Over? Seattle City Council gives ground in fight over $5.4M in SPD overtime overspending

A Seattle City Council committee gave ground Tuesday in the fight with SPD over a proposal to cut another $5.4 million from the 2021 police budget to account for the department’s overspending on overtime.

The council previously sliced around 20% out of SPD’s spending for 2021 and shifted the money to other departments, and social and community programs in a compromise slice that many hope is the start to bringing real change to the way Seattle polices itself

But old wounds won out Tuesday as the council dropped its push to reclaim the money. Continue reading

After a year of protest, Seattle ready for next steps as Black Brilliance Research Project report sets path for new participatory budget effort

A scene from the third day of Seattle’s 2020 BLM protests

From the Black Brilliance Research Project report

Months of Black Lives Matter rallies, marches, protests, and the occupied takeover of the blocks around Cal Anderson and Capitol Hill’s East Precinct have pushed Seattle to shift 20% of its police budget into a $30 million participatory budgeting process hoped to spur new spending on social programs, community health, and economic investment.

Friday, a team of more than 100 researchers, community organizers, and activists will deliver their findings to the Seattle City Council that will underpin the effort. The Black Brilliance Research Project’s 1,045-page report is only the start of what officials hope will be a new way of making decisions for the city’s communities.

“One of the things that I know from working in health and human services and and the needs of our community over these past 20 some odd years is that folks will come into our community they will have focus groups,” Latanya Horace of the Silent Task Force that contributed to the report said in a preview of the group’s findings earlier this week. “They will ask us what we — what they want to know about our communities. And they’ll take that information, go back and package it up and come out with a plan that does not include black folks doing the work for their own community.”

Tammy Morales, chair of the Community Economic Development Committee receiving the report, and the council’s representative for South Seattle, says the hope is for the city to scale up its early steps in participatory budgeting used on decisions around streets and parks and find a way to apply a similar approach to the bigger challenges — and opportunities — of social justice.

“This is a shift away from the city driving so much of this and letting the community do that,” Morales said. “These are communities that are typically left out. People who are disproportionately impacted should have a say. This is about shifting access to power and resources. The community is saying, ‘Let us decide the strategies.'”

For the researchers who worked on the massive, painstaking report and overcame a mid-stream reorganization of how the project was managed, Friday’s presentation is, alone, worthy of celebration given the months behind them and the challenges ahead.

“That research project ended up becoming the world’s largest black and brown community-led research in the world in the world,” Shaun Glaze said during the preview presentation this week. “That happened during a pandemic,” Glaze said with amazement. “Here. In Seattle.”

The report submitted Friday will set the framework for how the shift to helping communities “decide the strategies” happens in Seattle. Based on hundreds of hours of research and community surveys, the report provides outlines for the types of issues Seattle’s communities want to have more control over — and how that control needs to be shaped to make sure it works and fully includes Black, Indigenous and People of Color participants. Continue reading

Seattle City Council set to approve $1M no-interest loan to help affordable developer Community Roots Housing overcome COVID-19 losses

The Seattle City Council’s Finance and Housing Committee found little satisfaction Wednesday as it struggled to understand yet another loose end in the Seattle Police Department’s spending but it did make progress in addressing challenges from the COVID-19 crisis faced by the largest provider of affordable housing on Capitol Hill.

The committee voted unanimously Wednesday to extend an up to $1 million, no interest loan to Community Roots Housing as it tries to recover from the financial impact of the pandemic. Continue reading

Seattle budget set for 2021: a new tax on big businesses, a new approach to encampments, and a 20% cut to $400M in annual police spending

An unprecedented budget in unprecedented times — Monday’s vote was conducted, like most proceedings during the COVID-19 crisis, virtually

Budget chair Mosqueda took issue with Sawant’s time with the mic and her characterization of how the city’s tax on big businesses came to be. “A really robust effort. I don’t want their effort to be erased by one person’s words and a revision of history,” Mosqueda said.

Challenged and inspired by months of Black Lives Matter protests — including a last minute Sunday night push, the Seattle City Council Monday approved an unprecedented new budget for a major American city including key revenue from a new tax on big businesses, tens of millions of dollars shifted to community and social services, an end to the city’s recent history of encampment sweeps, and a near 20% cut to the city’s police force spending including a last minute $2 million slice to further rein in the department’s growth — all while in the grip of a global pandemic.

