Jul 22, 2022
On today’s Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Co-Founder and Editor of PubliCola, Erica Barnett. They start off the episode looking into King County Elections’s request to the sheriff’s office to investigate a GOP ballot-box ‘surveillance’ program, which critics claim is disguised voter intimidation. Also in elections, Crystal and Erica discuss the alarming intimidation, harassment, and direct attacks on Black candidates and staff, and what we need to do to keep candidates of color safe. Erica then breaks down the packed Secretary of State race, and what the consequences of this race are on elections in Washington. In housing, Crystal and Erica look at the recent news of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority successfully housing 786 homeless households, and Erica explains the challenges of housing people in Seattle. They also talk about the political motivations behind Amazon’s recently-touted contributions to the City’s housing efforts. Finally, the two look at the failure of Seattle’s leadership to develop non-police responses to 911 calls and the poor toll revenue of the SR-99 tunnel.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
“King County Elections asks sheriff to investigate GOP activists’ ballot-box ‘surveillance’ as potential voter intimidation” by Jim Brunner from The Seattle Times: “https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/king-county-elections-will-ask-sheriff-to-investigate-gop-activists-ballot-box-surveillance-as-potential-voter-intimidation/
“Washington Democrats sound alarm over incidents against Black candidates” by Austin Jenkins from KUOW: https://kuow.org/stories/washington-democrats-sound-alarm-over-incidents-against-black-candidates
“Democrats, Republicans, and “Nonpartisan Party” Candidate Face off for Secretary of State; Council Takes Up Abortion Bills” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola: https://publicola.com/2022/07/18/democrats-republicans-and-nonpartisan-party-candidate-face-off-for-secretary-of-state-council-takes-up-abortion-bills/
“King County Regional Homelessness Authority Houses 786 Households” https://kcrha.org/nearly-800-formerly-homeless-now-housed/
“How Houston Moved 25,000 People From the Streets into Homes of Their Own” by Michael Kimmelman & Lucy Tompkins from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/14/headway/houston-homeless-people.html
“Amazon’s Housing Fund Sends a Political Message” by Katie Wilson from PubliCola: https://publicola.com/2022/07/12/amazons-housing-fund-sends-a-political-message/#more-28230
“Seattle Was Supposed to Create Alternatives to Police for 911 Calls. What Happened?” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola: https://publicola.com/2022/07/13/seattle-was-supposed-to-create-alternatives-to-police-for-911-calls-what-happened/
“SR 99 Tunnel is Bleeding Money as Toll Revenue Forecasts Plunge” by Ryan Packer from The Urbanist: https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/07/22/sr-99-tunnel-is-bleeding-money-as-toll-revenue-forecasts-plunge/
[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, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week. 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.
[00:00:58] Erica Barnett: Hey Crystal.
[00:00:59] Crystal Fincher: Hey, Erica. Well, here we are - it is July 22nd. Everything is happening all at once in the world. Everything is wild and out of control. And we're just going about our daily lives and we have an election coming up on August 2nd. Ballots are out - you should have your ballot. If you don't visit MyVote.wa.gov and you can get a replacement there, which will invalidate your initial ballot but make sure that you vote, that you make your voice heard. There's a lot at stake in this election and a lot happening - starting with an effort from Republicans and aligned forces to essentially surveil and monitor drop boxes and a number of events that have happened in the interim, including the King County Elections asking the Sheriff's department to investigate. What's going on with this?
[00:01:56] Erica Barnett: Yeah, The Seattle Times reported on this. There've been a bunch of signs put out in front of ballot boxes saying that this ballot drop box is under surveillance and then there's a QR code that takes you to the Republicans' website. It's unclear - I didn't do any reporting on this myself - but it's unclear from the reporting, whether there's actual surveillance going on or whether this is just - which seems more likely - an attempt at voter intimidation. But either way, it is illegal to intimidate voters and to try to restrict people from casting their ballots and exercising their rights. King County Elections got involved, the Republicans who put these out immediately said - no, no, no, we didn't mean to break any laws and walked back these efforts, but it's interesting to see this sort of thing happening in King County, a place where we have pretty good ballot access. We have - it's easy to vote compared to other places, and you just don't think of King County as being a place where there's voter intimidation and efforts to keep, specifically Democrats, from voting. So it's the kind of thing that might not be shocking in another state where there's all kinds of efforts like this going on - is pretty shocking here.
