The LEAD Program in Burien… and beyond.

September 17, 2018 ~ Last week government officials announced they’d be bringing Seattle’s controversial LEAD drug abatement program to Burien, Washington. LEAD stands for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, and its purpose is to lower recidivism (habitual lawbreaking) by using police to “divert” drug offenders away from the courts and into stable housing, drug treatment programs, mental health counseling, and jobs. Whenever a cop arrests a drug user whom they think could be better helped by a social worker than by a trip to jail, police can give them a choice: go to jail or get into LEAD. Once a person’s in the program, cops will go easier on them, as long as they’re meeting with their social worker regularly and not ratcheting up their criminal activity. The theory is that the person’s behavior will get better over time, even if they don’t get off drugs and become model citizens.

Started in Seattle in 2011, LEAD has generated gobs of positive media attention and around 40 copycat programs around the country.  But for all the hoopla, LEAD hasn’t demonstrated better long-term drug addiction recovery rates than drug court or existing intervention programs. In fact, it hasn’t demonstrated much of anything. This article explains why.

Sloppy Science

The LEAD Program’s Lisa Daugaard. Daugaard runs a non-profit organization that receives money to run the LEAD program for King County. She has also been involved in police discipline politics and is an outspoken critic of drug laws. These factors combine to create a conflict of interest issue that should have ruled her out of any involvement in the LEAD program.

Of all the fancy claims made for it, the only actual result LEAD can demonstrate is a reduction in recidivism. But even that claim is  questionable because of the way the pilot project and study were set up. The study purporting to show a decline in recidivism was not scientifically rigorous. It was not vetted by a human subjects review board, for example, and did not have tight controls over how the subjects interacted with each other or the researchers.

Social Desirability Bias

There is a well-established tendency of human study subjects to produce results they feel will be pleasing to the researchers. This is known as “social desirability bias.” In the case of LEAD, the most socially desirable result would have been a decrease in recidivism, because that’s the chief result the program was trying to produce. And that’s exactly what it did produce. A socially desirable result is not necessarily an unscientific one; it depends on whether bias is controlled for (or limited) in the study design. In the case of LEAD, it wasn’t.

To ensure that any observed decline in recidivism was real and not the result of bias, the study authors would have needed to set it up so that once an officer referred a subject to LEAD, that officer would never again be in a position to decide to either arrest or not arrest that LEAD participant, or to influence any other officer in that regard. The participating officers would have to be walled off from the non-participating officers somehow, and the non-participating officer would have to have been somehow “blinded” from knowing which drug users they saw on the streets were in the program and which weren’t, so they couldn’t give the LEAD participants preferential treatment when making arrests. (And the same goes, to a lesser extent, for prosecutors and judges, because they too may have had an impact on recidivism rates, albeit indirectly.*) If you’re a researcher, and you can’t wall the participants of a study off from each other, or keep them from knowing and consciously or unconsciously producing the result you’re looking for, then you haven’t got a rigorous, scientific study.

Brave New World: September 11, 2018. King County Executive Dow Constantine introduces the LEAD program to a group of press and citizens outside the police station in Burien., Washington. Image: King County

Were controls implemented to ensure that officers patrolling the streets of Seattle during the LEAD pilot project were unaware of which drug users they met on the streets were in the program? No. And even if there had been such controls on the police subjects, it would have been impossible to keep the drug-user subjects from sharing that information with the police or with each other. What could researchers possibly have done to keep a street drug user from intimating to an arresting officer, “Hey I’m in the LEAD program, so leave me alone or you’ll mess everything up.”

Participating patrol officers almost certainly gave drug users in the program a break, deliberately not arresting them in order the achieve the socially desirable “lower recidivism” rate. And non-participating officers, too, were likely to have known about the LEAD program and just who was in it, through other cops and through the drug users they encountered on the street. And they, too, would’ve slacked off on arrests to help their buddies produce a socially desirable result. Seattle Police had other, even more compelling, reasons to please the study authors, which I’ll discuss below.

Other Confounding Factors

Some LEAD participants were apparently removed to other jurisdictions out of Seattle or King County. That means any arrests they picked up after being moved would no longer be trackable, at least if the tracking was limited to King County.

There are other ways in which the subjects could have been manipulated to provide the desired results. For example, drug users could have been given cash payments or other benefits they could then exchange for drugs, relieving them of the necessity to steal in order to support their habit. Just giving a drug user a monthly EBT card (food stamps) will usually result in a decline in criminal behavior, because now, instead of shoplifting or thieving to support his habit, the drug user can take his EBT card to the nearest crooked mini-mart, pawn it for fifty cents on the dollar, and get his fix for the next week or two. The only way to control for this as a factor would be to correlate decreased recidivism with an actual decline in drug use. Was that done for the study? –No. So how do we know users weren’t just getting paid to keep them from stealing to support their habit? –We don’t.

No waiting on Aisle 7: The LEAD Program in Burien comes with the assurance that anyone who wants drug treatment can now get it. Or so says King County Executive Dow Constantine. (See Press Conference document below.)

We also don’t know how much of the decline in recidivism was due to drug users being put indoors and out of sight. An important part of the LEAD program is to get drug users into housing. When you take an addict, put him indoors somewhere, and supply him with drugs, he is less likely to recidivate or attract the attention of police. But is he really any better off? Unfortunately, the LEAD program doesn’t address that question.

Conflict of Interest

The likelihood of patrol officers delivering a socially desirable drop in recidivism was increased substantially by the fact that police reformer (read: anti-cop activist) Lisa Daugaard was in charge of this project. Daugaard manages the Public Defender Association (PDA), which at one time contracted with the King County Prosecutor’s Office to provide free legal defense for indigent clients. Daugaard’s attitude to the justice system is complex, but the overall trend in her thinking is that the law is unfair to people of color and the poor. These days, her PDA is more of a lobbying group than anything, and it has supported such things as heroin injection sites and full-on legalization of narcotics. Daugaard was party to a lawsuit against the City of Seattle in which the plaintiffs, led by the ACLU, sought to enjoin the police from removing homeless camps on public land, unless it could guarantee all the camper a nice place to live. Going from her resume, it would be fair to call Daugaard a social justice warrior, if not an outright socialist.

Shortly before the LEAD program was created, Daugaard was a key player in a high-profile investigation of SPD by the Obama Justice Department. One spin-off  of that was the Community Policing Commission (CPC), a brainchild of Daugaard’s. In the CPC, Daugaard envisioned a City-sponsored all-civilian group that would not only keep a watchful eye on police but would have right of review over decisions rendered by the City’s police disciplinary body, the Office of Professional Accountability, which Daugaard and others felt was tilted in the cops’ favor.

By the time LEAD was born, Daugaard was widely known among Seattle police as someone who had the power to hurt their careers if they displeased her, or to embarrass the SPD as organization.

With the Seattle Police Department in her pocket and the backing of other “progressives” at City Hall Daugaard was now in a position to build a project that could prove one of her pet theories, namely that enforcing drug laws was wrong and that we didn’t need to arrest drug users to get them to stop their problematic behavior. And the LEAD program was that project. The only problem with it was that it was so easy to game. Daugaard’s power over the police study subjects and her personal interest in the study outcome should have been a warning to the City and Daugaard’s academic collaborators at the University of Washington not to touch it. But this being Seattle – a town that lives and breaths social justice – no one batted an eye.

OK, but does it work?

Notwithstanding Daugaard’s role, does the LEAD program work? At all? In a word, no. Most Seattleites don’t care about concepts like lowering recidivism rates; they just want their neighborhoods to be free of drug crime and squalor. When they hear public officials singing LEAD’s praises they think, “Oh good. They’re finally doing something about all junkies on the street.” –But getting junkies off the street is not what LEAD does, and perhaps the most troubling thing about the program is that, for all the fanfare, it has not made a visible difference in drug-related crime even in the Belltown neighborhood where it was piloted and has been operating the longest, with the most money spent. As this video shows:


Look Out, Burien

Despite the fact that LEAD wasn’t successful in Seattle, the program is now being expanded around King County, with the intent of making it look like a success. Last week program director Daugaard stood with King County Executive Dow Constantine, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, and other local officials and announced that the LEAD program would be comging to Burien and two other cities to be announced later, with $3.1 million in program funding to be divided among them. (Meanwhile, the program is being discontinued in the Skyway area of King County, though no reason was given for that.)

According to a talking points document sent by the County to Burien officials (see Press Conference, page 5) there is no longer a wait list to get into drug treatment or detox, either inpatient or outpatient. Frankly, this seems too good to be true. The document doesn’t make clear whether that applies just to LEAD participants or to everyone who wants treatment, but this language might have been inserted by lawyers who were worried that the County could be sued for discrimination if they gave preference to LEAD participants in providing County services.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg says his office won’t be prosecuting drug possession under 1 gram from now on. Knowing they can’t be arrested or “diverted” from court by police, what motivation do drug users have to get into the LEAD program?

The program is evolving as it expands, and in some telling ways. At the press conference, Prosecutor Satterberg explained that his office will no longer be charging people who are arrested with less than a gram of narcotics on them, regardless of whether they’re in the LEAD program. Meanwhile, Burien City Manager Brian Wilson has said that police won’t even have to wait until they arrest someone to get them into the program now. And referrals will no longer be strictly related to drug use, because now police can refer someone based only on their suspicion that the person has committed a drug- or poverty-related crime. Or that they might commit such a crime at some point.

