Week in Review: September 1, 2023 - with Joseph O’Sullivan

Week in Review: September 1, 2023 - with Joseph O’Sullivan

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by state politics reporter for Crosscut, Joseph O’Sullivan!

They discuss Tacoma for All winning their lawsuit over competing renter protections on the November ballot, mobile home communities organizing against economic eviction, and Washington auctioning off $1B of carbon pollution credits. The conversation continues with reflection on people’s concerns over the closure of the Larch Corrections Center, how Bruce Harrell and Dow Constantine’s ideas add delay and expense to voter-approved Sound Transit light rail expansion, a questionable use of COVID relief funds for Emerald Downs horse racetrack, and Cruise robotaxis coming to Seattle streets.

About the Guest

Joseph O’Sullivan

Joseph O’Sullivan is Crosscut's state politics reporter. Before joining Crosscut in 2022, O’Sullivan spent nearly eight years as Olympia bureau reporter for The Seattle Times. Before that, he covered government and politics at news organizations in Spokane, Wyoming and South Dakota.

Find Joseph O’Sullivan on Twitter/X at @OlympiaJoe.


The Childcare Crisis with Dr. Stephan Blanford of Children’s Alliance” from Hacks & Wonks

Judge kicks Tacoma council’s competing renter protections off ballot” by Heidi Groover from The Seattle Times

Judge issues ruling in ballot fight between Tacoma, renters group. Here's the decision” by Becca Most from The News Tribune

WA mobile home communities organize against 'economic eviction'” by Farah Eltohamy and Mai Hoang from Crosscut

WA's third carbon auction should push pollution credits over $1B” by Donna Gordon Blankinship from Crosscut

‘Blindsided’ by a Washington prison closure” by Laurel Demkovich from Washington State Standard

Prison closure plan stokes wildfire response worries in southwest Washington” by Laurel Demkovich from Washington State Standard

Harrell, Constantine light-rail ideas add years, money to Sound Transit planning” by Mike Lindblom from The Seattle Times

$1.1M in COVID relief steered to Auburn horse racing track” by Brandon Block from Crosscut

The Capitol Hill Autonomous Vehicle Zone — More driverless robotaxi testing comes to Seattle” by Justin Carder from Capitol Hill Seattle Blog

Find stories that Crystal is reading here


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Tuesday topical show and our Friday week-in-review delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen 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 welcomed Dr. Stephan Blanford, Executive Director of Children's Alliance, for a wide-ranging conversation on childcare - its importance, what makes it inaccessible and expensive, and how we can make an impact and fix this crisis. Today, we're continuing our Friday week-in-review shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome to the program for the first time, today's co-host: state politics reporter for Crosscut, Joseph O'Sullivan. Hey!

[00:01:22] Joseph O'Sullivan: Hi, how you doing? Thanks for having us.

[00:01:24] Crystal Fincher: Excited to have you on today. And I wanted to start off by talking about a lawsuit related to a local election in Tacoma - a tenants' rights initiative called Tacoma For All won a lawsuit against the City of Tacoma. This has a bit of a backstory. Tacoma For All collected thousands of signatures to put a pretty substantial tenants' rights initiative on the ballot, only to find out that the City of Tacoma City Council then decided to put their own competing measure on the ballot. At the same time - implementing that measure immediately, depending on what happened with the ballot if that happened. With the Seattle election, with the ranked choice voting or approval voting - and do you want to implement any of these - it's just a confusing thing for a lot of voters. Similar competing measures happened in the Seattle measure - that was basically put on to stop the initial measure. It looks like that was really the intended purpose of the City's measure against the Tacoma For All initiative. They were able to nip that in the bud with a judge finding that, although the initiative part of it seemed okay, the way they adopted the ordinance had some problems and issues. So it will not be allowed to appear on the ballot. What are your thoughts on this?

