The LEAD program pivots, new tenant protections pass, and the aftermath of last week’s decision to suspend deliberations on the proposed payroll tax. Welcome to Monday.
This morning, Council members heard a presentation from the directors of the LEAD diversion program on how they have pivoted to fulfill adjacent needs during the COVID emergency. With the courts shut down and low-level offenders being let out of King County Jail to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in confined spaces, the LEAD team has reinvented itself as “Co-LEAD,” a program focused on stabilizing people who have been released with hotel rooms and wrap-around services. The Co-LEAD program was started in Burien, but the team is now partnering with the City of Seattle to replicate it in several areas of the city.
This afternoon, the Council passed two bills providing extra protections for tenants during and for several months after the COVID-19 emergency. The first prohibits landlords from denying tenancy to a renter based upon evictions due to failure to pay rent during or immediately after the COVID-19 state of emergency. The second allows tenants who fail to pay rent during the COVID-19 emergency to repay it through an installment plan.
This morning, Council member Sawant announced that the residents of the Halcyon mobile-home park have asked the Council to renew the moratorium on redevelopment of mobile-home parks that it enacted in January of 2019. Last December the moratorium was extended until June, and apparently the situation for the residents has not changed since then. The ordinance passed by the Council requested that the Office of Community Planning and Development (OPCD) bring to the Council a plan last fall to protect the two remaining mobile-home parks, since they serve as affordable housing. Halcyon hosts 76 mobile-homes, and many of the tenants are elderly and/or low-income. Sawant said that she is working with Council’s central staff to prepare the legislation to extend the moratorium, but in order to consider it they will need to make the case that it is either “necessary and routine” or in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today Council member Sawant turned the “populist” knob all the way to 11, in response to last week’s decision to suspend deliberations on the proposed payroll tax bills that she and Council member Morales are sponsoring. She politicized an administrative decision, demonized people who she claimed were standing in her way, staged a political rally, astroturfed a public comment session, and blamed her colleagues for trying to undercut her “movement.”
For her part, Morales expressed her frustration and disagreement with the decision by Council President Gonzalez and budget chair Mosqueda to apply “the most conservative” interpretation of Governor Inslee’s proclamation that limits the Council from taking action on legislation unless it is either “necessary and routine” or necessary to respond to the COVID-19 emergency. She said that she will be working to craft new legislation to address the emergency relief needed, and this afternoon tweeted that the legislation would use federal relief funds “to support emergency relief to address the critical housing and food insecurity faced by our neighbors.”
But Sawant went into full attack mode, calling last week’s decision a “betrayal,” accusing Herbold, Gonzalez and Mosqueda of aligning with “big business” and cutting a back-room deal, and asserting to be false their claims to have made the decision based upon adherence to the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and the Governor’s proclamation, and in the interests of public health. She repeated the allegations in a press release this afternoon, and staying true to form she pitted “big business” against “working people.” Before this afternoon’s Council meeting Sawant and the “Tax Amazon” campaign organized a “car caravan” protest rally circling an empty City Hall, and several campaign volunteers took turns during the public comment session rebuking the council members for the decision to suspend the deliberations.
Mosqueda, who took her turn speaking before Sawant this morning, took a measured tone in expressing her commitment to passing progressive revenue legislation to address the crisis, as well as her concern that they don’t know when they will be able to meet in-person again to resume deliberations. Gonzalez, however, responded sharply to Sawant’s attack. She said that in contrast to the picture Sawant was painting, “it gives me no joy” to give guidance that requires strict compliance with the Governor’s proclamation, the guidance from the Attorney General, and the (confidential) legal advice from the City Attorney’s office. She pointed out that she can’t order the other Council members not to move legislation forward in committee, but that she believes the legal risks for doing so — to the Council as a whole as well as to individual Council members who chose to participate — are significant and would lead not only to any legislation passed being tied up in lawsuits but also to charges filed against the Council members. Gonzalez also said that last week in her weekly call with Governor Inslee, she advocated for the state legislature to reform the OPMA because legislative bodies in the state will be in social-distancing mode for many months to come. Gonzalez said that she is working with King County Council member Claudia Balducci on that advocacy effort.
Council member Juarez was clearly irritated by the attacks from Sawant, calling them “immature.” “Let’s not play politics,” she urged, saying that it was not the time to be divisive or accusatory. Juarez, who is currently dealing with a compromised immune system, thanked Gonzalez for recognizing the health concerns for those working in City Hall and interacting with public, calling it “a matter of life and death.” She went on to say that she has issues with the payroll tax legislation, and the prospect of passing it without public discussion, which she said would lead to the city being sued again and using taxpayer money to defend against the suit. “This is not sending us down a path to do the best for our people.”
Sawant did not back down, telling Gonzalez and Mosqueda that by aligning with the business community and making the decision to suspend deliberations, “you are the one playing politics.” She also questioned whether the OPMA actually requires the Council’s meetings to be in-person.
Gonzalez got the last word, however, reiterating that they are bound by the Governor’s proclamation that changes the standards codified in the OPMA. And she fired back at Sawant: “Yes, I do care about public health, and the assertion by you, Council member Sawant, that I don’t care about public health, is offensive.”
Gonzalez then moved the Council meeting into executive session in order for the Council members to discuss the Governor’s proclamation with the City Attorney’s Office. That session is closed to the public, but it’s reasonable to assume that the fireworks continued.
It does make one wonder whether Gonzalez and Mosqueda might have a few regrets about endorsing Sawant last October. Remember what Mosqueda wrote about Sawant last summer when she endorsed Zachary DeWolf in the primary?
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