Ghostwriter

June 5, 2017

What would you think if you discovered automobile executives had written a bill on auto safety and handed it to your senator to sponsor? And what if you learned those same executives had penned pro-industry letters to the editor for your senator to send to the local newspaper under his signature? No self-respecting American would tolerate something like that. But substitute ACLU for “automobile executive” in this scenario, and substitute “a bill on homeless encampments” for “a bill on auto safety” and you’ll have an approximation of what happened at the Seattle City Council last fall.


A serious problem

Homeless encampments on public land have been a troublesome issue in Seattle for several years. Some citizens think the camps need to go, some don’t mind if they stay. However, as the number of camps has grown and expanded across the city, the balance seems to be shifting in the “need to go” direction. After a multiple homicide at one camp in late January 2016, Mayor Ed Murray declared the camps to be a nuisance and said the City would begin “sweeping” them shortly.

Some members on the Council (notably Mike O’Brien, Lisa Herbold, and Sally Bagshaw) didn’t like that kind of talk. They said it was a violation of homeless people’s rights to forcibly remove them, possibly destroying or losing their possessions in the process. Two powerful civil rights groups (the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Columbia Legal Services (CLS)) joined the battle on the councilmembers’ side. The groups vaguely threatened to take action against the Mayor if he moved forward with the sweeps. Elizabeth Smith, Legislative Director of the Washington State ACLU, offered to help CM Sally Bagshaw draft a bill that would stop the Mayor in his tracks. Eventually, other CMs were recruited to the project and it began to pick up steam.

There is no evidence that the any of the CMs involved in this effort told the Mayor what they were up to, and Murray was likely unaware, because in mid-May, he announced that he would move ahead to sweep encampments. The ACLU then stepped up their game and publicly threatened to sue the city.  In view of that threat, which was followed promptly by a draft resolution of opposition to Murray from Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, the Mayor backed down and announced that he’d postpone the sweeps and create a task force to study the matter further.

February 2016: A sign posted in front of the “Nickelsville” homeless camp in downtown Seattle urges the mayor and police not to remove the camp. Photo: David Preston

A proposed solution

Sometime between late May and early September, the ACLU and Columbia Legal Services began working more closely with the City Council on the legislation, with the ACLU’s Smith taking the lead. Some five weeks later, on October 10, the parties had a draft bill that was satisfactory to all. The proposed ordinance was assigned a number (CB 118794) and was entitled:

AN ORDINANCE relating to City responses to people who are homeless living on public property; setting standards and procedures for remedying unsafe conditions and protecting the rights and property of homeless individuals.

The bill’s procedural history can be found on the City Council’s official Web site here.

The ACLU bill divided encampment areas into four basic “situations”:

  • Unsafe locations
  • Unsuitable locations
  • Locations with hazardous conditions, and
  • Safe and suitable locations without hazardous conditions

For the first two (unsafe and unsuitable), the ordinance would allow the city to remove encampments, but only after the city had given the campers 48 hours’ notice and had identified an “alternative site” for them to move to. This alternative site could be another homeless camp (a “safe and suitable one”) or some other form of housing, such as a shelter or residence motel. For situations with “hazardous conditions” such as large amounts of human waste or needle trash, campers would be given 72 hours to remedy the hazard, and if they failed to do so they could be moved after another 48 hours’ notice. In that one instance, the City would not be compelled to find them an “alternative site.”

This is one of several tents that popped up in Seattle’s historic Green Lake Park in the spring of 2017. Under the ACLU’s ordinance, these campers would have been allowed to remain here until the City found them “adequate and accessible” housing. Photo: Safe Seattle

For those campers at a “safe and suitable location,” the City could remove them only after giving them 30 days’ notice, during which time the City would have to offer them “adequate, accessible housing” and other services, such as addiction and mental health counseling.

The document below is a summary of how ACLU/CLS wanted the City to handle encampments. You can enlarge the document using the viewer tools at the bottom of the frame:

Draft Definitions from the ACLU and Columbia Legal Services (92216)

Another document submitted in September 2016 and probably authored by the ACLU and CLS is entitled “Guiding Principles.” It gives a sense of the purpose behind the legislation.

Who wrote the bill? 

Acting on a tip from inside City Hall, I did a public disclosure request for correspondence between the ACLU and Seattle councilmembers, and some of that material is included below, along with my annotations. The chain of documents tells a story of how the encampments bill was essentially written for the Council by the ACLU, which colluded with CM Mike O’Brien and his aide Jesse Perrin to keep other potentially interested parties out of the discussion. Besides the ACLU and CLS, there were designated “stakeholders” who were consulted occasionally, but these were people who were likely to support the ACLUs position on homeless people living in parks. They included homeless advocates like Tim Harris, publisher of the Real Change street newspaper, and Lisa Daugaard, who founded a law enforcement diversion program that advocates for homeless heroin addicts. A handful of downtown business groups were also included in the Cc list as well, but there was no one from the Parks Department, any environmental group, or any neighborhood that was actually being impacted by homeless people living in City parks.

O Captain! My Captain! Elisabeth Smith is the Legislative Director of the WA chapter of the ACLU. She and Ann LoGerfo of Columbia Legal Services wrote an ordinance that would have allowed homeless people to live in Seattle parks indefinitely. Photo: ACLU of Washington State

Document 1 : Get with the program, Sally
This is a three-page e-mail chain from early September 2016. In the original e-mail, CLS’s Ann LoGerfo scolds Sally Bagshaw for not following through on her initial pledge to sponsor and push the ordinance. Click the down arrow in the frame to page through the document:

1 E Smith to CM Bagshaw 9-5 rev1

Document 2: Already headed for a win
This is a three-page e-mail chain ending on September 22. It is rich in clues to the involvement of the ACLU in the encampments legislation. Read from the bottom to the top. Click the down arrow in the frame to page through it:

2 Perrin to stakeholders re Op-Ed Plan 9-22 rev1

Document 3: Finding Consensus
This September 23 e-mail from CM O’Brien’s aide Jesse Perrin to the stakeholders shows that neighborhood groups, and others who might have moderated the bill’s tone, were notably absent from the discussion.

3 J Perrin to stakeholders 9-23

Document 4: All my best, Elisabeth…
On September 24, ACLU Legislative Director Smith forwarded to CM Mike O’Brien a change-tracked version of the Draft Encampments Ordinance. Who made the various changes in the document is not clear; however, the fact the document was in Ms. Smith’s possession may be inferred as proof that Ms. Bagshaw was at least consulting with Smith on the wording. Click on the image below to read the document. Or click here.

