Jun 2, 2023
On this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, Crystal is joined by friend of the show and today’s co-host: Executive Director of The Urbanist, Doug Trumm! They discuss Sen. Mark Mullet announcing he’s running for governor, the Amazon employee walk-out, SCOTUS ruling against the Teamsters in a blow to workers’ rights, the City of Burien encampment sweep controversy continues, the Redmond Salary commission being abruptly disbanded by the mayor after they considered paying council members competitive salaries, and SPD wasting public money meant for school and pedestrian safety.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Doug Trumm is executive director of The Urbanist, where he has contributed as a writer and editor since 2015. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at UW in 2019 with a concentration in urban policy. As a car-free renter living in Seattle, his policy focuses include improving transit and street safety and tackling the housing affordability crisis. His cat Ole is a national treasure.
“The Big Waterfront Bamboozle with Mike McGinn and Robert Cruickshank” from Hacks & Wonks
“Washington State Senator Mark Mullet launches 2024 gubernatorial campaign” by Andrew Villeneuve from The Cascadia Advocate
“Amazon walkout to go ahead after 1,700 employees sign on, organizers say” by Lauren Rosenblatt from The Seattle Times
“Some Amazon employees walk out in Seattle to protest climate, office policies” by Matt Mcknight from Reuters
“SCOTUS rules WA company can sue union over strike-related damage” by Farah Eltohamy from Crosscut
“Emotions run high – but no action taken – at Burien City Council's Special Meeting Tuesday night” by Mellow Detray from The B-Town Blog
“Burien Decides to Take No Action on Encampment on Its Property, Opening Path for Private Sweep” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola
“Redmond mayor disbands commission proposing increased council salaries” by Paige Cornwell from The Seattle Times
“Pedestrian Projects Face Delays As School Camera Funding Falls Short” by Ryan Packer from The Urbanist
[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 Tuesday topical show and the Friday week-in-review delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.
If you missed our Tuesday topical show, I chatted with former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and his former Senior Communications Advisor Robert Cruickshank about the missed opportunity for generational impact through how decisions were made about Seattle's waterfront and the SR 99 tunnel. Today we're continuing our Friday week-in-review 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: Executive Director of The Urbanist, Doug Trumm.
[00:01:22] Doug Trumm: Thanks so much for having me, Crystal. And check out that episode on the waterfront - it's really good.
[00:01:27] Crystal Fincher: Thank you very much - appreciate it. This week had no shortage of news. We kicked off the week - or in the middle of the week - we got a new official entrant into Washington's gubernatorial race to replace Governor Inslee. Mark Mullet announced that he is officially a candidate for governor. What did he say are his priorities and how do you think this impacts the race?
[00:01:52] Doug Trumm: Business in front and party in back, right? I think - yeah, Mullet definitely is the centrist whisperer, The Seattle Times whisperer - of course, it was page one news with a very, very, very friendly article - and then Mark Mullet jumped in this race. Hilary Franz, by the way, page seven. I'm not saying that necessarily Hilary Franz is the progressive savior either, but it really is interesting to see how much The Seattle Times is giddy for this. They were framing him as everything he's not - very Orwellian - he's for collective bargaining rights, even though he spent his career stabbing unions in the back. And his last opponent, Ingrid Anderson, he used everything he could to beat her and prevent nurses' unions from having a direct voice in the Senate. And it's interesting to see Mullet rebrand himself after being anti-union, being a bad vote on climate, not doing a whole lot on housing. I think it's not a coincidence that he actually was a vote for housing his last year, as he prepares to run, when he wasn't a great vote for housing for much of his term.
[00:03:06] Crystal Fincher: Yeah - and some housing.
[00:03:08] Doug Trumm: Some housing.
