Week in Review: March 3, 2023 - with Jazmine Smith

Week in Review: March 3, 2023 - with Jazmine Smith

On this Hacks & Wonks week-in-review, political consultant and host Crystal Fincher is joined by elite advocate, member of The Urbanist Election Committee, and Political Manager at the Washington Bus, specializing in legislative advocacy and electoral organizing with young people, Jazmine Smith! They catch up on legislative updates from Olympia, including free school meals and other education bills, housing and transportation, public safety, voter rights and name change legislation. They also discuss the legislature’s desire to exempt themselves from many public disclosure requirements that other elected officials are subject to.

They also discuss the state’s first auction of carbon pollution allowances after the passage of the Climate Commitment Act and what that might mean for green investment and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, several school districts planning school closures and layoffs because of funding shortfalls that require legislative funding to solve, the impact of SNAP food assistance benefit reductions for families.

Crystal and Jazmine conclude with a discussion of speed camera traffic safety enforcement in response to the need to improve safety on our streets and the impacts of police increased surveillance within BIPOC and lower-income communities, as well as some proposed mitigations to those issues.

About the Guest

Jazmine Smith

Jazmine Smith is the Political Manager at the Washington Bus, specializing in legislative advocacy and electoral organizing with young people.

She also is an urbanism organizer, serving on The Urbanist’s Election committee, with the Queen Anne Community Council as the Transportation Committee co-chair, the Uptown Alliance’s Land Use Review Committee and is a WSDCC Rep for the 36th LD.

Find Jazmine Smith on Twitter/X at @jazzyspraxis.


Marc Dones and the State of King County’s Homelessness Crisis Response” from Hacks & Wonks

Announcing our 2023 Legislative Priorities!” | The Washington Bus

WA legislators scrap plan for free school lunch for all students” by David Gutman from The Seattle Times

Washington’s Middle Housing Bill Is Still Alive with Further Amendments” by Stephen Fesler from The Urbanist

As Density Bills Move Forward, It's Statewide Housing Goals vs. "Local Control"” by Ryan Packer from PubliCola

This WA bill could make it easier and safer to change your name” by Taija PerryCook from Crosscut

New Drug Possession Bill Emphasizes Coercive Treatment” by Andrew Engelson from PubliCola

Member of WA’s ‘Sunshine Committee’ quits, cites lawmakers’ inaction” by Claire Withycombe from The Seattle Times

WA's government transparency committee is ready to call it quits” by Joseph O'Sullivan from Crosscut

WA enters new era of putting a price on greenhouse-gas pollution” by Hal Bernton from The Seattle Times

Cap-and-trade takes Washington businesses, ratepayers into the unknown” by Don Jenkins from Capital Press

First auction held for ‘licenses to pollute’ in Washington” by Bellamy Pailthorp from KNKX

Seattle Schools notifying employees of possible layoffs” by Monica Velez from The Seattle Times

Local school district estimates $12 million deficit without staffing, program changes” by Aspen Shumpert from The News Tribune

Everett schools may slash 140 jobs to deal with $28M deficit” by Jerry Cornfield from The Everett Herald

Additional pandemic-era SNAP benefits to end March 1” by Bridget Chavez from KIRO 7 News

Seattle has ignored concerns over SPD use of surveillance technologies, community members say” by Guy Oron from Real Change News

What’s Next for Traffic Cameras in Seattle?” | Whose Streets? Our Streets!

OPINION | Seattle’s Automated Traffic Cameras Disproportionately Target Neighborhoods of Color” by Ethan C. Campbell and Nura Ahmed for The South Seattle Emerald


[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 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. 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, Marc Dones, CEO of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, returned to catch up on how the response to the homelessness crisis is faring since our conversation last year. Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a cohost. Welcome to the program for the first time today's cohost: member of The Urbanist Election Committee, one of my favorite follows on social media, and Political Manager at the Washington Bus, specializing in legislative advocacy and electoral organizing with young people, Jazmine Smith. Hey!

[00:01:18] Jazmine Smith: Hi, thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited.

