Week in Review: June 7, 2024 - with Robert Cruickshank

Seattle schools face budget crisis; closures opposed. Wealth gap widens as home prices soar. Council mulls gig worker pay cut amid ethics concerns. GOP sues to hide fiscal impacts of ballot measures. King County and Kent leave asylum seekers unhoused by vacant hotel; officials urged to act.

Week in Review: June 7, 2024 - with Robert Cruickshank

Seattle Public Schools Consider Closing Multiple Schools Amid Budget Deficit

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Brent Jones is set to unveil a list of up to 20 schools that the district plans to close in the fall of 2025, citing a $130 million budget deficit. The announcement has been met with strong opposition from the community, who question the district's lack of data and the potential impact on students.

Robert Cruickshank expressed the public's frustration, stating, "The community doesn't seem to be buying it. [...] It's dawned on the public that what is actually going to happen here is there will be not only fewer schools, but the schools that remain will have a lot more students in them, with probably fewer teachers and larger class sizes and fewer resources than they have today."

The district has not been able to demonstrate significant cost savings from the proposed closures. Cruickshank pointed out that the district's estimates show that closing schools would save, at best, $40 million, leaving a remaining $90 million deficit to address. He also noted that the district has not accounted for the costs associated with closing schools, such as transitioning students and redrawing elementary school boundaries.

Instead of closing schools, Cruickshank suggested that the district could repurpose underutilized buildings for much-needed community services, such as childcare and preschool programs. "That seems to me like an opportunity to bring preschool programs and bring child care programs and bring health care programs in. You don't need to move everyone around, but that's an opening - while we keep those buildings going and await what we know is going to be growing enrollment later on in the decade," he stated.

Cruickshank also highlighted the statewide nature of the problem, mentioning that districts such as Northshore, Moses Lake, Marysville, and Yelm are facing similar challenges. He emphasized the need for the State Legislature to address the issue, suggesting that taxing the rich could help fund public schools.

Seattle's Wealth Disparity: Median Home Price Surpasses $1 Million, City Boasts 54,000 Millionaires

The stark wealth disparity in Seattle has come under scrutiny as the median home price in King County has topped $1 million, and the city is now home to 54,000 millionaires. This news comes amid discussions of reducing library hours and other essential services.

"This is a two-tier city, and we've been heading in that direction of becoming a two-tier city for a while ... But I think this stat that came out should shock us about just how bad that two-tier split has gotten," Cruickshank remarked.

He emphasized the importance of taking the Seattle Progressive Revenue Task Force's conclusions seriously to address the growing disparity and fund crucial services for those in need.

City Council Considers Minimum Wage Repeal for Gig Workers, Faces Ethical Concerns and Low Approval Ratings

The Seattle City Council is deliberating a controversial minimum wage repeal for gig workers, requested by companies such as DoorDash and Uber. The move has been met with strong opposition from the public, with a recent poll showing that 60% of Seattle voters oppose the proposal.

Ethical concerns have arisen regarding potential conflicts of interest for council members Tanya Woo and Sara Nelson. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission ruled that Woo has a conflict of interest due to her restaurant business's relationship with DoorDash. Nelson's ownership of Fremont Brewing has also raised questions about her ability to vote on the issue.

A recent poll by the Northwest Progressive Institute revealed that both Woo and Nelson have negative approval ratings among Seattle voters. Woo is five points underwater, while Nelson is ten points underwater.

Cruickshank commented on the public's perception of the council's actions, stating, "They have completely misread that election, and I think the public is starting to render their verdict on those political leaders for having done so."

GOP Sues to Keep Fiscal Impact Statements Off Ballot Initiatives

The Washington State Republican Party has filed a lawsuit to prevent fiscal impact statements from appearing on ballot initiatives, arguing that the information could sway voters against repealing the capital gains tax and the Climate Commitment Act.

