Week In Review: April 8, 2022 - with Katie Wilson

Week In Review: April 8, 2022 - with Katie Wilson

On today’s Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, Crystal is joined by co-founder and General Secretary of the Seattle Transit Riders Union and former Crosscut columnist, Katie Wilson. They discuss the social housing initiative and Councilmember Tammy Morales' community engagement in preparation for the next growth management plan. Then they dive into a rift among regional leaders about how to address homelessness, the Harrell administration's controversial decision to decline issuance of authorized bridge repair bonds, and a new fare enforcement approach for Sound Transit. Crystal and Katie conclude with a discussion on minimum pay standards for gig workers, Howard Schultz’s return, and Bothell prioritizing pedestrians on a main street.

About the Guest

Katie Wilson

Kate Wilson is General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union.

Find Katie Wilson on Twitter/X at @WilsonKatieB and follow the Transit Riders Union at @SeattleTRU.


Seattle Transit Riders Union: https://transitriders.org

“Seattle’s middle class is vanishing. Could this idea save it?” by Naomi Ishisaka from The Seattle TImes: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/seattles-middle-class-is-vanishing-could-this-idea-save-it/

“How Seattle’s next mayor can solve the housing crisis” by Katie Wilson from Crosscut: https://crosscut.com/opinion/2021/07/how-seattles-next-mayor-can-solve-housing-crisis

“Seattle mayoral candidates weigh in on public housing” by Katie Wilson from Crosscut: https://crosscut.com/opinion/2021/07/seattle-mayoral-candidates-weigh-public-housing

“Seattle area has 6th-highest rent in the country” by Danny Schmitt from Seattle Refined: https://seattlerefined.com/the-home/surprised-puget-sound-area-has-6th-highest-rent-in-america-study-finds

House Our Neighbors: https://www.houseourneighbors.org

“Rainier Beach Strives for Growth without Displacement” by Shaun Kuo and Doug Trumm from The Urbanist: https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/04/04/rainier-beach-strives-for-growth-without-displacement/m

“Group aims to bring Seattle minimum wage push to Tukwila” by KIRO Newsradio Newsdesk from MyNorthwest: https://mynorthwest.com/3407417/tukwila-minimum-wage-push/

“Will Seattle’s Next Growth Plan Create a “City Within Reach,” or More of the Same Old Crap?” by Andrew Engelson from The Stranger: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2022/04/04/69904228/will-seattles-next-growth-plan-create-a-city-within-reach-or-more-of-the-same-old-crap

Seattle Comprehensive Citywide Plan: http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/OPCD/OngoingInitiatives/SeattlesComprehensivePlan/CouncilAdopted2020_CitywidePlanning.pdf

Seattle Participatory Budgeting Project: https://www.participatorybudgeting.org

Seattle Within Reach Events: http://www.seattle.gov/council/meet-the-council/tammy-morales/seattle-within-reach

“Tiny-House Funding Debate Reveals Fractures Over Future of Homelessness System” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola: https://publicola.com/2022/04/04/tiny-house-funding-debate-reveals-fractures-over-future-of-homelessness-system/

“Harrell Administration Not Ready to Issue Bonds for Bridges, Council Pushes Back” by Ryan Packer from The Urbanist: https://www.theurbanist.org/2022/04/05/harrell-administration-not-ready-to-issue-bonds-for-bridges-council-pushes-back/

“Sound Transit Fare Enforcement Plan Could Send Riders to Court and Collections” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola: https://publicola.com/2022/04/06/sound-transit-fare-enforcement-plan-could-send-riders-to-court-and-collections/

“PayUp Ordinance finally being introduced” by Ruby de Luna from KUOW: https://www.kuow.org/stories/seattle-ordinance-seeks-to-raise-pay-and-set-labor-standards-for-gig-workers

“Howard Schultz halts share buybacks to “invest more profit in our people”” by Dee-Ann Durbin and Matt Ott from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/business/starbucks-halts-stock-buybacks-as-schultz-pivots-to-workers/

“Bothell banned cars from Main Street in response to COVID. They may never return” by Daniel Beekman from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/bothell-banned-cars-from-main-street-in-response-to-covid-they-may-never-return/


[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. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week. Welcome to the program for the first time on Friday as a co-host, today's co-host: former Crosscut columnist, co-founder and General Secretary of the Seattle Transit Riders Union, Katie Wilson. Welcome Katie.

[00:00:57] Katie Wilson: Thank you, Crystal - great to be here.

