Introducing Seattlebrief.com: Local Headlines, Updated Every 15 Minutes

I’ve built a news and commentary aggregator for Seattle. Pacific Northwest headlines, news and views, updated every 15 minutes.

Seattlebrief.com is now live in beta.

Its purpose is to let you quickly get the pulse of what Seattleites are writing and talking about. It rolls up headlines and commentary from more than twenty local sources from across the political spectrum.

It indexes headlines from places like Crosscut, The Urbanist, Geekwire, The Stranger, Post Alley, Publicola, MyNorthwest.com, City Council press releases, Mayor’s office press releases, Q13FOX, KUOW, KOMO, KING5, Seattle Times, and more. It’s also indexing podcasts and videocasts from the Pacific Northwest, at least those focused on civic, community and business issues in Seattle.

Seattle isn’t a monoculture. It’s a vibrant mix of many different people, many communities, neighborhoods, coalitions and voices. But there are also a lot of forces nudging people into filtered silos. I wanted to build a site which breaks away from that.

Day to day, I regularly hit a variety of news feeds and listen to a lot of different news sources. I wanted to make that much easier for myself and everyone in the city.

Seattlebrief.com is a grab-a-cup-of-coffee site. It is designed for browsing, very intentionally, not search. Click on the story you’re interested in, and the article will open up in a side window. It focuses on newsfeeds which talk about civic and municipal issues over sports, weather and traffic.

I’ll consider Seattlebrief.com a success if it saves you time catching up on local stories, or introduces you to more voices and perspectives in this great city.

How it works

There are so many interesting and important voices out there, from dedicated news organizations like The Seattle Times to more informal ones like neighborhood blogs. I wanted a quick way to get the pulse of what’s happening. Seattlebrief pulls from the RSS feeds of more than twenty local sites, from all sides of the political spectrum: news sites, neighborhood blogs, municipal government announcements, and activist organizations. The list will no doubt change over time.

Many blog sites and news organizations support Really Simple Syndication (RSS) to publish their latest articles for syndication elsewhere. For instance, you can find Post Alley’s RSS feed here. RSS is used to power Google News and podcast announcements, among other things.

RSS is a bunch of computer code which tells aggregation sites: “here are the recent stories,” usually including a photo thumbnail, author information, and description. Seattlebrief uses this self-declared RSS feed, currently from over 20 sources in and around Seattle. It regularly checks what’s new. Another job then fetches each page and “enriches” these articles with the social sharing metadata that is used to mark up the page for, say, sharing on Facebook or Twitter. 

Think of it as a robot that simply goes out to a list of sites and fetches the “social sharing” info for each of them, then puts them in chronological order (by way of publication date) for you. The list of sites Seattlebrief uses will no doubt change over time.

Origin

Over at Post Alley, where I sometimes contribute, there was a writers’ room discussion about the Washington Post’s popular “Morning Mix” series. Morning Mix highlights interesting/viral stories around the web.

Sparked by that idea, I wanted to build a way to let me browse through the week’s Seattle-area headlines and commentary more easily. So I built Seattlebrief.

I’d welcome any key sources I’ve missed. Right now, they must have an RSS feed. And regrettably, some important/thoughtful voices like KUOW have long ago decommissioned their RSS feeds. I’m exploring what might be possible there.

Drop me a note.

I’d love it if you checked out Seattlebrief.com, and let me know your thoughts.

New Book Argues That Our Approach to Homelessness Won’t Work

Why are west coast cities suffering through a seemingly intractable growth in homelessness? What can we learn from the relative successes of Amsterdam, Lisbon, Miami and even New York City?

This first appeared in Post Alley on November 22nd, 2021.

By the time you read the subtitle, “Why Progressives Ruin Cities,” you know that author Michael Shellenberger pulls no punches. He explores a vexing, urgent question: Why have San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Portland — wealthy, progressive cities each — experienced such intractable and rapidly-growing homelessness crises in the past decade? Why have each of these politically liberal, environmentally-conscious cities with enormous financial resources suffered worsening and intertwined crises of addiction, public encampment, needles and deteriorating public safety, and political gridlock — despite spending ever more?

It’s been more than six years since Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared a state of emergency on homelessness. That year, the King County One Night Count found 3,772 individuals living outside and unsheltered. In 2020, it had risen to 11,751 people experiencing homelessness, with 47% of those unsheltered. And, despite more than $1 billion spent on homelessness every year regionally according to the Puget Sound Business Journal and even more donated in affordable housing pledges by Jeff Bezos, Microsoft, and others, we still don’t feel much closer toward a model which works.

Released in October, San Fransicko has broken into the top three reads on Amazon in the Civics & Citizenship category. Though it focuses on the Bay Area, policies in Seattle are similar. Shellenberger indirectly asks the Seattle reader to consider whether the progressive policy approach — harm reduction, housing first, affordable housing, and a victim-centric lexicon — leads toward measurable progress? If not, will it ever?

Two decades ago, the author was a conventional progressive on these topics. Today, Shellenberger is criticizing progressive orthodoxy in the environment and homelessness. His 2020 treatise, Apocalypse Never, is a broadside against what he considers “climate alarmism.” In that book, Shellenberger advocates for more nuclear power and more technological and pragmatic approaches to environmental challenges, bringing data to the argument about which forms of energy can most efficiently reduce CO2 emissions.

San Francisco City Hall and city square. Photo from the Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2021

In San Fransicko Shellenberger takes on three of the most heavily-defended tenets of the west-coast approach toward homelessness.

First, he argues that homelessness is principally an addiction and mental health crisis masquerading as an affordability crisis. Put another way, and this is central to his thesis — it’s not primarily about affordability. To this assertion, he brings considerable data, showing how pure housing-only programs fail to reduce homelessness. He explains how public housing advocates have largely shut down much-needed investment in shelter.

He asks the reader to ponder whether growth in tents is at least in part because they’re the least-costly way to live with no rules, in proximity to drug markets and a community of users. And he names the ever-more addictive drugs doing increasing damage: first opioids, then heroin, fentanyl, and now a new and extremely addictive form of methamphetamine which brings with it much more frequent and lasting mental crises. Drug overdose deaths have hit a record high in the United States, with more than 100,000 dying in the past 12 months. Sam Quinones’ excellent piece in The Atlantic about this new methamphetamine echoes Shellenberger’s central thrust here.

Second, Shellenberger takes on “housing first,” the highly popular intervention policy in west coast cities which prioritizes secure housing and “barrier-free” (i.e., requirement-free) living. Once a fierce advocate for housing-first policies, the author is now convinced the policy momentum itself has overshadowed the ultimate goal. He walks the reader through Amsterdam’s history in policymaking, which once had similar barrier-free models, but has in the past decade adopted a much more empirically successful approach. The “Amsterdam Way” emphasizes earned housing and compassionate enforcement over the “housing first” model. Shellenberger dives in to study methodology to question several of the academic efforts which have claimed efficacy of housing-first.

In interviews subsequent to the book, he’s posed the thought exercise: “If someone who is addicted to methamphetamine is given $200, are they likely to voluntarily spend it on their own treatment, or more drugs?” Shellenberger’s point: if we believe it’s the latter, we’re saying the housing-first — which too often is housing-only — model won’t work.

Third, Shellenberger argues against city-only programs. He notes that in a mobile and free society, no city-specific approach would work in the absence of a broader regional or statewide strategy. He advocates the establishment of a new statewide agency, “Cal Psych,” to handle a broad range of mental wellness services.

The book is at its best detailing the success stories of other cities. Shellenberger holds up Amsterdam, Lisbon, New York City, and Miami as cities to consider as much better models than the failed west-coast models. The chapter “Let’s Go Dutch” focuses on Amsterdam, a city not that much bigger than San Francisco (or Seattle, for that matter), and makes a very strong case for adopting their policy slate. This includes earned housing based on entering treatment programs if addicted, a crackdown on open-air drug dealing, an individualized and well-coordinated plan for every individual, and ample social services.

In the 1980s, Amsterdam had major problems with open-air drug-dealing and homelessness. Crucially, Shellenberger argues, Amsterdam’s courts, service providers, and families helped coordinate an individualized plan for everyone, and linked permanent housing benefits to milestones along the way. That is, rather than housing-first, those addicted first get less-desirable government shelter, but must earn permanent housing. They rely upon family support when available, enforced bans on public encampment, and ample counseling and psychiatric care services.

There are no signs yet that San Francisco will change course. In July, Mayor London Breed pledged $1 billion to house the homeless, after the city experienced a surprise windfall driven in part by federal stimulus spending. District Attorney Chesa Boudin has decriminalized many misdemeanors, and there’s a strong push to reduce police budgets.

Seattle features prominently in a chapter called “Legalize Crime.” Shellenberger recounts the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) in June of 2020 and the progressive wave of decriminalizing misdemeanor crimes. And he discusses the mismatch between progressive ideals and actual outcomes.

That people can and should be called upon to do more is central to Shellenberger’s thesis. A former progressive, Shellenberger describes a new, aggressively guarded belief system, which he calls “Victimology.” Such a doctrine plays a central role in discussion of the addiction and homelessness crises and the advancement and protection of failing dogmas. He argues that progressives have become far too invested in the idea that addicts are only victims with no obligation to a greater society, and that nothing can nor should be asked of any of them. In a related blog post, he explores this victimology through Moral Foundation Theory. Shellenberger argues that while espousing such a belief system may signal compassion, it rarely delivers it.

Does individual responsibility have a role in this urgent conversation? Do people experiencing homelessness and the larger community share mutual responsibilities? Shellenberger argues strongly: yes, they do.

The late neurologist, author and Holocaust survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl wrote compellingly about the need for responsibility to balance liberty in any functioning society. Before his death, Frankl called specifically for a “Statue of Responsibility” on the West Coast, to complement the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast. There’s even a campaign for it. After you read San Fransicko, you might be inclined to rethink our approach toward homeless policymaking.

Post-note: There’s a good discussion with the author here:

Which Seattle candidate most agrees with you? Take the all-new Alignvote quiz.

Which candidate most agrees with you in the Seattle 2021 general election? Take the all-new Alignvote quiz to find out.

I’ve just released a brand new version of Alignvote, completely rewritten and updated for the 2021 November Seattle General Election:

alignvote.com

There are four voter-candidate matchmakers for key Seattle races: Mayor, City Council 8, City Council 9, and City Attorney. And, assuming forums and questionnaires continue to develop in the race for King County Executive, there will likely be one for that race soon as well.

Are you just getting up to speed on some of the big issues in these races, and curious where the candidates stand on some key questions? Drop by Alignvote, and take the quiz. Then share it with your friends.

https://alignvote.com

Questions are sourced from candidate forums, direct questions placed to the candidates, and their positions as outlined on their campaign websites, on-the-record statements and elsewhere.

Know any undecideds?

In a poll released today, some 65% of voters were undecided in the City Attorney race, and 27% were undecided for Mayor:

Here’s a sample question, for the Mayor’s race. This question was posed at a recent forum, and answered by both general election candidates. Which one do you agree with? You can move the “Importance” slider between seven values, from “irrelevant” to “essential.”
Example question from the Mayor’s race, which was asked in a recent forum

All candidates were notified last Thursday and invited to provide additional elaboration if they’d like.

New Features

  • The voter-candidate matchmaker is now embeddable on any website, and I’d be happy to have this embedded on your site or blog. If you have a news site or blog covering city politics or the Seattle election, grab the snippet of code to embed the Alignvote Quiz on your website.
  • There’s a new “Evidence” section at the end of the stack-rankings. That section will include links to relevant news stories, tweets, commentary and more which are directly related to the candidate’s own views on the question at hand. This will likely be growing between now and November. If you have relevant stories or links to include, jot a tweet or Direct Message to @alignvote on Twitter.
  • Easier administration. A great deal of the effort was put into easier administration on the back-end. I have rewritten the code entirely from Angular/Material to React/NextJS.