[00:01:22] Crystal Fincher: Excited to have you, excited to welcome you for the first time and so serious when I say that you're one of my favorite follows on social media all across social media, whether it's Twitter or TikTok or whatever. But there's a lot happening this week, starting with what's going on in the Legislature, which you are involved with a lot there and following closely. So what are we excited about? What are we sad about? We just passed another cutoff, meaning that if bills didn't make it through the hoops that they needed to that some people have issues with calling them dead, but at least dormant until next session at minimum. So what is still alive and what's not? What's caught your eye?

[00:02:07] Jazmine Smith: Yeah, the ones that I've been mostly following are the ones that we cover for work because we have a whole lot of different issues that we're covering four main buckets and so I've been really focused on those. One of the big ones being the wealth tax and guaranteed basic income that's the tax the rich, fund the people stuff. The free school meals, which had a floor vote yesterday and we'll talk more about. But a whole host of democracy access bills as well, and just making sure that we improve our system every way. So there's a lot going on and it's been wild trying to keep track of all of them.

[00:02:46] Crystal Fincher: It is. Let's talk about the school meals because this is a bill that I was extremely excited about. We have tons of data, even got more through the pandemic and some of the extra provisions that were provided that show providing meals and assistance to kids helps reduce hunger. And hunger is an impediment to learning. So this should be something that is uncontroversial yes, we're requiring kids to be in school, we should feed them while we're there. This is uncontroversial and sailed through to passage, right?

[00:03:21] Jazmine Smith: Right? You would think. I remember back when - I was teaching before this, I was working in elementary school - and during COVID and that shift back to in-person that happened in that spring, it was so nice having kids just be able to grab their lunches - we were doing half days and whatnot - and breakfast and not have to worry about checking in, and getting the codes in, do they have money for this? And then there were a number of students that I talked to that don't normally pick up lunches, but really appreciated the opportunity to have some extra food and whatnot. It was really great to see and I was really excited to hear in the fall that this was a priority for not just OSPI, but from the Legislature. And so that's why when fiscal cutoff hit last week - and it was really surprising to see that it had been reduced down.

[00:04:15] Crystal Fincher: So when you say reduced down, what has happened to the bill?

[00:04:19] Jazmine Smith: So it went from free school meals for all, breakfast and lunch, to being specifically targeted at K-4 schools and with specific percentages of free and reduced lunch qualified students. So it's no longer a universal for all - which is what was promised - what we were doing during the pandemic, and what I think the starting point and ending point should be.

[00:04:46] Crystal Fincher: And there's a big conversation tangential to this about means testing and how that adds an additional layer of bureaucracy at quite a significant expense. And as we talk about school funding later, that absolutely contributes and makes a difference in how that cuts a lot of people who are still in need and even some who may qualify - that is a barrier to access. And means testing, being one of those - I don't want to say neoliberal - but one of those ideas that came with justifications like - we can't allow people who are just rich, who can pay for it to do it. But why not - why is it wrong to feed kids who are hungry, no matter what their background is? And again, if we're requiring them to be there, why don't we just do that? But throwing means testing back into this and paring it down so much is certainly not what we wanted to see - better than nothing, definitely - but let's push and do all we can. There are Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and we have a Democratic governor, so this was something that I was hoping could get through.

When it comes to school funding, there are also challenges across the board that several school districts are paying attention to when it comes to special education funding and different things like that. Where do we stand in terms of education policy in this legislative session?

[00:06:17] Jazmine Smith: We have a lot of catching up to do with funding for schools - that's where issues with the wealth tax will come in - and just how dramatically underfunded our schools are, both in the general, but also in special ed programmings. And so was, again, really excited to see special education funding remove a cap - we should be supporting all of our students, but then that gets switched back. And so we have a lot of catching up to do and we need to fund our schools and I'm not seeing that happen to the level that it needs to.

[00:06:53] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. What is happening in terms of housing and transportation?

