Morning Fizz

Friday LIKES and DISLIKES: Socialist Sawant Defends Property-Owning Class, Public Defender Defends Community Police Commission

Caffeinated news featuring irony and advocacy

By Josh Feit June 12, 2015


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1. I LIKED dropping in on my alma mater yesterday morning, the Stranger offices on Capitol Hill.

I was at my old digs Thursday to sit down with associate editor Eli Sanders for his weekly podcast, Blabbermouth, and discuss the week's news—and mostly to point out that socialist city council member Kshama Sawant has ironically become the biggest defender of the property-owning class in this city.

Rather than sticking it to the 1 percent and defending the 99 percent, Sawant is actually a champion of the 65 percent, the giant, majority percentage of land in this city that's zoned "single family" for a minority of Seattle's homeowning class.

Has Sawant spent her time on council fighting for upzones and infill and transit oriented development and other green policies that would make it easier to build workforce housing? No. She's spent her energy trying to hold the single-family zones harmless for the very problems that our 1950s, suburban template has exacerbated in Seattle: housing costs and clunky transportation.

Her most recent stand to protect property owners (as opposed to the 52 percent in Seattle that rent), along with council member Nick Licata, is to try and scale back property taxes on homeowners while pushing a supposedly more progressive batch of taxes, including a parking tax and a tax on new development. Sawant told the council this week: "The council should use whatever progressive means are at [its] disposal to cut across the most regressive tax system in the entire nation”—as if, by comparison, mayor Ed Murray's property tax proposal to fund $930 million in transportation fixes is regressive.


A parking tax is certainly more regressive than a property tax—the fancier your house, the higher your tax. Conversely, own a Ferrari? Own a clunker? You're still paying the same parking tax. As for a tax on new development? This is simply a tax on new people. The city's own smart growth policies direct our new population into dense, transit-oriented enclaves that are designed to undo the burden that suburban-style single-family zones are putting on our infrastructure, our transportation grid, and our housing stock. If anything, developers should be getting a TOD (transportation-oriented development) tax rebate. 

(A third piece of the alternative is a head tax on employers, which certainly is progressive.)

Meanwhile, Sawant—the socialist who owns a house—has made a linkage fee on new development one of her premier causes; during last April's process to appoint a new council member she cheered the applicants who committed to the highest possible fee while denouncing those that wouldn't get behind the idea. Calling for a linkage fee—a fee on development that would pay for affordable housing—has also become a centerpiece of Sawant's reelection campaign.

I get the anger against new development (the "link" presumes that fancy new condos are driving up housing costs for all of us) but Economics 101 also says adding costs on development will show up in housing costs. And that hits renters. Additionally blaming new development shifts the burden, again, away from the original culprit for our situation: the development that's already on the ground in single-family zones keeping out multifamily and lower cost housing.

Finally, sure a lot of the new people moving into new housing are rich tech and Amazon employees. But am I to believe that the 120,000 new people expected to move here in the next 20 years are all six-figure yuppies who should be charged extra while the six-figure yuppies in Laurelhurst, Madison Park, Inverness, and Magnolia aren't part of the housing equation?

In fact, many of the people moving here are actually young, pro-transit, progressives who—just like many of the regular Joes who live in less expensive single-family zones (West Seattle, I guess?)—are also struggling economically. Of course, an income tax would be the premier progressive way to pay for this city, but barring that (it's prohibited by the state constitution), continually siding with voters in single-family zones is a reactionary approach. 

2. Public defender and Community Police Commission cochair Lisa Daugaard LIKES the 55 procedural recommendations and additional structural changes the CPC has issued to bring more transparency to the Seattle Police Department. However, currently at a standstill with the mayor and council, she says "It's a litmus test of our effectiveness if we can get these recommendations adopted."

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The CPC was created in 2012 as part of the consent decree between the SPD and the Department of Justice to provide community input into police reform and accountability in the wake DOJ findings that the SPD had a record of using excessive force.

The CPC doesn't actually have legal power or any binding authority, but, and Daugaard makes it clear (as opposed to the focus of this week's Seattle Times article on the standoff between the CPC and the city over the group's recommendations), the CPC's proposal isn't about increasing its own power. It's about "augmenting the power of others to increase the efficacy of the existing system" which would maintain the CPC as an advisory body. The question is whether the city will actually take the CPC's advice?

The CPC's recommendations—coming soon as draft legislation that Daugaard hopes either the council or mayor will introduce—are in part aimed at creating a buffer between the city and police accountability officials, such as the director and auditor of the SPD's internal complaint review department, the Office of Professional Accountability (one recommendation, by the way, is to change the name to the Office of Police Accountability). You can't have someone who's been hired to be critical "sitting at their computer wondering if they should delete that last paragraph," Daugaard says, explaining that official whistleblowers shouldn't work in fear of retaliation from the mayor. "You can't rely on a hero model," she concludes. 

Many of the CPC's recommendations—eliminating multiple routes for officers to appeal discipline, restoring discipline for "conduct unbecoming to an officer" to off-duty situations, and including civilians in intake and investigations of citizen complaints—will have to be bargained with the police union in the current contract negotiations, but several others will be included in the forthcoming legislation.

These fixes include: whistleblower protections such as allowing the OPA director to pursue problems they discover are outside of the original complaint without being seen as "going rogue," as well as giving the OPA subpoena power over germane records that are not within the police department, such as bank or store video, and giving the OPA the power to change police manual guidelines that exonerate officers by unwittingly codifying bad behavior.

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