On this midweek show, Seattle Times reporter Dahlia Bazzaz returns with a run-down of education issues across Washington state. Dahlia and Crystal review the Legislature's considerations of special education funding, restraint and isolation in Washington schools, and free school lunch provision. They then cover the lawsuit brought by the Wahkiakum School District against the state, arguing that capital construction costs shouldn't be entirely borne by local taxpayers through school bonds. Finally, Dahlia and Crystal discuss the shift in enrollment patterns whereby students of color are now the majority in Washington public schools, the rise of direct student advocacy with lawmakers, and a call to action to get involved and educated about school boards and school district budgets. As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com. Follow us on Twitter at @HacksWonks. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find our guest Dahlia Bazzaz at @dahliabazzaz. Resources “Special education spending, oversight top priorities for WA lawmakers” by Dahlia Bazzaz and Jeanie Lindsay from The Seattle Times “WA schools still restrain, isolate students often despite state laws, report says” by Lulu Ramadan and Claire Withycombe from The Seattle Times “Restraint and isolation in Washington schools: What these practices are, how they are being used and what needs to change” | ACLU of Washington “The next McCleary? Tiny district with decaying school buildings sues WA state” by Dahlia Bazzaz from The Seattle Times “No clear answers as WA Supreme Court hears case on school construction” by Dahlia Bazzaz from The Seattle Times “WA legislators scrap plan for free school lunch for all students” by David Gutman from The Seattle Times “Students of color are now the majority in WA public schools” by Dahlia Bazzaz from The Seattle Times “WA kids deserve 45 minutes of recess time, new bill proposes” by Dahlia Bazzaz from The Seattle Times “After fatal shooting in school, Seattle searches for answers to gun violence” by Dahlia Bazzaz & Jeanie Lindsay from The Seattle Times “In Session: Drug possession bill passes, students make opinions clear on multiple bills” by Drew Mikkelsen from King 5 News Transcript [00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington State through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today, I am thrilled to be welcoming back to the show: Seattle Times education reporter, Dahlia Bazzaz. Welcome. [00:01:02] Dahlia Bazzaz: Thanks for having me again. [00:01:04] Crystal Fincher: Excited to have you back. We talk about education basically weekly on the show. There are so many things happening in the realm of education - in our schools, with our kids and students. It's so impactful in so many ways. Right now, we're in the middle of a legislative session where they're taking up a lot of issues that will be impacting education. And I thought we would start off by talking about what is currently in play, what is happening legislatively when it comes to education in our schools. So what is top of your mind with what the Legislature is working on? [00:01:43] Dahlia Bazzaz: Yeah, I think to set a little bit of context - this was one of the first sessions post-school closure and we didn't have any sort of form of remote schooling happen this year. So we're coming out of a lot of federal money that was offered to schools - a historic amount of federal money - as well as a lot of enrollment challenges affecting school districts and their budgets. So we came into the session hearing - lots of school districts facing financial challenges, and there's also been some topics that have crept up that have been on legislators' minds since before the pandemic. The most recent session before the pandemic started in 2019, the Legislature really took up special education and that was a huge topic. And it appears that has resurfaced again because that's been probably the biggest thing that's come up in terms of education legislation. One thing to note here is that this particular focus on special education is mostly related to funding. And one of the things that lawmakers are working through - today was the cutoff for bills to make it out of the house of origin, so out of the House or the Senate. And some of the bills that have survived include one bill in the House and one bill in the Senate that seek to address the same problem, which is that the state funding that goes to school districts to support disabled students is capped at a certain enrollment rate. So if you have more than 13.5% of your students receiving special education services, the state will not fund beyond that in its formula. You can seek to apply for a set of funds called safety net funding, but that's an additional barrier and paperwork, and it's basically an as-needed type of pot of funds. So the bill in the House proposes gradually decreasing that funding cap until 2027, when it's eventually removed. And it also proposes increasing the - what they call a multiplier - it's basically a per student rate. So for every student, let's say if you have - for every general education student, the state will give you $2,000. If you have a disabled student, they might give you an extra $900 on top of that. So this bill would also seek to increase that multiplier. It's not the exact amount, but let's say like instead of $2,900, they're giving you $3,500 per student receiving special ed. [00:04:23] Crystal Fincher: This is really an important thing because we already have districts who are above and beyond that cap right now. We're hearing from teachers across the state that more students are in need of more services. Certainly it takes more resources, it costs more money to educate students who have disabilities. And it's a responsibility of the state. It's a responsibility of each of these school districts to do so - we've had so many school districts talk about, They just don't have enough money to do it. They don't have enough educators, para-educators to do this. So does this look - it's continuing to move on - does it look like this is going to meaningfully help a lot of these districts who are in this situation right now? [00:05:09] Dahlia Bazzaz: Districts do, by and large, support this legislation. I think - I've watched enough legislative sessions to know that when things come down to the final budget writing, that what makes it in can be very different from what was going through the different chambers. So as it is, I think I've heard most people who are really in the education world support getting rid of that cap completely. There have been other proposals, including the one from the Senate, that just propose increasing that cap to 15% instead of 13.5%. So it does seek to put a lot of additional funds - we're looking at for the House bill, about $410 million over the next four years. The Senate bill would add about $771 million extra dollars over the next four years. So it's a significant amount of money, but time will tell about what actually makes it in in terms of concrete policy and funding changes. [00:06:09] Crystal Fincher: Got it. What else is being looked at? [00:06:11] Dahlia Bazzaz: So within special education and things that are affecting disabled students, there's also a bill out that would ban isolation and isolation rooms for students. It's a pretty big problem across the state. It was documented in a recent Seattle Times investigation as well. Essentially, this bill would seek to ban isolation rooms, which is a space that educators or school staff would put a student with a behavioral problem. It has a lock in which the student cannot unlock themselves, so basically it's just locking a student in a room. There are really not many provisions about what these isolation rooms look like, and a lot of research has shown that it's very harmful for students and kids and it can actually worsen behavior and worsen school avoidance. So this legislation would seek to ban these isolation rooms by 2025. It also would prohibit mechanical and chemical forms of restraint, so think of things like different medications used to sedate students or things like handcuffs that are used outside of a criminal justice type of environment - so these are all sort of ways to regulate the response to students with any behavioral problems at school. [00:07:32] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. This is really important. I actually - just yesterday, I believe it was Kendrick Washington from the ACLU, who I know is involved with advocating for that bill actually posted a picture on social media about some of these isolation rooms. And it looks like a prison inside of the school. And this flies in the face of evidence about what actually does work to improve behavior and integration within schools. These types of tactics are used disproportionately against BIPOC students. It just - this doesn't seem appropriate for school settings at all, and for kids at all. This is not productive discipline, it's not effective. And so I really hope this is something that does make it through. [00:08:23] Dahlia Bazzaz: Yeah, and I'm remembering a case out of Spokane - I believe a few news outlets covered it in Spokane - where a student who is nonverbal was locked in a room that didn't have any sort of padding or whatsoever. And the student ended up hitting herself against a few walls and really injuring herself to the point of needing medical care and attention. So it's a pretty huge issue and it can cause physical harm to students. [00:08:47] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. So we'll be keeping our eye on that one. Is there anything else that you've been tracking in the Legislature? [00:08:54] Dahlia Bazzaz: One other big issue is capital construction costs, which is something that I think we don't talk about enough within the K-12 sphere. But right now, the State Supreme Court is hearing a case that could be the next McCleary, except on the school construction side. So McCleary was the big school funding case that changed the way that teacher salaries and all these operational parts of a school are funded - really increased how much the state was spending versus how much local taxes we're collecting from voters. And so this case came up because a tiny school district in southwest Washington called the Wahkiakum School District sued the state. It hasn't been able to pass a bond in 22 years. And when you are a district that cannot pass a bond in Washington state, you don't have a ton of options to get funding for school construction. You can't apply for the biggest state program that offers assistance, which is called the SCAP [School Construction Assistance Program] program. This program only allows you to apply for funding if you pass a bond. So you're locked out of a lot of options. And so the same attorney that won the McCleary case for the plaintiffs has taken on this case for Wahkiakum, and they're coming at it from the same angle, which is that the State Constitution says that it is the state's paramount duty to amply fund education. And they are arguing that school construction that is essential to the safety of students is - falls under that umbrella term. So there are a couple of bills floating out there that try to address this problem. One of them is from State Representative Joel McEntire, who is an alumnus of Wahkiakum, I should say. And it is very specifically tailored to these very small school districts that struggle to raise money through bonds. It would provide about half of the construction costs for school districts that are 1,000 students or fewer. As of right now - 1:25PM - it has not passed out of its chamber of origin. But i have seen things come up in the budget out of the dead before in the final weeks of the session, so can't say for sure whether or not that's going to come through. There's also some proposals to redirect revenue from timber harvests over to school districts - also not sure where that's going to end up. But I think a fair amount of legislators see this issue as a problem - they think the state should provide more funding for school construction. But there are many who also believe that local taxpayers should be fronting most of that cost. And they don't really agree with a model like school operations where you would get, let's say, a certain amount of funds per student for school construction every year. So that's been a big topic. The hearing for that case, the first and only, is going to be next week on Tuesday. And I have a story publishing about the Wahkiakum School District this weekend, and it just takes a look at their school facilities. I went down there. The buildings are in some dire need of some improvements. The floors of the high school are lined with asbestos that are sealed in by a layer of wax. Their fire alarm system is from the 1960s and if it's activated, you have to use a leather welding glove to disable it - it gets really hot. There are lots of broken sinks in their science classrooms - they can't do experiments inside, they have to go outside, sometimes sitting in the rain to do any sort of chemistry labs. And yeah, they haven't been able to pass a bond in 22 years. So as you can imagine, there's a lot of outstanding maintenance and leaky ceilings and just crumbling infrastructure around the buildings. So look for that story coming up this weekend. [00:12:43] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And we record before people hear this aired, so they may not hear this for a couple of weeks - but we are recording this at the moment on March 8th. So by the time people hear this, we'll be well past this - we'll know what definitely made it out of the chambers of origin. And we will absolutely share the upcoming article that you have in our resources in the show notes so people can have all of that context. And this is such an interesting conversation. The McCleary decision was such a big decision - messy process throughout that decision in even getting the Legislature to comply with that decision after it was made - was just its whole dramatic tooth pulling endeavor. But this is really a necessary continued part of this conversation. So many school districts across the state are reliant upon bond and levy revenue - they're reliant upon local voters opting in to fund these things throughout the district. And there was just a Marysville school levy election last month that if they wouldn't have passed that, they would have had to take immediate major steps to cut to fit within their limited budget. And so if it truly is the paramount duty of our state to fund education - whether it's special education, whether it's school funding in these capital costs - it really seems like there's a long way that we still have to go. And regardless of how this court case turns out, it seems like there is a responsibility for the Legislature to reckon with and fund this in a better and more sustainable way. [00:14:29] Dahlia Bazzaz: Yeah, that's certainly what Wahkiakum would like to see. And there have been other proposals to - let's adjust the bond approval rates - right now it's 60% with a certain percentage of voter outcome. And for Wahkiakum, the last bond they attempted - they only got 30% approval. So it's very challenging even without making those really substantive adjustments to the law. And there's also the issue of how much the districts can tax - when you have a really small school district and you have a really poor property valuation, you're not going to raise as much money as districts that are really well-to-do. So it would take - you would tax at a way higher rate to make a third of what Mercer Island or Bellevue would make if you were Wahkiakum. So it's also another sort of issue that lawmakers, Supreme Court justices will have to contend with. [00:15:21] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And we have to ask ourselves - what are we setting ourselves up for and what kinds of patterns are we allowing this to fall into? If people coming from districts that already don't have the financial resources that others do, then aren't able to fund new building construction costs and are not able to provide a quality education or even a quality environment for people to learn in. If they aren't able to pass levies that provide some of what lots of people would consider to be educational basics and necessities - providing things like nurses and libraries and things like that, that we expect to be part of a traditional school experience. If we are setting ourselves up to make sure that people in lower income districts just cannot enjoy, just cannot have these types of things - seems like we're just further setting in stone cycles of poverty, because we're not enabling people from these areas to have a good education - who are more reliant on that education for mobility socially, economically, and otherwise. So I hope that this gets the attention that it deserves. [00:16:34] Dahlia Bazzaz: I hope so too. [00:16:35] Crystal Fincher: Is there anything else in the legislature that we should be looking at? [00:16:38] Dahlia Bazzaz: Just a couple of other things. There's a school lunch bill that would essentially extend, in a modified way, extend a Biden administration policy that expired last school year - which would offer free school lunch to all students. This state substitution would lower the threshold for when schools are required to offer free lunch to all students, regardless of income eligibility. So currently it's at about 40% or more students that would get, if they qualify, for free and reduced lunch at the elementary school level, then the entire school has to provide it for all students. And this would bump it down to 30% qualifying. So it would help a lot of schools that kind of straddle that 30-40% line, but it's not free lunch for everybody. And there's also a different graduation pathway option being proposed. So basically a different way for students to graduate high school. [00:17:37] Crystal Fincher: Well, yeah. And certainly if you follow me online, if you have listened to prior conversations - the bill, the original bill that would have just provided free school lunch to all students in Washington, sponsored by Senator T'wina Nobles, was something that I was very excited about, that lots of people were very excited about. To me, it seems - hey, if we're mandating kids be in this space, we can provide meals. Especially with what we learned throughout the pandemic in providing this additional school meals, with the addition of SNAP funds - that actually also just expired - we made such improvements, such dramatic improvements in childhood poverty reduction and in hunger reduction. And these are such basic things. If we cannot feed our kids, if we cannot keep our kids from being hungry, what are we even doing - just as a society - is basically where I'm at. And so especially the SNAP benefit boost ending and people essentially receiving a $95/month cut after we've seen so much food inflation in the first place. We know this cut is going to be made by making choices between food, medication, and rent, and clothes. And they're going to be more kids who are hungry - who just may not have as much food as they had before to eat. And we know that that impacts students' ability to learn. I can't sit through a meeting and pay attention well if I'm sitting there hungry and then I get hangry. And to think of kids going through this in school, it just seems like we can do better. But we have a number of people who said - Hey, there just isn't the money in the budget to do that. So as I said in other settings, I will say again - if that is the case, if that is the truth, then I sincerely hope that we see these legislators who said that we couldn't afford it fighting for the revenue to be able to afford that as soon as possible. Because it just doesn't seem like we're doing our job as a society if we're enabling kids to go hungry when we have the option to do better. [00:19:45] Dahlia Bazzaz: Yeah, I'm just sitting here and thinking about those first few months of school closures when school districts just turned into these food banks - and they were passing out food to anyone who came by - didn't have to be a student in a lot of these places. I remember talking to a lot of school districts in central Washington and South King County, and I was there when they were distributing a lot of food and goodies. And it was just a line constantly from 8AM to 5PM, so it's crazy to see the difference between now and then, and the transformation of what schools are doing. [00:20:22] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. So we've talked about what's happening within the Legislature, but what else is happening, or what else is making news in the state of education here in Washington? [00:20:34] Dahlia Bazzaz: A little bit at the top, but there's the enrollment patterns that emerged after the pandemic. Some of it is undefined, but we've lost a lot of students in Washington state - we've lost more than other states have on average. And a lot of districts are feeling the crunch because, of course, funds are tied to that student enrollment. And there is a bit of hand-wringing going on right now among school districts about school closures, about possible layoffs - Seattle Schools has warned about that. There could be school closures happening around the Seattle area and other parts of Washington state. And so I think that state officials, state education officials have been pushing for funding to help cushion that blow. And a lot of this is related to the pandemic federal aid running out, or the deadline coming out. They still have a couple of years to spend all those funds, but a lot of districts invested that money in salaries, and short-term positions, and then to fill budget gaps. So this is the result of all of that pandemic-era spending, and also a realization that students need more resources for mental health and counseling and social services. And so there's been a lot of addition of staff to school districts even as enrollment has been declining. And so this is kind of a crunch point right now for school districts. I wrote recently about a landmark that we just hit - we hit it last year technically, but it's also on the books this year - but students of color are now the majority in Washington state. And this is not unique across the country - we're actually a little bit behind the rest of the nation when it comes to this, but officially now make up the majority of the state. And it's been interesting digging into the enrollment patterns within those changes because not all student groups that are nonwhite have increased. In fact, we've seen some decrease over the years. And so I wrote a story about that recently as well. And it's been interesting seeing how districts are adapting to that new reality. [00:22:35] Crystal Fincher: And did I see that Black students were one of the groups that were decreasing? [00:22:39] Dahlia Bazzaz: Yes, Black students and Native students are among those that have decreased - and white students. [00:22:44] Crystal Fincher: Gotcha. Another issue that is important - just in terms of childhood development - is how much unstructured play time kids have and that's something that I think you wrote about, too. And paying close attention to the Legislature - this is the time of year that just hurts my feelings the most, because even the good things - they just get hacked to pieces and - [00:23:06] Dahlia Bazzaz: I know. [00:23:07] Crystal Fincher: - that hurts my feelings. And so I try to just not pay attention to - I'm not working on any legislation at the moment. So it's just like - I just want to not look, just let me know what survives and what doesn't, and I'll try and - So we've also seen a lot of advocacy directly from students talking about what they need, whether it is mental health, special education services, or even feeling safe on campus and what they need to do that. What have you seen from students and heard directly from them about what they say they need? [00:23:40] Dahlia Bazzaz: A lot of students have taken their advocacy directly to the state and to lawmakers. They recognize that violence on school campuses is a direct consequence of whatever laws there are in the state around who can own a weapon. And I think a lot of students are cognizant that the violence that happens on school campuses is just a microcosm of what happens outside of school campuses. So mostly they have been advocating for gun control law changes. They've also been advocating - as they have been for several years and for many different reasons - more mental health counseling, more social and emotional support and help, violence, de-escalation education in their classes. So a few different things. And even going back to 2018, 2017, we had those March for our. Lives movements that brought a lot of Seattle area students out - walking out of their schools and classes. So it's been something they've been thinking about a lot, and especially in light of the recent fatal shooting at Ingraham High School. [00:24:42] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Now you have a perspective that is unique in the state - as someone who's covered education for a while thoroughly, who has seen things with her own eyes in a variety of different environments and circumstances, districts across the state - for people who really care about public education and who want to improve conditions but don't quite know where to start or what types of things would make the biggest difference, what would you say to someone who says, I want to help, but I'm not sure how. What would make the biggest difference? [00:25:18] Dahlia Bazzaz: Pay attention to your school board meetings. I think every year there's a city council election, there's a school board election. And when I see the turnout differences in Seattle - and in any other city, honestly - when I see the turnout differences between a city council race or a mayor race and then the school board elections, it always makes my heart fall a little bit because these folks are in charge of a lot of money and a lot of decisions that affect students. And there just isn't the same type of advocacy and accountability for these bodies. And journalists do the best they can, but there are 300 school districts in the state and not that many news organizations covering all of them. I know reporters that double up and they cover like 20 different school districts out in central Washington. There's no way you can watchdog all of those school districts at the level that is required to really catch everything. So I would say - get really involved in the school board politics, show up to meetings, testify to school board members - they have a lot more power than you think they do. And it is a, I think, a largely ignored body of policymakers as well, because they don't get paid very much - I think the law caps it at $4,000 in compensation. And people have been trying to change that because it can be an equity issue where only people that can sustain themselves and don't have to work a full-time job can take those positions. Do have the rare school board member that is a teacher at the same time, or can make the time or set it aside for school board activities. But it is - it is a full-time job for many people. And so I would say make sure to vote in those elections - I know that a lot of the time people ask for solutions and we just shout "Vote" at them, and it can be an incomplete answer. But I think in these cases, it's especially important to vote - because they can be separated by just like 20, 30, 40 votes - your vote really does matter in those elections. And just read through all of the documents that they're working through. They're required to record those meetings in minutes, so definitely pay attention to what is happening on the policy level. And if you can get a school board member to partner with you, they can introduce different policies and pass them at the school board level. I think more people are becoming cognizant of that - unfortunately, because of how much chaos has erupted in school board meetings over the past several years. But it's important that even outside of these huge controversies with masking, with CRT, that we're paying attention even when it's not dominating the headlines. [00:27:58] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I think that is such wise advice, and I just second everything that you said. Especially because hardly anyone engages with school board races, school board meetings - so few people vote in those elections, are aware of who the candidates even are or what they stand for, that it really - because they can operate under the radar and without notice. People may be shocked to see the egregious things that are happening in school districts that they think are fine and safe and "normal" - and to see, whether it's conversations about book bans, about allowing all members of our community, including people in the LGBTQ community, all different cultures, ethnicities - it is just so important to engage in these races. And I have personally seen some shocking and alarming things happen at school board candidate forums and school board meetings. And I tell you, it just takes - three people showing up to a school board meeting can completely change the trajectory of things. It can make them reverse votes. I've been involved in movements to do that successfully, and it just doesn't take much. It just takes paying attention and engaging and getting involved. So whatever your local school district is, I think you are absolutely right in encouraging people to stay engaged, pay attention, make sure to vote in those elections. But also stay engaged throughout the rest of the year to make sure that you see what's going on - to make sure if some elements are trying to come in and usurp power or take over the district, that there are people who see that and who organize against it. Because right now a lot of it's flying under the radar and people may not notice until it's too late. [00:29:50] Dahlia Bazzaz: Absolutely. And I would also add to that - trying to gain a knowledge of how school districts budget and just the essentials of education finance, because - and I hear this a lot and I love this phrase, but - a budget is a moral document. And if you want to know where a school district puts its values, then you just have to look at what they're spending, and where they're spending it, and on which students they're spending it on. So if you show up for those days where they're going through the budget, going through their fiscal strategy - all those things can really pay off and give you a better understanding. Don't just show up for the policy days, show up for when they're actually putting the money behind those policies. [00:30:33] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Thank you so much for taking this time again with us today to help educate us on what is happening in education across Washington state. Thank you so much, Dahlia. [00:30:44] Dahlia Bazzaz: Thank you for having me, Crystal - it's fun. [00:30:46] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes. Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.
On this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, political consultant and host Crystal Fincher is joined by defense attorney, abolitionist and activist Nicole Thomas-Kennedy! Crystal and Nicole discuss a number of news items this week, including new data showing a change in commute patterns for Seattle workers, as well as a new poll showing Republican Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier and Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson as the two leading candidates to succeed Jay Inslee as governor, should Inslee decide against seeking an unprecedented fourth term. They also delve into the details of the ACLU lawsuit against King County over Seattle jail conditions and examine the rising demand for the state's 988 hotline, how important non-police responses are for public safety, and the potential for new funding to help support mental health resource. Following Tacoma's State of the City address by Mayor Victoria Woodards, Crystal and Nicole also note the progress Tacoma is making in a more holistic approach to public safety with a Behavioral Health Crisis Response Team and an unarmed Community Services Officer Program, which would increase the level of response and bring support to non-emergency situations that are not an active threat to life or property. They review an encouraging update from the King County Regional Homelessness Authority about their work with the Right of Way Safety Initiative moving a total of 189 previously unsheltered people inside to a shelter or housing option that meets their needs. They also discuss a contentious debate surrounding the location of a new Sound Transit station. The conversation wraps up with a discussion of the recent train derailment on the Swinomish Reservation and the tribe's upcoming court case against the railway company for allegedly running trains in violation of a 1991 easement agreement that the tribe says limited the length of trains allowed to pass through. As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find today's co-host, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy at @NTKallday. Resources How Highway 99 Removal Would Reconnect South Park with Mike McGinn and Coté Soerens from Hacks & Wonks “Your old workweek is extinct, Commute Seattle data shows” by Mike Lindblom from The Seattle Times “Bruce Dammeier (R), Bob Ferguson (D) lead hypothetical 2024 gubernatorial field in WA” by Andrew Villeneuve from The Cascadia Advocate “The Exodus of Inmates from the King County Jail Continues” by Amy Sundberg from Notes from the Emerald City “ACLU-WA, Director of Public Defense Call Out Conditions in King County Jail” by Alison Jean Smith from South Seattle Emerald “ACLU sues King County over Seattle jail conditions” by Sydney Brownstone from The Seattle Times “Washington state may boost 988 hotline funding as demand grows" by Taija PerryCook from Crosscut “New facility will provide crisis response services for Washingtonians in north King County” by Shane Ersland from State of Reform “‘Our best days are ahead of us.' Mayor Woodards relays optimism in State of the City” by Liz Moomey from The News Tribune “Safety, homelessness, recovery top priorities in Tacoma State of the City address” from KIRO 7 News “Identification Documents Open Doors” | King County Regional Homelessness Authority “Constantine Backs ‘North of CID' Light Rail Station, Bypassing Chinatown and Midtown” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist “Incomplete Analysis Overlooks Rider Delay Caused by Skipping Union Station Hub” by Stephen Fesler from The Urbanist Coalition Letter opposing 4th & 5th Ave locations: WSBLE station location in the Chinatown International District “Balducci Wants a Good Transit Option for Chinatown” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist “BNSF train derails on Swinomish Reservation as tribe readies court case against railway company” by Isabella Breda and Vonnai Phair from The Seattle Times Transcript [00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. If you missed our Tuesday midweek show, I'm joined by Mike McGinn of America Walks and Coté Soerens of Reconnect South Park to learn more about their work with the Freeway Fighters Network. Mike shares a broad overview of the movement's efforts to remove crumbling highway infrastructure while addressing the climate, health, and equity issues that these concrete structures have caused. As a resident of Seattle's South Park, Coté reflects on the throughline of Highway 99 running through the middle of her community - connecting a history of redlining, displacement, and racism to the present-day impacts on the neighborhoods' livability, pollution exposure, and life expectancy. Mike and Coté call out the lack of imagination exhibited by the country's attachment to the highways, to our highways, and paint a compelling vision that replaces underutilized thoroughfares with vibrant, connected communities. But today we are continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with our co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host: defense attorney, abolitionist, and activist, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. [00:01:55] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Hi, thanks for having me. It's always - [00:01:57] Crystal Fincher: Hey, love having you - happy to have you back. We've got a bunch of news to cover today. One interesting story - starting out - was just new data showing new commute trends. We are not traveling in the same way that we did before the pandemic. What did you take from this report? [00:02:17] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: It seems that no matter how much some want everyone to come back to the office Monday through Friday, office workers don't wanna do that. And it looks like Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday is the day that people are primarily coming into the office. And it sounds like they're working remotely mostly Mondays and Fridays. [00:02:34] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and that has shaped and changed our commute patterns. Lots of people have noticed they're different - certainly midweek has the biggest impact. There continues to be this push to get people back to the office. We've seen Seattle's mayor, other people celebrate a return there. Certainly a lot of businesses that provide services and amenities to people who have traditionally worked downtown are happy to see increased traffic. Do you think we're ever gonna get back to a time where people are doing a regular Monday through Friday workday again? [00:03:11] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: I hope not - that's just my personal opinion. But people don't get paid for their commute time. And if you live in Snohomish County, or if you live - housing prices are so high right now that more and more people are forced to live outside of the City's core and travel in, which is part of our traffic problem, but it's also a quality of life issue. If people can work three days a week in the office and essentially get the same benefits that they would be for working five days a week in the office, why would we be trying to get people in there more? Obviously there are benefits felt by those workers, and I think reducing traffic is a huge issue. I understand that it doesn't necessarily benefit downtown businesses, but times have changed, things have changed, technology changes things, and I hope we don't get back to five days a week of intense and horrifying traffic. [00:04:04] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And I do also wanna mention that - being one of the people who does not have to commute every single day and can work from home, there is privilege attached to that. There are people predominantly in lower wage jobs, a lot of service jobs that don't have the option to not come into the office. Or people doing manual labor, which is every bit as skilled and takes all the talent that all the other types of jobs have, but they oftentimes are not able to have the flexibility to work from home or to take advantage of the saved commute time, which is really significant. If someone handed you back an hour, an hour and a half every day - there's so much more that can be done, or so much more rest that could be had, or just spending time with your family - it doesn't necessarily have to be productive in the way that we view work. But people finding balance is an important thing. So that's interesting and that has changed. Other interesting news that we saw this week - there was a poll fielded by the Northwest Progressive Institute that they wrote about in The Cascadia Advocate, their news publication, that showed if Governor Inslee happened to decide against seeking an unprecedented fourth term - which he has not announced any plans about - if that were to happen though, Bob Ferguson, our current Attorney General is viewed as the leading Democrat for the governor's race and Bruce Dammeier is the leading Republican. How did you view this? [00:05:38] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Polls are always interesting, right - we all wanna know what the future holds. But it's always who is responding to polls, what sort of choices or wording - which I think that poll actually went into a little bit, which is great - but at this point, I don't think a Republican is gonna poll all the Democrat votes. So it looks like they're even, based on the responses by - the people who respond - based on the people who responded to the poll. [00:06:04] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely - a situation where Democrats are splitting the vote. And to be clear, it showed if Jay Inslee were not to run again, who people were asked who they'd vote for, Bruce Dammeier - and I always forget whether it's Dammeier or Dammeier, so if I'm mispronouncing his name, I apologize - got 35%, Bob Ferguson 21%, Dow Constantine and Hilary Franz both polled at 7%, with 30% of the respondents not being sure. So really interesting to see the response to this. They also had breakdowns of the different regions of the state - notable there was Dammeier's home turf is in Pierce County, but he basically polled about the same there as he did for a statewide percentage. So there wasn't necessarily the kind of advantage that we normally see there. And swing turf continues to be swing turf. But really interesting as we move closer to the time where people expect to hear more from Jay Inslee about what his plans are or are not. Certainly a fourth term would be unprecedented - doesn't mean that he can't go for it - but certainly there's a lot of people waiting in line to figure out what's gonna happen and who's gonna be on the ballot. [00:07:20] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, it'll be interesting. [00:07:22] Crystal Fincher: Will be very interesting. Also this week, we see the ACLU suing King County over Seattle jail conditions. What's happening here? [00:07:32] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: So there was a decision - I can't remember how long ago - it was about conditions in the jail that was won by the ACLU. I think it was maybe in the late 80s? And basically the ACLU is saying is that they are not living up to the terms of that decision. There's also community groups that are not happy about what is going on in the jail. There's an astronomical suicide rate, especially compared to the national average in the downtown jail. It's old, it's antiquated, it makes it difficult for attorneys to see their clients. There's just a lot of elevated risk there. And Constantine said in 2020 that he recognized all of those things and wanted to shut it down. And so between the ACLU lawsuit and community groups' pressure, we are seeing a little bit of movement - but instead of finding alternatives to incarceration, what's happening is they moved 50 people from the downtown jail to the RJC [Regional Justice Center] in Kent. And now those people are double-bunked, so they took one thing and made another problem over here. Or the other thing that I think is being sought by the executive is a contract with SCORE, which is the South County Correctional Regional [South Correctional Entity] - I don't remember what it stands for - but which is really well understood to be the worst of our three jails here in King County. And so he wants to move people to SCORE, which obviously - people with the ACLU, with community groups are not excited about that because it doesn't do anything to solve the problem. It just moves it around. [00:09:06] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And to your point, the other facilities that they're moving inmates to already had their own pre-existing problems in this area that are being made worse with these additional inmates. It is just really a challenge and they are not, have not been able, willing or able - probably both - to adequately staff this. And so you can't just keep shoving people into this facility - that you're completely in control of - that is inadequately staffed, that doesn't have appropriate medical care, that has escalating rates of illness and suicide, where the corrections officers themselves have reached out and communicated via letter to the Executive to say - Hey, we are not staffed enough to keep our own selves safe and we're asking you to reduce the population because it's also unsafe for the corrections officers and staff that are there. Just this isn't working for anyone. And it seems like it's absolutely reasonable and appropriate for the ACLU to seek a court remedy for this. [00:10:17] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Absolutely. Something needs to be done. [00:10:19] Crystal Fincher: Right - and this also goes to the larger conversation we're having about public safety, about policing, about whether we want to return to more punitive, punishment-focus-based public safety where we're just locking up everybody - without realizing that that requires staffing, that requires administration. There is a cost to what we're doing and we don't even seem to be reaping any benefits in terms of increased public safety because of this. It is just a money suck that is harmful to everyone involved with the system and then makes us less safe on the other side. It just doesn't seem like this is working in any way, shape, or form. [00:11:04] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, it's true. And I think part of the problem is it's such a political question at this point. So many people have absorbed the idea that the only way for us to have public safety is to be as punitive as humanly possible. And we have mass incarceration in this country - we incarcerate more than any country in the world and we are not the safest. So clearly that isn't working, but I think that that's a - it's an easy flashpoint, fear sell to people that is actually making us less safe. And there's a lot of people that are pushing for alternatives, but it is an uphill battle. But it's being waged and I have a lot of hope that we will get there eventually, just hopefully sooner than later. [00:11:45] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And there are a lot of individual cities, organizations making progress in this area. In fact, this week we saw a story that the state's demand for the 988 hotline is increasing and they may receive new funding - this is an alternative response to just sending police out to every single call solo. And thinking that we can solve calls related to homelessness, or someone feeling uncomfortable with someone in their neighborhood, or someone going through a behavioral health crisis - which we see turn out tragically in so many other situations - to say maybe a more appropriate response to this, that if someone is having a behavioral health crisis, there are responders that maybe don't need a gun and a badge, but they're experts in handling this type of mental health crisis situation. This is what we're trying to get at. This is what poll after poll shows the residents know is necessary and want. And so we might be increasing capacity for that. How do you see the 988 hotline, the demand for it, and what's possible through it? [00:12:55] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: When I was a public defender, I constantly had family members, people in the community asking - who can I call when my uncle, or my son, or someone in the community - who can I call that's not just a police officer? Because a lot of times the people that are forced - they don't have a choice - something is happening and they need to call, they need help, but it's always been a police officer. And I've seen so many mothers have to call, and then their sons get locked up, and they have no contact orders with the mom. And it just becomes this whole mushrooming problem that makes everything significantly worse and - if not deadly. And so I have seen community, directly affected community asking for this for years. And I think this is definitely a step in the right direction. It's really encouraging that people know about it, that people are using it. I think that once that becomes more of a normalized thing, we can keep pushing in that direction because there's so little - police always say that they don't wanna be social workers, they don't wanna be mental health counselors, they don't wanna be domestic violence experts, but we have to build those alternatives - because it can't just be cops or nothing. So it's really encouraging to me to see these alternatives being built up. I hope they keep moving in the direction they are because a lot of times services like this end up getting co-opted for different means, where, it'll be like - oh, we didn't have police come to this X amount of calls and now we have police coming to every calls because that's something that they lobbied for. And so I hope that they can stay and keep moving in an independent direction because it is so necessary. So yeah, I think it's encouraging. [00:14:30] Crystal Fincher: Definitely encouraging. And I should note that the 988 system doesn't absolutely guarantee that there's not going to be a police person involved in the response - that is still a possibility. There may be frontline people who come and if they happen to call for backup, that could happen - some places like in Seattle, as we've seen, police are wanting to respond to every overdose call - even though that is not a public safety call in many, if not most, jurisdictions, that seems out of line with many practices, certainly best practices. It can happen, but as you say, building out these alternative responses are absolutely necessary. And I think the more we do that, the better, the more we accelerate moving on to more effective solutions that keep us all safer. Because you hear this - Well, if we get rid of cops, then what next? We call 911 and no one comes, and there's anarchy and wild stuff in the streets. And that's not it. Being a progressive stance on public safety and understanding that it takes a comprehensive approach and addressing root causes, or else we wind up with this revolving door situation that doesn't address any problems that we're trying to solve - accountability is a progressive value. We don't want to escape accountability. We just want it to be effective and productive, and the end result to be that the entire community is safer and people are victimized less often. And we have data from experts who study this. And by the way, police are not necessarily public safety experts - they're not paid to do that or be that in any kind of way - but there are a lot of criminologists, a lot of people who actually do study this, who have identified several more effective approaches. And so it would be just really good to see us getting this stood up and see how we can actually work through these models and processes to make us safer. 'Cause we do need that. Crime is bad - there is not anyone who disagrees with that. People being victimized is bad, but it happens - the context in which we discuss it just through policing, the things that we've decided to make it illegal or focus on enforcing is just such a tiny percentage of the story of how safe people are. And whether it's sexual assault and harassment, or theft, or wage theft - those kinds of things - there are some that make the headlines, there are some don't, there are some that just slip by unnoticed even though it's harmful to a lot of people. And the more we can get at that, the better off we will all be. And a bill is still alive in the Legislature to increase funding for that 988 system and help to further build it out. Also saw this week, Tacoma's State of the City from Mayor Victoria Woodards, there in Tacoma. A lot of the standard stuff that you would expect to see there and focusing on public safety. But I think one thing that I found notable about the State of the City address, in Tacoma and so many other cities, is how the City of Seattle sometimes it's thought - well, it's progressive - and people just say that and assume it's true, and so all the most progressive policy must be coming out of Seattle. And Seattle is actually behind a lot of other cities in the state on really crucial issues - on homelessness, housing affordability, and public safety - because we saw Tacoma talking about something that Seattle seems to not be very interested in. They're running behind on their alternate response plans. Mayor Harrell committed that he would be standing up alternatives to a police response and is behind his stated timelines on that. And now people continue to ask - Hey, where's that coming? You said public safety was one of your top priorities and this major piece of it is still going unaddressed that's really up to him to implement. And Tacoma is talking about implementing those. Certainly they're talking about incentives for new officers, but they're also talking about standing up alternative response programs, investing in youth violence prevention, and addressing root causes. And it seems like they're taking at least a more holistic approach, or moving forward, than Seattle in the region. And it just underscores to me that this really, to your point, shouldn't be a political conversation. It should just be about what makes more people more safe. And was pretty happy to see that Tacoma seems serious about investing in some of those things. [00:19:13] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, I think it's a really positive direction. When people talk about police - in Seattle we always talk about 911 response times without really looking at what, all the factors that influence those things. But one thing - if we wanted to actually increase the speed at which police responded, one thing we could do instead of hiring more officers - 'cause there's an officer shortage all over the country - is to take some things off their plate. They have said - We don't wanna do substance abuse counseling, we don't wanna do this. So fine - let's take that off. Why are they being asked to do those things anyway? And there has been a fundamental shift over the last, I would say 40 years, but also just - there's always a fundamental shift with the passage of time. But a lot of things that police officers do now are not things that we asked them to do when I was a kid in the '80s, or something like that. And there's a complaint that we have to do all these things now, and it's just - Okay, how about we listen to you and take some things off your plate? And that's one way to meet both the stated goals of each party - you want faster 911 response times, we want actual public safety or things that actually work. And that really building out those other services and other ways to respond to things, other than just an armed officer, really meets all of the goals. So it's encouraging, and I think Seattle definitely has a tendency to give lip service to things. And then when no one's looking, there's a slow walk. And that's what I'm seeing right now is - Oh yeah, definitely, we should do these things. And then we look away and it's just a casual, just slinking away without really doing anything, or without making any specific promises, or really having a plan. And so I really like that Tacoma is - Yeah, we're not gonna do that. [00:20:59] Crystal Fincher: Yes - not that I have no bones to pick with decisions that they make in Tacoma - but it really does seem like they are interested in moving the needle on more comprehensive responses that get closer to addressing root causes. And investing real money into doing that, because that really is the bottom line. If there is nothing invested in there, if it's not in the budget, then it's clearly not a priority. And it's so interesting, especially having you on the program with unique insight and insight beyond what most people have into the criminal legal system - also reminds me of talking to former Mayor Mike McGinn, who enjoyed one of the lowest crime rates in the past 40 years, but making a very similar point that you did in - Hey, okay, so they say we have a shortage - which I could go on a whole rant about - but okay, so say that there really is a shortage, which everyone is experiencing. Police keep saying that it's actually not a financial problem, that this is something that has to do with the perceptions of the culture and the perceptions of just the profession - the job of being a police officer - that lots of people have. And until that gets more effectively addressed, until there's more trust built there, that this is going to be a problem that continues. But since everyone is having a hiring problem, if you're pinning all your hopes on once we can get enough police officers hired - which no one seems to be able to do these days - then it'll be safe. So is everyone just supposed to sit around and accept not being safe until years down the line when there are enough officers - even when an officer gets into the system, a lot of times it's a year before they're actually deployed on the street. They've got to go through training and all that kind of stuff. So we have to stand up these other things if we're going to make a dent in public safety, if we're gonna keep people safer. And it really is confounding to me that we have police determined to respond to every overdose call, but they also made the decision that they were too short-staffed to investigate sexual assaults of adults. How does this make sense? If the goal is to keep people safe, if the goal is to take the "bad guys" off of the street, then would we be doing more investigating? Would we want to spend more time doing that stuff than accompanying EMT on an overdose call where no other cities - other cities are not doing this. Why are we utilizing these resources in this way? Why do they still want to keep parking enforcement? Why do they still want to keep doing these things and accompany encampment sweeps, where they're essentially just watching Parks Department? It just doesn't make sense anyway you look at it, even if you grant everything that they're saying, even if you agree with, "We need more cops," and, "They help keep people safe," and all that, then why aren't you doing the things to utilize them more effectively? I don't know, but it is frustrating. [00:24:04] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: It is frustrating because no matter how you look at it - if you're going to listen to police say, "We don't want to do these things," then you have to weigh that against the fact that they are actively fighting to do those things. Or if you're gonna believe that a reactionary police force is what's going to keep us safe, then why are they not reacting to things that are threats to public safety? And if you're gonna believe that they don't want to - yeah, I don't know - there's a lot to it, but there is a lot of, I think, talking out of both sides of things. But the bottom line is we've had fully staffed police before. We still have crime. They only react. Why don't we focus on prevention? I would like to see less crime. I don't want to be the victim of a crime. I don't want my daughter to be the victim of a crime. I would rather that didn't happen rather than have someone respond to it after it happened. And that's what I would like to see for myself, my family, my neighbors, this community - is that not only do we just feel safer maybe because we're told we should, but that we are actually safer, that we're not experiencing these traumatic things. And there's no guesswork in it. We are the only country that does things this way. There's been a million studies saying it doesn't work, or at least not the way it's proposed that it works. But we also have so many other countries that have taken different avenues towards public safety that have been far more successful than we are. So it's really not - there's no guesswork in it. It's just a matter of - can we get past this ridiculous narrative that we've all been fed in order to enact real solutions? And so people are working on it. I'm hoping we're getting there. More and more people are being open to the idea that it's not - the one cure-all solution for everything is more police. [00:25:50] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And for these alternative responses, like this 988 hotline - seems like there was pent-up demand for it. People have been waiting for something like this and wanting to use it. It's had a 25% to 30% increase in calls just since last July. 90% of calls are answered within 30 seconds. 