Week In Review: December 4, 2020 - with Ashley Archibald

Week In Review: December 4, 2020  - with Ashley Archibald

Today, host Crystal  Fincher and local journalist Ashley Archibald dive into King County  Executive Dow Constantine’s plan for a $100 million bailout of the  Convention Center, and why that doesn’t make sense in a Covid-19  economy. Also, Renton is seeking to oust over 200 folks experiencing  homelessness in the middle of a winter spike in the pandemic. Crystal  and Ashley discuss why this is bad idea.

A full text transcript of the show is available below, or at https://www.officialhacksandwonks.com/post/week-in-review-dow-s-convention-center-bailout-renton-evicting-homeless-people

Articles referenced:

King County to bail out Washington State Convention Center expansion with possible $100 million loan by David Gutman


The convention business is cratering, and cities are getting stuck with the bill by Mike McGinn and Joe Cortright


General Publicola news coverage by Erica C.Barnett (another friend of the show) at publicola.com.

Find the host, Crystal Fincher on Twitter at @finchfrii, Ashley at @AshleyA_RC, and more info at officialhacksandwonks.com.


*This transcript was automatically generated then lightly edited, and may not be an exact replication of the audio.

Week In Review with Ashley Archibald: December 4, 2020

Crystal Fincher:  [00:00:00] Welcome to Hacks and Wonks. I'm your host, Crystal Fincher.  On this show, we gather insight into state and local politics and policy  through the lens of those doing the work and provide behind-the-scenes  perspectives about politics in our state. Today, we're continuing our  Friday almost live shows where we review the news of the week with a  friend of the show. Welcome back to the program today's guest, local  journalist, Ashley Archibald.

Ashley Archibald: [00:00:36] Hi, thank you for having me!

Crystal Fincher:  [00:00:39] Thank you so much for joining us again. I wanted to start  out talking about something that Dow Constantine rolled out this week as  something he's planning to do, which is a bailout of the Washington  state convention center, which has a total project cost of $1.8 billion.

And  right now is $300 million short and saying they could run out of money  within the next couple months if they don't have something happen. And  so Dow Constantine has said, Well, you know what? Sign the County up for  a $100 million dollars of that $300 million price tag. We want to fill  the gap because Dow Constantine believes that the convention center is  critical and necessary, and that is the most effective use of those  funds at this time. So just starting out with what is happening. I guess  starting off previewing, how did you hear about this, Ashley, and what  are the nuts and bolts of what this plan is?

Ashley Archibald:  [00:01:45] I remember hearing about it yesterday on the Twitterverse  because I'm sick like that. But the first that I've really read about  the details was in the Seattle Times today. And I have to say, I'm a  little confused by the overall cost benefit analysis. I clearly haven't  spoken to the Executive's office, I don't know what he's looking at, but  I'm struggling to understand why we would extend a publicly financed  loan, using your money and my money, to save a business that isn't going  to be able to open for quite some time, versus the individuals and  businesses that exist now that can be served by money like this.

Crystal Fincher:  [00:02:34] Yeah. And certainly the reaction to this has been swift and  strong and a lot of people felt the exact same way that you have. And I  have several of those same questions - but wait a minute, why are we  bailing out this business in effect and not actual people who may be  facing losing their home in a pandemic, losing their jobs, just a lot of  people who are experiencing real pain and on the brink. And so the  issue with this is, when the convention center decided to embark upon  their big new redesign, restructuring, this big project, big price tag,  $1.8 billion. And when initially the project was funded by a couple of  bonds totaling $1.8 billion. And when those bonds were issued, revenue  from the hotel tax, which is what funds those bonds was, had risen by 8%  every single year since the prior recession.

And  so this looked like a really great source of funds that was secure and  rising. The convention center was going gangbusters. They were, they had  so many people wanting to come for conventions that they were turning  people away. And so it looked like at that time that this was a  reasonable investment, with the thought being that, Hey, the convention  center attracts businesses who bring hundreds of people into the city  and County every year, who stay in hotels and eat at restaurants and go  visit tourism sites and bring money into our economy. Tourism certainly  is a significant chunk of our regional economy here. So that thinking  was okay, this looks great. So after the pandemic, hotel revenue fell by  96% from the same period in 2019. A quarter of Seattle's downtown  hotels have at least temporarily closed. Bookings on Airbnb have  absolutely plummeted so the source of funding has been decimated. Cruise  ships, which bring a lot of people in like just the overall tourism  economy, obviously with COVID and travel and congregating being  dangerous, has just eviscerated this whole thing.

