Week in Review: March 8, 2024 - with Erica Barnett

Conservative Initiatives Pass Democratic Legislature. Mayor's Comprehensive Plan Faces Criticism. Revelation of Ax Attacks on Homeless People Raises Concerns.

Week in Review: March 8, 2024 - with Erica Barnett

Week in Review: Conservative Initiatives, Comprehensive Plan, and Ax Murderer Controversy

Conservative Initiatives Pass Democratic Legislature

In a surprising move, the Democratic-majority in the Washington state legislature passed three conservative ballot initiatives into law, bypassing the need for a public vote. The initiatives ban a state income tax, expand parental rights regarding instructional materials and student records in public schools, and give police broader authority for vehicular pursuits.

Barnett warned the parental rights measure could be wielded to out LGBTQ students: "It is outing trans kids, it is outing potentially gay and lesbian bisexual kids...it's a violation of the rights of privacy of children and teenagers."

The decision avoids a costly campaign battle, but Fincher questioned if it signals Democrats being willing to "negotiate instead of fight" well-funded opposition.

Mayor's Comprehensive Plan Faces Criticism

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell's proposed 20-year Comprehensive Plan allows for just 100,000 new housing units, despite projections that 250,000 more people will move to the city. Critics blasted this as woefully inadequate to address the affordable housing shortage.

Barnett called it "stunning in its lack of ambition" beyond mandated zoning changes. Fincher urged residents to attend public meetings and directly press the mayor's and councilmembers' offices, saying "They need to hear from you, their constituents."

Revelation of Ax Attacks on Homeless People Raises Concerns 

Weeks after a suspect's arrest, Seattle police admitted they withheld information about horrific ax attacks targeting the city's homeless population. The lack of public warning sparked outrage.

Barnett speculated police view such crimes against the unhoused as "not affect[ing] the general public." Fincher condemned the "dehumanizing conversations and rhetoric...about visible street homelessness" that enable such violence.

Both hosts emphasized the need for accountability and citizen engagement from Seattle's elected leaders on these intersecting crises around housing, public safety and inequality.

About the Guest

Erica Barnett

Erica Barnett is a Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola.

Find Erica Barnett on Twitter/X at @ericacbarnett and on PubliCola.com.


Executive Dow Constantine Details How King County Tackles the Homelessness Crisis Through Housing Solutions from Hacks & Wonks

Why we are voting to pass WA’s parental-rights initiative” by Jamie Pedersen and Laurie Jinkins for The Seattle Times

@ErinInTheMorn on Twitter/X: "Democrats in Washington State just passed a PRIEA act which will likely result in forced outing of trans students in the state. Initiative 2081 gathered enough signatures to go on the ballot. Rather than fighting it at the ballot box, they decided to pass it instead. Horrific"

LGBTQ Advocates Are Ready to Fight the Parents’ Bill of Rights” by Vivan McCall from The Stranger

First-of-its-kind database: Majority of people killed in police chases aren’t the fleeing drivers” by Susie Neilson, Jennifer Gollan and Janie Haseman from The San Francisco Chronicle

City Attorney Disqualifies Judge from Criminal Cases, Issues Traffic Ticket to Officer Who Killed Student With His SUV” from PubliCola

Republican City Attorney Ann Davison Throws Municipal Court into Chaos” by Ashley Nerbovig from The Stranger

The City Attorney’s Blanket “Affidavit of Prejudice” Policy Against Judge Vaddadi” by David Ziff from Ziff Blog

Draft Comprehensive Plan Would Increase Housing Less Than Needed to Accommodate 250,000 New Residents” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

Seattle Releases Comprehensive Plan Less Ambitious Than Bellevue” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist

Mayor Harrell proposes housing density in every Seattle neighborhood” by David Kroman from The Seattle Times

One Seattle Plan Engagement Hub

One Seattle Plan Open Houses

First Hill man arrested in ax murder as Seattle Police secretly searched for suspect preying on homeless — UPDATE” by Justin Carder from Capitol Hill Seattle Blog

Find stories that Crystal is reading here

Listen on your favorite podcast app to all our episodes here

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 Executive Dow Constantine about how King County is tackling the homelessness crisis through housing solutions. 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: Seattle political reporter, editor of PubliCola, and member of the Seattle Nice podcast, Erica Barnett.

[00:01:20] Erica Barnett: Hello, it's great to be here. 

[00:01:23] Crystal Fincher: Great to have you here. No shortage of things to talk about this week, including a big event in the legislative session that is about to come to a close here. That is the legislature, with a Democratic House and Democratic Senate, deciding of the six conservative initiatives brought forward - three are going to wind up on the ballot in November for us to vote on statewide, but three were actually passed through our legislature and will become law upon Governor Inslee's signature. What were these three initiatives and what does this do? 

[00:02:03] Erica Barnett: Well, the three initiatives are - and I'm going to shorthand these a little bit, but - banning an income tax in Washington state, one that purports to provide more parental rights to the parents of kids in public schools by allowing them to, among other things, inspect mental health records, as well as materials that kids are going to be exposed to in school. And the third, essentially, allows police departments statewide to pursue suspects on suspicion of committing any crime at all, which is a pretty significant rollback of previous regulations that put some bumpers around when police can go chasing after people. And so those three initiatives were going to be on the ballot along with three other initiatives, but now have just been passed into law by the legislature.

[00:02:51] Crystal Fincher: Now, this was unexpected by a lot of people who've been following the legislature. These initiatives were brought forth by a conservative hedge fund manager - not known to be moderate at all, very anti-tax, very into some of what people would term culture war issues. So it's quite surprising to a lot of people to see a Democratic legislature pass these. What was the reason given for why they decided to allow these to pass? 

[00:03:21] Erica Barnett: The reason that Democratic legislators say they passed these three initiatives is because they are the least objectionable among the six, and the ones that would have the least impact compared to current law. There are three other initiatives that are going to go forward in November that voters are going to have on their ballots. And the legislature, I think, made a tactical decision to focus on campaigning on those three in November so that there wouldn't be a diffuse six-initiative front that they would have to fight on. The three initiatives that are going to go to the ballot are one that would repeal the capital gains tax, one that would repeal the Climate Commitment Act, and one that would allow workers to opt-out of long-term care, which is called the Washington CARES Act. So three very impactful initiatives, but I think that the three that they chose to pass could also be extremely impactful, particularly the one on parental rights and the one on police pursuits. 

[00:04:17] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and the one for parental rights - it's titled "parental rights," but we have to really put this into context in the times that we are now. We're seeing efforts across the country, particularly in red states, where they've been able to pass these through their legislatures - to basically target and attack the trans community in particular, members of the LGBTQ community more broadly. Efforts to forcibly out people who are trans, to force mandated reporting, that if a student talks to people about questioning their gender identity, or if their gender identity has changed - that being forced to be reported to their parents, which is a troubling thing to happen, really. This is happening with a backdrop of parents who are very disapproving, who may disown the person, put them out of the house, try with conversion therapy to change things - which has demonstrably negative impacts on the kids going through this. Notoriously, rates of suicide are higher, challenges just getting through that and not having a supportive environment to go through, and people making a moral judgment that being trans is somehow bad or wrong - which it is not - and looking at this as another vector to attack this. This is what we're afraid of here in Washington state. How did you see people reacting to this? 

[00:05:48] Erica Barnett: I think that everything you said, absolutely - that parents could inspect the records of their children who were brave enough to go to mental health counseling in school. And I think it goes beyond - it is outing trans kids, it is outing potentially gay and lesbian bisexual kids, it is potentially outing people - if that's the right word - who have sought reproductive care, abortions, talked about it with a therapist. And it's a violation of the rights of privacy of children and teenagers in a way that - I think that Jamie Pedersen, State Senator, and Laurie Jinkins, State Rep, wrote in the Seattle Times they are not alarmed by - they're both members of the LGBTQ community. But I think they should be alarmed. I think there's lots of reason for alarm and looking at this and saying - Well, 90% of it is already in state law. I think that other 10% is extremely alarming, and I don't think that we should presume that school districts will act in good faith across the state to obey the non-letter of the law, the intent of the law, whatever it is that has reassured some of these Democratic state legislators. I think having this on the books is problematic in itself. And if it wasn't a meaningful law, I don't think that Brian Heywood, the hedge fund manager who's behind all these initiatives, would have proposed it. I think the intent is clearly to allow parents to interfere in their children's lives in ways that are harmful. 

