May 26, 2023
On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, long time communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank!
They cover WA gubernatorial candidate Bob Ferguson’s controversial and publicly-mocked endorsement from former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, an escalating battle over an illegal encampment between the Burien City Manager and King County Executive legal counsel, how a proposed “Renter’s Bill of Rights” from Tacoma for All is gathering signatures in Tacoma for a local initiative, the Seattle City Attorney and a right-wing councilmember’s plan to rush through a restart of the failed War on Drugs, Seattle’s new tree protection ordinance and the first meeting of the Seattle Social Housing Developer Board..
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Sarah Reyneveld, Candidate for King County Council District 4 from Hacks & Wonks
@BobFergusonAG on Twitter: “I'm grateful to have the support of former Seattle Police Chief”
“King County Executive accuses city of Burien of 'lease scheme' to evict people from homeless encampment” by Nia Wong from Fox 13 Seattle
“King County expresses 'substantial concerns' about City of Burien's intention to sweep campers off city-owned lot; won't allow police to help” by Scott Schaefer from The B-Town Blog
“Burien City Manager responds to King County's letter warning that police won't help with encampment sweep” by Scott Schaefer from The B-Town Blog
“Dueling Tenant Rights Measures Square Off in Tacoma” by Kevin Le from The Urbanist
“Tacoma city officials discuss updates to Rental Housing Code” by Lionel Donovan from KING 5
“Here's how the new drug possession law in Washington is different that what was on the books“ by Jim Camden from The Spokesman-Review
“Washington’s War on Drugs Starts Up Again in July” by Ashley Nerbovig from The Stranger
“'Real people being represented': Seattle's social housing board is just getting started” by Joshua McNichols, Libby Denkmann & Noel Gasca from KUOW
[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 Tuesday topical 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 topical show, I chatted with Sarah Reyneveld about her campaign for King County Council District 4 - why she decided to run, the experience she brings as a public sector attorney and community advocate, and her thoughts on addressing frontline worker wages and workforce issues, the need for upstream alternatives in the criminal legal system and substance use crisis, how to improve policy implementation, climate change and air quality, and budget revenue and transparency. Today we're 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: Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank.
[00:01:30] Robert Cruickshank: Thank you for having me back, Crystal. It's always fun to be on the show.
[00:01:33] Crystal Fincher: Always great to have you on the show. So this has been an eventful week, but wow - last night, there was a little event that popped up that kind of took the notice of everyone who follows politics basically in Washington state, whether they were on the progressive side, conservative side, or somewhere in-between. That was Bob Ferguson's announcement of his endorsement by former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best. Why did this attract so much attention, Robert?
[00:02:03] Robert Cruickshank: Because Carmen Best is one of the most controversial figures in Seattle right now, coming out of the summer of 2020. And as Alexa Vaughn, for example, noted - she runs The Needling - this was posted on the anniversary of George Floyd's murder. And when Minnesota police murdered George Floyd three years ago, as we recall, it sparked a major wave of protest here in Seattle to demand reforms here. And in that response, that protest, Mayor Jenny Durkan and Chief Best systematically deceived the public, deleted their texts in what ought to be a felony, and essentially got away with it. Carmen Best then left her job as Police Chief of Seattle and is now making a fair amount of money as a TV pundit. And so Carmen Best, coming out of that summer, is seen as one of these leaders who sided with the cops against people demanding urgently-needed reform, and is seen as avatar of we-need-to-get-tough-on-crime policies - who has a very poor reputation among a lot of people in Seattle, including Ferguson's base. And that's what happened yesterday, in the reaction, was Ferguson's base - progressive people in Seattle who've been cheering him on as he takes on Trump, as he takes on big corporations - all of a sudden surprised to see him just bear-hugging one of the most notorious figures in recent Seattle history.
[00:03:29] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and adding on top of that - the challenges during those protests, the deleted texts that you mentioned, but also the tear-gassing of neighborhoods. I don't think people understand how radicalizing that was for some neighborhoods in Seattle. They didn't tear-gas protesters. They tear-gassed entire geographical areas. People in their homes couldn't breathe, were severely impacted by that. And where do you go at that point in time? There are protests out on the street. You're at home with your kids, with your family, and getting tear-gassed in your home. That's what happened in Seattle, and people have not forgotten that. That was a radicalizing moment. I think you've seen instances afterwards in just relations and demonstrating that the trust with the police department is completely evaporated. Neighbors banding together to question people being detained for what seems like no reason because they no longer view them and the police as being on the same side after that. They felt attacked. You aren't attacked by people you trust - yeah.
