Feb 26, 2022
For the last week-in-review of February, Crystal is joined by Executive Director of America Walks and former mayor of Seattle, Mike McGinn. They discuss why the plan to hire more officers to address public safety is impossible in the short term and Plan B is needed to keep people safe now, how local officials can impact a Union strike, the disappointing new legislative staff unionization bill, the high cost sprawl and impact of not allowing people to live close to where they work, and how cities can raise more revenue from increased density.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
“Police Sweep Troubled Little Saigon Intersection, Retirement Incentives Could Thwart SPD Hiring Plans, City Still Plans Sidewalk Sweep” by Paul Kiefer and Erica C. Barnett from Publicola: https://publicola.com/2022/02/22/police-sweep-troubled-little-saigon-intersection-retirement-incentives-could-thwart-spd-hiring-plans-city-still-plans-sidewalk-sweep/
“Cold-Weather Shelter Plan Illustrates Challenges With Proposals to Eliminate Encampments Downtown” by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola: https://publicola.com/2022/02/22/cold-weather-shelter-plan-illustrates-challenges-with-proposals-to-eliminate-encampments-downtown/
“Concrete Companies Stonewall Negotiations with Striking Truck Drivers, Threatening Cascading Construction Delays” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist: https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/02/24/concrete-companies-stonewall-negotiations-with-striking-truck-drivers-threatening-cascading-construction-delays/
“King County Announces Request for Qualifications for Contract at Same Time Teamsters Bargaining Committee Shows Up At Companies’ Doorsteps To Negotiate” from The International Brotherhood of Teamsters: https://teamster.org/2022/02/king-county-announces-request-for-qualifications-for-concrete-contracts-at-same-time-teamsters-bargaining-committee-shows-up-at-companies-doorstep-to-negotiate/
Twitter Thread on Staff Unionization Bill by Nikkole Hughes: https://twitter.com/NikkoleHughes/status/1496232372605710336
“Nobody Knows the Number of Seattle Small Businesses at Risk of Eviction Starting Next Week” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2022/02/24/67269130/nobody-knows-the-number-of-seattle-small-businesses-at-risk-of-eviction-starting-next-week
The Seattle City Council Let the Eviction Moratorium End by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2022/02/22/67197191/the-seattle-city-council-let-the-eviction-moratorium-end
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington State through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today, we're continuing with our 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: activist, community leader, former mayor of Seattle, and Executive Director of America Walks, the excellent Mike McGinn.
[00:00:57] Mike McGinn: Thank you, Crystal. Glad to be here as always.
[00:01:00] Crystal Fincher: Glad you are here. Now, there's a lot going on in the world.
[00:01:05] Mike McGinn: Yes.
[00:01:05] Crystal Fincher: We tend to focus on local politics and policy - there are a lot of people talking about stuff at the federal level. Certainly right now, there's so much going on throughout the country and internationally with Russia invading Ukraine, trans rights under attack viciously in Texas and beyond - just a lot of news all over the place. I just want to acknowledge that as we start out. And there's lots of information, and coverage, and punditry that can be found about all of that.
Our little slice of experience is here in the state of Washington and King County, so we're going to focus on that, but I certainly do want to acknowledge that that is weighing heavily on the minds of a lot of us here and hopefully better news will come soon. With that, I guess I will start out this conversation talking about policing in Seattle. There's a lot of news that came out this week - talking about the plans for the staffing levels, there have been a number of encampment sweeps, and also a police precinct put in the CID [Chinatown International District] and more of a hotspot policing focus that they have there. So as you look at what's happened over this week, what are your thoughts, Mike?
[00:02:34] Mike McGinn: Well, I think one of the things that we knew, but I don't see that the media has really picked up on this yet - the response of the last two mayors and now Mayor Harrell as well, and it predates them as well. When I took office in 2009, Greg Nickels had shepherded through the neighborhood policing plan and - that's what it was called - and all of these had the central thing of hire more officers, right? And it's very appealing - it feels quite logical to the public. Okay, we have crime - what we need is more police officers.
And what we've seen over the last number of years is that the police department is losing officers much faster than it can replace them. So this week in City Council, the report showed that they hope to hire 125 new officers, and hiring takes time - they have to go through a state training academy. There's a special class being set up for Seattle recruits, or rather recruits to the Seattle Police Department, that might come from all over the state or beyond. And even so, even with this new emphasis, they are predicting that they will add 125 officers in the coming year, but they're also predicting that they will lose 125 officers in the coming year.
