Notes from this morning’s Council Briefing

The Council is back, and wasting no time getting busy on legislation. To no one’s surprise, homeless encampments were the big topic.

Several Council members noted legislation and other updates that will be coming up before their respective committees in the next two weeks:

Council member Gonzalez mentioned that at next week’s GESCNA committee meeting they will hear an update on Seattle Police Department’s compliance with the city auditor’s recommendations on managing overtime.

Council member Sawant, on behalf of Council member Juarez, reported that at the Parks committee meeting next week they will discuss the draft community center strategic plan, including increased hours and staffing and the need for capital investment.

Council member Johnson said that this Friday the PLUZ committee meeting meets and will discuss possible amendments to the Comprehensive Plan. They will continue that discussion at another meeting on September 15th.

Council member Herbold noted that her CRUEDA committee will discuss (but not vote on) amendments to the proposed secure scheduling ordinance at tomorrow’s meeting. They will have a follow-up meeting on September 13th, in which she hopes to vote the bill out of committee.

 

Not surprisingly, the big discussion this morning was around the homeless response, and in particular the protocol for cleaning up or “sweeping” unsanctioned encampments. (see my post this morning for context) Council member Bagshaw, whose committee oversees homeless response issues, led off the discussion with a recap of what has happened over the last month. She plans to schedule special meetings throughout the month so as to fast-track legislation before the budget deliberation process begins in October.

Bagshaw noted that the Mayor and Human Services Division will be introducing the long-awaited report from consultant Barb Poppe tomorrow, and Bagshaw’s committee will meet on Thursday to begin the process of “unleashing” that report and turning its recommendations into legislation. She also noted that the RFP was published for the 24/7 Navigation Center.

On both the sweeps and on the broader strategy for homeless response, Baghaw let it be known that “there will be shifts” — that priorities and resources will be shifted from efforts that are not helping (and in some cases are doing harm) to those that are proven to help. To that end, she sounded a pragmatic note, repeating a quote from local advocate Lisa Daugaard that “better is better,” a corollary to “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” and emphasizing that a harm-reduction strategy should be the preferred approach in the absence of a perfect solution to the homeless crisis.

Bagshaw also waded into the controversy over the competing strategies on how to review the city’s current protocol for removing unsanctioned homeless encampments: the Mayor and Bagshaw’s task force, vs. the proposed legislation from homeless advocates.  Saying “there is no doubt that what we have been doing is inhumane,” she made it clear that either way she expects to see changes, but that her preference is to let the task force run its course, using the advocates’ proposed legislation as one source of input.

On the other hand, Council members O’Brien and Herbold seemed ready to move forward introducing with the advocates’ legislation, which is not on the Introduction and Referral Calendar this week but could be “walked on” by either of them this afternoon if they had a majority of Council members to support it. The bill would still need to go through committee deliberation — and it would be Bagshaw’s committee — so it’s not clear that the move would actually expedite anything without her support.

Council member Herbold, after noting that she has recently come around to the belief that the encampment cleanup protocol needs to be codified in legislation, questioned whether the task force’s charter, based upon a handout they were given last week, would lead it to make specific recommendations on legislation. Bagshaw responded that her intent was to have legislation on the cleanup protocol by the end of the month, she is neither waiting on the task force to start drafting it nor depending on it for the content of that legislation — though she does want its input.  She clearly is trying to manage her colleagues’ expectations to try to keep control of the process. Bagshaw quoted the Mayor’s office as committing to her that “adequate shelter or alternative safe locations for everyone will be available before sweeps occur” to try to calm their fears that the Mayor’s office will resist the effort to reform the sweep protocols.

O’Brien, for his part, said that he was willing to introduce the advocates’ legislation this afternoon but wanted to discuss it with his colleagues first — which could be read that he won’t do it unless he can “count to five” on votes to support it, and he doesn’t have that yet.

This will be the most interesting conversation of this afternoon’s long Full Council meeting agenda, but fortunately it will be one of the first topics, even before the public comment session, so we will know shortly after 2:00 whether Bagshaw’s colleagues will force her to directly consider adoption of the advocates’ proposed ordinance or give her the space to write her own.

UPDATE: the bill was introduced.