Protests and Public Safety, Budget Deficits, COVID Updates, Bridges, and More
Friends and Neighbors,
While this month’s newsletter discusses the COVID-19 public health crisis, the resulting economic downturn, our sudden $300 million budget deficit, and the need to fix the West Seattle Bridge impacting 100,000 residents, the priority I’ve heard from constituents is about justice. Justice after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and countless other people of color who have been victims of police misconduct, justice after the excessive use of force by police officers against protesters here in Seattle, and justice by accelerating dramatic, systemic improvements to eliminate racism from these institutions. Please read on and check my blog for more updates.
PROTESTS LEAD WAY TO RE-IMAGINING PUBLIC SAFETY AND COMMUNITY WELLNESS
I reached out to Nikkita Oliver, social justice leader and former mayoral candidate. She emphasized the need to re-imagine public safety and community wellness and she highlighted the King County Equity Now Coalition. For her June 2020 interview in Vanity Fair, CLICK HERE.
I reached out to another newly elected official, Girmay Zahilay, the King County Councilmember whose district overlaps with our City Council District 4. He emphasized the Elected Officials Pledge and walked me through each of the 5 items. With that additional understanding and information, I committed to the pledge. (The pledge was urged by several organizations including Fuse Washington.)
I reached out to my former opponent at the ballot box Shaun Scott and he emphasized accountability of the police during the protests, such as officers who were allowed to cover up the identification on their badges. I supported the Mayor’s directive to fix that and I supported Public Safety Chair Lisa Herbold’s legislation to make that permanent.
I observed and participated in several demonstrations and marches, some in our District 4 as well as the Silent March from Judkins Park to Jefferson Park organized by Black Lives Matter on June 12, 2020. There are more to come. I also visited the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” to better understand it.
Ron Sims, who administered the oath of office to me in January, wrote about his life experiences and work on racial justice in a June Op Ed in the Seattle Times. “When hope is elusive, only anger and despair remain. The pent-up anger in the Black community is no longer restrained, particularly when hopelessness prevails. What we are witnessing in these times is the product of profound distrust.” Mr. Sims is lifelong public servant, including a former King County Executive and Deputy Secretary of HUD under President Obama. For his story, CLICK HERE.
I went through over 23,000 e-mails including 1,000 from District 4 residents thus far. As someone who sorted the incoming e-mails for Councilmembers I used to work for (Burgess in Seattle and De La Fuente in Oakland), the e-mails to this new City Council about police accountability and Black Lives Matter during the past three weeks have been different. The passionate surge has been sustained and their demands have been specific and consistent.
I continue to acknowledge my white privilege and my commitment to using it to listen and collaborate with colleagues and community leaders across the spectrum to implement sustainable changes for true public safety that emphasizes community wellness. Below I attempt to explain concepts like “defunding the police” to those who might not be as familiar, but who want to make things better for everyone.
I will make mistakes along the way and I will not make everyone happy as many constituents may argue that my efforts are too slow or too fast or just plain wrong. But this is not about me or any single politician or organization. It’s about George Floyd, it’s about Breonna Taylor, it’s about the countless black and brown lives who have been victims of law enforcement systems and institutions built with racism — a racism that became painfully more clear for millions of Americans in a horrible, shameful 8 minutes and 46 seconds. We cannot and should not retreat from this moment; they must not have died in vain.
“The world is watching,” Ebony Miranda, chair of the organizing group, Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, told marchers on Friday, June 12, “We are on the precipice of a major shift in the fight for Black liberation,” Miranda said. “This is a marathon, not a sprint. … I ask you: What will you do to make sure we sustain this movement?”
(photo by Alex Pedersen)
ACTION: The new policies proposed and implemented by the Mayor and/or City Council are numerous and increasing each week. By the time you read this newsletter, new policies are likely being considered and implemented, based on community input and/or completed research or investigations. For up-to-date information going forward, please see my blog by CLICKING HERE or by using this url: https://pedersen.seattle.gov/
Actions Taken Thus Far (consistent with “The Pledge” shown above):
- Banning Chokeholds.