95% of calls are resolved over the phone. Fewer than 2% of the calls end up involving the police or an EMS responder. And for the 5% of calls not able to be resolved over the phone, the speed of that response is critical - and that's what that bill in the Legislature is trying to target. It would increase funding for rapid-response teams. It passed the House and is now being considered by the Senate. It looks like the Legislature is trying to be responsive to their communities and their residents, certainly expressing that this is something that they want. Information is showing that it's being used, and so we will see there. Also, this week we got a press release from the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, and they're making progress. It took a bit to get spun up. They had to basically start from scratch in building a brand-new office that took a little bit more time than originally anticipated. But since they've been up and running, what they have been doing seems like it has been working and in line with the vision of the KCRHA. So they just announced 30 people previously unsheltered at First and Michigan are now inside. They've been working in conjunction with the Seattle, with the Washington Department of Transportation - our State Department of Transportation - to remove people from rights of way. Sometimes you see people camping under freeways or in other similar rights of way - and we talked last year about legislation and funding passed to try and address this. And it looks like it's going to good use - 30 people moved inside from one that a lot of people have seen there at First and Southwest Michigan. 41 people moved inside from sites in the Chinatown International District, in the CID - 27 people matched with shelter or housing options will be moving inside soon. Two weeks ago, they had an event with state partners to ensure that people had the IDs necessary for housing and all the paperwork, because there's a lot that goes into being able to qualify for housing, and so making sure that other stuff was done. They also resolved five encampment sites under the same Right of Way Safety Initiative, with a total of 189 people previously unsheltered having moved inside to a shelter housing option that meets their needs, according to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. And other sites remain in progress - there's a contract to open an additional 113 units of emergency housing that's just about done. So they seem to be moving forward. Lots of talk about their recent five-year plan and the budget request attached to it, which is big and robust, but we're also trying to address this problem that is tied to so many other problems in our community. So how do you see this and the work that they're doing overall? [00:29:13] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Obviously, it's a step in the right direction. There was the homelessness - declared a crisis in the Ed Murray years - it's a clear step in the right direction. I think one thing that I often notice is that a lot of these different groups will be stepping on each other all of the time - not really not meaning to but the county is doing this, but the City Attorney is also putting people in jail for sleeping under an awning - which means then they lose their ID, then they lose everything they have, and then they're back to square one. Or, the City does encampment sweeps where same things happen - people lose all of the things that they need in order to get housing. They're back to zero. Then they have to go back to DESC, get a new tent - blah, blah, blah - it just is this compounding thing. So I'm encouraged by what they're doing, and my hope in the future is to not - we spend so much time and money getting one step ahead and then pulling it back two steps. And so I like that there's a coordinated effort. I hope that the City can get more on board with that because nobody likes it. The people who live outside don't like it. The people who don't live outside don't like it. It's a thing I think we can all agree on. And so my hope is that they can continue their work, but that that work isn't impeded by constantly enacting actions that have a detrimental effect on people's ability to stay sheltered - because obviously the problem is not going to go away unless we address it. So I'm happy to see that they are taking those steps. [00:30:41] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely, and I agree. Also making news this week is something that has flown under the radar for a while, but seems to be garnering a lot of attention now and with a flurry of new activity. It's a new station that will be built that - the Sound Transit Board of Directors is going to be making a decision on on March 23rd - about some new Sound Transit stations, or a new Sound Transit station, in Seattle. For quite some time, they have been looking at a 4th Avenue alignment - that has had a lot of support from various groups for a long time - that would connect with existing infrastructure, have a Union Station transit hub that also helps with connectivity with the existing stations, the Sounder station, just kind of everything going on in that area in terms of just pure transit connection time and ease of use of the transit system in terms of speed for a lot of people around the neighborhood. However, there's a new alternative or some new alternatives that have popped up recently in response to concerns from many people in the CID saying, "No, actually, there are lots of problems with the proposed alignment that will create, once again, significant impacts and challenges for the CID, that could potentially displace a lot of people in businesses, and just create a lot of havoc on the streets after they have dealt with a lot of havoc over the past decade with challenges from dealing with everything from the deep bore tunnel to other Sound Transit stations. And a historical challenge that has been there for a while has been - as we've seen and talked about on the show forever - government entities' lack of engaging communities, especially BIPOC and lower-income communities, when it comes to alignments of light rail and other regional transit options through the City and region. This has been a long-standing issue, and even way back on the first segments that were entered, that were built, people from the CID have been saying - Hey, you have not been listening to us, and we're paying the price, and we're displacing a really important community. We're not considering the importance of landmarks to the community that are part of - some of them are saying they're part of our heritage. These landmarks are as important as the people. This is our community. All of the elements of it make our community. And yes, we can talk about how quick transit connection would be otherwise, but is it fair and equitable to only pay attention to that and disregard the needs of the community that exists there, or should we be looking at mitigating that impact, that - no, this may not be the first choice of a lot of people, and it may even come with some harmful outcomes that may need to be mitigated otherwise, but that is what this work really involves if you're doing it right. It's talking to everybody, considering all of those, and trying to come up with a solution that kind of, first off, doesn't seek to harm or destroy anything that can't be rebuilt. And I think that's the crux of where a lot of people are coming from. If you're trying to destroy a part of our community that can't be rebuilt or can't be reclaimed or is just going to be lost if you do that. I personally don't have a dog on the hunt, really, for preferred alignment. My interest is in making sure that the community is heard - and not astroturf efforts, not people seeking to use this to further a pre-existing political argument, or to just oppose development or oppose transit like some people reflexively do. If someone is at risk for displacement, if someone is part of a community that has been displaced and has seen a lot of what they have built and have been able to maintain despite historic attempts to destroy it in a variety of ways, that that's something that we shouldn't dismiss. That doesn't, that's not the same thing as a NIMBY opposing transit. These are people who are at risk of displacement and who are at risk at losing important parts of their culture potentially, and that should be listened to and valued. [00:35:02] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Absolutely. I think that BIPOC and low-income communities have always borne the brunt of this sort of utilitarian approach to transit, and I'm happy to see people speaking up and I would expect that. And I think you make a really good point. This isn't the regular sort of NIMBY - I don't want it, I don't want people in my neighborhood, I don't care about this, I drive every day or whatever. That there's different solutions being proposed here. And I think that's a really important distinction and the solutions are not do it in another neighborhood. The solutions are - yes, we want this here. We recognize the necessity of it, but how about we go about it in a way that considers our culture and what we've built here and the people who already live here. And I hope that conversation can be had and there's something that can be worked out with the actual input of the community that's going to be affected because that's really - it's the bottom line with everything really. [00:36:00] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And I don't know everything that went into the support of this - of some new alignments by, particularly the King County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Bruce Harrell. But I will point out that they have received frequent criticism, including from me, about not listening to residents of the CID - whether it's from previous Sound Transit alignments with light rail, or the deep bore tunnel, or homelessness service provisions and access. And again, it's not to say that these things shouldn't happen, but they certainly shouldn't happen without the input and participation of the people who live there. And that hasn't happened in a while, so a charitable reading of this late proposal and support for some alternative alignments - could charitably be read as responding to the desires of the community after hearing and taking criticism and admitting to falling short sometimes before. So I hope that that is genuinely what is going on. And we will see - obviously a lot to follow there. I know there was actually a Transit Riders Union meeting last night where they were discussing it, which I missed, but there are lots of people - I know people who have strong feelings on both sides of this. And again, my interest isn't necessarily in just the alignment, but in making sure that we don't discount the voice of the community as just wanting to oppose this, but we can dismiss it and keep moving on. These concerns should be listened to. They are valid. And if we can find a workaround, even if that means that it's not purely the fastest alignment from transit, then let's figure that out. To me, it feels very similar to people who are really focusing on - everything that you're doing is anti-car and this is anti-car if it slows me down five minutes to get to my destination, even if that five minutes means that other people will literally live instead of being killed by cars on streets that are designed and used dangerously. And just saying - It's not the fastest for me, therefore it is inefficient and bad. There are other considerations and we have to consider the whole community. I don't know how this is gonna end up. I don't know who's gonna wind up supporting what, but it seems like there are valid concerns all the way around that no one should dismiss. Also looking at other news this week, we saw another train derailment - this time on the Swinomish reservation - which on the heels of the East Palestine train derailment in Ohio, certainly people are paying more attention. Hear a lot of people saying - There are like a thousand derailments every year, this is normal, it's not a big deal. Something being normal and not a big deal are not always the same thing. Yes, it happens frequently. No, it should not be happening and we should be paying more attention to this and it should be bothering us more than it has, I think. And this is another example why - it's something that is considered to a lot of people that doesn't get a lot of attention, that perhaps this is a small source of contamination from this freight train that derailed. But this is their land, this is their water supply, and they have never consented to having that be spoiled and they knew the risk of this. In fact, there's a trial set to begin on Monday over a lawsuit that the tribe filed in 2015, alleging that BNSF trespassed when it ran thousands of trains filled with highly combustible crude oil over the reservation without the tribe's consent. The tribe says that the railroad was knowingly violating an easement agreement the two parties made in 1991, that the tribe has limited the length of trains allowed to pass through. And it looks like BNSF just ignored that, decided to put through longer trains, and now the things that they were warned could and would happen are happening. And this is just happening everywhere and we should be paying more attention. [00:40:06] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, absolutely. I grew up in a railroad family. My dad worked for Santa Fe, later at BNSF - and derailments weren't considered a "Heh, like they just happen" type thing. They shouldn't be happening. And do accidents happen? Yes, of course, sometimes they do, but it's not something that we should just be like, "Oh yeah, huh." It's not normal and it's not healthy. And I think one of the things that's really dangerous is that not only are we in a place where people who work on trains are saying, "Hey, it's not safe. We are not safe. We're not healthy. We're not well. We are put in danger. We're told to ignore danger," which was such a - to me, when I read things like, "Oh, they say just go ahead and run it even if a wheel bearing is." - just growing up the way I grew up with my dad - that was such a wild concept to be like, "Hey, there's something unsafe. We'll just go ahead and do it anyway." That is not how things have been done historically with the railroads. So we're seeing already this shift between worker safety and train safety and community safety. But the thing that's really scary too is that the railroads wanna keep moving in this direction. They want less staff on train, they want half of what they used to have on trains because they think it's gonna be automated and it's gonna be cheaper. And they want to move towards even more intense scheduling. And at the same time, benefits for workers have eroded. The union power has eroded - as we saw, the government step in and end the strike that was happening. And I think that there's, we're seeing the convergence of all of those things at once - and not just things are bad now, but they're going to get significantly worse if we don't pay attention to this problem. So I'm happy to see that there is coverage of these things. And I wish that we didn't have to do this thing where the Swinomish said "Hey, we're in danger of this." and they're like, "Whatever, do it anyway." And then the dangerous thing happens. We know what's going to happen. There's no need to have these constant reminders that are material harms that validate the concerns of the community that's there. And it's the same, not the same, but it's similar to what we were talking about with the CID. There has been communities - historically, communities of color, low-income communities, Indigenous communities - that have borne the brunt of utilitarian transportation design. And they are saying, "Hey, we don't want that anymore." And that's something that should be valued. Of course, I think it should be valued, but I hope to see some movement and I hope - I wish them well on their legal pursuits on that. But I think that we need to be - I don't care if there's 100 derailments every day. They need to be something that we should be paying attention to because we shouldn't just be settling for that. [00:42:57] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And there's a problem with just railroad regulation. And the problem is that they are subject to so little of it. It's absurd. And I don't think most people realize how much latitude we give railroad companies. It is almost obscene. I don't think most people realize that. So I live in Kent - the reason why I'm a little bit more familiar with railroad problems and policies because - Kent has two railroad lines crossing right through its downtown, which I live in the middle of, which is why sometimes you hear train horns if you're listening. But cities are actually not allowed to touch train tracks. They're actually not allowed to touch crossing arms and stuff, and so we have two separate railroad companies who have been so horrible about maintaining railroad crossings. If people are residents of Kent, they have been stuck behind, in a humongous traffic jam, on some of Kent's biggest thoroughfares that are just cut off by railroad track crossing arms that get stuck, or don't go down, or they're malfunctioning. That's been happening for years. And so many people are like, "Why doesn't the city do something about this?" And it turns out - yeah, the city is legally prohibited from touching the railroad tracks. The railroad company has to respond. The railroad companies don't share what hazardous material is on there and you basically have to wait for the railroads and the companies to show up and decide how they're gonna handle it, decide what they're gonna disclose, decide what the timeline is - and people have no control. And when you think about having no control over potentially hazardous substances going through your communities - these railroad lines are adjoining neighborhoods, schools, playgrounds - and it's just by chance that there's not a situation like in Swinomish and in East Palestine - this is what we're all signing up for and we shouldn't be, we should not be. Unfortunately, this is something that these lawsuits - I'm glad that the Swinomish tribe filed this lawsuit. This may be some of the only recourse we have aside from Congressional action to pare this down and to demand some accountability. Railroad companies don't even have to tell you if something highly flammable, highly hazardous, highly toxic is traveling through cities so that people can appropriately prepare emergency and hazmat responses. Cities can't even prepare for the type of damage that railroads can do, so we just need to change. I am glad a lot more people are paying attention and I hope people continue to hold our elected leaders' feet to the fire, but particularly our Senators and Congresspeople, to actually take some action to regulate and rein in the control and domination that these railroad companies have - that is really putting people at risk and that these companies haven't shown anywhere close to the type of responsibility, accountability to cleaning up these things or to being able to handle the type of world that they're putting us all into. So it's a challenge. And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, March 17th, 2023. Hacks & Wonks is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. Our insightful co-host today was defense attorney, abolitionist, and activist, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. Thank you for joining us - always a good time. [00:46:27] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Always a good time. [00:46:27] Crystal Fincher: Yes! You can catch Hacks & Wonks wherever you prefer to get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can find Nicole Thomas-Kennedy on Twitter @NTKAllDay. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can find me @finchfrii, it's two I's at the end. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes. Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.
On this midweek show, Crystal is joined by Mike McGinn of America Walks and Coté Soerens of Reconnect South Park to learn about their work with the Freeway Fighters Network. Mike shares a broad overview of the movement's efforts to remove crumbling highway infrastructure while addressing the climate, health, and equity issues these concrete structures have caused. As a resident of Seattle's South Park, Coté reflects on the throughline of Highway 99 running through the middle of her community – connecting a history of red-lining, displacement, and racism to the present-day impacts on the neighborhood's livability, pollution exposure, and life expectancy. Mike and Coté call out the lack of imagination exhibited by the country's attachment to highways and paint a compelling vision that replaces underutilized thoroughfares with vibrant, connected communities. As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com. Follow us on Twitter at @HacksWonks. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find Mike McGinn at @mayormcginn and Coté Soerens at @cotesoerens. Mike McGinn Mike is the Executive Director of national nonprofit America Walks. He got his start in local politics as a neighborhood activist pushing for walkability. From there he founded a non-profit focused on sustainable and equitable growth, and then became mayor of Seattle. Just before joining America Walks, Mike worked to help Feet First, Washington State's walking advocacy organization, expand their sphere of influence across Washington state. He has worked on numerous public education, legislative, ballot measure and election campaigns – which has given him an abiding faith in the power of organizing and volunteers to create change. Coté Soerens Coté Soerens calls herself a midwife to a thriving local coffee shop that has become a hub for community organization and activism. Living in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, a community filled with immigrants and people of color where opportunities are limited, Soerens felt called to create spaces of belonging. In 2017, while hosting a dinner for neighborhood friends, Soerens realized that, even without secured funding, she had all she needed to create a local coffee shop, where local youth could find employment and where neighbors could meet to discuss local issues and organize. Soerens, along with the neighborhood, has even bigger dreams. Reconnect South Park initiative's dream is to ultimately decommission the highway which cuts the neighborhood in half and to reclaim those 44 acres for equitable development. Resources Freeway Fighters Network Reconnecting Communities Campaign | America Walks Reconnect South Park “South Park Joins Growing Movement to Dismantle Freeways” by Agueda Pacheco from The Urbanist “Seattle residents drive movement to tear out Highway 99 in South Park” by David Kroman from The Seattle Times “Feds award money to study removing Highway 99 in one Seattle neighborhood” by David Kroman in The Seattle Times Transcript [00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Well, today I'm thrilled to welcome two guests to the podcast. The first, Mike McGinn - you're used to hearing him on Fridays, as we do weeks-in-review. But today we are talking about what's in his wheelhouse, really, in America Walks, the organization that's helping to build a nationwide movement to reconnect communities divided by wide roads and overbuilt arterials - that hosts the Freeway Fighters Network, which calls for increased investment in walkable, equitable, connected, and accessible places by divesting from polluting highways. And Coté Soerens with the Freeway Fighters Network - representing a broad coalition of public and private sector leaders, community activists, and multidisciplinary professionals - dedicating ourselves to championing design, equity, and policy principles that center people before highways. Welcome to you both. As we get started, I just wanted to start with you, Mike, and what got you involved with this work? [00:01:53] Mike McGinn: Oh my God, it just depends where you want to start. Probably a big starting point for me was the realization, as a climate advocate, of the role of transportation in climate emissions, which - when I was working in the mid-2000s on Seattle's Climate Action Plan, transportation was 40% of all emissions because we had hydropower. We'd already gotten off of coal. What's fascinating now is that as the nation is getting off of coal, which is great and renewables are the way to go - it's just the cheapest, best way to go - that's now what's happening nationwide. Transportation is now the largest source of emissions. But then once you start getting into it, even the littlest bit, you also see tremendous equity issues, like who has access to the transportation system. Right now it requires a car mainly - and if you have to walk, bike, and use transit, you're denied of a lot of opportunities because we've built a system that's very hostile to getting around that way. And oftentimes it's hostile because it's wide, fast roads, it's freeways that have divided communities, lack of sidewalks, not having bus lanes, they're not prioritizing transit, all of that. So huge equity issues, huge health issues as well. Apartment buildings tend to be, and residences tend to be near those wide roads - and all the pollutants you breathe in has tremendous negative effects on the health of everyone living nearby. And again, that's an equity issue as well. We intentionally do this. You'll hear people argue for this - the apartment buildings belong next to the arterials to protect the single-family neighborhoods. So in other words, the people of lower incomes need to breathe more pollution so that we, in the leafy green neighborhoods, who are better off can breathe less pollution. It's - yeah, the whole thing is just an extreme failure of public policy, and planning, and building for the future. And of course, it's not even a good transportation system. Obviously when you're excluding a huge portion of the population that doesn't drive because of age, because of ability, or because of income - already it's bad. That's not a way you raise all boats, so to speak. That's not a rising tide that lifts all boats. It's something that divides us, but it's also extraordinarily wasteful and expensive. Which kind of brings us back to the freeway work as well. We're at the stage now - and the Alaska Way viaduct on our waterfront was an example of that - where after you've had that concrete structure around for 50 or 60 years, it's ready to be replaced. It's gonna fall down. It's gonna take a big expenditure to replace it. And what more and more places are realizing is - Let's not replace it with another highway. Let's replace it with a surface street, or maybe no street at all. And let's put the dollars we would have spent into rebuilding this inequitable, polluting, climate-changing monstrosity of infrastructure - let's put the money into walking, biking, transit, or geez, how about affordable housing? How about letting people live back in communities again - live near jobs and services? And those are all the arguments. We've had no shortage of arguments - good, really good ones - why we should do this. We're starting to see them take hold, but the US still has not let go of its highway-building mania with all its negative effects, but we are starting to see some cracks, so to speak, in the unity that's been around highway building for decades. And we're actually seeing the beginning of a freeway removal moment, and at the very least, we should be stopping highway expansion, and I get to do that work now at America Walks, too. [00:05:26] Crystal Fincher: And Coté, how did you get involved in this work and why is it important to remove freeways? [00:05:31] Coté Soerens: Well, I got involved in this work by living in a neighborhood that was cut in two by a highway that was never actually very popular. For residents in South Park, this portion - it's a portion of Highway 99 State Route - was fought very proactively by the residents of South Park back in the '50s, but Washington State Department of Transportation at the time decided to go with it anyway. What I do love about this movement of highway removal and walkability is basically the emergence of a new imagination, nationally, around how life should be lived. It seems that if you look at the time that this highway in my neighborhood was built back in the '50s, the imagination then was - Let's expand car availability - and there were different values that were being worked at the time. And now, 70 years later, we want different things as a society, we need different things. We tried the car designs, urbanism, and we have found that it's not equitable, it's also horrible, and also - it's funny - you have to pay a premium for a walking score of 90. Now it's like a privilege to live in a walkable neighborhood. So back to the question how I got involved in this. I've lived in South Park for 10 years. I've raised three boys in this neighborhood and South Park, actually, it's a pretty interesting place in Seattle. It's been a red-lined neighborhood back in - if we get a little wonky with history - back at the turn of the century. And then I feel that I find this history of South Park fascinating because it seems to be a history of government consistently missing out on what residents of our community are saying. It seems like - We hear what you're saying, and yet we don't care. We're gonna move forward anyway. So this story has been replicating itself around this highway. Back in the 1900s, South Park was a farming community - it was its own little town in Seattle. And it was a thriving neighborhood of farmers that actually started the Pike Place Market, which is very famous nationally. And it's always been a community after - the Duwamish were here originally in the ancestral lands - then it's been a community of immigrants, and it's been a community of Italian immigrants back at a time where Italians were not considered white. And in the planning map of the town, of the time, South Park is seen as "hazardous," which is a word that has been used in planning before to say it's non-white. And now that it's environmentally challenged, we see the word "hazardous" and would say - Oh wow, yes, of course, there is a Superfund in it - there is the Duwamish River. But if you go back to the time - no, it was a farming community, which changes the meaning of "hazardous." So at the time, Seattle wanted to annex this little town of South Park into the city with very different expectations than the residents had. So at the time, Seattle City Council thought - Well, there is a river in the park that is really good for industry. So we're going to annex this neighborhood to make it industrial and push out all the residents. The residents, on the other hand, were thinking - Whoa, if we get annexed to Seattle, we can get better permits for our sewer system and other amenities. So they both entered into this "agreement" and with very different expectations. Now, the City of Seattle - wanting to make this place industrial - what got accomplished out of that was the Duwamish River became a Superfund site and then industry was started popping around. And by the time the plans for the highway to cross this residential core were conceived, it was thought of as a very convenient way to discourage the residential - so that we could continue with the work of making this area industrial. So all the protests of the time, in the '50s, of residents were sorely ignored. That highway didn't make any sense and it still doesn't make any sense. It's a very redundant grid. Many people don't know this, but when we talk about removing the portion of Highway 99, people think that we're talking about this other one - this 509 - which is what people use to get to the airport. And it's not that one. You can still get to the airport. It's a portion that connects I-5 and 509 and it goes right connected to it. So I'm totally not answering your question, Crystal, about how I got involved. So the way I got involved was Cayce James and the City at the time, put together a group of people - stakeholders in the neighborhood - to walk around the neighborhood. And we were making different tours of different places around the neighborhood - the community center, the library. And on every stop, people will be talking about problems caused by this portion of the highway. So I remember looking around to my tour partners and saying - Hey guys, you all realize that all these problems go away if you just shut the dang highway, right? And the reaction was a reaction that I often get, which was to look at me and say - Cute, moving on. They really didn't think of this as a viable solution - to just cut an underutilized highway in order to resolve issues such as pollution, safety, lack of walkability, lack of access for kids to their school, and other problems this highway creates. And what that did for me was to see firsthand the problems with the illusion of permanence. People do see a highway and they think it's been there forever and it will be there forever. They don't think about it like - No, this was actually an expression of certain values that we hold as a society, and when our values change, we can also change our built environment. We can change the highway. At some point, I remember Cayce James, who hosted this tour around the neighborhood, reached out and we started talking and she said - Hey, you know what? I've been thinking about this too. I think it's possible to remove this highway. So we started talking and then we got connected with the folks from PlacemakingUS, who I just mentioned this idea - Hey, Madeleine Spencer and Ryan Smolar. Hey, how about - I've been thinking about removing this highway. What do you think? They said - Hey, there is a whole movement across the country on highway removal. And we were connected with Freeway Fighters, and then we started learning that across the country, so many communities were having this idea of reconnecting communities, thinking about land differently, really considering the opportunity cost of having a highway crossing the neighborhood. For us in Seattle, we have had problems with affordability for a long time. The City has not been effective at creating policy that will stabilize the real estate market and actually preserve cultural space, preserve housing, affordable housing - particularly for communities of color. When thinking about this portion of the highway crossing South Park, you can see 44 acres of land that could be utilized in a different way. That, to me, creates a once-in-a-generation opportunity to actually make more land for equitable development. So for all these reasons, I am particularly excited about getting this highway out of our neighborhood. And another thing that I need to mention is that this highway - it's so interesting how it was designed - it goes through every single place where kids play. It goes right next to the community center, the skate park, the library, and the elementary school. It seems to have been designed to cut children's life expectancy by 13 years, which it does. There are studies about this. So I can talk to you for three hours about reasons why this highway needs to be removed. [00:12:35] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it's really important. It makes a difference. And both of you touched on the racialized history of highways and just the impact that this has on communities, on families, and particularly on health. Transportation is the number one polluter in our state, in our area. And what you just talked about - I feel like sometimes people hear statistics and they don't really apply it to people's lives. But when you talk about a life expectancy that is that much shorter - in Seattle - it feels neglectful. It feels criminal almost. It feels wrong that we know that these types of harms are being forced upon our children. And we aren't taking that into account so often when we have these repeated conversations every single year about what highways we're gonna build, expand, put in. And these are conversations that aren't just - they certainly absolutely started in the '50s and we started that whole domino effect rolling. But now we have the chance to review what we're doing to make modifications, whether it's Highway 99 in South Park, whether it's the Interstate Bridge Replacement between Washington and Oregon. We had this out - and Mike McGinn is notorious and has been pretty much vindicated, it looks like - for fighting against the Highway 99 tunnel in Seattle. But we seem to so easily dismiss the negative harms that this has on neighborhoods, on affordability, on health, on just our quality of life. How do you view just the importance of really taking all of these factors into account as we make these policies, Mike? [00:14:19] Mike McGinn: Well, first of all, I just have to say that as a mayor, you're not supposed to have any favorite neighborhoods. But if I had a favorite neighborhood, South Park would be pretty darn close. I spent a lot of time down there as mayor, but I also spent time there before mayor - my kids played basketball in the rec leagues and I played ultimate frisbee in the schools. And I'd be down there in those playing fields at South Park Community Center. And yeah, you're right next to the highway. And that highway doesn't carry that many cars either. The reason people confuse it with 509 is because it's not really that useful a section of highway, but it certainly carries enough cars for the noise and pollution to be meaningful. And it's also not at all surprising, tragically, that it's a community like South Park that gets a highway like this. What you see is - when you look at where freeways were built across the country, they almost always went through Black or Brown or poor neighborhoods - because that was where there would be the least political resistance to building it. And they oftentimes would get a little more convoluted in the route to avoid wealthy neighborhoods. So it's worth thinking about that - would you - and take a look at where the, take a look at the property values near big bustling highways and the ones further away. I'm not talking about downtown, which has its own economic thing - but even there, the properties right next to the highway were the last to develop. And the ones that are a few blocks away developed faster. And if you look at Seattle, the wealthiest neighborhoods are the furthest from the highway. So we built a system that was designed to speed people in and out of the city at the expense of other people. And the equity issues are really tremendous. And South Park - it's a textbook case, really, of that - when you see all the highways going through South Park. And then of course they're under the airport and everything else - under the airport flight routes. So you'd like to think that decisions about how to build a transportation system and how to route highways and all the rest were based on rigorous analysis of the data - what's the most public good we can generate from this. And certainly we dress it up that way - that there's a plan and it was done for a certain way. But anytime you dig into it, you found that it's really a reflection of who did have power in the political system at the time and who did not. So we speed the commute of people from wealthier places and we subsidize that with the lungs and health of poor people where those highways go through. And if it were your neighborhood, you wouldn't stand for it. So of course South Park would like to see it removed. And we're talking about SR 99 here, right - which is kind of a weird route - it's not 509, but they intend to extend 509 to connect with I-5 right now. This is underway. And when that connection is complete - they've been working on this for years - they call it now the Puget Sound Gateway Project, used to be called the SR 509 extension. It's been labeled nationwide as a highway boondoggle - it's a nationally known highway boondoggle - the 509 extension. That's gonna siphon off tens of thousands of cars a day from I-5 to send them to a back way into Seattle, which is not gonna be that fast 'cause that back way is gonna run right into the First Avenue South Bridge, which is always backed up. And so where will that traffic jam be - at the First Avenue South Bridge? It's gonna be in South Park again. I mean, honestly - WSDOT should rip out 99 just as an apology for building the 509 extension 'cause they're actually making it worse right now. [00:17:55] Coté Soerens: So you do have, yes - the equity issues are so blatant when you look at the highway grid in Seattle. Even if you have wealthy neighborhoods next to the I-5, you have sound barriers and other appropriate ways to mitigate the effects of it. But there are things in the history of this particular portion of the highway that are really painful. For example, the land upon which it was built - it was conveniently left vacant by the Japanese internment. Much of that land was built on homes that belonged to Japanese farmers. There is a house actually that was transported from South Park to the Hiroshima Museum of the Japanese-American Experience. So there are these undertones to this highway that, in a way, make it a monument to racism. And as we are removing monuments across the country, this one might be one of the ones that we can remove. But also what I find very concerning is the lack of imagination - 'cause that's also part of it. I don't see anybody at Department of Transportation being - Hey, let's be as racist as we can. I think it might be, it is often an issue of - We know to do highways, so we're going to just do highways. And when it came to the decision of building this portion of 99 across South Park, the history of it tells us the story of residents making their case that it shouldn't be built. And Washington State Department of Transportation said - Yeah, we know, but we already started. We have the plans, we're about to start, so we're gonna do it anyway. And it was supposed to be a federal highway, but it was so underutilized - as it is today - that nearly six years later, six years after its completion, it was demoted from a federal highway to a state route, which to us is a smoking gun right there. Yes, it's a very irrelevant piece of highway in the grid. The need for a new imagination, the need for people to think of a better way to live life that does not rely on highways and to be able to invite departments of transportations across the nation to think differently about transportation - I think that's a really great opportunity that this movement has. And I think that Pete Buttigieg has really, really done the movement a favor in the sense of making this idea more mainstream in ways. There is a lot of room to grow, of course, with the Reconnecting Communities Initiative, but I'm actually hopeful about the ability of people in communities to think of new ways about how to build their communities. I'm really hoping that this is a good means for neighborhoods and cities to think differently. [00:20:34] Crystal Fincher: Now, I want to talk about the how of this really - 'cause there's still a lot of people, and a lot of the general conversation for people who don't follow this for their job is - Hey, you know what? You just said that this highway will take some pressure off of I-5 and man, I'm sick of sitting in traffic on I-5. So isn't that a positive thing? And wow - this is supposed to connect people and help people get from A to B faster? What does it mean to remove a highway? Does nothing go in its place? Where do those cars go? Is it going to be a burden for everyone? How do you answer that, Mike? [00:21:12] Mike McGinn: Well, the first thing you have to realize is that we've created - if the idea was that by building a freeway system through populated places, we would make transportation work really smoothly - I think we got about 50 or 60 years of evidence that it's a failure. Any economically successful place cannot possibly accommodate all of the mobility needs of its residents through limited access freeways and through single occupancy vehicles. And it's not a question of ideology or even climate or health or anything else - it's really just a question of geometry. A car that holds 1-1.5 people per trip on average - there's not enough room for all the cars, which is why we also saw so many downtowns kind of get the parking crater around their downtown office buildings, where you got - parking lots had to be built to accommodate all the vehicles. And it's not something that can be met. The other thing you do when you do a system like that is you really encourage everybody to sprawl out over the landscape. Whereas before you needed to be within a closer proximity for transit to work, or maybe walking to work, or streetcars to work - now you can live in more distant places. So those freeways then fill up again, 'cause what you've done is you've filled up the landscape with people that have to drive, right? They have to spread all over the place. So now once you do that for 50 or 60 years, as we've done, it's kind of reasonable for people to go - Well, how could you do something differently? We're now at a point where people, for most of them in their lifetimes, have not lived in an environment in which that wasn't true. But we can look at other places around the globe, or we can look at smaller units of our country, and see where many more people are moved by a combination of walking, biking, and transit - particularly if you put the housing closer to the destinations. So that's what we haven't done. Now, what we've seen, now let's just - now that may sound all pie in the sky. Well, that'll take forever to build all that transit and do all that housing. But let's take a look at SR 99 on the waterfront. How many times did we talk about the Carmageddon that would come when the viaduct closed, as it did for lengthy periods of time for construction reasons, and it never materialized. And it didn't materialize because actually a lot of those auto trips are by choice. People could choose a different time of day. They could choose a different place to go. They could combine trips, or they could choose an alternative like transit. So what you saw every time the viaduct was closed was that in fact, everything worked a little more smoothly, believe it or not, because people - it turns out people have brains and they will not mindlessly drive into traffic and they will adapt their behavior. And that's what we see happen again and again - not just on the Seattle waterfront, but every place this is predicted. And those cities that have removed highways, what they find is that the Carmageddons don't materialize, but they regain this land just as Coté was talking about. They regain this land for, really, all these other great purposes. One of the best purposes would be housing - what we know is so many people - our young people, our immigrant and refugee communities, our Black and Brown communities that have been lower income communities, service workers pushed out of the city by higher housing prices. What if we started investing those dollars in making it easier for people to drive from further and further away? We say easier, but you got to own a car for that. You got to pay all the expenses of that. What if instead we put people closer where they could actually use transit and could be taxpayers in the city? What a crazy concept, right? Okay, so for all you fiscal conservatives out there, WSDOT isn't paying taxes to the City of Seattle for all that land. So if you're a fiscal conservative, you should love this idea because you bring a bunch of new housing in there - you got sales taxes, you got property taxes, you've got all the other taxes that people who live in a city pay as taxpayers - and you have all the economic activity that goes along with that. And you've reduced household expenses because people can live in a place without a car. This is - the fiscal prudence of this alone - if you are not convinced by health or climate or anything else, if all you do, if all you care about is hard line, bottom line, dollars and cents considerations, the last thing you want to do is invest in a freeway through a populated part of your town. [00:25:52] Coté Soerens: That's why this is such a great idea because you have arguments on every side. So yes, we do need - there are more progressive causes that are pushed by these initiatives such as affordable housing and environment. But also fiscally - I really - I'm worried about seeing the City of Seattle consistently spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on mitigation strategies to deal with this highway - that is underutilized. One of the reasons we decided to move forward with this Hail Mary initiative - let's see if we can pull it off - was when we saw the traffic counts. Hey, this is not something that is necessary to anyone we are aware of. Again, there is a feasibility study underway, but so far with the data we have, we calculated that it would maybe add 7 minutes to a commute, which again - compare 7 minutes to 13 years of life expectancy of children. This is the youngest neighborhood in Seattle, but nothing in the built environment will tell you that. Most children live per square foot in South Park than anywhere else in the city. Also there is - particularly in South Park, because of the disinvestment that the City has practiced over South Park - because they want it to be industrial, so we have like 100 years of disinvestment on affordable housing and other amenities - and we pay the same taxes. There are people - the residents in South Park have consistently had to organize to make things happen in this neighborhood. So you have generations of immigrant families who have really put sweat equity in the development and livability of South Park that now are being pushed out. That to me was a tragedy and something I felt we needed to do something about. So making more land available in this neighborhood for families who have invested their lives here to be able to remain and thrive in place - that, to me, is a big win that this project could bring, among other things. But I love what you said, Mike, about the fiscal aspect of this - the amount of revenue that we will bring as far as property taxes, businesses. Somebody at the Legislature, Washington Legislature, mentioned this opportunity cost that I thought it was a really important point when we think about land being used for cars. [00:28:06] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, really for cars versus the community. And you're right, it absolutely makes a humongous difference. It is absolutely fiscally responsible and it has a stimulative effect to the local economy. There's just a - gosh, I'm trying to remember this study - I'll find it, I'll try and put it in the show notes resource section. But there was a study done for local business owners, who we all - who employ most people in cities, small businesses employ most people in the area - and they asked them to estimate how many people arrive to their stores and shops via car, versus via foot, on bike. And they all overestimated how many people arrived by car to the tune of 4-5x as much. They estimated 60, 70, 80%, and it was uniformly under 20%. I think people underestimate how much a community connection makes a difference to the local and regional economy. And that's absolutely something that makes a difference. I live in an area close to a freeway that really cuts us off from a significant portion of the city, or just makes it really, really inconvenient. And is a 5 minute detour by car, is a 20 minute detour to 30 minute detour to walk around - and just walk across the street, walk three blocks one way, if there was not a freeway there. What does it mean to South Park? And you talk about the opportunity with the additional land - South Park is, as you said, the youngest neighborhood in Seattle with almost a third of the residents being under 18. What will it mean to kids and families, and really the future of this area and region, to be able to reclaim that space? [00:29:54] Coté Soerens: Well, we'll see because - so something that is really important to mention is that the process that we're engaged in right now is a community envisioning process - to provide the opportunity to South Park residents to say what ought to happen in these 44 acres. So we have - because we're part of this neighborhood and we've heard people speak for years - we have a hunch that it will be about affordable housing, first and foremost, but also places for children to play. Infrastructure for kids is not great, and it's actually - compared to other places in Seattle - it's upsetting to see the quality of the community center and the playgrounds. Again, I have three school-aged children and I have stories about the places they have access to play, or the places we have access to bike. It's very dangerous to bike, to connect from South Park and other places. So the opportunity of these 44 acres - to actually let the neighborhood have a say on what the built environment should look like - I think it's incredibly powerful. And it's one of the benefits of engaging a whole neighborhood into a community envisioning process, which now we have just started the contract with the City to begin this process. There will be three or four big meetings and we have partnered with very skilled community organizers and - that do understand the importance of clear communications across the neighborhood and the ability of people to say their opinion in an equal playing field with others about what ought to happen in this 44 acres. In the Reconnect organizing team, we have shied away from saying what needs to happen because we are basically quarterbacking the project. We are kind of bringing the resources together and bringing the platform together, but the conversation needs to occur within South Park by South Park people. So I have opinions about what I would like to see on this 44 acres, but I think the most powerful work will happen when everyone in the neighborhood is given the chance to say - I would like this to happen, or I'm concerned about that. There's some people who are concerned about - Hey, if we shut that portion, then will the traffic be diverted to 14th Avenue South? How are we going to deal with that? Those are all incredibly important questions. So what is important right now - the way we see it at Reconnect South Park - is the dialogue. How are we able to host a democratic dialogue within the neighborhood is the most important. And then at the end, the story of government completely ignoring the voice of the residents and not being accountable to it, does the story want to change? And also we, as residents, also can use a dose of imagination as well. 'Cause for many of us, it's been like - Oh, there is a highway there, whatever. No, hey - you deserve better. So engaging people in that conversation - that I think it's - I'm a retired therapist, so I see things as therapeutically speaking. So I think that's a nice therapeutic process for this neighborhood's healing. [00:32:56] Crystal Fincher: Excellent. That makes complete sense. So as we get close to drawing this conversation to a conclusion - Mike, for people who are looking to get involved, who understand the importance, or just want to make their voice heard here - how can they get involved? And also as importantly, as we consider the several city council candidates - including in District 1 in Seattle, which includes South Park - what should we be looking to hear from those candidates, and how can we hold them accountable to listening and serving this community? [00:33:33] Mike McGinn: Well, the question answers itself, doesn't it? But let's just first start by saying - to celebrating the fact that there is now a grant from the federal government to study this, the Reconnecting Communities grant. But a study is a long way from success. And there will be powerful interests locally that will fight to maintain the highway. We're already hearing from the Port that somehow or another this is essential to them, but I'm sure they're not prepared to pay the costs of all of those shortened lives. It's not worth that much to them. So I think you do have to understand that there will be a fight here. And you'll never be able to push this through the State Legislature in that fight without strong local champions. So first of all, support Coté and everybody down there in South Park in the effort. It's gonna take public demand. Second, let's get people on the record. Do we need a highway in South - do we need that SR 99 in South Park? Get them on the record. And I really think it's not just the city council candidates, but the mayor as well. 'Cause if you can get the City united around that, there'll be a fighting chance with WSDOT. But that's gonna be extremely difficult - because let's be really clear that it is not just the Port businesses. It's a lot of labor unions down there at the Port too that believe in this stuff. They've still got 1950s and 60s outdated notions of what should happen and that highways are good. So against that combined political might, it's really gonna take a significant public demand to move elected officials. And now's the best time to make those demands as elections are occurring. [00:35:11] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes. Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.
