Mar 17, 2023
On this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, political consultant and host Crystal Fincher is joined by defense attorney, abolitionist and activist Nicole Thomas-Kennedy!
Crystal and Nicole discuss a number of news items this week, including new data showing a change in commute patterns for Seattle workers, as well as a new poll showing Republican Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier and Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson as the two leading candidates to succeed Jay Inslee as governor, should Inslee decide against seeking an unprecedented fourth term.
They also delve into the details of the ACLU lawsuit against King County over Seattle jail conditions and examine the rising demand for the state's 988 hotline, how important non-police responses are for public safety, and the potential for new funding to help support mental health resource. Following Tacoma’s State of the City address by Mayor Victoria Woodards, Crystal and Nicole also note the progress Tacoma is making in a more holistic approach to public safety with a Behavioral Health Crisis Response Team and an unarmed Community Services Officer Program, which would increase the level of response and bring support to non-emergency situations that are not an active threat to life or property.
They review an encouraging update from the King County Regional Homelessness Authority about their work with the Right of Way Safety Initiative moving a total of 189 previously unsheltered people inside to a shelter or housing option that meets their needs. They also discuss a contentious debate surrounding the location of a new Sound Transit station.
The conversation wraps up with a discussion of the recent train derailment on the Swinomish Reservation and the tribe's upcoming court case against the railway company for allegedly running trains in violation of a 1991 easement agreement that the tribe says limited the length of trains allowed to pass through.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
“Your old workweek is extinct, Commute Seattle data shows” by Mike Lindblom from The Seattle Times
“Bruce Dammeier (R), Bob Ferguson (D) lead hypothetical 2024 gubernatorial field in WA” by Andrew Villeneuve from The Cascadia Advocate
“The Exodus of Inmates from the King County Jail Continues” by Amy Sundberg from Notes from the Emerald City
“ACLU-WA, Director of Public Defense Call Out Conditions in King County Jail” by Alison Jean Smith from South Seattle Emerald
“ACLU sues King County over Seattle jail conditions” by Sydney Brownstone from The Seattle Times
“Washington state may boost 988 hotline funding as demand grows" by Taija PerryCook from Crosscut
“New facility will provide crisis response services for Washingtonians in north King County” by Shane Ersland from State of Reform
“‘Our best days are ahead of us.’ Mayor Woodards relays optimism in State of the City” by Liz Moomey from The News Tribune
“Identification Documents Open Doors” | King County Regional Homelessness Authority
“Constantine Backs ‘North of CID’ Light Rail Station, Bypassing Chinatown and Midtown” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist
“Incomplete Analysis Overlooks Rider Delay Caused by Skipping Union Station Hub” by Stephen Fesler from The Urbanist
“Balducci Wants a Good Transit Option for Chinatown” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist
“BNSF train derails on Swinomish Reservation as tribe readies court case against railway company” by Isabella Breda and Vonnai Phair from The Seattle Times
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen 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 midweek show, I'm joined by Mike McGinn of America Walks and Coté Soerens of Reconnect South Park to learn more about their work with the Freeway Fighters Network. Mike shares a broad overview of the movement's efforts to remove crumbling highway infrastructure while addressing the climate, health, and equity issues that these concrete structures have caused. As a resident of Seattle's South Park, Coté reflects on the throughline of Highway 99 running through the middle of her community - connecting a history of redlining, displacement, and racism to the present-day impacts on the neighborhoods' livability, pollution exposure, and life expectancy. Mike and Coté call out the lack of imagination exhibited by the country's attachment to the highways, to our highways, and paint a compelling vision that replaces underutilized thoroughfares with vibrant, connected communities.
But today we are continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with our co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host: defense attorney, abolitionist, and activist, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy.
[00:01:55] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Hi, thanks for having me. It's always -
[00:01:57] Crystal Fincher: Hey, love having you - happy to have you back. We've got a bunch of news to cover today. One interesting story - starting out - was just new data showing new commute trends. We are not traveling in the same way that we did before the pandemic. What did you take from this report?
[00:02:17] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: It seems that no matter how much some want everyone to come back to the office Monday through Friday, office workers don't wanna do that. And it looks like Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday is the day that people are primarily coming into the office. And it sounds like they're working remotely mostly Mondays and Fridays.
