not just dual dispatch. And so the slog to push alternative response continues sluggishly forward as Seattle continues to fall behind many other cities who have been able to do this work.

Due to objections from SPOG, SPD discontinued use of Truleo software that analyzed police body-cam footage to look for potential police misconduct. Unfortunately, SPD’s use of several other surveillance technologies was approved by the Seattle City Council earlier this week, including “cell phone and laptop extraction tools, a geospatial analysis technology called GeoTime, remotely operated vehicles, crash retrieval forensics and hidden GPS trackers and cameras.” Seattle has its own Surveillance Advisory Working Group, and the CMs failed to implement many of this work group’s recommendations relating to the use of these technologies.

A recent report shows that Seattle’s automated traffic cameras disproportionately target Communities of Color. In fact, 65% of automated traffic cameras are placed in neighborhoods with relatively more people of color and immigrants; Seattle’s most dangerous roads tend to be in these communities because of displacement. In 2022, Seattle’s automated cameras issued almost 200,000 traffic tickets, which is almost fifty times more than the number given by police. It’s also worth noting that these camera-generated tickets currently require review by police, meaning such a large volume requires additional resources given to SPD in order to review them; to do otherwise would require a law change. An op-ed in the South Seattle Emerald by Ethan C. Campbell and Nura Ahmed outlines several ways to address issues of equity surrounding traffic cameras in Seattle. 

CM Herbold wrote the following about violent crime in Seattle in 2022:

Although, over the entire year, the data shows violent crime higher than it’s been for years, the SPD Crime Dashboard shows that there were 363 violent crimes reported in December 2022; this is the lowest number of violent crimes reported for a month since February 2021, when 329 violent crimes were reported. The December 2022 figure is lower than the 403 violent crimes reported in December 2019 (before COVID-19, before the murder of George Floyd, and before 500 officers left SPD).

A further review of the SPD dashboard shows that moving into 2023 (the report only covers 2022), 371 reported violent crimes in January, slightly lower than January 2020, with 373 reported violent crimes.

Shots fired, while higher overall in 2022, are also dramatically declining, according to the Chief.”

When discussing violent crime in 2022, it would be remiss not to reiterate the increasing violence experienced by unsheltered people.

The turmoil at the Seattle Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and the Community Police Commission (CPC) continues. Two more SHRC commissioners have recently resigned as commissioners continue to receive legal threats from the City Attorney’s Office about trying to seek amicus status in the consent decree, and the CPC Executive Director Brandy Grant resigned on February 10. Cali Ellis has been named as the interim director. After events at a CPC community engagement meeting on February 14 and the CPC’s regular meeting on February 15, both Castile Hightower and Howard Gale have filed complaints with the OPA about SPD Officer Mullens, who also sits on the CPC. 

King County News

The ACLU of Washington filed a lawsuit on Friday against King County and Executive Constantine arguing they are in breach of a settlement agreement regarding the King County Jail mandating certain staffing levels and inmate access to medical care and court hearings. Advocates held a press conference and rally outside the jail on Monday morning.

Election News

Becka Johnson Pope, who has spent the last three years managing King County’s budget, announced her run for the King County Council seat for District 4. Sarah Reyneveld has already announced her run for the same seat.

Seattle CM Dan Strauss has announced his intentions to run for re-election in District 6.

ChrisTiana Obeysumner has declared their candidacy in District 5. They are one of six filed candidates so far for the district.

WA State Legislature

Sadly, the bill banning solitary confinement has died again this year. The new drug possession bill also doesn’t look promising.

HB 1513 (traffic stops), HB 1025 (qualified immunity), HB 1579 (independent prosecutor), and HB 1445 (AG investigations & reform) are all headed for floor votes. March 8 is the cut-off date for bills to be voted out of their house of origin. 

Recent Headlines

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