Week in Review: February 23, 2024 - with Matt Driscoll

Week in Review: February 23, 2024 - 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!

With two weeks left in the State legislative session, Crystal and Matt dig into several bills with potential for huge impact and needing public support to get across the finish line - HB 2114 (rent stabilization), HB 1932 (even-year elections), and SB 6105 (Stripper Bill of Rights). See the resources section for links to contact your legislators about each of these bills!

Next, they discuss the promise of the City of Tacoma’s detailed Anti-Displacement strategy, Mayor Bruce Harrell pledging no new taxes at his annual State of the City address, and no charges against the SPD officer who killed Jaahnavi Kandula.

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.


Why Seattle’s Proposed Surveillance Mash-Up is a Lose-Lose with Amy Sundberg and BJ Last of Solidarity Budget from Hacks & Wonks

Pass bill limiting rent hikes to help stabilize households” by The Seattle Times Editorial Board

Seattle's LGBTQ Communities Demand Rent Stabilization” by Rich Smith from The Stranger

HB 2114 - Improving housing stability for tenants subject to the residential landlord-tenant act and the manufactured/mobile home landlord-tenant act by limiting rent and fee increases, requiring notice of rent and fee increases, limiting fees and deposits, establishing a landlord resource center and associated services, authorizing tenant lease termination, creating parity between lease types, and providing for attorney general enforcement.

HB 2114 - Send a comment to your legislators

NPI's even year elections bill advances out of Senate State Government Committee” by Andrew Villeneuve from The Cascadia Advocate

HB 1932 - Shifting general elections for local governments to even-numbered years to increase voter participation.

HB 1932 - Send a comment to your legislators

Why a dancer with Tacoma ties is fighting for WA's 'Stripper Bill of Rights'” by Matt Driscoll from The News Tribune

Strippers Are Workers Campaign

SB 6105 - Creating safer working conditions in adult entertainment establishments.

SB 6105 - Send a comment to your legislators

Some Tacomans are being pushed out of their neighborhoods. The city wants to intervene” by Shea Johnson from The News Tribune

Anti-Displacement Strategy | City of Tacoma

Mayor Bruce Harrell Promises to Deliver Bare Minimum at 2024 State of City Address” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger

$230 Million Deficit Hangs Over Annual Harrell Speech” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist

King County Prosecutors Decline to Charge SPD Officer for Killing Pedestrian” by Ashley Nerbovig from The Stranger

Find stories that Crystal is reading here

Listen on your favorite podcast app to all our episodes 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 shows delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

If you missed our Tuesday topical show, our producer Shannon Cheng was guest host and welcomed back Amy Sundberg and BJ Last from Solidarity Budget to discuss how the City of Seattle is rushing to bring three surveillance technologies to the streets of Seattle with minimal public input. Make your voice heard at the final public meeting next week on Tuesday, February 27th at 6 p.m.

Today, we're continuing our Friday week-in-review shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host: Metro News columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll.

[00:01:31] Matt Driscoll: Thank you for having me - it's always wonderful to be here. And of course, as luck would have it, hammering started in the background. Hopefully that's not too annoying, but yeah - it's great to be here. Thanks for having me.

[00:01:42] Crystal Fincher: Excellent - love having you back. Well, we have a couple weeks left in this legislative session, which is scheduled to end on March 7th. Houses have already gotten done passing legislation that originated in their chambers, now the other chambers are taking up things. And there's a few bills that I wanted to talk about that are trying to make it through, that a lot of organizations have as policies, and that would be really impactful to residents throughout the state. The first one is one talking about rent stabilization - different than rent control - rent stabilization basically limits rent and fee increases during the year. So this is something that a lot of renters have been talking about. We've certainly covered the housing affordability crisis at length on this program, but it really is a challenge for renters facing seemingly endless rent hikes. And those rent hikes currently don't have any caps. We've seen instances of rent literally doubling in some places, but fees 20-30% increases annually, which is way beyond the cost of inflation, generally, and really challenging for people to be able to afford. This has been cited as contributing to income inequality, to our homelessness crisis, and to just regular affordability, to displacement. Really challenging, so one thing that has been in the works for over a year has been the effort to try and limit rent increases. This bill would limit rent increases to 7% during any 12-month period, which is still a pretty substantial increase for most people - but within the realm of reality and affordability and achievability for a lot of people. How do you see this bill?

