Feb 10, 2023
On this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, political consultant and host Crystal Fincher is joined by friend of the show and today’s co-host: metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll! They look at the battle over a potential Pierce County airport, racist housing covenants, pushback against expanding ballot access to people in Washington state jails, WA police pursuit legislation, and the ongoing debate over middle housing.
In Pierce County news, Matt outlines how potential plans for a new airport in the area seem to have been squashed by their opposition for now, but the needs for a new airport remain. He also informs us about the existence of thousands of racial housing covenants, homes that were originally built at the exclusion of people based on their race, in the region. It’s a grim reminder of the racist history of our country, and how discriminatory practices continue today.
In election news, Khawla Nakua from Bolts did some excellent reporting last month revealing that, despite the creation of new state funding to bring voting access to eligible voters in WA jails, only a handful of counties have applied for the funding, and some local officials have blocked attempts to utilize the funds.
In public safety news this week, the WA legislature is currently debating over whether to expand the situations in which police officers can utilize vehicular pursuits. While there are many anecdotes or concerns about restricting officers’ ability to chase suspects, data shows that vehicular pursuits are inherently dangerous to all involved.
Finally, Matt and Crystal close the show looking at the current state of Washington’s battles over middle housing. They discuss recent successes for pro-housing legislation in Olympia and a poll that shows the majority of Washingtonians are ready for housing reform, despite what critics claim.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
“Are plans for a new Pierce County airport already dead? It's starting to feel that way” by Matt Driscoll from The News Tribune
“Pierce County Adopts anti-airport resolution. Here's what the Council wants to happen” by Sea Johnson from The News Tribune
“Seattle needs a new Sea-Tac-sized airport. No one wants it near them” by Dominic Gates from The Seattle Times
“There are 4,000 racist housing covenants in Pierce County. You can find them on a map” by Matt Driscoll from The News Tribune
“Efforts to Expand Ballot Access in Washington State Jails Face Local Pushback” by Khawla Nakua from Bolts Magazine
“Don't believe the smears. A fact-based police pursuit law makes Washington safer” by Rep. Sharlett Mena and Sen. Yasmin Trudeau from The News Tribune
“Middle housing bill passes major milestone in Olympia” by Joshua McNichols from KUOW
“Poll: WA residents want more multifamily housing in their neighborhoods” by Claire Withycombe from The Seattle Times
“Poll: Strong Majority of Washingtonians Support Middle Housing Options” from Sightline Institute
“OPINION | I-135 Isn’t Just About Housing, It’s About Our Students Too” by Otis Golden from The South Seattle Emerald
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.
If you missed Tuesday's midweek show, we released a re-air of our conversation with Cyril Walrond and Kelly Olson of the Washington Voting Rights Restoration Coalition. Cyril and Kelly told us about the coalition's successful efforts to pass HB 1078, which restores those rights to all formerly incarcerated people in Washington and took effect on January 1st, 2022.
Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a cohost. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's cohost: metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll.
[00:01:29] Matt Driscoll: Hello - thanks for having me back. I'm honored.
[00:01:31] Crystal Fincher: Hey - welcome back once again. Happy to have you back, always enjoy it. I wanted to start off talking about an issue that has been high on the minds of many people in Pierce County - has created a lot of attention and opposition - the airport discussion, about a potential new airport sited in Pierce County. How did we get to this point and what is going on?
[00:01:59] Matt Driscoll: Yeah - the short and sweet of it is - it's really difficult, as it turns out, to find some place to put a big, gigantic new airport. And people don't want it in their neighborhoods, believe it or not. But yeah, so it's kind of the brief history. The footnotes on this is - there's a belief in the Legislature and amongst the folks who think about such things that the Puget Sound region needs an additional airport. They say SeaTac's maxed out, we've already done some expansions at Paine Field. If we look 20 years into the future, we know this region is going to need more air travel capacity than it currently has. And so they've set in motion a process to potentially identify a new site. So they basically appointed a commission - created a commission - that's been studying it now for many months, narrowing down lists of potential places. The most recent official act of that is they've narrowed it down to three greenfield locations - is what they call them - which is essentially locations in the middle of nowhere, locations where you could build a new airport. Two of those are in Pierce County, rural Pierce County - in the Roy-Graham-Eatonville area - one's out by Northwest Trek, would be out by Northwest Trek. The other is the tail end of Meridian there, if you're familiar to the area. And that has created a whole lot of opposition. The other greenfield site's in Thurston County - there's plenty of opposition down there too.