[00:02:34] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and that has shaped and changed our commute patterns. Lots of people have noticed they're different - certainly midweek has the biggest impact. There continues to be this push to get people back to the office. We've seen Seattle's mayor, other people celebrate a return there. Certainly a lot of businesses that provide services and amenities to people who have traditionally worked downtown are happy to see increased traffic. Do you think we're ever gonna get back to a time where people are doing a regular Monday through Friday workday again?
[00:03:11] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: I hope not - that's just my personal opinion. But people don't get paid for their commute time. And if you live in Snohomish County, or if you live - housing prices are so high right now that more and more people are forced to live outside of the City's core and travel in, which is part of our traffic problem, but it's also a quality of life issue. If people can work three days a week in the office and essentially get the same benefits that they would be for working five days a week in the office, why would we be trying to get people in there more? Obviously there are benefits felt by those workers, and I think reducing traffic is a huge issue. I understand that it doesn't necessarily benefit downtown businesses, but times have changed, things have changed, technology changes things, and I hope we don't get back to five days a week of intense and horrifying traffic.
[00:04:04] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And I do also wanna mention that - being one of the people who does not have to commute every single day and can work from home, there is privilege attached to that. There are people predominantly in lower wage jobs, a lot of service jobs that don't have the option to not come into the office. Or people doing manual labor, which is every bit as skilled and takes all the talent that all the other types of jobs have, but they oftentimes are not able to have the flexibility to work from home or to take advantage of the saved commute time, which is really significant. If someone handed you back an hour, an hour and a half every day - there's so much more that can be done, or so much more rest that could be had, or just spending time with your family - it doesn't necessarily have to be productive in the way that we view work. But people finding balance is an important thing. So that's interesting and that has changed.
Other interesting news that we saw this week - there was a poll fielded by the Northwest Progressive Institute that they wrote about in The Cascadia Advocate, their news publication, that showed if Governor Inslee happened to decide against seeking an unprecedented fourth term - which he has not announced any plans about - if that were to happen though, Bob Ferguson, our current Attorney General is viewed as the leading Democrat for the governor's race and Bruce Dammeier is the leading Republican. How did you view this?
[00:05:38] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Polls are always interesting, right - we all wanna know what the future holds. But it's always who is responding to polls, what sort of choices or wording - which I think that poll actually went into a little bit, which is great - but at this point, I don't think a Republican is gonna poll all the Democrat votes. So it looks like they're even, based on the responses by - the people who respond - based on the people who responded to the poll.
[00:06:04] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely - a situation where Democrats are splitting the vote. And to be clear, it showed if Jay Inslee were not to run again, who people were asked who they'd vote for, Bruce Dammeier - and I always forget whether it's Dammeier or Dammeier, so if I'm mispronouncing his name, I apologize - got 35%, Bob Ferguson 21%, Dow Constantine and Hilary Franz both polled at 7%, with 30% of the respondents not being sure. So really interesting to see the response to this. They also had breakdowns of the different regions of the state - notable there was Dammeier's home turf is in Pierce County, but he basically polled about the same there as he did for a statewide percentage. So there wasn't necessarily the kind of advantage that we normally see there. And swing turf continues to be swing turf. But really interesting as we move closer to the time where people expect to hear more from Jay Inslee about what his plans are or are not. Certainly a fourth term would be unprecedented - doesn't mean that he can't go for it - but certainly there's a lot of people waiting in line to figure out what's gonna happen and who's gonna be on the ballot.
[00:07:20] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, it'll be interesting.
[00:07:22] Crystal Fincher: Will be very interesting. Also this week, we see the ACLU suing King County over Seattle jail conditions. What's happening here?
[00:07:32] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: So there was a decision - I can't remember how long ago - it was about conditions in the jail that was won by the ACLU. I think it was maybe in the late 80s? And basically the ACLU is saying is that they are not living up to the terms of that decision. There's also community groups that are not happy about what is going on in the jail. There's an astronomical suicide rate, especially compared to the national average in the downtown jail. It's old, it's antiquated, it makes it difficult for attorneys to see their clients. There's just a lot of elevated risk there. And Constantine said in 2020 that he recognized all of those things and wanted to shut it down. And so between the ACLU lawsuit and community groups' pressure, we are seeing a little bit of movement - but instead of finding alternatives to incarceration, what's happening is they moved 50 people from the downtown jail to the RJC [Regional Justice Center] in Kent. And now those people are double-bunked, so they took one thing and made another problem over here. Or the other thing that I think is being sought by the executive is a contract with SCORE, which is the South County Correctional Regional [South Correctional Entity] - I don't remember what it stands for - but which is really well understood to be the worst of our three jails here in King County. And so he wants to move people to SCORE, which obviously - people with the ACLU, with community groups are not excited about that because it doesn't do anything to solve the problem. It just moves it around.
