Week in Review: August 25, 2023 - with Matt Driscoll

Week in Review: August 25, 2023 - with Matt Driscoll

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll!

They discuss numerous counties suing Washington state over behavioral health failures, the importance of a raise for Tacoma City Council and other public servants, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward’s shady association with Christian nationalist Matt Shea, devastating wildfires and smoke across Washington, and the backstory of Pierce County Village and a recent veto override.

About the Guest

Matt Driscoll

Matt Driscoll is metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma.

Find Matt Driscoll on Twitter/X at @mattsdriscoll.


Most of Washington’s counties are suing the state for refusing to provide necessary behavioral health treatment under state law” by Andrew Villeneuve from The Cascadia Advocate

More than half of WA counties have filed suit against the state for behavioral health failures” by Shauna Sowersby from The News Tribune

Tacoma City Council is getting a big raise. Think they don't deserve it? Think again” by Matt Driscoll for The News Tribune

Spokane mayor says she didn't know Matt Shea would be at Christian nationalist concert headlined by Matt Shea's Christian nationalist buddy” by Nate Sanford from Inlander

Destructive fires swept through Spokane County last weekend, killing two and leaving hundreds without homes” by Samantha Wohlfeil and Nate Sanford from Inlander

How behind-the-scenes politics helped win approval for Pierce County homeless village” by Shea Johnson from The News Tribune

In rare move, Pierce County Council overrides executive veto on homeless village zoning” by Becca Most from The News Tribune

Find stories that Crystal is reading here


[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.

Today, we are 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: metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll. Hey!

[00:01:08] Matt Driscoll: Hello - thanks for having me once again - it's always a pleasure.

[00:01:11] Crystal Fincher: Thanks for coming back. We love our super informative and inside look into Pierce County whenever you're on - always a pleasure. I wanna start off talking about something that a lot of counties got together to do this week - and that is sue the state of Washington. Why are they suing and what's happening here?

[00:01:32] Matt Driscoll: It's part of a long-running failure in our state mental health system involving folks who enter the criminal justice system and then get referred, one way or the other, to either competency evaluations or to stand trial, then flipped over to a system of civil commitments. This lawsuit involves 22 counties coming together to sue the state, claiming that the state - at facilities like Western State Hospital - is failing to provide the services to folks who do flip into that civil commitment area. And recently DSHS, Western State has been refusing a lot of those patients because they say they've been working to make room for folks who fall under the Trueblood settlement, which was the State Supreme Court ruling that basically - found that the state has an obligation and needs to do more to provide the competency evaluations and those sorts of things and potential restorative services to make someone able to stand trial. So it all involves folks who enter into the criminal justice system, then get referred to behavioral health, mental health stuff, and basically just the state's long-running failure to be able to provide the kinds of services and beds that those folks need and they deserve. It's all very complicated. It's just another indication of the state's continued failure to provide those services and beds. We've been talking about this for a very long time. It's very clear that it's still a total failure on the state's part, at least in my opinion.

[00:03:01] Crystal Fincher: As you said, we've been talking about failures in this system for years - have heard some shocking and horrifying stories over the years. This is an issue that has been one of the biggest dogging Governor Inslee's administration during this term. And not to say he's absolutely the cause of all of these problems - I'm sure some of them were definitely inherited, there's a lot of challenges within this system. And as they point out, there have been recent investments to try and deliver on that settlement in the Trueblood decision, to try and turn the corner and get out of this crisis. One of the challenges here that they brought up is that there seems to be a conflict in that Trueblood decision - something that essentially is breaking this current system. As the Governor's office pointed out in their response, the Trueblood decision actually prevents them from taking new civil commitment clients. And that's one of the things that the counties are saying - Hey, they shouldn't be doing. So this almost seems like partly a corrective measure or seeking order to say - There's a conflict here - this order is essentially grinding this system to a halt. Once again, we're trying to fix it - we need some order. Do you know if there's some other entity that can take these civil commitments?