On Controversy and Bias

In the 2019 cycle, Alignvote delivered over 20,000 voter-candidate rankings, and certainly generated some controversy.

Alignvote measures the level of match between you and the eight candidates in the four races above. You and the candidate are answering the same question. Alignvote simply scores the distance, weighted by the importance that you assign on these questions. The candidate with the least overall distance, weighted by importance to you on each issue, comes out on top.

How are questions sourced? Of course, these aren’t the only questions which should matter to a voter, but they are ones where the candidates often have differing viewpoints and ones in which they have made their stances clear.

As for me, the guy behind this project, like all voters and writers, I have political views. I have expressed them here on my blog, and I will continue to do so. I am not unbiased. My own views may not match your own. This is true of any blogger, tweeter, activist-blogger, TV personality or mainstream journalist covering politics.

For what it’s worth, on political quizzes and by Gallup polling, I generally score as a centrist, and I have supported Democratic, Independent and Republican candidates with varying ideologies over the years. And, since it seems a highly relevant indicator to Seattleites, I’ve never voted for Trump.

But I also realize that the term “centrist” is a subjective label. I value great public schools, affordable and convenient transit options, help for those who need it, good and accountable government, green parks, limits on services for those who refuse to partner, transparent metrics for the public which funds services, more affordable housing inventory, better solutions for those experiencing mental health or substance use crises in their lives and improved health and environmental outcomes for all.

I think that’s in part because (a) some political writers/tweeters with relatively large followings really, really don’t like when policy tradeoff questions are framed in any other terms other than the favorable ones they prefer, and (b) many candidates like to “tack toward the center” in the general and therefore do not want to be pinned down in multiple-choice options. They want the freedom to be all things to all voters for a general election.

But leadership, including civic leadership, is often about tradeoffs. If there were solutions to long-term controversies that had easy “no cost” answers, they’d have been done by now.

I think voters deserve more clarity.

To be sure, the selection of any set of questions in any poll or survey or candidate forum can absolutely result in bias.

Controversial issues can be framed in a number of ways.

Alignvote simply shows the level of match between you and the candidates on the questions. There are many opportunities to hear open-ended answers to questions (interviews, forums, meet-and-greets and more.) By design, to help voters quickly identify closest-match-to-them, Alignvote relies upon closed-ended questions, where both you and the candidate must commit to one of the answers.

And Alignvote offers candidates an option to elaborate on why they chose the option they did. Campaigns were all emailed these questions for elaboration on Thursday, September 23rd, and I would be happy to put their elaborations in for voters to hear. (They should allow up to 72 hours for their elaborations to go live.)

Find it useful? Share it, and follow on social media.

I’m very gratified to hear directly from many of you that it’s been very helpful. It’s an entirely free civic project, and is not funded by any campaign or political organization — its very modest costs are solely funded by me.

If you like it, please share it with fellow Seattleites. Options include email, Twitter, Facebook, Nextdoor, Reddit and word of mouth. Or just jot me a follow on social media. You’ll find me at @stevemur and alignvote at @alignvote. And please vote in November!

photo credit: Nitish Meena

Candidate Questions for the 2021 Seattle Election: Homelessness, Compassion Seattle and Summary

Part III of my 3-part series featured in Post Alley about the big issues in the upcoming Seattle election. Today’s post: the city’s approach toward homelessness, and a summary of the key “slates”: the more Leftward Slate vs. the more Moderate slate.
If you or other voters are just coming up to speed on the big issues facing us with this election about the direction of our city, feel free to share this three-part series on zoning, crime and homelessness.

This is the third in a three-part series on issues defining the Seattle 2021 Election. In Part I, we looked at residential zoning and explained our methodology for this series. In Part II, we looked at misdemeanor crime. A final issue is their approach toward homelessness. Specifically, on August 25, I chose to ask them where they stood on the “Compassion Seattle” initiative, which was subsequently thrown out by legal decisions.

This series first appeared on Seattle’s Post Alley on September 3rd, 2021.

Question: Should the Charter of the City of Seattle be modified to simultaneously (a) require the city to allocate a fixed percentage of its budget and commit to specific, measurable actions that prioritize mental health and substance use disorder treatment support services, combined with (b) housing, and (c) if services and housing options are available, compel the city to remove encampments that pose health and safety risk?

A King County judge threw a giant curveball into this when she ruled on August 27 that the Compassion Seattle charter amendment is outside the bounds of what is permitted by the voter initiative process, striking it from the ballot; and Compassion Seattle’s attempted repeal has failed. The issue divides the two mayoral contenders: Bruce Harrell is on record supporting the Compassion Seattle Initiative and has recently affirmed support for its basic approach, and Lorena González opposes it as an unfunded mandate.

About the issue: “Compassion Seattle” is a voter initiative which would have amended the City Charter to require emergency housing (2,000 units within the first year of adoption), dedicate at least 12% of the City’s general fund revenues to address homelessness, and required the City to take action to ensure that parks, playgrounds, and public spaces remained clear of encampments as housing and services became available. Again, this proposed amendment is no longer on the ballot, given the upholding of the judge’s ruling.

Argument in favor: It’s been more than six years since the City declared a “state of emergency” on homelessness, and it’s clear that neither City Council or the mayor have been able to take effective action to reduce homelessness or keep encampments from growing and endangering public spaces. It’s time to make it an explicit legal requirement by enacting it into the City Charter. The coalition that produced this initiative includes a broad group of voices. Actions by the Council, such as defunding the Navigation teams that did outreach of clean up of encampments may have made the problem much worse. It’s time to find a new pathway forward by enacting this set of policy mandates into the City Charter. This charter amendment was born out of increasing frustration with city government’s ability to tackle homelessness.

Argument opposed: The King County Regional Homelessness Authority was only recently established, and we need to give it more time and resources to work, without overly constraining it with what must be done and when. A charter amendment is an awkward and unduly constraining way to enact such legislation.

Candidate Responses

Given the legally uncertain nature of the Compassion Seattle initiative at the time the question was posed, several campaigns declined comment, deferring to the Court process. Here are the responses in full:


Bruce Harrell, Candidate for Mayor

“While Compassion Seattle will no longer be on the ballot, I continue to support the initiative’s goals of dedicating significant resources to action on homelessness and to an increased urgency of addressing unsafe encampments in incompatible areas, so that we can get people off the streets, out of parks and playfields, and into housing with services. My administration will bring together service providers, homelessness advocates, housing experts, community leaders, nonprofit, business, labor and philanthropic organizations, and more to define a plan that meets our shared values, publish it so it’s widely available to the public, and get to work demonstrating real progress. Under our administration, we will publish the costs per unit, costs per person, all measurable outcomes and timetables and build trust by establishing a measurable plan and proof that we are spending public dollars efficiently and effectively.”


Kenneth Wilson, Candidate for City Council (Seat 8)

“I do not agree with a fixed budget allocation to housing and services. We cannot promote one bad idea with another. I would work to immediately support enforcement of existing laws and to eliminate encampments on public property. Allowing encampments exposed/outside and along the edges of roads, parks, and schools is not compassionate for the homeless or the City. My plan is to provide permanent pathways that deliver community value for their tax dollar investment and life-long opportunities for the homeless individuals through goal-oriented rehabilitation with a realistic 18 to 24 month transitional housing and job training that graduates them out of homelessness. (Please see KenForCouncil8 for written details.)”


Nikkita Oliver, Candidate for City Council (Seat 9)

“Charter Amendment 29, by determination of the Court, will NOT be on the 2021 General Election ballot. Charter Amendment 29, misleadingly called “Compassion Seattle,” is not a normal referendum, but a Charter amendment. Charter amendments usually cover governance issues, not policy. Charter Amendment 29 is/was an unfunded mandate that would NOT have rendered much, if any, permanent affordable housing and would have only required the City to give a little over 1% more towards services for our unhoused neighbors than it was already allocating. We need real solutions that address the root causes of the problem which, according to the Regional Homelessness Authority, are a lack of affordable housing and a lack of access to financial means and resources in our region. Marc Doans, the CEO of the Regional Homelessness Authority, states, ‘The driver of homelessness is economic.’”


Sara Nelson, Candidate for City Council (Seat 9)

“This question is sort of moot because the judge ruled this Charter amendment could not go on the ballot. My question is, what’s the plan now? We’re spending more and more money on our response to homelessness and the problem keeps getting worse, representing an utter humanitarian and policy failure on Council’s part. So, we need to stop doing what we’re doing now because it’s not working and Compassion Seattle’s proposal was at least an attempt to put some teeth into a course-correct. What I liked most about it was that it would’ve mandated a direct, Seattle funding stream for mental health and substance abuse treatment which is the most urgent missing piece of our response. Even more than housing, in my opinion, because there are lots of City-funded providers offering short-, medium-, and long-term housing options right now (and I do support the “Housing First” model).

“The ball’s now in Council’s court. We need to fundamentally restructure our response to the homelessness crisis and implement a model proven to work in other cities, centered on individualized case management and a real-time, online “command center” for service providers and City agencies to ensure continuity-of-care and help individuals get into the housing that meets their immediate needs. Right now, there’s zero coordination among providers and they don’t track the kind of housing and services individuals need or have been offered already. I’m not saying we have to toss out all our partnerships with providers, but we do need to incorporate more accountability measures to meet evidence-based outcomes. We must also ensure our parks are open and accessible to all. That’s the foundation of our Commons and simply ignoring encampments is a smokescreen for doing nothing to help people living there. This isn’t rocket science and we don’t have to recreate the wheel — we just have to have the political will to approach this challenge more effectively.”


Which Candidates Align With You?

If “yes, I favored the Compassion Seattle Initiative,” favor Bruce Harrell as mayor, and Sara Nelson and Kenneth Wilson for City Council.

If “no, I did not favor the Compassion Seattle Initiative,” favor Lorena González as mayor, and Nikkita Oliver and Teresa Mosqueda for City Council.


Concluding Reflection: Two Slates Seem Clearly Defined

Judging from both their direct responses to this three-part series as well as prior on-the-record statements, the eight candidates appear to be fairly neatly divided into two “slates” of four each on these three policy questions. While there is some fence-straddling, there really is no example of a candidate from one “slate” crossing firmly over into the other, at least on these three issues.

When it comes to zoning, decriminalization, and homelessness policy, you could shorthand these two slates the “More Leftward Slate” and the “More Moderate Slate.” The More Leftward Slate is comosed of Lorena González, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, Teresa Mosqueda, and Nikkita Oliver. The More Moderate Slate includes Bruce Harrell, Ann Davison, Kenneth Wilson, and Sara Nelson.

Put another way, it would be quite surprising if it’s not another year of The Seattle Times endorsing the Moderate Slate and The Stranger endorsing the Left Slate.

Be sure to vote by mail on or before Tuesday, November 2.

Candidate Questions for the 2021 Seattle Election: Prosecution for Misdemeanors

Part II in a three-part series, in which I ask questions of the eight campaigns in the Seattle November 2nd General Election and hand the microphone to them. Today’s question: Should Seattle essentially end criminal prosecution for misdemeanors, including shoplifting, property destruction and misdemeanor assault?

This post first appeared on Post Alley on September 4th, 2021.

This is the second of a three-part series on key issues in the Seattle November 2021 general election. In Part I, we took at look at what candidates had to say about altering single-family residential zoning and explained the methodology for this series.

Question: Should Seattle essentially end criminal prosecution for misdemeanors, including shoplifting, property destruction, prostitution, and misdemeanor assault?

In 2021, perhaps the most consequential office up for election is City Attorney. Voters will be making a big decision about how we wish to change our approach on crime, particularly misdemeanor offenders. What should the Seattle City Attorney’s office (and the City Council) do about misdemeanor offenders, such as those arrested for shoplifting, misdemeanor assault, drug possession, property destruction, prostitution, and more?