[00:03:38] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, I mean, it's really interesting and it is very similar to a citizens' ballot initiative that we covered here in Tacoma last election cycle, which did place some rent increase limits on local landlords and some caps on local fees. To me, it's kind of the other side of the coin - although this coin is probably not a coin, it has a bunch of sides. But we talk a lot about just the affordable housing crisis and the need to build more housing of all kinds, particularly affordable housing - being able to meet all sorts of different economic demographics with that. And this is another side of that, which is people faced with the crisis of housing, calling on lawmakers and policymakers to enact some protections and some regulations to keep them from just getting gouged and forced out financially. And particularly in this bill and in the initiative that ended up passing just barely in Tacoma, I mean, the rent increases and the fees that they still allow are not insignificant. And the fact that we see the pushback to it that we do, particularly from landlords' associations, and conservative lawmakers, really speaks to how out of whack the market is. If you can't get by by raising rent 7% annually, I think it raises questions. Now, there are, I think, some legitimate concerns about how far to crank that lever, because I personally believe at some point, if you do crank it too far, you are going to impact the "mom and pop" landlords who do exist, who are real providers of legitimate affordable housing to people and housing to people that they might not be able to get otherwise. So I do think you have to walk that balance.

Certainly to me, this bill seems reasonable, but I'm sure for a lot of lawmakers, it comes down to that question of how much reach do you want the government to have in dictating what are supposed to be those free markets we love so much in this country. But really, this conversation is indicative to the crisis that's happening in cities across Washington and across certainly the West Coast, where the cost of housing is just greatly outpacing any income growth or job growth that we might have. People are freaked out, and rightly so. You talk about all the necessities, whether it's food or - there are safety nets for that. But I think the housing one is one that feels really close because there aren't safety nets. If you lose housing, you lose housing. If you need to go to a food bank, you can go to a food bank, but there's not a house bank. And so it'll be interesting to see what happens and then see where the momentum goes on this.

[00:06:02] Crystal Fincher: It will be interesting to see where the momentum goes. And you raised a good point in talking about the Tacoma Renter Protection Initiative, which is similar to other renter protection initiatives and legislation we've seen in various cities throughout the state - whether it's Spokane, Bellingham, Tacoma, Federal Way, we've seen local communities across the state take action on this because this is plaguing communities. That housing expense is almost everyone's biggest expense and so if that is skyrocketing, that's taking families' available discretionary income, that's impacting the local economy, and obviously causing a lot of housing insecurity that is really putting a lot of people in tough positions, and communities in tough positions, and governments and how to deal with that. And it's so much more expensive to deal with once it gets to the crisis level - once someone is displaced or can't afford housing, loses their apartment. All of those are really, really expensive to deal with from a city and county perspective.

So I am hopeful that this legislation passes. It's currently in the Senate and it faces an uncertain future, so this is going to be one where community feedback to all of your legislators is really going to make a difference on this - particularly your senators, because they're going to determine the fate of this. There are a number of people on the fence - some moderate to conservative Democrats who have voiced some concerns. Jamie Pedersen is working on this in the Senate - has expressed some reservations, but has certainly heard a lot of feedback from his constituents who overwhelmingly are renters in his district. We'll see how this turns out, but this is one where - for folks listening - if this is something that's a priority to you, reach out to your senators. Fortunately, we make it really simple in Washington to be able to send communications about legislation. We'll also put links in the show notes to make that easy. But they're going to need to hear from you on this - certainly would be a big step forward for the state in terms of renter protections here.

Also want to talk about another bill, which we've certainly talked about before and recently in our conversation with Andrew Villeneuve in one of our Tuesday topical shows, that the Northwest Progressive Institute has been very active with. The even-year elections bill, which has advanced out of the House and then advanced out of the Senate State Government Committee. So it's looking fairly positive, but still has to go through some more hurdles. This would enable cities and towns to choose to hold their elections in even-numbered years instead of odd-numbered years. This is a big deal because turnout is much higher in even-numbered years. And as we've seen in the state of California, when we do put those other races - municipal races, local races - on the ballot with those national races, people still vote, still great turnout, even better turnout than they would see in those odd-year elections. We just got done with an election in November that had the lowest turnout since we've been keeping records here in Washington. It is a problem. We're deciding elections with sometimes close to only 20% of the residents participating in the election - that's not representative. I don't think that's doing anyone any favors. The more people who can participate, the better. I also sometimes hear - This is all a progressive conspiracy to turn things out because we see so many elections that trend progressive in the end.