Click the image to see the change-tracked document.

 

Cabin Boy. Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien sponsored the ACLU encampments ordinance and published a Seattle Times op-ed piece that CLS’s Ann LoGerfo told him to write.  Or wrote for him. Photo credit: Seattle Times

Document 5: Misinformation Campaign
On September 29, 2016, Smith attended a “community meeting” held by CM O’Brien in his Ballard district. (It was one of several meetings I covered in my investigation of how O’Brien packs his meetings with supporters.) One of the topics discussed at the meeting was the encampments bill, but it’s not clear whether Smith identified herself to the Ballard residents as being the author of the billl:

'Brien re solutions 10-2

Columbia Legal Services’ Ann LoGerfo was at the meeting as well. She did not identify her connection with CLS until she was outed by another person at the meeting (see below).

Document 6: Finalizing the text
On October 7, the ACLU’s Smith invited CMs Bagshaw, O’Brien, Herbold, and Johnson, and several of their aides to a meeting to put the finishing touches on the ordinance language. By now it’s clear that the Smith, not the Council, is directing the project:

Document 7: Yet another draft
By October 10, the ACLU’s Elisabeth Smith was still finding things wrong with the language in CM Bagshaw’s version of the ordinance. From the level of detail and tone of her remarks, it appears that Smith may have gotten pushback from Bagshaw on some of her suggested language. Nevertheless, Smith seems to be insisting on right to continue steering the process until the end:

7 E Smith - One more Draft 10-10

The draft Bagshaw document with Smith’s suggested changes is here.

Document 8: One more draft and an op-ed
Seven hours later on that same day of October 10, 2016, O’Brien’s aide Jesse Perrin announces that he’s made his best effort to “incorporate the consensus language” from “multiple stakeholders.” This is the last reference to any draft versions of the ordinance that I have. I don’t have the document that Perrin referred to, but presumably it was very close to the final O’Brien version offered on the Council’s calendar:

'Brien Op-ed 10-10

Perrin is also letting the recipients know that CM O’Brien has just gotten an op-ed supporting the encampments ordinance published in the Seattle Times, as he was instructed to do back on September 22nd (see Document 2 above). You can read O’Brien’s op-ed here. As with the ordinance, it’s likely that the op-ed was written for Mr. O’Brien by Ms. Smith or Ms. LoGerfo. Or both.

First Mate. Ann LoGerfo of Columbia Legal Services scolded CM Sally Bagshaw for not working more closely with her. She also offered to write an op-ed for Mike O’Brien and other CMs to send to the Seattle Times. Photo: Columbia Legal Services


Finishing up

The last hearing on Ordinance 118794 was the morning of September 14, 2016. Until that meeting, it had looked like there was at least moderate support for the bill among the public. Or at least, that’s the message the ACLU’s Smith had been giving out. On the strength of that feeling – combined perhaps with a sense of the inevitability of any legislation framed as progressive and compassionate– Smith might have thought she could bring CM Bagshaw around and they could reconcile their different versions of the bill. The Council could then hand the Mayor a bill. But it wasn’t to be. As the hearing got underway, it became apparent that the various City officials who’d been called to testify didn’t feel great about it. At the end of the expert testimony, CM Kshama Sawant stood up and made a somewhat off-topic speech about her proposal for the City to build a thousand new homes. That set a handful of people in the audience to booing, and meeting chair Bagshaw had to step in and restore order. It was not a good omen.

Mutineer. CM Sally Bagshaw invited the ACLU on board to stop the Mayor’s encampment sweeps but balked when the group tried to take over the reins. Photo: Seattle.gov

When Bagshaw finally turned the mic over for public comment, by some strange coincidence Elisabeth Smith was the first to speak. However, at no time during her two minutes of testimony did Smith say that she had been working with Council since January on the ordinance and that she had, in fact, written it for the Council. All Smith said was that she and the ACLU were pleased that Mayor Murray had “adopted the good ideas of CMs O’Brien, Herbold, Johnson, and Sawant” – leaving Bagshaw herself conspicuously off the list.

After Smith testified, several citizens spoke in favor of the ordinance, or at least the idea behind it. A tearful mom, her young children in tow, urged the Council to take pity on the poor. A homeless camp boss evinced righteous outrage at not being allowed just to live. Representatives of homeless service agencies then stepped forward to urge more support (read: more money) for their programs.

When the pro- side was done, the anti- side came up to speak, and here was the first proof of how badly the ACLU and O’Brian had erred in failing to take the neighborhoods into account. These were the people who were already bearing the brunt of the Council’s homeless policies. And they were angry. The denouement came when a neighborhood activist named Elisabeth James stepped to the mic and presented the Council with of box filled with reams of paper. A few days earlier, when James learned the City Council was contemplating the possibility of letting homeless people live in parks, she posted a petition online and publicized it through the Safe Seattle Facebook page. That petition garnered 20,000 signatures, which James then printed up for added impact.

This level of opposition to a feel-good type proposal was unprecedented in the history of the Council. Rather than risk a humiliating loss, Bagshaw and O’Brien decided to lay the bill on the table, where it stayed.

Below is a video of the final public hearing, but if you want to jump to some highlights, the ACLU’s Elisabeth Smith is speaking at 1:45:45. Elisabeth James, the woman with the 20,000-signature petition against the ordinance, is speaking at 2:45:30.

Post-game Analysis: Why the Encampments Ordinance failed 

Depending on how cynical you are, you could see CB 118794 either as a good-faith effort to force the City to house the homeless or as a poison pill designed to stop the sweeps and nothing more. So which is it?

Nominally, the ordinance would have encouraged the City to find “adequate and accessible” (and presumably free) housing for everyone who showed up in a park. But it didn’t specify what “adequate and accessible” meant. Nor did it define what would be reasonable grounds for a homeless person to refuse that housing. Did “adequate housing” mean a “wet” shelter or apartment building in which residents could continue drinking and drugging? Did it mean a place that was big enough for a couple? Or one that allowed pets? No one knew.

And how would the 30 days of required outreach be measured? Would there be one clock that would be ticking for the whole camp? What about people who arrived at the camp after it started? No one knew, because the ordinance didn’t speak to that.

An insider who was involved with the process told me she thought the ACLU legislation was an honest attempt to remedy the problem of the City shuffling homeless people from place to place without giving them better options. The idea behind the bill, she said, was to shine a bright light on the problem of inadequate housing and services and to cause effort to be concentrated on remedying it. She believed the ACLU and Columbia Legal Services had to turn to the Council to get a bill written, “because Mayor Murray had ignored the administrative rules and declined to work with community critics.”

