Notes from today’s Council meetings

Another long, heated public comment session at a poorly-attended Council meeting, a bill pushed out another week, and an update on what’s going on in Olympia. Also, the return of Council member Mosqueda!

Today was Council member Teresa Mosqueda’s first day back in the office following her maternity leave. With Council President Lorena Gonzalez also out on maternity leave, Council member Juarez is President Pro-Tem for the month of February, but Juarez was out of town today so Mosqueda played that role today (Mosqueda will be President Pro Tem in March).  I suspect by the end of the day she wished she had taken one more day off.

This afternoon, the Council passed by a 5-0 vote Council member Sawant’s resolution opposing India’s new citizenship act. The vote was preceded by over an hour of public comment in which tempers flared, commenters were shouted down, andd Mosqueda’s efforts to calm the crowd were less than fully effective. With over 100 individuals on both sides of the issue signed up to speak, Mosqueda limited each speaker to just one minute — and even then it was running long. As the first hour was winding up, Mosqueda announced that she would be skipping over several names in the signup sheet in order to prioritize groups, so as to get more people represented in the short time they had left for public comment. However, that sent the crowd into an angry frenzy, and Mosqueda was forced to recess the meeting for five minutes to try to bring things back under control. When she restarted the meeting, she apologized and resumed calling individuals from the signup sheet where she left off.

The crowd continued to try to shout down Council members as they deliberated the resolution, and Mosqueda threatened several times to clear the room in order that the Council might proceed (in the end, she asked the security guards to remove some of the people who continued to shout over the Council members).

Sawant compared the Indian citizenship act to the Nuremburg Laws in Nazi Germany, saying that it sent a chilling and ominous message if the Council didn’t pass the resolution condemning them. Council member Morales claimed that she heard an undertone of religious intolerance in the public comments during the meeting. Council member Lewis noted that originally he wasn’t prepared to support the resolution, but after doing research and seeing condemnation of the Indian citizenship act from respected organizations (including the Economist), he was prepared to support it. And Mosqueda stressed her belief that it is important for the Council to take up issues like that both locally and internationally, and that she welcomes likewise criticism from other countries that wish to speak up about U.S. policies that they find objectionable.

Council members Herbold, Gonzalez and Juarez were absent from the meeting today. Council member Pedersen managed to slip out of the Council Chambers during the deliberations and vote, leaving only the remaining five Council members who all voted to pass it.

All told, it took nearly two hours to get through all of that.

The Council voted to hold Sawant’s bill prohibiting “winter evictions” for another week. Both Lewis and Strauss said that they will be bringing further amendments forward. Lewis is looking at creating a mitigation fund to protect landlords who are deprived of rent while unable to evict their nonpaying tenants. No word yet on the content of Strauss’s proposed amendments. The final vote, including those amendments, will be next Monday afternoon.

This morning the Office of Intergovernmental Relations gave the Council an update on the current state legislative session in Olympia. This included a lengthy discussion of HB 2907, a bill introduced last week that would authorize King County to impose a payroll tax on employees earning more than $150,000 per year.  Feeling that the $40 million or so of new revenues that the tax would bring to Seattle is far less than the need, Council members expressed the concern that the bill might be amended to pre-empt Seattle from issuing its own new business tax — as Council member Sawant has proposed. HB 2907 will be heard in the House Finance Committee tomorrow morning at 8am, and is scheduled for executive session (where it might be amended and/or voted out of committee) on Friday.

Council member Pedersen announced this morning that Wednesday Morning his Transportation and Utilities Committee will take up:

Council member Mosqueda announced that her Finance and Housing Committee (which she referred to this morning as the Finance, Housing and Labor Committee) will meet on Thursday, and cover:

  • two appointments to boards;
  • a presentation on the ORCA for All program;
  • a review of the Council’s “capital projects watchlist.”

Council member Morales noted that her Community Economic Development Committee will meet Thursday evening to continue its discussion on building “communicty wealth”: how to support small businesses to avoid displacement, and how to increae community ownership of land so that low-income families have better tools available to them. At the committee meeting they expect to hear from artists, small business owners, and people participating in the Equitable Development Initiative (or those who have tried to) on what’s working and what the city might do differently.

Council member Strauss announced that his next Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee meeting will be on February 12. At the meeting, he expects to hear a presentation from SDCI in response to the tree canopy resolution the Council passed last year. He also expects to begin consideration of the reappointment of Nathan Torgelson as Director of SDCI.