[00:04:33] Robert Cruickshank: Well, they were attacked. They absolutely were. And you talk about the stories of tear-gassing the neighborhood. I will never forget hearing at one of the City Council meetings in early June 2020, when this was all going on, a father who lived in an apartment on Capitol Hill talking about how the tear-gas got into his apartment and his newborn baby started crying and having fluid coming from its nose and mouth because it couldn't handle the tear-gas that had seeped in. This is an example of just complete disregard that Carmen Best had for the public. When the Council tried to ban the use of tear-gas, ban the use of blast balls that had been fired at peaceful protesters in June 2020, Carmen Best spoke out against that. So it is a legacy of attacking - with vicious weapons of war - the people of Seattle engaged in peaceful protests during this crucial moment in our City's history. And for Bob Ferguson to tout her endorsement comes off as the state's leading law enforcement guy - that's what he is as Attorney General - embracing Carmen Best and her narrative of what happened.
And I think it's a real wake-up call and a shocking moment that maybe needed to happen. Bob Ferguson has had 11 years in office of very good press. He's fought hard for LGBTQ rights. He's fought hard to ban assault weapons. We talked about his lawsuits against Trump and against big tech companies. And rightly, he's gotten a lot of credit for that. But we haven't seen much about his other views on other issues. He hasn't been asked to take a stand on housing, transit, policing. I don't believe he weighed in, at least certainly not in a loud public way, on the question of what to do about the Blake decision. And so as he's launched his "exploratory campaign" for governor, racking up endorsements all over the place - literally left and right - Pramila Jayapal and Carmen Best. He hasn't gotten a lot of scrutiny yet. I think yesterday's move to announce the endorsement of Carmen Best means he's going to start getting a lot of scrutiny. I think the honeymoon for Ferguson, at least in Seattle, is over. Now that may not be a bad thing in Ferguson's political calculation, but I think you saw the governor's race shift substantially yesterday.
[00:06:41] Crystal Fincher: I think so too. What do you think went into this political calculation to seek, and accept, and publicize this endorsement?
[00:06:51] Robert Cruickshank: I think Bob Ferguson is trying to shore up his right flank. He's probably looking at what he saw south of the border in Oregon last year, where the Oregon governor's race was dominated by questions of public safety. He's seen similar things happen around the country where Democrats are attacked on this. I think he is also seeing that right-wing Democrats, like Mark Mullet, are making noise about running for governor. I think Ferguson feels he has to shore up his position on the right and the way that he can do that is by touting law and order. And in fact, the day before he announced Carmen Best's endorsement, he also announced the endorsement of Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell, who had run for King County Prosecutor last year - losing to Leesa Manion. And Ferrell ran on a more law and order right-wing approach, so there's clearly a calculated effort here by Ferguson to show - at least maybe the media and a certain segment of the electorate - that he's not like those other Democrats. He's not a Seattle Democrat who's, in the parlance on the right, soft on crime. He's going to be tough on this stuff, and I think it means that quite a lot of scrutiny now should be directed his way in terms of asking him where he stands and what he believes on the major issues of crime and public policy.
[00:08:03] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense. When you see this, especially with such a - at least from the online vocal right - also such a backlash from them. This is one of those where you look at the ratio and people are like, My goodness - there was not a positive reaction to this. It was pretty negative across the spectrum. It was universally negative across the spectrum. Who does this help him with? Who do you think - there's their calculus - but in reality, do you think this helps with anyone?
[00:08:36] Robert Cruickshank: I think that Ferguson has been waging a low-key but significant effort to try to win the support of The Seattle Times. He was a supporter of legislation in Olympia this year that would have created some tax breaks for media companies, including The Seattle Times, and Times lobbied hard for it. The bill was also sponsored in the Senate by Mark Mullet, so I think Ferguson is looking at this - trying to make sure that he has The Seattle Times in his corner, certain right-wing Democrats in his corner. But they're not a huge portion of the electorate. The sense I have is Ferguson wants to try to just clear the field as much as he possibly can in advance of the actual election. But there is a huge risk here because in building that coalition, you can't alienate another piece of it. Now, all of a sudden, he's got Seattle voters, who are pretty shocked by the Carmen Best endorsement, taking a second look at Ferguson. That's going to give an opportunity to someone like Hilary Franz, who launched her campaign but otherwise hasn't had much energy or momentum - gives her an opening to maybe try to win some of those Seattle voters over.
