Nov 18, 2022
On this week’s Hacks & Wonks, Crystal is joined by friend of the show, defense attorney, abolitionist and activist, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy! They start catching up with the Seattle City Budget. The City Council revealed their proposed budget earlier this week, and in general it proposes putting back funding for programs that were originally given fewer resources under Mayor Harrell’s proposal - most notably restoring the raises for frontline homeless service workers, which were cut in Harrell’s budget. The Council’s proposal also uses JumpStart funds as originally intended, cuts ghost cop positions, and eliminates funding for the controversial ShotSpotter program.
After the horrific incident last week that involved a shooting at Seattle’s Ingraham High School, students staged a walkout and protest on Monday to ask city leaders for resources to help prevent gun violence. The students are asking for anti-racism and de-escalation training for school security, assault weapon bans, and more school counselors and mental health resources. What they have made clear they don’t want is more cops in schools, but despite that Mayor Harrell and some of his advisory boards are advocating for an increased police presence in schools.
Housing updates this week start with positive news: Mayor Harrell is asking for affordable housing to be exempt from the much maligned design review process. Allowing affordable housing to skip design review will encourage developers to build affordable housing, and will help us battle our housing shortage faster than we could otherwise. In frustrating housing news, KING5 released some upsetting reporting outlining some overt racial housing discrimination against Black families in Seattle, including one story about family who received a significantly higher appraisal when they dressed their home to look like it was owned by a white family.
Carolyn Bick from the South Seattle Emerald reported on potential City and State records laws violations by the Office of Police Accountability. The OPA has been manually deleting emails, or allowing them to automatically be deleted, before the two-year mark prescribed by City and State laws. It’s another example of a city office failing to hold itself accountable to basic records standards.
The Seattle Department of Transportation seemed to once again be more responsive to concerns about administrative liability than community concerns about pedestrian safety amid rising fatalities. When locals painted an unauthorized crosswalk at the intersection of E Olive Way and Harvard, SDOT workers removed the crosswalk within 24 hours. This is happening while many people and business owners, most notably Councilmember Sara Nelson, have been placing illegal “eco blocks” without removals or consequences.
Finally, the Chair of Washington State Democrats is being criticized for threats to withhold resources against Washington House candidates if they showed support for nonpartisan Secretary of State candidate Julie Anderson. This is a high-profile extension of a question that party groups–big and small–are dealing with: how do we handle Democrats’ support of nonpartisan or third party candidates?
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Follow us on Twitter at @HacksWonks. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find today’s co-host, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, on Twitter at @NTKallday. More info is available at officialhacksandwonks.com.
“City Council’s ‘anti-austerity’ budget package: Aiming JumpStart back where it belongs, preserving parking enforcement’s move out of SPD, nuking ShotSpotter, and giving mayor his ‘Unified Care Team’” by jseattle from Capitol Hill Seattle Blog
“Morales Hopes to Resurrect Social Housing Amendment That Didn’t Make Balancing Package Cut” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist
Learn more about how to get involved in Seattle's budget season at this link.
“Care, Not Cops” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger
“Seattle proposal would free affordable projects from design review — and give all developers path to skip public meetings” by CHS from Capitol Hill Seattle Blog
“After a low appraisal, Black Seattle family 'whitewashes' home, gets higher price” by PJ Randhawa from KING5
“Why housing discrimination is worse today than it was in the 1960s” by PJ Randhawa from KING5
“OPA May Have Broken City and State Records Laws By Not Retaining Emails” by Carolyn Bick from The South Seattle Emerald
“SDOT Decries Tactical Urbanism While Allowing Eco-Blocks All Over the City” by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola
“Rent a Capitol Hill apartment from one of these companies? You ‘may have rights under antitrust laws to compensation’ as lawsuit alleges price-fixing violations in Seattle” by jseattle from Capitol Hill Seattle Blog
“Scoop: State Democratic Party chair under fire for alleged threats” by Melissa Santos from Axios
[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. Full text transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.
Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a cohost. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show, today's cohost: defense attorney, abolitionist and activist, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. Hey.
[00:00:54] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Hey - thanks so much for having me. It's great to be here.
[00:00:57] Crystal Fincher: Welcome back. Great to have you back. So we have a few things going on this week. We will start with the Seattle budget. The mayor introduced his budget a few weeks back - this is now the Council, and the President of the Council, being able to introduce their own budget and their take on things. What did you see here that was notable?
[00:01:21] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: I think the things that were really notable were that JumpStart was headed back to where it was originally planned. That tax was created for affordable housing and things like that, and the mayor tried to take it a different direction that I don't think addresses the City's needs at all - so it was good to see that. Keeping - not giving SPD the money for those ghost cops - the officers that don't actually work there, that haven't actually worked there for a while - their salaries, SPD was allowed to keep for a long time, and so taking that away. And I think really most importantly - to me, given what I do - is taking out the money for ShotSpotter, which is something that the mayor has pushed really hard for, but has shown to not work and actually be detrimental to marginalized communities in other cities. And that was a million dollars, so it was great to see that taken out.