“There are aspects of this Budget which are of critical importance, that a year ago we couldn’t have imagined as necessary as they are today,” citywide councilmember and the chair of the budget committee Teresa Mosqueda said in a statement. “I imagine we will have to continue to make tough choices next year, and ensure our Budget is fiscally responsible while providing funding that serves our most vulnerable residents.”

But it was also a day for the familiar. Kshama Sawant, council member for District 3 representing Capitol Hill and the Central District, voted against the massive $6.5 billion package as she has on every annual budget during her three terms of office.

“In the middle of a pandemic and a spike in COVID infections, in the context of the worst recession for working people since the Great Depression, Democratic Councilmembers will be carrying out brutal austerity,” Sawant said in a statement following the vote.

As usual, Sawant stood alone.

Approved 8-1, the 2021 budget will bring a cut of around a fifth of the city’s more than $400 million annual outlay in police spending along with important changes to reduce the size and power of the department by moving 911 and traffic enforcement operations outside of SPD and spending more money on social, community, and BIPOC services and programs. While a larger “No New Cops” bid was voted down in committee, Monday’s final budget package included another $2 million reduction to SPD designed to curtail the department’s hiring in the new year.

The compromises between the calls from months of Black Lives Matter protests and Mayor Jenny Durkan’s push to maintain SPD staffing levels have apparently resulted in a budget the administration can live with. Monday night, the mayor said she would sign the newly approved legislation. Continue reading

As smoke clears in Seattle from 2021 #defundSPD budget fight, state Democrats focus on bad cops

Monday, the City Council is set to hold its final vote on a 2021 budget for Seattle that will leave both #defundSPD and pro-police spending activists along with Mayor Jenny Durkan mostly unsatisfied. That is the nature of compromise.

In the city, this will bring a nearly 17% cut to the city’s 2021 policing budget along with important changes to reduce the size and power of the department by moving 911 and traffic enforcement operations outside of Seattle Police and spending more money on social, community, and BIPOC services and programs. Even amongst the loud cries of concern from business groups and pro-policing organizations like the Seattle Police Officer Guild, 2021 will actually see new SPD officers hired as the council is on its way to rejecting “No New Cops” proposals.

Looking forward, more progress in changing policing in Seattle could come from Olympia. Seattle-area state lawmakers say they are working on a suite of legislation that would look to improve police accountability across Washington through a more stringent officer decertification process, a public use of force database, and several other bills.

Local legislators, including Capitol Hill’s Sen. Jamie Pedersen, have been working since the summer and the protests over the police killing of George Floyd on the package that includes an overhaul of a rarely-used mechanism to decertify officers. The state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission decertifies 13 officers per year on average, according to a Seattle Times investigation. Across Washington, there are over 11,000 officers.

“When people violate that trust that we have placed with them, then we’re going to say ‘You no longer have the right to carry a badge and a gun on behalf of the taxpayers and enforce our laws,’” Pedersen, a Democrat who chairs the state senate’s Law and Justice Committee, said in a virtual panel last week.

The new legislation Pedersen is floating would remove roadblocks for the commission to take away officers’ certification, which he calls the “death penalty.” One of the biggest aspects of the bill would be changing the makeup of the commission, from one dominated by law enforcement officials to one with more citizen representation. Continue reading

Council rejects ‘No New Cops’ bid in 2021 budget, adding to Seattle’s list of #defundSPD compromises

After months of protest and activism for Black Lives Matter causes and defunding the police, the political accomplishments for the movements in Seattle continue to be a work in progress.

Thursday, a bid to freeze any new hiring at the Seattle Police Department next year grown out of the activist-backed “Solidarity Budget” effort and championed by Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales failed as the council wrapped up a marathon two days of amendments to pound out the city’s final 2021 budget.

A final vote on the budget comes Monday when the hiring issue is unlikely to again hit the table.

