Encampment Legislation, Next Week in the Budget, Police Accountability Legislation Submitted to Federal Judge, SOID Legislation Rulemaking Public Comment

Encampment Legislation

Earlier today I sent the following e-mail to people who’ve written me about homeless encampments:

Thank you for writing to me about proposed Council Bill 118794.  Like you, I care deeply how the City manages public land for use of the general public as well as how our policies impact our ability to provide shelter and housing to people who are living outside.

Two substitute bills will be discussed on Friday, October 14, at 9:30 am in Councilmember Sally Bagshaw’s Human Services and Public Health Committee.  Please see here for the materials. The work we have been doing on this legislation has been ongoing with multiple business, neighborhood, and community stakeholders since the proposed bill was introduced on September 6.  Here is a good description of the two bill versions and our efforts to date.  There is still much more work to be done before this bill is ready for a vote.  Consequently, I will not support a vote in Friday’s 9:30 a.m. Human Services and Public Health Committee.

In previous correspondence, I explained the reasons why I decided to sponsor Council Bill 118794.  One of those reasons is that because this year alone, the City has removed people from more than 500 encampments across our city and at least 95% of the time, people return to those locations. This includes chronic public camping, usually in out-of-the-way undeveloped areas, in more than 80 city parks.  To me, this means we desperately needed to find a way to do things differently.   Cities all across the country are struggling with this issue as the number of families and individuals experiencing homelessness is increasing because cities are not getting the state and federal support they need to create affordable homes quickly or to stop more people from becoming homeless due to rising rents (that, under State Law, Seattle can’t regulate), health care crises, family violence, substance use disorders, and other causes.

Today I want to explain my goals for new policies to guide the City on how it addresses these issues.  Those goals are continue how to:

  1. Better manage public property and respond to the crisis of public homelessness with the objective of having fewer people living outside in our community
  2. Ensure that our current encampment removal practices are not barriers to people accessing housing and shelter resources.
  3. Address the legitimate and immediate public health and safety issues impacting both housed and unhoused residents in our communities.

From the day the bill was introduced I’ve been clear that significant amendments were necessary to secure my vote.

As I have said there is much still work that must be done.  I want to share with you my assessment of the current conditions in our city, and my analysis of how our current policies exacerbate the impacts of homelessness on public space and conflict with our urgent goal to help homeless people into housing and shelter.  I believe if we have a shared understanding of the current situation and how the City is addressing these issues, and if we analyze how the city’s current practices are ineffective and conflict with our shared goal to reduce the numbers of people who are homeless and unsheltered, we can work towards common sense solutions that reasonable people can agree on.  It would, in retrospect, have been valuable to engage in this conversation about current conditions and impediments to shared policy goals more robustly before this bill was proposed. However, the bill was introduced in the immediate aftermath of an important Seattle Times expose showing that the City’s current framework is generating “Chaos, Trash & Tears,” and that current practices do not even adhere to supposed City policy on encampment removal. There was and still is compelling evidence that the current system requires change.

Here is a little more detail about my 3 goals for new policy to guide management of public property as listed above.

GOAL 1:  Better manage public property with the objective of having fewer people living outside

There are 619 known encampments today, on city owned land, with only vague, ineffective written guidelines for how the city defines and prioritizes its work associated with cleaning areas, or removing people from specific locations.   The Multi-Departmental Administrative Rules (MDARS) developed in 2008, the written encampment protocols that the City uses today, treat all kinds of city-owned property alike and makes no clear distinction between locations that are especially unsafe, property that is in active use by the public, or property that is neither.   City staff have repeatedly said that they do not know how to prioritize their work, and the harm done by current practices is well-documented.

My goal – in identifying some types of property as unsafe and other types of property as unsuitable – is to provide a consistent and rational way for the City to prioritize work, in order to remove people from areas that are unsafe and unsuitable.  Prioritizing the City’s work this way, does not at all suggest that other property that is neither defined as unsafe or unsuitable is in fact suitable for public camping.  No public property is truly suitable for long-term living; but to be responsible, the City must first and foremost prioritize removing encampments from locations that we define as unsafe or unsuitable.

GOAL 2: Ensure that City practices managing public property are not barriers to people accessing housing and shelter resources.

We must create new policies to reduce the numbers of encampment locations by identifying and enforcing the rules against camping at unsafe and unsuitable locations and focusing outreach resources to a smaller number of encampment locations that are lower priority for removal because they are neither unsafe nor unsuitable.

