Just say hello

April 9th, 2014

A few years ago architect Rex Hohlbein arrived at his office on the ship canal in Fremont and saw a guy sleeping, a few possessions around him, on the grass by the canal wall edge. That proved to be the end of his architecture career.

Rex built a friendship of sorts with the homeless man after many days taking his coffee or lunch outside and striking up conversations with the man. After a while he offered Chiaka bathroom and indoor rest privileges. After learning more about the man and his art, Rex let him store his supplies and even sleep in part of the building.

After posting and selling some of Chiaka’s art for him via Facebook and, ultimately, helping him reconnect with the family he lost a decade ago, Rex heard a new calling. That calling is to reshape how you and I “see” someone when they’re sleeping in a doorway, asking for change on a sidewalk, heading in and out of a shelter or camped along a place like the ship canal.

Through Homeless in Seattle (Just Say Hello) on Facebook, Rex posts rich black and white portraits and a bit of the stories of the homeless people he meets. He meets a lot of them because he works at it and because through this work his office has become an informal drop-in center. When I visited last Friday morning, I met a half dozen or more men, usually bent and hobbled in some way, looking for a cup of coffee, maybe a package of new socks and a little time with Rex. He listens wholly and engages with them in ways most of us don’t as we go about our lives.

In addition to the photos on Facebook, the site has proven to be an effective place to crowd-course help to solve emergency problems. Paying off parking tickets in order to avoid losing an RV/home, new shoes, some way to get into case management, temporary home for a dog while someone gets a hospital procedure – all of it gets posted with hope that social media will link the ask to someone who can.

Rex’s is the most grassroots of grassroots endeavors. Homeless in Seattle has started on the path to becoming a non-profit organization and he has great help in his board members, like public defender and former Seattle School Boardmember Nancy Waldman. Rex will move his office to Ballard this spring due and likely connect with a whole new set of faces in the neighborhood. Lucky for them.


Council vote today means you can soon catch a legal ride with UberX, Lyft or Sidecar

March 17th, 2014

Below are the notes I used in today’s Full Council vote on Seattle’s first rules expanding access to taxi ownership and defining operating rules for transportation network companies (TNCs) and their affiliated drivers. The Council, after debating several amendments, voted unanimously to put in place a framework for legal TNC operations in Seattle.

My experience on Council has been that every few years something about taxi regulations gets to the point where something has to be fixed; we can’t dodge it any longer. This seems true in most cities. Government performs a quick, band-aid fix, avoiding acknowledgement that the regulatory system is old and heavier than needed, then government jumps away from taxi regulatory reform as quickly as possible.

Avoiding a comprehensive fix is no longer possible. What we’re voting on today isn’t a complete fix, but it’s a start.

First meeting of the Taxi, Limo, For-Hire Committee – March 14, 2013.

We started not to address the operational rules for the new companies, but out of a need to resolve conflict between the taxis and the flat-rates and to better fund enforcement of the rules governing the existing, legacy players.

Previously, the laws of the universe were simple and constant – the taxis have been angry at the flat-rates, both have been angry at the limos.

Then, the laws of the universe changed.

The question for the committee quickly came to be: how do we bring new players with different business models into a regulatory framework built for a different time.

We met pretty much once a month, taking a break during Council’s consideration of the budget, then twice last month.

  • We’ve heard hours of testimony at the microphone.
  • Contracted for a study of the Seattle market to get a better idea of the demand for alternatives to the personal automobile and bus. (Reviewed in committee in September.)
  • We’ve been inundated with form emails, personal emails, personal phone calls and robo-generated calls.
  • We’ve been worked over by drivers, owners, riders, lobbyists, pundits and PR flacks.

Through all of this we’ve attempted to ground our work in three goals:

  • Safety
  • Consumer protection
  • Expanded mobility choices 

A lingering question is whether the City should regulate taxis and flat-rate cars – and now TNC cars — in order to accomplish a fourth goal:

Ensure drivers can make a living. This was a goal of re-regulation in the early 90’s and has been an underpinning of the cap on the number of taxi licenses up to now. Charge people a fair, managed rate – and allow as many operators as can make a decent living. That idea is greatly challenged in 2014.