So you've got a whole bunch of local constituents, local residents that are freaked out about the prospect of this commission maybe deciding that Pierce County is the best place for a gigantic new airport. Pretty much every local official on every side of the aisle has come out in opposition of this idea. Like I said at the outset, nobody wants a big airport in their neck of the woods, despite whatever perceived economic benefit might come from that. And so it's just gotten really interesting from there. There are some other more recent kind of developments and some opposition that I can get into, but that's the lay of the land. We're waiting for this commission to deliver its recommendation on where they think the new Puget Sound Airport should be built.
[00:04:23] Crystal Fincher: And it has received a lot of opposition from a variety of different corners. This is a unique coalition in that it has lots of people from both sides of the aisle for various reasons, even those calling into question the necessity of a new airport anyway. Is it actually been determined that there is a substantiated need for an airport, another airport?
[00:04:49] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, I think a lot of people are rightfully questioning that assertion. I think it was certainly generally believed in the Legislature when they created this commission that it was - there was a very real possibility. Dominic Gates - Pulitzer-winning Dominic Gates - did a piece in The Seattle Times a few months back that generated a lot of opposition just around the idea that it's just assumed that we would need this airport. There are a lot of people that want to look into other options, perhaps expanding rail to regional destinations could take some of the load off - those sorts of ideas. And of course, in the background, they're selling this idea that this would be an airport of the future that would be greener and all that sort of stuff. But, there's no such thing as a green airport. And I think, particularly in an area that's highly concerned about climate change and those sorts of things, a lot of people are asking tough questions about that assertion. And no, I don't think we have a definitive answer that you definitely need a new airport. I know the economic projections of not having additional airline capacity, both for cargo and passenger, are pretty dire. There's estimates of how many jobs and how many millions of dollars that the area would lose. So I think there's a lot on the table. But no, that's just one of many questions hanging.
You mentioned some of the other opposition. JBLM [Joint Base Lewis-McChord] has come out and said that a new airport in that area - all three of the greenfield locations, including the Thurston County one - wouldn't mesh with necessary base operations and training. That's a big - in my mind, that's a big red flag. It's hard for me to imagine that they're going to go against JBLM. There's another site near Enumclaw that the Department of Transportation has maybe suggested could be a better site. King County sites were prohibited from this process by the legislation - for understandable reasons. King County already has an airport. It's not like obliterating Enumclaw is any better than obliterating Graham or Orting - none of these options are great. And simultaneous to all this, there are calls in the Legislature basically to start the process over. So start from scratch. They're saying that the process sucked during COVID - people weren't given the opportunity to participate, all those sorts of things. I don't know how much of that is true. I don't know how many town halls you need to hold to determine that people don't want an airport built in their rural community. My guess is that's what you're going to find either way.
But it's sure looking to me like the prospect of them choosing a Pierce County location and saying this is going to work, or them choosing one of those greenfield sites and saying this is going to work - it seems unlikely at my point. And I should add and now I just feel like I've been talking - this is a hot issue down here in Pierce County, so forgive me. But the acting chair of that commission has basically come out on several occasions and said, Hey, there's big red flags about all these sites. I don't think - he's anticipated - he's a non voting member - but he has anticipated that he doesn't think this commission is going to come back and recommend any of these sites as a good spot for a new airport. So long story short, I think you're looking at this conversation continuing for likely many years into the future. Yakima has expressed some interest in perhaps being home to an airport - that doesn't exactly, wouldn't seem to exactly solve the Puget Sound region issue. But maybe - if you're creative, who knows? So I think we're going to be talking about this for a long time.
[00:08:17] Crystal Fincher: And it is worth the conversation. It has been a very hot topic with lots of hot opposition to it - but from a number of different corners - and the opposition isn't only from people in Pierce County either. Talking about just the environmental impacts of these - climate change is a reality that we are experiencing negative impacts from right now. And looking at different factors - one, just that the air pollution from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective is vast from an airport - some of the most polluting places that we have in the state. In addition to that, so many reports and studies have come out over the last several years talking about the impact of the change in air quality in flight paths on people who live under them. Here in South King County, I live near a flight path. Certainly people in Des Moines, Tukwila. Life expectancies are different - it's one of the mitigating factors - childhood asthma, inhaling these particulates from these is not wonderful. And then talking about preserving farmland, preserving green space, preserving our rural areas - preventing sprawl and development in those areas is what we're trying to do. We're trying to concentrate development in areas where it is already, and paving over such a broad rural area just does not seem like it is aligned with our climate goals for the long term and what we're trying to do there. So it will be interesting to keep following this conversation.