Many of you who have written to me have said that permanent housing is the answer to homelessness and we should support the Mayor’s Pathways Home initiative. I certainly whole-heartedly agree that housing is the solution.  As context for our efforts, there are approximately 2,942 people sleeping outside in Seattle every night who are unable to access our community’s shelter and transitional housing system, where another approximately 3,000 people sleep each night.  Further, there are over 45,000 Seattle households at risk of homelessness because they are paying more than half their income for housing. There are 2,500 households on the waiting list for the Seattle Housing Authority’s 3-year long waiting list. The City, through the voter-approved Housing Levy, builds or preserves approximately 307 low-income housing units each year. We are doing good work through the generosity of the voting public, but the need is still greater than our current capacity to meet it.

The Mayor’s Pathways Home Initiative is a roadmap for implementing ambitious and optimistic recommendations that say that even with all of these other pressing and unmet housing needs we can get the 2,942 people who are unsheltered inside – and within a single year.

I believe firmly that the way that the City currently addresses encampments on public property is an impediment to meeting our very ambitious, optimistic, and important new goal to get everyone outside inside within a year.  If the City is every day moving people from one place to another, our outreach services are not able to connect with people and stay engaged with them for the period of time necessary to access appropriate housing resources.  We simply cannot successfully implement Pathways Home and provide housing resources to people who we are forcing to move back and forth.  In addition, by ensuring that people are not camping in areas that are unsafe and unsuitable, the sheer numbers of encampment locations will reduce and as a result we can focus outreach resources to a smaller number of encampment locations.

GOAL 3: Address the immediate public health and safety issues impacting both sheltered and unsheltered residents.

No one working on this legislation intends to create a “right to camp” much less a “right to camp anywhere.” The reality is that people are and will, for the near term, be living outdoors and that no one has a magic wand to change that reality overnight. I believe that for public land designated unsafe or unsuitable the City must be able to undertake swift action to remove people, camps, structures, or personal property.  And that the city has to ensure that people will not return to those areas by making sure that the individuals who have been camped there have somewhere else to go. There is more discussion with community stakeholders necessary to define the categories of unsafe and unsuitable locations in ways that are viable and workable, yet leave adequate space for people to go where they do not face immediate removal.

In addition to my belief that the City must enforce rules against camping at unsafe and unsuitable locations, the Seattle Police Department, Fire Department and other first responders must always, everywhere respond to emergency situations, such as fires or medical crisis, and cooperate with other public safety agencies.  People must still be prohibited from sitting and lying on sidewalks in commercial areas in accordance with SMC 15.48.040.  Lastly, I support the efforts of the Seattle Police Department to enforce laws against other criminal conduct everywhere.

Moving forward, I continue to believe – and resolve – that we must create new public policy that does a much better job managing the impacts of public camping on private land.  I propose a series of conversations after the Council passes the budget to better understand the current conditions of public property in all of our communities used by people living outside for their basic survival needs and to understand how the city’s current policies exacerbate those impacts. This way we can move forward to create new policies for how the city manages our public property in such a way that meets our shared goals for public safety, as well as our goals to house or shelter more of our unsheltered neighbors. Council inaction on this issue is irresponsible.  The status quo is untenable.  But we also must get this right.

 

Next week in the budget

 Next week the Council will meet as the Budget Committee for “Budget Deliberations.” Budget Deliberations meetings are scheduled to meet next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (17th-19th).

These meetings will address issues raised by Council Central Staff and Councilmembers by the October 11 deadline, in a variety of departments.

Agendas and links to materials are available at the Budget Committee meetings page; here are links to the budget process and schedule. You can sign up for e-mail agenda notices here.

Additional information, including an archive of budget documents from 2009 to the present, is available at the Council’s Budget website.

During the last week the Council heard and discussed presentations on the following departments: Human Services, Police, Transportation, Planning and Community Development, as well as a presentation about improving oversight of the City’s management of capital projects.

Police Accountability Legislation submitted to federal judge

On Friday, October 7, the City submitted police accountability legislation to the federal judge overseeing implementation of the 2012 Consent Decree with the US Department of Justice.

The judge has indicated he will complete review of the proposed legislation within 90 days, to “ensure that it does not conflict with the terms or purpose of the Consent Decree.” After his decision, it can be submitted to City Council for consideration.