[00:09:42] Crystal Fincher: There's another element of this that I find interesting, and actually this is the element that I would be concerned about backfiring over the long term - that it could play into a narrative that could turn out to be harmful. It's that - while questions were swirling around what happened with the East Precinct and how that happened, finding out the texts were deleted - which is a significant crime, really - and lots of people asking, Hey, Bob Ferguson, why aren't you investigating this? And him saying, I can't. But as has been covered several times - again recently - he has either referred, or spoken up, or suggested that in other instances. And so if a narrative catches on that - Yeah, Bob's tough if he doesn't have a friend doing something - you know, if a friend is doing one of those things that lots of people find objectionable, it's a different story if it's a friend. If it's a different story, if it's a donor, perhaps. It's a different story - that kind of thing. I would be concerned about that kind of narrative catching on. And so that to me is why - I don't understand - realistically - look, if you're trying to project law and order, he could have done what Jim Ferrell did. That didn't work for Jim Ferrell, but it didn't have this kind of backlash where - hey, different police chiefs - but to choose Seattle's Carmen Best, it just - my goodness, that is an unforced error, it seems. Lots of time left, more than a year in this campaign. Who knows who else is going to get in the race? Lots of time, so I am in no way suggesting this is fatal. He obviously financially enjoys a significant advantage and there's lots of time left. We have seen plenty of politicians at all levels step in it and make their way out. So I'm not saying that this is damning, but it's certainly - to your point - is going to invite more scrutiny than there had been before.
[00:11:42] Robert Cruickshank: It is. And I was thinking about this earlier today - we haven't had a contested primary for governor on the Democratic side in Washington state in nearly 20 years. Last time was when Ron Sims and Christine Gregoire ran against each other in 2004. Inslee didn't have a challenge in 2012, and obviously hasn't been challenged since. We might have one now and I think that would be healthy - healthy for the Democratic Party, healthy for the state - to have different ideas out there, candidates running on policy and having to have discussions and debates about that. I think it'd be really helpful. Ferguson has had a lot of momentum early. He's racked up a ton of endorsements, as we've talked about, but he hasn't really been challenged on policy and he hasn't - made very few statements on policy. It was surely a deliberate thing on his campaign's part. That needs to change - that'll make Ferguson a stronger candidate in the general election. And it'll make all of us - whether we're big D, small D Democrats, or just voters who care about the direction of our state - better off when there's a real policy discussion happening in the primary.
[00:12:42] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. We will continue to follow what's going on with the gubernatorial race, but in the meantime, in the City of Burien, there is a really contentious situation going on right now between the Burien - really interestingly - between the City and King County Executive's legal team. Can you just cover what is going on here? In a nutshell, what is the issue and what's currently happening?
[00:13:13] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, the City of Burien - and it seems to be the City Manager in particular in Burien - is trying to sweep a homeless encampment. Now, here in the western United States, we're governed by a Supreme Court - or not, I'm sorry, not a Supreme Court decision, that's important - a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, which is one level below the Supreme Court, against the city of Boise, saying that you cannot sweep a homeless encampment without having made real good faith offers of shelter to those people you're trying to remove. At some point, one would imagine some city somewhere will try to take that to the US Supreme Court, which would be a nightmare, because I don't think we'd get a good ruling out of that. But here in the western US, we are all governed by that decision - which is binding from the Ninth Circuit - which means you can't just sweep people without giving them a place to go. That doesn't justify sweeps, but that's the legal ruling that cities operate under. Now, what Burien appears to have tried to do was redefine a city park as a dog park - as private park - in order to get around having to actually offer shelter. Because they don't have an offer, they have nowhere to go - that's why encampments exist - they exist because people have nowhere else to go. And so the City Manager said this is the plan we're going to do.
Well, King County Executive's Office slapped down Burien pretty hard and said - You can't do that - that violates the court ruling - and we're not going to provide police support. Burien, like many cities in King County, many smaller cities, doesn't have its own police force. They contract with the King County Sheriff's Office. And the King County Sheriff's Office, after 2020 charter reform, the Sheriff is now appointed by the Executive. So the Executive now has more direct control over the King County Sheriff's Office than it had before. And so what Dow Constantine's office is saying is - We're not going to have police there to help do your sweep. Without police, you're going to have a hard time actually getting people to move. The City of Burien is striking back. The City Manager is disagreeing with this. But interestingly, people like Hugo Garcia, who are on the City Council in Burien, are saying - This is not us. We didn't authorize this. This is the City Manager going out and doing this on his own. And so now you have really a fight over power in Burien and who actually controls these important levers of city government - when it comes to people's shelter - is in question here. So Burien has a lot to sort out.
