Notes from today’s Council meetings

The Council held its last full meeting until September 13th, and it passed several notable bills.

This afternoon, the City Council gave final approval to a revised ban on so-called “less lethal” weapons for use by SPD in crowd-control situations. You may recall that the bill was voted out of committee a few weeks ago, but Councilmember Herbold chose to hold it until after last week’s consent decree hearing in case Judge Robart wanted to express thoughts on it. He did not, so Herbold moved it for a final vote today. It passed by a 7-0 vote today, with Councilmembers Sawant and Morales absent (Sawant voted against it in committee).

The ban still has a long road ahead of it before it takes effect. Assuming the Mayor signs it into law, then SPD will have 60 days to draft revisions of their use-of-force and crowd-control policies to adhere to the new ordinance. Those new draft policies would then go to the court-appointed police monitor and the DOJ for review and recommendations to Judge Robart, who oversees the consent decree. It would then be up to Robart to review the ordinance and new policies and the feedback from the monitor and DOJ, and decide whether to approve them. If he does, then the ordinance will go into effect. And if he doesn’t… well then it’s back to the drawing board for the Council.  Needless to say, this process will take months to play out.

The Council also passed an ordinance officially transferring the city’s parking enforcement officers from SPD to SDOT. While the unions representing rank-and-file PEOs and their supervisors never managed to reach consensus on whether the group should move to SDOT or to the new Community Safety and Communications Center, a majority of Councilmembers preferred to move them to SDOT, so Councilmember Herbold advanced that option. The bill passed by a 7-0 vote today; Mayor Durkan will almost certainly sign it into law, given that her administration also recommended SDOT as the preferred landing spot.

In addition, the Council passed a bill expanding on an interim basis the allowed uses for street-front properties in the downtown, South Lake Union, and Pioneer Square districts, where there are currently a large number of vacant properties. Last week in committee Councilmembers Strauss and Lewis teamed up to mismanage a series of proposed amendments, circulating them late (and not publishing them for the public to see) despite some complex and controversial policy questions. One of those questions was whether office uses should be allowed at street level (they currently are not), which boils down to whether using those spaces for offices is better than leaving them vacant, since in neither case will they “activate” the street-level space. Councilmember Lewis, who proposed that change, chose not to call for a vote on it today, though he did move forward two parallel proposals: one to add “light industrial” uses to the permitted use list, and another to give discretion to the Director of the Department of Neighborhoods to allow for office uses in the Pioneer Square Special Review District.  In the end, the amended bill passed 7-0.

Finally, the Council unanimously approved a resolution, sponsored by Councilmember Juarez, supporting Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s creation of a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian boarding schools.

The Council begins its August recess this Thursday, which extends through September 6th. In addition, the Council Briefing and full City Council meeting scheduled for September 7th have been cancelled in observance of Rosh Hashanah.

Councilmember Juarez announced this morning that her next committee meeting will be on September 10th. The meeting will include a briefing and public hearing on a renewal of the Woodland Park Zoo operating and management agreement with the Woodland Park Zoological Society, as well as a bill designating a “park boulevard” along the waterfront.  (disclosure: I am on the board of the Woodland Park Zoological Society, so I won’t be covering the Council deliberations on the renewal of the contract)

Last Friday, budget chair Mosqueda also distributed to her colleagues the schedule for this fall’s 2022 budget process, which kicks off September 27th with the release of Mayor Durkan’s proposed budget.  More to come later this week on both the 2021 budget and preparations for the 2022 budget development.

Council President Gonzalez made two administrative announcements this morning. First, she announced new guidance for the Legislative Department regarding the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gonzalez announced that following Mayor Durkan’s lead, all legislative department employees will need to be vaccinated by October 18th. She also extended the “return to the office” date for department employees to Monday, November 29 — later than the October 18th return date for executive branch employees.

Second, Gonzalez announced that she has hired Esther Handy to be the new Director of the City Council’s Central Staff team, the team with the unenviable task of working simultaneously with all nine Councilmembers to develop legislation and amendments through the Council’s legislative process. Handy is in some ways an unusual pick for the position; while she brings first-hand experience with the City Council from her past work in the office of former Councilmember Mike O’Brien (from 2010 to 2015), more recently she has worked for two progressive advocacy organizations: Progress Alliance, which lobbies at the state level; and Puget Sound Sage, which lobbies the City of Seattle and the state government. The Council Central Staff is known for being viewpoint-independent so as to allow it to work in support of all Councilmembers; choosing the head of a progressive advocacy organization to run the team may present some challenges. In the meantime, Dan Eder, who has served as interim Director for the past year and was also a candidate for the permanent Director position, will return to his former role as Deputy Director.

Councilmember Lewis brought forth some statistics on last week’s clearing of the homeless encampment in City Hall Park: of the estimated 77 people who were living there, the JustCARE program placed 68 of them in a variety of non-congregate shelter spaces. Seven more are still pending placement due to the need for specialized placements to address their unique needs. As of August 1, the city had acquired an additional 89 shelter units for the JustCARE program’s use.

A few random announcements from this morning:

  • Councilmember Strauss announced that the fish ladder viewing gallery at the Ballard Locks has reopened to the public.
  • Strauss also announced that the Parks Department will be reopening the Ballard pool on October 18th.
  • Council President Gonzalez announced that the Seattle Preschool Program is now open for registration on the DEEL web site.

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