Representative Jake Fey has a bill that he introduced in the Legislature that would rewind the clock a little bit - say, Hey, let's restart the study of this and consider things that maybe there wasn't the opportunity to consider before because of COVID getting in the way, really understanding what all of the environmental impacts, the impacts on people would be, what it would mean in terms of losing this ground. And as you mentioned before, concerns from JBLM really saying that we cannot - makes it definitive that anything that would negatively impact practices going on at JBLM would be a nonstarter for an airport site. Do you know if that legislation looks likely to pass? Is there broad support for it?
[00:10:48] Matt Driscoll: I would hazard a guess at this point - or wouldn't hazard a guess - but my gut tells me, Yeah, there's support for it. It's certainly within - what I can say for certain - it's certain within the Pierce County delegation. I think Republicans and Democrats are all aligned around this issue. I don't think there's any - really - hesitations on that. I have never spoken to any elected leader in this area that wants the airport. It's a tricky situation because you've got the rest of the state that doesn't want an airport in their area, too. I was on the radio with the Gee and Ursula show a few months back and they're like, Yeah, Pierce County seems great for - from a more King County, or more north perspective - they're like this sounds great. But yeah, certainly from the local delegation - I don't think there's any support for the airport at this point. I think there is support for restarting the clock, looking at all those options, looking at those things that haven't been considered yet, looking at alternatives. I agree with everything you said related to climate change. And I would just note - about the quality of life issues - certainly, your area up there in South King County knows the impact of airports. We've already got JBLM - I've already got massive military jets over our head every day or two. So yeah, it's just a tricky situation. And you mentioned everything about airports, and I agree with that and yet travel. I'm not an expert on these stats, but my layman's understanding suggests that people keep traveling by air - they like it - so it's a sticky one.
[00:12:37] Crystal Fincher: That they do. That could put us into a tangential conversation about regional high speed rail, which could be very useful in situations like this and might be a wonderful alternative consideration. But we will see how this conversation continues to unfold. The News Tribune has been covering all angles of this for months, since it's been bandied about. And so please continue to stay tuned to that coverage to get more information about that.
Something else that was covered by The News Tribune this week is the history of racist housing covenants in Pierce County. What happened here?
[00:13:20] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, this is a - it's an interesting column I wrote - thank you for bringing it up because it is, it's really interesting. I think it's important - for King County listeners might be slightly more familiar with kind of this process, so I'll just give the brief back story. There's a team of researchers at University of Washington, Seattle, that have been basically researching and uncovering these kind of old racist housing covenants for many years - nearly two decades in the term in the experience of the lead professor there, Professor Gregory. And in 2021, the Legislature put some funding and money and organization together basically to expand that research across the state. So earlier this week, the UW released kind of preliminary results on that work from five counties across the region, including Thurston as well, but including Pierce County. And here in Pierce County, the team uncovered more than - so far has recovered more than, or uncovered more than - 4,000 old racist housing covenants. And just to back up - and for folks that don't know - back in the day, the earliest one here that they found in Pierce County is 1907. But really, between the prime years of 1920, 30s and 40s, these racist housing covenants - and not just racist, but exclusionary and religious and in other ways, too - were fairly prominent with new housing developments and new subdivisions. It was pretty straightforward - it would say, whites only or would say, people of color can't live here or whoever can't live here. And of course, it used the crude language of the time. In 1948, a Supreme Court decision made those unenforceable. A couple decades later, Fair Housing Act made discrimination on the basis of race and a whole bunch of other things in terms of housing illegal.
But the uncovering of these covenants is really about understanding the legacy and the lasting impact of what that had done. So that's really what the UW researchers talked the most about and most passionately about is - we still see the impacts of these housing policies and the redlining that went along with it and the lending practices that went along with it in our world today. If you look at the percentage of white homeownership versus Black homeownership, it's nearly double in Pierce County, in terms of white families and Black families. If you look at the wealth gap, it's pronounced everywhere, including Pierce County. And the researchers talk about it, and rightfully so - I think this kind of matches most people's experiences out in the world, at least most average people. But if your family is going to build wealth, it's often through real estate, unless you hit the stock market or win the lottery or something. It's because - generations ago, land was purchased or a home was purchased and that appreciated value. And then you find yourself with wealth that can be passed down. And you're talking about huge segments of our population that were basically disqualified from that or barred from that for many, many, many years. And it certainly stretched well past that 1948 Supreme Court decision, because they were still talking about it in 1964. And really the impacts of that span for decades. It's only fairly recently that I think we've - if we've made any real strides in that - that we've started to make them.
