Week in Review: September 15, 2023 - with Erica Barnett
Release Date: 09/15/2023
Hacks & Wonks
On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll! With two weeks left in the State legislative session, Crystal and Matt dig into several bills with potential for huge impact and needing public support to get across the finish line - HB 2114 (rent stabilization), HB 1932 (even-year elections), and SB 6105 (Stripper Bill of Rights). See the resources section for links to contact your legislators about each of these bills! Next, they discuss the promise of the City of Tacoma’s detailed Anti-Displacement strategy,...info_outline Why Seattle’s Proposed Surveillance Mash-Up is a Lose-Lose with Amy Sundberg and BJ Last of Solidarity Budget
Hacks & Wonks
On this topical show, special guest host Shannon Cheng welcomes back Amy Sundberg and BJ Last from Solidarity Budget to discuss how the City of Seattle is rushing to bring three surveillance technologies to the streets of Seattle with minimal public input - a final public meeting happens next week on Tuesday, February 27th, 6pm! Amy and BJ fill Shannon in on Seattle’s Surveillance Impact Report process and their concerns that three technologies - Acoustic Gunshot Location System (AGLS, aka ShotSpotter), Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV), and Real-Time Crime Center (RTCC) - are being rushed...info_outline Week in Review: February 16, 2024 - with Robert Cruickshank
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Hacks & Wonks
On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Seattle Times City Hall reporter, David Kroman! Crystal and David dig into why Seattle is putting less money into new affordable housing project this year and how this week’s launch of a second social housing initiative by House Our Neighbors may be appealing to voters wanting to see progress on the issue. Next, they discuss the pressure on Mayor Bruce Harrell to deliver results now that a City Council friendly to his agenda has taken office and how the new Council’s relative inexperience was on display at initial committee meetings. Finally,...info_outline Harm Reduction in Rural Washington with Everett Maroon of Blue Mountain Heart to Heart
Hacks & Wonks
On this topical show, Crystal welcomes Everett Maroon, Executive Director of Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, for a conversation about their work in Southeast Washington using a harm reduction philosophy to support people, stabilize lives, & promote health and wellness in the community. Crystal and Everett chat about how the opioid epidemic has impacted rural communities, the role that stigma plays in keeping people from the help they need, what harm reduction is and why it is important. They then review the recent roller coaster ride of Washington state’s substance use disorder policy,...info_outline Week in Review: February 2, 2024 - with Erica Barnett
Hacks & Wonks
On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola, Erica Barnett! Crystal and Erica discuss public outcry over targeted inspections of LGBTQ+ establishments and Seattle Council President Sara Nelson’s remarks opposing even-year elections for local races. They then turn to news from King County that the target closure date of 2025 for the Youth Jail will be missed and how the annual “Point In Time” homelessness count will be different this year. The show wraps up with new polling that Seattle voters are supportive of a big Transportation Levy...info_outline Pairing Advocacy and Research for Progress with Andrew Villeneuve of the Northwest Progressive Institute
Hacks & Wonks
On this topical show, Crystal welcomes Andrew Villeneuve, founder of the Northwest Progressive Institute! Crystal learns about the Northwest Progressive Institute’s (NPI) work to advance progressive policies through their focuses on research and advocacy, what’s covered in NPI’s long form blog The Cascadia Advocate, and the importance of reframing in progressive politics. Andrew then describes how six initiatives bankrolled by a disgruntled wealthy Republican are designed to cause a lot of damage to Washington, how NPI’s careful approach to polling has led to successful results, and...info_outline Week in Review: January 26, 2024 - with Daniel Beekman
Hacks & Wonks
On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Seattle Times politics and communities reporter, Daniel Beekman! Crystal and Daniel discuss the unsurprising Seattle City Council vacancy appointment and what we might see from a business-backed, Harrell-picked legislative body as they navigate a hiring freeze, a large budget deficit, and upcoming important policy decisions. Next, they turn to the Office of Police Accountability’s conclusion that SPOG Vice President Auderer’s comments about Jaahnavi Kandula’s death were “derogatory, contemptuous, and inhumane” and speculate how Chief...info_outline The Raise the Wage Renton Campaign with Maria Abando and Renton City Councilmember Carmen Rivera
Hacks & Wonks
On this topical show, Crystal welcomes Renton City Councilmember Carmen Rivera and Raise the Wage Renton Steering Committee member Maria Abando to learn more about the upcoming citizen initiative on the February 13th special election ballot. Modeled after the successful Raise the Wage Tukwila initiative that passed with over 80% of the vote in 2022, community organizers in Renton are campaigning to raise their city’s minimum wage to keep up with surrounding cities like SeaTac, Tukwila, and Seattle. Maria and Carmen discuss how the ability to earn a living wage uplifts everyone, the signature...info_outline Week in Review: January 19, 2024 - with Robert Cruickshank
Hacks & Wonks
On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, long time communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank! Crystal and Robert dive into the open machinations of the big corporate donors to appoint their preferred candidate to a Seattle City Council vacancy and how the messy process has leached its way into Seattle School Board politics. They then discuss the qualification of a right-wing initiative to dismantle the state’s plan to take on the climate crisis. Robert gives a rare kudos to The Seattle Times for their presentation of a debate over homeless...info_outline
On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola, Erica Barnett!