[00:02:43] Joseph O'Sullivan: I was interested just reading in The Seattle Times that the City's initiative they approved actually took effect right away. And they didn't really state that clearly. I don't know if it was the ballot language or whatever might have appeared when it was going to go before voters, which - I can't remember having seen something specifically like that, which seems a bit odd and adds to your point that that would be really confusing for voters. At the state level, you can have dueling initiatives go to the ballot. Those are complicated enough as they are, even when they're clearly explaining - you can choose this one, or this one, or neither. But this one seemed pretty unique.

[00:03:17] Crystal Fincher: It also seemed pretty unique to me, especially in that - usually, to your point - in the state context, people think of those more as referenda. There's an existing policy that we're going to vote to continue or to stop - I give a thumbs up or thumbs down on. This was not the case. Another interesting aspect of this, which is an element in litigation related to elections, is that the timing really matters. In this, the City could choose to appeal and they have not answered whether they intend to do so or not. But a bigger consideration is their time to appeal before it's time to print these ballots and get this stuff out. There's a lot of administrative work that needs to happen to get ballots out to people on time and that work starts very soon - whether this litigation can even happen before that happens is a question. But very interesting.

This is certainly being viewed as a big win for tenants' rights in Tacoma - I certainly think it is. I don't know that I love the precedent, and I guess people will do what they feel to do. I felt like it's justified before - was happy with some results when it happened. It's not like I've universally condemned this before. But always interesting to see the reaction to citizen initiatives. And that sometimes being viewed as a threat to power or not being viewed as legitimate - it's very tangential. But also reminds me of what's happening in Atlanta with Cop City and that initiative there and the challenges that the City of Atlanta has been presenting for those people who collected signatures in that whole process. So just very interesting to see the state of initiatives, both local and statewide, across the country and locally.

[00:04:48] Joseph O'Sullivan: Yeah, and here in Washington, we just have such a robust initiative and referenda cultural and legal institution. We've been doing these for so long that it really is sort of a feature of direct democracy, where if you're an elected official, you're always thinking about this - the prospect of voters saying - Hey, we're going to take the decision out of your hands and try and answer it ourselves. And I think the broader thing with this, too, is that - why is rent control being discussed so much now? It's because rent's too expensive. And housing is too expensive all over the state - urban and rural, big city and small. If elected officials can't deal with that - they certainly haven't in the last 10 or 20 years in the way that it needed to happen - you're reaching a point where you're going to have people try and come up with their own solutions.

[00:05:28] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. Also want to talk about a story that was written this week in Crosscut about Washington mobile home communities organizing against economic eviction. What is this and what's happening?

[00:05:41] Joseph O'Sullivan: So there is a Port Orchard-based company that has been buying up mobile home parks. We had a great story by some of my colleagues about residents in these parks. They're getting rent increases, they're seeing fewer services, more fees - like utility fees that weren't broken out and now they're added on to the rent that's already gone up. I don't think we've had a lot of this in Washington state, but when you have these big investment firms or real estate companies that buy up rental houses and then raise the prices - and you've seen that in other states a lot - there seems to be a little bit of a flavor of that in just this one kind of company that's doing this. And again, to go back to what we were just talking about, housing prices and the price of rent are probably certainly the single biggest cost issue for people in Washington state. And so this sort of dynamic is agitating and people are trying to find ways to respond to it.

[00:06:29] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And especially with mobile homes - a long, long time ago, I was a land use and planning board on Kent's planning commission, and we had an issue like this - couple issues like this come before the board. It was then that I learned just how tenuous these situations, particularly in mobile home parks, are just because it's a bit of a different situation than homes. I think we need action on all of it. But mobile home communities and people who live there are particularly vulnerable because they're bringing their mobile home - it's theirs, generally, or sometimes they rent it - but it's not their land. So people go - Okay, well, just move the mobile home. It's a mobile home - it's mobile. You can't make it there, move it somewhere else. And mobile homes are notoriously difficult to move, depending on the condition. They may not be able to withstand a move. It's not as simple as just moving it. But you have this situation where - okay, if someone gets evicted and you can't move it, or it's really expensive, cost prohibitive, what happens? You potentially don't just lose your right to be on that plot of land, but you can lose everything. If you can't move the home, you can't be there. It can be destroyed. It's really a troubling situation.