But, in Tacoma, you still see it. Look at the difference in demographics between North Tacoma and the East Side - just, that's not by accident. That's how this stuff was orchestrated in many ways. And so it's really about - so basically, they've uncovered more than 4,000 of these old racist housing covenants, but the importance of this work is it really draws attention to the lasting impact of that segregationist housing policy.
[00:17:13] Crystal Fincher: Well, and it does have a lasting impact. As you just said, homeownership is how most Americans have built their wealth. And even for Black people, other people who were allowed to buy houses in other areas that weren't redlined - that didn't have these housing covenants - those were in areas deemed to be less desirable - to the point that they did appreciate, they appreciated less than the other ones. And so you have a built-in institutional gap, once again, that is driving this inequality. And it basically is putting people in a spiral where - where you're allowed to live is a less desirable area. If you can purchase, it is for less, it appreciates less. And of course, there's going to be less wealth generated in that area and the inequalities remain. Moving forward, what should people take from this or what should result from it?
[00:18:14] Matt Driscoll: That's an interesting question. I think the biggest thing and we struggle with this is as a society - it's just acknowledging the reality of it. I think I've already gotten several emails from people that are like, These are old, this is old, why are you covering this now? And so I think we have to get past that, right? We have to understand the nuance and how we got to the place where we are today before we can do anything about where we are today. So I think that's the most important thing - just recognizing that this was a real thing that happened - it's not some sort of dream that was made up. These were real things that happened. You mentioned the redlining. My former colleague, Kate Martin, back in 2018, did a really important story about the history of redlining in Tacoma and interviewed former mayor Harold Moss, who's now passed away, but Tacoma's first Black mayor. And just getting anecdotes from him about how they eventually were able to buy a home - and I think it was in the fifties - and they would literally have to trick the realtor into showing up first before they proceeded in to see the home, because if the realtor saw a Black family, they would just get out. That's a real thing. That still has an impact today.
But then, other than that - I guess what I would say, and I'm interested to hear your take on this, too - is I think it bleeds into our conversation that we're having regionally about housing, expanding housing and allowing - put this diplomatically - allowing neighborhoods to change, right? I think a lot of the pushback we see from areas that are fighting densification or those sort of things, I think there was some coded - you go back, and some of the researchers forwarded me some of the ads in The News Tribune that we would run - and, they wouldn't say, This is a whites only subdivision. It would say, This is a restricted division, right? And I think in many ways, we still have that. We still don't say it, but we still have that. And so I think a lot of the pushback that you see, consciously or subconsciously, is along those kind of - I want to live in a exclusive restricted area, which is code for - I don't want renters and I don't want people who don't look like me, or people who are not in my socioeconomic stratus. So for me, I think it's an important, it's a helpful lens to look at those sorts of conversations through and what can we read into some of the pushback that we see from efforts to increase housing in all sorts of neighborhoods. But I'm interested to hear your take - I don't know - how do we fix this, start to fix this?
[00:20:55] Crystal Fincher: I think to your point, it is critical to understand how we got here, and how what happened then impacts what we're seeing now. Now, on talking about the coded conversation and talking about how this manifests today, we're in a situation where a lot of areas have absorbed growth, where previous growth management acts - a lot of cities identified what they called urban villages or growth areas and surprise, surprise - these are where a lot of lower income people already lived, this is where high density development was already allowed. A lot of this is apartment buildings were in lower income areas and they've absorbed a lot of the growth so far because the other areas are restricted - to your point - in the type of growth, the amount of growth that can be there. This entire conversation that we're having about where can we build multifamily housing - because it was restricted from being built in the areas that were previously redlined, that had these restrictive covenants, that were viewed as more desirable - higher income. And in many of these housing conversations that we see, it is people from those areas. It is higher income people who have the financial ability, the time, the experience within institutions, and connections and expertise to steer development away from them and to make other people absorb the impacts - oftentimes of their consumption - and to deal with that.
Density is great. Housing is great. We also need to recognize that environmentally - that people's neighborhoods come with those impacts. If we put a dense building on a busy arterial, those small particulates from that arterial are impacting people's health. The health benefits can actually be negated by being on an arterial - of some of the benefits usually associated with dense housing, walkable cities, that kind of stuff. We're already putting people in less healthy situations - situations where the life expectancy ultimately is lower because of the environment they're allowed to exist in. And now the conversation is really saying we shouldn't concentrate the impacts of our community, of our consumption on these particular communities - usually lower income people of color filling these communities and wealthier, whiter neighborhoods being more exclusive and restricting themselves from experiencing those kinds of impacts or even the responsibility to mitigate those impacts. I certainly see it at play in these discussions that we're having now and the impacts that we're having now.
