Week in Review: April 12, 2024 - with Guy Oron

WA faces legal battle over gun law. Three new political initiatives. Boeing whistleblower raises new concerns. Seattle grapples with housing affordability and transportation priorities, while city leaders call for a better Comprehensive Plan and SPOG handcuffs alternatives to police responses.

Week in Review: April 12, 2024 - with Guy Oron

In the latest Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, Crystal Fincher and Guy Oron discuss:

Washington's Ban on High-Capacity Magazines Ruled Unconstitutional

On Monday, the Cowlitz County Superior Court ruled that Washington state's ban on high-capacity magazines is unconstitutional. The decision has been met with concern from gun safety advocates, while Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a candidate for governor, expressed confidence that the ban will be reinstated upon further review. The state Supreme Court has issued a stay on the ruling pending an appeal.

Three New GOP Initiatives

Washington State Republicans have filed three new initiatives aimed at repealing the state's sanctuary laws, cracking down on "squatters," and rolling back regulations on natural gas. Critics argue that these initiatives are driven by misinformation and designed to motivate the extreme conservative base.

Boeing Whistleblower Raises Safety Concerns

Boeing engineer Sam Salehpour has come forward with allegations that nearly 1,000 787s and 400 777s could be at risk of premature damage due to production and quality control failures. The revelations have prompted calls for regulatory agencies to conduct thorough audits and ensure the safety of Boeing's aircraft.

Seattle City Councilmembers Call for Improvements to Comprehensive Plan

Seattle City Councilmembers Rob Saka and Tanya Woo have called for Mayor Bruce Harrell to revise the draft Comprehensive Plan to better address the city's housing needs. Their statements reflect a growing consensus among city leaders that bold action is necessary to tackle housing affordability.

Transportation Levy Faces Scrutiny

Mayor Harrell's proposed $1.3 billion Transportation Levy, which would replace the expiring Move Seattle levy, has also faced scrutiny. Advocacy groups have criticized the levy for being too car-centric and not investing enough in public transit, sidewalks, and bike lanes. The Seattle City Council will have the opportunity to modify the levy before its implementation.

Alternative Response Plans Hindered by Police Union Agreement

Lastly, a tentative Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City of Seattle and the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) has raised concerns about the future of alternative response plans. The MOU would limit the scope of civilian staff's responsibilities in handling non-criminal calls related to mental health and substance use disorders, which critics argue undermines the purpose of having a social worker-led response team and fails to reduce the strain on police resources.

About the Guest

Guy Oron

Guy Oron is the Staff Reporter for Real Change and creator of the newsletter Gossip Guy, covering local news, labor, policing, the environment, criminal legal issues and politics. His writing has been featured in a number of publications including the South Seattle Emerald, The Nation and The Stranger. Raised in Seattle, Guy brings a community and student organizer perspective to their journalism, highlighting stories of equity and justice.

Find Guy Oron on Twitter/X at @GuyOron and gossipguy.net.

Podcast Transcript

[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 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 our Tuesday topical show, I chatted with Executive Director of the Urbanist, Rian Watt, about how housing policy shapes the future vision for our communities, why the recent legislative session didn't live up to its "Year of Housing 2.0" billing, and how the Seattle Comprehensive Plan falls short and can be improved. 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: Staff Reporter for Real Change and creator of the Gossip Guy newsletter, Guy Oron. Hey!

[00:01:28] Guy Oron: Hi! Happy Friday!

[00:01:30] Crystal Fincher: Happy Friday - hopefully it's happy for everyone - that's certainly an accomplishment to get to Friday and to have it be happy in this world that we are in. Well, there's a number of things to talk about this week. We will start off talking about the ban in Washington state on high-capacity magazines being ruled unconstitutional, at least for the time being. What happened here?