[00:03:09] Crystal Fincher: He did - this is a new look for Mark Mullet, I think, to a lot of people - some eyes probably got wide when they read it - but he's saying that his priorities are making affordable housing a reality, investing in skills training and manufacturing, prioritizing safe streets and neighborhoods, supporting Washington farmers. He says we can't tax our way out of every problem and a green economy is a strong economy. It really is interesting - I think, for me, the key to this race and the dimension that will impact how this plays out and who else might get in - in terms of national funders, PAC support, that kind of thing - is that term, "we can't tax our way out of every problem." Certainly a line that is attractive to Republicans, conservatives, people who are traditionally anti-tax. That's an interesting place to be - that's a place where a lot of people assume a lot of the public is, but we have seen a lot of publicly available polling in the state talking about how incredibly popular the capital gains tax is with over 65% approval. Majority of the voters in this state -
[00:04:19] Doug Trumm: He didn't vote for that, did he?
[00:04:21] Crystal Fincher: No, he did not. Majority of the voters in the state feel that some of the most wealthy corporations in the world who reside here are not paying their fair share. There's definitely a sense of that. People have governed in that vein and those who have voted that way have fared well with voters and in their careers. So this is going to be really interesting to see how this plays out. It seems like he's trying to strike a tone of - Hey, I'm a Democrat. I'm not - I'm going to be okay on your issues. That's him saying that - But also I'm going to hold the line on this taxes thing. It's just going to be interesting because it's becoming more apparent to more voters that revenue is a key part of the equation of providing the services and being the type of community that much of Washington prides itself on being.
So this is going to be very interesting and previously, with Hilary Franz and Bob Ferguson in the race, a lot of times people looked at them - Well, it's going to shape up like this. And there's progressive lane, they're not conservative Democrats, it's going to be that. And this is different with Mark Mullet. It changes the entire scope of the race. And many people have talked about the Carmen Best endorsement - that we certainly talked about last week on the show. Lots of people feel that was a preemptive defense mechanism, or trying to elbow out Mark Mullet, stress his moderate public safety leanings - didn't go over that well. And so I think that we may see some of these campaigns struggle to really address this directly. And it's a primary - it's not like these campaigns should be addressing each other directly - they've got a lot of work to do to get their own name ID up throughout the state. But how they position themselves and how they take advantage of any faux pas of the other candidates - it's going to be really interesting to watch.
[00:06:27] Doug Trumm: Yeah - and it feels like Ferguson and Franz are already sparring pretty well. So definitely don't count Mullet out because I don't know that there's going to be a strong Republican in this race - I don't know that Republicans are that viable statewide currently. Mark Mullet could really clear up in that right center-ish lane. I hesitate to call it center. Yeah - we just don't really have a left candidate - and a little concerned about some of Ferguson's record on transit and Sound Transit, especially - who's really the standard bearer in this race remains to be seen.
[00:07:07] Crystal Fincher: It's going to be interesting to see. And I think what some people are starting to get an inkling about is that there's a lot that we don't know about a lot of their records publicly that - and that's what this campaign is going to unfold and uncover hopefully. But we have seen the stuff - certainly from Bob Ferguson - which a lot of people agree with and appreciate. I've been a person who has appreciated some of the lawsuits against the Trump administration, some of the lawsuits against the erosion of civil rights, against consumer abuses. Those are the ways that the office should be used, the office of Attorney General should be used. Governor's is a bit more of - a bit more - a wide range of expanded capabilities. But we don't know where each one stands. I don't know if I can say there's not going to be a progressive candidate in the race. I don't know if I can say that there's not going to not be. I think there's a lot to unfold. I do think that we see from The Times, from others - attempt to consolidate support behind who their preferred candidate looks like it would be. But the public still has a lot to say about this and a lot to examine. And I do hope that the entities covering this race do ask a lot of questions, do look at the record, and compare what they're saying they want to accomplish to what they've done before - the action that they've taken before - and is that consistent? And if not, to ask why and demand answers. This is going to be really important for the media to participate in a way that helps voters understand the impact of these issues on the ground, and where these candidates truly stand, and testing the limits of what they're willing to do and what they're not willing to do.
[00:08:47] Doug Trumm: Yeah, and would Mark Mullet seek to undo a lot of Governor Inslee's climate legacy since he was a vote against those bills in the first place?