So this is my thing - this is what I think the media should be focusing on, which is if you're going to report that somebody's solution is more officers, you have to include that that's not going to happen anytime soon, right? We're not going to increase the size of the police force in the next year, perhaps two years. Who knows when they can actually reverse that attrition that's occurring? So if your solution to crime is we're going to get more officers and more officers will deter crime - if that's your plan, you don't have a plan because you can't hire that many officers. So you have to have a Plan B. And the Plan B has to be an emphasis on other ways to fight crime rather than more officers.
And when Bruce Harrell stood up and did a press conference in response to the very serious public concerns and the media concerns about increases in violent crime, increases in shots fired - basically, what we heard was hotspot policing and more officers. We didn't hear any of the other ways in which City government can put - I mean, I shouldn't say we didn't hear any - of course, he spoke about the need for that, but I didn't hear announced the programs or the new investments or the initiatives to look at what are the sources of the crime and how can you intervene? And this is not - it doesn't have to be long-term stuff. I mean, what the data is showing - that the victims of murders are mostly young Black men, right? We have had youth violence prevention initiatives in this City - they can be expanded, they can be made more effective. We have had partners with community groups on the formerly incarcerated returning to the community. We've done these things. We have ways of getting at this that requires reaching out to all of the skills and talents and abilities of the community as a whole and not immediately going towards a punitive approach.
I'm talking now about the mayor not really announcing a new plan, but I'm also not hearing the City Council go here. I think too many folks - we've kind of gotten in the habit from the progressive side of when people talk about crime saying, "Well, it's not as bad as it was 20 years ago." And it isn't. It is not as bad. But it is a real concern, it is increasing. There are people who are literally in the crosshairs of this crisis of public safety, and I don't think that's an answer. So I really think that the more progressive politicians should be coming in and saying, "We've tried making the size of the police department almost half the City budget, and it really hasn't worked." How about we put that same level of emphasis and approach on the programs that we know work - there's national studies, there's plenty of data. There's studies out there that show the number of community groups in a neighborhood is related to reductions in crime. These programs work. There's tons of data that these programs can work.
[00:07:38] Crystal Fincher: Tons of data.
[00:07:38] Mike McGinn: But we've never resourced them. We've never resourced them the way we resource police officers, and we have to do that. So this issue of crime is serious, the violence is serious, the shots fired is serious - and we need a serious response. And honestly, saying more police officers right now - that's not a serious response. That's just pandering because their own predictions say they were not going to be able to increase the size of the force in the coming year. Sorry, I'm kind of passionate about this, but this is a real thing. And communities and people are suffering - and just pandering to more police officers as a solution is not a solution.
[00:08:23] Crystal Fincher: Well, yeah - it's not a solution. We have to get beyond rhetoric to actually what are the policy differences? What procedures are going to change? What staffing levels are going to change? What is the substance that is changing? And we do hear so much about staffing and it seems like a number of both elected folks and folks in the media just kind of focus on that one metric. Kind of like with COVID, people only talk about deaths - and wow, there's long COVID, there's chronic illness and disability. There's so much more to consider besides just if someone's dying. There's so much more to consider than just the staffing level, whether it's more or less.
And with that, even if the, "Hey, everybody's on board. Let's hire more officers," - to your point, we can't do that. There cannot be more on the street for quite some time - even if they're in the pipeline, it takes a while for them to get through that pipeline. So it is absolutely true that crime is both lower and too high. We don't want - people are justifiably concerned. This pandemic has taken such a toll on so many people in so many ways - from road rage to some of the random nonsensical violence - that we've seen are wild.
[00:09:56] Mike McGinn: Domestic violence.
[00:09:57] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Domestic violence has skyrocketed.
[00:09:58] Mike McGinn: Absolutely. We look at these things and there's not going to be a police officer in place to prevent that. There are things that are beyond the reach of the police as well. It's the community-level interventions and the non-police responses that we need to be focusing on as well. And I want to be clear - from my experience as mayor, good policing can make a difference, right? If there's catalytic converter thefts, then let's try to figure out how that's happening and how to thwart that. And that's a combination of detective work, maybe some undercover work, detecting patterns, doing what's necessary. I saw this during my term - if there was burglary issue in a place, the police could use their resources to try to deal with that. So effective policing can make a difference.