[00:00:59] Crystal Fincher: Great to have you here - have just followed your work for a long time, have been a big fan. You seem to understand creating change and building coalitions toward change - and just appreciate everything that you're doing. One thing that I want to start off talking about this morning is the social housing initiative - there was a great Seattle Times column earlier this week about it, you've certainly covered this before in your Crosscut columns. What is this initiative and what can it mean for Seattle?

[00:01:31] Katie Wilson: Yeah, so Naomi Ishisaka had a great column on Monday about social housing and she really started from this fact that's been in the news a lot recently - that Seattle is, as we all know, more and more becoming a city of rich and poor, right? And so she introduced this social housing initiative as potentially an answer to saving Seattle's vanishing middle class. Now this initiative was filed a couple of weeks ago now by the House Our Neighbors coalition, which came together last year in response to the Compassion Seattle ballot initiative. And this is really an effort to put forward a bold positive solution to Seattle's housing crisis.

The initiative this week just got its number, so it's Initiative I-135 and hopefully they'll be able to start gathering signatures sometime in the next few weeks. But basically the idea here is that existing models of creating affordable housing are not enough. And so, House Our Neighbors is looking at cities elsewhere in the world - like Vienna is an example that often comes up, Paris is also doing a lot with social housing - of how can we really take more housing off the private market and make it permanently affordable? And I think a couple of the important characteristics of this proposal are - one, it would create publicly-owned housing, as opposed to the current model where kind of a whole range of nonprofit housing providers operate housing. This would create a public development authority so that the housing would be owned and operated by this public entity.

And it would also be mixed income - so this is, I think, really interesting. So as opposed to just trying to create affordable housing for the very poor or low-income households, this would create housing that potentially could be for people up to - I think it was 120% of area median income. And so what this would mean, among other things, is that the housing could be more financially self-sustaining and you could have more kind of mixed income developments and mixed income neighborhoods. And essentially higher rents could be subsidizing the lower rents - and so this has big implications for the ability of social housing to kind of expand. And so one thing that the public development authority could do is basically bond against future rents and basically create more money up front to expand and acquire new properties. So it's really an exciting idea and it'll be interesting to see how it unfolds.

[00:04:14] Crystal Fincher: An extremely exciting idea and critical to affordability - you referenced news that's recently come out where the median income in Seattle is now over a $100,000 - more than 53% of Seattle households make more than a $100,000, which is up dramatically from just 10 and 20 years ago. The skyrocketing rents that we're seeing in Seattle and also in the entire region is just really alarming, and so we're looking at - is Seattle going to be a place purely for the rich and wealthy, or do other people have a space in it? Especially given that for all of the high-income tech workers, big corporate people making a ton of money - they're all relying on services and people who are making low wages. And to force them out of the City and not being able to participate in the success that has been created, the jobs boom that we've seen over the past 10 years - just is really fundamentally unfair. And I think what we're seeing socially is that it's unhealthy, and we all lose because of it.

What does the plan for the initiative look like moving forward? Will there be a signature gathering drive? What kind of activity can people expect to see, and how can they get involved if they want to?

[00:05:41] Katie Wilson: Yeah, so signature gathering will be the name of the game - I think that the initiative is - they're hoping to get it on this November's ballot, which means that they need to collect ~20,000 valid signatures of Seattle voters by probably around the end of June. That's a lot of signatures. And so I think this is a very volunteer-driven effort, I know that Real Change is bottom lining the coalition, but it's going to take lots and lots of volunteers to gather those signatures. You can visit the coalition's website, which is houseourneighbors.org to learn more and to sign up to volunteer. I think they're already doing trainings for people who are interested in helping to gather signatures. And then if successful, this would go on the November ballot for Seattle voters to vote on.

[00:06:27] Crystal Fincher: It makes a big difference - we'll also include that in the episode notes for people who want to learn more. As we move forward in talking about this, this also is related to conversations about growth and displacement. The rising rents have priced a lot of people out of Seattle - people who do make less than a $100,000 - certainly home ownership is often out of the realm of possibility. But the ability to live in Seattle overall - Seattle, which in another article this week, has the sixth highest rent in the country. What does it mean to be able to grow without displacing the community that's already there, and how do we move forward and continue to support development and density without destroying the neighborhood that's already there?

[00:07:18] Katie Wilson: Yeah, I think this is a really a complicated question and one that Seattle's definitely grappling with right now. I feel like every month or two, one of these articles comes out that ranks Seattle among other cities in terms of how expensive it is to live here or housing costs, and so this is another one, right? Yeah - sixth highest rent in the country - I don't think anyone is surprised by that. I mean, if you're a renter in Seattle - as I am - you know that it's pretty expensive. And and of course this isn't just Seattle, but now it's all of King County where rents are rising. And I think we're seeing this coming out of the pandemic, right - there was a period of time during the pandemic when eviction moratoriums were in place and landlords, for a time, were not allowed to raise rents - there was a freeze on rent increases. That time is over, and so we're definitely now seeing an uptick in both evictions for non-payment of rent, right? 'Cause there's still tens of thousands of renters in the Seattle area who have rental debt accrued during the pandemic. And we're also seeing large rent increases around King County.