Wilson’s comments notwithstanding, there is some confusion within the LEAD program staff on whether an arrest must be used as a basis for referral (see Appendix).

As we see, eligibility for the program has expanded. In literature that was sent to Burien officials from the King County Executive,  it was noted, at the bottom of page 2, that referrals no longer need come from just law enforcement but can also come from “community leaders” or even just “concerned individuals” – whatever that means.  Practically speaking, anyone will now be able to refer a Burien resident to the LEAD program based solely on their judgment that the person appears to be homeless, mentally ill, or drug addicted. Or that they have committed (or might commit) crimes related to poverty. Is this Constitutional? Is it wise? –Inviting police, and even private citizens, to refer other citizens for a crime abatement program based on pure supposition? It sounds like a civil rights violation, like something the ACLU might challenge. But then, it’s not likely ACLU will be taking this one up, because they support Daugaard.

Burien LEAD Press Conference and Talking Points

LEAD_Program_in_Burien_Sept_Press_Conference_opt

Is LEAD still LEAD?

The new Burien version of LEAD is so different from the original as to not even be the same program. If anyone can refer a person to the LEAD program, that means the law enforcement basis of the program – the L and E of LEAD – is no longer there. Moreover, if Prosecutor Satterberg isn’t going to press charges for narcotics possession under a gram** then the D for Diversion is gone as well. Without the threat of arrest, there is now no motivation for someone who is referred to the program to accept it, since nothing will happen to them if they refuse.

Without the key components of law enforcement and diversion, we’re left wondering how the program can still even be called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. Why isn’t it just another  government assistance program? It’s great that Burien’s getting some County money to help get needy people off the street and into treatment. But why does it need to come with all the bureaucratic strings attached? Burien already has a social services staff. Why not just give the 500,000 clams to the City of Burien and let them augment their existing assistance programs?

Can any of the officials at the podium answer me that? Or do they think we need another study?

 –David Preston

 

* Supposedly the study considered only repeat arrests as recidivism, as opposed to repeat prosecutions or convictions.

**A gram is more than typical street drug user would have on them for personal use, based on an average total daily dose of 500 mg of a product untainted with Fentanyl. In practical terms, the one-gram threshold has been in place for a long time in King County. In fact it’s unusual for the Prosecutor’s office to file charges for anything less then three grams, and that usually happens only for repeat offenders who are arrested in connection with violent felonies. Recently, Satterberg has pushed to raise the threshold for charging to 10 grams or narcotics, which is an amount above what even most dealers on the street would possess.

Appendix

This e-mail exchange suggests that even LEAD program director Lisa Daugaard might be confused as to whether you have to commit a crime in order to be referred to the program.

Jen_Scaman_Lisa_Daugaard_Exchange

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Preventable Tragedies

Updated September 25, 2018 ~ This is a list of recent (last 5 years) deaths and injuries that can be reasonably attributed to the inaction of the Seattle City Council on the homelessness crisis. The victims include both housed and unhoused people.

The current casualty count is 57.

If Seattle made a sincere effort to get everyone who’s living outdoors into indoor shelters and treatment programs, this list would undoubtedly be much shorter. But the government is not doing that, and so people are continuing to die. Homeless camps, whether “sanctioned” or otherwise, are not the answer. The answer is getting people into shelters, and moving them from there into permanent housing. I will be presenting this document to the City Council and other City officials as the opportunity permits. I welcome you to send it to them as well.


The document is several pages long. You can also download it here.

Preventable Tragedies

–David Preston

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Charade: Homeless camps and the abuse of public process

September 8, 2018 ~ The biggest gripe a citizen can have is that their government doesn’t listen to them, and that gripe has never been more on-point than when it comes to transients and drug addicts camping in Seattle parks and streets. Seattle residents have been urging City officials to take action on this problem for years. City Hall’s response has been sluggish at best, and when it does act, it makes things worse.

The logical response to people living in tents is to create more indoor shelter space and move people into that preparatory to finding them a permanent, indoor place to live. But Seattle’s response has been to merely “sweep” the worst camps from place to place and to set up a network of “sanctioned” (read: legal) camps that compete with the illegal ones. The sanctioned camps, dubbed “tiny house villages” by their fans, are a cash cow for the group that’s contracted to run them and a PR bonanza for the City. But they’re not getting people into permanent housing, and in the meantime, they’re hell on the neighborhoods.

Sanctioned camps were the brainchild of the non-profit organization that manages them: SHARE. After several years of sparring with the City over its “right” to set up homeless tent camps on public land, SHARE’s director Scott Morrow persuaded his friends on the City Council to stop fighting him and to start paying him instead. Morrow proposed to create a network of camps around town on public and private land. The City agreed in principle and in early 2015 they passed a law that would allow for such camps to be created, but there was still a catch. Camp neighbors and their lawyers were bound to put up a fight if the City tried to do things by the book. How could they get around existing land-use code and public process requirements to get these camps permitted?

On November 2, 2015 Mayor Ed Murray solved that problem by declaring a homeless “state of emergency.” Once homelessness was established as a permanent crisis, due process and other legal protections for citizens could be ignored. And they were.

But what will the neighbors say? In late 2015 Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared homeless “state of emergency” clearing the path for Scott Morrow to build a network of “sanctioned” homeless camps around Seattle, unhindered by land-use codes or neighborhood resistance. [Click to enlarge this image.]

The sanctioned camp program began in 2015 with a small camp in Ballard of about 25 residents. Now there are eight. Each camp houses between 20 and 50 people who were formerly on the street, and the cost to run a camp ranges from $170,000 to $700,000, depending on which City official you talk to. Unfortunately, the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD), which oversees the program, doesn’t publish cost summaries or detailed data on whether the camps are moving residents into permanent housing

At their public meetings, HSD pitches sanctioned camps as a “temporary solution” until the city can raise enough money and fund more shelter beds and indoor programs. People are told they can expect a slight, two-year disruption in the neighborhood. But three years of experience with these camps has shown that once one goes in it can be there for long time. Possibly forever. And if something goes wrong, the neighborhood is stuck with it.


How does it work?

In March of 2015, the City of Seattle passed an ordinance changing city zoning such that non-profit groups could apply to create and manage homeless camps (called transitional housing in the ordinance) on City-owned or private, church-owned land. In the sanctioned camp model, which takes the idea one step further, qualified non-profits can contract with HSD to operate these camps. Under the contract (see here and here for examples), the City pays for much of the camp’s operating expenses. The “tiny houses” in these camps don’t have to meet housing code requirements because they are smaller than the 120 square foot minimum for dwellings. These glorified tool sheds have no plumbing, and many have no insulation or fire protection. But they do have windows, and some are wired with an electrical outlet.

The City treats the camps as a Type I master use permit. Type I covers temporary uses like Christmas tree lots and seasonal carnivals. Since these activities are brief and have minimal impact on a neighborhood they don’t need a public input process or other red tape. Accordingly, once a Type I permit is approved by the Department of Construction and Inspections, the decision can’t be appealed.

Home Sweet Homeless Camp: The Nickelsville Ballard tiny house village overstayed its permit by several months. When the permit expired, the camp operator refused to leave until the City found the camp a bigger place to stay, which the City finally did.

The Type I master use permit wasn’t created with homeless camps in mind, but considering how controversial these camps are, it comes in very handy. The City doesn’t have to consult with a neighborhood before agreeing privately with operators to place a homeless camp there. And once they’ve made their decision, they can announce it as an accomplished fact. Which they do.

According to the sanctioned homeless camp contract, which is slightly more stringent than the land use code, the City agrees to notify property owners within 300 feet that a camp is being planned and hold a public meeting to take questions and comments. But even under the contract, the City isn’t required to consult with neighbors before choosing a spot. So they don’t. Once a camp is  announced, neighbors can register their opposition, but that feedback doesn’t factor into whether the camp is going on, because the City and camp operator have already decided on that.

Homeless camps are granted an expedited review process by the City of Seattle. Public comment is not taken prior to the siting of a camp and the City’s decision to permit cannot be appealed.

According to the contract, homeless camp operators must still obtain a master land use permit to set up a sanctioned encampment within the city limits. The initial permit is good for one year and can be renewed once after the first year, which means, theoretically, that homeless camps can be in one spot for a maximum of two years. Before the renewal permit is granted, the City agrees to open a comments period and host at least one public meeting to take live testimony. Citizen input is supposed to be collected and reviewed by someone before the renewal is granted. But as with the initial permit, the decision to re-permit rests entirely with the City. And there is no appeal.

Very disappointing: Testimony from a Licton Springs Village neighbor belies the operator’s claims that the city-sanctioned homeless camp is not correlated with a rise in crime. (This testimony was taken from Page 45 of the transcript below.)

Licton Springs Village

By the early spring of 2017, the City had created four sanctioned homeless encampments, all run jointly by the same two organizations: SHARE and the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI). (I have written extensively about both of these troubled organizations.) The camps were originally claimed to be drug- and alcohol-free, but as the network of camps expanded, the City and camp operators said they wanted to try a new model of camp they called “low barrier.” Low-barrier camps were supposed to help hard-to-serve  street dwellers who had “barriers” like active drug addiction or lack of ID that would prevent them from using shelters or the original sanctioned camps. The first of these camps was scheduled to be installed in the Licton Springs neighborhood in the early spring of 2017.