I also think an officer walking a beat in a place where people feel unsafe can make a difference in making people feel safer and maybe preventing some things. But let's not make believe that that alone can solve it. And certainly the punitive approach, the longterm punitive approach that we have tried, it just hasn't worked. It just hasn't worked. We had more people in jail. People get arrested multiple times and recycle through the system, come out again. And it breeds, as we know with places that have followed stop and frisk tactics and the like - it leads to violence in its own right, and escalation and lack of safety for individuals subject to that treatment, as well as building horrible distrust between the community and the police. So there's bad policing and there's good policing. But I do think that good policing obviously can help with fighting crime. But it can't do it alone and never has. It requires partnership with the community to get at root sources.
I want to say this isn't long-term stuff either - it isn't like, "Oh, if we have a better educational system, we have fewer criminals." Yeah, that's true. But we can identify right now - I'm sure there are people in the community, I'm sure there are people working in the community right now who, if we said, "If we give you some more money to target some programs to the people who are most at risk, can you do that?" And we could, and it would make a difference within months. It could make a difference immediately. It could make a difference in a day if that person is reached and is put in a different position than they are in now. So it can be done. And it can be done a hell a lot quicker than trying to increase the size of the police force, which is going to continue to see attrition and continue to have hiring difficulties.
[00:12:56] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And it can be done more effectively than it looks like the iteration of this hotspot policing effort, which has been covered in a number of outlets - PubliCola wrote a story, KING 5 also wrote a story just about encampment sweeps not getting people off the street. Some of those sweeps are happening without any offer of services - if they declare it to be an emergency or a particular health hazard, no attempt at making any connection to services is necessary and that has happened with some of these - these are just sweeps, nothing additional. In other cases, they're offering shelter for the night as part of the sweeps. When they say they're offering services, that was the service offered. That does nothing to get someone off the street. All it does is put them further back and that now they have no belongings, no stability. And they just move elsewhere in the City.
So what in fact ends up happening, and PubliCola also got at this in their article, was the folks who were on the block that the police are - there's six policemen in this area, a mobile unit. So yeah, they moved off of that block, but they just went into adjoining neighborhoods. So PubliCola talked to some of the folks in the adjoining neighborhoods and they said, "Yes, they came over here. We're seeing them over here. It's just musical chairs." And unless if we're talking about homelessness, we include permanent housing that people can get into.
And in the case of trying to address crime, is that actually making a difference in violent crime? It was just close to one of these hotspot places - there was just a shooting the other day. So are we really doing the smartest intervention, to your point? Would these resources be better used in more detective capacities and trying to get to the origin and the root cause of the crime or who are the people really behind this? We seem to be moving further away from that. SPD moved resources out of specialized units, senior abuse units, domestic violence units to patrols on the street.
[00:15:24] Mike McGinn: I mean, it's a very difficult situation when you are faced with a declining number of resources and you have to start making choices about what to do with that. I think that then requires - you've got to start looking, "Well, what other resources do we have in the City beyond the police department? Who else is out there that can help? What roles can they pick up?" These aren't flip of the switch type of things, right? These are management level decisions about aligning people towards programs. There are good people in city government who want to get rolling.
And I don't want to be - I critiqued Mayor Harrell for, in my opinion, not announcing new initiatives on this, but I have hope for Mayor Harrell in this regard. I mean, my memory - his strategic advisor or strategic initiative advisor or whatever his title is - is the guy who brought forward the anti-panhandling statute. But Mayor Harrell cast the deciding vote against it that enabled me to veto that statute and prevent it from becoming law. And he did so because he read the Human Rights Commission report on that and what it would mean for that type of enforcement to be brought against homeless people or people panhandling on the street.
So I feel that Mayor Harrell - I had a sense of where his feelings are, and I think he now has a very significant management job to realign City resources towards a more humane approach and not respond to the demands of the business community which is very much a believer - there are portions of the business community that are supportive of various human services and social services. They're engaged in that. But the overwhelming demand from that sector right now is, "Well, we need to move the homeless out of the core. We need to have more police officers on the street." And it's just not a plan that's going to lead to much success.
What Mayor Harrell should be asking himself is - a year from now, does he want to be standing up at a press conference saying, "The solution is more police officers. And in the meantime, what have I done?" Or does he want to stand up and say, "Well, these are the programs we've lifted up. These are the people we're serving. These are the outcomes we're seeing"? So I guess I'd appeal to both Mayor Harrell's sense of compassion and sense of concern for the community in this - I've seen it. And to his own political wellbeing, that this is a place for leadership, this is a place for leadership - and a very hard issue. But sitting tight, it's not going to be a good press conference a year from now with sitting tight with just more officers is going to be the answer one day.
