Morning Fizz

McGinn's Agenda Isn't Really a Mystery

By Morning Fizz November 15, 2010

One issue that came up during last week's press briefing with Mayor Mike McGinn was what to do about Nickelsville, the roving homeless encampment.

(Update: Nickelsville will move to Fire Station 39 in Lake City today. It's unclear what kind of outreach deputy mayor Darryl Smith did in the neighborhood in advance of today's official announcement at the site at noon. McGinn spokeswoman Katherine Schubert-Knapp was evasive when contacted by phone this morning, saying only that "there will be information available at noon.")

McGinn has proposed moving Nickelsville to a semi-permanent site in SoDo; however, a plan deputy mayor Darryl Smith announced last week contained few details about how much it would cost, what kind of services would be available on-site, whether the location's proximity to the "Jungle," an overgrown patch of city land where violent predators have been known to prey on homeless people, was a concern, or whether the encampment would involve semi-permanent wooden shacks, as a panel recommended. It's also unclear whether the site is contaminated or whether it will have to go through environmental review under the State Environmental Policy Act.

One other question the mayor's office has not addressed: Why did they send the recommendation down to the city council, when they have the authority to relocate Nickelsville without council approval? Although McGinn has said he plans to pay to move Nickelsville by asking the council for a supplemental budget add next year, he doesn't have to. The mayor's office can shift up to $100,000 per year without council approval within any city department---more than enough to at least move Nickelsville to a new location (the group has said it plans to leave the U District site this week). Instead, the mayor's getting the council (which has generally been less than receptive to the idea of a permanent encampment in SoDo) involved. It's a weird move, and one that could end up scuttling the relocation.

2) City council president Richard Conlin tells PubliCola that the council is unlikely to hire its own lobbyist to push its agenda in Olympia this year, separate from the city's own lobbying shop, the Office of Intergovernmental Relations. Last year, the council hired a consultant to lobby on the deep-bore tunnel, which a majority of the council supports (and which Mayor Mike McGinn, obviously, opposes). Conlin now says the reason the council hired its own lobbyist last year was because McGinn was inexperienced. (At the time, the move was seen as an attempt by a nervous council to control the agenda on the tunnel). "We haven't discussed doing that this year, though we'll have to see what his agenda is," Conlin said.

McGinn's agenda isn't really a mystery. At a press availability with reporters last week, he said he would push to remove a provision in state law saying Seattle-area taxpayers are responsible for paying any cost overruns on the tunnel, and to eliminate a cap of $2.8 billion in state funding for the tunnel. And he said he would push legislators to ensure that the 520 bridge replacement is light-rail-ready, which the state's preferred alternative is not. The council has opposed McGinn on both of those positions.

2) In less controversial agenda items, the city plans to ask the state---which is facing a $4.8 billion shortfall next year---to restore some small programs that mitigate the impacts of large cuts. For example, if legislators decide to cut criminal justice programs---sending more people convicted of less serious offenses onto the streets---the city will push to preserve or expand funding for programs like the Neighborhood Crime Initiative, a preventative program that partners Department of Corrections officers with Seattle Police and local sheriff's deputies to monitor the streets for felons who are known to be violent. That program has been targeted for cuts in the past.

3) Although the council approved a "scofflaw" program allowing the city to place an immobilizing "boot" on cars owned by people with four or more unpaid parking tickets last week, a lot of outstanding questions remain about how, exactly, the program would work. Council members said they wanted a system that would allow customers to remove the "boots" themselves once they've paid and return them to a central location. However, it's still unclear how many dropoff locations would be available to drop boots off; how people without credit cards or cell phones would pay; and what the penalty would be for people who simply left the boot on the curb, which could open them up to criminal prosecution for theft.

The requirement that customers be able to unlock boots themselves will limit the companies that can bid on the program to one---New Jersey-based Paylock, which runs scofflaw systems in Baltimore, Oakland, New Orleans, and a couple of other cities.
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