I've talked with several friends - and many people who know me, know my father passed away year before last - but the differences in life expectancy, lots of people hear that and that's a statistic to them. That's my dad. I've talked to other friends - that's their dad. We feel this. There's a recent article, actually I read this past week, talking about the grief gap and what that creates because of earlier death, earlier disruption to families. This is an all-encompassing conversation, but I see this at play everywhere and there's definitely a throughline from those racist covenants to the conversations that we're having today. And a lot of what we're talking about is just coded versions of who deserves to live in clean, safe areas and who doesn't.
[00:24:50] Matt Driscoll: Yeah - really well said and I think maybe I'll just forward a link to the podcast to the emails that come in - because I think that's why this matters, right? That's why these old dusty documents matter.
[00:25:03] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Also wanted to talk - just really quick an update. We ran our voting rights coalition show earlier this week and talked about some of the great progress we made in this state with legislation passed by Representative Tarra Simmons and others to expand access to the ballot, where people who are released from custody automatically have their voting rights restored. But also there was action taken to help people who are currently incarcerated, especially in jails - county jails - to vote. There was a piece in Bolts that actually was sent to me this week - much appreciated, from Guy Oron - talking about the challenges we've had with some of the implementations of these. And in particular, when it comes to extending the right to vote to people who are currently incarcerated, causing us to deal with some of the toxic terminology, and people's impressions of people who are currently in jail, and the reality of it. And most of the people who are in county jails have not been convicted of anything - they're in there because there is bail set that they can't afford, they're in there on technicalities, they're in there because they can't afford to get out. They haven't been convicted of anything under our laws, our legal system. We have an innocent until proven guilty approach, so their right to vote hasn't been impacted in any way - they still have it - and they should be able to vote even if they're incarcerated. There was money allocated by our legislature to say, Hey, helping train people to make sure they understand how to provide access to people who are currently in county jails to do this. A few counties took the state up on the offer and applied for the grants to be able to do this. Several other counties declined, basically saying, Yeah, we don't want to help them. How did you read this and what are your thoughts surrounding this?
[00:27:11] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, it's - I must admit that I was - I don't know, what's the word - what's the word for surprised when you're not really surprised?
[00:27:21] Crystal Fincher: Just disappointed.
[00:27:22] Matt Driscoll: Yeah. I guess I was disappointed. I think your points about the reality of the folks in our jails is really well taken - in our jails, I think that's really well taken. I think the average person doesn't understand what the population of those jails actually looks like, where those people are at in the legal process, what they have been convicted of and what they haven't been convicted of. And I - again, we just we classify people in these ways. And we come up with ways to rationalize unfair inhumane treatment. And I think this is just, this is another example of this - it's why should I care about this person? They haven't been convicted. I don't care. They wouldn't be in the jail if they hadn't done something and - screw 'em. And I think that's our, I think that's our societal outlook on those sorts of things. And I think there are people who - you were mentioning life expectancy in your father with the environmental impacts that - my dad was in prison when I was born. And so we had to go through the process of voting rights restoration with - and that whole thing. And even after people come out of prison - it's changed much in the decades since then, thankfully in some places - but we have no qualms as a society of just taking away the right to vote. And we really, we've - for decades, we made it as hard as humanly possible for anybody who wasn't a white male landowner to vote. And we still really don't have any qualms about taking that right away from people, which just flies in the face of all the patriotic nonsense we talk about - voting and the Constitution and people's rights and all that sort of thing. So yeah - disappointed, I guess, is the word. And yeah, that's how I felt.
[00:29:22] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and these are situations - in this article, it talked about Spokane County. 70% of the people in the Spokane County jail have not been convicted of anything - there are pretrial issues, there are other issues that they're in there for. And situations where the people running the jails, the Sheriff's departments in some of these situations, corrections officers have said, Hey, this doesn't impact, this will not have an impact on our staffing, which has been a challenge in a lot of the jails. We can implement this - with the funding, the grant money - we can do this, very doable. And have had county commissioners say, Yeah, no, we don't think so, still don't like it, still have concerns. And to your point, we just seem to be okay with throwing people away once they get in there and find ways to justify that whatever happens to them - however horrific - from rape jokes that are so ubiquitous to all of that stuff - that whatever happens to them while they're in there is okay. And that's what they're not sentenced to. They're sentenced to spend their time in a way where they're restricted from areas - that is the punishment. It's not this cruel and mean and unusual and depraved and inhumane treatment that so many people seem to be happy with. And one, we just should never treat people that way. We're also having solitary confinement conversations in our legislature right now, which should not be happening and they're looking to limit that.
