Much of Mayor Ed Murray’s budget speech yesterday seemed aimed at the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ironically, the 50-plus activists wielding BLM placards who showed up to hear Murray’s speech weren’t allowed into the council chambers to hear it. The council chambers were filled to capacity, mostly because Murray extended invites to his own supporters.
(Footnote, though: The protesters, relegated to chanting “Let us in!” at the bottom of the stairs on the 5th avenue side of city hall below council chambers, were mostly white Kshama Sawant supporters from her Socialist Alternative party—and not people organized by the premier racial and social justice groups in town such as Puget Sound Sage, One America, or Working Washington. Indeed, the protesters' customized red placards also included Sawant's specific budget demand to redirect spending on the controversial North Precinct police station to build 1,000 affordable housing units.)
The protesters’ ongoing concerns about police accountability and gentrification have coalesced into two headlines issues recently: Homelessness and the new $150 million North Precinct police station, which the Block the Bunker movement, a sister to the BLM movement, successfully forced Murray to take out of this year’s budget proposal two weeks ago—but not ultimately cancel.)
Murray talked at length about race, police accountability, and homelessness—and directly addressed the controversial police station.
In general, his speech was on-point about fighting racism.
As a white man, I cannot know the experience of raising a black child in our society, and the daily worry that today might be the day they do not come home because they were taken by a bullet.”
Every week I hear these fears from members of the black community – but I also hear their resilience and determination.
What I do know is that white Americans have work to do.
We, the beneficiaries of hundreds of years of structural inequality, must recognize our privilege and work with others to construct a more just society.
Black lives matter.
It was hardly LBJ uttering “We Shall Overcome” to the nation in his famous 1965 televised congressional address, but it was a noteworthy moment—mostly because Murray immediately followed the phrase with an explicit explanation of what BLM means policy wise; this, by the way, served as a rejoinder to the reactionary retort that all lives matter, by outlining that while, yes, all lives certainly matter, public policy seems to forget that Black lives are part of that universal sentiment.
“My administration is committed to addressing disparities in education, youth employment, the criminal justice system,” Murray said. His budget includes funding for high school mentoring programs, 200 new summer learning slots, and the career bridge program. The budget also expands community centers and access with free programming at five community centers and no more drop-in fees.
As for the criminal justice system, Murray said he would make civilian oversight of the SPD a permanent feature with new legislation that will “create an Inspector General, a new office of police accountability managed and supervised entirely by civilians, and make our community police commission permanent.”
The budget also includes spending on new data analytics tools to monitor (and flag) troubling police behavior along with tech backup to store and disclose all force-wide body cam data.
However, Murray simultaneously committed to the law and order side of the equation—pledging to add 72 new officers this budget cycle and 200 new officers overall by 2020.
And, again, in what seemed directly addressed to the protesters outside the chambers (whose rhythmic banging momentarily echoed up and into the chamber walls), Murray said:
But we also must have a police department prepared to respond to and thoroughly investigate domestic violence and rape.
We must have a police department prepared to appropriately respond to a mass shooting, like we had two years ago at Seattle Pacific University, or like we saw only three nights ago just north of us.
These goals [fighting crime] are not in opposition [with police accountability]
We need not choose between reforming the police relationships with the community and having sufficient resources to respond to and investigate crime.
“We are obligated to do both. And we will,” he concluded, which highlighted his commitment to ultimately building the North Precinct while noting, he’d “come to understand how a precinct building in this city could become a potent symbol embodying the divisions of these difficult times.”
On the pressing issue of homelessness, Murray committed to adding $12 million in spending to the already record $50 million the city spent this year. The money, he said, would be focused on supporting his recent “Pathways Home” plan with prioritizes permanent housing over temporary shelter while also increasing access to shelter.
There is $2.8 million earmarked for encampments to, in part, “address public health and safety and storage of belongings,” which sounds suspiciously like dollars for sweeps.
After his speech, the council voted on Murray's recent proposal to authorize sweeping the Jungle. It passed 6-3 with the council's left bloc, Lisa Herbold, Mike O'Brien, and Kshama Sawant voting no.
Sawant, who had made a motion (seconded by O'Brien, but then voted down by the rest of the council) to open the back of the chambers to allow the protesters in during Murray's speech, also presented her budget amendment to shift money—$160 million—from the postponed controversial North Precinct to build affordable housing.
“Last week, representatives from the mayor’s office and council member [North Seattle's Derbora] Juarez were still insisting that the $160 million in Real Estate Excise Tax funding that they intended for the North Precinct police building could not be legally used for affordable housing," Sawant said in statement.
She concluded: “This claim was disingenuous: This has been done in every budget in recent memory. [Council legislative staff] produced an rigorous 36-page memo detailing exactly how the $160 million originally intended for the North Police Precinct could be used to build affordable housing instead."
That battle, which will play out between now and Thanksgiving, will include Sawant's October 18 "People's Budget Town Hall" where she'll rally supporters around her call to spend the precinct money on affordable housing.
Those are the headlines.
Below the radar, I'd like to flag this item in the SDOT budget: Extended paid parking hours on Capitol Hill. Currently paid parking ends at 8pm. Murray is proposing extending metered parking until 11pm.
The 2016 data-collection effort showed very high late-night occupancy levels in three areas on Capitol Hill where paid parking hours currently end at 8 p.m. SDOT proposes extending those hours until 11 p.m. due to demonstrated demand.
The recommendation reads like a direct slap at Capitol Hill Housing, which had proposed extending the hours to fund neighborhood projects as a Parking Benefit District pilot.
The budget also propose broadening paid parking zones—east of 12th on Capitol Hill and also in the "Ballard Edge" and around the perimeter of South Lake Union.