[00:18:31] Crystal Fincher: I completely agree. I also want to talk about a couple of occurrences this week in union strikes that we've seen.
[00:18:41] Mike McGinn: Yeah.
[00:18:42] Crystal Fincher: Or unionization - one including a strike. One is with the concrete workers. Concrete companies are negotiating with striking truck drivers - that has been going on for quite some time. And the companies have actually been stalling somewhat - they've been slow and hesitant to come back to the table, they're now asking for a new mediator - they seem to be using a number of stalling tactics and not being in a rush. Meanwhile, local elected officials Mayor Harrell, Executive Constantine, have been vocal in talking about needing to get back to work, this potentially delaying a number of projects including the West Seattle Bridge, other projects downtown, continually reinforcing the need to get to work. And it's interesting how this plays out and that if concrete companies are stalling, workers have a proposal that they feel like they're trying to work through and negotiate and the company just isn't participating in those conversations, then you have elected officials putting pressure on just to get this done with and get back to work and it's going to be late. That actually has the result of pressuring the union, pressuring workers, to just make concessions and settle for things that may not be fair, that are certainly less than they're asking for that are kind of falling by the wayside - because if the concrete companies can just run the clock out with no penalty and rely on others to do the pressuring, and try to get public opinion to just get this over with so we can get moving, that really is putting the workers in potentially a really unfair and unpleasant spot.
If the company isn't coming back to the table and making any differences in their proposals, the only way that can happen is if the union workers just decide to give up. That doesn't seem like that is where a lot of people in this community are aligned, it doesn't seem like that might be the healthiest thing for supporting the autonomy and authority of unions to negotiate in good faith with companies. This is a situation where we had a previous co-host, Julie McCoy, refer to you handling this when you were mayor and faced with a strike. How did you decide to approach this kind of situation when you were in office?
[00:21:27] Mike McGinn: Well, just first to comment, you're referring to a press conference. And one of the things that stood out to me about that press conference was that the person who's building the Convention Center downtown was one of the people at the press conference urging action. Yeah, and as you may remember the Convention Center - I think it's up to $1.7 Billion project, paid for with taxes. The County had to come forward in an unusual move and guarantee loans for it so that it could continue going. Harking back to the prior issue, it's clearly the County and the City were feeling the pressure from those interests to do something, so that's what you saw.
So it is interesting that there are times when people are called upon to take sides. And it's challenging to take sides in a union dispute. But if you can, if you can come in and lean in a good way, you should. We had a garbage lockout that was occurring. So we had contracts with companies to collect our garbage and recycling. I have to say, I can't quite remember which contract it was now - I think it was garbage. And they were going to fly in people to drive the trucks, because they were going to lock out the workers because they didn't have a contract. It turned out that our public utilities had wisely put a clause into their agreement, which said that if there was any failure to collect the garbage, there would be fines depending on how much garbage they failed to collect - a strike wasn't an excuse, or a lockout wasn't an excuse, to not pay the fines. So we held a press conference and said we were going to - we announced this, said how it worked, said that we were going to fine the companies if they didn't collect the garbage. I remember we asked people to tweet their uncollected garbage with some type of clever hashtag - I wish I could remember it now - but we had the clever hashtag. I think it was pretty darn quickly the garbage company settled because we had leverage and we used it.
So that would be one of my questions, and I'm not smart enough or knowledgeable enough about the situation to know what leverage the County or City might have to help get the companies to the bargaining table, or lean in a little more on the side of workers. But that would be the first question is - what leverage do they have? And we were fortunate. We were fortunate that we had a contract that had really good leverage and we chose to use it. By the way, when they settled, they called me up and they asked if - actually, I heard from the head of the utility - they contacted me and he said, "This is great. They've settled. They're going to get back to work. And as a sign of good faith they've asked you to cancel the fines for all the garbage that went uncollected while they were bringing in the scabs." And I was like, "No, they need to pay the fines, man. They were holding the whole City hostage with the idea that there'd be stinky garbage. They need to pay the fines." So they did, they paid a fine too. And again, we had the leverage, we used it, and we made it clear that we would use it. So hopefully that'd be a deterrent in the future as well.
[00:25:02] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I hope so. And just the awareness that the actions that they take do impact the process and that they can either help or hurt workers, applying this leverage does have an impact for the concrete companies or the union, and understanding that the actions that they take have come consequences.
[00:25:28] Mike McGinn: I had another example where I leaned in on that. It was during the 2013 re-election campaign - it became quite controversial, but there was a company - there was a developer that was redeveloping a site and they were asking the City to turn over the alley.