[00:04:15] Matt Driscoll: Just to be 100% clear on this, I am by no means an expert on the intricacies of the state's behavioral health system - it's supposed to work and it's not working. That being said, it's another one of these massive gaps that we see so often in our system. You're right about the horror stories, going back to the Trueblood decision - you still hear, to this day, stories about folks who end up in jails for long periods of time, even before they've stood trial, waiting to have services available at somewhere like Western State where they can even get a competency evaluation. Think about the human rights aspects of that - of people being warehoused in jails, awaiting these court-mandated evaluations - that's the problem that Trueblood's intending to fix. On the same token, we've clearly got all these folks who shouldn't be in the criminal justice system. As the governor pointed out and others pointed out - in defense of the state, if you will - the referrals for these civil commitments are way up in recent years. I forget the statistics off the top of my head, but I think it might be like 40%, so we're seeing more and more of these folks being flipped out of the criminal justice system intended to send to the civil commitment system. It's just not working and there's a huge gap. And we can talk about how complicated it all is, and the way it gets siloed, and all the ways it's supposed to work, and the way it's not working - we have a wholly inadequate behavioral health system in our state. Decades and decades of underfunding - we've never acknowledged, we've done some piecemeal stuff. I certainly give the state and the Inslee administration credit for recent investments, but the bottom line is that this is piecemeal drops in the buckets trying to patch up a system that is just wholly unprepared to meet the demands of today. And people are suffering because of it.

[00:05:54] Crystal Fincher: People are suffering, their civil rights are being violated, and some of these are resulting in horrific abuses in these overworked, sometimes unaccountable systems. This is happening against a backdrop of several employees within DSHS calling for the head of DSHS to resign. How does this even get untangled? It's time for major, systemic, urgent action beyond what we've done - clearly, what is already happening is not enough.

[00:06:25] Matt Driscoll: One thing that the counties point out in the lawsuit is because these civil commitments are not being accepted or in some cases being discharged, you've got public safety issues. You have folks who the system has determined would be best served by ongoing treatment and civil commitments essentially being released. And that's, again - wherever you fall on the debates of how the state should be handling the interaction of criminal justice and behavioral health, it's just a bad scene all around. As a state with as many resources as Washington, we should be ashamed - similar to our public education system. A left-leaning state with progressive lawmakers and clear Democratic majorities - the fact that we are so clearly failing on this stuff is a black eye and again, people are suffering because of it.

[00:07:10] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I also wanna talk about a recent decision from a commission in Tacoma that's going to take effect soon to increase the salaries, by a pretty significant amount, of the Tacoma City Council. And you wrote a column about this this week, which I thought was very timely and appropriate and a conversation that a lot of cities are having and more will continue to. And that's - these raises are absolutely justified and should go further when we look at the scope of responsibility involved in these positions. What did you talk about in your column?

[00:07:46] Matt Driscoll: This has been an issue for me for a long time, as someone who's followed City Council government in Tacoma. At the root of the problem, it's that historically - City Council in Tacoma, third largest city in the state - it's considered a part-time job, it's paid as such. The reality of it is that anyone who served in that position knows it's not a part-time job, it's a full-time job. When I started at The News Tribune, councilmembers were making $40,000. Considering the challenges that Tacoma faces, I think there's lots of room for critique. People can see these raises and think about job performance - Do these guys deserve raises? But that's not really what it's about, right? It's about our system of government and who has the ability to run for office and serve under kind of the framework we have set up. We have historically considered this a part-time, low-paying position. If you're an average person in Tacoma with a family or financial responsibilities, the idea of signing up for what you're paid for as a part-time job that's clearly gonna be a full-time job and still trying to meet any of that - it becomes impossible. It severely limits the pool of candidates that are available.