Note that felony offenders (e.g., those accused of homicide) aren’t under the auspices of the Seattle City Attorney’s office; that’s handled by the King County Prosecutors Office, a position currently held by Dan Satterberg.

Buzzwords often found in this debate: “diversion,” “decriminalization,” “frequent offenders,” “decriminalize poverty,” “crimes of poverty,” “affirmative defense,” “permissive policies,” and “carceral approaches.”

Arguments in favor of decriminalization: The current system punishes people for living in poverty. Rather than spending millions on approaches involving incarceration, why not spend those dollars toward services to help offenders rehabilitate and become more productive members of society? When we jail people, they lose housing, jobs, relationships, and other things they need to stay out of trouble. Baltimore and San Francisco have taken such approaches, and Baltimore experienced a decrease in violent crime.

Arguments opposed: Seattle is already one of the most progressive cities in the nation with respect to diversion-from-jail programs, yet it has a serious frequent offender problem. In February 2019, the System Failure Report chronicled 100 of Seattle’s top offenders. These 100 individuals were responsible for 3,562 bookings. Just nine months later, these same individuals were responsible for another 220 bookings. Under outgoing three-term City Attorney Pete Holmes, the city declined to file charges in almost half of all non-traffic-related criminal cases that Seattle police referred for prosecution. Compassion needs to consider victims of crime, not just the offenders.

Candidate Responses

Below are the complete and unedited responses. As noted in Part I, the Lorena González mayoral campaign did not respond to multiple inquiries:

Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, City Attorney Candidate

“Essentially end? Some things yes, some things no. I seek to prioritize survivor safety and healing, utilize non-jail systems of accountability, and support community needs so that harm can be prevented, not just punished after the fact.”


Ann Davison, City Attorney Candidate

“I am not in favor of ending the prosecution of misdemeanors. When there is talk of abolishing prosecution, we are forgetting about the victims of these crimes.  This includes domestic violence victims, small business owners who are forced to close their businesses in neighborhoods due to repeated thefts, and individual people who are frequent victims of crime are often our vulnerable. I am strongly in favor of smarter prosecution that doesn’t have double standards and also to divert people into robust programs that can offer meaningful rehabilitation with measurable outcomes; but abolishing prosecution altogether shuts off these interventions and alternatives and promotes more and worse offenses.”


Bruce Harrell, Mayoral Candidate

“The City must view every misdemeanor prosecution with a lens of restorative justice and evaluate every case individually and comprehensively. The City should neither prosecute nor waive prosecution for all crimes as a blanket policy, but rather balance the rights and history of the accused and consider the needs and the lens of the victim. I support alternatives to prosecution in situations where existing programs are proven to lead to better outcomes and where those programs are appropriate for the specific offender. However, in many cases, the City still needs the ability to prosecute as a way to both encourage participation in alternatives and to maintain public safety.”


Kenneth Wilson, City Council Candidate (Seat 8)

“No. Small crimes and mistakes still required correction, and are not harmless. Just as a coach acts to correct a mistake during practice before it occurs in a critical setting or the problem escalates. Specifically, misdemeanors becoming the norm are extremely harmful to our society as a City of equal people. I also agree with Bret Stephens’ article in a recent The Seattle Times, “Our ‘broken windows’ world,” that proper correction of misdemeanors prevents disorder that becomes the normal and the allowance for increasing crime and violence. Most importantly, misdemeanors must be dealt with compassionately and consistently in justice commensurate with the problem.”


Teresa Mosqueda, Incumbent City Councilmember and Candidate (Seat 8)

“Criminal prosecution at the misdemeanor level often exacerbates the same factors that are at the root cause of crime. Creating barriers to economic stability and mobility and social inclusion through negative interactions with the legal system too often does not rehabilitate or affect long-term change in the person who committed a misdemeanor crime. Let’s do our best to stop the upstream of folks being swept into the criminal legal system by expanding post-arrest diversionary programs and other proven tools to reduce misdemeanor crimes.”


Sara Nelson, City Council Candidate (Seat 9)

“Absolutely not! As reported and analyzed, Councilmember Herbold’s proposed legislation would enable defendants to have their case dismissed if they committed these crimes out of “need” or because they were suffering from a mental health disorder, including addiction. I support diversion programs that aim to keep offenders of low-level crimes out of jail initially, but this legislation would be a signal that virtually all misdemeanors are permissible under a very broad and vague excuse and it would pave the way for more serious crimes because many offenders of misdemeanors end up committing repeatedly or moving on to felonies.

“Herbold’s proposal was strongly opposed by residents and small businesses who’ve grown increasingly frustrated about repeat thefts and property damage that go unpunished. To my knowledge, Herbold did not meet with or listen to the neighborhood groups and small business organizations who voiced their loud and unequivocal opposition, not even the Mayor’s Small Business Advisory Council which recommended against it. This is yet another example of the tone-deafness Council repeatedly displays toward the real struggles of Seattle’s residents and businesses who are just plain fed up with the City’s laissez-faire attitude toward crime in general. Herbold’s proposal is on the backburner during the campaign but it’s not officially dead yet.”


Nikkita Oliver, City Council Candidate (Seat 9)

“Seattle’s criminal punishment system costs nearly $48 million a year. Almost NONE of that money helps address individuals’ poverty or helps them meet their basic needs. Instead, the system criminalizes poverty. In 2017, Seattle caged individuals for 63,000 nights in jail cells.

“Over 90% of cases in the municipal court end up qualifying for public defenders – this means that Seattle spends millions every year prosecuting poor people. And even though Black people make up less than 7% of Seattle’s population, Black people made up 27% of the cases prosecuted by Seattle Municipal Court in 2017-2018.

“Misdemeanors are generally considered low-level law violations. There is evidence to suggest that reducing the number of misdemeanor prosecutions and investing in communities and community-based supports decreases crime. Seattle needs to stop punishing poverty, mental health struggles, and drug use, and instead invest in our communities. Punishing people who are experiencing poverty and trying to meet their basic needs is foolish and immoral. It does not address the root problem—poverty. And instead, it makes things worse, forcing people into cycles of incarceration and court supervision that make it even harder to achieve financial stability.

“For the above stated reasons, Seattle should end or at minimum dramatically reduce prosecution of misdemeanors.”


Which Candidates Align With You?

If you say “yes, let’s end most misdemeanor prosecution; our approach for the past 12 years has failed in part because it’s been too tough on offenders and emphasized carceral (jail) approaches too often,” Favor Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, Nikkita Oliver, and Teresa Mosqueda.

If “no, do not end most misdemeanor prosecution,” favor City Attorney candidate Ann Davison, council candidate Sara Nelson, Mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell, and Councilmember Mosqueda’s opponent Kenneth Wilson.

In the final piece of this three-part series, we’ll look at the candidates’ attitudes toward the “Compassion Seattle” charter amendment.

Seattle Election Candidates (Except One) Respond to Questions on Three Important Issues

In this three-part series, I’m taking a close look at 3 key issues at the heart of the 2021 Seattle November 2nd General Election. Today’s post focuses on residential zoning.

This post appeared in PostAlley on Friday September 3rd.

I recently reached out to eight Seattle candidates to get their views on what I consider three key questions for the November general election. We’ll publish their replies in three installments, in this order:

  1. Zoning: Do you think Seattle should eliminate essentially all residential building restrictions across all neighborhoods, allowing, say, multi-unit apartment buildings to be built on any lot, whether in a residential neighborhood or otherwise?
  2. Misdemeanors/Abolition: Should Seattle essentially end (or at a minimum dramatically reduce) criminal prosecution for misdemeanors, including shoplifting, property destruction, prostitution and misdemeanor assault?
  3. Homelessness: Should the Charter of the City of Seattle be modified to simultaneously (a) require the city to allocate a fixed percentage of its budget and commit to specific, measurable actions that prioritize mental health and substance use disorder treatment support services, combined with (b) housing, and (c) if services and housing options are available, compel the city to remove encampments that pose health and safety risk?

I’ve heard back from seven of eight campaigns; the Lorena González mayoral campaign did not respond to multiple inquiries.

We’ll take each of the above topics in three articles, the first of which is below and the others will follow shortly.

By way of explanation: For the 2019 Seattle election cycle, I created and published Alignvote, a voter-candidate matchmaker website. It asked voters a handful of questions, including intensity. Then, it showed a stack-ranked list of how closely your answers matched the candidates’ on-the-record answers, together with some optional elaboration by candidates if they supplied it. Alignvote presented a simple distance-score between you and the candidates, based on similarity of answers and how strongly that issue mattered to you.

Unlike the questions above, Alignvote’s 2019 questions weren’t ones I authored. They merely repeated ones which had already been asked and answered by candidates in forums, questionnaires and more. Alignvote served roughly 20,000 voter-candidate ranking matches in 2019, and gave campaigns further insights into how voters felt about some issues. It was on television and radio. I am still undecided whether it’s returning for 2021.

Question 1: Residential Zoning

Do you think Seattle should eliminate essentially all residential building restrictions across all neighborhoods, allowing, say, multi-unit apartment buildings to be built on any lot, whether in a residential neighborhood or otherwise?

Background: How should Seattle be allowed to grow? Zoning decisions are enormously consequential, because they determine what can be built where. Seattle’s zoning laws are under the purview of the City Council, the city’s lawmaking branch, and any changes are enacted into law by a majority vote and a signature of the mayor. So it matters what City Council and Mayoral candidates say about this issue.

Some 70 percent or more of Seattle’s land is zoned as “single family residential.” This means that multi-story apartment buildings cannot be built upon this land. When you think of neighborhoods like Madrona, Windermere, Laurelhurst, or Mount Baker, you probably don’t think about condominiums or apartment buildings, but changes in legislation could allow them to be built anywhere, on any lot. Remember that in 2019, considerable change was made to Seattle’s residential zoning, which now allows the construction of “accessory dwelling unit” (ADU) and “detached accessory dwelling units” (DADU) on all Seattle residential lots.

In cities such as Minneapolis, they’ve decided to do away with all residential zoning. It’s a sleeper issue that very likely will be decided by the next term of leaders. Here in Seattle, some of the ground is already being laid by changes to nomenclature. This year, Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Dan Strauss proposed renaming “single-family residential” zoning to “neighborhood residential,” a step which has long been advocated by urbanist activists.

Advocates for eliminating all single-family zoning argue that as the city grows it desperately needs more housing options, and eliminating the restrictions is key to increasing density and making housing more affordable. They consider single family zoning exclusionary in nature, a structural way that the city reinforces historic class and racial divides, and argue all neighborhoods should have a full range of density supply to allow all possible options. Generally, real estate developers also strongly favor this idea as it opens up an entirely new set of expansion opportunities, and stands to reward them handsomely.

Those opposed to making these zoning changes cite several concerns. First, they see Seattle’s single family neighborhoods as a key foundation of the city’s quality of life, places that build and support families. Many also worry about rapidly rising property taxes on all residents due to soaring valuations of what the same land might merit with a new multi-household/higher-density structure. They fear such taxes would quickly go far beyond what single families can afford, forcing more sales and up-zoning. They often cite that neighborhoods will all look the same, cutting down more trees and trading grass for pavement, while increasing traffic, overwhelming parking, adding noise and other nuisances. They also worry that the home next door could soon be turned into the next multistory apartment building, bringing more cranes and jackhammers, and removing trees and green space.

Candidate Responses

Here are the complete, unedited responses of all who responded to the above question on zoning:

Bruce Harrell (Mayoral Candidate)

“I am watching with interest the national conversation on eliminating single-family zoning laws as a means to achieve housing affordability/accessibility and as a means to promote environmental sustainability. I look forward to leading this discussion with housing advocates and neighborhood communities. During my mayoral term, the immediate answer to our housing affordability crisis will be to rapidly build quality, mixed-use housing and aggressively serve low-income residents and working families. We will protect those at risk of losing their homes, and advance equity and diversity in our neighborhoods.