And  ongoing financing, the financing needed to finish paying for this  project. Banks have looked at the project and said, you know what? We  actually think that this is a bad idea. We think if we give more money,  it's going to be throwing bad money after good money. So why don't we  just not? And they're saying, Hey, we ran up against a brick wall.  They're saying that we're in a money-losing business and that not only  are things looking bad now, but that they're not projected to look  better for years, even after we get beyond the immediate COVID threat.  So we're now faced with a situation as a County. And Dow Constantine has  thought, you know what? It's actually a good idea to use a $100 million  of the county's ability to loan them this money, even though they're  saying we actually need $300 million. So we're giving them money that  comes at significant cost to the city, perhaps. And the mechanism to  even fund these bonds is very shaky, and saying, but this isn't even  gonna solve the whole problem. You still need $200 million more while  you're telling us that banks are saying this is a bad idea. And  traditional public private financing is saying, no, this is a sinking  business and a sinking line of revenue. Overall tourism may come back,  but giving it to this one entity and thinking that is going to stimulate  the wider economy is not a realistic thought.

Ashley Archibald:  [00:06:46] It surely seems to me that there should be strings attached  to this if it is actually going to be funded by public money. If we are  going to put up a $100 million and the actual bill is $300 million. So  they're not some conditions on it? Should it not say, Hey, if you can  come up with this other $200 million, then yeah, we're going to chip in.  At the minimum, I feel like that's a base level kind of ask.

Crystal Fincher:  [00:07:17] That is a very base level kind of ask. And that has been a  question put to the development team led by Matt Griffin here and to the  County, and their response has been, well we're also talking to the  city and the state to maybe get that money together from them. So  basically all of these public entities, with the taxpayer on the hook  and in the middle of a pandemic, to bail out this one organization. And  it's dicey.

Ashley Archibald: [00:07:51] How would you like to see a $100 million of County money with 1% interest spent, Crystal?

Crystal Fincher:  [00:07:59] On people who are facing issues that really might cause them  to die or significantly degrade their quality of the most basic  elements of life. People who can't afford food, people who can't afford  shelter, people who can't afford childcare, who are trying to take care  of loved ones in the middle of this pandemic. We're coming up on an  expiration of the eviction moratorium. And we have a record number of  people out of work because of this pandemic. We have a record number of  people who are late on rent or not sure how they're going to pay next  month's rent. And there are no protections for them.

We're going to see, unless there is some help provided to them, just an enormous amount of human suffering.

So  if we have the ability to spend $100 million, I would like that to go  to actual people, and keep them housed and healthy and fed. That seems  like at the most basic function of our government. And as we  collectively give our money to say, Hey, we want at the very basic  level, to keep people safe and provided for, that keeping roofs over  people's heads and feeding them seems like it should be really high on  the priority list. And to not even do this in a sense of we're directly  benefiting people harmed by the pandemic. If we could give this to  workers who would be laid off and displaced by this project to prevent  us from having to spend hundreds of millions of other dollars to finish  bailing this out and complete it. We could give it to the small hotels  and small businesses who are not having the resources of big national  chains, but who do a lot to prop up our local economy. To help them as  they deal with these closures related to the overall federal poor  response to COVID. There are so many ways that we could directly help  people and not give this to one organization. We're talking about one  organization. We aren't even talking about the greater needs of an  entire industry.

So, I guess I'll flip that question and ask you, what would you like to see happen with these funds?

Ashley Archibald:  [00:10:31] I mean, from a completely personal view, I am terrified of  the impending homelessness crisis that we are going to see when the  eviction moratorium is end. And I know you touched on this, but that is  completely capturing my attention. I mean, there are people out there  who, for no reason that is any fault of their own, it's not like they're  not working, it's not like they're doing any of the vices or who cares,  but at the end of the day, these are people who should be housed, who  are doing everything that they can, and a once in a hundred years  pandemic strikes and they lose everything. And in a month or two, unless  something good happens, they are going to be houseless. And if you  thought, and that's a universal you, not a you, if you thought that the  2015 emergency declaration of homelessness in Seattle and King County  was significant, you're about to see something that is far, far worse.

Crystal Fincher:  [00:11:41] And you're absolutely right and adding onto this we're  having this conversation in the midst of a Congress having discussions  about another quote, unquote stimulus package that has most of the  elements that actually stimulate the economy stripped out. This is now  being presented as a bipartisan bill, but it's going to greatly benefit  corporations. The, talking about getting monthly checks and support as  Democrats talked about, Nancy Pelosi and democratic leadership at the  federal level talked about, since the spring and holding out to, hoping  that Biden gets elected and that there can be a robust bailout that we  all know is needed to support our economy overall, and the people who  comprise it, with another cash payment. But those looking at ongoing  with eviction relief, with a lot of those elements that have now been  almost entirely removed from that bill. So the help that was signaled  was going to be on the way is no longer for most people. And any, relief  that they get, perhaps there's going to be one small payment of a $1000  or $1500, but after months of being out of work, and not paying rent  for months, that, is frankly insulting. So we know that there's going to  be a lot of pain coming and that the reason why there isn't more now  was due to the previous federal help given to States and localities that  is now going to evaporate.