How realistic is it to believe that the City could or would provide “accessible and adequate housing” to everyone who showed up in a Seattle park looking for a place to stay? Wouldn’t that be a draw for still more homeless people to come here? Seattle is already a big draw for homeless people, even without the promise of free housing.

Pirate Jenny. Ballard resident Elisabeth James presents a box full of signatures to Mike O’Brien and the Council at the encampments bill’s final hearing. James had gathered 20,000 signatures on her petition to stop the bill. Photo: Seattle.gov

My inside source opined that it was not some flaw in the bill’s logic but rather the lack of neighborhood engagement that doomed it. But how could neighborhood groups have been involved in such a project in the first place? What neighborhood group would have bought off on the ACLU’s idea of letting homeless people camp in their local park? Neighborhood and environmental groups would surely have demanded the right to make changes to the bill’s language as the price of supporting it, and that is likely why O’Brien and Smith didn’t include them in the process. Considering that the ACLU’s Smith wouldn’t tolerate even minor variations suggested by CM Bagshaw, what was the likelihood of her letting some Friends of the Park-type group put her bill through the grinder?

In the end, the bill was doomed by the ACLU’s political obtuseness. Smith erred when she chose CM Mike O’Brien as front-man for the project. The same qualities that made him such a likely proxy (he’s a gentle man, soft spoken and pliable) rendered him incapable of taking the fight over this controversial bill to the people, or even carrying the other social justice enthusiasts on the Council. Smith erred again in trying to high-hand Sally Bagshaw, whose church-lady demeanor belies a political shrewdness Smith didn’t count on when she was clumsily trying to build an anti-Bagshaw, pro-Smith coalition on the Council.

But perhaps Smith’s biggest mistake was thinking that a traditionally outsider group like the ACLU could parachute into the Seattle City Council with a sweeping piece of social engineering and ram it through to approval in a matter of months. Seattle’s put up with some radical lurches from the Council, but this would’ve been too much. Had the ACLU-written bill passed, it would have met with a storm of resistance, and even O’Brien knew it. The irreconcilable differences between Bagshaw and O’Brien must have come as a relief to the others, since it gave them an excuse to walk away from the whole mess.


To return to my analogy with the auto industry writing auto safety legislation… What happened here might not have been illegal, but it was clearly a subversion of democracy. With the ACLU, we saw a private organization, unelected and not responsible to anyone, not only writing legislation but trying to control the way it was deliberated upon. And they almost got away with it, too.

This article is dedicated to Elisabeth James and the people of Ballard, Washington.

Postscript & Notes

When the Council failed to move Elisabeth Smith’s ghostwritten legislation forward, an emboldened Mayor Murray decided to pick up where he’d left off. In late January of 2017, City crews resumed removing encampments and the ACLU, making good on its threat from the previous sued the City in federal court for an injunction. The injunction was not granted and the ACLU has not returned to court to pursue it. Meanwhile, the sweeps continue apace. For analysis of the ACLU’s January 2017 suit, go here: ACLU vs. The People and here: Brandie Bright and Dark.


Elisabeth Smith of the ACLU and Ann LoGerfo of Columbia Legal Services are paid lobbyists registered with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission. (Click on their names for details.) Both were invited by CM O’Brien to attend “community meetings” in the Ballard neighborhood O’Brien represents, even though though they don’t live in Ballard. O’Brien had asked the women to be discussion facilitators at the meeting, along with several other lobbyists and O’Brien supporters from outside the district. The job of the facilitators was to steer community comments and discussions into approved channels and to suppress comments that didn’t support the ACLU encampments legislation.

A woman who attended a meeting held in late September (while the ACLU was still pushing the legislation at City Hall) described to me what happened:

When the group discussions began on safety issues, homelessness, and supervised injection sites, the two latest additions to our table started interrupting people and talking over them., repeatedly telling us we were “not informed.” [O’Brien aide Jesse Perrin] did not stop them, but when someone interrupted one of them, he would say, “Let her speak now.” It became clear very soon after that all three were basically there to tell us why our thoughts were wrong. I looked up younger woman who had a name tag using my smart phone. Ann LoGerfo, it turned out, was an attorney from Columbia Legal Services. . . . When Ms. LoGerfo advised the group that it was not illegal to set up camp anywhere because of a DOJ decision, I then asked Ms. LoGerfo if she lived in District 6. She said no, but stated she was from the Pioneer Square area* and had a right to be there. She did not add that she was with Columbia Legal. I responded that I thought this was a meeting for District 6 neighbors to discuss their concerns.


I asked both Smith and LoGerfo to comment for this article. They did not respond. I tried to contact Councilmembers Bagshaw and O’Brien, as well as O’Brien’s aide Jesse Perrin. Of those three, Perrin was the only one who responded. He told that neither he nor O’Brien would comment for this article. I tried contacted several of the “stakeholders” that Perrin had mentioned in one of his e-mails. None of them responded.


For a more detailed examination of how Mike O’Brien uses paid advocates to steer his community meetings, see my article “The Hidden Persuaders.”

*Ms. LoGerfo doesn’t live in Pioneer Square either. She lives in the tony Windermere neighborhood.

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Speaking Truth to Power

June 1, 2017

Here’s a video excerpt of a brave Seattle woman confronting the City Council with my “Anatomy of a Swindle” blog article. This took place on October 14, 2016. The context is a discussion about Mike O’Brien’s proposed encampments legislation. The legislation would have allowed homeless campers to hang out on public green spaces indefinitely. Fortunately, the measure was defeated.

–David Preston

Here is the article to which the woman is referring:

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Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program: A Candidate’s View

In 2015, Seattle voters passed an initiative to create a public-finance pool for candidates in city elections. It’s called the Democracy Voucher Program, and it’s funded by a special property tax. Registered voters receive four $25 coupons in the mail, which they can distribute in any combination to various candidates for city office, who can then use them to finance their campaigns, provided they meet certain qualifications. The Voucher Program, which is in its first year in the 2017 races, is run by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.

