About CaseyJaywork

Freelance Seattle journalist & writing tutor. @CaseyJaywork

Rise of the renter? Tenants Union director Jon Grant makes bid for Seattle City Council

City Council candidate Jon Grant (Image: Casey Jaywork)

City Council candidate Jon Grant (Image: Casey Jaywork)

Housing: after food, air and water, a safe place to lay your head may be the most basic of human needs. But with the fastest-growing rents in the country and a ballooning homeless population, Seattle is becoming home to fewer and fewer homes for the poor and working class.

Jon Grant aims to change that. Campaigning for city council on a three-plank platform of affordable housing, police reform, and public campaign financing, the executive director of the WA Tenants Union presents himself as a scrappy underdog taking on the city’s complacent status quo.

“It would be one thing if the incumbents were do-nothing,” Grant told CHS shortly after declaring his candidacy. “[But] they’re actively aiding and abetting developers in getting out of paying into affordable housing.” Continue reading

Swedish to group opposing expansion: ‘Cease and desist’

Lawyers for the Swedish healthcare group have sent an “IMMEDIATE CEASE AND DESIST WARNING” to Washington Community Action Network (WA CAN), CHS has learned over the group’s efforts to fight the expansion of the Cherry Hill campus.

Swedish's 'Cease and desist' letter to WA CAN

Swedish’s ‘Cease and desist’ letter to WA CAN

On January 27th, three WA CAN organizers approached people in the waiting areas of Swedish’s Cherry Hill campus, handing out copies of both Swedish’s own charity care application and a WA CAN brochure about Swedish’s handling of medical debt. When a representative of Swedish’s management spotted them, he escorted the organizers out. The next day, the left-leaning community organizing group received a hand delivered letter from Swedish’s lawyers, which read in part:

you shall immediately cease and desist all activities on the Swedish Medical Center Cherry Hill Campus…[including] handing out any form of communication to hospital staff, patients or visitors, and speaking to any hospital staff, patients or visitors on any subject.

WA CAN organizer Xochitl Maykovich told CHS that WA CAN has been unsuccessfully trying to take its concerns (outlined in this white paper) to Swedish CEO Tony Armada for months. “In the interim,” she said, “we decided that people need to know about charity care, and so we gave patients in the waiting room…charity care applications…[And] we put a few on the ER [waiting area] table…We were very polite, and the people that I talked to, they were like, ‘Oh wow, thanks.'” Continue reading

How do we reform the SPD?

Saturday will bring yet another protest against the Seattle Police Department to Capitol Hill. The promises of change at City Hall continue. CHS asked city and community leaders: what, if anything, has been accomplished in reforming policing in Seattle so far? And what still needs to happen to clean up the SPD?

Since a Department of Justice (DoJ) investigation found Seattle police to be brutal and possibly biased, city leaders have promised a new and improved department. But SPD’s martial response to #BlackLivesMatter protests over the past half-year, and recently-surfaced videos showing officers pepper spraying a local high school teacher and detaining a pedestrian (both black, both times apparently without provocation), have stoked public skepticism toward these promises.

Behind this, negotiations are underway in what has become a nearly perpetual tussle over the city’s contract with the powerful Seattle Police Officer’s Guild. The Stranger reported this week on what it could learn about the status of the talks and the likelihood that recommendations from the city’s Community Police Commission will be included in the deal.

“Reform and cultural change is not an option. It’s an absolute must,” said City Council president and former cop Tim Burgess. Continue reading

Feds to auction 4% share of Capitol Hill pub seized from colorful fraudster

QuinnsPub...FOR_SALE_screenshotThe US Marshals are selling a 4% share in Quinn’s Pub, a Capitol Hill watering hole known for its wild boar sloppy joes.

Phillips

Phillips

But a few years back, Quinn’s investor Mark Phillips was convicted of wire fraud and money laundering in a case involving fake invoices, a $2.3 million Seattle condo, and two $30,000 wristwatches.

In a dizzying scheme that could have been lifted from a Coen brothers’ film, Phillips — according to federal prosecutors, a jury, and an appeals court — shuttled more than $1.5 million from the coffers of MOD Systems, a Seattle tech startup, to his own pockets. Starting in January of 2008, prosecutors say the over-enterprising entrepreneur used fake invoices for non-existent consulting services to send $100,000 to his girlfriend via his lawyer. That money was used to pay for a pair of lavish wristwatches, investment in another startup, and an “earnest money deposit” on a Seattle condo he was purchasing. Later, to make a down payment on his would-be condo, Phillips told MOD’s vice president of finance that the company’s board had approved the transfer of $1.5 million into his own bank account, even though his requests for that money had been twice snubbed.