A reminder that two state code definitions determine the boundaries of our work:

Rideshare: limited definition in state code to carpools and vanpools for commuters between home and work or school. Maybe you’re splitting gas. IRS keeps that at 56 cents/mile.

For-hire vehicle: any vehicle used for the transportation of persons for compensation.

UberX and Lyft aren’t ridesharing under state definitions. They are for-hire transportation – charging more than a share of the gas. That triggers a host of safety, training and operational requirements – requirements that admittedly need an overhaul.

Unfortunately, the limited access to taxi licenses in Seattle and King County coupled with driver and vehicle regulations that haven’t kept up with contemporary service expectations and technology, make disruption not only inevitable, but welcomed by many drivers and riders.

And disruption there has been – in cities across the United States and other parts of the globe. The companies have chosen to launch first, ask questions later. Every city and state looks to be playing out the same debate as we’re having here.

  • Cease & desist in multiple cities – NYC, Washington DC, Portland, Miami, Madison, WI
  • Austin – limited to IRS 56 cents/mile
  • Houston – strife
  • Chicago City Council — subpoena for insurance records.
  • CA defined transportation network companies for the first time, but didn’t dig into safety checks or insurance. San Francisco supervisors may seek authority to regulate, perhaps even cap car numbers
  • Violence in Paris against Uber cars and drivers

In Seattle, we’re about to define the regulatory framework under which UberX, Lyft, Sidecar and their followers can operate legally in the city. These rules recognize that times are changing – and that safety and consumer protection never go out of style.

What does this legislation do?

I like to think it hits on safety, consumer protection and expanded mobility choices from multiple angles.

Starting with the Council Bill:

  • The City will expand the opportunity to own a traditional cab by releasing 100 taxi vehicle licenses in 2014 and 100 in 2015. Potential owners will have to pre-qualify to show good driving records and they can’t already own a cab or a share of a cab.
  • Flat-rate cars – we discussed the future of this small segment of the provider market and decided to let them live. When this legislation comes into effect, flat-rate cars will be able to pick up street hails, but not be able to queue at taxi stands.
  • The bill loosens the requirements on owner/drivers of wheelchair accessible taxis, a more expensive and necessary service model.
  • The bill establishes a two-year pilot phase for operating a new form of for-hire transportation.
  • For the first time, Seattle will define a new entity engaged in for-hire operations – the Transportation Network Company. Think of this as the mother ship.
  • When this legislation comes into effect, anyone who drives a for-hire vehicle (including a TNC-affiliated vehicle) will go through the same training in order to receive a For-Hire Driver’s License.
  • All vehicles engaged in for-hire work (including TNC-affiliated cars), will go through a safety check. For TNC-affiliated cars, you’ll be able to do this with a certified mechanic.
  • TNCs and their affiliate drivers will have to provide insurance coverage while “live on the system” equal to commercial insurance required of other for-hire ride providers.

The companies’ announcements last week that they recognize the pre-match, trolling time live on the app as requiring their coverage is a step in the right direction. The companies should further recognize that people should have the same security in case of an accident in a car with a pink mustache as they do in a taxi.

  • For the at least the first year of this pilot, TNCs will be limited to having no more than 150 cars “live” on their system at any time. That’s an additional 450 cars serving passengers in Seattle if the systems max out.

The cap during the pilot phase allows a transition. It allows operations at a significant scale and minimizes the possible “rush to drive” seen in San Francisco. On the one hand, the migration of drivers to TNC work meets new demand. On the down side, it may sap drivers from modes other people depend upon. Crashing the taxi system isn’t a desired outcome. Too many people in our city depend upon taxis. The cap allows us a controlled test and transition.

  • After one-year, the city may raise, lower or remove entirely the cap on “live” cars. We’ll discuss in the amendments in a moment who has the authority to move the cap.

We’re not regulating the fare that TNC’s can charge. Fares will have to be filed with the City, they’ll be public record, but it will be up to consumers to decide who they want to pay.

The Resolution:

The great news is that we have much more work to do.

  • Driver training must be reworked with King County, focused on safety and customer service.
  • Vehicle licensing and re-licensing must be reworked with King County, simplified and streamlined.
  • The resolution states we’ll review insurance classification levels in pursuit of greater options for taxi and flat-rate drivers.
  • Council will receive regular
    reports
    on how the new taxi licenses are being distributed and on how the options and ride quality for passengers may be affected by opening up the provider market this way.
  • With King County we’ll review the composition of the Taxi Advisory Committee so that it better reflects the different provider models operating in Seattle.