[00:03:18] Crystal Fincher: It is pretty shocking here. And there is, especially in the suburbs - I don't think it's as visible in the City of Seattle, but certainly in the suburbs - there are energized, extremely right-wing Republicans and conservatives who are trying to flex their power and all of these. And I think this is a reflection of just the increased radicalization and the absolute acceptance of these conspiracy theories about elections and election fraud, which repeatedly - in fact again, just recently, has been proven false and that there is certainly no widespread voter fraud. And in fact, it's so rare to have fraud associated with voting overall, but particularly mail-in voting, but there is an effort and even Republicans - Republican office holders and candidates who are running on a platform of - Hey, we wanna get rid of this mail-in voting. It should just be on Election Day and we vote on Election Day.
[00:04:28] Erica Barnett: Yeah. The Secretary of State's race has - that's come up, that's come up quite a bit - both allegations of fraud, or maybe not fraud but improprieties. And then let's return to the inconvenience of in-person voting.
[00:04:42] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And there are a number of competitive Democrat versus Republican races that we have going on in the state, including in King County. In Southeast King County, in the 47th district, 5th district, 44th district - where these are highly contested and competitive races - by no means is a lock for Democrats at all. And so they are seeing a chance to take action and it looks like they've gone beyond just campaigning and are getting into the realm of voter intimidation and are gonna be, hopefully, investigated over this. But it's very concerning. Certainly people - hearing reports that they may be surveilled will make people think twice about using a ballot dropbox, will make people perhaps wary - are they going to be intimidated and harassed, like we've seen in so many videos or what that deal is. So this is really unacceptable. It is not something that we've seen before in this coordinated effort and we'll see what results from this but certainly disillusioning to hear.
With that also comes some - perhaps related news, but really scary news - in that we continue to see incidences of harassment and violence against Black candidates running for office - both those who are elected and running to be elected. We had just another incident in this past week with Representative April Berg's district - she's a Black woman from the 44th Legislative District, which includes the Mill Creek area, and just an absolute harassment and intimidation of one of her canvassers. They don't want them in that neighborhood - Hey, you need a permit - which is not true. And just - We don't want you here. And basically just trying to run them out of the neighborhood, which is a scary thing. And on top of that, Pastor Carey Anderson, who is running in the 30th Legislative District, which is the Federal Way, Auburn, Algona area was shot twice with a BB gun as he was out canvassing this past weekend. And just absolutely terrifying and just imagine - you're a candidate, you're a volunteer and you just find yourself getting shot. At the moment, you don't know it's a BB gun. You just know that you're getting shot at, you're getting hit, and just trying to figure out what's going on and everything that results from that.
[00:07:30] Erica Barnett: Yeah, I think it actually - these things are all related, I think - the voter intimidation and this individual intimidation by people who say - this is my neighborhood and you don't belong here. It's just, it's part of a climate of just a miasma of fear and anger and resentment that bubbles up. And these incidents don't have to be coordinated - there doesn't have to be a coordinated campaign to intimidate canvassers and to tell people to go around shooting candidates with BB guns. It happens because there is this atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion and just all the kind of terrible stuff that's bubbling down from the national level to allegations of voter fraud. It's all related. You can look at the stories about these incidents and say these are all just isolated incidents and who knows if it has to do with with this or that, or with the candidate's race, or with their political beliefs, or whatever. But it's all just kind of part of the same miasma that is hovering over all these elections right now and just the heightened sense of just - of terror and suspicion and everything that the Republicans have been trying to inculcate at the national level - is trickling down to us as well.