One provision stands out as the Council considers the Mayor’s proposed 2017-2018 budget:

“SPD shall use preference points in hiring sworn employees who are multi-lingual and/or have work experience or educational background providing important skills needed in modern policing, such as experience working with diverse communities, and social work, mental health or domestic violence counseling, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or other similar work or community service backgrounds.”

I’d like to ensure this provision, or similar language, is used for hiring 72 new officer positions included in the Mayor’s proposed budget. Existing state law requires preference points for military veterans.

 Source of Income Discrimination (SOID) Legislation Rulemaking Public Comment

We invite you to join Seattle Office of Civil Rights (SOCR) for two public meetings.  These meetings will be to discuss the next step of implementing the SOID bill passed by the City Council in August.  To read more about that bill see my blog post and SOCR’s Frequently Asked Questions.

Public Meeting #1: Thursday, October 27th at 6pm at New Holly Gathering Hall, 7054 32nd Ave South, Seattle WA 98118. This meeting is an opportunity to learn about ordinance requirements, ask questions and raise areas that are unclear and that may require administrative rules.

Childcare and language interpretation will be provided at each meeting. To request an accommodation or language interpretation please call (206) 684-4514.

Space is limited.  Please let SOCR know if you plan to attend by registering for your preferred meeting date.  Registration is free. Please call (206) 684-451

North Precinct: We Listened

We listened. Based on what we have heard from a wide variety of community members, and the Council’s review of the cost projections, we want to take another look at the component parts of the building and even redesign some of them in an effort to lower the cost. Sometimes it is important to pause and reconsider a decision. That’s what we’re doing here with this project.

A new precinct building for our police officers serving north Seattle must be constructed. The current facility is not suitable and needs to be replaced. But, by taking a closer look at the design and the various parts of the proposed building we may be able to substantially lower costs as many Seattleites have encouraged us to do. For example, maybe the training center doesn’t need to be as large. While the community space in the building is important, perhaps it too can be resized in an effort to lower costs.

This building has the potential to be more than just a new precinct station. The training center and community rooms are critically important in our work to build connections between our police officers and our communities. And, this new precinct is designed to last for as long as 50 years, an important consideration given the current and expected future growth of Seattle.

Why I Support Building a New Police Facility in North Seattle

NPrecintThe City Council will vote this afternoon on legislation advancing the proposed new police facility in north Seattle at the intersection of 130th and Aurora Avenue North and requiring additional cost analysis and community review.

Here are the reasons I support moving forward with this project.

The current police precinct for North Seattle, located across from North Seattle Community College, is grossly overcrowded and can no longer meet the needs of the police department. We have known this since 1998 when the precinct was overcrowded by a factor of 30%. Today, it is overcrowded by 65%. One of the most significant problems with

this overcrowding is that detectives and other staff are located in nearby commercial office space, a fact that interferes with effective communication, efficiency and team building. Over 40% of Seattle’s population is north of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. These residents and those who visit or work there deserve excellent police services.

The proposed new facility is more than a replacement precinct. It also includes an urgently needed new Training Center, a key component of the city’s continuing path toward compliance with the federal court consent decree. Over a third of the new building can be used for police training, including seven classrooms and simulation areas, plus offices for training staff. Some of these classrooms are multi-purpose and can be used by the public as well. Combined with the training facility in the SODO neighborhood, this new center will provide significantly more room for the five-fold increase in in-service training officers receive each year. This training is essential to the successful reform of policing in Seattle.

The new facility also includes a large community room and a smaller conference room for the public to use for community meetings, special events, or police-community relationship building. Encouraging this type of police-community interaction is important to achieve full compliance with the federal court settlement agreement.

Some have objected to this new facility, claiming it is too expensive or that we shouldn’t be building something for the police when they are under federal oversight. Let’s be clear, this is not the most expensive police precinct in the United States as inaccurately claimed by The Seattle Times and widely repeated by opponents. By comparison, San Francisco’s Public Safety Building began construction in 2011, and was more expensive in 2017 dollars. On a cost-per-square foot basis, other public safety facilities in New York and Seattle are more expensive.

Could we lower costs further? Yes, of course. For example, we could eliminate the public community spaces and the Training Center. But why would we do that when these facilities will contribute directly to better police-community relations and better policing?

The city government is investing tens of millions of dollars in police reform separate from this facility; for example, underwriting the costs of the federal court monitoring team, paying for thousands of hours of court-mandated training, adding front-line supervisors, and investing in new data collection and analysis capabilities. These investments are worth every dollar.