SideCar reported a new harvest of $10 million in investment capital a few weeks ago.

Uber raised $237 million last year.

Lyft has raised $83 million in the last year.

I don’t bring these numbers up to say these massively successful funding rounds are necessarily a bad thing (that all depends upon how you treat drivers and passengers in the long run). But it does beg a question –

  • Riders tell us they love your service quality.
  • Drivers tell us they love the flexibility.

You’re doing so many things right. You have a lot to teach regulators about how to strip back over-weight and redundant regulatory constraints.  If only you would communicate and collaborate.

How can you raise this much money, have what I imagine are battalions of lawyers and not have a better plan for how to engage with policymakers? It’s amazing how many simultaneous city and state-level wars you’re waging.

To the taxi owners, this is a wake-up call. Or shout. Or cannon shot. Thousands of taxi trips happen in our city each day. Most are great are at least unremarkable.  Too many involve poor dispatch, poor driver comportment, a battle over presentation of a credit card or out-right refusal of a short hop ride.

We are moving several dials at the same time. We will be working with Mayor Murray as we track the impacts on passengers and drivers. I’m very glad to see his commitment to quick and focused revamping of the city’s for-hire regulations. I hope King County regulators, our partners in all of this, are as excited as we are to crack open licensing.

What is before Council today is not the complete fix, but it’s a start.


In the Northeastern University Blog – Rideshare Rundown

February 21st, 2014

I wrote an article for Northeast University’s blog” ReConnect” talking about what’s happening in the world of taxi, for-hire, UberX, Lyft, Sidecar, and limousine regulations.  Here’s the link – let me know what you think.

http://www.northeastern.edu/seattleblog/rideshare-rundown/

 


One Night Count 2014

January 28th, 2014

Another One Night Count to end homelessness has come and gone.  Every year, more than 900 volunteers in the Seattle/King County area take to the streets the last Friday morning of January, 2 a.m.-5 a.m., to count those who are living without shelter on our streets.

This year, I was assigned to walk under the West Seattle Bridge and cruise Harbor Island.  My team included a Seattle Fire Department captain (with a warm van), a Downtown Emergency Services contracts manager, a student pursuing a master’s in social work, and a shelter staff person. It was a clear night, a bit warmer than years past, but still chilly when standing still for more than a few minutes.  Definitely cold for those sleeping outside.

Last year my team walked through the cold dark into a profound moment when a couple of people found the body of Kathryn Ann Blair in the grass clover leaf of the Rainier Avenue South off ramp from westbound I-90. That was first – and I hope a never-again – for the One Night Count.

What was striking for me this year was not what stood out, but instead what continues to blend in – the campers, vans, and tents under Spokane Street or on the edge of the industrial area parking lots that we drive or bus by every day.  We counted half a dozen campers likely occupied. One had two children’s bikes leaned against each other.

West Seattle Bridge

I just became the chair of the Council’s Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services, and Economic Resiliency and this night makes tangible the work that must be done in our committee.  I grumbled a bit to myself about staying up all night and then scheduling myself for a half-day planning session on our office workplan the next morning, but, really, participating in the One Night Count and then getting down to work is exactly what we must do.  This year we’ll be looking at boosting the city’s affordable housing strategies, preventing and mitigating foreclosure, strengthening job opportunities, connecting people with mental health services, crisis housing and a building a city-wide housing strategy.  That’s in addition to the likely bump in Seattle’s minimum wage. It’s not the answer to eradicating poverty, but it will help.

Thanks to all of you who participated in the One Night Count this year and thanks to Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness for organizing so many of us to do this important work.


Pics from the ceremonies

January 7th, 2014

I had a pretty good seat for yesterday’s swearing-in ceremonies for the newly-elected and re-elected in Seattle city government. This was definitely the best attended and most “pomp and circumstance” of the inaugurations I’ve seen.