[00:08:56] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, that's going to be an area of significant risk. This is going to be an interesting race because there's going to be a crowded primary, and wild things can happen in crowded primaries. It's not the general yet. And it's tempting to size this up and to act like it's a general election or to make decisions as if it is, but some of those considerations are a lot different when it comes to winning a primary. And the bases of the party play a much bigger role - those people who are active, activists, local PCOs - they play a much bigger role in these primaries than in the general because more of the public is taking place. Early endorsements count a lot, early donors count a lot - and they're really trying to rack these up. So as this shapes up, it's going to be really interesting to see.
I also want to talk about a big event that made the news this week and that was the walkout of Amazon employees, in response to what they say are setbacks and disappointments - principally with Amazon's climate pledges, ironic with Climate Pledge Arena, and a significant pledge to reduce their carbon emissions by 2030. They have abandoned and retracted that goal. And so there are people saying - Okay, well -what are we doing? If we set a goal and it doesn't matter, we're not really heading anywhere. And it's time, especially for the richest corporation in the world with a tremendous delivery and logistics network, to put its money where its mouth is and to really make a difference on these. They also talked about not being happy with some of the communication and collaboration and the return-to-work mandate that Amazon had. But how did you see this play out?
[00:10:46] Doug Trumm: Yeah, it continues to be that battle between Amazon's PR splashy image - I always feel like I see an ad every time I turn on Hulu or whatever. And then on the other hand - what employers are actually saying is happening, and then what it feels like to work there and whether they're the world's best employers, as they claim to be. So it's 1,700 employees walking out - that takes a lot of guts, actually, when in the past Amazon has fired employees for doing organizing type activities. Yeah, I think it sort of - cracks in the corporate image.
[00:11:25] Crystal Fincher: Certainly cracks in that corporate image, particularly as layoffs have happened. They've had rounds of layoffs that have already happened. Others may potentially happen. A lot of consternation over that process and how that played out. And so it is continually a test of Amazon's formidable public relations team. And what employees are saying on the ground, what residents of Seattle are saying on the ground - Amazon, I need to check the current numbers, but previously Amazon owned more real estate in the City of Seattle than any other corporation in any other city in the United States. What Amazon does absolutely has a significant impact on the City to a greater degree than most other corporations have on other cities. And we certainly do associate some other cities with some of their largest companies - and understand how that has shaped the landscape on the ground. When it comes to housing affordability or lack thereof, when it comes to Seattle's progress on climate goals and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, when it comes to issues of poverty and inequality - what Amazon does absolutely has an effect on the rest of us. And so these employees standing up, who are more than likely local residents and living life on the ground in addition to working at Amazon, certainly want to see that all work together for everyone's benefit. Certainly providing jobs is very, very valuable - helping people live their lives and pay their rent is a great thing. We want jobs here. We want employers investing and hiring people here, but we want that to happen in a way that serves the entire community and doesn't backfire in ways that then make life more untenable for the majority of residents in the area.
[00:13:19] Doug Trumm: Yeah, and traffic has gotten really bad in South Lake Union again since they did this. So it's - have they done the necessary steps to figure out how to actually make this work? Employees - I think it's over 70% of employees who can work at home - say that that's what they would prefer to do. It's a very popular thing. And it is a competitive market often - maybe not right now, as some of these tech firms have laid people off. But if they actually want to keep top talent, there's definitely an advantage to them still letting people work from home - at least some of the time, if not all the time. And bringing people back to the office most of the days is one of those things that sounds great on paper to the higher-ups who don't have to deal with it day-to-day, but there's all these other knock-on effects like traffic jams and crowded buses. And we really need to have better transit service in the City and maybe this will be the kick in the butt to do it, but it - service is so way down from what it was pre-pandemic, and I'm not seeing a lot of urgency from County leaders to fix that.
[00:14:20] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Also this week, we got a ruling from our national Supreme Court against the Teamsters in a local case. What happened here?
