By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Between the first two waves of snow, the Southwest District Council held its February meeting. We were there, and just getting a chance to finish the report now that (what we hope is) the last wave of snow is melting. Two major guests at the February 6th meeting: Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail and City Councilmember Lisa Herbold:
(WSB photo: Sandstrom with orca-costumed volunteers at event last December)
THE WHALE TRAIL: Executive director Donna Sandstrom – a West Seattleite who is also on the governor’s Orca Task Force – opened, “We need your help.” The task force’s work has gone to the Legislature and she is hoping to “focus our great West Seattle energy on saving these whales.” She first opened with TWT’s backstory – its signage up and down the West Coast is even expanding into Mexico! She also talked about how excited people get when orcas are sighted – humans form a “pod” to come watch them. Did you know that Southern Resident Killer Whales actually “use the whole Sound”? They’re most often here October-February. All three pods have been seen here this season – including L-Pod with its new calf, first seen in West Seattle, “spotted by a (federal) biologist who was furloughed!” she exclaimed.
About the task force, she explained three working groups were formed; she was on the one focused on stress and noise (primarily from vessel traffic). Key threats to the orcas also include prey (shortage of food), toxic contaminants, and climate change.
Regarding the noise, it “interferes with (their) ability to forage, rest, and socialize.” The orcas are besieged by boats, costing them 5.5 hours of foraging time daily when they’re anywhere within whale-watching range – year-round, more than 100 boats. The noise interferes with their echolocation. One orca feeding shares its prey with others, so they have to be able to communicate – the prey plight is more than a manner of making fish (especially chinook salmon) more abundant, it’s a matter of making them more findable.
The goals: Decrease noise by 50%. Increase salmon by 15%. Reduce toxin inputs.
The legislation: The task force recommended suspending whale-watching for SRKW for three to five years, until researchers can figure out what “equitable, enforceable” rules. They also wanted a limited-entry permitting system. The governor agreed with some of these key recommendations, as announced in December, with bills introduced January 20th. And Sandstrom reminded everyone, they are just recommending the limits on vessel-watching of Southern Residents – less than 10 percent of the whale visits our state’s waters. 1580 and 5577 are the two bills on which Sandstrom is focused. She said a hearing on Tuesday did not go well (she was among those testifying): “Let me tell you, I’m worried.” The commercial whale-watching industry is pushing to get closer than the 650-yard proposed limit. Sandstrom wants supporters to reach out now to state legislators to push for “a strong bill.” She said many legislators are new and don’t understand, “and the window is closing for these whales” – if a few more die, they may reach a point from which they cannot return. (Find out more on The Whale Trail’s website – follow this link – and don’t procrastinate: “Everything’s moving fast right now.”)
P.S. The Whale Trail is working on a text-alert system that people have been asking for, so you can get an alert when the whales are in the area.
COUNCILMEMBER LISA HERBOLD: She was there as a councilmember, not as a candidate, it was made clear toward the start of her appearance. First she explained the committee that she heads – Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts (CRUEDA). She was asked specifically to speak to District 1 issues, not necessarily just those in the jurisdiction of her committee.
First, regarding Terminal 5 (subject of a major announcement the previous day), she talked about two potential mitigation matters – the “quiet zone” for trains, which requires federal approval. Also: The issue of the tenant using “shore power” – plugging into electricity while at the dock. “We have been working with the port to identify the incentives necessary to encourage ships to use shore power,” she said. That’s a matter of noise and vibration as well as emissions. “We’re trying to figure out what it is that the tenant needs in order to incentivize the ships.” One factor: Needing to have somebody who gets paid, not by the ports, to plug the ships in.
More quick updates on priorities/projects: At the State Legislature, they’re seeking money for “much-needed renovations and hopefully expansion of Hiawatha Community Center,” which she described as “the oldest community center west of the Mississippi.” Herbold also mentioned trying to “put together financing” to save the Dakota Homestead ex-substation site, which has involved private fundraising as well as a county grant already.
The (North) Delridge Action Plan is complete and residents in that area have asked for a resolution at the City Council “to create some expectations for the council and the mayor” regarding what it calls for.
Another priority: Her role on the Sound Transit light-rail Elected Leadership Group, as it gets closer to making a decision on a preferred alternative for West Seattle/Ballard routing and stations.
And the rollout of the SPD Community Service Officer program – she recalls the program previously having been up and running when she was a council assistant. Overall for SPD, she said they’re working toward a plan to meet their hiring goals – filling vacant positions and adding new ones. “That’s a lot of officers to hire.” Twenty officers are the goal for hiring “laterally” – hiring from other departments. The other 80 additional hires would be new ones. They hope to encourage people who might not have previously considered law enforcement as a “career track.” They are going to have “preference points” for statuses such as language fluency as well as military service. They’re also looking at whether they can do more with the Explorer program.
She also mentioned a push for improving the composting program in multifamily buildings – “if all three containers are co-located, it improves compliance. Seems like a no brainer … (but it’s not).” So they might need to make building-code changes to make that happen.
Her committee also will be looking at hate crimes and whether an additional charge could be added to cases that are already being prosecuted.
And in the Economic Development realm, her committee will work on some small-business issues; the city’s advisory council was scheduled to meet the next day, the first time this year. “Last year was focused on process, this year is focused on action.” And the Legacy Business Program is in her focus too.