[00:07:07] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely agree with that. And to that point, there were many conservatives who have spoken very plainly about their disdain for the trans community in particular who are celebrating this. Part of the rationale given by Laurie Jinkins and Jamie Pedersen, hearing from other Democrats overall - is that this is vaguely written and even the bad things that they seem to want to do or that we've seen in other states, it's not clear they would be able to do that. And as I look at this - in what situation are we seeing conservatives across the country not go as far as they possibly can and further, and dare basically the courts to stop them? And this is seemingly a political calculation by these folks in the legislature to say - We are afraid of passing this in November. They feel like that would be worse to pass it at the ballot box than it would in the legislature, and they would prefer to fight this in court if it needs to be fought, as well as passing it gives them the opportunity to amend it sooner or differently than if it were to pass as an initiative. So what they're saying is - We'll keep an eye on it. And if something bad does happen, we'll act quickly to amend it. Quickly is a very relative term. We have one session per year where they're able to pass laws, if there isn't a special session called - which they rarely do and probably would not happen. And I just question - say something bad does happen, I think we're going to see that attempt made - there were some Moms for Liberty candidates who did win in school boards across the state here. So I think we're going to see some very active attempts to utilize this law in the ways that a lot of people are afraid of. The opportunity to change it - we have noted harm in many areas. I think one at the top of people's minds is the housing crisis that we're in. And we have seen with housing, with education for quite some time, with a number of issues, our legislature's inability to come to an agreement on if and how to modify legislation so things just stay the same. Things routinely fail to pass that they cite as priorities in the beginning of legislative session. So just taking it on faith that - Oh, we'll totally be able to amend it to be less harmful - seems very questionable. 

On another one of these initiatives that was passed - the police pursuit bill, which, as you said, does give basically carte blanche for police to chase people. There was a recent report that showed that more people are injured from police chases who are not the suspect who is running than who is. These are notoriously dangerous on our streets. We've had police officers killed also in these pursuits. And when it comes to public safety, everyone's safety has to be factored in here and these absolutely have negative impacts to the public. And their rationale - again, same kind of political calculation. We're afraid that this would pass at the ballot box. We would rather pass it now and remove this as something that we're talking about. Republicans are bashing Democrats on being soft on crime - we're scared of that happening more, we would rather this not happen. The problem here seems to be that we use this rationale over and over again. They thought they took it off of the agenda for discussion last session when they passed police pursuit legislation. It's not surprising that it is back in initiative form. What I am concerned by is that we are giving messages that - instead of fighting, if Democrats aren't assured that they're going to win, and instead of working to build consensus, instead of having everyone at the top of the state ticket on down speaking in unison about how this is so important to do and maintain and talking about the Democratic agenda, they're really teaching Republicans that in the face of well-funded opposition, that they negotiate instead of fight. And this continues to move the conversation further and further right. And in an attempt to avoid having things on the ballot in November, they seem to be marching down a road of just passing policy that everyone acknowledges is bad, but - hey, it would be worse if we did the alternative. And then the next session, something worse comes up - they pass it, it makes things a little worse, and - hey, that would be bad, but it would be worse if we did the alternative. We seem to be stuck in this loop. I feel like we've seen it in the Blake decision. I feel like we've seen it with police pursuits. And here we are with these initiatives. Do we really think that we're not going to see another crop of initiatives - again from conservatives - making the same calculation? I am concerned about this. 

[00:12:23] Erica Barnett: Yeah, absolutely. Me too. I think that there's a sort of willful naiveté of saying - particularly adopting the same language as the right wing on parental rights - none of these are parental rights bills, they're parental control bills, particularly parental control over public schools and over children who have rights of their own that are being disrespected and disregarded here.

[00:12:44] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And people like us - we're abnormal. We pay very close attention to this stuff. Most people don't pay very close attention to this stuff. But what I routinely hear as justifications from regular people is - if it was really that bad, they wouldn't have passed it. And this is how we normalize this stuff - is by not talking about how it's really that bad. And this is gaining momentum across the country. It's not waning. I am concerned about this. I really hope they are correct in that this turns out not to be harmful at all. That - hey, it's really vague, it doesn't really allow people to do anything new or different. That police pursuits - we probably aren't going to see that many more. I hope it turns out that way, but they wouldn't have been willing to spend millions upon millions of dollars to pass this if it was really that inconsequential - is my reading of it. We will see. And certainly, I don't want to speak over communities here. It is fair to say that these decisions were made with the Democratic legislature in consultation with a lot of advocacy groups that do this. And a number of them were aligned and do defend this decision and say - Hey, Democrats are ready to act if something bad does happen. And so I hope that is the case. We will see. 