[00:09:06] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And to your point, the other facilities that they're moving inmates to already had their own pre-existing problems in this area that are being made worse with these additional inmates. It is just really a challenge and they are not, have not been able, willing or able - probably both - to adequately staff this. And so you can't just keep shoving people into this facility - that you're completely in control of - that is inadequately staffed, that doesn't have appropriate medical care, that has escalating rates of illness and suicide, where the corrections officers themselves have reached out and communicated via letter to the Executive to say - Hey, we are not staffed enough to keep our own selves safe and we're asking you to reduce the population because it's also unsafe for the corrections officers and staff that are there. Just this isn't working for anyone. And it seems like it's absolutely reasonable and appropriate for the ACLU to seek a court remedy for this.
[00:10:17] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Absolutely. Something needs to be done.
[00:10:19] Crystal Fincher: Right - and this also goes to the larger conversation we're having about public safety, about policing, about whether we want to return to more punitive, punishment-focus-based public safety where we're just locking up everybody - without realizing that that requires staffing, that requires administration. There is a cost to what we're doing and we don't even seem to be reaping any benefits in terms of increased public safety because of this. It is just a money suck that is harmful to everyone involved with the system and then makes us less safe on the other side. It just doesn't seem like this is working in any way, shape, or form.
[00:11:04] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, it's true. And I think part of the problem is it's such a political question at this point. So many people have absorbed the idea that the only way for us to have public safety is to be as punitive as humanly possible. And we have mass incarceration in this country - we incarcerate more than any country in the world and we are not the safest. So clearly that isn't working, but I think that that's a - it's an easy flashpoint, fear sell to people that is actually making us less safe. And there's a lot of people that are pushing for alternatives, but it is an uphill battle. But it's being waged and I have a lot of hope that we will get there eventually, just hopefully sooner than later.
[00:11:45] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And there are a lot of individual cities, organizations making progress in this area. In fact, this week we saw a story that the state's demand for the 988 hotline is increasing and they may receive new funding - this is an alternative response to just sending police out to every single call solo. And thinking that we can solve calls related to homelessness, or someone feeling uncomfortable with someone in their neighborhood, or someone going through a behavioral health crisis - which we see turn out tragically in so many other situations - to say maybe a more appropriate response to this, that if someone is having a behavioral health crisis, there are responders that maybe don't need a gun and a badge, but they're experts in handling this type of mental health crisis situation. This is what we're trying to get at. This is what poll after poll shows the residents know is necessary and want. And so we might be increasing capacity for that. How do you see the 988 hotline, the demand for it, and what's possible through it?
[00:12:55] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: When I was a public defender, I constantly had family members, people in the community asking - who can I call when my uncle, or my son, or someone in the community - who can I call that's not just a police officer? Because a lot of times the people that are forced - they don't have a choice - something is happening and they need to call, they need help, but it's always been a police officer. And I've seen so many mothers have to call, and then their sons get locked up, and they have no contact orders with the mom. And it just becomes this whole mushrooming problem that makes everything significantly worse and - if not deadly. And so I have seen community, directly affected community asking for this for years. And I think this is definitely a step in the right direction. It's really encouraging that people know about it, that people are using it. I think that once that becomes more of a normalized thing, we can keep pushing in that direction because there's so little - police always say that they don't wanna be social workers, they don't wanna be mental health counselors, they don't wanna be domestic violence experts, but we have to build those alternatives - because it can't just be cops or nothing. So it's really encouraging to me to see these alternatives being built up. I hope they keep moving in the direction they are because a lot of times services like this end up getting co-opted for different means, where, it'll be like - oh, we didn't have police come to this X amount of calls and now we have police coming to every calls because that's something that they lobbied for. And so I hope that they can stay and keep moving in an independent direction because it is so necessary. So yeah, I think it's encouraging.
[00:14:30] Crystal Fincher: Definitely encouraging. And I should note that the 988 system doesn't absolutely guarantee that there's not going to be a police person involved in the response - that is still a possibility. There may be frontline people who come and if they happen to call for backup, that could happen - some places like in Seattle, as we've seen, police are wanting to respond to every overdose call - even though that is not a public safety call in many, if not most, jurisdictions, that seems out of line with many practices, certainly best practices. It can happen, but as you say, building out these alternative responses are absolutely necessary. And I think the more we do that, the better, the more we accelerate moving on to more effective solutions that keep us all safer. Because you hear this - Well, if we get rid of cops, then what next? We call 911 and no one comes, and there's anarchy and wild stuff in the streets. And that's not it. Being a progressive stance on public safety and understanding that it takes a comprehensive approach and addressing root causes, or else we wind up with this revolving door situation that doesn't address any problems that we're trying to solve - accountability is a progressive value.