The show starts with the infuriating story of Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) leaders joking about a fellow Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer running over and killing Jaahnavi Kandula - how the shocking comments caught on body cam confirm suspicions of a culture in SPD that disregards life, that the SPOG police union is synonymous with the department, and whether a seemingly absent Mayor Bruce Harrell will do anything about a troubled department under his executive purview.
Erica and Crystal then discuss Bob Ferguson officially entering the governor’s race with Jay Inslee’s endorsement, Rebecca Saldaña jumping into a crowded Public Lands Commissioner race, no charges against Jenny Durkan or Carmen Best for their deleted texts during the 2020 George Floyd protests, the latest on Seattle’s drug criminalization bill, and flawed interviews for KCRHA’s Five-Year Plan for homelessness.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
“Rob Saka, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 1” from Hacks & Wonks
“Maren Costa, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 1” from Hacks & Wonks
“"Write a Check for $11,000. She Was 26, She Had Limited Value." SPD Officer Jokes with Police Union Leader About Killing of Pedestrian by Fellow Cop” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola
“‘Feel safer yet?’ Seattle police union’s contempt keeps showing through” by Danny Westneat from The Seattle Times
“Handling of Jaahnavi Kandula’s death brings criticism from Seattle leaders” by Sarah Grace Taylor from The Seattle Times
“Political consultant weighs in on growing Washington governor’s race” by Brittany Toolis from KIRO 7 News Seattle
“Jay Inslee endorses Bob Ferguson to succeed him as WA governor” by David Gutman and Lauren Girgis from The Seattle Times
“Rebecca Saldaña Jumps into Weirdly Crowded Race for Lands Commissioner” by Rich Smith from The Stranger
“No Charges Against Durkan and Best for Deleted Texts; Investigation Reveals Holes in City Records Retention Policies” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola
“After Watering Down Language About Diversion, Committee Moves Drug Criminalization Bill Forward” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola
“Harrell’s “$27 Million Drug Diversion and Treatment” Plan Would Allow Prosecutions But Add No New Funding” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola
“The Five-Year Plan for Homelessness Was Based Largely on 180 Interviews. Experts Say They Were Deeply Flawed.” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Tuesday topical show and our Friday week-in-review delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.
If you missed this week's topical shows, we kicked off our series of Seattle City Council candidate interviews. All 14 candidates for 7 positions were invited. And over the last week, we had in-depth conversations with many of them. This week, we presented District 1 candidates, Rob Saka and Maren Costa. Have a listen to those and stay tuned over the coming weeks - we hope these interviews will help voters better understand who these candidates are and inform their choices for the November 7th general election. Today, we're continuing our Friday week-in-review shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host: Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola, Erica Barnett.
[00:01:37] Erica Barnett: It's great to be here.
[00:01:39] Crystal Fincher: Great to have you back. Well, I wanna start off talking about just an infuriating story this week where Seattle police officers - a union leader - joked about killing of a pedestrian by another Seattle police officer - and just really disgusting. What happened here?