The Licton Springs neighborhood in north Seattle runs along what used to be the main traffic route through Seattle: Highway 99, but the motor hotels that were the glory of roadside America have aged into seedy flophouses, and stretches of the road have become havens for drug users and prostitutes. As you can imagine, when the HSD announced it was putting in a camp where people could use drugs without fear of arrest, the neighbors weren’t amused. The camp was supposed to absorb at least some of the existing vagrants. But what if it becomes a magnet for even more of them? the neighbors asked. –That’s why we’re taking your input now, the City said. And that’s why we’ll have another meeting after a year. If the camp doesn’t work out, we won’t  renew the permit, and they’ll have to go.

The City didn’t mention that by the time Licton Springs Village was announced, the camp operator had already purchased the lot on which the camp was to be located, and HSD had already agreed with the operator to put the camp there. Given that, and given all the trouble the City would have to go through just to get the camp up and running, how realistic was it to expect that the City would pull the camp’s permit after only a year?

They get around: When the gates to the Licton Springs sanctioned low-barrier encampment in North Seattle are open, you can see dozens of bikes stored inside.

We told you so!

On March 26, 2018, approximately one year after the camp opened, the City of Seattle and the camp operator hosted the promised community meeting to get feedback from the neighbors. That meeting was held on the campus of North Seattle College, and I was in attendance. Some students from the University of Washington School of Public Health spoke in favor of the camp, and a staff person at a nearby shelter for prostitutes spoke in favor of repermitting, as did three residents of the camp. But the balance of public comment – most of it from the camp’s neighbors – was clearly against.

Neighbors said that after the camp went in, they noticed an immediate increase in property and nuisance crime and that this was contributing to a general degradation in the livability of the neighborhood. Accordingly, they did not want the permit renewed.

You can read the transcript below to get a mood of the meeting. Everything through page 35 is from people the City and camp operator had invited there. From page 36 to 66 are the actual public comments, and, as you can see, they’re critical:

LSV-Community-Mtg-Transcript-03-26-18


Incredible Progress: This woman manages a women’s shelter and recovery program nearby the Licton Springs Village. She said: “I have personally seen people’s health improved. People who are now clean and sober, who were not clean and sober before the village. We’ve seen incredible progress by people and people that have been traditional sprawlers along Aurora, who I’m sure many of you have now seen are now housed in Licton Springs.” She forgot to mention that the Commons had been closed due to a rash of crimes in the area just two months earlier. [Her commentary begins on page 34 of the transcript.]

A tenfold increase in crime: This woman questioned the City’s official statistics. “I’ve seen car prowls, assaults, drug activities, needles. Not only car prowls but going into people’s garages, going into people’s homes, going into their yards, and one woman [ . . . ] even assaulted with a gun as she was getting off the bus walking to her home.” [Page 44 of the transcript]

Going through my bin. This man who’d recent bought a home in the area said: “It all started when my car was prowled. Shortly after we found needles next to our garage. Then we had someone that I would assume was homeless or near that area walk into our yard, start yelling at us for beer while we ate dinner with our family. I did, however, have a nice conversation with a woman who was going through my recycle bin looking for magazines.” [His testimony starts on page 46 of the transcript.”


The report below, from the Seattle Police Department data section, corroborates what the neighbors said about crime increasing around the camp. Comparing totals from 2016-2017 (the year before the camp was there) and 2017-2018  (the year after the camp was there), the report showed there were increases in all areas, with the highest, at about 100% being for overall crime:

LictonSpringsCrimeReport

Several news outlets have covered this trend as well:

The camp residents at the meeting didn’t question what the neighbors were saying about increased crime, but they said the crimes weren’t being committed by the camp residents themselves. While that might be true, it’s beside the point. Homeless camps – especially the low-barrier ones – attract drug dealers, who supply the users in the camps. And those dealers attract other drug users, who often must resort to crime to support their habit. When word gets around that there’s a homeless camp in the neighborhood, vagrants and petty criminals of all kinds congregate there, because to them, the camp is a beacon of tolerance. Or perhaps of neglect.

For their part, Human Services staff have told people who have complained about Licton Springs Village that the north Hwy 99 corridor was always a high-crime area, but that’s cold comfort. What they hear the City saying is that they should be used to crime by now, so a little more can’t hurt them.

Surprise: The permit was renewed!

Citizens who couldn’t make the March 26 meeting could still submit comments to the City. The public comment period began a week before the meeting and ended about a week after, on April 4. According to the contract, the City was supposed to wait until April 4 and then review comments and decide whether the camp’s permit would be extended for another year. But they didn’t bother to wait. Sometime shortly after March 26 – and possibly even before – the camp’s master use permit was renewed for another year and dated to the 26th. According to the permit record, which is displayed in full in Appendix A, the application was approved and entered into the files on the same day it was submitted: March 26… which was the same day the community meeting was held and eight days before the comment period ended. Also notice that no document review fee was paid by the camp operator. And why would there be, since the City didn’t actually review anything.

A prostitute works the street across from the Licton Springs Village “low-barrier” homeless camp on North Aurora. Though prostitution has been a problem in the area for several years, neighbors report that it’s gotten worse since the camp came in. Some of the camp residents are drug addicted prostitutes.

A suspicious pattern

There are nine sanctioned homeless camps in Seattle, with more on the way. Of those, three have overstayed their maximum permitted time by several months, and one (Othello Village) is apparently intending to stay in the neighborhood indefinitely. After Othello Village’s s two-year permit lapsed, a local church volunteered to “sponsor” the camp by leasing the land from the owner, LIHI. This means the camp is eligible for a conditional use permit allowing it to stay indefinitely as a Constitutionally protected expression of the church members’ religious beliefs. But church sponsorship of homeless camps is just another ruse, as we saw with the Dearborn Nickelsville camp. Church-sponsored camps don’t have to be on church property, and sponsoring church members don’t have to spend any time with the campers. Church sponsorship may become superfluous in any case, because LIHI has said it will push the City to rewrite the contract language to let camps stay beyond the current two-year maximum. And the City will almost certainly acquiesce.

No sanctioned homeless camp has ever been denied an initial permit or a renewal, and there is a sense among Seattle residents living around the camps that everything about the camp permitting process is just a pro forma exercise, a sham of public process. With the possible exception of Camp Second Chance, Licton Springs Village has been the hardest on its host neighborhood, and yet, even though many neighbors complained about a rise in crime, and even the data supported their accounts, the City more or less automatically renewed the camps permit, making the whole public input process a charade.

In her comments at the community meeting, HSD’s Lisa Gustveson told neighbors that the City’s decision on whether to repermit Licton Springs Village would happen after the comment period closed in two weeks. But in fact, the decision had already been made. Click to enlarge this image.


Why even bother with “the process”?

It’s not hard to understand why the City would want to ignore public process on sanctioned homeless camps. Bringing a new camp online or moving an old one takes months and sucks up thousands of City staff hours. Political capital is expended as well, because wherever the City opens a new camp, it costs the councilmember for the district it’s in votes. It’s only natural, then, that City officials are loathe to cancel a permit after one year and take the camp somewhere else. Especially if they had no other place to take it. If the neighbors were unhappy enough, another option would be to turn the campers back out on the streets, but that’s the last thing the City would do, because the camp operator would almost certainly stage a protest, and even if it didn’t, closing a camp would be a reminder that that camp, and the whole camp model, was ultimately a failure. Accordingly, no camp has ever been shut down; just the opposite in fact. Like duckweed in a farm pond, the camp network is always growing, and never shrinking.

The Type 1 permit is for short-lived land uses that have low impact on neighborhoods. The City of Seattle is using them to permit homeless camps that are high impact and can stay in a neighborhood for years.

So why does the City even bother with the pretense of neighborhood involvement? If they’re going to do whatever they want, why don’t they just do it and stop wasting people’s time pretending to care? The answer is: politics. It’s just good public relations for government officials to turn up at a community meeting and let people ramble for a couple hours, even if they spend most of their time complaining. It helps tamp down resistance.

Soon… a reckoning?

The situation with Seattle’s sanctioned homeless camps seems untenable: Other than PR value, they don’t deliver much for the money, and they generate a lot of bad will in the neighborhoods. And yet the City keeps adding camps and lavishing more money on the operators every year. How can they do that? To understand it, you have to understand the political landscape. There are 700,000 people in Seattle, but only ten thousand or so of them live close enough to a homeless camp such that they might make a connection between the camp and increased crime in the neighborhood. Of those living near to a camp, many will be young social justice-minded renters who buy the City’s argument that the camps are doing something about homelessness and any bother they cause is small price for those who are “privileged” to live indoors to bear in order to help out the less fortunate. People who accept that claim likely won’t accept counterclaims that the camps aren’t working and that they might, in fact, be counterproductive. Or at least, they won’t accept it easily. Of the sanctioned camp neighbors who get that there’s a basic problem with them, many will simply leave the area rather than fighting, and that leaves those who stick it out feeling increasingly isolated and powerless. Citizens who speak out consistently against the sanctioned camp system are marginalized and scorned as NIMBYs by Seattle’s left-wing political establishment.