- Banning Chemical Weapons.
- Uncovering Badges (police may still use tape to mourn fallen officers, but can no longer cover identifying information).
- Keeping on Body Cameras for accountability purposes.
- Withdrawing Motion on Police Consent Decree (City Attorney).
- Withdrawing Challenge to Reformed Inquest Process (City Attorney).
- Restricting Relationship Between School District and SPD.
- Transforming Fire Station 6 into Central District community center (CLICK HERE)
- Declaring Racism as a Public Health Crisis in King County (CLICK HERE).
- Repealing Loitering Laws that Disproportionately Impacted People of Color (see below).
This Monday, I introduced Council Bill 119808 with Councilmember Andrew Lewis to repeal a law that has had racist outcomes (Section 12A.10.010 of the Seattle Municipal Code). I believe it is vital to support the recommendation of the Seattle Reentry Workgroup to repeal the Prostitution Loitering law, so we eliminate a source of disproportionate harm or jeopardy to people of color from our policing and carceral system. After engagement with community stakeholders, co-sponsoring the repeal of this problematic law is just another initial step I’m taking with my colleagues to help right what has been wrong for too long.
- Fix the Police Officer Contract: I will not support a new collective bargaining agreement with our Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) unless it fully implements remaining accountability measures, such as fixing the disciplinary review system in accordance with the 2017 accountability ordinance. While most of our police officers strive to do good work and serve our communities well, they operate within a tainted system that requires unprecedented and systemic change. Officers are also asked to do the impossible when sent into situations that require not a gun, but a social worker, therapist, or educator (see “defunding” concept below).
- Restructure Public Safety Budgets to:
- Demilitarize and De-Escalate
- Reimagine Public Safety
- Reinvestment in Marginalized Communities
The City Council has several more meetings to dive into our Police Budget. The first was a breakdown of the budget on June 10. For graphs and data, CLICK HERE. To listen to that first discussion, CLICK HERE (and fast-forward to 2 hours and 22 minutes). This includes not only de-militarizing (which does not generate much financial savings because it’s mostly capital grants already received from the federal government), but also reallocating substantial dollars to community wellness efforts that benefit marginalized communities.
What does “De-Funding” really mean? There are many articles de-mystifying this term and I provide a few examples below. I encourage those readers who might resist this concept at first to explore it with an open mind as I do over the coming weeks:
(1) For the recently published column in the Washington Post by attorney Christy Lopez, a Georgetown University professor and co-director of the school’s Innovative Policing: CLICK HERE. She writes, “For activists, this conversation is long overdue. But for casual observers, this new direction may seem a bit disorienting — or even alarming. Be not afraid. ‘Defunding the police’ is not as scary (or even as radical) as it sounds, and engaging on this topic is necessary if we are going to achieve the kind of public safety we need.”
(2) Ali H. Mokdad, a health specialist at the University of Washington is quoted in a recent New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof: “Defund the police for certain services and move them to social work” (such as domestic violence, youth offenders, alcoholism, addiction, mental illness, and homelessness). “Having an armed person intervene causes harm sometimes for the person who needs help.” CLICK HERE.
(3) For recent Seattle Times articles exploring the “de-funding” concept, CLICK HERE and HERE.
“For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay.”
You may remember that, during my campaign, I called for more community policing officers. The goal was to improve safety and reduce harm. I understand the goal of true safety — for everyone — can be achieved, however, in different ways. This is part of the “re-imagining” process: to explore how it may be more effective for everyone (including police officers) if professionals other than traditional officers are often called to prevent or respond to certain urgent situations, such as a mental health crisis.
Some colleagues have made passionate statements to defund 50% of the $400 million budget, but I believe we need a more detailed plan before we commit to any specific number.