[00:06:58] Jazmine Smith: Housing - we have a lot of bills coming through where we're attacking all issues. We've got transit-oriented development, TOD - wanted to, thinking about transit on demand, like I wish - transit-oriented development. And then the missing middle bill being back - watching for that - it passed through the House and wanting Senate to keep it going through the - we've been hearing a lot of conversations. And so with the city council meetings that I've been popping in on, watching - we're hearing a lot from different governments being nervous about 1110, the missing middle bill, and a lot of conversations about local control and whatnot. But this is beyond a local control problem. This is a problem where we need all the housing everywhere and we need to be doing everything we can. And it's been shown that local control hasn't been working. And when each individual city and town says - We're not against housing, we just don't want housing here - who are we excluding and where are we passing the buck to? And where are people allowed to live? And then it's just a rehash of the 1923 problem where zoning restricted all of these places where people could live and created the problem where we're standing now with the Comp Plan - comprehensive plan process.

[00:08:35] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and so middle housing is still alive - increasing development near transit centers and in more dense areas are still alive. But we've talked before about a lot of cities talking about the issue of local control saying - Hey, yeah, there may be a problem, but one-size-fits-all policy from the state is not how we feel comfortable addressing this. That if we could make our own requirements that fit our own city - what works for Seattle is not necessarily what works in Spokane or Cle Elum or Gig Harbor and different things. And so we all need to do this differently. The challenge in what a lot of people are saying and what has grown the coalition in support of this legislation has been - Well, you've been saying that for years. And we've been waiting for you, while you've been saying that for years, to take the action that you feel is appropriate for your city. And what has happened in most cities is that no action has been taken, while housing prices continue to skyrocket. A lot of times we hear about these pricing issues, predominantly in Seattle - is the highest-priced region, area in the state - but this is impacting Spokane, it's impacting Southwest Washington, Pierce County. It's a statewide issue. And since cities have not taken appropriate action to address the massive housing shortage driving an increase in long-term prices across the board, it's now time for the state to step in and take action, which is how a lot of these things work.

But that has resulted, as these conversations happen, in - some might call it negotiation, others might call it watering down or compromise in these bills. And so when they talk about the requirement of cities going from - Hey, any city with 6,000 residents or, and now that's moved to 25,000 residents. Okay - bigger, larger-size cities we're exempting, smaller cities we're exempting the types of areas that this would apply to. If they're in a watershed or different types of areas of development, they're exempting them. So these are the conversations going on in these negotiations. It looks like certainly these bills will pass. The question is how will they be amended and what compromises will occur in order to get them to pass both houses. So they continue to move through the process, but this is an area where staying engaged is definitely helpful.

Now there's another bill that I think is really important to talk about - in addition to rolling back police pursuits, which we've talked about before - and now they're asking to expand, once again, the conditions under which they can pursue vehicles. They can pursue vehicles now. Sometimes in the conversation, it sounds confusing - and some people talk about it as if they're prohibited from pursuing anyone now, but they certainly can. But there's another piece of legislation which would make it more efficient, easier, more streamlined to change someone's name. And this is very impactful for the trans community, for people who've experienced intimate partner violence, for refugees who - having an old name and some of the requirements like advertising publicly that you intend to change your name - we don't require that for a lot of other things. These are unnecessary hoops to jump through. They also cost money. We have to have people to administer these things and especially with all of the attacks on the trans community, particularly, but also in terms of intimate partner violence - if someone has a stalker, advertising publicly, Hey, I'm changing my name, just flies in the face of the safety that people are seeking from changing their name. If someone can just easily find out that they're changing their name, that doesn't address any issue there. So excited to see that moving through the process and hope it does. Any other legislation that you have your eye on right now?

[00:12:39] Jazmine Smith: We've got a couple of democracy-related bills that we've been following - updating the online voter registration system is going to make it more accessible. Currently, if you have a driver's license, that's the only way - or Washington state ID - that's the only way to utilize the online voter registration system, which leaves out a lot of folks who are recently moved, don't have that specific form of documentation - and that's disproportionately impacting of poor folks, folks who are experiencing homelessness that might've lost their ID, young people who are not interested in driving. I know I've heard that there's a huge bump in young people that just aren't interested in being drivers at this point, and so they don't have a driver's license and there's barriers to that. So that has passed. It has a hearing in the House side now. And then also updating the automatic voter registration so that it - the way it currently sits, folks are asked when they're updating their driver's license or going and registering for the first time - and it can put people who aren't actually eligible to vote in a position where they might accidentally register, not realizing. 'Cause different countries have different rules on who can and can't vote and whatnot. And just in a quick transaction, then, that could put someone's future citizenship at risk because they accidentally registered - so making that both more streamlined and safer for everyone involved. And then also moving city and town elections to even years. So we did that in King County this last election and there are other jurisdictions, say Seattle, that want the opportunity to be able to have their elections when the most people are voting - when they have a full electorate of young people, Black and Brown people, the people who don't have water views, being fully represented and having that turnout that we want in any election. Any representative should be representing their whole community of constituents. And so allowing other towns to join in - will be really exciting to see that move.