So  now that we know we're going to have a lot more people in need of  direct assistance, just to keep a roof over their head, we're now  talking about giving money to the convention center, which by every  metric of the business that is required to support the public money to  support them, if we're going to bail them out and their ongoing  prospects looks bleak and grim that they're not even going to be able to  pay it back. Not even just a question of is this a smart expenditure?  It just looks horrible all the way around and I'm just not sure why this  is felt to be the priority right now.

This  is just a reminder that you're listening to Hacks and Wonks on KVRU  105.7. I'm your host, Crystal Fincher and today my co-host is friend of  the show, Ashley Archibald, who's a local journalist. And as we're  talking about this, educated in this exact area of the economy. Do you  want to just talk a little bit about your background, Ashley?

Ashley Archibald:  [00:14:35] I left journalism originally well not left, I took a pause,  to go to grad school at the London School of Economics and Political  Science to get a degree in local economic development. So I have a lot  of thoughts on how governments use and lose their money.

Crystal Fincher:  [00:14:54] Yeah, a lot of thoughts and are a subject matter expert.  And, it seems like you are in agreement with many of the other experts  and people who are paid to support this, that they're saying, Hey, this  is not a good idea. This is being built on a really shaky foundation and  just really does not look good. And, just from, in public policy today,  there are a lot of disagreements, but you kind of have to stop and  pause when not only people who come from those stuffy establishment  backgrounds and private financing, that entire industry, and just the  general public, average person on the street all looks at this and says,  what in the world are you thinking? This is a horrible idea. There is  no data that backs this up. The only way you can think this is a good  idea is if you just think in platitudes that, Oh yeah. The convention  center is critical to our tourism industry.

However,  looking at the details, it is a very small percentage of our local  tourism industry. And the plan that is being floated is to tax the rest  of the industry and give the proceeds of that to this one organization  who is counting on companies nationally and internationally traveling  here to house hundreds of, to put up hundreds of people and have  conventions and trade fairs. And not only is that not happening during  COVID, but every industry globally is going to be feeling the effects of  this recession that hopefully isn't a depression by that time. And the  prospects for companies turning the spigot back on and spending on  conventions and these large-scale meetings are, It's just not realistic  for the next several years. And it's really questionable to think, are  we even, it doesn't make sense to assume that we're going to go back to  what we considered normal. I don't think it does.

Ashley Archibald:  [00:17:18] I am not a public health expert. I feel like I should just  throw that out. I'm not an expert in much, but I have yet to hear a  single person say that we are going to go back to normal, potentially  ever, but definitely not anytime soon. Like we're not going to see a  vaccine that actually gets rolled out to the entire American people  until 2021. And I want to, first of all, say, Oh, my gracious, these  scientists who have managed to make this happen faster than any time in  human history, like we have a vaccine for this faster than we have ever  seen one developed before by a factor of four. Like we didn't have, I  think the last vaccine that was developed took four years. And so it's  exceptional that they're doing this. But that being said, people will  still need to mask up. They will still need to avoid big gatherings. And  they're going to have to do that for a while. And I think things are  going to change, and we're going to see them change, and it's going to  feel like a real relief, but I really hope that people understand that  we're not going to be able to do big things indoors for a while.

And  I know nothing about the convention center business, but having worked  at a nonprofit who has used the convention center, fairly comfortable  saying that it takes a minute to put in a reservation there.

Crystal Fincher:  [00:18:54] It definitely does. It definitely does. These are big  logistical events. It takes months and months of planning to have an  event at the convention center. These are big, significant events that  require teams to plan and execute and yeah, it is, it's hard to see,  one, thinking that this is going to be happening anytime in the short  term. But it is extremely presumptive, especially when the bet you're  making is with public dollars that, Hey, everything is going to bounce  back even after we get done.

Ashley Archibald:  [00:19:35] But there are businesses right now, right, who need that  help? There are local businesses who employ local workers that local  people shop at. And I don't know. I mean, I think that that is, if  you're looking at it just from a capitalistic, economic point of view,  does it not make sense to make sure that people can keep their  businesses open and to make sure that people can spend money in those  businesses?