[00:09:06] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and it's here - it's arrived in full force and it does seem to be racially motivated with these. These are not at all isolated incidences. There have been other incidences this year. There have been prior incidences around the state in 2020, including here in King County and Clark County - similar situation with a canvasser being harassed and chased by someone who didn't want them in their neighborhood. And to me - and I talked about this earlier this week online - this is a systemic problem. This is a - there is an escalating incidence of harassment and violence against these Black candidates. And right now, they've been left to fend for themselves each individually in a campaign. And I don't know if people understand what this means for a campaign, but if you have to have special considerations for your safety as a candidate, or the safety of your volunteers and canvassers, you're doing things like sending them out in pairs instead of individually, having check-in points and times, buying T-shirts and buttons and clipboards and explanations. And it actually takes both money and time - it is a wear on the resources that campaigns have - and so not only are these Black candidates just having to deal with the threat or reality of this violence and harassment, but they're also having to expend more resources and time than other candidates right now to keep themselves safe, to keep their canvassers safe, and to do their own due diligence to do this.
And there really is no reason why they should be left to fend for themselves. This is a situation where the Party has to act. And when it comes to campaigns, there's the State Party but even more consequentially, there are the caucuses, which are the campaign extension of the House Democrats and the campaign extension of the Senate Democrats. And they actually interact frequently with campaigns and they provide a lot of information, they help to manage and steer these campaigns, especially the top priority ones key to maintaining control of the House and Senate. And up until now, there just hasn't been any kind of support or even acknowledgement that this is a systemic problem, or attempts to help, or help guide campaigns when it comes to this. And so there have been conversations happening this week to try and address that. The State Party has been active in trying to get those conversations started and everyone talking too. The Senate caucus has been willing to take action to do this, but once again we have a situation where the House caucus and that leadership is lagging behind. And so I'm going to be paying attention to see what results from this, but certainly it should not be the continued isolation and basically abandonment of these Black candidates while they're facing this scary, scary situation. So we'll see what results from that. Also this week, you talked about a bit the Secretary of State race and you actually covered this in PubliCola. What is happening with the Secretary of State's race here in the state?
[00:12:39] Erica Barnett: So it's a position that's held right now by a Democrat for the first time in God knows how many years - decades - Steve Hobbs was appointed to the position. And so there's now essentially - not a runoff, but there's an election - he's one of the candidates and he's defending his position. There are, I believe six candidates - and sorry, eight candidates - for this position which oversees elections, it oversees registration of corporations and nonprofits, things like that. But it's very hotly contested. And so as I mentioned before, as we were talking about some of the candidates, some of the kind of fringier candidates in this race are making allegations of voter fraud, insisting that people return to voting in-person. A couple of the candidates say that we should have to have IDs to vote - voter IDs. And then there's the two probable front runners - one is the Pierce County Auditor and the other is, as I mentioned, Steve Hobbs. Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson is running as a member of the Nonpartisan Party, trying to make a point about the Secretary of State's office needing to be nonpartisan. And Steve Hobbs is running as a Democrat. There's also Mark Miloscia, who was a former state legislator, and he's - very conservative Republican who runs the Family Policy institute, which argues essentially that being gay is demonic, that perverts are coming after our children. He's written a lot of articles about so-called grooming. He was pretty fringy as a state legislator and has become even fringier as a - becoming a perennial candidate now - he's run for other offices as well. So it's an entertaining race to watch, but it'll most likely come down to Hobbs and Anderson.
[00:14:40] Crystal Fincher: It will, and there have been interesting conversations just about the qualifications of the different candidates, how important is it to have a partisan versus a nonpartisan person running this office, and conversations about - this shouldn't be a partisan seat. Others saying that this is how it's been and critical, and let's just look at people's qualifications and see what's happening now. You talk about Mark Miloscia - certainly an extreme right-wing Republican who has argued for a long time the things that people are finding shocking today that are coming from the Supreme Court and things like Justice Clarence Thomas's concurring opinion saying that - Hey, not only should we be striking down abortion access, but hey, same-sex marriage, privacy rights for even any kind of same-sex or relationships deemed improper or unholy by whoever has them, the further co-mingling of church and state, interracial marriage - are all things that he has supported and suggested and is in agreement with aligned forces and it's pretty concerning. Looking at these conversations that are happening - obviously, the Secretary of State runs elections. They're not involved in passing legislation. What does, perhaps a partisan identity, indicate about what kind of policy they may or may not pass if they're elected?