[00:14:31] Doug Trumm: This all goes back to the concrete strike we had here a few years back when concrete companies - they wouldn't give pay adjustment and meet the terms of their workers. And then they end up having this case that - against their workers that for - they were angry, they were striking. It ends up going all the way to the Supreme Court. And wouldn't you know it, the Supreme Court - our conservative-laden Supreme Court - struck another blow against union rights in this ruling, which says that - gives employers greater rights to break these strikes and retaliate against strikers. So local unions were very concerned with this ruling - and in the particular case, they think that they'll actually still win on merit, but the case was about whether or not that just ipso facto that they would be able to retaliate against their workers. It's still a little murky, but definitely a bad sign when the Supreme Court striking another blow against collective bargaining.
[00:15:32] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, this really was about whether the company Glacier Northwest was able to seek or sue the union for strike-related losses and damage. This - they're alleging some of their trucks, some of their other things were - they experienced financial losses because of it. And so they want to sue the union to recover some of these damages. This had previously been something that would need to be adjudicated before the National Labor Relations Board - before a company could sue, or preventing a company from suing, but certainly before - if that was going to be permitted. And in those it may be founded there - this is primarily the result of a labor action - it is put in front of the National Labor Relations Board because they handle those things. This changes that, definitely. We're seeing a lot of that from our Supreme Court. This lowers the bar for what employers can seek damages for, can sue unions for. And with major corporations, who often have very deep pockets, this can be used in a retaliatory way. This can be used in an intimidating way to discourage labor action.
And a lot of the - certainly the defense, other organizations who've spoken about this, say - Look, this is basically the point of a strike - is to use the leverage of economic damage to then negotiate and to then force people to the table to say - Hey, we need to hammer out a solution, this isn't working. The corporations have their profits and their shareholders and their leverage there as employers and certainly a lot of the law favoring them. But collectively, unions have rights to strike - and a strike will have an economic impact on a union. So that's just the nature of a strike and of collective action. And if that essential element of it is deemed to be damaging in a way that then can be squashed with a lawsuit, it's just - makes you wonder what they do feel is in-bounds for unions. And I think lots of people really saying - No, they don't feel that anything is in-bounds with unions. This is a patently anti-union, very hostile-to-union Supreme Court - very hostile to a number of things, in many of our opinions - a lot of civil rights in my mind is currently constituted. But this is yet another consequence of having the Supreme Court and the Constitution that it does - is that we can continue to see changes to and erosions of the rights and protections of people who usually have less standing in society - workers certainly have less power than their employers individually. And this is moving us back closer to that, and I don't think there's going to be positive results for people advocating for change.
[00:18:40] Doug Trumm: Yeah, it certainly seems like they're just striking at the very basis of unions, like you said. And if you can't strike without getting these huge retaliatory suits, then can you even strike? And then if you can't strike, what leverage does the union have - it seems like bosses feel like they own the labor of their employees, whether it's at-will or not.
[00:19:02] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. Also this week, following up on something we talked about last week - a continuation of this saga that we're watching in Burien about whether and how they can sweep an encampment. Just a bit of background in Burien - there has been, as in many cities, there's an unhoused population. There are deep and bitter divides in the City about what's causing that - you have some people saying a lot of things that are not true and stand against evidence and data - but they feel like, Hey, these people are coming here because we're too nice to them in Burien. And they're - the causes of homelessness here are just being too friendly, and people just want to be addicted and stay addicted and not work, and basically cause headaches for the rest of us. We hear lots of versions of that all over the place. But what we know is that the primary cause of homelessness is high housing prices. Places with the highest rates of addiction don't have the most homelessness. Places with the highest housing costs do. Now housing absolutely destabilizes people, makes lots of problems worse. Being out on the street absolutely increases your chance of falling into addiction, absolutely aggravates and makes worse behavioral issues, mental health issues. It would for any of us - that's such a tough place to be in, a tough circumstance to be in.
And so there's a law that says that - Hey, if you do plan to sweep someone, you need to make them a credible offer of shelter. You need to give them a place to go, because the nature of them being homeless means they have nowhere else to go. So there needs to be a place provided for that. The City of Burien didn't do that. And they conducted a sweep at one location that, very surprisingly, wound up in people - really - moving to a lot across the street. 'Cause that was one of the only other publicly available places to go. The City said - Oh no, the sweep didn't work. A lot of people said - Obviously, it didn't work.