And one thing that I would remind people is Seattle is a very visible place. Seattle has more progressive voters than conservative ones, so certainly elections in Seattle and therefore King County do trend as ballots are counted in the final days - those late ballots certainly do trend in a progressive direction. That's not the case statewide. It really just depends on what the local population is. If we're looking at southwest Washington, for example, those often trend red in a lot of those swing districts there. It just really depends on what there is on the ground. And even in those situations, I still think it's better for more people to participate in elections, and voting, and deciding what their communities are going to look like. What do you think about this bill?

[00:10:23] Matt Driscoll: First and foremost, Crystal, it's awfully generous of you to acknowledge that even where there are more conservative voters, it's better for more people to vote - that's very bipartisan of you, I appreciate that. This is one of those ones that makes me question myself - am I a super liberal hack? Because there really doesn't seem to be a good reason not to do this, in my mind. At the end of the day - participation in democracy, in our elections - the more people, the more registered voters we can get involved, the better. That's what we should all want. None of us should be afraid that our arguments should stand up and they don't - if they're in the minority, they're in the minority - that's the way it's supposed to work.

I will say that there's also part of this that frustrates me because we do look at those even-year versus odd-year elections, and one of the reasons that this gets cast as perhaps a progressive-motivated thing or a progressive scheme is because in those odd-year elections, the voting demographic does skew older, whiter, landowner, property owner - that's real - and i guess the frustrating part about it is just progressives could vote. I just went through that election last November and it was brutal to go through the endorsements. I do think election burnout is real. It does feel like there's always an election. I think we got to be generous to the general public and realize that most people are just trying to get through their lives, and put food on the table, and get their kids to school, and all that. And I think we're asking a lot of them to constantly be kind of in election mode, which is certainly how it feels. But at the end of the day, if progressives are concerned about the disparity, they could just vote in odd-year elections and they just don't - historically - we talk about it every time until we're blue in the face, and then they don't. But full circle - this is about participation. Whether we like the reality or not, the reality is people don't vote in off-year elections nearly as much as they do in the even year. We have historical data backing this up. And I also think it's important to note that all this bill will do is give places the ability to do it. It doesn't dictate it. It's local control of it. If you want to make that change, you can. So to me, again, I don't see an argument against this. It seems like a no-brainer, but so little is a no-brainer when it comes to Olympia.

[00:12:34] Crystal Fincher: I completely agree with what you're saying. And as this makes it through and follows the path that a lot of bills do, one of the things that happens is amendments are offered and sometimes accepted. So this passed the House. Once it did arrive in the Senate, it received some amendments that passed out of committee. I'm not in love with these amendments. One of them not only requires the city to basically opt-in legislatively and pass an ordinance to say we're going to do this, but now it requires a popular vote from the people. So the city has to both adopt an ordinance or policy by its legislative body-

[00:13:10] Matt Driscoll: An odd year? Do they have to vote in an odd year? Is that part of the stipulation?

[00:13:15] Crystal Fincher: You know, it probably is. And yeah, it would have to receive approval from its voters. Now, this is something where the voters vote for their city council or their town council - whatever their government legislative body is, usually a city council - who make decisions like this all the time. Putting this out to a public vote is a costly endeavor. Elections aren't free. You have to pay to administer them, it's costly, it's time-consuming. And as you say, this is probably going to be on another odd-year election ballot. This is pretty simple. I wish we would let people and the electeds that they selected make these decisions. I would love to see that amendment taken out before it does get to a final vote, but we'll see how it goes. It would be progress either way. Definitely better than nothing, but would love to see as much good as possible and not add another hurdle to this that is seemingly unnecessary and also costly at a time when a lot of cities and counties are dealing with budget deficits and are really trying to trim costs instead of add them.

Another bill that you covered this week is about a proposed Strippers' Bill of Rights that's currently in Olympia. What is happening with this and what would it do?

[00:14:29] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, I mean, I kind of became mildly fascinated with this over the last week because it was pretty new territory for me, to be honest with you. So basically, the background on it is adult dancers, strippers in Washington essentially lack a whole lot of protections that I was, for one, shocked to hear didn't exist - like requirements of clubs to have security. In recent years, there have been some slight upgrades, installations of panic buttons and stuff, but really it's kind of a Wild West out there in terms of staffing, and training requirements, and de-escalation requirements. And basically, whether you frequent strip clubs or not, just picture a strip club and think of all the things that you would assume would be in place to protect people and employees and the reality is that many of them don't exist currently. And so this bill would do a lot of that around training, de-escalation, that sort of thing - which all, to me, feel like no-brainers. And I think in the legislature's view - from the testimony that I've heard, at least in the House - it seems to be a shared sentiment.