[00:01:58] Erica Barnett: The Seattle Police Department and the King County Prosecutor's Office actually released this video from the night that Jaahnavi Kandula was killed by Officer Kevin Dave. It is a short clip that shows one-half of a conversation between Daniel Auderer, who is the Seattle Police Officers Guild vice president, and Mike Solan, the president of the police guild - as you said, joking and laughing about the incident that had just happened. And also minimizing the incident - so from what we can hear of Auderer's part of the conversation, he makes some comments implying that the crash wasn't that bad, that Dave was acting within policy, that he was not speeding too much - all of which was not true. He was going 74 miles an hour. The incident was very gruesome and just a horrible tragedy. Then you can hear him saying in a joking manner, "But she is dead." And then he pauses and he says, "No, it's a regular person." in response to something that Solan has said - and there's been a lot of speculation about what that might be. Then he says, "Yeah, just write a check." - after laughing - "Yeah, $11,000. She was 26 anyway, she had limited value." I'm reading the words verbatim, but I really recommend watching the video, which we posted on PubliCola.com, because you can hear the tone and you can hear the sort of cackling laughter - which I think conveys the intent a lot more clearly than just reading a transcript of it.
[00:03:23] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, we will link that PubliCola story with the video in our show notes, but it's just infuriating. And just to recap what happened just in the killing of her initially - that was a tragedy and an infuriating event. An officer was responding to a call that arguably police aren't needed at - in other jurisdictions, they don't seem to be needed on those types of calls - but without lights and sirens blaring, going over 70 mph on just a regular City street. And yeah, that's illegal for regular people for a reason - common sense would dictate that would be against policy - we give them lights and sirens for a reason to alert people that they're coming really fast and to clear the way. And it just seemed like Jaahnavi didn't have a chance here. And then the slow leak of information afterwards - just the event itself seemed to devalue their life and the way it was handled - and then to see this as the reaction. If their job is to keep us safe, they seem gleefully opposed to that.
[00:04:28] Erica Barnett: Yeah, I think that in the aftermath of the story going national and international, I think that one of the reactions I've heard is - Well, this is how we've always thought - from people who are skeptical of the police, I should say - this is how we've always assumed they talk, but to actually hear it on tape is shocking. And I think what happened in this video, the reason we have it is because Auderer perhaps forgot his body cam was on. 'Cause after he makes his last comment about $11,000, she had limited value, he turns off the camera and we don't hear any more of that conversation. This is a rare look into one such conversation between officers. And I will say too, that there was a - Jason Rantz, a local radio personality, right-wing commentator, tried to pre-spin this by saying that this was just "gallows humor" between two officers, and this is very common in professions where you see a lot of grisly and terrible stuff. And I will just point out, first of all, gallows humor is like making a joke about, I don't know, like a 9/11 joke, you know, 20 years after the fact. It's not on the night that someone was killed, joking about her being essentially worthless and trying to minimize the incident. That's not gallows humor. That's just the way, apparently, the police union VP and president talk amongst each other. It just shows that the culture of the department - we talk a lot about City Hall, which I cover - they talk a lot about recruiting better officers and getting the right kind of police. But the problem is if the culture itself is rotten, there's no fixing that by just putting 5 new officers, 10 new officers at the bottom of the chain. It comes from the top. And that is then - these two officials are at the top of that chain.
[00:06:09] Crystal Fincher: It does come from the top. And this also isn't the only time that it seems they have really distastefully discussed deaths at the hands of their officers or other people's deaths. There was a story that made the news not too long ago about them having a tombstone in one of their precincts for someone who was killed. There have been a couple officers who've had complaints for posting social media posts that seem to make fun of protesters who were run over. We have had a protester run over and killed here in the city. This is something that we've talked about that we - as a community - project that is against our values, but we continue to let this police department just mock people's safety in the city. I mean, you know something wild is happening when even Danny Westneat - who I think most people consider to be an extremely moderate, feels in-line with the Seattle Times editorial board, columnist for The Times - even he thinks SPOG has gone too far, and he's notoriously sympathetic to the police department.