[00:21:12] Doug Trumm: Whac-A-Mole.
[00:21:13] Crystal Fincher: Yes. If you don't provide housing, you're not solving the issue of homelessness. So the City decided to do an end run around the law, basically, and said - Okay, okay, okay. Well, what we're going to do now is we're going to lease this property to this - some people would call it a front of an organization, but it is a pet care organization - to lease a park, make it a dog park. And as private lease holders of that land, they can trespass people off of the property, basically - they can kick them off that way. So we're just doing an end around and - the City's not doing it, but we're basically letting these people have the land and having them do it. Getting around, trying to get around the issue of not providing shelter. Well, Burien, with their police department, contracts with King County Sheriffs to provide their city police services. King County Executive's legal team said - We see you're just trying to do an end run around this issue. We see you're just trying to sidestep the law. Our deputies are not going to participate in a sweep where shelter is not offered because that's illegal. Burien City Attorney, without consulting the City Council or others, fired back a response, basically angrily saying - We're going to do it, anyway, and there's nothing you can do about it. And maybe we're going to take a look at our options for cutting off the contract with the Sheriff and maybe standing up our own police department, which is laughable because people often do not think about the cost attached to police services. It's quite expensive. Burien's already spending a significant -
[00:22:50] Doug Trumm: The lengths that they're going to is insane.
[00:22:52] Crystal Fincher: Yes - significant amount of their budget on public safety. That would skyrocket if they tried to stand that up themselves - that's not a serious suggestion or option. So there was an emergency council meeting, a special council meeting, where - after a lot of public outcry from a variety of viewpoints, they basically revisited this and examined whether or not they should change their course of action, divert. And continually, this is a result of a 4-3 split, a conservative - in favor of conservatives on this council - that decided to just stay the course with what they're doing. And last night the sweep happened.
And so we'll see where these people land. It seems like they just continue to, as you say, play Whac-A-Mole and - Okay, we're going to sweep here and they'll move to the next location. Councilmember Hugo Garcia there had actually done a lot of work trying to work with both private and public entities to work through a solution. He had found a church willing to take in these people on a temporary basis, if the County provided some money for long-term assistance. The County found a million dollars to help provide this - with some creative lease restructuring that the City and a private business owner was involved with - a car dealership, I believe. And it looked like this was actually a workable solution. When you hear from politicians - We're going to bring everyone together and hammer this out - it actually looked like councilmembers on the progressive side were bringing people together to hammer this out, and figured out a way to work through this without a very destabilizing sweep. But the majority of the Burien City Council declined to do that. So this is just a challenge. You have the progressive faction on that council - Hugo Garcia, and there are two people with the last name Moore, Cydney Moore and Sarah Moore - who are trying to figure out a solution that doesn't make this problem worse, or doesn't just create the same problem elsewhere after they move people off of this site.
But then you have other people - Sofia Aragon, other folks in the City - who are moving differently. One councilmember suggested they just have an encampment ban in the City, which again - homelessness is not a voluntary thing. It's a very tough circumstance. And if people have nowhere to go, I just don't know where in reality people think that means. And if really what that means is that we don't care about what happens to the people, as long as we don't have to see them and deal with them, and I think there's a lot of people who assume that more people of the public are there. I think that's a minority opinion. And if people stand up and talk about that and really focus on where the public is, and not just some of those narrow interviews - you read an article about homelessness and they interview two business owners and a police officer, and don't speak to anyone who has any experience being homeless, don't speak to service providers who were helping them, don't speak to anyone else. So we just are - it feels like we're hearing a lopsided representation of this. There's certainly a small group of very, very activated and motivated business owners there. This is just so frustrating to watch this play out place after place.