Where it gets tricky is this bill also opens the door for the legal sale of alcohol in strip clubs. And at least initially going into it, for me, it's a juxtaposition until you get into it. Because on one hand, you're talking about safety and regulations. And then - oh, yeah, we're going to add alcohol - and you're like, what the? that doesn't necessarily seem like that's about safety. But at the end of the day, as I learned and wrote about - and others have written about it plenty this session - essentially the deal for strippers is they pay a nightly rate, if you will, to work, to perform. They're independent contractors. They're not employees of the strip club. So you will end up owing $100, $200 just to start your shift. And then the money that you make in the process of your job, after you pay that back, that's what you make. One, that's clearly exploitative. It sets up bad situations, as you can imagine. But the reality of it is because there's no legal alcohol sales in Washington strip clubs, that's really the only financial model that exists for club owners. And so it puts pressure on them to exploit the dancers. And then that puts pressure on the dancers to maybe ignore warning signs about things that make them uncomfortable because they're all of a sudden in financial distress trying to pay what they owe just to work. So it just creates this whole set of tensions that I think - really a lot of the supporters of this bill would argue - really decrease the safety in these clubs.

So this bill would do all of that - it made its way through the Senate, it's now over to the House, it's out of committee as of earlier this week. But the hang up is going to be around that alcohol point. I think most lawmakers seem to agree with the safety measures, but there's hang up around the alcohol and how that works. We could go into the weeds - some legislators think that the Liquor Cannabis Board already has the ability, they could just make a rule. Liquor Cannabis Board says - No, we need you to grant us the licensing authority, yada, yada, yada. It's all very complicated, but it's going to come down to the booze.

[00:17:22] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and this is really interesting - I personally am absolutely in support of this. Strippers are workers. They deserve protections that any worker deserves. Employers have an obligation to protect their employees, or in the case of independent contractors to protect the people who they are making money from when they work in their establishment. As you said, this does require adult entertainment establishments to provide dedicated security personnel during operating hours. It does establish restrictions on the leasing fees charged to not exceed what a dancer can make so they don't go into debt while they're dancing - that serves no one. It also requires adult entertainment establishments to provide mandatory training to their employees on first aid, conflict de-escalation, and identifying and preventing human trafficking, sexual harassment, discrimination, and assault. Expands certain safety requirements, including key padlocks for locker rooms, cleaning supplies, and certain safety signage. And then, as you said, it prohibits the Liquor and Cannabis Board from adopting or enforcing a rule that restricts the exposure of certain body parts or that restricts sexually-oriented conduct. That particular element, I believe, came out of the targeted enforcement of gay establishments in the City of Seattle - seemingly with these lewd laws - saying that those can't be in the proximity of alcohol, which just seemed really out of touch, antiquated, potentially a way to harass the LGBTQ+ community, and just not something that is consistent with the values - certainly that we hold in Seattle, but in Washington state, as we've shown. So I do hope this gets through.

The alcohol issue - for me, I trust the strippers working in the establishment to know what's safe for them and if they're advocating for this and saying this is part of what we need to have a safe and sustainable environment, I trust them with that. There are plenty of situations where we allow alcohol where, if you take away the purity-attached issues to it, that seem to me to be dicey in a lot of situations. I'm also someone who it's just like - Wow, we have parking lots at bars. Doesn't that seem like it's setting up a very problematic thing? So that's a much broader conversation there. But if the strippers don't have a problem with it, I don't have a problem with it, really. They know the business and their environment much better than I do, certainly.