[00:25:44] Crystal Fincher: That's right. That street -
[00:25:46] Mike McGinn: Right. It's called a street vacation.
[00:25:49] Crystal Fincher: Vacation.
[00:25:49] Mike McGinn: In essence, they're asking the City to sell them property so that they can develop the whole block and not have to keep the alley in place. And we recommended to the City Council that they not do that. And that was at the urging of the grocery store workers, because they're like they're going to bring - they plan to bring in a Whole Foods, which was a non-union grocery. And I went and listened to the workers and there - the point they made was when you facilitate a non-union grocery, that puts downward pressure on our wages and makes it more likely that our grocery store will suffer. So there were lots of grocery stores in this neighborhood that were unionized, and here was going to come a non-union grocery. And I was like, "Yeah, we don't need to sell more property."
It was kind of interesting because the business community was like, "You can't use land use laws to favor unions." And my response to them was, "This isn't a land use law. This is our property. This is City property. We get to sell it to whoever we want to, for whatever reason we want to. And I don't want to sell it to a company that's non-union and that's going to hurt our union workers. So you guys are conservatives, you believe in property rights, right? Well, there's the City using its property rights. We don't want to sell it to you. We don't have to." So it was interesting - it wasn't portrayed that way. They thought it was a slippery slope to me using land use laws in some way, but it was actually a deeply conservative action we were taking. We get to choose who we sell it to, and that was that. Now, it turned out I lost that re-election campaign, a relatively close campaign, and Ed Murray pushed that one through with the support of the Council and that property was sold.
[00:27:35] Crystal Fincher: It's such a good lesson to so many of us in this area watching that and understanding that the City has so much power that goes unused. The City has so much leverage that routinely goes unused. The way that was framed was so interesting because it was - well, you're just trying to help workers, you're trying to create an unfair advantage. And with completely not acknowledging that we do that for companies, corporations daily.
[00:28:06] Mike McGinn: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. We did too, we did too. If you are crossing the West Seattle Bridge, if you look down, you'll see a really beautiful office building right next to the Duwamish waterway. Well, under the industrial rules - and it's the office building which is the headquarters for a tugboat company - well, under the land use laws at the time, you couldn't have an office of that size in the industrial area because the industrial interests didn't want industrial land taken over by offices. But tugboat company is different - we changed the law. We did that for that company. And that was the right thing to do to make it easy for the tugboat company to have its offices next to its tugboats in the industrial area. We did stuff like that all the time - we would look at what rules we have in place to try to facilitate business.
I think it's appropriate to see where you can use that to help workers as well in that process. You don't have as many as you think though sometimes - like there are - if the development rules say you can build a hotel, and this is I think always a big challenge for the hotel workers, it can be very hard to stop a hotel because they can go to court and say, "Look, we're following the rules. We're allowed to build a hotel and there's nothing there." And that's why you tended to see the purchase of City property - the alley vacations become a tool because that was a leverage point that the City had. But there are other leverage points as well, there are other leverage points, and sometimes it's just soft power as well as showing up and standing with workers somewhere can make a difference too.
[00:29:53] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. Absolutely.
[00:29:55] Mike McGinn: Yeah.
[00:29:55] Crystal Fincher: So we'll see how that turns out. There's also - was a new development in an issue we talked about last week in the legislature, with the bill that had originally died that allowed legislative staff to unionize, which had a lot of support from Democratic lawmakers. Unfortunately, it didn't go through - there was rhetoric saying that it wasn't quite ready, even though evidently there has been some iteration of this since 2012. They were saying there just wasn't time, it's going to take one more year. A few legislators had been pinpointed as specifically opposing it and being problematic and preventing it from reaching the floor for a vote from the full legislative, the full House. But it turns out this week, they weren't actually bound by a deadline that they couldn't get past and a new bill was introduced. Who'd have thunk? Maybe the deadlines don't mean as much as people initially thought - that's one of, actually, my big lessons that I've learned over the years with the legislatures - the rules are flexible.
[00:31:13] Mike McGinn: They make the rules. They're allowed to change the rules.
[00:31:15] Crystal Fincher: Yes. And do routinely. And then at other times they're like, "Well, these are the rules we have, we have no power." The rules say this and that's just that, which it seemed like that was Plan A, and then there was a lot of pushback from - just kind of broadly across the political, policy, nonprofit labor and worker spectrum. And gaining a lot of attention even outside of Washington State. So a new bill was introduced to allow - new bill was introduced, it was dropped initially without language at first. So it's like, "Oh, hey. Maybe this is going to be a good thing, maybe they're going for it after all."