[00:26:15] Doug Trumm: And it's also just odd and bad governance that the Burien City Council is letting their City Manager and their City Attorney do this stuff without their prior approval. Sort of seems like some of them are just letting this happen, because they let them do their dirty work for them. But I don't think, in Seattle, we always grasp how it works in these other cities - that the city manager's the main powerholder in Burien, and then the city council is supposed to rein them in - and appoints the city manager to - reverse that term. And also, I doubt they elect their city attorney. So it's these two unelected officials who are setting policy for the City. And the city council is going - Oh, I guess we approve of this? I'm sure a lot of voters who invested time thinking about, or volunteering, or debating these city council races were hoping that that would actually then lead to some sort of actual legislating and them having the reins. But it doesn't always work that way. And isn't that the most Pacific Northwest thing that - we're investing in a dog park rather than resources for our homeless people?
[00:27:28] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it is. It is. It's bleak. As this city council explicitly noted - after this week, people are likely to move onto sidewalks, because there's nowhere else for them to go. Sarah Moore specifically asked - Hey, this is likely to happen. I'm choosing to live in reality. And I know that when this happens, people then usually move onto sidewalks - because that's the only other place for them to go. Do we have a plan for that? Can we make a plan for that? The more conservative members on the council basically just - their plan seems to be - Well, maybe we'll enact a camping ban. So doing nothing to address the homelessness, only just trying to solve it by an out-of-sight out-of-mind issue and just trying to criminalize it, which we've been doing for the past few decades. And it just is failing. And it's really, really expensive. It's such an expensive failure. We'll continue to follow that.
I also want to talk about an issue in Redmond, where a salary commission was convened, as happens in many cities, to determine what the appropriate pay should be for city councilmembers. What did this find?
[00:28:36] Doug Trumm: The salary commission said - You should pay your people six figures - I think it was $115,000. And I assume that was saying - You should make this a full-time position because some councilmembers are already putting in near that many hours and trying to try to balance that with other things, or saying only people who are wealthy or retired can be a Redmond City Councilmember. Of course, then the Redmond Mayor was like - who, by the way, makes almost $150,000 - was like, That's ridiculous. We're not doing that. That's going to add almost a million dollars to our budget. Don't want to do it. And she just disbanded the commission, which is - that's an interesting way to start a debate, which - the power of the mayor - I guess you can do that, but rather than get into a counterproposal or anything like that, just disband the commission and throw down the gauntlet. So it's - the people on the commission are frustrated because they donated their time and they were expecting that, at least if the mayor didn't like it, to debate with them or offer a kind of proposal. But that's not the direction that Mayor Angela Birney went.
[00:29:42] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and this salary commission went a bit further than a lot of salary commissions do, and they had explored a range of salaries. They had decided - yes, councilmembers should be paid more - but what, how much more was up for debate? They did propose a six-figure option, which people offhand sometimes are - No, don't pay them. It's so interesting to me, in this world that we are in, that we don't bat an eyelash at $200 million annual salaries for corporate CEOs. But public servants who oftentimes manage salaries every bit as big as large corporations and who need the expertise and the time to do that that is in a full-time capacity. And when it's not, we want it to be. Look around at the decisions that frustrate you - people who are not informed, action that takes so long to happen - these being part-time councils absolutely influences that. So making them full-time, professionalizing them, making them viable for anyone to hold, making them viable for professionals who are making higher salaries to potentially consider, or families and people who don't - you don't have to be independently wealthy, as you said, to be able to do that. All of this fundamentally comes down to whether or not you can afford to pay your bills if you decide to become a public servant. Right now, many people can't. Right now, many people don't do this because they wouldn't be able to pay their bills, or because it's paying them so much less than they're making in their current positions.
This is basically a move to make this a competitive position and had several salary options, several that were lower than that. But as you said, the mayor - just instead of having the conversation - disbanded the salary commission, said - It's ridiculous. She has to manage the budget in the city, and that's just irresponsible and no one wants that. As you said, her salary is $145,000. So it's really rich for someone who shares responsibility for governing - and certainly seems like she feels like that's justified for her - doesn't think other people who share the same responsibility to manage that city don't deserve that, and the city wouldn't be well served by that. This is a conversation that we need to have across all of the state with this and this is really disappointing to see.
