West Seattle, Washington
The collage is by Ruthi Winter of Beach Drive Art Studio, who’s been making art to encourage early voting, and tonight we have word of another milestone – Seattle has passed 50% turnout with 10 days to go until Election Day. Tonight’s tally from King County Elections – 254,593 of 496,224 Seattle ballots already received. That includes ballots from KCE drop boxes (here’s the list/map) and USPS mail. In the drop-box counts – which lag to some degree, only updated in the morning – West Seattle’s leader is The Junction’s drop box (SW Alaska, south side, between California and 44th), with 10,648, followed by High Point Library (3411 SW Raymond) with 7,983, and South Seattle College (6000 16th SW, the illuminated signboard points you to the entrance) with 1,385.
Shawn Marie sent the photo – she’s in it with Joanne, and she explains, “She’s 85 years young, she’s had hip and knee replacements, but she hasn’t let it slow her down. Every afternoon this week she has stood for 3+ hours at the corner of Admiral Junction in West Seattle with her sign encouraging people to vote early!” And they certainly have – we checked the stats this afternoon, and as of King County Elections‘ noon update, they had received 225,017 ballots, from among Seattle’s 496,224 registered voters – almost half!
The tallies for specific ballot drop boxes lag a bit (and remember these numbers don’t include ballots sent by USPS mail, so they don’t reflect what total percentage of people here have voted so far), but as of the morning update:
West Seattle Junction – 9,752
High Point Library – 7,230
South Seattle College – 1,259
White Center Library – 4,975
South Park Library – 967
If you’re among those who have already dropped off or sent your ballot, you can go here to verify whether your ballot’s been received. If you’re still waiting to get a ballot – call KCE at 206-296-VOTE. If you haven’t voted yet, the drop boxes are mapped and listed here (and of course you can use the USPS mail too, no stamp necessary). If you haven’t registered yet – you can do it online until Monday (October 26th), or in-person after that, all the way up to Election Day (Tuesday, November 3rd).
8:59 PM: Thanks to Ron from that photo from the High Point Library ballot drop box, where he turned in his ballot today. As you know if you check WSB on the weekend, Saturday was an unusual day at the drop box in The Junction for multiple reasons, and King County Elections had other reports of very busy boxes. Even though the actual vote announcements don’t start until Election Night (November 3rd), KCE is out tonight with a count of how many ballots it had received by 6 pm: 86,156. They said over the weekend that the first five days in 2016 brought in 10,000+ (via drop boxes). Of this year’s total so far, 35,302 are from Seattle. The closest breakout we have to West Seattle is that 6,469 are from the 34th Legislative District (West Seattle, White Center, Vashon, and a bit of Burien). KC Elections updates the ballot-return numbers daily at noon and 6 pm.
HOW TO RETURN YOUR BALLOT: No stamp needed, no matter how you do it – USPS mail, as long as it’s postmarked by November 3rd; any official King County drop box (70+ around the county, including three in West Seattle, one in White Center, one in South Park, all listed/mapped here), as long as it’s in by 8 pm November 3rd.
P.S. If your ballot has not arrived yet, call 206-296-VOTE.
ADDED 8:50 AM TUESDAY: Thanks to Susan for the tip – the county offers box-by-box stats, too, updated on a different schedule (each morning), and on an apparent lag – the update for this morning only goes through Sunday. Nonetheless, by means of comparison, it shows The Junction dropbox with 4,100+ ballots in the first few days, High Point with 2,400, the new SSC box with 225.
Speaking of voting – here’s an upcoming local event aimed at supporting it:
Support voter empowerment while enjoying an evening of music.
The Pigeon Point Antiracism Project presents
Music to Power Democracy
A virtual concert and fundraiser for the Black Voters Matter Fund
Thursday, October 22, 2020, 8 pm
With soprano Ellaina Lewis (known for her roles in such productions as Bellini’s La Sonnambula and Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha), Erika Lundahl (singer-songwriter featuring poetic lyrics for “resilient hearts and resonant bodies”), and Brian Cutler (veteran songwriter drawing on an electic mix of genres).
To attend, please make a donation to the Black Voters Matter Fund. Then send an electronic receipt from your donation to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will provide details for attending the event on Zoom.
The Black Voters Matter Fund fights voter suppression and supports civic engagement and political power in marginalized, predominantly Black communities. They’ve been working tirelessly to get out the vote and also donating food, helping people fill out the census, distributing masks, and offering relief to hurricane survivors. Recently, they’ve been organizing voter drives by bus tour through swing states.
The Pigeon Point Antiracism Project is a grassroots group based in West Seattle’s Pigeon Point neighborhood and organizing actions to support equality.
We invite you to imagine your donation in hypothetical bus miles from destinations BVM is visiting.
A $10 minimum suggested donation gets you an evening of music (and could power a get-out-the-vote bus across, for instance, Houston).
$25, music, and a bus from Pensacola halfway to Panama City, Florida.
$50, music, Gainesville all the way to Tallahassee.
$100, music, Jacksonville, Florida to Atlanta, Georgia.
You can find out more about the Black Voters Matter Fund by going here.
1:33 PM: We went over for a look at the West Seattle Junction ballot drop box (SW Alaska between 44th and California) just before 1 pm after a text that it was full. While we were there, more voters showed up, and said you could still get a ballot in – carefully – but since our visit, a line has developed, as shown above. Meantime, we heard back from King County Elections via Twitter that they have pickup teams out right now and one was due to arrive in The Junction at any minute, so this drop box should be cleared out soon. Remember we have three – High Point Library (3411 SW Raymond) and South Seattle College (6000 16th SW) – plus there are also boxes outside South Park and White Center Libraries. KC Elections says each of the half-ton boxes should hold 5,000 ballots, so fullness might mean “the ballots stacked up a little funky and that makes it hard to get more in there. But we are expecting to break records this weekend.”
1:36 PM: Just got another text – the pickup team has arrived. Reader photo added – thanks to everyone for the tips and photos!
P.S. Also via Twitter, KC Elections subsequently showed what an empty drop box looks like inside:
The explanation: “Bin to collect ballots, flooring to protect against water buildup or flooding, and the little ramp that we use to get the bin in and out placed so the bin stays put against the side with the slot.”
6:44 PM: Bizarre incident this evening – as noted in comments, and by someone who called us, there was an attempt to get some kind of poo into the Junction box. KC Elections doesn’t seem to answer after-hours (we’re asking them about a hotline), so the person who called has reported it to police.
Meantime, we should mention that you can check your ballot’s status online – once KC Elections receives it, it’ll show up on the ballot tracker (give it a few days after mailing or putting it in a drop box).