[00:15:28] Crystal Fincher: A lot to sort out. And a little context further with this is - where the encampment is now - arrived there because Burien did previously conduct a sweep at one location that was city-owned. And because sweeps don't do anything to solve homelessness - housing solves homelessness - in an entirely predictable turn of events, the people who were swept wound up in an adjacent city lot because there's nowhere else to go. There was no offer of housing, no shelter. Where do you think they're going to go? Obviously, they're just moving place to place. We know that's how this works - over and over again - it's been covered several times, just locally here. So that happened. And so the Council in a 4-3 - they kind of have a 4-3 moderate to conservative majority there - they decided to enter into a lease with a private entity, and who billed themselves as dog park caretakers, in an attempt to allow them to trespass the people who are on that property as private owner-operators, basically, in a way to get around the City's requirement to do that. Well, that was just blatantly an end-run attempt, which Dow Constantine - wisely and following the law - decided not to adhere to.
But now this is an interesting situation. As you said, there are councilmembers who said - Wait, wait, wait, this is not happening. The response to the King County Executive's legal advisor is not coming from us. The City Manager decided to respond on their own. The lease with the C.A.R.E.S. Organization - Burien C.A.R.E.S. Organization - is not executed yet. We don't think it should be. We need to reconsider and talk about this. But it's a legitimate issue. And Burien - frankly, there are a number of cities skirting the requirement to provide housing. That's why we see the whole theater around - they were offered housing and they refused, even if they know that the housing is not adequate, even if they know the shelter is available - them trying to check that off as them basically - checking on their list - okay, we have technically done the thing that will not get this sweep called unconstitutional, hopefully. Even though when it has been brought to court, it's been successfully challenged before. So we'll see how this continues to unfold. But it's kind of a - the equivalent of a constitutional crisis, almost - in a city, like a charter crisis. Who does actually have the authority to do this? Can the city manager act, in his capacity, response to this? Can he act independently of the Council on this response? Who knows? They were talking about an emergency meeting. We'll see what results from that. But certainly a lot of people and organizations are paying attention to this. And it is - it's a conundrum.
[00:18:24] Robert Cruickshank: It is. And I think it is another example of the ways in which the regional approach to solving homelessness isn't working right now. The King County Regional Homelessness Authority lost its executive director last week and is spending a lot of money, but what is it showing for it? It's taking forever to get people into shelter. The idea behind the regional approach is - this is a regional problem - let's pool our resources and act quickly to cut through all the bureaucratic silos so we get people into shelter. It's what we all want. It's not happening. And I think - yet again, we're seeing another grand effort to solve homelessness not succeed because we haven't actually tackled the root of it. We're not funding enough supportive, permanently supportive, temporary shelter, whatever it is - it's not being done. The state isn't kicking in the money that's needed. It's hard to get the permitting. It's hard to find the zoning because we've been glacially slow to change zoning. We finally got some of that fixed here in the 2023 session, but - Ed Murray declaring a state of emergency over homelessness in 2015. I remember when I moved to Seattle, a little over 20 years ago, we were in the middle of the 10-year plan to end homelessness. We have these grand efforts that go nowhere. Meanwhile, people are in crisis. People living outside, whether it's in the cold of winter or the heat and smoke of summer, aren't getting their needs met. These are our neighbors who deserve shelter. And government just trying to pass the buck, just trying to appease a few cranky people who don't want to see a tent, but not giving people the help that they need and have needed for a long time. And we need to find actual solutions to get people housed and pay what it takes to do it. Otherwise, we're just going to keep seeing more stuff like this happen.
[00:20:01] Crystal Fincher: We are. And we have to contend with the use of resources here. Burien's in a bind now. If they do buck this - and there's been some early talk - we don't need the Sheriff, we can stand up our own department. The reason why they haven't stood up their own department is because it's prohibitively expensive. And they're already spending a significant portion - I think almost half of their general budget - on policing currently. And so the money that we put into these sweeps, the money that we put into litigation, and the challenges of just working through this is all money that is being spent on things that we know are not going to do anything to make this problem better. At the most, you can make it disappear only in the sense that - yes, you sweep someone from one location, they're going to move to another one. Lots of people hope they just move to another one in another city so they don't have to deal with it, but they do. And now every city - look at housing prices, which are the biggest determinant of our levels of homelessness. Lots of people, employed people, families cannot afford housing. There is nowhere for them to go. So if we continue to waste our resources on the things that don't work, we don't have the resources for the things that do.
