Notes from today’s Council meetings

This afternoon the Council once again plunged into parliamentary purgatory. Reading through this summary will take you about three hours and ten minutes less time than the meeting itself.

This afternoon the Council members approved a bill accepting about $14 million  federal and state grant money and allocating it to specific COVID-related relief city programs. Well, most of it; at the Mayor’s request, the Council set aside $1.4 million of the funds while a few more issues get addressed, leading to a last-minute substitute version of the bill where the numbers are adjusted.  Budget chair Teresa Mosqueda, the sponsor of the bill, said that she hopes to have the issues worked out by the end of the week.

The Council also passed a bill extending the moratorium on residential evictions for six months after the Governor’s moratorium is lifted. This took over an hour (after nearly an hour of public comment on the bill dominated by landlords arguing against the bill), as the Council waded its way through consideration of a series of amendments. Among them:

  • One by Council member Pedersen to exempt small landlords with 4 or fewer units. That failed to pass.
  • Another by Pedersen that requires tenants asserting the ordinance as a defense to an eviction proceeding to self-certify (under penalty of perjury) that they have suffered financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Originally the amendment also listed making a good-faith effort to apply for rent assistance or other financial relief, but Council President Gonzalez, the bill’s sponsor, disliked that language because much of the federal funding has been made intentionally unavailable to certain communities. Council member Herbold offered a further amendment to Pedersen’s amendment, which cleaned up that issue, and the amendment was adopted by a 7-2 vote (Sawant and Morales voted no).
  • One by Gonzalez that removes the requirement that judges order payment plans for tenants when an eviction is stopped, since in some cases payment plans are unrealistic if the tenant currently has no income. Gonzalez stressed that the point of the amendment wasn’t to stop payment plans, but to give judges discretion as to when to apply them instead of making them the only remedy.
  • One by Pedersen that would require SDCI to report back to the Council on how often this new defense to eviction is used. Somewhat surprisingly, this amendment failed, in part because SDCI doesn’t have direct access to that data since it usually doesn’t get involved in evictions; the department would need to get the data from Seattle Municipal Court.

In the end, the bill passed unanimously. The ordeal was a prime example of this Council’s favorite pastime: thanking each other — especially for introducing bills or amendments that they plan to vote “no” on.

Finally, the Council passed a trio of bills to move forward the construction of a new Fire Station 31 in north Seattle.

This morning Council President Gonzalez, in response to the Governor’s extension of the “stay healthy, stay home” order until the end of the month, led the Council in suspending the rules to allow it to continue meeting remotely through May 31st. She also issued a directive yesterday extending the legislative department’s telework plan. Gonzalez said that she has asked the City Clerk and the Department of Finance and Administrative Services to start working on a plan to reopen Council Chambers and for the return of some workers to the second and third floor of City Hall.

This morning the Council discussed (well, mostly gave speeches about) the situation at Ballard Commons Park, where an increasing number of homeless encampment tents have gathered. On Saturday the Navigation Team posted notice that it intended to clear the camp this morning. Council member Strauss, whose district includes Ballard Commons Park, decried the move, repeatedly saying that removing encampments without meeting all of the residents’ need “is not in line with my values.” Council member Lewis, who chairs the Council’s committee on homelessness, said that he had also been in contact with city officials, who claimed that offers of spots in the city’s enhanced shelters were made to all encampment residents and sufficient capacity existed if there was a 100% acceptance rate of the offers. The Seattle Times has been following the encampment cleanup today; you can read their coverage here.

The Council members were having difficulty squaring the cleanup effort with the city’s previous statement that it had stopped encampment cleanups during the COVID-19 crisis except for extraordinary circumstances that create immediately safety hazards. As of this morning, the Navigation Team had not yet explained what the extraordinary circumstances were that led to the decision to remove the encampment today — though Lewis said that after recently visiting Ballard Commons Park he didn’t think it would be hard to justify since the area was “in a difficult state in terms of creating dangers for the community.”

Council member Morales complained that the current policy is not enforceable, and said that her office is working on legislation that would be more prescriptive on what constitutes an “extreme risk.” She hopes to have a version of the bill ready in the next week or so.

Morales also announced this morning that she is introducing a bill to prevent COVID-related housing discrimination after the COVID crisis passes. The effect would be to prevent landlord from denying housing due to financial issues that occurred during the crisis. It would also provide for an order of limited dissemination, preventing missed rent payments from being reported to credit agencies.

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