Also want to talk this week about news that broke - I believe it was last Friday afternoon - in the City of Seattle about Republican City Attorney Ann Davison's office disqualifying Judge Pooja Vaddadi from hearing over 150 criminal cases, which seems like a pretty rare event. If we have seen it before, we don't see it very often. And it's throwing the municipal court into further chaos. What happened and why did this happen? 

[00:14:41] Erica Barnett: Yeah, so the city attorney disqualified essentially by doing what's called a blanket affidavit of prejudice. And so this doesn't just disqualify her from those 150 cases, it disqualifies her essentially going forward. And so basically what they argued was that they can't get a fair trial from her and that she - and I should say, these are sort of unusual things to say in public. Some of the things that they said in the letter that they wrote about this were that she's unqualified, that she doesn't understand the rules of criminal procedure, and that she is basically finding that there is not probable cause to hold people and releasing them on grounds that the city attorney believes are unjustified. So we can get into the politics of this, but what it practically means going forward is that Judge Vaddadi cannot hear criminal cases from the City of Seattle, which is her job, and will have to be reassigned to something else, probably infractions. And the remaining judges on the court, the remaining six judges, will have to do her work and share it probably with pro-tem judges - so the court will probably have to hire essentially temporary judges to fill in and hear some of these cases so the backlog doesn't get worse. And that, of course, impacts the City budget, which is facing a $230 million deficit this year. So not only does it throw the court into a little bit of additional disarray - or a lot of additional disarray - it also is going to impact the City budget this year when they're debating it in the summer and fall. There's just a lot of domino effects of this one decision. 

[00:16:13] Crystal Fincher: A number of domino effects. Certainly, there is not extra cash lying around to be able to handle this, so it's deepening those elements of that crisis. Also, Ashley Nerbovig reported on this in The Stranger, you reported on it as well in PubliCola. But from reporting, it doesn't seem like these concerns are shared beyond the city attorney's office. It doesn't appear that there are other complaints that have been filed, which usually often is the case in these situations - making a lot of people question - What is really happening here? Is this a form of retaliation? Is this just being dissatisfied with a different but completely valid way of doing things? One of the things that the memo said was that Vaddadi routinely raises arguments on behalf of defendants without prompting from their own attorneys. However, other judges pointed out that nothing about that seems unusual in the Seattle Municipal Court. The impression left was that they're clearly unhappy with the way that Judge Vaddadi proceeds - in a way that some people may call more fair and more seeking of justice overall - in weighing what concerns are, what rights are and what the law is, but still is legal and permissible. And so this is a disagreement on approach, perhaps. But people are questioning whether there's anything truly worthy of disqualification. But this is what the city attorney's office has chosen to do. 

There's also a question about - Can they actually really do this? As we talked about, this doesn't happen often where you see this blanket disqualification. One, it is very disruptive. But two, it just hasn't happened like this before, and there are people wondering if this would stand up in court. The answer to that seems to be - maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't. There doesn't seem to be precedent for this specific situation but in our state before - things similar to this hasn't been allowed or has been overturned. We will see how this proceeds, but certainly it's very disruptive. And it usurps the will of the voters, really. These are judges elected by the residents of Seattle to serve in Seattle's Municipal Court. And a blanket disqualification seems to remove a democratically elected judge who Seattle residents do want. And Judge Vaddadi was very open, seemingly, about the approach that she planned to take when hearing these cases. She was certainly viewed as - to the degree that labels like progressive or conservative apply in this legal sense - viewed as a more progressive judge. So this approach is not a surprise based on how she ran her campaign, and Seattle residents voted for her over her opponent in that situation. It's just going to be really interesting to follow and see what happens with this. But it does seem to me that this is another event that is happening in the city of Seattle that we haven't seen very often - that seems like really a power play, and that there are a lot of people feeling very empowered and very emboldened to say - You know what, it's a new day, we're doing things our way, and we really aren't interested in hearing anything about it. What do you think? 