8:47 PM: KC Elections reports by Twitter that “ballots are fine, box is good to go. Still watch your step as the team didn’t have materials with them to clean up the sidewalk – also, it’s a good night to thank an election worker!”
Two days after King County Elections mailed 1.4 million ballots, they continue arriving … we received ours today. Once you have yours, this year of all years, you’re advised to vote early – avoid that last-day rush, and have your ballot part of the initial totals announced on Election Night! You can use the USPS mail but you can also cut out the middleperson and get your ballot directly into the possession of the people who will process it by using an official KCE drop box. The three in West Seattle are:
West Seattle Junction – south side of SW Alaska between California and 44th SW
High Point – outside the rear entrance plaza of the library – 3411 SW Raymond
South Seattle College – in front of the main administration building – 6000 16th SW
These two are also close to West Seattle:
White Center – outside the east side of the library, 1419 SW 107th
South Park – outside the front of the library, 8604 8th Ave. S.
Go here for the map and list of all drop boxes.
The county sends driver teams out to empty the boxes “every day Monday through Saturday until Election Day with some Sunday and multiple-per-day pick-ups for our busiest boxes. Ballots are always picked up in a team of two and teams have an entire set of security protocols to follow, including seals and logs, every time they pick up ballots.” On Election Day (November 3rd), when the boxes close at 8 pm, the county plans to have traffic-directing help on hand plus “a plainclothes security officer at each drop box location to assist in de-escalating any tense situations and to provide general support to the closing team. Security Officers will be unarmed and will not be wearing an official police uniform. Our goal is for them to blend into the community while also being able to provide extra assistance as needed.” If you don’t get your ballot by Monday (October 19th), contact KC Elections.
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Though interim Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz sought to boost SPD’s patrol ranks recently by moving 100 officers out of non-patrol duties, the Southwest Precinct‘s commander has said at community meetings that it didn’t help much, because many of the officers he was scheduled to get had given notice instead.
We hadn’t heard specific numbers in his previous mentions, but last night at the Alki Community Council‘s monthly online meeting, Capt. Kevin Grossman shared the stats – he’d been told to expect 10 patrol officers, but seven retired, so he got three, though even that helped, he said. Attrition is a current citywide problem – he lost three people just this week. The ones who are old enough are retiring, he said, while the ones with 5 to 10 years of experience tend to make “lateral” moves – to another law-enforcement agency – though some are just quitting to start another career.
In addition to Capt. Grossman’s updates, this morning we have new numbers from SPD, released toward the start of what could be another budget battle between the City Council and Mayor. Her office went public with a look at current and projected staffing – a report that West Seattle/South Park City Councilmember Lisa Herbold told WSB she had been requesting for a month, as chair of the Public Safety Committee.
The headline from the mayor’s office, which circulated the information to local business leaders before going public, is that SPD lost more than twice as many officers in September as it’s lost in any single month in department history – 39, including 3 who were in training:
As noted previously, today was the day King County Elections mailed ballots – 1.4 million of them, to be specific – so yours might arrive as soon as tomorrow. They’re projecting 90 percent turnout, which would be a record, passing the existing record of 85 percent turnout in 2012. An overview of the local ballot:
Featuring an 18-inch ballot, this year’s election is comprised of 64 races, including a total of 118 federal and state candidates. There are 22 measures, with 16 local and six state. Included are state, county, city, school and special purpose district measures.
West Seattle voters will be asked to vote on:
U.S. House District 7
6 state measures including Referendum 90 (sex education)
Secretary of State
State Attorney General
State Commissioner of Public Lands
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
State Insurance Commissioner
34th District State House Position 1
34th District State House Position 2
4 State Supreme Court positions
8 county measures including #5, changing the sheriff from elected to appointed, and Prop. 1, property tax for Harborview Medical Center
2 Court of Appeals positions
2 King County Superior Court judgeships
1 city measure, .15% sales tax to pay for transit
You can preview your ballot, including links to candidate and ballot-measure info, by going here. Here’s what else the county wants you to know:
Voters who do not receive a ballot by Mon., Oct. 19, or who have questions should call King County Elections at 206-296-VOTE (8683). Ballots must be postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, or returned to one of the 73 ballot drop box locations across the county. Drop boxes are open 24-hours, seven days a week until 8 p.m. on Election Day. Ballots can be returned at any time before the deadline – but the earlier, the better.
The deadline to register to vote online is Oct. 26. Voters can register and vote through 8 p.m. on Election Day at any of KCE’s Vote Center locations around King County.
The drop boxes open tomorrow; all the locations are here, including three in West Seattle and one each in nearby South Park and White Center.
Our area’s King County Councilmember Joe McDermott is the main sponsor of a one-tenth-of-one-percent sales-tax increase that the council approved today, first proposed in County Executive Dow Constantine‘s 2021-2022 budget plan. A council news release explains what it’s meant to pay for: “The legislation will provide permanent, supportive housing for those deemed ‘chronically homeless’ – people who reside in a place not meant for human habitation for at least a year, and with serious physical or behavioral health issues.” (That’s the type of housing provided in West Seattle by two nonprofits, Transitional Resources, with several buildings in the Luna Park area plus one under construction, and DESC, with Cottage Grove Commons in Delridge.)
The tax increase will not go to a public vote; the state Legislature voted earlier this year to allow local governments to increase sales taxes this way for affordable-housing. However, as The Seattle Times‘ report notes, cities have the option to levy their own 0.1% increase instead, and several King County cities have opted to do that, so they will have more of a say in how the housing dollars are spent. The council releass says that “King County plans to bond against future tax revenues and use the funds to buy existing hotels, motels and nursing homes around the county and convert them into affordable, supportive housing for people who have struggled to access and maintain housing.” The tax increase would take effect next January 1st; you can read the legislation starting on page 41 of today’s County Council meeting packet.
King County Elections sends out ballots on Wednesday, so yours could arrive as soon as Thursday. But what if you’ve moved? A WSB Community Forums member posted that they’d heard ballots wouldn’t be forwarded, so we contacted KC Elections to ask. Not true, responded KCE spokesperson Hannah Kurowski – here’s what people who have moved need to know:
-If USPS has a forwarding address for someone, they will automatically forward their ballot on to them, even if the voter has not updated their address on their voter registration.
-King County Elections receives data from USPS regularly with updated addresses and, after doing voter outreach, makes those changes in our system.