Despite the strongly left-leaning political complexion of Seattle media, the are a handful of relatively non-biased local sources – led by the Seattle Times – that could be doing a better job of exploring this issue. Unfortunately, making “tiny house villages” look bad isn’t a growth industry in a town like Seattle, so they generally leave it alone. Such sanctioned camp stories as the media do produce tend to be either superficial or positively flattering to the camps, like this one by the Wall Street Journal, for example. Once in a while, a thoughtful critique will appear, and when it does, it gets some attention. But the excitement fades in a day or two, and no one follows it up. Meanwhile, no one other than the Blog Quixotic is continually investigating the camp operators or their relationship to local politicians. And no on  is asking the tough questions about whether these sanctioned homeless camps are solving homelessness… or making it worse.

There will probably never be enough popular anger at the camp system to shut it down, but in the broader political sense, there’s still much cause for optimism, because with each passing week the City’s failure of leadership on the homeless issue generally is costing it more. Vagrancy has been on a steady upward trend since the first camp opened, with some lurid new case of squalor or crime making the news almost daily. After 10 years of rising taxes and deteriorating conditions on the street, the voters are getting disgusted. In May, a relatively modest City Council scheme to raise $50 million for homeless spending through a head tax on City employers was overturned by voter initiative within month of its passage, and there is now talk of a new crop of outsiders – neighborhood activists – rising to challenge the incumbents in the 2019 City Council elections. I’ve interviewed several of these prospective challengers, and they’re all running on an anti-vagrancy, pro-accountability platform. That’s going to be a problem for the incumbents, because they are all associated in the voters’ minds with both homeless camps and the rise in vagrancy.

So there might yet be hope that the voices of Licton Springs Village neighbors will be heard.

–By David Preston

All pictures are by the author, City of Seattle, or anonymous.

I thank the following people for their support, both moral and editorial, in the creation of this and other articles about the Homeless Industrial Complex:

Elisabeth James
Jennifer Aspelund
Aden Nardone
Amber Matthai
Chad Smith
Avril Barlow

Do you like this investigative journalism? Then reward me.


 ~ Postscript ~

Community Advisory Councils: Another brick in the wall

Josh Castle selects members of the Community Advisory Councils and is camp operator LIHI’s man on the scene at community meetings. Here he is at the Licton Springs Repermitting meeting in March.

Another reason why sanctioned camp neighbors don’t trust the input process is because of their experience with the Community Advisory Councils (CAC). As part of the sanctioned encampments contract, each camp is required to establish a CAC of some half a dozen “community members” who will hold monthly meetings, take public input, and advise the City and the neighbors on the operations of the camp. The CAC is marketed to camp neighbors as being their own little camp monitor, but in fact the CACs are as fake as any other part of the facade.

CAC members aren’t chosen by the neighborhood; they’re selected by the camp operator. Accordingly, people who are in any way critical of the sanctioned camp model or the operator are never appointed to be on these things. Only those who can be counted on to cheer for the camp – or at least stay out of the way – are chosen. A typical CAC might include a local pastor whose parishioners bring meals to the camp; a manager at a non-profit that, like the camp operator, depends on the funding from the city; an ex-resident of the camp, a sympathetic local housewife; and one or two social justice activists. CAC members are not required to live near the camp they oversee.

The CACs don’t act as advocates for the communities surrounding the camps, and  neighbors who have tried getting satisfaction through them are always frustrated. The response people living around the camps get when they complain about trash or increased crime is the same one they got at the March 26 meeting: “It’s not the people at the camp who are doing these crimes, so it’s not our responsibility.”


And yet another thing…

Apparently, Licton Springs Village was never granted a master use permit for the first year it was in operation, because there is no record of such a permit on file with the City. If you do a Permit and Property Records Search and search on the address 8620 Aurora Ave N, you will see a list of permit-related documents for the camp. The search returns 23 documents, including the 2018 master use permit renewal for that camp, but there is no permit for the property for the time it was being operated between the spring of 2017 and March 26, 2018. There are construction and electrical permits for the camp’s first year, but no land-use permit.

That could be because the paperwork wasn’t scanned and uploaded into the database, but given how important the master use permit is relative to the other documents, that is unlikely.


Appendix A
The Licton Springs Camp Master Use Renewal Permit

licton_springs_camp_2018_permit


Appendix B
Licton Springs Village Visitor Packet

This document was prepared by camp operator SHARE to give to Licton Springs Village visitors and the media. It was also handed out at the March 26th community meeting. The camp receives several hundred thousand dollars a year in subsidies, but note that SHARE is asking visitors for basic items like food and blankets:

Licton_Springs_Visitor_Packet


Appendix C
Testimony and documentation from students at the University of Washington School of Public Health

At the March 26th community meeting, these college students and their adviser  praised the Licton Springs camp and presented a report that they claimed showed crime hadn’t increased at the encampment in the first year of its operation. Here’s a transcript of their testimony, along with the report they submitted.

UW_Students_Licton_Springs


Bibliography

In reverse chronological order

Seattle to improve security near tiny house village after complaints. (KING5 News, July 31, 2018)

No link between homeless villages and crime rates, Guardian review suggests (The Guardian, May 23, 2018)

Crime reports spike as tiny house village seeks permit renewal. (KOMO News, April 26, 2018)

This tiny house village allows drugs. (Seattle Times, April 23, 2018) Note that the Times uses the camp operator’s “tiny house village” terminology to describe the camp.

Licton Springs Homeless Village: This is Seattle’s first low-barrier shelter. Residents can stay while here while drunk or high on drugs. (KSLTV Enterprise Team, May 26, 2017. YouTube video.)

Tiny Homes: Seattle’s Latest Solution to Housing Homeless  (Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2017)

 


END

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Letter from the ‘hood: No more homeless camps here, please!

August 11, 2018 ~ Camp Second Chance is a sprawling cluster of tents and shacks located on Myers Way South, in the Highland Park neighborhood of southwest Seattle, just inside the Seattle city line. The camp popped up in the summer of 2016 when a handful of people from SHARE’s Tent City 3 homeless camp in north Seattle broke a lock and illegally occupied a patch of vacant land that had been set aside for a park just months earlier. The founding campers told me they were dissatisfied with SHARE’s management of Tent City 3 and wanted to create a new kind of camp modeled on sobriety and genuine self-management.

Image: Google Maps (Click to enlarge)

Image: Google Maps. (Click to enlarge)

The City of Seattle decided not to evict the campers, and, after being there for a few months, the camp leaders decided they would apply for city funding to pay for services like trash removal, port-a-potty service, and electricity. In other words, they wanted to be a “sanctioned” camp and have a contract with Seattle to run homeless camps, like the ones SHARE had around the city. All sanctioned homeless camps require a sponsor, which can either be a church or a 501(c)3. In early 2017, a Buddhist group called Patacara, whose director, Polly Trout, had participated in the initial occupation of the land, received a contract from Seattle’s Human Services Department (HSD) to run Camp Second Chance; however, Patacara’s sponsorship of the camp ended a few months later, when camp leader Eric Davis accused Trout of financial mismanagement. The contract to run the camp was then transferred to SHARE* and its partner, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI). At the point SHARE/LIHI became, once again, the City’s sole contractor for running sanctioned homeless camps. Continue reading

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Banned on Facebook: Sex in the Cemetery

June 9, 2018 ~ The note and photos below document criminal activity. They were sent to us by Ari Hoffman, a Jewish man who has been fighting a years-long battle against the desecration of the Bikur Cholim cemetery in Seattle, where members of his family are buried. You can read more about Ari’s saga here.

This material was originally published on the Safe Seattle Facebook page in late May 2018. Because the crimes were alleged rather than proven, faces in the top photo were blurred, but the second photo was left unblurred because the individuals’ faces were not clearly visible. Two weeks after it was published, the second photograph was flagged by someone “brigading” the page and trying to take it down. Facebook removed the photo on the grounds that it violated the company’s mysterious “community standards” and without further explanation or appeal banned the poster from using Facebook for three days, with a warning that they could be booted from the social network permanently if further violations occurred. –David Preston

* * *

WARNING!
Some of the material below violates Facebook’s community standards.

* * *

This couple was caught having sex in Seattle’s Bikur Cholim [Jewish] cemetery. No arrest was made, but we filed a report anyway. Saw them wandering the neighborhood later in the day. –Ari Hoffman

Click on photos to enlarge

 

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We the Living

June 9, 2018 ~ (Originally published on the Safe Seattle Facebook page)

We’ve been talking with SODO business owner Ari Hoffman about his efforts to get the city to keep the area around the Bikur Cholim Jewish cemetery clean of squatters and trash. It’s been a difficult process. Even with the local media and Jewish communities solidly behind him, Ari is having trouble keeping this sacred place sacred.

At our request, Ari provided us with a timeline of events . . .


Related image

Ari Hoffman

Two years ago, the Mayor’s office and City Council squared off when a plan was released showing that the Council was planning on letting green spaces be used as homeless encampments. The Jewish Community was very concerned because we are not allowed to drive on the sabbath or holidays, so we walk everywhere. (Little known Jewish fact: [observant] Jews are required by Jewish law to give 10% of their earnings to charity.) Our synagogues all have at their root the term Bikur Cholim which translates to helping the sick, because that’s what we do: We help people. And we want to KEEP helping people, but the criminal element is not being addressed here, and that’s a problem.