[00:15:00] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And then when it comes to some of the public safety bills - unfortunately, the bill banning solitary confinement has died again this year. They're still working on the legislation in response to the Blake decision from our State Supreme Court, which - that decision made personal possession of substances - just decriminalized them, legalized them across the board. Our Legislature stepped in a couple of years ago and set some uniform standards that did recriminalize them across the state, albeit lesser penalties. And it looks like they're staying on that path with that legislation this year. The reason why they have to take it up is that there was a sunset provision in the prior legislation for this year. So they have to do something new and it looks like they're not substantively changing, necessarily, their approach to that. They're not looking at decriminalization further, it appears, but we will see. And the deadline for bills to make it out of their house of origin is March 8th, which will be coming up next week. So we will certainly see then what has survived and what has not.

Also in news this week - just looking at some legislative transparency problems. While they're doing all this legislating and having all these conversations - there's a lot of information, a lot of deliberation, a lot of communication and testimony that happens. And they talk about their actions and their reasoning. And typically this is available to the public via public disclosure. Lots of times we see in the paper - investigations or information that is found via requests for this information, because these are public servants being paid for with public dollars. The theory is, and how it has worked largely, is that their work is subject to public disclosure and accountability. And the Legislature holds themselves to some different standards, and it has been continuing to raise eyebrows. What is happening here?

[00:17:07] Jazmine Smith: That's what I really wanna know, and that's the heart of the question - is what is happening. And with legislative privilege - finding that line between working on the bills and the issues and all of the different nuances - but we do have a right to know what's going on - why did this bill die? What happened behind the scenes? And not all of that is in the public record. A lot of that is conversations that you're having with a person face-to-face or whatnot. But been seeing in the courts with a lawsuit regarding legislative privilege, and also some things that came up last year that were subject to a public disclosure request. And now we're starting to get bits and pieces through someone who used to work at the Legislature, Jamie Nixon, and what they've been able to release. Their Twitter has been keeping a lot of information up-to-date, but then also different reports from other folks following the Legislature. So it will definitely be interesting to see - what is going on, how does legislative privilege hide what's happened, and what is that line? We're still actively working on an issue, but everyone deserves to know - why aren't things getting passed? Why did this happen? What is the background on all of these issues?

[00:18:30] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and essentially to your point, what they're doing is claiming legislative privilege for things that - if they were discussed or happened in other areas of government, if it was a city council or a mayor or county council, school board, that they would be subject to disclosure - but we're receiving heavily redacted documents in response to public disclosure requests and them saying - No, we don't have to turn this over. And over time, they continue to implement exceptions and loopholes for different situations or circumstances where they don't have to disclose public documents. And this has raised the ire of certainly several journalists, of the Washington Coalition for Open Government. This is not really a partisan issue - this applies to both parties. There was a hearing where there was a Republican member defending these exceptions, and we've had plenty of Democrats do that, but it does raise questions about - if we don't know what's going into these deliberations, if there is no lever of accountability, what is really happening behind closed doors - and does that foster more productive, ethical, legal conversation? Or even just - there may be plenty of things that don't have anything to do with legality, not saying that people are doing things wrong, but the public should be able to see how decisions are made, how these discussions are going, and there is significant resistance to doing that to the degree that has become the standard for everyone else in the Legislature.

