Week in Review: January 13, 2023 - Robert Cruickshank

Week in Review: January 13, 2023 - Robert Cruickshank

On this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, political consultant and host Crystal Fincher is joined by long-time communications and political strategist and Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, Robert Cruickshank! They cover Governor Inslee’s State of the State address, the legislature's responsibility to provide urgently needed resources for public education, plans to address our state’s housing crisis in the 2023 legislative session, multiple controversies involving Walgreens, Seattle Public Schools suing social media companies, and why the "refusal" of services by people experiencing homelessness is largely a reflection of those services' inability to meet their needs.

Governor Inslee’s State of the State address focused on housing and homelessness, following a mandate from voters in last year’s elections to solve with progressive reforms. Crystal and Robert discuss how our state’s housing crisis is fueling displacement and homelessness, and talk about proposals pending in the legislature that could help.

Alongside this, Washington’s public education is straining under a lack of funding, and needs more resources to hire essential teachers and public health professionals. Both housing and education could be better solved by the legislature if they enact progressive revenue, such as a wealth tax, to fund new programs and battle a potential revenue shortfall.

A debacle occurred over the preservation of a Seattle Walgreens building that’s been designated as a landmark. The council reversed a decision last week and significantly limited new construction in order to preserve parts of the building, which will limit the ability to develop the remaining property into much needed housing, and seems misaligned with the city's stated goals of rapidly increasing housing stock and reducing harmful emissions.

A Walgreens executive also made news when they had to apologize for overstating the impacts of shoplifting on its stores. Exaggerated crime narratives like these, pushed by candidates and media outlets, were used to undermine progressive reforms in recent elections, even though they were never supported by real data.

Returning to education, Seattle Public Schools announced their plan to sue various social media companies for the negative impacts on students’ mental health caused by social platforms. While social media has a role to play in our national youth mental health crisis, some students and parents argue the district’s resources would be better spent on acquiring more direct mental health support for students.

Finally, Crystal and Robert look at some excellent reporting from Tobias Coughlin-Bogue at Real Change News, explaining why services are refused by people experiencing homelessness. Refuting narratives that people living on the streets don’t want shelter, the data show that in fact, when offered private, non-congregate shelter and housing, they largely accept it. Congregate shelters that lack privacy and security are often unable to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness, often lacking the ability for people to bring their possessions, partners or pets with them, and are most frequently cited as creating harmful or negative experiences for the people who use them.

About the Guest

Robert Cruickshank

Robert Cruickshank is Chair of Sierra Club Seattle and a long-time communications & political strategist.

Find Robert Cruickshank on Twitter/X at @cruickshank.


Seattle's I-135 Social Housing Initiative with Tye Reed and Camille Gix from the House Our Neighbors Campaign” - Hacks & Wonks

Gov. Inslee leans into housing and homelessness in 2023 State-of-the-State address” by Dyer Oxley from KUOW

Washington Should Tax the Rich to Save Our Public Schools” by Robert Cruickshank from The Stranger

How WA's legislature is addressing the housing crisis in 2023” by Josh Cohen from Crosscut

In Reversal, Council Poised to Preserve Landmarked Drive-Through Walgreen's” by Erica C. Barnett from Publicola

Walgreens executive: "Maybe we cried too much" about shoplifting, thefts” by Herb Scribner & Hope King from Axios

Seattle Public Schools Sue Social Media Companies for Detrimental Effects on Youth” by Vee Hua from South Seattle Emerald

Seattle Public Schools sue TikTok, Meta for youth mental health crisis” by Julie Calhoun from KING5

Service refusal is not a myth, but it is surrounded by them” by Tobias Coughlin-Bogue from Real Change News


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I am 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 get the podcast, to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show 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 midweek show, we had a great discussion with Tye Reed and Camille Gix from the House Our Neighbors campaign. Tye and Camille told us about the origins of the campaign, what the I-135 initiative - the Seattle Social Housing Initiative - they're championing accomplishes, and how they plan on getting the votes for the February 14th ballot. Find it in your podcast feed or on our website.

Today we are continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show - one of the smartest political minds on the West Coast and today's co-host - Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank.

[00:01:32] Robert Cruickshank: Oh, Crystal - thank you for having me. I think you're one of the smartest people in Seattle and Washington State politics, so you're the one who deserves the accolades.