So is the new police facility in North Seattle. Our officers are putting their lives on the line every day and they deserve a building that is not 65% overcrowded with equipment piled up in the bathroom. They deserve the highest quality training that will help us continually improve quality policing.

We set very high standards for excellence in our police department. We hold officers accountable because we expect professional, fair, constitutional policing. The people of Seattle deserve the best from our police officers. Our police officers deserve the best from us.

Mourning

This week has been difficult for me to process. On Tuesday and Wednesday, two more black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, were shot and killed by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota. As I struggle to balance my emotional reactions to these tragedies with the need to let the investigations take their course, I cannot ignore one fact: people of color in our country, particularly black men, keep getting shot by police officers. This is not a new phenomenon, but with the widespread use of video technology, all Americans can see it now with their own eyes.

Then last night we watched in horror as a targeted hate crime was carried out against Dallas police officers who were simply doing their job to protect peaceful protesters. Once again, gun violence destroyed families and ripped communities apart.

At the same time as the Dallas attack, our Seattle police officers escorted and protected peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters on our streets. It is no secret tensions exist between the police and communities of color, but that does not stop our officers from providing this fundamental protection of democracy. It does not stop them from patrolling our neighborhoods day and night to keep all of us safe. These officers deserve our respect and gratitude and, in the aftermath of last night’s terror, our encouragement and support. They also deserve to be held to a high standard of behavior. I believe strong support and robust accountability go hand in hand.

Moving forward, let us continue the hard work of restoring relationships between our police officers and all our communities, for the sake of everyone’s safety. Let’s make certain that we continue forward with our reforms of the police department, strengthen civilian control and oversight, and keep building public trust and confidence in our officers.

The Importance of Naming

Love-hateSometimes it is important to identify things, to name them, to call them out. Naming allows us to remember. It gives us a reference point, focuses our attention.

The Orlando attack very early in the morning on June 12 on Pulse, a gay nightclub, is one of those times. It was hate aimed at a specific population, our sisters and brothers in the LGBTQ and Latino communities. The man who committed this horrific hate crime killed 49 people and injured dozens more.

Hate crimes target LGBTQ people more than any other group. The New York Times reported last week that the FBI

found that of the 5,462 single-bias hate crimes reported to police in 2014 nearly a fifth were targeted at members of the LGBTQ community, surpassing the number aimed at Jewish, Muslim, Black, Asian or Hispanic individuals.

Hate—verbal expressions or physical attacks—against the LGBTQ community must be named each and every time it occurs. Failure to do so is passive acceptance.

Another important “naming” is the Black Lives Matter movement, born from the frustration of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the 2013 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. One may disagree with the movement’s tactics or some of their positions, but declaring Black Lives Matter is a necessary expression. It’s important because police shootings and police misconduct disproportionately affects Black people. It’s important because of the systemic marginalization and violent mistreatment of African Americans throughout United States history. Look back to slavery, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration brought on by the “War on Drugs,” redlining, and public schools that have utterly failed Black children.

Who gets to name things is important, too. It’s usually media, those with political power. But, if we insist that marginalized groups name their struggles—as happened with Black Lives Matter—we may more quickly get to the root of the problem.

During my tenure on the City Council I’ve focused on early childhood education and services designed to give every child a strong and fair start. Tragically, too many of our children are being left behind, especially children living in poverty and children of color. There are many reasons, but the underpinnings are tied directly to racism and our inattention to the crisis of opportunity we have allowed to grow and grow over decades for our Black neighbors. That’s why naming it matters. Black lives do matter, for all of us.

Sometimes our political rhetoric needs naming as well. Look no further than Donald Trump. He has based his campaign for president on hateful, racist, misogynistic and dangerously nationalistic language and actions. It needs to be named for what it is.

Words matter. Hate spawns more hate. Left unchecked, hate leads to violence.

Here’s what journalist Alex Massie wrote after the assassination last week of Jo Cox, a member of the British parliament, gunned down and stabbed to death in her northern England district by a nationalist extremist. “Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered . . . that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.”

Massie was writing about the campaign leading up to Thursday’s vote on whether Britain should remain in or leave the European Union. What he wrote applies here as well because no matter where you are hate speech is incredibly harmful.

Naming things for what they are is important because once it has a name we can begin the process of change. We can work to enact responsible gun laws. We can reform American policing. We can continue the fight against racism. We can begin to untie the albatross of oppression so many of our people have carried around their necks for generations.

Let’s keep naming things for what they are.