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West Seattle Bridge/Reconnect West Seattle; Retail Theft Program Committee Presentation, Audit; Fauntleroy Terminal Replacement Project Community Advisory Group Meetings: March 2 and 16; Legislation Authorizing Retroactive Hiring Incentive Bonuses; Free Tax Help Available; Eviction Moratorium Ends; Volunteer for the Victim Support Team

West Seattle Bridge/Reconnect West Seattle

Yesterday a federal mediator met with Teamsters 174 and employer representatives; here is the update Teamsters Local 174 posted after the meeting.

I sincerely appreciate the willingness of Teamsters 174 to make a new proposal to go back to work immediately with only a one-year deal that includes less than what they have been seeking, while continuing long-term negotiations.

Here is an update showing the status of repair work on the bridge.

SDOT will be drilling holes in different parts of the interior of the bridge to prepare for post-tension cables as soon as the concrete is available. Epoxy crack injections are being applied to the exterior of the bridge.

Spokane Street (low) Bridge updates

Here’s the schedule for maintenance for the Spokane Street (low) bridge. The contract for repairs to the West Seattle Bridge included work on the low bridge as well:

Traffic on the low bridge has recently increased:

Here’s a chart that shows when bridge openings took place from February 14 through the 18th, and how long the closings lasted. On February 16, there were two closures during the 11 a.m. hour:

Reconnect West Seattle

SDOT has published a Q4 2021 implementation report for the Reconnect West Seattle program designed to ameliorate the closure of the West Seattle Bridge.

It includes project lists that are ongoing and includes updates on projects from 2020, 2021 and 2022 projects, including by neighborhood, and for freight and bike projects.

Most 2021 projects completed; here are Some of the 2021 projects that are under construction or design as shown below:

2022 projects are being constructed, designed, and planned as follows:


Retail Theft Program Committee Presentation, Audit

Organized retail theft is increasingly a problem for retail businesses in Seattle. While much media coverage has focused on Downtown, it has affected businesses throughout the city, including in District 1.

Organized Retail Theft is different from run of the mill shoplifting.   Organized retail crime involves organized efforts to steal and resell high-value items, sometimes through online marketplaces. During the pandemic, the characteristics of retail crime have shifted, and there is emerging evidence that ORC has increased during the pandemic due, in part, to increased use of online marketplaces for selling stolen goods.

Earlier this week, I invited the Seattle Police Department to present to the Public Safety and Human Services Committee about the SPD’s Retail Theft program. Here’s their presentation.

The program allows security officers working for a participating store to file misdemeanor trespass and theft cases without patrol officer involvement; the program was initiated in 1989 to reduce the amount of SPD officer time spent processing misdemeanor shoplift offenses. They can use SPD’s online reporting system to write reports and provide evidence.   In 2013, the trespass element of the program was revamped with the help of the Racial Disparity Project.

63 store chains are signed up for the program, and 158 loss prevention officers have written at least one report during the last two months.

Assistant Chief Mahaffey noted reduced usage of the program recently, due to a trend throughout retail establishments to direct their security staff to be “hands-off, to not physically contact people regarding a shoplifting offense anymore.”  This is reportedly out of safety concerns for employees and liability concerns.  Others have noted that they aren’t reporting because of their awareness of the reduced jail capacity due to the COVID pandemic, and the Omricon variant.  I would suggest that the knowledge that a particular offender may not face jail time is not a good reason to not report a crime.

In investigating crimes of this nature – where there are a few dozen people who are committing thousands of thefts – the goal is less about prosecuting any single crime or complaint, but about identifying patterns and trends of specifically people who are engaged in organized theft.  And more reporting can help identify these patterns and trends.  There is a joint effort that the City Attorney’s Office bundle cases for the King County Prosecutor’s Office so they can more effectively prosecute organized criminal retail thefts.

I know that not every business can afford private security, but it seems to me that a. if more businesses that do have onsite security participated in the Retail Theft Program, and b. those who don’t sign up for the Retail Theft Program were more active reporting crimes at least online, that this might help efforts, both for SPD investigating and the CAO/KCPAO prosecuting.