[00:32:14] Doug Trumm: Yeah, absolutely. And this is a city with incredible resources - this is the home of Microsoft - just looked on Zillow and the median home value is $1.2 million in Redmond, Washington. And how are you going to afford that? And if you're on a city council salary? It basically comes down to whether you think this is a side gig, or you want to have your city council actually treat this as a real city with a full-time responsibility. And maybe they do think it's a side gig and they just want the mayor and city staff to run things, but I guess the people who are voting in elections are maybe hoping that it's more than a sort of ribbon cutting committee or something. It's really odd. And I think Redmond should be striving to gear their city council up to tackle problems rather than just be a rubber stamp.
[00:33:06] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. We will continue to follow that - again, it's an important issue to talk about - several people have been. It's growing in the amount of people who are saying - We're getting all of these frustrating results, maybe, because we're treating this like a lower-level part-time job. And it's really not. We have to make a change and bring those into alignment.
Also, wanted to wrap up today by talking about a story that was featured on The Urbanist about SPD impacting pedestrian safety. What happened?
[00:33:42] Doug Trumm: It turns out that for the, at least the second time in recent memory, SPD kind of stepped on and got in the way of a revenue-generating stream for the City of Seattle. In this case, it was school cameras and other traffic cameras that SDOT has installed around the City in hopes of improving safety, helping kids walk to school safely without getting mowed down by cars, and helping people cross the street without getting clipped. These traffic cameras work a lot better when they're actually - the fines go through - as far, at least as far as convincing Joe Shmoe and his beamer to not just cheat it. What SPD was supposed to do is the way this state law was written in - thanks to the State Legislature for making this a mess, by the way - but SPD has to sort of review the infraction and then confirm the fine so it goes out to the car owner. And they weren't doing this and they were blaming understaffing on that. And it's interesting because they can always round up a hundred people to come and look tough next to a protest or some sort of public event where it's too many lefties or too many people that disagree with SPD. But they're - the basic function that they're responsible for to keep government functioning and make sure that a revenue stream that the City Council's budgeted on - they didn't do that and it cost millions in revenue. And they were before a City committee within the last month or so and SPD spokesman was saying - Oh, we got this under control now. But I'm not too confident that this won't happen again, and they just don't see it as a priority potentially.
And the state could help by making this law a little more flexible. They have a two-week period after the infraction to review it and it's sort of like - Why is there such a time crunch? Do we even need to have SPD reviewing these? because that's another concern with these laws is that people don't - there's privacy concerns, particularly around whether SPD is trolling for warrants and things like that - which the main impetus of these laws is safer streets, fewer crashes. And if we're using it as just a sort of scam around for other problems - just to nick people for other violations they have - that's a different issue and it only saps support for the bill. So it seems like they could have structured this differently. Also people can try to get out of the infraction by saying - Oh, it wasn't me driving the car - but it's like why did you leave your car with someone who is breaking traffic laws, speeding through school zones, and things like that. But the way the law is structured, they had to be the person driving the car to actually get the infraction. So there's a lot of holes in it, but with pedestrian deaths climbing in the City, it seems like we need to get a little more creative and effective at doing these. And it certainly would have been nice to have the revenue to that, which then is earmarked for pedestrian projects. And SDOT says that some of them will be delayed because of the lack of revenue coming in from this program.
[00:36:54] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and that's really the headline here - that these programs will be delayed because of what they cited as a lack of staffing - but a lack of making it through the work that was necessary for this to work. It's really interesting - in this conversation about public safety in Seattle, with the Seattle Police Department - and them saying that they are, they're dramatically understaffed. We just don't have time to respond to things. We don't have time to do all this stuff. We don't have the capacity. We don't have the staff to do that. But it's so curious to see what they do find the time to do - that they do find the time to respond to overdose calls, which in most places are handled by medics and the fire department, and police are not needed or dispatched unless there's a call and a need - not just as a matter of course. Imagine if they responded to every heart attack call or every slip-and-fall call - it doesn't seem like it's in their sphere of responsibility, yet they choose to respond to that. We see them choosing to respond to these encampment sweeps in just enormous numbers. Looking at the amount of money that each one of those sweeps requires - just in terms of the people who were there - the staff pay to pull those off is incredible. And then we hear things like they decided to stop investigating sexual assaults of adults because they don't have the manpower. How are they making these decisions and how is this coherent?