And, you know, I've been down in Tukwila - the Transit Riders Union is doing a minimum wage ballot initiative in Tukwila this year - and so we've been door knocking and talking to lots of renters in Tukwila about that. And we're finding so many people who have been getting rent increase notices of $200, $300, $400 a month - and this is happening around King County. So rents are going up at a really rapid pace and that's a problem, right? People can't afford it - they have to find somewhere to move to that's probably further away from urban areas, further away from jobs. And this is something that we've seen happening in Seattle and in King County for the past decade or more, right - where people, low-income people, communities of color being displaced by rising rents, by new development. And part of that, of course too, is our housing shortage, right? We've had this huge flood of higher-paid tech workers moving into the region and we haven't been building housing to keep pace. And so I think part of the debate going on right now is - how do we begin to build housing at scale? And at the same time, be doing enough to create also affordable housing, right? So that building new development doesn't just push people out further.

And there was an article in The Urbanist this week - Rainer Beach strives for growth without displacement, which was actually somewhat - something of a hopeful piece about what's going on in Rainer Beach right now, which is, has been - it's on the light rail line, but compared to some of the other communities around the light rail stations has seen less development over the past years. But this year there's quite a lot of projects that are kind of in progress, including a lot of affordable housing projects, which is really positive news.

[00:10:18] Crystal Fincher: Extremely positive. One of the things that I do appreciate so much about the social housing initiative is that it doesn't just focus on lower income areas - building affordable, mixed income areas. Having mixed income communities is actually great for public safety. Those communities are usually safer, more resilient, thriving - not just to concentrate lower incomes in one area of the City, which is usually just segregation. And usually the consequences that people in higher income areas don't want to experience, whether it's pollution, lack of investment and other infrastructure like schools and other areas tend to be concentrated in those low, lower poverty areas overall, where they're really just areas of disinvestment and of intentional neglect and underinvestment. So I definitely appreciate that about the initiative. And as we have these conversations in the City about what - what do we want the City to be - that's really healthy.

There was another article this week in The Stranger, talking about Seattle's - the approach that specifically Tammy Morales, Councilmember Tammy Morales, is looking at taking in looking forward to the next comprehensive plan in Seattle and just really very intentionally setting out to say - what do we want Seattle to look like? And what kinds of policies can help get us there? What was in that conversation?

[00:11:50] Katie Wilson: Yeah, so basically every - I think it's every eight years - Seattle updates its comprehensive plan. And that's - it's not binding legislation, at least as far as I understand it, but it's kind of a roadmap for how the City has decided it wants to develop and then that guides legislation after that. And so in this - and the last comprehensive update was passed in, I believe it was 2015 - and that really focused on adding development, adding housing, adding height in urban villages, right? So there was kind of designated areas around the City where there was good transit access, where there was already - it's kind of urban - and so the idea was to concentrate more development in those areas, but then kind of leave alone the vast majority of our residential land, which is zoned for single family homes. And so I think we've had a lot of public discussion over the last few years about how wrong that approach is and how it kind of perpetuates redlining and basically banning poor people from, and people of color from, most of the City. And so I think that part of the focus in this new comprehensive plan update, which - starting now and will be passed in a couple of years - is to figure out what we can do to reform our zoning so that more housing and more affordable housing can be built throughout the City.

But then there's a lot of other components to it, too. And I think this is where Councilmember Morales is thinking creatively about some of the other elements. I don't know how much she's ruled out, but I think that there's a lot of opportunities to think about where we locate businesses, for one thing, especially as the pandemic is kind of changing the places and the ways that people live and work - making sure that there's more mixed use development in residential neighborhoods so that you can have things like small businesses and cafes and childcare close to where people live. It will just be really interesting to see - Councilmember Morales is planning a series of discussions or public engagement that people can get involved in.