When the full text of the bill did drop, it was revealed to be a massive problem. This bill actually doesn't reflect the prior bill in that it would basically enable staff to unionize in the traditional manner on their terms. This basically established a committee or a commission that would study this, and charter a study to take a look at all the special circumstances of the legislature and the work, and talk about who should be able to unionize and who shouldn't, and what should be able to be collectively bargained and what can't, and also prevented any employees from being covered by a union until mid 2025. That's a long time. And certainly not consistent with the next year rhetoric that we were hearing. And also just seems to put a lot of limitations and set this process up to say, "Well, we might create a grievance process for you and that should take care of a lot of your concerns. But wow, there are so many problems with the idea of a union that we just would have to figure out and get around." That's going to continue to be really hard and just continue to kick the can down the road.
So I don't know if this is going to go much of anywhere - it certainly should not - kind of fell really flat with a thud. And it just actually made the situation look worse, and that there actually seems to be some real significant anti-union sentiment from some of these legislators working on these bills. I think one of the co-sponsors, Representative Riccelli, wanted to do something helpful and he was working with some people to craft this bill that did not have the same kind of motivation or pure intentions, purity of intentions. And this was the result of it. But certainly just another disappointment in this whole process. And really goes to the issue of trust - is this something that you actually do want to get done, looking at the text of this? Is this a priority for people? And it just seems to be a big question mark.
[00:34:26] Mike McGinn: It's not surprising - when I was but a young man, I went to work for a congressman and this was 1983. One of the things you learned was that Congress had exempted itself from pretty much every workplace law. It'd be really interesting to see - now at the time, members of Congress could retire and convert their campaign funds to personal use at that point. It became their money. So there were all sorts of laws and that one changed. I don't know the degree to which other laws have changed, but it is just not surprising that the body that makes the rules may not want it to apply to them either. So we just see that - I don't think FOIA applies to Congress, I don't think OSHA applied to Congress, there was all sorts of things that just didn't apply.
So that's challenging. Now, of course, the flip side of that is that the unions and it goes back to our prior discussion - with the loss of decline in the union membership across the number of workers covered by unions, the public sector and government sector has become an extremely important place for unions as well as the people that do business with government, as we were discussing earlier. Again, in 1983, the Speaker of the House was Tip O'Neill and it had been a Democratic Congress for a hell of a long time - these are the people that are most ideologically aligned, but it's a wholly different thing to apply it to their own offices.
[00:36:13] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and that's what matters most actually. That's where you actually see what someone's values are - is how they handle those situations when it does impact them and affect them. I hope they do better. I also want to talk about - back to Seattle and the Seattle area news this week - that housing prices have, continue to skyrocket. And also that the eviction moratorium is ending.
[00:36:43] Mike McGinn: Yeah.
[00:36:44] Crystal Fincher: What did you read on that this week?
[00:36:49] Mike McGinn: There's so many reasons why we are where we are on housing, right? One is an inequality question - just with the rise in unequal incomes and further distributions on wealth, there's a real haves and have not situation with regards to housing and getting into housing gets harder. There's a racial aspect to it as well because of the way the laws have really prevented Black people in particular from accumulating generational wealth - the discrimination, the red lining, the lending practices, et cetera. And then it all just really gets turned up a whole lot of notches when you lock into place a zoning regime that prioritizes single family homes, which has its roots in the same race and class issues I was just discussing.
So you have this situation where, not just in Seattle, but there's a New York Times article about being able to afford a house in Spokane, right? It's one of those cities that, "Oh, that's not a hot coastal tech hub with lots of high price people." Well, it's happening there too. And it's happening there because of these issues where we've just locked down the supply of housing for people. Obviously, there's a need for really big investments for those who need some level of subsidy - who need subsidized housing, whether it's shelter, whether it's transitional housing, or whether it's public housing, or social housing as they call it in Europe. There's a need for that. But there's also a huge need to, I believe, to allow the private sector to build housing too. I mean, the need is so big that just literally after decades of zoning laws that lock up most of your land in single family zoning, there's just not going to be enough housing out there. It's just not going to be there. And that's exactly what's happened. It's exactly what's happened.
And what we see is the public gets it. The public gets that we need to change the rules. Now, they may be a little more hesitant. That's also what the public shows, right? They may be a little more hesitant about changing it in their own neighborhood, but they certainly believe it should change in the system overall - like they're getting that. Housing laws that once only locked out a segment of the population are now locking out such a big segment of the population, including the sons and daughters of those who once could afford homes when they were that age, that the public demand is growing for that to change. But it's not moving close to fast enough.
