Week in Review: June 16th, 2023 - with Katie Wilson

Week in Review: June 16th, 2023 - with Katie Wilson

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by general secretary of the Seattle Transit Riders Union, Katie Wilson!

They cover a lot of ground today, discussing Bob Ferguson’s unnamed donors, the Burien Planning Commission resigning in protest over “scapegoating” and “lack of action and missteps” by the city council majority and city manager, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s “War on Health,” reflections following the Seattle City Council mobility-focused forums, the Seattle City Council approving an affordable housing levy for the November ballot, Trans Pride barring Seattle Public Library, King County Council considers mandating that stores accept cash in addition to card or electronic payments, and a Saving Journalism, Saving Our Democracy event on Wednesday, June 21st, at Town Hall Seattle.

About the Guest

Katie Wilson

Katie Wilson is the general secretary of the Transit Riders Union and was the campaign coordinator for the wildly successful Raise the Wage Tukwila initiative last November.

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


Better Behavioral Health Crisis Response with Brook Buettner and Kenmore Mayor Nigel Herbig” from Hacks & Wonks

Before rule change, AG Bob Ferguson moves $1.2M ‘surplus’ to campaign” by Jim Brunner from The Seattle Times

Early WA governor’s race skirmish? Campaign finance loophole scrutinized” by Jim Brunner from The Seattle Times

Public Hearing to review – and possibly take action against – Charles Schaefer and Cydney Moore will be Thursday, June 15” by Scott Schaefer from The B-Town Blog

King County's letter to City of Burien offers $1 million and 35 pallet shelters for homelessness crisis” by Scott Schaefer from The B-Town Blog

Emotion-packed special Burien City Council meeting results in removal of Charles Schaefer as Planning Commission Chair” by Mellow DeTray from The B-Town Blog

UPDATE: Total of 9 commissioners, advisory board resign en masse in protest of Charles Schaefer’s removal” by Scott Schaefer from The B-Town Blog

Seattle to Launch "War on Health"” by Amy Sundberg from Notes from the Emerald City

Harrell’s approach to fentanyl crisis: Heavy on spectacle, light on substance” by Marcus Harrison Green for The Seattle Times

Community Court Is Dead. What Comes Next?” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

Harrell Vows to Pass New Drug Law, Creates Work Group to Find Solutions to the Fentanyl Crisis” by Andrew Engelson from PubliCola

Mayor Harrell Promises a ‘War on Health,’ Not a ‘War on Drugs’” by Ashley Nerbovig from The Stranger

Midweek Video: Seattle Council Candidate District 3 Mobility Forum” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist

Seattle City Council District 5 Mobility Forum Video” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist

City Council sends $970M Housing Levy to Seattle voters” by Josh Cohen from Crosscut

WA renters need to earn twice the minimum wage to afford rent” by Heidi Groover from The Seattle Times

Seattle Public Library Kicked Out of Trans Pride After Hosting Anti-LGBTQ+ Activist Kirk Cameron” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

Data shows Seattle area is becoming increasingly cashless” by Gene Balk from The Seattle Times

Saving Journalism, Saving Our Democracy – Town Hall Seattle

Find stories that Crystal is reading here


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Tuesday topical show and our Friday week-in-review delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen. 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, I learned about North King County's innovative new Regional Crisis Response Agency with its inaugural Executive Director Brook Buettner and Kenmore Mayor Nigel Herbig. Following national guidelines and best practices for behavioral health crisis care, a five-city consortium established the RCR program in 2023 as part of a vision to provide their region with the recommended continuum of behavioral health care - which includes someone to call, someone to respond, and somewhere to go. 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: co-founder and general secretary of the Seattle Transit Riders Union, Katie Wilson.

[00:01:35] Katie Wilson: Thank you, Crystal - great to be here.

[00:01:37] Crystal Fincher: Great to have you here again, and just - I am such an admirer of the work that you and TRU do. Just wanted to start talking about - an updated public disclosure report cycle just happened, we're in the midst of a gubernatorial race that has started early. But there was a notable addition to these reports, or occurrence in these reports, and that was the reporting by Bob Ferguson of his surplus transfer. How did you see this?