[00:14:12] Crystal Fincher: Well, and as we talk about a lot of these transformative changes that Councilmember Morales has been discussing - issues that we've talked about before, that lots of people and planners have talked about before, like the 15-minute city, are things that she has brought up that hopefully we are able to see more of. And especially in this context - the places that we love to visit, love to travel to, have fond memories of in terms of how wonderful it is to be, the feeling of community and accessibility of everything that those areas have to offer - they're usually really dense and walkable. And we love visiting 15-minute cities. And there's a disconnect between what we love and we know we enjoy and what fosters community - and for some reason we don't apply that same kind of lens to where we live at home. We can create more pleasant spaces here where we live if we just do some of the things that are really universally recognized - and that people pay thousands of dollars to travel to experience, and then seemingly just shun when it comes to local decision making.

So these are things that really enhance the overall enjoyment, safety, just attractiveness of communities. And the more we can do to instill that locally, the better off we are in terms of climate, jobs, health - all of the outcomes and things that we look at as markers of great healthy thriving communities, usually are enhanced by making them more dense and walkable. And really give people options for how they want to live instead of just locking them into - you have to own a car in order to survive and have all of the uncertainty of all of the expenses related to that - as we sit here now and gas prices are so unstable and expensive for a lot of people - just really giving people choice and options. We talk about freedom a lot in this country and man, I really wish more people had real choices and freedom to choose how they want to live and what they want their communities to be, and don't have to be locked into a certain way of life because the community design dictates that. So I'm really interested to see where this goes in the future. What do you anticipate to see as we continue through this process, Katie?

[00:16:43] Katie Wilson: Yeah - well, and I just want to add - I think that transportation is a really important piece of this as well. As someone who works with the Transit Riders Union, one of the big shortcomings of our climate action as a City over the last 10 years has been an utter failure to reduce transportation emissions. I think we had some kind of goal of cutting transportation emissions rather dramatically by 2030, and here we are - they've just been going up and up. And so that's really a measure of our car dependence, and so I think what's going to happen next - Councilmember Morales has a series of public engagement meetings which people should attend. This is going to be a long process - there's going to be discussions about this comprehensive plan update and about zoning - throughout the rest of this year and continuing into next year and probably beyond.

But hopefully what comes out of all of that is a commitment to upzone single family neighborhoods to at least allow things like triplexes, quadraplexes, maybe even other kinds of multi-family housing. I think we also need to be looking at changing the way that we regulate parking and not demanding that parking spaces be built everywhere. And so this is going to be a long process, but it's important that people get engaged because there's going to be strong opposition to making a lot of these changes. I think that our Seattle Times Editorial Board is notoriously opposed to making these kinds of positive changes. And from wealthy single family neighborhoods, I think there's also going to be a lot of opposition to changing the neighborhood character, so to speak. And so it's going to take quite a lot of organizing and pressure in order to create these mixed income, 15-minute neighborhoods that are walkable and affordable for people of all incomes.

[00:18:51] Crystal Fincher: Completely agree. I always find it curious how those in the NIMBY community who tout maintaining the neighborhood character always seem to be in favor of changing the character of other neighborhoods - and try and frame that in terms of wonderful, great revitalization and development and progress. But when it comes to their own neighborhood, it is somehow evil and forbidden, and just beyond what anything should be considered. I definitely agree that people really do need to engage and make their voices heard because we know for a fact that folks on the NIMBY side of things and who are opposing the kind of progress that we need to make this a livable city for everyone in the future are going to make their voices heard.

Another area that was covered this week had to do with the apparent fracture over approaches to homelessness that was revealed in - just kind of a disagreement and dustup over funding between the State, the King County Regional Homeless Authority, and another organization. What is going on with all that?

[00:20:08] Katie Wilson: Well, this all started or at least the news broke - I think it was last week. And there was an article in The Seattle Times by Scott Greenstone, which - it was trying to present this as like a scandal - that Frank Chopp, Representative Frank Chopp, had usurped the authority of the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority and had redirected $2 million to LIHI [Low-Income Housing Institute] for setting up tiny house villages. And it was a very - it was trying to portray this as a scandal - and then this week, Erica Barnett wrote a story to set the record straight. And thank God for Erica - I think what's really going on here, and I trust Erica's reporting on this, is that that money was never in the Regional Homelessness Authority's hands.

That was actually money which last year had been allocated to Seattle for tiny house villages. And then as you might recall, there was a lot of efforts on the part of the City Council to allocate funds to set up lots of new tiny house villages to try to give people an option other than sleeping outside. And Mayor Durkan never spent that money, and so - this was actually an attempt to put that money toward what it had originally been intended for. And the King County Regional Homelessness Authority put out an RFP for that money even though it wasn't there. So, a lot of drama.