[00:39:57] Crystal Fincher: It's not moving close to fast enough. There was a bill in the legislature this year, the middle housing bill, to address exactly that. Market rate housing, which doesn't dictate any particular price, but just private development - it's not public or social housing - and allowing just a modest amount of more zoning, of more density overall in neighborhoods, which is absolutely what's needed. That bill died.
[00:40:26] Mike McGinn: Yeah, that bill died, the backyard cottage expansion died - we put so much restrictions on it because we're concerned about the impacts of the people who already live in a place. And oftentimes those impacts are where will all the cars go? But if we look at some of our most desirable neighborhoods in the City - take a look at Capitol Hill - you can walk down a street and you can see a brick apartment building, you can see a courtyard apartment. You can go a little further - you can see a big house - maybe once upon a time that house was subdivided into multiple units, and now maybe it's just owned by one person. And they're all jumbled up together because Capitol Hill, when it was being built out, it was being built out the way all cities are built out historically which is they just get thicker. If you're a growing city and you have more jobs, places that are closer to the jobs get more intensely developed. Pioneer Square was a collection of wooden shacks at one point, right? And then there were probably nice houses. And then now you've got six or eight story brick buildings. That's what cities do. And what we did was we stopped them doing that when we brought in all of the zoning and the single family zoning restrictions. We just said, "No, you can't do that." We've had this limited thing of, "Well, they can build on arterials." Well, guess who's breathing the most pollution then? Again, the equity things.
Again, I'll go back to Capitol Hill. If you walk around Capitol Hill, it's not just on the arterials, right? It's mixed in and it means that you can absorb a lot of housing and still have a leafy green street. And more than that, you'll have a nice business district because there's enough people there to support the coffee shops and restaurants that everyone says they love. So we have this bizarre dichotomy where people are like, "I want a single family neighborhood, I don't want anybody else's car on my street. But I also want a thriving business district and highly frequent transit to my neighborhood, right? Oh, and I'm going to take my vacation to some European or South American -"
[00:42:38] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, to a community that looks exactly like what I'm fighting against.
[00:42:42] Mike McGinn: Yeah. Because isn't it so great to be in this place that has all of this activity and life and wonderful architecture? I know, it's nuts. And the biggest opponent of the state bills was the Association of Washington Cities. And what you find is that they say it's about local control, but I personally believe that the real issue is that so many local elected officials just share the values of the single family homeowners. They may do that themselves, they just share those values. From a financial perspective, if you are the mayor of a city trying to figure out how to pay for all your services, infill housing is great. You get the sales taxes on the construction, you get the real estate taxes on every time it changes hands, you get the sales taxes from the residents of the place, you get the B&O taxes from the new local businesses that serve those people. And you don't have to build another - you barely have to build anything, right?
[00:43:45] Crystal Fincher: You don't have to run a sewer line way out - yeah.
[00:43:49] Mike McGinn: Right. The road already exists, there may be a bus line nearby already, which now is more people dropping money into the fare box, right? This is a money maker. Now, sprawl on the edge of town is a money loser, right? You're not going to collect enough money from those single family houses to pay for all those new roads and pipes and wires to service a sprawling development. But you already have all the roads and pipes and wires to serve infill development - it's there - there you go. You also get utility taxes - every one of them hooks up to utility, you're going to pay utility taxes, 6% to the City. It's a major source of revenue for a city. I don't know if anybody from the Association of Washington Cities listens to this, but if you want to balance your budget, support infill housing. If you want better libraries and schools and roads for your community, support infill housing. If you want more business for your local small businesses, support infill housing. Really, it's not a bad thing. People really enjoy it. They'll spend good money for it. So I don't get it.
[00:44:59] Crystal Fincher: That became so apparent to me - I served on the City of Kent's land use and planning board a long, long time ago. And that was so immediately apparent in a way that is shocking that it's not something that we talk about more openly in municipal conversations. It is really expensive. Sprawl is really expensive. Building out the city's infrastructure and then maintaining that infrastructure is really expensive. We don't capture that cost from developers, we put that on the residents of every single city. And that's really expensive. So then we have these conversations about, "Man, these roads are horrible. They're torn up. My goodness, this service is terrible." And it's because cities don't have the money to maintain the infrastructure that they continue to build when they allow sprawl and thinks just to, "Yeah, we're going to build new houses way out on the edge of town instead of allowing more density where it currently is."