But for the people who are in there, it also is bad for us when they come back out. These people are coming back out into our society. We say we want people to do your time, pay for the crime and come back and restart your life. But we make it really, really hard and stack the deck against people to be able to come back out into the community and embed themselves in the community, find a place to live, find a job, do the things that everyone else is doing. And we have to view people as people wherever they're at, and it actually benefits us as a community when we do that. It hurts us when we don't, but we seem to be very determined not to, which is disappointing.
Another conversation that we are having in the Legislature is about police pursuits. This is a continuing conversation that we've had. Listening to some people, you might get the impression that the Legislature outlawed pursuits and it's caused mayhem to ensue. Not quite what's happened - they restricted the ability to pursue, to basically eliminate petty crimes, but if someone is a danger to the community, driving under the influence, accused of a violent crime or sexual crime, a crime against a person, police can and actually do frequently pursue here in the state. It does not seem like they have been barred from doing that, especially with news of recent chases and crashes and injuries that have resulted. But there was an op-ed by Representative Sharlett Mena, Senator Yasmin Trudeau in The News Tribune. What case did they make in this op-ed?
[00:32:55] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, it's really interesting and I'll just - I'll take just a few steps back first. This debate has been going on for some time and we really, on The News Tribune Editorial Board, really got a kind of a firsthand feeling for it during our endorsement process where we talked to candidates on both sides of the aisle, from the primaries through the general election - talking about 20+ races - and this was the issue that often came up. This was the issue that Republicans brought up more than any other to paint the Democrats as having basically rushed through reform policies that resulted in huge spikes in crime in Washington. And that's still the conversation today in Olympia. There've been efforts to revisit this change, to maybe go all the way back to where we were, or somewhere in between. And so we had a op-ed from Representative or Senator Chris Gildon from Puyallup the week prior arguing in favor of changing the law. And the reason I reached out to Representative Mena and Senator Trudeau is because during that endorsement process, they were two of the officials that delivered the clearest, most succinct, most sincere defense of what was the rationale for the law and how we got here. And I really feel like that's - and maybe this is just me, but I really feel like that's lost in this conversation sometimes - because frankly, even from Democrats, you get a lot of word salad on this one. Because it's a contentious issue - because people do see it, they are aware of it. You have law enforcement across the state, prosecutors from across the state coming out and saying, You've got to fix this law. This has made our jobs harder. We can't chase anybody. It's on people's mind. There's the kind of political side of it, what the Republicans are doing by it. And so I reached out to them and just said, Hey, put 750 words on paper and tell us why this law, this new law is worthwhile and your approach to dealing with these issues.
And they laid out a facts-based approach - is basically how they described it. They said, Look, we have the data to show that these pursuits are dangerous to community, to officers, to bystanders, to everybody involved. They cite examples where people have been gravely injured or lost their life during unnecessary police pursuits. And they point to the numbers that show - since the law has passed that those numbers of injuries and deaths have actually gone down. And they also point out that the vast majority of these chases, when they do occur, they're for stuff that doesn't warrant that level of risk to the community. And they advocated to taking a facts-based approach. They're open to reviewing the law and enacting best practices after some study on it. Their basic argument is, We're not going to craft policy around fear-mongering and just anecdotes. We're going to craft policy around the data that we actually have that shows us what's going on. And so I found it to be a pretty compelling argument - I think, like a lot of people, this is a tricky issue for me personally. I can understand some of the different sides of it, but that being said - in Tacoma, one thing they also pointed out is, we've had a no-pursuit policy for many years. There are many places that have very similar policies. When we interviewed Tacoma's relatively new police chief, although he's not that new at this point, he said, Yeah, I like our policy. I don't want to change it. It makes sense. What his real point was - was that more people know about the law now. And so he does think that that's increasing the amounts of people that are taking off, but basically - to be succinct, after I've already not been succinct - their argument was to take a fact-based approach to crafting policy and not give into the fear-mongering and anecdotes.