I hope that there are more people there that see the light. There is basically a committee that has been tasked with doing this that is basically throwing their hands up. A lot of people are throwing their hands up - they've had some resignations 'cause they're going - What is the point at this point in time? They seem to be fighting back, not taking our recommendations as they once did, and moving in the opposite direction. So we'll continue to follow that and see how that pans out, but it certainly is a challenge. And we see the importance of public records in so many different things, whether it was understanding how dysfunctional our redistricting process was and what happened with that, whether it was issues like deleted texts that we've seen in the City of Seattle and elsewhere - a lot of investigations and accountability work and making sure that people are just doing what they're supposed to be doing is brought to light as a result of these public disclosure requests. So hopefully we see progress on there.

Another thing that happened this week that's pretty significant is a big new step as a result of the Climate Commitment Act, which was a huge monumental piece of legislation meant to address climate change - to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by establishing a price for carbon and essentially setting up a market where there is a cap - saying, Hey, we say that this level of pollution that's currently going on, we're gonna cap it at this level. If you wanna pollute above that level, then you have to buy these credits - or essentially get a permit to pollute above and beyond the established cap. And over time, that cap is supposed to ratchet down - impacting the price that organizations, companies, particularly ones that pollute, and reduce and emit a lot of greenhouse gases can emit. And so whether they are called pollution coupons or credits or that, we just had our very first auction in the state where organizations bought those credits to be able to essentially pollute. Now, a criticism of this system is that - can you really bank on reducing emissions if all someone has to do is pay to continue polluting. And the number of credits you make available - does that negate the cap, if you just continue to allow people to buy pollution credits basically and continue to do that - which in other areas where this has been implemented, most notably in California, hasn't gone well in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So we'll see how that works in our state.

But one thing that's undeniable is that this raises a ton of money. This is supposed to raise hundreds of millions just with this first quarterly auction. Over the first couple of years, it's supposed to raise over a billion dollars. And this money raised is supposed to go into investments that help transition to a green economy, to things that reduce greenhouse gas emissions - whether that's electrification, whether that's different initiatives that reduce commuting, whether that's transit, or helping transition companies that are heavy polluters and workers of those companies who are being impacted by the change in their industry to different sectors, investing in solar, the green economy, just a bunch of things. So it'll be interesting to see what these - to get the final tally on what was raised from this auction this time and follow the process to see how those are going to be invested. And to see if the promise of listening to impacted communities - the communities that are hardest hit by greenhouse gas emissions, by climate change and pollution - are we focusing investments in the areas where they're needed most? Are we helping rural areas transition in this area? So a big opportunity, certainly, and look forward to following through this process to see how that turns out. What do you think about it?

[00:24:22] Jazmine Smith: I think that any way that we can bring in more money for the state is great. We have a lot of different areas that we need to address the revenue deficit. If we can't fund schools, then where are we going to - where's the line? Everything, so looking specifically at cap and trade and whatnot, agree that I'm skeptical about anything stopping pollution, especially when you're giving these licenses to pollute, but at the very least, we should be able to have the revenue available to start doing that transition. And I know that with the gas tax and all of those things, then we can only use them on specifically cars and whatnot. So being able to have that freedom and different areas to invest in more green areas and having a green economy would be very great.

[00:25:24] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. In other statewide news, there is - education is so integral in everything that we do in our economy, in terms of public safety, just in the future for our kids. And several school districts around the state are really struggling right now, because despite it being enshrined in our Washington State Constitution as a paramount duty to fully fund the public education, we are not doing that in a number of school districts, including Seattle, Everett, the Peninsula School District, and others are saying - Hey, we've been saying we're at a funding crisis. We've been raising this alarm and now we are at the point where we're going to have to lay off employees, we're going to have to make cuts in really significant ways. Several districts are talking about school closures and consolidating things, which is just extremely disruptive to kids and to communities. And this is really a result of a shortage of funding there and over-reliance on local levies and bonds that - in the absence of state funding, they have to pass property taxes and increases in property taxes in order to fund the areas of public education that are necessary that are not being funded by the state. And everything from special education to librarians to school nurses to different arts and cultural programming, just what is required for an education that fully prepares people to be successful in life, however they define that, are on the chopping block. How do you view this and what's the way out?