[00:02:10] Katie Wilson: Yeah so basically, Ferguson transferred - I believe it was - $1.2 million from surplus funds from previous campaigns to his current gubernatorial campaign. And it appears as just a big lump sum, so it's not clear who donated this money - what individuals or interests. And because of the timing of the new PDC interpretation of the law, this appears to be technically okay, but it does mean that it's very possible that you have people who contributed to that $1.2 million who are also contributing to his current campaign and therefore going over individual campaign contributions. So you could look at it as a big infusion of kind of dark money into this race if you wanted to. It appears to be technically legal but definitely of, I suppose, questionable ethics in a larger sense.

[00:03:05] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and it was really notable. I'd read the reporting looking at it, but when you're looking at a PDC report and you see basically more money undeclared, unassigned to - literally listed under miscellaneous there in the report - it does make you wonder who those people are. Especially since if you work in politics or affiliated with it, you know that it's because of an action by the attorney general - which lots of people agree with - that we can't currently advertise on Twitter or Facebook because they lacked the appropriate reporting requirements. Because that's so important - to see who is giving what - we have stronger disclosure requirements than some other areas. Certainly it's something we take seriously. And so it is interesting to see from the attorney general who did that, just a lot of dark money. This could be an interim reporting thing maybe, he could still report who those donations belong to. As you said, it could run afoul of some of the campaign contribution limits if there are people who gave both to that campaign that he's transferring from and to his current gubernatorial campaign, but it's really a conundrum. Our Public Disclosure Commission recently clarified that you can't make transfers above any campaign contribution limits, but the official notification or the official clarification didn't happen until after this transfer - although they did let everyone know that they were going to be making that rule change. And it was after that notification that this transfer was made. So no, it was probably dicey, a bit questionable - especially because of that, I would expect to see the donors disclosed. I hope to see the donors disclosed - I think it's an important thing that is unambiguously the spirit of the law, if not the letter. So we'll see how this continues. Are there any other notable races that you're paying attention to, notable reports that you saw?

[00:05:09] Katie Wilson: Not so much on the PDC side - I think I didn't comb through it as closely as you did. But one more note on the Ferguson thing - I was just thinking, it just brought to mind - I think the reason, part of the reason why it's notable is just the size of the transfer of money, right? $1.2 million is actually quite a campaign fund. But also just, of course, that it is Bob Ferguson - many of us associate him with principles and things like that.

[00:05:36] Crystal Fincher: In law and order.

[00:05:37] Katie Wilson: Right - in law and order. And so it just makes me think about just the difference between the things that we say that we believe and then how we behave in our own lives. And you think of something like a new tax going into effect - and a wealthy person who supports a tax that is going to require them to pay more money, but then they shuffle things around before it goes into effect to avoid it affecting them as much. Human nature perhaps, but I think we can expect better of our elected leaders.

[00:06:10] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Speaking of expecting better from our elected leaders, I wanted to talk about what's happening in the City of Burien. We certainly have talked about this before, after King County Executive Constantine sent a letter that was - I don't know that it was unprecedented, but certainly not something that we see often. After Burien had twice enacted sweeps of homeless encampments - which as we know are advised against by public health authorities, don't have evidence showing that they are effective, usually people just end up moving to another place - that doesn't solve homelessness, it is actually destabilizing. And providing services and housing is what has had a track record of success that's much better than sweeps. But they kept doing it. And then they - and when I say they, I'm talking about a majority of four people on the Burien City Council – in 4-3 votes on the council, voted to move forward with that.

And then because they were called out about a law that says if you're gonna sweep, you need to have shelter available - it makes no sense and is unconstitutional to say that someone can't be in a public space without somewhere else for them to go. When that happened, they said - Okay well, we'll try and just do an end run around the law, and we'll lease it to this dog park group - which is a front for people who are just going to use their lease and occupation of that land as a private entity to then trespass people off of that land, so a sweep by proxy. Which Dow Constantine, the King County Executive, saw and said - I can't have our sheriff's deputies participate in this - and those sheriff's deputies are the ones who are actually providing police services to the City of Burien - saying that this is unconstitutional, we can't be a part of it. But at the same time, offering help to get through the problem, offering $1 million, offering several pallet shelters - I think it's 100 pallet shelters - for people and space in order to put that. Which most cities, I think, would be jumping up and down, celebrating, saying - We need all the help we can get.