[00:19:48] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, I just think the whole thing's fascinating because I was talking to Laurie Jinkins about this last week when I was reporting on it - and she comes from a public health background. And her basic reaction to it is the expansion of alcohol is not good - she points to health data. I think you can certainly make that argument, but it's very interesting what you hear from folks working in the industry, and they a lot of times will compare it to Oregon. And admittedly, I'm going to lose any Pierce County street cred here, but it's been a long time since I've been inside a strip club - but I've never been in one in Oregon. What they say is - Look, in Oregon, whether you agree with strip clubs or not, they're actually a place that legitimate people might want to hang out because you can get a drink and maybe you can get some food, and if that's what you're into - entertainment - it works for you. And guess what you have in Washington? Strip club, honestly, is almost the last place you would want to hang out unless you were really driven to go to a strip club. Door charges are insane, you're buying $15 Cokes, there's nothing to drink, there's nothing to eat, it's empty and kind of sad. And lo and behold, what do you get? You get the folks who are choosing to go to those establishments - and I'm trying not to paint with a broad brush here, but I think we can all imagine the scene that this creates.

And then when you really talk about the fact that you've essentially created an economic model where the clubs in Washington rely on taking income straight from the dancers as opposed to everywhere else, where they make their income off the booze and the food - like every other sort of nightlife establishment. You can see how that would even out the relationship or the power dynamic between the dancer and the club, where here the club has all the incentive to suck as much as possible out of the dancer, and the dancers are in tough positions where they're trying to make it work. So I think it's fascinating. And again, this is not very satisfying, but it'll be very interesting to see where this goes in the coming days.

[00:21:41] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely will be. And I agree, it will be very interesting to see where it goes. Moving on from legislation and where things stand there, there was something that I wanted to talk about that I found really interesting and perhaps a model that other cities may be able to look at, depending on how this turns out. And that is a plan from the City of Tacoma to prevent displacement in the city. And this is in addition to a housing affordability action plan that was adopted by the City that they seem to have been making positive progress on. But a specific anti-displacement strategy that consisted of 21 actions, including buying property to build affordable units in areas that have a high risk of displacement, requiring owners of subsidized properties to issue notices if they intend to sell, or opt-out, or refinance. But really saying it's as much of a problem that people are being economically displaced, forced out of neighborhoods - we're losing the culture and character of our neighborhoods, we're losing cohesive communities that are being displaced - and the fallout from that is undesirable. So often we hear in other conversations about zoning - maintaining the character of the neighborhood - well, the people are essential to the character of the neighborhood. And when the people are being lost, that's a problem that the City of Tacoma has recognized and is taking action on, which I think is very commendable. What do you see in this anti-displacement strategy?

[00:23:12] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, I think it goes back to that multi-sided, not-a-coin thing I was talking about earlier. Well, we've got the need for housing and you've got policy pushing to place some regulations and protections for tenants. This is another part of that where cities, certainly in Tacoma, are recognizing that the economic realities and the housing realities in the city are, in fact, displacing untold number of people. We've been seeing it here for a long time. Hilltop is often painted, at least regionally, as the epicenter of it, where we've had Link Light Rail expansion and we've seen the housing going in, and if you see a lot of families that have been here for a long time getting pushed out. This is an acknowledgement of that from City leaders, and so I think it's commendable, they get credit.

Of course, the cynic can me points out that cities, including Tacoma, are great at coming up with plans - we already had an affordable housing action strategy, and now we've got our anti-displacement strategy, and we passed our anti-racism legislation with 21 bullet points of what we commit to do. And at the end of the day, the proof's in the pudding and people are still getting pushed out. And so the hard part is the work of - is the city actually going to acquire land and do the sorts of things that it lays out as its vision? I've been here long enough to have seen lots of visions - very few of them have come to full fruition - it's usually you get pieces and then a crisis pops up or some other thing happens. And so we'll see what happens at the end of the day, but certainly if nothing less, it's an acknowledgement of those very same forces we started talking out with at the beginning of this show of just the crazy increases of the cost of living, particularly of the housing. I hear from Chamber of Commerce types sometimes who point out - You keep saying rents are skyrocketing and really it's raising similarly to everything else. Yes, everything's getting more expensive. And yes, in theory, there have been some income gains - although I think it's totally fair and accurate to say they have not kept pace with the cost of living. But I just think housing is that one that people feel just so closely and it feels so razor thin and desperate that lawmakers, city council - here in Tacoma - are hearing it loud and clear from their constituents who are actively being pushed out or just looking around and realizing that one wrong move and they would no longer be able to afford to live here. I don't take any shame in admitting that's certainly my family's situation - if we had not purchased our house when we purchased our house, we could absolutely not live where we live today. We would be in Parkland, somewhere other than that - and that's just the reality. And so again, we'll see what comes long-term, but it's an acknowledgement and it's an important one, and I think it's right.

