(WSB recording of the meeting, added 9:30 pm)
5:09 PM: Just started – late – the “town hall” meeting for West Seattle, as announced by the mayor’s office. Department of Neighborhoods director Andres Mantilla, a Highland Park resident, introduced the mayor, who says the city has a “trilogy” of challenges – the pandemic, its economic consequences, and the fight for racial justice. After a few minutes, she mentions reinventing policing and her opposition, along with SPD Chief Carmen Best, to “drastic” cuts proposed in SPD.
5:15 PM: Now she moves on to the West Seattle Bridge closure. “We know it’s a lifeline, not just for West Seattle, but for the port, and our regional economy.” Then it’s on to Chief Best, who declares, “I love West Seattle.”
She then notes that Capt. Kevin Grossman has taken over the Southwest Precinct (as of 3 weeks ago), while former commander Capt. Pierre Davis has moved on to the Collaborative Policing Bureau. Then: A dozen shootings are under investigation citywide in recent weeks; homicides so far are at 31 for the year, compared to 19 at this time last year. West Seattle’s crime rate overall is “relatively decent” – down 16 percent; there’s been one homicide, in January, solved, and she says they’re not counting the Duwamish Head suitcase-bodies discovery as West Seattle murders because they didn’t happen here. Property crime is down except for arson and auto theft.
Then she moves on to reiterate that if SPD funding is halved, “we would likely not staff the Southwest Precinct” – there wouldn’t be enough staff for it, so what officers remain would likely move to the South Precinct, which also handled this area until the SW Precinct was built in 2003. She says so far it looks like they will NOT face cuts like that this year. Whatever cuts are faced, her priority would be responding to 911 calls. She says she and the mayor want to hear from the community about “what you want to see” regarding public safety.
5:23 PM: Next up, Public Health Seattle-King County director Patty Hayes, who identifies herself as a West Seattle resident. She presents some COVID-19 toplines, including the current “uptick.”
Her briefing isn’t West Seattle-specific, however, but she reminds people that you can’t just take solace in a lower death rate – people who survive get “very sick.” She talks about the efforts to test more and trace contacts, and the continued work on a vaccine. She says she was riding her bicycle on Alki last week and dismayed to see people not physically distancing enough – “we really need to all participate.”
5:32 PM: Next, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins. He says he has two updates. Since adding units to West Seattle and South Park post-bridge closure, “we’re holding strong” on response times in the area. He also talks about SFD’s involvement in COVID-19 testing- 68,000 people tested at the two city sites, 2.8 percent positive rate among those tested at those sites.
5:36 PM: Jason Johnson, director of the Human Services Department and also a WS resident, presented updates on homelessness response, including added beds at the Southwest Teen Life Center to allow more distancing in permanent shelters. “As a result, COVID-19 transmission at city-funded (facilities) has been flat,” he said. He also talked about “youth and family safety” projects/programs, including a $6 million suite of programs for 18- to 24-year-olds “harmed by the criminal legal system.”
5:42 PM: Yet another city department director who lives in WS, SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe, is speaking now. He notes that two of four work platforms are now installed on the bridge – two more are going up next week, “weather permitting.” He said that instrumentation installed to monitor the bridge was watched during the platform-raising so they could learn more about its response. He also noted the information presented to the Community Task Force yesterday, most notably that repairing the bridge MIGHT give it 15 more years of use rather than the 10 years previously cited. He also had dates/times for the “office hours” next week to discuss Reconnect West Seattle if you have comments/questions:
Wednesday 7/29 at noon, Thursday 7/30 at 6:30 pm,
5:49 PM: Now it’s Q&A time. First one – how will the city support people’s basic needs when we don’t know when the pandemic will end? “The city won’t be able to do it by itself,” says the mayor, but she’s talking to others such as the state and feds. She hopes to extend the eviction prohibition through year’s end, for one. She adds that they’re hopeful of getting federal support for the WS Bridge. The city meantime will keep trying to help with things like grocery vouchers.
What other cities are Durkan and Best looking to for examples of successful police reform? “Nobody has done this right” yet, Durkan says, contending that in some ways, Seattle is already ahead, with crisis training and more, but “the community has to lead the way” in helping them improve. Best said she’s involved with national organizations that discuss the topic “often” but says much of what’s discussed already has been implemented here. That said, she goes on to say that some things officers respond to, might be better handled by others – but they would have to be available around the clock as are police. Neither, in long answers, mentions any specific city. The mayor declares “a lot of the answers we need are right here at home” with community organizations.
6 PM: Followup question, what’s the timeline for 2020 and 2021 budget changes? The mayor says the former is happening now but “extensive community engagement” for the latter will happen over the next month. She promises “additional engagement in West Seattle – we’re coming to you.” The chief says there needs to be ‘a plan” so there’s no gap in services.
Next, has the mayor outlined specific 2021 plans? She mentions what she and Best presented last week (WSB coverage here). She also repeats that they promise an “open conversation” with community members. And she again touts some things already happening, like the SFD “Health One” unit responding to people in crisis.
Q: With more people staying at home, is the city seeing rising domestic violence, and what’s being done about it? The mayor first says, please call 911 if it’s happening, resources are in place. The chief says there was an early spike in domestic violence this spring and they circulated a lot of information about how to get help. She also talks about the SPD victim advocates and resources they can access to get victims safely out of danger. The problem has “tapered off” lately, she adds.
Now, a WS Bridge question: When can the low bridge be reopened to more traffic? Zimbabwe notes that they’ve already done what they can including opening it to all overnight. “If we opened it up to everybody to access all the time, nobody would be able to access it.” He also says some Sylvan Way improvements are ahead (no details – we’ll follow up on those) as well as a left-turn signal at 16th/Holden.
School issues – how can the city help with child care, etc.? “We have to have extra help” for families, she acknowledges, and says the city’s talking with Seattle Public Schools about issues such as emergency child care. Given that many people will be working from home at least through year’s end, they are trying to find ways to perhaps repurpose preschool levy money to help.
6:16 PM: The event is wrapping up after a little more than an hour. The mayor urges everyone to take pandemic precautions, and vows to “put pressure on” other levels of government for help. She also says it’s time for reparations because of the generations of “omissions and commissions that have led to” unfairness at so many levels. “We are in an unprecedented time, so unprecedented that the word ‘unprecedented’ doesn’t seem to capture it.” She says she “looks forward to more discussions.”
If you didn’t get your question(s) answered, you’re invited to email firstname.lastname@example.org. Meantime, we recorded all this on video and will add it above when ready (the city also promises a recording in the days ahead.)