Morning Fizz: Taken Out of the City's Hands?
Caffeinated News & Gossip featuring: polling ridesharing regs, ejecting unruly citizens, and disagreeing on technology.
1. While activists are organizing to cue up a populist $15 minimum wage initiative—in case the mayor and council come up with a watered down version (exemptions, tip credit, health care credit, phase-ins)—another high-profile issue on the city's legislative docket, ridesharing and taxi regulations, may also be taken out of its hands.
A poll by EMC, the same polling firm the Service Employees International Union hired to poll on the $15 minimum wage (they found overwhelming support), is reportedly testing the waters for a ridesharing initiative, according to someone who was polled over the weekend. (EMC told Fizz they couldn't comment.)
The poll asked A) if voters supported overriding city council regulations capping the number of drivers who can be operating on a ridesharing system at one time and requiring minimum insurance levels, and B) if voters supported adding new inspection requirements on taxis, requiring taxis to have an app to provide feedback, and removing limits on the numbers of taxi licenses.
The council's special taxi committee passed a proposal last week that would: cap the number of rideshare drivers per company that could be on the road at any one time at 150; make rideshare drivers have $1 million in insurance coverage the moment they turn on their ridesharing apps and make themselves available to pick up customers; and on the taxi side of things—add 75 new taxi licenses a year for two years.
The full council, currently working with the rideshare companies to get access to data about how many drivers are on the road at one time, is set to vote on Monday.
2. After the hour-long public comment period at yesterday's public hearing on the controversial proposed Whole Foods-anchored development in West Seattle, "Stand Up America"'s Alex Zimmerman—an incessant public commenter who likes to curse at the council, hurl off-point accusations ("crooks" and "criminals" are among Zimmerman's favorite epithets) and compare Seattle's government to "Nazi Germany" and "Russia under Stalin"—took over the podium at council chambers and started ranting at the committee, yelling that "it's every American citizen's right to speak under the constitution" (sign-up sheet, we suppose, be damned.)
Rasmussen, unfazed, continued blithely, "So now, we're going to go to the presentation."Committee chair Tom Rasmussen, as well-dressed, manicured, and soft-spoken as Mr. Rogers, wasn't having it. After Zimmerman refused to leave the podium, Rasmussen very calmly threatened to have Zimmerman forcibly removed from the room if he didn't sit down and shut up.
"Sir, you didn't even sign up, and if you did sign up you did so way too late, so you're out of order," Rasmussen said. After Zimmerman kept yelling, Rasmussen added politely, "Sir, I'm giving you a second warning. Leave." Zimmerman did just that, and Rasmussen, unfazed, continued blithely, "So now, we're going to go to the presentation."
3. On Monday, the city council voted to accept a $1.6 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security that includes funding for facial recognition software that will make it possible for the Seattle Police Department to compare mug shots to surveillance videos. (The grant actually funds nine different projects, but the facial-recognition portion is the most controversial).
Sawant was "hesitant to further empower police officers with technology that could be misused," particularly if it's used to target racial minorities.
The ACLU, which successfully passed a bill through the legislature this year regulating drones to prevent the SPD from using drones without council oversight, has given the grant its blessing, but critics fear it could be used to identify individuals who aren't suspected of any crime. In the context of Edward Snowden's recent revelations about NSA surveillance, there has been renewed concern about giving the government new technological tools to monitor suspects.
City council member Kshama Sawant, the only council member to vote against the proposal (potential ally Nick Licata was absent), said she was "hesitant to further empower police officers with technology that could be misused," particularly if it's used to target racial minorities.
However, public safety committee chair Bruce Harrell, the only other non-white council member, responded that the software was specifically designed to take race (and gender) out of the equation; "what we have now," he pointed out, "is a manual system where officers make subjective decisions" about whether a suspect's mug shot matches a surveillance video.
Harrell, a technophile, has been the main advocate on the council for wearable police cameras for similar reasons, arguing that rather than being tools in an Orwellian police state, they ultimately empower citizens with more data for police accountability.
O, technology! Such a vexing double-edged sword.
Finally, council member Sally Bagshaw argued that technological advances in suspect identification make women, in particular, safer, adding: "when women feel safe, everybody feels safe."