I agree we need to reallocate dollars in a way that makes a meaningful impact. It’s important to recognize that approximately 80% of the budget is for personnel. Rather than laying off highly trained officers, many of whom joined to serve Seattle, a reallocation could involve re-training of some officers as well as dramatically expanding the recently revived program of un-armed “Community Service Officers.” This would be in addition to finding more dollars for effective community-based programs proven to de-escalate or prevent criminal activity, to keep marginalized people out of the harmful incarceration system, and to treat underlying causes.
LET’S WORK TOGETHER: I look forward to working in a more collaborative fashion with my fellow elected officials — from our Mayor Jenny Durkan to Councilmembers who have bolder ideas of where to go from here. This is an appropriate time to point out that a big city mayor is one of the toughest jobs in the nation. She manages 40 city departments run by 12,000 employees with a budget of $6.5 billion for over 700,000 people and is juggling several crises at once (including COVID and the failure of the West Seattle Bridge which serves 100,000 people). She was elected to serve for at least four years and her steady presence at the helm is important, despite criticisms along the away. This is not about a single person or a single organization. We need more unity, not division. I believe Seattle will benefit most when people who may start in different places with different ideas choose to work together toward a common goal: a city that feels truly safe for everyone.
UPDATES ON COVID PANDEMIC
KING COUNTY APPLYING FOR PHASE 2: King County Executive Dow Constantine has applied to the State to allow us to move from Phase 1.5 to 2.0. For the Seattle Times article, CLICK HERE. “Counties are allowed to progress to the next phase if they have declining infection levels, adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, space in hospitals, ample testing capacity and a contact tracing system in place to try to contain the virus…The second phase — which neighboring Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties are already in — allows restaurants and taverns to reopen at half capacity with limited table sizes, hair and nail salons and barbershops to resume business, and retail stores to reopen for in-store purchases at 30% capacity.”
MORE FREE TESTING SITES: Thanks for Mayor Jenny Durkan, the University of Washington, and Seattle Fire Fighters, we have more testing sites for COVID. Following King County’s application to advance to a modified phase one in Governor Inslee’s updated “Safe Start Washington” plan, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan opened free Citywide testing at two locations in north and south Seattle. As part of the announcement, Mayor Durkan and University of Washington President Ana Maria Cauce signed a memorandum of agreement solidifying the partnership between the City of Seattle and UW Medicine. The joint effort is expected to increase capacity by my more than 1,600 tests per day.
Mayor Durkan had signed an executive order and transmitted legislation to City Council to lease two former emissions testing sites for testing purposes. The facilities are located in north and south Seattle and will operate Monday thru Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and accommodate drive thru clients who book ahead through the website. These sites are designed and intended for drive-up testing and are not ADA compliant for pedestrians. If you need walk-up testing with ADA accommodations, there are many options for free COVID testing, please visit Public Health – Seattle King County’s website or call 206-477-3977. Most people can access testing through their regular health care provider. In addition, the City is actively looking to add walk-up testing and additional capacity in West Seattle, another high-need area of the City.
Clients at the testing facilities will not be charged for testing and will not receive a bill, regardless of health insurance status. Our Seattle Fire Department (SFD) has developed a cadre of experienced personnel to lead the citywide testing effort by administering tests. Thus far, nearly 70 percent of COVID-19 related deaths in King County are associated with long-term care facilities. The City of Seattle has focused its limited resources on testing our most vulnerable residents in those facilities like nursing and adult care homes.
To help accommodate a safe and seamless testing process, the City urges potential clients to pre-register for appointments at www.seattle.gov/covid-19-testing. SFD estimates pre-registration will allow the testing procedure to take fewer than 10 minutes per test.
SUPPORT FOR GIG WORKERS DURING COVID:
I was pleased to join my colleagues to require premium pay (a.k.a. hazard pay) for essential “Gig Workers” taking risks to deliver food during the COVID pandemic. We also approved an amendment to prohibit corporations from passing along the additional costs to consumers. To read the entire Council Bill 119799, CLICK HERE.