[00:07:15] Erica Barnett: Yeah, I think that in that article, he almost got there. The article was basically - we desperately need more police, but this darn police union just keeps messing up and saying these terrible things, so we've got to reform this police union - which I just thought was a bizarre note in an otherwise pretty reasonable article because the police union is the top. It is the people that create the culture for the rest of the department in a lot of ways, perhaps more so than the police chief and the command staff. It's made up of cops. The cops vote in the head of the police union, the vice president - they are the ones that are choosing these folks. So if the police union's culture is broken, I think that means that SPD's culture is broken.
[00:07:54] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, unions are the culture. I feel like that's a trickle-down effect of anti-labor forces trying to paint unions as separate entities as workers. They are the workers. They're elected and selected by workers. So if anything, they seem to be the distillation of the culture. And there is a problem - I don't think that's controversial to say, I don't think that's even in dispute anymore - widely across this.
And there've been, again, lots of people pointing out these problems for years and years. And it feels like this is where we arrive at if we ignore this for so long. As I talked about in the opening, we just got done with a large round of Seattle City Council candidate interviews. And it was really interesting to hear, particularly from a few of them - there's three that I'm thinking of, that people will eventually hear - but who will talk about the need for more cops, who will talk about how important it is to rebuild trust with the community. But over and over again, it seems like they put it completely on the community to be responsible for coddling, and repairing the relationship, and building trust. And it seems like that needs to start on the other side. This is not even something that in polite society would happen, right? These are disgusting comments and disgusting beliefs, no matter who has them or where they come from. And we basically have sanctioned and hand over the power to violate people's civic rights to a department where this happens. And it's just a real challenge. And we have several councilmembers right now who have talked about needing to bring accountability and reform the police department in campaign materials when they were running. And it just seems like that dropped off the face of the earth. This should be a priority.
But more than everything else, I wanna talk about the responsibility that the mayor has here - it's like he disappears in these conversations and we talk about the council and we talk about the police department. Bruce Harrell is their boss. Bruce Harrell is the executive in charge here. Chief Adrian Diaz serves at the pleasure of, is appointed by the mayor. This is the executive's responsibility. The buck literally stops with him on this. And he seems to just be largely absent. I think I saw comments that he may have issued an apology this morning, but - Where is he on talking about the culture? Where is his outrage? Where is he in dealing with this? And this is happening amid a backdrop of a SPOG contract negotiation. How is he going to address the issues here in this contract? Or are we gonna paper over it? There's a lot talked about - one of his chief lieutenants, Tim Burgess, a former police officer, and how sympathetic he's been to police - and is that going to create a situation where this is yet another event that goes unaddressed in policy, and we don't put anything in place to prevent this from happening again?
[00:10:45] Erica Barnett: Harrell's statement was very much like a "bad apple" statement without completing the thought, which is that a bad apple ruins the bunch - that we're disheartened by the comments of this one officer. As you said, not addressing the culture, not addressing the fact that he can actually do something about this stuff. He is the person with the power. And as you mentioned, he was basically absent - made a statement in response to some questions, but it was pretty terse, and it didn't get at the larger cultural issues that I think this does reflect.
[00:11:14] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And I know there were comments, I saw comments from a couple of City councilmembers as of last night - calls to hear from more on their opinion on this issue. I have not seen more - we'll see if those trickle in over the coming day or two. But Bruce Harrell has the responsibility and the power to do something about this. Is he going to use it? - that's the question people should be asking, even more than what Chief Adrian Diaz is gonna do. This is unacceptable behavior. This absolutely speaks to the culture, and it's time we have someone who takes that seriously as an executive.
Now, I also wanna talk about news that came out this week - that wasn't necessarily surprising, but certainly a benchmark and a milestone in a campaign - and that is current Attorney General Bob Ferguson officially announced his candidacy for governor and came with the endorsement of Jay Inslee. How do you see him as a candidate and his position in this field so far?
[00:12:17] Erica Barnett: It's a big deal. I think Ferguson has been waiting patiently - or not - to run for governor for a while. He's had this trajectory - waited for Inslee when he decided to run again last time - this is the reward. I think it puts him very much in the front of the field as Inslee's successor. Obviously we'll see, but I think Inslee is a fairly popular governor. You see this in a lot of races, where you have an anointed person - the King County Council, Teresa Mosqueda is kind of similar - comes in with all the endorsements and I think is well-placed to win. So yeah, I think this puts Ferguson in a really strong position.