Crystal Fincher:  [00:20:05] Hundred percent. And there seems to be broad agreement about  that. That, Hey, if we are going to provide help, it should be, and  help especially from city government, County government, it should go to  businesses and people who are directly beneficial to that. So, yeah, we  talk all the time. We're in a conversation right now because of the  dining restrictions, about how many locally owned restaurants have  already been forced to close and that hundreds of others are on the  brink, and they all employ people - many of our neighbors. So yeah, why  are we not talking about direct relief? And to the extent that there  were federal CARES funds available and some loans to other  circumstances, the need is so much greater and everyone has talked about  that even the money set aside before to help was grossly inadequate.

So  this just doesn't seem like a good idea at all. And based on previous  data - there's a good article that we can link in the show notes, that  Mike McGinn and Joe Cortright wrote early in this pandemic, basically  teeing this up. Saying, Hey convention center business is cratering, and  they're going to come to cities and public entities for bailouts and  here's why it's a horrible idea. Lo and behold, they predicted things  really correctly and they detail why it is such a bad idea and why using  the convention center, even as a proxy for, Hey, we have to support the  tourism industry, we have to support our local economy. Convention  visitors accounted for just 7% of the room nights in Seattle hotels.  They're actually, a really minor element in our local tourism economy  and our economy overall. So if we are talking about that sector of the  economy being important, why don't we talk about the other 93%? What  supports that? Instead of doing what, accounts for 7%. That seems like  it would make sense at the most basic level.

But  with that, I'm sure we'll be hearing much more about that in the coming  week. There's already quite a backlash against that and so many people  are feeling pain and going, why am I paying taxes, while I'm in pain, to  support that building? I'm not quite sure. But moving on and talking  about people in need, I want to talk about, and you certainly have been  following this, the issue with housing people who are unhoused and the  Red Lion in Renton. Can you brief us a little bit on what's going on  there?

Ashley Archibald:  [00:23:07] Yeah, so I, will freely disclose that I learned about this  from Publicola and Erica C Barnett, who is a fantastic local journalist.  And everybody should go and look at her work and that of her  colleagues. But, the Red Lion is a hotel in Renton that is being used by  the DESC organization to move people who are experiencing homelessness  into individual rooms so that they can escape COVID. COVID was this,  unfortunately, the reason that this happened, but it was not a bad  thing, right? Like people have had real changes in their lives as a  result of being inside and being safe. And the Renton city council has  chosen to put boundaries on that so that the Red Lion will not be used  for a shelter anymore. Their plan is to designate very specific areas of  Renton where people can be housed, but according to Publicola, that  will only be about half of the residents who were there. So we're  talking about putting hundred, like literally a hundred plus people, who  are experiencing homelessness out on the street, in the middle of a  pandemic, which does not seem to me to be a logical public health  outcome.

Crystal Fincher:  [00:24:47] It is very much not a logical public health outcome. And it  specifically has been recommended against, by the CDC. And a lot of the  punitive actions actually that we see being taken by governments against  homeless people are specifically recommended against for public health  reasons by our own Centers for Disease Control. So it is perplexing and  the question really needs to be asked - what public good is being served  here?

Ashley Archibald:  [00:25:21] I don't know the answer to that. I am sure that the  reasoning that has been extended so far is that people are afraid of  increasing crime, or invasions, or something of that nature. And let's  be clear. I am not here to apologize for other people's actions. What I  am here to say is that at the end of the day, these people need shelter  and it is a regional response to homelessness that I've been told that  we want. And it is absolutely necessary for the prevention of a spread  of this disease to get people inside and safe.

And  so I really feel on a personal level that it is a necessity that we  house people. And it shouldn't have ever been this question. Obviously  people should be housed anyway, but I am willing to see the argument. I  have not seen it and I don't know that it exists, that we shouldn't try  to prevent people from spreading COVID? Maybe if we can house them, it  would be an ultimately cheaper, financially, and certainly a more moral  stance to take.

Crystal Fincher:  [00:26:46] Right. And this is just NIMBYism and people being classist  and hating on people who don't have homes. And viewing not having a home  as a moral failure in and of itself. And that these people are not  deserving of human dignity and help. And it's just a shame.

Thank  you for listening to Hacks and Wonks on KVRU 105.7 FM this Friday,  December 4th. Our chief audio engineer at KVRU is Maurice Jones Jr. The  producer of Hacks and Wonks is Lisl Stadler. And our wonderful co-host  today was local journalist and friend of the show, Ashley Archibald. You  can find Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC. You can find me on Twitter  @finchfrii (spelled f-i-n-c-h-f-r-i-i) and now you can follow Hacks and  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 show and our midweek show sent directly to your  podcast stream.

Thanks for tuning in and we'll talk to you next time.