SEATTLE PARKS SLOWLY RE-OPENING:
Outdoor amenities that are OPEN to groups of five or less with social distancing:
- Tennis/pickleball courts
- Basketball courts
- Golf courses
- Boat ramps (by June 20)
- Trails and walking paths
- Outdoor BBQ grills
- Picnic tables (not larger picnic shelters)
- Public restrooms
- Off Leash Areas
- Volleyball courts
- Athletic fields (for non-organized use and team practices starting 7/1)
- Swimming Areas (beginning July 1 at 5 locations)
Amenities that remain CLOSED for now:
- Play areas and playgrounds
- Picnic shelters
- Fire pits
- Wading pools and indoor/ outdoor pools
- Spray parks (currently prohibited)
- Community centers programs
For details, please review the press release from our Seattle Parks & Recreation Department by CLICKING HERE.
MORE UPDATES ON COVID AND RELIEF:
- The Seattle City Council continues to update its COVID-19 webpage which includes resources supporting workers, childcare, small businesses, and tenants/landlords.
- You can also visit Mayor Jenny Durkan’s centralized COVID-19 webpage, as well as the Mayor’s blog for additional updates. Additionally, our Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs has been translating and sharing information on COVID-19 in several languages. For links to OIRA’s fact sheets and other translated materials, go to their blog: https://welcoming.seattle.gov/covid-19/
- And for the latest from Public Health Seattle-King County, you can visit their website to track our region’s response to the virus.
IN DISTRICT 4
DEMONSTRATIONS: Residents from Northeast Seattle held many demonstrations to support police accountability and Black Lives Matter including events in Lake City, Magnuson Park, Maple Leaf, Ravenna-Bryant, Wallingford, and in Wedgwood. In between Council meetings and answering e-mails & phone calls on this same issue, I attended as many as I could — and more are scheduled. For more info on my blog, CLICK HERE.
organized by students of Nathan Hale High School.
(photo by Alex Pedersen)
U DISTRICT BUSINESS IMPROVEMENT AREA REAUTHORIZED:
On June 8 the City Council unanimously approved the legislation I sponsored to reauthorize the Business Improvement Area (BIA) in the University District, which is the heart of District 4. I thank both Mayor Jenny Durkan’s team for being open to early input from the community and Councilmember Tammy Morales, chair of the Community and Economic Development Committee, for co-sponsoring this important legislation with me for my district. It is one of 10 BIAs across Seattle.
“Business Improvement Areas are positive, community-driven economic development tools that help keep neighborhood business districts clean and safe throughout our city,” said Councilmember Pedersen. “The legislation I crafted with the Mayor incorporates many key principles sought by smaller businesses, including better representation, good governance, and the preservation of existing shops and restaurants. During and after the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to give our small neighborhood businesses the support they need to thrive.”
Not all community stakeholders fully approved the ordinance as introduced, so I offered a compromise amendment for a 10-year term, since the original legislation sought to more than double the BIA from a 5-year term to a 12-year term. My amendment also would have started the competitive process for the Program Manager much sooner. That amendment, however, failed with a vote of 3 to 6. I look forward to seeing the changes to assist small business owners and others who are at risk of displacement as they take shape on The Ave and surrounding U District.
For the entire press release, CLICK HERE.
RE-OPENING OUR LOCAL ECONOMY:
I checked with small neighborhood businesses in District 4 and many are taking advantage of King County’s successful request to the Governor to re-open with a partial Phase Two (Phase 1.5). For the official announcement, CLICK HERE. As noted above, King County is applying for Phase 2 and, for that info, CLICK HERE.
Thank you, King County Executive Dow Constantine, for enabling many small businesses to partially re-open more quickly and safely. This includes restaurants: outdoor dining at 50% and indoor at 25, both 6 feet apart. Examples in our own District 4 include Uncle Lee’s Kitchen in Laurelhurst, Big Time Brewery & Alehouse in the U District, 14 Carrot Cafe in Eastlake, Murphy’s Pub in Wallingford, The Bryant Corner Cafe & Bakery in Bryant and scores more in District 4. Bring your mask and appetite.