[00:12:52] Crystal Fincher: He is in a really strong position. As we know - I wish it wasn't the case, but unfortunately it is reality - that money matters a lot in politics right now. It's the only reliable way to communicate with voters en masse. There's earned media, but there's less reporters around the state than there used to be. So paying to put communications in front of voters is something that needs to be done. Paying a staff that can manage a campaign of that scale is something that needs to be done. And Bob Ferguson is head and shoulders above everyone else - he has more than double what all of the other candidates have combined in terms of finances, so that puts him in a great position. Obviously having the endorsement of the most visible Democrat in the state right now is something that every candidate would accept - I'm sure almost every candidate on the Democratic side would accept right now. It's gonna be interesting.
But I do think we still have a lot of time left, there's still a lot of conversation left. It is an interesting field from Hilary Franz to Mark Mullet, a moderate or conservative Democrat. And then on the Republican side, Dave Reichert and Semi Bird - one who I think is trading in on his reputation, at least in a lot of media stories as a moderate, but from being pro-life, anti-choice, to a number of other viewpoints - I don't know that realistically he's a moderate, just kind of a standard Republican. And then Semi Bird, who's endorsed by people like Joe Kent and others, who are definitely on the far right-wing side. So this is gonna be an interesting race. There's a lot of time left. And I still think even though Bob Ferguson - I think it's uncontroversial to say he's the front runner - still important to really examine what they believe, to talk to the voters around the state. And it seems like he's taking that seriously and vigorously campaigning. So we'll continue to follow what this race is, but it is going to be an interesting one.
[00:14:54] Erica Barnett: I will say really quickly too, that Reichert does not seem to be running a particularly active campaign. He's not, from what I hear, out there doing a lot of on-the-ground campaigning the way that Ferguson has. So while I think you're gonna hear a lot about him on TV news and more right-leaning publications, I think that we're talking about the Democratic side of the field because it's very unlikely that we'll have a Republican governor - even one who has a lot of name recognition like Reichert.
[00:15:20] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. So we'll continue to follow that. And just as an aside, I thought I would mention that in the race, another statewide race, for Public Lands Commissioner, State Senator Rebecca Saldaña jumped into the race - joining State Senator Mona Das, Makah Tribal member Patrick Finedays DePoe, King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, and current State Senator Kevin Van De Wege. As well as on the Republican side - I'm not sure how to pronounce her name - but Sue Kuehl Pederson. It's a crowded race that's going to be an interesting one. And I'm really curious to continue to see what Senator Rebecca Saldaña has to say, as well as the other ones. But that's a crowded race, and that one could be very interesting.
[00:16:03] Erica Barnett: Absolutely. Weirdly crowded race.
[00:16:05] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, very interesting.
[00:16:06] Erica Barnett: Or surprisingly - I don't know about weirdly - but surprisingly crowded.
[00:16:09] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, surprisingly. Rich Smith of The Stranger did an article about that this week, which we will link in the show notes.
Now, I also want to talk about news we received this week about another long-standing issue tied to both public safety and a former mayor. And that's news that we received that former Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and former Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best will not be facing charges for deleting texts. What was the finding here and what does this mean?
[00:16:39] Erica Barnett: Yeah, as we all know, they deleted tens of thousands of texts, many of them during the crucial period when 2020 protests were going on, when they were amassing troops - so to speak - and reacting with force to people protesting police violence after George Floyd was killed. And the finding essentially was that the King County Prosecutor's Office could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these deletions had been intentional and that they were trying to effectively conceal public records. It's a pretty high standard of proof that they have to meet at the prosecutor's office. I read the entire report from the investigator - what was released to reporters earlier this week - I have to say they put a lot of faith, I think, in or at least trust in public officials' statements that they sort of didn't know anything about the City's retention policy for cell phones, for text messages. The excuse was often - Well, I thought they were being preserved in a server somewhere, so it was fine to delete them. And I asked - because I think we all know when we delete our text messages, they're gone. You can't just get them back. AT&T doesn't have a server for us somewhere where we can get our text messages. So I said - Do they not understand how cell phones work? Was there any training on this? - and the response was - Well, I would dispute that they understand how cell phones work and there was training, but it was mostly about email. There's some stuff in here that kind of strains credulity a little bit, but again, it's a high standard of proof they had to meet, so that was their argument. There's a civil case where a federal judge said that it was unlikely that they didn't know what they were doing, but he had a lower standard of proof. So that's why it's a slightly different conclusion from basically the same facts.