[00:08:56] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely - several perspectives are left out. Beyond that, we're asking them to do such an important job. The things we talk about every week on this show - from public safety to economic development to land use policy and educational decisions - every thing that touches your life, we're asking them to do. It's wild to me that in the same society, we will justify $100 million salaries of CEOs of companies, yet cities and organizations with comparable budgets we're asking to settle for $30,000, $50,000. When we look at how important the job is and the expertise and commitment that it really does require, there's no getting around the fact that this is definitely a full-time job, especially - when it's done right, it's beyond a full-time job. I think most people can agree, no matter what your political affiliation, that it's not. We also are talking about shortages in several of these sectors too, so we need to pay people more for the work that's being done if we wanna expect better results.

[00:10:00] Matt Driscoll: And it's like, regardless of what you think about the current council's job performance, what do you want your City Council person to be? Do you want it to be someone who is dedicating 20 hours a week to it and juggling a bunch of other stuff, or do you want somebody who's able to attack it like a full-time job and dedicates the time and energy it takes - both to be responsive to citizen concerns and do the homework that it takes to make good policy decisions? This isn't to call out any particular City councilmembers over the years, but I think if you've closely observed City Council here in Tacoma, you can see folks are learning these issues as they go and they're asking these questions, and a lot of times you'll be - Oh my God, that's a pretty obvious question. Do you want someone who has the time to dedicate to the job? And even more than that, do you want to make this a job feasible for some people to take on, or do you want to make this a job that only a few fairly privileged, essentially wealthy or better off folks can take on? For most people, the question is the latter.

I think historically the idea of making Tacoma City, or a city council, and even the State Legislature part-time is that it would allow average people to serve in democracy - that's one of the ideals there. But in practice, I think what it really does, particularly these days, is it severely limits the type of people who are able to feasibly serve in office. You see that in some of the races that we've got going this year in Tacoma, particularly on the Jamika Scott District 3 race, where she's a local community activist and artist. She's more of an average person - she doesn't have a bunch of money, she's not the executive director at some nonprofit. For an average person to make the commitment to run for office and find the time to doorbell, it's a huge commitment - full-time plus work for part-time pay.

[00:11:50] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely - completely agree. I want to talk about another city - the City of Spokane and the activities of its mayor. The mayor and Christian nationalist extremist, former State Representative Matt Shea, attended a TPUSA event where they were just talking about a bunch of extreme, out-of-touch things while the ashes of neighborhoods were still smoldering nearby. What happened here? What is the reaction?

[00:12:23] Matt Driscoll: Mayor of Spokane, Mayor Woodward, appeared at an event - Matt Shea was involved, Christian nationalist organization. She was apparently invited on stage for prayer, and Shea was there and prayed for her. And of course then all hell broke loose because of Shea's background and the backgrounds of some of the other folks involved. Of course, the mayor immediately said - Didn't know Shea was going to be there, wasn't my intention, I'm disgusted by all his views. It turns out maybe she'd been to events with Matt Shea in the past - I think a lot of people really didn't buy that excuse.

But the bigger thing here, really, is yet another instance that illustrates the complexity and tension in the Republican Party. Lawmakers on the right who are "the good ones" or "the saner ones" - and there are a lot of Republicans, on the whole - in Pierce County in particular, Bruce Dammeier, JT Wilcox, leaders that I disagree with fundamentally. This tension between trying to be one of those not-extremist conservatives, but then the votes relies to some extent to courting the more extreme elements of the party. What ends up happening is these leaders awkwardly, unsuccessfully try to find this middle ground where they can not alienate the extreme elements of the party while not appearing extreme themselves, or maybe not even being "extreme" themselves. But it just never works and it ends up looking dumb. And this is just another example of that where they try to have it both ways - they try to disavow the extreme elements of the party, but then they still rely on extreme elements of the party for the support they need to win elections and serve in office. I certainly have no sympathy for the mayor of Spokane. It was very predictable that this would happen. If you find yourself at white nationalist organized events or religious extremist organized events, it's very easy to not get on stage or not do that. She signed up for it. She got what she deserved. I don't think it's probably the last time we'll see something like this either.