[00:01:57] Guy Oron: So this Monday, the Cowlitz County Superior Court ruled that the state's high-capacity magazine ban is unconstitutional. And the Superior Court judge used the precedent from the Supreme Court in 2022 - citing a previous case in New York - where the Supreme Court said that safety does not need to be considered when making gun regulations. Now, the Supreme Court has stayed the ruling, so for now, the law that the state passed will remain in place, but we could see this go all the way up to the State Supreme Court or even the U.S. Supreme Court. And it's definitely a big blow for gun safety advocates and anyone who has been trying to tackle just the high rates of gun violence in this country.

[00:02:43] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. This is certainly not what advocates for reducing gun violence wanted to see. It is important to note that this is a lower court decision - basically, this is going to kick off at least one, if not a chain of appeals, it's going to hit our state Supreme Court. Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who is also a candidate for governor, released a statement after saying - Basically, every time this has been looked at in court, it has been upheld. He's confident that it will be reinstated. The stay is temporary. We'll see what happens, but this is a big deal because across the country, certainly, there is broad popular support - and in Washington state - for taking more action to address gun violence. This is one of the most popular provisions in the suite of legislation that is talked about - banning high-capacity magazines - so this isn't really controversial in the public. The question is about the constitutionality about it. Folks certainly have different opinions, but we'll see what our State Supreme Court says about it. It's going to be a really big issue, but there have been calls for legislatures and political leaders to do more to address gun violence. This is how our state has been responsive. Our state has been more responsive than other states - something, certainly, that many of our legislators tout, that they've been rewarded for at the ballot box. But it's a major court decision here and will certainly be followed by people across the nation as it moves through the higher courts.

Also want to talk about a few new Republican initiatives that have been filed, that they're about to embark upon signature gathering for. This is in addition to the three initiatives that have already qualified and will appear on our November ballot. Guy, what will these initiatives do?

[00:04:40] Guy Oron: The Washington Republicans just filed three initiatives. One of them would repeal the state's sanctuary laws - the Keep Washington Working Act that prevents law enforcement and state officials from collaborating with ICE. The second initiative would crack down on so-called "squatters" and really just roll back tenant protections and make it easier for landlords to evict people and to take them to court. And the third initiative would repeal regulations that mandate public utility companies to phase out natural gas - so especially Puget Sound Energy, which is the largest utility company in the state - and it would really just further attack the state's climate commitments.

[00:05:23] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I think these initiatives really make plain what the agenda has been all along. This is really about extreme Republican culture wars. These initiatives are basically plucked from recent right-wing headlines - one of them, born of pretty plain misinformation. The initial coverage in right-wing media about the legislation talking about natural gas was initially reported as - The legislature has banned gas stoves. I don't know if people listening recall - last year, news came out that gas stoves actually emit harmful substances into our air, it's not healthy for us to breathe. If we use them, the area should be ventilated because they have unhealthy emissions inside of the house. Somehow, MAGA conservatives took that as - They're trying to take our gas stoves, and kill our freedom, and tell us what to do. It's like - We are trying to tell you to not breathe toxic substances. We just learned exactly how toxic they are. We do that with plenty of other things - we advise people not to mix bleach with other cleaners because that creates toxic air. It's not good. But these are, again, just a blatant attempt to try and motivate the extreme conservative base by putting these initiatives on the ballot because they have been struggling with the quality of candidates that they're fielding this year. And they just want to stir up and create controversy.

Now, these initiatives do have a chance to qualify - it would cost them a lot of money, but they have a mega-rich, super-donor, hedge fund manager bankrolling this effort. So we'll see if it qualifies or not. They may, they may not. But really, this is just telling - this isn't about anything related to good governance. These suite of initiatives that we're going to see on the ballot are not about wanting to help residents of the state and do what's right. These are just about trying to push forward an extreme Republican agenda, trying to demonize and villainize people - our legislators who have been responsive to the public's calls for taking action in very important areas - and upending the law in ways that will be beneficial for the super rich and uber wealthy. So certainly disappointing to see - I think this is also a lesson for Democrats - that they need to stand up and fight these initiatives, that you can't really negotiate and bargain with these people because they can't be placated. This is not a good faith effort. They just want to create chaos, sow division, and try and use that to motivate the extreme elements of their base, try and take some additional folks with them to give them some kind of a chance in November. What do you think?