On this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, political consultant and host Crystal Fincher is joined by Seattle Axios reporter, Melissa Santos! Now that the Washington state legislature has passed a major bill cutoff deadline, Crystal and Melissa discuss a long list of bills that died and those still fighting to survive - including landmark gun safety and housing bills. They also discuss Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell's still-unfulfilled promise to advance alternate 911 response programs that can make our streets safer and help mitigate the SPD staffing crisis that the mayor says we have. They also discuss Mayor Harrell's decision to postpone the removal of cherry trees at Pike Place Market after community pushback. As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find today's co-host, Melissa Santos at @MelissaSantos1. Melissa Santos Melissa Santos is one of two Seattle-based reporters for Axios. She has spent the past decade covering Washington politics and the Legislature, including five years covering the state Capitol for The News Tribune in Tacoma and three years for Crosscut, a nonprofit news website. She was a member of The Seattle Times editorial board from 2017 to 2019, where she wrote columns and opinion pieces focused on state government. Resources Shasti Conrad, Newly-elected Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party from Hacks & Wonks “Rifle ban, housing bills and more advance in the WA Legislature” by Joseph O'Sullivan & Donna Gordon Blankinship from Crosscut “WA House votes to ban assault weapons” by Jim Brunner and Claire Withycombe from The Seattle Times “Ban on selling assault weapons clears state House” by Melissa Santos from Axios “The Olympia Waltz Continues for Middle Housing and Other Vital Legislation” by Ray Dubicki from The Urbanist “WA's Missing Middle Legislation Threatened by Grab Bag of Municipal Excuses” by Ryan Packer from The Urbanist “State Democrats Stiff Renters Again” by Rich Smith from The Stranger “Legislative Cutoff Fizz: Police Pursuit Bill Moves Forward While Tenant Protections Die” by Andrew Engelson and Ryan Packer from PubliCola “High-Speed Police Chase Bill Still Unpopular Among State House Democrats” by Ashley Nerbovig from The Stranger “WA police a step closer to resuming pursuits under bill passed Wednesday by Senate” by Shauna Sowersby from The Olympian “Innocent Bystanders are the Losers in this Week's WA Senate Shenanigans” by Amy Sundberg from Notes from the Emerald City “Bills aim to protect abortion patients who travel to Washington” by Melissa Santos from Axios “Seattle's alternative 911 response program falls behind schedule” by Melissa Santos from Axios “Removal of Seattle cherry trees near Pike Place Market paused” by KING 5 News Transcript [00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. If you missed our Tuesday midweek show, I spoke with new Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party, Shasti Conrad, about what the role of chair entails, lessons learned from the previous Chair, Tina Podlodowski, and her plans for continuing forward as a strong and effective political party in Washington state. Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a cohost. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show, today's cohost: Seattle Axios reporter, Melissa Santos. Hey. [00:01:23] Melissa Santos: Hi, Crystal. [00:01:23] Crystal Fincher: Welcome back. Glad to have you and always enjoy the Axios newsletter in my inbox every morning. [00:01:30] Melissa Santos: I'm so glad - good, good. [00:01:32] Crystal Fincher: It's good stuff - good updates and easily digestible, which is good. Today we have just passed a significant deadline in our legislative session. We're just about halfway done. And with that comes the deadline to pass bills out of their house of origin. They need to pass a floor vote, and get to the other chamber in order to survive. So now we have a list of bills that have died, as well as those that go on to be heard in the other chamber. So I guess starting a roundup of what is living and what is dead, what is going on still in our legislature? [00:02:14] Melissa Santos: Oh, you're asking me - there are so many things that actually lived this year - I'm actually kind of surprised. For instance, a ban on selling assault weapons did pass the State House, and this has never happened before in our state. The governor and the attorney general and a lot of Democratic lawmakers have been trying to pass a ban on assault weapons - different versions of it - for, I don't know, six, seven years now, maybe since 2015. I don't know how many years that is 'cause time is like a vortex, but a lot of years - and this time is the first time it's passed a chamber. So that's actually fairly significant. [00:02:44] Crystal Fincher: Very significant and nationally significant. And was an issue that a lot of Democrats ran on in this past election - promising to take action, saying thoughts and prayers are no longer enough, we have seen enough of this. But this is a pretty substantial, major piece of legislation that we can expect to see also wind up in the courts. [00:03:05] Melissa Santos: Yeah, there definitely will be challenges. I think there are challenges happening in Illinois over there's - they've already been promised if they're not already in progress. And Illinois was the most recent state, I think, to enact one. We would be the 10th if we do so, unless someone somehow gets to it first - a couple of months before our legislative session ends. But there's still a big road. It has to pass the Senate. And you know - that we've had some shifts in the Senate, though. I think that legislators did take a message from last year's election results in which Democrats gained seats - didn't lose ground - after passing high-capacity magazine bans. There's no backlash, even in what was supposed to be a big Republican year. There's a lot of factors that go into that, but they're like this is not something that is hurting us at the ballot box at all. And in fact, Washington voters - I think you and I have talked about this before - they have been voting for stricter gun control measures for several years now. It's not an issue that loses in Washington state, or even the polls don't really show nationally. I think there's a big shift to - this is not 1994 when it comes to these gun laws. It's just not, and it's not the political football it was. [00:04:06] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And especially given the amount of mass shootings that we've seen, of just gun violence overall, of people dying by suicide using guns - it is just a lot. And we've had just about everyone say that we need to do something, and expecting our elected officials to do something. And we did see them take action - pretty significant action - in responding to the calls of parents, of students. We even saw students from Seattle's Ingraham High School, which experienced a school shooting, advocating for some of these gun bills, saying that they needed it to be safer in their schools. So this is something that Democrats promised - they took action on. This is something where they heard, and they've delivered - and we'll see how this legislation withstands court challenges - but certainly a big step here in our Legislature. Another big bill that was talked about - has been talked about really since last session - big time is the state's hallmark missing middle bill, HB 1110, which passed out of the House. [00:05:13] Melissa Santos: It did. And one thing I think that is one reason maybe why - I think there has been some conflict, not just the cities not wanting regulation - that was an argument that worked last year, cities saying - Hey, we don't want the state telling us what to do, essentially. We need local control over these things. Maybe it was an argument that worked last year, but I think the housing crisis is so deep that I think that that wasn't necessarily gonna work forever. But what I think was a genuine concern is whether allowing four to six units per lot, in basically all residential lots in some of these cities, might contribute to displacement. I think that's a concern for some people, and whether - there's a lot of stuff that goes into that. But what they did do was essentially make it so if you have neighborhoods where this upzoning would contribute to displacement - I'm not describing the bill very well, I'm jumping right in - but they basically said you can zone only 75% of your residential area to have these upzones and requiring four units or six units per lot. So that's a change that I think was made to try and assuage those who are worried about displacement. And it's possible the displacement argument is a front for other concerns - and that's just a - but that was a change they made this year that makes it a little more flexible. There's an alternate way to comply other than just saying - Hey, it's a strict four units per lot. You have to build a duplex on every lot - I should back up - zone for a duplex. God, you know what, Crystal? I really got ahead of myself. But my point is, changing zoning doesn't necessarily mean that there's a duplex going everywhere. It just means that the next time someone wants to do something, maybe they can do this thing. So yeah, there was never gonna be just suddenly everything's apartments. That never was gonna happen with any of these versions of this bill, but - [00:06:52] Crystal Fincher: Right - and we saw some hyperbolic headlines over the past week saying the Legislature's banned single-family zoning - which you can still build single-family - it just prohibits the exclusion of other types of housing. And the reason why this is so important and necessary - and there was such a broad coalition of business, labor, environmental groups, others saying - Hey, we absolutely need more housing - is because study after study has shown that we are behind on building the amount of housing necessary to house people who currently live in this state, even before we get to others who are moving to the state. And it's because so many areas have been prohibited from building anything but single-family homes - and the areas where you can build a duplex, a triplex, a sixplex, or a larger building are so small in comparison to all of the other areas. There just isn't the ability to build the appropriate and necessary density without a change in this zoning. And the way this manifests is - we have seen these rent hikes, these price hikes - when you have constrained supply and you have people moving here, that in and of itself has contributed to a lot of displacement and affordability crisis. And most people now recognize that we do have a housing affordability crisis. And so this is what has been proposed as a remedy - giving homeowners more control and property owners more control over what they can do with their lots and how they can build, and making sure that cities can absorb the amount of density that is there without the escalating costs that are driving so many people out of cities, out of housing, preventing seniors from being able to age in place, and their families from being able to live near them. And we've seen a shift in public opinion in support for this, where before it was something where it's like - Ah, it's dicey, a lot of people don't - but we've seen poll after poll showing northwards of 60% of residents across the state believe in this. And we've seen cities like Spokane and cities in Pierce County and Clark County take action on this already. This is actually an area where Seattle is behind the bend of several other cities. So interesting to see this going. Certainly there are a lot of cities who - judging by just some city and municipal meetings over the past week - who were hoping and thinking this would probably not get out of the House, but now it has made it to the Senate and they seem like they plan on stepping up their opposition to this bill. So people who are trying to get this passed also need to step up their advocacy of the bill and make sure that their elected officials know that they support this - even if they're homeowners, even if they're in higher income brackets, even if they're seniors - that this is something that they want in their communities if they want this to succeed, 'cause there certainly is a continuing battle ahead. Absolutely - and so other things that have survived, or are talking about housing and talking about the issues of displacement - for those really concerned about the issue of displacement - a couple of bills that didn't make it out, would have been nice and helpful for that. And those included some renter protections. One bill would have capped rent increases at 7% a year. Another would have required six months notice of rent hikes for more than 5%. Some cities also currently have some of those provisions, but certainly the majority of cities in the state do not. That would have certainly helped people. Rent increases are having a devastating toll on our communities and on homelessness, frankly. And those would have been really good to see pass the House - would have directly addressed issues leading to displacement and homelessness - and I'm disappointed that they didn't make it through. Other bills that didn't make it include a bill raising the age of juvenile sentencing from 8 years to 13 - that didn't make it through. A bill that would have ended design review statewide for residential developments didn't make it out of the House, nor did a WRAP Act bill that attempted to improve the state's solid waste system through bottle deposit and packaging reform. As well as a really common sense bill to ban jaywalking laws which are disproportionately enforced against BIPOC and low income people without an impact on public safety, it looks like, and so that didn't survive. One thing that looked like it was on its deathbed, but that was snatched out was a police pursuits bill. What happened with this? [00:11:36] Melissa Santos: Essentially, interestingly, the Senate had looked like it was not gonna advance this bill at all. This is a measure that kind of - it would roll back some of the stricter standards for police car chases that were passed a couple of years ago in 2021. It would say - We're not gonna be as strict in restricting when police can chase people in vehicles. Now, the Senate wasn't looking like it would advance it at all, but it was pulled from the floor and kind of skipped the whole committee process, basically - on Tuesday or so, I think - and it passed the Senate. And interestingly, what bill that looked like it had been moving on this issue in the House did not actually pass out of the House. So now we have a little situation where we don't really know what's gonna happen with it going forward. But, it essentially is just saying the Legislature, following the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and the protests against police brutality that we saw - one of the things they did in the Legislature was say - Hey, you can't just chase people over stolen car or whatever and go on a high-speed chase that could be deadly for people. And it applied to more things too. It basically said that you have to have probable cause to chase people in some of these scenarios. You can't chase people for low-level crimes. Police have just been saying that they can't really do their jobs - that's been pushed back on quite a bit. But, there's been a lot of pressure for the Legislature to change this law and make it easier for police to engage in these pursuits again, especially when it comes to certain crimes that are violent. They still can chase them under the current law, but it would make it easier to with a lower-level evidentiary standard that that's the right person in the car - basically is what these bills would do. So we'll see what happens there. It is a weird bipartisan interest in this bill, I would say - the sponsor of the bill in the House is a Democratic lawmaker from a swing district. And I've got to look at the vote count again, but there are some Democratic votes for this. It's not like one party against another. So that makes it hard to figure out how it'll play out. But the House wouldn't take it up, so I'm not sure they'll take it up now - what's coming from the Senate - on the actual floor. [00:13:31] Crystal Fincher: We will see what happens with this. I think the House probably will end up taking it up, but maybe they won't, but - I hope they don't - because this is a bill that frankly, in my view, lacks the data behind it to justify what its proponents are saying. To your point, a lot of police have said - Ah, we just can't pursue anymore - and have been in community meetings where police officers and departments have suggested that their hands are tied, that they can't pursue anyone. It's never been the case that they straight up could not pursue anyone or that pursuits were outlawed. It really is a question between, as you said, two evidentiary standards - that of probable cause or reasonable suspicion. Probable cause having a much higher - or not a much higher, but a significant - a threshold that is significant, that is also higher in terms of what they can do and when they are authorized to chase. And so when it came to serious things, if they had proof of something - they can and have been pursuing vehicles, including continuing to pursue in ways that have endangered the public and have injured the public, even in recent weeks and months. And so really a challenge here is addressing the potential harm and expected harm to the community as a result of these chases that in many jurisdictions already - certainly across the country - they have limited when this can happen because of the collateral damage that occurs, especially when oftentimes they're able to identify who is in the car, apprehend them after the fact, or apprehend them in a way that doesn't endanger the public through a chase. And they've also, I think, tried to say - Well, we've seen some increases in certain types of crime and it's because these criminals know that we can't chase them. And so they're just doing stuff and chasing, running away from us and laughing at us. And it doesn't really look like there's much evidence to back that up. In fact, they've talked about auto thefts and tried to suggest that auto thefts were increasing because they were limited in pursuing somehow, when it actually looks correlated to the price of used cars and that being much more correlated there. So it seems like it would make sense to pass legislation that would deal directly with the challenges that are having instead of some of fighting to re-enact and re-allow practices that have just frankly been harmful to innocent people in the public. [00:16:03] Melissa Santos: I think the data is a little lacking. There was this weird data war going on on both sides with this bill at one point. And it was kind of like, but it is a little - some of the data that's being used to say - Look, look, look, this is all is a huge problem. It's incomplete. It is incomplete. Like for instance, there's a lot of been, did a lot of citing of the State Patrol saying - We've had more people fleeing stops - basically, and that sort of thing. But then they don't - there's not any sort of follow-up about - were they caught from another means, some other - like later, which you can do through investigation or if further down the road, if they're doing something, maybe you would find them and be able to pull them over for something. There's not complete data there. They weren't tracking the stat exactly before. So there's not a good way to compare. It's just really hard. So I think that that's one reason why the Senate committee chair and the Democratic side on this has really been saying - Can we, do get some more data on this before we change the law? And the Republicans have been like - We should have gotten the data in the first place before we changed the law in the first place. But it is true that people die. Vehicle chases are dangerous. There are people who die. And it looks like we've seen fewer deaths - but the number from police pursuits since the law passed, but the numbers are so small, that the percentages can fluctuate wildly. I think there's an argument to be made to get a little bit more information for sure on this. And there has been crime increases in a lot of places, so it's just - there's a pandemic, there's been a lot of stuff happening. Sometimes when people are attributing the rise in crime to certain things, there's just - there's been a lot going on in the last few years and there's been a lot of contributions to crime rising, and there's been a lot of economic problems and that corresponds, and other places have seen crime rise. So it's just really hard to pinpoint it on this law. It's really difficult to do that as much as people want to. And honestly, some of the stories actually - when I followed up on them - haven't quite been accurate about how these things have played out. So it's just really messy to untangle. [00:17:47] Crystal Fincher: It is. And it seems like even when things are messy and in need of being untangled, we find ways to expand and support increased policing, especially of Black and Brown bodies. Also, things that passed this legislative session - passed their house of origin - made it out of their house of origin into the other chamber to be discussed to see if it will be passed, include a new drug possession bill that increases penalties for drugs such as fentanyl, meth, cocaine - and pushes those convicted into treatment, mandated treatment - a lot of people consider that coercive treatment. And really addressing laws in the wake of the Blake decision and the subsequent legislation, which had a sunset provision, meaning that they need to take action again now. Anything notable you saw with this bill in the process? [00:18:41] Melissa Santos: Honestly, I think this bill is gonna be totally different potentially by the time the session ends. It's one of those - it passed out of a chamber and they're being viewed as like a vehicle. You know what I mean? They can, it maybe will look very different by the end. But I think it's - the problem here a little bit is you want people to basically make drug possession a felony again, especially on the Republican side. Some people want that and then other people want the state to have it be totally decriminalized. And people are trying to, I think, thread the needle on it and there's not really a lot of - those sides don't really agree. You're not gonna find a compromise on - between make it a felony and decriminalize drug possession - that makes any of those folks feel like it's a good policy. So I think it's gonna be a really tricky one for that reason. I think this compromise of being like - Let's make it a gross misdemeanor, it won't be a misdemeanor anymore, but it'll be, it won't be a felony. I don't think that's gonna make people who think that the War on Drugs has been damaging to communities of color and everyone happy that it's still criminalized. And then I don't think that Republicans think that's strong enough. And so that's another one where it's - I think you're gonna see some weird vote counts. You're gonna see some weird coalitions build and it could be very different by the end. [00:19:49] Crystal Fincher: This definitely could change by the end. I think one thing that is useful to just recall is that - in this reality that we're in, we have been enacting and tinkering with criminalization for drugs for basically my entire life. I went to DARE assemblies when I was in elementary school. [00:20:13] Melissa Santos: Does that mean we're old if we went to those? I just wanted to check. [00:20:15] Crystal Fincher: I am definitely old. [00:20:16] Melissa Santos: Oh, okay - I went to those too. [00:20:16] Crystal Fincher: I won't lump you in with me, but I'm old. [00:20:18] Melissa Santos: No, I went to those too, so I guess - I don't know, all right - [00:20:21] Crystal Fincher: But I'm okay with being old. [00:20:22] Melissa Santos: It's fine. We all accept it, but I just wanted to check if that's what that means. I don't know - [00:20:26] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, yeah, it does, it does. [00:20:27] Melissa Santos: Okay, all right. [00:20:29] Crystal Fincher: But we have seen this big War on Drugs - billions upon billions spent - for what? To be in arguably a worse position than we've been in - to have this entire criminalized approach that has supported mass incarceration, that hasn't reduced recidivism, that hasn't reduced addiction, that has allowed it to proliferate really. And what we really need is a public health approach, and we've seen a public health approach to substance use disorder be much more effective than that. But that's not what a number of people have grown up watching on TV, have grown up being told from the DARE assemblies - anything about drugs is just bad and illegal and immoral. And if you touch those things - especially if you're poor or Brown, really, or in a low wage job - you're bad and horrible and immoral. Even though, my goodness, drug use is rampant among high income and high powered people. It doesn't seem to carry the same social stigma with them that it does for people who don't have the benefit of a home to do their drugs in, or can't do it as privately as others are able to do it. But man, this thing has failed, and it just feels like we're doubling down on a failed policy here because of fear - some of the same fear that went into the vehicle pursuit bill conversation - of not looking sufficiently tough on crime, of not doing that. Even though the public really is in a better place than most of our elected leaders are here - on not looking at this as such a binary and understanding that public safety includes a lot more than policing, a lot more than punitive punishment penalties. And if we focus on people being well, and if we focus on building a healthy community, and focus on stopping the harmful behavior, addressing root causes - that we prevent a lot of the problem and do a lot better in fixing the existing problems that we have. But that seems like a conversation that many people are not entertaining about this right now, but I certainly wish they would and hope that legislation improves. Also a bill survived that would reform the state's criminal sentencing system so that the juvenile convictions no longer lead to longer sentences for crimes that people commit as adults. Also Growth Management Act climate change provisions. This was also discussed last year - forcing and mandating that counties, cities, as they go through their Growth Management Act planning, which is mandated by the state, consider climate change impacts throughout that and build that into this process. Certainly helpful. Another bill promoting transit-oriented development - that's assigned to the Housing Committee - a lot splitting bill, easing barriers for ADUs or accessory dwelling units. A bill which was - I think we talked about it last week - near and dear to my heart, especially this session, for free school meals was watered down significantly to now - what passed is if a school has 30% or more of their students eligible for free and reduced lunch, then any student at that school can request a free meal - which is better than nothing certainly, but would love to see that expanded to be universal for everyone. As well as a bill that creates a task force for promoting research into psilocybin and developing a pathway for legal access to that psychedelic substance. So a lot of things are still alive. A lot of good stuff is still alive. A lot of good stuff still looks like it's moving forward. Other stuff - there are some abortion bills that are still alive this session. What will they do? [00:24:22] Melissa Santos: There's been ones trying to protect people from other states with restrictive abortion laws who might come here for an abortion. So we have some bills that basically create a shield law so that - trying to say - doctors here really can't be, putting them out the reach of those abortion laws if they perform abortions on someone. So they would basically - one of those bills that did pass the House - would make it so courts here can't participate in subpoenas from other states that are trying to get information about abortions that maybe happen here, if someone from their state travels to our state. And so that's designed to protect the doctors as well as the patients who come here. And that's something that Democrats have been going for. Similar bill dealing with data and health data on apps, because we have federal protections for health data under this law called HIPAA, but that doesn't apply to everything. It doesn't apply to period tracking apps. And there's also apps that track if you're trying to get pregnant and then maybe have a miscarriage - that there's data in there that maybe could be used, is the fear, from some states trying to prosecute abortions if they've criminalized it or have created civil lawsuit potential. Getting that data could show you had a miscarriage, you terminated pregnancy, this shows that. So they're trying to say - You can't get that, basically. So those are some of the things that are still alive. [00:25:33] Crystal Fincher: We will continue to follow this legislation as they make their way through the House and Senate. Also, they will - the Legislature will be taking up Governor Inslee's proposed budget, $70 billion biennial budget, before adjourning on April 23rd. So a lot to be done - still special education and other educational funding is wrapped up also with the budget - so many things are, so we will follow along. Also wanna talk about some Seattle news that you covered this week about Seattle's alternative response - another leg in the public safety stool - running behind schedule, at least Bruce Harrell running behind schedule on the promise and commitment that he made for this. What is happening? [00:26:23] Melissa Santos: It's actually interesting to me to see the mayor's office have actually laid out a commitment, a bunch of commitments, in writing like this. 'Cause sometimes at this mayor's office, it's not really - I'm not really clear on what's happening with them. That's the case sometimes with a lot of administrations, I suppose. But in this case, there was a document that the mayor's office agreed to in September - I think under pressure from the council, basically, to be honest, from watching that meeting - just saying we need some deliverables. We have this program we've been talking about since, again, the Black Lives Matter protests. It's now 20 - as of last year, it was 2022 - we still don't have this pilot program that we said to the community - Okay, we're going to reimagine public safety. This is going to be part of it. We're going to try and not send police officers to some calls where maybe it's not warranted and it can escalate into police killing someone or injuring someone, or just even an arrest that's traumatizing, potentially. So they're trying to say - We want to have a way of sending mental health responders and others to some of these calls. But there was supposed to be a pilot program that was supposed to have a plan from the mayor's office in December that was actually delivered and it hasn't been delivered. So the mayor's office is driving this - it looks like that's part of the agreement - waiting on the mayor to develop sort of some policies, proposals for the permanent program, as well as this pilot. And they have not come forth. There's also some intermediate steps that I didn't get into in my story, but that were missed. The mayor was supposed to narrow down what calls would this would actually apply to, what calls would some mental health responder go to? Is it officer down calls? Is it welfare check calls? And that really hasn't been narrowed down, which means there's not really - when someone asks me, for instance, how does this interact with our new 988 system? You can't really, we don't know because we don't know what calls they're going to be directing this to. But the idea is at least the 911 center would be able to dispatch something other than a cop - even though it's called a dual dispatch for some reason, which I found very confusing - the cop wouldn't necessarily have to be on site for these responses. And it's just - if this was a response to this - I have a policy document that says the social outcry for justice for policing, this is a City document - and it's been now three years and we don't have a pilot in range of being started. I think there's a lot of frustration on the city council saying - What the heck? And they expressed that at a meeting last week in the Public Safety Committee. I think Andrew Lewis, one of the city council members said - It seems like the mayor's office is behind on every deliverable that was asked for. The city council staff was - demurred on that, was like - I don't know if I would say that, but they have working relationships to maintain. As much in Seattle speak, it could be - as much as a WTF could be said in Seattle municipal speak - that's what happened last week, I think, on this, honestly. And yeah, it's just, I don't know where, how things - things don't seem very far along, is what it seems fair to say. [00:29:08] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and it's challenging for me - looking at this administration and how confidently they talked about their ability to handle public safety in the City, particularly during the election and the commitments that were made. Bruce Harrell having sat on the city council and had been a former mayor of Seattle - very familiar with the workings of the City, the size of the bureaucracy, and the scope of what needs to be done. He has seen that from every angle for over a decade. And the response when you asked that office - Hey, why is this behind schedule? - was like, Okay, but it's really hard, is what the response boiled down to. And it's yeah, no kidding. That's what you signed up for when you say you wanna be mayor and can handle that job - and not only can handle it, but can handle it better than everyone else in the field. We want to see what's gonna happen. And this isn't just for good feelings and responding to a community call, even though listening to the community is absolutely important. This is also about public safety. This is about reducing the amount of people who are victimized. It's about keeping the entire community safe and making it safer. This is about a more effective response that keeps people safer. And that can eliminate the frustration that a lot of people have with seeing a revolving door issue where they're being arrested for a problem - that isn't primarily a desire to commit whatever crime or to be loitering in whatever area - that are exacerbated by a variety of different things, where if we actually addressed those things, we can also eliminate any criminal or harmful activity and more effectively deal with an issue of someone who is creating a disturbance or causing discomfort or whatever that is. This is good for the City. This helps keep everyone safer. And it seems like there is no bigger priority than getting this spun up. [00:31:13] Melissa Santos: If there's a concern - the mayor's office and the police department are concerned they don't have enough officers to send to important calls - if that's a concern, the people who are concerned about that, right? This theoretically could make it so officers aren't responding to stuff they maybe shouldn't even be responding to, or aren't the best equipped at responding to. Theoretically, freeing up officers to respond to stuff for which an officer is really needed. It seems like both people who want to have a less aggressive police response, and then also people who want to have more police response in a way - both kind of are coming together to say - This would be good for us. The business people want it - for again, more cops to respond to crime crimes would be - they want. And then people who want to not have traumatic police encounters want it too, which - theoretically, everyone wants to not have those, I would assume. But, people who, that's their focus, also think this is good. It's okay, so what - and I don't even think it's gotten to, to be honest, I don't know if it's had the chance to get to the part that's actually really complex. 'Cause I think the mayor's office and a lot - honestly, city council and everyone - it's easy to say the police union won't let us do this, or something. I don't even think they've gotten to the point where they're even talking about that, really, with labor yet. It's okay, so if that's always the hurdle in doing police reform and you're not even really - you haven't really decided what you want to do. It's like the Legislature passed a bill to create an independent office for police investigations that theoretically should have been ready to have takeover jurisdiction of police killings last summer. And I haven't checked on it for a couple months, I'm gonna say, but it still was not up and running six months after that. And there's still a lot of hiring to do and a lot of policymaking to do. And you could argue - Okay, maybe that was too fast. Maybe a year - okay, so some people would say maybe a year plus was 18 months or so. You can't really set up a whole agency in that time. I'm like - Well... eh, like, how long? I don't know, I don't know. This just seems like - there's a lot of stuff that ends up taking a long time and then other cities do have some of these programs in place already, so it seems like there should be some models. And I don't have great answers about - could you, Denver does this thing - did you ask them? What's going on? It's hard to get a sense of what conversations are happening within the administration about this stuff. [00:33:24] Crystal Fincher: It is. We know they've had tons of conversations about graffiti and there's definitely an action plan and things happening for that, so priorities - seems to come down to priorities. I hope this becomes a higher priority in this administration for sure. Also this week, we have seen trees at Pike Place Market make a lot of news. How come? [00:33:49] Melissa Santos: Seattle people love cherry trees. Everyone loves cherry trees. Does anyone dislike cherry trees? So there are cherry trees, one of - yeah, there's cherry trees by the entrance of Pike Place Market that kind of frame one of our city's biggest landmarks, biggest tourist attractions. And they were set to be removed on Tuesday, maybe Monday and Tuesday possibly, and there was a group that's called, I think, Save Our Market Entrance, something along those lines, that put out some press releases on Sunday and also went and demonstrated and were like - Why are we tearing these down? There's some - it's been raised that there's some significance potentially in the Seattle's Japanese and Japanese-American community of having these cherry trees. The origin is being traced to maybe there was a significant gift to these potentially, but even if there's not - it's just, there's some people asking - Why do we need to replace these trees? They're part of the sort of fabric of our city and what we love about our city. I think the mayor did, someone in the mayor's administration did press pause on the removal of the trees this week, so that was a pretty successful effort by people who wanted to see those trees stay. And their future isn't really certain right now because there's gonna be some probably very Seattle-esque discussions about the trees. And there's some disagreement about whether the trees are healthy and will be healthy for the next 50 years or not. And so that's just all kind of being worked out. But I think people in Seattle like their cherry trees and also there might be some cultural significance here to pay attention to, so that's - at least for now - saved the trees for time being. Yeah, definitely. And this is also happening amidst discussions of Seattle's waning tree canopy and a need to increase the amount of trees - mature and other trees - and certainly not lose trees in the process. And I know some people are concerned about that as we go through this whole thing. But with that, we will wrap it up for today, Friday, March 10th, 2023. Hacks & Wonks is produced by Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today is Seattle Axios reporter, Melissa Santos. You can find Melissa on Twitter @MelissaSantos1. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. And you can find me on Twitter @FrenchFries - it's two I's at the end - @finchfrii, I don't even, whatever. You can catch Hacks & Wonks wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes. Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.