-If USPS does not have a forwarding address for the voter, their ballot would be returned to us as undeliverable. When a ballot is returned as undeliverable, if the voter does not vote in the election another way (i.e. In-person at a Vote Center or by printing out their ballot online and mailing it that way), then their registration record would become ‘inactive’. If this happens. we send a notice to the voter asking them to update their address with us and they will not automatically receive a ballot in the next election – unless we hear back from them first. It’s incredibly easy to move from ‘inactive’ to ‘active’ and prompt that automatic ballot once again, we just have to hear from the voter to confirm their address.
-This is one of the reasons we try to be clear with voters about contacting us if they do not receive a ballot and they believe they should have. If a voter gives us a call before October 26, we can get a new ballot out to their new address. After October 26, they would need to come in person to update their address. Or they can go online and print their ballot from home if they would prefer to do that instead.
If voters want to contact us, they can email us at email@example.com or call 206-296-VOTE (8683).
Once you get your ballot, you can take it to a drop box -(they open Thursday) West Seattle has three, plus there are others nearby including White Center and South Park – or send it via USPS mail, no stamp needed. Not registered yet? Go here.
One week from today, on Thursday, October 15th, voting begins – as ballots start arriving the day after King County Elections sends out ballots. That’s also when King County opens its ballot drop boxes. The earlier you vote, the better – among other reasons, early voting means your vote will be part of that first count made public on Election Night (Tuesday, November 3rd). But we know that despite exhortations and plans, many people still vote in the final hours/days. That’s why KC Elections has traffic plans for “every single drop box,” says spokesperson Halei Watkins. We checked on those plans after learning the West Seattle Junction Association had been notified of plans for staffing and traffic control at its drop box (SW Alaska, south side, between California and 44th). That ballot dropbox is one of three in West Seattle, along with South Seattle College (WSB sponsor) on Puget Ridge and the High Point Library. Watkins says the plans will vary by location and typical or projected volume “but the main goal for every single one is to make it accessible and keep traffic moving as much as possible. Every single drop box will also be staffed on the Monday and Tuesday of Election Week by King County Elections staff to help ensure that boxes don’t fill up and there’s someone there who can assist voters as needed. On Monday (11/2), that staffing will largely take place during the day and on Tuesday (11/3) we’ll have someone there all day until boxes close at 8 p.m. sharp.”
While awaiting your ballot, you can preview candidates and ballot measures here.
Three notes from the City Council‘s weekly briefing meeting, just concluded, when councilmembers share quick updates:
PARKS REOPENINGS: City Councilmember Debora Juarez, who chairs the Parks Committee, had some big news. She said that Parks will reopen play areas tomorrow and parking lots October 19th. We’re inquiring with Parks for details. (Play and fitness equipment at parks were first taped off in the early weeks of the pandemic, more than 6 months ago.) ADDED 11:23 AM: Confirmed by Parks – here’s the update, with the rules.
BUDGET COMMENTS TOMORROW: What do you think the city should – and/or shouldn’t – be spending money on? Tuesday night is the first major public hearing in the budget process. This is an all-public-comment event, online, starting at 5:30 pm. Signups for commenting start two hours earlier; the agenda explains how you can do that beginning at 3:30 pm Tuesday.
TOWN HALL FOLLOWUP: West Seattle/South Park City Councilmember Lisa Herbold told her colleagues that more than 500 people signed up to attend her Town Hall last Wednesday, with 88 questions submitted. (Our coverage, including links to the video, is in two parts – the first hour-plus, focused on public safety, here; the second part, focused on the West Seattle Bridge, here.)
The West Seattle Democratic Women‘s recent planned meeting featuring City Councilmember Lisa Herbold was postponed at the last minute because of technical trouble. It’s now rescheduled for this Monday, October 5th, all welcome. From the WSDW announcement:
Following a short membership meeting; our speaker, Seattle City Councilperson Lisa Herbold, will begin at 6:3 0pm. She’ll be sharing her thoughts on the City’s proposed budget, how it will relate to any reduction/redirection of the funding of the Seattle Police Department, how any changes could affect the security of our local communities in her district, and any alternative benefits that might occur. A Q&A will follow. There is no cost.
If you have a question for Lisa, please submit it to WSDW as soon as possible but no later than 3:00 pm the day of the meeting.
If you’re not on our mailing list and need to register to get your Zoom codes, have questions to submit to Lisa, or for any other questions of WSDW, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Karen 206.920.2231.
Councilmember Herbold is also scheduled as a guest speaker at the District 1 Community Network meeting Wednesday night; we’ll publish those details when we get them.
(CLICK PLAY TO WATCH ARCHIVED VIDEO OF ENTIRE TOWN HALL – BRIDGE TOPIC STARTS 1:13 IN)
6:44 PM: Our coverage of West Seattle/South Park City Councilmember Lisa Herbold‘s Town Hall continues – we covered the first hour, on public safety, separately, and now it’s on to the second hour, about the West Seattle Bridge closure, in its seventh month. Really only 3/4 of an hour left, since the public-safety discussion ran long, and it’s starting with SDOT’s bridge project leader Heather Marx making a presentation. A lot of this covers ground we have covered repeatedly – including going all the way back to the March 23rd closure – so we’ll just note anything new that arises.
6:51 PM: Interesting datapoint, Marx mentions that the post-tensioning steel brackets being used as part of the stabilization were made at Vigor in the Portland area. And she reiterates that the Cost-Benefit Analysis is under way to shape the “repair or replace?” decision, which the Community Task Force will weigh in on, though if “replace” is the decision, the CBA does not include a final decision of HOW to replace it – that is the separate Type/Size/Location study. Marx says the mayor will “visit the Task Force to announce her decision and take questions.” (If that’s at a regular Task Force meeting, it wouldn’t be any sooner than October 21st, on the current schedule.)
6:58 PM: Now it’s on to Sara Zora, SDOT’s new “mobility manager” handling the Reconnect West Seattle traffic-mitigation program that’s part of the bridge project. She touches on the low bridge and its upcoming improvements, plus the evolving access policy, and the Community Task Force subcommittee that will work on it. She also had a bit of new information on what the enforcement cameras – pole-mounted – will look like. Then she moves on to West Marginal Way (see our recent story on the 6 planned/proposed changes). She reiterates that two of those changes – bike lane and freight lane – are still pending more “stakeholder engagement.”
7:11 PM: Finally to Q&A. First question Callanan reads is about whether the immersed-tube tunnel option is getting proper evaluation, since consultant HNTB specializes in bridges. Yes, says Marx. “To say that they don’t have experience in tunneling is untrue,” she adds, saying they’ve gone to lengths to explore the ITT in every aspect, and to constantly have it suggested that they’re not is “insulting.”