01072014sawant 
After Councilmember O’Brien was sworn in by his sons (Elliott and Wyatt), Councilmember Licata by his wife (Andrea Okomski), and Councilmember Bagshaw by her husband (Brad), Councilmember Sawant took the stage to applause, hoots and chants to be sworn in by Nicole Grant of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. You’ve probably read a bit about Councilmember Sawant’s speech already. It didn’t disappoint.

010714murray

Former Washington State Governor and Ambassador to China Gary Locke swore in Mayor Ed Murray with Mayor Murray’s husband Michael Shiosaki holding the 18th century Gaelic bible for the Mayor’s left hand. The Mayor also had with him rosary beads brought from Ireland by his grandmother when she emigrated.  A proudly unreconstructed Democratic progressive, the Mayor’s speech also disappoint with good quotes from FDR and JFK.

Before the Mayor made his remarks, the Washington State Poet Laureate, Kathleen Flenniken, read a poem she built for the day. It does a wonderful job of name-checking scads of Seattle people, places and icons, but more than that it conveys both a yearning to do better and a love of place.

Pulling off yesterday’s event took a lot of work over the holidays by the City Clerk and her staff and the City’s Facilities staff. Nice work all around. And thanks to all of you who attended.

Now, onto the work of 2014.

 


End of year, end of Council presidency, thanks for a great two years

December 20th, 2013

The Council Presidency is over for me, long live the Council Presidency for someone else. In addition to chairing the Council’s Monday morning informal Briefings meeting and the afternoon Full Council session, the Council President serves as the head of the Legislative Department (Council, City Clerk, Central Staff, Legislative Operations, Archives and Records). You represent the Council welcoming dignitaries and you do the managerial work of department budget review and human resources juggling. It’s both an honor and a basic “herding cats” requirement for an 80-person department. And you do it in addition to your regular committee assignments and the work on policy initiatives.

At the end of the Full Council meeting this past Monday I made a few comments to close out the year. The notes below are pretty close to what I said in the meeting. I probably self-edited for length because after 68 agenda items and a wedding proposal, it seemed we’d been in Chambers for four or five days already.

 It’s been a great honor working as Council President on behalf of the whole. Organizing, structuring, facilitating, mediating – really never a dull moment. I hope I’ve represented you all well when called upon to do so.

 I looked back at what I said when I became Council President two years ago. In the remarks I said:

 “My goals as Council President are relatively simple:

  • That City Council continues to be a place of diligence and well-done decision-making;
  • That we be the place that emphasizes informed debate and respectful disagreement;
  • That we are connected to Seattle’s neighborhoods, families, and businesses taking on issues that matter;
  • That we collaborate aggressively with partners inside our city and in our region to ensure progressive action at other levels of government, and a widened circle of prosperity.”

I like to think we did pretty well hitting those marks in this two year cycle. I’m proud of what this Council has accomplished, including efforts seeded and growing now. A list of 2012-2013 high points would have to include:

  • Funding homeless services to both expand services where needed and make up for lost federal and state funds (A priority for all members)
  • Beginning to build a universal preschool plan (Lead by Councilmember Burgess)
  • Road to Housing expansion (Lead by Councilmember O’Brien)
  • Job Assistance legislation to help formerly incarcerated people get a fresh start (Lead by Councilmember Harrell)
  • Greenway policies to further safety for walkers and bikers (Lead by Councilmember Bagshaw)
  • Sending a successful library levy to voters (Triumphed by Councilmembers Conlin and Godden)
  • Making marijuana legalization work with rational zoning (Lead by Councilmember Licata and me)
  • Improving 3rd Ave. and supporting the Center City public safety initiative (Supported by Councilmembers Rasmussen and Bagshaw)
  • Passage of the seawall bond measure (a priority for all councilmembers)
  • Establishment of the City’s first Economic Development Commission (started by Councilmember Conlin and brought across the finish line by me)
  • Competing for and receiving a grant from the Allen Foundation to establish the city’s first Financial Empowerment Centers (Championed by me)
  • Adopting new zoning and equitable development requirements for the Yesler Terrace and South Lake Union neighborhoods (A priority for all)

This Council has made a difference in the welfare of our city. I should also note that each of the efforts I just identified was in collaboration with Mayor McGinn and his staff, contrary to a narrative put forward by a few that disagreements on a few issues prevented progress on other challenges. That narrative does a disservice to Mayor McGinn and the hard working staff in the city. Though it’s been an up and down four years between us, I thank Mayor McGinn for his ardent advocacy on behalf of our city and working to get Seattle urbanism right.