[00:19:40] Erica Barnett: Well, one of the issues that I think this situation raises is that they sent out a letter, they make all these allegations. And the problem with examining those allegations is that there are no specific cases or case numbers cited. I'm trying to get those because I want to - before saying this is just political revenge, I'd like to see the evidence. We haven't seen that. What they're claiming is that Judge Vaddadi is letting people go in DUI and domestic violence cases specifically. And I think probably they don't like that she's letting people go on other cases like trespasses where they are not representing a real threat to the public, but they may be hard for the city attorney's office to chase down later if they are let go and let out of jail. But primarily, the people that we're keeping in jail right now are people held on DUI, held on domestic violence. And so they're making this claim. And I would say until we see the specific evidence, I think that it should be taken with, as you said, a huge grain of salt. There's just a lot of allegations. 

I will say just point of fact on the blanket affidavit. They still have to - and I'm not saying they won't do this - but they still have to file an affidavit of prejudice in every individual case, which I assume they're going to do. But that means that they can also decide, whether it's because they are legally challenged on this or for some other reason, that they are going to just stop issuing these affidavits. The thing that's unusual is that they said that they're going to do it on every single case going forward. And like you, I'm not aware of any precedent. As I reported this week, Pete Holmes, a former city attorney, did consider doing this against a conservative judge, Judge McKenna, who's no longer on the court, but decided not to do so - I think because that would have been such a nuclear option. So this is extremely unusual and possibly unprecedented. 

[00:21:30] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. Also this week, news out of the City that lots of people have been waiting for - Mayor Bruce Harrell released a draft of the Comprehensive Plan for Seattle. What is the Comprehensive Plan and what was released? 

[00:21:48] Erica Barnett: Oh, great question. The Comprehensive Plan - it's kind of hard to explain succinctly - but it's basically the overarching plan for growth in the city. Not just residential growth, industrial growth, parks preservation, all kinds of stuff - what the city will be like over the next 20 years. And that guides things like planning decisions, legislation, all kinds of decisions that are going to be made in the city council, by the mayor and future mayors. But the top line, the thing that everybody always pays the most attention to, is how much residential growth are we going to allow in the city of Seattle? And the mayor's proposed plan would allow about 100,000 new units of housing - that is to accommodate an estimated 250,000 people who are going to move here in the next 20 years. A projection that obviously could change - it could grow, for example. And it's a plan that is sort of stunning in its lack of ambition and that I think has disappointed a lot of people who were hoping for something a little, or a lot, bolder that would actually increase housing in places that housing is not allowed currently. There is a bill in the legislature this past session that is sponsored by Representative Jessica Bateman that requires cities to allow four units per lot in areas that were formerly single-family. And that applies to Seattle - that will change Seattle's zoning. And this comprehensive plan basically goes up to that law - and arguably not even quite up to that law - and no further. So we are complying with the law. We are not really going any further than the law. And I think that this plan is very, very, very modest. 

[00:23:28] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely very modest. And this is really important. I'm actually a former planning commissioner in the City of Kent, on the Land Use and Planning Board there. This is a very important process. And growth is going to happen - people are going to move to different cities, to different regions - we can't stop that. But we can plan to make sure our cities grow and evolve - hopefully, in healthy ways that are advantageous to everyone. And so where you allow for development, where you don't allow that - issues like sprawl are big, certainly - bigger in suburban areas. But what do we do with green space - are we maintaining that? Knowing that we're going to have a lot of people moving in - how are we going to accommodate that? How are we setting up our city in terms of transit and transportation and how people get around? Planning for transit and transportation and how we move people and goods through this growing city. And basically looking at how do we plan for this so that we do it in a responsible way so that - poorly planned growth is actually really hard on municipal budgets. It's really expensive on an ongoing basis. So how do you make your city as sustainable as possible in every way - environmentally, - with the people there. So this is a big overall strategy and planning document that's going to guide all of these decisions in the long term. 

And as you said, we're going to have 250,000 people moving into the city of Seattle. And Seattle, evidently, according to this draft comprehensive plan put forward by Mayor Bruce Harrell, is only planning to accommodate up to 100,000 of those people. And what we have experienced, certainly in the last 10 to 15 years, are some of the consequences of not adequately planning for the amount of people who are moving here, which most presently includes skyrocketing housing prices, problematic traffic and transportation issues, problematic budgetary issues. So it really seems to underscore - wow, we really need to appropriately plan this next time to not only correct from before, but to allow for what's going to come and to adequately absorb that. This plan, upon review by people across the spectrum, seemingly - falls short on that by most people's estimations. And also falls short on just the metric of - there were public hearings on this, community meetings where they sought feedback and said they were going to be listening. And wow, none of that seems to have carried through - which is a little insulting to people in and of itself. I've heard a number of people just be like - Why even bother asking us for feedback if you're just going to disregard it and give us this? It would have just been better to skip all that and just do this, if this is what you were determined to do.