James Passey was running for a city council seat this year, but he recently withdrew, citing the Voucher Program as one of the reasons. When I asked him how the Program had factored into his decision to quit, here’s what he said: Continue reading

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Protected: Testimony of Christian Otto

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Puff Piece

April 29, 2017

In my years of trying to bring the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) to justice, I have been repeatedly frustrated by their slick public relations operation. Here’s an organization that engages in a number of deceptive or dishonest business practices, and yet not a week goes by that I don’t see an op-ed piece by LIHI director Sharon Lee in the Seattle Times or a flattering story about her operation on some national news outlet. A reader of the Safe Seattle Facebook page sent me this piece from the Wall Street Journal a few days ago. It’s an advertisement for LIHI, disguised as a news story on a new low-barrier encampment* in a struggling north Seattle neighborhood.

Here are just a few of the many problems with the video:

¶ Nearly all the time is given to Sharon Lee and a single happy camper. Video footage of squalid tent camps along the road is contrasted with shots of the charming “tiny houses” inside the LIHI camp, as if if those are the only two options: LIHI or the street. Continue reading

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Call Me Reverend

April 11, 2017

Call Me Reverend:
The Bill Kirlin-Hackett Story

Mr. Mild

The first impression one gets of the Reverend Bill Kirlin-Hackett is of someone we’d expect to find singing kum-ba-ya around the campfire or handing out coffee and hugs at a 12-step meeting. A mild, genial, soft-spoken man in the mellow years, Kirlin-Hackett fits the image of the country parson to a tee. And he uses that impression to great effect, whether he’s meeting in backrooms with legislators or sweet-talking a donation from a church lady. But who is this guy, really?

 

Continue reading

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The Margin Dwellers

April 4, 2017

A word of advice to aspiring reporters: Don’t ever volunteer for the poverty beat. It’ll tear the heart out of you.

Meet Jennifer Allison (on the left). She’s the manager at the Georgian Motel on Aurora Ave N. in Seattle. She’s lived there for ten years, managed the place for seven. On the right is her good friend and tenant, Myrna. On the far right is Myrna’s dog, Nala.

The Georgian is in arrears on power and water, and unless a $20,000 miracle happens by 5 PM on April 5th, Jennifer, Myrna, and the Georgian’s 26 other tenants will have to leave. What will become of them? Some will find other places, maybe. Another motel within their means. A few might leave town for cheaper pastures. The rest will likely wind up on the streets. If not this month, then the next.

An SPU shut-off notice from last summer, with Jennifer’s notes showing how much she’d paid on the account and when. In March od 2017 SPU  accepted several payments but told Jennifer they were going to shut the water off anyway if she did not pay the full amount. They mentioned a payment plan as an option but did not follow up with her on that.


The government was out to the place in full force Monday, Jennifer told me. There were inspectors from the State Department of Health, the Seattle Fire Department, the Police Department, the Department of Facilities and Services, and the Department of Construction and Inspections, as well as two aides from Councilmember Juarez’s office. The DCI left a notice about the impending eviction. There have been verbal threats and letters before, but you can see they mean business now:

Click to enlarge

Jennifer says that between the first verbal deadline she got on Friday, March 31 to the one she got on Monday, April 3, the amount the City told her she’d have to pay went up by almost $9,000. (They decided to throw in the outstanding light bill too.) And the eviction date was also moved up a day, from Thursday, April 6 to Wednesday, April 5, at 5 PM. Other than the eviction date, they didn’t give her any of the numbers in writing, she says. And indeed, in all the material she sent me, which was considerable, I never saw a document that said: “Pay this amount by this date… or you’ll be evicted.”

It’s been a frightening experience for Jennifer, who’s already in fragile health, and has had no one to help her through this, besides Myrna and a couple other tenants, and some folks from the neighborhood who came by to show their support. It might help if the Georgian had some friends at City Hall, but these folks aren’t what you’d call “connected.” They don’t have a radical pal on the City Council, for instance. They can’t marshal throngs of protesters to form human chains across the road.

Where’s the owner in all this? Good question. Jennifer says he’s the biggest part of the problem, and I’m sure the City folks would echo that sentiment. He wasn’t there when the inspectors showed up with their eviction notices, for example. He let Jennifer take the heat for him, she told me. Same as always.

You’d think the guy would worry more about his investment, considering the place is valued at a million-two. But no. It’s mortgaged to the hilt. And the property taxes are in arrears now, too. Between the overdue utilities and all the other repairs that need to be be made (new roof, new walls, new floor) the Georgian is not going to in the black any time soon. If it ever was.

Click to enlarge

It would be easy to make the City out as the heavy here, but that wouldn’t be fair. Yes, they’ve made mistakes along the way, but you could also make a case that they’ve given Jennifer plenty of time to get the landlord straightened out. Maybe too much time. Others who know the back story can relate, about the landlord. “Stop enabling him!” they tell her.

Receivership might be something to pursue. I asked Jennifer whether anyone had spoken with her about putting the property in trust and fixing it up, removing the owner for any responsibility for upkeep until the property can be sold. She said she’d offered that, but it never went anywhere.

“Did they talk to you about an emergency payment plan for the utilities?” I asked. “No,” she replied. “I told them they could have the rent for the few months. All the profits. Until the bills were paid off. Haven’t heard back from them on that. I think they just want to take the place over.”

Image: Seattle Channel

Sola Plumacher is the “Strategic Advisor” at the City’s Human Services Department. She’s she’s been involved with the Georgian situation. Yesterday I phoned and left a message asking her what kind of payment plan, if any, the City had offered to the Georgian. Haven’t heard back from her.

Jennifer and Myrna told me about how Plumacher had been out there a few days earlier, offering tenants move-out expenses of about $4,000 each (which is about four months’ rent at the Georgian’s rates of $980 month). It’s not easy to find a place like that in Seattle anymore, though. Especially with a pet.

And then there’s the hassle over credit checks, not to mention criminal ones. As Jennifer explained, certain people like motel living because they don’t do background checks or ask a lot of questions. If things get hairy, a tenant can just pick up and move on, without giving notice and without sacrificing a security deposit.

I asked her whether the motel was on SPD’s radar and the City was trying to close it down on that account. “No,” she insisted. “We don’t have any drug dealers here right now. We do have hookers here sometimes,” she said, “but they don’t bring the Johns to the room. We don’t have any hookers here right now. We get some DV [domestic violence] and Sound Mental Health stuff, but we rarely get a visit from the cops. We have fewer problems than a lot of other places around here.”

“At least four the tenants who will lose their homes are veterans,” she added, via e-mail. “Most of our tenants work steady, decent jobs. The others are disabled.”