[00:08:18] Guy Oron: Yeah, exactly. These initiatives are moral panic-driven, misinformation-laced efforts for Republicans who have been kicked out of Olympia - they've been a minority party now in the state for years. And it's just an effort for them to assert dominance and win back power through the back door. And like you said, there is really no good evidence for any of these policies - it is just trying to latch onto these culture war issues. And so far, this strategy seems to have worked. The Washington State Democrats joined Republicans in the State Legislature to pass three other initiatives which rolled back protections for trans kids, and rolled back accountability measures for police, and other harmful policies that have real tangible impacts on people's lives. And now Republicans have been emboldened and it looks like, with these three new initiatives, they're just trying to double down on the same strategy. They will have until July 5th to collect about 325,000 valid signatures. And with deep pockets, you can just hire thousands of signature gatherers, and it is a very real threat that these ballot initiatives will make it to November.

[00:09:31] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Also, in additional news this week - unfortunately - another Boeing whistleblower has come forward with some pretty serious and horrible allegations that seem pretty substantive. What did he say?

[00:09:49] Guy Oron: So, the new reporting from Dominic Gates at The Seattle Times shows that a Boeing engineer named Sam Salehpour alleged that almost 1,000 787s and 400 777s that are currently flying could be at risk of premature damage due to failures in the production and quality control steps of Boeing's manufacturing. And these revelations are just the latest in a months-long controversy with Boeing that was really sparked by that Alaska Airlines flight where a Boeing 737 MAX had that hole blown mid-flight. And since then, it seems like almost every week we learn more about how Boeing has cut corners, and outsourced, and not kept up with important safety measures, and just put people at risk due to cost-cutting measures and prioritizing shareholder profit over everything else.

[00:10:47] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it's another in a series of revelations and allegations. And basically there were gaps identified in some of the areas where different parts of the planes were joined - if there was a gap there, it would have to be filled. In order to skip that step, they basically said that they took shortcuts that temporarily made it look like there was no gap there. So that issue essentially wasn't addressed and anything that would have flagged it through the testing, therefore, was not identified. So these planes are now at risk of degrading prematurely and obviously, this is making planes less safe. There was a previous whistleblower who had made allegations years ago that seem to have been substantiated with a lot of the revelations since that door plug falling out of the Alaska plane. And that whistleblower wound up dead of a gun wound - initially, it was reported that he died by suicide, there's a lot of suspicion around that. People at least wanted that to be investigated further because he himself said - Hey, if anything happens to me, it's not suicide, look into what happens. And seemingly a whistleblower would finally want the opportunity to have what they claimed, and what had upended their life be substantiated, and then be vindicated - he was in the middle of a deposition for this process. And so I certainly look at this whistleblower and hope he has security and remains safe. But also I hope that there is an actual serious effort to enforce safety regulations, to really audit what is happening at Boeing. There has been smoke from so many sources that there are definitely fires burning that need to be cut out. And our regulatory agencies have not lived up to their obligation so far, it seems like they have been doing more recently, but it also looks like more is called for.

And it's just really concerning because this was all talked about and predicted by engineers ten years ago when they started talking about outsourcing. Several engineers warned at that time - Hey, we're seeing lapses in quality, looks like they're sacrificing quality for profit. And that seems to have been borne out. And this is impacting our local economy - this has a huge impact on our region. And have seen some people say - Well, we can't knock Boeing. We want Boeing to succeed. It's bad to talk about this. We need to stand behind Boeing and cheer because it's important to our economy. Well, if planes have these problems, that is the most damaging thing that could possibly happen. And sometimes accountability is what's needed - and to say this is a problem. And unless they fix it, it's going to be tragic for our economy - and people are going to lose jobs and families are going to be hurting because of these executives' choices to prioritize shareholder profit over the safety of the people riding the plane. So I just hope this is actually taken seriously, that this whistleblower is heard and protected, and that they do solve these issues. I think everyone wants to see these solved - I don't know many people who want Boeing to go under - but it's unacceptable to continue on this path and just shuffling around executives to have some fall guy for the media isn't going to do it. There need to be systemic changes.