[00:18:17] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I think these are always interesting situation - when it comes to an actual charging decision and what's needed there. I'm sure they're considering - unfortunately in our society today, they can afford significant defenses that are not available to a lot of people - that may have factored into their decision. But overall, it just once again seems like there is a different standard for people with power than those without power. And we're having conversations about people dealing with addiction, about people shoplifting for financial reasons - and even not for financial reasons - people being assaulted and in some instances killed for petty theft, or eviction, or different things. And it seems like we have no problem cracking down and expecting perfect compliance from people without power. But those that do just don't seem to be held to the same standard of accountability. And I think that's damaging and troubling. And I think we need to explore that and make sure we do hold people accountable.
And it also just doesn't, once again, escape my notice that these aren't the first controversies that either one of them dealt with that did not have the kind of accountability attached to them. And so yes, it's a slippery slope. And if you keep sliding, you're gonna wind up in a low, dirty place. And once again, this is part of what undermines people's trust in power, and in institutions, and in democracy. And we need to be doing all we can to move in the opposite direction right now - to build trust and to conduct actions with integrity. And it just doesn't seem like that is a priority everywhere - they know they can get away with it - and it's really frustrating and disheartening, and we just need to do better overall.
[00:20:05] Erica Barnett: To put a fine point on one of the things that the investigation revealed to me that I was not aware of actually about public disclosure - which is that text messages, according to the City, can be deleted if they are "transitory" in nature. And "transitory" is defined as not relating to policy decisions or things of substance like that, which means that according to Durkan and Best, it was fine to delete anything that was not like - We are going to adopt this policy or propose this policy, or our policy is to tear gas all protesters or something like that. So if it's tactical in the moment, that was not preserved. But I do records requests - I get text messages from officials - and a lot of times they include stuff that Durkan and Best are defining as transitory, like text message - I mean, I'm just making this up - but an official saying this other official is a jerk or somebody. There's all kinds of sort of process related text messages and texts that give some insight to decision-making that would be considered transitory. It is entirely possible that Durkan and Best are deleting all of those kinds of messages, which is not something I think should be deleted, and that I think is in the public interest to know about if people are requesting it. So I found that very disturbing - this notion that you can just destroy records if they aren't related to policy. I think in practice, most officials know better than that - and that's just based on records requests I've done - but apparently that's a big loophole that I think should be closed in the policies at the City, if at all possible.
[00:21:33] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Now I wanna talk about the return of the drug criminalization bill in the City of Seattle. What's happening with this?
[00:21:43] Erica Barnett: The City Council's Public Safety Committee voted this week to basically move it forward to the full council. There's a new version that has a lot of nice language - in the sort of non-binding whereas clauses - about we don't wanna start another drug war and we definitely, for sure for real, prefer diversion. But essentially the impact of the bill is the same as it has always been, which is to empower the city attorney to prosecute and empower police to arrest for people using drugs in public and for simple possession of drugs other than cannabis. There's some language in the bill - and including in the text of the bill itself - that says there will be a policy in the future that says that police should try to put people into diversion programs first. And there's a couple kinds of diversion programs that we fund - inadequately currently - to actually divert the number of people that would be eligible now. So the impact of this bill is, I think, going to actually be pretty limited because - unless the mayor proposes massive investments in diversion programs like LEAD, potentially like some of these pretrial diversion programs that City Attorney's Office wants to fund. But we're facing a huge budget deficit in 2025 and years out, so it feels like a lot of kind of smoke-and-mirrors talk. We really love diversion, but we're not gonna fund it. And maybe I'll be proven wrong in two weeks when the mayor releases his budget, but my bet is that there's not gonna be massive new funding for these programs and that this is gonna end up being mostly talk.
[00:23:19] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, mostly talk. And just on that specifically - that the mayor did announce $27 million to help support this effort. Is that $27 million - is it what it sounds like?