[00:16:23] Erica Barnett: Yeah, I think if you are - and I actually tend to, on principle, agree that this should not be a partisan position, but it is a partisan position historically and it's historically been held by Republicans. So I think if you are identifying yourself as a Democrat, one of the things you are, one of the statements you're making is - Look, I do not believe that voter fraud is the primary problem facing people in elections now. And perhaps that a bigger problem is access to elections - access to the ballot box, access to information about the candidates and that sort of thing. So I think it's a kind of, it's a signaling to say - I'm a Democrat - and that what goes along with that is just a whole host of things that Democrats tend to believe in. And I think in contrast, saying - I'm nonpartisan in a partisan race - naturally raises some suspicions about how nonpartisan are you actually? Are you actually saying that you are aligned with the Republicans? I think that - I've listened to Julie Anderson speak about this and I don't disagree with some of the points she's making. It is a job that oversees elections. It would be, in an ideal world, a position held by somebody without strong partisan affiliations one way or another. But we don't live in an ideal world. We live in a world where one party believes there's widespread voter fraud and people are stealing elections. And the other is trying to maintain access to the ballot box and keep elections fair. I think in that world, identifying with the Democrats send some really important signals.
[00:18:03] Crystal Fincher: Completely agree with that, and we will continue to keep our eyes on that race. This week, we actually received some good news when it came to the issue of how we're making progress getting people who are currently unhoused - living outside - into homes, and in fact, permanent housing. What happened this week?
[00:18:23] Erica Barnett: Yeah, the King County emergency housing voucher program was - actually the King County Regional Homelessness Authority announced that the vouchers have gone out to almost 800 households. These are emergency vouchers that were issued in response to COVID in 2021. And so this has been - this has been a real issue. So these are essentially vouchers that allow people to get apartments and it's been bogged down in process, and it's sometimes very hard for people to find apartments that they can afford and that will accept these vouchers. And so the news was basically that more than half of the vouchers that we received in King County have actually been used and people are moving into apartments. That is good news. I do think there's a little, I would sound a note of caution here though, and say that is only 800 out of 1,300 that we received. And there are still many, many, many vouchers that are unused. And this is always a problem with any kind of voucher that you give people to move into market rate apartments by and large. It's hard to find housing because housing is expensive here. And so you get a voucher, you go out, you work with Housing Connector, and hopefully you find a place that you can continue to afford after your voucher runs out, that your voucher doesn't overextend you in terms of what you can pay for. So it's - I would say it's mixed news. It's good news for those 800 households, certainly, but there's still many, many vouchers that have been unused for more than a year now.
[00:20:02] Crystal Fincher: There are definitely. And these are people who were formerly unhoused and moving into not just shelter or temporary housing - this is permanent housing, which is absolutely the goal. Now, permanent, as you just said, with an asterisk in that these are rentals so it's not guaranteed that - hey, they're stable, they can stay there for years and years and years. We've talked a lot and lots of people are familiar with the challenges that we are having in our rental markets with rents steadily rising and being much higher than they used to be. But with these vouchers, it does make it attainable, and these people are housed in permanent housing, not just a temporary shelter situation, which is a big win.
You just talked about - there are challenges with just the percentage of these. One thing that was noticeable is that, as you said, all of - just an inherent issue with voucher programs, period, and across the country - are that they aren't all used. And they mentioned that the national average is around 36%. King County is at 58%. It's much, much higher than the national average on the amount of, I don't know what the technical term is, but like conversions of vouchers into vouchers that result in permanent housing. And so it seems - hey, we have significantly, coming close to doubled the effectiveness that, of these voucher programs that we've seen before - which they seem to attribute to establishing partnerships with organizations and using people who have experienced being homeless, who have a deeper understanding of the challenges that are faced and the kind of help and support that people need to get through programs and paperwork and jump through all of these hoops to do that. And it looks like that is resulting in better outcomes. And so while this certainly is a very limited program - we have tens of thousands of people who are unhoused in our region that we need to get to - but this does seem to indicate that this is a model that is building on what had been happening before, that is improving outcomes, and signaling a direction that we need to move. And that as we design local programs - to do more of what is happening here than what we have previously done, or what is happening across the country. So I thought that was overall encouraging, certainly could be a lot better and we still have a lot more to do. But in this situation, it's - we're looking for any signals out there to - what can we be doing differently? What should we be doing? What kind of action should we be taking and what should we stop doing? And action that we should stop taking, that's not effective. And this - it seems gets us closer to the course we should be on.