Also want to talk about this week - a development that I thought was interesting - just Wednesday night, in a meeting in the 34th Legislative District Democrats, in response to the draft Comprehensive Plan released by Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell that has been widely panned for not doing nearly enough to provide the amount of housing that the city knows it will need over the next decade. Rob Saka and Tanya Woo actually said - You know what? The mayor does need to do better. We need to see more here. This is not the alternative that was put forward during the long and involved comment process leading up to the development of this Comprehensive Plan. It's not Alternative 5, and they said they hope the mayor revises this - it needs work done. What was your reaction to hearing that?

[00:15:18] Guy Oron: My reaction initially was almost surprise because I think we've been so used to politicians campaigning for one thing and saying something else. When I interviewed Rob Saka, he did say he supported Alternative 5 back before the election, and it is good to see him keep that policy and pledge consistent. But I think it also shows how much the Overton window has shifted in Seattle around zoning and land use issues. And this Comprehensive Plan might have been more palatable 10 years ago when housing prices were about half what they are now, but I think people from across the political spectrum are fed up and want to see serious action - and even drastic action - taken to reduce housing costs, expand the amount of affordable housing, and just all housing available. So it will be very interesting to see if these moderate city councilmembers will translate their words into action and really push back against the mayor. I think we've seen a lot of deference so far in the council, led by Sara Nelson, to really be - We support the mayor every single step of the way. So it'll be interesting to see if, in this issue, people like Saka and Woo can join with Tammy Morales, the Land Use Chair, and really push some serious changes and overhauls to the current draft to allow more development and more opportunities for new housing.

[00:16:43] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. There is agreement - seems like - from everywhere in the political spectrum that more housing is needed. Not everyone thinks that more housing is the only thing that's needed, but certainly allowing for more housing to be built in more areas has broad, widespread agreement. And it's a very uncontroversial thing to say - the state has taken action in that direction. We've seen everyone from progressive groups to the realtors who have known to side with moderate and conservatives be supportive of issues like this. So really interesting to see and good to see them being consistent with what they said on the campaign trail, so we will continue to follow that.

Also want to talk about the Transportation Levy that Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced this week and the reaction to it. What did he announce with the Transportation Levy and what are people saying about it?

[00:17:38] Guy Oron: This new levy has been awaited for some time now since the Move Seattle levy - which will be expiring at the end of the year - funds about 30% of the Seattle Department of Transportation. So this new $1.3 billion levy that Harrell has proposed will replace that and allow for a lot of new funding for more projects. Now this is just about the same amount if you account for inflation, and a lot of advocates such as Disability Mobility Initiative and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways have criticized it for not being bold enough. They had said that the City needs to spend about $3 billion to address its issues with not enough sidewalks, inadequate sidewalks, not enough bike lanes, and the need for more public transportation. And they criticized the car-centric nature of the proposal that Harrell has put forward. For example, there's a lot of emphasis on bridge and road maintenance, but funding for public transit is significantly down. And a lot of the climate transition elements in this package primarily focus on things like EVs and planting trees, and not really on the core issue of reducing the amount of driving people do. There's definitely some intense scrutiny right now - and the Seattle City Council will have to approve the levy, so it might make modifications. And advocates, for example, are asking the levy to be expanded by about $400 million, so it'll be interesting to see how this plays out politically. And like we said earlier, Mayor Harrell does have a lot of allies on the city council, so it is likely that things will go his way. But this involvement and oversight from community groups is definitely welcome to try to push the levy forward, and really address climate change and Vision Zero and all the other crucial issues that the city faces.