We don't want to escape accountability. We just want it to be effective and productive, and the end result to be that the entire community is safer and people are victimized less often. And we have data from experts who study this. And by the way, police are not necessarily public safety experts - they're not paid to do that or be that in any kind of way - but there are a lot of criminologists, a lot of people who actually do study this, who have identified several more effective approaches. And so it would be just really good to see us getting this stood up and see how we can actually work through these models and processes to make us safer. 'Cause we do need that. Crime is bad - there is not anyone who disagrees with that. People being victimized is bad, but it happens - the context in which we discuss it just through policing, the things that we've decided to make it illegal or focus on enforcing is just such a tiny percentage of the story of how safe people are. And whether it's sexual assault and harassment, or theft, or wage theft - those kinds of things - there are some that make the headlines, there are some don't, there are some that just slip by unnoticed even though it's harmful to a lot of people. And the more we can get at that, the better off we will all be. And a bill is still alive in the Legislature to increase funding for that 988 system and help to further build it out.
Also saw this week, Tacoma's State of the City from Mayor Victoria Woodards, there in Tacoma. A lot of the standard stuff that you would expect to see there and focusing on public safety. But I think one thing that I found notable about the State of the City address, in Tacoma and so many other cities, is how the City of Seattle sometimes it's thought - well, it's progressive - and people just say that and assume it's true, and so all the most progressive policy must be coming out of Seattle. And Seattle is actually behind a lot of other cities in the state on really crucial issues - on homelessness, housing affordability, and public safety - because we saw Tacoma talking about something that Seattle seems to not be very interested in. They're running behind on their alternate response plans. Mayor Harrell committed that he would be standing up alternatives to a police response and is behind his stated timelines on that. And now people continue to ask - Hey, where's that coming? You said public safety was one of your top priorities and this major piece of it is still going unaddressed that's really up to him to implement. And Tacoma is talking about implementing those. Certainly they're talking about incentives for new officers, but they're also talking about standing up alternative response programs, investing in youth violence prevention, and addressing root causes. And it seems like they're taking at least a more holistic approach, or moving forward, than Seattle in the region. And it just underscores to me that this really, to your point, shouldn't be a political conversation. It should just be about what makes more people more safe. And was pretty happy to see that Tacoma seems serious about investing in some of those things.
[00:19:13] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, I think it's a really positive direction. When people talk about police - in Seattle we always talk about 911 response times without really looking at what, all the factors that influence those things. But one thing - if we wanted to actually increase the speed at which police responded, one thing we could do instead of hiring more officers - 'cause there's an officer shortage all over the country - is to take some things off their plate. They have said - We don't wanna do substance abuse counseling, we don't wanna do this. So fine - let's take that off. Why are they being asked to do those things anyway? And there has been a fundamental shift over the last, I would say 40 years, but also just - there's always a fundamental shift with the passage of time. But a lot of things that police officers do now are not things that we asked them to do when I was a kid in the '80s, or something like that. And there's a complaint that we have to do all these things now, and it's just - Okay, how about we listen to you and take some things off your plate? And that's one way to meet both the stated goals of each party - you want faster 911 response times, we want actual public safety or things that actually work. And that really building out those other services and other ways to respond to things, other than just an armed officer, really meets all of the goals. So it's encouraging, and I think Seattle definitely has a tendency to give lip service to things. And then when no one's looking, there's a slow walk. And that's what I'm seeing right now is - Oh yeah, definitely, we should do these things. And then we look away and it's just a casual, just slinking away without really doing anything, or without making any specific promises, or really having a plan. And so I really like that Tacoma is - Yeah, we're not gonna do that.
[00:20:59] Crystal Fincher: Yes - not that I have no bones to pick with decisions that they make in Tacoma - but it really does seem like they are interested in moving the needle on more comprehensive responses that get closer to addressing root causes. And investing real money into doing that, because that really is the bottom line. If there is nothing invested in there, if it's not in the budget, then it's clearly not a priority.