[00:01:43] Crystal Fincher: I appreciate that, but - decade and counting - you've always been on target. So I think we will start out talking about what the Executive of the State of Washington has laid out as his priorities as we start this legislative session - what he's calling on the Legislature to do and pass and the path that he's setting for the state. What stood out to you about this?

[00:02:08] Robert Cruickshank: I think Governor Inslee is going big and bold on homelessness and housing. A $4 billion housing bond to build affordable housing - to help address not just the homelessness crisis but the crisis at the lower end of the housing market - is a big step to take and I think it's the right one to take. We haven't seen the state do anything like this in quite some time, but it's a recognition that for too many decades now, we haven't been building enough housing, haven't been building enough housing of all kinds at all levels. And what that is doing is fueling displacement, fueling gentrification, and fueling homelessness. I think Governor Inslee's taken a look around the country - he could even look just south of the river to Oregon where the politics of housing and homelessness really seemed to threaten Democrats - but Democrats like Karen Bass and Tina Kotek have stepped up and said, No, we're going to lead on this. And I think Inslee's taken a page from that and recognized that that's where he needs to be to do an effective job of governing Washington state. Combined with the legislation we're seeing from Jessica Bateman bringing the missing middle bill back and other things pending in the Legislature, it's shaping up to be a potentially big, big year for finally addressing Washington state's housing crisis, which then feeds homelessness. We'll see what happens in the Legislature - we have, though, in past years seen big proposals get whittled down, but I'm hopeful based on things I'm reading and hearing from legislators that this might actually survive. And obviously it has to go to the ballot - voters have to approve an affordable housing bond in the fall, but polling from Stuart Elway and others shows that it's likely to pass. So it's an exciting start.

[00:03:43] Crystal Fincher: It is an exciting start, and it looks like the state is ready for this - both based on the polling and on action that's been taken across the state for quite some time. There's been a question from a lot of people - certainly in the Seattle region and from leaders in our Legislature - wondering, Hey, is the state ready? that we've heard in the past several sessions. And in that time we've seen cities like Spokane, Olympia, Tacoma take action on increasing their housing supply - really looking at increasing middle housing in those cities. It looks like other areas of the state have been more ready and willing to take action than even the Seattle area. So it looks like there's a broad recognition across the state that this is a crisis and that people are expecting action.

Another area where bold action was on the agenda is certainly in terms of gun reform and gun laws. Inslee spoke about requiring permits for people having guns, requiring training, and moving forward on a lot of the steps that they've been talking about before - certainly they've taken action - but the call to go further and addressing violence and tragic outcomes from guns is high on his agenda.

[00:05:06] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, and I think it's time - in fact a long past time - for the state to finally enact an assault weapons ban. California's had one for decades. Illinois just passed one this week. It's been pending in the Legislature for some time, but it's been Democrats who've been hesitant to act - maybe afraid of how it might play in swing districts - but I think polling has shown pretty consistently the public understands that these weapons should not be in the hands of the general public. Inslee's called for it, Attorney General Bob Ferguson has called for it. This should be finally the year, especially after Democrats did well in an election year that they were not expected to do well in here in Washington state. It should give them the confidence that they can do bold things like this that are also popular. There's no reason to hesitate, but we'll see what happens in the Legislature. Will they get cold feet yet again and fail to pass an assault weapons ban even though it's something the public really, really wants?

[00:05:59] Crystal Fincher: It is absolutely something the public really wants. I do wonder what impact events in Oregon are going to have. Certainly they have taken an initiative in moving forward that's been challenged in the courts and is currently going through that process - we'll see if that has an impact here. I did appreciate his broader words on public safety, which were more forward-thinking and more in-line with what the data say is effective in reducing crime - and the acknowledgement that public safety is so much broader and bigger than policing. That behavioral health, that addressing root causes, that addressing poverty is actually critical to the longterm safety and resilience of our communities.

In addition to protecting abortion rights - which we'll see how much of a fight Republicans put up against this. This is certainly an area where they did not connect with voters in the November elections that we just saw, but they do still seem willing to push some of that legislation to ban abortion in various ways and to fight against what may be proposed, so that's going to be very interesting to see. What did he have to say about education?