My goal is to: 1. See if there are changes to the City’s Retail Theft Program that could result in more participation and 2. Encourage more use of online reporting for victims of retail crime theft who aren’t signed for the Retail Theft Program.  I know that online reporting is limited because of language barriers.  SPD has promised to update the online reporting option with additional language capability.

In addition, at the meeting Councilmember Lewis and I announced an audit to addressed organized retail crime that the City Auditor will be working on. The audit will examine:

  • the current state of organized retail crime in Seattle;
  • emerging practices from other jurisdictions; and,
  • potential opportunities for the City to better address organized retail crime.

Some people following the committee discussion or learning about the effort in the news wrote to tell me that they believe that this audit is a waste of time and resources. It’s important to note that several national retail organizations agree that organized retail crime is more effectively dealt with away from the stores, or the location where the theft occurs and at the level of the people reselling the stolen goods.  For instance, thieves can anonymously sell goods online. Online marketplaces should have to verify the identity of sellers who make large numbers of sales. Illinois and California have both recently created state-wide task forces of law enforcement, prosecutors, retailers, and on-line marketplaces to address organized retail crime.

The City Auditor will also engage with local businesses in order to directly learn from their experiences. A briefing on the audit is planned for the Public Safety and Human Services Committee in advance of consideration of the 2023 City Budget.

Fauntleroy Terminal Replacement Project Community Advisory Group Meetings: March 2 and 16

Washington State Ferries will be holding two Community Advisory Group (CAG) meetings in March for the Fauntleroy Terminal replacement project. WSDOT’s 2040 Long Range Plan includes replacement of this ferry terminal. WSDOT notes the terminal is seismically vulnerable and overdue for replacement and vulnerable to sea levels rising.

You can register for the meetings by clicking on the “Community Engagement” tab for the project website. The CAG includes 24 members from the triangle ferry route, including West Seattle, Vashon and Southworth and other communities on the peninsula.

This meeting will focus on developing:

  • Draft range of alternatives to include in planning study, and
  • Draft screening criteria to evaluate potential alternatives

This begins an important step in this process.

I am serving on the Executive Advisory Group, which consists of elected officials representing West Seattle, Vashon, and Southworth, the Chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, as well as SDOT, KC Metro, WSDOT and Kitsap Transit.

I want to be sure the community perspective is represented and given serious consideration. If you have suggestions for what alternatives should be studied, or criteria used for evaluation, please let me know.

The presence of the terminal has a significant impact on the Fauntleroy community; I’ve heard support for limiting changes to the current footprint. Ferries has indicated they can include an option that minimizes changes.

Here’s a schedule for community engagement from last year that shows how the process will be working moving forward, and where alternatives development and screening criteria fit (the impact of the COVID pandemic has slowed the timetable a bit). We are in the “early scoping” stage; the Preliminary purpose and need statement” was the subject of the previous meeting.


Legislation Authorizing Retroactive Hiring Incentive Bonuses

On Tuesday, the City Council will consider legislation to provide retroactive approval to pay bonuses for police officers and 911 dispatchers who were hired in January 2022. The bill, CB 120272, would provide up to $220,000 in funding for this purpose.

This legislation derives from bonuses that were offered in January, when they were neither authorized nor funded.

Last October the former Mayor issued an order to provide for hiring bonuses for officers and dispatchers. The Council voted to modify the emergency order to limit the bonus program to the end of 2021. No funding was included in the 2022 budget. While there were a few proposals to provide funding, including one I co-sponsored, they didn’t pass during the budget process. The Council adopted a request for a report on March 1 on a potential city-wide bonus program and voted to end the order at the end of 2021; the incoming Mayor could issue a similar order.

However, on December 30th the former Mayor sent to the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and to the City of Seattle Communications Center (CSCC) a directive to continue hiring bonuses, contravening the Council action. Consequently, they continued to offer bonuses during January.

In early February the Harrell administration directed the departments to immediately cease offering the bonuses. We committed to work together to ensure the officers and dispatchers offered a bonus are provided with it.

The bonuses will be for 14 CSCC dispatchers and 5 SPD officers.

The directive from the former Mayor claims the Council’s action to limit the executive order wasn’t effective. This is inaccurate. She claimed that she had legal counsel to confirm her position and the City Attorney has assured us that they provided no such advice.