[00:25:40] Crystal Fincher: I also think it's right. This affects everybody. A lot of times I hear a lot of people say the same thing you did - Well, thank goodness we were able to buy our house at the time that we did because we certainly couldn't afford it now. This is an issue that is really affecting seniors in the community and whether they can age in place - whether they can remain in the communities that they have built their lives in, that they have relationships in, that is so important to maintaining their own safety net as perhaps their abilities evolve and change as they age. Lots of people need to downsize houses, need to have more accessible homes. And right now in many communities - certainly in Seattle and Tacoma, but also many of the suburbs - it is not possible to buy in the same area and get something similar that you would there. They're looking at a much different quality of life if they were to do that, or they need to move far away, basically, from perhaps family, support systems, the doctors that they've seen forever, the people who've been helping them in their lives for so long, and really lose touch with those things that keep them healthy and supported. And often their family too - and their families aren't able to afford to move in and live in the same area - it's really a problem that a lot of families are facing in this multi-generational way that is really, really troubling. And I'm glad this is being addressed.

[00:27:05] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, it's just a subset of the folks being affected by this - you probably know the data better than I do - but if you want to be terrified at some point, look at the data about the number of people moving into retirement age and that age bracket in the next decade or more. It's a significant amount of people. And if we don't come to terms with the fact that our economy as it currently stands, particularly in relation to housing, is just cruel and out of whack right now - there are going to be countless people really with no flexibility, nowhere to move, creating those situations that you just described where you get stuck. You have a house you probably can't look after anymore. You can't afford to move anywhere else. You don't have whatever it would take to get into senior - I mean, it's terrifying. And so one small part of a bigger pie of the economic cruelty that we have, but it's a big one. And so I'm hopeful, but again, cities are great at the plans and the bullet points and the statements of great aspiration. The proof is in how it pans out. And so I think it's important for people to keep an eye on it and keep folks accountable, so it's more than just talk.

[00:28:11] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely agree with that. Getting more into the details of this, there were a number of actions - I was happy to see that this was a pretty comprehensive report - there are metrics to track over the time. As plans from cities go, especially ones that we're seeing these days in major cities, it at least had a lot of detail - that they'll either follow or they won't - but certainly a lot less vague than some of the plans that we see elsewhere. Some of the other things included were expanding one-time cash assistance to keeping families housed, offering incentives for developers to build affordable housing in at-risk areas, prioritizing new units to be rented or sold to at-risk or displaced residents, focusing down payment homebuyer assistance in high-risk neighborhoods, or reducing the cost to build accessory dwelling units. In addition to proactive rental inspection programs or community land trust with the intention of preserving affordable housing, increasing funds to the City's tenant protection program and housing assistance contracts, or creating a property tax relief program. The strategy also called for the City to consider establishing a reparations committee that would research the possibility of reparations for historical racist policies, particularly because BIPOC communities have been disproportionately displaced. Those communities have been decimated - they're far less than half of what they initially were, and that percentage is still declining there. It is a challenge - they're being disproportionately displaced, and certainly reparations are being looked at in a variety of areas and is justified.

We'll see how this does play out, but I'm excited. The plan excites me because it was quite detailed. We'll also link that in the show notes for people to read themselves and see the data behind the policies, the justifications behind them, the metrics that they'll continue to be tracking, and what their metrics for progress are. It'll be interesting to see, but we talk about affordability under a whole umbrella of a homelessness crisis, the housing crisis - but it is going to take addressing these discrete elements, each one by themselves, and a plan to address all of them. And I think Tacoma is certainly showing leadership so far in that area.

Also want to talk this week about Mayor Bruce Harrell delivering his 2024 State of the City address. This is his third State of the City address since he has been elected, these addresses are annual. He touted some reductions in crime, which I'm sure everyone is happy to see. He talked about the CARE Department that they established, which has started with a small trial of a co-responder model during limited hours during the day. Hopefully we will see that expanded - certainly, to at least cover 24 hours throughout the day, and more than a handful of responders there - that would certainly be welcome. And I think polling continually shows that residents want to see this expanded and available at all times and in all areas.