[00:07:10] Robert Cruickshank: He had a little bit to say - not a great deal. The governor's budget proposes some money to help recruit and retain teachers - it's part of a larger workforce problem, but there's been a teacher shortage since the late 2010s. He has a little bit of money to spend on special education - I think he's proposing around $150 million statewide for that, which is somewhat helpful. But the need to provide special education services is much greater than the state funds. The state currently caps the amount of money it will give districts for special education funding at 13% of the overall student population. So what that means is - in a district like Seattle, about 15.5% of students receive some sort of special education services. The Legislature says, Sorry, we're only funding up to 13%. It's also an issue in smaller districts - rural districts face this cap as well. It's absurd that the Legislature tells districts we will only pay for a small fraction of the special education services your students might need. And that creates incentives for districts to try to deny services to students. And coming out of a pandemic, it's worse than ever because students bring new mental health issues to schools, there are longstanding special education needs, disabled students who have other issues that weren't getting addressed and are now getting recognized - but their districts don't want to pay for it, so they find ways to not provide the service. And it's really a root problem at the Legislature. So while it's nice that the governor does have a little bit for education, it seems that overall the Democratic leadership in Olympia isn't really taking what is their constitutional paramount duty as seriously as they need to, even as districts across the state - large and small, urban and rural, east and west - are facing a growing number of cuts in the coming years. This was never supposed to happen under the McCleary decision, but it is because the Legislature got away with underfunding schools overall.

[00:09:08] Crystal Fincher: And you, in fact, had an op-ed - a column - in The Stranger this week, talking about what needs to happen to save our public schools. What did you go through in that?

[00:09:19] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, so the Legislature was sued 15 years ago by a family from Chimacum, which is near Port Townsend. And the McCleary family brought the suit after levies failed and classes were cut, teachers laid off, and saying - This is a denial of our constitutional right to an amply, fully-funded public education. The State Supreme Court agreed - ordered the Legislature to fully fund our schools. The Legislature hemmed and hawed, dragged their feet, eventually held in contempt by the Court. And finally, in 2017, they passed a new education funding system designed to comply with the McCleary decision. But at the time, Senate Republicans were in the majority. And they demanded a solution that relied on the largest state property tax hike in history and that also didn't fully fund schools. And at the time, there were articles quoting the superintendent of Seattle, of Tacoma – this is the summer of 2017 – saying, This is going to underfund special education services, it's going to underfund our ability to retain teachers, it's going to underfund our ability to serve multi-language learners.

All of that has happened. And now we're at a point where districts across the state are facing cuts. Seattle - in two years - faces $150 million in deficit. Chimacum, the district that started it all, where the McCleary family is - is running on reserves. They're running about a $1 million/year deficit and they're likely to face cuts next year. I saw on social media this week - a parent in Everett posting that the Everett district sent out a survey to families basically saying, We have to make budget cuts. What is more important to you? Safety and security at schools, your students' mental health, after-school programs, student electives in high school? And it's - this is not what was supposed to happen. You can look at Marysville, just north of Everett, where levies failed twice in 2022 and they had to make $13 million in cuts. The entire point of the McCleary decision was to end reliance on local levies for basic education. That hasn't happened.

And last week when the legislators had their preview sessions - meetings with the media - and they would be asked about this, it turns out it was the Republicans who said public education was a big issue for them and that they were going to focus on it. Now their solutions are all terrible - they want to slash taxes, they want to privatize schools, give everyone vouchers - it's a disaster. But at least they recognize there's a problem that they have to respond to. Democratic legislators either didn't mention it at all or did only in passing and saying, We've done a lot of great work over the years, but there may be a little bit here we have to do in 2023. It just struck me and struck others in the media, like Danny Westneat at The Seattle Times, that - where is the Democratic leadership on public education right now, especially going into a year that a biennial budget is written - so the budget over the next two years is written in this session - coming off of a successful election where Democrats did well. They have a mandate. There's a wealth tax that Senator Noel Frame and others have proposed that could go quite a long way in fully funding our public schools. You could even make it large enough - affecting no more than 2,000 taxpayers, for example - that you can fund our public schools better and even have a little bit of a cut in the property tax to your average Washingtonian. This would be sensible to do, but it's unclear if the Democratic majority in Olympia is going to go down that road - that road is wide open for them and it's just mystifying why they're not interested in taking it.