I want to thank Central Staff, the Legislative Operations crew, and the Clerks for a great couple of years. And I sincerely wish the best for the departing Ben Noble, the head of the Council’s policy shop, and Mike Fong, policy advisor extraordinaire, in their new adventures heading the Budget office and serving as deputy for the Office of Policy and Innovation respectively. We’ll miss you, but that you’re putting your talents to work in other parts of the city means you’re still at work for good of the city, and I can live with that.

Lastly, thank you to Richard Conlin for 16 years of service to Seattle through your work on this Council. Richard’s grasp of issues, commitment to progressive values, and dedication to fair decision-making are second to none.

I was fortunate to have succeeded Richard as both Council President and as chair of the economic development and intergovernmental relations committee. I got to witness and experience firsthand some of his visionary accomplishments.

I could go on about the Zero Waste Strategy that saved us from opening a new transfer station; pushing for better funding for parks and libraries; healthy fiscal skepticism about the reclaimed water business; tree policy development; the Seattle Food Action Plan; sowing the seeds for the Economic Development Commission and restaurant permit streamlining; about starting Seattle for Washington to improve Seattle’s collaborative cred across the state; about the Capitol Hill Light Rail station development plan and so much more from a 16 year career.

Thank you, Richard. You’ve been a great role-model for public service and you’ve made Seattle a better place.


2014 Budget Review Wrap Up

November 26th, 2013

Thank you to everyone who shared thoughts about budget priorities this fall. At its best the City budget is a reflection of our priorities and, often, our compromises with each other as we determine how to spend a finite amount of money.

Yesterday we took final votes on the City budget for 2014. When you combine the time the departments and the Mayor spent building a proposal and the time Council spent seeking public feedback coupled with staff work sizing up the proposals, this is the culmination of more than six months of work.

While the budget includes operations and capital spending over the two utilities (Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities) we spend most of our time talking about how to allocate the General Fund. This is the spending on the every day, basics of local government like police, fire, parks, a portion of human services (e.g., food, shelter, domestic violence prevention), a portion of libraries, the Neighborhood Matching Fund, neighborhood plan updates, P-Patches, and more.

After several years of cuts and dipping into the reserves, we’ve returned to a budget without layoffs or cuts included in the final balancing package. It’s not like we’re rolling in extra revenue, but we now have sufficient, predictable revenue for next year to ensure that we’re back in the business of hiring police officers, boosting maintenance spending in parks and at Seattle Center, and boosting the spending on road maintenance and construction for safer cycling and walking in the city.

This is great news.

Even better news – based on your emails and compelling public testimony at the two public hearings on the budget, we revised the Mayor’s proposal to better focus the dollars we’re spending on public safety, pre-K education, and moving families out of homelessness. Rather than go through a long list of what we added and changed (you can find that here, though, if you’re interested), I’m going to mention a few of the items that received greatest notice from emailers, callers and the public testimony of advocates.

Shelter for Homeless Young Adults
“Together with other members of my synagogue, Temple Beth Am, I have for almost 20 years volunteered at Orion Center to provide dinners for the youth that are in need.  The numbers have swelled over the years so that today at a typical dinner we are providing nourishing food for over 60 youth and I can only guess how many of those young people need a bed for the night — a safe space where they can take a shower and sleep peacefully.” –Diane, via email

YouthCare operates a third of the shelter beds (20 out of 60) available for young adults ages 18-24 in Seattle.  Their private foundation grant for those shelter beds is coming to an end early in 2014, and without replacement funding, young adults wouldn’t have access to a safe place to sleep at YouthCare’s Orion Center. Council worked with the King County to make sure that we could fill the funding gap and keep young adult shelter beds open.  Thanks to this collaborative work and your advocacy, shelter beds will remain open and young people will be able to connect with the other great resources at YouthCare such as employment assistance, school, health care, and support towards finding permanent housing.