[00:08:18] Katie Wilson: You would hope, but most cities - you think most cities in King County would be jumping up and down to start a sanctioned encampment in their city?

[00:08:31] Crystal Fincher: I think many would. I think more would than you think. Now, that caveat comes with they may sweep in addition to that, I don't know that they would stop the sweeps. But I do think that most would take that money and identify places in the same way that they've identified places in these contentious meetings for shelters and different locations and the conversations that we have with that. Not that it wouldn't have any friction, but most cities have taken advantage of funds in this area. It is definitely more unusual to say - No thanks - to a million bucks, especially when the problem is chronic. They have swept three times now and the people just moved to another location - 'cause surprise, they have no other home to go to. And if there is no shelter, then what? So shelter has to be part of this. And hopefully we proceed beyond shelter and really talk about housing and helping transition people into that. So this is just a conundrum.

But the escalation came when the City Council tried to censure a member of the Planning Commission and a City Councilmember who were actually trying to do the work of finding housing for people - accusing them of interfering. And it just seemed like a really ugly thing - that they felt like they were being called out, showed in their reaction to King County Executive Dow Constantine's letter. Just seems like taking offense to even being questioned about this tactic - again, that is against best practices - and feels like retribution, and really unconstitutional retribution. What's your view on this?

[00:10:09] Katie Wilson: Yeah, this has been a really contentious public issue in Burien for a little while now. And I think that the bigger issue that we're dealing with here is the spread of the homelessness crisis. Of course, the homelessness crisis has been regional - not just in Seattle - for a long time, but I think that there's been an intensification over the last few years and especially coming out of the pandemic as rent increases, not just in Seattle, but in some cases even more so in other cities around the county have just shot up, right? So you've had double digit percentage rent increases in many, many cities around the county, including Burien. And so I think that that has led to, been a big factor in increasing numbers of unsheltered homeless people in Burien and other cities outside of Seattle, so that it's becoming a more visible and urgent public problem for them. And I think that there's a lot of kind of wishful thinking on the part of both some elected officials and a lot of people in Burien that this isn't really a Burien problem, right? Like maybe these people could just go to Seattle or something, right? So I think that there's a - and we saw this play out too in the fight in Burien about permanent supportive housing recently, right? So there's a reluctance to invest in things like shelter and services in the city, and a desire that the problem just goes away or goes somewhere else. So that's, I think, the bigger picture.

And the specific grounds on which the councilmember, Cydney Moore, and the Commissioner Charles - and I'm forgetting his last name now - that this meeting was held, hearing was held last night to potentially remove Charles from the commission and to censure Cydney on the council was that they had - when these sweeps were happening - they had allegedly talked to campers and helped them to find somewhere else to camp. And so I think the idea was that it was improper for these public officials to basically tell people - Here. You can camp here. - when it's technically illegal. And so this hearing took place last night and the outcome was that the - Charles was actually removed from the commission, something that the council had the power to do. And they did that by a 4-3 vote. And in the end, Cydney Moore was not censured. There was a proposal to postpone discussion indefinitely that passed, so that didn't happen. The council does not have the power to remove a fellow councilmember - that can only happen through an election. If they had had the power to remove her, would four of the councilmembers have voted to do so? We'll never know. But they decided not to censure her, knowing that she's going to still be on the council, at least through the elections.

[00:13:06] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and at least in elections - there are active elections going on here. We have two people who have been strong proponents of these sweeps, who have spoken against King County Executive Dow Constantine - two of them are running for election. One running for a King County Council seat - Sofia Aragon, running against Teresa Mosqueda. Another running for Burien City Council seat - Kevin Schilling, with two opponents there. And it was really interesting this week - there were endorsement meetings held in a variety of LDs - Burien is in both the 33rd and the 34th Legislative District. So hearing local Democratic organizations talk about this - and it is just confounding - 'cause there's such a misalignment between what you hear coming from the legislative districts and the Democratic base in these areas in the city, and some of the elected officials. So there seemed to be a strong repudiation - certainly a decline to endorse Kevin Schilling again, same with Sofia Aragon. And so it just seems like there are signals coming from people that this is not the right solution. And even if people don't know what to do about the problem and are - I see this as a problem, I'm not sure what to do. It feels like everybody is going - But why would you pass up some help and maybe a path forward? Why would you pass up a million dollars?