What about the recent seismic report regarding the water system, and noted how vulnerable West Seattle is? Herbold said that would be discussed the next time the Strategic Business Plan for SPU comes up. But how soon will we know what the upgrading bill will be for taxpayers? Discussions will start late this year, with action likely next year, Herbold said.
Another SWDC member brought up the difficulty of Junction businesses staying afloat. “Is there any way to bring more businesses into WS, to increase jobs here?” Herbold said businesses make a lot of decisions based on the market, mentioning, for example, eastern WS’s “food desert” status but grocery-store companies claiming there’s not enough of a market to site a store there,
Herbold was also asked about creating an urban village and encouraging development where it’s not happening.
Another attendee brought up the issue of RVs near the West Seattle Health Club. “Rather than this cat and mouse game of parking enforcement resources going into ticketing, officers involved … what is the plan? Why is there nota designated area (for RVs to park)? What is being done?” (Side note: A reader texted us about some ticketing/towing there yesterday.)
Herbold brought up the safe-lot experiment from a couple years ago. “So what’s being done now?” pressed the attendee. The councilmember said there’s budget funding for a mayoral proposal, and “some of us on the council have strenuously argued it should be focused on RVs … hers is focused on cars,” apparently based on a San Diego project with a good track record.
She mentioned LEAD funding that’s “moving into this space of working with RV dwellers,” specifically in the South Precinct where 400 RVs have been counted, with Southwest Precinct emphasis to follow. “It’s not just located on industrial streets any more. Our hope is that the funding for LEAD is .. basically giving people an alternative to law enforcement (linking) people to services and housing. … It’s been primarily focused on low-level crimes and prostitution and drug activity … and engagement with those folks in exchange with law enforcement saying ‘you’re hooked up with this program, as long as you continue your work with this program, we will not pursue this next step after an arrest’ …” She noted that they’ve heard that people “buy these RVs when their housing becomes unstable … getting those folks out of their RVs can be really difficult because these are folks who already live in unstable housing … this is the thing they have … in order for them to get into housing, get into shelter, they have to get rid of their last possession … this represents a really difficult challenge for those kinds of engagements.”
Also, she said that the budget funds the RV Remediation Program, with offices and SPU assessing commplaints in the city monthly “and they rate the locations acrss several factors in regards to health and safety and criminal activity .. there are hundreds of these ocations and hundreds of complaints … (they) prioritize” the locations as a result. Remediation “means requiring the vehics to move and cleaning u the area … but they often come back …” which is why, she said, it’s “remediation” and not “solving the problem.” She subsequenty mentioned the project to provide purple trash bags that are subsequently collected by the city “when they’re full.”
RV dwellers have to move, but why not give them a place to move to? pressed the attendee, noting “there’s lots of land.” Herbold replied that she’s frustrated that the mayoral proposal focuses only on cars.
Another attendee said that “not everyone in an RV is a victim of (economic hard times),” and went on to say that some are criminals. He pointed out that not everyone accepts help that is offered. “So what can be done when people are absolutely refusing service?”
Herbold replied, “I believe … people are somewhere on a spectrum. When outreach workers talk to people on their first night of homelessness, that’s when they are most willing to go to another place.” The more time goes by, the less willing they are, so if they’ve been outside for longer, they need “longer engagement.” She added, “We have seen a lot of improvement in the numbers of people accepting” alternative shelter. Enhanced shelter – where people can bring “their pets, their stuff” and aren’t kicked out first thing in the morning – have a higher rate of acceptance. “We have to increase our investment in not just … the strategies that work (but also) the places for people to go.” She said she’s been working with the city auditor and Human Services Department in “improving the Navigation Team’s practices.” They’re making the same requirements of the Navigation Team as service providers, such as “demonstrating outcomes.” Her committee had an upcoming meeting scheduled to focus on this.
Another attendee said she was once homeless because of mental illness and addiction and was able to get help. “Is there a budget for increased services” for those situations? she asked. Historically, Herbold replied, county and state government are responsible for funding those services “because the city can’t do everything … but this year, the city did start to dive into that area,” funding treatment for the first time. She mentioned West Seattle State Rep. Eileen Cody‘s “passion” in this area and work on adding state-funded beds for treatment.
Another attendee mentioned a recent report that a formerly homeless person had turned his life around through a program in the Probation Department that was in danger of being defunded, and that Herbold was reported to be in favor of that. Herbold said she was not supporting a big cut in that project but was interested in “looking at two things” – one in attrition, whether funding for vacant probation department positions could be used to fund services. She said the council is “putting together a Criminal Justice Advisory Group” to review services like that. The attendee said that a report showed more success in that program than in LEAD. Herbold contended that LEAD “has rigorous evaluation” while the attendee said she didn’t “believe it’s made an impact on community safety.” Herbold countered, “The comparison I made is yuoth detention … the county has made great strides in (reducing it) overall, but there’s huge racial disparity.” She mentioned the recent Municipal Court event in Delridge -“400 people showed up,” and that’s what happens when “you don’t have to go to court” to handle things.
Also from the SWDC meeting, this note:
CONGRATULATIONS: For those who know SWDC co-chair Amanda Sawyer, also director of the Junction Neighborhood Organization, she was absent for good reason – the recent birth of her daughter.
NEXT MEETING: The Southwest District Council meets first Wednesdays at 6:30 pm, Senior Center/Sisson Building. Homelessness is the topic in the spotlight next month.