[00:26:22] Erica Barnett: Just two quick observations from the plan that I think illustrate how minimal it is. To your point. I think every single city councilmember that was elected said they support an alternative that was more dense than this, as did people in public hearings. So just two data points from this plan. One is that it proposes these new neighborhood nodes - I think they're called centers. There's a lot of rebranding that's happening in this plan. And these would be areas where there could be slightly more density - three to six stories - and they are within a three-minute walk from transit. That's how it's being defined, so it's 800 feet. There is no planning document in the world that you will find, I would wager, that metrics anything based on a three-minute walk from transit. It's always 10 minutes or more. And so this is so modest - and so preposterously modest - that we're making up new metrics whereby we say that people can't walk more than three minutes. So that's one ridiculous point. Another point that I just found sort of hilarious is that it allows corner stores in some areas and everybody's applauding that like - Oh, thank God we're going to allow corner stores again - except that it takes the term "corner store" literally and only allows them on residential corner lots, which I would say are probably - in a lot of Seattle's neighborhoods - the least likely because you're talking about big lots with huge lawns, very expensive properties, residential. In a lot of areas, that's going to be the least likely place where you're going to see a store develop. And the thing that I found hilarious was in the document itself, it illustrates the concept of corner stores with a coffee shop that's in Ravenna called Seven that is a great little coffee shop, but it's not on a freaking corner. It's in the middle of the street. And that is what people mean when they say corner stores - I think. I put it out on Twitter and Blue Sky yesterday, and everybody that responded was sort of like - That's so ridiculous. And one person pointed out - Are we going to now say that "mom and pop stores" have to be owned by a heterosexual couple with children? I mean- 

[00:28:26] Crystal Fincher: Just literal mom and pop. 

[00:28:27] Erica Barnett: It just kind of blows my mind. So there's just a lot of following the letter of what they said they would do, while not actually making it so that any of this stuff will ever happen. 

[00:28:39] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, it certainly was disappointing to see as a draft. What is the opportunity here is - one, particularly because this was discussed on the campaign trail, and so these elected officials that are now in place in Seattle are on the record about this, and where they stood, and people voted with an expectation. And so please - one, there's certainly been a lot of talk about this online and a lot of reaction. Be absolutely sure you are communicating with your councilmember and with the mayor's office directly. Can't skip that part - very, very important. They need to hear from you, their constituents, from people with interests and lives that intersect in the city of Seattle about this. And there are also community meetings and forums that are going to be convened. This is not the final plan, the final say. Obviously, it's going to be up to them to amend it, but let them know where you stand. Let them know that there certainly is more work to do, that they need to go back to the drawing board on this, and plan for what we know is coming. This would be similar to saying - Okay, the city has a $250 million budget deficit coming up, and we're planning to make up $100,000 of it.

[00:29:57] Erica Barnett: Yeah. 

[00:29:57] Crystal Fincher: Okay - but we know we're still in a hole. We know that doesn't work. We actually have a decent idea of what's coming. And if we just fail to plan for that, that's just negligent, an abdication of leadership. This is literally their job - to plan for and plan through this. So get involved with that, please. Make your voice heard. We'll include information in the show notes about that. The first opportunity is coming on March 14th, a public meeting. Make it to that meeting. Let your voice be heard. Don't let this be dismissed as some councilmembers have talked about with other things - It's just negativity and we all need to rally around everything and keep it positive. We need to keep it effective. And if it's not coming effective in the first place, then that needs to be rectified. 

The other thing I will just add on to this is that this is really a regional issue and all cities go through a comprehensive planning process. But what this is also doing is Seattle putting other cities in the region on notice that - Hey, we're going to be displacing a number of our residents over the next decade. This is going to be a trend that is going to continue and perhaps accelerate because pricing is already so unaffordable when it comes to housing for so many people. So the suburbs can expect to see - not only new people coming into their cities from around the region and the country, but also directly from Seattle. And while Seattle is putting upward pressure on housing prices in the rest of the region, this is going to have repercussions beyond the city limits in a major way if this remains like this. The one thing I would say to other cities outside of Seattle and in surrounding counties is that there's an opportunity here that Seattle may be overlooking if it stays on this path that other cities can take advantage of and capitalize on. There's going to be talented people, skilled people who are being forced out of the city of Seattle because they can't afford it. How are you making your cities? How are you planning to absorb growth? How are you planning, in this process, to take advantage of that - to make your own cities livable, walkable, to plan for not only residents, but perhaps businesses coming to surrounding cities? 