And talking about passing up - that this offer was made earlier this month, late last month - and they haven't even taken it up, considered it. We still have people living outside. And they had this special meeting to consider kicking this planning commissioner off of the Planning Commission, censuring this councilmember - yet, they're still not even taking time to discuss this offer. Focusing on solutions, getting to work - no matter what your viewpoint is or what you're working on - seems like that would be what would satisfy most people, at least make some progress moving forward on whatever it is that they're going to decide to do. But it seems like they're doing nothing and refusing any offers of help, both financially and otherwise. So many times it's the - Well, how are you gonna pay for it? Someone else is willing to pay for it. The hardest part of this is already taken care of. So I hope that they do take action to move soon.

We have seen already some repercussions from this council action and seeing several people from some Burien commissions have resigned - one from an Airport Commission. In fact, not only an airport commissioner, but several members of the Planning Commission are resigning from their seats. And a statement that is released - was just released here while we're recording - the statement says, "We, the undersigned, are resigning from the Burien Planning Commission effective immediately. We've lost confidence in our city council's ability to lead. Over the past several months, it has become clear to us that there is a majority on the council, specifically, Mayor Aragon, Deputy Mayor Schilling, and Councilmembers Matta and Mora, who are unwilling to discuss issues of affordable housing, homelessness, and poverty in Burien. Instead, they have spent valuable time and resources seeking someone to blame for their lack of action and the missteps of the new city manager. Planning Commission Chair Charles Schaefer fulfilled their need for a scapegoat, and they removed him from his position last night while still refusing to take action to address the homelessness crisis that impacts Burien as much as any other city in our region, state, or county, or country. In addition to being unproductive, this action raises significant concerns for us all about our own constitutional rights as individuals serving our city." So we will continue to pay attention to what is happening here, and see what happens.

Also want to cover this week - Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell - I don't know if he meant to say this or what, but announced his "War on Health" this week. What happened here?

[00:17:17] Katie Wilson: Okay, what a situation. So I think - I guess the idea is that - we all hate the War on Drugs, so we're gonna go for a War on Health instead. Yeah, bad marketing. So the background of course is the City Council vote recently on basically copying the new state drug law into Seattle's code so that the City Attorney Office can prosecute drug possession and public use in Seattle. And that vote ended up failing due to a last minute switch by Councilmember Lewis. And Lewis subsequently said that he would vote for it, but only if there was a process to stand up some new alternative to replace the community courts that City Attorney Ann Davison had unceremoniously dissolved. And so this announcement by Bruce Harrell was of a task force - I'm now forgetting the name of the task force, Crystal, maybe you can help me out - and so the idea is that this very diverse task force, people coming from many different perspectives are gonna come together and they're gonna figure out the solution. We're gonna have more diversion programs, we're gonna have ways for people to avoid just spending a long time in jail for drug possession or public use. And then Seattle is going to pass this law at least partially recriminalizing drugs. And then, everything's gonna be great. So that's the Harrell version of what happened.

[00:19:03] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and it's interesting. And it was the Fentanyl Systems Work Group - a subset of the Fentanyl Systems Work Group that was originally put together as part of an effort to revitalize downtown - so now there's a shift, in a subgroup made of that. It was noted that - he said that we need to take a public health approach. There are no public health representatives on this large and broad task force, but it just - if you know me, we've probably had this conversation, but - at some point in time, we have to stop trying to task force our way around problems. We've known of this crisis for quite some time. We've had staff dedicated to figuring out what to do with this crisis. This is a big problem. I don't think that the issue is that people don't know what the problem is, or what the options are on the table - we've been discussing this as a community for quite some time. It really is just - what are you going to do about it? And of course, no one is going to be - everyone is not going to be happy with whatever decision is made, but there needs to be action taken. Hopefully that action is aligned with best practices and what we have seen work elsewhere. But it seems like this is a half-baked response and kind of a flat-footed response to the council declining to do what they were doing there.

But even if they would have passed that - that doesn't take care of the crisis. We're talking about criminalization here. We're not talking about the things that actually get people out of addiction, that gets fentanyl off of our streets, that does address public use - which is a problem and needs to be taken care of. I think a lot of people's frustration is just - why do we keep spending time and money either doing nothing, or doing things that have already failed? It would be great if we could spend time and money on things that have a shot at working and have shown that they have worked elsewhere.

[00:20:59] Katie Wilson: Yeah, totally. And a couple of things that jumped out at me, reading some of the coverage of this - I thought Marcus Harrison Green had a good op-ed in the Seattle Times about it. And one of the things that he pointed out is that many people start using after they become homeless, right? And so in that context, throwing someone in jail - which is incredibly expensive, even if you do it compassionately, as Harrell has promised compassionate arrests or whatever - and then eventually they're back out on the street where they're more likely to overdose is a really bad idea. And I think that Erica Barnett, in a lot of her coverage of this and related ideas, points out repeatedly that the idea that jail is gonna be just this nice kind of sobering up period, and then you're gonna come out and be much more likely to get treatment and services is really wishful thinking.

And in one of the pieces on PubliCola about this, Lisa Daugaard points out that the really critical issue is actually finding funds for recovery services for people with substance use disorder, especially people who are homeless. And that's really, I think, the elephant in the room in terms of what we're not talking about when we're creating this task force to come up with policies and everything. It's just not being willing to reckon with the scale of the resources that are gonna be needed to actually provide the housing and give people the services that they need. And this is something that I think - not to say that that's not gonna be talked about, I'm sure it will be talked about - and it will be talked about in the fall budget process this fall. And that just really makes me nervous - because as someone who's on the City Revenue Stabilization Work Group that's thinking about how the City should deal with an impending general fund shortfall, there's not gonna be a lot of money sloshing around that is just waiting to be allocated to things like this. So I think there's gonna be some really challenging conversations coming up about how we fund these extremely underfunded needs.

[00:22:59] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I also wanna talk this week about a number of candidate forums that were held in the City of Seattle from organizations focused on mobility and disability throughout the community - a large coalition of those. And so there were council forums held in several districts. I moderated one of them, another one ended up being canceled - it was a District 4 forum - in honor of the strike at the University of Washington. Any takeaways that you had from these forums with Seattle City Council candidates?

[00:23:35] Katie Wilson: Yeah, and by the way, side note - congratulations to UAW 4121 - I believe they've settled their strike as of yesterday. So that's awesome. But yes, so there was going to be a District 4 candidate forum and that's been - hopefully will still happen at some point, but was canceled in solidarity with the strike. But over the last couple of weeks, a large coalition of organizations - including the Transit Riders Union and other groups that work on transportation, climate, and disability issues - hosted forums in the three other open seats, so District 1, District 3 and District 5. And you can watch all of them - so they were recorded, I think The Urbanist might've run articles with links, they're on YouTube. And full disclosure - I did not attend all three forums, I have listened to a lot of it - but my overall impressions were hopeful, but also cynical.

So I think a lot of the candidates in all of these races gave a lot of really good answers, made commitments, said that they support much greater investments in multimodal infrastructure. They understand that over 60%, or 66%, of Seattle's carbon emissions come from transportation. They need to really do mode shift - give people realistic options that aren't driving. They support one of our, TRU's issues - trying to get Seattle to pass legislation to require large employers to pay for transit passes for their workers - something that we were working on before the pandemic and was interrupted, but we would love to see happen at some point soon. So lots of good answers.