On this midweek show, newly-elected Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party Shasti Conrad joins Crystal for a conversation on what the role entails, lessons learned from the previous Chair, and her plans for continuing forward as a strong and effective political party. As leader of an umbrella organization for local party organizations across the state, Shasti acknowledges the futility of a top-down approach and the need to listen and to understand what resonates with Democrats from different areas. Discussion of her plans to broaden the Party's appeal includes creating inclusive spaces, expanding the base, messaging Democratic wins, and showing up and investing in rural areas. Crystal and Shasti then tackle the question of “who is a Democrat” and the dilemma faced in sharing Party resources with: those who are ideologically aligned but not labeled as D, versus those who self-label as D but are not ideologically aligned. Finally, Shasti shares her dream of strengthening the Party through bench building of candidates and support staff by making campaign work attractive, which includes taking seriously the violence and hostility predominantly targeting Black candidates and staff members, building sustainable pipelines for careers in politics, and encouraging good working conditions through unionization. As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com. Follow us on Twitter at @HacksWonks. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find Shasti Conrad at @ShastiConrad and the Washington State Democratic Party at @washdems. Shasti Conrad Shasti Conrad was elected as Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party in January 2023. She is the first woman of color and youngest chair of the Washington State Democrats! She is also the first South Asian woman to lead a state party in the entire country! Previously, Shasti was the Chair of the King County Democrats from 2018-2022, making her the first woman of color chair in the org's history. She is a versatile strategist and thought leader with a broad range of political, policy and operations experience within government at all levels and throughout the private and non-profit sectors. She launched her own consulting firm in 2016 to support government, campaign, and business clients looking to better our world. She was named to the American Association of Political Consultants' 40 under 40 list and Seattle Met's 100 Most Influential List (top 10 in politicos category). Resources Washington State Democratic Party “Washington State Democrats Elect Shasti Conrad as Party Chair” from Washington State Democrats “WA Democrats choose Shasti Conrad as new leader” by David Gutman from The Seattle Times “Building Resilient Organizations: Toward Joy and Durable Power in a Time of Crisis” by Maurice Mitchell for Convergence Magazine Transcript [00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. I'm thrilled to be welcoming back to the program, the now-Chair of the Washington State Democrats - Shasti Conrad - welcome. [00:01:01] Shasti Conrad: Hi Crystal, it's so great to be here. [00:01:03] Crystal Fincher: Great to have you here. So you were just recently elected as the chair of the Washington State Democrats, after a pretty notable tenure as the Chair of the King County Democrats. Starting off for a lot of people who may not be familiar - what does the Chair of the Democratic Party do? [00:01:24] Shasti Conrad: That is a great question and one that I have been getting quite a bit. So the State Party Chair, basically - I see it - job number one is to win elections for Democrats up and down the ballot. That's job number one. Job number two is really studying the vision and strategy for what the Democratic Party looks like, how it works, how it's built here in Washington State. We're here to work with our allies in labor and to build winning coalitions across the state and across the progressive movement. I've often described the party as - we are the steady drumbeat - we are here to make sure that candidates and campaigns have the resources that they need, that they have the volunteers, that they have the - they know the relationships, the community leaders. And then the candidates in the campaigns - they bring the jazz, right? They bring the energy, the nuances that match the different communities that they're representing - and we're here doing all year-round organizing to make sure that we're ready for whoever steps forward to run for office - that we can support them and get them across the finish line. [00:02:36] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense. So now you are taking over after Tina Podlodowski stepped down after a pretty successful run, by those metrics, as the Chair of the State Party. What lessons did you learn from Tina, and what are you carrying forward from her? [00:02:53] Shasti Conrad: I think that Tina deserves a ton of credit for the successes that we have had here in Washington state for the last six years. We had the three most successful cycles in terms of delivering Democratic wins across the state. We elected the most diverse State Legislature - each cycle we just kept improving and growing our majorities - this past cycle was probably one of the most successful cycles that we've had, certainly one of the best for Democrats in probably at least 20 years. We now have control of - the Democrats are in office for all of the statewide offices. We finally got a Secretary of State for the first time in, I think, 56 years as a Democrat in Secretary Hobbs. And so much of that credit does go to Tina. I think Tina really built the State Party as an organizing machine - she invested in it. We talked about doing this multi-cycle organizing, all year-round organizing. She helped to move the Party from it being - there were times when I think the Party was a bit of a social club - it was a bit about just who of our friends were gonna run for some of these different offices. And Tina really, especially in the Trump era, really built up the resistance and helped us make sure that we were winning. We can't lose any of that ground. Tina was a great ally for me these last several years while I was Chair of the King County Democrats, and so I learned a great deal from her. And we're not gonna go backwards, that's for sure. I think Tina would be the first one to say this, which is - now that we've built such a solid organizing foundation, in my tenure my hope is that we get to grow and expand it, particularly in bringing in more diverse folks into the Party. And that's inclusive of young people, that's inclusive of people of color, communities of color - and really helping to get more people into these leadership roles. The Washington State Democrats - we're comprised of 88 different local party organizations, so there's a lot of different regionality, diversity - but I think across the Democratic Party, we have our work cut out in trying to make sure that we are fully reflective of the state. And there's some of that work that I think I definitely wanna grow upon what Tina has built. [00:05:17] Crystal Fincher: Now you mentioned those local party organizations - like county party organizations, legislative district organizations, affinity caucuses, that type of thing. I think a lot of people don't realize necessarily that those are not branches, those are not subsidiaries of the State Party - they're actually their own independent organizations, their own bylaws, and can do what they want. They can't in most situations be told what to do by the State Party - it doesn't work like that. So basically it's a big statewide coalition of Democratic organizations. In that kind of structure, how do you galvanize and expand the organizing footprint in the entire state - in more metropolitan areas like King County, in rural areas in Central and Eastern Washington, Southwest Washington - and lots of different areas, different needs, different representation, different issues that they may be dealing with. How do you approach that, or how will you approach that across the state? [00:06:19] Shasti Conrad: Yeah, it's definitely a tall order to try to get all oars in the water rowing in the same direction. I have found that it's - we can be unified in our values, but it's important for us to be localized in our messaging. We're certainly seeing this here in Washington state, but I think this is something that the entire Democratic Party writ large is dealing with, which is that urban and rural divide and really thinking about - the ways in which we talk about things in King County and Seattle doesn't necessarily work in Spokane or in Walla Walla. And I look at Washington state as a microcosm for national Democratic Party politics. In Washington state, we have Pramila Jayapal, who is the Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. We now have Representative Suzan DelBene, who leads the DCCC, which is more moderate arm of trying to make sure that we are helping Democratic Congressional members get re-elected. And then you have our newest member of the Congressional delegation in Marie Perez. And Marie ran in - down in Southwestern Washington - as a very working class, working mom Democrat that was able to work with Republicans and get Republicans to support her. She won by just a couple thousand votes against a complete MAGA Republican. And so that's a big spectrum. And that is what I, as Chair, have to try to make sure that folks along that full spectrum feel that the Democratic party is theirs. And so like you said, each of the different party organizations are their own entities. It's not a top-down approach. We, as the State Party, are somewhat of an umbrella organization, but we're here to work alongside those different party organizations. And so it's a lot of just - it's a lot of listening, it's a lot of really making sure that folks are feeling that their lived experience is valued, that their perspective - that they know their neighbors, that they know what's gonna work with talking to their neighbors and moving them along. And that there's space for that, that it doesn't just come down from on high. One of the things that I've spent the last several years having to do quite often is unpacking when people say - Oh, the Democrats. It's like - Okay, but who are you actually frustrated with? Are you frustrated with the DNC, which sets the national stage and national messaging? Are you frustrated with the Senate Caucus or the House Caucus? Are you frustrated with your local party organization? What are these different pieces, and how do they all work together in this big ecosystem? And how can we help? How can we address your concerns? And a lot of that, I think, comes down to just people-to-people canvassing and organizing in those conversations, as well as really making sure that the messaging is resonant in those particular communities. [00:09:15] Crystal Fincher: So you talked about expanding the organizing apparatus - certainly something that you've talked about. In your tenure as Chair of the King County Democrats, was participating in all elections - not just the even-year elections right now that are legislative statewide, but also in what are currently - hopefully not for much longer - but currently odd-year elections for school boards, city councils, mayors, county council positions. Those elections haven't traditionally seen a lot of participation or engagement from the Democratic Party and local party organizations. What is gonna be your approach to that? [00:09:58] Shasti Conrad: Definitely. I think we saw, particularly in the last several years, the ways in which the Republican Party was doing a better job at building the bench than we were. They were having their folks run, and they were - run for these various seats, like you just said, like school boards and city council seats and whatnot. And they were going unchallenged. Democrats were not running for them because we just weren't paying attention in a lot of ways - we weren't indexing what all of those opportunities were. When I was Chair of King County Democrats, in an odd year, we had over 300 seats that folks could run for. And folks just didn't know that. And as soon as we started to talk about that, and started to actually really recruit, and also demystify the process - people didn't even know - how do you run? What does it take to run? How do I get onto the ballot? And once we started saying - Actually, there's a filing week in May where you go to - for King County Elections, or whatever your local county elections office is - and you can file online. Sometimes they have different fees, but they range in size - and you get your name on the ballot, and then you get to know your neighbors, and you encourage folks to vote for you. And so already this year at the State Party, I have asked our data team to look at opportunities where - what are the races across the state that we could win, that are at a nice edge. And one of the - really excited about this - so one of the things we just found when we were looking at the data this past week is that in the town of Sunnyside, which is in Yakima County, there are three seats that are up that are currently held by people that are leaning Republican. All three of those people won by less than 100 votes when they ran last time - one won by one vote. All three of them are men and they lean Republican. Sunnyside is a city that is 70% Latino. If we do the organizing work, if we get a Spanish language organizer, if we encourage those people to register to vote, we get some great candidates who represent the community - we could get those seats. And we could really make a difference that then, once those folks have some experience - their name's already been on a ballot - then in a couple of years, maybe they decide that they run for the next level of government. Maybe they even run for the State Legislature. And people have gotten to know them, they've been able to build up a resume. And that's the type of investment and engagement that I think is gonna be really important and a real opportunity for us to change up, particularly in these places that when you look at the map, they just look red. But then when you can get underneath that, there might be some opportunities where we can actually make a difference, pick up some of those seats, and start changing who's representing these folks. [00:12:51] Crystal Fincher: And part of that is also recruiting candidates. You talked about recruiting great candidates - that's been an area where there have been some excellent successes and there's still a lot of opportunity, some things haven't quite been mined yet for opportunity. What do you see the Party's role in developing leaders, and what can the Party do to help that happen? [00:13:12] Shasti Conrad: Yeah, I think - for years, we've talked about developing campaign-in-a-box - having some of these templates of - it's just people just don't, they don't know, right? They don't know - how do I find a treasurer? How do I set up a website? How do I - do I need to put a mailer together? How do I call people? How do I do all of these things? And for those of us who've been in this work, we do this year after year, but most people just - they're living their lives, they're not paying attention to the ins and outs of political work. And so I think that's something that we can develop the resources and the tools - there's been, especially in the Trump, post-Trump era - there've been a number of outside organizations that have developed really solid candidate training programs like Emerge, Institute for a Democratic Future, there's Run for Something, She Should Run - there's a bunch of these different organizations that are doing a great job. And I think that that's where we can partner with those folks. We've had our own candidate training program at Rise and Organize in the State Party. I am really passionate about training up the next generation of staffers and campaign managers and doing that type of leadership as well, because I also think that that's partially what we're missing in the ecosystem - is all of that support. So you get someone who's gonna step forward and decide to run, but they need help - they need a Crystal Fincher in their support system. And we need to be developing more of us that can help them do that, so I think that's something that we'll tackle in this next cycle as well, if the State Party is developing that training and organizing training. And then on the candidate recruitment side, it's really, it's just, it's finding those gems of talent. There are such great community leaders who - they're really active in their churches or they're really active - they're a nonprofit leader. They're doing this great work, but they just never thought about running for office. But talking about the impact and talking about - Okay, you're able to do this great work in your community or in your job. Let's take it to the macro level. Let's help you be able to do it for cities, and school boards, and the State Legislature, and things like that. [00:15:20] Crystal Fincher: Another issue that I think people on the ground, who may not pay close attention to party politics but they look around and they look at who Democrats are nationally, looking locally who are Democrats - wondering - there's lots of talk about - Okay, should Democrats be trying to win voters who may be disaffected from the Republican Party, or focus more on turning out people who may not be motivated to vote often for whatever reason. Do you do both? Do you do neither? What is that? And who is the base? Who is the party? Who is a Democrat? How do you approach that? Is this a big tent party that takes anyone? Is this a party that has strict ideological boundaries? What do you think that is and what will your approach be as Chair? [00:16:12] Shasti Conrad: Certainly, and I think that those answers are different in different places throughout the state, throughout the country. We are certainly a big tent. We have to create a space where the Party feels like it's welcoming, feels like it's inclusive, feels like it's a place where folks can make it their own. We need to be clear and aligned in our values - which is that we stand up for human rights, we stand up for people who are vulnerable, we're about choice, we're about freedom. These are the things that we are clear about. But there are some places where - I go back to CD3 because of just, it's the most, it's the biggest example of where that was a real opportunity for growth for us, because Marie Perez really did have to have conversations with folks who had been supporters of the Republican Party, who had voted for Jaime Herrera Beutler. But as the Republican Party has become more and more radicalized - where they are - they're not speaking for folks who maybe are a little bit conservative in their, some of their values, but for the most part are just trying to feed their families, get to work, pay the bills. The Republican Party has abandoned those folks too. And we have to be able to say the Democratic Party will make space for you if you are willing to recognize that there are some of these lines that will not be crossed, which is that we believe that everyone has right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and all of that. And then I also think that we have to expand the base. And that means really making investments with - into communities of color, young people - I think the Party is dealing with a relevancy problem when it comes to young folks, right? Young people have seen across their entire lives the ways in which our biggest challenges keep not being addressed. And at times, on both sides of the aisle, politicians have paid a lot of lip service but nothing changes. You can feel that, you can feel the lack of movement, and then this prioritizing of incrementalism over actually doing big, bold changes - transformative work. And so we have to demonstrate that we actually are going to do the work, that we're going to make the change, that we're going to not just talk the talk. Joe Biden wasn't my first choice as president several years ago, but he has - you have to give him credit for the fact that he has been a very progressive president. We have done big things underneath his leadership the last several years, and we're not doing a good job of talking about that. We're not doing a great job of actually messaging to say - Look at what the childcare tax credit was able to do - it halved childhood poverty, it made a big difference. We are delivering and bringing infrastructure projects back into the state - money is getting moved, things are improving. The economy has been tough, but we're making it through. That's under Democratic leadership. That is without Republicans helping. And . We believe in climate change. The Republicans don't. And these are big issues, particularly I think for young people as they're looking at a future that feels like it might be worse than their parents'. So we've got to do that work. And I think we've got to actually make it action oriented too. And that's a big part of what my job will be and what we will be trying to set with the State Party is that direction and that - those changes to make the Party feel like it is a much more welcoming place and a place where people can do good work and see change happen. [00:19:55] Crystal Fincher: I think that's spot on, really smart to recognize. Younger people actually are - definitely are feeling disaffected, trying to find reasons why they should trust institutions or institutional power after seeing so many examples of it not being helpful. And that you have to have an action-oriented approach that enables people to see the change around them without relying on rhetoric or seeing that rhetoric unfulfilled. With that, how do you play a role in messaging what Democrats are doing on a national and statewide level? How can the party improve that? [00:20:34] Shasti Conrad: One of my frustration points from the last several years is I have felt we spent a lot of time identifying and speaking about our values in reaction to the other side. And you heard me probably just do it just a few minutes ago. And so often we put ourselves against - because that's who they are, we are this. And I think it's important that we start to make the shift where we start to take some of the power back and start to control the narrative by saying - This is what it means to be a Democrat. And this is what Democrats are delivering. This is what Democrats are doing. Like I said, we are the party of choice and freedom and opportunity and optimism. We're more than just the fight, right? And also I think a lot of times we just talk about winning and losing elections, but I wanna take us also to the - how are we making a difference in people's lives? What does it mean to win? Because just winning - sure, we pat ourselves on the back, we get to run up the score and be like - Look, we have this many more than them and good for us. But is it actually making a change? Are people actually feeling like they are better represented, that their lives are improving because we have the majority in the State Legislature here in Washington state? I think that's true, but we have to make sure that we're talking about that. When things are getting passed through the State Legislature, when we're taking up the middle income housing bill, when we're taking up gun safety bills, when we are looking at the wealth tax - these are things that are going to actually make an improvement on people's experience, what their time on this earth is gonna be like. And that, I think, is really important for us to talk about and take it to that next step. And I think folks are tired - they're tired of the - we get these emails where it's like urgent, deadline, biggest fight of our lives. And it's hard because it's true - every election is, feels like it's the most important one - but at some point that just, it's burning folks out. And so we've got to just be able to be honest and level with folks - Hey, I don't know if this is gonna be radically different, but this is the right step that we need to take. It's like I-135 - I was so happily surprised that it did as well as it did. It's a step in the right direction. Is it gonna solve the housing and homelessness crisis in Seattle? No, but it is going to help us move in a direction where we can actually start to look at some solutions. And so I'm grateful that folks decided to step forward and vote and participate and do, especially in an off-cycle, odd year election. And again, it's we just have to be - we have to be able to level with folks. And that, I think, is a change in tone that I hope I can help to bring to the Party here in Washington state. [00:23:22] Crystal Fincher: I think Seattle's Initiative 135 for social housing is a really great and instructive example for how we can organize and what the opportunity is. We saw seniors who were afraid that they weren't gonna be able to age in place. We saw young people who wanted to make sure that there was gonna be a space for them in the community - urbanists, communities of color. The DSA was canvassing in support. We saw local democratic party organizations - from the King County Democrats, 46th District Democrats, and a number of folks and coalitions coming together. Some elected leaders, community leaders, activists - all coalescing around this. And really willed that to victory, as you said, during an off-year - not in those higher turnout elections that have Congresspeople and the president on the ballot. And in February, no less - I'm still excited by that. But it does bring up some interesting questions going back to - Okay, who is a Democrat and who is the Democratic Party there to serve? Because in Washington state, particularly to a degree that a lot of other states don't, there's an interesting dynamic here in that it's not just the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Certainly we have very competitive Democratic and Republican races - we've both been involved in quite a few of those. But also in several areas in King County, especially in Seattle, Washington - Republicans aren't as much of a competitive party to Democrats as the DSA, Democratic Socialists of America, or the People's Party. People who predominantly skew younger and don't necessarily find themselves completely aligned with the Democratic Party - a lot of times due to national issues - but are saying, I am aligned with these values. I am finding more action and I feel that there is more honesty about those values outside of the Democratic Party in something like the DSA or other organizations. And that playing out in interesting ways, whether it's access to the Party database and VoteBuilder, endorsements in local party organizations, and so on and so forth. How will you be going about defining who is a Democrat, in ways that are consequential when it comes to running for office or advancing policy and the utilization of State Party resources? [00:25:52] Shasti Conrad: You have to be able to say that you're a Democrat, right? You have to be willing to identify as a Democrat in order for us to be able to share those resources. It's like any other kind of club or organization - you have to be willing to sit with us at the lunch table and say that you're willing to work with us to be able to do that. But I am clear that, particularly in urban areas in Seattle and King County in particular, that we as a Democratic Party - we have been losing out folks to alternative parties. You mentioned DSA, Working Families Party, the People's Party - we have been losing out. And particularly young people are finding that moving to some of these other parties is where they feel like they identify better, that they feel like they're being seen, that they feel like they're able to get more work done. And I think that's something that we have to address. We talk a lot about recruitment. We talk a lot about trying to get people to come into the Party. But I don't think we've spent enough time really talking about - what is the experience of being in the Party? It's the retention piece of it - it is the experience of when you come into a party organization - who are you being met by? Are our folks being welcoming? It's not a secret that a lot of our Party spaces are - it's mostly run by folks that are older, it's retired folks - because they have the time. And I value that work - so I've learned from so many of our elders, who have been organizing and doing this work since the '60s, right? And they have committed their lives to doing this. And that is something that I value and appreciate and respect. But you look at any kind of organization, company, brand - and if your workforce was all 65 and older, you would say - That's probably not a sustainable brand. We've got to figure something out. And so I think making room to create these intergenerational communities where younger people can see themselves - and not just as tokenized members, but as leaders. I'm the first woman of color in this role. And I'm also the youngest Chair - I'm under 40, and that makes me the youngest Chair in Washington State Party's history. And I think that I'm a marker of showing what - this next generation of leadership - that it's time. It's time for us to move into these roles and into - both in terms of the visibility, but also in just the change in perspective and the ways that we organize. And that's something that I think is - we're gonna have to show that. We do a lot of telling, but we're gonna have to really demonstrate that those changes are gonna happen. And that - particularly those younger folks that are choosing to go to other spaces, that they can see themselves in the work. Really quickly, I'll just say Maurice Mitchell, who's the head of the Working Families Party nationally, wrote a really beautiful article a couple months ago where he talked about what was needed for continuing the work in the progressive movement. And he talked about the need to be able to meet the moment, to build winning coalitions, and to bring joy into the work. And what I say to that is - I agree 100% - we are in alignment there. It's just maybe a little bit of a difference in tactics and in institutions. My sense is that the Democratic Party is what we have and what will be here, and that it needs to be built and transformed from within - to be able to meet the moment, to be able to build winning coalitions. And we've got to infuse it with more joy - to push back against the institutional burnout that is happening everywhere. And my hope is by doing that, folks will see that we, the Democratic Party, can also be a part of where they can do their organizing work. It can be a part of the coalitions that they want to be a part of, and that they'll see themselves as members of the Democratic Party, alongside maybe some of these other organizations. [00:29:49] Crystal Fincher: And following up on that - just because this has come up in so many different situations and circumstances here in Washington state, so you say - Okay, you need to be a member of the Party. Can someone align themselves with more than one party? If they say - Hey, I'm in DSA and I'm a Democrat? Do you feel that that counts as membership in the Democratic Party? Does it have to be exclusively the Democratic Party? I know some local party organizations have different approaches to this. What is the State Party approach? [00:30:21] Shasti Conrad: It is a case-by-case scenario. Again, as we talked about earlier, each of the party organizations have their own rules, their own sets of how they do things. And so I don't think that it's right for us, at the state, to go against what some of those different organizations have said. So it is case by case, but I will always just advocate that I want folks to feel proud to be a Democrat and so it is important - to be able to have access to resources and whatnot - that they are willing to say that and are willing to come and be a part of the work. And we have wonderful volunteers that are part of this Party that are doing great work. And I hope that folks who maybe have been a little bit wary of getting involved in the Party will just come and give it a try, and will see that it's a new day and folks are, I think, a bit more willing to work with people who come from different backgrounds and different perspectives. [00:31:17] Crystal Fincher: Definitely. And it is a very King County-centric issue to be having to negotiate through - Okay, we seem to be aligned on values, but this person says they're in the People's Party and we're Democrats - and working through that. But what has happened in situations where there is a clear lack of alignment, whether it be from people who are self-labeling themselves as Democrats - but who are predominantly supported by Republicans, or just officially endorsed by the Republican Party, have a history supporting and donating to Republicans. And that has been called out by your predecessor, Tina Podlodowski, in a few different situations - revoking access to the Party database, or preventing access to Party resources, and standing behind the refusal to endorse from several organizations. Do you anticipate that continuing? What's your approach to people who seem to be clearly misaligned, but who insist on calling themselves Democrats? [00:32:22] Shasti Conrad: Certainly, this is - probably at times I was somebody who was like - Hey, Tina, what do we do here? And maybe was pushing her in some ways on some of these issues. And now, as I'm in the role, I understand better what the challenges are - 'cause it's nuanced. To be able to set one policy that works for the entire state, it's difficult because the issues here in King County are - this person wants to organize with the Working Families Party, can they also be considered a Democrat? In other parts of the state, it's - No, this person is a full Republican, but we don't have any Democrats that are running. Can we endorse the Republican? And then we even had a case last year in King County where somebody was running as a Democrat who was on a - that was for a white supremacist rally. And those are our data we have to be so careful with. This is people's personal private data that we are responsible for, and so we have to be careful about how that is shared. And so that is something that I take very seriously. And I think that there's a lot more that we could be doing to ensure privacy and security for our candidates, for our elected officials, for our members, for our volunteers, and whatnot. And so these are things that I now think about when making these types of decisions - that it was easier when I wasn't in the catbird seat to be able to say - Hey, why can't we do X, Y, and Z? And it's - Now I'm on the inside, I get it. So these will be things that we'll get and review as they come up, but it is certainly a challenge and I think making sure that our folks are safe is the number one priority. [00:34:06] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense. There was - speaking of folks being safe - several notable instances of predominantly Black candidates and staff members of those Black candidates being targeted for violence and hostility during campaigns. Several of those instances made news, several more didn't - but certainly a concern among people who are volunteering and who are turning out in the Party apparatus to help their local and federal candidates. What is the Party's responsibility in keeping candidates safe, especially those candidates who have shown to be targeted at a higher rate than others? And what more can the Party do to address that? [00:34:50] Shasti Conrad: Absolutely, yeah. It's candidates - it's also their staff and their volunteers. We had a number of cases this last year where a Black campaign manager was targeted. We had volunteers who were followed and whatnot. Already, I've talked with members of our Black Caucus to say - Let's be proactive. 'Cause one of the things that I've heard quite a bit was - these things would happen, and then after the fact, there'd be some kind of - Okay, now what? But then action maybe wasn't taken. And we know that the environment that we are in right now is - it's very heightened. And that's particularly, it's even though that white hot light is even harder on people of color - we just know that particularly Black people. So I definitely want to be proactive in making sure that we have thought through safety and security plans as folks are starting to get back out on the campaign trail, that we have talked through what kind of security support we can provide. I think it's something that needs to be tackled by the ecosystem, so that's something that needs to be worked through with the caucuses as well - the House and the Senate - because they also support folks that are running for those seats. And working with the specific folks to make sure that this is something that they actually want. And yeah, I take it very seriously. And I think about it too - I'm a woman of color who - I live in south Snohomish County and I've got white supremacists in my neighborhood. And I know that feeling - both in terms of there's a physical threat, but there's also the psychological, the emotional, the mental, like all of that - of just knowing that these folks that are right here, who want to destroy what we believe in and want to hurt us, right? They see us as the enemy, so I take all of that very, very seriously. And I think that's something I would love to maybe come back - and if you can help me put together a group too - to talk through what that looks like and how we can build solid safety plans for our folks. [00:36:48] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely - have been involved in those conversations - happy to be helpful in any way I can. You talked about Marie Gluesenkamp Perez earlier who, in the Third Congressional District, won what was probably the biggest upset in the country last November - in winning her race over Joe Kent for the seat previously held by Jaime Herrera Beutler. What do you take away as lessons from that race, and how will Democrats be showing up in rural areas in your tenure? [00:37:18] Shasti Conrad: I think it was clear - we can't miss these opportunities. We can't take them for granted. We have to do the direct people-to-people organizing. And I think it's particularly true in rural communities, but I find that it's true also in communities of color where - in these places where they have often felt left behind, dismissed by the Democratic Party, we have to build trust - and it takes showing up, not just showing up only in the fall of an even year, but it takes showing up throughout the year, being there. And it's being neighborly. It's like - How are you? What do you need? What's going on in your life? It's asking and actually getting to know folks. Something a lot of people don't know about me, but I actually grew up on a farm. I grew up in a small town in Oregon. I grew up on a farm - we had ducks and chickens and sheep. My task as a small kid was to go get the eggs from the chicken coop every day, and I talked about this a lot as I was campaigning and whatnot. My grandmother really taught me how we would trade the chicken eggs with the neighbor down the street who had a beehive and we would get honey from them. And then you'd have the neighborly conversation of - Hey, how are you? How are the kids? You'd get to know - okay, if you wanted to meet up with so and so, the best time to see them was at church. Or everybody would go to the local Shari's and go after church. Or if you wanted to talk to Bob, you'd see him at the local pub on Wednesday nights - and that's where you would find these folks. And so getting to actually know them, talk to them - that it takes this people-to-people, conversation-by-conversation relationship building to be able to demonstrate that you are a real person who cares and wants to make their lives better. And because they know you, and you're saying - I believe that Marie Gluesenkamp Perez is gonna make the difference - then they'll trust you. And that just takes time. You have to operate at the speed of trust. And that's particularly true, I think, in rural communities - but I am finding that to be the case in the Latino community, in the tribal communities, Black community, Asian API community - this is true just with organizing and with people, but particularly with folks who have felt like they've been sold a bill of goods before by many politicians. So yeah, so I think this type of organizing is what matters. I just heard about - last week, there was a house party for Marie and 140 people showed up - and that's exciting. And in February of an even year - folks are excited - they want to help. They wanna make sure that we return Marie in two years and that she has the support. Marie held the first town hall that that district had had in years because Jaime Herrera Beutler wasn't doing town halls. And she's talking to people who didn't vote for her. And she's talking to people who didn't think that she would represent them. And she's demonstrating - no, I represent this whole district and I'm gonna show up - even if you're gonna tell me you don't like me, I'm here. And that is what we have to do. And it's gonna take several years probably for some of these districts to change, particularly in Central and Eastern Washington. But if we make the investment, we do the organizing work - we have to be ready for when an opportunity presents itself for us to get that and flip those seats. [00:40:38] Crystal Fincher: So I know we're right at the beginning of your tenure - you're just starting out, learning everything, getting your feet underneath you. But what might that look like operationally and in practice? Is that more satellite offices across the state and in rural areas? Is that hiring a different kind of organizer underneath a different kind of model? What can that look like? [00:40:59] Shasti Conrad: Everything costs money, and so I have to go raise the money to go make this happen. But my dream is to develop a organizing pipeline that is particular to rural communities, and maybe even developing an organizing fellowship at some of the rural colleges, community colleges throughout the state - where we can actually develop folks who come from the communities to get the right training, but then get hired into the organizing jobs - onto the Coordinated Campaign where we can actually keep them and support them so that they're not only there for a few months at a time, but actually are building these relationships over several years. And then when we have a Coordinated Campaign and that's over, that we have a place to be able to move those organizers - to go work with the unions and do union organizing when it's not high campaign season and then move them over to us, getting them into internship programs with different agencies and things like that. I benefited from the fact that I was a college student who graduated into Barack Obama running for president back in 2008. And had I not had those opportunities early in my life, early in my career - I would not be here today, I would have picked another job, I wouldn't have stayed in politics. But there were opportunities that presented themselves - and the mentors and people supporting me - and then one job turned into another and suddenly it's been 15+ years and here I am. And I just think that there's so many Shastis out there. There's so many folks, but they just haven't had the opportunity and the support. And like the rest of the country and so many other industries, young people are like - How am I gonna take care of myself? How am I gonna pay the bills? And if politics and working for a local government and whatnot doesn't pay the bills and those opportunities aren't there - they're gonna leave their home communities, and they're gonna take jobs with Amazon, or they're gonna take jobs that are steady paychecks, and we're gonna lose them for a generation. They're gonna - it's hard to get off those trains when you're on them. And so we've got to build those opportunities, and we've got to - one of the things that I'm really excited about potentially doing is I really wanna work with the youth councils on the reservations to really talk about job opportunities in the political sector - and running for office themselves - but also being a campaign manager, being an organizer, finding those opportunities. So that they can see that there's this whole other world of opportunities and jobs that could help them to stay in their own communities, but also take them around the world to work on other campaigns all over the place if they would like to. [00:43:42] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense. And thank you for spending all of this time with us, being generous with your time. As we begin to wrap up, I want to draw inward a little bit. We've talked about what the Party will be doing within the community and your approach to that. But I also wanna talk about staff, really - of the State Party, of campaigns, of Democratic electeds serving in office - and this conversation that we've been having, that's been evolving, about unionization, working conditions, supporting workers in that. We have lots of labor partners, as a Party entity, and alignments there. But there has been, frankly, a mixed reception from a lot of people when it comes to the unionization of campaign workers, for campaigns across the board - this is something that has certainly made it to legislative and congressional campaigns. There may be conversations about that in some local campaigns - we have seen a few instances of that. But also within the Party, legislative staffers just had a battle to get some of that kicked off. Do you think that campaign workers should be able to be represented by a union? And what guidance and examples are you providing for local electeds and other progressive organizations? [00:45:02] Shasti Conrad: 100%. I actually believe that the State Party - under Tina's leadership, to give credit where credit's due - was the first State Party to unionize. And that's not without its challenges, right? People have been figuring it out as they go - we've been building the plane as we flew it, and so I think that's been - some of the trying to find the right home for Campaign Workers Union, trying to work through the particular seasonal working issues that come with being on campaigns and whatnot. But I think it's incredibly important. I remember what it was like as a young person where I was in unpaid internships - I was certainly working way more than 40 hours a week at times on campaigns and didn't have much recourse of things were happening, where to go to. And so I think it's a vast improvement of where we were 10 years ago, 20 years ago - certainly the last couple of years. So yeah, I think we will certainly encourage the candidates that come through that they should unionize their staff, depending on the size, on all of that - but I think it's really important. I did the Pathway to Power program last year that's put on by the Washington State Labor Council and learned a lot about labor issues, but learned a lot also about - in the role of candidate or chair or whatnot, how to leave room for your staff and workers to be able to unionize and the ways to show support. But also that means sometimes taking a step back and allowing them to take the lead and not having - you now have to see yourself as a manager, and not putting yourself on both sides of the table and things like that. So there's things that we're still working through to have all of this stuff figure itself out, but I think it's incredibly important. I was excited to see that I believe the - nationally, I believe that the Democratic Congressional staffers unionized and I think here in Washington State, we're gonna continue to see those unionizing efforts happen in all parts of our ecosystem, and I think it's a really exciting thing. As I've been talking to labor union leaders - particularly the last few weeks, like I've just said - some of the best progressive wins of the last several years have been labor wins. And so we have to be good partners, and that includes unionizing efforts of our own staff, our own teams. [00:47:16] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely, completely agree. And thank you for spending this time with us today. We'll be following along as things progress and look forward to speaking with you again. Thanks so much, Shasti. [00:47:26] Shasti Conrad: Thank you so much - always a joy to see you and spend time with you. Thanks so much. [00:47:29] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is co produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes. Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.
It’s set to be a big week for watchers of the larger U.S. economy — Fed Chair Jerome Powell will testify to Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday, while the February jobs report comes out Friday. We spoke with economist Julia Coronado about what we should expect in the week ahead. Vehicles, a good that enjoyed high demand and high prices during the peak of the pandemic, are now in lower demand partly because of elevated interest rates and inflation-weary consumers. And, a look at why some big cities in France are banning electronic billboards.
It’s set to be a big week for watchers of the larger U.S. economy — Fed Chair Jerome Powell will testify to Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday, while the February jobs report comes out Friday. We spoke with economist Julia Coronado about what we should expect in the week ahead. Vehicles, a good that enjoyed high demand and high prices during the peak of the pandemic, are now in lower demand partly because of elevated interest rates and inflation-weary consumers. And, a look at why some big cities in France are banning electronic billboards.
On this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, political consultant and host Crystal Fincher is joined by elite advocate, member of The Urbanist Election Committee, and Political Manager at the Washington Bus, specializing in legislative advocacy and electoral organizing with young people, Jazmine Smith! They catch up on legislative updates from Olympia, including free school meals and other education bills, housing and transportation, public safety, voter rights and name change legislation. They also discuss the legislature's desire to exempt themselves from many public disclosure requirements that other elected officials are subject to. They also discuss the state's first auction of carbon pollution allowances after the passage of the Climate Commitment Act and what that might mean for green investment and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, several school districts planning school closures and layoffs because of funding shortfalls that require legislative funding to solve, the impact of SNAP food assistance benefit reductions for families. Crystal and Jazmine conclude with a discussion of speed camera traffic safety enforcement in response to the need to improve safety on our streets and the impacts of police increased surveillance within BIPOC and lower-income communities, as well as some proposed mitigations to those issues. As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find today's co-host, Jazmine Smith at @jazzyspraxis. Jazmine Smith Jazmine Smith is the Political Manager at the Washington Bus, specializing in legislative advocacy and electoral organizing with young people. She also is an urbanism organizer, serving on The Urbanist's Election committee, with the Queen Anne Community Council as the Transportation Committee co-chair, the Uptown Alliance's Land Use Review Committee and is a WSDCC Rep for the 36th LD. Resources “Marc Dones and the State of King County's Homelessness Crisis Response” from Hacks & Wonks “Announcing our 2023 Legislative Priorities!” | The Washington Bus “WA legislators scrap plan for free school lunch for all students” by David Gutman from The Seattle Times “Washington's Middle Housing Bill Is Still Alive with Further Amendments” by Stephen Fesler from The Urbanist “As Density Bills Move Forward, It's Statewide Housing Goals vs. "Local Control"” by Ryan Packer from PubliCola “This WA bill could make it easier and safer to change your name” by Taija PerryCook from Crosscut “New Drug Possession Bill Emphasizes Coercive Treatment” by Andrew Engelson from PubliCola “Member of WA's ‘Sunshine Committee' quits, cites lawmakers' inaction” by Claire Withycombe from The Seattle Times “WA's government transparency committee is ready to call it quits” by Joseph O'Sullivan from Crosscut “WA enters new era of putting a price on greenhouse-gas pollution” by Hal Bernton from The Seattle Times “Cap-and-trade takes Washington businesses, ratepayers into the unknown” by Don Jenkins from Capital Press “First auction held for ‘licenses to pollute' in Washington” by Bellamy Pailthorp from KNKX “Seattle Schools notifying employees of possible layoffs” by Monica Velez from The Seattle Times “Local school district estimates $12 million deficit without staffing, program changes” by Aspen Shumpert from The News Tribune “Everett schools may slash 140 jobs to deal with $28M deficit” by Jerry Cornfield from The Everett Herald “Additional pandemic-era SNAP benefits to end March 1” by Bridget Chavez from KIRO 7 News “Seattle has ignored concerns over SPD use of surveillance technologies, community members say” by Guy Oron from Real Change News “What's Next for Traffic Cameras in Seattle?” | Whose Streets? Our Streets! “OPINION | Seattle's Automated Traffic Cameras Disproportionately Target Neighborhoods of Color” by Ethan C. Campbell and Nura Ahmed for The South Seattle Emerald Transcript [00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. If you missed our Tuesday midweek show, Marc Dones, CEO of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, returned to catch up on how the response to the homelessness crisis is faring since our conversation last year. Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a cohost. Welcome to the program for the first time today's cohost: member of The Urbanist Election Committee, one of my favorite follows on social media, and Political Manager at the Washington Bus, specializing in legislative advocacy and electoral organizing with young people, Jazmine Smith. Hey! [00:01:18] Jazmine Smith: Hi, thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited. [00:01:22] Crystal Fincher: Excited to have you, excited to welcome you for the first time and so serious when I say that you're one of my favorite follows on social media all across social media, whether it's Twitter or TikTok or whatever. But there's a lot happening this week, starting with what's going on in the Legislature, which you are involved with a lot there and following closely. So what are we excited about? What are we sad about? We just passed another cutoff, meaning that if bills didn't make it through the hoops that they needed to that some people have issues with calling them dead, but at least dormant until next session at minimum. So what is still alive and what's not? What's caught your eye? [00:02:07] Jazmine Smith: Yeah, the ones that I've been mostly following are the ones that we cover for work because we have a whole lot of different issues that we're covering four main buckets and so I've been really focused on those. One of the big ones being the wealth tax and guaranteed basic income that's the tax the rich, fund the people stuff. The free school meals, which had a floor vote yesterday and we'll talk more about. But a whole host of democracy access bills as well, and just making sure that we improve our system every way. So there's a lot going on and it's been wild trying to keep track of all of them. [00:02:46] Crystal Fincher: It is. Let's talk about the school meals because this is a bill that I was extremely excited about. We have tons of data, even got more through the pandemic and some of the extra provisions that were provided that show providing meals and assistance to kids helps reduce hunger. And hunger is an impediment to learning. So this should be something that is uncontroversial yes, we're requiring kids to be in school, we should feed them while we're there. This is uncontroversial and sailed through to passage, right? [00:03:21] Jazmine Smith: Right? You would think. I remember back when - I was teaching before this, I was working in elementary school - and during COVID and that shift back to in-person that happened in that spring, it was so nice having kids just be able to grab their lunches - we were doing half days and whatnot - and breakfast and not have to worry about checking in, and getting the codes in, do they have money for this? And then there were a number of students that I talked to that don't normally pick up lunches, but really appreciated the opportunity to have some extra food and whatnot. It was really great to see and I was really excited to hear in the fall that this was a priority for not just OSPI, but from the Legislature. And so that's why when fiscal cutoff hit last week - and it was really surprising to see that it had been reduced down. [00:04:15] Crystal Fincher: So when you say reduced down, what has happened to the bill? [00:04:19] Jazmine Smith: So it went from free school meals for all, breakfast and lunch, to being specifically targeted at K-4 schools and with specific percentages of free and reduced lunch qualified students. So it's no longer a universal for all - which is what was promised - what we were doing during the pandemic, and what I think the starting point and ending point should be. [00:04:46] Crystal Fincher: And there's a big conversation tangential to this about means testing and how that adds an additional layer of bureaucracy at quite a significant expense. And as we talk about school funding later, that absolutely contributes and makes a difference in how that cuts a lot of people who are still in need and even some who may qualify - that is a barrier to access. And means testing, being one of those - I don't want to say neoliberal - but one of those ideas that came with justifications like - we can't allow people who are just rich, who can pay for it to do it. But why not - why is it wrong to feed kids who are hungry, no matter what their background is? And again, if we're requiring them to be there, why don't we just do that? But throwing means testing back into this and paring it down so much is certainly not what we wanted to see - better than nothing, definitely - but let's push and do all we can. There are Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and we have a Democratic governor, so this was something that I was hoping could get through. When it comes to school funding, there are also challenges across the board that several school districts are paying attention to when it comes to special education funding and different things like that. Where do we stand in terms of education policy in this legislative session? [00:06:17] Jazmine Smith: We have a lot of catching up to do with funding for schools - that's where issues with the wealth tax will come in - and just how dramatically underfunded our schools are, both in the general, but also in special ed programmings. And so was, again, really excited to see special education funding remove a cap - we should be supporting all of our students, but then that gets switched back. And so we have a lot of catching up to do and we need to fund our schools and I'm not seeing that happen to the level that it needs to. [00:06:53] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. What is happening in terms of housing and transportation? [00:06:58] Jazmine Smith: Housing - we have a lot of bills coming through where we're attacking all issues. We've got transit-oriented development, TOD - wanted to, thinking about transit on demand, like I wish - transit-oriented development. And then the missing middle bill being back - watching for that - it passed through the House and wanting Senate to keep it going through the - we've been hearing a lot of conversations. And so with the city council meetings that I've been popping in on, watching - we're hearing a lot from different governments being nervous about 1110, the missing middle bill, and a lot of conversations about local control and whatnot. But this is beyond a local control problem. This is a problem where we need all the housing everywhere and we need to be doing everything we can. And it's been shown that local control hasn't been working. And when each individual city and town says - We're not against housing, we just don't want housing here - who are we excluding and where are we passing the buck to? And where are people allowed to live? And then it's just a rehash of the 1923 problem where zoning restricted all of these places where people could live and created the problem where we're standing now with the Comp Plan - comprehensive plan process. [00:08:35] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and so middle housing is still alive - increasing development near transit centers and in more dense areas are still alive. But we've talked before about a lot of cities talking about the issue of local control saying - Hey, yeah, there may be a problem, but one-size-fits-all policy from the state is not how we feel comfortable addressing this. That if we could make our own requirements that fit our own city - what works for Seattle is not necessarily what works in Spokane or Cle Elum or Gig Harbor and different things. And so we all need to do this differently. The challenge in what a lot of people are saying and what has grown the coalition in support of this legislation has been - Well, you've been saying that for years. And we've been waiting for you, while you've been saying that for years, to take the action that you feel is appropriate for your city. And what has happened in most cities is that no action has been taken, while housing prices continue to skyrocket. A lot of times we hear about these pricing issues, predominantly in Seattle - is the highest-priced region, area in the state - but this is impacting Spokane, it's impacting Southwest Washington, Pierce County. It's a statewide issue. And since cities have not taken appropriate action to address the massive housing shortage driving an increase in long-term prices across the board, it's now time for the state to step in and take action, which is how a lot of these things work. But that has resulted, as these conversations happen, in - some might call it negotiation, others might call it watering down or compromise in these bills. And so when they talk about the requirement of cities going from - Hey, any city with 6,000 residents or, and now that's moved to 25,000 residents. Okay - bigger, larger-size cities we're exempting, smaller cities we're exempting the types of areas that this would apply to. If they're in a watershed or different types of areas of development, they're exempting them. So these are the conversations going on in these negotiations. It looks like certainly these bills will pass. The question is how will they be amended and what compromises will occur in order to get them to pass both houses. So they continue to move through the process, but this is an area where staying engaged is definitely helpful. Now there's another bill that I think is really important to talk about - in addition to rolling back police pursuits, which we've talked about before - and now they're asking to expand, once again, the conditions under which they can pursue vehicles. They can pursue vehicles now. Sometimes in the conversation, it sounds confusing - and some people talk about it as if they're prohibited from pursuing anyone now, but they certainly can. But there's another piece of legislation which would make it more efficient, easier, more streamlined to change someone's name. And this is very impactful for the trans community, for people who've experienced intimate partner violence, for refugees who - having an old name and some of the requirements like advertising publicly that you intend to change your name - we don't require that for a lot of other things. These are unnecessary hoops to jump through. They also cost money. We have to have people to administer these things and especially with all of the attacks on the trans community, particularly, but also in terms of intimate partner violence - if someone has a stalker, advertising publicly, Hey, I'm changing my name, just flies in the face of the safety that people are seeking from changing their name. If someone can just easily find out that they're changing their name, that doesn't address any issue there. So excited to see that moving through the process and hope it does. Any other legislation that you have your eye on right now? [00:12:39] Jazmine Smith: We've got a couple of democracy-related bills that we've been following - updating the online voter registration system is going to make it more accessible. Currently, if you have a driver's license, that's the only way - or Washington state ID - that's the only way to utilize the online voter registration system, which leaves out a lot of folks who are recently moved, don't have that specific form of documentation - and that's disproportionately impacting of poor folks, folks who are experiencing homelessness that might've lost their ID, young people who are not interested in driving. I know I've heard that there's a huge bump in young people that just aren't interested in being drivers at this point, and so they don't have a driver's license and there's barriers to that. So that has passed. It has a hearing in the House side now. And then also updating the automatic voter registration so that it - the way it currently sits, folks are asked when they're updating their driver's license or going and registering for the first time - and it can put people who aren't actually eligible to vote in a position where they might accidentally register, not realizing. 