[00:23:01] Erica Barnett: Absolutely. Yeah. With all those caveats, we need to be doing more of everything.
[00:23:06] Crystal Fincher: We absolutely need to be doing more of everything. And there's an article, not that long ago in The New York Times about - the city of Houston, Texas housing 25,000 people with the Housing First approach. And it certainly makes you feel like if Texas can do it, why can't Seattle?
[00:23:24] Erica Barnett: Hey, now - I'm from Houston.
[00:23:26] Crystal Fincher: I know, I know - which is why I'm bringing it up. But you know what - a bright shining example of what can happen if you take the right kind of action.
[00:23:38] Erica Barnett: Well, it definitely - if I can just, if I can just make one sort of - I did just say I'm from Houston, but I will, as a Houstonian, I will say - the big difference between Houston and here, the main difference, is that housing is so much cheaper there. And so when you're getting a voucher for a thousand dollars a month here, you may be looking at a $2,000/month apartment, as opposed to that covering your rent in Houston. It is harder here for a whole lot of reasons, but one is that we just don't have affordable housing here.
[00:24:11] Crystal Fincher: And a very important point. And also why we have to address housing affordability as, in order to address homelessness, we - if we don't address that, we are allowing more people to fall into homelessness. And so just trying to bail out a ship that - it has holes from all sides and it's - we're getting new people who are being forced out of housing as we're trying to get other people in - we have to stop the flow of people into homelessness. And that takes addressing just the housing affordability situation.
Related to this, or in the same subject of housing, Katie Wilson of the Transit Riders Union - who is just doing great work all around the region, including with the Raise the Wage initiative in Tukwila - wrote an op-ed about Amazon's Housing Fund sending a political message this week. What did she write?
[00:25:13] Erica Barnett: So she wrote - this is in PubliCola. Katie wrote a piece about Amazon getting an awful lot of credit for creating housing with a series of loans and grants to nonprofits locally that total around 23 - nonprofits and for profits - a total around $23 million. And that is - I would say - this isn't Katie's term, but that is budget dust in terms of Amazon's total net worth and net value and what they could be doing. And her point, more broadly though, was not just that this isn't a lot of money from Amazon. It's also that Amazon is paying a tremendous amount of money into the JumpStart fund through the payroll tax that they very much opposed. And so what's actually been more effective at getting money from Amazon is taxing them against their will. Again, I am summarizing - these are not Katie's words - but basically they are getting credit and getting a lot of publicity, including The Seattle Times, for doing the right thing when in fact, what is more impactful locally is that we passed a tax on 'em that they didn't wanna pay. And they're buying good will now, maybe against the next tax increase. So there is a tactical nature to these contributions and the amount that they're ultimately giving to these various groups is pretty small in the scheme of things.
[00:26:48] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. Extremely small, especially considering the impact that they have had on the increase in housing prices. I'm not sure if this is still the case - I'm inclined to believe that it is - but just a few years back, there was no city that had as much property owned by a business as Seattle had owned by Amazon. And certainly the influx of very high-income workers to the region, fighting against tax increases during that time - which would have helped address some of the impacts of having such an influx come in that have resulted in displacement of communities from within Seattle - lots of people, skyrocketing rents that have exacerbated income inequality and poverty and homelessness and everything that's resulted. Seattle, certainly feeling this acutely, was on the front end of saying - no, actually Amazon's responsible for this and should be paying a tax to deal with this. Certainly Amazon felt that that was unfair and that they were being targeted and that was anti-business - and a lot of that ensued. And we even had other cities in the region saying - Hey, Amazon, why don't you come over here and we'll treat you better, we won't tax you. So I did find it to be amusing - I think earlier this week or last week, there - the Bellevue City Council actually brought up - Hey, maybe it's time to tax Amazon as Amazon has expanded their footprint in Bellevue and they're feeling the impacts of that. So it's just an interesting situation all around, but certainly we can do a lot more to address these systemic issues without having to rely on good will maybe popping up from a corporation. If we can plan, mitigate these issues, provide much better services just through a system of taxation - instead of relying on sometimes, some basically good will coming out of a marketing budget is really what it seems like it's doing. Great article - we will also link that in our show notes.