I think the challenge that I see is that when I think about, for example, our current City Council and the kind of answers that they would give to those same questions at a candidate forum, I think a majority, probably a super majority would also give great answers to those questions. And one of the things that we've experienced over the years working with allies to try to get Seattle to do better on these transportation issues is just how short the good intentions and commitments fall in practice often. So for example, it's one thing to say that you support building sidewalks in all the places in cities that don't have them. How are you gonna come up with the astronomical funds that are required to do that? It's one thing to say that you support a connected network of bus lanes and bike lanes throughout the city. How are you gonna behave when there's big political conflicts because you're trying to take space away from cars?

And another thing that we've experienced is that even when we have a council that is pretty good on these issues - if we don't have an executive who's right there with them and going to cooperate on implementation, the council can even pass things, like dedicate money for multimodal investments. And then those things don't happen because the mayor doesn't actually support them. And so the money doesn't actually get spent on those projects and things just get delayed and delayed and delayed out of existence. So that's the caution, but we'll see. I think I don't have very much of a sense in a lot of these council races of where exactly things will land after the primary, but I'm hopeful that we'll get some councilmembers in there who care about these issues and will at least make a good effort to move forward.

[00:27:08] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. I definitely share the takeaways that you have. I also found it notable - one, on a number of the questions - yeah, the answers were more agreeable than initially thought, even specific answers. I also think - and heard it from them directly - they were surprised at hearing figures like 40% of residents of Seattle use non-car modes of transportation, yet only 4% of the SDOT budget is dedicated to those modes - and just that big contrast there. And they were very unaware of that contrast. I think there's a lot of people who, because of the way that media coverage has been over really the past decade plus, that more money and resources are dedicated to this than actually are - and really seeing how little comparatively is budgeted for people in cars versus everyone else doing everything that's not in cars is really stark, and they seemed very surprised by that. And I hope that helps to frame just why we're in the situation we're in, and why we have so far to go, and the urgency is so strong right now. So hopefully we do get some good policy wins out of this, ultimately, when these races shake out. Also want to talk about the Housing Levy being approved. What did the City Council do this week?

[00:28:38] Katie Wilson: Yeah, so the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to send a $970 million Housing Levy to the November ballot for voters to vote on. This is a seven-year property tax levy, so that $970 million is spread over those seven years. And this would be used to construct and operate new affordable housing. It would be used to subsidize affordable home ownership. It would be used to raise wages for workers in the supportive housing and services sector. There's a big chunk for rental assistance, some other things. And it's a significantly larger levy than the one that is expiring - I believe it's like over three times bigger than the previous one. And of course that is, I think, probably an appropriate response to the scale of our housing prices.

I guess what I would say is that it's tough - because we're chasing the private market. So as rents in the private market and housing costs, home prices in the private market just shoot up and up, it becomes more and more expensive - more and more people on the lower end cannot afford to rent, let alone buy in our region. And so then that demands more and more public resources to create housing that they can afford. And to me that - so it's tough because you look at the Housing Levy that's just expiring and it was very successful, right? It actually created more housing than it had been projected to. And then in addition, we have other funds that are going into building affordable housing, like the JumpStart big business tax - a big chunk of that is going to fund affordable housing and that's been incredibly successful. You look at the list of projects around the City that have benefited from money from JumpStart and it's a long list. And so this funding that we're putting into affordable housing is really a success story, but you look around and you don't see that reflected in general kind of feeling of - this city is becoming more affordable. And that's really just because we have - so much of the housing is still stuck in this kind of dysfunctional private housing market that is just going up and up and up. So yeah, that's what's happened.

[00:31:02] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, definitely. And your point about - progress is absolutely being made, that's just a factual statement - but we still have the conditions that are creating this problem. And it's like you have to plug the leak in the boat if you're going to successfully bail it out, and we haven't adequately plugged those leaks. The wages required - there was an article about this this week - the wages required to just afford rental housing, let alone a home, are astronomical. What were your takeaways from that article and how does that contribute to this problem?

[00:31:39] Katie Wilson: Yeah, totally. And that's the annual Out of Reach report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition - so every year they come out with a big report about every state in the country, every county in the country that kind of looks at what is the wage that a full-time worker would need to make in order to afford housing in that region. And basically what the report showed is that here in Washington, in the state - not just in King County - a Washington renter needs to earn $30.33 an hour to afford the typical one-bedroom apartment in the state without spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs. And then in the Seattle area, that's even higher. So a renter would need to make $40 an hour, over $40 an hour to afford that market rate, standard one-bedroom apartment. And these are significantly higher numbers than last year's report - I believe it said they're about 20% higher than last year.