[00:12:48] Crystal Fincher: This was highlighted so much by the number of teacher strikes that we have had and them all reinforcing, Hey, we need more funding for special education. We need to address the shortage of teachers, the shortage of staff - even bus drivers are in short supply in many districts. A lot of those frontline workers who are serving our kids in our public schools are being stretched to the point of breaking. And so I certainly hope to see decisive action. And in our battleground districts where a lot of times we hear, Hey, we want to take action on this, but it's going to be pushing too far and we're going to be jeopardizing our members in these districts that are swing districts. And we saw them make the case for the value of public education - funding public education, standing strong with teachers unions - during the campaign and voters agreed and said yes. So the mandate and expectation to take action is absolutely there.

[00:13:55] Robert Cruickshank: It is. And there's polling from the Northwest Progressive Institute that shows - taxing the rich to fund public education is popular in every region of the state, and that includes Eastern Washington. You can look at the swing districts in the 42nd in Whatcom County, the 26th district in Pierce and Kitsap counties, and those are just a few examples where taxing the rich to fund our schools is popular. People get it, they like it, they want it. And the Legislature did deliver finally in 2021 by passing a capital gains tax. That's a good start. And it's notable to me that the effort to repeal that fizzled last year when it became very clear to its backers that they would lose if they went to the ballot. So the Legislature has a mandate, they also have the responsibility. I liken the paramount duty clause of the Constitution to someone being given a job description - they start a new position and in big, bold capital letters at the top of that job description says, this is the number one thing you must focus on. For the Legislature, that parallel is a paramount duty clause of the State Constitution that says amply and fully funding public schools is your paramount number one duty. And it's not happening right now. And I support all the other investments they're planning to make - and they're all connected - there are a number of students who are homeless, students whose families experience intermittent housing insecurity, students who have mental health needs, students who have health care needs and their families have health care needs. All this is connected. So we're not saying fund public education at the expense of anything else, but pass a wealth tax that gives us billions of dollars more a year to start funding all these things, including public education.

[00:15:37] Crystal Fincher: That's certainly on the docket as our legislative session just began. Is there anything else that you're keeping your eye on as we start the journey through the next hundred days or so of legislation that's hopefully going to impact the state positively?

[00:15:52] Robert Cruickshank: I think there's another reason to look closely at a wealth tax - and that is we have to look at the revenue forecasts for the state. Gavin Newsom, down in California earlier this week, announced his budget for the year - $22 billion shortfall due to declines in the stock market. Washington is a little more insulated because we aren't as dependent on stock market revenue, but that is one of the first things that comes back - is revenue from taxes based on the stock market. If there is a recession this year or if unemployment rises - and it's starting to rise with tech layoffs - you start to see spending go down, and that affects sales tax receipts, it affects business and operations tax receipts, and maybe even property taxes. So we'll see what the revenue forecasts show in a couple weeks. If it shows potential deficits, then I think that makes a case for a wealth tax all the more important and all the stronger, because then you have to prevent cuts from happening as well as do these new investments that are still needed.

[00:16:51] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Switching gears a little bit - we saw two interesting developments this week - both, oddly, involving Walgreens. One, regarding a preservation debacle in the City of Seattle. What happened here?

[00:17:08] Robert Cruickshank: It is a debacle. So there's a drive-through Walgreens on Denny - and I think it's at 6th or 7th, it's not far from the Space Needle - and it is in an old bank building that got landmarked a few years ago, even though it is not that unique. It turns out that almost every city in Washington state, even some smaller ones east of the mountains, have the same exact building dating to the 1950s. It's old, but old doesn't necessarily mean historic or that it's really important to preserve, but the Landmarks Preservation Board said, Yes, this is a landmark. The City Council's then asked to handle the development rights at this property, and last week they voted that - just because it's a landmark doesn't mean we have to prevent new housing from being built here - and they looked poised, at least in committee vote, that they would allow a significant amount of housing to be built here. In the week between last week and the vote this week, things shifted. Councilmember Herbold put out a proposal that would actually significantly limit development here, saying - You can build on the parking lot if you can fit it in there. Most housing builders say, There's no way we're going to fit anything more than a couple stories there. You can't build a tall building, with the ability to have the building be self-supporting physically, on such a small footprint. And so the council suddenly did a 180 and said, Actually, we're going to ensure that most of this property is off-limits to growth and development in housing. Councilmembers Mosqueda and Morales strongly objected and voted against this. Councilmember Lewis tried to play middle ground, as he often does - but I don't know that that worked in practice, and I don't know if that's going to work to satisfy his supporters. And, of course, you have councilmembers like Sara Nelson and Lisa Herbold seeing an opportunity to try to prevent new housing from being built. And that's ultimately what happens - a 7-2 vote to have a very limited ability to build on the parking lot there, which is - not much housing is going to go in this location, even though it is zoned already for tall towers. It's surrounded by tall towers there - Denny and Westlake - and it's a couple blocks from a planned light rail stop for the ST3 line that will go out to Ballard. It's just an absurd situation, all in all. I think the council made the wrong decision, and it also raises serious questions about how the landmarking process works - for something that's actually not really that historic to be given protections - to prevent hundreds of homes from being built and to prevent at least $1.5 million from being put into the affordable housing fund that would have happened if it could be built to its maximum zoning potential.

