Notes from today’s Council meetings

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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  1. Thanks Kevin. A great summary as always. I had a few key takeaways from the meeting after listening myself yesterday. If there was any doubt where the power lies in the council the last few days should have removed that. Between blindsiding Sawant minutes before her press conference and then calling out her callous and shallow attacks on her fellow colleagues council members Gonzalez and Mosqueda are serving notice that any major legislation will go through them. Council member Morales runs the risk of becoming irrelevant mere months into her term if she continues to act as nothing more than a shadow puppet for Sawant. She was adamant during the election that she was not part of Sawant’s political movement and would have her own voice but six months into her term it seems her only purpose is to act as a proxy. Despite all the baseless attacks, ill will and ineffective politicking it seems likely the payroll tax will be resurrected in the near future as a way to patch the massive hole in the budget most likely driven by Mosqueda. I have no doubt if it eventually passes in some form Sawant will take full credit and cite her “movement” as the sole reason it got done and she may be right.

    1. I agree with your Morales comments. She is walking a fine line here and this has the potential to cause her problems in the future. She better be careful, because Sawant will turn on her in a minute if she thinks Morales is not on her side.

      I am also wondering how these new members will stand up to Sawant? I know Pederson already has on this issue, but did Strauss (my district) and Lewis say anything?

      1. Strauss and Lewis have been quiet, both on the payroll tax itself and on the suspension of deliberations last week. While Pedersen came out against the payroll tax, he also hasn’t said anything about last week’s decision. And frankly I don’t blame them — they have little to gain by speaking up right now.

        1. Agree, they may have little to gain, but I thought their job is the represent the citizens in their district. We are the ones that have something to gain and lose. At least they need to do that job so we know their position. And yes, I know my expectations for elected officials may be high, but I can still dream.

          1. I think it’s completely fair to demand to know their positions on policy issues. But this isn’t a policy issue — it’s a legal issue about whether they are able to consider the payroll tax bills while the Governor’s proclamation is in force. Gonzalez, as Council President, is responsible for making sure that the Council has a structure to get apprpriate legal advice on that question on a bill-by-bill basis, which she’s done. Mosqueda, as chair of the Budget Committee where the bills currently sit, is responsible for the decision as to whether her committee will hear them. Sawant and Morales are the co-sponsors of the bills, so they will of course care about whether their bills move forward or not. But the other Council members are effectively spectators as far as this decision goes.

  2. “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?”

    Yeah, I think those two shoulda sided with Orion, Wills and found a way to back Ari Hoffman. At least some nice people who would you know stand up for the commons.

    Everything Sawant touches… turns polarizing at best. At best.

    Sawant and Sawantism is the bigger problem in Seattle politics. Alex Tsimerman is just a nuisance compared to it. When these bunch of entitled brats surround Seattle City Hall in cars – cars! – and honking their horns to whine & astroturf a Seattle City Council meeting is an improvement because I saw & heard what they did the last time they didn’t get their sinful tax on jobs… wow.

    I can’t wait to turn on the Seattle Channel for the fireworks.

    1. I can’t imagine a scenario in which they would have backed Hoffman and Wills. Hoffman in particular is so antithetical to everything they believe.

      1. A little late to respond, but Hoffman would have been a reach for sure.

        Wills? Pro-environment, pro-gun responsibility, pro-civility, and definitely pro-transit plus anti-Eyman. Seattle lost out.

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