In response to me organizing the Jewish community to speak out to stop this proposal, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle organized a meeting with CM O’Brien prior to election day of 2016. Nothing came of that meeting, however. The highlight was O’Brien saying “Knock on wood, when the right person is elected, we’ll have more resources to deal with homelessness.”

Exactly one month later we had a meeting with CM Tim Burgess. That meeting was slightly more productive; he at least gave me names of contact people who were working on the homeless problem, and I submitted a rough plan to them to take derelict properties and turn them into homeless shelters. They told me they could not implement these plans because they couldn’t change the zoning of these properties.

Things over the next two years continued to get worse for the cemeteries up north and also around my office in SODO. RVs have moved in, and lately we have been finding needles, feces, garbage, meth and other things at both locations. Truckers in SODO are taking advantage of this as well, by parking wherever they want and doing oil changes right in the street. At night, they fight over “their” parking spots, and bullets have come through my office windows. I have found homeless, mentally disturbed people stripping on my loading dock.

At the cemetery, it goes beyond just homeless people living there. Prostitutes and drug dealers have started working the nearby woods. The synagogues that fund the cemetery have had to spend $110,000 installing lights and cameras and clearing an area not due for development for 30 years to address the problem. RVs are parked out front and mourners are ticketed for illegal parking but not the RVs. Groundskeepers are assaulted. Vagrants use [redacted] to break into our chapel rest rooms and set up camp in them. They hack our power. They tap into the cemetery’s water. We have a ritual where we wash our hands after being in a cemetery, which we now cannot do because we have had to lock all the spigots. Every morning we find more and more things on the tombstones. Police almost never respond. If they do it takes 3-5 hours, even when our groundskeepers were being assaulted!

By late April, I’d finally had enough. I started calling the media and the story got picked up. I even caught a man on camera with Q13 letting his dog do its business in the cemetery. Still nothing was done. The RV dwellers got tired of the media attention and moved on, but they didn’t go far. They parked at other cemeteries in the area. Last Thursday, after multiple calls I made, Councilmember Juarez’s office set up a site visit for this Tuesday. On Monday the staff called me to tried to reschedule. I said no.

By that time most of the campers had left because of the bad PR. And then (!) the navigation team finally shows up to deal with the one remaining tent. That’s the guy who was interviewed in King 5 news.

Juarez didn’t show up Tuesday to the cemetery and sent her staff instead. Thirty some community members did show up, though, including all denominations of Judaism, employees of nearby hospitals, cemeteries and neighbors who are all dealing with the same thing. That was covered pretty well on Q13. A new tent appeared that morning and the police came promptly to deal with it in advance of the visit of the staff.

I have sent emails to every councilmember and the Mayor. The Mayor responded saying navigation team was dealing with the problem, even though they had not been. O’Brien’s office finally got back to me this week and said the head tax will fix everything. The back and forth on that was fun.

Despite the fact that the cemeteries are in her district, Juarez’s office has stopped returning my emails. I have been calling Harrell for two weeks and his office finally said to me today he would prefer to work on it with DPD and that he wont take a meeting with us. [Note: Harrell has since agreed to meet with Mr. Hoffman. That’s scheduled for this Thursday.]

I went to the “town hall” meeting sponsored by the SODO BIA, and after the meeting, I confronted Councilmembers Herbold and Gonzalez about the Council issuing a stand-down order to SPD. They claim no such order was given, even though police officers have told me it has been. Additionally, I told the members about Juarez not showing up and Juarez’ comments to the Jewish constituent comparing his comments about vagrants in Seattle to the way Nazi Germany treated the Jews. (That exchange was documented in the Seattle Times.)

Every year our synagogue runs an event before Memorial Day to put flags on the graves of veterans in our cemeteries. I have informed the Council that armed congregants will be protecting the kids who do this and will deal with anyone who should not be on the property. Some of the security I have found for this event are former [Israel Defense Force] soldiers.

The cemeteries are filling out damage forms with the City and may have to litigate if the $110,000 claim is denied. The synagogues have sent formal letters to the city to deal with the issue and no responses have been received. The synagogue has been getting phone calls from all over the world because the story has been picked up nationally and internationally and many people who live elsewhere have people buried in the cemetery.

Thank you for reading this.

–Ari Hoffman

 

More on this story here (on Facebook):

July 23, 2018: Respect: One man’s fight to save what’s good about Seattle

July 8, 2018: Bikur Cholim Cemetery Association considering legal action

May 31, 2018: They used to help the homeless…

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The Seattle Head Tax: What we’ve been missing

June 3, 2018 ~ Everyone’s talking about the Head Tax, about how much money it would raise, about how the money will be spent (or misspent), about how it might affect business… Almost no one’s talking about who it was that designed this tax in the first place.

The committee that developed the tax ordinance was called the “Progressive Revenue Task Force.” It was constituted by the City Council and co-chaired by Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Lorena Gonzalez, with an assist from  substitute CM Kirsten Harris-Talley. –All “progressives” in good standing. Since the idea behind the Task Force was to raise money from big business to create more affordable housing, one would expect it be packed with business people and experts on affordable housing. That wasn’t what happened, though. Truer to its name than to its mission, the Task Force was dominated by ideologues (“progressives”) who wanted to get their hands on some revenue.

Who ARE these guys?

So who was on there to grab that cash with both hands and make a stash? Let’s take a look…

The SHARE organization was on the Task Force, in the person of homeless advocate Courtney O’Toole (pictured far right in the photo above, taken by the author). SHARE isn’t a housing provider; they’re a political pressure group that gets city money to keep people in “sanctioned” homeless camps. I have covered this group extensively on this blog. Two years ago, for example, I busted them for using a fake accountant to review their books. That man was fined, and SHARE was ultimately defunded by Seattle’s Human Services Department as a result. Unfortunately, SHARE’s funding was later restored at the insistence of Councilmember Kshama Sawant and Morrow’s other allies on the Council. SHARE stands to get a chunk of Head Tax money through its subsidiary LIHI (see the item on Tom Mathews below); it is therefore an interested party and shouldn’t have had anyone on the Task Force.

Through a Glass Darkly: Peggy Hotes and Scott Morrow, co-directors of the SHARE organization, keep a watchful eye on protege Courtney O’Toole as she represents SHARE’s interests on the Progressive Revenue Task Force. SHARE will be one of the prime beneficiaries of Head Tax proceeds, even though the homeless camps they run aren’t about getting people into “affordable housing.” Photo: David Preston

The Transit Riders Union was there, represented by Katie Wilson. Like SHARE, the Transit Riders Union is a pressure group that has nothing to do with housing. Or with transit riding either. Indeed, the group’s sole function seems to be demonstrating at City Hall in favor of more money for groups like SHARE and against removal of homeless camps. I don’t know how the Transit Riders Union gets funded, but if you follow the Head Tax money to its final destination, you’ll likely find some of it lining TRU’s pockets.

Katie Wilson of the Seattle Transit Riders Union defended the Head Tax at a raucous Ballard Town Hall in May. Wilson’s organization is politically allied with SHARE and other groups that stand to gain from the tax. Photo: David Preston

Lisa Daugaard was on the Task Force. Like the others, Daugaard has nothing to do with affordable housing. She works for the private Public Defender Association and runs a “social justice” project called L.E.A.D., which gets taxpayer money and which will get even more if the Head Tax is imposed on Seattle businesses. L.E.A.D. (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) is a politically sexy but non-evidence-based program that shields chronic drug users from arrest if they agree to engage with social workers and “accept” benefits. Daugaard is also one of the loudest voices behind heroin injection sites. You can see a video I made about the L.E.A.D. program’s impact in the Belltown neighborhood where it was piloted here.

Ian Eisenberg, owner of Uncle Ike’s Pot Shops, was there. I know Eisenberg and had hoped he’d be a voice for reason and for business on the Task Force. And he was a voice for business: His. Pot shops were exempted from the Head Tax under the proposal that Eisenberg helped craft. That’s a coincidence, I’m sure.

Ian “Uncle Ike” Eisenberg seemed bored at the January meeting of the Task Force. He got an exemption for pot shops out of his participation, though, so perhaps it was worth the sacrifice. Photo: David Preston

Tom Mathews, board member and former president of Walsh Construction was there. Mathews is the only member who could qualify as an expert on affordable housing.* But there’s a catch. Mathews is also on the board of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), which I’ve also written about extensively on this blog. As this article shows, LIHI and Walsh Construction are cozy, which is understandable, since Walsh gets a good chunk of its business from LIHI projects. And here SHARE’s Scott Morrow comes into the picture again. Morrow co-founded LIHI in 1991 and LIHI and SHARE still cooperate,  jointly running an archipelago of city-funded homeless encampments around town.

Although Tom Mathews represents a company that provides affordable housing, and therefore technically counts as a housing expert, his indirect connection with SHARE’s Scott Morrow makes his presence on the Task Force questionable. Morrow already had one representative on the Task Force (Courtney O’Toole), and since Mathews is also on the board of LIHI, which is effectively controlled by Morrow, it’s fair to say that SHARE was double-represented . . . or triple represented if you count SHARE’s other ally, Katie Wilson, of the Transit Riders Union. And let’s not forget that CMs Lisa Herbold and Kristen Harris-Tally, are long-time SHARE associates as well. All together, Morrow had at least five people on the Task Force representing his interests!