[00:14:20] Crystal Fincher: I don't even view the situation as there being extreme elements within the party - that is the party, that is the base, that is now the mainstream of the party. It's beyond local party activists - these are their leaders. There is a nostalgia that I see, especially from national political pundits, wanting to still give credit to those moderates - those moderates are enabling the extremism. They are enabling this extremism that in public they try and distance themselves from. Even though she tried to say - Oh, I had no idea, she's been to an event just like this before. Even if she had no idea Matt Shea was there before, which no one buys, she got up there, saw him there and gave him a hug, and allowed him to lay hands on her and pray. Heard right before - them talk about the "problem with homosexuality" - obviously there is no problem with homosexuality, that's an extreme belief. That is the party - several electeds within the party, donors within the party, the people making decisions about the platform on the party.

I made the bad decision of watching that Republican debate. I saw a lot of people going - Oh, these are extreme beliefs. They're not targeting the average American anymore - they're really fine with disenfranchising the average American. They are speaking to that base that's going to elevate people like this to these elected positions and hope for treatment as moderates in the media. This is an opportunity in Spokane to once again point out that these are extreme beliefs. These are beliefs that our Supreme Court has rejected, our State Supreme Court has rejected - and that we don't want. Clearly she knows that. She wasn't really sad about it happening, or else she wouldn't have appeared with him before and been chummy. They want to be able to do this behind closed doors. And lots of people will cite JT Wilcox, who I know lots of people have good relationships with - people like that need to contend with who the party is today. You're affixing your name to that label? - you can be what you are without that label. If you are attaching that label and participating in that, this is what you are enabling.

[00:16:24] Matt Driscoll: Where do the folks like the JT Wilcoxes or the Bruce Dammeiers go within this party, right? If they are the moderates they claim to be, the Republican Party depends on that support. If they try to find that middle ground, then it ends up working out like this. Again, I don't have any sympathy for it. I wrote a column in the Trump years and I've just halfway defended folks like JT Wilcox and Bruce Dammeier about why they hadn't condemned Trump. What JT Wilcox will tell you - I'm a local guy and I stay out of national politics. And that's fine, I have a lot of respect for JT as an individual. But can you see what's going on? And do you have the backbone to stand up and say - This is wrong, this is not what I represent - even if it means that you might get voted out, or that you might not be in office, or that you might make your life more difficult. What we see most of the time is elected officials, politicians - they're not willing to do that. They're not willing to disavow or distance themselves from this stuff because they don't want to risk their jobs as an elected official or their powers - and maybe some of them genuinely do it out of the hope that if they just stick it out long enough, they'll be able to course correct on that party. That's a flawed idea. Whether you agree with Chris Vance or not, the way he describes it is pretty accurate at this point - it's the base of the party and folks need to make their decisions on whether that's the party they agree with. What we see, more times than not, is folks trying to have their cake and eat it too.

[00:17:56] Crystal Fincher: Chris Vance made the decision to not affiliate with that label - if that's who's standing beside him, then he needs to move to a different place. On both the Republican and Democratic side, that affiliation with the party comes with tremendous resources - an absolute resource advantage over someone who is running as an Independent or with a minor party - everything from voter file access, which is useful, important information about voters from public sources and from private commercial sources, information like that is very helpful to a campaign. Things like donations and structure and endorsements and volunteers - those kinds of things are often built-in to the support of a party. It is a challenge to run outside of a major party. There were some character-defining moments for a lot of these people - maybe if they would have seen this rising extremism take over the mainstream of the party, maybe we don't find ourselves here. That attachment to power also can be corrosive - if you see something that is turning your stomach, it's not okay to stay silent, no matter which party you're a part of.

[00:19:03] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, this continues to be a character-defining moment. These leaders still have the opportunity - they can still come out and say - This is wrong. And continually they don't. I don't really expect that to change. The opportunity still is there for them to take a stand. They don't, because if you alienate the base of the party, you're gonna be out of luck. And Chris Vance, for all his wisdom, is out of luck. He ran for office a couple cycles ago, and he lost badly - can't be a moderate conservative without the support of the Republican Party and if you alienate the Trump support, you're out of luck.