We should start this urgent work where we already have the zoning and capacity to build and are currently underserving our city, and by lowering costs of construction which will in turn lower prices for the consumer. For example, townhome production has gone down 70% since the City’s upfront Mandatory Housing Affordability Fees were imposed. We currently have hundreds of thousands of units capacity to use under our current zoning scheme and as we amend our zoning laws to reflec t progressive housing policy, we must unite our city around a plan to do it.

Wholesale changes to zoning must include community engagement and we must continue to analyze how a total elimination affects access to transit; preservation of tree canopy; preservation of open space and public safety considerations. As Mayor, I will build housing in the areas where we’ve already upzoned and convene a community and stakeholder-led process to determine the future of zoning in our city.”


Teresa Mosqueda (Incumbent City Councilmember, citywide Seat 8)

“Our goal as a city should be to enact zoning and land use policies that align with short and long term affordable housing needs. This means we engage in thoughtful zoning changes that not only improve equity and access to housing, but protect and expand opportunities for home ownership and intergenerational wealth, especially for communities historically marginalized in our city. Improving density and expanding housing to meet needs is not the same as eliminating all zoning rules; in fact, to truly build the Seattle we all deserve, it will take thoughtful, community-driven land use policies, not a one size fits all change.”


Kenneth Wilson (Candidate for City Council Seat 8)

“No. Zoning is a functional protection of the livability of our City. These important restrictions best serve the community by protecting the physical function of transportation, sewers, power grids, unique neighborhood characteristics, viewpoints, and our City’s critical green canopy.Residents living in adjacent higher density zoned housing on arterials benefit from the single-family zones by having the green space within walking distance of their homes. The zoned single family neighborhood benefits from retail and transportation on the arterials. In combination, the zoning enhances livability for all.”


Nikkita Oliver (Candidate for citywide City Council Seat 9)

“Seattle needs to end exclusionary zoning patterns that prevent us from addressing the housing affordability crisis. The density needed to address both the housing crisis and the climate catastrophe must be shared equally throughout the City. The transition from single-family zoning to neighborhood residential is an important first step. This, however, should not be applied to our industrial lands as these are important areas for place-based industries and much of the industrial land in Seattle is not appropriate for housing.”


Sara Nelson (Candidate for City Council Seat 9)

“My short answer is no. We’ve got a housing affordability crisis on our hands as well as rising rates of displacement so we need to encourage the construction of new housing across our city as well as a greater diversity of more affordable options within single family zones. I support adding flexibility to what’s allowed in single family zones, not getting rid of restrictions altogether by allowing multi-unit apartment buildings to be built on any lot, for example.

Seattle took a step toward ending single-family zoning when it legalized two ADUs per lot in 2019 so the lowest zoning in Seattle is essentially three units per lot. Hundreds of new ADUs are now going in and that’s a positive outcome for people who want to “age in place” and earn an income off their property which also combats displacement.

The next step is to follow Portand’s Residential Infill Project which allows four per lot rather than three. Portland’s program also has a provision that stretches the limit to six if two of them are subsidized, below-market rate units. We should consider doing the same thing on large lots (5,000+ sf and larger) in Seattle because Portland’s analysis shows a reduction in displacement and a significant increase in new housing. I also support expanding “missing middle” housing options by allowing flexibility for duplexes, triplexes, and quads on corner lots.

I’ve heard from housing activists in the Central District, that eliminating all residential building restrictions would encourage more of the predatory development practices occurring now. Ruby Hollard of the Keep Your Habitat Anti-Displacement Project told me that developers are aggressively approaching homeowners in the CD and making offers that are too good for people struggling to hang onto their properties because of the pandemic to pass up. We need to help people stay in their homes through foreclosure prevention grants and making it easier to monetize the only asset many people in economically distressed neighborhoods have which is their home.”

Which Candidate Aligns With You?

If you believe Seattle should “mostly keep” existing single-family zoning, favor Bruce Harrell (mayor), Kenneth Wilson (city council 8) and Sara Nelson (city council 9.)

If you believe Seattle should eliminate all single-family zoning, favor Lorena González (mayor), Teresa Mosqueda (city council 8) and Nikkita Oliver (city council 9.)

In the next installment, we’ll take a look at Question 2, regarding the approach we as a City should take to those accused of misdemeanor offenses.

Students: Don Your Masks, Evidence Be Damned.

Imposing these new restrictions is like forcing everyone to drive 10mph on the highway, because 30% of drivers refuse to wear a seat belt.

UPDATE, September 4 2021: Since the original date of this post, several pieces have come out arguing the same. I’d recommend The Downsides of Masking Young Students Are Real by Dr. Vinay Prasad, and The Science of Masking Kids at School Remains Unclear, which appeared in New York Magazine. Another polemic that I don’t fully agree with, but which has links to many important studies that we should at least know before deciding where the balance of harm lies, is Masking Children: Tragic, Unscientific and Damaging, from the American Institute for Economic Research. Finally, in the weeks since the publication of this piece, the UK, Ireland, France and Denmark (as well as Sweden of course) have also decided not to mandate masks on younger learners, concluding quite specifically that the balance of harm is in masking, particularly on the youngest learners. The varying approaches between the United States and UK, Ireland, France, Denmark and Sweden should provide yet more empirical comparison. Set yourself a reminder to check on per-capita spread and mortality outcomes for K-12 learners come late November.

On Wednesday, Governor Inslee reiterated his mandate that all K-12 learners, faculty and staff wear masks to start the 2021-2022 school year, regardless of their vaccination status. Further, Inslee provided no threshold, metric or milestone when this requirement would end.

From the ever-drying well, he’s saying once again: “trust us.”

How long will we continue to force the least COVID-vulnerable among us with the least voice to sacrifice big parts of their lives for those with the most choice to change our odds? Seattle’s public schools closed for in-person learning longer in 2020-2021 than any other school system in America, save San Francisco. We need the highest-possible bandwidth of communication between teacher, students and one another to have any hope of making up for a very lost year.

Imposing these new restrictions is like forcing everyone to drive 10mph on the highway, because 30% of drivers refuse to wear a seat belt.

Let’s remember that everyone twelve years old and up has been eligible for free and highly effective vaccines for months. Each member of my own family of five (ages 14-56) has been fully vaccinated since June; we jumped at the opportunity as we each became eligible during the spring. These vaccines greatly limit the risk of hospitalization or mortality.

Yes, there is vaccine hesitancy, and while I’m very supportive of persuasion over shaming, assumption-making and ridicule, I’ve also had it with the suggestion that the rest of society has an obligation to wait for everyone to change their minds.

The two leading teachers unions in America oppose vaccine mandates for their members. OK. I respect personal and organizational choice; that’s entirely their right to do so. But this stance certainly undermines their ability to then claim faculty vulnerability as a key concern. All teachers and staff have the option to get vaccinated. Indeed, after lobbying the governor, they were granted prioritized vaccination status starting in March of 2021, so they’ve had the option far longer than most. There are very rare health conditions where physicians might say that vaccines aren’t a wise choice. The question then: Is the least harm to require all their students in the school to wear a face covering seven hours per day, or might that teacher need reassignment to remote work?

Imposing these new restrictions is analogous to forcing everyone to drive 10mph on the highway because 30% of us refuse to use a seat belt. At some point, leaders need to weigh evidence and relative total harm. A big part of that calculus is looking at relative numbers.

One thing is clear: this mandate is not primarily about minimizing harm to students.

COVID is Extremely Age-Discriminating

Statistically, kids are simply not at significant risk of hospitalization or mortality from COVID, not yet anyway. In fact, they at lower risk from COVID hospitalization or mortality than influenza, by the CDC’s own data, despite CDC Director Rochelle Walensky’s comments yesterday to the contrary. The CDC’s data suggests that kids 0-17 years old are anywhere from two to seven times more likely to die from influenza than COVID. In fact, the age-weighted severity is perhaps the biggest mercy this awful pandemic has brought. Here in America, the youngest among us survive, more than 99.9% of the time.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take COVID risk in schools seriously, but it does mean we need some sense of proportion of the relative harm we are choosing, and yes, masking is harm. Sensible policy weighs the harms imposed with the likelihood and weight of harms forestalled, and chooses the least harm-imposing path.

We are learning about COVID-19 all the time. But one of the few conclusive facts about COVID-19 is that it is extremely age-discriminating when it comes to its worst outcomes: hospitalization and mortality.

Out of 74,000,000 Americans 18 and under, the total number of 0-18 year old Americans who have died of COVID since the pandemic began is 337. According to the CDC, the infection fatality rate for COVID for those 18 and under is astonishingly low; statistically close to zero. While comparisons to the flu are always fraught, it’s worth noting that the infection fatality rate for COVID is anywhere from half to one seventh that of the flu for this 0-18 age bracket.

You can find full hospitalization and mortality data for influenza by age group on the CDC’s website for comparison.

Zooming out, here’s the hospitalization curve, all American age groups since the start of the pandemic. Note the black dotted lines at the very bottom of this chart. It’s hard to spot, since it is literally along the y-axis at zero:

Image

As for “breakthrough infections”, let’s look at the likelihood of severity for the vaccinated. Thus far, there are about 160 million Americans who have been fully vaccinated. And thus far, there are about 6,000 “breakthrough” infections which have led to hospitalization. That means that if you’re vaccinated, there’s about a 0.00375% chance you might be hospitalized due to COVID, based on current statistics. (Again, please get vaccinated if you can!)

Some point to “Long COVID” as a concern that we should guard against. To which I’d first say: what evidence can you show that masking K-12 learners even slows spread and reduces chance in any meaningful way of catching COVID-19? Why haven’t mask mandates “bent the curve”, in state after state when they impose or remove mask mandates?

These aren’t assertions to be made cavalierly; I have spent hours upon hours with 91-DIVOC and other terrific COVID charting sites. For each of the very few cases where you can plausibly point to a mask mandate having “bent the curve” within weeks or months of imposition or relaxation, I guarantee you I can show you three states and situations where no change from prior pattern was observed. Is there a chance that the “virus is gonna virus” folks are actually mostly correct on this issue? Has anyone checked in on Sweden’s overall mortality lately, compared to other European nations? How about those of Florida or Texas?

And what about long literacy? Long impacts from high school dropout? Long language acquisition? Long loss-of-socialization? Long impacts from less physical education? Music? Theatre? We will have interesting empirical testing data between kids raised in each state over the coming decades to compare.

Washington State’s Learners Will Be Uniquely Restricted

Washington State is taking a pretty aggressive stance here, compared to most other states in the union.

The data-collection site burbio.io tracks school mask mandates, along with other metrics. Their latest map shows just how unique Inslee’s position is. Not only is Washington State one of only six states to mandate masks for in-person schooling, the vast majority of states have either no mask mandate or a ban on mask mandates at present writing. Look how green this map is below:

2021 School Mask Policies, Burbio.io Mask Tracker

For the lucky 30% who head to college, imagine first-year roommates as they unpack in their dorm, meeting each other for the first time: one from Florida and one from Washington State. How will they describe their high school experiences?

Do we think this will have a positive effect on Washington State students’ learning, attendance rates, drop-out rates and post-secondary next steps? Do we imagine that it will have no effect?

We are Putting Mandates Uniquely On Kids

Even more, this new emphasis on K-12 learning feels uniquely punitive to one age group. Do you see any ways this might backfire?

Inslee recommended, but does not require, masking for adults when out and about.

Let’s say that again. There are no statewide age-dependent mandates for most adults for their daily activities — be it work, or shopping or dining or entertainment. There’s only a recommendation from the Governor that you should wear a mask when indoors or with unvaccinated individuals. Yes, there are workplace restrictions in some areas, but adults still have choices not to work in those roles.