Cruickshank explained the GOP's motivation, saying, "They want to hide that from the public because they know - and polling demonstrates this very clearly to them - that they will lose if these fiscal impact statements are on the ballot with those measures."

Asylum Seekers Left Unhoused Next to Vacant EconoLodge in Kent

A group of asylum seekers has been left without shelter in an encampment next to a vacant EconoLodge in Kent that is owned by King County. The situation has highlighted the lack of coordination and responsibility among local government entities in addressing the housing needs of asylum seekers and refugees.

Cruickshank called for action from elected officials, stating, "I think it's important for people to speak up and show elected officials that we care about this and this matters. [...] I think the vast majority of people in Kent, in King County, in Seattle, do support asylum seekers and refugees and want them housed. But we've got to speak up and let those elected officials know that that's what we believe, and we expect this to get resolved fast."

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.

Podcast Transcript

[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 Friday week-in-review delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at OfficialHacksAndWonks.com and in our episode notes.

If you missed our Tuesday topical show, I chatted with King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion about progress and challenges in her first 18 months, highlighting efforts to rebuild law enforcement relationships, reduce juvenile crime, and address violent crime through collaboration and early intervention. Today, we are continuing our Friday week-in-review shows, where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host: Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank. Welcome back.

[00:01:25] Robert Cruickshank: Thanks for having me back, Crystal. It's always fun to be on.

[00:01:28] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Well, we once again have no shortage of news this week. I want to start off talking about the Seattle Public School District and news that they are considering closing a number of schools and have recently had some engagement meetings with parents in the district. What is happening and where does this all stand?

[00:01:48] Robert Cruickshank: On Monday, June 10th, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Brent Jones is expected to unveil a list of as many as 20 schools that the district wants to close, and those closures would happen in the fall of 2025. And the argument that you sometimes hear from the district is - Oh, we have a $130 million budget deficit we have to close. We have some schools that have lost enrollment. We've looked at everything else - is what they say at these meetings that were held last week - the only way forward therefore is to close schools. But the community doesn't seem to be buying it. And they held three in-person meetings last week. And at each of those three - one at Roosevelt High School, one at Garfield High School, one at Chief Sealth High School in West Seattle - the public showed up and was really clearly unhappy and frustrated with the lack of data. And then later in the week when the district did show data, it showed that closing schools at best saves $40 million and that assumes maximal savings, that assumes you don't actually lose any more students from the fact you've closed a bunch of their schools - which leaves $90 million left to close. And the district's argument is - Oh, well, all the remaining schools will have more resources because it'll be freed up from the schools that have been closed. But that's not possible if you still have to close $90 million of a deficit on top of that.

So it's dawned on the public that what is actually going to happen here is there will be not only fewer schools, but the schools that remain will have a lot more students in them, with probably fewer teachers and larger class sizes and fewer resources than they have today. And so the public is really recognizing that this is not a good plan. There's been a ton of pushback coming the district's direction and so far they have not signaled any intention to back off. They've also pointedly never asked the public at these meetings - Do you think this is a good idea? Should we do it? It's always been presented as we are doing this. You have any questions for us? That has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way as well. And what's come out of this is a recognition that no options are good, that there's no way to close $130 million deficit without doing it on the backs of kids. No option, whether you're closing schools or laying off a bunch of teachers, whatever it is, is a good one.

And it's not just Seattle. I was talking with folks from Northshore schools earlier this week, there are folks in Moses Lake and Marysville I've heard from. Yelm had a bunch of students walk out last week to protest teacher layoffs. This is a State Legislature problem. They have been consistently underfunding our schools. Schools have lost about a billion dollars in state funding when adjusted for inflation since 2022. And I think most people in Seattle would agree, polls show - that the public wants to tax the rich to fund public schools. And that's where the public is really at. We're all asking - Why aren't we going to the Legislature with this? Rather than closing schools, rather than laying off a bunch of teachers, rather than undermining the educational quality that our students get, let's go to the Legislature, push them really hard and make them solve this. And so I think that is what seems to be coming out of these meetings from the public's perspective.