And so what that tells us is that even though - luckily, here in Washington state and in the cities in King County that have established higher minimum wages, those wages are indexed to inflation - so we do get an annual inflation adjustment upward. That adjustment is not sufficient to make up for the rising cost of rents in our region so that lower-wage workers are definitely falling behind. And that $40 an hour figure is really interesting because it basically means - you look at the wages in Seattle, SeaTac, and now Tukwila, which starting on July 1 is going to have a minimum wage of $18.99 for most workers - those are getting up toward $20 an hour. But looking at this, it's like you would actually need two adults working full-time at those higher minimum wages to, with any comfort, afford a one-bedroom apartment in King County. So it really just shows how even as there are these efforts going on - this year, ballot initiative in Renton and work that TRU is doing with allies in Burien and unincorporated King County to try to get more jurisdictions to raise minimum wages - we're trying to get them to raise up to around $20 an hour, right? $19 or $20 an hour. And that's great, but man, it still doesn't mean that you're going to be able to afford housing easily.

So yeah, it's a problem. And I think like this and thinking about the Housing Levy and just how far we have to go to make this region affordable, I think it really also underscores the need for social housing and how important it is that the City does a good job of following through on Initiative 135 and getting that started, so that we can start expanding the non-market housing sector - serving not just the very lowest income levels, but people even of all income levels - because really only taking housing out of the private market, ultimately, is going to fix this problem.

[00:34:41] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And a reminder that there is an option for taking some housing out of the private market in the City of Seattle with the - Seattle's public developer that has been established. And as we talk about these City Council elections coming up, really making sure that there are plans that these candidates have to fund this developer and to pursue this is going to be very important.

Also this week, we saw an announcement from Trans Pride that they are no longer welcoming the Seattle Public Library at their event. What happened here?

[00:35:16] Katie Wilson: Yeah. Trans Pride basically announced that Seattle Public Library is not welcome at their event due to a number of issues, but I think the most recent one - and maybe the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak - was the library's allowing Kirk Cameron to host a talk in a library auditorium. I believe this was last month. Kirk Cameron being a former child TV person - I never saw him, I don't remember who he was - but who is now an anti-LGBTQ+ activist and has written children's books about the dangers of Pride. And so the library, as a public institution, says that it has legal obligations to not engage in viewpoint discrimination and has to allow any group or individual to rent its meeting spaces. And Trans Pride has responded by uninviting the Seattle Public Library from participation in the upcoming event.

[00:36:24] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And this to me is a situation where - yes, the library is correct that because of First Amendment issues, they do have to accept facility rentals from there. But Trans Pride also absolutely has the right to determine who is and isn't welcome at their event, and especially in today's environment where safety is of paramount concern. Yeah, I think in this situation, both parties have the right to do what they do. I've seen some reaction in going - questioning whether Trans Pride can even do this. They absolutely can. This is what consequences are. And while it does appear that the Seattle Public Library, and most public libraries, do have to rent to their facilities to people for events and they can't choose who does and doesn't get to do that - it is unambiguously clear that Kirk Cameron is espousing harmful and dangerous rhetoric that's false, and it winds up endangering our trans community. And yeah, absolutely, they're not going to be welcome at an event where their institution can participate in making Trans Pride and the people in our community less safe. It's pretty straightforward. You have no right to participate in everybody's events - if they don't feel comfortable with you there, then that's that. So to me, this is just the library made its decision that it felt that it had to make, and Trans Pride made their decision that they felt that they had to make - and that's just that.

[00:38:03] Katie Wilson: Yes, and PubliCola has done a lot of good coverage of this issue, so go there to read more.

[00:38:09] Crystal Fincher: We will, of course, be linking that article in the show notes. Also wanted to talk about an upcoming vote this week with the King County Council about whether to mandate that stores in the county, or at least in unincorporated King County, continue to take all forms of payment, including cash. Why is this such an issue?