Public Safety
“As the Executive Director of an organization that works to prevent human trafficking, I am extremely concerned about the safety of the downtown corridor, especially for children and runaway youth who can be recruited by a trafficker within 45 min of arriving in Westlake Park.” – Mar, via email

A large number of the budget e-mails I received this year have been from downtown residents, workers and visitors asking that we address public safety – the feel and the reality — Downtown. The Mayor’s proposal included money to get us back on track for increasing the number of officers on patrol in the city (though it will take a few years still to actually increase patrol numbers due to training time). In addition, the budget this year expands the LEAD program – law enforcement assisted diversion – throughout Downtown neighborhoods.  LEAD has been offered by police officers in Belltown under certain conditions (non-violent offenses only) as an alternative to arrest for people who frankly need treatment, services and housing more than anything jail can provide.  Instead of the trip to jail, the alleged offender immediately connects with treatment, case management and support. The goal is establishing an effective connection that leads them away from crime.

Seattle Animal Shelter
“A well-staffed, healthy shelter serves our city in so many ways….it keeps unwanted animals off the street, and it places them in the homes of people who will love them as a part of their family.” – Pamela, via email.

Puppies are an easy sell, right? Unfortunately, Seattle Animal Shelter staffing took hard cuts in the recession and those cuts have been evident to anyone who has tried to report an injured or stray animal. Officers and staff do a great job, but there have been too few to respond as effectively as our city requires.  Supporting the Seattle Animal Shelter is crucial for public health and safety, and the mental health and well-being of individuals and families who benefit from animals in their lives.  We added additional staffing support to keep animals in the animal shelter safe and healthy.

Startup Seattle
“We need your support in the effort to attract more talent, more entrepreneurs and more awareness that Seattle is the best place to startup.”  –Spencer, via email

This one was a “save” rather than an “add.” Several councilmembers had good, tough questions about why local government should spend money to support an industry that seems to have a lot of capital available to it. I advocated for (and we kept in the budget) Startup Seattle because we are competing with other cities for talent and capital. I think the City can play a role keeping us competitive.

There are plenty of other things worth mentioning in the budget that will go a long way towards helping people in Seattle.  Some are on the small and odd side (we’re supporting “fruit gleaning” so the fruit from trees on City property will go to food banks rather than waste).  Some are on the large and long-range change side (we’ll spend money in 2014 to figure out exactly how you re-shape a totally fragmented pre-K education network into something universally available, affordable, and high quality preschool for all children). Some have to do with big infrastructure we all own (we passed a budget proviso (a padlock of sorts on future spending) requiring a thoughtful plan be brought to Council for revamping the Lakewood and Leschi Marinas in a way that involves the community of boaters at the two marinas and the surrounding communities of neighbors, and we’re accelerating design of a Downtown cycle track so bike commuters who come into and out of Downtown can ride out of car traffic).

This gives you a sense of the breadth of subjects we reviewed in our budget work this fall. Please know this is not a comprehensive list of what we debated. If I’ve not mentioned the item you care most about – and you can’t find it in the list from the link above – please shoot me an email and we’ll dig into your question.

 

 

 


Local young social justice activist has no need for spell check

October 3rd, 2013

When I meet with young people or have interns in the office I invariably tell them to keep honing their communications skills. Different fields need different specialized skills, but all GreenShirtPortraitfields need strong communicators. And, so, I’m pleased to spotlight up and coming strong communicator Savannah B, a junior at Rainier Beach High School. 

Savannah recently travelled with Seattle’s 4C Coalition to Washington DC for the 50th anniversary March on Washington Memorial Youth Mentoring Summit. As if that participation wasn’t enough to do Seattle proud, Savannah then did one better and won first place in the “Spell it Like it Is” Spelling contest.

Savannah participates in the 4C Coalition’s Pen or Pencil group mentoring program, a program that focuses on connecting young people with the educational system (the pencil) to head towards success and keep them out of “the pen.”    

I recently had a chance to e-mail Savannah about her success.

StagewithScreen

How did it feel to be in Washington, D.C.?
I felt honored to be able to walk the same streets as people I look up to as heroes, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, former presidents, and congressmen and women.

Also, being in Washington, D.C. gave me a new perspective on life because I saw that even though we’re so far apart, Washington, D.C. and Seattle are more similar than different.  For example, Washington, D.C. having the history it has, I was surprised to learn that it has just as much poverty as Seattle.