Next – why the punitive approach on the low bridge? “It feels like the city doesn’t appreciate what residents are going through.” Herbold takes this on first. She reiterates that the enforcement cameras will start with only warnings through year’s end. The state legislation that authorized it was intended to keep unauthorized vehicles out of transit lanes, and that’s “the function of the lower-level bridge right now.” It’s important that people respect its limited capacity, she stresses. When ticketing starts, it’ll be $75. Then she hands it over to Marx to talk about the low bridge’s capacity: 450 an hour “before we start impacting emergency services,” as she’s said at many briefings before. “What automated enforcement allows us to do is to be more finely grained” about access – perhaps allowing medical professionals, people who need life-saving medical treatments. She says she does understand as she lives in here and has a family and transportation challenges too: “We’re all in this together … The city IS on your side … We really have to protect the low bridge for emergency services.” Herbold notes that the camera use also will allow SDOT to better examine traffic patterns on the low bridge, which could in turn lead to other policy changes for usage. “We’re all pushing SDOT to … examine these policies.”
7:19 PM: Next Q, any plan to encourage better usage of park and rides, add more, encourage more water taxi usage, etc.? “All those ideas are definitely in play at this time,” Zora replies. Is there a time frame? Callanan follows up. Next few months, says Zora. They’re taking into account all the feedback from the 15,000+ respondents to the mobility survey.
Next Q, what will they do to encourage repair-or-replace crew to work as fast as possible? Marx replies, “How many crews and the hours of work are ‘means and methods,’ and we generally leave that up to the contractor … One of the things we can do is include some pay for performance measures,” such as a financial incentive for delivering early. The question is “absolutely valid,” she affirms.
Then: Why hasn’t there been much discussion about combining with light rail? “It’s a little bit complicated,” says Marx, adding that they are continuing to talk with Sound Transit about “the advisability of combining both bridges.” (ST has always been planning its own cross-Duwamish bridge, you might recall.) There might be wisdom in having two separate structures, she says. “There are good reasons to combine the structures, good reasons to keep them separate … you can rest assured those conversations are happening on a weekly basis.” Herbold adds that if a new West Seattle structure is built, it would be ’24-’26, but ST’s timeline is years later. She says she sent a letter about including this in the draft Environmental Impact Statement that ST is working on; they said it can’t be included but there’s “potential they could add it for analysis in the final EIS.”
7:27 PM: Why couldn’t the Longhouse just get a simple crosswalk? Marx explains that they have to have a signal before they can put in a crosswalk, and that (as mentioned in the West Marginal Way presentation) it will all be fully funded by the bridge project. “The interim signal will be installed in mid-2021,” Zora notes. (As we’ve reported, and as Marx added, dealing with the railroad tracks is what will take extra time.)
7:30 PM: This is wrapping up. In closing, Herbold says her office has ‘a big backlog of emails” and she and her staff are “doing everything we can” to get answers. Callanan says unanswered questions from tonight will be forwarded to her office too.
WHAT’S NEXT: Two related meetings are coming up next Wednesday (October 7th) – the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force meets at noon, and the District 1 Community Network is scheduled to have Councilmember Herbold as a guest at 7 pm. We’ll have connection information on both as they get closer.
(CLICK PLAY TO WATCH ARCHIVED VIDEO OF EVENT)
5:35 PM: Click the window above to watch West Seattle/South Park City Councilmember Lisa Herbold‘s Town Hall, scheduled to spend the first hour on public safety, the second on the bridge closure. We’ll be chronicling each hour separately, as they happen. First, public safety, with the backdrop of the council’s recent vote to cut Seattle Police funding, leading to a veto fight with the mayor, who lost and just today announced the council’s planned cuts will take effect, including suspension of the Navigation Team.
Police Chief Adrian Diaz is the first guest; moderator is Brian Callanan, a West Seattleite who works for Seattle Channel. The chief starts with his five priorities for SPD, and says he’s a former West Seattleite who still has family here. He notes that the Southwest Precinct has had 2 homicides – with arrests in both; assaults, arsons, and motor vehicle thefts are up, while burglaries, robberies, and rapes are down. He acknowledges concern about street racing and Alki issues. He says staffing, however, is an issue almost daily, citywide, but today is the first day for a redeployment of 100 staffers citywide back to patrol/911 response. “Our core mission is responding to calls for service and preventing crime.”
5:40 PM: The chief says he has to leave, and turns it over to SW Precinct commander Capt. Kevin Grossman. He says crime in West Seattle is down 15 percent overall, perhaps because of the pandemic and bridge closure. But he says he’s been hearing a lot about quality-of-life issues in Alki and South Park. “I’d like to address them (but) the biggest problem I’m facing … is staffing.” As we’ve reported before, he’s lost 10 percent of the sworn officers to resignations, retirements, and lateral (other department) moves. He talked about how it took an hour for a repeat caller to get a response because the four officers on at that time were busy with higher-priority calls. “That illustrates my point – we just don’t have the staffing to get to all the calls.” He says the redeployment isn’t going to help much because “50 percent of the people assigned (to the precinct) have indicated their intention to leave.” Half his staffing most nights also has been lost to dealing with protests in other parts of town, but the chief has come up with a way to address that, that should help, he says.
5:46 PM: Back to Councilmember Herbold, who talks about the plan for alternative means of community safety, and the mayor’s announcement that – in addition to going ahead with cuts – means that violence-prevention organizations will get the funding allotted by the council. She says participatory budgeting – with everyone from small businesses to activist groups participating – will help shape the changes. She says the size of the police force may decline as some functions move to other types of responses, but that doesn’t mean no police – it means that officers will be able to focus on what they’re truly needed for. She mentions an Oregon program called CAHOOTS that’s been cited before, saying it handles 20 percent of 911 calls in its jurisdiction.
She moves on to LEAD – Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion – which is expanding to West Seattle, into a long-planned move for which Herbold has advocated. Guests from the program, including a Prosecuting Attorney’s Office rep – join her. First, Tracy Gillespie, the program’s operations director, who explains that it’s for people who have repeat contacts with police, and referrals can be made by community members as well as by law enforcers. It’s meant to be a very neighborhood-centered program. Project manager Aaron Burkhalter speaks next. He says he’s been talking with community members already “to try to get a good sense of what’s going on … trying to prioritize as much as we can.” He says they’re already handling “high-priority referrals … from West Seattle.” email@example.com is his email address. The King County PAO who supervises three LEAD-liaison lawyers, Natalie Walton-Anderson, a West Seattleite, calls the program “amazing” in its ability to address people “engaging in public disorder and low-level crimes” while dealing with substance disorder and untreated mental illness. Prosecutors’ role: “We want to come up with a solution that doesn’t involve jail.” But that doesn’t mean no accountability – they also want to hear what’s not working, as well as what is.