The latter, larger theft was soon discovered, prompting an internal investigation within MOD. Eventually the US Attorney’s Office and the FBI went after Phillips, and he served four years in prison.

While Phillips reportedly was able to give much of the money back, in November of 2014, Judge John C. Coughenour of the US District Court at Western Washington “ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and DECREED” that Phillips’ 4% ownership of Quinn’s Pub and any dividends since 2007 be seized and auctioned-off by the US Marshals. The Marshals’ Complex Asset Unit is giving would-be bidders until February 9th to register for the sale; bidding will start at the price of one of Phillips’ erstwhile wristwatches and will continue through March 13th.

Given the relatively small level of ownership in Quinn’s, it’s unlikely Phillips had anything to do with those sloppy joes but the sale does provide some insight into the world of Capitol Hill’s burgeoning entertainment economy and restaurant and bar investment. Calculating from the $30,000 minimum bid set by the Feds, you can place a minimum value on Quinn’s of around $750,000. The stake is likely worth more.

Phillips initially responded to request for comment, saying “[M]y attorney and I have a lot to say,” but then did not respond to further communication from CHS. The management of Quinn’s did not respond to requests for comment.

UPDATE: Phillips tells CHS that he was an investor and patron of Quinn’s, but was not involved in management. He gave us the following statement:

I respect the work of chef owner Scott Staples and told him that I would invest in another venture if the opportunity presented itself. When it did, it was called Quinn’s. I was disappointed that the government seized the ownership through civil forfeiture.

What have Nick Licata and Tom Rasmussen ever done for Capitol Hill?

Longtime Seattle City Council members Tom Rasmussen and Nick Licata both announced — here and here — last week that they will not seek reelection this fall. As of October, Licata was the Council’s most beloved member, while voters felt much more ‘meh’ toward Rasmussen. Licata says he wants to concentrate on building a national network of progressive city leaders, while Rasmussen says he wants to concentrate on policy rather than campaigning during the coming year.

But before they bow out, CHS asked both councilors: What did you ever do for the Hill?

Inside the Sunset Electric (Image: CHS)

Inside the Sunset Electric (Image: CHS)

Rasmussen
“This was graffiti covered,” says Rasmussen, pointing at the Sunset Electric building. The top five stories are an exoskeleton of shimmering glass and metal balanced upon two bottom stories of quaint, old brick. “It was going to be bulldozed,” he says. “It was going to be torn down by the developer.”

But the building — which now resembles a titanic computer chip perched atop a frontier supply store — still stands, a physical manifestation of Capitol Hill’s future balanced on the shoulders of its past. This is due, Rasmussen says, to the legislation he championed to give developers a way to add to the Hill, rather than replace it. The result: a fast-growing brick-and-steel jungle which “preserves the character of the neighborhood,” rather than an asphalt savanna which erases it. Pointing out another old/new building on the northeast corner of the Madison/Union/12th intersection, Rasmussen says, “Extra floor on top, beautiful brick; I think it’s just inspiring.” Continue reading

Activists hold Trans Health Insurance Forum at Gay City

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Tobi Hill-Meyer takes the mic at Saturday’s Trans Health Insurance Forum. (Image: Casey Jaywork)

In 2009, Danni Askini was raising hell to debunk “Gender Identity Disorder” from the official list of diagnosable mental illnesses. It’s not like concepts of disease are immutable, after all: Homosexuality was a sickness until 1973, when doctors suddenly agreed that it’s wasn’t. Why shouldn’t transgender people similarly shed the stigma of pathology?

“Oh, young me,” she laughs to the roughly 60 people packed inside Gay City’s tiny auditorium. “You didn’t know!”

Askini is speaking on a panel held last Saturday at the Trans Health Insurance Forum, orchestrated by the Coalition for Inclusive Healthcare. And she’s laughing because, in the past five years, she’s gone from decrying transgender diagnoses to sometimes promoting them, for two reasons. Continue reading

#blacklivesmatter: As the Central District blanches, a house speaks

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Inye Wokoma inside his mother’s former house (Image: Casey Jaywork)

On New Year’s Eve, Inye Wokoma joined three of his brothers to tour the gutted skeleton of a house on Marion. “This was our mother’s house,” he later told friends, “owned by our grandparents, and the center of our childhood and young adult lives.” Strapped for cash, the family recently decided to sell the house and reinvest the proceeds into adjacent rental properties.