[00:19:38] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, we're going to be talking more about this in our topical shows on Hacks & Wonks. But with this levy, the City put forward a choice. They said - We're just going to focus on maintenance predominantly - bridge and road maintenance, which is a lot less ambitious than the previous levy that this is replacing. And at this time, the City has ambitious climate goals that it is not quite on track to meet, that it's going to take some significant action to make sure that they meet. And is facing a number of challenges, a pedestrian safety challenge - we're seeing people, whether they're walking or on bikes, being hit and injured basically daily on the streets. You can design roads to prevent and reduce that - there is action called for that. Certainly, it's hard for people to get around without adequate infrastructure like sidewalks, safe crosswalks, those types of things that were called for in the last levy that now are being sidelined and overlooked. And this is really about what transportation is going to look like in the next decade for the city. And a lot of people are saying our vision is bigger than this - it should be, it has to be. The City's plans say that it is, yet we're not willing to fund it. We're not even willing to ask the question to Seattle voters - Are they willing to fund this? And these are things that are helpful to everyone. Safe sidewalks are beneficial to everyone in every walk of life. And as we see seniors as they age, kids going to school, families just trying to get around the city - to be able to do that and not be forced to use a car is something that people look for in cities. It certainly makes things more affordable and more livable for everyone. I think what we just talked about with Rob Saka and Tanya Woo being responsive to overwhelming feedback that they've said that they heard has been effective, and so this is another area where feedback could be useful.

Now, unfortunately, they promised while they were running that they wanted a better Comprehensive Plan. At least Rob Saka, the Chair of the Transportation Committee, is in a different place. And he calls himself the "king of potholes" and seems like he is in favor of a more modest, maintenance-focused levy that doesn't address climate goals, that doesn't address mobility, that doesn't address those kinds of things. So we'll see what happens with this, but certainly going to be interesting to follow this as it goes along. And we'll also put resources in the show notes for people who do want to make their voices heard about where they stand on this issue.

[00:22:21] Guy Oron: Just one last point on these two issues that people have raised is that the Comprehensive Plan and Transportation [Levy] have really, from the City, not been planned in lockstep. They've been kind of siloed. And this actually makes it harder for us to deal with the climate crisis and deal with the housing crisis when you don't have planning that takes in account the need for more public transportation and takes in account the need for 15-minute cities. I think this is just showing a deficiency in the City's land use and the City's urbanist policies, urban design - the fact that they can't plan housing and transportation at the same time together, and they have two jarring plans that really don't mesh together.

[00:23:07] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Also want to talk about a piece that Ashley Nerbovig of The Stranger did, talking about how Seattle's alternative response plans are basically handcuffed, kneecapped, and negated by the Memorandum of Understanding with the Seattle Police Officers Guild. What's happening here?

[00:23:30] Guy Oron: Ashley Nerbovig was able to obtain a copy of the tentative Memorandum of Understanding that the City has negotiated with the Seattle Police Officers Guild. And what it would do would essentially outline 18 areas of work that civilian staff can take over from the police department and from sworn police officers. These tasks are things like allowing civilians to handle delivering mobile fingerprint readers to cops, performing mail runs, and really some just very basic chores - kind of relegating alternative responders to being assistants. Right now, the City has a small CARE team that they just launched last fall, and this group is supposed to be responsible for handling some of those calls related to behavioral health or substance use disorder - a lot of the things that people complain about when they come in from the suburbs and they see unhoused folks on the street. And the CARE team was supposed to connect those folks to resources and de-escalate situations that are uncomfortable - maybe someone is having a crisis. And this new MOU kind of scuttles this idea of having a social worker-led response team that doesn't use police resources. And instead, every time now when this CARE team responds to a call, they have to work and defer to the police officer. And so it doesn't really reduce the strain on current police resources, especially with the staffing crisis. And it also doesn't advance what a lot of community members want, which is alternative safety responses to policing and having less police presence in their neighborhoods. So this is definitely something to watch out for and see if the city council will eventually approve the new SPOG contract and this new MOU. But certainly a lot of city councilmembers who were elected last year campaigned on alternative safety responses as one of their main safety priorities. So if they really want to see that happen, they will have to push back hard against SPOG and take a more oppositional stance towards people like Mike Solan, who really just want to prioritize their own members over everyone else in the city.