And so to have these situations with economic eviction, where it's nothing that the tenant has done - there's no "you did something wrong, you haven't been paying your rent," - it's we're jacking up the price that we know you can't afford, knowing that we're going to get you out of there and get in a tenant who's going to pay these new high prices. So it's basically just built-in displacement - that's what an economic eviction is. And so part of the conversation - this is where people live, this is a basic need that people have. And treating it as just a commodity - Well, it's a business and we have a right to make a profit and you can do that - is that where we want to be as a society with housing and the problems that it's causing?

[00:08:22] Joseph O'Sullivan: Yeah, and I don't think there was data on this in the story, so I'm a little anecdotal. But it's also not like an apartment where maybe there's some 25-year olds and your rent's getting jacked up. And that's bad - that's an issue. When you're 25, you're younger, you're more resilient, more of your life is ahead of you - maybe you can figure it out. But at least some of the families in here - older and maybe have less mobility in their life, or maybe have been through enough things or have enough burdens on them too - so that kind of adds to what you're talking about too, is the instability of it. It's a potential to do pretty bad damage when you displace people.

[00:08:55] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, people who fall into homelessness after being evicted - especially with an economic eviction from mobile home communities - that's not an insignificant number. There has been organizing around this in various communities for a while - certainly a number that I'm aware of in South King County, was an issue in SeaTac not that long ago in elections in the past few cycles. So I'm happy Crosscut wrote about this. I hope that we continue to raise not just consciousness about this and awareness, but that policymakers see the need to address this in a meaningful way. And in the absence of that, you see what happened with Tacoma for All or in Federal Way with their renters' rights initiative, or so many other cities - where if the people who are elected fail to address this, residents will. And it's a crisis now - I think we need to center the people who are at risk of homelessness or at risk of economic disaster and really find a way to prevent economic eviction, make housing more affordable across the board.

Also want to talk about - we've been dealing with wildfires, smoke off and on, including this week. What's supposed to be helpful in this whole process is the state's relatively new cap and trade program - cap and invest as they call it - which creates these carbon auctions. So Washington's third carbon auction looks like it's going to push the total amount of pollution credits over $1 billion. Big number. What do you think about this, what's happening?

[00:10:24] Joseph O'Sullivan: Big number. The policymakers and the lawmakers are probably pretty happy about that. But they're so early in a very new and complex law - and the obstacle state officials and politicians will have to clear is to take this money and find ways to use it that will actually really meaningfully impact emissions and also provide more resilience to safeguard communities. We're probably a ways away from seeing how these investments that are just starting to be made now - how they pay off down the road.

[00:10:51] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. What we were sold were there would be some short-term gains, some immediate investments that could have immediate impacts. Overall with this - I've talked about this several times on this program before, many people do know how I feel about this - but we have a lot of evidence that suggests that the cap and trade system itself is not effective at reducing emissions. What can, potentially, are the investments from this revenue that is raised. If it's invested in the right way, that perhaps can impact this. And this is so much money - these cap and trade programs are great at raising revenue, and this revenue is exceeding projections. Does that also mean that we're going to have pollution exceeding projections, that there's more pollution going on than we accounted for that needs to be lowered? Don't know. We'll have to see. But really the bottom line is we need to reduce the amount of carbon that we're releasing into the atmosphere. We need to do it really quickly. We're already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and it's going to get worse before it gets better. And we better act quickly and very intentionally to make sure that it does get better without getting worse than it has to at this point in time.