And we're hearing excuses - Oh, we would love to do this. We would love to have more supportive housing. We would love to have more behavioral health supports. We would love to have more people to help shepherd them through this. Well, then stop spending the resources on the things that don't work, and start spending them on the things that do. That's not an excuse when you're making the decision to spend the money on the things that don't work and that are harmful - that should be a point of accountability right there. And instead they're using it to excuse and explain their actions - it doesn't fly. And I hope they do have a robust conversation about this. I know there are definitely councilmembers there who want that to happen, who want to focus on providing housing, and working collaboratively with the King County Executive to get that done. But the majority of the council, unfortunately, did not take that position at that time. I hope some come around and see the light.
[00:22:04] Robert Cruickshank: I agree, and I think ultimately this is where the state needs to step in - you talk about how this is a problem everywhere. I took a train up to Vancouver, British Columbia, earlier this year and you could see under overpasses along the entire route, including in Canada, people living in tents, people trying to make - get themselves shelter under an overpass, whether it's rural Skagit County or the suburbs of Vancouver. This is a problem everywhere because we haven't built enough housing. We know that homelessness is primarily a housing crisis. When you don't build enough housing, when you don't have enough affordable housing, you get homelessness. There are the other reasons why an individual may wind up or stay in homelessness - people who have mental health needs, people have drug addictions - and a lot of that develops when you're out on the streets. Plenty of people fall into homelessness without being addicted to a single drug, without having any outward signs of mental illness. But once you're on the street, in what is a fundamentally traumatic situation where you are unsafe and do not have security or shelter, it becomes very easy to develop those other problems. And so housing is that essential piece of solving homelessness, solving addiction, solving all these other things that people need help with. And it's not being done. And asking cities to solve it themselves without giving them the financial support from the state government, or certainly not coming from the federal government - we're about to see massive spending cuts out of the stupid debt ceiling deal. Once again, it falls back on the State Legislature, and ultimately on our next governor, to figure out how they're going to solve it. Because when you leave it up to cities, you're going to get bad decisions. You're going to get things like we're seeing in Burien right now. It has to be solved at a higher level.
[00:23:48] Crystal Fincher: It absolutely does. In another city development, there is an attempt to put a tenant's bill of rights on the ballot in the City of Tacoma. What do they want to do, and what would this mean for renters?
[00:24:01] Robert Cruickshank: It's a really great thing. I think what you're seeing in Tacoma is a group coming together called Tacoma for All. And what they're trying to put together is something they call sometimes a tenant bill of rights. It's also been called a landlord fairness code. You do a number of great things such as requiring six months notice for all rent increases, relocation assistance for rent hikes over 5%, no school-year evictions of children and educators - that's a great thing to do because the last thing you want is for educators and families and students to be thrown out during the school year. It would ban deadly cold weather evictions, so if we're having a cold snap or a bunch of snow, you can't evict people out into the snow. It would cap excessive and unfair fees and deposits and ban rent hikes when there are code violations. Seattle has a lot of these things already, but Tacoma doesn't. And what a number of renters and advocates have seen in Tacoma is the need to bring those protections to Tacoma, especially because the state didn't do it - the state didn't act on a rent control bill that had been proposed earlier this year. So you're seeing a group of people come together with strong support from labor, from elected officials like Yasmin Trudeau and others, to make the Tacoma for All initiative a reality.
They're getting some pushback from the City, obviously, which - the mayor doesn't really want to do this and offered a vague compromise solution but didn't provide details. And the organizers said - No, we're going to go ahead with our own initiative - which I think is the right thing to do. I believe there are three pieces to the stool of solving housing. You need more supply from the private sector. You need more supply from the public sector - things like social housing, public housing. And you also need renter and tenant protections. And Washington has started to add some more private supply, but we need more tenant and renter protections across the state. And so with the State Legislature failing, you're seeing people in Tacoma step up to act on their own, and I think it's a great thing to do.
[00:25:53] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. They're in the middle of collecting signatures - early in the month, they had about half of them that they needed. They need to collect a total of 8,000 by June 15th to submit to the City, and they're actively signature gathering now. The Council could take action to put what they propose on the ballot - like you said, they're signaling that they're going to propose something, obviously. They're feeling the need to do something since there is something on the table right now, but don't know what it is. And it does not go as far - at least the indications based on what has been discussed in work groups so far - do not go as far as the Tacoma For All group's does. And it just doesn't seem like it's going to have the teeth. And so they're prepared to take this all the way, to try and collect all of the signatures - they're recruiting volunteers. And so it'll be great to see this get on the ballot and to have a full conversation about it. I do hope the City tries to take an approach that works because this is attempting to solve a real problem. And completely applaud Tacoma For All for stepping up to really address this problem.