[00:27:07] Jazmine Smith: Yeah, as someone that came from an elementary school up in Ballard - so there was a lot of PTA funding that supported the school, nice-sized auctions and whatnot. It was still funding staff members - the counselor at the school was partially funded by PTA funding, folks at the front desk that are absolutely crucial to making sure that everything runs smoothly in the school - these are the folks that are gonna be first on the chopping block. And those staff members that are those connection points with students who are struggling, who might be the ones that are organizing backpacks of food to go home over the weekend, and the counselor that you talk to about what's going on. These are the people that are facing layoffs because we are not funding our schools, because there's massive deficits and that we're over relying on, as you said, those levies. And it just hit this breaking point. And I know that we had the McCleary decision a while back and there was some influx of funding that happened that did help raise wages - wages are still too low for what is appropriate for education professionals and whatnot. And here we are with Seattle with $100 million deficit, Peninsula Schools, Everett - millions of dollars that are leading to 70 here being laid off. And it's just heartbreaking for the children, for the community, for what happens when neighborhood schools close and consolidate, and the disruption that has, the additional barriers that that poses on families. I remember when we had to move to a temporary school and it was on - still in North Seattle, but on the other side - so all of those families that had to commute for multiple school years outside of their district - and so to, or not outside of their district, but outside of their attendance area and whatnot. And so really frustrating to see - when it's entirely preventable - again, we have a trifecta, we have a Democratic governor and Legislature - we can fund schools. It's our duty to fund schools and we're not doing that. And it's hurting a lot of our communities.

[00:29:36] Crystal Fincher: It absolutely is. It is once again, not lost on me that when it comes to our public education system, even within the same district, it is predominantly the schools that are attended by a larger percentage of lower income students or BIPOC students who are being disproportionately impacted - whether it's from school closures or cuts that are going to impact them - they always seem to be on the chopping block first there. And this is not an exception, whether it's the conversations happening right now about potential school closures in the Bellevue School District or what we've seen continuing to happen in Seattle, different districts - it really is a big challenge. And really more districts are sounding the alarm and saying - Hey, we see a number of districts struggling with this now. This may not be us today, but hey, State of Washington and Legislature, if you don't take action this year, this is gonna be us next year. This is something that is a structural problem with education funding throughout the state. And although school boards can certainly impact and school leadership can certainly impact the conditions around that, everyone is starting from behind square one because of these structural deficits and inefficiencies that can only be addressed by our State Legislature. And again, the mandate was clear from this past election - even in battleground districts - lots of Democrats ran on the importance of fully funding public education. This is not controversial. This is supported by the public by and large. There were a number of teacher strikes that were trying to avert issues like this earlier in the year. And so I really hope our Legislature, particularly Democrats who are in power in the Legislature right now, step up to help address this significantly.

Also, a challenge that a lot of people are facing this week - especially as so many more people are struggling with the rising costs of housing and food and everything - is a cut to SNAP benefits or Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Programming benefits for people, whether it's EBT, food stamps, however you wanna call it. Hunger is a problem and we have no excuse in this country to have people being hungry. We have no excuse in this state. But we are seeing, as of March 1st, a reduction in the pandemic-era increase to SNAP benefits. So people, as of March 1st, who are receiving food assistance are going to be receiving about $90 less per month, which is very significant. We saw that additional investment reduce child hunger and reduce child poverty by significant substantial amounts, and allowing this to expire and go away is disappointing. But it really has an impact on a lot of people and a lot of news reports are saying - Hey, food banks around the area are expecting a real big influx of people relying on them to feed their families, because not only is this cut happening - and it would be painful at any time - there are so many more increases in food costs overall. Food is just more expensive than it was a year ago, two years ago. And so I hope for everyone listening, you do donate to your local food bank. If you can, help people who are hungry - donate to your local mutual aid organizations - because we're about to see more people fall into hunger and be exposed to poverty now with that. How do you feel about this?