[00:19:40] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, part of what made this so scandalous in the first place and so offensive to people is that this was happening amidst really destructive fires that swept through Spokane County last weekend. We see the 20,000 acres at that time up in flames, 265 structures destroyed, including a ton of homes, two people killed that we know of, lots of people not knowing what to do. Spokane City Councilmember Zack Zappone showed a picture of the street where his parents live - all of the houses were burnt down - his parents lost their home, his uncle lost his home. Just feel for everybody involved in that situation - I can't even imagine - it's just so totally devastating.

[00:20:21] Matt Driscoll: On the human level, on the individual level - that loss, the death toll is staggering - just a lot of thoughts for everyone going through that. For a long time in my life, we talked about climate change and we talked about the problem it presented. It was academic, right? We saw the video of the polar bear with nowhere to go. When I started at The News Tribune, there wasn't really a summer smoke season. And now it's late August - it's the smoke season - it's a reality of life now. And then I think about my kids - I got a 16-year-old daughter, a 12-year-old son, 8-year-old daughter. It's really heavy to think about the impacts that we've seen from climate change and the way it's escalated. History is so long - a lot of times it's difficult to track the change, right? - it feels long. But with this devastation that we've seen that's tied to climate change in recent years and that trend - it's just really depressing - in Western Washington now, and this will probably be our reality moving forward. It's heartbreaking.

[00:21:24] Crystal Fincher: This has not been normal for me my entire life. The warnings from climate scientists - we did not heed them for decades, and here we are - it's scary. The reality is this is as good as it's going to be for a while. This is actually going to get much worse. It's up to us and what we decide to do now - it's gonna get worse before it gets better. Are we gonna choose to make it better or not? This is a tangent - I'm on an age divide - you look at polling, and I'm right there on the divide where opinion splits. I talk to people on the older side of that divide who are more complacent, who don't necessarily feel the urgency. And then those on the younger side - and it's 15, 20 years ago, 10 years ago, especially working in politics - you see things like slogans, "fighting for our lives, fighting for our futures," and those are slogans to some people. What does it look like when you are literally fighting for your life? What does it look like when you don't want to see this kind of destruction happening everywhere? We're not even talking about the hurricane in Southern California and Nevada - this is all wild, and we're seeing increasingly wild things across the globe. This is only going to accelerate. It's decisions like whether to build a new freeway or not. It's decisions like whether to invest in and build out pipelines for gas and coal. At every level of government, at every level of power - decisions are being made every day - we can't afford for more hurt right now. We're seeing activism, we're seeing direct action. These stakes are high, and I just wish more people understood and felt that. It's just really hard right now. There are a lot of different interests. These are the consequences.

[00:23:00] Matt Driscoll: There is one thing that gives me any glimmer and hope in this - is the younger generation. The stakes are exactly as you described for them. I think of my kids and the world that we've left them - the idea that this is baseline. How much worse do you want it to get? I'm not going to chalk this up to human nature, but you mentioned complacency. It's a little crazy how easy people grow accustomed to something like smoke season now. Are we cool with just getting used to this? Are we all right with that? It feels like a lot of people are. Maybe it's just my nature, but I have a lot of empathy for people in general, 'cause it's hard, man. It's hard out there being a person. It's hard to support yourself. We haven't made it any easier in the United States. There's a lot that just goes into surviving. Asking people to think above and beyond that, it's a big ask - and it's also unfair. We lay a lot of this climate change stuff, this environmental stuff on the individual - like you shouldn't be watering your grass, or you should buy an electric car. Those things are good, but it almost gives the real culprit - the governments and the fossil fuel companies - a pass. We end up guilt tripping each other - How long was your shower and stuff? If we really want to do something about this, it's gonna take exactly what you talked about - reimagining transportation, not building freeways, being willing to say - Yeah, traffic's bad right now, we're not gonna build another freeway, we gotta figure this out a different way. Or we have the capacity for a new airport, but air travel's terrible and it's one of the biggest causes of greenhouse gases - we're gonna figure something else out, and it's probably gonna be difficult in the interim, but we just don't have a choice. We never want to make that choice. We always want to push it down the road a little bit, make a little bit of improvements. This incremental change - the incremental change is not going fast enough. It's gonna take drastic measures. It's gonna take major changes to the way our life. It's gonna take just major restructuring of the way we do things. We still get to make the choice. It's just that one of those options results in stuff like we're seeing now.

[00:25:09] Crystal Fincher: The final thing I want to talk about today has been the topic of discussion in Pierce County for quite some time, a hot topic on the Pierce County Council - and they've gone back and forth. It's this Pierce County Village, which is the county trying to solve one of the problems, one of the crises that it's dealing with - homelessness - and looking at building a, what is it, 265-unit building to house and service people who've been experiencing homelessness and try and get them on a path to housing stability. But oh, it is not simple, and there have been some twists and turns. What is this and what has been happening?

[00:25:50] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, it's a very Pierce County story - I really love it for that, 'cause it is very complicated. What the county wants to do - and by the county, I mean the County Executive Bruce Dammeier and his administration - is permanent supportive housing. It's housing designed for chronically homeless individuals. It's not like an apartment building-type situation - it's actually individual homes in a community. The County Executive's office became enamored with this model - it has had some success, from what I understand, in Texas - and they wanted to bring it back to Pierce County. This was a number of years ago. They started the process of potentially looking for a location for it, which proved really difficult because it's a major project. They eventually settled on a piece of land out in the Spanaway area - it's got some wetlands, it's got some concerns around it. They ended up choosing a provider to run it - Tacoma Rescue Mission. What they want to do is use about $21, $22 million in federal COVID money to build this site and then let Tacoma Rescue Mission run it. To make it feasible, they changed some zoning.

Broadly, it's an idea that has widespread support. It's something that the Democrats, liberals have supported for a long time. I support it, I think it's a good idea. Providing permanent supportive housing, 200-some-odd units of it, it's a good idea. But the details of it have become very tricky. There's some questions about - was the Rescue Mission kind of baked in as a provider even before they saw it for applicants? Are they pushing too hard on this specific piece of land? There's challenges now to the zoning changes. It is very complicated. It's moving forward, but it's got some significant hurdles to clear. The most recent development is the County Council changed the zoning to make it possible - that was challenged by a couple of places, and that's where things stand.

[00:27:34] Crystal Fincher: I just want to point out for those who are not familiar with Pierce County politics, Pierce County Council - the Pierce County Executive is a Republican. And what's the split on the Council now between Republican and Democrat?

[00:27:46] Matt Driscoll: It's a slight Democrat majority - I believe it's 4-3. The only reason I hesitate is because Tacoma has nine, Pierce County has seven - I always have to do the math - it's 4-3, 4-3 leaning Dems.

[00:27:56] Crystal Fincher: I always get confused with the numbers. You look at a city like Burien and the mess that they're going through with their majority on their council - this is a different kind of situation. Sometimes where you have a Republican executive saying - Hey, we think this can work, there's a model somewhere, let's go learn about it - actually engaging in trying to have a solution, the conversation is starting with action, and what are we going to do? There was a piece this week in The News Tribune going through public records - looking at this model, one of the controversies starting out was that this trip was taken with the Tacoma Rescue Mission and went on this learning, fact-finding mission to see what Austin's doing up close, to see if it's something that could be feasible here. And the contract to do this that was competitively bid ended up going to the same person, which made - the same organization involving this person - making some people go - Wait a minute. Was the fix in on this contract? - especially looking at some of the scoring of the bidding. That seems like maybe it was cooked a little bit in favor of this, but then you have other people saying - This is a pretty normal way that something like this progresses. How did you see this?