I think that the bigger story in my mind is - there's a lot of scandal in how we approach homelessness, but it's not this. It's the fact that we are not taking our housing crisis seriously. And the Harrell administration has really stepped up sweeps, without really stepping up the creation of shelter and housing for people to go to. And this is a big problem - Mayor Harrell has kind of committed to carrying out the Compassion Seattle initiative, but only seems to be doubling down on the sweeps portion of it. And we haven't really seen the 2,000 new units of emergency housing or whatever that are supposed to be created in this first year. So in my mind, that's the real scandal here.

[00:22:37] Crystal Fincher: Well, I certainly agree with you there. And a lot of opponents of the Compassion Seattle initiative, myself included, really felt and understood that - wow, this is actually what the Compassion Seattle initiative was about. It was very clear and explicit in changing the City Charter to allow for sweeps, and very muddy and not as clear when it came to mandating the creation of housing and provision of services. It seemed like that was, Hey, if you can do it - great. But if not, you also don't have to. It really seemed like an attempt to codify the ability to sweep, and putting other language around there to make that more palatable - that that actually did not look like it was going to translate into action under the Harrell administration.

Certainly, as you just said, they took action on the sweeps, but the other stuff has been missing or very, very anemic. In this process, one of the things that you talked about, we've talked about on Hacks & Wonks before - the Durkan administration's refusal to spend money that had been allocated, which was just baffling at the time - what people in the City had, residents and voters in the City had repeatedly identified as their number one concern - that all of us can see is a humongous problem. Having people who do not have homes to sleep in - out in the elements, in dangerous places, outside sleeping - and the refusal to allocate money, to use federal money, to seek additional money, to address it - just really, really confounding.

And it really seemed, through this article and reporting, that Frank Chopp's action was more tied to accountability than it was any personal want or desire. It actually does not appear that he has any financial stake or benefit that comes from allocating this money, or related to LIHI. But they did explicitly say, Hey, we did allocate this money. And with the understanding that this was an emergency, we wanted it to be used, and you chose not to use it. Councilmember Andrew Lewis has been a leading proponent of tiny homes, and he also wanted to see this done, as did the rest of the Council - but it looked like the mayor's office just refused to spend it. And Frank Chopp said, well, if you aren't going to spend this and start to take action on one of the biggest problems we face, then we're going to give the money to someone who will, an organization who will - and it actually looks like that's what happened.

While at the same time there seem to be disagreements - and have heard them - about whether or not tiny homes are the most appropriate measure. From my standpoint, it looks like they're - they can certainly be part of the solution - they are not all of the solution. Nothing that we're talking about is all of the solution, but if money is allocated, then action does need to be taken to put it to use. It really does nothing to allocate money or to pass legislation, if you have an executive branch that refuses to do what they can with it. And unfortunately, the executive branch is the only branch who can actually take action and implement the policy and use those funds on the end.

So it's going to be interesting to continue to follow this, but it looks like the money is in the hands of LIHI. It actually was not in the hands of the King County Homeless Authority. They seem to be doing great work in other areas and certainly have funding and action that they're in the process of taking, and revamping things. And also in a complicated and sometimes contentious conversation about the need to pay frontline staff more, who have definitely been underpaid - I appreciate their willingness to bring that out in the open. But there's going to be accountability tied to this money, and there should be - so that if it's allocated for something, it should be used for that. So going to be interesting to continue to follow that, but again, I do appreciate - as you do - Erica's reporting on that, to see what was really behind this and getting to the core of the issue. And we'll continue to follow that.

Another item that happened this week - the Harrell administration actually announced that they are not intending to use bonds, bonding capacity, to repair 70-something bridges that are in need of repair in the City, which caused some consternation among Council people. What happened here, Katie?

[00:27:42] Katie Wilson: Yeah, so this actually goes back to last year's City budget process. And in the discussion around the transportation budget, there was a push from several councilmembers - Councilmember Alex Pedersen, among them - to get the City to allocate a lot more money toward bridge repair, especially obviously the West Seattle Bridge being on the top of everyone's mind. And the City ended up approving a $100 million bond issuance to fund bridge projects around the City. And so what's happened now is that the Harrell administration has basically decided against issuing those bonds this year. And they've said basically that there are not enough projects that are shovel-ready, and so for that reason, it wouldn't be fiscally responsible to pay interest, to raise funds for these projects that can't actually proceed.

And Councilmember Pedersen was very not happy about this - and actually I got a big kick out of this, because I think we've just come out of a administration with Mayor Durkan, where there was a lot of tension between the mayor and the Council. And it was kind of the Council's left wing that was dramatically at odds with the mayor on a lot of things. Well, we're seeing something a little different here where Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who is arguably on the Council's right-wing, was very upset and basically said, The decision of the executive branch of our City government to kick the can down the road yet again, makes it clear that if another Seattle bridge breaks or closes and strands people, freight and transit, the fault would be with the Harrell administration.