[00:02:27] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, that was definitely an improvement, I think, in a lot of people's minds. That was something that did seem to be oddly championed by the mayor and very few other people, regardless of what their political orientation or leaning is. It is just something that - a decade ago, people were wondering if it had some potential, and then it was implemented in a number of cities with a number of very well-documented problems. One thing that it does not seem to be able to accomplish is to reduce gun violence, which is its ultimate goal. But it did introduce a lot of other problems. It was expensive. It seemed to increase surveillance and harassment, particularly of Black and Brown communities, without intervening or interrupting any kind of violence. And that is just an inexpensive and ineffective use of funds. Given a budget shortfall, it seems like we should not be wasting money on things that have proven not to work and not to make anyone safer.
I think another notable difference in this budget, between the mayor's budget, was he had proposed a reduction in salary for some of the frontline workers for homelessness services and outreach services there. Those are critical positions and crucial to being able to address homelessness, reduce homelessness. A lot has been covered over the years across the country about how important having comfortable, well-paid frontline workers is so that they're not living in poverty, they aren't in unstable positions - creating a lot of turnover and uncertainty with the workers on the frontline - so that they do have the capacity and ability to do that kind of frontline outreach work and getting people into services that meet their needs. And so there was definitely a repudiation of the idea of reducing their pay and making sure that their pay will continue to rise with the cost of living and the Consumer Price Index. So that was nice to see.
A few other things, like you talked about, just making sure that the JumpStart funds, which it seems now everybody is acknowledging, have been very helpful. And even people who previously opposed it are now backing its use to backfill their own plans. But really just making sure that it is spent in a way consistent with its original charter, basically. And so more of a right-sizing and being more consistent with the spending that Seattle voters have backed, that these candidates were elected and reelected with mandates to go forward with - that we're seeing that there.
Moving forward here, there was just an opportunity for public comment earlier this year. There is one more opportunity for councilmembers to introduce amendments to this budget before it's going to be ultimately passed. So I encourage everyone, if you have thoughts about the budget, we'll include some links just explaining it. There was a really good Capitol Hill Seattle story just breaking down the budget and what's happening there to make sure we go there. But a few notable other investments from there include $20 million each year for equitable development initiative projects that advance economic opportunity and prevent displacement. $20 million Green New Deal investments each year, including $4 million to create community climate resilience labs. $4.6 million for indigenous-led sustainability projects and $1.8 million for community-led environmental justice projects. $9 million for school-based health centers, which is a really big deal, including a new $3 million across the biennium for mental health services in response to the demand for more health providers from teachers and students - we'll talk a little bit more about the student walkout and strike and their demands later in the show. Also created a combined total of $1.5 million for abortion care in 2023, to ensure access to reproductive care for uninsured people in Seattle. And a $253 million investment into the Office of Housing for affordable housing - and that's over $50 million more than the last budget for building rental housing, more supportive services, first-time ownership opportunities. I know a lot of people are also hoping that Councilmember Tammy Morales' proviso makes it back into the budget to support social housing and securing City-owned property for rental housing that has a much better shot of being able to be affordable for regular people working in the City, especially those who don't have six-figure incomes and can't afford a million dollar home. This is going to be crucial to making sure that we have dedicated land and space and capacity to build permanent affordable housing.
[00:07:54] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, and I hope that makes it back in very - I really hope that makes it back in. The thing that I see with the Council's - what they're proposing to put back in, or the changes they're making from Harrell's budget - is most all of them address things that would enhance public safety. And when I hear about things like old technology that's been shown not to work, that gives more or giving more money to police or things like that, I think people think that that's about public safety, but it's not. Those are reactionary things, those are things that have been shown not to address the problems, we really do need to be looking at those upstream things like housing, helping marginalized communities, mental health - all of these things are things that are actually going to result in more safety for everyone. And so I'm happy to see that their proposals are addressing those things. And I hope that they make it into the final budget.
[00:08:52] Crystal Fincher: I agree. And I also think that we saw - with just these past election results that we received - that residents of Seattle, really across the county, but especially in Seattle, once again, show through their votes for candidates who are talking about addressing root causes, the rejection of candidates for the Legislature for King County Prosecuting Attorney who were talking about punitive punishment-based approaches, lock-em-up approaches, which the city and the county continually have rejected. And I think voters are just at the point where they're saying, no, please listen - you have already increased funding for police, but we have these big gaps in all of these other areas that we need you to address and fill, and it's - just talking about police is doing the overall public safety conversation a disservice because it takes so many other things to make sure that we are building communities that are safer, and where fewer people get victimized, and where we are not creating conditions that cause disorder. And so I hope that they are listening. And I hope that that gives both the Budget Chair and councilmembers faith and strength and motivation to move forward with these kinds of investments in community - that center community and that center addressing the root causes of crime, preventing crime - which is the most important thing that we can do. I don't think anyone is looking around and saying - things are great, things are fine - but I think people are fed up with the inaction or bad action and ineffective action taken. So we will stay tuned and continue to report on that.