[00:37:04] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. One of the arguments that I hear from people, who oftentimes start off somewhat hyperbolically, like you said, We can't chase people anymore and this is causing crime, and they know and so they're taking off - which isn't quite borne out by the data there - there are plenty of pursuits that continue to take place. And in addition, it's not just unsafe for the community. Their article goes into detail about just instances in Pierce County and South King County where people had permanent and life-altering injuries, in addition to some crashes that involved death. Here in the City of Kent, we had an officer killed during a pursuit - they are dangerous for everyone involved - and so we should be cautious. It should not be something that should, Hey, someone stole some toilet paper, hopped into a car, we're going to chase them on streets - with lots of pedestrians and kids playing - at 80 mph. That just seems like a disconnect. And to your point, these are not wacky reforms out of left field. These are based on best practices designed with the input of people in law enforcement anyway. And to your point, several agencies in Washington already implemented these kind of common sense limitations on when and where you would choose to pursue.
So it seems - there's always something that you can point to and say, Hey, something changed, crime is up - we will see. Historically, there does not seem to be a correlation between whether or not people can pursue vehicles, and rises and drops in the auto theft rate - which I hear cited a lot of times - there is no correlation there. You could always pursue before this legislation - auto theft rates rose and dipped during those times, and they actually seem to be more correlated with the price for used cars than anything else. It's just common sense that - if something can get someone more money on the illegal market, that that is going to drive activity for some of those thefts - in addition to recent news about some cars being particularly easy to steal and basically just a bug of the car is that it's really easy to take off with. So we will continue to follow this, but that was a really good, informative op-ed that we will of course include in our show notes.
Also wanted to talk about where middle housing stands, here in our legislature - some bills passed out of committee. And a poll showed that, Hey, Washington residents support multifamily housing in their own neighborhoods, which was - I think people, most legislators, assumed that wasn't the case as recently as two years ago, some questioning going into this year - but it looks like a lot of people are being touched by this affordability crisis and responding in kind. How did you react to that news?
[00:40:35] Matt Driscoll: I think that's right. I think it really speaks to - I don't know how rapid the change on this has been, but I think it speaks to the level of desperation out there that people feel around these issues. You talked about the poll - I was looking at it and I'm not able to cite it as specifically as you - the top two issues, no surprise, not shockingly that people identified - homelessness and the cost of housing. And so I think people are freaked out about that, I think they're rightly freaked out about that. I think they feel like the government - our cities, our state - hasn't done nearly enough, is way behind. I think that's why you see big proposals coming out now, like the governor's $4 billion plan to build housing and shelter space. And I think people are increasingly having the recognition that if we don't do something, that if we don't increase the housing options in neighborhoods through density, that we're in a cycle that's going to eat a lot of people up and spit a lot of people out. And a lot of people don't feel terribly close from that. And I don't know if I was surprised to see the level of support for - I guess a little bit because, much like the airport, whenever you, at least in my experience, whenever you come down to specific - not every neighborhood - single family home neighborhoods and you start talking about density or duplexes or triplexes or condos, people freak out and oppose it. But I think in the broad sense, there's a growing recognition that we really don't have any choice. And so it leaves me optimistic. Of course, there are still lots of thorny conversations around local control happening, which will need to be navigated. But yeah, I was encouraged. What's the - so we already did disappointed - so what's surprised, but not surprised, but like from the good side, because I guess that's how I felt about it.
[00:42:43] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, probably that - pleasantly surprised, hopeful, optimistic. And another issue where the public actually seems, once again, like they're ahead of where the Legislature is in terms of opinion. Pretty broad support here - three-fifths of voters support the proposed zoning law, only one-fifth are opposed - so that's over 60% there. Pretty major support, particularly high among women, Democrats, and Independents here. What this poll really uncovered was that lots of people are impacted by this. They're, as you said, their concerns to the top three are affordability of housing, the cost of living. I think for a lot of normal people, the cost of living is part of inflation. It technically is, but they're feeling that acutely. And it's always interesting to see what the public conversation revolves around - certainly necessities like eggs and milk are there. But when you see that coverage in major newspapers, sometimes on national evening news, they focus on those things or the price of gas, and have not focused as much on the cost of housing, which has increased so much and is a cost that everybody is bearing. And it's making people wonder if they can - seniors wondering if they can age in place, are they going to be able to remain in their community? It's students going to college and wondering if there's a place for them back home or whether they need to just move to a different place that they can afford. It's middle income people, it's service workers and teachers and nurses who are wondering if they can even afford to live close to where they work and adding to some of that stress and strain. So this is a societal challenge.