He also made news with basically a no new taxes pledge, which is very different than what he said before. He said that he'd be looking to implement progressive revenue. He convened a task force to look at different progressive revenue options because there's a $250 [million] budget shortfall that the City is going to have to deal with this year. And he basically said - Hey, we're not going to raise taxes. I'm not going to support any raising of taxes. Our challenges are much more fundamental to that. We need to basically look at every inch of the budget and re-examine what we're doing. This seems aligned with Council President Sara Nelson's pledge and op-ed where she said not only was she looking to not implement new taxes, but also cut taxes for business. This is also at a time when they're saying they're going to increase funding for public safety. So this seemingly indicates, particularly if they're looking at cutting taxes - but really either way, whether they do or don't cut any taxes - some pretty significant cuts for services and programs throughout the city that don't have to do with public safety. And this has a lot of people alarmed. How did you see the State of the City address?

[00:32:31] Matt Driscoll: What I always enjoy about our conversations is I view all this stuff from afar, from Tacoma. I know what Tacoma and Pierce County budgets look like, and I know what Seattle and King County budgets look like -and there's part of me that looks at that, and if you guys can't figure it out with the resources you have already? But I also acknowledge that the challenges in a place like King County and Seattle are not insurmountable, but are sizable. And when you look at budgets and you look at the need for these services and potential of cuts, it's very real and it could be not good for a lot of people.

From a broader perspective, I do think the dynamic and the shift that we've seen in Seattle is interesting - particularly as it relates to homeless response as an example of that, because there was a development where some funding appears like it's going to get taken back from the King County Regional Housing Authority. And I do think from the broad constituency that is now reflected in certainly the city council - and you could argue in Mayor Harrell's election as well - there's a dissatisfaction with the amount of money that we are spending towards trying to address some of these problems and the actual outcomes that we are seeing. And I think a lot of that is very natural because the positive outcomes of homeless response are difficult to track. People always want to break it down - we spent this much and we housed this many people. The reality is it's just not that simple. There's more human nature involved in that. But at the same time, I do believe - and I think Seattle in some ways can be the poster city for this - is it's understandable when people look at the more progressive side of homeless response and say - You're basically advocating that we can't sweep encampments, what we see around us is okay. But I think for most people, when they look around and the problems that they see and the suffering they see, it feels not okay. A lot of times, from one side of it, the solutions you get are really long-term. And because of the way these debates stick us into stupid corners, it starts sounding like you've got one side advocating for - Shut up about the encampment in front of your business, just deal with it. And I think that, at some extent, bleeds into the electorate where they start having pushback to that. And I feel like that's the tension point where Seattle's at - yes, it's a progressive city. Yes, people genuinely want humane responses to the homelessness crisis. They're not looking to criminalize people. They're not looking to make matters worse. They want to address the underlying root causes and the lack of housing and the lack of everything that we need. But at the same time, the status quo is unsustainable. I think you see that in some of this talk of re-evaluation of what we're doing, is it working? And those can be tricky evaluations because like I said, they're not always straightforward. And I think there's a lot of good work being done. And I think attempts to purely quantify it in hard data can be suspect. But at the same time, I don't think it's entirely wrong when people say we're spending a lot of money, we've been talking about this a lot, and all I see is it getting worse. And so that's a very rambly way of - my view on Seattle politics from 33 miles away.

[00:35:33] Crystal Fincher: Well, there's a lot there to talk about. I absolutely agree that people see the problem getting worse and are frustrated by that. And hear the amounts of money that are being spent and are wondering if that's effective or not - because the amounts do sound big. With the budget in Seattle - Seattle is unique in the state, in the types of industry that it has and the types of companies that it has. And Seattle certainly gets a lot from those companies. But I also feel we absolutely need to talk about and acknowledge that those companies get a lot from Seattle. As of a few years ago, Amazon had more office space in the city of Seattle than any corporation in any other city in the country. So great - Amazon is hiring. But Amazon is also taxing our infrastructure. They're causing a lot of stress on the roads - people talk about potholes and trucks - and well, Amazon is impacting a lot of that. Amazon is a lot of the impacts on our transit network. Amazon is impacting just the use of our resources, right? And Amazon is benefiting from the great resources that the city of Seattle does provide. And again, this goes both ways. Certainly people benefit from being employed, but we can't say - And that's it, that's the end of the story. There's also the desire to have those corporations, some of the richest ones in the world in Seattle, pay their fair share. In our state - as we've talked about, our regressive state tax code without an income tax - I do think there's a very valid conversation, especially in a city that has as many high-earners and as many mega-corporations as the city of Seattle does, whether people are paying their fair share. And when you look at how residents in the city of Seattle vote, that answer continues to be - No, we don't feel like everyone's paying their fair share yet, and we need to move further in that direction. City government currently, both the council and the mayor, seems to feel differently. So that will be a continuing tension that carries on. We'll see what happens, but certainly looks to be a bumpy ride coming up.