[00:19:56] Crystal Fincher: And conversation about protecting the drive-through - and this is happening while the Council and the City is saying, Hey, we're in a housing crisis. We need to desperately, as quickly as possible, add as many housing units as we can in the City - that's a key element of addressing housing affordability and homelessness. And saying we need to accelerate our pursuit of meeting our climate goals. We are having regional discussions about how we're behind schedule in meeting our 2030 climate goals, and certainly we need to do more to address that. Having more dense housing, reducing - especially in the most metropolitan, urban environments - the necessity of cars. This is also against the backdrop of public safety and a pedestrian and road safety crisis we're in the middle of. And it just seems like preservation in its current iteration and how it's operating is just not aligned with any of those goals. And so it really begs the question - what are we doing here? It doesn't seem to make much sense. These are buildings - I'm in Kent right now, I'm pretty sure Kent literally has five of these buildings. It's hard to find a suburb that doesn't have at least a couple. And so what is special about this, or is this really just a proxy for preventing development?

[00:21:37] Robert Cruickshank: Oh, it's a proxy - no doubt. A proxy to prevent development on that site and an opportunity for people who are dead set against new housing from being built in the City - an opportunity for them to try to stop it from happening. You mentioned Kent, you mentioned climate. And one of the reasons we're in a climate crisis is because after World War II, rather than build in urban centers and build more density, we sprawled everywhere. Rather than add more housing in Seattle, we paved all that farmland there in Kent. We cut down all those trees on the hills in Kent. And not just Kent, obviously - all over the Puget Sound region we did this. All over the country, honestly. And so in 1990, the state passed the Growth Management Act designed to stop that from happening, to prevent our forests and farmlands from being destroyed by development. But the trade-off there to protect those places - and we absolutely must protect them - is that we agreed that there would be more density in the cities, and that just has not happened.

So this is where I think the conversations we're having this morning are great because we're talking about what's going on at the Legislature and Governor Inslee's proposals, legislation to add missing middle housing, and how that affects cities and why it's necessary because cities keep doing stuff like this. They keep finding ways to prevent sensible housing projects from being built in places that make sense for them to go - it's Mercer Island trying to prevent new housing from coming there, even though they are in the center of the Puget Sound region. We clearly need the state to step in and address this because cities won't. There is a bill that's been proposed in the Legislature this year that would significantly limit the ability of design review boards to mess with housing. There's a notorious example up on the top of Queen Anne where Safeway wanted to build 200 housing units there, and it took years to get through the design review process. They'd come back and say we don't like the color of the brick on the building. It's absurd. Now, historic preservation is important. There are things that have to be protected, right? Everyone agrees protecting Pike Place Market was the right thing to do. But you have to use those sparingly in order to ensure that you still have value in what you're protecting - are you just protecting anything that's old? And to ensure that you're not undermining your other goals, as you mentioned. Historic preservation should go hand-in-hand with solving our climate crisis, with solving our housing crisis - it should not be oppositional.

[00:24:00] Crystal Fincher: And speaking of proxy actions, Walgreens also admitted this week that they exaggerated the impact of crime, the hysteria they stoked - saying, Oh, we have to close these locations, we're dealing with challenges, this is really impacting our bottom line, talking about retail theft - they absolutely overstated it. They overstated it to such a degree they had to admit and apologize for overstating it. And it's so insidious because so many stories - to anyone who, to many people who didn't have a financial interest in the criminalization of poverty and telling this story, it was really obvious that that is not the reason why Walgreens is taking these actions - while they're announcing historic revenue and profits - doesn't seem to be impacting the bottom line. In fact, wage theft seems to be a bigger problem in that industry - a much, much bigger problem. But that was the justification used by so many candidates at the local level across the West Coast. And we've seen this here in Washington state and our local cities saying, Look at these businesses saying that they're having such a problem with theft. We need to crack down on it. We need to deploy resources to make sure that they're happy. And we need to act against what the data say is effective for reducing crime and making people more safe, making our community healthier, and just enforce these laws and jail people and hold them accountable. And it turns out it was all fake.