So a little bit of fireworks there, and one of the mayor's spokespeople countered - in One Seattle, we don't point fingers. We build consensus and take deliberate and effective action, so I kind of got a kick out of that. But on this one, I'm actually on Harrell's side and on Scott's side - I think that there's kind of a tendency to think of bonds as like magic, right? You issue bonds and you make money appear out of nowhere, but that money has to be paid back with interest. And so bonds can be a really good idea if you have a large capital project that you can get going on right away if you have all that money up front, and that you wouldn't be able to do if that money just dribbled in over the course of a bunch of years. But in this case, if you actually don't have a shovel-ready project or you don't have the capacity to do all that construction upfront, it probably doesn't make sense to issue bonds yet. And so I think that the mayor's administration is actually making the correct decision in this case.

[00:30:29] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, this is an interesting one, and I see that point also. And another point they brought up is that - I think it's American Rescue Plan funds that can go towards infrastructure are still in the process of being distributed and there's an opportunity for the City to potentially pursue those - some of those funds to help defray costs. One of the things that is happening - there is continuing work in planning and moving some projects forward. I can see the frustration from Councilmember Pedersen in that infrastructure maintenance and bridge repair - just chronically falls onto the back burner - it's something that is invisible to a lot of people, that often times does not make it as the top priority, that may be hard to feel the benefit. And that you can't point to it and say, look what we did - and have it be something visibly different and a sign of progress. So sometimes are - short-sighted political decision-making that so often takes the day doesn't focus on that. And finally, we got to a point where we approve funds, we are taking a comprehensive approach at seriously maintaining our bridge infrastructure which just about everyone acknowledges is necessary. And it feels like a setback.

If there is an opportunity to get external funds, we should certainly try and do that - finding a $100 million or $50 million or $5 million can certainly help defray costs. I would anticipate, and the Harrell administration took pains to say that they're not dismissing the idea of bonding out of hand, just saying not yet since things aren't shovel-ready, but we'll continue to take a look at this. And I do hope that they have a plan and timeline in place to say, okay, we're seeking this extra funding, or we are planning to get these projects on track to be ready to get worked on by a certain date and to be able to take action. So hopefully we're not sitting here two years from now still talking about hoping to find other funding without taking any action to move us forward - because also, construction costs continue to rise the longer we wait to do this and that will become more expensive. So hopefully it's a quick thing that happens.

[00:32:58] Katie Wilson: Yeah - no, that's absolutely right - and I think part of the problem here, of course, is that we just have done such a bad job of maintaining infrastructure and retrofitting it for earthquakes. And so there is just this huge backlog, and I think one of the issues at debate in the budget process last year was how best to use our scarce local transportation money. And there was a proposal from several councilmembers, including Councilmember Pedersen, to use some money from a vehicle license fee toward the bridges - and multimodal transportation advocates, including the Transit Riders Union and the MASS coalition were pushing for that money to go toward walking, rolling, biking infrastructure instead.

And we were really saying that for this bridge funding, we should be doing everything we can to get federal and state money, 'cause that's where the big bucks are. And I do think that there's a big opportunity to do that. And that's not to say that we're not going to need to raise local funds for those things, and we also have the levy renewal coming up where that's going to be, I'm sure, under discussion - including a bunch of funds for bridge stuff. So, I mean, not to say that this is not a big issue that needs to be solved, but I do think that in this case it was right to hold off on the bond issuance.

[00:34:24] Crystal Fincher: All right. Another development this week - Sound Transit is discussing further fare enforcement policy changes. What are they talking about this time?

[00:34:35] Katie Wilson: Yeah - so this has been going on for a long time now. So this goes back to - golly, I would even say 2018 - when there was a audit done of King County Metro's fare enforcement program, that showed that it extremely disproportionately was impacting homeless and housing insecure riders. And that kicked off a process where the Transit Riders Union and a number of other organizations worked with the transit agencies and put pressure to try to get them to change the way that they respond to fare nonpayment. And so there were a bunch of reforms that King County Metro made, and then Sound Transit has been a tougher nut to crack. The agency has a more conservative, law-and-order culture - partly reflecting its larger, not just Seattle and King County, geographic area. So it's been years of pushing the agency and talking with people within the agency to try to get them to come up with a less punitive way to respond to fare non-payment. And the system that they had before was basically like - you don't pay your fare, you get one warning. You don't pay again, it's $124 fine issued through the court system as a civil infraction. And so that was basically leading to people getting a criminal record and ultimately unpaid fines being referred to debt collectors, just for not paying their $2.75 fare or whatever.