And it's so interesting, especially having you on the program with unique insight and insight beyond what most people have into the criminal legal system - also reminds me of talking to former Mayor Mike McGinn, who enjoyed one of the lowest crime rates in the past 40 years, but making a very similar point that you did in - Hey, okay, so they say we have a shortage - which I could go on a whole rant about - but okay, so say that there really is a shortage, which everyone is experiencing. Police keep saying that it's actually not a financial problem, that this is something that has to do with the perceptions of the culture and the perceptions of just the profession - the job of being a police officer - that lots of people have. And until that gets more effectively addressed, until there's more trust built there, that this is going to be a problem that continues. But since everyone is having a hiring problem, if you're pinning all your hopes on once we can get enough police officers hired - which no one seems to be able to do these days - then it'll be safe. So is everyone just supposed to sit around and accept not being safe until years down the line when there are enough officers - even when an officer gets into the system, a lot of times it's a year before they're actually deployed on the street. They've got to go through training and all that kind of stuff. So we have to stand up these other things if we're going to make a dent in public safety, if we're gonna keep people safer.
And it really is confounding to me that we have police determined to respond to every overdose call, but they also made the decision that they were too short-staffed to investigate sexual assaults of adults. How does this make sense? If the goal is to keep people safe, if the goal is to take the "bad guys" off of the street, then would we be doing more investigating? Would we want to spend more time doing that stuff than accompanying EMT on an overdose call where no other cities - other cities are not doing this. Why are we utilizing these resources in this way? Why do they still want to keep parking enforcement? Why do they still want to keep doing these things and accompany encampment sweeps, where they're essentially just watching Parks Department? It just doesn't make sense anyway you look at it, even if you grant everything that they're saying, even if you agree with, "We need more cops," and, "They help keep people safe," and all that, then why aren't you doing the things to utilize them more effectively? I don't know, but it is frustrating.
[00:24:04] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: It is frustrating because no matter how you look at it - if you're going to listen to police say, "We don't want to do these things," then you have to weigh that against the fact that they are actively fighting to do those things. Or if you're gonna believe that a reactionary police force is what's going to keep us safe, then why are they not reacting to things that are threats to public safety? And if you're gonna believe that they don't want to - yeah, I don't know - there's a lot to it, but there is a lot of, I think, talking out of both sides of things. But the bottom line is we've had fully staffed police before. We still have crime. They only react. Why don't we focus on prevention? I would like to see less crime. I don't want to be the victim of a crime. I don't want my daughter to be the victim of a crime. I would rather that didn't happen rather than have someone respond to it after it happened. And that's what I would like to see for myself, my family, my neighbors, this community - is that not only do we just feel safer maybe because we're told we should, but that we are actually safer, that we're not experiencing these traumatic things. And there's no guesswork in it. We are the only country that does things this way. There's been a million studies saying it doesn't work, or at least not the way it's proposed that it works. But we also have so many other countries that have taken different avenues towards public safety that have been far more successful than we are. So it's really not - there's no guesswork in it. It's just a matter of - can we get past this ridiculous narrative that we've all been fed in order to enact real solutions? And so people are working on it. I'm hoping we're getting there. More and more people are being open to the idea that it's not - the one cure-all solution for everything is more police.
[00:25:50] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And for these alternative responses, like this 988 hotline - seems like there was pent-up demand for it. People have been waiting for something like this and wanting to use it. It's had a 25% to 30% increase in calls just since last July. 90% of calls are answered within 30 seconds. 95% of calls are resolved over the phone. Fewer than 2% of the calls end up involving the police or an EMS responder. And for the 5% of calls not able to be resolved over the phone, the speed of that response is critical - and that's what that bill in the Legislature is trying to target. It would increase funding for rapid-response teams. It passed the House and is now being considered by the Senate. It looks like the Legislature is trying to be responsive to their communities and their residents, certainly expressing that this is something that they want. Information is showing that it's being used, and so we will see there.
Also, this week we got a press release from the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, and they're making progress. It took a bit to get spun up. They had to basically start from scratch in building a brand-new office that took a little bit more time than originally anticipated. But since they've been up and running, what they have been doing seems like it has been working and in line with the vision of the KCRHA. So they just announced 30 people previously unsheltered at First and Michigan are now inside. They've been working in conjunction with the Seattle, with the Washington Department of Transportation - our State Department of Transportation - to remove people from rights of way. Sometimes you see people camping under freeways or in other similar rights of way - and we talked last year about legislation and funding passed to try and address this. And it looks like it's going to good use - 30 people moved inside from one that a lot of people have seen there at First and Southwest Michigan. 41 people moved inside from sites in the Chinatown International District, in the CID - 27 people matched with shelter or housing options will be moving inside soon.