[00:10:47] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Very helpful.
[00:10:47] Crystal Fincher: We just alluded to, but talked about this week - following last week's shooting of an Ingraham High School student by another student - extremely extremely tragic situation - that student wound up dying. This is a traumatic thing for the school community to go through, for the entire community to go through. And we saw students walk out to cause awareness and with a list of demands. What were they demanding?
[00:11:19] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: I'm not going to get it perfectly off the top of my head, but they want more resources for students. They want more mental health care. They want access to those things. They want things that are preventative. They're not asking for punitive retribution or more metal detectors or cops in schools or something like that. They're asking for things that are actually going to be preventative, that are going to encourage the wellbeing of all students. And they know that that's what's going to keep them safe. And from what I've seen from SPS - they seem responsive to those demands in some way. It remains to see what will be actually followed through on. But the response I've seen so far from SPS, just being the parent of an SPS student, is that they are listening to what these kids are actually saying and what the data actually shows will make these kids safer. So I find that to be hopeful. I hope you can verbalize what their list of demands were more succinctly than that, because I don't want to misrepresent what they're saying at all. But when I read through what they were asking for and saw what they were asking for, it was all stuff that was aimed at prevention - because that's what - they don't want to be shot. And that's very valid. And they shouldn't have to worry about those things. And the things that have been implemented for years, like more police in school, those lockdown drills and things like that - it's not working. It's just like we were talking about with the budget stuff, we need to get to those root causes.
[00:13:04] Crystal Fincher: You're exactly right. And what these students want really does, to your point, cover the gamut of preventative measures. So there are a few different things. One, they want the district to increase anti-racist and de-escalation training for any security at Seattle Public Schools. They also demand that the state update safe storage laws and ban assault rifles. Students asked the Council to reroute $9 million from SPD to pay for counselors. They want one counselor - to be paid a living wage - but at least at a ratio of 1 for every 200 students. Right now, the district is averaging about 1 for every 350 students, so that is a significant increase in counselors. But I don't think there is anyone here who does not acknowledge the need for more mental health resources for students. And this is especially pronounced in the middle schools across the district. So that is a pretty substantial one. They did say that they don't want cops in schools. They don't want the introduction of more guns, more people with guns in schools - but they want the things that will prevent them. They want mental health resources and community-based resources, therapy resources, and intentional de-escalation and communication training, DBT therapy training - really for students there, so they can figure out how to use words to disarm and de-escalate conflicts instead of getting physically violent, encouraging gun violence, that type of thing. They really want to - they understand that there's a gap with many kids that they're trying to navigate through and this is a normal thing for students anyway. We need to equip them with the tools to work through conflict, to work through their emotions, even when they're very big. They recognize that and they're calling for that. So these are all things that are backed by data and evidence, that have shown to reduce conflict, to reduce violence of all kinds, definitely gun violence. And that are evidence-based, have worked in other areas - pretty reasonable.
And so there are a few areas where this could come from. They're certainly asking the Legislature for action, but also with the City and the mental health money. I think Teresa Mosqueda said that she was allocating $2 million and saying that's a down payment on what the students are asking for. Another source that was talked about by some people online was the Families & Education Levy in the City of Seattle, which is tailor-made for things like this. And so that, I think, should be part of this conversation going forward. But we absolutely do need more mental health resources in the schools. And we heard that post - as students were returning back to school after schools were closed due to COVID, and as they were returning, there were certainly a lot of parents who wanted to reopen schools, get their students back in there, but also talked about the challenges that students were dealing with - with anxiety and a range of mental health needs. They seemed to acknowledge that students, in connection with violent events happening and needing to deal with that - we need to figure out a way to get this done. I think the student demands are entirely reasonable and the entire community needs to listen.
Now, one dimension of the story that we have seen, there was a story - and I forget at this point who came out with it - but it was like the district is exploring basically putting armed police officers back in school. Upon reading the story, it was like no, actually the district, no one in the district was considering that. The students specifically said they didn't want that. School board members said that they were not currently examining that. But it does seem like the mayor and some of his advisory boards are advocating for armed police officers to return to schools. It seems like the people directly impacted are saying, no, please no, again, not anymore. But the mayor has a different viewpoint here. How do you see that?
[00:17:57] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: First of all - yes, the student demands are very reasonable and it's, I don't know, I'm constantly impressed by youth - just how informed they are, the way they present their ideas, and just - they're deeply rooted in this. They are the ones that are impacted. We didn't have to deal with this growing up. I didn't have to deal with this growing up. I didn't have to deal with COVID. I didn't have to deal with the Internet. I didn't have to deal with guns in schools. This is new territory for these kids and they are the ones that are able to tell us what they need and they do so so well. And it is backed by data and research. And I think the mayor has suggested or wants to do this cops-back-in-school thing, but kids know this isn't what has made us safe. We have seen very, very good - horrible, tragic examples of how school resource officers fail to keep kids safe. And I think a lot of people's eyes have been open to that. And while I see the suggestion, I acknowledge the suggestion, I don't think it's serious. I don't think you can keep talking about more cops, more cops - putting more cops here - and be serious about safety. We know that doesn't work. And I think that there's enough kids, there's enough parents, there's enough people, there's enough people on the Council that know these things that - if he wants to push forward that kind of agenda, I think the pushback is going to be really big. And we can't keep pretending that that's the solution - I think that a lot of people are ready to stop doing that and to be able to push back. And I love this walkout. I think it's so encouraging that these kids are really pushing for what they know to be true. And they're not just sitting there saying, there's nothing we can do about it. They know that there's something they can do about it. So I think that's very encouraging. And I would expect that any sort of really serious pushing forward of that idea of more cops in school, I would expect there to be really very large community and student backlash to those ideas.