YOUR CITY COUNCIL
CLOSING OUR BUDGET DEFICITS:
The City Budget Office (CBO) unfortunately estimates an ongoing budget deficit of approximately $300 million out of our $1.7 billion General Fund and related accounts. While the federal government – which can run a deficit unlike city and state governments – will provide money to cities to deal with COVID-related economic downturn, it is not expected to be enough.
For the April 22, 2020 presentation by City Budget Office (CBO) regarding budget deficit, CLICK HERE.
(Note: the entire city government spends $6.5 billion each year, but that grand total includes our utility operations and capital improvement / infrastructure programs, while city budget officials typically focus on the more flexible “General Fund” dollars.)
Council President Gonzalez and Budget Chair Mosqueda have scheduled 10 Budget Committee meetings this summer to consider Mayor Durkan’s proposal to re-balance the 2020 budget, to debate payroll tax proposals (branded inaccurately by some as the “Amazon Tax” even though it would impact hundreds of Seattle employers) and to decide whether to reallocate some public safety funding to better meet community needs.
Then, after re-balancing our existing 2020 budget, the Council will start its traditional Fall budget season to consider Mayor Durkan’s proposal for a 2021 budget (which also faces a deficit). I hope to use my extensive budgeting experience (including during Recessions) to help provide sustainable and fiscally responsible solutions. While I may be open to new revenue sources, the details matter.
Just six months ago, I was selected to chair our City Council Committee on Transportation and Utilities (and Technology). Here’s an update:
Seattle Transportation Benefit District: With hopeful anticipation, I believe City Council colleagues and the Mayor will collaborate to renew the beloved Seattle Transportation Benefit District. While transit ridership has experienced a temporary reduction, transit remains an affordable transportation lifeline for essential workers and will undergird our economy as it reopens and revitalizes. In the first year of renewal, we will also have a tremendous need to increase transportation options for the 100,000 residents of West Seattle until the bridge is repaired or replaced.
West Seattle Bridge:
- We must fully reconnect the 100,000 residents of West Seattle to the rest of their city as soon as possible. I recently participated in the first Community Task Force for fixing the West Seattle Bridge. This Task Force is vital not only to organize and amplify community voices about this urgent issue, but also to leverage their influence to advocate for the massive funding that will be needed to create safe alternatives to cross the Duwamish River. It’s co-chaired by former Mayor Greg Nickels (a West Seattle resident) and community leader Paulina Lopez.
- The creation of the Community Task Force follows the creation of a Technical Advisory Panel that consists of structural engineers and other experts. I continue to work closely with Councilmember Lisa Herbold who represents West Seattle. For more on the West Seattle Bridge and actions we are taking, CLICK HERE.
- Bridge Audit Underway: I’m relieved that the City Auditor and I launched an audit into Seattle’s bridges when we did. For the Seattle Times article confirming the lack of maintenance for our aging bridges, CLICK HERE. We expect to hear an initial report from the Auditor this September.c
- Wastewater Rates (Seattle Public Utilities): Thankfully the CEOs / General Managers of both Seattle City Light (Debra Smith) and Seattle Public Utilities (Mami Hara) share my mission of keeping rates as low as possible for Seattleites. Unfortunately, King County recently passed through to our city a rate increase for wastewater treatment. I appreciate King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, whose district overlaps District 4, responding to our request to fight this increase. To read CM Dembowski’s May 30, 2020 blog post entitled, “Wrong Time to Hike Sewer Rates on Struggling Residents and Businesses,” CLICK HERE. Unfortunately, his amendment failed to win the day. Wastewater rates are just one piece of our SPU bill so, overall, one’s bill should not increase substantially. Moreover, both SPU and SCL continue to offer payment plans and, thanks to legislation introduced by Mayor Durkan that I was happy to sponsor, they will not charge interest on late payments during the COVID crisis.