Two weeks ago, they had an event with state partners to ensure that people had the IDs necessary for housing and all the paperwork, because there's a lot that goes into being able to qualify for housing, and so making sure that other stuff was done. They also resolved five encampment sites under the same Right of Way Safety Initiative, with a total of 189 people previously unsheltered having moved inside to a shelter housing option that meets their needs, according to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. And other sites remain in progress - there's a contract to open an additional 113 units of emergency housing that's just about done. So they seem to be moving forward. Lots of talk about their recent five-year plan and the budget request attached to it, which is big and robust, but we're also trying to address this problem that is tied to so many other problems in our community. So how do you see this and the work that they're doing overall?
[00:29:13] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Obviously, it's a step in the right direction. There was the homelessness - declared a crisis in the Ed Murray years - it's a clear step in the right direction. I think one thing that I often notice is that a lot of these different groups will be stepping on each other all of the time - not really not meaning to but the county is doing this, but the City Attorney is also putting people in jail for sleeping under an awning - which means then they lose their ID, then they lose everything they have, and then they're back to square one. Or, the City does encampment sweeps where same things happen - people lose all of the things that they need in order to get housing. They're back to zero. Then they have to go back to DESC, get a new tent - blah, blah, blah - it just is this compounding thing. So I'm encouraged by what they're doing, and my hope in the future is to not - we spend so much time and money getting one step ahead and then pulling it back two steps. And so I like that there's a coordinated effort. I hope that the City can get more on board with that because nobody likes it. The people who live outside don't like it. The people who don't live outside don't like it. It's a thing I think we can all agree on. And so my hope is that they can continue their work, but that that work isn't impeded by constantly enacting actions that have a detrimental effect on people's ability to stay sheltered - because obviously the problem is not going to go away unless we address it. So I'm happy to see that they are taking those steps.
[00:30:41] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely, and I agree. Also making news this week is something that has flown under the radar for a while, but seems to be garnering a lot of attention now and with a flurry of new activity. It's a new station that will be built that - the Sound Transit Board of Directors is going to be making a decision on on March 23rd - about some new Sound Transit stations, or a new Sound Transit station, in Seattle. For quite some time, they have been looking at a 4th Avenue alignment - that has had a lot of support from various groups for a long time - that would connect with existing infrastructure, have a Union Station transit hub that also helps with connectivity with the existing stations, the Sounder station, just kind of everything going on in that area in terms of just pure transit connection time and ease of use of the transit system in terms of speed for a lot of people around the neighborhood.
However, there's a new alternative or some new alternatives that have popped up recently in response to concerns from many people in the CID saying, "No, actually, there are lots of problems with the proposed alignment that will create, once again, significant impacts and challenges for the CID, that could potentially displace a lot of people in businesses, and just create a lot of havoc on the streets after they have dealt with a lot of havoc over the past decade with challenges from dealing with everything from the deep bore tunnel to other Sound Transit stations. And a historical challenge that has been there for a while has been - as we've seen and talked about on the show forever - government entities' lack of engaging communities, especially BIPOC and lower-income communities, when it comes to alignments of light rail and other regional transit options through the City and region. This has been a long-standing issue, and even way back on the first segments that were entered, that were built, people from the CID have been saying - Hey, you have not been listening to us, and we're paying the price, and we're displacing a really important community. We're not considering the importance of landmarks to the community that are part of - some of them are saying they're part of our heritage. These landmarks are as important as the people. This is our community. All of the elements of it make our community. And yes, we can talk about how quick transit connection would be otherwise, but is it fair and equitable to only pay attention to that and disregard the needs of the community that exists there, or should we be looking at mitigating that impact, that - no, this may not be the first choice of a lot of people, and it may even come with some harmful outcomes that may need to be mitigated otherwise, but that is what this work really involves if you're doing it right. It's talking to everybody, considering all of those, and trying to come up with a solution that kind of, first off, doesn't seek to harm or destroy anything that can't be rebuilt. And I think that's the crux of where a lot of people are coming from. If you're trying to destroy a part of our community that can't be rebuilt or can't be reclaimed or is just going to be lost if you do that.