[00:23:33] Erica Barnett: Yeah, this is like one of the things that I feel like I've been shouting from the rooftops, and all the other local press - I don't know why - keep reporting it as if it is a $27 million check of new money, but it's actually $7 million that's left over in federal CDBG [Community Development Block Grant] grant funding that has to be spent, but the City has failed to spend it so far. So that's a lump sum - some of that's gonna go to an opiate recovery site run by DESC that I wrote about at PubliCola a couple of weeks ago. And then the rest is a slow trickle, over 18 years, of funding from a previously announced opiate settlement. And so that's gonna be on average about $1 million a year. As City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda was pointing out earlier this week, a lot of that - 20% of that goes to administrative overhead. So you're really looking at more $700,000-$800,000 a year, and it diminishes in out years - that is what they call budget dust - it is not enough to pay for virtually anything. I don't know what they're going to ultimately spend that trickle of funding on, but it's definitely not $27 million. That's what I mean by smoke and mirrors - that's a good example. It looks like a fairly big number, but then you realize it's stretched out into the 2030s and it's not nearly as big looking - actually, sorry, the 2040s, I believe, if I'm doing my math right - it doesn't look nearly as big when you actually look at what it is. So I encourage people to do that, and I've written more about this at PubliCola too.
[00:24:58] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. We can also link that article. The most frustrating thing to me about Seattle politics, I think - in addition to just the endless process and reconsideration of things instead of making a decision and doing it - is this thing right here where there is a problem and people seem to actually, in public, rhetorically agree with the problem. Arresting people just for drug offenses does not solve that problem - it destabilizes people more, jail is not an effective place for drug treatment. Does that mean no one in the history of ever has ever become clean in jail? - there have been people, but they're few and far between. And experience and research and common sense, when you look at what actually happens there, really shows that is more of a destabilizing experience, that people who are in addiction need treatment, effective treatment, for that addiction and substance use disorder. And for people who may be recreationally using, sending them to jail doesn't help them when it comes to - and in fact, it's very hurtful - when it comes to finding a job, to securing housing, a variety of things. And that often has a more negative effect when it comes to forcing people into needing assistance, into needing help or completely falling through the cracks and becoming homeless - and dealing with the challenges there that we all pay for as a society.
And so here we are again, where we actually did not solve the problem that everyone is articulating - and it seems like we just punted on that. But we're funding the thing that we say is not going to solve the problem, that we're confident is not going to solve the problem - and wrapping words around everything else, but that action isn't there. And I think what's frustrating to a lot of people, including me, it's sometimes - people on the left or Democrats are in this larger public safety conversation get painted as not wanting to do anything. And that's just so far from the truth. This is a problem, we need to address it. I just want to do something that has a chance of helping. And it seems like we're throwing good money after bad here and investing in something that we know is not going to be very helpful, meanwhile not funding the things that will be. And so we're going to be a year or two down the line and we'll see what the conversation we continue to have then is, but wondering at which point we stop doing the same thing that keeps getting us these suboptimal results.
[00:27:20] Erica Barnett: And this is one place that you can blame the city council. I know the city council gets blamed for everything, but they are out there saying that this is a massively changed bill and it's changed in meaningful ways - in my opinion, it really hasn't been.
[00:27:32] Crystal Fincher: I agree with that. I want to conclude by talking about a story that you wrote at PubliCola this week, talking about challenges with the way interviews for the Regional Homeless Authority's Five-Year Plan. What happened here and what were the problems?
[00:27:49] Erica Barnett: Yeah, the new Five-Year Plan for homelessness, which was pretty controversial when it first came out because it had a $12 billion price tag, was based largely on 180 interviews that the homelessness authority did with people who are unsheltered in places around the county. And the interviews were basically 31 questions that they were supposed to vaguely stick to, but some that they really needed to get the answers to - for demographic reasons - and didn't always. The interviews were conducted primarily by members of the Lived Experience Coalition with some KCRHA staff doing them too. I've read about 90 of the 180, so about half of the 180 so far - and I would describe them as primarily being very discursive, very non-scientific. And it's not just that they are qualitative interviews 'cause it's fine for a qualitative interview to ramble - I talked to a couple of experts about how this kind of research usually works - and the idea is to make it more like a conversation, and that was the goal here. But in a lot of cases, the interviewers were doing things like suggesting answers, like interrupting, like talking at great length about themselves and their own experience, making suggestions, making assurances or promises that they could help them with services. There are just all kinds of things going on in these interviews that are not best practices for this type of interview.