[00:46:04] Mike McGinn: It's a sugar buzz, right? You get a short term hit. You get a short term hit of revenue from that construction. It feels good. And the developer says, "Hey, I'll build the road for you and give it to you."
[00:46:14] Crystal Fincher: "And we might even put in a sidewalk."
[00:46:17] Mike McGinn: "You got a free road," they'll say. Except it's not free, right? 20 or 30 years from now, you're going to have to repave that road or something and do that for a few decades. And all of a sudden, you've got more roads than you can take care of. By the way, I'm not making this up. The County is talking about turning roads to gravel to reduce their costs. The City of Seattle has no way to pay for all of its local street repairs. They keep arterials in good repair, but they can't afford to take care of residential streets. And here we are talking about the housing issues and everything else. It's so straightforward, it's such a good thing, but at bottom. Oh, by the way, Kent's got a nice little street grid, right? Kent's got a street grid in downtown, they've got the good bones as they say for a good walkable community. But what's really at the heart of it is if we allow apartment buildings, who are the people that will move in and do we want those people here - the things that people say about renters, which is kind of code for maybe the person is -
[00:47:25] Crystal Fincher: One of "those people." Maybe people with lower income.
[00:47:27] Mike McGinn: One of "those people," right - they don't really have ties to the community.
[00:47:31] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. They don't look like us. They don't have the same -
[00:47:34] Mike McGinn: They're different. They might be immigrants. They might be Black people. They might not have as much money as us. All of that feels vaguely threatening to me. Can't we just keep this neighborhood single family with the people that are here? And next thing you know, you can't afford a house in Spokane even.
[00:47:51] Crystal Fincher: Yes.
[00:47:52] Mike McGinn: Which is a great town. It's a great city. I know why people are moving there. It's a great city, but it's crazy that we're not allowing people to build housing.
[00:47:59] Crystal Fincher: And Pierce County Council Chair, Derek Young, brought up in response to the local control desire that was brought up for many cities, is that not allowing density in larger cities, major metropolitan areas, directly impacts the affordability of housing in other areas. We've talked about how suburbs - the housing prices are rapidly increasing. And other areas in the state - in Spokane, the cost of housing is rapidly increasing because we can't absorb that in the areas where we should be able to, where there is existing infrastructure and jobs to support it. And the local tax revenue to support all of the infrastructure necessary from schools to roads, to social services, to support the population. So then that vicious cycle starts again where housing prices skyrocket. It displaces people from those communities who can't afford it. It puts people who need to be closer to services and to jobs and to schools in order to be able to afford to live, live in a healthy way - it puts them out of the perimeter where they can do that.
And we start to see the consequences that we've seen in so many other areas with increasing rates of people not being able to afford their homes and falling into homelessness. Increasing people needing to commute to work and creating the traffic that everybody says that they hate. All of that is a direct result of not allowing people to live close to where they work, to live in proximity to other people and services. It is so obvious and known in most planning departments in the state. This is not a partisan issue - you can go to Wahkiakum County, you can go to anywhere - and planners there will tell you the same thing. This is not a right versus left thing. This is just kind of a basic city planning, economics conversation. This is the way that cities run, and are built, and operate. And we just need to do something before there are too few people left in the cities to keep them accessible to anyone else.
[00:50:19] Mike McGinn: For the local elected officials too, you kind of like - this is a great place to Take the L, right? "Oh, we tried, but we couldn't stop them from changing the rules. Sorry, we have no choice but to allow that multifamily unit now." Right? The State Legislature is taking the political pressure off them if they pass this. So that the local elected official would not have to face the angry constituent on the new building and be like, "No, that's the state law. Go talk to your State Legislature." And then they could go reap the benefits in the community from that. So their hostility to it is - the hostility from the Association of Washington Cities is - it's just not well calculated either for the health of their city or for their local politics either. It's just not well calculated.
[00:51:17] Crystal Fincher: Just not well calculated. And with that, we will probably just conclude this conversation. It can go on for a long time. There are lots of other things that we could discuss.
[00:51:25] Mike McGinn: Of course.
[00:51:25] Crystal Fincher: But we'll call it a day with that. And I certainly thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, February 25th, 2022 - February just evaporated for me. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler and assistant producer Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today was activist, community leader, former mayor of Seattle, and Executive Director of America Walks, and one of my mentors, Mike McGinn. You can find Mike on Twitter @mayormcginn. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii. And now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcast. Just type "Hacks & Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you next time.