This is not a partisan issue. This is just a straight affordability issue. And it affects all of us, even homeowners who are happy with the way that their home price is appreciating - and it has quite a bit, I think home values have almost doubled in Tacoma over the past 10 years - but it's making sure that the teachers in our community, the pharmacists in our community, our transit drivers, everyone who is our neighbors, everyone who we rely on to make our communities thrive, really, rely on affordable housing. If your kid gets sick, do you want to be short a nurse because they couldn't afford to buy a million dollar home, an $800,000 home on an average salary? Lots of people are facing this and we have to contend with this. Displacement is already happening, especially on the Hilltop - it is an issue. It's not speculative. It's not in the future. It's happening now and it needs to stop. They can take action to help reduce the harm here. And I really hope they do.
[00:28:04] Robert Cruickshank: Exactly. And I love that they're taking inspiration from what has happened in Seattle. A lot of these elements of Tacoma For All come from policies Kshama Sawant has championed. And Sawant, being the very clever strategist that she really is, fought hard for genuine rent control, has been denied it because the State Legislature won't do it. So she said - Okay, I'll go find other ways - any possible thing we can do under the rights that the City has, we're going to do it to protect renters. And it's worked. Not completely, but she can get these policies done and they provide some assistance to renters in Seattle. And Tacoma looking at that saying - Yeah, let's do that too. It's a good example of things we can do with stopgaps, but we still need the state to step in. California and Oregon have passed statewide rent stabilization laws capping annual rent increases. Washington needs to do the same. It is an urgent thing too. You mentioned being a homeowner - I'm a homeowner. My annual rent, so to speak, is capped. If you have a fixed term mortgage - 30 or fixed - that doesn't go up. It might go up a little bit because of property tax changes, but even those are capped - unfortunately, by Tim Eyman. So homeowners have essentially rent stabilization, but renters don't. And I think it's only fair that renters have those same protections too.
[00:29:24] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Now for the City of Seattle - bouncing back here - Seattle is looking to double down on the War on Drugs. What are they talking about, and how did we get here?
[00:29:35] Robert Cruickshank: So this is Ann Davison and Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen, the right wing of Seattle City government, trying to revive the War on Drugs. They believe that the answer to the fentanyl crisis, and in some ways the answer to visible homelessness downtown, is to criminalize. Let's go back to the War on Drugs - if you're using drugs, if you're a drug addict, the answer isn't treatment, it's jail. The irony here is that a lot of us progressives argue that what needs to happen is - these people need housing, they need treatment, give them a shelter, give them a room with a door that locks. Well, that's what Ann Davison wants to do - she just wants to put them in jail. Jail is a type of housing, but it's not the type of housing that's going to solve someone's addiction. In fact, it's going to make it worse, it's going to add more trauma, it's going to make it harder for that individual to escape the cycle of addiction and whatever other problems they're facing. But there is this desire among Seattle's right, which feels a little bit resurgent - over the last 10 years, the right wing in Seattle was on the back foot as we had a lot of really progressive policies come into place and they were wondering how do they strike back and now, they think they found their answer in really leveraging public concern about public drug use.
But we know for an absolute fact that criminalizing the use of drugs does not solve drug problems, it does not end addiction - it's been conclusively demonstrated. Interestingly, the City Council, rather than put this to the usual committee process, is bringing it directly to a vote early next month. That could be read two ways - it could be read as either the City trying to do this quickly and put it into place before the public can react against it, or it's also possible that you have a majority in the Council that doesn't want to do this and wants to kill it quickly before it gets too close to the primary in August. Who knows? But it's an example of this absurd desire among certain people in Seattle to just go back to Reaganism - it's crack down on homelessness by jailing people for sleeping in a tent, crack down on drug abuse by jailing anyone smoking fentanyl. This is just stuff we thought we left behind, but it's an important reminder to those of us who are progressive that we're always going to have to deal with right wingers, even in our own city, even in a deep blue city like Seattle. People are going to keep trying to find ways to poke that electric fence to see where there's a weakness and where they can try to really roll back the progressive policies that they hate so much.