The last thing I wanted to talk about this week was the announcement that there are going to be no charges for the officer who killed a student, Jaahnavi Kandula, as he was driving 74 miles per hour down a city street - the speed limit is 25 miles per hour - responding to a call. This is the incident that a lot of people probably became familiar with because they heard another officer, who is also the vice-president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, mock her death - saying that her life didn't have value, basically laughing about it in just a really sick and sadistic way. No charges will be faced by that officer either. For the officer who was mocking, the rationale that the county prosecutor gave was that it's up to the Office of Police Accountability in Seattle to determine what, if any, discipline should be faced by that officer. And then for the officer who actually ran over this young woman, just saying there was not enough evidence to show that basically he was acting recklessly.

And a lot of people's response to this has been if driving 74 miles per hour with no indication that it is in a different category of emergency, certainly - and really responding to a call that police are not needed at and that other cities don't have police responding to those calls, but that's a side issue - but hey, if that's not reckless, then what is? And so we're again in a situation where the law feels woefully inadequate. And we have the county prosecutor saying - Okay, but according to the law, this would be tough, if not impossible, to prosecute and get a guilty verdict. And people looking at the common sense of it and saying - But that just doesn't make sense. Can we drive 74 miles per hour on a city road and have no consequences for any actions, any harm that results from that? And so we're once again in a situation where our laws seemingly have endless loopholes or exceptions for people who work in public safety that don't seem to apply to the rest of us. How did you see this?

[00:39:53] Matt Driscoll: Yeah, we're certainly tackling the big ones on today's show, aren't we? I mean, to me, and I realize that this is a difficult view to articulate fairly, and I'm going to try my best because people feel very passionate about it for a lot of reasons. But I think two things are true. One, creating the type of police force that we need does demand accountability. There has to be accountability. And I think right now, a lot of folks genuinely feel like there is no accountability. Attempts are made to hold police accountable for what many feel are reckless, or dangerous, or whatever behavior. The result we get is - well, it wasn't illegal, it was fine. And so accountability has to be part of that, but I don't think you can change police culture through accountability. I feel like what this situation represents is more the reflection of a police culture, particularly in the mocking comments. I don't know enough about the intricacies of this case to re-litigate it. I've read the same things you read - I know the speed, the lack of lights, I also know the prosecutor came back - the interviews with other people, that they heard it, that the student seemed distracted. I don't feel prepared to re-litigate that exact string of events.

What I will say is when you're in an emergency or your family members in an emergency, you'd probably want the first responders driving 75 miles an hour - maybe not 75, but you get my point. I do think there has to be leeway in the law that gives first responders and cops the ability to do things that otherwise would be considered reckless. I think that needs to happen, but I think the problem we run into is that responsibility that we've given to a police force - the police force, their culture, doesn't reflect those values that are behind that. In a perfect world, if we had the police force we had, they would use these powers responsibly. But a lot of times what we see - and again, particularly in the commentary, that's what feels inhumane. The cop who was involved in the accident, it sounds like they were distraught at the scene - I don't know what's going on with them. But I know when people hear cops talking about this person’s life in a way that assigns it no value, it feels like a reflection of police culture that feels above the law, and feels drunk on power, and feels reckless. So if this cop had been charged with this, I don't know what it would have changed. I do think accountability is necessary, but I think the bigger problem is the police culture we have. And maybe, best case scenario, we're in the process of slowly transforming our police forces to - hiring the type of people and weeding out the bad - I don't know if I have a lot of faith in that. But it's not going to happen overnight. My overarching point is - yes, you need accountability, but I don't think accountability can be your vehicle towards the change that we need, if that makes sense.

[00:42:49] Crystal Fincher: It makes perfect sense. I completely agree with that. It's just a really, truly unfortunate situation. And this young woman deserved better - from everybody, at all points in time from this. And I hope we take this seriously as a community, both locally and statewide, and really do look at issues with culture and start to get to the root of that problem.

And with that, I thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, February 23rd, 2024. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today was Metro News columnist and opinion editor for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Matt Driscoll. You can find Matt on Twitter or X at @mattsdriscoll, with two L's at the end. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter at @HacksWonks. You can find me at @finchfrii, with two I's at the end, on all platforms. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get 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.