This week there was also action taken in the Seattle with the Seattle City Council to address abortion access. What did the Seattle City Council do?
[00:29:15] Erica Barnett: There were a couple of bills that are gonna be - that have been presented and will be voted on and presumably approved. One is from City Councilmember Sawant to essentially make Seattle a sanctuary city for providers who are at risk of prosecution for providing abortions in other states. And the other two are from City Councilmembers Tammy Morales and Lisa Herbold - and basically they do two things. They make it a misdemeanor to interfere with access to a facility that provides an abortion or a hospital that provides an abortion - so protestors that are standing in the way - they essentially make it a local misdemeanor which puts it in line with state law. And there is another bill that would prevent discrimination or prohibit discrimination based on a person's perceived pregnancy outcome. So if an employer thinks that their employee got an abortion, they cannot fire them or penalize them in any way because of that.
[00:30:28] Crystal Fincher: And I'm happy to see the Seattle City Council take action. I continue to hope that there is a special session called and - which is possible after the November elections too, as it was raised to me last week. But certainly waiting until the new session where we don't know what the balance of power is going to be at this point - look, we cannot leave our rights up to chance, there's just so much at stake. Also, you wrote this week about an issue that has been on the minds of a lot of people, which is Seattle is supposed to create alternatives to police for 911 calls, but it doesn't look like anything has happened so far. What is happening there?
[00:31:11] Erica Barnett: Yeah, there's there's been efforts - movement - to create alternatives specifically for the percentage of 911 calls that everyone agrees don't have to be - don't require police response. That momentum slowed down very, very quickly in 2020, in 2021 - it just never got off the ground. There was a proposal from former Mayor Durkan to do a kind of pilot program called Triage One which would be added onto Health One, the mobile integrated health unit. So basically three vans to go out and respond to people when they're like persons-down calls and the kind of calls that, frankly, don't always get a response now. And years have passed, nothing has happened. And now we have a new mayor who's come in and said - we need to do a whole new study to find out which calls can really really be answered by non-police responders. And, they have said that they are acting with urgency on this. I will say that urgency to them looks like a program maybe in 2024.
[00:32:26] Crystal Fincher: Yes.
[00:32:26] Erica Barnett: So I'm not sure - I'm not sure how they're defining urgency - that's an awfully long time. And in the meantime, they're putting everything through - all the 911 calls through this matrix. And we've talked about this before, but they came up with around 42,000 different kinds of calls that they then need to dissect, which is a lot of analysis, no matter how you look at it. Meanwhile, there's thousands of calls that the police don't even respond to at all now. And Councilmembers Lisl Herbold and Andrew Lewis are starting to push back and say - look, we aren't even answering these calls. Can we just do a pilot where we send somebody out who's not a cop to respond to these calls that we're not answering now, these low-level, sub-crisis calls? And so that's happening - they've put some money in the 2022 supplemental budget to do that - but spending that is up to the mayor's discretion. He could decide that he would rather spend it - to rather set it aside and spend it closing the budget gap next year - which frankly, seems fairly likely because we are facing a very large budget hole in 2023. But yeah - just a lot of push and pull between the Council and the mayor. And this is one of the first issues that we've really seen the Council, I think, push back significantly on the mayor's agenda - they've been pretty handholdy and friendly - and I think the Council is starting to get rather frustrated on this one.