[00:38:29] Katie Wilson: Yeah, so article in this week's Seattle Times from Gene Balk talking about how cashless payment and refusing to accept cash is becoming a more and more common thing in the Seattle area. And this is timely because there is actually legislation before the King County Council, championed by King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, that would require businesses - most businesses in unincorporated areas of the county, which is the jurisdiction that the King County Council has jurisdiction over - would require them to accept cash as a form of payment. This is something that I don't believe any jurisdiction in Washington state has done yet, but it's not unusual in other parts of the country. So New York City, San Francisco - there's a bunch of cities. And even a couple of states - I think the entire state of New Jersey, there might be a couple more - have passed legislation that requires businesses to accept cash payment.

And obviously for a lot of us, we just walk around with a card and that's fine and it works for us. But especially seniors, immigrants and refugees, people with privacy concerns - either from experience with or fear of identity theft, domestic violence survivors, houseless people - there's demographics that are much more likely to rely on cash for most or all daily transactions. And if you're in one of those - in that situation - then if you have more and more businesses not accepting cash payment, then you get effectively locked out of the local economy. And so this legislation is coming to the full King County Council next Tuesday for a vote. It's not guaranteed to pass - so I think that there's definitely some reluctance on the part of some of the King County Councilmembers to vote on this. So if you think this is important, now's a good time to email in to your King County Councilmembers and maybe consider testifying next Tuesday. But yeah, I think unincorporated King County has a chance here to set an example for other jurisdictions in the area.

[00:40:44] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And that great reminder to make your opinion known to your city council - County Councilmember - if you can. I was just in Santa Monica, California a couple weeks back, and they had businesses that had signs in their shops that they don't accept cash. This is a thing that can happen in this area. And it does seem to be a reaction to not wanting "those" people around. And there are lots of reasons why someone may prefer to use cash over other means, or may have to use cash over other means - and discriminating based on the type of payment just doesn't seem wise or prudent. And especially as we see so many forces working on excluding people from so many other places in society, we certainly don't need to contribute to the acceleration of that.

So I also want to talk about an event taking place next Wednesday. What's happening?

[00:41:47] Katie Wilson: Yes. So next Wednesday, 730 PM, at Town Hall Seattle, there is a forum that is co-sponsored by South Seattle Emerald and Real Change called Saving Journalism, Saving Our Democracy. And this is going to be a conversation about the challenges that news outlets, especially local news outlets, are facing these days keeping the lights on and providing adequate coverage of local issues. And the panelists include Jelani Cobb, who is the Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, and Michael McPhearson, who is the Editor of the South Seattle Emerald, Florangela Davila, who is a journalist who's worked at a bunch of different outlets, and Frank Blethen, who, of course, is the publisher of The Seattle Times. And the moderator is going to be Delores Irwin, co-chair of the League of Women Voters of Washington, which actually - earlier this year - put out a really great study called The Decline of Local News and Its Impact on Democracy, which charts the struggles that newspapers, in particular, in Washington state have faced over the last decades and kind of the dwindling news coverage in a lot of areas of the state, creating news deserts. So I think it's going to be a fascinating conversation. And I happen to know that there will be some potentially actionable policy proposals that will be discussed that could turn into interesting campaigns in this area in the near future. So I definitely encourage people to attend the event, get involved in the conversation.

[00:43:39] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And I am a big fan and supporter of both Michael McPhearson and Florangela Davila - we are fortunate to have them both in our local media ecosphere. And certainly, this is part of a broader national conversation. But looking forward to see what's discussed. It's critical to our democracy, it's critical to just our everyday lives - the quality of representation and policy that we see - and how people and organizations and institutions are held accountable. So it makes a big difference - I hope people definitely tune in and attend - we will put a link to that in the show notes also.

And with that, I thank you all for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, June 16, 2023. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today is co-founder and general secretary of the Seattle Transit Riders Union, Katie Wilson. You can find Katie on Twitter @WilsonKatieB. You can find Seattle Transit Riders Union on Twitter @SeattleTRU. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. And you can catch Hacks & Wonks wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review show and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, please leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.