While HSD has been dangling checks in front of the tenants, social workers from Union Gospel Mission have been contacting them about the possibility of emergency shelter, just in case there are some who can’t get set up in another place even with money. Other tenants might sign up for the buy-out, but Myrna and Jennifer insist they’re hanging tough. “If everyone would delay, if they would refuse to sign, we could stop this thing,” she said. I’d like to believe that, but it strikes me as magical thinking. This is not Kshama Sawant at City Hall, smashing capitalism with a swing of her fist. This is real life.

Thinking about what might happen to Jennifer and Myrna, and the other people at the Georgian, I’m uneasy. These are not model citizens, clearly. They are, however, living within their means. And they’re not living in parks or under bridges. Given the scope of the homeless crisis now, you’d think the City would be doing more to help these one-score-and-eight people stay off the streets.

The Georgian Motel in better times. Source: The Cardboard America Archives

I spoke with Jennifer at length about why Strategic Advisor Plumacher never sat down with her to work out an alternative plan. On the one hand she felt that the City was trying to sabotage the Georgian so it could get its hands on the property. On the other, perhaps it was a failure of imagination.

“I just couldn’t get Sola to think out of the box,” she said, wistfully. “I’m a great thinker out of boxes. But I guess she’s not.”

–By David Preston

Postscript: Penciling It Out

The Seattle Human Services Department are offering Georgian Motel residents moving assistance at about $4,300 per person. If you do the math (28 people times $4,300) it works out to $120,400. That’s more than six times what the Georgian Motel owes for utilities. For that amount, the utilities bills could be settled and power and water paid up for a few years in advance, the roof could be replaced, and receivership costs covered for the indefinite future.

Meanwhile, just down the road from the Georgian is a new “low barrier” Nickelsville encampment that will house a maximum of 70 homeless people. Compared to the Georgian Motel, life at Nickelsville is going to be primitive. Each resident will be lodged in a 200-square-foot shack without electricity or running water. Cost to the Seattle taxpayers to run Nickelsville: $250,000. For one year.

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Encampment Complaints: A suspicious pattern

March 23, 2017

The document in the link below was produced by Seattle’s Customer Service Bureau (CSB) in response to a public disclosure request from Safe Seattle. The document shows how many citizen complaints the City got in a six-week time period. The report is a whopping 37 pages long with hundreds of individual complaints. And remember: that’s for just six weeks. And this list does not even reflect all the encampments that were in existence around the city at that time; just the ones that one or more complaints came in on.

https://tinyurl.com/illegal-camp-complaints

So, what can we learn from this report? A couple of things jump out. First, we can deduce that the number of complaints reflects the actual situation on the ground — relatively speaking. In other words, there is a correlation between geographical regions and relative numbers of encampments in those regions.

It is clear from a quick scan of the data that the north side of town is bearing the brunt. At 148 complaints, the North has more than twice the number of complaints than the next highest region.

So why should this be? Is it because there are twice as much greenbelt and park acreage on the north side? –Doubtful.

Is it because the population density is twice as high on the north side? – Again, not likely. Yes, the north end is denser than some other parts, but not THAT much denser.

So is there some OTHER reason why those tents are all popping up in the north? Could there be any connection between the mess in the north and the fact that this is encampment advocate Mike O’Brien’s district? Or the fact that there are two large, city-sponsored encampments already there, thanks to CMs Mike O’Brien and Sally Bagshaw?

Hmmm…..

If you’d like to report an illegal encampment or similar issue to the City, you can do that through the Customer Service Bureau, here.

–David Preston

Postscript: It would be interesting to do some longitudinal GIS mapping to see how the illegal encampment clusters in other neighborhoods have developed in relation to the Ballard and Interbay encampments is. I’d also be curious to compare this period to the same time last year, and the year before that, and so on.

Posted in Complaints, General, Homelessness, Nickelsville, Squatters, Tent City | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Thin Veneer

March 13, 2017

In my time, I’ve been in some pretty bad places. Figuratively and literally. I was raised in an affluent home, but as a young man, I traveled to an embattled Third World country because I wanted to see how the other half lived. I was stranded there for a time, and I became so immersed in the poverty – and so shocked by it – that I went into a profound depression, which worsened when I came home to the “shock” of affluence. I later became impoverished myself, living for years in a series of filthy, vermin-infested flophouses in the poorest quarters of town. Even after I came to Seattle, I lived for several more years in the “projects” on the south side, before finally pulling myself out of my funk and moving on to better things.

In the course of my years among the down and out I became a student of misery, sensitive to its many moods and incarnations. I’ve heard Seattle tent camps compared to the slums of Bangalore, and I can tell you that that statement is, in the main, false. But not in the way you might think. In some ways, the Bangaloreans have it better than our homeless. They’ve not fallen as far for one thing, most of them. And they have a sense of community that comes from a universally shared misery. People can maintain social norms there, even amid the despair, simply because there is no better option them. And they know it.

I’ve seen people in our camps trying to recreate that community, telling themselves they’ve got it. It never lasts. These squalid tent camps and corner lots crammed with prettified shacks they call “tiny houses” will never be the stable, self-managing villages that the poverty pimps say they are. The briefest visit will disabuse the outsider of that idea. Drifters and malcontents, damaged souls with a history of anti-social behavior . . . These poor souls can be corralled for a while, kept in line under the whip of a single dominating personality (the camp boss). But left to their own devices they will never do any better than they could under the regime of brute force. And they will usually do worse. Which makes the “sanctioned” camps actually look good in comparison to the unsanctioned ones. Thus, when homelessness and homeless camps are presented to us as an inevitability, and these two options (sanctioned or unsanctioned) are offered to us as the **only** choice, the sanctioned ones suddenly don’t seem so awful any more. And as for the unsanctioned ones, even THEY are better than the street, aren’t they? To my mind there’s little difference, since none of the three options gets people any closer living in a real home. And none is very far above the level of a brute struggle for survival. It’s just a question of whether you spend most of your time fighting the local camp boss . . . or fighting the streets.

I was chatting candidly with the head man of an unsanctioned encampment the other day. This fellow had been there for a year or more, and he was telling me of his aspirations to get sponsored by a willing non-profit and blessed by the city leaders. He was duly frustrated that his efforts weren’t bearing fruit. City officials weren’t leveling with him, he said, but I could see in a trice what the problem was. “We had a lot of stealers in this camp a few months back,” he explained. “But we dealt with ’em, and now we’re good.”

“How did you deal with them?” I replied.

He leaned over and gave me a knowing grin.

“Jungle law.”