[00:25:52] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, this is so unfortunate. As Ashley put it, they have basically negotiated for civilian response just to be their assistants - not people who are responding to calls that they aren't well-equipped to handle, which is something that is one of the most popular things with Seattle voters. In poll after poll after poll of Seattle voters, they have said - Yes, we want people who can respond to issues like substance use disorder, mental health crises who are best equipped for that. This is not a controversial thing in the public. It's extremely popular. It polls anywhere between 65% and 85%. There are very few things that are as popular as this in the city. And we have models in surrounding cities working well, and across the country working well. In northern King County, there is the Regional Crisis Response, basically a handful of cities getting together and fielding this in their communities. They're seeing success from it, their police departments feel it's a positive thing. They help to reduce the workload of police and free them up to do the things that they say are crucial for them to do, to handle serious crime responses.

And from the Seattle Police Department's own analysis, they said more than half of the calls that they receive are non-criminal calls - are things that could be diverted to civilians to handle. And they have been talking about their staffing shortage for a long time saying - Wow, this is preventing us from responding to things on time. This is preventing us from effectively responding to crime. This is why our response times are longer. And so the public heard them and said - We hear you, so let's put this in place to help, and to have better outcomes for calls that are behavioral health crises or people suffering from substance use disorders. So it is just mind-boggling. And again, when we look at whether these organizations and people are acting in good faith or bad faith - if they have a complaint and there's actually a response to the complaint, say - Oh, we hear you. Here's what can help. Here's all the evidence. Look at the other localities that are doing this. It's popular. Let's go. And they say - Oh, no, no, no, no. We actually don't want our workload lightened. We actually don't want that. We want you to do just the very specific things that we say that don't actually seem connected to making our streets safer, to reducing the amount of people who are being victimized in our communities. It is just infuriating is what it is, and is kneecapping the response - it's preventing our streets from becoming safer. And the fact that it's coming from the Seattle Police Officers Guild is beyond ironic and just ridiculous.

[00:28:46] Guy Oron: Yeah, there is a good question to ask. Police officers will be getting almost $20,000 in annual base pay raises with this new contract. So I think the mayor and the city council should really ask themselves - what will they receive in exchange for better benefits and pay for the police department? And things like accountability and civilian alternatives to policing should probably be up there - these are the demands we require in exchange for this significant boost in pay and benefits.

[00:29:20] Crystal Fincher: And that's what traditionally has happened. To see accountability and these surrounding work conditions be included in this contract to the degree that it is in Seattle is somewhat unusual. And for a while there - over the past few decades, really - there was, to a greater degree, trade-offs just like you talked about. Okay, we're willing to compensate you more and fairly - people were not begrudging that for a long time. And in exchange, we want to hold you accountable for A, B, C, D, and E. Or we're going to put these processes in place. But to be able to say we want no additional accountability measures, we're going to move backwards on some things, and we're going to prevent you from standing up what data and evidence has proven to make our community safer, to reduce the workload of police officers - just doesn't seem like it's in the interest of the public. And so I do hope that our city councilmembers address this. To your point, everyone from Sara Nelson to Tanya Woo to others did say that they were an advocate for more reforms. They certainly want to hire more police, but they say that they want to hold them accountable to introduce reforms, to make sure that some of the things that we've seen that have been pretty blatantly unacceptable to everyone who sees them have an opportunity to be fairly handled and for justice to be served. And so we'll see if they stick with that, but this is certainly disappointing to see.

And with that, thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, April 12th, 2024. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today was Staff Reporter for Real Change and creator of the Gossip Guy newsletter, Guy Oron. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else 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, please leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a 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.