6:04 PM: Questions and comments from viewers now, read by Callanan. First – how will community safety be measured post-defunding, and what happens if it doesn’t work? Herbold says the term “defunding means a lot of different things to different people.” She says metrics will be used, from crimes reported to 911 calls received to the annual public-safety survey. It’s not about not policing, she stresses: “This is about allowing law enforcement to focus on its core mission.” The SPD budget reductions proposed in the new budget largely involve transferring functions outside the department. As for the initial reduction in officers passed by the council, that’s going to take a while because they have to be “bargained” (as also noted in the mayor’s announcement today). Herbold mentioned again that they want reductions to come from a list of officers who have troubled histories – “about 25 of them.” There’s a hiring freeze right now pending “the conversation about the future” of public safety.
Second, Capt. Grossman is asked about how cuts will affect policing in our area. “We will always look to ensure we’ve got adequate 911 coverage, especially when it comes to life-safety issues.” He adds that he doesn’t like the term “defunding” either but “there’s nothing wrong with a reset, society-wise,” discussing what police’s role should be. “It’s a good time to have that conversation,” he says, acknowledging SPD “takes a large part of the city’s budget.”
Third, another question for Capt. Grossman, about street racing, drug use, and other disorder: “When are we going to get support and relief on Harbor Avenue SW?” He replies, “I don’t know if I’d been here a day when I started getting emails from neighbors about those issues.” But it’s a “resource issue” and they’re “very very short-staffed at night …. times when I’m down to 4 officers.” The new citywide Community Response Group is intended from hereon out to handle protests so Southwest Precinct officers can stay in this area. He says maybe longterm, changes – maybe making Alki 1-way? – could help more than enforcement. “Long-term issues like street design are going to be longer-term solutions.”
6:15 PM: Herbold says Capt. Grossman is also supportive of making the Alki Point Keep Moving/Stay Healthy Street permanent, and thanks him for that. Next question – from an advocate for reducing gun violence. They want to know if Herbold’s office is developing relationships with community organizations like theirs. Herbold says that sort of thing is part of the community-organization funding just approved by the council (and vetoed by the mayor, then upheld by the council). She’ll be meeting with Human Services Director Jason Johnson to see whether funding will go to expand current contracts or whether new ones will be added. “If you’ve got particular programs that are doing work in West Seattle, let me know.” Callanan then asks the captain “what’s being done to address gun violence in South Park?” Grossman mentions his time as South Precinct commander, dealing with much more gun violence than this area, but as he’s said before, shots-fired calls are a priority, and he stresses the importance of his officers thoroughly investigating them. He also mentions the importance of working with youth to prevent violence before it starts.
Next, for Herbold (and Callanan says they might stretch the public-safety discussion beyond 6:30 pm) “how will your vote to reduce police funding affect your constituents; will we lose the precinct” (as once suggested by former Police Chief Carmen Best)? Herbold says this is an opportunity “to clarify what we actually did.” Budget rebalancing – not just SPD cuts – was necessary because of the revenue decline caused by the pandemic. It’s important to understand “how little we actually cut,” she says. She also explains that the precinct is NOT in jeopardy – it was at the time a reaction to another councilmember’s proposal for dramatic cuts that were never going to happen – and she ensured that by “legislatively establish(ing) budget levels for each precinct.” That bill meant no precinct could be closed without a council vote, which she would “never, ever support.”
Next, “When are you going to do something about all the RVs parked on Andover next to the West Seattle Health Club?” Herbold says, “I worked in the budget process several years ago for funding the RV Remediation Program .. when problem areas are identified, RVs are either asked to minimize their impacts to the areas where they are located, or move … I also worked to get funding through Seattle Public Utilities for RV pump-outs … The city’s approach is not one where we’re out there just towing RVs because they’re unlawfully parked or people’s living in them … we’re really focused on minimizing the impacts to surrounding communities … not having people’s RVs towed, one of the only things they have of value. … Unfortunately we have a lot of people living in their vehicles, and our focus is not to be punitive, but to minimize the impacts they have to surrounding communities.” Grossman adds, “It’s always been a challenge” and notes that the mayor’s office has a moratorium on moving campers or RV residents because of COVID. He underscores that they try to do what they can about reducing impact, and sometimes his officers can try to get them to leave for a while, though they often come back.
LEAD’s Burkhalter says they do work with people living in vehicles, working with the Scofflaw Mitigation Team (though this area wouldn’t be in their initial West Seattle focus, which will be in Cottage Grove and The Junction).
Next question – why does SPD put so much focus on “managing protests” instead of focusing resources elsewhere? “We have to make sure we facilitate people’s First Amendment rights but also have to make sure people’s lives are not in danger, and significant property damage is not occurring,” he says. He also adds that decisions are made based on projections from what police are seeing on social media. But again, he’s hopeful the department’s new protest-response team will free up his officers for what needs to be attended to here.
Asked for her thoughts, Herbold says she is also opposed to property damage, hate speech, arson, violence against officers, and if that happens or seems likely,”police are going to err on the side of caution and show up.” But reimagining public safety can lead to decisions freeing up police, too.
Then she adds that she wants to address the defunding of the Navigation Team, though that was not asked: The funding for it was reallocated to expand service providers’ contracts, she says, to make sure the work of reaching out to people living outdoors continues. Those providers have a better success rate than the Navigation Team did, she says. “Our vote is not about stopping that engagement or stopping the efforts to mitigate the impacts of people living outdoors.” She says letters today from the mayor don’t mention the reallocation of funding, so she’s concerned. “I’m really concerned that this omission is going to manufacture chaos by stopping the work of the Navigation Team and not replacing it, which was not the council’s intention.” LEAD can help, she says. She asks Gillespie to elaborate. “There’s a huge gray area between public disorder and criminal activity.” The organization REACH – the LEAD service provider – specializes in working with people “on their longterm behavior” and what they need to improve that behavior. She says stabilizing people has “extremely effective results.”
6:44 PM: That’s it for the public-safety discussion; we’re covering the Town Hall’s second hour, more like 3/4 of an hour now – on the bridge – in a separate story (go here).
Just a week after the conclusion of a battle over “rebalancing” the current city budget, the 2-month process of working on a new budget has just begun. Mayor Jenny Durkan‘s proposal is now public, released in connection with the prerecorded speech you can watch above. Here’s the 751-page document:
Reporters got a preview this morning, with the mayor as well as city budget director Ben Noble and staff; we participated. It’s a $6.5 billion budget – about $2 billion of that for the city-run utilities. While the mayor says the COVID-19-caused shortfall will be largely covered by the new “JumpStart” tax, she also said more than once that it’s time to get busy on a city income tax.