[00:04:38] Crystal Fincher: This is definitely a statewide problem - many districts are dealing with this. In Seattle specifically, what the district has said is that they want to move towards a well-resourced school model, that consolidating through some of these closures gives the opportunity for larger schools to be better resourced. But what I think I heard you just say is that the schools look like they are going to be more poorly resourced. How do they reconcile that?

[00:05:08] Robert Cruickshank: We haven't heard that from the district yet. The district has not been able to actually present data, financial analysis to show exactly how you get to a system of fewer schools with more resources when you're also cutting the budget of a $90 million deficit. And it's worth noting, this is not the first time a big city has attempted this. Most people are aware, I think, of Rahm Emanuel in 2013 when he was mayor of Chicago, closed 50 public schools - made the same promises that the schools that remained would have more resources, they'd be better, kids would get a better education. And that is not what happened. It was a disaster. It set the district into a financial tailspin, and communities felt like the heart had been ripped out - to the point where the Illinois state legislature put a moratorium on any more school closings. School leaders now say it was a disaster, destroyed public trust, it wasn't worth it. And one of the leaders of the fight against closing schools in Chicago 10 years ago is now the mayor of Chicago, Brandon Johnson. And he got involved in politics to start organizing against those closures. There's evidence out of Philadelphia that doesn't work, evidence out of San Antonio last year that a district does not become more equitable if you close schools - is their conclusion - you can't close your way to resourced schools. I think that's really obvious from the experience around the country and the district in Seattle has not demonstrated with any evidence that that would happen here.

[00:06:23] Crystal Fincher: Another question - I think a lot of people just took it on faith that, Hey, if we close schools, that automatically means that we're saving a lot of money. That should go a long way to addressing this deficit. But the district has not been able to demonstrate any firm cost savings from this, have they?

[00:06:43] Robert Cruickshank: They have not. They've put out some very general estimates that say anywhere between $750,000 to $2 million saved per school, but there's a lot of questions about how that got calculated. Parents who are familiar with budgeting take a look at this and don't understand the line items that went into that. But it also does not include the costs of closing schools. And not just the cost of physically mothballing the building, but how do you transition hundreds of kids from one building into another? And what this is also going to require is redrawing all the elementary school boundaries across the entire city. So you're going to basically be having students moving all over the place, even if their school they're in right now remains open. There are costs associated with that. And there are also costs involved in integrating students effectively. One of the things that San Antonio discovered when they did an equity audit of this closure process last year is that students entering the fifth grade when their school closes do worse academically, and that lasts into high school. And you can mitigate that if you put a lot of resources in to helping those students in the transition, but that's a cost. So closing schools is something that when they did it in Chicago wound up not actually saving very much money at all. Same in Philadelphia. They didn't really save very much money at all because of the huge cost that come with it and the fact that a lot of families see this as broken trust and say - I'm out. I'm not doing this anymore. I'm leaving the district.

[00:08:04] Crystal Fincher: The other thing that I'm wondering is, it seems like there hasn't been much comprehensive thinking when it comes to - Hey, if we do need to perhaps repurpose or close some of these schools, could they be used in a way that better serves the community around them? Does it mean closing, or in some instances with schools that need maintenance, I heard suggestion from the district that they may actually raze them and just have plain unused land. But this is happening amid conversations where the cost of child care is greater than the cost of college right now. That families are struggling and resources are exiting communities instead of being housed within them. This seems like there's an opportunity for discussion to say - if it does come down to maybe repurposing some of these schools, to closing them as schools, is there an opportunity to use these publicly owned buildings in our neighborhoods to better serve the people in those neighborhoods? Has there been any talk of that?