[00:32:11] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it's - people who listen to the program regularly know how I feel about this whole thing. It is just really a shame. It is also as important as ever for you to contact your councilmembers, contact the mayor - let them know exactly how you feel about this. I think sometimes, especially in Seattle, it's easy to take for granted once progress has been made, that it's settled. Similar to - we thought Supreme Court law was settled, right? Everything is in flux. And there are people working actively to dismantle the progress that has been made. And counting on people being asleep - they know that they're in the minority. That's why they can't say what they really believe loudly and proudly all year long. And they do tend to strike in these ways that tend to minimize public engagement, support, time - trying to rush this through and let's just get it done. We see this done over and over again. And so I just hope that people understand that there really is a threat of this happening - that Seattle isn't above this, it's not beyond this. This is not something that we can take for granted. And I do encourage everyone listening to contact your City councilperson - contact all the Council people - and let them know where you stand on this, because there's going to be an upcoming vote in early June. And right now it looks like - it seems like - they're leaning towards criminalization and seems like they're leaning towards expanding the criminalization options even from where they were before. So please get engaged.
[00:33:43] Robert Cruickshank: I think it's also important to - anytime you encounter a City Council candidate - to make it clear where you stand as well. Because these are - as the campaigns really start to kick into gear here after Memorial Day, as they sprint towards the August primary - we're going to have to tell these people running for the seats, especially where there isn't an incumbent. Quite a few districts like District 1, District 3, District 4, District 5 - let the people know that you are not a fan of criminalizing drugs. You do not want to go back to the Drug War. A lot of Seattle's state legislative representation voted against the gross misdemeanor provisions in the Blake fix that finally came out of the Legislature earlier this month. That was courageous of them - it's a good thing they did. We need to show similar leadership here in Seattle rather than just waltz back down the path of Reaganism.
[00:34:32] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. Also in Council action this week was a tree ordinance that was passed. How did this develop and what ended up passing?
[00:34:42] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, this has been in gestation for a long time. I remember we were talking about tree ordinance back when Mike McGinn was mayor, but it finally came to pass this week. And what the ordinance does - I credit the Harrell administration for this, and I credit Dan Strauss as well for finding a good middle ground that isn't perfect, but a middle ground that tries to harmonize tree policy and housing policy. What's really been going on is a number of people who don't want new density in our city have seized on the idea of trees as the way they can block housing. Oh, we're going to cut down all these trees to build housing. Oh, isn't this terrible? The way we can stop the density that we don't want is to make it almost impossible to remove a tree. And in their mind, a healthy urban forest is threatened not by the climate crisis, but by development. Now, we know this is wrong. The City's own research shows very, very clearly that new development is not a major factor, it's a very tiny factor in the loss of trees in Seattle. The main source of tree loss is in natural areas and parks. And why is that happening? Because the climate crisis. We had, as everyone remembers, that awful heat wave in the summer of 2021. And you saw those cedars go brown afterwards. We then had 120 days without rain in 2022 - that further stressed the trees. And some of these are old, majestic trees planted over 100 years ago in our parks and natural areas that are struggling now to survive in the climate crisis. That's where we're losing trees. Where do we need to get trees, build more trees, plant more trees? In City-owned right-of-way, and especially in southeast Seattle.
So the answer here should be rather than give in to what the NIMBYs want and make it almost impossible to build anything new - you've got to harmonize these things. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, which produces those annual reports, has said numerous times that more urban density is a core element of solving the climate crisis, of reducing carbon emissions. And yet some of these NIMBYs want to use trees to undermine that. Now, we can't have one climate policy undermining another. We need to find ways to bring tree protections and housing construction together. And that's what the Harrell administration and Dan Strauss have tried to do. I know there are some housing advocates, who I respect, who are unhappy with some of the exact details of how this went down. I get that. At the same time, I and the Sierra Club believe it's a reasonable compromise that isn't going to hold back housing production. It'll help us have a healthier urban forest while avoiding blaming new density for loss of trees, right? This is a climate crisis issue. If we want to keep our great firs and cedars and other tall trees we love in the City, we've got to tackle the climate crisis. We have to build higher. We have to build denser. That's how we reduce the carbon emissions that is making everything so much hotter and putting these great trees under stress.