This “mask up in school” requirement applies equally to students and adult staff, but if you’re in the 0-18 year age group, that pickup from school and then errand-running experience is going to seem like entirely separate rules for you versus the adults you see out and about.

Then there’s the matter of cynicism and buy-in to institutions. Do we imagine that teens don’t have access to Google or social media? Clear, peer-reviewed and validated evidence does not exist which shows those school districts which imposed mask mandates did any better than those which did not, certainly not in terms of the outcomes which matter most: hospitalization and mortality.

Follow the Evidence, or Nah?

I am evidence-driven.

If you have been truly evidence-driven from 2015-2021, thank you. You’re a rare bird. You’ve been willing to go with what the evidence says, even if it may be counterintuitive. You’ve been willing to update your prior assumptions, even if it goes against your tribal narrative of the moment.

I certainly believed, a year ago, that mask mandates might slow the spread and were well worth a try. It’s intuitive, after all: COVID is an airborne virus, and it even spreads when you’re asymptomatic. So limiting airflow plausibly would limit negative outcome.

And even despite my acquired skepticism, even to this day, as an adult, I’ll comply with a mask mandate, though now, more begrudgingly than before. But this doesn’t mean I’m comfortable at all with this entirely optional harm being imposed and extended for our youngest without compelling evidence. Doing so not only imposes harm but it erodes trust in our institutions and leaders.

Here is our fully vaccinated Vice President, for instance, saying that if you don’t like wearing a mask, get vaccinated:

Huh? She is vaccinated, yet she’s wearing a mask. Hardly modeling the scientifically clear benefits of getting vaccinated.

To be sure, there are very clear lab experiments performed where aerosol spray is measurably reduced by wearing a mask. Masking clearly reduces large particle aerosol transmission and reception in lab settings. And there are very valid reasons that surgeons wear masks. They do work. I am not saying that masks do not work. What I am saying is far more nuanced.

The strongest study I was able to find — and it’s the only one — took place in Georgia, within a school district (not across multiple districts). It found that imposition of both better ventilation and mask mandates appears correlated with lower spread. But as noted, there are at least four potentially large confounders:

First, many COVID-19 cases were self-reported by staff members and parents or guardians, and prevention strategies reported by administrators or nurses might not reflect day-to-day activities or represent all school classrooms, and did not include an assessment of compliance (e.g., mask use). Second, the study had limited power to detect lower incidence for potentially effective, but less frequently implemented strategies, such as air filtration and purification systems; only 16 schools reported implementing this ventilation improvement. Third, the response rate was low (11.6%), and some participating schools had missing information about ventilation improvements. However, incidence per 500 students was similar between participating (3.08 cases) and nonparticipating (2.90 cases) schools, suggesting any systematic bias might be low. Finally, the data from this cross-sectional study cannot be used to infer causal relationships.

Mask Use and Ventilation Improvements to Reduce COVID-19 Incidence in Elementary Schools — Georgia, November 16–December 11, 2020

Mask efficacy appears to depend highly upon both the type of mask used, the compliance with the mandate in an entire cohort, and the aerosol size in question. Masks in general may work to slow the spread, but has it been clearly demonstrated that in K-12 settings, masks so reduce negative outcomes like hospitalization or mortality that they’re worth the harm imposed? I’m not seeing such evidence.

Image
Sources for data noted above. Visualization created by Emily Burns, PhD Neuroscience

COVID-19 size distribution is shown in the lower left.

In Theory, Theory is the Same As Practice

Empiricists live by real-world observations. Labs are imperfect representations of the real-world. Fortunately, this past year has seen numerous “A/B” tests of various policies. If masking K-12 learners made substantial differences in outcomes, wouldn’t we have seen it? Wouldn’t we have seen Texas’ COVID case count skyrocket after mask mandates were relaxed? We didn’t.

The highly age-discriminatory nature of the virus suggests that there’s something uniquely better about youths’ ability to process the virus. Therefore, let’s use the data from districts, counties, states, provinces and nations, and explore the question: Did K-12 mask policy impact hospitalization or mortality in that community? It does not appear to have done so, certainly not consistently or predictably.

And though I’ve scoured Semantic Scholar, 91-DIVOC and elsewhere for charts and studies, despite a full year’s worth of real-world policy variance, no one appears to have yet validated that mask mandates for K-12 learners greatly limit community hospitalization or mortality. So what the hell are we doing?

Even in the policy rollouts themselves, the same leaders who declared that the vaccinated can remove their masks aren’t coming forth now with clear and convincing evidence which shows that K-12 masking slowed hospitalization or mortality. Some among us conclude: because it doesn’t exist.

In other words: In theory, theory is the same as practice. But in practice, it never is.

Vaccines Work. Why Don’t We Let Them?

The evidence establishing the effectiveness of US-approved vaccines is overwhelming. Vaccines work. They have dramatically reduced the worst COVID outcomes, especially for adults. Please get vaccinated if you haven’t.

But I have searched and searched for data supporting the effectiveness of masking for K-12 learners, and have yet to discover any cross-regional correlations which show that K-12 masking reduces hospitalization or mortality in the surrounding community.

I have however run across numerous intriguing datasets which run counter to data-free claims of effectiveness of this policy. Let’s look at Canada, for instance.

Four Provinces, Four Policies

Canada’s four largest provinces took very different approaches to masking. Take a close look at the chart below. Can you spot a clear difference in negative outcomes? Are the patterns wildly different? Is the area under the curve?

One kept schools open, no masks. One kept schools open, with masks. One closed schools entirely. Can anyone tell them apart in this graph? If you think you can, venture a guess which one was most restrictive.

Image
Per-capita case counts over time, four Canadian Provinces with very different mask mandates

Answer key: Quebec dropped masks in June. British Columbia mostly never required them, but then did starting in the Spring for grades 4+. Ontario was most restrictive throughout, using remote schooling for much of the 2020-2021 schoolyear, but masking when any in-person learning happened in most public schools.

You can do this same experiment comparing Florida (no mask mandate) to Texas (dropped the mask mandate in March) to even Sweden (no mask mandate.) Generally, it’s not been obvious that the more restrictive the mandate regime results in the least harm overall.

Those urging the imposition of masks often push back that masks cause harm. They’re really no big deal. What’s the downside?

Yes, It’s Harm We are Imposing On Our Kids.

First, several psychologists do hold that masks inhibit language acquisition, particularly for those with learning disability. Reading lips is harder, watching how to pronounce phonemes is harder, and emotional conveyance is restricted.

Read: How masks could affect speech and language development in children | CBC News.

There’s a rather loud contingent on Twitter (often voiced by those affiliated with teachers unions) who try to muster the argument that masking isn’t harmful to learners. Yet the same people who say it imposes no harm then say the quiet part out loud:

So in other words, masks impose no harm or burden on kids, but masks also greatly limit social connection for kids and constantly reinforce there’s something to fear. OK.

Let’s be honest. No one wants to wear a mask. What do we call mandating something upon another human when they do not want to do it? How often are kids’ masks washed? Have you smelled your students’ mask recently?

Though harm imposed by seven hours per day of masking seems minimal to many, this harm is very high to some, particularly earliest learners, those with learning disabilities, social extroverts, and more.

[Full disclosure: my fourteen year old daughter, though fully vaccinated, willingly complies with masking. She’s a bright and mature learner. Since she has no choice in the matter, I’m not attempting to change her mind, given the alternative, and I don’t want to contradict what will certainly be the school’s own guidance, though I am sharing my opinion with leadership.]

Masking adds friction to social connection. Laughter. Language acquisition. Bonding. Enjoyment of learning. Social signals. These kids endured a full year of remote schooling and masking. How much do we care how well they connect with others? Shouldn’t the data that this harm is worth it be crystal clear?

These kids have endured a full year of low-bandwidth, low-touch, low-connection schooling. We need the highest possible bandwidth communication to have any chance of making up for the many losses endured in the 2020-2021 school year.

Some psychologists estimate that up to 70% of communication is nonverbal. I do not see ANY COMPELLING EVIDENCE which says that they, uniquely, should have a mandate and mask up for 6+ hours every day, but we in the outside world should not.

Separate Rules for Adults and K-12 Learners Will Breed Resentment

I don’t think leaders quite realize the buzzsaw they are walking into. Telling the public that once vaccinated, you can remove your mask, but even if you are vaccinated and/or are in the least vulnerable group, you still have to wear one, will not go well. Students and parents alike have access to Google. The studies just don’t exist which clearly demonstrate mask efficacy at reducing hospitalization or mortality in K-12 environments.

If this is about reducing spread, at least have the courtesy to show that masking K-12 learners reduces spread, because you’re imposing harm. Or if this isn’t about kids at all, but somehow about protecting those who choose to remain unvaccinated, I’d challenge you to show your moral calculus that says that imposing harm on the least vulnerable is the right moral tradeoff.

We adults can go out. We can go to bars. Go to restaurants. We can and should get vaccinated to dramatically reduce our chances of the worst outcomes.

Yet they have to mask up in schools. What kind of leaders continue to insist that the LEAST vulnerable to COVID among us need to continue to make sacrifices for others? Why are we working so hard to portray children as vectors of a virus we have effective vaccines for?

As with the CDC guidance about school “reopening” in January, I suspect we will discover that teachers unions had a very big part in this entirely unscientific new mandate now being handed down. Where is the evidence? Have we all just given up on the whole “follow the science” stuff?

Vaccines… immunize. Let’s let them.

DISCLAIMER
I am not a physician. I’m not a scientist, nor do I have medical training. I’m simply interpreting the facts as I see them, linking to credible sources to back up my viewpoints. “Minimal risk” is still risk. You may view tradeoffs differently. The opinions posted here are my own.

Who is Endorsing Whom in Seattle’s 2021 August 3rd Primary?

Catching up with the latest organizational endorsements for the August 3rd, 2021 Primary for Seattle

Let’s check in on organizational endorsements for the key positions in the Seattle and King County August 2021 Primaries.

I’m focusing on organizational endorsements because it can be useful to zoom out to see which candidates have earned the nod from some of the city’s larger media, political, labor and civic groups, which often have very specific policy goals. If you know something about the organization and what its objectives are, that can tell you where the candidates stand on those issues. Conversely, if you know something about the candidate’s stances, this can tell you something about the organization.

OrgMayorCity AttorneyCouncil
8
Council 9KC
Exec
URL
Seattle SubwayFarrell, HoustonMosquedaOliverConstantine, NguyenSeattle Subway August 2021 Primary Endorsements – Seattle Transit Blog
The StrangerGonzálezThomas-KennedyMosquedaOliverNguyenThe Stranger’s Endorsements for the August 3, 2021, Primary Election – News – The Stranger
The Seattle TimesHarrellDavisonNelsonConstantineSeattle Times editorial board endorsements: Election 2021 Seattle and King County | The Seattle Times
Speak Out Seattle (SOS)Langlie, Donaldson, HarrellDavisonMartinNelsonhttps://www.speakoutseattle.com/2021-seattle-primary-election-voters-guide/
Progressive Voters GuideGonzález, Echohawk, Farrell, Houston, HarrellHolmesMosquedaOliver, ThomasConstantine, NguyenProgressive Voters Guide
The UrbanistEchohawkThomas-KennedyMosquedaOliverNguyenThe Urbanist’s 2021 Primary Endorsements | The Urbanist
Downtown Seattle AssociationHarrell, SixkillerNelsonhttps://downtownseattle.org/advocacy/candidate-scorecard/
MLK LaborGonzálezHolmesMosquedaOliverConstantine2021 MLK Labor Endorsements – MLK Labor MLK Labor
Teamsters No. 28GonzálezHolmesMosquedaThomashttp://jc28.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/2021-JC28-Candidate-Endorsements.pdf
Working Families PartyGonzálezMosquedaOliverWA WFP Announces 2021 Endorsements – Working Families Party
Hospitality Union of NWGonzálezThomas
UFCW 21González
11th Legislative District DemocratsGonzálezHolmesOliver
UAW 4121González
Alliance for Gun ResponsibilityGonzález
Sheet Metal Workers Local 66Farrell
King County Young DemocratsGonzález, EchohawkOliver
Washington Technology Industry AssociationHarrell
Transit Riders UnionHoustonThomas-KennedyMosquedaOliverNguyenTRU’s 2021 Primary Endorsements – Transit Riders Union
Sierra ClubMosqueda
Washington Conservation VotersMosquedaConstantineEndorsements – Washington Conservation Voters (wcvoters.org)
Firefighters Union Local 27Nelson(iaff27.org)
Seattle Building & Construction Trades CouncilNelson
Democratic Socialists of America SeattleOliverhttps://seattledsa.org/endorsements-2021/

Lots of individual endorsements; follow the links

Many candidates enjoy large and growing lists of individual endorsements. But again, I’m deliberately limiting the scope of this post here to organizational endorsement.