[00:09:08] Robert Cruickshank: There's been some. And 40 years ago when Seattle closed a bunch of schools, that did happen. There's the U District Association building where the Farmer's Market is at 50th and the Ave - was a former school that has now been turned into a community asset. The Phinney Neighborhood Association on Phinney and Greenwood is one of those. There's a school in Crown Hill that hosts childcare now. But when the state voters narrowly adopted the charter school initiative in 2012, that contained a clause in it that said - if a public school district closes a public school and decides to put that building up for sale or for lease, charter schools have the first right of refusal to buy or rent it, regardless of what the community might say they want out of that building. It would seem to me that if you have schools in Seattle where enrollment was maybe at 500 pre-pandemic and now it's around 250, 300, there's some space. That seems to me like an opportunity to bring preschool programs and bring child care programs and bring health care programs in. You don't need to move everyone around, but that's an opening - while we keep those buildings going and await what we know is going to be growing enrollment later on in the decade - once we finally get this missing middle housing built, once we tackle this housing crisis and make it easier for families to move here and stay here.

[00:10:29] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Appreciate your insight and information. We'll continue to follow this as it proceeds and hope that there's conversation going on, that our legislators in the city of Seattle get engaged in this process, and they have conversations to hopefully best serve the community and do it in conjunction with the community.

Now, tangentially related news, we got some interesting news yesterday - both that the average home price in King County has topped $1 million, and also there are 54,000 millionaires who live in Seattle. What does this mean for the city?

[00:11:10] Robert Cruickshank: It's not good. And it means that this is becoming a city where it's harder and harder to keep your head above water if you don't have wealth. The median home value smashing through a million dollars is appalling. It means that we have a severe housing crisis. Even if you own a home, you can't sell it and move anywhere else in the city. If you want to come here and own a home and build that asset for your family - that generational wealth that had been systematically and legally denied to so many people who weren't white in this city and in this country - it's very difficult to do that now because we haven't kept pace with housing needs. But the other stat is fascinating that we have 54,000 people in the city who are liquid millionaires. A whole lot of homeowners in the city are millionaires on paper because, again, that million dollar median home value. But that's not actually a liquid asset, they can't draw upon that in cash. But apparently, 54,000 people in Seattle can. They do have a million dollars liquid they can draw upon. And that is a stunning number. That's a lot of people. And it makes me think of a couple things. There's the capital gains tax initiative repeal effort on the ballot this fall where a billionaire Brian Heywood and the state GOP Chair Jim Walsh are trying to repeal our capital gains tax, which only affects like 2,000 people in the entire state. Even most of those 54,000 millionaires in the city aren't paying that capital gains tax. But it shows, I think, the importance of keeping that capital gains tax alive, not repealing it - because some of that funding does go to public schools. It also, to me, brings back the questions of the Progressive Revenue Task Force that the City of Seattle put together last year. A lot of the city council people who got elected last fall were deliberately vague on the campaign trail, but we know in fact that they don't support those recommendations. The Chamber of Commerce and big corporate donors backed their campaigns in order to block those progressive revenue solutions. But it was pretty clear to me that there's 54,000 people in the city who can afford to pay a little bit more to keep our libraries open, our parks going, and provide services for people in need.

[00:13:06] Crystal Fincher: And I think that's part of what was so jarring about that news to so many people, is that we're talking about reducing library hours, potentially reducing other services, there are almost certainly going to be more cuts. There are hiring freezes right now in the city for jobs that are already understaffed, and these are positions that are directly involved in providing the services that Seattle residents count on and move to Seattle for. And this is happening while one out of every 14 people in the city is, as you say, a liquid millionaire. We're number two in the country in millionaire density, just behind the Bay Area. So it's stunning that with this much wealth, undisputed wealth, that we can't do better than we're doing right now.

[00:13:57] Robert Cruickshank: I think that's right. And you can see those contrasts anywhere you go in the city - families that are homeless, students who show up to school without having enough food, people worried about getting basic health care needs met - while 54,000 people walk around our city like, Yeah, I got a million dollars to bank, isn't this great? This is a two-tier city, and we've been heading in that direction of becoming a two-tier city for a while. This is not new. But I think this stat that came out should shock us about just how bad that two-tier split has gotten. And how important it is that we take those progressive revenue task force conclusions seriously, not just because it helps fund the services that people need, but it helps address that disparity that's grown so huge in our city.