–David Preston

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The tarnished halo of Rob Ferguson

March 12, 2017

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is exulting in his successful court challenge to President Trump’s immigration ban. Ferguson obviously cares about immigrant rights, but has he been as diligent in protecting people who already live here? What about homeless people, for example? Or taxpayers? That’s his job, after all. Or it’s supposed to be.

In 2004, when Ferguson was a King County Councilmember, he was cozy with Scott Morrow and SHARE. He even stayed overnight at one of Morrow’s tent camps in Lake City, speaking warm-and-fuzzily of his experience to a Seattle Times reporter afterward. Ferguson naively told the Times that the majority of campers at this camp were getting up early in the morning to scoot off to work. The “working poor” he called them. (They may have been leaving the camp alright, but they were not going to work.)

Ferguson was later instrumental in helping SHARE get their hands on a free County-owned vanpool van, and his office has not responded to requests to investigate the SHARE organization. SHARE’s roots run deep in the political soil of Washington State. And its branches reach to the sky. Given that, how likely is it that any Ferguson or any other government official here would push for an investigation into SHARE’s operation?

Oh, Rob. You sly devil you.


 

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Beyond the Pale: A neighbor’s view of the Ballard Locks homeless camp

March 10, 2017

The Ballard Locks (also known as Hiram M. Chittenden Locks) are a system of mechanically controlled channels that allow watercraft to travel between the inland waterways of Seattle (Lake Washington, Lake Union, the Ship Canal) and Puget Sound. Located on the edge of Seattle’s historic Ballard fishing community, the Locks offer close-up views of both wildlife and marine traffic. The US Army Corps of Engineers, which built and operates the Locks, also manages the adjoining fish ladder and museum, where visitors can spend an hour or two after strolling the spacious, tree-covered grounds. Needless to say, the Locks have been a tourist magnet in the century since they opened. In the last few years, though, their luster has tarnished. Not because of anything the Corps has done on the property, but because of what the City of Seattle is allowing to happen . . . just outside the fence.

U. S. Government Locks – Seattle, Washington. Second largest locks in the world. Both mighty ocean liners and pleasure craft pass through these locks connecting Lake Union with Puget Sound. Color by Cal Harbert.

Continue reading

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Hello this is my daughter…

March 6, 2017

Seen in a Portland shop window in August 2017. It may have been there for some time, given the reference to winter clothes:

Click to Enlarge

HOMELESS IN DWNTWN PORTLAND
Please help my ill daughter

Hello this is my daughter H_______
She is Bipolar, not on meds 🙁
This is her 3rd relapse and the worst yet
She is HOMELESS in downtown Portland
She has no money, no friends or family there
She came from Hawaii, doesn’t even own winter clothes

She hangs in ____ Ave and _____St.
No cellular and VERY vulnerable
In Psychosis, semi-manic and very disoriented
I’m her mother, looking for angels with arms and legs
Looking for anyone who wants to take time to reach out and talk to her
I’m not asking for money, just a human caring heart to help her realize she needs help
She has a membership at _______________

If you go there, you may find her
I can be reached on my cell if you want to hear her story
My name is Bea, her desperate mom, pls call me at __________
I’m praying for you to help today, since I can’t, she rejects me while ill 🙁


I called the number on the flyer and left a message, but it was never returned. I believe the flyer is genuine, but the person who wrote it was probably ill advised to give so much identifying info on her vulnerable daughter. (To be safe, I smudged out the identifying info.)

This family’s tragedy is all too common. A vulnerable, mentally ill person goes off her medications or refuses treatment and winds up on the street in another city where her chances of being harmed or killed are several times greater than they would be if she’d stayed at home. I understand why a young person might refuse treatment or flee a situation where she feels that her family is trying to “control” her, but if mental illness is involved then it will probably not end well.

This situation points up the inadequacy of our “involuntary commitment” laws. Even where you have a loving family that wants to help, it is often not enough.

How many of our homeless folks in Seattle started out like this young woman in the flyer? You might be surprised. Or maybe not.

–By David Preston

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Anything helps. Or does it?

Click to enlarge

February 20, 2017

This snapshot of a Seattle panhandler was sent to me by a reader who inferred that because the woman was sitting in a comfortable chair sipping a pricey coffee, with a dog and a cushion, she’s not genuinely needy but merely lazy.  In fact, we don’t know what this woman’s life is like. If we give her a buck, she might do something good with it, or she might do something bad with it. The money might help tide her over till her housing application comes through. Or it might go toward her next fix. Continue reading

Posted in Homelessness, Panhandling | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Brandie Bright and Dark

February 13, 2017

Oh the irony! Seems that one of the ACLU’s two homeless plaintiffs – a woman who is crying foul over City crews removing her stuff from public land without due notice – is apparently quite the little thief herself. According to court records, Brandie Osborne has broken into people’s homes to steal their things. And she didn’t even given them the same 72-hour notice that she’s demanding of the City. Nor did she store the things she’d stolen so the rightful owners could later claim them.

Below is a picture of Ms. Osborne “speaking out” against the City’s plan to clear out “the Jungle” in the summer of 2016. Before moving ahead with that plan, the City teamed up with Union Gospel Mission to visit every illegal camp site and offer the residents a warm, indoors place to stay, along with adequate food and case management services. Many people accepted the offer. But not Ms. Osborne. It appears that she and the ACLU already had a plan of their own.

Jungle resident Brandie Osborne speaks out against Seattle’s plan to clear the area of illegal homeless encampments. Click to listen to the KUOW radio program about this.

Continue reading

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ACLU vs. the People

*** TBQ Readers, your help is needed. Please read to the end to find out how you can help make us all safer. ***

We were cautiously optimistic when we learned that the Mayor was moving ahead to clear dangerous homeless encampments from city sidewalks and green spaces. Unfortunately, the Washington chapter of the ACLU has also moved forward on its threat to sue the city for a restraining order. Their grounds? –That the clearing operations violate Constitutional prohibitions against due process and “unreasonable search and seizure” of property. This, despite the City’s reasonable, good-faith efforts to notify campers at least 72 hours ahead of time beforehand and to sort out and store their property so they can reclaim it.

Lisa Hooper has been homeless for several years and has been living at many sites around the city. With the help of the ACLU, Hooper and another camper filed a lawsuit against the City for removing her belongings from public spaces. Image: KING 5 [Click the picture to see a news report.]