And so what Sound Transit is now considering is some pretty significant changes - a lot of them really positive. So the proposal that they were looking at, at the executive committee meeting on Thursday, in which they will be - the full board will be considering later this month - would basically increase the number of warnings. So I think there's like two warnings, and then after that you would get a $50 fine, but it wouldn't be issued by the court system. It would be kind of an administrative fine that the transit agency was issuing. And then, I think the next infraction, it goes up to $75. And then maybe after that, it goes up to $124. And they also were creating non-monetary ways to resolve a fine, so that you could - for example, sign up for a low-income reduced fare if you're eligible, if you weren't already signed up. And they also were - are proposing to end the practice of suspending people from Sound Transit services and making people get off the train if they haven't paid.

So there's a lot of really positive aspects to this. But we're still very concerned that there's this nexus with the court system and also with potentially sending fines to collections if they're not paid. And so we're continuing to push, to try to get the Sound Transit Board to remove those elements. We would also like to see just the fine lowered - I mean, ultimately we want to see free transit, right? But this is kind of baby steps. And so - I think we're also in a difficult moment - I think 'cause we all know there's something of a backlash to the racial justice movement of last year. And so, I think a lot of the Sound Transit Board members, especially those from jurisdictions outside of Seattle and King County, are feeling that this is being soft on fare evasion. And so it'll be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few weeks.

[00:38:14] Crystal Fincher: We will definitely continue to keep an eye on it. Another exciting development this week is that the Pay Up ordinance was introduced. What will this do?

[00:38:26] Katie Wilson: Yeah, so this is a pathbreaking piece of legislation - I believe it's the first in the country that would establish minimum pay standards for gig workers - so people who work for DoorDash, Grubhub, these app-based, delivery services. And so this would set minimum pay standards - trying to establish a minimum wage for time that you are essentially working. And so if you sign onto the app and you accept a job, then right now - you're not getting paid for all of your time and you might end up getting paid significantly less than minimum wage for the time that you're working. So this would try to fix that problem.

[00:39:19] Crystal Fincher: And with that - it certainly seems like a worthy fix - people should be paid for time that they're spending there. And with some of that, they aren't being paid for some of their travel time. These gig workers are also experiencing the pressures on their expenses that everyone else is - so gas, that the cost of gas is disproportionately impacting them. Other items are - and their pay sometimes is below minimum wage. There is some pushback from Councilmember Sara Nelson saying that - well, we've seen some negative effects and demand drop for some gig workers who have had legislation passed that was intended to help them. Do you see things in that way? Do you feel like that was a fair criticism?

[00:40:05] Katie Wilson: No, not really. I mean - Seattle's gig worker - Uber and Lyft driver - minimum wage law passed in late 2019. And I think went into effect around the time that the pandemic hit. So, if you're talking about demand plummeting, I think that we need to look at what the COVID-19 pandemic did to demand for rideshare. I think that the bottom line is that workers deserve a living wage. And so there's these industries that have sprung up, which really exploit vulnerable workers, and we just have to make a decision as a community that we don't do that.

[00:40:47] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, that a non-negotiable is that people get paid fairly for their labor - it seems fair. Related - Howard Schultz is back - yay. Because we didn't get enough of him in his presidential run, he has decided to return to Starbucks, in what a number of people view as an attempt to quell the momentum that Starbucks unionization currently has. And he announced a plan to invest more of their profit in people by stopping their share buybacks. Do you think that's going to make much of a difference?

[00:41:30] Katie Wilson: Well, I think this is interesting. So he's back as the interim CEO, and this is his first major action. And share buyback programs are, I think often rightly criticized as, a way of - they basically return profit to shareholders, but the shareholders often include highly paid executives. So a lot of CEOs, higher-ups in these corporations get paid largely in stock options, and so when the stock price goes up, they stand to profit a lot. So there's these kind of perverse incentives for corporations to plow profits back into share buybacks, because that elevates their share price, it makes them look good, and it also monetarily benefits a lot of these high-paid employees who are making these decisions. So what Schultz has decided to do is to not do that. They were going to do, I think, a 20 billion share repurchase over the next few years, and that was on top of a 25 billion share buyback that was announced a few years ago. So they were really doing this big time. And so he's announced that instead, they're going to plow more of that money into the company itself.