So we'll see. There were certainly a lot of promises, a lot of talk, a lot of concern, especially from frontline communities, those impacted most - Indigenous Native communities, BIPOC communities - who are the ones who are generally hit worst and first by climate change. And so we'll see if they live up to their commitments to meaningfully invest in these communities to mitigate the damage that is already happening. But I hope a lot of people are paying attention to this. I hope people are engaged in this. This is a significant issue, significant investment. As we've seen with so many other things, a lot can go right and a lot can go wrong - it just really depends on how they are. We also see when there's money like this available, some people see the opportunity for a cash grab. And like with some COVID relief funds, see an opportunity to get their hands on some stuff. I hope that our policymakers, that people in these departments managing this, are really careful and intentional about that. And most of the time, they are and they tend to be. I just hope this is something that everyone keeps a close eye on and holds our Legislature accountable to in the long term.

[00:13:10] Joseph O'Sullivan: Yeah, I think that, to your point also, where money shows up, power does too. And even within the Democratic caucus, probably even within progressives within the Democratic caucus, you can find different approaches. Everybody has a different priority for the climate projects they want to do, or - Oh, we'll focus on transportation versus communities, or with a limited amount of dollars. Then you're trying to find consensus within your own team or among the people that are administering the money. And it's probably not going to be perfect, whatever it is. I think some of these things - we may not be able to look until 10 years from now. Did we electrify our transportation system? Did that happen? Did we do enough resilience? Because what happens if five of the projects go really well and five don't? How do you assess that? And how do they tweak it down the road? I think some lawmakers, at least - if not most of them - that were working on this law, hope that someday it'll join up with some of the other cap and trade markets, like in California, in Canada. Does this become part of a larger system? Is that a way that's going to be effective and move forward? Is it not? I think some of these things, unfortunately, time will tell.

[00:14:16] Crystal Fincher: Time will tell. We are linked with California. That may create some issues. California has notoriously oversaturated their market with credits and are now trying to deal with that, which basically means that there is more pollution that they have in their system, that they baked into their system, that they have to now reduce. But we'll see. And to your point, sometimes with this, any little thing that goes wrong, people are prepared to jump on to - if they don't like the policy overall, that's a reason to get rid of it. I think what's fair to say is that in any big undertaking, no matter what it is, there are going to be challenges and roadblocks. And it's really about how vigilant people are being to spot them and find those before they create too much damage or waste too much money - that they course correct when that's happening. This is new. So there is - in any new thing that you're putting together, whether it's in the public or private sector, there are going to be lessons learned, there are going to be things that happen. But they don't have to be big boondoggles. We don't have to justify the wrong thing just because it's something that we did. So I hope that there is a recognition that - hopefully most of the things do go right - some things will go wrong. How do we address it when it does? How do we correct it? How do we hold ourselves accountable? So we'll see how that proceeds. We'll continue to pay attention to it. I hope everyone everywhere pays attention to it because, my goodness, the impacts that we're already enduring from wildfire smoke - to just the wildfires and the devastation that we've seen globally, but even just in our state have been pretty horrific - to extreme heat, to extreme cold. It's just concerning. And our infrastructure is not up to it today. So hopefully we spend and meaningfully invest in fixing that.

Also want to talk about a plan for prison closure that was just announced - that has some people raising their eyebrows to the plan, and other people raising their eyebrows to the reaction to the plan. What's happening here?

[00:16:13] Joseph O'Sullivan: The Department of Corrections announced that they were going to close one of our 12 prisons, large corrections facility, which is down in Southwest Washington - Clark County. The announcement was made either last month or in June - that drew some immediate outcry from the Teamsters Union that represents corrections officials. It's not like if you're an employee, you can transfer five miles down the road - you would have to move probably across the state somewhere to get a comparable job at another facility if you wanted to keep doing that. More recently, Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz has noted some concerns about the move since some incarcerated wildland firefighters are based down there. Of course, Southwest Washington - you're near the Columbia River Gorge and some pretty vast tracts of forest land and wilds, and they get fires down there. And the Public Lands Commissioner is concerned that this is going to take some capability to quickly respond to fires. The Inslee administration has signaled that our numbers are declining for incarcerated people, they don't need all the space that they have right now. And so, yeah - I don't know - it's a tough decision either way. But when I did an early story on this, and then I was reading - the Washington State Standard had some good coverage on this - it's just like when you have to consolidate school districts or something too. Nobody's ever happy to lose the school in their community. And there's a little bit of a feel of that too.