Tom Mathews of Walsh Construction poses with Sharon Lee of LIHI. Photo: Daily Journal of Commerce

And so it goes. There were 16 members on the Progressive Revenue Task Force, and if you look into it, you will probably find that every one of them had some stake in being there. They all had something to gain. They were all either activists, like Katie Wilson, or outright dependents, like Courtney O’Toole and Tom Mathews, or carpetbaggers, like Ian Eisenberg. There was only one housing provider (the double-agent Mathews) and there were no authentic representatives from any of the businesses that would have had to pay the tax. The few companies, like Bartell’s, who took the Council’s invitation seriously and applied to be on the Task Force were rejected. (See this Stranger article for more info on the also-rans.) Nor was business represented in the audience. The meeting I went to in January was packed with “social justice” advocates from SHARE the Transit Riders Union. Many of the people supporting the tax were familiar faces at Council meetings. There were no voices, besides my own, speaking against it.

Double Duty: Social justice advocate Sally Kinney testifies in favor of the Task Force’s original $150 million package at a meeting in January 2018. Kinney, who regularly speaks for SHARE’s interests at Council meetings, also serves on the City’s Community Involvement Commission. Photo: David Preston

Where was the Balance?

Why didn’t the Council try to bring balance to the Task Force? Maybe they didn’t see the lack of balance as a problem. Indeed, they might have seen a business-free Task Force as a selling point, since the premise of the tax seems to have been that big business is evil and has been shirking its duty to help out with the housing crisis. Given that premise, why would the Council listen to what business says on this?

Maybe the Council was in such a rush to push the Head Tax through that they didn’t want to risk bogging it down with dissonant voices. Or maybe they just needed to pay back some political favors they owed to SHARE and the others, and they thought no one would bother to look closely at the Task Force’s composition anyway, or ask where the members’ real interests lay. But if that’s what they thought, they were wrong.

Oink! Councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez and Lisa Herbold co-chaired the Progressive Revenue Task Force. Herbold has long-standing ties to SHARE and LIHI, both of whom were represented on the Task Force and both of whom stand to gain from tax if it’s ultimately implemented. Photo: David Preston

In early May, the Task Force submitted to the Council its proposed ordinance calling for a $500/employee annual tax on businesses grossing over $10 million. The plan was estimated to generate $150 million in revenue. Initial support for that package was not strong, though, and after hundreds of businesses big and small came out publicly against it, and Amazon, a prime target of the tax, stopped construction on two large building projects downtown in protest, Mayor Jenny Durkan suggested that she might veto the bill.

On May 14, the Council voted 9 to 0 for a pared-down package, proposed by Durkan, that is estimated to generate $50 million with a tax of about $275 on businesses grossing over $20 million. It will affect nearly 600 employers in Seattle. That is, if it survives. The Head Tax, even in its diminished form, has generated a surprising amount of controversy. And opposition. A referendum petition is being circulated by a group called “No Tax on Jobs” (FB: NoTaxOnJobs) and it appears to be well on the way to getting the required 18,000 to force a public vote on the tax in November.**

By David Preston with assistance from Chad Smith

Do you appreciate what this blog does? There’s an easy way to say Thanks…


*Affordable housing is something a misnomer in the Seattle context. If, by affordable, we mean a rent-stabilized apartment pegged to a certain amount of Area Median Income (say 20%) then a city can guarantee to create a certain amount of affordable housing construction, subject only to the amount it can raise in taxes or bonding. But if, by affordable, we mean an apartment that can be built at market rate or significantly below, then Seattle is on a fool’s errand. The price-per-square-foot cost of government-built housing is known to run well above market rates.

**The author has participated in this effort as a volunteer signature gatherer.

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There Was a Crooked Trail

May 18, 2018 ~ The closer you look at the way bike lanes and trails are being put in around Seattle, the more disturbing the picture looks. I know what you’re thinking: Bike lanes? Disturbing? Come on, Quixotic. Lighten up.–No really. Hear me out.

Take the Missing Link bike trail project in Ballard, for example. That’s a proposed 1.5 mile path that will connect the main part of the Burke-Gilman Trail, which runs along the west side of Lake Washington, to a stub running along Shilshole Bay on the west edge of Ballard.

The link is missing, and it does need to be put somewhere. But the path the City is proposing for it would take it through an industrial and maritime corridor, and that will disrupt – and possibly destroy – several large businesses in the neighborhood, as well as a spur railroad line that was built in the late 1990s to serve them. Continue reading

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No Excuses: How Seattle’s activist judges endanger our citizens

May 13, 2018 ~ In a landmark court case last March, King County superior court judge Catherine Shaffer cited an obscure provision of Washington’s Homestead Act to rule that cities can’t impound vehicles or “excessively fine” their owners when those owners are living on board. If upheld, that ruling will block police from confronting the growing number of criminals running drug operations and doing other sleazy stuff out of their RVs. Packs of RVs have already turned several areas of downtown into “no go” zones, and one of the places impacted, ironically enough, is the King County Courthouse, where Judge Shaffer holds court. Last summer, the Courthouse made headlines when several jurors were assaulted and King County Sheriff John Urquhart was attacked by a psychotic man with a pair of scissors.

After reading the story about Judge Shaffer, one of my readers on the Safe Seattle Facebook page told me she’d been assigned jury duty downtown last fall and had asked to be reassigned to the suburban Kent Regional Justice Center instead because she feared for her safety. Shaffer turned the woman down, telling her that if she felt unsafe, she could use the back entrance to the building. This graphic shows her letter asking to be excused and Judge Shaffer’s response:

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, text

Below is some commentary the unexcused juror sent to me, describing the incident:

In my request to be excused, I cited the attack on Sheriff Urquhart that happened a few days prior. The Sheriff was able to defend himself because he has a weapon. I am unable to bring a weapon to court and did not feel safe standing on the street waiting for the bus at the end of the day or walking from the bus to the courthouse. I didn’t ask to be excused all together; I just asked to be assigned to the courthouse in Kent, so I could drive there. Judge Shaffer didn’t address my concern and instead told me to go in the County Administration Building on Fourth Avenue and then walk through the underground tunnel to the Court. That was not helpful to me.

.

I had to take a bus to downtown Seattle in the middle of winter when it’s dark for much of the day. Luckily, the bus let me off on the safe side of the street, and it was in the 20s that morning, so the street dwellers were tucked away keeping warm. In the end it was a total waste of my time. They had more people then they needed, and 60 of us were sent home after watching the video. Luckily I was one of the them, but still, it was such a waste. There was $600 plus mileage spent just on the first group they sent home. There were close to 200 of us waiting and most were sent home by lunch.

It would appear that Judge Shaffer cares more about the rights of criminals living in RVs than she cares about the safety of the good citizens she compels to appear for jury duty. In this case, there was no reason for Shaffer to compel the juror to come downtown, since the Court had overbooked by about 60 people anyway. Shaffer’s actions make no sense, unless you see them in the context of “progressive” Seattle, where those who obey the law are vilified while those who disobey it are exalted.

–David Preston

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The Swindle Cycle

February 4, 2018 ~ I have a friend, “Joe,” whose mind zips along at a hundred miles an hour. He’s always analyzing city politics and connecting the dots. On a typical day, he’ll send me a dozen e-mails with various insights and links to news stories he thinks I’ll like.

Today Joe sent me this diagram he made explaining how the Homeless Industrial Complex thrives off the homelessness that is manufactured, in a sense, by its own actions. I like this diagram very much, and I have dubbed it The Swindle Cycle™ in accordance with my theory that Seattle’s homeless “crisis” is in fact nothing more than that: one giant swindle.

Of course Joe’s diagram is an oversimplification; there are many other factors that affect the cycle – things like corrupt politicians, pressure groups, lazy news media, a distracted citizenry – but this diagram captures the process in its essentials.


One caveat I’d add is bear in mind that the Seattle-ites who get priced out of their homes due to tax increases and rent hikes* (center left position on the cycle) are not the same people we see living on the streets. In fact, they are not a significant part of the homeless population at all. A person doesn’t go from living in a pricey studio on Capitol Hill one month to being sprawled out under the viaduct with a needle in his arm the next, just because of a rent hike. But that doesn’t change the equation, because, as with any con game, it’s illusion that drives it and not reality. Yes, people ARE being priced out of Seattle; that’s a given. And yes we ARE seeing more homeless people on the streets than ever. The Homeless Industrial Complex wants us to conflate those two groups, and in the absence of any data proving that they are not the same – and there IS no such data, thanks to the efforts of Homeless, Inc. – people will assume that they ARE the same. Once that illusion has been implanted, Homeless, Inc. and their allies on the City Council can go to the good people of Seattle and say: “You’re doing so well here… but look, others are suffering! It’s your fault these people are on the street, so it’s your moral obligation to give us some of your money, so we can help them.” –Thus begins another round of tax hikes, rent increases, and price outs, and a new, even larger wave of vagrants hits the streets.

