Story and photos by Tracy Record and Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
Mayor Jenny Durkan‘s second West Seattle Junction walking tour/community Q&A of the year was very different from the first one.
For one, she shared the spotlight this time, with Police Chief Carmen Best and City Councilmember Lorena González (a Junction resident). For two, this one – unlike the one back in February – had a theme: Public safety, with the Seattle Police union contract agreement up for a council vote tomorrow afternoon.
However, the community questions and concerns that were voiced – both at walking-tour business stops and during the general-public “coffee chat” that followed – ranged beyond that topic.
With citywide media also in attendance, the tour started off with the mayor taking reporters’ questions, about the contract vote and other matters (one reporter asked about the NHL arena). Durkan said she’s “optimistic” about tomorrow’s vote – seven councilmembers must approve the contract for it to be ratified, all or nothing, no changes – and that she “respects” those asking questions/voicing concerns about it. Here’s what she said in that Q&A with media:
A major concern voiced by the contract’s supporters is that more officers will leave if it’s rejected; they haven’t had a raise since 2014. Some have suggested coming up with a way to pay the raise (which is retroactive) while taking the controversial accountability issues back to the table; the mayor dismissed that idea in her visit-opening Q&A.
Councilmember González, who heads the council committee that oversees public safety, said she’s spent a lot of time answering her colleagues’ questions and concerns.
Then the tour began, stopping first at A La Mode Pies, hit by burglars a few weeks ago.
A staffer told the mayor and police chief that bakers came in at 5 am to discover their safe gone, with a considerable amount of cash, and liquor (the shop sells “boozy milkshakes”) gone too. West Seattle Junction Association executive director Lora Radford got a chance to talk there about the recently launched Junction Business Block Watch, a pilot project that may serve as a model for other neighborhoods, with businesses communicating online when there’s something to share – such as news of a crime. Radford says it’s enhancing a feeling of “accountability and trust” among merchants. But she also said they’d like to see more police presence. (We noticed the Southwest Precinct bike squad gathering in the KeyBank parking lot when we arrived, though that was the last we saw of them during the tour:)
After the mayor bought an apple pie to take home, the tour headed over to Husky Deli. Proprietor Jack Miller was busy but emerged to greet the mayor, chief, and councilmember, after they spent a few minutes mingling with the all-ages late-afternoon ice-cream-cone crowd.
Next stop, West 5 (WSB sponsor), after some of the TV crews paused at the Walk-All-Ways corner to ask Chief Best a few questions about the contract vote. What happens if it’s rejected? “Officers will feel very unsupported,” warned the chief. (As published on the city website today, here’s her open letter about the contract.)
The mayor’s next two conversations veered beyond the public-safety theme. At both West 5 and Click! Design That Fits (WSB sponsor), Durkan heard entrepreneurs voice concerns about city regulations and costs as well as about crime.
At Click!, co-proprietor John Smersh told the mayor he feared that small-business owners would be an “endangered species” if government-inflicted burdens kept getting heavier. Durkan told him they would be working on a “suite” of recommendations such as business (B&O) tax exemptions.
From there it was back to the starting point at Cupcake Royale, where West Seattleites who had heard about the public Q&A opportunity (which we got word of and announced late last night) had gathered.
The mayor at first got caught up in small-group conversation – City Council District 1 past and future candidate Phil Tavel and West Seattle Chamber of Commerce board chair Pete Spalding were among those who bent her ear first – but soon moved toward the center of the room, where she, Chief Best, and Councilmember González answered questions for more than half an hour.
Spalding was asking the mayor about the Community Police Commission, which is opposing the police contract, and why it doesn’t appear to have any West Seattle representation. The mayor said she’s glad the commission is “asking questions” because “that’s their job” but also noted that through openings, they’d ensure the entire city is represented.
Most questions in the large-group setting focused on homelessness, first from a man who said the city is “too great” to have so much of it, then continuing with a woman who voiced the oft-repeated (and debunked) belief that many people who are experiencing homelessness here are from somewhere else. The mayor replied to her concern by saying that Seattle “has always been a city that’s drawn from all over the country” but also noting that “the vast majority are from Washington state and King County” and saying that’s why she’s been working with County Executive Dow Constantine on a regional response.
A local entrepreneur, Leslie Thomson of Dream Dinners-West Seattle (WSB sponsor) in Jefferson Square, spoke of street disorder, such as seeing people urinate in public. González said that while that’s certainly unpleasant to experience, it’s also unpleasant for the people who have nowhere to go to relieve themselves otherwise, and she said the city needs to step up to provide more such facilities. (An attendee later pointed out that The Junction has no community center and that if it did, that might be one way people could avail themselves of facilities and services.)
The issue of RV camping came up, in relation to the West Seattle Health Club incident from last month (though whether or not the vehicle involved really was a mobile residence hasn’t yet been settled for once and for all), and the mayor said the city’s going to try the “safe lot” idea again if her budget proposal is finalized, emulating a model from San Diego. Another attendee mentioned the report that WSHC had been told by a city agency that it needed to clean up trash that others had dumped on its property, and the mayor said she’s looking into that because “that’s not how the city should respond.”
On the topic of crime and punishment, and whether people weren’t being arrested for breaking disorder-type laws, the response was that “cycling in and out” of the justice system wasn’t effective so there had to be a balance between “compassion and enforcement … we can’t arrest our way out of the problem.” There was also a discussion of mental-health services – or lack of them – and the mayor noting that the city is not a direct provider of services so is in “the weakest position” when it comes to that part of the crisis: “We need real relief,” and there too, they have to work with other levels of government. She managed to segue into a plea for better pay for human-services workers, which has been an issue in this city-budget cycle. And Councilmember González added that the health-care system in general is “still largely driven by profits” so that doesn’t serve many people well.
Spending more money up front on homelessness prevention can save money – and improve lives – down the line, the mayor declared.
One attendee made a fervent plea for the city to reestablish its relationship – frayed by Durkan’s predecessor – with community councils, saying that current redevelopment issues have less community information and advocacy without that relationship. She said she only recently learned that the heart of The Junction, for example, is zoned for taller development (65′-85′). “Growth is hard,” agreed the mayor, while going on to say that increased density is vital so there’s more housing for everyone.
Shortly thereafter, the event wrapped up, but some lingered to keep the conversation going as night fell in The Junction.
WHAT’S NEXT: Tomorrow’s 2 pm City Council meeting is when councilmembers are scheduled to discuss and vote on the tentative contract agreement with the Seattle Police Officers Guild. On the mayor’s website tonight, a former candidate for chief, hired recently as a consultant, Cameron McLay, makes a case for the contract. Those who are worried it will roll back reforms, including the NAACP, plan to keep up pressure until the last minute too; they have a media briefing planned tomorrow morning.
MORE VIDEO: We have most of the Cupcake Royale Q&A on video in two parts – not the best acoustics, especially in the beginning. The first 6 minutes:
And the last 16 minutes: