By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Our area’s largest political group voted Wednesday night to oppose Seattle Charter Amendment 29, the November ballot measure that seeks to codify homelessness-response policies into the city charter.
The 34th District Democrats‘ vote followed a pre-meeting forum with representatives both for and against the proposal, and was one of four endorsement votes for city matters that will appear on the November ballot.
We’ll get to the endorsements later. First – the forum, moderated by the 34th DDs’ Rachel Glass (added: video here):
Each side began with a presentation, First, representing CA29 supporters, who are organized as “Compassion Seattle,” was political consultant Tim Ceis. He said the measure was borne of the “growing crisis of homelessness in Seattle … which we didn’t think was being effectively addressed.” The city – which he once helped lead as a deputy mayor – “has no clear plan.”
Ceis laid out eight key points of what supporters say the charter amendment would require city government to do. The 2,000 required units of housing “is a very achievable number,” Ceis contended. From his slide deck:
Then the bottom line – “as those services are made available,” the city can clear encampments. He said it’s similar to the JustCARE model (which is what was used to house people from the Roxbury/Delridge sidewalk camp, among others). The amendment sunsets in six years,
Tye Reed spoke for “House Our Neighbors,” which opposes Charter Amendment 29. (Her presentation did not include slides.) She said the group is a coalition led by the Lived Experience Coalition, including groups with homeless and formerly homeless members. The coalition’s members “know what needs to be done to solve this crisis.” She contended that Charter Amendment 29 is “full of empty promises meant to prey on” Seattleites’ desire to solve the problem. “It’s a bigger gamble for the city to make than we really should be risking.” She said a City Council analysis determined that if adopted, this would require a lot of council legislation to clarify. The “2,000 new units” could include projects already in the works rather than truly new housing “depending on how this is interpreted,” she said, adding that it is unlikely that the city could develop that many units in a year, no matter what.
Other points of contention: The substance-abuse treatment wording says “the city shall help fund” it but that could cover money that’s already being spent – or tens of millions more dollars. She also referred to the ACLU lawsuit filed earlier in the day contending that the measure goes against the creation of the Regional Homelessness Authority.
Too many other undefined terms, she argued, but “the details matter.” And she said that the amendment is “codifying sweeps into our city’s constitution,” calling sweeps “an inhumane practice.” She concluded by saying “the richest people in our city” are behind the measure. Her coalition, meantime, is supported “by people on the ground in mutual aid groups … (who) have experiencing solving homelessness.”
Ceis had mentioned that JustCARE is being used successfully; he was asked to define that success. He explained its intensive outreach including an offer of housing, access to services. “Success is – they accept the offer.” He believes that’s been about 80 percent of those approached. Reed said that temporary housing in hotels (which is what JustCARE uses) is not a solution, and doesn’t scale. Ceis said “that’s the point – it needs to be scaled up.”
Q: What happens to a homeless unsheltered person who rejects help from the city? Reed said she responds to sweeps plans. People don’t “reject” services, she said, but rather, they are offered things with so many strings attached, the offers are not accepted. “Did you ask whether the service met their needs?” When services DO meet people’s needs, she said, they accept it. If they don’t, they move literally across the street. Ceis said he agrees, the current approach is broken and just moves people from one miserable situation to another. He exhorted people to read the amendment’s language, saying it clearly spells out that offers need to be tailored to people: “I think Tye and I are in agreement.” Except that, he said, leaving people in their current situation is not the answer.
“We need millions of dollars of progressive taxation” to fund the proposed solutions, Reed said, contending that amendment supporters are the people fighting those taxes. “There’s no long-term plan for permanent housing,” she declared.Ceis reiterated that the amendment has a provision requiring 2,000 units of housing that is “NOT a mat on the floor.” The city contributes about $100,000 to each unit of affordable housing, but that takes time: “Leaving people outside should not be the default.”
Q: How does this affect the city budget? The measure does have city spending requirements, Ceis acknowledged. “It’s up to the city to deal with the budget … if the #1 priority for citizens of Seattle is to solve the homelessness problem, then it should be the #1 priority for the city.” Reed countered that “none of those numbers are locked in ,… We do not know … how much we’re going to spend. They are going to leave it to the same council (who they believe has been ineffective) to determine (that).” (In the videoconferencing “chat” window, Reed provided this link to City Council staff analysis of the potential cost of CA29.)
Q: If the amendment only runs six years, why codify it like this? Ceis replied that “the reason to put it in the charter is more binding ..(it) can only be changed by going back to the people.” And “if these policies don’t work, then it will no longer be in the charter” after six years. If it does, “hopefully we’ll have made some progress.”
Q: How many unhoused people participated in crafting the measure? “We worked with providers” who work with unhoused people, said Ceis, adding that “I think it was an oversight” that they did not work directly with unhoused people in drafting it. Reed said supporters only worked with “executive directors” of provider organizations rather than actual service providers, let alone actual homeless people.
Q: How will the funding allocations build the number of units or staff the programs need to get people off the street? The mayor and city council will have to decide on that, Ceis said. “What it does do is give them a very clear road map. … This will be a lot of work for the city, but it gives them a very clear focus and stops the debate” about what to do. He said there’s nothing ambiguous about “new units” but Reed claimed again that it could apply to already planned units, They clashed over this, with Ceis saying again that people should read the amendment, while Reed contended the supporters are underestimating how many people are living unsheltered. “OK, well, let’s get started,” Ceis interjected.
Last question brought in the issue of cost again. Regarding revenue, Ceis said, “there’s nothing in (this) that limits the authority of the council or mayor to propose new sources of revenue” but he also contended that city revenues are up and other sources such as JumpStart and American Rscue Plan are coming in. Reed said the fact the amendment is drafted by business interests mandating certain spending is on one hand “beyond our wildest dreams” but she also mentioned the lawsuit, “We do need solutions but I want a real plan …. laid out” regarding what’s being planned and where the money will come from.
The forum wrapped up after about an hour and segued directly into the 34th DDs’ regular second-Wednesday meeting, led by chair Carla Rogers. Here’s how the endorsement votes went:
ENDORSEMENTS: The agenda originally had scheduled votes on CA29 and the mayor’s race (in which the group did not make a primary endorsement). They decided to add Seattle City Attorney and City Council Position 9, since in both those races, the 34th DDs’ endorsees came in third and are not advancing to the general election. (For backstory, here’s our coverage of the group’s June endorsements meeting.) Though the group has 551 members, and had more than half that number participating in June, the number of voters last night was fewer than 100.
Two notes – the group requires a 60 percent vote to endorse a candidate or position, and candidates are not eligible for endorsement unless they verify that they are Democrats.
Seattle Mayor – Lorena González, with 52 votes to 16 for Bruce Harrell.
Charter Amendment 29 – The 34th DDs are officially urging rejection. 12 votes to support, 46 to oppose, 9 no position
City Council Position 9 – Only Sara Nelson was nominated for endorsement, as Nikkita Oliver is not a Democrat. 15 for Nelson, 44 for no endorsement, so the 34th goes on record not endorsing in this race.
City Attorney – Only Nicole Thomas-Kennedy was nominated for endorsement (Ann Davison is not a Democrat). Results: Thomas-Kennedy 40, no endorsement 17.
WHAT’S NEXT: The group plans a standalone program on redistricting on August 17th, with a speaker from the League of Women Voters; the next 34th membership meeting will be at 7 pm September 8th, with a pre-meeting program about the universal-health-care proposal Whole Washington.