And so the swindle continues…

–David Preston and Joe

Also see my article “Anatomy of a Swindle” for more background on this.

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Taking Care of (Homeless) Business

Campaign finance laws and the Homeless Industrial Complex

 January 12, 2017 

Seattle perceives itself as a national leader in the effort to get money out of politics. Initiative 122, approved by voters in 2015, tried to attack the problem in two ways. First, it created a “democracy voucher” program that would give every adult citizen four $25 vouchers to give to the candidate(s) of their choice. Second, it lowered the contribution limit for all candidates. Third, it forbade any companies doing over $250K in business with the city (or their owners) in the two years previous to the election from contributing anything. All these rules and regulations are enforce by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (or SEEC) of whom I have written before.

I’m going to take a look at how that last part of I-122 has been working out, particularly as it regards homeless services contractors. But first, some background on why campaign donations from contractors are a problem.

Continue reading

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Back to the Middle: Post-election Analysis of the Seattle 2017 Races

November 10, 2017 

The following factors had the most influence on the Seattle races, in descending order of importance…

● Low voter turnout
● Low-info voting
● The media
● Labor unions
● National politics
● Local politics
● Money
● The candidates

With the exception of Mitzi Johanknecht’s upset win in the King County Sheriff race, there were no surprises, and in fact, the only reason Johanknecht won was because the Seattle Times ran a couple exposes in the weeks before the election. (This is one of the few things the Times has done right lately.)

For races that were not contested by an incumbent (mayor, council Position 8, city attorney) the slightly-less-radical candidates who had machine backing and/or big money behind them won.

The Big One: 2017 Seattle Mayoral finalists Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon. Image: KOMO

The candidates who lost will be tempted to blame it on money, but that’s actually near the bottom of the list. Cary Moon didn’t lose because she didn’t have the war chest Jenny Durkan had; she lost because she was too radical for voters. Moon squandered what political capital she had with the middle by leaving the issues behind and trying to court Nikkita Oliver in the last weeks of the campaign. Oliver was clearly bitter about Moon edging her out in the primary and she was never going to requite Moon’s affections. But even if she had, it wouldn’t have closed the gap between Durkan and Moon. I always said Moon shouldn’t have been in the race….


Council Position 8

Like Jenny Durkan, Teresa Mosqueda also benefited from voters turning away from the radical left. Mosqueda presents as a social justice warrior, but her opponent Jon Grant is a sullen, anti-establishment radical of the Kshama Sawant type. And a White male to boot! Labor and Democratic Party bosses needed to keep this character out of City Hall, and Mosqueda was their secret weapon: a sexy, bouncy young Latina who just happened (what luck!) to be an experienced labor organizer and political operative with tons of “progressive” credibility. It just doesn’t get any better than that for the Machine, folks. Between her charisma, the help she got from unions and the Dems, and the public’s disenchantment with radicals like Grant on the other, Mosqueda could have won the election without spending a dime.

City Council Position 8 (citywide) finalists Teresa Mosqueda and Jon Grant


Council Position 9

Ironically, the same forces that kept an bad candidate out of one seat kept a bad candidate in another one. Lorena Gonzalez was the incumbent, and like any smart incumbent who’s not dealing with a scandal, she sat the election out. Gonzalez made just a handful of public appearances and did not distinguish herself at any of them. She relied on the Stranger, the unions, the Democratic Party machine, and lazy, apathetic voters to do the work for her. As I demonstrated in a series of blog pieces, Gonzalez cheated on the Democracy Voucher Program and in that way she was able to score some extra cash, but she probably would have trounced challenger Pat Murakami anyway. In the end, it didn’t matter that Murakami – a grassroots activist and business owner who had a broad base of support in the neighborhoods – ran a smart and principled campaign, but wasn’t enough to overcome the incumbent’s edge. Especially in a down-ballot race where that incumbent had help from Labor and the Democratic Party bosses.

City Council Position 9 (citywide) finalists Lorena Gonzalez and Pat Murakami

City Attorney

The city attorney race was much like Position 9. On one side you had an incumbent, Pete Holmes, who wasn’t a complete screw-up and who had the backing of the Democratic Party machine, unions, and the hard-left media. Against him was Murray aide Scott Lindsay, who, though he had the advantage of youth and a political pedigree, was cast as not experienced enough AND not left enough. A death sentence in Seattle. This was another down-ballot race that didn’t attract much interest from voters. Despite the blow to his ego, Lindsay’s probably not going to fade away.

City Attorney finalists Scott Lindsay and Pete Holmes


A word about the media…

Increasingly, the press exerts a corrupting influence on American politics, that’s a given, but it had an especially pernicious influence in the Seattle elections this year. You might think that the media’s influence extends no further than the occasional expose or the editors’ picks in voters guides. That’s not the half of it.

The media shape voters’ choices from the earliest stages of the race by helping some candidates while holding back others.

After accused pedophile Ed Murray dropped out of the Seattle mayor race, the field became choked with 21 candidates, many of whom were vanity candidates or outright kooks. Of that number, there were at least 10 viable candidates, some of whom represented a moderate-to-right point of view. Unfortunately, the two main Seattle newspapers, the Seattle Times and the Stranger, immediately sidelined the moderate candidates and selected six left-wing candidates that they considered viable. Other organizations followed their lead, and from that point on, these six “leading” candidates would be the ones who got the interviews and invitations to forums, while the other 15 had to wait in the lobby. The media’s hasty filtering of candidates dumbed down the primary gave us a dumber general election. It never occurred to the voters frustrated with their lack of meaningful choices in November that that had happened back in May, when the Stranger and Times had colluded to keep moderate-to-right candidates off the field.

When you take that kind of media shaping and apply it to an electorate that’s already disengaged and apathetic, it’s a recipe for low voter turnout. And that’s a recipe for a failed city. Which is exactly what Seattle will become, unless we keep heading back. Back to the middle.

–David Preston

Disclosure: I was a candidate in the Position 9 city council race. I also managed mayoral candidate Harley Lever. –Editor

 

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Recalling Mike O’Brien: The Basics

November 14, 2017 

The right to recall an elected official is a constitutional right of the people set forth in our constitution. The procedure is governed by statute. A “typewritten charge” needs to be submitted and it has to allege malfeasance, misfeasance or violation of the oath of office.* That charge has to be specific as to date, location and nature of the act or acts complained of. The charge has to be submitted by a person in the position to know and signed under oath. The prosecutor then writes a ballot synopsis. Then there is a hearing in superior court. The hearing can involve lawyers and testimony.

The court decides whether the factual allegations are sufficient (the court’s role is not to decide whether they are truthful) to move forward and also whether to make changes to the ballot synopsis. The official to be recalled can appeal a sufficiency finding to the supreme court. A sufficient charge can move forward with a petition and there are timelines for gathering signatures, timeline for the above-mentioned hearing, signature requirements (35% of total number of votes cast for the position), form requirements, an opportunity for response, a recall election – majority rules. If the recall is successful, the seat is vacant. What happens next? I believe the City Council can then fill the position until the next election but I would need to read more.

The standard for proving the legal and factual sufficiency of a petition in the superior court is high and there is a well-developed body of cases rejecting petitions based on, essentially, policy or judgment disagreements, among other similar things. There was a recall effort against Kshama Sawant’s predecessor Richard Conlin, but the Recall Conlin petition did not clear this high bar. 


*
(1) “Misfeasance” or “malfeasance” in office means any wrongful conduct that affects, interrupts, or interferes with the performance of official duty;

(a) Additionally, “misfeasance” in office means the performance of a duty in an improper manner; and

(b) Additionally, “malfeasance” in office means the commission of an unlawful act;

(2) “Violation of the oath of office” means the neglect or knowing failure by an elective public officer to perform faithfully a duty imposed by law.

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The Ins and Outs of Recall Elections

November 12, 2017

This article is the first in a series of posts related to removing Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien from office.

A recall election is one option we have for ridding ourselves of bad politicians. Recall elections are difficult to organize and win, and that’s by design. You don’t want them to be too easy to win or you risk intimidating the good guys and undermining the democratic system. But you can’t make them too hard to win, either, or you risk allowing garden-variety oafs and miscreants to morph into downright tyrants.

Recall elections can succeed (or fail) in several ways. If a recall vote succeeds and you remove the offending politician, that is an apparent success. However, a moral defeat can still be snatched from victory’s jaws, because when the bad pol is removed, a successor must then be appointed (not elected) to serve out the rest of the bad guy’s term. If the successor is even worse than the pol who was removed, you can chalk that up as a moral defeat.

Victory can be snatched from defeat’s jaws too. Even if the recall fails, depending on how far it gets and how it’s conducted, it might just weaken the target sufficiently so that he falls in the next election. Or it might discourage him from even running again. Some of you will recall citizen Elizabeth Campbell’s recall complaint against Councilmember Richard Conlin in 2011. Though that complaint didn’t get past the first hurdle (a judge found it “insufficient” to proceed to the petition stage) the resulting bad publicity for Conlin tarnished his image and likely contributed to his loss in the next election.*

And there is yet another risk to be considered here, because the flip side of a tarnished image for the pol is a burnished one for him. Should he survive the recall with a handy margin, he will be stronger than before, and if that happens, then the would-be recallers might actually be lengthening the bad guy’s “hour upon the stage,” rather than shortening it. Something to think about.