[00:32:26] Erica Barnett: Well, and just consider a counterfactual example where we allowed 500,000 new units instead of 100,000. And that would involve allowing apartments for renters in areas like Seward Park, like Laurelhurst. But also just in areas that are not along busy arterials and highways, which this plan assumes is going to happen for the next 20 years. We could actually have some downward pressure on housing prices. People could afford to rent here - even if they couldn't afford to buy here, housing prices would - pressure on those houses would go down, and they wouldn't rise as fast. Right now we are on a trajectory to be San Francisco - our rents are getting pretty close to San Francisco prices at this point, not there yet. But that is where we're headed if we keep limiting the amount of housing to fewer housing units than people are going to need. And we could do the opposite. We could allow apartments of some type everywhere and actually be a welcoming city. But it feels like that is never on the table. And it's never on the table because the single family incumbent homeowner lobby is so powerful. People talk about the developer lobby and the developers having all this power - well, the people that have the most power in Seattle, honestly, are the people that want single family neighborhoods to the extent possible and preserved in amber for all eternity so that they don't have to be around us renters. And I found it ridiculous and offensive when I moved here. It's only gotten more so as housing prices have just skyrocketed in every single neighborhood. And we could be going bold. And instead, this feels like a retreat. 

[00:34:06] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely does feel like that. So make your voices heard, attend those meetings, contact your city council people and the mayor directly. 

Last thing I want to talk about today was something really alarming that came out in the past couple days' news - and that was the Seattle Police Department failing to tell the public that a literal suspected axe murderer was preying on unhoused people in the First Hill and Capitol Hill area until they announced an arrest more than two weeks later. And we're still not sure that this is the person responsible for, evidently, a string of varied attacks against unhoused people in our community, particularly in this area in Seattle. What happened here? 

[00:35:00] Erica Barnett: Well, I think you described it basically. The police withheld information about this suspected axe murderer preying on homeless people. And I think that it's just incredibly telling that when somebody is going after unsheltered people who are incredibly vulnerable - much more vulnerable to violence than they are dangerous to other people or housed people - the police basically say, Well, the public doesn't need to know. Because I would venture - and this is speculation, but it reads as though they're saying - This doesn't affect the general public. I think it's part of a pattern of behavior by SPD of not providing information to the public about things that are of incredibly high public interest. But I also think it's a sad reflection of the fact that in general, unsheltered people, homeless people are not seen as full human beings in this city, in this country. And if this had been a serial murderer or attacker on a college campus, if this had been a serial murderer or attacker preying on homeowners in Magnolia - not to pick on Magnolia - but just homeowners in an area. I would imagine that the police would want to let people know. But because it is unsheltered people, I think there is just not a sense of urgency and not a sense at all that the public needed to know about this. And that's really troubling. 

[00:36:16] Crystal Fincher: It is incredibly troubling. And in fact, there was a community-wide alert just in the city of Bellevue in the past week or two of a suspected rape that happened on campus and the person on the loose. They made that public announcement - news stations carried it, I got push notifications about that - Hey, there's someone violent on the streets that people need to be aware of. And it just doesn't seem to be a priority. SPD, after being pressed by a number of reporters, Capitol Hill Seattle Blog included, who covered this and we'll put their story in the show notes. But a representative from SPD said that the decision basically not to share - to do things how they did them - was dictated by detectives and focused on protecting the integrity of the investigation and limited to the information at that time. As they go through, though - and really they seemed very proud of themselves at the news conference announcing the person's arrest - was they were tracking this guy. They seem to have very good ideas about this person's whereabouts and what they were doing, but very, very alarming just to read the details of what happened. This person purchased an axe that appears to have been used in these attacks from Lowe's on Rainier Avenue. They say that the suspect is seen on multiple security videos from the area and several businesses, "walking slowly and looking around as he approached Victim Van's location. And then after again confirming that there are no witnesses, swings the weapon in a downward motion in the area where the victim was lying." There's lots of footage. There's lots of information. They ended up arresting this man at his house. 