[00:34:01] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and it's a frustrating situation. And the Council is certainly hearing from their constituents that they want them to do something now to address crime, to help people be safer and feel safer. It's so interesting - this conversation just throughout the City and region - in understanding just the role of the Council and the mayor. And Council basically sets, policy funds things - but the mayor's office, the office of the executive, is the one in charge of implementation and making things happen. Council can allocate funds, but it's up to the mayor's office to actually spend it, use it in service of doing something. And as we saw with Jenny Durkan and we look like we're beginning to see with Bruce Harrell, they can choose not to do that unfortunately. And so a lot of these solutions that we're hearing, as you talked about are - Hey, this is a 2024 solution by the time they get around to it. Hiring cops - trying to do that - it's a year pipeline from when someone gets into the training system to when they're on the street. So we're talking about all these things that may make a difference in 2023 and 2024 and beyond, but we're in 2022 right now - halfway through it - and it just seems like we aren't hearing much of anything to do with increased safety now. There was the brief focus on hotspots which seemed to move issues to other areas, but that in and of itself doesn't seem to have made a difference. Meanwhile it appears that they've defunded a different alternative response - that one JustCare program - so people are just looking and saying - what are you trying to do right now to address this? And patience is wearing thin, especially when it seems like the focus just is not on things that can happen now. So it's a bit confusing, and it looks like this is resting in the lap of the mayor and he needs to choose to do something. The Council is trying to say - we can do this, please work with us, let's figure out a way to make this happen. And it just doesn't seem like there's the willingness from Mayor Harrell and his office to move on things that are more immediate and that can make a more immediate difference.
[00:36:29] Erica Barnett: Yeah. As I was saying to someone last night - talking about this stuff - it sure is a good thing we have a new mayor every four years to come in and reinvent the wheel. We know - this is the problem is - you get a new mayor and every single time they think that whatever the last mayor did was idiotic and they want to completely start over. And this is just the nature of having mayors not be in office for very long, whereas the City Council - people, individual people - may not last for years and years and years, but you have some continuity of effort. And so it's just built into both our system and the fact that we like to kick mayors out pretty quickly, at least in recent years, that you get a new mayor in and they think that they've discovered solutions that nobody's ever thought of before. And it happens every time. This isn't even - this isn't a knock on Harrell specifically - it's just the nature of bigheaded politicians who run for executive offices, like mayor, thinking they're the smartest guy in the room or gal.
[00:37:39] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. I would say - this is going back and I'm old, but -
[00:37:44] Erica Barnett: I think we are about the same age.
[00:37:49] Crystal Fincher: And I was thinking - but I was actually reading PubliCola at this time way, way back then - and reading about some of this then. But Mayor Nickels seemed to do a better job than many on continuing programs and initiatives that were started by his predecessor and continuing those. Mayor McGinn in continuing initiatives that were started by Greg Nickels. And to me, it looks like there was a departure starting with Ed Murray and he - we didn't vote him out - he resigned in disgrace under pressure, but it does seem like - I don't know that this is a universal across the board problem, but it does seem like there are some things that have happened that have worked but that have been contrary to some downtown big donor interests. And that seems like it is overridden - some of the more evidence-based and - programs that have been successful on the ground in combination with exactly what you said, which is basically politicians wanting to claim credit for something themselves and have their name stamped on something.
And I know that the Harrell administration is working on that their own Department of Public Safety to stand up some of this internally, which - hey, that may turn out to be a fine thing in the long term, but people are being victimized right now, and worried and concerned right now, and wanting answers right now. And what we keep hearing is - are things that are getting worse and police department isn't investigating sexual assaults - they're moving people out of investigative and detective positions and task forces onto patrol. They're not answering a whole lot of calls. Things are being de-escalated in priority. And it seems like things are moving further in the opposite direction. And this is Bruce's call. The police department works for him, the police chief reports to him - he's the executive and he has power here. And it seems like that isn't - whether it's not acknowledged or not understood - it seems like the Council is certainly saying - Hey, it's time to act. And they're hearing people still thinking that the Council can deploy these resources on the street and that's really up to the mayor. So we'll see what happens, but it is frustrating to watch and I'm sure it's frustrating to endure.
The very last thing we'll talk about today is news that came about the State Route 99 tunnel. What was, I guess, announced this week?