[00:37:46] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And I think we're seeing a part of a trend here, we're seeing a tactic as part of an overall strategy. And that is from NIMBYs and from the right to co-opt progressive language, to co-opt traditionally progressive causes - and use those to try and sabotage development. And so we've seen this manifest in Seattle with different things or to get their way in a public way - we saw it with bike lanes in West Seattle - they're hard to get, but oh all of a sudden now that it could potentially displace some people who are living in campers, we're all for implementing a bike lane and an accelerated delivery timeline right here, right? We see - we've seen ADA regulations used to - in lawsuits - used to stifle transit mobility improvement. And it's really critically important - and you basically said this - to not give in to the - well, no these are more important than disability access, or this is more important than making sure we do have adequate trees. They want to create the friction between these two groups who are fighting for resources and rights and access. And the key thing to do is to basically join together in solidarity and saying both of these are necessities for our community. We need clean air, and we need everyone to be able to access everything required to live, right? So how do we figure that out? Not we just don't do one, or we just don't do the other. We fight and discount what's needed for the true issue. If we actually get together with people who are being used to do this, we can figure out solutions better and cut out the kind of astroturf middleman, who's just using a different group to try and get their way. It's really cynical, it's really just shameful - but we're seeing this happen a lot. And I - some people's immediate reaction is - I really want this, so I'm going to dig my heels in and say that other thing is bad it doesn't matter. And that's a trap that they want you to fall into, and that's a trap that hurts us all moving forward. We have to work together and make sure that we get our needs met and sometimes it's hard to thread that needle perfectly. Sometimes it's going to leave a lot to be desired, but we really need to keep working to make sure that everyone is getting what they need to be supported in this community.
Also an exciting development with Seattle's social housing board having their first meeting. What happened there?
[00:40:23] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah they - after the passage of Initiative 135 earlier this year - it created a new board to oversee the social housing authority. And this board is not comprised in the usual way - like typically a City commission or City board is - the mayor gets to make a bunch of picks the City Council gets to make a bunch of picks and they can pretty much pick whoever they want to. In this case though, the initiative stated that the board members had to come from certain backgrounds - he had to pick someone with urban planning experience, he had to pick someone who understands Passivhaus design which is very environmentally friendly. But most importantly, you have to pick a number of people with lived experience as renters or as unhoused folks - and that is what happened with this board. And it's a majority of people, I believe, who are not homeowners. And the idea here is to have this board represent the people, or at least the type of people, who would actually live in a social housing project once we get it built. So they had their first meeting, came together, they elected their leadership. Councilmember Tammy Morales was there and has been really the driving figure in getting this done, and I think one of the few - unfortunately - people on City Council who's really been strongly behind this. I think other councilmembers have been much more hesitant. But social housing is a key part of the solution - there's a great article in the New York Times earlier this week about Vienna - and Vienna has a ton of social housing, and it works really well in having a mix of incomes together, living in the same building where everyone's pulling together to help build a great community. It also includes space for people who are very low incomes or who are formerly homeless, so I think it's really exciting to see this process get underway - a board that is working well together, at least at the start.
It seems like Initiative 135 is getting off to a great start, but the bigger question obviously going to be - How do you fund the construction of social housing? The people who wrote the initiative were advised, and I think correctly, that they couldn't do both at the same time - they couldn't create the social housing authority and have a funding source. Well now, we need the City to step up - and this is another thing that we're going to have to see City Council candidates talk about - Initiative 135 passed by pretty healthy margin in the City, it passed in every single Council district. So Council candidates should be on board, but if you talk to some of these folks - they're not all on board. So one of the things that I hope becomes a major issue in the City Council elections this fall is - how are you going to make social housing a reality, how are you going to fund it here in Seattle - because the public clearly wants it and there's clearly a huge need for it.
[00:43:00] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. The public does want it - even at the forums that have happened so far - and we know that most people in the public are not tuned into elections yet but there are some who are - and shoring up this early support and making an early impression, especially in a crowded primary, makes a difference. And I will tell you, every forum that I've seen or been at - the public there has had questions about social housing. How are you going to secure funding, how are you going to make sure this implementation goes smoothly? They want to know about it, they want to know how they're going to support it. I fully anticipate this to be a significant issue throughout this entire campaign and beyond. The public voted for it, they want it, they're really curious about it, they're excited about it. And this is something that they feel could potentially put a dent in housing prices and start a blueprint - expand upon the blueprint - of what it looks like to implement this in our state and throughout the region, so really exciting.
And with that, I will thank you all for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday May 26, 2023. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today is Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank. You can find Robert on Twitter @cruickshank. You can follow Hacks & Wonks @HacksWonks, and you can find me @finchfrii, with 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 full versions of our Friday almost-live week-in-review and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, please leave a review. 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.