[00:14:42] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Speaking of a huge disparity, the City Council is still in the process of deliberating and likely going to vote on a minimum wage repeal for gig workers, which is pretty stunning given that increases in minimum wage are so universally popular. The Legislature's done it statewide with wide approval ratings, cities across our state - the residents have voted for citizen initiatives to raise the minimum wage. There seems to be a universal acknowledgement that we do need to raise the minimum level of wages to keep up with the exorbitant cost of housing and other increased costs just to live. Yet, the council is considering this minimum wage repeal requested or co-written by these companies - DoorDash, Uber, and the like. And we just got news that DoorDash says they'll remove a consumer fee if the minimum wage repeal passes. They had taken a lot of heat for saying - Hey, this legislation is the reason why we implemented this fee. We need it repealed, but not saying they were going to change anything on their end. And seemingly, this was just an excuse to line their pockets and increase their profits. Where does this stand? And what does it mean if this minimum wage repeal passes?

[00:16:10] Robert Cruickshank: The Northwest Progressive Institute did a poll of Seattle voters last month and found that 60% of Seattle voters oppose that proposal to roll back the minimum wage for the gig workers and the drivers. So it's deeply unpopular. But as we just said, the City Council is there for a reason. They were put there by people with deep pockets to roll back worker-friendly rules to make it easier for corporations to make money. And this is obviously one of the first. priorities of this council. One of the first things Sara Nelson said she's going to do is tackle this minimum wage cut. And so you see DoorDash, for example, one of the things that they do around the country and other gig companies like Lyft and Uber are notorious for this as well - the moment that a state or local government passes minimum wage rules or any rules to try to make it easier for gig workers to make a living, these app companies fight back and one thing they do is they slap surcharges on. And what DoorDash has done at the beginning of 2024 in Seattle is slap a $5 surcharge onto orders within the city saying - Oh, we just have to do this because of local regulatory action. Well, now it emerges this week, DoorDash saying - Oh, well, if you repeal this ordinance and slash the minimum wage of our gig workers, we'll take away that surcharge for $5. Trying to convince consumers in the city, people who use DoorDash, to support the repeal effort, but I don't know that's going to work. 60% of Seattle voters includes a lot of people who order on DoorDash. And I think a lot of those folks see through it. I talk to people who regularly use DoorDash - I don't, but I know a lot of people who do - they see right through that. They know exactly what that surcharge is there for, is a way to try to bully them into supporting a repeal of a minimum wage ordinance. They're not going to do it. But It certainly seems that the City Council wants to plow right ahead so they are picking a huge fight on the heels of having lost several huge fights with the public recently.

[00:18:02] Crystal Fincher: It's a challenge, but interestingly, this appeared to be headed to a pretty quick vote until it emerged that there may be some complications with conflicts of interest with potentially a couple of the council members, and it looks like definitely one of them. What did the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission decide this week?

[00:18:25] Robert Cruickshank: This week, they upheld the earlier decision that Tanya Woo does have a conflict of interest with this proposal. Because she owns a restaurant business that does business with DoorDash, it is a ethical violation for her to vote on this proposal. There have been a lot of people who've argued the same should apply to Sara Nelson, who is still a part owner of Fremont Brewing and concerns that that also creates a potential conflict of interest as someone who owns a local restaurant type business, brewery business that could do business with DoorDash. So I think that this is an obvious situation where this City Council has some conflicts. I'm glad the Ethics and Elections Commission ruled the way they did with Tanya Woo. And that's going to make it harder, I think, for this council to pass this initiative. They're already facing huge public opposition. Again, 60% of the public does not want this. Now they lost one of their potential votes for it. They may lose another, depending on how the questions about Sara Nelson's conflicts of interest get settled. So I'm not surprised this hasn't moved. Nelson seems to want to plow right ahead still, but there are many reasons to believe that this is deeply unpopular - potentially unethical - depending on which councilmembers we're talking about. So this conflict is only heating up.