Lately I’ve been looking into the matter of recalls, with an eye toward removing CM Mike O’Brien from his perch before his term’s up in 2019. In my next post, I’ll be sharing what I hear from the lawyers.

Thanks for reading and don’t touch that dial. –David Preston

*Conlin lost to Kshama Sawant, which was actually a moral defeat, since Sawant has been, if anything, even worse than Conlin was.

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Ethics Evasion Commission

November 7, 2017 

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission enforces the Seattle Code of Ethics, which was designed to keep Seattle government honest by applying fines and other penalties to elected officials, candidates, and city employees who violated the rules of the Code. Unfortunately, the Commission has few tools at its disposal, and the ones it does have, it uses timidly. Its members are appointed by some of the same officials it is tasked with policing, and in some cases, which I’ll discuss below, it is staffed by these officials as well. The Commission is necessarily a political creature, and it is only as honest as the political culture in which it operates. When that culture is honest and peer pressure works to enforce normative behavior, the Commission appears to be working to keep everyone honest. As the culture degrades and becomes increasingly dishonest, the Commission lowers its standards accordingly. Where it blessed and sanctified an honest culture before, it now does the same for a corrupt one. And what else can it do? By itself it is powerless to change the course of events.

I’ve followed the doings of the Commission for the past two years and have noticed that when it comes to complaints against City employees and candidates, penalties are light, even when the complaint is proven. A complaint I made against City Council candidate Lorena Gonzalez was affirmed at a hearing in early September. The Commission acknowledged that Gonzalez – who was trying to be certified for Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program – had wrongly claimed that she’d attended three public forums during the primary. But they declined to impose any penalty on her, reasoning that since the program was new, and since it was complex in some of its aspects, Gonzalez should be not be held to the letter of the law. A week later, the Commission qualified Gonzalez to participate in the Democracy Voucher Program, thereby entitling her to receive some $140,000 worth of vouchers she’d collected in the taxpayer-funded campaign financing program. Continue reading

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Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 4: Where was Lorena?

October 1, 2017 ~ News of my complaint to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission on Lorena Gonzalez made the Seattle Weekly. Good on them. One correction to their story: Weekly writer Dan Person noted correctly that I was a candidate for Seattle City Council Position 9; however, since I’m not a Democrat, he assumed I’m a Republican. Actually, I ran as an independent. Otherwise, Person got the story right:

[Click on the image below to read the Weekly story.]

Continue reading

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The New Witch Hunters

September 28, 2017 

In the 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy’s “House Un-American Activities Committee” hung like a noose around the liberal establishment’s neck, ready to draw tight at a witness’s refusal to name his associates in the Communist Party. Initially McCarthy went after bona fide party members, but as the Red Scare deepened, HUAC expanded its reach and began going after anyone suspected of being a little too left for comfort. Artists, peace activists, labor organizers, or just anyone who questioned McCarthy’s methods: they were all suspect. Suddenly, there was a communist hiding under every bed.

Ultimately, McCarthy was disgraced and banished from politics, and the word “McCarthyism” entered the lexicon as a word meaning a culture of denunciation and fear, a method of silencing one’s political opponents through public interrogation and guilt-by-association. Perhaps we thought we’d left the witch hunts of those days behind with the Cold War and hula hoops. If so, we were wrong.

Trump’s America

November 2016: In the first days after Donald Trumps election, he began receiving unwelcome gestures of support from far-right political figures. They included white supremacist Richard Spencer, who concluded, from some of Trump’s campaign rhetoric on immigration, that a President Trump would be favorable to Spencer’s white identity politics. Trump was perceived as being slow to denounce Spencer and has made a series of political missteps on race since then, culminating with his equivocal remarks following a mass demonstration by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12. Continue reading

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Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 3: What’s left of the Dream?

September 8, 2017 ~ Remember when the Democracy Voucher Program was proposed? It was supposed to get big money out of politics and get grassroots candidates in. We’re now six months into our first election with the vouchers and where are we on that whole get-money-out-politics thing? Well… let’s see.

¶ In June, someone sued the City over the program, claiming it was compelling taxpayers to pay for someone else’s free speech. That suit is in process and inside sources tell me it’s got legs. Continue reading

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Activating a space to discourage camping

September 4, 2017

In a recent public meeting on a homeless encampment in the Ballard, Seattle’s Director of Homelessness George Scarola told neighbors of the camp that they could “activate” public spaces to keep homeless people from camping there. According to a man who was at the meeting and gave me a report, Scarola told the crowd that, “Activation consists of making use of the space the homeless are camping in to make it harder for them to use it. Things like establishing gardens, planters, sticker bushes, a P-patch, and so on.”

I took this before-and-after picture in my White Center neighborhood to illustrate how the activation process works.

In July, a homeless man began camping and hoarding in a planting triangle along Ambaum Boulevard that had been reclaimed from unused pavement just a few years earlier. Although the area is highly visible to sidewalk and street traffic, the trees, the high grass, and the flat ground were all inducements to camping.

After tolerating the man’s presence for a month or more, neighboring businesses worked with police to have him removed from the spot. The area was then plowed up and replanted with plants that will colonize the space and make it inhospitable for camping. Or so it is hoped.

–David Preston

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Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 2: A complaint is filed

August 17, 2017 ~ Seattle’s new Democracy Voucher Program has a long way yet to go to fix Seattle politics. One could argue that, rather than discouraging corruption, the program is actually rewarding it. The program gives qualifying candidates access to great quantities of taxpayer-funded campaign cash, but to qualify, candidates must attend three or more public debates or forums during the primary and campaign seasons, in addition to gathering signatures and raising a hefty chunk of cash on their own. The requirements are not impossible to meet, but they are steep, as I have discussed in other posts. So steep, in fact, that they are likely discouraging outsiders and self-funded candidates and encouraging everyone who’s left to cheat in order to get their hands on that extra cash.

Below is a complaint I filed today with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC). The complaint is against Lorena Gonzalez, who is the incumbent in City Council Position 9, one of two citywide Council positions up for grabs in this year’s election. The gist of the complaint is that Gonzalez misrepresented herself on a self-report form. To qualify for the voucher program, Gonzalez was required to attend three “public forums” during the City Council primary season. Two of the three events Gonzalez claims to have attended were not public forums according by the SEEC’s definition, and Gonzalez apparently wasn’t even at one of the events she was trying to use in order to qualify.

The document below is four pages, including attachments.

Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission Complaint Against Lorena Gonzalez 8.17.17 redacted

.

–by David Preston

Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 1: “Honest” elections
Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 3: What’s left of the dream?
Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 4: Where was Lorena?
Democracy Vouchers: A Candidate’s View
Ethics Evasion Commission

Editor’s disclosure: I was also a candidate in this race. I came in third in a field of seven candidates.

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Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 1: “Honest” Elections

July 4, 2017 ~ I-122, the “Honest Elections” initiative (aka the Democracy Voucher Program) was supposed to get money and corporate influence out of Seattle politics. It looked great on paper.

The PROBLEM: “Wealthy special interests have too much power in Seattle. When these interests spend huge amounts of money on elections, that’s not free speech; that’s buying our candidates.” —Voter’s guide “pro” statement excerpt

The SOLUTION: Give qualifying candidates taxpayer money to campaign and then cap the amount they can raise and spend on the election.

New PROBLEM: Limits on spending amounts don’t apply to PAC ads or other “independent expenditures” done by non-candidate groups. Nor do they apply to any candidate not participating in the voucher program.

New SOLUTION: Raise the contribution and spending limit to allow the Democracy Voucher participants spend as much as they want. As long as they can show that their opponent (or his PAC buddies) are spending more than them.

–Wait… wut? Now we’re back where we were before the Democracy Voucher program, where candidates can raise and spend as much as they want. The only difference is that now some candidates are getting money from taxpayers… including from taxpayers who don’t support them.

Here’s the operative lingo from a memo sent out by Seattle Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Wayne Barnett last week:

If a qualified candidate demonstrates to SEEC that he or she has an opponent (whether or not participating in the Program) whose campaign spending has exceeded the Campaign Spending Limit for the position sought as indicated above, where SEEC deems the excess material it shall allow such candidate to choose to be released from the Campaign Spending Limit and campaign contribution limits for the Program, in which case SEEC shall allow such candidate to redeem his or her Democracy Vouchers received theretofore or thereafter up to the amount of the Campaign Spending Limit only, then allow such candidate to engage in campaign fundraising without regard to any Program requirements.

Don’t kid yourselves Social Justice Warriors. Money is just as much a factor as ever in Seattle politics. And so is influence. Whether it flows from the spigot of a giant oil corporation or from the mouths of a hundred casting-call protesters at City Hall. It’s there, alright. All your lofty ideals haven’t changed a thing. Maybe they’ve even made it worse.

–David Preston

Other articles in this series:

Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 2: A complaint is filed
Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 3: What’s left of the dream?
Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 4: Where was Lorena
Democracy Vouchers: A Candidate’s View
Ethics Evasion Commission

The City of Seattle was recently sued over the program by a man who claims it’s un-Constitutional. You can read more about that here.

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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. Continue reading

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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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Democracy Vouchers: A Candidate’s View

May 14, 2017 ~ 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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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. Continue reading

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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.

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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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