And I think that this really reflects how scared Starbucks is about the unionization wave that's sweeping their stores around the country. I wouldn't be surprised if we see soon some kind of big announcements of raises for Starbucks workers, maybe better benefits - who knows what they're going to pull out of the hat. But this is a classic union busting tactic too - is where a union is getting traction - now we have, I think, 13 out of 14 stores that have actually had their union votes have succeeded. And there's 200 stores around the country that have filed for election, so it's actually a big wave at this point. And so I think the tactic here is for the company to start trying to make things better for employees so that they can say - see, you don't need a union - this is fine. We can work things out directly between the worker and the employer. So if you have a problem come to us - we can give you a raise, we can give you benefits. You don't need a union. So it'll be interesting to see how this plays out. I think that the union can also portray this as a victory, but it's hard to say which way it will swing.

[00:43:58] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. Completely agree with you that this is more a response to the pressure that they're feeling from the labor organization - and frankly being called out and exposed for how differently profits being taken by corporate executives and investors are treated differently than profits created by the people who are working on the front lines, where the profits wouldn't exist without them. So we'll continue to see how Starbucks responds to this, how Howard Schultz does. There was coverage of one meeting I saw that he was in, and employees stood up and didn't back down. And I think he's going to have a bit of a different reception and experience with labor and accountability than he had perhaps 15 years ago, when he built a reputation for being able to hold unionization at bay. So we'll continue to follow that, also.

Finally, this week, I want to talk about Bothell making - extending their - one of their main streets being car-free. What's going on in Bothell?

[00:45:11] Katie Wilson: Yeah, so this is kind of cool. So during the pandemic, like a lot of cities, Bothell decided to make some more walkable areas in their city. And so there's a part of their Main Street that they blocked off to cars to try to encourage outdoor dining and shopping. And it was pretty successful - I think if you read the article in The Seattle Times, you'll see there were some different opinions, right? There were - a lot of the merchants thought it was great - they were able to have outdoor dining, got lots more customers. There were a few which felt that their business might've gone down because there weren't people driving by, but on balance, it was a really positive experiment. And so the whole city council has voted to continue that for the next couple of years, I believe.

So they're going to keep that section of their Main Street car-free through 2024. This is kind of cool - it's not like - in Seattle, we've had during the pandemic, we've had Stay Healthy streets in residential neighborhoods, we've had cafe streets where some of the parking spaces have been turned into dining. But we don't really have a fully pedestrianized street that is continuing. And so this little area of Bothell is one of the few local examples of a - something from the pandemic that might last in a positive way. And I think they're looking at European cities that have big pedestrianized squares and streets as a model for this.

And I think it's interesting too, as in Seattle, conversation has bubbled up again about trying to make Pike Place Market car-free, or at least closed to thru traffic. And I think there's some other candidates in Seattle for car-free streets - I think The Ave in the U district is another one that is sometimes brought up. But we were talking before about 15-minute cities and walkable neighborhoods. And so I think this is - it'll be interesting to see how it goes in Bothell.

[00:47:12] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, certainly. And sometimes suburbs are not thought of as places where this would happen, but they're ripe for this happening - and a number of suburbs have things like this on a more temporary basis, where they'll shut off a street for part of a day, on the weekend, or for a farmer's market. Usually they aren't permanent closures, but more are talking about that, especially after the experiences through the pandemic where lots of dining needed to move outdoors - and so repurposing some of those spaces and parking spaces for people. And the positive reception that has received - so sometimes people have been used to being a more conservative conversation in the dominance and priority of cars taking precedence, but experiences on the ground are different.

It's reflected in this article where community members are talking about, Hey, one of the people in the article is saying - I can come down here with my kid, don't have to worry. They can run around and have a good time. Don't have to worry about them getting hit by cars. Business owners are saying the foot traffic is great for business and it activates the space. Some concerns from a couple of business members have revolved around - well, I have elderly clientele or people who have mobility issues who used to be able to be dropped off at the door and now it's more of a challenge. So they've tried to mitigate that with some access and drop-off areas, but the reception seems to be really positive. And certainly taking a portion of the overall infrastructure that is public space but the cars have the priority - to actually hand that priority back to more members of the community certainly makes sense. We're at least part of that infrastructure at this point in time. So exciting to see - I've definitely followed Mayor Mason Thompson in Bothell for a while, who just has on his agenda a number of exciting things, so it was happy I see that.

And with that, I want to thank all of you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, April 8th, 2022. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler and assistant producer is Shannon Cheng, with help from Emma Mudd. And our wonderful cohost today was co-founder and General Secretary of the Seattle Transit Riders Union, Katie Wilson. You can find Katie at Twitter on Twitter @WilsonKatieB. You can find the Seattle Transit Riders Union on Twitter @SeattleTRU - you can also join them and become a member - highly recommend that. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, and now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. While you're there, leave a review - it really helps us out. 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.