I encourage you to follow the links to the candidates’ own websites for more complete lists, because in no case are the lists above complete.

Patterns

On the mayoral side, City Council President M. Lorena González has racked up a considerable amount of traditional labor union support (e.g., MLK Labor, SEIU locals and many more), in addition to The Stranger.

Bruce Harrell gets the nod from more centrist, commerce-friendly and/or public-safety focused organizations. And sure enough, he enjoys recommendation from The Seattle Times.

In general, the more left-leaning the organization, particularly in the areas of eliminating single-family zoning, decriminalization, making transit free, and more, the more likely they are to endorse:

  • Joe Nguyen for King County Executive over viable candidate Dow Constantine,
  • Nikkita Oliver over viable candidates Sara Nelson and Brianna Thomas, and
  • Nicole Thomas-Kennedy over either incumbent Pete Holmes or viable challenger Ann Davison for City Attorney.

Those organizations focused primarily on an urbanist agenda find Andrew Grant Houston and Colleen Echohawk appealing at the mayoral level.

The more centrist/moderate, public safety and/or business-focused they are, the more likely they are to endorse:

  • Bruce Harrell for Mayor,
  • Sara Nelson for District 9,
  • Ann Davison for City Attorney and
  • Dow Constantine for King County Council executive.

Note that each of these candidates — and also ones not listed — also have growing lists of individual endorsers as well. They’re often community, governmental, labor and business leaders. I’ve made no attempt to catalogue them all, but they might be meaningful to you and your vote. So please visit the candidates’ individual websites, and/or the endorsement organizations’ websites for much more complete lists and full commentary.

Caveats

Blanks in the table above indicate no-specific endorsement as yet as of this writing, July 25th 2021 — for that particular position. Sometimes, it represents the fact that an organization has declined to endorse any candidate for that position. For details, check their website, linked for you in the right hand column.

This is not a complete list, and these organizations aren’t listed in any particular order.

There’s no easy way to keep this always up-to-date, but follow me on Twitter and jot me a note if I’ve missed key ones, and I’ll do my best to update it on a periodic basis.

Interpreting Endorsements: My Two Cents

Seattle voters are busy people. We generally don’t closely follow the nuances of each political organization. Thus, I think we tend to over-rely upon endorsements more than we should.

Even the brand name of the group tends to be more important than what they may currently stand for, and voters don’t always have a full appreciation of what policy slate each organization currently stands for. We are also generally unaware of political drift — several “X Legislative District Democrat” groups, for instance, have moved quite far left in the past couple of decades, at least to this moderate independent voter.

Decades ago, as a novice voter, I tended to think “more endorsements are better.” In one sense, perhaps that’s true. But that only makes sense if you believe that all organizations have the same view of city policy tradeoffs as you. And that’s very unlikely to be the case. The leaders we are electing have views on policy tradeoffs. They might not express them very clearly during the election (to try to capture as many voters as possible), but they do have views on policy tradeoffs. The stances they take involve very real livability issues, including public safety, homelessness, affordable housing, ecology, single-family zoning, transit, tax policy, policy toward addiction, policies toward repeat offenders, and much more.

While endorsements by organizations that are fully aligned with your worldview can be very useful indicators, beware of just the brand-name of an organization itself. Several have drifted from their brand name, and some can elect endorsement committees which are soon captured by an extreme viewpoint. (Stipulated: extremism is a highly subjective term!)

Some Organizations Might Serve as Useful Negative Indicators

If you think The Seattle Times is far too corporatist and elite, or you think the Downtown Seattle Association is just a mouthpiece for Amazon, you might shy away from their picks. And the converse is also true.

And voters would do well to look back at their past recommendations, and see how well they’ve fared for Seattleites.

For instance, I wrote last week why I think The Stranger’s political endorsements have been a disaster for Seattleites; 8 of 9 current city council members and long-time City Attorney Pete Holmes have received glowing endorsements from The Stranger. So in one sense, if you love the job the City Council is doing, and love the current City Attorney’s approach to his office, The Stranger is your perfect voting guide. If on the other hand, you view Seattle City Council less favorably, you might want to reconsider whom they’re recommending for you this year, and perhaps even consider it a negative indicator of who you should vote for.

Think it’s just The Stranger? Not so fast. The much-shared-in-my-social-circle “Progressive Voters Guide” also recommended a majority of our current City Council to voters, as well as City Attorney Pete Holmes, for several terms. So maybe they’re not the best talent-spotter, either.

Omissions are unintentional. Please follow me on Twitter and jot me a note if there are key organizations (not individuals, organizations) that I’ve missed. Tracking individual endorsements is way too fast-moving and time-consuming. Thanks.

Get Those Ballots In!

Last, a plug. Please be sure to get those ballots in. Don’t let them sit unused on the kitchen table, unless you truly have no idea for whom to vote. The August primary is when we choose the top two finalists for major seats to run off against each other in the November vote. Some primaries have just 30% voter participation; and in skipping the vote, you let the most motivated activists have a much greater share-of-voice over policies which may very well matter to you. Take a moment, read through the voters guide, visit the campaign websites of your favorites, and resolve to be an even more informed voter this year. Don’t just complain online about the choices others make — continue to get as informed as you can, and vote.

The Stranger’s Political Endorsements Have Been Disastrous for Seattle

The Stranger’s recommendations have occupied the key policy setting positions in Seattle, other than mayor, for quite some time. They’re no longer the outsiders; they’re the insiders. If you love the Seattle City Council, you should follow The Stranger’s endorsements yet again.

Endorsements from The Stranger are arguably the most powerful in the city. Crosscut’s David Kroman estimates their endorsement can carry at at least a 2% boost:

That doesn’t mean they’re good recommendations.

The current City Council is The Stranger’s City Council

It is accurate to say the current Seattle City Council is The Stranger’s Council. That’s because 8 of the 9 current sitting Seattle City Council members were strongly endorsed by the far-left political writers at The Stranger: Kshama Sawant, Andrew Lewis, Dan Strauss, Lorena Gonzalez, Debra Juarez, Teresa Mosqueda, Tammy Morales, and Lisa Herbold. They now think the current President of the City Council has done such a bang-up job she should have a much bigger position, overseeing the entire executive branch of Seattle as our next mayor. How is City Council doing? How well is it run? Do you view the Seattle City Council favorably?

It is accurate to say that the Seattle Public Schools Board is The Stranger’s Public School Board. That’s because the current President of the Seattle School Board, Chandra Hampson, as well as key School Board member Zachary DeWolf, as well as other members earned the glowing endorsements from the political writers at The Stranger. This past year, Seattle Public Schools locked out K-12 students from in-person learning longer than any other city in the free world other than San Francisco, and these two specifically don’t care that a homeless encampment continues to expand near an elementary school, which caused school lockdowns twice in two of the only days they were open last year.

It’s accurate to say the prosecutor’s office of Seattle is The Stranger’s prosecutor’s office. That’s because City Attorney Pete Holmes, who plays the Sam Watterston role for Seattle and decides what to prosecute, what not to, and how, has been endorsed by The Stranger not once but for all three of his terms. Pete Holmes has overseen the utter dismantling of prosecution in Seattle. Holmes’ twelve year leadership, applauded by The Stranger in election endorsements past, has resulted in frequent offenders cycling through Seattle’s judiciary system, in which the 100 most frequent offenders committed over 3,500 bookable offenses, and 87 of those very same 100 people were booked another 220 times in just 9 months following that initial report. Is his strategy working? How well is Seattle’s public safety working for all Seattleites?

The Stranger’s track record provides an easy guide for you as a voter.

Do you love the results of the current City Council, Seattle Public Schools, and Seattle’s public safety strategy overall? If so, the geniuses at The Stranger provide your perfect voting guide, because the people they wanted compassionate and progressive Seattleites to vote for have now been in charge for years.

Other than Mayor Durkan, The Stranger has had its preferred candidate elected to just about every key municipal position in the City of Seattle and much of King County for at least the past six years, especially when it comes to public safety and education policies. Vote for their slate in 2021, and you’re saying you love their “Election Control Board’s” discernment for leadership, their commitment to excellence, and the results. Follow their lead, and you are saying want to double down on it all.

Conversely, if you don’t love the direction of Seattle, do not vote for the candidates they find appealing.

The Stranger is just out with their endorsements for the 2021 election.

They really want you to vote for Lorena Gonzalez, Teresa Mosqueda, Joe Nguyen, and Nikkita Oliver, but there are more candidates listed for other positions too.

The folks at the Seattle Times on the other hand would prefer that you vote for Bruce Harrell, and Sara Nelson, and presumably also Ann Davison (whom they endorsed in a prior election) for a different approach to City Attorney’s office than the one we’ve had for the past 12 years with Pete Holmes. [UPDATE, July 17 2021: Seattle Times Recommends Ann Davison for City Attorney]

Look. The Stranger hates moderate candidates, and even progressives who don’t go all in on the far left agenda of urbanism, decriminalization, addiction enablement and more. It’s an uphill battle for them. But even if the long-shot happens and a couple moderates win in 2021, moderates would still be in the extreme minority in city governance, but at least there would be a couple. Regardless of what you think of her, Mayor Durkan was a moderating influence in city governance. She is departing, so come November, there is no guarantee whatsoever there will be any moderation. (The Stranger outright says as much in their endorsements this year.)

As for City Attorney, note that The Stranger this time endorsed the even further-left-than-Holmes candidate for City Attorney, who quite LITERALLY wants to abolish the police department. That they would endorse her at all says all you need to know about their endorsement board, the quality of their judgment, and who they find desirable. (Can you name a single city that has ever successfully permanently “abolished” the police? She wants Seattle to take a flyer and be the first.) It is also quite likely The Stranger’s endorsers reason that Holmes is a lock to make it through the primary anyway, and they want the November race for City Attorney to come down to ultra-left vs. quite-far-left, so you don’t have much choice.

The City Attorney is supposed to represent you — us, the citizens — in Seattle courts. That’s a very important role which sets policy around how we handle frequent offenders, which crimes to prosecute and which not to, and how.

Stranger Danger: Drop The Stranger’s Political Picks

The folks at The Stranger would like you to believe they’re more compassionate, younger, fresher and more open to great new ideas.

But how are those ideas working out? Are they truly more compassionate? Seattle hit record highs in overdose deaths, shootings, and police response times in the past year. Frequent offenders continue to revolve through the system. Seattle Public Schools remained closed longer than any other school district in the free world other than San Francisco, harming disadvantaged students most of all.

Want more effective city governance? Spend a few minutes talking with a friend about how The Stranger might make great movie and live entertainment recommendations, and is snarky and fun to read, but is absolutely a leading indicator of candidates who are bad at governing. Name me a candidate they’ve gushed over that’s actually done a great job to make the city more livable or who has helped government more transparent and accountable to its people, or run better in any way.