'Cause different countries have different rules on who can and can't vote and whatnot. And just in a quick transaction, then, that could put someone's future citizenship at risk because they accidentally registered - so making that both more streamlined and safer for everyone involved. And then also moving city and town elections to even years. So we did that in King County this last election and there are other jurisdictions, say Seattle, that want the opportunity to be able to have their elections when the most people are voting - when they have a full electorate of young people, Black and Brown people, the people who don't have water views, being fully represented and having that turnout that we want in any election. Any representative should be representing their whole community of constituents. And so allowing other towns to join in - will be really exciting to see that move. [00:15:00] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And then when it comes to some of the public safety bills - unfortunately, the bill banning solitary confinement has died again this year. They're still working on the legislation in response to the Blake decision from our State Supreme Court, which - that decision made personal possession of substances - just decriminalized them, legalized them across the board. Our Legislature stepped in a couple of years ago and set some uniform standards that did recriminalize them across the state, albeit lesser penalties. And it looks like they're staying on that path with that legislation this year. The reason why they have to take it up is that there was a sunset provision in the prior legislation for this year. So they have to do something new and it looks like they're not substantively changing, necessarily, their approach to that. They're not looking at decriminalization further, it appears, but we will see. And the deadline for bills to make it out of their house of origin is March 8th, which will be coming up next week. So we will certainly see then what has survived and what has not. Also in news this week - just looking at some legislative transparency problems. While they're doing all this legislating and having all these conversations - there's a lot of information, a lot of deliberation, a lot of communication and testimony that happens. And they talk about their actions and their reasoning. And typically this is available to the public via public disclosure. Lots of times we see in the paper - investigations or information that is found via requests for this information, because these are public servants being paid for with public dollars. The theory is, and how it has worked largely, is that their work is subject to public disclosure and accountability. And the Legislature holds themselves to some different standards, and it has been continuing to raise eyebrows. What is happening here? [00:17:07] Jazmine Smith: That's what I really wanna know, and that's the heart of the question - is what is happening. And with legislative privilege - finding that line between working on the bills and the issues and all of the different nuances - but we do have a right to know what's going on - why did this bill die? What happened behind the scenes? And not all of that is in the public record. A lot of that is conversations that you're having with a person face-to-face or whatnot. But been seeing in the courts with a lawsuit regarding legislative privilege, and also some things that came up last year that were subject to a public disclosure request. And now we're starting to get bits and pieces through someone who used to work at the Legislature, Jamie Nixon, and what they've been able to release. Their Twitter has been keeping a lot of information up-to-date, but then also different reports from other folks following the Legislature. So it will definitely be interesting to see - what is going on, how does legislative privilege hide what's happened, and what is that line? We're still actively working on an issue, but everyone deserves to know - why aren't things getting passed? Why did this happen? What is the background on all of these issues? [00:18:30] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and essentially to your point, what they're doing is claiming legislative privilege for things that - if they were discussed or happened in other areas of government, if it was a city council or a mayor or county council, school board, that they would be subject to disclosure - but we're receiving heavily redacted documents in response to public disclosure requests and them saying - No, we don't have to turn this over. And over time, they continue to implement exceptions and loopholes for different situations or circumstances where they don't have to disclose public documents. And this has raised the ire of certainly several journalists, of the Washington Coalition for Open Government. This is not really a partisan issue - this applies to both parties. There was a hearing where there was a Republican member defending these exceptions, and we've had plenty of Democrats do that, but it does raise questions about - if we don't know what's going into these deliberations, if there is no lever of accountability, what is really happening behind closed doors - and does that foster more productive, ethical, legal conversation? Or even just - there may be plenty of things that don't have anything to do with legality, not saying that people are doing things wrong, but the public should be able to see how decisions are made, how these discussions are going, and there is significant resistance to doing that to the degree that has become the standard for everyone else in the Legislature. I hope that there are more people there that see the light. There is basically a committee that has been tasked with doing this that is basically throwing their hands up. A lot of people are throwing their hands up - they've had some resignations 'cause they're going - What is the point at this point in time? They seem to be fighting back, not taking our recommendations as they once did, and moving in the opposite direction. So we'll continue to follow that and see how that pans out, but it certainly is a challenge. And we see the importance of public records in so many different things, whether it was understanding how dysfunctional our redistricting process was and what happened with that, whether it was issues like deleted texts that we've seen in the City of Seattle and elsewhere - a lot of investigations and accountability work and making sure that people are just doing what they're supposed to be doing is brought to light as a result of these public disclosure requests. So hopefully we see progress on there. Another thing that happened this week that's pretty significant is a big new step as a result of the Climate Commitment Act, which was a huge monumental piece of legislation meant to address climate change - to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by establishing a price for carbon and essentially setting up a market where there is a cap - saying, Hey, we say that this level of pollution that's currently going on, we're gonna cap it at this level. If you wanna pollute above that level, then you have to buy these credits - or essentially get a permit to pollute above and beyond the established cap. And over time, that cap is supposed to ratchet down - impacting the price that organizations, companies, particularly ones that pollute, and reduce and emit a lot of greenhouse gases can emit. And so whether they are called pollution coupons or credits or that, we just had our very first auction in the state where organizations bought those credits to be able to essentially pollute. Now, a criticism of this system is that - can you really bank on reducing emissions if all someone has to do is pay to continue polluting. And the number of credits you make available - does that negate the cap, if you just continue to allow people to buy pollution credits basically and continue to do that - which in other areas where this has been implemented, most notably in California, hasn't gone well in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So we'll see how that works in our state. But one thing that's undeniable is that this raises a ton of money. This is supposed to raise hundreds of millions just with this first quarterly auction. Over the first couple of years, it's supposed to raise over a billion dollars. And this money raised is supposed to go into investments that help transition to a green economy, to things that reduce greenhouse gas emissions - whether that's electrification, whether that's different initiatives that reduce commuting, whether that's transit, or helping transition companies that are heavy polluters and workers of those companies who are being impacted by the change in their industry to different sectors, investing in solar, the green economy, just a bunch of things. So it'll be interesting to see what these - to get the final tally on what was raised from this auction this time and follow the process to see how those are going to be invested. And to see if the promise of listening to impacted communities - the communities that are hardest hit by greenhouse gas emissions, by climate change and pollution - are we focusing investments in the areas where they're needed most? Are we helping rural areas transition in this area? So a big opportunity, certainly, and look forward to following through this process to see how that turns out. What do you think about it? [00:24:22] Jazmine Smith: I think that any way that we can bring in more money for the state is great. We have a lot of different areas that we need to address the revenue deficit. If we can't fund schools, then where are we going to - where's the line? Everything, so looking specifically at cap and trade and whatnot, agree that I'm skeptical about anything stopping pollution, especially when you're giving these licenses to pollute, but at the very least, we should be able to have the revenue available to start doing that transition. And I know that with the gas tax and all of those things, then we can only use them on specifically cars and whatnot. So being able to have that freedom and different areas to invest in more green areas and having a green economy would be very great. [00:25:24] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. In other statewide news, there is - education is so integral in everything that we do in our economy, in terms of public safety, just in the future for our kids. And several school districts around the state are really struggling right now, because despite it being enshrined in our Washington State Constitution as a paramount duty to fully fund the public education, we are not doing that in a number of school districts, including Seattle, Everett, the Peninsula School District, and others are saying - Hey, we've been saying we're at a funding crisis. We've been raising this alarm and now we are at the point where we're going to have to lay off employees, we're going to have to make cuts in really significant ways. Several districts are talking about school closures and consolidating things, which is just extremely disruptive to kids and to communities. And this is really a result of a shortage of funding there and over-reliance on local levies and bonds that - in the absence of state funding, they have to pass property taxes and increases in property taxes in order to fund the areas of public education that are necessary that are not being funded by the state. And everything from special education to librarians to school nurses to different arts and cultural programming, just what is required for an education that fully prepares people to be successful in life, however they define that, are on the chopping block. How do you view this and what's the way out? [00:27:07] Jazmine Smith: Yeah, as someone that came from an elementary school up in Ballard - so there was a lot of PTA funding that supported the school, nice-sized auctions and whatnot. It was still funding staff members - the counselor at the school was partially funded by PTA funding, folks at the front desk that are absolutely crucial to making sure that everything runs smoothly in the school - these are the folks that are gonna be first on the chopping block. And those staff members that are those connection points with students who are struggling, who might be the ones that are organizing backpacks of food to go home over the weekend, and the counselor that you talk to about what's going on. These are the people that are facing layoffs because we are not funding our schools, because there's massive deficits and that we're over relying on, as you said, those levies. And it just hit this breaking point. And I know that we had the McCleary decision a while back and there was some influx of funding that happened that did help raise wages - wages are still too low for what is appropriate for education professionals and whatnot. And here we are with Seattle with $100 million deficit, Peninsula Schools, Everett - millions of dollars that are leading to 70 here being laid off. And it's just heartbreaking for the children, for the community, for what happens when neighborhood schools close and consolidate, and the disruption that has, the additional barriers that that poses on families. I remember when we had to move to a temporary school and it was on - still in North Seattle, but on the other side - so all of those families that had to commute for multiple school years outside of their district - and so to, or not outside of their district, but outside of their attendance area and whatnot. And so really frustrating to see - when it's entirely preventable - again, we have a trifecta, we have a Democratic governor and Legislature - we can fund schools. It's our duty to fund schools and we're not doing that. And it's hurting a lot of our communities. [00:29:36] Crystal Fincher: It absolutely is. It is once again, not lost on me that when it comes to our public education system, even within the same district, it is predominantly the schools that are attended by a larger percentage of lower income students or BIPOC students who are being disproportionately impacted - whether it's from school closures or cuts that are going to impact them - they always seem to be on the chopping block first there. And this is not an exception, whether it's the conversations happening right now about potential school closures in the Bellevue School District or what we've seen continuing to happen in Seattle, different districts - it really is a big challenge. And really more districts are sounding the alarm and saying - Hey, we see a number of districts struggling with this now. This may not be us today, but hey, State of Washington and Legislature, if you don't take action this year, this is gonna be us next year. This is something that is a structural problem with education funding throughout the state. And although school boards can certainly impact and school leadership can certainly impact the conditions around that, everyone is starting from behind square one because of these structural deficits and inefficiencies that can only be addressed by our State Legislature. And again, the mandate was clear from this past election - even in battleground districts - lots of Democrats ran on the importance of fully funding public education. This is not controversial. This is supported by the public by and large. There were a number of teacher strikes that were trying to avert issues like this earlier in the year. And so I really hope our Legislature, particularly Democrats who are in power in the Legislature right now, step up to help address this significantly. Also, a challenge that a lot of people are facing this week - especially as so many more people are struggling with the rising costs of housing and food and everything - is a cut to SNAP benefits or Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Programming benefits for people, whether it's EBT, food stamps, however you wanna call it. Hunger is a problem and we have no excuse in this country to have people being hungry. We have no excuse in this state. But we are seeing, as of March 1st, a reduction in the pandemic-era increase to SNAP benefits. So people, as of March 1st, who are receiving food assistance are going to be receiving about $90 less per month, which is very significant. We saw that additional investment reduce child hunger and reduce child poverty by significant substantial amounts, and allowing this to expire and go away is disappointing. But it really has an impact on a lot of people and a lot of news reports are saying - Hey, food banks around the area are expecting a real big influx of people relying on them to feed their families, because not only is this cut happening - and it would be painful at any time - there are so many more increases in food costs overall. Food is just more expensive than it was a year ago, two years ago. And so I hope for everyone listening, you do donate to your local food bank. If you can, help people who are hungry - donate to your local mutual aid organizations - because we're about to see more people fall into hunger and be exposed to poverty now with that. How do you feel about this? [00:33:16] Jazmine Smith: It's really frustrating. I think when we first lost the child tax credit that was expanded, then that was something that - it was not only like losing something that really helped a lot of people during the pandemic, which is still going on. So the first level of everything is that we are still in a pandemic and still living with all of the inflation and all of the issues that are still around with the pandemic - increased health costs and whatnot. So it's still happening even if we've declared that the state of emergency is over. And so first thing when the state of emergency was pulled, both at the state and federal level, is that all of these things that have been helping people - having access to certain levels of healthcare, being able to take a COVID test and get free COVID tests without having to worry - that writing on the wall of everything falling. And now to lose SNAP benefits, or have that drastic reduction, is not only devastating and frustrating from that aspect of people are still needing it and more so right now. But also just - for what reason, why would we do this? And there's - we can't pretend that people aren't still struggling with the pandemic, that it's gone, and that everything's all right, and everything can go back to normal - it can't. We need to continue to be supporting all of our communities through everything. [00:34:46] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. In other news, we certainly have talked over and over again about our street and traffic safety crisis that we're facing across the board when it comes to cars speeding, acting irrationally, hitting pedestrians and people on bikes - this is happening so frequently. We are seeing so many challenges. Just a couple miles away from me, a few nights ago, there was a fatal hit and run from someone who hit a pedestrian on a street. We've seen several other vehicle collisions in the region this week that have resulted in major injury or death of pedestrians - certainly talked a lot about this on the show. And one potential fix that has been talked about is automated traffic enforcement - speed cameras, basically. And hey, this is something that we don't rely on traffic stops, just sees if you're speeding or not. This has been implemented in some school zones. They're talking about implementing it in others, and potentially expanding to other areas in the city and areas where there are a higher amount of vehicle-pedestrian collisions. And lots of people going - Hey, these speed cameras do show that they reduce speeding, they reduce collisions and injuries. While also - the fact of the matter is that the communities impacted the worst, the people who were being hurt and the communities where these deaths are occurring are predominantly lower income and BIPOC communities because of the historic lack of infrastructure investment and safety investments that occur in other areas. So these accidents, because of the way these communities have been built and designed, are more likely to happen in these areas. But if we do focus solely in these areas, not only does that potentially have the benefit of addressing these traffic collisions and making the area safer, it submits these communities to increased surveillance. And there are talks about expanding the use of cameras or the availability of data and information from these cameras for uses beyond traffic. So this is in the realm of possibility. And if we're saying - Hey, if we're talking about in the south end on Rainier Avenue, and hey, if you're down there - everyone who drives by, everyone who walks by is gonna be on a camera, they're gonna have their license plate scanned, they're gonna do that - that can potentially be used for any kind of situation. We have seen this repeatedly result in increased interactions with police, increased scrutiny in these areas that doesn't occur in other areas. That doesn't mean that these problems are not occurring in other areas. It just means that we're not looking for them to the degree that we are in lower income and BIPOC communities. And there is a very valid conversation to be had about - do we allow the expansion and the proliferation of surveillance of communities of color, basically. And we have to talk about this. This is an impact that should not be ignored. And someone who cares deeply about pedestrian safety and mobility and absolutely wants action to be taken on this, I also do not want to subject these communities to continually expanding surveillance, and the consequences and harm that results from that. So this is something that is a conversation that's talked about. Guy Oron had an excellent article about this - I believe the South Seattle Emerald, had a great piece on this. But as this conversation evolves and adds this tension between - hey, this is something that can increase safety, and also this is something that can increase harm - are things that we have to continue to grapple with and that the community needs to be involved with working through this. How do you feel about this? [00:38:37] Jazmine Smith: It's definitely complicated because that gut instinct is that if it is proven to change driver behavior and whatnot, then in that sense, then it works where it's at or where it's put in place. And so it should be everywhere - or to a certain extent - it certainly shouldn't be concentrated on communities of color, which is where there currently are a lot of focus points. And so it is that balance between wanting people to be alive, not wanting people to have to risk crossing Rainier and worry about their family all being hit in one interaction with a vehicle. But at the same time, I guess I hadn't realized that there was - I just assumed that all of the cameras everywhere are always watching - I'm just so numb to this current state of the surveillance state. There's cameras on top of the sign across the street from me and whatnot. I remember asking my landlord - You think that they can see into my apartment and whatnot? There's so much surveillance going on. And I guess part of my question is - How much is already happening just universally, but at the same time not wanting to expand it, expand that harm. And I think a bigger emphasis needs to be put on designing safe streets from the get-go. Putting that design - and I know we've already built out a lot - and so it's patching up as things come up and whatnot, as buildings get built and whatnot. We can't just reinvent the whole city in one snap. But yeah, that first investment should be in designing streets and fixing streets to be safer for everyone as we walk by, while not focusing on that punitive element. And finding ways to address driver behavior that isn't in that punitive way, but really just encourages safe behavior. So it's really complicated in that - well, what works and what has been working, versus what is best for communities and what is most equitable across the board. [00:40:56] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And the point you raised about it needing to be everywhere are some points that people say - Okay, if we are gonna do this, we should be mitigating the potential harm. We should be making sure we're doing this in as equitable a way as we can. Certainly to your point, the road design impacts more than enforcement will, certainly. This is a conversation that we've been having, especially with the recent release of the Seattle Department of Transportation's Vision Zero review, which lots of people noticed did not seemingly adequately address the impact of road design or plans to impact design to address this. But when it comes to cameras, one of the suggestions was - Okay, so make sure they are distributed equitably throughout the city. Make sure they're not just concentrated in certain areas. We have an interest in people not speeding or driving dangerously in all areas of the city. So let's not just concentrate it there. Let's do it in all areas. And suddenly when you talk about implementing something in Laurelhurst, people get more concerned about what the potential ancillary impacts could be. And so that's a positive thing. And we're not only doing that. Another suggestion that was brought up was - currently right now, the revenue from traffic cameras goes into the Seattle General Fund. And in many cities, it goes into general funds because - certainly this is not just a Seattle-only problem, several cities have traffic cameras and are contending with this across the state - and it largely goes into general funds. And if this becomes a revenue driver, if the goal isn't simply making the streets safer, and the goal becomes - in declining revenues and things you want to fund, this is another area of revenue. It is not, personally, what I think - is not a productive, is not a good place to be to rely on enforcement for revenue. That is a bad incentive and incentivizes them to continue to find things that go wrong - in fact, to not address some of the structural design issues because - Hey, we're getting revenue from the way things are happening now. So restricting that - instead of going to the general fund, restricting it to investments in traffic safety and road safety, maybe dedicating it to being able to implement some of the design changes that would make things safer. But if we restrict that and only allow reinvestment in areas that increase safety, that seems like that's - one, more aligned with what this revenue is really targeted for and supposed to do and reduces the incentive for ticket's sake. Because when it comes to cameras, they do ticket a lot more than officers just standing in different spots will, which is one of the reasons why it's more effective. It's always there, and it targets everyone. But it does then create this as a revenue line item. So lots of people, as we've seen in many different areas, will do toxic things, whether it's seizing property or giving speeding tickets to raise revenue, and that is not a positive thing. So we'll continue to follow this conversation. We will continue to follow along and see how this goes. The Seattle Department of Transportation, certainly - and I'm sure many others across the state - are interested in community feedback about this as they try and navigate through this issue. Automated enforcement is one thing that a lot of cities across the state are looking at to address pedestrian safety. So this is something that lots of people need to engage with and need to make sure that we just don't implement this willy-nilly and have unintended consequences, which sometimes may not be as unintended if people see this as a potential for revenue. So to reduce the harm done on the other side - because harm is harm, and increased targeting, increased stops and contacts that are concentrated in one community does lead to a lot of the problems that we've seen in trying to reduce that. So we'll continue to follow along with that. That is our time today. So we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, March 3, 2023. Hacks & Wonks is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. Our insightful co-host today is a member of The Urbanist Election Committee, one of my favorite follows on social media, and someone who is doing the work every day as the Political Manager at The Washington Bus, as a volunteer for so many other issues, and specializing in legislative advocacy and electoral organizing with young people, Jazmine Smith. You can find Jazmine on Twitter @jazzyspraxis. You can find Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can find me @finchfrii, two i's at the end. You can catch Hacks & Wonks wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the podcast to hear the full versions of our Friday almost-live show and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes. Thanks for tuning in. Thank you, Jazmine, for joining us, and we will talk to you next time.
On this midweek show, Crystal welcomes back Marc Dones, CEO of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, to catch up on how the response to the homelessness crisis is faring since their previous conversation. Marc highlights the success of using a Housing First strategy with three authority-run program centers that have moved 1,600 households inside in the last six months. The discussion then touches on the challenges of standing up the authority from scratch, building a nimble team informed by lived experience and capable of iteration in an environment that often views a pivot as failure, all while managing expectations of immediate results. Finally, Crystal and Marc talk through what's needed to scale solutions up to address the true magnitude of the problem - improving the system's durability of stay, addressing public safety in encampments through a public health approach, engaging and integrating available federal resources, and facing the necessity of compensating human service workers appropriately. As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com. Follow us on Twitter at @HacksWonks. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii, find Marc Dones at @marcformarc and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority at @KC_RHA. Marc Dones Marc Dones (they/them pronouns) is a social entrepreneur, policy strategist, and social justice activist with over 10 years of experience in equitable systems transformation. Prior to taking on the role of inaugural CEO for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, Marc was the founder and Executive Director of the National Innovation Service (NIS), a consulting firm that helps governments redesign their approaches to supporting marginalized populations. Marc has also held leadership roles in social impact, policy and program design, and continuous improvement at the Center for Social Innovation (C4 Innovations), and is a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts (SVA). Marc holds a degree from NYU in Psychiatric Anthropology and is an experienced equity trainer. Resources King County Regional Homelessness Authority Year In Review: 2022 | King County Regional Homelessness Authority Draft 5-Year Plan | King County Regional Homelessness Authority “Ending homelessness in King County will cost billions, regional authority says” by Greg Kim from The Seattle Times “The Cost of Solving Homelessness: Dones Calls the Bluff” by Kevin Schofield from Post Alley “Study: Human Service Wages Are Even Worse Than You Imagined” by Erica Barnett from PubliCola Transcript [00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington State through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today I am excited to be welcoming back to the program, the CEO of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, Marc Dones. The Homelessness Authority is tasked with the coordination, funding, and creation of policy for homeless response services in Seattle and King County. Welcome to the program, Marc. [00:01:12] Marc Dones: Thanks for having me, Crystal. [00:01:14] Crystal Fincher: So as the CEO of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, you have had quite the task on your hands. This is a crisis that we are dealing with here - that so many areas across the country are dealing with - and so many intersecting issues are at play here. Since the last time we spoke, what has been working and where does the work stand right now? [00:01:39] Marc Dones: It's a great opening question. I think what has been working predominantly is the authority's sort of all-hands-on-deck approach. So we have really only three new things that we are currently running that are fully conceptualized and deployed by authority current staff. And the first is our emergency housing voucher program, in partnership with the three housing authorities. The second is our Partnership for Zero work, which is focused on addressing unsheltered homelessness in the downtown core of Seattle. And then the third is our right of way work, which is focused on encampments that are in state rights of way and was funded out of proviso that the Legislature and Governor Inslee crafted in the last legislative session. Most other programming, other than some sort of nips and tucks - so to speak - around the edges are largely functioning as they have functioned for the last five, six years - as the authority prepares to rebid all of those things this year, at which point there will be substantive changes in how those things function. But what we're seeing in those three new program centers is quite a bit of success. The big differences, I think, are that we have oriented the engagement that we do with unsheltered folks to bringing them directly either into housing or emergency housing. And I know that sounds like a - why wasn't that happening? But for a lot of reasons that are confusing and wonky, the outreach teams have not historically been well connected to shelter availability, let alone housing placements. And so by restructuring these program centers to have an explicit focus on - how does the conversation you're having translate to someone coming inside, preferably to permanent housing, we have seen a really significant shift. And so with our emergency housing voucher program, for example, we have the most successful - really in the country. We've utilized all of the vouchers that were allocated. We are in fact oversubscribed. A lot of that was through a really innovative approach to how we executed our initial over-80 MOUs with community serving organizations, some large service providers, some very tiny sort of mutual aid style groups that were right there. They were already talking to people, right? So rather than setting up a more centralized disbursement mechanism, like doing a very standardized bureaucratic thing of saying, You come to me to get your voucher. We said, No, let's just go where people are already talking about housing needs and then put a voucher there. And the result was stunning. And then additionally, and just a shout out - our housing authority partners were really, really, really incredible. They offered the most innovation I've seen out of move-to-work housing authorities in my career. They were really flexible. They reduced their contracting barriers. And the result is that 1,385 people - or households, I should say, so it's more than people - have come inside through that program. Through our state right of way work where we are equally again focused on - how does this conversation bring you inside? We have attached a couple of different things. The first and most important is about 80 units of emergency housing. And that has been really a game changer, because what it means is that if your situation is quite complex and it's actually going to take a little bit to unwind some things or get you the identification, maybe you're undocumented and so getting identification is not just let's replace it from DOL, maybe you have a complex criminal legal system involvement and so we need to work to resolve that so that you can be housed effectively. That has been really, really significant because it has let us say, Great, we don't have to solve that today. You can still move inside. And that sort of frictionless move into that emergency housing space has really then teed us up to then resolve whatever those issues are and support people in moving on to their permanent destination. That said, we continue to have the same Housing First orientation that says - if we can get you into something permanent from outside, that's what we should do. And the reduction of the interim step and making sure that the interim step is not the default maneuver has actually been, I think, the most successful component across these three program centers. And so as a result - in that initiative, we've seen 120 folks come inside. And again, a number of those have gone already into permanent housing. I was present at one of the largest encampment closures that we have worked on - at what was called the Dearborn Encampment or Jungle 2 - and which people said to me, That'll be there forever. And I was like, I don't understand how that - that doesn't make sense to me. That feels like we've just abandoned people and we don't do that. But on the day of closure, I was there and I was watching people pack up their stuff and get in some of the moving vans that we'd contracted and drive to their apartments. So that was really beautiful to see. And then similarly through our Partnership for Zero program, the same orientation - working with folks who are chronically homeless and saying, Can we get you leased up and into an apartment? And if not, is there an interim step that we need to take that is still going to be housing style in its orientation? And through that, 152 people have come inside. So all told, we've got about 1,600 households moved inside just through these three program centers in the last - really - six months. And so that I think is the - that's where this can go. If the whole system starts working like these three centers and has the level of integration between outreach and services and housing that we have constructed in these three centers, there's no reason that we can't see really significant throughput systemwide. So that to me feels like the success. [00:07:52] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I do want to talk a little bit about what it took to build this apparatus that can now do this work, because it wasn't without controversy - as you alluded to, it was not the standard way that things were done. You came in. Obviously, they selected you for the job because you had the appropriate experience, expertise, and plan. But then when you're like, OK, time to do the plan - they're like, Wait, wait, wait. That's not how we've done things. That's different. You want to give other people a voice and power and control. And we usually do that internally and here with us. On top of just challenges building out this new authority, basically an entirely new organization - what was the process of working through those issues and building this apparatus, and what can we learn from this process that is now working? [00:08:50] Marc Dones: Another great question. One, I will just say - I have never - I've run startups before. I've launched agencies - small agencies. I've launched departments. I've launched projects. I once had a career coach who is like - You know you're kind of a startup guru, right? That's your thing. And I was like, What do you mean? I hate it. It's so stressful. And she was like, But it's literally all you do. And that was a real mirror moment for me. But what I will say is this has been some of the most complex build-the-plane-while-you're-attempting-to-fly-it that I have ever been involved in - would not have been possible without the incredible team that we have managed to put together here at the authority. And to your point about power sharing - that roughly 60% of our staff have lived expertise with homelessness, with the systems that we are interacting with - I think has actually, frankly, served as one of the best ways that we have short circuited some of the discussion. Because rather than having to enter into fact finding, a whole bunch of people who work here are - No, I already know how that works. And I know how it works, not just from the theory of the policy that's written down, but I know how it works - I tried to use it and it doesn't work. And that I think has been really significant. I think the other thing that I would just lift up is that when we started this, we really didn't have any infrastructure. We didn't have a general ledger system. We didn't have phones. We didn't have - I didn't have an email address for a while. And I've told that story before, but I think that when we think about, again, this is now roughly a 100-person agency managing well over $200 million - that's not normally the speed of any startup. And you look at these sort of startup incubators that spend a year just with their CEO, sort of like nursing an idea, let alone trying to go fully to field with those concepts. And so putting all that infrastructure together in one place - to be fully candid - I would never try to do again in the speed that we have done it. And I think that it is, again, a testament to this team. But also I think it was because the team recognized this is a crisis and we don't have the luxury of - Let's put it together slowly and yada, yada, yada. So there have been - I think we all admit - bumps, and there have been things that if we were doing it again, we wouldn't do it the way that we did it. But we got here, really just trying to - Okay, how do we chart through this? And getting on a whiteboard, or getting on a call and saying what is the plan going to be? And if we need to iterate, how is that iteration going to happen? And I will say that one of the things that I think we don't lift up is - when the organization was being formed, there was a lot of discussion about - we want an organization that's nimble and is rooted in crisis response principles and can be, Oh, that's not working, right? And pivot. But normally in the language of government, a pivot or a reaction to something that isn't working or rapid and agile - de-risking of things is considered failure. And what I want to lift up in this discussion is I don't think our organization feels like that's failure - to acknowledge that something is not working and make a change as quickly as we acknowledge it's not working. And so even with our Partnership for Zero work, for example, we have done significant restructuring of that process because about two months in we were like, This isn't catching the way we need it to catch. And so we worked with our HUD-TA partners and our internal staff and said, What has to change? We rolled out an entirely new team structure, a new way of doing matches, we introduced new tools. And now we are really seeing those things catch hold. And so I think there's an opportunity here for us to globally step back and ask, What is modern governance and what might it look like to translate some of our frankly more old models of governing into 2023 and ask questions about how do complex problems get solved? What are those structures? And they are not often the structures that traditional governance is locked into. [00:13:07] Crystal Fincher: So you covered a lot there, a lot valid - I really appreciate the point that you make about what is failure and really what is effectiveness. And the ability to continually evaluate what is going on, how things are performing, and to say that is not performing up to expectations - what are the challenges? Can we make a change? And then to make that change is a sign of effectiveness. That's a great thing to be responsive to challenges that you face. So I guess overall, you've talked about how you had to build this plane as it was flying. You're walking into this position in the middle of a crisis, a legitimate crisis, where we have thousands and thousands of people living outside who are in danger, who are facing threats from a variety of places. This is not an optimal situation for anyone - on the top of residents' minds, certainly. And people saying, Okay, there is an authority that exists. Here is some money - not all of the money that you asked for - but here's some money. All right, so where are the results? Not quite an overnight thing. It has taken a while, but where do we stand in terms of getting to zero? Where do we stand from where we were at to where we are now in terms of comprehensively addressing this issue? [00:14:26] Marc Dones: I think we - we're not where we need to be. And I think that one of the things that I would say about that is - when I say that, it's not because - again, the team working here is not doing their best work. It's because we are trying to claw our way out of a crisis that is like 30 years in the making. And so the overnightness of some of the expectations or even the way that we frame what can be done, I think, needs to always be inside that reality. And Mayor Harrell recently was saying that he's not happy with things and said something along the lines of, I'm not happy, and I won't be happy until everybody's housed, and I'm pretty sure Marc thinks the same thing. I'm like, Yes, I do. So I think that there is a alignment amongst a number of regional leaders that our situation is unacceptable. But we have to be really clear that it's unacceptable because of 30 years of policy failure, at a minimum. We could, frankly, extend that timeline and say it's more like 50. And if we add the racial dynamics, it's hundreds. So there is no fix to that depth of failure that takes a year, or two years even. And instead, we have to start, I think - our perspective is that we need to be able to meet complex problems with complexity, both in our action and in how we message and talk about it. And so this sort of - Where is the light switch we can flip? - those are, in all candor, those kinds of problems have largely been solved by the society that is this technologically advanced. We've solved our light switch problems. What remains are deeply ingrained, frankly, societal failures that we now have to turn the course on - and that is not a light switch problem. And we must maintain a fierce urgency about the fixes. And so I think that when we have this discussion and when I think through - okay, so what might we talk about in terms of the next steps of fixing - to me, it is being really clear that through these three program centers and also looking across a number of our other funded programs that we've inherited, the seeds of success are there. And so the idea that there's just nothing that we can use, that's not quite correct. And many of the frontline staff across the funded agencies would say - I know how to do this thing. I just can't do it at the volume that I need to be able to do it at. And so much of the discussion is about how do we eliminate the things that we know don't work, either because of evidence or because what we hear from the people being asked to do them. How do we consolidate and amplify the things that do work and then scale them? And so much of what the authority is discussing in our draft five-year plan is a question of scale and is about what is necessary, both technically and from a funding perspective, to scale a crisis response that is able to meet the needs of the tens of thousands of people who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness every year. [00:17:45] Crystal Fincher: So how many people remain outside that need to be housed, and what are the biggest challenges they're facing right now? [00:17:54] Marc Dones: I would say that on - just the number - our estimate is that there is a rough 23,000 people who experience unsheltered homelessness every year, and that about 60,000 people experience homelessness of some type over the course of the year. What we are going to tighten our focus on is that 23,000 - we want to make a reality in this region where no one sleeps outside. We just can't continue in this. It is, from I think my personal perspective, one of the greatest human rights crises of our time - that we have allowed, in the wealthiest nation on the planet, this many people to have to endure living outside. When I woke up this morning, it was 30 degrees. The authority is currently running severe weather. I've lost count of how many severe weather operations we've ran since I've come on board, but that's lethal cold and we just can't accept that people are being forced to live outside. So that's where that sort of numbers are right now. And so what we need to generate is a system that can match that. So what I'm saying here - okay, so in the last six-ish months, we've been able to get about 1,600 households inside. What I need to be able to say is that in the last six months, we've been able to get about 10,000 households inside - in order to be on track then to bring in 20,000 over the course of a year. So we're far away from that, in candor. And where I think we need to focus is acknowledging that how we have constructed our shelter system in the past is not producing the - frankly - durability of stay that we need to see. So that when someone goes into some of our old-style congregate shelters - in a lot of instances, they're not staying for a whole host of reasons. They're returning to unsheltered homelessness. We need to make sure that the system is able to, for lack of a better term, hold on to people and to make sure that they are getting to that permanent housing destination. So that I think is where we have to be laser focused in the next little bit. And then to your sort of second part of that question of what are the risks out there? Obviously the weather at any point in time during the year, if you live outside, could kill you - that is just a reality. But increasingly, I think we are - or at least again, I will speak just for myself, I won't drag the rest of the agency behind me on this one - I'm really concerned about public safety. And I'm really concerned about an increasing prevalence of organized criminal elements that my field teams are running across in - hiding in encampments. And it is not uncommon - in the last week, for example, we had two structures identified in one of the resolutions we're currently running. One had a small meth lab in it that actually caught fire, it was also full of guns and money. And then another was just a bunch of guns. These are not structures where people are living. These are drug-running and gun-running structures that organized crime is using, because they know that they're not going to get found out if they're inside an encampment, because the discussion has become - all people experiencing homelessness are the root of crime, instead of what we know statistically to be true, which is people experiencing homelessness are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. And so if we cannot create a clear path to safety - that is for everybody housed and unhoused - I have really significant concerns. And the authority's role in that safety would really be from a public health perspective. And we are absolutely pursuing that. And we are also looking at what partnerships we need to stand up with law enforcement agencies or anybody, frankly, who can do the tight focus on those organized criminal elements. And I would just lift up for listeners that - imagine if you lived next door to a active meth lab where there were lots of guns, and you did not feel there was anyone you could reach out to for help. That is a terrifying situation. [00:22:13] Crystal Fincher: I really appreciate you bringing this up. And I just want to highlight - these organized criminal elements - they're not part of the unhoused community. These are not low-level people trying to do this to get necessities that they need - these, we do have organized crime, these are organized crime elements. And they're preying upon this very vulnerable community - as we see in other situations - we see people prey upon the undocumented community because they recognize that they have fewer rights in this country and may be less likely to turn to law enforcement or others for help. So it's basically an area they know they can get away with operating. In terms of the rhetoric and vitriol that we've seen aimed at our unhoused community, and to your point, they are statistically much more likely to be victims of crime. But so much rhetoric, especially from certain elements of our community, saying that they're responsible for crime, calling for them to be swept, people looking at an encampment and immediately associating it with crime or drugs or something else - when it's not like there aren't issues that people deal with, as they do in all of society. But to be much more likely to be victims, and then to have something happen that is endangering your safety, and to be blamed for it by the surrounding community, by oftentimes law enforcement, and then to be punished for it through being swept, losing your belongings, being surveilled more, often is really challenging. How do we shift this focus, or what kind of partnerships would you look towards that could positively impact this situation to make the entire community safer? [00:24:05] Marc Dones: I think that what we need to do on the authority side with our provider partners is really start having safety discussions with our unhoused neighbors, and using the trust that our incredible outreach workers and field teams have developed to say, I want to, I notice - and again, I've been doing this for a long time, I'm very grown up - I know that not everyone that we serve is an angel, and I also know that if I was living next to a gun-running meth lab, I might also want a weapon, right? And I didn't feel like I was being protected. And so what we need to do is have the discussions with our unhoused neighbors that say, Hey, I notice you've got a weapon - talk to me about what safety concerns you have, right? What are you mitigating by having this? And then we need to figure out a way to act on that information collectively. And I don't know actually what that looks like yet. But I do know that we need to hear from our unhoused population - what is leading you to feel so unsafe? And how do we manage that the same way that we would look to our housed population and say, Hey, what are you seeing? What can we do? And really using data to drive these discussions, both quantitative and qualitative, we can look at things like where shots are fired, where they cluster - use that data to drive discussions about - it seems like there's an active threat to our housed and unhoused neighbors here, let's find out what it is. And then the other thing that I think that the authority directly needs to be more involved in, and we are stepping up our operation on this front - is increasing from a public health perspective, the safety in encampments on a number of fronts. And so from our perspective, that is around the weapons front - again, it's having safety discussions, why do you need this weapon? How can we have a discussion that would lead you to feeling safe enough that you could surrender the weapon? On a fires front, which I know has - there's been a lot of fires lately, as people have tried to keep warm - again, it's when I woke up, it was 30 degrees, people are trying to stay warm. And so we are expanding a body of work that is promoting fire safety. And then also working with encampments that we are very active in to collect and dispose of propane tanks, flammable materials, etc - so that as folks are again - doing the life saving thing they need to do, we are helping them dispose properly of the refuse that still has some risk attached to it. And then the third thing from a public health perspective that we're going to be really focused on is hygiene and folks' ability to maintain some level of sanitary living condition to reduce the risk of infection and reduce the risk of a disease, reduce rat infestations - these are the things that really, really harm both our unhoused neighbors and our housed communities, and that is a place where the authority needs to directly play a role. [00:27:11] Crystal Fincher: I really appreciate that and a focus on public health. And I was stunned - I'm trying to remember right now - but I was reading an article and it was talking about the average lifespan of an unhoused person and it was under 50. That is rough and just really goes to underscore how vulnerable this population is. And safety and health are two absolutely crucial elements that have to be addressed. I do have kind of a related question - when it comes to issues, whether it's public safety, whether it's substance abuse, and are society's problem - that certainly is not a problem limited to any particular community. But we are collectively facing a shortage of services across the board to address that - to help people out of addiction, substance use disorder, issues related to that. We also have an affordability crisis overall, which is number one underlying cause of homelessness. And we are exiting pandemic mitigations which have prevented people from being evicted - those are starting again in an area that has become really unaffordable for the majority of people in the region. How effectively can you impact this problem if we have these other mitigating factors in society? Are we effectively trying to mop up the ocean here? Are we throwing more people out onto the street from these various causes and people just unable to afford to live in the area? How are we doing on that front and are we putting more people out on the street than we are moving into housing? Do you have a sense for where we stand on that? [00:28:56] Marc Dones: I don't have updated numbers on inflow. I think we'll see the impact, frankly, over this year - as some of those COVID-centric protections more completely unwind and what the rates of evictions, for example, et cetera look like. I do think again, in keeping with what I said earlier, that homelessness is a policy problem 50 to 100 years in the making that we as a nation - so this isn't on the region. As a nation, we have to look at what we have done to the social safety net. As a nation, we have to look at how we have not protected people's access to housing. Some of that - in particular, I look at things like the constitutionally enshrined right of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce and then look at how that interstate commerce and international commerce impacts housing markets and housing speculation. And say that is for the federal government to intervene in and to have a very clear stance on - Hey, speculate, but our people got to get in first - which I think would be a very reasonable position for the federal government to take. But every administration has been silent. There's not even an administration to point to on what needs to be done in this space in order to more adequately protect and enshrine access to housing for folks who are living in the United States. I will also say that in terms of the ability of us to effectively get people out of the experience of homelessness, I think so long as we stay with the data and stay with what is the number, how do we scale to meet that number, and then use as much as possible housing-style interventions, we set ourselves up for success. So one of the reasons why the authority is very interested in pursuing models of shelter that are non-congregate is that from an infrastructure perspective, if we get out of the crisis, we can convert a lot of that infrastructure into housing. And we've seen that with Executive Constantine's Health Through Housing initiative that has taken hotels and motels, turned them at times in a temporary shelter, and then retrofitted them into permanent supportive housing at some point in their life. That is a smart and effective way to use public money because you get two uses out of it. And so we really have to be clear that inside our scarcity of resources, we can still be smarter and it is the responsibility of this agency to be smarter wherever possible. [00:31:38] Crystal Fincher: For those who are unaware, why is it important to move away from congregate shelter towards non-congregate shelter? [00:31:45] Marc Dones: I think that the two biggest reasons are - one, just that congregate shelter has been reported by people who are experiencing homelessness as really, really traumatizing. And again, I think that if we're going to name what's in front of us as the human rights crisis that it is, as the tragedy that it is - how we respond to that tragedy also matters. And I find it difficult to articulate a response to a trauma that is in and of itself traumatizing, and feel as if that is the correct policy decision. And what we have heard from folks who have experienced homelessness and are experiencing homelessness is that - again, in congregate shelter, there's often a lot of safety concern. Folks do not feel like they are stabilizing, right? Which in turn feeds into the second big point from our perspective, which is that when you look at the utilization rates of congregate shelter, they are significantly lower than the rates of utilization of non-congregate shelter - which functionally means people are voting with their feet. And so if what we want is a system - one, we can't be wasting money like that, let's just call that out. We can't be out here saying, We don't have the resources, we don't have the resources. And we have a system that has lots of unutilized space in it. That doesn't make any sense. And so we have to have some focus on what I've started calling the durability of the placements, which is to say that if we assist someone in getting into an interim housing solution, we need to make sure that they stay there and that they're not going to return to homelessness in relatively short order, so that we then have to figure out how to help them get back inside again and again and again and again. That's again, a waste of public resources, it's not the smart thing to do. And I was actually just looking at data from 2022 and the overall difference across the congregate and non-congregate portions of the shelter system is about a 10-point jump. And so across the year, we saw an average utilization of the congregate system of about 80% and an average utilization of non-congregate spaces of about 90%. So again, I wear two hats - there's the part of me that is charged via legislation, via my own life experience with housing instability to say - We just got to be person-centered. And sometimes that has to be a good enough answer that - I don't know - this is not good for people and this is good for people. But with my public administrator hat on, I would also say, Do you want me to waste this money or not? Because there is a way that it continues to be poured into settings that are not going to be optimal. And then there is a way that we get the utilization out of the beds that we have and get the utilization of the money, the public money, that we are spending. [00:34:45] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense. And certainly I think the move towards non-congregate shelter, oftentimes utilizing current or former hotel spaces, people that can - you have a room that locks, that you feel secure in - as any of us would - is really important in the journey to stable permanent housing. There has been some feedback and I don't know that this is a result of the homelessness authority or just issues across the board that - particularly in South King County - hearing from regional leaders that there have been challenges with communication and getting on the same page sometimes. Have heard feedback that for different cities and looking at shelter space that is available in cities - that they want to see more of their own unhoused population placed in those local spaces and are not feeling that that's happening to the degree that it should be. How would you address that? [00:35:49] Marc Dones: I think one of the things that our communities across the county can look forward to as we continue to modernize coordinated entry is some specific attention on, for lack of a better term, what I'll call local control. And I do believe - a lot of the policy that the authority is implementing is place-based and tries to pay attention to where people feel community, what people's sort of natural space for healing is. I think we do want to make sure that, where possible, we are not jettisoning someone across the county because that's the available thing. When, if they're saying, Hey, like I'm from Kent, I want to live in Kent, like that's where I'm from - then yeah, I support that. And the agency has really leaned into that through our sub-regional planning team led by our director there, Alexis. Our coordinated entry system led by Alex Ebrahimi is undergoing some pretty significant shifts as well. And one of the things that we're going to introduce in the near term is going to be some clarity about apportionment, for lack of a better term. And from my perspective, we have to make - it's a balancing act - we need to allow a certain amount of space to have a right of first refusal, so to speak, for the local jurisdiction to say - Oh, here's a person who is from our community who wants to stay here and so can we use this unit? And the answer should be yes. And then we also still have to continue to act as a region and to say, If I have someone in Bellevue who needs a place to stay and there is a place that is open in Auburn - and it may be a bed that is right of first refusal for the jurisdiction, but it's not, it hasn't been filled - we need to be able to move that person from Bellevue to that space - with their permission, of course - so that they can be inside. And so we have to figure that out. I think some of that will be complicated discussion, but I think it's fundamentally doable. There are other systems that we can look to that have tackled similar things before and looked at, okay, so what is the right sort of percentage of bed, so to speak, that should be allotted to each thing? And then what is the time limit that a local jurisdiction might have to fill those beds before they are activated inside the regional pool - those are things that I think are just very answerable from a policy perspective. [00:38:16] Crystal Fincher: One thing that we spoke about in our last conversation on the show was the challenge, frankly, with staffing with frontline workers - and that challenge being caused by insufficient compensation. Asking people who are tasked with hard work and especially those with lived expertise and homelessness, which to your point earlier, absolutely helps streamline the response because you're dealing with people who are familiar with how things work in practice and not just in theory and having to get familiar with the tangled web of navigating through all of that. How are we making progress with that? Has that been a conversation that we have contended with throughout the region? And do we have the kind of staffing to scale up in the way that you referenced earlier so that we can move 10,000 people into housing and launch that to 20,000 people? [00:39:15] Marc Dones: Yeah, I think we are continuing to make progress on having the discussion and that - that's not necessarily money in people's pockets, but it's something. And we're seeing that at the local level, the Seattle Human Services Coalition is putting together wage equity analysis work. The authority continued to look at wage equity - it's embedded in our five-year plan at the state level, through stipends and et cetera. That has also continued to be a discussion. I think that - what I feel, and this was actually said in a meeting I was in yesterday by one of our provider partners - it's maybe not what I feel, but what I'm stealing from someone who said it better than I did, is that we don't have a talent problem. We do have a pay problem. So we are able to source talent - that's a thing that's doable. But I think to the point that you made, Crystal, people are burning out in those jobs after a year, two years max - because they are starting to look at - it's incredibly complex work. It's very hard. The work that they are doing oftentimes in other systems would be classed as high-grade clinical. But for some reason in our system, it is understood as frontline, whatever - entry level - and paid as such. And I don't think, again, what I hear from our provider partners is that everyone understands that this doesn't make sense, but the question is - How are we going to modernize our payment rates so that they are able to compensate people appropriately? And this is another space where I will say - with all candor - there's a role here for the federal dollar. And when we talk about paying people - if I look at just some of the modeling necessary to expand the services infrastructure, we're talking about a lot of money. B's, right? Not M's. And to that point, we have to think more - I won't even say creatively - I think it really is modernly, about how we are accessing certain entitlement funding streams that should be supporting services for our population. And I think that there is a way to do that. And I think that the authority needs to help everybody get to that. [00:41:33] Crystal Fincher: Certainly, in my opinion, the progressive revenue conversation across the board at local and the state level is very important in addressing this and has been referenced as such. I do want to talk about, though, your funding - reported and well known that you had put together the homelessness authority, that the entire team had put together. And other people looked at it and said, Yeah, it's a good plan, a plan to be able to address this with a funding request for what would be necessary to do it. And that funding request was not granted in full - It was okay, we'll give you part of it. I don't know that the expectations were tempered at all for what you were supposed to accomplish, but the budget certainly was. So where do you stand in terms of having the resources that you need to address the problem? Because really - funding is to get those resources. We know that we have a shortage of them. We have shortages all over the place, really. This is no exception. So this is not a unique problem. This is not a problem that just exists with homelessness. We know in other areas - certainly we have had lots of conversations when it came to - Hey, we need - Bruce Harrell is saying we need more police. They're throwing signing bonuses and different things and addressing that issue head on. This conversation has been different. So as you look to be able to scale, as you look to the funding that you have received, do you have the funding to be able to make the impact that is expected - to be able to get 10,000 people housed and to really continue the progress that you are now making, now that you've built out the infrastructure to be able to do that? Do you have what you need and if not, what do you need? [00:43:16] Marc Dones: Straightforwardly, no - we do not have what we need. I think it would be - the draft five-year plan really clearly lays out some of the cost models necessary in order to do the things that are operating at the tens of thousands numbers instead of in the "just the thousands" - and that's in air quotes for people who can't see me. Because the "just the thousands" is still an incredible feat, right? That is - I never want to come across as denigrating the incredible work that happens inside the system, particularly now that we have built some of the integrations that are necessary to really drive some of that throughput. However, again, going back to what I was saying previously, it's this question of the seeds of the solution are here. It's are we going to water them? And to that point, I do think that we don't have a path that does not involve better utilization of federal funding streams. We do not. And I say that because I think that - when I look, for example, at the various revenue forecasts that are coming out, revenue looks like it's trending down for a lot of things. And so there isn't a local revenue stream that is going to meet this need. I'm really heartened to continue to see the state contemplate big, bold housing-related action. The other thing about the authority modeling that is true is that it's based on assumptions about what is happening in the housing production side of things. And so if that accelerates, we will need a lot less. And I think that that's always really important to be clear about. However, if we're going to be sustainable and scale what we are currently doing, we do need to think very strategically about how we hook portions of the system to, again, the entitlement dollars. And when I'm talking about that, I'm thinking about SNAP and WIC and various CMS funding streams that fund services and supports, whether it's housing navigation or tenancy support. Some of that is available currently under the 1115 waiver the state has - spokane has done an incredible job of utilizing that resource. And so we just we have to head in that direction. And the last thing that I'll say about that is just - you mentioned earlier that some of the COVID protections are unwinding. I think it's also important that we acknowledge that the COVID money is unwinding. And so currently, this system has about $55 million in what is functionally one-time money. It was multi-year, but it's one-time money that does not have a renewed revenue source at the federal level, likely will not - given sort of the state of play. And so we have to be incredibly smart about, again, not just talking about the scale we got to go to, but how do we replace the funding for what we're currently doing? Because that is paying for real services, real people's salaries - real people supports into housing are being paid for with that money. And so if we're not being - not just clever, but profoundly innovative about how we move the homelessness system more completely into, I think, the broader public health and health infrastructure, then we are leaving money on the table that we simply cannot afford not to have. [00:46:43] Crystal Fincher: That's a really important point. And thank you for making it - a lot to consider there. So for people who are considering that - and we're in 2023 now, and especially this year where there are so many local elected official positions up for election - candidates are making their cases to voters. Some candidates aren't saying much, others are. But what would you say both to candidates and to voters considering those candidates, who across the board acknowledge that addressing homelessness is near the top of the list, if not at the top of the list of priorities that they need to have. What action can they take or should they take? What should we be looking for? What will be most impactful? And where should the conversation be throughout this year for the people who have the power to dictate this policy locally? [00:47:43] Marc Dones: I think from our perspective, the more the discussion can center on the core fact that housing is the solution to homelessness, the better we all will be. I am really disheartened by the amount of sort of media that comes across my screen that is framing homelessness as everything but a housing problem. And the simple fact is that at the core, the problem is in the name. You don't have a home and that is the thing we need to be focused on fixing. And so what I would offer is that we as a region, as a nation, do have to fundamentally consider, wrestle with, and answer questions about affordable housing, about density, about how we are addressing some of those core issues that drive the need. And the authority is legislatively - it's one of the reasons why I feel very comfortable saying what I'm saying here - we are legislatively required to advocate for housing with a focus on permanent supportive. So we got to have it, it is the solution. The other thing that I would say is that - and this is important, I think, particularly for the general public - is that no one, least of all me, a person who was psychiatrically hospitalized twice, is saying that services or care is not necessary. What I think we need to be focused on, though, is that you can't deliver that care literally under a bridge. That's just not how that works. And when I think about my own mental health management, I do telehealth visits with my psychiatrist, and then there's a lot of stuff that goes into keeping me healthy and whole. And I am able to accomplish all of that because I know where I'm going to sleep. And I'm not worrying about that too. And I have access to the things that I need in order to access those people who are going to help me. So yes, we need services. But the reason Housing First is called Housing First is - it's not absence of services - it is literally, but you need to house people first. And so that focus has to be really, really clear in how we articulate our path out of a hundred years of failure. [00:50:19] Crystal Fincher: Thank you so much for that focus. It's not housing only, but it is Housing First. Absolutely necessary in these conversations that we have about who our leaders are going to be and what they're going to do. I thank you so much for taking the time to share so much with us. Thank you for all the work that you and the entire team and your partners are doing to address this crisis and get people housed. Thank you so much. [00:50:46] Marc Dones: Thanks for having me. [00:50:47] Crystal Fincher: Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes. Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.