[00:19:35] Crystal Fincher: Only heating up, and it looks like there's a potential for another deeply controversial development in that Tanya Woo has not committed to abiding by the finding of the Seattle and Ethics Commission so far, saying that she hasn't decided whether she intends to vote yet. What do you think the public would think of her taking a vote, in light of this finding by the Seattle Ethics and Election Commission?

[00:20:01] Robert Cruickshank: I think it's not going to go over well, and we know this from some evidence. I cited the poll from Northwest Progressive Institute just now, that they did last month, showing that 60% of Seattle voters oppose repealing the minimum wage for gig workers. That same poll also asked about the favorability ratings of some City councilmembers. And they found that Tanya Woo is five points underwater - what that means is five percentage points more voters disapprove of Tanya Woo than approve of her. They found that that margin is negative 10 for Sara Nelson, Sara Nelson's underwater by 10 points. So the lead champion of this initiative is underwater by 10. Tonya Woo, who is up for re-election this year, of course, after having just been appointed in January, on the heels of losing her own election last November, is already underwater with voters. She's unpopular. And now she's facing a very clear ruling in Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission that she should not be voting on this. And if she's saying - Well, I'm still undecided, that's going to make her look even worse. So I am fairly surprised that she is not just going along with the Ethics and Elections Commission - it gets her out of what could be a unpopular vote. But she certainly seems determined to keep her backers happy. But I don't think the public's going to like that at all.

[00:21:11] Crystal Fincher: It certainly seems like the public would continue to push back. Again, as you said, there have been a number of controversies initiated by the council that the public has not responded very well to. Last week was certainly an example with the EDI proviso from Councilmember Rivera that would have effectively defunded a lot of equity-based anti-displacement initiatives. Councilmember Rivera ended up having to retreat on that because of the sheer amount of pushback and harm that it would have done to the community. But my goodness, it seems like they're starting off in a direction that is really concerning to the public. What do you think is behind those approval ratings being so poor?

[00:21:55] Robert Cruickshank: I think they misread the results of the 2023 election. I think they believe their own propaganda - that it was somehow a rightward shift of the entire city, of the entire electorate, and it just wasn't. They won that election by having stoked fear about public safety. And that's something we still have to deal with the fallout of, especially with now changes in the leadership at SPD, the contract having been rammed through, and the ongoing questions about the future of the police department are still very live. But they thought it was also a mandate to do things like cut the minimum wage. They thought it was a mandate to slash funding for the Equity Development Initiative. They think it's a mandate to reject progressive taxes and slash other City spending, and it's simply not. That is not what the small number of voters who showed up in November wanted. Even the ones who want some crackdown on crime, law and order are also voters - they're still Seattle voters at the end of the day who approve tax increases for public services and who support the higher minimum wage. They have completely misread that election, and I think the public is starting to render their verdict on those political leaders for having done so.

[00:23:00] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I also want to talk about news this week that could impact the statewide initiatives that we'll see in November - with the GOP suing to keep fiscal impact statements off of the ballot. What are they trying to do here?

[00:23:16] Robert Cruickshank: So a few years ago, after a fair amount of effort, the State Legislature adopted a new law that requires fiscal impact statements to go on ballot initiatives when they involve state spending. This is something California's had for decades. Voters should know the impact to the state budget of what they're voting on. And this is something you hear from voters all the time. When they see these initiatives placed before them, they look at it like - Well, what is the impact of this? I want to know. And so now on the ballot, that fiscal impact will be there. Well, what that means is we will see then the fiscal impact of repealing the capital gains tax. It's not good. It's huge cuts to education and childcare. We will see the fiscal impact of repealing the Climate Commitment Act. That's going to be massive cuts to clean air and clean energy programs. That's the goal. That's one of the reasons why the Republicans want this on the ballot, but they want to hide that from the public because they know - and polling demonstrates this very clearly to them - that they will lose if these fiscal impact statements are on the ballot with those measures. So they're trying to get that law thrown out so they can hide the truth from the public, so the public doesn't see the actual impact of what they're voting on. I don't think they'll win. I think this has been, like I said, in existence in several other states with ballot initiatives for many years, but we'll see what happens with this court case.