[00:17:26] Crystal Fincher: There's some of that. For me - and maybe it's a different perspective than a lot of people have - I was dismayed in reading this because we've talked a lot about incarceration and its effectiveness on this program. And incarceration doesn't do a good job of reducing recidivism rates. Evidence shows that's not the case, which is why - looking at low-level offenses - sending people to prison for that is more likely to create more crime than it is to reduce it, which is one of the reasons why this low-level facility is closing. For the amount of money that we spend to incarcerate each person each year, and for that to not result in making us any safer is a problem.

What I find so problematic with this is that we are talking about several reasons for keeping a prison open that have nothing to do with public safety. We're not doing it to keep the community safe, but we're keeping it to improve the economic conditions - through jobs or through support or through others - of other people. Wow, that's really troubling. Incarcerating people as a jobs program, which is - Oh man, we're going to have to relocate. We're going to have to do different things - that's not the purpose of incarceration. And not that those changes are not real in those people's lives - they absolutely are, and that's unfortunate - but to do so at the expense of incarcerating someone and making our community less safe doesn't seem like it makes much sense. And then also talking about - Well, these people are critical to wildfire fighting. Okay - it was in 2020 that the rate for a fire, an incarcerated fire[fighter], was $0.62 per hour. Particularly troubling because until very recently, we then prevented them - if they got out - from working as firefighters. So we're calling what they're doing so important and critical, yet we're not treating the people who are doing it that way. That just seems like expendable bodies. And if it's more convenient for us to keep people locked up and take away their freedom because it gives us benefits as a community that have nothing to do with public safety but are economic or others, then we start getting into conversations about slavery. And like the documentary 13th, which does a good job of talking about this, which I just find troubling.

This was a decision that I know some people were very unhappy with - that's certainly a conversation to be had for here in the long term. But I just can't condone or agree with or get with the justifications that I am seeing in here that this is critical. And then even trying to say - Well, it's good for the people who are working. Well, if we really cared about that, then wouldn't we be paying them a fair wage for what they're doing? Wouldn't we be fast-tracking them into this career once they got out? We aren't doing those things, so it doesn't really seem like we're doing this because we care about them. It seems like we're doing this because some people feel it's more convenient for us. And that's not something we should be doing with people's freedom, in my opinion.

[00:20:26] Joseph O'Sullivan: And interesting - as we're talking now, I'm thinking just covering wildfires and covering prisons. And there's both of them. Wildfires is a little different recently as more houses are burning and more acreage - people are starting to key in. But for many years at the Legislature, the Department of Natural Resources couldn't get more funding for more wildfires - this was even predating Hilary Franz, back to Peter Goldmark - they'd come begging the lawmakers in budget season - Hey, we need more capability to fight fires, we need more help, we need more staff, we need more resources. And the Legislature, after years of that, has started just in the last couple of years. And at the same time, properly funding the prisons so they deliver the services that they need to, like health care, is also something that's often on a lower priority. There's not a lot of special interests or big lobbying push to make sure an incarcerated person is getting the cancer treatment that they need or able to get to doctors' appointments. And that doesn't necessarily win you votes at the ballot box. And that's not to say that lawmakers are all cynical and they don't want to do that stuff ever. But every program is competing for limited money during the budget. And these are examples of things that have been underinvested in previously. The Department of Corrections says they're going to save some money by closing Larch. Where does that money go from here? I think that's an interesting question. And I guess we'll see.