The “No New Cops” proposal would have redirected $9 million in officer salaries to social and community service spending Inspired by the Solidarity Budget, a slate of spending proposals from a coalition of community and activist groups, only Morales and Sawant backed the proposed budget amendment Thursday as council president Lorena González and others argued that attrition fears pushed forward by Mayor Jenny Durkan and budget cuts to the department could hinder SPD’s public safety efforts. Continue reading

Reminder: Seattle City Council making final votes on 2021 budget including Sawant ‘No New Cops’ push

The Seattle City Council will spend Wednesday — and possibly part of Thursday — putting its final touches on the 2021 budget. Meanwhile, King County’s budget is set for the coming year.

For City Hall, the council faces a marathon session with some 169 possible amendments to consider in its final spending package. And there is the possibility of a few last minute proposals to be added to the plan.

CHS reported here on the council’s reshaping of the base 2021 proposal from Mayor Jenny Durkan as the city faces an uncertain financial future due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. At the forefront after a year of unrest, protest, and activism, is police spending. Overall, the council’s budget changes, led by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, would bring Seattle Police Department funding to about $340 million in 2021. This year, the department’s budget totaled $409 million, making the possible cuts and transfers about a 17% cut. Activists and community groups including King County Equity Now have demanded the police budget be slashed by half. Continue reading

‘A plan, not a percentage’ — Seattle’s reshaped 2021 budget proposal will defund police but not by 50%

The Seattle City Council has unveiled its plan to reshape Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2021 budget proposal with notable cuts to police funding and increases in social services. It’s a compromise that seems to have support from some of those calling for reduced spending on police — and the mayor’s office.

“We are marching towards a plan, not a percentage,” Councilmember Debora Juarez said in a Tuesday budget committee meeting.

Overall, the council’s budget changes, led by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, would bring Seattle Police Department funding to about $340 million in 2021. This year, the department’s budget totaled $409 million, making the possible cuts and transfers about a 17% cut. Activists and community groups including King County Equity Now have demanded the police budget be slashed by half. Continue reading

10 things CHS heard at Sawant’s 2021 People’s Budget town hall

Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant opened her annual People’s Budget town hall Tuesday evening with a central question animating much of the city’s politics this year: “Who is paying and who’s going to pay in the future for this pandemic and the economic collapse that has happened around us?”

In the two-hour virtual town hall, Sawant and many panelists laid out a road map for how they plan to push back against what they term an “austerity budget” for 2021 from Mayor Jenny Durkan over the next month as negotiations continue between the mayor’s office and the city council.

CHS reported earlier on the timeline and issues for the 2021 city budget process here and the push for community-driven participatory budget in Seattle.

Here are 10 things CHS heard Tuesday night:

  • Specific issues speakers from the council member’s office and supporters with the mayor’s proposed budget unveiled last month included a failure to defund the Seattle Police Department, to stop sweeps of homeless encampments, and budget cuts to transportation, libraries, and community centers. “Mayor Durkan’s proposed budget attacks working people,” Sawant said. Continue reading

Black-led organizers, Sawant at odds with mayor over community’s role in how City of Seattle spends

By Ben Adlin

After a summer marked by protests over police racism and brutality, Seattle officials and community organizers seem to agree that vulnerable communities deserve a greater say in the city’s budget process. But with little more than a month before the City Council adopts its 2021 budget, stakeholders still differ sharply over what that involvement will look like.

There are competing visions. Some focus on a $100 million fund proposed by Mayor Jenny Durkan to support initiatives aimed at benefiting Black, brown, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities. A task force made up of representatives from local equity organizations, selected by the mayor, would guide the process by issuing recommendations on how the money might be spent. Durkan’s office last week announced an initial list of more than two dozen members.

Others see another way — put forward by King County Equity Now, a Black-led coalition of community groups and businesses, alongside the group Decriminalize Seattle — and are skeptical of the mayor’s proposal. Little about Durkan’s plan, they say, would put sufficient power in the hands of BIPOC communities, particularly Black people, to undo generations of racist policies in the city.

Instead, KCEN and its partner groups are hard at work on the first phase of a grander budget scheme aimed at giving Seattleites a more direct say in issues that affect their daily lives. That process could eventually control up to $200 million, some organizers say—twice the mayor’s proposed BIPOC fund.

The two views represent contrasting visions of the growing push for participatory budgeting centered on the principle that the people most affected by public policies deserve a voice in how they’re made. Continue reading