Decades ago, they were the rabble-rousers, the iconoclast outsiders. They’re no longer the outsiders. Their recommendations won, at position after position in Seattle. The Stranger is now the political insider, and often, kingmaker. We’ve seen the results of the leaders they recommend. They own the results of Seattle’s public safety, green spaces, approach to homelessness, addiction, and education.

The Stranger writers are exceptionally good at creating highly readable, entertaining snark. But it’s very hard to justify that the candidates they’ve recommended to you really -have- made things better.

Related: Ten Reasons I’m Not Voting for Lorena Gonzalez

Ten Reasons I’m Not Voting for Lorena González as Seattle’s Next Mayor

When major outcome indicators are all moving in the wrong direction, and the process which generates these outcomes remains utterly broken for years, and even political allies describe the body one leads as dysfunctional, one should not get a promotion to an even higher position of responsibility.

Seattle’s August Primary is around the corner, which will narrow down the two finalists for Seattle Mayor.

One leading candidate is M. Lorena González, current President of the Seattle City Council. She’s a Seattle progressive with a very compelling life story. Raised in Central Washington in a migrant farming community, she worked her way through community college and WSU. She then earned a law degree with honors and became a civil rights attorney. She won election to the Seattle City Council in 2015, and has been serving as Council President since 2019.

She’s won endorsements from some of the Seattle-area’s leading progressives: Representative Pramilla Jayapal, MLK Labor, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and several other labor and civil rights organizations. [Update July 17: The Stranger also endorses her.]

But despite my enormous respect for her personal journey, I’m not voting for her, based on her results and approach as Councilmember.

Here are ten reasons I’m not voting for Lorena González:

  1. She’s President and two-term member of the very dysfunctional Seattle City Council.
  2. She’s been utterly rudderless on public safety.
  3. She is more performative than effective.
  4. She is supposed to represent the entire city, yet expresses contempt for reasonable needs of a large number of her constituents.
  5. She was instrumental in Police Chief Carmen Best’s resignation.
  6. She has an antipathy to downtown employers, and downtown needs revitalization.
  7. For her entire time on the council, she’s not done anything to create a conduit of accessibility, measurement or accountability to neighborhoods.
  8. She’s far too aligned with a narrow group of activists, not the needs of 724,000+ Seattleites.
  9. For five years, she has misdiagnosed the roots of the homelessness crisis.
  10. She has consistently voted for policies without establishing metrics of success.

Perhaps all of this could be simplified by asking yourself “Is Seattle better than it was in 2015?

But if you want some specifics, read on.

1. She’s been a long-time part of, and for two years president of, a very dysfunctional Seattle City Council.

Is six years enough time to get the measure of a public official? I think so. Lorena González has been a citywide City Councilmember since 2015, and has served as City Council President since 2019.

What can we cite as her results during that time? Do you like the City Council and its direction? Do you think it’s a well-functioning political body? She’s President.

The Seattle City Council is the 9-member legislative body of the city. It creates city laws (ordinances.) It makes multimillion dollar resource allocations in its ongoing work. It makes policy choices: spending in one area means that spending in another area often isn’t possible. So it’s a good way to get a sense of a leader’s priorities.

Further, it’s a great way to get a sense of how they manage, since much of the city’s vast network of third-party service providers are vetted, hired, and renewed, and ostensibly at least, supervised by City Council. Is there an organized process here? Time and again, the city falls short of good management practice when it comes to selecting vendors, vetting them, setting objectives, and followthrough. This is incredibly wasteful.

It’s not just spending, it’s also revenue: the City Council is also in charge of levying new taxes and excise fees, zoning, city ordinances and more.

How’s it been going since 2015? Do you think Seattle’s moved in the right direction? During her time in office:

Anti-police protestors occupied a six-block area of Seattle for more than a week in June, 2020. Several shootings, two murders and multiple rapes were reported during that two week time.

Are these problems due to funding cutbacks? I don’t think so.

Seattle’s abundant revenue is the envy of just about every other city in the nation. We’re home to Amazon, Starbucks, Zillow, Expedia, Nordstrom, major satellite locations for companies like Facebook, Google and Adobe, a vibrant health sciences sector, and many other sectors as well. Seattle’s budget continues to outpace per-capita inflation by a considerable margin:

Further, Seattle’s budget far outpaces the per-capita budget of comparable mid-size cities, such as Boston MA and Austin TX, which seem much better run.

What specifics has President and City Councilmember González done to improve your life? Meanwhile, the City Council spends time passing legislation calling for cooperation with Cuba on COVID, addressing the farm and citizenship policy for the nation of India, passing bills that cause grocery stores to close, and far more.

Listen to King County Executive Dow Constantine, who calls the current City Council an “impediment” to progress:

I’ve heard the same sentiment expressed by State Senators, State Representatives, and the Mayor about this same City Council. And she’s been president of the Council. What would this suggest about her supervision of an entire City Executive Branch?

[Side note: her Chief of Staff, Brianna Thomas, is also running for City Council.]

2. She’s been utterly rudderless on public safety.

Perhaps more than any other area, Lorena González has worked awfully hard to change our approach to public safety in the city of Seattle. But she takes reckless votes to cut funding 50% without even a plan for the newly “reimagined” public safety.

She led the Public Safety Committee in her first council term, and served as president of the City Council in the second, so she has had ample opportunity to be proactive.

To her credit, at the start of her term in City Council, she championed and passed the 2017 Police Accountability Ordinance, a thoughtful piece of legislation I largely do support, which made some significant and needed improvements to the police accountability system. But that was nearly five years ago. I wish she continued along the “reform” lines and didn’t so quickly hop on the “defund” train when it was fashionable.

Her list of positive (or even debatably positive) accomplishments in my view largely stops there, and there’s a great deal of results on the other side of the ledger which greatly trouble me with respect to her desire to see public safety improvements for the citizens of Seattle.

To wit:

  • She capriciously joined activist demands in June and July 2020 to commit to defunding the Seattle Police Department by 50%, without any actionable plan as to how to do so. She later had to backpedal entirely on that commitment.

An attorney should know that if a police force is under a federal consent decree, a local city council cannot just go passing ordinances which run afoul of that consent decree. That is Constitutional Law 101 level stuff.

Related post: “Seattle Plows Ahead with 50% Cut To Police Budget

  • What has she done to improve Seattle neighborhood safety coordination and accountability in a practical way in all her time in office?

Just a year ago, she took to Twitter to apologize for funding the police:

Does she know that 81% of Black Americans would like to see the same or greater police presence in their own neighborhoods, as Gallup measured in August 2020? Or is she only listening to a small, non-representative cadre of “Defund” and “Decriminalize” activists? There are 724,000+ Seattleites.

On the ground, the level of coordination with neighborhood community safety groups has greatly suffered. A couple specific neighborhoods in Seattle used to have “public safety coordinators” funded by the city (for instance, Sonny Nguyen in the Central and International District, who works in a different position now.)

But due to Gonzalez’s defunding actions, especially now with the sudden demise of Community Police Team and lack of scaling up of Community Service Officers or any other resourcing, there is no way for neighborhoods, businesses, etc, to tap into a point person or local accountability for the myriad programs, service providers.

Related: On police funding, Seattle council members worry they’re losing momentum | Crosscut

There are and have been so many programs that have “community” in the title (CPC, CSO, CPT) but ask yourself whether you or anyone you know has any idea of whom to contact at the local level about general public safety questions, follow-up, coordination, or feedback … during an era when public safety reform is supposed to be such a top priority.

What practical leadership has she demonstrated in the past decade to help citywide progress, outside of police reform politics?

3. She is more performative than effective.

First, the grandstanding vote in the early summer of 2020 to defund police by 50% without a plan is a prime example of González’s “fire, ready, aim” leadership style. Her ear is consistently to vocal but small activist groups whose membership totals perhaps several thousand at most, while ignoring the reasonable needs of the other 724,000+ residents who live in the city.

Second, she voted for the boondoggle $3 million “Black Brilliance Project.” How did (or will) spending that $3,000,000 tangibly help Seattleites? What do we now know that was either not known nor possible to know through existing public comment channels? Can you be specific?

Then there was the costly mistake three years ago, when Councilmember Lorena González cast a symbolic vote which cost the city $12 million in federal funding in 2018.

“I voted no on this, in part thinking that this was not going to be very controversial,” Councilmember Lorena González said. “I want to apologize to the chair. I had communicated to Chair Bagshaw that I intended to vote in this manner as a courtesy, with the understanding that there would likely be support for the underlying bill.”

Recently she pressured the Seattle Police Department to rescind an invitation to a law enforcement appreciation dinner. She decided to weigh in with support race-based discriminatory fees at a Seattle Public Park as part of Pride Month. Such discrimination is expressly prohibited by federal civil rights legislation:

She seems to prefer taking the performative route vs. working with stakeholders effectively to broker better outcomes.

Time and again, she signals that her underlying model is that of a zero-sum, activists win, non-activists lose model. Effective governance should be about truly inviting all stakeholders in and forging compromise, and there’s far too little of it demonstrated in her terms in office.

I don’t think that’s a great recipe for citywide leadership.

4. She is supposed to represent the entire city, yet expresses contempt for a large number of her constituents.

During the first fight over the Head Tax, she wrote in private texts that “It breaks my heart that more homeless people will die before the privileged voter is ready to act,” González texted. “It’s nauseating actually.”

Yes, homeless people are dying, but they’re not dying because the initial Head Tax legislation didn’t pass.

The Seattle region spends more than $1 billion annually on homelessness. Even the consultant that Seattle hired six years ago concluded that coordination, measurement and effective solutions were more important than raising new funds.

Now, six years in, we have a new King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which suggests some slow glacial progress might be possible on a single solution (though it’s current form and leadership leaves me skeptical.) But why did centralization take so long, and where are the key metrics for success and measures, what transparency do voters have, what audits have taken place of existing homelessness providers, what best practices from other cities are we adopting, and most important — what are the results thus far? Can we please measure the outcomes, not the inputs?

In calling a large number of voters “nauseating”, González didn’t ever stop to ponder the possibility that her totally misguided and scrapped initial legislation would have heavily penalized low-margin but high revenue outlets like grocery stores, warehouses and retail establishments, causing them to reduce staff and relocate out of the city, and in so doing it would have been very regressive to the communities it ostensibly attempted to help.

These same “nauseating” voters found a subsequent attempt passing a much larger employer payroll tax hike much more amenable, and without major grassroots resistance, in part because it was instead focused the targeted excise threshold on a businesses’ income, not on revenue, and thus didn’t as egregiously penalize workers at low margin or even temporarily unprofitable retail/wholesale/service.

Had González realized this from the beginning, been open to hearing objections from the family which runs the Uwajimaya grocery store and many others, and not consistently viewed policy from such a zero-sum standpoint, perhaps the entire costly and embarrassing exercise of passing a Head Tax then repealing it then passing an entirely different one could have been avoided, along with the contempt she expressed about those opposed to the scrapped version 1.0.

In another incident, González’s team relayed that she believed Third Avenue public safety concerns (numerous assualts and open-air drug dealing) “hyperbolic”:

Does characterizing public safety concerns as “hyperbolic” meet with your view of what’s happening downtown?

These concerns about downtown safety are so “hyperbolic” that more than one hundred businesses downtown have closed up shop (citing not just the pandemic but also things shoplifting and public safety), the King County Courthouse has closed public entrances, retailers are limiting hours of operation, and many residents will no longer go downtown as often.

5. She was instrumental in Police Chief Carmen Best’s resignation.

González joined the majority of the City Council and voted to cut spending for the Seattle Police Department, including Police Chief Carmen Best’s salary by 40%. Yet she refused to involve the Seattle Police Department in the process of reallocation of funds.