Section 10.02 of the Seattle Municipal Code governs civil emergencies, including the authority of the Mayor to issue proclamations of civil emergency. SMC 10.02.020 (B) grants the City Council the power to modify or reject the order.

It states “The Council shall endeavor to act on any order within 48 hours of its being presented to the Council by the Mayor” but does not require action within 48 hours.

I’m very grateful that the Harrell administration is taking a collaborative approach to governing, recognizing the Council’s authority, as we work to resolve this issue together.

Free Tax Help Available

Your federal taxes are due on April 18th, and the Seattle Public Library and United Way of King County are collaborating to offer free tax preparation service through April 18.  Anyone who made less than $70,000 in 2021 is eligible.

Here in District 1, free tax help is available at the West Seattle Food Bank (6516 35th Avenue SW):

  • Weds: 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM
  • Thurs: 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM
  • Sat: 2:30 PM – 5:30 PM

You can also try the Central Library in downtown Seattle.

  • Mon – Tues: 12:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
  • Wed – Thurs: 12:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
  • Fri: none
  • Sat: 11:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • Sun: 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Come prepared!  Be sure to bring all the documents you’ll need to your appointment.

Required:

  • Both spouses, if filing jointly
  • Picture ID for taxpayer (and spouse, if filing jointly)
  • Social Security card (or acceptable alternative – see below) for each person listed on the return
  • Proof of income, like W2s and 1099s
  • Documentation of expenses
  • If anyone in the household is insured through the Marketplace, Form 1095-A and dependents’ proof of income

Recommended:

  • Account and routing numbers for direct deposit of refunds
  • Prior year tax return

Acceptable Alternatives for Social Security Card:

  • Photocopy or photograph of Social Security card
  • ITIN letter
  • Social Security Benefit Statement (Form 1099-SSA)
  • Military ID with Social Security number
  • Any document issued by the Social Security Administration with Social Security number – last four digits must be visible
  • A printout from mySocialSecurity with the last four digits of your Social Security number visible
  • Please note: Per IRS regulations, a return cannot be prepared without the required documents. Prior year tax returns do NOT satisfy document requirements.

Trained volunteers will answer questions and help prepare personal (not business) tax returns. Drop-in assistance will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Check out other options for free in person or online tax assistance at this listing:  Tax Help | The Seattle Public Library (spl.org).

Eviction Moratorium Ends

On February 11, Mayor Harrell announced, through an executive order, the end of the eviction moratorium. On Tuesday, the Council took up that executive order and Councilmember Sawant brought forward an amendment that would leave the eviction moratorium in place until the end of the declared emergency, which is a date unknown.

We heard a lot of passionate public testimony from landlords, tenants, and their advocates.

I don’t dispute the fact that small landlords have lost funds, have decided to stop operating rental housing, or have suffered other real harms associated with the eviction moratorium. Often the work that policymakers do is about addressing greater harms over lesser harms. This is one of those times.

I supported extending the eviction moratorium and proposed an amendment to do so until April 30. By doing so we would have allowed more time for the County to distribute rental assistance dollars that have been slow to get out the door to tenants and landlords.

My amendment to extend the moratorium until April 30 did not pass. And while I voted in favor of Councilmember Sawant’s amendment to extend the moratorium, that failed too.  The eviction moratorium will end on February 28.

We have three other protections for tenants who have fallen behind on rent during the pandemic. Two of them extend for the length of the Civil Emergency:

  • CB 120077 provides a defense to eviction for failing to pay rent due during the City’s COVID-19 civil emergency if the tenant has suffered a financial hardship.
  • CB 119788 provides a defense to eviction if the landlord does not offer the tenant a repayment plan.
  • CB 119784 provides a defense for six months after the moratorium for any tenant that declares that they suffered a financial hardship.

If you or someone you know is facing an eviction, this website includes a list of available resources. For other renter protections and resources please go here.

Volunteer for the Victim Support Team

Seattle’s Human Services Department is looking for community volunteers to join the Victim Support Team and become trained support advocates for victims of domestic violence and other crimes.  Applications are due 3/17.  Learn more here and apply here.

The Victim Support Team provides short-term advocacy and resources to victims of violent crimes. Volunteers listen to survivors, help them identify what next step they want to take, address immediate safety concerns, and offer connections to resources in the community and within the criminal legal system.

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