I personally don't have a dog on the hunt, really, for preferred alignment. My interest is in making sure that the community is heard - and not astroturf efforts, not people seeking to use this to further a pre-existing political argument, or to just oppose development or oppose transit like some people reflexively do. If someone is at risk for displacement, if someone is part of a community that has been displaced and has seen a lot of what they have built and have been able to maintain despite historic attempts to destroy it in a variety of ways, that that's something that we shouldn't dismiss. That doesn't, that's not the same thing as a NIMBY opposing transit. These are people who are at risk of displacement and who are at risk at losing important parts of their culture potentially, and that should be listened to and valued.
[00:35:02] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Absolutely. I think that BIPOC and low-income communities have always borne the brunt of this sort of utilitarian approach to transit, and I'm happy to see people speaking up and I would expect that. And I think you make a really good point. This isn't the regular sort of NIMBY - I don't want it, I don't want people in my neighborhood, I don't care about this, I drive every day or whatever. That there's different solutions being proposed here. And I think that's a really important distinction and the solutions are not do it in another neighborhood. The solutions are - yes, we want this here. We recognize the necessity of it, but how about we go about it in a way that considers our culture and what we've built here and the people who already live here. And I hope that conversation can be had and there's something that can be worked out with the actual input of the community that's going to be affected because that's really - it's the bottom line with everything really.
[00:36:00] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And I don't know everything that went into the support of this - of some new alignments by, particularly the King County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Bruce Harrell. But I will point out that they have received frequent criticism, including from me, about not listening to residents of the CID - whether it's from previous Sound Transit alignments with light rail, or the deep bore tunnel, or homelessness service provisions and access. And again, it's not to say that these things shouldn't happen, but they certainly shouldn't happen without the input and participation of the people who live there. And that hasn't happened in a while, so a charitable reading of this late proposal and support for some alternative alignments - could charitably be read as responding to the desires of the community after hearing and taking criticism and admitting to falling short sometimes before. So I hope that that is genuinely what is going on.
And we will see - obviously a lot to follow there. I know there was actually a Transit Riders Union meeting last night where they were discussing it, which I missed, but there are lots of people - I know people who have strong feelings on both sides of this. And again, my interest isn't necessarily in just the alignment, but in making sure that we don't discount the voice of the community as just wanting to oppose this, but we can dismiss it and keep moving on. These concerns should be listened to. They are valid. And if we can find a workaround, even if that means that it's not purely the fastest alignment from transit, then let's figure that out. To me, it feels very similar to people who are really focusing on - everything that you're doing is anti-car and this is anti-car if it slows me down five minutes to get to my destination, even if that five minutes means that other people will literally live instead of being killed by cars on streets that are designed and used dangerously. And just saying - It's not the fastest for me, therefore it is inefficient and bad. There are other considerations and we have to consider the whole community. I don't know how this is gonna end up. I don't know who's gonna wind up supporting what, but it seems like there are valid concerns all the way around that no one should dismiss.
Also looking at other news this week, we saw another train derailment - this time on the Swinomish reservation - which on the heels of the East Palestine train derailment in Ohio, certainly people are paying more attention. Hear a lot of people saying - There are like a thousand derailments every year, this is normal, it's not a big deal. Something being normal and not a big deal are not always the same thing. Yes, it happens frequently. No, it should not be happening and we should be paying more attention to this and it should be bothering us more than it has, I think. And this is another example why - it's something that is considered to a lot of people that doesn't get a lot of attention, that perhaps this is a small source of contamination from this freight train that derailed. But this is their land, this is their water supply, and they have never consented to having that be spoiled and they knew the risk of this. In fact, there's a trial set to begin on Monday over a lawsuit that the tribe filed in 2015, alleging that BNSF trespassed when it ran thousands of trains filled with highly combustible crude oil over the reservation without the tribe's consent. The tribe says that the railroad was knowingly violating an easement agreement the two parties made in 1991, that the tribe has limited the length of trains allowed to pass through. And it looks like BNSF just ignored that, decided to put through longer trains, and now the things that they were warned could and would happen are happening. And this is just happening everywhere and we should be paying more attention.
