By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Our area’s City Councilmember Lisa Herbold is now the council’s lead on crime/safety issues, as new chair of the Public Safety and Human Services Committee, and that’s where West Seattle Chamber of Commerce members focused their questions following her presentation to their lunch meeting today..
It was her first WSCC appearance since she won re-election in November, and the two-dozen-plus in attendance included her general-election opponent Phil Tavel as well as local entrepreneurs who actively campaigned for him.
Asked during the campaign about criticism from local businesses, she told us businesses from other parts of the city had reached out for help more than those here, but she offered optimism today for a fresh start, telling the lunch attendees that she has championed neighborhood chambers around the city and “I always hoped I could work more with the West Seattle Chamber. … I will do everything I can to be your champion.” Then she launched into an explanation of her current focuses and how the council works, noting regarding councilmembers’ oversight of city departments – “we don’t tell (them) what to do.” We recorded her presentation and most of the Q&A (minus an added few at the meeting’s very end):
If you don’t have time/inclination to watch, here’s how it went:
Herbold began by talking about what the Public Safety and Human Services Committee will focus on this year. SPD provided the committee with a recent update including a “extra recruit class at the academy” because the need for more spaces at the academy has been a “stumbling block.” SPD will offer a progress report on hiring issues February 25th, she said, including actual numbers of officers hired, in training, and on the streets.
Another focus this year: Community Service Officer program implementation. And negotiations start in May for a new contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild. Councilmembers don’t sit at the bargaining table but monitor the progress to be sure it works with “bargaining parameters we establish.” Police accountability, wages, benefits, wellness are all issues.
She’s also working on a new Westwood-South Delridge Violence Prevention Initiatve which would involve non-arrest youth diversions. She will meet with Denny International Middle School and Chief Sealth International High School principals, PTSA leaders, and others “to talk about how we can access (city-allocated funds)” to model a program after a successful one in Rainier Valley.
An ordinance renewing the West Seattle Junction Business Improvement Association and possible revisions are on her agenda too, as is the expansion of LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) into this area. She said 60 percent of those who go through the program “do not re-offend.” She noted that the council allocated more money for it, and mentioned the mayor is “currently negotiating the new contract” and that her committee has asked the mayor to commit to the funding availability by March 1st. (Here’s her online newsletter update about the situation.)
After going through the plan for the committee she chairs, Herbold also outlined the other committees on which she serves – vice chair of Finance and Housing, for one, in which context she mentioned facilitating a March 12th meeting with local neighborhood activists and nonprofit housing providers (mentioned in our recent coverage of the District 1 Community Network) as well as the city Office of Housing, which she said needs to hear that the West Seattle community really wants affordable housing. She also mentioned a watchlist of high-profile capital projects – the RapidRide H Line among them. She’s also continued to watchdog the Center City Connector streetcar project, which she has opposed, believing that “our precious transportation dollars” are better invested in buses, for example. “We see that the buses are working – we should be investing in them.” Evaluating the city B&O tax structure is another priority, and that “will be coming up this year.”
She’s also vice chair of the Select Committee on Homelessness Investments and Strategies (a select committee means all councilmembers are part of it). This is working on the new regionalization of addressing the problem. She mentioned the proposed legislation going to full council next Tuesday that would allow more encampments – up to 40 in the city (which has 8 now with 2 more currently planned) – and would remove the upcoming expiration date for previous authorization. “Tiny-house villages have proven to be the most effective (temporary housing),” she said, calling them “a proven intervention producing a lot of positive results.” She said she’d sponsored amendments to the proposal, concerned about the effects on communities that have held encampments – like Highland Park – so the proposal would require “even dispersion throughout the entire city” and minimum 1-mile separation between them.
She’s also on the Public Assets and Native Communities Committee, which among other things works with Parks – Herbold noted the upcoming March 2nd Delridge meeting to talk about the Park District levy renewal. The Roxhill Bog restoration project (she spoke at the kickoff meeting – we were there too, report Friday) is also on the agenda. Phase 2 of the project will “identify solutions.” Also, she’s been working on the Brandon Trails effort in Delridge, which also ties into access to the H Line stations.
And she’s on the Transportation and Utilities Committee. Its “major work that reflects District 1 priorities” includes continuing to watch Sound Transit light-rail planning. She says the “third-party funding” needed for tunneling in West Seattle “will really be more like third, fourth, fifth party funding.” The council is supposed to get a briefing by July on where the search for that funding stands. Going back to the H Line, she noted that it includes Delridge repaving that’s dependent on a grant which is jeopardized by I-976. Also ahead: Renewal of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District tax to keep paying for extra bus service, because the funding expires this year. It pays for 10 percent of all Metro service and a third of the cost of the C Line. The county is considering its own TBD that might include the city “so there wouldn’t be two.”
Last but not least, she showed a list of 10 external committees of which she’s a member. Then it was Q&A time.
Public safety: “Why can’t we keep our citizens safe? Heroin’s illegal, meth’s illegal,” those laws are not enforced but new laws are being added and enforced, an attendee said. Herbold’s reply returned to police hiring and recruitment challenges. The council has supported the department’s hiring and retention plan. “The department has to make its priorities – they are focusing on 911 response, they don’t have time for proactive policing.” Next person asked why the downtown-shooting suspects, with long records, were on the streets. Police have done what they could, Herbold stressed, but prosecutors and judges are the ones responsible for what happens post-arrest. A third person chimed in, “What can we do to put pressure on our elected prosecutors?”
“The city council does not have an enforcement role,” she explained, when another questioner started by saying the council and others had been not prioritizing enforcemnt. That attendee said councillmembers should allocate more money to police and similar resources rather than to housing and homelessness. Herbold notes that the police budget has increased in her years on the council ($110 million increase, from $300 million to the current $410 million).
“Are people more likely to commit crimes when housed or unhoused?” someone else asked. “Housing someone reduces recidivism by 70 percent,” she replied.
Another question: If data proved that thousands of privately owned rental units are being lost because of city regulations, would the council reconsider some of that legislation? Herbold said the city auditor is actually doing just such a study now. “Would the council be willing to stop bringing up new laws until that data is in?” Herbold said she couldn’t speak for her fellow councilmembers, but she has nothing in the hopper. (We asked her office later for more information on what the auditor has done so far – they sent these links related to a baseline study:
She also reminded the crowd that the Legacy Business Program is stil taking nominations. Each district will have one business nomination. (Details here.)
She was also asked abut Councilmember Kshama Sawant‘s new payroll tax proposal – while it’s targeting larger businesses, the questioner said, it is still likely to affect smaller businesses who deal with those businesses. Herbold said she feels the countywide proposal would be a better way to go than a city proposal. How many cities have payroll taxes? Herbold said she doesn’t know offhand, but mentioned San Francisco.
A few announcements/reminders at the end of the Chamber lunch:
WESTSIDE AWARDS: The nomination process remains open until the end of this month – details are in our original report on the call for nominations..
OTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS: ArtsWest is opening its new prouction “Saint Joan” soon … Alice Kuder is hosting a half-hour presentation on disaster preparedness … The upcoming Seattle Home Show will feature more than two dozen local businesses participating … West 5 is marking 17 years … Phil Tavel announced his 8-year-old son has a West Seattle Food Bank fundraiser at West Seattle Bowl on February 28th.
UPCOMING CHAMBER EVENTS: Check wschamber.com for updates.
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