[00:21:39] Crystal Fincher: And these are complicated - because if you're just looking at this in a silo, if you're just in the Department of Natural Resources and just looking at your position and your job and the budget - yeah, these are questions that are going to come up. Okay, we do need more wildfire fighting resources. We don't have the budget for that. Where is that going to come from? Something is going to suffer here. And those are real questions that people have. I do think it's the responsibility of leaders to look at the system more comprehensively to say - Okay, what are we actually doing here? And are we getting the impact for our community out of this that was intended? And to say - I know that funding is in silos, I know that these decisions are happening in lots of ways all over the place. But if we're getting to the point where we're keeping people incarcerated because it will employ people at the prison - is that who we want to be as a society? And I think we need to name that and call it out explicitly and deal with it. Not that it's going to be easy to deal with, but ignoring it just really seems incorrect to me. This was an interesting read. And I understand how - in a silo - the reaction makes sense. But I also think that we have to do better.

Also want to talk about - this week, Harrell and Constantine going back to the drawing board, at least partially, with Sound Transit planning and that adding millions of dollars and years to our Sound Transit planning timeline - for an initiative that was passed six years ago, I think, that we're still really waiting to get moving on, it feels like. What's your reaction to this?

[00:23:21] Joseph O'Sullivan: I think that this is emblematic of one of the biggest issues in American democracy. And this goes back to the housing, too - is that it just takes us so long now to do anything, to build anything, to try and fix any problem, that by the time you get something built, it's like - Oh, great. We got a new light rail line. Then we're going to have half a million more people in the region - that's a number I just made up in my head, but you get the point, right? - it just takes so long to do this stuff. And then by the time it gets done, there's already new problems or other problems. There's so much more growth. And then you just start all over. And we see that with trying to build high speed rail all over America. We see that trying to build just houses and communities. There's a fantastic article I just read about how it was going to take years - there was a school closing down for renovation somewhere, there was space right across the street - a college. But they couldn't send the high school students over to use empty college buildings, because the college is zoned different, and you can't have secondary school in there. And I think this was over in New York or something. It was just - there's an easy solution to a problem, but we have all these local processes that slow everything down and don't allow for communities to nimbly fix anything. Of course, communities also struggle to nimbly fix anything, because everybody disagrees and doesn't want stuff built next to their house or something. And I think there's a little bit of that - at least in The Seattle Times coverage that I was reading about some of these stations - in where you're going to put them, and how disruptive it's going to be. I don't know. How does that get fixed?

[00:24:47] Crystal Fincher: We get bogged down in process. And some people are like - Eh, it's just process. There's nothing you can do about it. And if you know me personally, we've had this conversation. So Seattle and Los Angeles started talking about their light rail systems at the same time. Los Angeles has built out a network, and they certainly have their own challenge and they certainly have process. But once they make a decision - and it seems like in other places, once they make a decision - it's less likely to be changed, delayed intentionally - not that cost delays and time delays don't happen, they absolutely do elsewhere. But the process involved with it is just more kludgy here. And people are more likely to say - Okay yeah, the residents here voted for this. This big corporation has a problem with it, and maybe we can change it to make them happy. And we just get so bogged down in that process. And it seems like we have leadership that is comfortable with getting bogged down in that process. And all the time that they took, you look at the - I was here, I think you were too - the drama about the State Route 99 tunnel.

[00:25:52] Joseph O'Sullivan: Oh, sure - yeah.

[00:25:53] Crystal Fincher: And then seeing what we ended up with, which is not quite what we were sold. And it's not surprising to me that some of the same people involved in that decision and how that ended up are involved in this decision and how it ended up. I think here it's people using process to mitigate impacts to interest groups that they're aligned with, really. It's not like there weren't decent plans here. But it seems like if there are big concerns from money interests - and it's not just on one side of the spectrum, it could be on multiple sides of the spectrum - that can interrupt process more here than in some other places after a decision has seemingly been made. Not that other places don't dither and debate about decisions. But my goodness, after a decision has seemingly been made, we find new and innovative ways not to find a way to move forward.

[00:26:46] Joseph O'Sullivan: Yeah, I haven't covered City politics in a while, but I always feel like Seattle's interesting. It always seems to me - just reading coverage from afar - that it's a feature of Seattle politics, where it seems like there's always a lot of whiplash on the issues of the day, where - Okay, we're going to go on this course. And oh no, now we're going to reverse. And then, oh, three years later, we're going to go back to this. It's difficult to tackle really long-term issues.

[00:27:10] Crystal Fincher: Then we suffer from the consequences of not addressing those issues, and here we are. So I hope that gets resolved quickly and we get to building.

Also, want to talk about a story that was in Crosscut about COVID relief funds related to something we were talking about earlier - where $1.1 million in COVID relief was steered to the Emerald Downs Auburn horse racing track. What happened?

[00:27:38] Joseph O'Sullivan: This was part of the American Rescue Plan Act, which was part of the federal COVID relief - which, of course, was just a torrent of money coming into the state - helping state government, local government, schools, and everything stay afloat during the pandemic. A lot was used for rental assistance, other programs, it helped pay for COVID testing and vaccines and stuff. And in Crosscut, we did a story about $1.1 million that go into Emerald Downs, which is the horse track in Auburn, to help them stay afloat or mitigate the impact of the pandemic - there's at least one expert that questions whether the money could be used like that. And maybe that pops up as a question down the road, where the state will have to backfill that money if there's some determination that it wasn't useful there. To me, reading that story, it seemed like an echo of the stadium stories you always have in local politics, right - who's going to pay for these big public things and then taxpayer dollars go toward it or something, or there's a question about that - I don't know. What do you think?

[00:28:34] Crystal Fincher: It's interesting. Obviously, maintaining jobs was a priority in trying to - especially for businesses that had to shut down. And I'm not familiar with the particulars of Emerald Downs' operation throughout the shutdown - I think I remember them pausing activity - dealing with that, you could justify that. Was that the most pressing need coming at this time? That's also curious. And was that necessary? is a question. I do think that the bigger issue for me is that - one, accountability, and two, the impact of direct relief versus relief that is filtered through people with a lot of money and allowed to trickle down to people with money. It seems like any time we have a big program like that to - one, I think it's good to get direct money to people who are the most impacted, to the people who are not receiving an income through no fault of their own. But I do think that we do need to do more direct relief, unless we're giving it to the business who then is going to give it to employees. Or we need to do a better job of accounting for - okay, this is to save jobs, it's to compensate employees. Are we making sure that they're doing that and not using it to provide a bonus to executives or to expand a footprint somewhere, upgrade facilities, or something like that? Which, depending on how that happens, the case could be made if they're doing air filtration - that could be argued.

But it's just always notable to me how it seems like certain people need to get a cut if relief is going to be provided to people on the ground. So I don't know that this is a boondoggle - I'm not going to say that this was a misuse of funds, not saying that - I don't have enough information to say that. But it just is something else that - did this go through all the due diligence that it should have. And given how much due diligence we make really poor people go through, how much surveillance we put really poor people under - it really is noticeable how different the requirements, the hoops you have to jump through, and the scrutiny is on who we hand out money to and how much is handed out to them, under which conditions based on - okay, this is a big established business, or this is someone who lost their job and this relief is going to make the difference between them having a home or not.

[00:30:59] Joseph O'Sullivan: Just broadly, it's interesting - horse racing is a very old school sport, I don't know how long for the world - if it's going to be around in 50 years or not. And it's a unique area where you've got the Horse Racing Commission that oversees it, the track itself is owned by one of the tribes - I believe the Muckleshoot tribe - it just seems like a very unique set of circumstances, too. And I don't know how that interplays with the decisions that are made to put money there.

[00:31:22] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. And is fundamentally a betting facility something that we want to be prioritizing? I don't know. They are saying they're looking to the issue of whether it was an allowable use or not - that doesn't seem to be a hard yes, there's a question mark attached to that. We'll see what happens. But I do think it's good to look at where and how we're spending this money, and are we getting the results that were intended - I think that's a good thing overall.

Final thing I wanted to talk about today - autonomous vehicles are coming to Capitol Hill in Seattle, which is raising a lot of eyebrows for people. What did you think of this?