[00:29:09] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, Pierce County is a big county, but just small-town style - I love this stuff, there is so much depth to it. At the center of this, you have the county, which has access to $21, $22 million in federal funds to do something about homelessness. The county executive wants to give that to Tacoma Rescue Mission, which as you point out, won a competitive bid to build this facility. The idea is that through philanthropic fundraising and just what the Rescue Mission does, they'll be able to fund it moving forward. What makes it slightly different is you've got a Republican county executive saying - We have to do something to serve this population, to house this population, and the answer is permanent supportive housing - which is a little outside the box for conservatives. The County Executive's Office believes that, with this one-time investment, the government can step back. Then you get into questions of Duke Paulson from the Rescue Mission going on these trips even before the bids start being taken - lo and behold, the Rescue Mission wins the bid, LIHI was the other bidder. There was a competitive bid process - they did go through steps, but naturally it raises questions of - Was that kind of procedural? Was that legitimate?

When it all comes out in the wash, it's a very Pierce County thing - there's reason for concern of - was this the outcome everyone wanted from the beginning? You can make the answer that - yeah, yeah, clearly it was. I think they went down there, they got this idea in mind, they thought the Rescue Mission would be a good place to run it, and that's where they ran with. On the other end of the spectrum there, I think it's important to keep in mind that the Rescue Mission has a long history of serving homelessness in Pierce County. Regardless of what you believe about the religious aspects of Rescue Mission does, they're a well-respected organization in Pierce County when it comes to serving the homeless. Pierce County is a small place. Should we not expect the County Executive's Office to have a close working relationship with one of the primary providers of homelessness in Pierce County? It raises a lot of questions about backroom deals. It's important to keep in mind at the end of the day, they are trying to do something good. I think it's good that we're asking these questions. It's good that we have this coverage. My colleague, Shea Johnson, just delivered a big package on this this week - it's really well done, folks should read it. It's small-town politics and they're trying to do something good, but there are a lot of questions along the way.

[00:31:21] Crystal Fincher: Including questions about the site that has been determined for this. Siting is always a major issue, especially when it comes to siting things that are going to serve the homeless. People have a lot of feelings about this - some don't want it to happen at all, but a site was chosen. This site that was chosen - in the Spanaway area - there may be some environmental concerns. Sometimes things look very black and white from a simple explanation, but it is not infrequent in these situations where you have multiple issues, multiple interests, multiple people who ultimately want good things having different perspectives and having issues impact these groups and these stakeholders in different ways. Is it okay to move forward on a site? We just talked about having to take urgent action to mitigate climate change, to not - continuous sprawl, destroying local ecosystems - that seems to be the major issue in first passing this and then the repeal of the passage over the veto of the Pierce County Executive of the zoning for the site. They could still move forward, but wouldn't have future flexibility attached to this use without another change.

[00:32:36] Matt Driscoll: You're right. The Rescue Mission has cleared certain hurdles at this point - the reversal of the zoning change wouldn't affect them - they're vested, they can move forward provided they continue to check the boxes in terms of all the sorts of things they'd have to do to make it happen. The ways that this is potentially getting derailed has a lot to do with politics. At the center of what we have going on here is a dispute on the Growth Management Act. And one of the reasons that this was interesting from the beginning is you had a Republican county executive proposing a major facility to serve the chronically unhoused - the most difficult population to serve. He wanted to put that in rural Pierce County. Normally what happens with something like that is it gets smack dab in the middle of Tacoma, right? Because none of these outlying, more conservative areas want anything to do with that. So the very fact that he was willing to acknowledge that it would be advantageous to put a facility like this somewhere in the more rural parts of the county where - assuming his base is out there - that took some guts and there's been a lot of pushback on that.