[00:25:43] Robert Cruickshank: It was. There is a public safety issue in our country - there has been for a long time, but it's, as you just described, overstated, exaggerated for political effect. And that's problematic in numerous ways, one of which is it's used to - quite deliberately, I believe - in order to undermine more progressive candidates, to support more regressive candidates, whether they're conservative Democrats or Republicans. And it also distorts the way we talk about public safety. It distorts the way we treat public safety. When Walgreens is out there in 2022 saying, Oh, my gosh, we're having a huge shoplifting crisis. Somebody help us - our elected officials are nowhere to be found. That affects the way politics happens, it affects who wins elections, it affects where money gets spent. So for them to come out publicly to acknowledge here in 2023, after the elections are already done - Oh, actually, we were just overstating that. There's a little bit of an issue, but it's not nearly to the degree we were saying it is. It's just clear that this is being manipulated for political effect. I think one of the places it was manipulated most effectively and successfully was in New York. And one of the reasons Republicans now control the House by just a few votes is because New York Democrats got hammered on public safety and crime, even though, as it turns out - New York - a lot of it was just hype. And when you have corporations hyping public safety for political purposes, it's just hugely problematic because it makes it so much more difficult to actually address things that people need, to actually address the root causes of public safety issues.

[00:27:15] Crystal Fincher: I also have to call out the media's role in this whole situation, and the seeming willingness to just dictate without any question what comes from people whose job titles start with, C's. The CEO says public - they're having a problem, and then we see headlines across the city and all of these papers saying that, Oh, crime is an issue. And others seemingly catching on - Hey, we can blame this. We can blame anything on crime. We saw Starbucks union bust basically - attempt to union bust - saying, Crime is an issue. We're going to shut down this store. It so happens that the stores that they're shutting down are the ones that are unionized - unless unionization just attracts this special kind of crime, which it does not. This is just a cover. But the lack of curiosity, the lack of interrogation, the lack of attention to data from many in media, and just repeating and parroting what they're saying without really examining the truth of these claims is a problem that needs to improve moving forward.

[00:28:26] Robert Cruickshank: It is and there's not any accountability for that when it happens. When The Seattle Times or KOMO have these breathless headlines or TV broadcasts that talk about a huge wave of crime in Seattle and turns out - well, actually it's not that huge, and actually crime's been going down for a while, and the other disruption of a pandemic - things got a little out of hand for a bit because everything was disrupted, there are ways to solve this without panicking. No one's going to - there's not going to be any accountability or change - you're not going to have editors at The Seattle Times or ownership at KOMO look at themselves in the mirror and think, Gosh, we got this wrong - mea culpa, we're sorry - here's how we're going to do better going forward. They're just going to keep finding new ways to exaggerate issues in order to attack their political opponents.

[00:29:12] Crystal Fincher: And it's sad. We even saw The New York Times basically acknowledge that there was a problem, without acknowledging their direct role in that problem, in the litany of headlines that occurred during that election talking about how much of a problem crime was - although it turns out New York is safer than most small towns. We hear a lot of this talk, especially from the right side of the aisle and right wing forces, saying, Oh, it's this - everything is really dangerous in Democrat-run cities and these large cities are really horrible. And literally the exact opposite is true.

[00:29:49] Robert Cruickshank: Here's how it plays out in The New York Times - they're so busy covering a supposed crime wave that doesn't actually exist, that they're missing actual law breaking from a Republican candidate like George Santos. His opponent - his Democratic opponent - tried to draw attention to what appeared to be a litany of lies from this candidate, tried to get The New York Times to cover it, and they wouldn't. So you have a guy who's now in Congress - and people in Congress are thinking, How do we get this inveterate liar out of our ranks? There's a way you could have prevented this from happening, but The New York Times was more interested in spinning up a story about crime than they were about really investigating a really shady candidate for office.

[00:30:29] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. We will continue to pay attention to what they say. We - at the time - certainly talked about how those claims were dubious and we'll continue to call that out. We also saw this week an interesting development in Seattle Public Schools, which is a suit that they're bringing against social media companies. What is this suit about?