It was also a nice experience being in the competition with many different educated young people from around the country, but to me the experience was more about Washington, D.C., the city itself.  

What’s your favorite part of the Pen or Pencil Group Mentoring program?
I enjoy coming together with the young and elders of our community.  Although we think we know a lot, we learn something new no matter how young or old we are.  

African American people face a lot of stereotypes and it’s good for all of us to learn about our shared history.  Like in D.C., we learned that African American people built a lot of the buildings.  When you look at them you might think a white person, or a Hispanic person built them if you don’t know the history.  I think it’s good for us to know our African American heritage.

What’s your favorite subject at Rainier Beach?  Why do you like it?
IB (International Baccalaureate) Math Studies. It’s a little bit of geometry, a little bit of algebra. I like it because of the teacher, he’s cool. I like the way he sets up the classroom; we sit in groups instead of rows.

What’s in store for you next? 
Winning this competition made me realize that I can go straight to a four year university instead of going to a community college for two years before transferring to a four year university.  

 Winning makes me feel more confident in myself.  

 It makes me want to more seriously pursue playing basketball and my dream of becoming a pediatrician.

Congratulations again, Savannah!  If you’re interested in being part of the Pen or Pencil Mentoring Program visit the 4C Coalition -  http://www.the4ccoalition.org/

4C Coalition asked that we not use Savannah’s full last name.


Resolutions and Russia

September 20th, 2013

Recently there have been articles about Russia’s new laws against gay “propaganda” being distributed to minors (you know, like propaganda about healthy relationships and safer sex), increasing hostility to LGBT people, and outright attacks on LGBT people. Some people have said it’s time for LGBT people to “flee Russia.” Next year’s Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi won’t have Cher performing, but that’s really the least of the issues, as sponsors and LGBT civil rights advocates pressure the International Olympic Committee to pressure the Russian government to join the modern world, the one that doesn’t jail, torture or kill LGBT people.

I believe the gay propaganda law passed in Russia is abhorrent.  Persecution against LGBT people is unacceptable and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposed policies, which include taking children away from gay parents, are especially awful to those of us who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. I am personally appreciative of the work Seattle residents are doing to work against this persecution.

A few of you know there’s been a debate recently about whether the Council should do a resolution regarding the situation and stating the City’s official position. Resolutions are non-binding pieces of legislation that express a policy intent or an advocacy position or sometimes lay out a work program. I recently declined the Mayor’s suggestion to do a joint resolution stating the City’s position regarding the situation in Russia. I’ll explain a bit about why – and offer a few ideas about what we could do that would be truly meaningful.

A little background on how this conversation started

The Mayor’s liaison to the Council asked me September 12 if I would be interested in signing on to a letter from the Mayor to the Russian Consul General in Seattle. The Consul General had sent a letter to the Mayor regarding his participation in a protest outside the Consul General’s home highlighting LGBT persecution in Russia. I read the draft reply letter from the Mayor and thought it was great; clear and strongly worded. I thanked the Mayor’s liaison for the opportunity to sign, but declined because I didn’t attend the protest and hadn’t been involved in the discussion with the Consul.

The Mayor’s staff also asked if I’d be interested in exploring a joint Council-Mayor resolution on “Russia’s discriminatory laws.” I declined this offer, as well, because, personally, I believe resolutions adopted by the Council should be specific to issues affecting life for people in Seattle.  For people who want the Council to pass a resolution this approach can be maddening, but we need a filter of some kind. We have an active, passionate citizenry in Seattle which is great. We could pass resolutions in every meeting of the Council and we would never cover the breadth of issues important to Seattleites.

Also, international affairs? Not our specialty. I’m not saying we should never go there with resolutions, but we should, in the words of one e-mailer this week, tread gingerly and with the help of people who actually know what they’re talking about. I’ll say more about that in a moment.

If the Mayor disagreed with me or if he thought this subject should be treated as an exception, he could have called me. He could also have consulted with other councilmembers. Any councilmember can take up a resolution and argue that it’s appropriate for action.

I can hear the charge of, “But you’re the Council President.” I don’t commit my colleagues to voting one way or another on an issue. We’re nine people who make up our own minds.