But you also see attention here where the county executive is saying - Look, in order to build the type of housing we need to serve the unhoused, we need to build facilities like this in areas that are potentially sensitive. That's a broad description, but I think that's what it comes down to. The zoning was challenged and the County Council is getting advice that there might be something to those challenges, particularly the second one has them a little bit worried. They went back and changed the zoning to get out of trouble, to quash those challenges. You have a much broader debate about land use and sprawl and what we should build where, and you've got familiar conservative talking points of - like we need to make it easier for people to build wherever they want. Then you've got kind of Democrats on the Council saying - You know, zoning matters, we have to protect these areas, we have to limit sprawl. But does that then mean that all the stuff that we build ends up being dense, transit-oriented? One of the elements that the county executive's office would say is appealing about this model is because it is more individual homes, it's not a warehousing situation, it's a community. This tension over growth management and how much flexibility should we create to allow this to be built in areas that are designated as sensitive or more rural - I don't know.

[00:35:01] Crystal Fincher: You're doing a fantastic job explaining it. This is a complex issue that takes some time to talk through. One of the reasons why I do this show is so we can talk through it and really come to an understanding. I really appreciated that package in The News Tribune this week that gave really helpful background and context to what's happening. The final element is that the viability and success of this relies on private fundraising - it does seem there's some money out there. The flags raised with this repeal of zoning is that this may make fundraising for this property more complicated, more challenging - seeing as that there may not be the flexibility moving forward, or the seeming collaboration, or green light that some people may have previously thought was there. Who knows what's gonna happen? Do you see this likely being built? What do you see moving forward?

[00:35:55] Matt Driscoll: I'm not exactly sure how much of that I buy from Tacoma Rescue Mission and its supporters - I've got a lot of respect for that agency - I know Duke well. What we're seeing here is they're trying to maintain as much flexibility as possible to move forward from a development standpoint, as advantageous to what they wanna do in the future. The bottom line is they could build what they propose to build, provided they clear the necessary hurdles as it speaks. So I don't know how sympathetic I am to the idea that they need additional flexibility to build even more on sensitive areas or whatever - or we need to change the zoning across the whole county to make this thing possible - but I could be wrong on that. But in terms of its overall prospects, one other thing I would note that makes this interesting is because there is another political element in this question about funding. The Democrats on the Council, to their credit, support such an idea. They really leveraged the County Executive and Republicans' desire to build this thing into passing a behavioral health sales tax, which could potentially go to fund something like this, or something much like this, down the road. That's another element of that - the support for this village ultimately hinged on Republicans being willing to support them and passing that - they needed a super majority. So that's another interesting wrinkle on this. And one of the reasons I love this issue - because it's just so Pierce County - it's politics and power and relationships, but I think everyone is trying to do a good thing. We're trying to build permanent supportive housing. We're trying to protect sensitive areas and limit sprawl.

So your broader question - Will this thing get built? I have no idea. When it initially went through, I probably would have put it at maybe 70/30. The package that Shea Johnson put together really illustrates the desire and the support to get this thing together. It has bipartisan support. Everybody wants to build 200-some odd units of permanent supportive housing. There's the desire locally to do it. I do think that politics in Pierce County requires Democrats and Republicans to work together to do things. There's not a potential here in Pierce County for Democrats to just do everything the way they want to do it - that's not gonna happen - you're gonna have to work together in some regard. And here you have an opportunity to work together to build what could be a really important project for the area.

[00:38:09] Crystal Fincher: Makes sense to me. Well, we will continue to follow that - certainly a lot to follow and a lot left to see as it develops.

And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, August 25th, 2023. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is the incredible Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today is metro news columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll - always great insight and information from Matt.

[00:38:38] Matt Driscoll: It was wonderful to be here once again - like I think I said last time - I always enjoy the opportunity to come on here and play exotic Pierce County man for the listeners up north. Again, I feel like I - there's so much to get into with the homeless village and I appreciate your time, your willingness to dedicate some time to it and talk about it. I would just recommend folks read the package 'cause I don't really feel like I did it justice - it's very complicated, it's been going on for a long time, but it's really important for this neck of the woods. So thanks for having me on.

[00:39:04] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And we will link that in the resources in the show notes and online. You can find Matt on Twitter @mattsdriscoll. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can find me on all of the platforms @finchfrii, that's two I's at the end. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the podcast - to get the 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 - we'll talk to you next time.