[00:30:52] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, this is interesting. It came out of the blue to a lot of us who are parents, even those of us who follow the district closely. They announced a lawsuit against TikTok, Facebook, Google - which runs YouTube - for the way in which their social media apps, in their words, are undermining the mental health of students. And they're not wrong about that. That is an issue that many people have observed over the years. Social media is structured in a way that it preys upon fears and concerns in kids, the way that the algorithms work are designed to get kids hooked, the way that they get them hooked are appealing to their most base instincts, getting kids to fight with each other on social media. There are problems here.

But the reaction from parents and especially from students at SPS is one of kind of dismissiveness towards this lawsuit. The leaders of the Seattle Student Union have been quoted in media saying, Yeah, there are problems with social media for sure, but where is the mental health support that we need from our schools? They have been arguing for months and had a walkout in late 2022 over the issue of a lack of mental health counselors in schools. The Legislature still does not fund mental health counselors at every school - they don't even fund a nurse at every school. The Seattle Student Union asked for $9 million to be spent to hire more mental health counselors. The City of Seattle stepped in and said, Well, we'll add $4 million. The district says we just don't have any money, which you have to question where the district spending priorities are. And so what you're seeing the students say - I've heard this from parents as well - and I think they have a really good point, is that the school district seems to be blaming the tech companies and not looking at what the district can do itself to help solve this. Parents even point out that in elementary grades on student computers, you can still access YouTube in the classroom - just without any filters or restrictions. So while I do believe that there is an issue here with the way the tech companies operate, I think social media does harm kids - the district has a point in this lawsuit. They might well lose it because it's not going to be very difficult for the social media companies themselves to point to the fact the district isn't doing all it needs to do, or all it could do, to address student mental health needs.

[00:33:12] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. And that seems to be the most confounding part of it to me is that in a district that is saying it has limited resources - in fact, does not have the resources available to adequately provide mental health services for students, which has been well-documented and well-talked about at all levels - that a lawsuit, although valid, is the most effective expenditure here. These are expensive and you're going against some of the deepest pockets in the world. This is at minimum going to be a very long and protracted legal battle. And I just don't know that spending this money on a lawsuit versus spending it on actually helping these students with these issues that - while they may include social media, certainly go far beyond social media - and that they can take direct steps to address. It just seems very questionable and I'm really curious to see how they arrived at this being the solution they're going for.

[00:34:12] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, I wonder as well. And the district in Seattle sent out an email to families this week saying, We're not spending district money on it. It'll only be funded - the attorney's fees will be paid out of a settlement or a victory. But that doesn't really answer the question of what happens if we don't win. What happens if, for example, the district wins in lower court and these companies appeal all the way to a Supreme Court? So I find the district's claims that public money isn't going to be spent on this very skeptical and very - it's hard to believe. I saw the Kent School District join the suit, so clearly districts are talking to each other. And again, there is an issue here. But it's hard to see the districts doing this with a serious intent to address student mental health needs when there's so many other things they could be doing, such as funding more counselors, and they're not.

[00:35:07] Crystal Fincher: I hope to learn more about the deliberation process here. Maybe there's something that I'm not seeing - that's certainly possible. But without that information, this seems questionable.

I also want to talk about a very good article this week from Real Change - really diving into the issue of service refusals by the unhoused community. We've certainly talked before on the program - and this has been a big topic of discussion overall - that a lot of times when they're talking about encampments and saying, We need to clear this. And you hear in the reporting, We made offers of service to people that were refused. Therefore, they just decided not to do that. They don't want services and evidently they want to be outside, and this is the life they want to live, and we just can't have in this area - so we're completely justified in sweeping them. We tried to help and they refused. And the truth is much more complicated than that - and really examining how appropriate, how effective, how valid is the help that they're looking at. What did you see from this?

[00:36:19] Robert Cruickshank: It's a fascinating article. And what it showed is that people who are currently living out on the streets - whether it's in a tent, in an RV - they want private shelter. They want a tiny house. They want a room in a hotel. Ultimately, of course, they want housing - stable, permanent housing. The congregate shelters where they're like dormitories, cots on a floor - that model exists but it's unsafe for a lot of people. They don't feel safe there. People are concerned that their possessions will get stolen. A lot of these congregate shelters have rules preventing people bringing their possessions or their pets in. They can't go in with a partner. So what the article showed is that when the offer of shelter was made for a tiny house, it was over 60% uptake. People said, Yes, I will take a tiny house. When it was a cot on a floor in a congregate shelter, the rates of refusal went up. And that's not because people are refusing services. People who are living on the streets are normal human beings and I think the discourse often, especially coming from the right, neglects that point. Normal human beings who want privacy, who want to feel safe in the place where they sleep at night, who find a tent or an RV to be safer than some of the conditions they experience in congregate shelters.