And a majority of the voters surveyed said that, Hey, this is bigger than - over two-thirds agreed with the statement, The housing crisis spans municipal borders and is too big for cities to tackle alone, which is why we need statewide affordability solutions. 68% agreed with that - that's a big number. Something else that stood out to me in this poll was looking at the difference - a lot of times opposition to this has focused on, You say sixplexes are allowed and quadplexes and triplexes. Six is too many, maybe four is too many - maybe we just allow three. That's something that maybe people could tolerate. Invariably that disagreement leads to the failure of this and they just can't agree on what level is the right level. The general public doesn't really see a difference in some of those big levels. When you look, when you ask individually and say triplexes, quadplexes, sixplexes - the numbers are virtually the same for those. And so they're just saying we need to take action - we're okay with density. And it almost seems like a proxy, especially looking at these subgroup totals, for people comfortable with change and people who aren't. And the people who are comfortable with change are like, Bring it on. We're not quibbling about a sixplex versus a fourplex. We need change. We want you to take action and get on with it. And it seems like what is definitely a minority, but a vocal minority, tend to be conservative - those are the, that's the only group who is opposing this with a majority and seems resistant to change period. So this isn't - doesn't seem to be a conversation of nuances and about finding the right level and get everyone - agree on - is it four - it's just action or not. And the opposition, a lot of times to things like these, gets more credit than they're due and people read more into it than there actually is. And it really looks like there's just people who don't want change, who don't want to open their neighborhood up to new people to move in - that they felt they should be the last new people who should get in and no one else gets that ability. So really interesting to see, curious to see how this impacts the legislation and legislators' action on it - if they pay attention to it or not - but we will definitely stay tuned. Any final thoughts on housing and moving forward?
[00:47:33] Matt Driscoll: I don't know. I thought, I think you wrapped it up pretty well. There is the interest - and we're getting into the weeds a little bit - in terms of the state action or local action. I know there was some tension last session around statewide efforts, and you even had cities like Tacoma pushing back on statewide action because they felt we were doing our own local process here of examining our zoning and doing a lot of these upzones in this area that - in these areas that we'd identified and they were hesitant to be able to pass that local control off and off to the state. What's the point of living in a city and having a city government if you don't have local control of these sorts of issues like zoning. But so here, it wasn't necessarily local leaders pushing back against mandated density. It was just simply a matter of them saying, We want to have local control over how we guide this process. We're already months and months into this process. We've been doing town halls, we've been doing all this stuff. To throw that all out and just get some mandate from the state doesn't feel fair, which I totally understand. But coming full circle, I'm wondering if this poll and if, not this poll just alone, but this kind of acknowledged that it's maybe more like you're saying - of action versus inaction - will take a little of the sting - maybe it doesn't matter as much if Tacoma goes neighborhood by neighborhood and decides that, Okay, six will fly here, but only four here, and you've got to have these setbacks here and all - maybe that's not as important as the local leaders believe it to be. And maybe statewide action can take some of the pressure off of them and can just get us over the hump in terms of zoning policy - that on a local level can be so difficult to clear sometimes because of all the opposition that you do face. So it's interesting to see how this one plays out.
[00:49:28] Crystal Fincher: We will keep our eye on it. And just want to close with a reminder that we're recording this on Friday, February 10th, but on Tuesday - Valentine's Day - February 14th, there are elections happening throughout our region. Seattle, of course - every Seattle resident who is registered to vote should be able to vote on Initiative 135, the social housing initiative. You can still register for this election and participate it. If you have not registered already, we'll include information there. Also Enumclaw School District and the King Conservation District elections are happening. In Pierce County, the Steilacoom, Orting and Peninsula School Districts are having elections. So lots to vote on. Make sure your friends and family in those jurisdictions votes, makes their votes heard. These elections are notoriously low turnout, which can impact the direction - even small changes in the number of people voting can flip the situation and determine whether these levies and initiatives pass or do not pass. So make sure you get your ballot in. Hey, if you have any questions - hit me up on Twitter, email me, I'll be happy to help you get your ballot and make sure that your vote is turned in and it counts.
And with that, we thank you for listening on this Friday, February 10th, 2023. Hacks & Wonks is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. Our insightful co-host today was metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll. Thanks so much for being here today.
[00:51:13] Matt Driscoll: Thank you for having me, as always - I don't know if I was insightful exactly, but I appreciate the kind words.
[00:51:18] Crystal Fincher: Oh, you definitely were. You all can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full cast - to get the full podcast - to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.