[00:20:15] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I think there would be pretty ferocious backlash to that. We will see how that proceeds and continue to keep you up to date on that.
Now, something that Bruce Harrell announced this week, that actually seems like it's going to have a positive reception and that can move things in a positive direction - he's looking to exempt affordable housing from design review - from the much-maligned design review process. What's he proposing to do here?
[00:20:47] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: He's proposing sort of a moratorium on affordable housing projects having to go through design review. So if people don't know - design review is a lengthy process where there's - I'm doing air quotes - "community input" on housing design, and it really drags out housing projects for so long. If you see an empty lot and there's a billboard up that says that they're going to build a nine-story building with mixed use - there'll be commercial space on the bottom - and then nothing happens for years and years and years. There's a lot of reasons for that, but one of the primary ones is that really long design review process, which is shown not to be actually that democratic when it comes to the community. So exempting affordable housing from that is such a huge and awesome idea that I think someone said, why didn't we do this before when there was a homelessness crisis declared? Ed Murray could have done this when he declared that crisis, but instead that there's all these projects that are languishing and really upping the price for developers to even build these things. So I think there's - not only is it going to get affordable housing built more quickly if this is actually implemented, which I hope it is, but it's also going to make building affordable housing more attractive to developers because just having that land sit there and having those plans sit there for years and years - it makes it very expensive for developers to undertake projects. And when they do, they're going to want to get as much return on their investment as possible. And so you have to make up for those lost years of the land just sitting there. And so allowing this to go forward is going to provide more housing for the community, which we desperately, desperately need, but it's also going to encourage developers to build affordable housing over other types of housing. So I think this is fantastic and I really hope it goes through.
[00:22:55] Crystal Fincher: I think it is fantastic. I think this is a good example of listening to the community. This is a win all the way across for developers who are trying to build projects more economically and more quickly, for just the community who is waiting for housing prices to be more affordable - and not just because interest rates are changing the equation for a lot of people, but to get more supply online quickly. And so this was done with Mayor Bruce Harrell and with Councilmembers Dan Strauss and Teresa Mosqueda. And it would begin a one-year interim period exempting affordable housing projects from design review and then use that trial year to conduct what Harrell says will be a full State Environmental Policy Act review of legislation to try and make this exemption permanent. And so it would permanently exempt, or they're hoping to permanently exempt, housing projects from design review - exempting housing projects that use the mandatory housing affordability program to produce their units on site for a two-year pilot and also allow other housing projects to choose whether to participate in full design review or administrative design review as a two-year pilot. So this is something that hopefully does get more affordable housing units online quickly, cut through the bureaucracy - so a positive development here and excited to see it.
What I was not excited to see was a story on KING5 about one of the elements that is part of the wealth disparity, the wealth gap that we see. We've seen stories, sometimes from across the country, talking about whitewashing homes and homes owned by Black people getting lower appraisals than other homes for no other reason, seemingly, than that they're Black. And this happened with a Black family in Seattle who got an initial home appraisal - they had their family pictures in there, they had some African art up. The home was visibly owned by Black people. So with this, this family got an appraisal that was initially $670,000 - under the median home price in Seattle. They thought - well, that seems low, that seems out-of-spec for what we've seen others in this area. So they decided to take down their personal pictures. They put up pictures from a white family. They had a white friend stand in the house presented now as if it was owned by a white family. And instead of the $670,000 appraisal, they got a $929,000 appraisal. The only difference was that it was a home owned by a white person, that appeared to be owned by a white person, versus one that is owned by a Black person - right here in Seattle. What did you think of this?
[00:26:09] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Personally, I was not surprised. I saw that this had happened in other areas. I think there was a famous example from a couple of years ago where the difference was half a million dollars. But I think that there's an idea that - in Seattle, we're so progressive, we're so liberal that this kind of thing doesn't happen here. And it does. And I think it's dangerous to think that it doesn't. I think that the Black community gets gaslighted a lot about these things when this is a really clear, very obvious example. But how many other times has this happened? Probably quite a bit. And it's really contributing to the wealth gap. And this is something that Black people have been saying for years has been happening. And it's just now starting to catch on. People are starting to catch on that this is a thing. And when I say people, I mean people who are not Black because they already know about this. But it's really starting to be something that's obvious, that's happening here, that's happening everywhere. And there's all of these little things that happen to maintain that wealth gap - because it's the appraisal value, it's also Black homeowners being targeted for mortgage takeovers by banks, by realty companies. This is not something that a lot of white homeowners deal with - I think in one of the articles, a parent had died. And so then they kept getting calls from different groups asking to buy the home for cash and asking to do some sort of weird backhand reverse mortgage and things like - there's a lot of predatory things out there aimed at Black people and Black homeowners that white homeowners don't deal with. And I'm glad to see KING5 do this story. It's awful that it's happening, but I think the public needs to know that this is something that's happening and that in progressive Seattle, we are not - by any stretch of the imagination - immune to things like this happening on a regular basis.