On this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, political consultant and host Crystal Fincher is joined by Seattle political reporter, editor of PubliCola, co-host of the Seattle Nice podcast and author of Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery, Erica Barnett! During this Seattle-centric episode, they discuss Mayor Bruce Harrell's State of the City speech, the SDOT Vision Zero report about traffic safety, the passage of first in the nation caste legislation, what's next for social housing, questions from the oversight board for the scope of King County Regional Homelessness Authority's five-year plan, an increase in violence against unsheltered people, and the outlook for downtown Seattle. As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find today's co-host, Erica Barnett, at @ericacbarnett. Resources The State of the City is Vibes by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola In State of the City, Seattle Mayor Harrell emphasizes crime, downtown by Sarah Grace Taylor from Seattle Times Vision Zero | Our top-to-bottom review provides a roadmap and new actions to reverse challenging trends in traffic safety by Seattle Department of Transportation Seattle must do more to prevent traffic deaths, report says by David Kroman from Seattle Times Councilmember Tammy Morales responds to the release of SDOT's vision zero review: "this report stops short of calling for dramatic or swift action to combat the unprecedented number of collisions, injuries, and fatalities on our streets, particularly in District 2.” by Tammy Morales on Twitter Seattle becomes the first city to ban caste discrimination by Lilly Ana Fowler from KNKX Opinion: Confessions of an American Caste Traitor by Prashant Nema from South Seattle Emerald What's next now that Seattle's Social Housing Developer initiative has passed by Capitol Hill Seattle Study: Human Service Wages Are Even Worse Than You Imagined by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola Violence Against Unsheltered People Spikes, Social Housing Moves Into Startup Mode by Publicola Plan to Eliminate Visible Homelessness Downtown is “Clearly Behind Schedule,” but Backers Remain Optimistic by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola Oversight Board Questions Price Tag, Exclusion of Tiny Houses from Homeless Agency's Five-Year Plan by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola As Downtown recovers, Seattle reimagines what it could be by Josh Cohen from Crosscut #ThePostman - D'Vonne Pickett Jr. Memorialized With Street Sign in the Central District by Cesar Canizales from Converge Media Qualified Immunity Bill Passes Key Hurdle as Other Criminal Justice Reforms Stall Out by Andrew Engelson from Publicola Transcript [00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today, we are continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show, and today's co-host: Seattle political reporter, editor of PubliCola, co-host of the Seattle Nice podcast, and author of Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery, Erica Barnett. [00:01:11] Erica Barnett: Hi, Crystal. Great to be here. [00:01:13] Crystal Fincher: Great to have you back. I want to start off talking about an annual event that happens in the City of Seattle every year - the State of the City address by Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. What did he say and what was your impression of his State of the City speech? [00:01:31] Erica Barnett: As I said in my headline and a story I wrote about this, the message that I got from it was vibes. What I mean by that is it was a lot of positive talk about the future of the city - everything's looking brighter - the future of the city is bright, optimism, innovation, Downtown that's going to be wonderful for everyone. But a lot of what he actually proposed or said he's going to do in the coming year, which is the point of the State of the City speech, was either stuff that he promised in his first State of the City speech last year or sort of small scale stuff - white papers, activation plans, executive orders, and a vision for the future of public safety - which is basically what he said last year as well. So not a lot of substance - quite a lot of fluff and good vibes talk - which resonated really well in the room, I have to say. It felt like a good speech, but when you read the words or paid attention to them at the time, there just wasn't a whole lot there. [00:02:37] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. I think one thing - and you called this out also in your article, I think - is that especially on the heels of Mayor Jenny Durkan, who was not the most charismatic mayor that we've ever had and didn't particularly seem to enjoy the job, Bruce brings charisma to his speeches, to his interactions with people - and that goes a long way to building goodwill, at least in the reception of what he's saying. The vibes feel good, but as you said, it wasn't packed with substantive promises, goals, but there were a few that were included in there. What did those include? [00:03:17] Erica Barnett: Yeah. So he said - so I mentioned this "downtown activation plan" - so reading between the lines, he talked about how great it is that Amazon is forcing people to come back to work, essentially - which a lot of them are not very happy with - but saying that as everybody returns to work and downtown kind of returns somewhat to normal, we're going to activate it, there's going to be new small businesses and storefronts, art spaces, possibly - and again, this gets into kind of the vague part - he kept saying may, possibly, maybe we'll have an arts corridor, a 24/7 street, this kind of vision of downtown, but yeah, as far as concrete actions, he says there'll be a plan. He also said there's going to be a new executive order about fentanyl and other synthetic drugs. Again, executive order - I don't know what that - that can mean a range of things. It's not the same thing as legislation. And then he says that he's going to propose a suite of legislation to hire more officers and release a vision for the future of public safety, which again - I think that what that actually translates to, particularly on the recruitment side - is they're going to hire a marketing manager who's going to do some ads. He mentioned digital ads aimed at Gen Z trying to get more younger recruits, but yeah - again, really, I'm really reaching to find substance because there just wasn't a lot of it there. [00:04:44] Crystal Fincher: There was not - it doesn't appear - did he say anything about the planned public safety department that has been talked about for a year now? [00:04:55] Erica Barnett: Oh, yeah. So that was another thing that he talked about in his first State of the City speech. He said within the year, we'll have a plan for this department - and I don't remember the exact language or whether there's anything solid there - but this year, a year later, he's saying that pretty soon there's going to be a white paper that sort of lays out what this department might look like. I think that that's a really good example of something where - he does not deliver on that third department, which is supposed to be a kind of non-police public safety response department. It does have a name, which is the CARE Department, the Civilian Assisted Response and Engagement Department - so they've gotten that done. But if he doesn't deliver on that this year, I think there's going to be some pushback, maybe, for not actually accomplishing all these lofty goals. It's been more than a year and he hasn't delivered on it yet, but a white paper is, allegedly, coming. [00:05:57] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. I think a lot of people are definitely looking forward to the white paper as a precursor to further action. Hopefully, certainly people want to stand up responses that are appropriate to the type of call that are coming, and there seems to be a broad recognition - because of the creation of this department and certainly by the residents - that a variety of different types of responses are needed. Having a cop with a gun show up to every single circumstance doesn't make sense, and certainly with the staffing challenges that they say they have doesn't seem to be the wisest thing. So it looks like we're going to stay tuned for the white paper. How that translates to actual action and creating this department and getting this off of the ground, which they have been talking about, remains to be seen. [00:06:45] Erica Barnett: And I will say the white paper was supposed to be out last year. It was - the deadline was fourth quarter - the sort of loose deadline was fourth quarter of last year, so it's late. [00:06:54] Crystal Fincher: That seems to be a recurring theme, but we will continue to pay attention with eagerness and an open mind to see what actually happens. Another long-awaited report this week was the Vision Zero report that was just released yesterday. What is this and what did it say? [00:07:14] Erica Barnett: Yeah, speaking of things that are behind schedule - this was supposed to come out last year and got delayed. It was billed as a top-to-bottom review of Vision Zero, which is the plan to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. It is titled the Top-to-Bottom Review of Vision Zero, which I find funny just because it's so literal. But what does it say? Basically it says the City has taken a lot of great actions to try to reduce traffic deaths and where it hasn't been able to take actions, it has tried really hard. It's a defensive report in a lot of ways - blaming other agencies, blaming the state and the fact that the state has control over a lot of our streets like Aurora, and then outlining a bunch of different steps that the City could take in the future to try to reduce deaths and serious injuries, most of which I should say are pretty underwhelming. There's a top five list that includes stuff like phasing in an unknown number of additional "No Turn on Red" signs downtown in time for tourist season - and I'm quoting here, "in time for tourist season and the Major League Baseball All-Star game." Another one is to accelerate leading pedestrian intervals, which is where if you approach an intersection, the light will turn for pedestrian first so you can start crossing before cars start coming. So we're going to do more of that. So it's a lot of - let's do a little more of the things that we're already doing and maybe that'll work. Nothing particularly bold in terms of things like street design that allows cars to drive, or for people to drive as fast as they do - mostly focused on individual behavior, automated traffic enforcement, that sort of stuff, but no real big bold vision here. [00:09:08] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I was a little bit surprised by its billing as a top-to-bottom review, and that doesn't seem to be necessarily what we received. It seemed to be a review of things that they were doing - and I don't know if I want to say avoidance - but not necessarily on focusing on many things that as you said, weren't already planned. There was not an analysis, as Ryan Packer pointed out on Twitter, of what was the impact of reducing speed limits. Was that helpful? Was that not helpful? That was certainly done as part of the Vision Zero program. Also as you said, there seemed to be no focus on road design, which has so much to do with whether or not it's possible for drivers and cars to even get into those dangerous situations. I saw Councilmember Tammy Morales released a statement calling out the same thing that you did - Hey, this seems to lack design features. She said that she would be helping identify some of the missing money to finish going after grant money to implement projects that had already been planned, but that were in jeopardy or delayed because they did not have the funding. But also it seemed like there was a lack of recognition of just the severity of the problem. You just pointed out - Hey, we want to have this done basically for tourist attractions - while every day we are seeing people being killed and maimed by these pedestrian collisions. And so it just doesn't seem like there was the kind of urgency or thoroughness. And maybe this was something where - hey, they started this and there was a limited scope. They realized it was a problem later on and the report didn't quite get there? Seems like they should have realized this has been a problem for quite some time, given all of the discussion around it. But left a lot of people wanting, I think. What are you looking forward to seeing come out of this? [00:11:08] Erica Barnett: I hope that SDOT will listen to some of the feedback. Just looking through the summary report, which is the one with more graphics and stuff, it just feels like - and again, this was late, so they spent extra time on it, or waited to release it - but it just feels like a book report that somebody did at the last minute before it was due. There's data in here that goes all the way back to 2011 - the 25 mph issue that you were mentioning. So it says, Oh, it does, 25 mph is good and here's how we know - it's data from 2018. Data from 2018 is now almost five years old and that is before the City actually implemented more widespread 25 mph speed limits. So I don't know, did it do anything? Did we study that? Are we studying that? There's just so much missing information in here. And I'll just reiterate - in this 22 pages, a chart is repeated twice. I don't know if anybody copy edited it, if that was intentional. There are two pages that are just a graphic and a big - a blue field. It just, it feels like - and do those things matter? I don't know. It makes it feel like there's a lot of filler in here. And when you look at the content, it's just really like back patting - let's do more of the same and that'll maybe make things better, and blame for why they can't do certain things. [00:12:28] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. I don't think this is egregious in terms of the report and how it's put together, but I think people are feeling particularly frustrated because this is an emergency. This is a crisis. This is something impacting the health and wellbeing of so many residents, and so many others are at risk, by just the design of the roads and the community. And so it just feels like maybe it wasn't done, or it's not conveying the urgency of the situation, and really conveying that they are planning to do everything they can to reduce this for the residents that live here now, not the tourists coming into town. I know that SDOT and the City has plenty of people who care, who I'm sure are balancing issues of funding and staffing and prioritization. So what I don't want to do is imply that everybody involved with this is careless and doesn't - I think that a lot of people care very deeply about this. But it does come to prioritization - from the executive on down - and maybe there's a tension between what people know is helpful and right to do and what is actually being authorized and funded. And the people pushing for accountability have been pushing on those meaningful levers beyond rhetoric, saying - Okay, what is actually going to be done? What is being built, revised? Let's put this into action. So eager to see the issues that they identified get into practice and hopefully this is definitely a springboard for more. And I think the way they characterized it was also - these actions to build momentum towards further actions with the first five things that I think they identified. So we'll continue to pay attention. [00:14:14] Erica Barnett: One of the action plans in this, which I thought was an action plan - one of the actions is to create an action plan. And it's - Okay, wait, I thought that this was supposed to be the action plan. When is the action plan coming? So I don't know how long people are willing to wait for an action plan since this top-to-bottom review took all the way into February, more than a year into Harrell's term. So we'll see. [00:14:36] Crystal Fincher: It feels a lot like the infamous Seattle process, but we will see. One thing that happened that made national headlines this week was the passing of first-in-the-nation caste legislation led by Councilmember Sawant - what does this do and why did it happen? [00:14:56] Erica Barnett: Essentially, it adds a caste to the list of protected classes in the City's anti-discrimination laws. So those laws protect people from discrimination on the basis of gender, race, disability, etc - and so it adds caste to that list. And the concern as I understand it, and I did not cover this story myself, but is - there is in fact caste discrimination among, against people of South Asian descent, particularly in the tech sector. And that this is a problem that was brought to Councilmember Sawant - and she proposes legislation, which as you said, is getting national and international coverage because it's the first of its kind in the US. [00:15:37] Crystal Fincher: It is. And it didn't pass without some pushback and controversy. What were detractors of the legislation saying? [00:15:46] Erica Barnett: There was quite a bit of controversy. And again, I'm going to do this - I'm going to explain this at a very high level because I'm a little out of my depth and I don't want to misstate anything - but the controversy revolved around whether this was discriminatory against Hindus in America, because it calls out that caste discrimination among Hindu castes and against people in lower castes. And so there was opposition from a Hindu American saying that it'd create a discriminatory system. There was also opposition on the City Council itself from the one person who voted against it - Councilmember Sara Nelson, who said essentially that it was unnecessary, agreed with some of the arguments against it, and also said that it would open the City to litigation and she didn't want to take that risk. [00:16:29] Crystal Fincher: And she was notably the only councilmember to vote against that - all of the others present did. I will say - I appreciate the conversation that this legislation has opened up. Certainly I have done a lot of learning around this issue - was not up to speed and familiar, still not completely, but it does highlight how many things that can seem invisible and innocuous to people who are not familiar with this - just as covered in some of the articles and coverage about this, just questions like, Hey, do you eat meat? That may seem innocent and unproblematic to people who are listening to that - can be very impactful and discriminatory in this context. So I appreciate the opportunity to learn more. And this has been covered and lauded across the country, really, and covered in international papers. So certainly groundbreaking legislation led by Councilmember Sawant. Also this week, we saw continuing coverage of the winning social housing legislation, which I'm still personally excited about - the opportunities that this unlocks and also just starting to figure this whole thing out. I'm sure it's not going to happen without some bumps and bruises along the way, but that's how new legislation and new programs and implementations work. What is next in the implementation process for social housing? [00:17:56] Erica Barnett: So I talked to both of the proponents, Real Change and House Our Neighbors, as well as former House Speaker State Rep Frank Chopp, about this. And what's happening in the immediate term is Chopp - in the Legislature session that's going on now - is trying to get funding to basically pay for the agency's first 18 months or so of operations, the new public developer. The City of Seattle is obligated to provide in-kind assistance, but of course they have their own budget challenges and so this would essentially provide state funding through the budget to get them up and running and allow them to set up a taxing proposal, which then might have to go before the voters again - in yet another initiative - if it is a local tax. Chopp also said, when we talked, that there could be some state options - like there's an expansion that's being proposed of a real estate excise tax that would create sort of a new tier of taxing for property sales over $5 million. And there's a local option there that could be used for social housing, he said. There's a number of different possibilities that they're considering, but they've got 18 months to figure that out and potentially get something on the ballot and pass to actually pay for the housing. [00:19:11] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And there's also going to be a board established and some hires made. What will that process look like? [00:19:19] Erica Barnett: They're making a couple of hires. So that would be - that's something that $750,000-800,000 would pay for is - I believe it's an Executive Director and a Chief Operating Officer. And then the board is going to be made up of 13 people - 7 of them would be appointed by the City's Renters' Commission. And then it's - the other 6 are appointed by various folks - the mayor, the City Council, and some other local groups with housing expertise. And that board - Tammy Morales is spearheading getting that process rolling. And then the board starts meeting and starts discussing all these things that we're talking about - how to move forward. They're going to be the decision makers. And ultimately, that's a temporary board. Assuming housing does get built, there's going to be a new board that's going to be made up mostly of people who actually rent in the buildings. But that's a few steps down the line. [00:20:07] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. So we will continue to follow the implementation, follow what's happening with this. But that initiative is passing, will become official - I actually forget the day that the election is certified - but coming up here soon. [00:20:21] Erica Barnett: I think it's today, February 24th - if not, it's Monday. [00:20:23] Crystal Fincher: Okay. Yeah - excellent. Thank you - I'm like, it's around now, but so it will be officially official soon. Again, just bang up work to the people doing that and looking at how many of the volunteers are pivoting now to the Renton minimum wage initiative that is happening. I'm just excited about what organizers are doing in the region to try and help improve the everyday lives of folks. Also this week, we saw some King County Regional Homelessness Authority meetings - discussion about their scope and budget moving forward. What were those conversations? [00:21:05] Erica Barnett: Yeah. The regional authority has released its five-year plan and it's in a draft form - it's going to be finalized, I believe, in April. And it's a somewhat novel approach to doing an implementation plan for an agency. Basically what they've done is created a plan that would end unsheltered homelessness within five years and at huge cost. You've probably discussed this on Hacks & Wonks before, but the price tag is in the billions per year plus billions more for capital costs to set up shelters and other types of temporary housing. And there's been pushback from - everyone from Councilmember Andrew Lewis in Seattle, to regional leaders, to Claudia Balducci from the King County Council, to Mayor Bruce Harrell saying - This is a nice aspirational plan, but we can't even come close to actually doing this. Just one year's worth of funding for this plan is two City budgets. There's been pushback about whether this is realistic, can we start smaller? And it's almost like the opposite of the Vision Zero plan - it's too ambitious in some ways - some would argue. I think the agency would argue that it's not too ambitious, it's just realistic. But there is a gap between reality on the ground right now, in terms of the agency's funding and reality as they define it, which is we need to spend these billions of dollars to actually address the problem. [00:22:31] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, we actually have a conversation with the head of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, Marc Dones, coming up on this week's midweek show where we go into that in a little bit more detail and why that's necessary, what that's comprised of. But I think there is a big conversation to be had. They're saying that they need more federal dollars and support, that there needs to be a lot more financially. I think they're really saying - Hey, now that we have gotten staffed up, have started to implement the plan, and we're doing some targeted things that are working - it's time to scale this up. And the real conversation seems to be, can we afford to scale it up? And if not, where does that leave us and what do we do? So that'll be interesting - to see how this conversation unfolds, and how cities view their contribution to this regional solution, and their individual responsibilities within their city - how they balance that and what types of approaches they move forward with. But it does seem like there are some things that are working and that are positive that should be, hopefully will be expanded. Certainly I think most people agree that the job is not done, more needs to be done. And so what is enough is really going to be part of a conversation. And people who are elected are going to have to stand up for what they've advocated for and what they're saying to attempt to address the challenges here. But it'll be interesting to see. Also in related troubling news, we got more evidence and information about violence against unsheltered people. What did we learn? [00:24:10] Erica Barnett: This is really troubling. The issue of homelessness and the issue of public safety are often conflated, with people saying that having homeless encampments nearby is unsafe for nearby children, people living in houses nearby. But in reality, the people who are most vulnerable in living in encampments are the people in the encampments themselves. So a new crime report from SPD showed a 229% increase in hate crimes, specifically targeting homeless people because they're homeless. Police Chief Adrian Diaz told me that this is an example of people "taking things into their own hands" because they're frustrated with encampments existing in their presence and the associated litter and perceived just disorder that goes with that - they've been attacking more homeless people. Additionally, there's been more gun violence deaths involving people who are homeless. So it's incredibly dangerous to be homeless and it's becoming more dangerous. And I think this gets lost in conversations about whether violent crime is up or whether property crime is up. A lot of these victims are people experiencing homelessness themselves. And I really think that gets lost in narratives about homeless people being inherently dangerous or a threat to neighborhoods. [00:25:25] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And it has been a chronic problem, has led to them specifically being targeted, dehumanizing language around them. And certainly regionally, we've seen a lot of direct attacks on their - I'm thinking of a couple in Tacoma right now where people went in there because of narratives about them being criminals, going in to find stolen property, and it winds up with violence - but without that stolen property. It's a challenge, and I hope we understand how vulnerable that population is and we follow the data and evidence about what seems to be effective in addressing those issues. Certainly we hear a lot about downtown Seattle. And there was an article this week, and continued conversations that we have in the region, in the wake of Amazon announcing that they are recalling people back to the office on at least a part-time basis and requiring people work from the office, which Mayor Bruce Harrell applauded and said was a good thing. But the state of downtown, the state of the central business district - should it be and remain and should we try and invest resources in keeping it predominantly a business district? Or are people really looking for something else? What was your take on that article and on the conversation about what we should be doing with downtown? [00:26:52] Erica Barnett: Yeah, it's been really interesting to see the backlash among Amazon employees themselves to this idea that they are - to not the idea - to the mandate that they go back to work three days a week. The City, of course, has a two day a week mandate that is observed by some and ignored by some, I would say. And I think that the State of the City speech actually highlighted this kind of dichotomy that you're talking about, because on the one hand, Harrell said, It's great that Amazon is coming back downtown and we're going to have this dynamic downtown that returns to normal again. And at the same time, he was saying - maybe, in that list of maybes that he had - Maybe what downtown looks like is going to be different, and we'll have housing in some of these office spaces and other types of businesses in the retail spaces. And so I think that we're still figuring that out. But I just do not believe that we're going to return to the way it was before, because I think a lot of people have realized that they're more productive at home, they've realized that not getting paid for a long commute that is essentially unnecessary to doing their job feels unfair. And there's a whole lot of reasons that people liked working from home during the pandemic - people who have caregiving responsibilities have had a lot more flexibility to do that stuff. And primarily, we're talking about women with those responsibilities. So I don't think it's going to work to just say - everybody has to come back to the way it used to be. We also have a tight labor market, so forcing workers who can leave and take other jobs to do something like come back to downtown Seattle is not going to work in the short term for sure. [00:28:30] Crystal Fincher: And this is being lauded because some people are saying, Great, this is going to be great for businesses downtown revitalizing, re-energizing downtown Seattle in this circumstance and situation - because foot traffic, as measured by downtown employees, has been down under 50% to what it was pre-pandemic levels. And although hotels have seen basically a return to pre-pandemic level activity from people traveling, visiting - they are not seeing that in terms, or coming from workers. And so it seems like there are a number of signals from the public saying, Okay, downtown should have another purpose besides just a place that people commute to and from to work. And that comes with its own challenges and that - it's long been a problem. Even in terms of just public safety and having safe activated spaces - meaning spaces where people are at - it's not like you're in a desolate, barren area after 7, 8 PM and people have left for the day. There's not that much going on in the core of downtown. Also more people live downtown now than have ever before - thousands more people than at the beginning of the pandemic. And just basic things like childcare and just some basic things to have and raise a family are missing in downtown and people need to go to other neighborhoods. And it seems like people are looking to downtown Seattle and a lot of other downtowns to fulfill desires for culture and community a lot more now, or to a much greater degree than they were before, where it was just business. And so re-imagining or reconstituting downtowns where maybe driving to the office every day is not the main draw - seems like that has to be a focus for the future or else downtown is going to get left behind. How do you see that? [00:30:29] Erica Barnett: Yeah. This is a conversation that has been going on for almost as long as I have lived here, or actually probably longer, about downtown. Especially - when I moved here more than 20 years ago - downtown really shut down at night. And I'm downtown at night a fair amount - I think that the sort of tumbleweeds idea that downtown just turns into, rolls up the blinds or whatever the saying is - it's not that - at 5 o'clock, it's not - that's exaggerated. There are people downtown now, especially Belltown bleeds into South Lake Union - there's stuff going on. But the thing is, we've been saying for decades now and more intensely lately, I think with the pandemic, that downtown needs to have a different focus and different reasons for people being there other than office work. And yet, we still have, again, a mayor saying maybe that's something that should happen. If you're the mayor, or you're a City leader, there are things you can actually do to make it affordable for childcare to be downtown. And I won't go into all the different mechanisms for stuff like that, because it's pretty boring. But the only thing the mayor mentioned was changing zoning codes to allow housing - and actually housing is already allowed everywhere downtown. What you need to do is provide incentives and money to make it possible to convert office buildings into housing, because that's not going to happen by just saying, Maybe it should. And so we just haven't seen action on these things. And it actually does take action and money and spending to make some of these things happen. Childcare is not going to materialize because we wish it into existence. Neither are art spaces, all these things - we have to take action, there have to be grant programs, there has to be actual legislation and priorities and spending - because we can't just wish it into existence. It hasn't worked so far. And it's not going to work now. [00:32:21] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I agree with that. Lots of talk about activating spaces, vacant storefronts. I think he did say that there was going to be a pilot, or actually not even a pilot, a competition to kick off innovation for how to convert commercial spaces into residential spaces - which has its share of complications and isn't necessarily simple and straightforward, can be done. But it does seem like we're in the beginning stages and just dipping our toe in the water a little bit with a number of these things instead of taking concrete action, which I think a lot of people would be eager to see. So that's another thing we'll continue to stay on top of and see how that unfolds. We do thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, February 24th, 2023. Hacks & Wonks is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. Our insightful co-host today was Seattle political reporter, editor of PubliCola, co-host of the Seattle Nice podcast, and author of Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery, Erica Barnett. You can find Erica on Twitter @ericacbarnett and on PubliCola.com. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks and you can find me there also @finchfrii, with two I's at the end. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or anywhere you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get the full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes. Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.