González likes to play the identity politics game, so it’s especially tone-deaf that she didn’t even involve Chief Best, who was the city’s first Black, Female Police Chief in its history in any plans to defund the police.

Seattle’s KING5 reports here, how the City Council’s lack of even having a conversation with Best and her department before plowing ahead with its defunding in August 2020, which led directly to Carmen Best’s resigation:

https://www.king5.com/video/news/local/seattle/difficult-decision-seattle-police-chief-carmen-best-resigns-after-28-years-with-department/281-cff49bd4-5ea3-4c6d-8b34-bdc72a8b20b7

6. She has an antipathy to downtown employers.

Council president Lorena González would like to be your mayor, but thinks downtown Seattle is only about big corporations, and refused to answer Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) in their mayoral candidate questionnaire the very reasonable question as to what might be done to get all the restaurants, retailers, repair shops, cafes, theatres, dry cleaners and more back on their feet.

Seattle has the seventh highest small business rates per capita in the nation. Wouldn’t you expect a City Councilmember to know that, even celebrate it?

Precisely no one is saying that millions of recovery dollars ought to be given to Amazon, but maybe we could do something for the smaller employers, like improving safety downtown, or loan guarantees or tax forgiveness, listening and responding to their top concerns?

What’s the role of a mayor with respect to the economic engine of a city? Should their posture be continually hostile to it, or engage with it, listen to ideas, and find ways to partner? If you believe the latter, as I do, she’s not the right fit. Because that’s now how she’s governed so far, nor how she’s signaling.

7. For her entire time on the council, she’s not done anything to create a conduit of accessibility, measurement or accountability.

Ask your local neighborhood public safety representative how responsive Lorena González’s office has been to inquiries. I did. They use words like:

“Non-responsive.”

“Dismissive.”

“No follow-through.”

8. She’s too aligned with activist groups, at the expense of 724,000+ Seattleites who want things like improved public safety, accountability, and a long-overdue effective approach to homelessness crisis which acknowledges that addiction and mental health are at the center of the crisis.

It’s admirable that González claims to be the champion, throughout her career, of the marginalized.

But there’s a recurring theme. Small but highly vocal activist groups have her ear, she then jumps in with both feet on policy ideas, and then, when the reality hits, often has to backtrack.

Homelessness response and public safety policy are big issues that affect us all. They should not be driven exclusively by a narrow group of activists at the expense of a thoughtful, sensible plan that takes input from all stakeholders.

Too often during her two terms, her quick alliance with activists and clear lack of willingness to engage with all stakeholders leads one to wonder on occasion who is truly marginalized and underrepresented. It seems more important to her sometimes to demonstrate that she’s not interested in outcomes that might benefit all.

Time and again, from her knee-jerk “Defund the Police 50%” vote, to her rhetorical affordability, not addiction-treatment-centered approach to homelessness, to safe injection sites to the Head Tax 1.0 debacle, she has sided with a small but loud activist groups over the broad needs of a community. And more than once, she’s had to backtrack from that initial response, getting way out over her skis.

Trivia: There is not a single retail or manufacturing business owner/operator/employer on the City Council today, of nine members. Is it important for the City Council — and our next mayor — to have a basic understanding of what the needs of employers are in revitalizing downtown? Or at least shouldn’t she care? Does it matter to have a vital downtown corridor in which small business, medium and (gasp!) even large businesses can thrive and find attractive for growth? Is tourism important to Seattle? Livability?

9. For five years, she has misdiagnosed the roots of the homelessness crisis.

Council President González has for years now characterized Seattle’s homelessness crisis as an “affordability crisis”, and has downplayed and ignored the chronic substance abuse and mental health crisis which is driving it. Where is the discussion about treatment options? What do we do about those who are encamped in key public spaces and do not wish to move?

Lorena González voted to eliminate the City’s Navigation Team, a former group of service providers plus law enforcement that would make contact with those encamped in some places that pose particular public safety risks (e.g., in parks adjacent to elementary schools.) The Navigation Team used to make contact with campers, provide shelter options and a deadline to move, but staying encamped at the given location was not an option. (Some shorthand this as “sweeps.”)

At issue: what do you do when an encampment poses a hazard to public safety, but residents refuse to move? It’s a difficult and sensitive conundrum; sweeps have been loudly characterized by detractors as uncompassionate. But they don’t really offer any solution for, say, the elementary school which has tents and yes, also addiction and public safety risks adjacent to the schoolyard. Nor do they have much of an answer for the rash of 100+ debris-throwing incidents thus far in 2021 onto Seattle’s I-5 and I-90 overpasses. It’s only a matter of time before multiple innocent people are killed because of the city’s inability to act. Having no “middle ground” Navigation Team deprives policymakers of any formalized, supervised, measurable, alternative which presents options from third party service providers and says “no, you cannot stay encamped outside an elementary school.” Yet here again, González sides with activists and has no near-term solution other than to hope it doesn’t result in yet more avoidable tragedy.

The only mention on “addiction” Twitter of addiction on González Twitter timeline focuses on her desire to see so-called “safe” injection sites established in the city. These would spin up to offer free, supervised injection of opiates to anyone who demands it. Can we maybe address treatment at some point? We are six years in to the city declaring a homelessness emergency, a term which has included pretty much all of González’s time in office.

What measurable progress has been made, for all the hundreds of millions of dollars spent?

10. She has consistently voted for new programs without insisting upon outcome-based budgeting.

Seattle is progressive, and that’s terrific. I support taking fresh looks at policy, adopting innovative new programs, measuring what works, and doubling-down. That’s great.

But for the past decade or more, Seattle’s municipal feedback loop has been utterly broken:

  • Metrics are either never named which constitute successful outcomes, or else they’re not reported upon if they are.
  • Entrenched service providers are not independently audited and monitored
  • Entrenched service providers and their programs do NOT regularly have their funding tied to whether or not they deliver on those promised outcomes

Let’s look at the LEAD Program as just one example. LEAD stands for “Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion.” This innovative, progressive program, in a nutshell, is a collaborative community safety program that offers offenders (and the legal/judicial system) an alternative to incarceration under select conditions.

Someone might be arrested for meth possession or petty theft and, rather than being booked into jail, be offered “diversion.” Like a lot of citizens, I think to myself, “OK, this could be terrific. I’m compassionate, common sense suggests that jail might not always be the most effective approach for offenders or their victims in the community. Perhaps diverting into counseling, services and other options are smart investments which will reduce the likelihood of offenders to repeat again. Let’s try it, and measure recidivism.”

The problem, like a lot of other programs the City Council has doubled-down on during González’s leadership, is that we do not know the most important community-centric outcomes.

We as taxpayers have been paying for various forms of this program since 2015. Seattleites feel the impacts of repeated theft, harassment and assault by some of these offenders. Wouldn’t you want, as a city councilmember authorizing funding of LEAD, to know how well it’s doing in recidivism, year by year?

Yet no one asks. And if you’re a concerned citizen, try as you might, you cannot get the recidivism numbers, year-by-year, for members in the LEAD program. Does recidivism go up or down? Do people arrested for assault and diverted into the program tend to get well? How much does crime go up or down in the areas that such diversion programs are rolled out? These are fundamental questions, and González and other City Council members don’t ask them, and don’t hold progressive programs to any kind of ongoing scrutiny. They just re-up funds, expand programs, and nod at a few Powerpoints on check-in.

For more information on diversion programs and the City’s utter failure to measure them properly, read the excellent rundown on SCC Insight: Lewis touts new report on JustCARE program… but maybe he shouldn’t. (UPDATED) (sccinsight.com)

But it goes well beyond just diversion programs. Apply this “thinking” and activist-capture driven resource allocation and opacity/unwillingness to monitoring actual outcomes for the greater community at large to the homelessness crisis. Or “reimagining” public safety. Or transportation and transit investments. And you will see that we have a fundamentally broken process.

Conclusion

As you can tell, I’m looking elsewhere for my vote for Seattle’s next mayor.

Look. I fully realize I’m a terrible messenger for this on whatever “identity” front you wish to argue. Far too many in politics today jump immediately to the attacking the messenger rather than responding to what is said. So let me stipulate: I’m a white male. I’m incredibly privileged. I am the beneficiary of all kinds of luck and fortune, both that which I’ve made for myself but also very much that which fell into my lap by being fortunate enough to be born at the right place at the right time with an interest in computing, being born into a stable two-parent household, and much, much more. I don’t mind paying high taxes, and I do. I’m not running for any political office. I do want a more effective city.

I have not been in contact with any political campaign of any kind regarding writing this post; these thoughts are my own, and this is simply my personal blog. I write about things I’m interested in, and I’m interested in a better Seattle.

This is also a critique of her policies and results. It is not personal. I have a ton of respect for Lorena González’s life journey, which, as she frequently reminds, began in a migrant farming community in Eastern Washington. She’s had to surmount discrimination, abuse, and socioeconomic disadvantage, tragedy and more. It’s a deeply impressive accomplishment to rise through hard work and alliance-building to become one of the most viable candidates for mayor in perhaps the best city in America.

So given our wide disparity of backgrounds, it’s easy for me to sound cavalier and dismissive when I’m assessing outcomes. So by all means, assess your own; your mileage may vary. If things are much better for you in Seattle than 2015 as you walk around downtown, SODO, Ballard, the U-District, Central District, Seward Park and more, great. But I’d argue that above all else, outcomes matter… for all. For 724,000+ Seattleites, the results of a policymaker should matter far more than the identity of the policymaker. How’s public safety going? How’s homelessness? How’s addiction? How’s Seattle, compared to seven years ago? How well is the City Council functioning to meet your needs?

It’s not at all clear the outcomes for even the marginalized are all that better since 2015, if measured in terms of safety, addiction, homelessness, affordability, mental health, livability and more.

I want Seattle to be better for all. And all 724,000 of us have a stake. It’s not zero-sum — we can all benefit with better policies and better leadership. I want addiction rates lowered, homelessness lowered, a more affordable city, and greater unity of purpose in this fantastic city. We’ve seen her record and her approach, over six years now as a key municipal leader.

I really would like us get to the point where we approach municipal governance with more care and focus on outcomes. If you look at her messaging, it’s very focused on identity and inputs, and appeal to activism, which of course are important, but more important, I think, is whether Seattle is moving in the right direction in terms of outcomes that matter. How’s public safety going? How’s addiction trending? How about homelessness?

Let’s find leaders that know how to manage toward better outcomes.

Let’s honestly discuss the root causes of problems like Seattle’s intertwined homelessness, mental health, judicial process and addiction crises. Let’s define the metrics that represent success, and measure the programs against those goals in an ongoing, public way. Let’s track what we’re doing. Let’s invest in programs that measurably get us toward our goals, and reduce programs which don’t, even if they negatively impact a long-entrenched municipal service provider’s revenue.

Outcome-focused leadership is the least the public is entitled to. And Lorena González doesn’t approach problems that way. After more than five years in municipal leadership, noticing its absence at every turn, I can only conclude that she doesn’t seem to care about measured outcomes, that they’re great if they suddenly arise, but she hasn’t demonstrated how she leads toward them.

When major outcome indicators are all moving in the wrong direction, and the process which generates these outcomes remains utterly broken for years, and even political allies describe the body one leads as dysfunctional, one should not get a promotion to an even higher position of responsibility.

Update: Not surprisingly, she’s just won the endorsement of The Stranger. But here’s why that should be yet another negative indicator to anyone following the past decade of city politics in Seattle: The Stranger’s Political Endorsements Have Been Disastrous for Seattle

Related: Congratulations to the Seattle’s Next City Council, 2019

Bonus: If you agree with me that this City Council President’s time in office has not been an effective one, and oftentimes dismissive and counterproductive, note that her Chief of Staff, Brianna Thomas, is also currently running for City Council.