[00:28:23] Crystal Fincher: We are not at all immune. It impacts us in so many ways. Just where we still deal with the legacy of redlining and where Black people in Black communities have been. And then as there is this new displacement happening - that kind of difference in home valuation can very much determine whether that family can afford to buy again in Seattle or be forced out of Seattle. This is just such a major problem and just another manifestation of it here. So yeah, unfortunately not something that I found surprising, but just still really infuriating all the same. And I just hope more people wake up to see what's happening and engage in how they can help make this community more inclusive and do the work that needs to be done because there is work that needs to be done.
[00:29:15] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Absolutely.
[00:29:17] Crystal Fincher: Other news this week - the Office of Police Accountability may have broken records laws in what - how they've been operating. What happened here?
[00:29:29] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: So in this case, I believe Carolyn Bick from the Emerald had put in a public disclosure request for some emails. And what she got back from OPA was that they didn't retain it because they followed SPD's policy of record retention, which is different than the City's policy of record retention, which - they say they're part of SPD or they initially said they were a part of SPD, but they're not. They're not a law enforcement agency. They're a City agency. But I would like to point out one thing too - that the City's record retention policy is wild compared to other bigger entities. If you're a City employee, you're required to archive emails or communications that could be of public interest. So instead of automatically retaining everything and then deleting spam or needing this manual deletion, you have to manually save it. But what's in the public interest is huge. So there should be a default to be saving these things all the time. And of course, we've seen with other communications, like the mayor's texts or Carmen Best's texts, that absolutely those things should have been saved and they set them to delete instead. I think the argument here is about what is the record retention policy for OPA and it's just - it's just interesting that this is the Office of Police Accountability, but yet they're not accountable for their own record keeping. And then the City Attorney's Office said, we can't give you an answer to the question about, do they have SPD's retention policy or the City's retention policy? They said that calls for a legal opinion, so we can't give you one - which to me is just like, what do you do then? Isn't that your job - to make those determinations? So just another way that the Office of Police Accountability is - it's just an HR department for SPD. They just whitewash everything and put righteous complaints through a long bureaucratic process that they tell people to trust in, that ends at being a big old nothing - that even that process - that they can't keep correct records for. So it's shocking really just how much it is all the time that we're hearing about this stuff.
[00:32:11] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I think that's what is notable to me. It's just yet another thing from a body that is supposed to hold other entities accountable - and seems to have challenges doing that - just seeming to skirt accountability itself and being a hub of so much controversy. Just really makes you evaluate - what is the purpose, what is happening, what is going on? Are we doing more harm than good here? And it just seems like we don't ever receive answers, that there are very alarming things that happen. And the answers are to - well, we'll reshuffle some staff and we won't really address the substance of what happened. We'll just call it a day, wrap it up, put a stamp on it, and close it out. We just won't talk about it anymore. It's just - what is happening, why are we doing this? And jeez, if this is just going to be a farce, can we just save the money and do something else? Why are we investing in something that continues to break rules, and to seemingly break accountability processes? Just really confusing there.
[00:33:30] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, very much so.
[00:33:32] Crystal Fincher: Also really confusing this week - SDOT once again very quickly erased a crosswalk - a crossswalk that a community put up at a dangerous intersection, that is clearly an intersection where people are designed to cross - indicated by the curb cut and the ADA-compliant rumble strip. But it was a dangerous place to cross. It was a place where community had brought up concerns that had seemingly not been listened to or addressed. They decided, as has happened before in the City, to put up their own crosswalk to increase the safety of people who need to cross the street. And there are people who need to cross the street more safely. But once again, seemingly - within 24 hours, I think - SDOT appeared and took action, not based off of calls for increased safety and taking action to make this intersection more safe, but came and removed the paint creating the crosswalk, saying for reasons of safety and liability, they can't stand by and let the community paint a crosswalk, even if it is painted to standards. But they immediately removed it. And the new head of SDOT said, hey, we are trying to move in a new direction, but we can't. We'll never be comfortable with people painting their own crosswalks for liability reasons. And then receiving pushback from the community saying, we ask you to take action to make this more safe. You don't. People get killed on the street. People get run into and hurt. Our street designs are nearly exclusively car-centric in most of the City. So hey, neighbors took action to make the road safer for their neighbors, for kids who need to cross the street, for elderly people, disabled people who need to cross the street. And it just seems that the action comes when people take their own actions -
[00:35:50] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Sometimes
[00:35:51] Crystal Fincher: - to make the street safer. That will get resources out to remove it, but we don't seem to be wanting to deploy the resources necessary to make these intersections safer. How did you see this?