- INTERNET FOR ALL: We continue to gather input on the draft Resolution I announced to pursue Internet for All residents in Seattle. I’ve enjoyed connecting with and learning from advocacy groups, national researchers, dedicated employees of our City’s Information Technology Department, and private sector providers of internet services. After we make more progress on budget discussions to deal with the new deficit in our 2020 budget, we’ll want to introduce my Resolution and get moving to further address the Digital Divide in our high-tech city. For more info on my vision and rationale for Internet for All — and to read the Resolution — CLICK HERE.
- TECHNOLOGY MATCHING FUND AWARDS: The City of Seattle Monday, June 15 announced the recipients of the 2020 Technology Matching Fund. With an investment of $345,000, 15 organizations will receive funding for community-led projects which aim to increase access to technology and provide digital skills training for underserved communities. From the press release:
“The current COVID-19 crisis has changed how we interact and connect, magnified disparities in our community, and emphasized the need to bridge the digital divide,” said Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen, Chair of the Council’s Transportation and Utilities Committee, which includes oversight of Seattle IT. “Improving access to technology to achieve digital equity is a major commitment of mine, and I look forward to seeing how these matching grants and other investments will open pathways and improve access to education, job training and other vital services.”
Mayor Jenny Durkan: “The dual crises of COVID-19 and systemic racism in our region and our country are bringing into sharp relief the continued need for meaningful, intentional investments in our low-income communities and communities of color. More and more, our communities are relying on access to the internet and digital literacy skills to engage with their communities and make their voices heard.”
Technology Matching Fund grants are distributed annually as part of the City’s broader Digital Equity Initiative and managed by the Seattle Information Technology Department (Seattle IT). Funded projects improve connectivity and provide devices and technology support to communities that might not otherwise have equitable access, including immigrants, refugees, homeless people, seniors, youth, and people with disabilities.
Below is a list of the 2020 Technology Matching Fund recipients. Read more about the projects here.
- 206 Zulu, Coolout Academy Digital Literacy Program
- Boys & Girls Club of King County, Bringing Technology to Northgate Girls & Boys Club
- Empowering Youth and Families Outreach, Computer Station Upgrade & Youth Laptop Provision
- Eritrean Association of Greater Seattle, Digital Equity and Advancement Project
- Filipino Community of Seattle, FCS Innovation Learning Project
- First Place, The Diversity S.T.E.M. Training Program
- Garinagu HounGua, Garifuna Technology Literacy
- Literacy Source, Basic Digital Literacy in North Seattle
- Low Income Housing Institute, Sand Point Cottage Community
- PROVAIL, Adaptive Technology Lending Library
- Seattle Goodwill Industries
- Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF Education Mobile Youth Workshops
- Somali Family Safety Task Force, Somali Digital Access and Literacy
- Year Up Puget Sound
- Young Women Empowered, Y-WE Code
To learn more about the City of Seattle’s commitment to digital equity and the Technology Matching Fund, go here.
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU
Listening: Even though City Council is not currently holding meetings in person in order to follow public health guidelines, you can still follow along by listening on your computer or phone by CLICKING HERE. You can also listen on your phone by calling 206-684-8566.
Commenting: You can also submit public comment by sending an e-mail to me at Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov or to all 9 Councilmembers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please remember to add “For City Council Meeting” in the comments. Now you can also phone into the meeting to speak directly to the Council live. For the instructions on how to register and call in, CLICK HERE. Sign up begins two hours prior to the meeting start time.
As I mentioned earlier, we received over 20,000 e-mails – an unheard-of volume – in just the past 2 weeks, so I ask for your patience as we try to respond to those District 4 constituents who asked for a response. Either way, we read your e-mails and they have an impact. Thank you for taking the time to contact me.
Virtual Meetings with Your Councilmember Pedersen
I continue to schedule virtual in-district office hours, so we can chat by telephone or via Skype. Please continue to sign up through my website or by CLICKING HERE so I can hear your ideas, concerns, and requests. You can also just send an e-mail to email@example.com
For previous e-newsletters, visit my blog by CLICKING HERE.
We will get through this together, Seattle.
Councilmember Alex Pedersen
Seattle City Council, District 4