[00:33:16] Jazmine Smith: It's really frustrating. I think when we first lost the child tax credit that was expanded, then that was something that - it was not only like losing something that really helped a lot of people during the pandemic, which is still going on. So the first level of everything is that we are still in a pandemic and still living with all of the inflation and all of the issues that are still around with the pandemic - increased health costs and whatnot. So it's still happening even if we've declared that the state of emergency is over. And so first thing when the state of emergency was pulled, both at the state and federal level, is that all of these things that have been helping people - having access to certain levels of healthcare, being able to take a COVID test and get free COVID tests without having to worry - that writing on the wall of everything falling. And now to lose SNAP benefits, or have that drastic reduction, is not only devastating and frustrating from that aspect of people are still needing it and more so right now. But also just - for what reason, why would we do this? And there's - we can't pretend that people aren't still struggling with the pandemic, that it's gone, and that everything's all right, and everything can go back to normal - it can't. We need to continue to be supporting all of our communities through everything.

[00:34:46] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. In other news, we certainly have talked over and over again about our street and traffic safety crisis that we're facing across the board when it comes to cars speeding, acting irrationally, hitting pedestrians and people on bikes - this is happening so frequently. We are seeing so many challenges. Just a couple miles away from me, a few nights ago, there was a fatal hit and run from someone who hit a pedestrian on a street. We've seen several other vehicle collisions in the region this week that have resulted in major injury or death of pedestrians - certainly talked a lot about this on the show. And one potential fix that has been talked about is automated traffic enforcement - speed cameras, basically. And hey, this is something that we don't rely on traffic stops, just sees if you're speeding or not. This has been implemented in some school zones. They're talking about implementing it in others, and potentially expanding to other areas in the city and areas where there are a higher amount of vehicle-pedestrian collisions. And lots of people going - Hey, these speed cameras do show that they reduce speeding, they reduce collisions and injuries. While also - the fact of the matter is that the communities impacted the worst, the people who were being hurt and the communities where these deaths are occurring are predominantly lower income and BIPOC communities because of the historic lack of infrastructure investment and safety investments that occur in other areas.

So these accidents, because of the way these communities have been built and designed, are more likely to happen in these areas. But if we do focus solely in these areas, not only does that potentially have the benefit of addressing these traffic collisions and making the area safer, it submits these communities to increased surveillance. And there are talks about expanding the use of cameras or the availability of data and information from these cameras for uses beyond traffic. So this is in the realm of possibility. And if we're saying - Hey, if we're talking about in the south end on Rainier Avenue, and hey, if you're down there - everyone who drives by, everyone who walks by is gonna be on a camera, they're gonna have their license plate scanned, they're gonna do that - that can potentially be used for any kind of situation. We have seen this repeatedly result in increased interactions with police, increased scrutiny in these areas that doesn't occur in other areas. That doesn't mean that these problems are not occurring in other areas. It just means that we're not looking for them to the degree that we are in lower income and BIPOC communities. And there is a very valid conversation to be had about - do we allow the expansion and the proliferation of surveillance of communities of color, basically. And we have to talk about this. This is an impact that should not be ignored. And someone who cares deeply about pedestrian safety and mobility and absolutely wants action to be taken on this, I also do not want to subject these communities to continually expanding surveillance, and the consequences and harm that results from that. So this is something that is a conversation that's talked about. Guy Oron had an excellent article about this - I believe the South Seattle Emerald, had a great piece on this. But as this conversation evolves and adds this tension between - hey, this is something that can increase safety, and also this is something that can increase harm - are things that we have to continue to grapple with and that the community needs to be involved with working through this. How do you feel about this?

[00:38:37] Jazmine Smith: It's definitely complicated because that gut instinct is that if it is proven to change driver behavior and whatnot, then in that sense, then it works where it's at or where it's put in place. And so it should be everywhere - or to a certain extent - it certainly shouldn't be concentrated on communities of color, which is where there currently are a lot of focus points. And so it is that balance between wanting people to be alive, not wanting people to have to risk crossing Rainier and worry about their family all being hit in one interaction with a vehicle. But at the same time, I guess I hadn't realized that there was - I just assumed that all of the cameras everywhere are always watching - I'm just so numb to this current state of the surveillance state. There's cameras on top of the sign across the street from me and whatnot. I remember asking my landlord - You think that they can see into my apartment and whatnot? There's so much surveillance going on. And I guess part of my question is - How much is already happening just universally, but at the same time not wanting to expand it, expand that harm.