[00:36:05] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, I applaud the effort of the community to make those streets safer. And I thought that the reasoning given - safety and liability - was thin. There's nothing about not having a crosswalk that makes it safer, obviously - that's what the community has been complaining about. And in terms of liability, it's always interesting to me that the liability that they're talking about is liability for a crosswalk that, "shouldn't be there," that they didn't sanction. But apparently there's no liability for people who are continually injured or killed in a place where the community has asked repeatedly for a crosswalk. And I think that it seems disingenuous to me. And yes, and it doesn't really mesh with the other things that they're talking about. So they can have someone come out and pressure wash off something that's supposed to be for community safety - like you said, for kids, for elders, for disabled people, for everyone - because we all walk if we're able. But the streets belong to everybody. But then they'll have someone come out and pressure wash this crosswalk off overnight. But at the same time, we have seen, for over a year, these ecoblocks, the big concrete blocks - that I think the most famous example of them is Councilmember Sara Nelson putting them around her business - so RVs, or people who are unfortunately having to live in their car, can't park near her business. Those are popping up all over the City now. And SDOT says, we're unwilling to pull people off safety projects to move those. But yet, they'll get someone out there overnight to erase something that's making public safety, but they won't do anything about these ecoblocks. And I think that's really another disingenuous argument, because there is more that they could be doing about that. There's ticketing. There's not just going and every day removing whatever's put there. There's a lot of things - there's fines, there's ticketing - that they could do to discourage this, and they're just not doing it.
And to me, I think back to 2020 - when SPD built that ecoblock fort around the East Precinct and the West Precinct too. They built a little fort out of these City-owned ecoblocks around their precinct. And when there was things that ecoblocks were needed for, the City said, we don't have any more ecoblocks right now because they're being used for SPD's fort. And so now it seems like we have a glut of ecoblocks in the city - they're just everywhere. So I don't really understand where they're coming from. If they're not coming from SDOT, where are they coming from? And if they're not coming from SDOT and these are people buying ecoblocks and putting them there - on city streets - seems like it would be fairly advantageous for SDOT to go and pick them up. They're on public property. We didn't have enough of them before. Why not just collect them then? Or like I said, especially when they're on a private business, there's so much more the City could be doing about it. And obviously there's someone on the Council that does it. It's never been addressed. And it shakes, I think, people's faith and trust in City government and City agencies when they so clearly don't - their actions don't match up with what they're saying that they want to do. And so I expect more of these sort of crosswalks to pop up. And the community has been having these conversations with SDOT forever and nothing has happened. If this is what's moving the conversation forward, if this is what's creating safety - to me, that's the most important thing. People shouldn't be dying on the street. That's the most important thing. So whatever creates safety, whatever moves that conversation forward to protect people's lives, I think that's great that the community is doing that. I hope it pushes the conversation forward and really creates this infrastructure that we so desperately need.
[00:40:45] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I agree. I think those ecoblocks - some people I've seen refer to them now as Nelson blocks since Councilmember Sara Nelson, despite seeming acknowledgement that they are illegal, continues to use and deploy them and exclude others from public space that they are entitled to be in. And that just does not seem to be a priority, like some other things in this community that seemingly have lower costs or impacts. But just, yeah, that the responses don't seem to make sense. The interventions don't seem to be consistent. And I would really like to hear a coherent and consistent approach to safety in Seattle. Or at least start by understanding and acknowledging that what is happening is unacceptable. And instead of running to defend - and I understand that there are concerns about liability, that is a fact - but we do need to expand the conversation to - let's be not just concerned about getting sued, let's be concerned about one of the residents in the City, that we're responsible for, being killed. Because that is happening. And what are we doing to mitigate against that risk? - is really the bottom-line question I think people want some better answers to.
[00:42:12] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, and they deserve them.
[00:42:14] Crystal Fincher: They do. Another activity that maybe deserves - some Capitol Hill tenants are suing some landlords. What's happening here?
[00:42:22] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: So they are suing - there's, I don't know if people know this, but there are a few corporations, big housing corporations that own a lot of the housing in Capitol Hill and all around Seattle. And so many of them have started using an algorithm, through a company called RealPage, that collects all the information about whatever the company-owned property is, but then also all of the surrounding properties - to raise rents. So to tell landlords the maximum asking price that they can have for rent, based on what's going on around the city, around the neighborhood, from all this data from other places. And it's caused a lot of - and it's something that these big companies can hide behind for rental hikes too - they say, oh, a computer algorithm sets our rental prices and this is what it's set as. And RealPage CEOs have been very open about saying this is more than most landlords could ask for - I wouldn't feel comfortable as a human being asking for this rent, but it's set by a computer, so I can't do anything about it. And it's really caused rents around Seattle and Capitol Hill to skyrocket. There's many factors that go into skyrocketing rents, but this is absolutely one of them. And so the lawsuit is alleging illegal price fixing by these tenants, or by these landlords. And they're not the small mom-and-pop landlords that we're talking about. We're talking about the big housing conglomerates that own so much of our rental housing here in Seattle. And it alleges that it's basically illegal price fixing by having all of these groups that just continuously raise the rent - at the same time, along the same lines - and it's driving up prices everywhere.