From both the briefing and our scan of the document, here are some specific points of interest:
WEST SEATTLE BRIDGE: The budget proposes $100 million – the $70 million recently advanced by a City Council vote, and $30 million more. We asked at the briefing, what happens if it costs more to get the bridge back in service, whether by repairs or replacement? Noble said they’re well aware they’ll likely need to spend more, and SDOT is working on that. The mayor added that they’re hoping for state/federal assistance – the former in recognition of the bridge serving the port, “the heartbeat for much of the commerce in the Pacific Northwest,” the latter because they already have “broad support” from our state’s congressional delegation. “In any other year, this would be” the budget headline, Durkan observed, but this year, the pandemic and the fight for equity are atop the list. She also noted that the city is working on “ways to help businesses” as well as mobility issues for people ‘including front-line health-care workers.” Another bridge-related expenditure mentioned at the briefing: $4 million to continue stationing an extra Seattle Fire ladder truck and medic unit on this side of the Duwamish River while the bridge is out.
PARKS: With so much park property in West Seattle, this spending is always of interest. The mayor’s budget anticipates only opening four of the city’s 10 swimming pools next year. Southwest Pool is one of them, but this means Colman Pool will be closed for a second year. Hiawatha Community Center will be closed all year, though that’s planned in connection with the stabilization work. The budget also proposes converting Alki Community Center from a full-service community center “to a childcare and preschool hub,” which would save $100,000 in operating costs. Many capital projects will remain deferred – West Seattle has several in waiting, including three landbanked parks (Junction, Morgan expansion, and 48th/Charlestown). The prospect of a new Park District levy – deferred for a year though the current one is expiring now – might be needed to raise money for capital projects.
POLICE/LAW: The City Attorney’s Office plans to go back to combining the Precinct Liaison positions for the South and Southwest Precincts. As for the public-safety-reform big picture, from the “budget book” overview:
• The Seattle Police Department was budgeted for 1,422 sworn officers in the 2020 Adopted budget, but will only be funded for 1,400 in 2021. The IDT referenced above will work in the fall of 2020 and into early 2021 to assess the appropriate force size for the long run.
• SPD’s Parking Enforcement unit and its 120 employees will be transferred to the Seattle Department of Transportation.
• The Office of Emergency Management, which coordinates the City’s efforts to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and emergencies, will be moved out of SPD and become an independent office.
• The existing 9-1-1 Communications Center, currently housed in SPD, will also be transferred out into its own independent, stand-alone unit. As non-sworn, community-based alternative responses to calls are developed, the 9-1-1 Communications Center, now to be called the Seattle Emergency Communications Center, will be crucial in dispatching those responses.
• The 2021 budget will make permanent the transfer of the Seattle Police Department’s Victim Advocacy Team to the Human Services Department (HSD). This transfer was initially made by the City Council in the 2020 2nd Quarter Supplemental Budget Ordinance. This team is comprised of 11 FTEs and a budget of $1.25 million. These resources will be added to the proposed new Safe and Thriving Communities Division in HSD.
(Here’s how Chief Adrian Diaz summarizes it.) The mayor said she’ll unveil her vision for the future of the homelessness-addressing Navigation Team separately, soon. Meantime, no, there is NOT any proposal to close the Southwest Precinct, as once suggested by the former chief. Its operational budget is in for $17 million, down from $18 million this year.
SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY: One thing noted in passing during the briefing, and also underscored in the “budget book” (page 147) – some library-levy dollars that were supposed to go toward expanded hours will instead be shifted to cover basic services/operations. So that could mean reduced hours once libraries are fully open again.
OTHER DEPARTMENTS: We’re still reading! More coverage to come.
WHAT’S NEXT: The budget proposal goes to the City Council, and they start almost two months of meetings, hearings, proposals, and counterproposals. First meeting is tomorrow, 9:30 am – here’s the agenda. Meantime, there’s of course a lot more in the budget, and we’ll
This week, the City Council meets Tuesday instead of Monday, and the afternoon agenda has several items of West Seattle interest. Biggest among them: The bill to authorize enforcement cameras on the West Seattle low bridge. SDOT first mentioned the plan for them in June. The general authorization is under state legislation authored by local State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, passed last session on the second try, but now the city has to change its laws to make it happen. The meeting documents include some numbers of interest: The city projects the enforcement cameras will bring in more than $2 million in revenue next year, but the council-staff memo says that won’t be going to general SDOT coffers:
Under the state law, only warning notices with no monetary penalty are allowed in 2020, and fines of up to $75 per infraction are allowed beginning in 2021. After paying for administrative costs, half of the remaining funds are to be remitted to the state’s Cooper Jones active transportation safety account, which the state uses to fund grant projects or programs for bicycle, pedestrian, and non-motorist safety improvements. The remaining half of the funds may only be used for transportation improvements that support equitable access and mobility for persons with disabilities.
The initial cost to set up two cameras will be $29,000, and that will come out of the initial $70 million bridge-related funding recently approved by the council. The documents also say the cameras will cost $4,000 a month to operate. And the council staff memo notes one other cost:
Citations from cameras are required to be reviewed by a Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer for a ticket to be issued. In 2020, the pilot program can make use of existing officers that are currently funded through the school zone camera program, as COVID-19 has suspended school zone camera enforcement activity. Staffing needs for any expansion of the program in 2021 and 2022 would need to be addressed in subsequent budget proposals.
That “expansion” would likely be elsewhere in the city, as it’s noted in agenda documents that “SDOT plans to roll out cameras at locations in 2021 to enforce bus lane and ‘block the box’ restrictions.” The low-bridge camera bill is on the agenda for the 2 pm Tuesday council meeting; the agenda explains how to comment, during or before the meeting, and how to watch/listen.
With a little over five weeks until Election Day, there’s been so much talk about early voting, some people have asked us why they don’t have a ballot yet. King County Elections mails ballots about three weeks in advance – this time around, they are scheduled to go out on Wednesday, October 14th.
After receiving a suggestion that voting could be done earlier online, we checked with KC Elections, whose spokesperson Halei Watkins explained that it was “available for service and overseas voters starting on 9/18. Ballots for those voters are mailed out on the same date – they get extra time per state and federal law because it can take longer for their ballot to arrive to them/get back to us via international mail. The law calls for 45 days in advance for those voters and we get them out the door a day or two before that deadline.” Otherwise, Watkins continued, “For all local voters, you can access your ballot online starting on 10/14, the day regular ballots are mailed. All voters should expect to see their ballot by the 10/19 mail delivery. We saw normal mail delivery times in the Primary, with 99.96% of ballots delivered within five days, and expect to see similar delivery times in the General. We’ve also added some mail tracking features to both outbound and inbound ballots so we can have a better sense of where each individual ballot is in the mail stream.”