On this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, political consultant and host Crystal Fincher is joined by Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, long time communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank! They discuss the landmark passage of Seattle's Social Housing Initiative 135, what it says about Seattle voter preferences and expectations of candidates running for local office. They also discuss the continuing candidate announcements for Seattle City Council, with two moderates announcing their intentions to run this week. Several candidates in the field have avoided sharing their positions on the issues most important to Seattle voters. Crystal and Robert analyze how that may impact their races and what voters are expecting from candidates this year. In the wake of a pedestrian in a crosswalk being killed by an SPD officer who was responding to an overdose call, Robert and Crystal discuss whether it's appropriate for police to respond to every overdose call in addition to the fire department, especially while the department says they are short-staffed. They also cover the advancing bipartisan legislation that aims to expand the conditions under which police can pursue fleeing vehicles despite their continued harm to innocent bystanders, while Democratic Reps. Reed and Farivar and Sen. Dhingra oppose this bill in favor of an evidence-based approach that prioritizes increased safety for everyone. Robert and Crystal close the show with a discussion of the woeful state of education funding in Washington state. Despite the McCleary decision that affirmed Washington state's paramount constitutional duty to fully fund public education, districts are still relying on levy funding to address existing funding shortfalls and considering closures of schools, while experiencing chronic understaffing in several areas and considering destabilizing school closures. As Robert discussed in The Urbanist op-Ed he wrote, this is a result of legislative inaction on school funding and the taxation of extreme wealth, the failure of all levels of government to address increasingly unaffordable housing, and too many school board directors who are failing to act in the interests of students with urgency. As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find today's co-host, Robert Cruickshank, at @cruickshank. Resources Social Housing Is Winning by Rich Smith from The Stranger Seattle Mayor and Majority of Council Mum on Social Housing by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger Who's running for Seattle City Council in 2023 by Melissa Santos from Axios Andrew Ashiofu Stresses Lived Experience in D3 Seattle Council Pitch by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist Tech Lawyer Rob Saka Announces Bid for Seattle City Council District 1 by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger Seattle Subway Leader Efrain Hudnell Announces D3 City Council Bid by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist Twitter thread from Rep. Julia Reed (D-36) exposing the fault lines around police pursuit policy Overdose Patients Can Become Violent”: Fire and Police Respond to Questions About Pedestrian Death by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola In pursuit of good policy: Washington legislators debate validity of the data used to justify 2021 police reforms by Guy Oron from Real Change Opinion: Everyone (Especially Urbanists) Should Care About the Crisis Facing Seattle Schools by Robert Cruickshank from The Urbanist Gov. Inslee weighs in on potential Bellevue school consolidation by Farah Jadran from KING 5 Lawmakers in Olympia narrowing down which bills will move forward by News Staff from KIRO 7 Transcript [00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast - get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. If you missed our Tuesday midweek show, transportation reporter Ryan Packer joined me to discuss regional transportation issues - including our traffic safety crisis, legislative bills and funding, the Washington-Oregon Interstate Bridge Replacement bailout, and the disconnect between and within our regional planning bodies. Today we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a cohost. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show, today's cohost: Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and one of the best political strategists on the West Coast, Robert Cruickshank. [00:01:29] Robert Cruickshank: Oh thank you, Crystal, for having me. It's always an honor to be here and a pleasure to talk about all these issues happening locally with what I think is one of the smartest minds in Washington. [00:01:38] Crystal Fincher: Thank you so much. I am very excited to talk about our first topic this week - big news locally, regionally, and really nationally. Initiative 135 in the City of Seattle for social housing is passing, will pass. What do you think of this? What will this do? And what does this mean for Seattle? [00:02:02] Robert Cruickshank: As President Biden would say, I think this is a BFD. It, as you said, is watched around the country. There have been state legislators in California, Hawaii, New York, who have commented on this favorably, wanting to bring it to their states too. It is a crucial tool in the toolbox for solving our housing crisis. We need more housing. We need more affordable housing. And places in Europe - Vienna being a notable example - have shown that social housing can help solve that by having a publicly owned and operated system of housing that's available to people at affordable rents and also at middle income rents. And what that does is it helps have the system be self-supporting. And of course, the renters run the place themselves. They're responsible for self-governance, which I think is a huge missing piece that you see in at least American housing, where there's either the owner-occupier or you pay rent to a landlord and you don't really control your own surroundings. This is a great middle solution that works for so many people in the middle, in a city where we're losing our middle class. This is a way for teachers and nurses to be able to stay in Seattle as well as people working in the coffee shops and working in the bear-time industries. It's also, I think, a huge victory for progressives in Seattle. This was not something that was championed by the City. In fact, the City did not want to fund this during the budget process last year. They got no support from established leaders until late in the process, really. This is something that came out of grassroots organizing - it started as a response to Charter Initiative 29 back in 2021, which was an attack on homeless folks. And a group of organizers led by Tiffani McCoy thought - let's do something better. Let's put a competing initiative on the ballot to actually solve this - that evolved into the social housing initiative. I also think it's a huge, huge defeat for The Seattle Times. There was no official No campaign. There was no well-funded organization or effort trying to stop this, so The Seattle Times became the de facto No campaign. Their editorials against it were the things that you'd hear on the doorsteps or on the phones when you're talking to undecided voters - who would cite those talking points - so they were easily debunked. But The Times really went all out to try to stop this from happening, and they lost in a low turnout election in February. I think a lot of people wouldn't have been surprised had this failed - thinking it's February, not enough progressive folks show up, maybe if it had been on the November ballot, it might have passed. But it's passing by a healthy margin now. Once the remaining ballots are counted that margin is almost certainly going to grow. So it's a strong mandate for building more housing and building affordable housing as a solution to our dire housing crisis. [00:05:02] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And the crisis is dire. I think a clear message sent is Seattle residents realize it. It is a crisis and they expect action. And in the absence of action that they were expecting from our local elected officials, who collectively have not done much - done enough, I should say - to address this crisis, they're willing to act themselves. I do want to just highlight and commend the House Our Neighbors coalition, which was the campaign behind this - from getting signatures and qualified on the ballot to passing this initiative - organizing, getting people together. Just really, really appreciate that. Appreciate the role of the King County Democrats played in helping this - I think that's a great model of seeing how local parties can impact their communities and local politics. To your point, this was not supported by really the Democratic establishment, right? This was not a conservative versus progressive issue. This was not a D versus R issue. This is one of those issues that we have seen in Seattle - where you have establishment Democrats versus more progressive, more community-led people. And we've seen that turn out less favorably than this many, many times. And so I just think we're seeing - we saw the Tukwila Initiative succeed, we saw this, we're watching Renton happen right now. We're looking at an era really where the community is coming together and demanding more and expecting more and a big deal. And I think the message that elected officials and candidates need to take away from this is that they're behind where the public is. They are lagging and not understanding the urgency, the desperation, and the fear that so many people have. This was basically characterized by a lot of people as some fringe, super extreme, lefty initiative that lots of people didn't even feel like they needed to pay attention to because they just never took it seriously. And that was a mistake. And these are not wild lefty fringe beliefs - this is the mainstream. We saw in this first count where over just about half of the voters were over 55 years old - we're talking average age approaching 60 in this election - and over half of them wanted to see social housing. We're just in a different era and people need to wake up and smell the coffee here because - as I've said many times before, as have you - voters are expecting action. And especially in the context of so many of these local elections, especially in the City of Seattle, with the number of candidates declaring and being really vague about what they do or don't believe, and trying to not offend people - which has been a recipe for inaction over the past decade - in Seattle politics, definitely. That is at odds with where the entire Seattle electorate is - not just younger people, not just lefties, the entire electorate - and people need to recognize that. [00:08:37] Robert Cruickshank: I think that's right. And I think that's particularly true of housing where - currently in City Hall, there seems to be an attitude among most, but not everyone, that we have to tread slowly and carefully when it comes to solving the housing crisis. There are some great leaders on the City Council - Tammy Morales, Teresa Mosqueda - who are pretty bold about, we need to use a comprehensive plan to upzone huge swaths of the City. But the rest of the City government seems hesitant. But they're ignoring where the public's at - the polling statewide shows there's 71% support for the missing middle housing bill. That support is also high here in the City of Seattle. And what you're seeing with social housing, which isn't exactly upzones but it's dense housing that will be built for social housing, is strong, strong support for action. There is not anywhere close to a majority - in Seattle at least - among voters for maintaining this single-family, low-rise, low-density NIMBY attitude that seems to predominate certainly among the way the media talks about housing and too often the way the City talks about housing. I think this vote is going to resonate throughout 2023. Obviously, what I-135 did is not fully fund social housing - they weren't able to do that at the same time the initiative for fear of running afoul of the single subject rule. So they went ahead and created the authority, gave a little bit of money to start that authority up. And then they're going to work with the City to try to get it funded. And if City Hall doesn't try to fund construction of social housing, they'll come back to the ballot again. All these council candidates who are declaring in the last few weeks, even the last few days, are going to have to be on the spot now because voters went ahead of them and said, No, we actually want social housing to happen. Now we expect you to deliver. And this is going to be an issue throughout 2023 and all these campaigns, and that's a good thing, right? They're having to now respond to where the public actually is, not responding to a Seattle times narrative of - Oh, people are cranky, they don't want new density, we want NIMBYism everywhere. That's not where the public is at, at all. [00:10:39] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely, and I'm excited to see where this is going to go. I'm excited to see these candidates and elected officials be put on the spot and have to answer. And I'm trying to have some grace - it is early in the campaign cycle, they're working on this stuff - but if this were to continue later in the cycle, as we've seen in previous cycles, there's really an arrogance about it. It's really feeling that you're not accountable to the voters and really being straight with them about what you believe, who you are, what you're doing, or that you have an obligation to act on their behalf, and to deliver on the mandate that they have provided. So I'm eager to see how this continues. I'm eager to see that now that this has passed - we saw Tammy Morales attempt to provide some funding that the rest of the council, many of the rest of the council, did not agree with. But with this new council coming up, assuming Tammy is reelected - is this something that she can lead on and helping to provide funding and making this happen? I just think my final thought on this for now is really another explicit message that Seattle residents expect government to be part of the solution. This is - we hear so many times that - the market needs to take care of itself. We can't step in and do this. This is really big and really problematic - I don't know that government can address this. It has before. It is elsewhere. And if we don't interrupt the cycle of what's currently happening, we're just going to price everyone out of Seattle. We have a lot of people who have been laid off recently, who are fearing being laid off soon, who are making well into the six figures - who are largely saying, We don't know that we can continue to afford to live in Seattle. Even for those who haven't lost their jobs - looking at the prospect of potential instability financially saying, Is this responsible? Do we need to preemptively leave? Because without a massive - making $200,000+ - can you responsibly afford to live in Seattle? It's really a challenging situation that is long past time needing a response to and Seattle residents acting on that. [00:13:05] Robert Cruickshank: And it wasn't that long ago that it was affordable to live here. 10 years ago - housing prices - you could buy a house in Seattle for less than $400,000, three, four bedrooms. You could rent a two bedroom apartment for $1,200 or less. It was relatively affordable. And it just happened rapidly because we hadn't kept up with building enough housing. We hadn't been providing enough affordable housing. And I think voters are fed up. They want their government to act. And I think one of the big takeaways from I-135's passing is - voters are going to solve this if our government doesn't. [00:13:37] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I do want to talk more about the candidates that are running, particularly in the City of Seattle and in King County. We saw a few new announcements this week. Who has thrown their hat in the race and what are they talking about? [00:13:51] Robert Cruickshank: So it feels like January, early February was when the progressive candidates jumped out and we saw people from Maren Costa - who's a climate activist coming out of Amazon, and fought Amazon, was fired by Amazon - running in District 1. A number of great people jumping in in District 3, people like Ron Davis in District 4. But now we're starting to see the empire strike back a little bit. Rob Saka announced this week for District 1 in West Seattle - he's a tech lawyer perceived to be pretty close to the Harrell administration. A couple of days later, we had Tanya Woo announce for District 2 against Tammy Morales - running, try to be a more corporate-friendly, business-friendly candidate. What's interesting is these candidates are trying to have it both ways. They are clearly saying things that they think will appeal to the business community, will appeal to the political establishment, but also trying to say things that sound somewhat progressive. But the result is it's a word salad. All these, all of their launch documents - you go to their websites, their press releases - they're not really saying anything of substance. They're just trying to say a bunch of words that they think will get voters to like them. And that's alarming to me because as we just talked about, we're facing multiple crises in the city and we need candidates who are willing to step up and provide bold solutions. And instead, what we're starting to get are candidates who were hemming and hawing and tried to be super vague about what they really believe - sound progressive enough, but also really business-friendly. And all these candidates remind me of is Jenny Durkan - when she ran in 2017 with the same type of messaging - very clearly corporate-friendly, but also would say a few things that sounded progressive, just enough to get the progressive voters comfortable with her. We elected her and it was a disaster. So I think as these candidates start to announce and they'll have a ton of money behind them, it's going to be really, really important for the voters to push them pretty hard, to say - no, we're not looking for nice words, we're looking for actual solutions that'll help end the problems that we're facing in the city. [00:16:08] Crystal Fincher: I felt disappointed - really, personally - at a lot of these announcements. We are talking - these things are crises now because they've been building for years. They've been getting worse for years. We're not dealing with new issues. We're dealing with neglected issues. It's no secret how communities felt. We've been talking about, debating about, having a public discourse about homelessness, about taxation, about public health, public safety for years. Very few people are undecided fundamentally on these issues. What really is the differentiator is - where do you stand and what do you want to do? What might make you more effective at doing what you want to do than others who want to do that thing? But instead, we're not hearing people who have participated in this discourse over several years - at least they're acting as if they haven't - some of them have. But we're hearing them just say, Did you vote for initiative I-135? Are you planning to? Well, it's interesting and I haven't decided yet. Okay - after several months and coming to the point where you are going to run, you know how you're going to vote. If you don't know that, you don't know so many other things that are required for running in this city. There's no special knowledge that you get once you get elected and there's no enlightenment that rains down upon you. It just is more accountability. And so I want to know where someone stands. You talked about Jenny Durkan. We heard that from Jenny Durkan, the same kind of - Well, I'm interested. I'm not sure. I want to convene community and listen to what they have to say and then I'll make a decision. I want to evaluate where our taxes are being spent and see where we can cut and blah, blah, blah, blah. We heard that from Ed Murray. We heard that from the leadership that we have been frustrated with, and that have led to this situation where issues have been neglected because of inaction for so long that now they are crises. Ed Murray talked about the homelessness crisis. Jenny Durkan did. Bruce Harrell did. But in the same kind of way. And so I'm just wondering - after seeing this so many times, are they banking on - well, it worked for Ed Murray. It worked for Jenny Durkan. Seems to be working for Bruce Harrell in some things where he seemed to sound more progressive on the campaign trail than how he's governed on certainly some issues. Are they thinking - well, it worked for them. It can work for me too. And let me just try not to offend the majority of Seattleites who are progressive while still making my high-earning corporate supporters - keeping them comfortable and winking and nodding that, Yeah, everything will be fine. I'll be good for you. I just need to say this stuff to make sure that I don't freak out the rest of the voters. And voters deserve better. The City deserves better. And we can't continue to do this same thing over and over again. I think voters are getting hip to that fact, which is why we see election results like we saw this week. [00:19:28] Robert Cruickshank: I think that's right. And I think there's a common political strategy that consultants will tell their candidates - Don't offend your, don't say anything that might alienate some voters. Be wishy-washy. Don't take a bold stand. That's pretty traditional advice. And it tends to be wrong. You tend to see that in fact, the people who win are the ones willing to take a stand, and willing to talk directly to voters, and show voters that they are willing to fight for what's right. And I think you're going to see that here in 2023. I think coming out of the pandemic, coming out of the rebellions of 2020, I think that City Hall has become very skittish and hesitant. They've been through a lot, but they're also not really stepping up to lead - aside from a few exceptions here and there. And unfortunately, starting to see some candidates who are trying to align themselves with certainly the mayor's office - adopting that same sort of wishy-washy - We're not going to stick our necks out. I don't think that's where the public's at, at all. I think the public wants to see solutions. They want progressive solutions to housing, to homelessness, to public safety. And I think candidates who understand that and are willing to talk in a smart, approachable, sensible way about these things will do really well in 2023. It might surprise some in the established class, it might surprise some of the media, but it shouldn't surprise voters who are clearly asking for that. [00:20:58] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I think another dynamic that is interesting is that we heard the leaked comments from Mayor Harrell in that police department briefing, where he basically said he was recruiting against existing councilmembers. What he wasn't banking on, it sounds like, is the number of open seats that were there. So we have a number of candidates who I think were recruited and started off trying to run as clearly opposition candidates to the candidates that they thought that they were going to be running against. And so I'm wondering if they thought that they would be able to get away with being more moderate, conservative - in opposition to some of the incumbents. That's not what ended up happening. These are open seats. And when having - I will also say, just as a consultant watching this happen over and over again, as you've probably seen - if you have one loud oppositional person, especially who's a moderate or conservative, running against someone who's more progressive, pretty often they will get through primary just because they oftentimes consolidate their base more effectively than several other candidates there. And so they'll get through a lot of times, they won't make it through to the general, but we see that dynamic. Things turned out to be different - there are open seats. And so they don't have someone that they can just say, No, I don't like that. I don't like this. I don't like that. They have more pressure to come out with their own vision, to define who they are and what they want to do, and paint a positive vision, lay out a plan for what they want to do. Seems like some of them weren't prepared to do that. And in a primary, being in the middle is not a good place to be - especially in an open seat, crowded primary. You need to talk about who you are and what you're doing - because lower turnout elections, really consolidating a base in a primary is really important. And people have to be able to know who you are, number one, and then identify what you stand for to see if they align with you. If everyone sounds kind of the same, that becomes a really difficult job and you see big vote splits there. So it's going to be interesting - just in this open seat context - to see how this plays out, how many more people wind up getting into the races. I think we'll see a number of other announcements in these various districts and for King County Council. But it's going to be really interesting to see the results of who stands up and defines themself - really interesting just in the lead up to Initiative 135 - seeing the difference in Seattle City Council candidates and King County Council candidates for people who were willing to say yes or no to whether they were going to vote for Initiative 135 and the ones who just wouldn't give an answer. And for so many other issues - Do you think we need to hire more police? Yeah, maybe, perhaps. We need to look at it. We need to explore and examine. We probably need more. How many more? I don't know. I'll check with community. All these really, like you said, mealy-mouthed wishy-washy things. They got to do better and they got to do better soon. [00:24:31] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, a couple of quick thoughts on that. I think that this is going to be a change election, and some of these candidates were running expecting it to be a change election that would work in their favor - that they would be, that the sort of moderate center would be the opposition bringing change. The fact that so many people are leaving the City Council totally undoes that strategy. And now it's a change election, potentially, with the change people seek as a way from a City Hall that isn't solving their problems. And that is a huge opening to progressive candidates who can now run as change agents without having the baggage of being in office during four really turbulent, difficult years. So I feel like progressive candidates have a huge opening here in 2023 to offer genuine, concrete, specific solutions, to not be afraid to speak directly to voters, to not be afraid to put themselves out there. And I think voters will respond really well to that. You also mentioned police. And I think - 'cause I know this is something we wanted to talk about today as well. It's clear that one of the strategies that these more centrist moderate corporate candidates are planning to run is - we need to hire more cops. In fact, there's been reports out there that those folks are cooking up a ballot initiative potentially for November - to try to force the City to hire, spend even more money hiring even more cops. And it just flies in the face of the facts. There's a national shortage of officers. Even in cities that fell all over themselves to shower love on the police departments during the middle of 2020 while the rest of us were trying to hold them accountable, they're facing shortages too. And it's not because people said unpleasant things about the cops, not because people are holding them accountable, it's not because we're not paying them enough. For the last two years, City Hall has been showering potential recruits with money and they're not coming in the door - they're not coming in the door anywhere in the country. I think part of that is because we haven't reformed the departments. I think you see a lot of potential recruits look at policing and say, I don't want to work in an institution where violent racism is not only tolerated, it's expected. You look at the rank and file of the current Seattle Police Department - these are people who elected Mike Solan, a far-right Trump acolyte, as their president for SPOG in January of 2020 - well before the George Floyd protests began. It's a department that has resisted reform for years. So obviously this is where the defund the police movement came out of - if they will resist reform, we have to go to more extreme solutions. The public has said - Well, we don't really want that. Although the public has still very consistently said, We also want funding for alternatives to policing. There's a huge opening here again for progressives to come in and say, Look, we need to be using our police resources more smartly than we are right now. They shouldn't be chasing after people in mental health crisis - that's where King County's Crisis Care Centers Levy coming up in April is also hugely important - to stand some of that up. But we have to be smart and have an honest conversation that we can't just shower money on recruits who aren't showing up, because fundamental problems in the way policing in the city and in this country is done and we haven't tackled it. And you're not going to solve those problems just by try to get more officers into a broken institution. Your potential officers are saying, No, I'm going to go do something else with my life. [00:27:59] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And we aren't reckoning with what's coming from police. We have had several instances, including number from SPD officers, saying the money isn't the problem. The money isn't the problem - coming from them. Yeah, sure. You can try giving us more of a signing bonus, but that's not going to help. And irresponsibly - when someone's saying money's not the problem and you have a shortage of money - spending it on something that is not going to get results, hearing from the horse's mouth that it's not going to get results is really confounding and confusing. I think that - to your point, we have to look at using the resources more effectively, more efficiently. We talk about efficiency and driving best practices in lots of other areas of government and business, but we seem to exempt police from that. Is patrol really the most appropriate place? The City's own studies - lots of City studies - have shown that the majority of time that patrol officers are spending is not on addressing unlawful activity. They've shown that a majority of calls that they're responding to are not critical emergency calls. So why do we continue to act as if that's the case, to deploy as if that's the case? We need to be more effective in how we utilize our existing resources. And it seems like there's an unwillingness to even entertain that conversation. There is an explicit unwillingness that has come out of - it seems like the Seattle Executive's office - for that in ignoring their own studies and research that they had started. And really not engaging with - we need to look at how officers respond, what they're responding to, and responding to the mandate from Seattle residents to have more appropriate responses to different things. And when we're not doing that, we see everybody unhappy for all of the reasons. You're not responding effectively to anything because you aren't looking at how you can be more effective. Where if we were looking at that, we could potentially be doing really well in some areas and supplementing other areas with resources that have a better chance of solving the root cause. But we keep on entertaining this revolving door, very punitive approach where - Okay, someone is in a behavioral health crisis, but we're going to go ahead and arrest them, put them in jail, which is going to further destabilize them. They're getting out - they still don't have a home, they still don't have a job, they have less of a likelihood to get that. And now a lot of ways and ticky tack things that they have to now adhere to. And if they don't then they just continue in that spiral. We have to get smarter about public safety. We have to talk about public safety more comprehensively. It's more than policing, even for those who are saying it definitely includes policing. You can't say it isn't only policing. It's very shortsighted. It flies in the face of all the data we see. And we admit that all the time. We talk about how important education is. We talk about how important addressing poverty is for good outcomes. We talk about how important all that is and putting people on a correct footing - because we understand that that has a direct correlation to how people are able to build a life, participate productively in society, whatever that means, and to not have to resort to illegal activity, or have options so limited that that's what they choose. We know what to do. It's just a willingness to do it. And we need to stop allowing people who are not invested in the health of our communities dictate this narrative that runs counter to the health of our communities and the safety of our communities. Listen to the people who are there - they're telling you what they need, but our leaders and our media - lots of our media - continues to ignore that. [00:32:12] Robert Cruickshank: It's like housing. We talked earlier that the public - in both polling and now the results of I-135 - clearly support solving the housing crisis with things like social housing. They want something done that's positive and constructive. The polls show the same thing on public safety. I think we'll see, in the Crisis Care Centers Levy that King County is running in April, the same thing. That is setting up a system where you see someone on the street, or on the bus, or wherever in mental health crisis - a danger to themselves, maybe danger to others, you call it in. And rather than a cop showing up, you get trained professionals who understand how to handle mental health crisis show up - and take them not to jail, but to a crisis care center where they're going to get treatment. It works even in states like Arizona - like a purple state like that - the system works really well. Bringing it to King County is essential because then not only are people going to get the care they need rather than being dumped in jail where their situation is going to get so much worse, they might even pass away as we've seen in recent months. But you also free up the police to respond to things that you want them to respond to. You want cops responding to someone breaking the glass door of your local small business. You want cops showing up to a domestic violence incident. You don't want cops showing up to someone in mental health crisis. And you don't want cops necessarily showing up to every time someone has an overdose. And I know this is something else that's been in the news this week. The Community Police Commission, after the horrific incident a few weeks ago where an officer struck and killed someone speeding in their vehicle near Westlake on their way to an overdose call. It turns out that Seattle Fire has a policy where they want an officer at every overdose call. The Community Police Commission said, Where does this policy exist? Why do you have this? What is your justification for this? It doesn't make sense. It is a waste of police resources. And as we're seeing, it's a danger to the community. Someone who's overdosing, someone who's in crisis - they need help. And Fire Department responding is exactly what you want. If for some unknown reason there's a need for police backup, because something else is happening in that situation - case-by-case basis, sure. But to have a policy where you're going to take an officer off of patrol, or off of something more important and go to a call on an overdose - an overdose call is important. It doesn't need an officer there. It doesn't need a guy with a gun showing up. It's usually a guy, as we know, showing up to this. It's a waste of resources. It's dangerous to the community. People are getting killed now because of this policy. It's time to reevaluate that as a part of a larger reevaluation of where are we using our police resources? [00:34:51] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it's based on no data. And in the midst of what they're characterizing as a shortage of police, why are they sending them out to these calls? There's no evidence showing that people who are coming out of an overdose situation are inherently dangerous. If that was the case, we'd be seeing that in hospitals around the country. But in the same way that hospitals treat that - and if they need backup, then they call for it - why wouldn't the Fire Department be doing the same thing? It looks like the Fire Department has been complicit in this thing and saying, Well, we've seen that. But in response to being asked, Really, we have seen people be violent? That's a regular problem? Can you show us any data demonstrating that? None of that has been provided to date. So why are we doing that? And again, looking at how we deploy our existing resources in the midst of a shortage, why is that a priority? We've been making that decision while we were also making the decision to not investigate sexual assaults of adults. How does that make sense - that we're going to rush to and respond to an overdose that's already being handled, that most other cities handle with just a Fire response - this seems to be really outside of best practices and what is generally accepted as normal across the state. It's just really confusing to see why this is happening. And I hope that's something else that is being examined. Also being examined is - how appropriate and when it is appropriate to pursue people in police chases - this is a conversation in the Legislature that has been ongoing. We've talked about this on the program before, but this legislation looks to be advancing. And it's really interesting - we saw this week a pursuit in Kent that ended in a crash, we saw two pursuits in the last two days in California end in fatalities - one of an innocent pedestrian standing by, a number of others ending in crashes. We seem to not be reckoning with how frequently these things are ending in property damage, and in loss of life, or severe injury to people innocently standing by. And we have to acknowledge that the impact is the same as if some external person came and murdered them, or someone came and stole their car. This is harmful to people in the community. And what has never happened has been saying - You can't pursue vehicles. They can pursue. They have been pursuing. They pursue quite frequently, as we've been paying attention to this in the news more closely recently. But this is a debate that they're currently having. What's your view on this? [00:37:56] Robert Cruickshank: When I'm out on the streets myself, sometimes I'll notice that an ambulance comes by and they're speeding to a call, someone's life is in danger. But they're driving quickly, but deliberately and safely - they're taking care to not endanger anyone around them. If I hear a siren - it's a police car coming by - I notice they drive much more aggressively, much more quickly, with apparent less regard for people around them. I think that just speaks to the cultural problems we see in policing - a lack of care and commitment to public safety for anyone other than the officers themselves. And I think it speaks to the larger problem we face here. You have a concern created by right-wing media and by some police themselves who just don't like the idea of being held accountable, or having any restrictions on their operations - who are complaining about laws passed in 2021 governing police pursuits. And as you said, they don't prevent police from pursuing. It has to be a specific situation where certain criteria are met - how it should be. And they're trying to loosen that. And in fact, just yesterday, a bill to loosen rules around police pursuits made it out of a House committee. There are a few people who stood up against that. I want to shout out to them. Newly elected Representative Darya Farivar, from here in the 46th, was the lone Democrat to vote against it - kudos to her. Newly elected Representative Julia Reed is not on that committee - she's from the 36th district - but she had a really good series of tweets yesterday where she called us out and said, This isn't just coming from Republicans, it's coming from some of my fellow Democrats - and I'm not okay with this. We need to continue the fight for fixing things that are broken in our public safety process. So kudos to Representatives Reed and Farivar - it just seems to me that we need more leadership like that. Too many people go to Olympia to play the game, but they showed up to win. And I really appreciate that. They may not be able to stop this bill from going through and weakening important rules around police pursuits, but at least they're standing up and speaking up publicly and trying. And we need to see more of that in Olympia. [00:40:02] Crystal Fincher: We absolutely do. I thank you for bringing them up. I also want to highlight Senator Manka Dhingra, who we've talked about on this show and we interviewed her before. She's talked about - in a lot of areas - that this flies in the face of evidence and of data that show this is dangerous. And an increase in crime, an increase in vehicle deaths are not at all related to whether or not police can pursue people in different instances. Really it looks like the increase in car thefts is really tied to an increase in the value of used cars. But we're really seeing a lot of data flying back and forth, accusations, and people saying - Well, it's for this reason, it's for that reason. Why are we trying to expand this when we don't have solid data or evidence on anything? And to Manka Dhingra's credit, what she has said is that she does not want to bring this up for a hearing on the Senate side, but she is proposing that - Hey, we're hearing a lot of things fly back and forth. We do need to determine what best practices are across the country - what is happening, what is working. And so we can study this and find out what the facts are, particularly for us on the ground here in the state. But standing strong and saying - Look, I know that people want to do this in the law enforcement community, in some elements of the law enforcement community - because to be clear, others have already taken steps to limit police pursuits because this is a best practice and they have recognized that it not only puts the public at risk, but it also puts their officers at risk - to have just a no holds barred, chase everyone whenever you want, even if they just steal some toilet paper from the corner store. So it's going to be interesting to see how this proceeds, particularly in the Senate. But I do hope that people, that a lot of times - we are not bashful about telling our representatives and our electeds our opinions when we disagree with them. But I appreciate calling out ones who are fighting for us and ones who are representing where we stand and what we want - and let them know that you appreciate that, that you have their back - because right now, they're being bombarded by other people and by other lobbies who don't feel the same and who are trying to pressure them with tactics - threatening, battles in the media, challenging that, all that kind of stuff. So make sure that you are engaged in these. We will include links in the show notes to help you see where you can get involved, help contact them. But this is a really important thing that is happening. I hope that is not successful, but don't know. We'll see, because to your point - this is a bipartisan effort. And it's just hard to understand why, particularly after we saw residents across the state reject the kind of reasoning in last year's November elections - voters provided a pretty clear mandate and Republicans tried to make these arguments and actually ran on reversing this. And voters said no across the board to a degree that they rarely do. It's just really confusing to me that - especially the Democrats who support this - would then turn around and say, Okay, but we need to do this anyway. Another example of what we talked about earlier of our elected officials being behind where the public is at. [00:43:44] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, and I think we see this often in the Legislature, unfortunately - a leadership in the Democratic Party in Olympia that is out of touch, unwilling to step up and solve problems. I think you just flagged it correctly. They won an election in 2022, despite being hammered on these issues. They not only protected their swing seats, they picked up a few more. So there's no real urgent mandate from voters, there's no threat to their position for doing this - from making it easier for cops to drive unsafely in police pursuits, but they're doing it anyway. We also see - in education - where the Legislature is really falling down. Thankfully, Marysville's passed a school levy this week - if they hadn't, they're talking about having to dissolve the district. But then the whole McCleary case was designed to make it so you don't have to rely on the local levy anymore. What's turned out is that the Legislature continues to underfund schools. Schools are potentially closing in Seattle, Bellevue - I think we're going to hear about more districts facing this. And the Democratic leadership just isn't engaged on this. There is a bill to try to fully fund special education. There's a cap on the number of students who can receive special education services, even if - that the Legislature will fund, at least. The State Legislature has a cap on how much funding they'll provide for special education. If your district has more than 13.5% of its students who need special education services, the Legislature will not fund above that. In Seattle, 16% of students need services. In rural districts, it's as high as 20%. And those are undercounts. The district is pitted - pits students against each other - says effectively, In order to serve special education students, we got to take money from somewhere else. And so 25 legislators sponsored a bill in the House to eliminate that cap and fund that this year. And a number of people showed up to the House Appropriations Committee hearing last week - myself included, at least virtually - to testify in support - all of a sudden to discover a proposed substitute bill that guts all of that. Says actually, We'll raise it slowly and we'll only implement it over five years. So they're not going to solve the financial problems that schools face. A large part of school deficits is because of underfunding of special education. But the legislative leadership of the Democratic Party is just - it's not a priority for them. They don't seem to really care about public education, even though, once again - polls show the public cares about it. So you have a Democratic leadership in Olympia that feels pressure to change laws around police pursuits because of media pressure, but not really pressure from the public. Certainly not a majority of the public. A few loud voices on the right, but that's not a majority. But the things that the public really does care about, especially education, are just not getting solved. And it's a sad state of affairs in Olympia where the leadership - and I think it's a leadership problem - isn't in touch with what the voters want or need. [00:46:47] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it's a real challenge. I appreciate that you had an excellent piece that ran in The Urbanist earlier this week talking about this, but this is really a comprehensive problem that's been a while in the making that has a lot of different causes. And you talked about a number of issues that are contributing to this - including housing, including our tax system - but really looking at the responsibility of our Legislature to handle this. What needs to happen at various levels of government now to address this, and what impact might this have on school district elections that are coming up? [00:47:27] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, excellent question. The problems facing our schools - it's like a perfect storm of three different things. The Legislature underfunding our schools, cities making it hard for families to stay. When families get priced out and families leave, then your enrollment starts to drop. And then the school district itself is mismanaged, is very top-down - notorious for not responding to the public, notorious for not really caring about what parents and families want - of all backgrounds, of all income levels. So these are all coming together to create a real crisis. In Seattle, if you lose public schools - the schools and neighborhoods start to close, and that just accelerates decline. It accelerates families leaving. It accelerates people who say, I don't want to move to Seattle, right? It works against what we're trying to do at the city and state level in terms of making it easier to build housing and recruit more families and keep families here. If you're not going to provide schools for them, you're going to make them go out of their way to get their kids to school - you're undermining all of that work. One of the things I think we need is leadership in the Legislature, and it strikes me that - we have great leaders on housing in the Legislature - you can look at Jessica Bateman, Nicole Macri. They are champions on housing, and that's great - I like that. There are champions on the environment. We don't seem to have a champion on public education in the Legislature right now. There are people who support it and care about it, but no one really has made it their core issue that they're going to fight on no matter what happens. And that's weird to me, because public education touches so many of their constituents. It's well-liked, universally popular. Polls show that the public wants it. So we need to have champions step up to save our public schools to prevent these closures. I think there's an attitude in Olympia right now that says, Well, enrollment's declining - not much we can do about that. That's terrible, right? We should want everyone in the public system. That is where - we not only educate all of our kids, that's where we do the work of building a better society. We want to undermine racism and privilege and inequity? Bring all the kids into the public system, teach them all together how to be anti-racist - rather than turning the public schools into a de facto safety net, which is what's happening. The other thing the Legislature can do is pass a wealth tax. It has widespread public support - two-thirds of Washington voters want to tax the rich to fund things, including public schools. Do that this year. But that's a situation where a Senate Democrat - in this case Christine Rolfes, Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee - hasn't brought that bill up for a hearing yet. She is someone who's thinking about running for statewide office next year. Does she really want to go statewide having blocked a wealth tax? That seems unwise. But we'll see what the Democratic leadership in Olympia wants to do. Do they take public education seriously or not? [00:50:21] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it seems very unwise. And this is another issue that Democrats, especially in battleground districts, ran talking about public education, ran talking about how important it is. This is following a number of teacher strikes that happened at the beginning of the year, where they called out how critical these issues are and they're at nearly unsustainable levels now. They are short staffed when it comes to special education. As you talked about, there are situations where even in a fire drill, there wasn't enough staff to safely evacuate all of their students. This is hazardous in many different ways. And I also want to call out, just as we are looking at this - this is 2023. And this year, not only are we going to be seeing city council elections and mayoral elections, but school board elections - which so often get overlooked, but are absolutely critical to addressing this issue. I hope that we see a deeper examination of school board races across the board - in Seattle, across the state. This is critical. And I also want to call out - it's also critical because our public schools are where a number of - I don't just want to say conservatives, but like fascists, have designated a battleground. We're seeing attacks on trans people existing across the country, and absolutely here too. We're seeing efforts to ban books on everything - from issues that address the LGBTQ community to BIPOC communities. They are really trying to use the schools to outlaw people, to make it illegal to exist. And this has worked in so many other places. We have districts - I'm here in Kent, the Kent School District - candidates who were endorsed by Democrats, one former Chair of the 33rd District Democrats voting against teachers' unions, voting to take them to court, voting to ban books, right? This is something that's happening in these elections because they go so unnoticed. Lots of people do not pay attention or examine, so someone with really extreme, harmful ideologies who does not want to acknowledge the humanity or the right of everybody to exist and learn and thrive are flourishing. And this is how they're getting their foothold into power and into local government. And then they make it onto city councils and into the Legislature and into Congress. We have to pay attention to these things. What's your take on what's at stake in these elections? [00:53:10] Robert Cruickshank: I appreciate you saying that, because school board is hugely important. And it is something that I think the progressive movement generally isn't paying enough attention to - school boards in particular, but also public education. And I think we need to change that here in 2023 for the reasons you mentioned. I think it's also true in Seattle where thankfully we're not seeing efforts to ban books. The previous school board did in 2015 think about trying to sue teachers when they went out on strike - thankfully they got strong public pushback against that. But I think the problem we have in Seattle, for example, is a school board that is disengaged - that isn't really willing to step up and do the work to fix the district, to take on persistent mismanagement, and to rebuild the district in a way that power devolves to the community in ways that are equitable. And I think you have four seats here in Seattle that are up for re-election this year - that's the majority of the board. And there are a few of us parents who are working to try to figure out - who's out there, who's willing to step up and run. And it's hard - it's an underpaid job. You get $4,000 a year, essentially, with no real support and a lot of work. But it's important and rewarding work that has to be done because public education is just one of those absolutely crucial things to the future of our society. And the right understands this. They get that very, very clearly. The corporations understand - that's why they want to privatize the system - because there's a lot of money in it. The right understands because there's a lot of power in it. And I think progressives need to make 2023 the year that - in Washington State, at least - they really deeply engage on this. We saw around the country last year in 2022 - where progressives did engage on school board races, they did really well. A lot of parents in places like North Carolina or Michigan, Texas mobilized to stop these right-wingers who wanted to use school districts and school boards to attack other kids. And those progressive candidates by and large did well. I think it's important for us in Washington State, whether you are in a district where those anti-trans, anti-critical race theory people are coming in, or whether you're in Seattle where the problems are different - you just have a school board that isn't really focused on doing the job properly. We as progressives need to really get our act in gear on this and take public education and school boards super seriously this year. [00:55:28] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And issues like special education, issues about letting police back into schools are on the docket this year. And if we don't step in and make our voices heard, make our preferences heard, other people certainly will. Like you said, conservatives have understood for a long time. They've understood the importance of the courts at a more fundamental level than progressives have traditionally. And they understand the role of public education - in just our society and how it shapes - so I hope we continue to pay attention to that. Appreciate all of your insight here. We'll also link that op-ed that you wrote and include that in the show notes. And I just want to thank everybody for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, February 17th, 2023 - this year continues to evaporate. Hacks & Wonks is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. Our insightful co-host today is Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank. You can find Robert on Twitter @cruikshank, that's C-R-U-I-C-K S-H-A-N-K. You can follow me on Twitter @finchfrii. Follow Hacks & Wonks @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes. Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.
On this midweek show, Ryan Packer returns for a round-up of regional transportation issues with Crystal. Ryan's efforts to raise public awareness around traffic safety issues through in-the-minute reporting of cars hitting pedestrians and bicyclists sparks conversation about the Legislature's aim of changing driver behavior through bills currently under consideration and their funding of bike and pedestrian safety improvements in last year's transportation package. They then address the issue of the Columbia River Crossing Megaproject being pushed forward with a decades-old scope, an uncertain funding plan, and non-consideration of climate change or equity. Finally, Crystal and Ryan highlight the disconnect observed in two regional planning bodies with the Puget Sound Regional Council adopting a transportation plan unaligned with our 2030 climate goals and the Sound Transit Board making decisions uninformed by transit rider experience. As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com. Follow us on Twitter at @HacksWonks. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find Ryan Packer at @typewriteralley. Ryan Packer Ryan Packer has been covering transportation and land use at The Urbanist since 2015. Their work has also appeared in the Seattle Bike Blog, BikePortland, and PubliCola. They don't own a bike. Resources “State Proposals Aim to Lower Traffic Deaths by Improving Driver Behavior” by Ryan Packer from PubliCola “Navigating the Move Ahead Washington Transportation Package with Ryan Packer” from Hacks & Wonks “Washington State Is Losing Control of the Columbia Interstate Bridge Replacement Megaproject” by Ryan Packer from The Urbanist “Adopted Regional Transportation Plan Isn't Aligned With 2030 Climate Goals” by Ryan Packer from The Urbanist “Elected Leaders Must Press Forward With Study of SR 99 and I-5 Everett Link Alternatives” by Stephen Fesler from The Urbanist Transcript [00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today, I am excited to be able to welcome Ryan Packer to the show, who's been covering transportation and land use at The Urbanist since 2015. Their work has also appeared in Seattle Bike Blog, Bike Portland, PubliCola. They don't own a bike, but they cover transportation and related issues as well or better than anyone else in the region - an absolute impactful reporter that we have here. Welcome to the show, Ryan. [00:01:07] Ryan Packer: Thanks so much for having me. [00:01:09] Crystal Fincher: So what got you interested in the first place in reporting on these issues in particular? [00:01:16] Ryan Packer: Basically it was being a transportation user in Seattle. I worked for a restaurant company close to downtown and lived in Capitol Hill, and basically all the ways to get to work that the City was trying to encourage people to use - walking or transit - were unpleasant or infeasible basically. And once you start picking at threads as to why that is, you quickly learn all the different elements of the transportation system that most people aren't aware of - what I like to call the government ecosystem around transportation - and all the ways that it's very broken. [00:01:59] Crystal Fincher: Definitely very broken. One of the things that you've become known for is the unique style of reporting that you have for pedestrian-involved collisions by cars and other vehicles. How did you get started doing that? And what is the kind of feedback that you've received about your reporting there? [00:02:22] Ryan Packer: Yeah, so I basically started noticing that there wasn't a lot of in-the-minute reporting on people getting hit by cars, basically - people walking or biking. Essentially The Seattle Times, or daily newspaper even - in Washington or elsewhere - is only going to cover someone getting hit when ultimately it leads to someone's death. And I started to think about how this leads to a disproportionate - started to think about how this leads to a wrong perception in public at large, in terms of how safe it is to walk around and bike around. Obviously it's not intended to scare people or make people not want to walk or bike, but just to give people an accurate read of how often this is happening. Because the information is out there and once I started pulling it out and realizing this is happening right around the corner from me - I might not have even known this had happened - the reception has been pretty positive in terms of people wanting this information, wanting to know what's happening particularly on their own neighborhood streets. [00:03:41] Crystal Fincher: And there's a lot of action being talked about in response to the crisis that is pedestrian and bike safety. What is being talked about - I guess we'll start off at the state level - just in terms of safety, and then we can talk about general, other transportation-related issues, but what's on the docket there? [00:04:04] Ryan Packer: This session is not a big transportation year, but the traffic safety crisis is the big transportation issue. And so there are a number of bills that are being considered and most of them are trying to directly go after driver behavior. And so we have a lot of bills that are aimed at, say, specific types of drivers. There's a bill to lower the blood alcohol content threshold for a DUI from 0.08 to 0.05 - making people think a little bit more closely about how much they're drinking when they get behind the wheel of a car. There's a bill to target 18 to 25-year old drivers who don't have to take a driver education course - 18-year old doesn't have to take a driver's education course that their 17-year old sibling does. It doesn't make a lot of sense and it shows in the data in terms of the crash rates for young adults like that don't end up taking that course. There's a bill to target older drivers - a little bit less prescriptive - but there's some data that suggests that once you hit a certain age, your capabilities behind the wheel should be assessed a little bit more frequently. A bill to give people a warning label on their car, before they purchase it, in terms of - This vehicle is large and more likely to severely hurt somebody walking or biking if you hit them. And that bill would also impose an additional fine if you were involved in a crash like that. And so all these bills are looking at individual behavior, what I would call bad driver targeting. Ultimately this is just one aspect of the sort of national best practices that everyone's moving toward in terms of what's called a safe systems approach. But the important thing to note - while everyone's talking about driver behavior this session - last session was the transportation investment year. And you actually had me on the program to talk about the Move Ahead Washington package last year. But just to go through what we know about it since then and what it's going to do, it includes a lot of money for cities to ask for for bike and pedestrian safety. The problem with that is it is relying on people to raise their hands and also doesn't require that the funds go to the most impactful areas. So for example, a city like Kent doesn't have to request funds for the intersection, say, that the most people are getting hurt at. They can say, Oh, we want to do a project over here. And there's not a lot that the state can say, Oh, you should do something different. They have to pick the projects people are asking for. But there's another very important provision in that bill, which is a new complete streets mandate for state highways. And so we're getting into a mandate - sort of a blanket change - it's going to be much more impactful. It basically says that any time that the State Department of Transportation goes out to fix, or repair, or maintain a state highway - they have to look at whether or not that state highway is up to current standards - whether or not it has sidewalks, bike lanes, and whether drivers are currently driving really the appropriate speeds on that highway. So the Legislature allocated $1.5 billion in Move Ahead Washington to overall highway maintenance, so it's a lot of money but it's also not a lot of money in terms of how much maintenance our state highways need. But since the passage of that law, the State Department of Transportation has announced that they expect to use about half of that amount to upgrade safety infrastructure for people walking and biking on state highways - about $750 million, which if it ends up coming to pass would be the biggest investment in safe infrastructure in statewide history - possibly in a lot of states. [00:08:42] Crystal Fincher: And that was some positive news, hedged positive news. Seems like we're making progress but there is so much to do that sometimes it feels like we're trying to mop up the ocean a little bit. You talked about some of the best practices and some of the bills going after one dimension of that, which is driver behavior. What are the other recommended best practices? What are things that legislators should be talking about? [00:09:12] Ryan Packer: One element that has not quite made it to the Legislature is vehicle design in terms of - I talked a little bit about that warning label - but in terms of actually requiring that cars not be designed to hurt people is one aspect of this sort of safe systems approach - the actual design of our vehicles. It's gotten larger over the past couple decades - the trend toward SUVs, which has led to negative direction in terms of the pedestrian and cyclist injuries and fatalities. And so when you're talking about that, you're talking about something that would impact everyone on the road as opposed to the so-called bad driver. Even if you're putting a warning label - that's putting the onus on individuals like - Oh, you bought this car so you should know what it's like, as opposed to this car is on the market and it's a systemic issue in terms of offering these for sale. And so, but once you start to get into sort of how many different drivers would be impacted, the political will to actually make the changes is diminishing. For example, in terms of driver's education - when you talk about making drivers age 18 to 25 do the driver's ed course, that's one change but a 24-year old who is tested in another state can also just go ahead and transfer their driver's license into Washington without having to do that driver's ed course. Or a driver who's 35 and maybe needs to have that driver course again. Roger Millar, the State Secretary of Transportation, likes to note that the last time that he was tested for his driver behavior was in the 1970s and that there's been a couple of changes in state laws since that time - and that's true for a lot of people on our roads. But once again, that would apply to a lot of people getting back in the queue for driver's testing. [00:11:10] Crystal Fincher: Does road design play a role in the safe systems approach? [00:11:15] Ryan Packer: Absolutely road design plays a role. It's a key component, and that's what I was getting at with the complete streets requirement doing a systemic look at whether our state highways are designed to standards. There's not really a requirement for local jurisdictions to do that - cities like Seattle have complete streets ordinances, but there's a lot of ways that they can get around those. But you're talking about the need to - number one, make sure that people are driving at the appropriate speeds - one of the biggest factors in terms of whether or not someone is likely to be hurt or even killed in a crash is the speed that they're going. And you often have cities lowering speed limits, but the design speed - the speed that drivers feel like they can appropriately go on a road - may still be a lot higher. And so you have a lot of streets where those speeds remain very high. And then you also have the issue of distance for crossings for pedestrians - whether or not someone is likely to be able to safely cross that street is a big determinant of how safe it is, and whether or not there's safe infrastructure for people to walk along it or bike along it. One thing I like to always notice is - one of the biggest impacts that adding protected bike lanes to urban cities is - is the impact on pedestrians. You're often - one, separating cars from pedestrians with another lane in between them which is always great and makes things safer, but you're also adding protected turns - making sure the drivers aren't turning across the bike lanes - also great for people walking. So these kind of have these compounding effect, where it improves everything for everyone on the street not just someone on a bike. [00:13:15] Crystal Fincher: Now there are a few other things going on in the Legislature, even besides some of these pedestrian-related and safety-related enhancements. One of those issues is one that they thought they dealt with and maybe mostly wrapped up last year, but that has come back with a vengeance - that a lot of people are looking at with concern - and that's the Columbia River Crossing Megaproject. Where does that stand, and what has happened that they need to tackle now? [00:13:48] Ryan Packer: So this project has been around for almost two decades - it's a needed project to replace the two spans of the I-5, between Washington and Oregon - one of which was built in the 1910s. The previous attempt to replace this bridge, which is called the Columbia River Crossing, included seven miles of highway expansion, five interchanges, light rail as a component - several sort of huge projects within projects - that made the project very expensive and expansive. Ultimately in 2013, it was the Washington State Senate that didn't want to pony up the money for that project - in part because of light rail's inclusion, in part because of a opposition to having tolls from the Washington side to go into Oregon. That project languished for several years until it was restarted by Governor Brown and Inslee in 2019, and has been moving forward - but the key thing to remember with this is that we're still using the federal approval from the Columbia River Crossing, even though we've now rebranded it with a very flashy campaign called the Interstate Bridge Replacement, or the IBR. It has the environmental approval of the Columbia River Crossing and that includes the scope - and so the seven miles of highway, five interchanges - it basically is still in there. And we went through a whole process to look at how we might tweak that, whether or not we might include climate change as an actual purpose and need to address with this project, or whether we might want to include equity as an actual thing to address. Ultimately they decided that that would disrupt the project schedule - they're very intent on replacing this, starting construction by 2025 - it's not entirely clear that's going to happen, it being 2023 already, but that's what they're aiming for. And at the end of last year they just came up with a new project cost estimate based on all the new tweaks that they want to do to this thing, and it could end up costing about - $7.5 billion is the high end estimate. It would ultimately be the most expensive single highway project in the Pacific Northwest and among the top 10 in the nation. And so the question is whether the scope is too wide and expansive for - what we're talking about is a very needed bridge, not a highway. [00:16:55] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And with that expanded cost estimate and the now inflated cost that we've seen, that puts them at least a billion dollars under budget - and there's a question about where that billion dollars is coming from. Where does that stand? [00:17:11] Ryan Packer: So they have a financial concept plan that assumes that they're going to get a lot of money from the federal government - the bipartisan infrastructure bill included a mega-grant program, kind of orchestrated by Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, that kind of had the IBR in mind when they were looking at this grant program. And so they're counting on an incredible amount of money from the federal government - around $2-3 billion - which is wild. They've already gotten $1 billion from the State of Washington in last year's Move Ahead Washington package, but they're banking on Oregon chipping in another billion dollars this year - which would get them to have that matching funds for the federal grants. Interestingly enough, new governor of Oregon Tina Kotek released her budget very early this year and didn't actually have a billion dollars in it for that project, which is very interesting because it was a very big priority of her predecessor, a very big priority of sort of her old colleagues in the Oregon Legislature - and so she clearly sees it as not one of the top priorities. She's currently allocating a lot of money for housing and not highways. [00:18:41] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, an interesting conundrum which has definitely been scrutinized and continues to be challenged - because of the broadness of the scope - does it require that many lanes, that much impact on the local area? You talked about equity being put aside in terms of - because they wanted to stick to their timeline. And certainly people in that region who are familiar with the impacts of the type of pollution that's created by cars being spewed in the neighborhood and what those health impacts, like asthma and other things, are for local communities and schools there in that area. [00:19:25] Ryan Packer: So that also gets into the issue of tolls, which I mentioned were a sticking point with the old project. They're banking on a lot of money also coming in from tolls. The first point with that is obviously we don't quite know what the actual impact on traffic volume on the bridge is going to be from those tolls, and so it has a - do we need to have all that capacity to - if we're going to put the tolling on the bridge, what is that relationship going to look like? But also, as we've seen in Washington with the SR99 tunnel and some of the other tolling programs that the state has undergone in the past couple years, sort of banking on a high number of toll users to pay back your project is not necessarily the most sound financial plan. [00:20:20] Crystal Fincher: It is not, as we have learned in those other situations that you referenced. I also wanted to touch on one of our regional bodies at the moment - the Puget Sound Regional Council. And we have a number of bodies that are involved in transportation planning, a number of regional bodies - this is one of them - but a number of these have also talked about their commitment to addressing climate change, to reducing greenhouse gases, setting targets and we have a 2030 target that they're attempting to hit. And recently they announced that they are not on track to hit the 2030 climate goal. Where do they stand on that, and are they talking about anything that will put us back on track to meeting those targets? [00:21:09] Ryan Packer: Yeah, so this is a body that not a lot of people pay attention to - it's the four county - King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap County - regional planning body. Its biggest role is figuring out where to allocate federal funds, and so it's a conduit for a lot of federal money - and so that's how it's how it gets the power that it does. Ultimately they have to approve a regional transportation plan that kind of looks at the entire region's goals around transportation. They did that last year, and originally it was just looking at the climate impacts by 2050 - sort of the long term goals around reducing transportation emissions. Thanks to a lot of the leaders on the regional council, including the president - King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci - they were like, Hey, we should actually be looking at 2030 to see if we're on track or we have to do a lot more work. And that analysis just came back and shows a pretty big gap in terms of where we're expected to be - 13%, which is a huge emissions gap. It doesn't sound huge, but it's - when you talk about the emissions of the entire region. And they also looked at sort of some models around how to fill that gap. And that's the frustrating thing about their models - which is basically they showed that transit, expanding transit, is not really going to close the gap. And in terms of - because our growth strategy as a region is not quite going to catch up to where we need to be by 2030 in terms of having actual people close to transit. First of all, should give some direction to our local leaders in terms of what they should be doing around transit access and station planning. But also the model seems a little bit behind the times in terms of being able to actually account for sort of the actual behavior of people. It also noted that if we put a hold on sort of the roadway expansions - which add capacity, add cars, add emissions - that it would - their models are showing that that wouldn't have an impact. And a lot of people are questioning that, including Claudia Balducci [00:23:48] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, a lot of us questioning that - with some of the justification that they're giving essentially being we add lanes but that's gonna help traffic. And if people spend less time in traffic, then that's going to neutralize the emissions that come from the increased traffic somehow. [00:24:05] Ryan Packer: The same arguments that we've been hearing for a couple of decades - just haven't borne out. [00:24:09] Crystal Fincher: Yeah - kind of challenging there. Also Sound Transit, another regional body that is very involved in our regional transit system - they operate our light rail and heavy rail Sounder system. Where do they stand in terms of climate goals and their kind of overall operation? [00:24:33] Ryan Packer: Ultimately, Sound Transit isn't really charged with making sure that the region's holding to its climate goals. They're being asked to build a regional spine to our transit network, which is - it's very expensive. It's gonna be a lot of years of work to get that sort of spine from Everett to Tacoma. And ultimately, it's not going to be as impactful as it could be if regional government - cities, counties - don't do the maximum to ensure that people are living by the stations, people can access those stations. And so that's one way that the sort of siloed system of our transportation ecosystem in central Puget Sound is not optimizing outcomes in terms of climate and also just all those other more immediate impacts - livability, air quality, things like that. Sound Transit is tasked with building the system, and the way that its political board is structured - the incentives are basically to make sure that your community is getting some transit and not that the region as a whole is set up for success. One way that that's epitomized is the planned deviation over to Paine Field in Everett - that a lot of people are questioning the sort of utility of making a detour on light rail to go to an airport that not a lot of people are really going to be able to utilize by the time it's done - and so, it's adding a couple like 10 minutes to every trip to Everett, as opposed to other ways to serve that. But it's seen as - taking away that would be seen as bad for Everett. [00:26:30] Crystal Fincher: And this is a challenge that we see with this board overall and some of the confounding decisions that are made. What is the composition of this board, and what kind of investment do its members have in - personal investment - in public transit? [00:26:47] Ryan Packer: The board is made up of local leaders from around the region, so ultimately you have people whose investment in transit is tied directly to their own performance as an elected official, not necessarily their own experience as a transit rider. It's not clear how many of our transit board members are actual daily transit riders or, in terms of their ties to the overall transit community. And so, like I said, it's all about making sure that you're delivering the projects for your city. And so there's just a lot of sort of bartering and siloing. [00:27:26] Crystal Fincher: Overall, with your perspective on transportation and transit in the region, what do you think are the most important things, I guess, on the docket for people to address and ways to address them? What would your words of wisdom be for those involved in the policy making? [00:27:45] Ryan Packer: I think the first thing I would say is that people involved in transit decision making should get out and ride transit - see what it's like - use that experience to actually make decisions. And get away from the map on the screen, in terms of looking at the actual impacts. I think a lot of people are getting very cynical about the decision making processes in central Puget Sound at all levels of government - from the City of Seattle to the highest echelons at Sound Transit - in terms of where the priorities of the decision makers are. I do think we see that party shifting a little bit, possibly - even at the City of Seattle level - toward people-centered projects, but ultimately the status quo bias is so embedded into - a lot of these - I don't want to say infrastructure, but the actual decision making processes - that it's very hard to turn that ship very quickly at all. [00:29:05] Crystal Fincher: Thank you so much, Ryan, for your time today. Thank you for just enlightening us - and your coverage - it's just been so impactful. I know that even for people who follow these issues and like you talked about - looking at the data, seeing maps on the screen and this happening - it's just impactful in a different way to see it reported in live time. And just the way that you get around our region and connect the dots on how what we do across the region impacts each other, and how we should be addressing transit and transportation overall. So thank you very much. [00:29:48] Ryan Packer: Well, thanks so much for all that you do, Crystal. [00:29:50] Crystal Fincher: Thank you all for listening to Hacks & Wonks. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler, our assistant producer is Shannon Cheng, and our Post-Production Assistant is Bryce Cannatelli. You can find Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks, and you can follow me @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered right to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave us a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes. Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.