[00:40:06] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, absolutely. I grew up in a railroad family. My dad worked for Santa Fe, later at BNSF - and derailments weren't considered a "Heh, like they just happen" type thing. They shouldn't be happening. And do accidents happen? Yes, of course, sometimes they do, but it's not something that we should just be like, "Oh yeah, huh." It's not normal and it's not healthy. And I think one of the things that's really dangerous is that not only are we in a place where people who work on trains are saying, "Hey, it's not safe. We are not safe. We're not healthy. We're not well. We are put in danger. We're told to ignore danger," which was such a - to me, when I read things like, "Oh, they say just go ahead and run it even if a wheel bearing is." - just growing up the way I grew up with my dad - that was such a wild concept to be like, "Hey, there's something unsafe. We'll just go ahead and do it anyway." That is not how things have been done historically with the railroads. So we're seeing already this shift between worker safety and train safety and community safety. But the thing that's really scary too is that the railroads wanna keep moving in this direction. They want less staff on train, they want half of what they used to have on trains because they think it's gonna be automated and it's gonna be cheaper. And they want to move towards even more intense scheduling. And at the same time, benefits for workers have eroded. The union power has eroded - as we saw, the government step in and end the strike that was happening. And I think that there's, we're seeing the convergence of all of those things at once - and not just things are bad now, but they're going to get significantly worse if we don't pay attention to this problem. So I'm happy to see that there is coverage of these things. And I wish that we didn't have to do this thing where the Swinomish said "Hey, we're in danger of this." and they're like, "Whatever, do it anyway." And then the dangerous thing happens. We know what's going to happen. There's no need to have these constant reminders that are material harms that validate the concerns of the community that's there.
And it's the same, not the same, but it's similar to what we were talking about with the CID. There has been communities - historically, communities of color, low-income communities, Indigenous communities - that have borne the brunt of utilitarian transportation design. And they are saying, "Hey, we don't want that anymore." And that's something that should be valued. Of course, I think it should be valued, but I hope to see some movement and I hope - I wish them well on their legal pursuits on that. But I think that we need to be - I don't care if there's 100 derailments every day. They need to be something that we should be paying attention to because we shouldn't just be settling for that.
[00:42:57] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And there's a problem with just railroad regulation. And the problem is that they are subject to so little of it. It's absurd. And I don't think most people realize how much latitude we give railroad companies. It is almost obscene. I don't think most people realize that. So I live in Kent - the reason why I'm a little bit more familiar with railroad problems and policies because - Kent has two railroad lines crossing right through its downtown, which I live in the middle of, which is why sometimes you hear train horns if you're listening. But cities are actually not allowed to touch train tracks. They're actually not allowed to touch crossing arms and stuff, and so we have two separate railroad companies who have been so horrible about maintaining railroad crossings. If people are residents of Kent, they have been stuck behind, in a humongous traffic jam, on some of Kent's biggest thoroughfares that are just cut off by railroad track crossing arms that get stuck, or don't go down, or they're malfunctioning. That's been happening for years. And so many people are like, "Why doesn't the city do something about this?" And it turns out - yeah, the city is legally prohibited from touching the railroad tracks. The railroad company has to respond. The railroad companies don't share what hazardous material is on there and you basically have to wait for the railroads and the companies to show up and decide how they're gonna handle it, decide what they're gonna disclose, decide what the timeline is - and people have no control. And when you think about having no control over potentially hazardous substances going through your communities - these railroad lines are adjoining neighborhoods, schools, playgrounds - and it's just by chance that there's not a situation like in Swinomish and in East Palestine - this is what we're all signing up for and we shouldn't be, we should not be.
Unfortunately, this is something that these lawsuits - I'm glad that the Swinomish tribe filed this lawsuit. This may be some of the only recourse we have aside from Congressional action to pare this down and to demand some accountability. Railroad companies don't even have to tell you if something highly flammable, highly hazardous, highly toxic is traveling through cities so that people can appropriately prepare emergency and hazmat responses. Cities can't even prepare for the type of damage that railroads can do, so we just need to change. I am glad a lot more people are paying attention and I hope people continue to hold our elected leaders' feet to the fire, but particularly our Senators and Congresspeople, to actually take some action to regulate and rein in the control and domination that these railroad companies have - that is really putting people at risk and that these companies haven't shown anywhere close to the type of responsibility, accountability to cleaning up these things or to being able to handle the type of world that they're putting us all into. So it's a challenge.
And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, March 17th, 2023. Hacks & Wonks is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. Our insightful co-host today was defense attorney, abolitionist, and activist, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. Thank you for joining us - always a good time.
[00:46:27] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Always a good time.
[00:46:27] Crystal Fincher: Yes! You can catch Hacks & Wonks wherever you prefer to 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 almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can find Nicole Thomas-Kennedy on Twitter @NTKAllDay. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can find me @finchfrii, it's two I's at the end. 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.