[00:40:39] Erica Barnett: There was a Washington State Transportation Commission meeting, which I watched and will be writing about today for PubliCola, but basically total revenues on the 99 tunnel - no surprise if you've ever driven in there and enjoyed the emptiness of the road - are not coming in as forecast. People are not driving in the tunnel, they are using other routes to avoid paying tolls, which are - they start at a $1.20, they go up from there, I'm not sure what the cap is, but there are easy ways to get around the tunnel if you don't wanna pay that $1.20 and people are doing that. So their revenues are way off and this is - yes, COVID obviously has permanently perhaps changed traffic patterns - it certainly has for the last few years, people are not commuting to work. And that was a big part of the assumptions that they made - was that people were going to use this tunnel to bypass downtown to get to wherever they're going and pay for the privilege. At the same time though, pre-COVID tolling revenues were also off. People use a tunnel when it was free - as soon as it started costing money, people were like - eh, it's fine to take five more minutes to get where I'm going. This was predicted by opponents of the tunnel in the first place, this is not a surprise at all. People - this tunnel was never necessary, it was always a boondoggle. And now, you can see the continuation of the boondoggle - and I am very much editorializing here, but I've editorialized on this many times - you can see the continuation in the surface street, which is right now as we're recording, down to two lanes above the tunnel on the waterfront. It works fine and they're expanding it to between four and nine lanes. Why does this nonsense continue? Because it was approved and because there's funding for it and because we just have not in this state adopted new paradigm for roads. And we think that if you build it, they will come - and sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't.
[00:43:01] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and the political end of this does make a difference. Why are we doing it? Because we have a - a big portion of our media apparatus - I'm thinking about the conversations, certainly Mike McGinn was very notable for talking about this, but Cary Moon, Mike O'Brien, and plenty of people, and you were talking about this and covering this at the time with PubliCola also is - hey, this is not a fringe theory. But The Seattle Times, we had evening news covering people saying the traffic projections for this tunnel are not looking right, insisting that it will be impossible for cost overruns to happen, let alone Seattle voters beyond the hook for them - is just not something that's possible. These are just obstructionist and extremists and these super left wing ideologues - similarly that we hear today about some issues. And it turns out that exactly what they were saying is what came to be. And it is frustrating to look at this and to see a lot of the same forces, certainly Mayor Harrell and Tim Burgess being among them, who were insistent that this tunnel was gonna be great, we were gonna open up the waterfront, and no, we weren't gonna have cost overruns. Yes, it was financially solvent. And it's just not, it's just not. And it is plain as day. And so when are we gonna start contending with the fact that building highways is not the solution to moving people around. And expanding those highways is not the solution to moving people around. And that we have to build infrastructure for today that will carry us into tomorrow. We need to be strengthening transit, we need to be building communities that are more friendly to people walking and modes that are different than driving. There is not a major metropolitan area that's not contending with the same thing. And we seem to be behind the times in this and are getting lapped by other cities that a lot of times Seattleites will look down their noses at but - hey, they're actually taking the action that we should be taking.
So it's just frustrating to see this continue yet again. And Ryan Packer wrote about this in The Urbanist also and drew a parallel that I certainly see with the Columbia River crossing project on I-5 and the big expensive highway widening that we're doing there. And it looks like we're just doing the same thing over and over again. And when are we actually going to get the political will to stop this? When are we going to start demanding that people talk about the facts surrounding these things and us move in a different direction? I'm certainly frustrated by this. I appreciate your coverage of this for years and years and years - but man, we gotta do something different.
[00:46:09] Erica Barnett: Yeah, and real quickly - I just wanna add - the planet is burning and WSDOT and the state are banking on more people driving. And to hear that contrast between reality and their hopes and dreams is really stark. Supposedly the state is in favor of fighting global warming and reducing emissions, but all their plans rely on people driving more.
[00:46:36] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. Just does not make sense and does not get us where we need to be, set us up for a future where we aren't facing these calamities. And we've got another massive heat wave coming up next week - and driven by climate change - and we just cannot continue to contribute to making this problem worse. So hopefully we will change course, but thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks today on this Friday, July 22nd, 2022. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler and assistant producer Shannon Cheng with assistance from Bryce Cannatelli. Our great cohost today is Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola, Erica Barnett. You can find Erica on Twitter @ericacbarnett - that's two T's and Erica with a C and on PubliCola.com. You can also buy her book, Quitter: A Memoir of Drinking, Relapse, and Recovery. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii and now you can follow 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 to your podcast feed. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksdot - my goodness, at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.