[00:24:33] Crystal Fincher: We will see what happens. Certainly a challenge. And I think what they're afraid of is those fiscal impact statements really telling the truth about what the repeals mean. It would be such a significant defunding of our government here in Washington state - estimated $5 billion impact to schools, defunding our entire climate response here in the state, defunding long-term care that is shown that just about everybody is going to likely need and very few people have coverage for plans. Just a massively consequential set of initiatives and really interesting that they seem to be making some arguments contrary to arguments that they've previously made - to hide this information and the impacts of the repeals on the ballot. We will certainly continue to follow that.

I also want to talk about news about asylum seekers that are now unhoused, that are now completely without shelter in an encampment location next to a vacant EconoLodge now in the city of Kent. How did we get here?

[00:25:43] Robert Cruickshank: We have a larger challenge in this country of housing asylum seekers, processing asylum seekers in a timely fashion. We saw, unfortunately, this week President Biden close the border, adopting a Trump-era policy, which is really awful to see. And now we have a number of asylum seekers here in western Washington who have been trying to find a place to stay. They've been camping out in parks. Donors will step forward and write checks to put them up in hotels, but that can only last for so long. Now a group of them are staying near an EconoLodge in Kent that is vacant. Why not just open the EconoLodge and house people there? It makes so much sense to do that. But the City of Kent is pointing fingers at King County. King County is arguing with the City of Kent, and no one's really stepping up to solve this in a responsible way. It's not just the City of Kent - I think the City of Kent can and must do more here, absolutely. The City of Seattle has not exactly been responsive either, and so we're seeing local governments trying to say - Not our problem, don't look at us. Rather than being the welcoming communities that we absolutely ought to be, I think it's appalling that we have asylum seekers who are not able to get housing in our community. This should be a huge priority for all of us.

[00:26:55] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. This is a situation where the city has a restriction on the use of the property, but that Econolodge is owned and operated by the county. They don't have a good relationship. Communication lines have been fraught for some time, and it seems to be manifesting in, as you said, this back and forth - This isn't my responsibility. You need to step up and address the problem. - while we have people outside next to an empty hotel. It just seems so emblematic of so many of our government entities' non-handling of this situation for so many unhoused residents. And it's so frustrating for so many people to watch. What is it going to take to get these government entities, our local elected leaders to take this seriously? And how can people activate?

[00:27:50] Robert Cruickshank: Well, I think it's important for people to speak up and show elected officials that we care about this and this matters. Show King County leaders that we need to get these people housed. Show Kent leaders that the delays and obstruction are completely unacceptable. And say the same thing to Seattle City Hall, which could be stepping up a lot more than they have. I think that these governments sometimes think that nobody cares about asylum seekers or refugees, and I don't think that's true of the general population in our region. There are certainly some people who are very adamantly opposed. But I think the vast majority of people in Kent, in King County, in Seattle, do support asylum seekers and refugees and want them housed. But we've got to speak up and let those elected officials know that that's what we believe, and we expect this to get resolved fast.

[00:28:36] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And with that, we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, June 7th, 2024. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today was Chair of Sierra Club Seattle, longtime communications and political strategist, Robert Cruickshank. You can find Robert on Twitter at @cruickshank. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter at @HacksWonks. And you can find me on Twitter and all platforms at @finchfrii, two I's at the end. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - I listen to podcasts via Overcast - 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 shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at OfficialHacksandWonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.