Continue reading

Posted in Crime, General, Homelessness, Politics, Squatters | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Tent Cities: Not a way out but a way to HANG out

February 8, 2017

Except for the misleading headline, this article from Pacific Standard Magazine is a more or less honest view of a SHARE-run tent city. Based on my own experiences, I can say that the interview subjects are a representative cross-section of homelessness, not just in the camps but on the street as well. Of the six homeless people interviewed, only one of them became homeless here in Seattle. One couple came here several years ago, trading a relatively stable situation in Alabama, where they had shelter, for the streets of Seattle. This couple would certainly be counted as “local” by the standards of Seattle politicians. But would that be honest?

Click on the picture to read the Pacific Standard article.

The subjects were probably coached by the camp boss on what to say in the interview, but their comments are no less accurate for all that. The quote below crystallizes the message SHARE wants to broadcast to homeless people around the country. It’s one I’ve heard SHARE people say many times over the years:

Yes, they don’t make us get into housing. They don’t make us get into counseling. That’s our choice. But they do provide us a safe, comfortable place that we can stay where we don’t have to move all of our shit with us every time we go somewhere.

SHARE and it’s confederate organization, LIHI, are receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to run their Seattle camps. How does this “they don’t make us get into housing or counseling” line gibe with Seattle’s official motto that homelessness should be a “rare, brief, and one-time occurrence”? Think about it.

–by David Preston

This story originally appeared January 29, 2017 on the Safe Seattle Facebook page.

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Politics and privilege in the Emerald City

January 20, 2017

What do Sally Bagshaw and Donald Trump have in common? More than you might think. I’m not talking money here; I’m talking attitude. See, when you’re rich, you can’t help having one. An attitude, that is.


A friend linked me a blog post from last spring that summarizes reported assets of Seattle councilmembers. Combined assets for the nine CMs are about $25.8 million. (Washington is a joint property state, so assets reported include property owned by the CMs’ spouses.) That works out to about $2.8 million per CM. Salaries are around $120,000, which is half again as much as the median income of $80,000, as reported by the Seattle Times. Continue reading

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The Great Enablers

January 12, 2017

Quick: What do you call a Detox Center, without the “De-” part? You’d call it a Tox Center, of course. And that’s just what it would be: a place where addicts could keep poisoning their bodies, free from the medical intervention that is a hospital’s reason for being. And yet the harm reduction crowd see Tox Centers as a good thing. Let addicts keep poisoning themselves if they want to, they say . . . ‘cuz withdrawal hurts.

Click for New York Times Editorial

Continue reading

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Ballard Bridge Status: 1/10/2017

The Ballard Bridge spans Salmon Bay to connect Seattle’s historic Ballard neighborhood with points south. The bridge and surrounding environs have been a long-term site of homeless camps at both ends. These camps, particularly the one on the north end, have been the cause of much strife between local residents and Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien who represents the Ballard area. O’Brien has taken a hands-off approach to the camps, and this has filtered down to Seattle police, who have repeatedly told residents that there’s nothing they can do, that their “hands are tied.” In recent months, Ballard residents have taken to social media with their complaints, using the Safe Seattle Facebook page* to post dozens of still shots, videos, and personal stories illustrating the danger the bridge situation poses to the community. The posts are then shared around on the Internet – along with CM O’Brien’s contact information.

Click for Google Map View

Continue reading

Posted in Crime, General, Homelessness, Squatters | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Hidden Persuaders

Dedicated to Larry Kaminsky

December 27, 2016

Even as Seattle voters enact a flurry of laws designed to “get money out of politics,” the insinuation of paid political advocates into local government continues apace. This article looks at how that works with one politician: Mike O’Brien. But what goes for O’Brien goes for many others. The piece is part of a series on how advocates use – and get used by – politicians in the Emerald City.

The Crusader

In May 2015, Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien and dozens of other “kayaktivists” paddled their armada across Elliott Bay to do battle with an oil rig they didn’t want hanging around their city, even for repairs. The kayaktivists won the day: the oil rig skulked back out of the harbor, and O’Brien had another jewel in his crown of largely symbolic actions against the global menace of fossil fuel. Meanwhile, in O’Brien’s backyard, there was rising a two-headed monster that makes an oil rig look like a wind-up Godzilla toy. That monster is homelessness and addiction. But instead of confronting the beast head-on, as he did with the oil rig, O’Brien is trying to appease it.

Slaying dragons: Seattle District 6 Councilmember Mike O’Brien gets ready for the Paddle in Seattle. Photo: KUOW

Continue reading

Posted in Crime, General, Homelessness, Politics, Squatters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

C is for Vengeance: A blogger and politician team up to punish critics

December 21, 2016

Have you ever written an angry letter or e-mail to a government official? Most of us have at one time or other. God knows I have. But did you ever think, when you dropped that letter in the mailbox (or hit the SEND button) that the person you were writing it to would hand it over to someone who would use it to threaten you? Well, that’s what happened to north Seattle resident Jennifer Aspelund. On December 13, Aspelund sent this two-page e-mail to the Seattle City Council (press the PAGE DOWN button at the bottom to see second page): Continue reading

Posted in Crime, General, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Seattle Burnin’ Down

December 11, 2016

Last month I began collaborating with Harley Lever on his Safe Seattle Facebook page. The Blog Quixotic and Safe Seattle share many concerns about public safety, but Safe Seattle has a much wider audience and is more of a news-and-analysis outlet, whereas TBQ is more into investigative journalism. The focus is the same, but the presentation is different.

Here’s a video I made for Safe Seattle using materials that I gathered myself and some that were provided by Safe Seattle readers. I hope you enjoy it. If you live in or around Seattle and are on Facebook, please visit the page. Thanks.

–David Preston


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Audit This! ~ Bringing Seattle’s Human Services Department to heel

December 7, 2016

The Seattle Human Services Department (HSD) dispenses city, state, and federal money to a hundred-odd contractors that provide various services to Seattle’s poor and homeless. HSD has regulations requiring the contractors to track and submit financial tracking data, and the level of scrutiny goes up with the amount of money involved. Contractors getting above $300,000 per year, for example, are expected to submit annual audited financial statements prepared by a CPA. One contractor, the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort, or SHARE, gets well over $300,000 annually but has not been submitting audited financial statements to HSD. This is troublesome in light of SHARE’s history of questionable expenditures and accounting practices. See a long investigation of SHARE’s practices here.  HSD has made no effort to bring SHARE into compliance, and when I and other citizens asked HSD to explain why they failed at this basic task, they simply refused to answer.