On this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, political consultant and host Crystal Fincher is joined by friend of the show and today's co-host: metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll! They look at the battle over a potential Pierce County airport, racist housing covenants, pushback against expanding ballot access to people in Washington state jails, WA police pursuit legislation, and the ongoing debate over middle housing. In Pierce County news, Matt outlines how potential plans for a new airport in the area seem to have been squashed by their opposition for now, but the needs for a new airport remain. He also informs us about the existence of thousands of racial housing covenants, homes that were originally built at the exclusion of people based on their race, in the region. It's a grim reminder of the racist history of our country, and how discriminatory practices continue today. In election news, Khawla Nakua from Bolts did some excellent reporting last month revealing that, despite the creation of new state funding to bring voting access to eligible voters in WA jails, only a handful of counties have applied for the funding, and some local officials have blocked attempts to utilize the funds. In public safety news this week, the WA legislature is currently debating over whether to expand the situations in which police officers can utilize vehicular pursuits. While there are many anecdotes or concerns about restricting officers' ability to chase suspects, data shows that vehicular pursuits are inherently dangerous to all involved. Finally, Matt and Crystal close the show looking at the current state of Washington's battles over middle housing. They discuss recent successes for pro-housing legislation in Olympia and a poll that shows the majority of Washingtonians are ready for housing reform, despite what critics claim. As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find today's co-host, Matt Driscoll, at @mattsdriscoll. Resources “RE-AIR: Restoring the Right to Vote with Cyril Walrond and Kelly Olson of the Washington Voting Rights Restoration Coalition” from Hacks & Wonks “Are plans for a new Pierce County airport already dead? It's starting to feel that way” by Matt Driscoll from The News Tribune “Pierce County Adopts anti-airport resolution. Here's what the Council wants to happen” by Sea Johnson from The News Tribune “Seattle needs a new Sea-Tac-sized airport. No one wants it near them” by Dominic Gates from The Seattle Times “There are 4,000 racist housing covenants in Pierce County. You can find them on a map” by Matt Driscoll from The News Tribune “Efforts to Expand Ballot Access in Washington State Jails Face Local Pushback” by Khawla Nakua from Bolts Magazine “Don't believe the smears. A fact-based police pursuit law makes Washington safer” by Rep. Sharlett Mena and Sen. Yasmin Trudeau from The News Tribune “Middle housing bill passes major milestone in Olympia” by Joshua McNichols from KUOW “Poll: WA residents want more multifamily housing in their neighborhoods” by Claire Withycombe from The Seattle Times “Poll: Strong Majority of Washingtonians Support Middle Housing Options” from Sightline Institute “OPINION | I-135 Isn't Just About Housing, It's About Our Students Too” by Otis Golden from The South Seattle Emerald Transcript [00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. If you missed Tuesday's midweek show, we released a re-air of our conversation with Cyril Walrond and Kelly Olson of the Washington Voting Rights Restoration Coalition. Cyril and Kelly told us about the coalition's successful efforts to pass HB 1078, which restores those rights to all formerly incarcerated people in Washington and took effect on January 1st, 2022. Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a cohost. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's cohost: metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll. [00:01:29] Matt Driscoll: Hello - thanks for having me back. I'm honored. [00:01:31] Crystal Fincher: Hey - welcome back once again. Happy to have you back, always enjoy it. I wanted to start off talking about an issue that has been high on the minds of many people in Pierce County - has created a lot of attention and opposition - the airport discussion, about a potential new airport sited in Pierce County. How did we get to this point and what is going on? [00:01:59] Matt Driscoll: Yeah - the short and sweet of it is - it's really difficult, as it turns out, to find some place to put a big, gigantic new airport. And people don't want it in their neighborhoods, believe it or not. But yeah, so it's kind of the brief history. The footnotes on this is - there's a belief in the Legislature and amongst the folks who think about such things that the Puget Sound region needs an additional airport. They say SeaTac's maxed out, we've already done some expansions at Paine Field. If we look 20 years into the future, we know this region is going to need more air travel capacity than it currently has. And so they've set in motion a process to potentially identify a new site. So they basically appointed a commission - created a commission - that's been studying it now for many months, narrowing down lists of potential places. The most recent official act of that is they've narrowed it down to three greenfield locations - is what they call them - which is essentially locations in the middle of nowhere, locations where you could build a new airport. Two of those are in Pierce County, rural Pierce County - in the Roy-Graham-Eatonville area - one's out by Northwest Trek, would be out by Northwest Trek. The other is the tail end of Meridian there, if you're familiar to the area. And that has created a whole lot of opposition. The other greenfield site's in Thurston County - there's plenty of opposition down there too. So you've got a whole bunch of local constituents, local residents that are freaked out about the prospect of this commission maybe deciding that Pierce County is the best place for a gigantic new airport. Pretty much every local official on every side of the aisle has come out in opposition of this idea. Like I said at the outset, nobody wants a big airport in their neck of the woods, despite whatever perceived economic benefit might come from that. And so it's just gotten really interesting from there. There are some other more recent kind of developments and some opposition that I can get into, but that's the lay of the land. We're waiting for this commission to deliver its recommendation on where they think the new Puget Sound Airport should be built. [00:04:23] Crystal Fincher: And it has received a lot of opposition from a variety of different corners. This is a unique coalition in that it has lots of people from both sides of the aisle for various reasons, even those calling into question the necessity of a new airport anyway. Is it actually been determined that there is a substantiated need for an airport, another airport? [00:04:49] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, I think a lot of people are rightfully questioning that assertion. I think it was certainly generally believed in the Legislature when they created this commission that it was - there was a very real possibility. Dominic Gates - Pulitzer-winning Dominic Gates - did a piece in The Seattle Times a few months back that generated a lot of opposition just around the idea that it's just assumed that we would need this airport. There are a lot of people that want to look into other options, perhaps expanding rail to regional destinations could take some of the load off - those sorts of ideas. And of course, in the background, they're selling this idea that this would be an airport of the future that would be greener and all that sort of stuff. But, there's no such thing as a green airport. And I think, particularly in an area that's highly concerned about climate change and those sorts of things, a lot of people are asking tough questions about that assertion. And no, I don't think we have a definitive answer that you definitely need a new airport. I know the economic projections of not having additional airline capacity, both for cargo and passenger, are pretty dire. There's estimates of how many jobs and how many millions of dollars that the area would lose. So I think there's a lot on the table. But no, that's just one of many questions hanging. You mentioned some of the other opposition. JBLM [Joint Base Lewis-McChord] has come out and said that a new airport in that area - all three of the greenfield locations, including the Thurston County one - wouldn't mesh with necessary base operations and training. That's a big - in my mind, that's a big red flag. It's hard for me to imagine that they're going to go against JBLM. There's another site near Enumclaw that the Department of Transportation has maybe suggested could be a better site. King County sites were prohibited from this process by the legislation - for understandable reasons. King County already has an airport. It's not like obliterating Enumclaw is any better than obliterating Graham or Orting - none of these options are great. And simultaneous to all this, there are calls in the Legislature basically to start the process over. So start from scratch. They're saying that the process sucked during COVID - people weren't given the opportunity to participate, all those sorts of things. I don't know how much of that is true. I don't know how many town halls you need to hold to determine that people don't want an airport built in their rural community. My guess is that's what you're going to find either way. But it's sure looking to me like the prospect of them choosing a Pierce County location and saying this is going to work, or them choosing one of those greenfield sites and saying this is going to work - it seems unlikely at my point. And I should add and now I just feel like I've been talking - this is a hot issue down here in Pierce County, so forgive me. But the acting chair of that commission has basically come out on several occasions and said, Hey, there's big red flags about all these sites. I don't think - he's anticipated - he's a non voting member - but he has anticipated that he doesn't think this commission is going to come back and recommend any of these sites as a good spot for a new airport. So long story short, I think you're looking at this conversation continuing for likely many years into the future. Yakima has expressed some interest in perhaps being home to an airport - that doesn't exactly, wouldn't seem to exactly solve the Puget Sound region issue. But maybe - if you're creative, who knows? So I think we're going to be talking about this for a long time. [00:08:17] Crystal Fincher: And it is worth the conversation. It has been a very hot topic with lots of hot opposition to it - but from a number of different corners - and the opposition isn't only from people in Pierce County either. Talking about just the environmental impacts of these - climate change is a reality that we are experiencing negative impacts from right now. And looking at different factors - one, just that the air pollution from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective is vast from an airport - some of the most polluting places that we have in the state. In addition to that, so many reports and studies have come out over the last several years talking about the impact of the change in air quality in flight paths on people who live under them. Here in South King County, I live near a flight path. Certainly people in Des Moines, Tukwila. Life expectancies are different - it's one of the mitigating factors - childhood asthma, inhaling these particulates from these is not wonderful. And then talking about preserving farmland, preserving green space, preserving our rural areas - preventing sprawl and development in those areas is what we're trying to do. We're trying to concentrate development in areas where it is already, and paving over such a broad rural area just does not seem like it is aligned with our climate goals for the long term and what we're trying to do there. So it will be interesting to keep following this conversation. Representative Jake Fey has a bill that he introduced in the Legislature that would rewind the clock a little bit - say, Hey, let's restart the study of this and consider things that maybe there wasn't the opportunity to consider before because of COVID getting in the way, really understanding what all of the environmental impacts, the impacts on people would be, what it would mean in terms of losing this ground. And as you mentioned before, concerns from JBLM really saying that we cannot - makes it definitive that anything that would negatively impact practices going on at JBLM would be a nonstarter for an airport site. Do you know if that legislation looks likely to pass? Is there broad support for it? [00:10:48] Matt Driscoll: I would hazard a guess at this point - or wouldn't hazard a guess - but my gut tells me, Yeah, there's support for it. It's certainly within - what I can say for certain - it's certain within the Pierce County delegation. I think Republicans and Democrats are all aligned around this issue. I don't think there's any - really - hesitations on that. I have never spoken to any elected leader in this area that wants the airport. It's a tricky situation because you've got the rest of the state that doesn't want an airport in their area, too. I was on the radio with the Gee and Ursula show a few months back and they're like, Yeah, Pierce County seems great for - from a more King County, or more north perspective - they're like this sounds great. But yeah, certainly from the local delegation - I don't think there's any support for the airport at this point. I think there is support for restarting the clock, looking at all those options, looking at those things that haven't been considered yet, looking at alternatives. I agree with everything you said related to climate change. And I would just note - about the quality of life issues - certainly, your area up there in South King County knows the impact of airports. We've already got JBLM - I've already got massive military jets over our head every day or two. So yeah, it's just a tricky situation. And you mentioned everything about airports, and I agree with that and yet travel. I'm not an expert on these stats, but my layman's understanding suggests that people keep traveling by air - they like it - so it's a sticky one. [00:12:37] Crystal Fincher: That they do. That could put us into a tangential conversation about regional high speed rail, which could be very useful in situations like this and might be a wonderful alternative consideration. But we will see how this conversation continues to unfold. The News Tribune has been covering all angles of this for months, since it's been bandied about. And so please continue to stay tuned to that coverage to get more information about that. Something else that was covered by The News Tribune this week is the history of racist housing covenants in Pierce County. What happened here? [00:13:20] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, this is a - it's an interesting column I wrote - thank you for bringing it up because it is, it's really interesting. I think it's important - for King County listeners might be slightly more familiar with kind of this process, so I'll just give the brief back story. There's a team of researchers at University of Washington, Seattle, that have been basically researching and uncovering these kind of old racist housing covenants for many years - nearly two decades in the term in the experience of the lead professor there, Professor Gregory. And in 2021, the Legislature put some funding and money and organization together basically to expand that research across the state. So earlier this week, the UW released kind of preliminary results on that work from five counties across the region, including Thurston as well, but including Pierce County. And here in Pierce County, the team uncovered more than - so far has recovered more than, or uncovered more than - 4,000 old racist housing covenants. And just to back up - and for folks that don't know - back in the day, the earliest one here that they found in Pierce County is 1907. But really, between the prime years of 1920, 30s and 40s, these racist housing covenants - and not just racist, but exclusionary and religious and in other ways, too - were fairly prominent with new housing developments and new subdivisions. It was pretty straightforward - it would say, whites only or would say, people of color can't live here or whoever can't live here. And of course, it used the crude language of the time. In 1948, a Supreme Court decision made those unenforceable. A couple decades later, Fair Housing Act made discrimination on the basis of race and a whole bunch of other things in terms of housing illegal. But the uncovering of these covenants is really about understanding the legacy and the lasting impact of what that had done. So that's really what the UW researchers talked the most about and most passionately about is - we still see the impacts of these housing policies and the redlining that went along with it and the lending practices that went along with it in our world today. If you look at the percentage of white homeownership versus Black homeownership, it's nearly double in Pierce County, in terms of white families and Black families. If you look at the wealth gap, it's pronounced everywhere, including Pierce County. And the researchers talk about it, and rightfully so - I think this kind of matches most people's experiences out in the world, at least most average people. But if your family is going to build wealth, it's often through real estate, unless you hit the stock market or win the lottery or something. It's because - generations ago, land was purchased or a home was purchased and that appreciated value. And then you find yourself with wealth that can be passed down. And you're talking about huge segments of our population that were basically disqualified from that or barred from that for many, many, many years. And it certainly stretched well past that 1948 Supreme Court decision, because they were still talking about it in 1964. And really the impacts of that span for decades. It's only fairly recently that I think we've - if we've made any real strides in that - that we've started to make them. But, in Tacoma, you still see it. Look at the difference in demographics between North Tacoma and the East Side - just, that's not by accident. That's how this stuff was orchestrated in many ways. And so it's really about - so basically, they've uncovered more than 4,000 of these old racist housing covenants, but the importance of this work is it really draws attention to the lasting impact of that segregationist housing policy. [00:17:13] Crystal Fincher: Well, and it does have a lasting impact. As you just said, homeownership is how most Americans have built their wealth. And even for Black people, other people who were allowed to buy houses in other areas that weren't redlined - that didn't have these housing covenants - those were in areas deemed to be less desirable - to the point that they did appreciate, they appreciated less than the other ones. And so you have a built-in institutional gap, once again, that is driving this inequality. And it basically is putting people in a spiral where - where you're allowed to live is a less desirable area. If you can purchase, it is for less, it appreciates less. And of course, there's going to be less wealth generated in that area and the inequalities remain. Moving forward, what should people take from this or what should result from it? [00:18:14] Matt Driscoll: That's an interesting question. I think the biggest thing and we struggle with this is as a society - it's just acknowledging the reality of it. I think I've already gotten several emails from people that are like, These are old, this is old, why are you covering this now? And so I think we have to get past that, right? We have to understand the nuance and how we got to the place where we are today before we can do anything about where we are today. So I think that's the most important thing - just recognizing that this was a real thing that happened - it's not some sort of dream that was made up. These were real things that happened. You mentioned the redlining. My former colleague, Kate Martin, back in 2018, did a really important story about the history of redlining in Tacoma and interviewed former mayor Harold Moss, who's now passed away, but Tacoma's first Black mayor. And just getting anecdotes from him about how they eventually were able to buy a home - and I think it was in the fifties - and they would literally have to trick the realtor into showing up first before they proceeded in to see the home, because if the realtor saw a Black family, they would just get out. That's a real thing. That still has an impact today. But then, other than that - I guess what I would say, and I'm interested to hear your take on this, too - is I think it bleeds into our conversation that we're having regionally about housing, expanding housing and allowing - put this diplomatically - allowing neighborhoods to change, right? I think a lot of the pushback we see from areas that are fighting densification or those sort of things, I think there was some coded - you go back, and some of the researchers forwarded me some of the ads in The News Tribune that we would run - and, they wouldn't say, This is a whites only subdivision. It would say, This is a restricted division, right? And I think in many ways, we still have that. We still don't say it, but we still have that. And so I think a lot of the pushback that you see, consciously or subconsciously, is along those kind of - I want to live in a exclusive restricted area, which is code for - I don't want renters and I don't want people who don't look like me, or people who are not in my socioeconomic stratus. So for me, I think it's an important, it's a helpful lens to look at those sorts of conversations through and what can we read into some of the pushback that we see from efforts to increase housing in all sorts of neighborhoods. But I'm interested to hear your take - I don't know - how do we fix this, start to fix this? [00:20:55] Crystal Fincher: I think to your point, it is critical to understand how we got here, and how what happened then impacts what we're seeing now. Now, on talking about the coded conversation and talking about how this manifests today, we're in a situation where a lot of areas have absorbed growth, where previous growth management acts - a lot of cities identified what they called urban villages or growth areas and surprise, surprise - these are where a lot of lower income people already lived, this is where high density development was already allowed. A lot of this is apartment buildings were in lower income areas and they've absorbed a lot of the growth so far because the other areas are restricted - to your point - in the type of growth, the amount of growth that can be there. This entire conversation that we're having about where can we build multifamily housing - because it was restricted from being built in the areas that were previously redlined, that had these restrictive covenants, that were viewed as more desirable - higher income. And in many of these housing conversations that we see, it is people from those areas. It is higher income people who have the financial ability, the time, the experience within institutions, and connections and expertise to steer development away from them and to make other people absorb the impacts - oftentimes of their consumption - and to deal with that. Density is great. Housing is great. We also need to recognize that environmentally - that people's neighborhoods come with those impacts. If we put a dense building on a busy arterial, those small particulates from that arterial are impacting people's health. The health benefits can actually be negated by being on an arterial - of some of the benefits usually associated with dense housing, walkable cities, that kind of stuff. We're already putting people in less healthy situations - situations where the life expectancy ultimately is lower because of the environment they're allowed to exist in. And now the conversation is really saying we shouldn't concentrate the impacts of our community, of our consumption on these particular communities - usually lower income people of color filling these communities and wealthier, whiter neighborhoods being more exclusive and restricting themselves from experiencing those kinds of impacts or even the responsibility to mitigate those impacts. I certainly see it at play in these discussions that we're having now and the impacts that we're having now. I've talked with several friends - and many people who know me, know my father passed away year before last - but the differences in life expectancy, lots of people hear that and that's a statistic to them. That's my dad. I've talked to other friends - that's their dad. We feel this. There's a recent article, actually I read this past week, talking about the grief gap and what that creates because of earlier death, earlier disruption to families. This is an all-encompassing conversation, but I see this at play everywhere and there's definitely a throughline from those racist covenants to the conversations that we're having today. And a lot of what we're talking about is just coded versions of who deserves to live in clean, safe areas and who doesn't. [00:24:50] Matt Driscoll: Yeah - really well said and I think maybe I'll just forward a link to the podcast to the emails that come in - because I think that's why this matters, right? That's why these old dusty documents matter. [00:25:03] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Also wanted to talk - just really quick an update. We ran our voting rights coalition show earlier this week and talked about some of the great progress we made in this state with legislation passed by Representative Tarra Simmons and others to expand access to the ballot, where people who are released from custody automatically have their voting rights restored. But also there was action taken to help people who are currently incarcerated, especially in jails - county jails - to vote. There was a piece in Bolts that actually was sent to me this week - much appreciated, from Guy Oron - talking about the challenges we've had with some of the implementations of these. And in particular, when it comes to extending the right to vote to people who are currently incarcerated, causing us to deal with some of the toxic terminology, and people's impressions of people who are currently in jail, and the reality of it. And most of the people who are in county jails have not been convicted of anything - they're in there because there is bail set that they can't afford, they're in there on technicalities, they're in there because they can't afford to get out. They haven't been convicted of anything under our laws, our legal system. We have an innocent until proven guilty approach, so their right to vote hasn't been impacted in any way - they still have it - and they should be able to vote even if they're incarcerated. There was money allocated by our legislature to say, Hey, helping train people to make sure they understand how to provide access to people who are currently in county jails to do this. A few counties took the state up on the offer and applied for the grants to be able to do this. Several other counties declined, basically saying, Yeah, we don't want to help them. How did you read this and what are your thoughts surrounding this? [00:27:11] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, it's - I must admit that I was - I don't know, what's the word - what's the word for surprised when you're not really surprised? [00:27:21] Crystal Fincher: Just disappointed. [00:27:22] Matt Driscoll: Yeah. I guess I was disappointed. I think your points about the reality of the folks in our jails is really well taken - in our jails, I think that's really well taken. I think the average person doesn't understand what the population of those jails actually looks like, where those people are at in the legal process, what they have been convicted of and what they haven't been convicted of. And I - again, we just we classify people in these ways. And we come up with ways to rationalize unfair inhumane treatment. And I think this is just, this is another example of this - it's why should I care about this person? They haven't been convicted. I don't care. They wouldn't be in the jail if they hadn't done something and - screw 'em. And I think that's our, I think that's our societal outlook on those sorts of things. And I think there are people who - you were mentioning life expectancy in your father with the environmental impacts that - my dad was in prison when I was born. And so we had to go through the process of voting rights restoration with - and that whole thing. And even after people come out of prison - it's changed much in the decades since then, thankfully in some places - but we have no qualms as a society of just taking away the right to vote. And we really, we've - for decades, we made it as hard as humanly possible for anybody who wasn't a white male landowner to vote. And we still really don't have any qualms about taking that right away from people, which just flies in the face of all the patriotic nonsense we talk about - voting and the Constitution and people's rights and all that sort of thing. So yeah - disappointed, I guess, is the word. And yeah, that's how I felt. [00:29:22] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and these are situations - in this article, it talked about Spokane County. 70% of the people in the Spokane County jail have not been convicted of anything - there are pretrial issues, there are other issues that they're in there for. And situations where the people running the jails, the Sheriff's departments in some of these situations, corrections officers have said, Hey, this doesn't impact, this will not have an impact on our staffing, which has been a challenge in a lot of the jails. We can implement this - with the funding, the grant money - we can do this, very doable. And have had county commissioners say, Yeah, no, we don't think so, still don't like it, still have concerns. And to your point, we just seem to be okay with throwing people away once they get in there and find ways to justify that whatever happens to them - however horrific - from rape jokes that are so ubiquitous to all of that stuff - that whatever happens to them while they're in there is okay. And that's what they're not sentenced to. They're sentenced to spend their time in a way where they're restricted from areas - that is the punishment. It's not this cruel and mean and unusual and depraved and inhumane treatment that so many people seem to be happy with. And one, we just should never treat people that way. We're also having solitary confinement conversations in our legislature right now, which should not be happening and they're looking to limit that. But for the people who are in there, it also is bad for us when they come back out. These people are coming back out into our society. We say we want people to do your time, pay for the crime and come back and restart your life. But we make it really, really hard and stack the deck against people to be able to come back out into the community and embed themselves in the community, find a place to live, find a job, do the things that everyone else is doing. And we have to view people as people wherever they're at, and it actually benefits us as a community when we do that. It hurts us when we don't, but we seem to be very determined not to, which is disappointing. Another conversation that we are having in the Legislature is about police pursuits. This is a continuing conversation that we've had. Listening to some people, you might get the impression that the Legislature outlawed pursuits and it's caused mayhem to ensue. Not quite what's happened - they restricted the ability to pursue, to basically eliminate petty crimes, but if someone is a danger to the community, driving under the influence, accused of a violent crime or sexual crime, a crime against a person, police can and actually do frequently pursue here in the state. It does not seem like they have been barred from doing that, especially with news of recent chases and crashes and injuries that have resulted. But there was an op-ed by Representative Sharlett Mena, Senator Yasmin Trudeau in The News Tribune. What case did they make in this op-ed? [00:32:55] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, it's really interesting and I'll just - I'll take just a few steps back first. This debate has been going on for some time and we really, on The News Tribune Editorial Board, really got a kind of a firsthand feeling for it during our endorsement process where we talked to candidates on both sides of the aisle, from the primaries through the general election - talking about 20+ races - and this was the issue that often came up. This was the issue that Republicans brought up more than any other to paint the Democrats as having basically rushed through reform policies that resulted in huge spikes in crime in Washington. And that's still the conversation today in Olympia. There've been efforts to revisit this change, to maybe go all the way back to where we were, or somewhere in between. And so we had a op-ed from Representative or Senator Chris Gildon from Puyallup the week prior arguing in favor of changing the law. And the reason I reached out to Representative Mena and Senator Trudeau is because during that endorsement process, they were two of the officials that delivered the clearest, most succinct, most sincere defense of what was the rationale for the law and how we got here. And I really feel like that's - and maybe this is just me, but I really feel like that's lost in this conversation sometimes - because frankly, even from Democrats, you get a lot of word salad on this one. Because it's a contentious issue - because people do see it, they are aware of it. You have law enforcement across the state, prosecutors from across the state coming out and saying, You've got to fix this law. This has made our jobs harder. We can't chase anybody. It's on people's mind. There's the kind of political side of it, what the Republicans are doing by it. And so I reached out to them and just said, Hey, put 750 words on paper and tell us why this law, this new law is worthwhile and your approach to dealing with these issues. And they laid out a facts-based approach - is basically how they described it. They said, Look, we have the data to show that these pursuits are dangerous to community, to officers, to bystanders, to everybody involved. They cite examples where people have been gravely injured or lost their life during unnecessary police pursuits. And they point to the numbers that show - since the law has passed that those numbers of injuries and deaths have actually gone down. And they also point out that the vast majority of these chases, when they do occur, they're for stuff that doesn't warrant that level of risk to the community. And they advocated to taking a facts-based approach. They're open to reviewing the law and enacting best practices after some study on it. Their basic argument is, We're not going to craft policy around fear-mongering and just anecdotes. We're going to craft policy around the data that we actually have that shows us what's going on. And so I found it to be a pretty compelling argument - I think, like a lot of people, this is a tricky issue for me personally. I can understand some of the different sides of it, but that being said - in Tacoma, one thing they also pointed out is, we've had a no-pursuit policy for many years. There are many places that have very similar policies. When we interviewed Tacoma's relatively new police chief, although he's not that new at this point, he said, Yeah, I like our policy. I don't want to change it. It makes sense. What his real point was - was that more people know about the law now. And so he does think that that's increasing the amounts of people that are taking off, but basically - to be succinct, after I've already not been succinct - their argument was to take a fact-based approach to crafting policy and not give into the fear-mongering and anecdotes. [00:37:04] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. One of the arguments that I hear from people, who oftentimes start off somewhat hyperbolically, like you said, We can't chase people anymore and this is causing crime, and they know and so they're taking off - which isn't quite borne out by the data there - there are plenty of pursuits that continue to take place. And in addition, it's not just unsafe for the community. Their article goes into detail about just instances in Pierce County and South King County where people had permanent and life-altering injuries, in addition to some crashes that involved death. Here in the City of Kent, we had an officer killed during a pursuit - they are dangerous for everyone involved - and so we should be cautious. It should not be something that should, Hey, someone stole some toilet paper, hopped into a car, we're going to chase them on streets - with lots of pedestrians and kids playing - at 80 mph. That just seems like a disconnect. And to your point, these are not wacky reforms out of left field. These are based on best practices designed with the input of people in law enforcement anyway. And to your point, several agencies in Washington already implemented these kind of common sense limitations on when and where you would choose to pursue. So it seems - there's always something that you can point to and say, Hey, something changed, crime is up - we will see. Historically, there does not seem to be a correlation between whether or not people can pursue vehicles, and rises and drops in the auto theft rate - which I hear cited a lot of times - there is no correlation there. You could always pursue before this legislation - auto theft rates rose and dipped during those times, and they actually seem to be more correlated with the price for used cars than anything else. It's just common sense that - if something can get someone more money on the illegal market, that that is going to drive activity for some of those thefts - in addition to recent news about some cars being particularly easy to steal and basically just a bug of the car is that it's really easy to take off with. So we will continue to follow this, but that was a really good, informative op-ed that we will of course include in our show notes. Also wanted to talk about where middle housing stands, here in our legislature - some bills passed out of committee. And a poll showed that, Hey, Washington residents support multifamily housing in their own neighborhoods, which was - I think people, most legislators, assumed that wasn't the case as recently as two years ago, some questioning going into this year - but it looks like a lot of people are being touched by this affordability crisis and responding in kind. How did you react to that news? [00:40:35] Matt Driscoll: I think that's right. I think it really speaks to - I don't know how rapid the change on this has been, but I think it speaks to the level of desperation out there that people feel around these issues. You talked about the poll - I was looking at it and I'm not able to cite it as specifically as you - the top two issues, no surprise, not shockingly that people identified - homelessness and the cost of housing. And so I think people are freaked out about that, I think they're rightly freaked out about that. I think they feel like the government - our cities, our state - hasn't done nearly enough, is way behind. I think that's why you see big proposals coming out now, like the governor's $4 billion plan to build housing and shelter space. And I think people are increasingly having the recognition that if we don't do something, that if we don't increase the housing options in neighborhoods through density, that we're in a cycle that's going to eat a lot of people up and spit a lot of people out. And a lot of people don't feel terribly close from that. And I don't know if I was surprised to see the level of support for - I guess a little bit because, much like the airport, whenever you, at least in my experience, whenever you come down to specific - not every neighborhood - single family home neighborhoods and you start talking about density or duplexes or triplexes or condos, people freak out and oppose it. But I think in the broad sense, there's a growing recognition that we really don't have any choice. And so it leaves me optimistic. Of course, there are still lots of thorny conversations around local control happening, which will need to be navigated. But yeah, I was encouraged. What's the - so we already did disappointed - so what's surprised, but not surprised, but like from the good side, because I guess that's how I felt about it. [00:42:43] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, probably that - pleasantly surprised, hopeful, optimistic. And another issue where the public actually seems, once again, like they're ahead of where the Legislature is in terms of opinion. Pretty broad support here - three-fifths of voters support the proposed zoning law, only one-fifth are opposed - so that's over 60% there. Pretty major support, particularly high among women, Democrats, and Independents here. What this poll really uncovered was that lots of people are impacted by this. They're, as you said, their concerns to the top three are affordability of housing, the cost of living. I think for a lot of normal people, the cost of living is part of inflation. It technically is, but they're feeling that acutely. And it's always interesting to see what the public conversation revolves around - certainly necessities like eggs and milk are there. But when you see that coverage in major newspapers, sometimes on national evening news, they focus on those things or the price of gas, and have not focused as much on the cost of housing, which has increased so much and is a cost that everybody is bearing. And it's making people wonder if they can - seniors wondering if they can age in place, are they going to be able to remain in their community? It's students going to college and wondering if there's a place for them back home or whether they need to just move to a different place that they can afford. It's middle income people, it's service workers and teachers and nurses who are wondering if they can even afford to live close to where they work and adding to some of that stress and strain. So this is a societal challenge. And a majority of the voters surveyed said that, Hey, this is bigger than - over two-thirds agreed with the statement, The housing crisis spans municipal borders and is too big for cities to tackle alone, which is why we need statewide affordability solutions. 68% agreed with that - that's a big number. Something else that stood out to me in this poll was looking at the difference - a lot of times opposition to this has focused on, You say sixplexes are allowed and quadplexes and triplexes. Six is too many, maybe four is too many - maybe we just allow three. That's something that maybe people could tolerate. Invariably that disagreement leads to the failure of this and they just can't agree on what level is the right level. The general public doesn't really see a difference in some of those big levels. When you look, when you ask individually and say triplexes, quadplexes, sixplexes - the numbers are virtually the same for those. And so they're just saying we need to take action - we're okay with density. And it almost seems like a proxy, especially looking at these subgroup totals, for people comfortable with change and people who aren't. And the people who are comfortable with change are like, Bring it on. We're not quibbling about a sixplex versus a fourplex. We need change. We want you to take action and get on with it. And it seems like what is definitely a minority, but a vocal minority, tend to be conservative - those are the, that's the only group who is opposing this with a majority and seems resistant to change period. So this isn't - doesn't seem to be a conversation of nuances and about finding the right level and get everyone - agree on - is it four - it's just action or not. And the opposition, a lot of times to things like these, gets more credit than they're due and people read more into it than there actually is. And it really looks like there's just people who don't want change, who don't want to open their neighborhood up to new people to move in - that they felt they should be the last new people who should get in and no one else gets that ability. So really interesting to see, curious to see how this impacts the legislation and legislators' action on it - if they pay attention to it or not - but we will definitely stay tuned. Any final thoughts on housing and moving forward? [00:47:33] Matt Driscoll: I don't know. I thought, I think you wrapped it up pretty well. There is the interest - and we're getting into the weeds a little bit - in terms of the state action or local action. I know there was some tension last session around statewide efforts, and you even had cities like Tacoma pushing back on statewide action because they felt we were doing our own local process here of examining our zoning and doing a lot of these upzones in this area that - in these areas that we'd identified and they were hesitant to be able to pass that local control off and off to the state. What's the point of living in a city and having a city government if you don't have local control of these sorts of issues like zoning. But so here, it wasn't necessarily local leaders pushing back against mandated density. It was just simply a matter of them saying, We want to have local control over how we guide this process. We're already months and months into this process. We've been doing town halls, we've been doing all this stuff. To throw that all out and just get some mandate from the state doesn't feel fair, which I totally understand. But coming full circle, I'm wondering if this poll and if, not this poll just alone, but this kind of acknowledged that it's maybe more like you're saying - of action versus inaction - will take a little of the sting - maybe it doesn't matter as much if Tacoma goes neighborhood by neighborhood and decides that, Okay, six will fly here, but only four here, and you've got to have these setbacks here and all - maybe that's not as important as the local leaders believe it to be. And maybe statewide action can take some of the pressure off of them and can just get us over the hump in terms of zoning policy - that on a local level can be so difficult to clear sometimes because of all the opposition that you do face. So it's interesting to see how this one plays out. [00:49:28] Crystal Fincher: We will keep our eye on it. And just want to close with a reminder that we're recording this on Friday, February 10th, but on Tuesday - Valentine's Day - February 14th, there are elections happening throughout our region. Seattle, of course - every Seattle resident who is registered to vote should be able to vote on Initiative 135, the social housing initiative. You can still register for this election and participate it. If you have not registered already, we'll include information there. Also Enumclaw School District and the King Conservation District elections are happening. In Pierce County, the Steilacoom, Orting and Peninsula School Districts are having elections. So lots to vote on. Make sure your friends and family in those jurisdictions votes, makes their votes heard. These elections are notoriously low turnout, which can impact the direction - even small changes in the number of people voting can flip the situation and determine whether these levies and initiatives pass or do not pass. So make sure you get your ballot in. Hey, if you have any questions - hit me up on Twitter, email me, I'll be happy to help you get your ballot and make sure that your vote is turned in and it counts. And with that, we thank you for listening on this Friday, February 10th, 2023. Hacks & Wonks is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. Our insightful co-host today was metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll. Thanks so much for being here today. [00:51:13] Matt Driscoll: Thank you for having me, as always - I don't know if I was insightful exactly, but I appreciate the kind words. [00:51:18] Crystal Fincher: Oh, you definitely were. You all can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full cast - to get the full podcast - to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes. Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.