But also surprising was just the string of violence detailed here. That Town Hall murder - that was the location where the person was near - followed a similar death discovered on February 10th in a 12th Avenue alley where a homeless person, Paul Ewell, was found beaten to death. Another man with critical injuries who was beaten, but not fatally - that happened on February 24th at Cal Anderson Park. The deaths and assaults - we didn't hear about that - little attention in the city. And on top of that, there has also been at least two attempts to run over homeless people with a car in the last month, including an attack that left a man with injuries on 19th Avenue East. So there seems to be a sustained campaign of violence here. We've unfortunately also seen this in other areas - there's a high profile situation happening, unfortunately, in another state where someone is attacking the unhoused community with bow and arrows, unfortunately. I don't think we can divorce this from dehumanizing conversations and rhetoric that we hear about unhoused people. And in conversations about public safety and conversations about visible street homelessness, where people seem to feel like the problem is the visibility of it and not the people who are some of the most vulnerable to violence and other really problematic outcomes in our society. And instead of saying - how do we help and how do we house? It's how do we criminalize and just get this problem out of our sight? This is a current conversation in Burien where they just increased the criminalization of homelessness there. If we consistently dehumanize people in our public conversations, it is not shocking to see those people become increasing targets of violence. We just talked about the trans community - we're also seeing it there. But here, not only they're being targeted, but then while being targeted - to seemingly have no attention on that and them just being silent victims seems like an insult upon insult upon insult and making this entire situation worse.

[00:40:17] Erica Barnett: Yeah, I think that there is a narrative about crime that the police have an interest in promoting, which is that homeless people and poor people are constantly - that there's this crime wave that consists of mostly property crime and that the city needs to really crack down on that. And they talk about that all the time. They have press conferences. This is a very high profile problem that the police really, really emphasize. And I think that it doesn't serve them to say - Oh, actually homeless people are vulnerable and homeless people are being attacked. And so the profile of this is extremely low until they catch the guy. And then it's all about how great they are, and what a great job they do, and how effective the police are at sort of catching criminals. And I think that the narrative does not match the reality. And I also think that it would be useful for SPD to consider giving the public more information as they are trying to track down people who are committing violent crimes. And also about how the process works and to be transparent - regardless of the income level of the person, regardless of the political narrative that it promotes to say - Oh, wait, actually, the fact that we have demonized homeless people and made them out to be these mastermind criminals for the last how ever many years has contributed to the fact that people hate homeless people. And I don't know this specific guy's motives, but I think that there is a widespread fear and loathing of unsheltered people that contributes to crimes like this, and to the fact that people are going after homeless people and attacking them. And the police are promoting that narrative. And so I think this is just all sort of of a piece, and it is disturbing to see police diminishing certain victims seemingly because they lack power and they are sort of the boogeyman du jour for all sorts of urban problems. 

[00:42:09] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Now, this happened in Seattle City Council District 3 - Councilmember Joy Hollingsworth is the councilmember for that district. Statement - Hey, our office was not given any advance notice of this investigation, and SPD has not been sharing information about this case at our D3 community meetings - according to a spokesperson for Councilmember Joy Hollingsworth's office. Continuing - I've got a request out to SPD comms to learn more about the thinking behind this strategy and will let you know if I get any information back. So also seems like Councilmember Joy Hollingsworth was surprised to hear that this unfolded in this way. As we hear more, we will certainly update here on the program. But we have to do better than this and we owe our unhoused community better than this. And I hope there is - we see task forces and other things put together when there does seem to be a string of the same type of crime. I hope we see something similar here because there seems to be sustained targeting of the unhoused community with incredibly violent crimes, and we need to talk about it and we need to deal with it. Hopefully we will. 

And with that, I thank you all for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, March 8, 2024. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today is Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola, Erica Barnett. You can find Erica on Twitter and on Blue Sky. 

[00:43:43] Erica Barnett: Everywhere. 

[00:43:44] Crystal Fincher: Yep, everywhere - @ericacbarnett and on PubliCola.com. You can find me all over the place - same thing. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else 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 shows 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 podcast episode notes. We're also going to have some information about the show to update you all on pretty soon, so stay tuned. 

Thanks for tuning in, and we'll talk to you next time.