And I'm very happy to see this lawsuit personally. Rents are out of control in Seattle, and some of that is tied to supply, obviously. Obviously, there's no doubt about that. But what we don't need is businesses taking advantage of data aggregation to make rents go higher and higher and higher. And what I hear sometimes is - the market supports this. And I think that's a really misguided argument. People need housing. It's very, very dangerous to live on the street. Nobody's living on the street because that's a good time. No one's having an urban camping vacation out there in the middle of November. People don't want to live on the street. Housing - like food, like water - is something that we all need. So just because the market supports it doesn't mean it's affordable or good for the rest of the city. When people are paying 50% or 60% of their income to rent, that hurts everyone. That makes it - as food prices go up, as rent goes up, we have people that have to lean on social services. They have to go without things that are - really, it's a detriment to our entire community. So I'm very happy to see this lawsuit. Anything we can do to bring rents down and rebalance the - there's never going to be a full balance between landlord and tenant, obviously, but there needs to be some sort of rebalancing that's going on to make it so people can actually afford to live in this city.
[00:46:01] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. We still have areas in the state where people's rent can double. We still have areas just - where we are displacing people in the name of profit. And this is an essential need. This is something that people need to survive. We are seeing an explosion in homelessness because people cannot afford a place to live. Fundamental causes of homelessness are the inability to afford rent. People try and blame - people dealing with substance use disorder or people with mental illnesses - and those are issues and often become worse issues after someone is out on the streets because that is such a rough environment. But the biggest contributor is the inability to pay rent. And that's why we see other areas that have higher instances of people dealing with substance abuse, higher instances of people dealing with those issues - that don't have the degree of homelessness that we do in areas like Seattle, where things are just simply so unaffordable for so many. So we absolutely need to do that. To your point, we need more supply and action - to get more supply is great, but we aren't going to fully address this issue until we bring this landlord and renter situation into greater balance, until there are more rent controls, renter protections in place. That is also a necessary piece of this scenario. And taking this action is necessary - what we've seen has been predatory and has contributed to homelessness. And if we don't get a handle on this, we're not going to get more people housed anywhere around here. So I think this is a justified action. I think that - no, we actually need to stand up and say, you are not entitled to ever-escalating and increasing profits on the backs of people who are providing valuable services and who are valuable people in our communities. We just can't allow that to happen. It's not that - no one can make a profit, right? It's not that we're outlawing being able to be a landlord. But there are responsibilities that should come with that. This is not just a great area for profit and speculation. You're dealing with people in their housing, you're dealing with families in their housing. And there should be a greater amount of care and responsibility that we demand from that. So I am also happy to see this happening.
[00:48:55] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah. I also think it's important to realize that when there are so many housing - when there are so many landlords and companies raising these rents - like you said, they are also causing homelessness. These rising prices cause homelessness. So what is actually happening is they are externalizing the cost of homelessness to the community while they make ever greater profits. And as I really like to point out - that this is to the detriment of everyone. So it is the community that is paying for them to make ever greater profits. And that's what we're really talking about. It's not just, people should be able to make money - of course they should be able to make money - but this is something that you can't ignore. This is not like an expensive handbag. People need shelter. And so when we are talking about those things, there will be a community cost if those things aren't brought back in line. And it's important to recognize that the market can't fix all of this. There has to be something else when it comes to things that people - that are basic human needs. And I like the idea that housing is a human right. We need it. We can't live without it. And I think that more and more people are getting behind the idea of that - that housing is a human right, that we all deserve the dignity of living in a home. But I also hope people realize that it is these profiteering landlords that are externalizing the cost of their profits to the community. So yeah, I welcome this too. It's hopeful.
[00:50:45] Crystal Fincher: It is. And the last thing we'll cover today - there was a story by Melissa Santos in Axios talking about the State Democratic Party Chair under fire for being a staunch defender of Democrats Steve Hobbs, and really discouraging and going after folks who endorsed non-partisan Julie Anderson and her race against Democrat Steve Hobbs for Secretary of State. You have Joe Fitzgibbon, who chairs the House Democrats Campaign Committee, saying that Tina made threats about withholding resources from Washington House candidates because Democratic House Speaker Laurie Jinkins supported the non-partisan candidate instead of the Democrat. And then you have folks - Tina Podlodowski, certainly, but also others saying that - hey, this is what happens in the Democratic Party. Either you back Democrats or you're not. You're free to support who you want, but not within the Democratic Party. How did you see this?