The house’s story is a microcosm of the Central District, the historically black and increasingly white series of neighborhoods between downtown and Lake Washington. “The black vitality of the Central Area was mighty and strong” during the post-WWII decades, says longtime resident Vivian Phillips. From 1940 to 1960, the black population of Seattle grew by more than 600%. Phillips describes the CD of that time as a bastion of black business, black community, and black activism.

But in recent decades that outpost of what some call “the African diaspora” has been eroding. In 1990, the CD’s black residents outnumbered whites by nearly three-to-one, writes Seattle University’s Henry McGee, Jr. By the turn of the millennium, whites had become the majority. “You can call it displacement, you can call it an exodus,” says Wokoma. “The community I grew up with no longer exists… People basically dispersed and found places where they could afford to live.” Places, that is, outside Seattle. Continue reading

In contentious expansion of Swedish Hospital, Squire Park neighbors struggle for balance

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Today’s Swedish Cherry Hill campus

Surrounded by soft lighting and beige carpet, the three microphones pass back and forth across the tabletops as the committee members address one another in the calm tone of an extended sigh. “The administrative errors that have been made have since been fixed,” says one member. Another asks about traffic mitigation. Soft lighting bounces off the white ceiling. Starbucks coffee marinates in urns beside a tray of supermarket cookies and a small fort of pizza boxes. On the wall, two projector screens display a screensaver.

Then the public comment period begins.

“This is one of the most depressing and terrible things that I do in my month,” resident Abel Bradshaw tells the committee. “I’m tired of coming to these meetings and seeing our neighborhood chewed away at with words.”

She’s referring to the proposed expansion of Swedish Hospital’s Cherry Hill campus, which is co-owned by the nonprofit hospital and by the Sabey Corporation, a private developer. The Community Advisory Committee (CAC) she’s addressing has spent the better part of two years considering the expansion proposal (called a Major Institution Master Plan, or MIMP), which essentially asks the city for special zoning permissions on account of the hospital’s good deeds.

The neighbors of Squire Park aren’t buying it.

“This is just absurd and should be rejected out of hand,” says resident Murray Anderson.

“It’s just too big,” says resident Ken Torp. “It is three pounds of manure in a two-pound bag.”

“I urge the CAC to reject, in its entirety…the MIMP,” says resident Jack Hanson. “Send Swedish back to the drawing board.” Continue reading

The belated development at 22nd and Madison

The giant, 200+ unit project planned for the north side of E Madison was planned to have this massive internal courtyard

The giant, 200+ unit project planned for the north side of E Madison was planned to have this massive internal courtyard

“I started drinking with Deano in about 2005,” says Jim Mueller, referring to the eponymous owner of a bar that long made E Madison west of 22nd Ave its home. Mueller, a local, says that after leaving development giant Vulcan, he wanted to work on his own neighborhood. “It has long been obvious to me that some investment was needed,” he says. So he began working on plans for a mixed retail and apartment building on the site.

“This is a key neighborhood block and one of the last yet to be redeveloped on that stretch of Madison — Seattle’s only Sound-to-lake corridor,” The Seattle Times reported in 2008. “Its renewal would finally bring to this locale the kind of gentrification that has been taking place east and west of it and throughout much of the Central Area.”

“And then we had a recession,” Mueller says. “It was a project interrupted.”

Continue reading

Capitol Hill is gentrifying, indeed, but study shows Seattle’s ‘concentrated poverty’ is bigger problem

A new study finds that gentrification is much lower than popularly thought, both in Seattle and across the country. Gentrification in Capitol Hill, however, appears to be on the rise.

City Observatory, a Portland-based “website and think tank devoted to data-driven analysis of cities and the policies that shape them,” in September released the report comparing poverty numbers from the 1970 and 2010 Censuses to look for evidence of gentrification in the country’s 51 largest cities. The report tries to look at displacement of poor people from a neighborhood, rather than the arrival of rich residents.

It defines gentrification like this: if, between 1970 and 2010, a Census tract went from a poverty rate of 30% or more to 15% or less, then that tract was categorized as gentrified. The national average poverty rate is about 15%.

Using this definition, there was no gentrification in Seattle during the past 40 years. But the number of impoverished Seattleites nearly quadrupled, and the number of high poverty (30%+) tracts more than doubled.

Based on this measure, it appears Seattle doesn’t have a problem with rich people displacing poor people, but rather with concentrated poverty — the opposite of gentrification.
Continue reading