[00:31:58] Joseph O'Sullivan: I don't totally understand why it's needed. People have been getting around - Uber and Lyft, we did those the last 15 years. And before that, there were taxis. I just don't understand the argument for why they would be necessary for a major life improvement and - I don't know. What do you think?

[00:32:16] Crystal Fincher: The promise of autonomous vehicles - philosophically, right? - driving is not comparatively an unsafe form of transportation when you look at the other forms. So if you can do something to make it safer - hey, that's great, right? That was the initial premise. In reality, taking into account that premise is based on functioning, tested, safe technology - oh, these cars are automatically going to be safe. But what is happening is that the cars are not delivering. The technology is not delivering on its promise, at least not yet. And so while it still is not, and while they're having - depending on where they're at - safety problems. And there's lots about Tesla's autopilot feature, which is less advanced than some of these other ones. But for all of them - the reason why they're working in Capitol Hill is because they need more testing. And they need to really figure out wet and hilly environments. So people on the street are guinea pigs while they figure this out? We're seeing in San Francisco, these cars get confused and blocking intersections - couple accidents recently, one ran into a fire truck. And they're behaving in ways that the companies who are designing them are not expecting, which is worrisome, right? We just don't know what we're getting. There's the promise of the technology, and there's the reality of today - those are two very different things. And putting this questionable technology, with vehicles that can kill people - this isn't Amazon testing out a little delivery drone, this is a multi-thousand pound piece of steel that can run over people. And just to put that out with not a lot of scrutiny, no real legislative or policy intention, and basically - okay, if they attest that they'll have a person in the car who can intervene.

So with this city really looking like it's a guinea pig for these companies to figure out and iron out their technology, it's just really questionable. And the difference in process for this compared to - look at the process that a bike lane, that the scooter and bike share went through? And evidently for this, you just have to submit an application saying that there will be a person in the car who will be ready to intervene if something happens - which is better than fully autonomous cars that are happening in San Francisco and elsewhere right now - but it just seems like maybe we aren't considering everything with this. But we'll see. It's happening.

[00:34:47] Joseph O'Sullivan: Yeah, and to your earlier point, too, technology always gets the benefit of the doubt. The starting point of our thoughts are never is this for-profit thing that's being sold going to increase the quality of our lives? It's never that. This is something new, this is something amazing - and the default is just to accept it. We see that with - the State Legislature debated for a few years to try and pass a data privacy law, never got it for various complicated reasons, couldn't do something. But even that, that they were trying a few years ago - that was 15 years after private companies started taking all of our data for every little thing and using it for their own profit. And we just - as a society - we don't place any skepticism upfront on technology, and we generally newaitit to find out what happens afterward.

[00:35:29] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and the challenging thing is that there aren't people waving warning flags about - we've seen how this play ends before - it's not great. And looking at the challenges happening in San Francisco, but we'll see. Evidently, this is happening. What my hope is is that there are trained employees as drivers who are taking the role of needing to intervene potentially seriously. I think that's better than just laypeople or no one in there. But it seems like we should probably talk about this and figure out - with intention - what we want this to accomplish and what the outcomes are, so we can see if it is delivering what we want it to deliver while we allow a company to use people in our streets as guinea pigs, basically, for their profit.

[00:36:17] Joseph O'Sullivan: Yeah, I'm not sure that a solution like this is getting at sort of the root problems, which is often just another thing that - yeah, I don't know that this is going to solve everything around pedestrian safety and traffic congestion.

[00:36:31] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and the fact that - if we're looking at other cities, it may actually make it worse with the current level of technology. We will see and will certainly continue to follow this as it proceeds.

And with that, thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, September 1st - my goodness, September already - 2023. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is the phenomenal Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today: state politics reporter for Crosscut, Joseph O'Sullivan - thank you so much for being on the show.

[00:37:02] Joseph O'Sullivan: Thank you for having us.

[00:37:03] Crystal Fincher: You can find Joseph on Twitter @OlympiaJoe. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. And you can find me on Twitter @finchfrii - and on most other platforms @finchfrii. 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 full versions of the podcast 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.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.