[00:51:58] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: I thought this was a kind of a nothing, really. She's the Chair of the Democratic Party. Think whatever you want about Democrats - the job of the chair of the Democratic Party - there's many things to it, but pushing forward Democrat candidates, Democratic candidates, and a Democratic agenda is what she does. And I was really surprised - the headline of the article, which I know is not written by the journalist, said something about "alleged threats," which makes it sound so much more intense than it was - I think that it's - we really need to get serious about politics and about what we're doing. Republicans are on board with just voting for whoever has an R by their name, and that's something that Democrats haven't necessarily been doing. They've been trying to do that, but they haven't necessarily done it. But to think that the Chair of the Democratic Party is not going to try to push hard for Democratic candidates - I just thought was ridiculous, really. It just seemed like an absurd story. I have a limited - I had a limited experience with politics, but from what I experienced - this was nothing. This was really not much compared to what actually goes on in politics. To me, this just seems like she's trying to get Democratic candidates in there, which is what she's doing, that's what she's supposed to be doing. So I thought it was a kind of a weird story - the way it was framed, the choice of using the word "threat" without really talking about, until much later in the story, about what those "threats" really were - which were not direct, and which were about using Democratic Party funds and resources. And those are things that she's responsible for. I just really thought it was a kind of a nothing of a story, really.
[00:54:09] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I think what made it a story was that you had a House leader making these accusations directly, and that's something that we don't really see that often. And I think just the - I think it is largely to be expected that a Democratic Party Chair is not going to be happy with the endorsement of a Democrat. I think what caused more of the question is not just saying, hey, Joe Fitzgibbon or Laurie Jinkins, you took this action, and therefore I'm not happy with this - with you - and maybe not supporting you, but the extension to Democratic candidates overall across the state, potentially, because of that. Which Tina Podlodowski and her team said wasn't serious and was par for the course, after being confronted with the existence of them, after I think initially saying that nothing was said. But then, I think this is interesting - not necessarily for this instance - although I do think there's a healthy conversation to be had about is holding the support of unrelated candidates fair play or not. But also just because it does talk about - in this instance, we're talking about a nonpartisan - some of these issues become very simple if we're talking about Republicans. They become a little more complicated when we talk about nonpartisans, when we talk about - especially in the Seattle area - folks from the DSA or People's Party, who may not label themselves as Democrats, but may be aligned on values. And so, is the Democratic Party a party of a label where just the - vote blue, no matter who - if they have a D by their name, great. Or is it a party of principles underneath that label, and you're more searching for someone who adheres to those principles, which may be someone who doesn't necessarily identify as a Democrat. I think that this conversation has been happening within local party organizations for a while, and different LPOs [Local Party Organizations] have come up with different stances themselves. Some are fine with endorsing folks outside of the party if they align on values, and others are very not fine with that. I think we see where Tina Podlodowski and the State Party is on that. But it is, it's not a straightforward equation. Because you do have these resources for the - it is the Democratic Party - doesn't prevent anyone from aligning with another party in doing that. Although that's a flip remark - if you're a Democrat or if you're a Republican, that alignment comes with significant resources that are available or not available with that. So I think, especially with those resources at stake, especially with candidates who may not be affiliated, I understand where people paused and said, wait, what is going on here? But I do think there's a bigger conversation to be had just within the party about - is it about a label? Is it not? Usually that's a much simpler equation when you get to a general election in a partisan race, but we had a situation with a nonpartisan running. And in Seattle - in city council races and other local races, we have situations where non-Democrats run, who are in the same place or further to the left of Democrats. So it just really depends here. But I think there is further exploration and conversation that needs to happen about this, even on the local level.
[00:58:21] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Yeah, I think that's - those are all really good points. And I guess, when I was running, I saw people in the LDs going hard for Nikkita Oliver, who didn't identify as a Democrat. And a lot of non-endorsements of Sara Nelson, for instance, who was a Democrat. And to me, it seemed like there was robust conversation in the LDs and they did not all agree. And they did not all do the same thing. And I - yeah, I think there is room for conversation about that. To me, it just - I get a little bit - it seems very - what am I trying to think of? What am I trying to think of when something's pot-kettle-type thing - like the right does this stuff constantly. And there's a total double standard when it comes to liberals, Democrats, progressives, the left. And I ran in a race where my opponent was not nonpartisan, but presented themselves that way. And it's hard to know, as a voter, what you're truly looking at. And so I wish - yeah, I think there - I definitely agree there needs to be a more robust conversation. At the same time, I think the Chair of the Democratic Party should probably be - whoever the Democratic Party has endorsed would be like someone that they would be pushing forward. But yeah, it does get really murky. And you're right, it comes with a lot of resources and access to voter databases and things like that - that has been shared with some groups and not others. There is - it isn't a straightforward situation, like it is with the right, where it's just - he's the nominee, so that's who we vote for - which is also breaking down on the right, it seems like, because they seem like they maybe took that too far. But there's a lot of nuanced conversation that needs to take place.
[01:00:28] Crystal Fincher: And with that, I thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, November 18, 2022. Hacks & Wonks is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. Our insightful co host today is defense attorney, abolitionist and activist Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. You can find Nicole on Twitter @NTKallday - that's NTK-A-L-L-D-A-Y. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. Please leave us 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 episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.
[01:01:19] Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: Thanks for having me - this was great.