And in this situation where there is a public outcry to take action on the pedestrian safety crisis after day-after-day, we hear about multiple people being hurt, maimed, hit, killed - on bikes, on sidewalks and crosswalks - from everyone. And it just seems that it hasn't risen to the level of an emergency by the people who are responsible for implementing this program. This is an executive responsibility. This is something that falls underneath the purview of the mayor to make sure it happens. This is an initiative that they invested money in, that is an active project. We're beyond the point of considering whether we're going to do this, and it has happened - it's in implementation - yet they are not dedicating the resource to carry this out. Really curious to see what we do find money for and what we don't, what does capture the executive's attention and what he is putting resources and money towards, what is not. And it just seems like there are things that are just not on the radar there and - they fall in the realm of public safety, they fall in the realm of community safety. Seniors, people who are disabled, people of lower incomes need safe ways to get around in our community and this is an attempt to do that. You raise a very good point about - there was a use for safety and some of the guardrails around that, or it can delve into community surveillance, which is a toxic and damaging thing that disproportionately impacts BIPOC communities, lower income communities. We don't want it to be that. They had talked about that and thought they put in protections to protect against that.
But here we are once again - and something that taxpayers are paying for - they're not getting their money's worth because there is a mayor who is not executing this and allowing SPD to not do their work, to not handle their responsibility in this situation. And as with any business, there has to be an allocation - and in case of a change or a shortfall somewhere - reallocation of resources. There should be an explanation for how we're reallocating resources. And if something there in the department - they're saying we don't have staff for it - how are they accounting for that? Or are they just not doing it? And can we find that out before we learn that it just hasn't been done and we can't change course, we can't recover, we can't recoup that money, or choose to spend it in a better way? This is just wasted now. And so this seems like a management issue. And I am curious why we continue to not ask questions or focus on the council, who just allocates money - that happened way back - and then it kicks into the realm of the mayor to actually implement this and make sure it works well. And that's not happening. And I want to understand what the reasoning is, what that alignment is. And of course, you're not going to satisfy everyone, you're not going to be able to do everything. But you should explain what you are and aren't going to do and why before - we just learned that something happened that maybe no attention was being paid to. And now we have a safety plan - something that is there to help protect and save lives - that just fell by the wayside.
[00:42:00] Doug Trumm: Yeah, absolutely. And it definitely - the officers they're putting on this - it sounds like they're on desk duty, which I guess that could be for a variety of reasons. But one of the reasons is they're on the Brady list, which just means that they lie and can't be trusted to do investigations anymore because they're, the court doesn't consider them credible. Or, they might be on desk duty because they did something violent or unprofessional, so we're not getting the best here for these. But you'd think that given SPD's record, there'd be a fair number of people on desk duty and there'd be enough people to fill those sort of menial, but law required, tasks like processing these camera fines. But if these, if officers are doing de facto work slowdown then - yeah, things are going to be gummed up. And I increasingly - feels like part of the problem here is a Seattle police officer work slowdown rather than it solely be a issue of the labor shortage.
[00:43:01] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and once again, we're learning about this after the fact. No attention called to this before and saying - Hey, we're running into an issue. This is something important. We're not sure we can do it. It's just - Yeah, we decided not to do that. Like we found out with the sexual assault investigations - Yeah, we just decided we didn't have the people to do that. Who is overseeing these decisions? That is Mayor Bruce Harrell's job. And acting like they're an independent entity, not asking questions about this - it is worrying to see that this is happening with absolutely no oversight, or even questioning, or accountability here. So we will stay tuned for that.
We thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, June 2nd, 2023. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today was Executive Director of The Urbanist, Doug Trumm. You can find Doug on Twitter @dmtrumm - that's two Ms at the end. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. And you can follow me on Twitter @finchfrii - that's two Is at the end. You can catch Hacks & Wonks wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, please 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.
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