Also, when the Mayor was asked in the Consul General’s letter if his support of the protestors reflected the official position of Seattle authorities, isn’t that when you say an unqualified “yes”? Isn’t that when you highlight that we’re a city in a county that just approved marriage equality by 67%; we’re a city that made City Hall available at no cost for weddings; we’re a city that added gays and lesbians to anti-discrimination laws in 1978; we’re a city with some of the most innovative queer youth support organizations in the country; and we’re a city proudly known as one of the best places for transgender people to live and work.

Back to resolutions and whether we should pass one

How connected a potential resolution subject is to life in Seattle is something we debate every time an idea for a resolution comes forward. I agree that injustice to one is an injustice to all. I believe the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice and that we need to push the arc in every generation. I believe even one person can make a difference raising his or her voice. And I think that when the Council adopts a resolution it should be because that resolution means something.

There are examples of resolutions the Council has passed where that connection has been stretched, but I know that, for my part, when I am approached about a resolution I push on what the local connection is that makes the resolution right for us to consider.

People have brought up immigration and the resolution we passed opposing Arizona’s approach to immigration law. In that resolution we called for a federal level approach to immigration reform.  I have argued before and will continue to argue that immigration reform is a city issue because we have people living in our city who can’t call for police or fire help without fear; who can’t go to the hospital without fear; who can’t engage in full lives without fear.  Immigration reform is a city issue.

People have brought up the resolution on health care reform from a few years back. Not a city issue? Tell that to the uninsured in our city. We’re partners with King County in operating public health clinics that ensure health care access for the poorest among us. We need health care reform in our city.

And then I’ve heard that if Seattle cares enough to support circus animals and removal of the Snake River dams, then we can certainly show we care about LGBT people in Russia.  Those two resolutions from a decade ago come up over and over as examples of how the Council’s voice can be diluted or misunderstood.

What now?

What’s happening in Russia is deplorable. Let’s also recognize that what’s happening in 75 other countries not mentioned in the recent focus on Russia is equally deplorable (http://76crimes.com/). Instead of building conspiracy theories about why I didn’t say yes to a resolution, why not come up with strategies to better educate people on what’s happening in Russia and in these 76 countries, and give people real ways to be heard and make change. And do you want to talk about the situation for women in far too many parts of the globe? That can keep us busy with resolutions for a while, too.

If we need to do a resolution to make the point super clear, great, let’s do it — and let’s do it right. Let’s use the Council’s convening power and the platform made possible by Seattle Channel to get the best information we can about international human rights abuses against LGBT people in Russia and elsewhere, and let’s identify constructive steps City government and others in Seattle can take to effect change. I think the City’s LGBT Commission and Human Rights Commission can assist, but so can other Seattle-based organizations deeply involved in world affairs.

The resolution should mean something and shouldn’t be the end of people’s attention to what’s happening around the world and the attacks that happen in our own city and country.


The intern experience at Council President Clark’s office.

August 16th, 2013

sallyandinterns

I host high school level interns every summer. Today’s post is a guest blog from intern Dan Lamkin (left).  Dan is an incoming senior at Holliston High School in Holliston, MA. Also pictured is intern DeJaun Rose (right), an entering junior at Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School.

If you are interested in interning or know a high school student who might be interested, contact latonya.brown@seattle.gov or call the office at 206-684-8802.

My name is Daniel Lamkin and I interned in Sally Clark’s office this week. I came all the way from Holliston, Massachusetts. This week I was in charge of answering phones and organizing e-mails. I also collected and organized the mail.

Sally also gave me a research project to do – she wanted to find out what it means to be a Right to Housing City.  I must say the project was rather interesting, even for a 17 year old boy like me. I also sat in on several meetings where I learned a lot about the processes of running a city like Seattle.

In the office I get to answer the phones which I do enjoy. It’s nice to interact with people on the other end of the line and help them. I must say I was surprised at how many e-mails Sally gets and how she keeps up with it all. There are so many things going on at once but she seems to know everything about all of them.

I’ve had a lot of fun while I was here – both in the office and enjoying the city in the evening. There is so much to do in Seattle – from eating a root beer float while battling dinosaurs at Full Tilt to looking down on the city from 600 feet in the air from the Space Needle.

The people here are all so welcoming and nice. The City looks like it is running very smoothly thanks to all the Council members.