Disagreement abounds on whether the new proposed charter amendment on homelessness would reinstitute the sweeps.
Also a free bystander intervention training to stop anti-Asian/American and xenophobic harassment, the CM Sawant recall goes forward, and a follow-up on the draft bill on less lethal weapons
Time for some early April news!
First off, you can read my live-tweeting of this morning’s Council Briefing here:
CM Herbold mentioned that she had a meeting last week with the DoJ and the Monitor about the draft bill on less lethal weapons, and that they will have additional questions for the SPD and the City’s Central Staff, so that is continuing to move forward. The next public safety committee meeting isn’t until next week, and we don’t yet have word on the agenda.
Meanwhile, Seattle is busy discussing the new proposed charter amendment from Compassionate Seattle, led by former CM Tim Burgess, that would create a new Article in Seattle’s city charter called “Provision of Homeless Services.” This proposal is unprecedented in that it attempts to use the city charter to dictate specific policy and budget priorities, while charter amendments in the past have stuck to causing governance changes. The purpose of this amendment appears to be to cause the City to stand up 1,000 new units of “emergency or permanent housing with services” in 2022, stating the City must allocate 12% of its general fund annually to a separate Human Services fund.
More controversially, the proposed amendment also contains the following language: “As emergency and permanent housing are available, the City shall ensure that City parks, playgrounds, sports fields, public spaces and sidewalks and streets (“public spaces”) remain open and clear of encampments. The City also may require individuals to shift their belongings and any structures to ensure accessibility and to accommodate use of public spaces.” Given the initiative’s major financial backer is the Downtown Seattle Association, this section shouldn’t come as a big surprise.
There are several different interpretations of what that language might mean, and it is disturbing that a major initiative on which the public may be expected to vote is so ambiguous:
Kevin Schofield of SCC Insight says: “This does not appear to be bringing back “sweeps.” The text of the proposed amendment makes clear that parks and public spaces should be cleaned up and restored “as emergency and permanent housing are available.”
Marcus Harrison Greene of the South Seattle Emerald says in an interview on Hacks & Wonks: “Other than, as you were saying, people essentially just don't want to see any type of blight on their fair city or what have you. And are trying to essentially make it more and more of a hardship on people who are unhoused to be in areas that are "public spaces" or public amenities. And so for me, I mean, this just seems like an extremely - just extremely callous potential initiative that is couched in this language of compassion and love.” Crystal Fincher then responds, “I think the question is - the mandate in here to ensure that parks and public spaces are open and clear of encampments, is a clear direction and clear indication to return to aggressive sweeps. And to return to just default, I see someone in public - call the police, get them out.”
Erica C. Barnett of Publicola reports: “Supporters of the amendment say the mandate to ensure that parks and public spaces are “open and clear” of encampments does not mean a return to aggressive encampment sweeps, although that provision will be open to interpretation if the amendment passes.”
In one further wrinkle, one of the members of the coalition supporting this amendment is Chief Seattle Club, the executive director of which is Colleen Echohawk. In her statement on this initiative, she says it “prohibits sweeps unless there is a place for people to go.” However, a prohibition doesn’t seem clear from the actual language of the amendment. How her support of this amendment might affect her chances in the mayoral election is anyone’s guess, but it does seem to pull her into a more center position and align her clearly with the interests of Seattle’s business community. Of course, this could also easily weaken her prospects with more progressive voters concerned about the possibility of renewed sweeps.
In order for this city charter amendment to appear on the ballot in November, it will need to collect 33,000 signatures from Seattle voters, to be filed by early August.
The other big piece of news in Seattle is the Court’s ruling that the recall of CM Sawant can proceed. The recall campaign will now begin collecting signatures; they need 10,000 signatures from District 3 voters and have 180 days to collect them. Depending on when these signatures are turned in, this recall might be voted on during the November election or there might need to be a special election at a later date. So far CM Sawant has out-fundraised the recall campaign.
Finally, you can attend free virtual bystander intervention trainings to stop anti-Asian/American and xenophobic harassment. Hosted by Hollaback! and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, you can sign up for a training here. There is still one available training in April and several in May, and if you finish this first training, there is also a conflict de-escalation training workshop available.
Thanks for reading!