Today a thing that usually takes 15 seconds took 40 minutes of arguing — even though everyone knew what the outcome would be.
The big event of the day was the introduction of a modified “Amazon Tax” by Council members Sawant and Morales. They talked it up in the Council Briefing this morning, then formally “walked on” the legislation in the afternoon Council meeting. The vast majority of legislation gets introduced in the Introduction and Referral Calendar without fanfare, but in this case Sawant put up a fight. She walked it on, instead of submitting it the previous week, because she disagreed with Council President Gonzalez’s decision to refer it to the Select Committee on Budget; Sawant wanted to send it to her own committee, where she could control the process and where she and Morales would have two of the five votes on any potential amendments. By walking it on, she hoped to enlist her colleagues’ support to overrule Gonzalez. This afternoon there were speeches, accusations, counter-accusations, and in the end Sawant’s pitch was soundly rejected — even by Morales — and the bill was sent to the budget committee. Which is what everyone knew would happen all along. Several Council members expressed their dismay that in the middle of a crisis, when city government shoul dbe coming together, Sawant was sowing divisiveness instead.
See my separate writeup on the bills, and the challenges ahead for them.
Council President Gonzalez announced this morning that Council meetings will continue to be virtual through May 4th, and the their staff are working on a test of technology to allow some form of public comment via Zoom. They hope to roll it out on April 20.
Council member Sawant reiterated her previous comments that reinstating public comment is a priority for her office, and aired another disagreement that she is having with Gonzalez: Sawant wants the Council’s rules to be changed to allow COVID-related public comment at any Council meeting (rather than restricting comments to items on the meeting’s agenda). Gonzalez responded that if there is an item related to the COVID emergency on the agenda (which will be true most of the time), then such comments will be allowed, but “we have to be able to maintain some level of consistency with our rules.”
This morning the Council heard an in-depth presentation from the Office of Intergovernmental Relations on the federal and state economic relief efforts related to the COVID-19 crisis. You can find the detailed slides here.
This morning Council member Herbold noted last week’s state Supreme Court decision not to hear an appeal of the Court of Appeals’ ruling last year striking down the city’s income tax. The appeals court had found that the city had authority to impose a flat income tax, but not a progressive one. Herbold said that she is still investigating what that ruling would mean for Seattle. Council member Sawant said that the Supreme Court’s decision was “extremely disappointing,” that the city should look at passing an income tax that exempts working class people (it can’t), and that in her eyes whatever avenues exist for passing an income tax are no substitute for her “Amazon tax.”
Council member Lewis reminded his colleagues that his committee would be meeting on Wednesday morning for a discussion of hygiene facilities and service for the homeless population — important not only because of the COVID-19 outbreak, but because of a recent outbreak of Hepatitis A in the homeless community around Ballard Commons Park. Council member Strauss has also been working the issue since February with various city departments. Strauss said that the Navigation Team will be delivering hygiene kits in the area, the public health department will be out this week delivering vaccinations, and the city is looking at hygiene stations, bathroom facilities and sanitation there and in other places around the city.
Strauss also noted that the Mayor’s emergency legislation modifying the process for design reviews and landmark designations was introduced today, and that he intends to bring it to the full Council for a vote next Monday.
Council member Mosqueda said this morning that grocery workers had brought to her an issue with grocery bags: that stores were still imposing a 5 cent charge for paper bags, even though shoppers are not currently allowed to bring their own bags to the store because of the COVID outbreak. Mosqueda’s office began to draft legislation suspending the charge, but instead Seattle Public Utilities has let it be known that it is not enforcing the bag fee while the emergency order is in effect.
Mosqueda also noted that Sound Transit issued new guidance on construction projects of Friday, halting almost all work on transit expansion sites except for work to ensure that the sites are safe.
Council member Herbold called attention to her bill imposing rent control on commercial properties during the COVID-19 emergency. She said that she plans to bring it up for a final vote next Monday afternoon.