And then the interviews, which generally, people didn't tend to answer the question - there was a question about what has been helpful or harmful to you - and the goal there was to get people to say things that would suggest a shelter type, for example. They almost never said a specific shelter type except for a tiny house village, but the interviews were then coded by researchers to sort of lead to a specific set of shelter types. And without getting into too much technical detail, the idea was if somebody said they wanted X type of service or they had Y type of problem, that would suggest they needed Z type of service. So you're living in your car, you probably need a place to park your car safely. You're living in an RV, you need an RV safe lot. And the problem is, first of all, you're extrapolating from 180 interviews. And second, some of these solutions are pretty determinative. If you live in an RV, do you wanna live in an RV forever? Maybe not. Anyway, it just, it was not a great process to come up with this plan that ultimately is a plan to spend billions of dollars, even if it doesn't have that price tag, on a specific breakdown of types of service. And so I think they're not gonna do it again this way next year, but I think it did really inform this plan in a way that was not always super helpful.
[00:30:23] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and I do know a little something about qualitative and quantitative research. As you said, doing qualitative interviews - in a narrative format, having a conversation - is not in itself a bad thing, but you can't interject your experience. You can't help inform the answers of the people you're talking to and that seemed to happen. And it really did seem like it was - they had an ambitious plan, maybe the training for how to do this was not as comprehensive as it needed to be - that certainly appears to be the case. Initially, they actually did hundreds, multiple hundreds of interviews for this, but a lot of them had to just be discarded - they were so outside of the bounds of what was supposed to happen, they were not able to be included in what they considered their final data set. And that's really unfortunate. It's a lot of time, it's a lot of effort - especially with populations that are harder to consistently contact and follow up with, any chance you have to connect with them is really meaningful. And so if you don't utilize that time correctly, or if you can't do anything with that, that just seems like an extra painful loss. I understand the ambition to get this done, but the execution really suffered. And I hope that there are lessons learned from this. Even in the ones that were done wrong - I say it seems like an issue of training and overambition, 'cause usually there is a lot of training that goes into how to do this. Usually these are people's professions that actually do this. It's not - Oh, hey, today we're gonna do some qualitative interviews and just walk up and have a conversation and check some things off the list. - it doesn't work that way. So that was unfortunate to hear. And the recommendations from this - I don't know if they change or not after review of this whole situation - but certainly when you know that eyes are going to be getting wide looking at the price tag of this, you really do have to make sure that you're executing and implementing well and that was a challenge here. So how do they move on from this? Was it at all addressed? Are they gonna do this again? What's going to happen?
[00:32:25] Erica Barnett: I don't think they're gonna do the qualitative interviews, at least in this way again. I think this was something that Marc Dones really emphasized - the former head of the KCRHA - really wanted to do. And it got rolled into also doing the Point-In-Time count based on extrapolations from this group of folks they interviewed. They call these oral histories and really emphasized the need to get this data. I don't think it's gonna happen again based on what KCRHA officials told me, but qualitative data - I mean, I should say, is not as you mentioned a bad thing - it can be very useful. But the training that they received was a one-time training, or perhaps in two parts, by Marc Dones - I don't think they have anybody on staff right now that is trained in the kind of stuff that Dones was training them on. So I think this is probably one of many things that we'll see that happened under - in the first two years of the agency - that's gonna go by the wayside in the future. So doubt we'll see this again.
[00:33:22] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I hope - there usually is really useful information and insight that comes from doing qualitative research. I don't think that we should necessarily throw the baby out with the bathwater here overall, but certainly this was a big challenge. And I hope that informs how they choose to move forward in the future.
But with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, September 15th, 2023. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is the wonderful Dr. Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today is Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola, Erica Barnett. You can find Erica on Twitter @ericacbarnett, or X formerly known as Twitter, as @ericacbarnett and on PubliCola.com. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can find me on multiple platforms as @finchfrii, that's F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. You can catch Hacks & Wonks wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get the full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.