And I think a bigger emphasis needs to be put on designing safe streets from the get-go. Putting that design - and I know we've already built out a lot - and so it's patching up as things come up and whatnot, as buildings get built and whatnot. We can't just reinvent the whole city in one snap. But yeah, that first investment should be in designing streets and fixing streets to be safer for everyone as we walk by, while not focusing on that punitive element. And finding ways to address driver behavior that isn't in that punitive way, but really just encourages safe behavior. So it's really complicated in that - well, what works and what has been working, versus what is best for communities and what is most equitable across the board.

[00:40:56] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And the point you raised about it needing to be everywhere are some points that people say - Okay, if we are gonna do this, we should be mitigating the potential harm. We should be making sure we're doing this in as equitable a way as we can. Certainly to your point, the road design impacts more than enforcement will, certainly. This is a conversation that we've been having, especially with the recent release of the Seattle Department of Transportation's Vision Zero review, which lots of people noticed did not seemingly adequately address the impact of road design or plans to impact design to address this. But when it comes to cameras, one of the suggestions was - Okay, so make sure they are distributed equitably throughout the city. Make sure they're not just concentrated in certain areas. We have an interest in people not speeding or driving dangerously in all areas of the city. So let's not just concentrate it there. Let's do it in all areas. And suddenly when you talk about implementing something in Laurelhurst, people get more concerned about what the potential ancillary impacts could be. And so that's a positive thing. And we're not only doing that.

Another suggestion that was brought up was - currently right now, the revenue from traffic cameras goes into the Seattle General Fund. And in many cities, it goes into general funds because - certainly this is not just a Seattle-only problem, several cities have traffic cameras and are contending with this across the state - and it largely goes into general funds. And if this becomes a revenue driver, if the goal isn't simply making the streets safer, and the goal becomes - in declining revenues and things you want to fund, this is another area of revenue. It is not, personally, what I think - is not a productive, is not a good place to be to rely on enforcement for revenue. That is a bad incentive and incentivizes them to continue to find things that go wrong - in fact, to not address some of the structural design issues because - Hey, we're getting revenue from the way things are happening now. So restricting that - instead of going to the general fund, restricting it to investments in traffic safety and road safety, maybe dedicating it to being able to implement some of the design changes that would make things safer. But if we restrict that and only allow reinvestment in areas that increase safety, that seems like that's - one, more aligned with what this revenue is really targeted for and supposed to do and reduces the incentive for ticket's sake. Because when it comes to cameras, they do ticket a lot more than officers just standing in different spots will, which is one of the reasons why it's more effective. It's always there, and it targets everyone. But it does then create this as a revenue line item. So lots of people, as we've seen in many different areas, will do toxic things, whether it's seizing property or giving speeding tickets to raise revenue, and that is not a positive thing. So we'll continue to follow this conversation. We will continue to follow along and see how this goes.

The Seattle Department of Transportation, certainly - and I'm sure many others across the state - are interested in community feedback about this as they try and navigate through this issue. Automated enforcement is one thing that a lot of cities across the state are looking at to address pedestrian safety. So this is something that lots of people need to engage with and need to make sure that we just don't implement this willy-nilly and have unintended consequences, which sometimes may not be as unintended if people see this as a potential for revenue. So to reduce the harm done on the other side - because harm is harm, and increased targeting, increased stops and contacts that are concentrated in one community does lead to a lot of the problems that we've seen in trying to reduce that. So we'll continue to follow along with that.

That is our time today. So we thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, March 3, 2023. Hacks & Wonks is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. Our insightful co-host today is a member of The Urbanist Election Committee, one of my favorite follows on social media, and someone who is doing the work every day as the Political Manager at The Washington Bus, as a volunteer for so many other issues, and specializing in legislative advocacy and electoral organizing with young people, Jazmine Smith. You can find Jazmine on Twitter @jazzyspraxis. You can find Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can find me @finchfrii, two i's at the end. 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 the podcast to hear the full versions of our Friday almost-live show 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 episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in. Thank you, Jazmine, for joining us, and we will talk to you next time.