Continue reading

Posted in General, Homelessness, SHARE | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Kshama Town

November 25, 2016

Photos of anti-Trump protests in Chicago and Seattle tell two very different stories about political culture. The Chicago crowd (above) is large, varied, and rowdy. The placards there are hand-made, and each one bears a different message, unique to its creator. Chicago is typical of the country, as you’ll see if you read this story in the Atlantic.


Now check out the Seattle “anti-Trump” crowd (below).

The Seattle folks are much more disciplined, and you can see at a glance that most everyone is carrying a slick pre-fabricated placard. Though there are several different messages on the Seattle signs, they all come from the same source: Kshama Sawant’s Socialist Alternative party. The signs, while purporting to be about Donald Trump, racism, or whatever, are really nothing more than ads for Ms. Sawant. And that’s what the whole rally is, really. Just one big ad for Sawant.

Sawant was portrayed on local TV as the chief organizer of Seattle’s rally, which also speaks to her influence on the local scene, which is huge. Since getting on the City Council three years ago, she has pushed the Mayor and other councilmembers decidedly to the left. If local politicians dare cross her in public, she denounces them on social media, in press conferences, and even right from the Council bench!

The same people toting the Sawant signs in this picture can be counted on to turn up at public meetings to “testify” in favor of Sawant’s legislative program – just as if they were honest-to-God concerned citizens instead of party hacks. And of course, during their “testimony,” they never fail to put in a plug for Ms. Sawant and her party.

It was never like this when I was growing up in politics here, in the ’80s and ’90s. Back then we had dozens of parties and movements on the left. Now we’ve just got Kshama. You can either line up behind her, or get out. This is Kshama Town now.

–David Preston

horse

Photos ~ Chicago: Kamil Krzaczynski / Reuters  |  Seattle: Ted S. Warren / AP

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Sex, Lies, and the Seattle City Council

November 21, 2016

The presence of transient sex offenders in Seattle points up why the city’s current approach to illegal encampments is so dangerous. In 1998, the man pictured below was convicted of sexual assault on a child. (Reference RCW 9A.44.083). Since then, he’s been convicted of violent felonies, in addition to failing to report his whereabouts. In November 2015, “Washington’s Most Wanted” showed him classified as a LEVEL II sex offender. Curiously, since then, he got bumped down from a LEVEL II to a TRANSIENT LEVEL 1.

Click to Enlarge

Continue reading

Posted in Crime, Homelessness, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Anatomy of a Failure: Why Seattle isn’t solving its homeless crisis

November 18, 2016

Seattle’s disastrous homeless policy has resulted from a combination of three things:

-Ideology
-Paid advocacy
-Lack of accountability Continue reading

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Childhood’s End: Rape at a homeless camp

November 3, 2016

Warning: Disturbing content.

Narrative

In late 2012, a just-turned-16-year-old girl whom I’ll call Angel was staying at the Nickelsville homeless camp in Seattle’s Highland Park neighborhood, along with her mother and two younger siblings. One evening, she and two older male campers went across the road to a convenience store where one of the men bought some beer. The three of them then went under a nearby bridge to drink it. Angel soon got drunk, and one of the men then forced her to perform oral sex on him. He also tried, unsuccessfully, to vaginally rape her. Shortly afterwards, Angel returned to camp, still in an intoxicated condition and covered with dirt from being forced onto the ground by the man who’d assaulted her. Continue reading

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Homeless Policy Questions for the WA Gubernatorial Candidates

November 3, 2016

Below is a list of ten questions that I and my friend Harley Lever of  Safe Seattle devised for Washington gubernatorial race candidates Bill Bryant and Jay Inslee. The document format is QUESTION followed by ANSWER from Bryant and then ANSWER from Inslee. The Q & A was also sponsored by the Neighborhood Safety Alliance. The Blog Quixotic does not endorse political candidates or parties. I am posting this information to promote voter awareness of the candidates’ stands on homeless policy issues.

The document is eight pages long. You may find it easier to read the document by clicking on this link for a PDF version.

 

2016_wa_gov_race_homeless_policy_questions

 

horse

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Tunnel? What Tunnel?

October 28, 2016

A friend whom I’ll call Sally is into good government. Like me, Sally is bafffled by the unending Tragedy of Errors that is Seattle’s Deep Bore Tunnel (aka the Alaskan Way Replacement Project). Sally recently sent a concise list of questions to Seattle government officials relating to why the project is taking so long and how much it’s going to cost when (and if) it’s finally done.

This is a letter the Seattle Times should have sent, not some housewife. (Oh, excuse me. I meant homemaker.) Local media should be charging hard on this. It’s the story of the year, worthy of an investigative series, a Pulitzer maybe. Instead, they’re virtually ignoring it. Oh, they’ll cover once every few months, whenever there’s some new glitch or announcement of a delay. But that’s it.

I’m telling you, it’s wrong. Ol’ Man Tunnel, dat Ol’ Man Tunnel . . . he must know somethin’, but don’t say nothin’. He just keeps stoppin’ – he keeps on stoppin’ – along.

And nobody learns a thing. Continue reading

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What’s the matter with Kshama Sawant?

October 21, 2016

Meet Kshama Sawant: Seattle councilmember. Socialist firebrand. Enfant terrible. For as big a hit as she’s been in Seattle, I’ve never felt that she really got this town. Oh she gets a part of it, all right. The young part, certainly. The tech part. The hip part.

But not the human part. Not the part that’s who we really ARE.

She says she’s for The People. She keeps using that word. I do not think that word means what she thinks it means. The People is not some big blob that always acts or thinks or feels a certain way or can be predicted according to some theory. It’s not even a bunch of blobs. Ultimately, it’s just a collection of more or less like-minded individuals, each of whom has his own worldview and his own unique set of needs, abilities, and aspirations.

But when Sawant she says she’s The People’s Councilmember, she doesn’t mean “people” as in the actual human beings living in District 3, or even in Seattle generally. What she means is The Poor and Downtrodden People. You know. The Wretched of the Earth-type people – as she defines them. In a word: The Masses. That’s her demographic. Don’t believe me? Google her. Or ask her yourself. Her phone number is 206-684-8587 and her e-mail is kshama.sawant@seattle.gov.

In Sawant’s universe – that is, the socialist universe – politicians represent the socioeconomic class from which they come, whether they acknowledge that fact or not. That’s not merely the way it is, that’s the way it has to be. At least for now. The socialist model holds that until we arrive at a classless society – which is what all socialist fantasize about – the rich and poor must keep slugging it out. Whether the slugging takes place in the halls of government or behind the barricades doesn’t matter: The class struggle must go on! Continue reading

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