As for returning your ballot, the county’s drop boxes open October 15th, the day after ballots are mailed. As we’ve reported, there are now three in West Seattle – South Seattle College (6000 16th SW; WSB sponsor) in front of the central administration building, along with The Junction (SW Alaska west of California) and High Point Library (3411 SW Raymond). For some West Seattleites, the drop boxes outside the South Park (8th Ave. S. and S. Cloverdale) and White Center (1409 SW 107th) libraries might be more convenient.
However you plan to vote, take note that there are major local ballot measures to decide as well as national and state races. You can start researching via the KC Elections website – ballot-measure info is here, candidate info is here.
(Not registered to vote? There’s still time – here’s how!)
For the first time since April, City Councilmember Lisa Herbold will preside over an online “town hall.” The one five months ago (WSB coverage here) was all about the West Seattle Bridge; this one is scheduled to start with an hour about public safety, followed by an hour about the bridge. The announcement is in her just-published weekly update:
On September 30, I will co-host a District 1 Town Hall on public safety and the West Seattle Bridge, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
SPD Chief Diaz and SW Precinct Captain Grossman will be attending, along with SDOT Director Zimbabwe. There will also be a representative from LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) to talk about the expansion of the program to the SW Precinct.
The first hour will be on public safety, and the second hour will be on the West Seattle Bridge. There will be plenty of time for questions on each topic.
You can RSVP (here); later in the day Tuesday we’ll e-mail information to the RSVP list about how to participate in the Q&A, and view the town hall.
As noted further into Herbold’s weekly update, Wednesday is also the day the council starts work on the next budget, with the mayor officially delivering her proposal the day before.
Two days after Tuesday’s override vote, and less than a week before the next budget process begins, West Seattle/South Park City Councilmember Lisa Herbold will be the spotlight guest at a local meeting. Here’s the announcement:
On Thursday, September 24th, West Seattle Democratic Women will complete its last program of a series of three on Racism/Institutional Racism/Police. The meeting begins at 6:00 pm with a short membership meeting. The program begins at 6:30 pm with Seattle City Councilperson Lisa Herbold sharing her thoughts on the City’s proposed budget, how it will relate to any reduction/redirection of the funding of the Seattle Police Department, how any changes could affect the security of our local communities in her district, and any alternative benefits that might occur. A Q&A will follow, ending at approximately 7:45 pm with the meeting itself ending no later than 8:00 pm. We anticipate this to be a most interesting and informative program. There is no cost.
To register & get your zoom codes, have questions to submit to Lisa, or for any questions of WSDW, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Karen 206.920.2231.
3:07 PM: Just under way – Seattle City Councilmembers‘ special meeting on whether to override Mayor Jenny Durkan‘s veto of three bills they passed, including the “rebalancing” bill with cuts in departments including SPD. If they don’t get seven votes for an override, Council President Lorena González said on Monday, they have a “compromise” bill to consider. That and the previously passed/vetoed bills are all linked from the agenda. Watch via Seattle Channel above; we’ll be live-chronicling after the meeting-opening public-comment period.
3:10 PM: Councilmember González says the comment period will last 90 minutes.
3:47 PM: So far 32 people have spoken – 27 for overriding, 5 against.
4:47 PM: Comments are over. By our count, 78 speakers were pro-override, 9 against. They have three bills to consider. Before any of the votes, Councilmember Alex Pedersen speaks, saying he wants to explain all his upcoming votes. He says he wants to honor the commitment the council made to fund BIPOC organizations, and so he will vote to override the mayor’s veto of the third bill on the agenda, 119863. He says his problems with 119825, the first bill, include its move to gut the Navigation Team, so he will vote to sustain the veto, as well as the second bill, 119862. He concludes by saying that the police-union contract needs to be fixed as a key part of public-safety reform.
5:03 PM: Councilmember Tammy Morales speaks next, starting by reading “the names of the people killed by SPD in the last 10 years.” She says “creating a new system of community safety” is what the council’s action is about. “We’re trying to carry forward what was built by years of work” by BIPOC community members. She will vote to override.
Councilmember Andrew Lewis speaks next. “Government needs to work together,” he says. “Working together requires compromise.” Investing in the community is vital, though, so he says he’s going to vote to override all three bills. “I want to make a statement today about a pattern that’s potentially emerging – of negotiating by veto.” That’s “wearing” among other things, he says.
5:11 PM: Councilmember Lisa Herbold speaks now. “I don’t take this vote lightly. I took part in conversations about an alternative bill,” she says, but goes on to say that the proposed alternative “falls short. .. I’m concerned that the deal the council was offered backtracks on the objective of …. making reductions to the Seattle Police Department.” She says that what the council passed opens the door to bargaining. The mayor did not offer any reduction in the “specialty units” the council wanted to shrink, she says. “Of the 38 proposed reductions, there were 11 vacancies,” she says, which would mean 27 layoffs resulting from the 38 cuts the council wanted to see. They also wanted to see 32 patrol reductions and Harbold says there are 24 on a list with problematic backgrounds that could potentially be let go first. “The vast majority of these officers are in patrol positions.” She goes on to defend the salary cuts the original bill calls for in leadership salaries, saying it’s appropriate given the supervisors’ failings including lack of overtime-spending control. She goes on to say the compromise bill doesn’t allot enough money for the groups that are to work on community-safety planning – $1 million instead of $3 million – and that the mayor wanted to water down the upcoming “participatory budgeting” process. Finally, she says the mayor did not want to sufficiently change the way the Navigation Team works but they’re hopeful her budget for next year will.
5:25 PM: Councilmember Dan Strauss says he’ll vote to override ‘because this work is too important to stop.” That would appear to put the pro-override votes at the level needed. Strauss says the package isn’t perfect but its strong points outweigh its “imperfections.” Regarding SPD, he says they can both “stand .. behind their past decisions” and “look … forward to working together in the future.”
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda is next. “Seattle is at the heart of a national conversation … to reimagine public safety,” she begins, saying that conversation is about the “right size and right scope” of police departments. She lists other cities that have reduced their police spending. “There is an ongoing call for action across this nation … we legislated knowing we’re building a path for a longer-term systemic change.” She said there’s also an “urgent need” to invest in Black and brown communities – “invest, listen, and respond.” She also acknowledges it’s clear the process needs to be “more inclusive,” as they head into the process of crafting the next budget (a process that’s about to start). “We are setting the stage for a more-inclusive conversation.” Also, “We want to make sure everyone is safe, no matter where they are, no matter the color of their skin.”