So what this suggests is that - whether it's at the city level, the regional level, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, or the state level, and this is something that hopefully the governor's bond would address - you need short-term and permanent private housing. Private in the sense - not privately owned - but private where someone feels that that room is their own, that they are secure where they're sleeping at night, there's a roof over their head and a lock on the door. And I think that that is the direction we need to be heading in. We need to spend more on things like tiny houses, but those are always intended to be transitional. We put someone in a tiny house so that we get them off the streets where it's still not safe, where they're still subject to exposure to conditions, whether it's cold or smoke in the summer - cold in the winter, smoke in the summer. And then we also need to really get serious about building more housing. It just comes back to the conversation we had at the top of the show. Housing is essential. It's the root of almost everything. But that article showed that if you approach folks who are unhoused and treat them like normal human beings - which they are - people who want dignity, privacy, and security, which all of us want, you can get folks into shelter if - assuming you've provided it. And this shows that contrary to what the right-wingers claim, the problem isn't with people refusing. It's our government isn't providing shelter.

[00:39:10] Crystal Fincher: This has been a problem that's repeatedly been talked about and that people who've been unhoused have been saying for quite some time. In the article, it talks about it boiling down to the three P's - being able to bring your pets, your partners, and your possessions. And when you think about it, of course it does. Of course it does. It also talks about how many people have had negative, harmful, traumatic experiences in congregate shelter for the same reasons that you or I would be hesitant about spending a night in a room full of people we don't know, who are dealing with a wide variety of their own challenges, leaving people who you are relying on to keep you safe. With a variety of things that are a danger to your life and health, having that community to rely on is key to survival. And if you have to give up everything you own or put it at risk of being stolen, which has happened quite a bit in congregate shelters, that's going to give you pause for doing that. For the offer of shelter - for sometimes one night - that you have to be in by a certain time, be out at 7 AM in many of these situations. And it just is not there to meet the need. This congregate shelter model - while a lot of people have been well-meaning, while people operating them are certainly doing good jobs, which - this can fill a gap when there's absolutely nothing else available, when we need hazardous weather or conditions shelter. But for a reliable, effective option, we have to have non-congregate options available to where - you said - people can lock the door, can feel secure and safe. And because of moving to this model and being forced to move to this model sometimes during the pandemic, we were able to get a lot of data that showed, Hey, people stabilize much more effectively when they can feel safe, feel secure - have that baseline - to then start addressing their other problems. If people don't feel safe and secure, that just can't happen. And of course it can't - that's common sense. So I hope that we move towards models that have a chance of working and that serve the population that we're attempting to address.

[00:41:43] Robert Cruickshank: Yeah, and it comes down to providing housing. There's a new book that is out that's called Homelessness is a Housing Problem. There's a recognition growing, finally, that homelessness is caused by and will only be solved by providing more housing. And not just temporary shelter, not just a tiny house - although tiny houses are great. It has to be permanent housing. This comes back to everything we've been talking about today - the need for housing. And Seattle has another opportunity - you mentioned at the top of the show Initiative 135 - that comes up, we'll be getting ballots in the mail shortly asking Seattleites to vote to create the opportunity to build more social housing. And we need all these different types of housing in our community. Our failure to build stuff like this over the last decades is the reason why we have a homelessness crisis. Acting quickly to fund it and build it is the way we get out of it for good.

[00:42:38] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And with that, I thank you all for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, January 13th, 2022. Hacks & Wonks is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. Our insightful co-host today is the Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruikshank. Thanks so much for joining us and sharing your wisdom today.

[00:43:00] Robert Cruickshank: Oh, thank you so much for having me. It's always a pleasure to talk with you about everything that's going on in our community. It's always a great conversation.

[00:43:06] Crystal Fincher: You can find Robert on Twitter @cruickshank. That's C-R-U-I-C-K S-H-A-N-K. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. And you can find me on Twitter @finchfrii - that's F-I-N-C-H F-R-I-I. You can catch Hacks & Wonks wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our full versions of the Friday almost-live shows and our midweek 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.