Last Week in Politics

Top 10 Stories: Orca Whales, Amazon's HQ2, and Gun Laws

Your weekly dose of top political stories.

By Anne Dennon November 20, 2018

1. Governor Jay Inslee's task force on southern resident orca recovery released a list of 36 recommendations, The Seattle Times reportedThe recommendations, which include a moratorium on whale-watching from boat and the removal of two Puget Sound dams, are the result of six months of study, but they have a lot further to go before it becomes law. The measures intend to save the southern resident orcas (currently 74 in number) from extinction. 

2. Amazon announced HQ2 will be split between New York and Virginia, soothing Seattle's panic but raising questions about local officials' responses, Crosscut reported. 

When Amazon publicly announced its HQ2 search in September 2017, cities across the country surged forward with relocation incentives, some extreme. Here, city, county, and state officials alike had feared the corporation's search meant distancing itself from Seattle, and had sent Amazon a letter asking that Amazon and Seattle "hit the refresh button" and "form a true partnership." Now that the dust has settled, Seattleites are questioning officials' behavior and whether the reaction had been overblown. 

3. Long Island City, the Queens neighborhood slotted for Amazon's New York HQ2, wasn't universally thrilled with being selected, KUOW reportedMany of its concerns echo Seattle and Amazon's ongoing tug-of-war. Some politicians, including New York governor Andrew Cuomo, consider the economic boom worth the sacrifices, while others actively protest the tax incentives and contributions that helped lure Amazon. Just like Seattle, they have affordable housing, education, and infrastructure needs that are going unmet. 

4. Some Seattle economy and real estate experts predicted Amazon's divided attention will bode well for Seattle, Seattle Business Magazine reportedTo start with, the size of Amazon's Seattle population will remain the largest of all four locations (counting Nashville), suggesting the company plans on continuing to invest in its flagship campus. And even if hiring slacks off, that could be a good thing both for other tech businesses in the area and for the housing climate. 

5. Seattle City Council approved the police union contract 8-1, pushing the agreement on to review by U.S. District judge James Robart. The Community Police Commission and scores of local organizations opposed the contract, saying it rolled back key reforms in the police accountability legislation passed last year.

But council members who approved the negotiations between the Seattle Police Officers Guild and mayor Jenny Durkan said cops' relatively low wages had affected recruitment, and pushed back on claims it would affect the progress made on police accountability.

"Don’t tell me we’re rolling back reforms,” council president Bruce Harrell said. “That is an insult."  

6. As part of King County's approval of the 2019-2020 budget, $1 million will be allocated to restart the sheriff's gang unit, King5 reportedFollowing gang-related shooting deaths in Burien and Skyway this past summer, the revival of the unit looks to minimize gang activity through hiring and training two dedicated police officers. 

King County council member Dave Upthegrove chaired the budget committee and said he hopes the unit can serve as a "pilot program" for similar initiatives. 

7. King County passed a resolution requiring gun stores to post a warning that owning a gun increases risk of death, Seattle Weekly reportedThe latest in a growing line of local gun safety measures, the Board of Health resolution followed close on the heels of the passage of Initiative 1631, which strengthened gun purchase and storage laws. Both gun stores and shooting ranges will be required to post the sign. 

8. As expected, two gun-rights groups (including the National Rifle Association) sued the state of Washington and attorney general Bob Ferguson to block I-1631. Filed in the U.S. District Court in Seattle, the lawsuit challenges the constitutional legality of the initiative, which passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote. 

 9. Seattle officials say litigation setbacks to the Mandatory Housing Affordability program has so far cost the city about 700 affordable units, Crosscut reportedThe MHA program seeks to incentivize affordable housing construction with up-zoning — allowing the construction of taller, and therefore more profitable, developments in exchange for a fee or a percentage of affordable housing built into the site.

Neighborhood groups of property owners have held off the program for a year, complaining that changing zoning from single-family to multi-family will have negative effects on traffic, parking, and the environment. City officials for years now have been trying to address the city's exponential growth and rising income inequality through the need for more housing and more density. 

10. The city broke ground on a new affordable housing development of 102 units, Kiro7 reported. The building under construction is located in Little Saigon. The development aims to offer housing, counseling, medical and hospice care, and financial advising to individuals earning less than $21,050.

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