5:47 PM: Now Councilmember Kshama Sawant speaks, noting that she wasn’t sure at the start of the meeting which way the vote would go, and attributes “ferocious fight-back” from activists in leading to what looks to be an override vote. She says she’s still not happy with the cuts resulting in an “austerity budget,” nor is she happy with what she suggests were “back-room conversations” leading to the alternative bill (that’s apparently now dead).
5:59 PM: González says she will vote to override the vetoes. Police reform “is the needed course of action,” she says, “… not the ongoing status quo.” She echoes what several others have said – “the modest actions the council took over the summer” represent just a start. “Not everyone in our community is safe. We cannot look away from this … if we truly believe that Black lives matter … I want to be able to tell my daughter, who I’m holding in my arms, that I did the right thing.” She says the compromise bill was the result of a month of talks, so the process “illuminate(d) and quqntif(ied) how far apart we are from the mayor.” But talking with the mayor is not about “capitulation,” she insisted. “It’s time for us to move past this back-and-forth and get to work … that is what we were elected to do.” Her message is clearly for observers and critics too, and she warns that the next process ahead will “be hard … we will be asked to make difficult decisions.” She hopes it will not find them, in three months, again dealing with a veto.
6:13 PM: Voting time. 119825 (the main “rebalancing” bill): 7-2, veto overridden (Pedersen and Councilmember Debora Juarez were, as expected. the “no” votes). … On 119862, 9-0, veto overridden … On 119863, an “interfund” loan to allocate $14 million to organizations working on alternative public-safety, Herbold first speaks to the importance of the investment and says she hopes the mayor will take action to allocate the money. The vote – 9-0, overridden. The meeting adjourns at 6:24. So what does all this mean? Stand by for reaction. As always, we’ll substitute the archived video above when it’s available.
8:42 PM: We’ve received a post-vote statement from Councilmember Herbold. Most of it is basically what she said during the meeting, but the last paragraph is of note:
“I maintain my optimism that Council and the Mayor can turn the page on this and forge a path forward together in 2021 budget discussions. I, and the City of Seattle, are indebted to the tens of thousands of people who have participated in this discussion by writing, calling, providing comment, and marching day after day. This is the beginning of the conversation and the investment of $3 million by this Council to begin a participatory budget process, which was upheld today, will ensure a true community process that redefines public safety. I will work to ensure that process centers Black and Brown communities who have been, and continue to be, most affected by our current system. To the business community who is asking to also be at the table, Participatory Budgeting is designed for everyone to participate, including you.”
Meantime, we’ve substituted the archived video of the hearing atop this story.
ADDED WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON: SPD’s official statement, just in via email:
Early yesterday evening, Seattle City Council Members voted to override the Mayor’s veto of their 2020 Budget Rebalancing legislation.
The Seattle Police Department is still determining the implications of this action and the appropriate response. However, it is the SPD’s intent to keep the Department as whole as possible. In 2020, and as we move into 2021 budget discussions, our primary commitment is to build trust and maintain public safety.
Chief Diaz is working closely with the Mayor’s office to assess next steps.
The SPD is aware these decisions can create long-lasting impacts, and remains committed to equitably serving all of Seattle.
1:51 PM: That’s video of this morning’s City Council briefing meeting. It began with Council President Lorena González announcing that the council will have a special meeting at 3 pm tomorrow (Tuesday, September 22nd) on whether to override Mayor Durkan‘s vetos of three bills, including the “budget rebalancing” bill that cut various departments including SPD. González said overrides would require at least 7 of the 9 councilmembers, and in case that doesn’t happen, backup legislation representing a “compromise” would be standing by for an alternate vote. That legislation apparently isn’t finalized yet, and the agenda for the special meeting has not yet appeared online, but some of the proposals were discussed toward the end of this morning’s meeting. When the agenda and legislation are available, we’ll link here. Meantime, if you have a comment for the council before its vote, you can email email@example.com.
2:51 PM: Here’s the agenda.
(Seattle Channel video of Wednesday morning’s committee meeting)
“Our audit was not an investigation into the specifics of (the West Seattle Bridge closure),” stressed deputy auditor Sean DeBlieck. It was, though, a result of the sudden closure almost 6 months ago – soon afterward, committee chair Alex Pedersen called for it. We reported on the audit when it was made public Monday, in advance of today’s presentation. Here’s the slide deck they used:
Continuing the presentation, assistant auditor Jane Dunkel noted that while the report mentions 77 city-owned bridges, SDOT cites 124, because its count includes pedestrian bridges and co-owned structures.
No West Seattle bridges were in the “poor” category in SDOT’s most recent inspection ratings. But as Councilmember Lisa Herbold pointed out, pre-closure, the West Seattle Bridge was rated “fair,” so some of those bridges may have repair needs long before getting into the “poor” category.
A key point of the audit, as mentioned in Monday coverage – SDOT has averaged $6 million on bridge maintenance annually over the past 14 years, but should be spending $34 million to $100 million a year. (It should be noted that this was not an audit of SDOT’s budget in general, so auditors weren’t necessarily saying the agency needs more money, just that it should be spending more on bridge maintenance.)
The report’s 10 findings included that SDOT could be out of federal compliance, as suggested in an “informal” state/federal review last year (at SDOT’s invitation), which could cost the city dearly if it’s found ineligible to compete for federal grants, such as the ones that might factor into West Seattle Bridge repair or replacement funding.
Other recommendations included that SDOT should spend less time doing “reimbursable work” for others and should spend less time maintaining private bridges. SDOT deputy director Lorelei Williams noted that the department does not agree with the recommendation to cut back on reimbursable work, as, she said, it allows them to afford more staff. “Sustainable, scalable sources of revenue” are overall a big challenge for the department. Yet even if they had all the money more bridge maintenance would cost, she said, scaling up staff would take a while.
Williams also repeated a point SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe made in his written response to the audit, that SDOT does not believe the West Seattle Bridge problems resulted from any deficiencies in its maintenance program. She also mentioned that SDOT set aside Roadway Structures – which includes bridges – as its own division just last year. Its acting director Matt Donahue also participated in the meeting; Herbold asked him for clarification on the new load rating that the city has to do for its bridges because of new classifications of vehicles approved by the feds; the re-rating was ordered in 2015, to be completed by 2022.
Bottom line, the maintenance backlog and funding gap – identified as a nationwide challenge – was summarized as a “complicated and expensive problem.” Auditor Jones told councilmembers that this report isn’t a one-time check-in with SDOT – they’ll check with the department each year to see how the implementation of recommendations is going.