Post-LD Caucus Hangover?

If you have political friends on Twitter or Facebook in Washington State, then perhaps you heard about the Legislative District Caucuses that happened yesterday. Consensus: It was a mess. 

Having been the Area Coordinator for Eastlake, I felt particularly bad for the delegates elected from my area. In Eastlake, we started on time, on the dot, and ended after about a half hour. We were there to determine the proportion of delegates, and then elect delegates. We dispensed with the pomp and circumstance, began organizing by candidate early so that each side could reach out to undecideds, and limited speeches to two minutes per side. There are some people who are cool with an all-day event, but they (we) are in the minority, and should never force those who are first-time caucus-goers to a process laden caucus. On the whole, the 43rd went by pretty damn well. But with the demands from the State Party, the leadership was constrained in steps that could be taken to make it a more efficient experience for first-time caucus-goers.

43rd LD Caucus (not including Alternates and people waiting in the lobby) - Photo Credit: Colin Maloney

43rd LD Caucus (not including Alternates and people waiting in the lobby) - Photo Credit: Colin Maloney

The same could be said about the Legislative District Caucus. This is, frankly, a massive undertaking for LDs, and can always be expected to be messy. However, what happened yesterday across the state is something I have never seen (this is my third contested presidential caucus cycle). 

What doesn't help: the lack of support from the Washington State Democratic Party. Reports from all over the state that the State Party provided wrong information about delegates elected at the precinct level; provided no information about folks who pre-registered to run for delegate; provided no financial support to the LD organizations; provided no education for delegates about what to actually expect at the next level. 

In 2004, when I was a Dean delegate to the LD caucus in the 38th, we had a well run caucus and support from the State Party. 2008 I was a Clinton delegate to the LD caucus in the 37th. It took awhile, but the chaos didn't match what we saw yesterday (and remember: in 2008, more people caucused than 2016). Then there is this year. Three different State Party Chairs, three radically different experiences. 

So what should we do? Of course, the first response I hear is that we should go to a primary. As I have written before, absent Party registration, this is something I doubt the State Party will take up. Allowing non-Democrats to pick the leader of our Party would be like letting just anyone pick the leader of your local Federation of Eagles chapter, regardless of membership status. But that doesn't mean we can't take steps to improve the process and improve efficiency. What I would do:

  • Staff Up - Number one is staff up. This costs money - and that is something the State Party has that LDs don't. Get people in who are getting paid to process the paperwork coming in from the precinct level; regional folks to work with LDs on planning and executing a successful caucus; taking on tasks to make the lives of the volunteers that run the show easier - not constantly demanding more and more of volunteers. 
  • More Time - The amount of time between the precinct caucuses and the LD caucuses needs to be longer. It's clear that the State Party was ill prepared to make it work smoothly, and the LDs - who are all-volunteer organizations - need time to cool off and get ready. A two-month window would provide so much more support for the LDs than the current compressed schedule between the two biggest caucus events that the LDs have to run. 
  • Streamline the Rules - We are a private organization. Period. Craft rules through the rules committee, allow LDs to make necessary changes to specified areas with their own rules system, and have that be that. No amending the rules or the agenda from the floor. The LD Chair is the Caucus Chair. Period. Arriving at 1:00 and expect to be seated as a delegate? Nope! Candidates wish to address the caucus: better wait for downtime (and if you can't, too bad). 
  • Explain the Rules - Make clear early on to people where the rules are, and have a layman's system that explains how these translate into the process. The process is simple: Delegates arrive, where there are empty delegate seats, they are filled by alternates with the order of priority being (a) candidate support (b) gender (c) precinct. Also - give a primer on Robert's Rules with the most common terms that people will hear, and what that means. I (kind of) know this system, but most people don't. 
  • Explain the Process - Caucus starts at 1:00? Have people arrive by Noon to get registered. Set a cutoff time that allows credentials volunteers to finish signing everyone in so that the caucus can start on time, and allows them to cut off sign-in by, say, 12:30, so they can begin to assess the need for alternates. Making alternates wait for hours is unacceptable - they should have a good idea in advance how many will be needed so they can self-determine if they want to fight for that or head home. Make clear that this is going to be an all-day event - and let people be delighted when they finish early. 
  • Fewer Delegates - It's great that 1,300+ people are willing to come out on a Sunday afternoon to caucus. 650 would be much more manageable. Considering we elected just a small percentage to the next level, it is ridiculous that we have so many delegates elected from the precinct level to the LD level - both of which receive minimal (at best) State Party support. Slash that number in half. 
Sanders and Clinton Supporters working side by side in the 43rd counting delegate selection ballots - Photo credit - James Apa

Sanders and Clinton Supporters working side by side in the 43rd counting delegate selection ballots - Photo credit - James Apa

These are just some suggestions, compiled from things I heard from caucus-goers at the 43rd and 34th, as well as on social media. These are simple changes that would make the LD caucuses run more smoothly, provide support for the all-volunteer LD organizations, and make the caucuses less of the shit-show that we saw yesterday. Reports of caucus-goers booing candidates, repeatedly attempting to oust caucus chairs, and the long delay to get credentials is not Party building. 

I started my caucus day in the 43rd, as a Clinton delegate volunteering alongside Sanders delegates (and wrapping up around 6:00 p.m.). I ended in the 34th, and a Clinton delegate to the CD 7 caucus working alongside a Sanders staffer counting delegate selection ballots until 1:30 in the morning. We're all in this together, but absent meaningful change in the process, I can't guarantee we'll be around next time. 

Time for a Huge Caucus!

We are coming up on the 2016 Washington State Caucuses in Seattle, and I confess myself excited. I've been to every Presidential Caucus since 2004, when I was the PCO for Marysville 1, a Howard Dean supporter, and managed to run a precinct caucus that had no John Kerry support. 

In 2008, my precinct caucus was packed. At the time, I lived in the Central District, and the caucus was more of a gathering of neighbors with a few votes. We limited speeches during ours to two minutes per side, and the Obama team speech was a two minute tirade against the Clintons, while the Clinton team speech was a two minute speech about Hillary Clinton. I still remember the opening line: "Thank you for talking about Hillary - I too would like to speak about Hillary Clinton." Well played. 

People like to dog on the caucus as an outdated system. But let's take a look at what it's purpose is: selecting the person to lead the message of the Democratic Party as our presidential nominee. In a state like Washington, with no Party registration, this is the best way to ensure that Democrats are picking our Party's nominee, which is, frankly, the way it should be. I hate our top-two system for partisan races because it allows non-Democrats to pick who they think best aligns with our Party's values - people who don't align with our values, or even know them. 

Taking a look at other nations, the idea that people who are not members of a Party being allowed to pick nominees of a Party is ludicrous. I've spoken with folks from Canada, and a few European countries, about this over the past few weeks, and they find our system entertaining, but nonsensical. Perhaps this is why it is so difficult for our Party's to effectively run a message for our candidates to be a part of. The Liberals in Canada, for instance, won because they were all on the same page for messaging, and their MP candidates were picked by the Liberal Party. 

Looking at our candidates, this is part of what gives me pause about Sen. Bernie Sanders. I think he has some good ideas, particularly on tax fairness policy. I would love a single-payer healthcare system in the United State. If there was an opportunity to unilaterally, as President, abolish the death penalty federally and in all 50 states, that would be badass. 

But the fact remains that Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat. In fact, he brings a long history of railing against the Democratic Party. If elected on the Democratic ticket, he would be expected to then basically lead our Party - yet he has been AWOL on actually building a grassroots legislative system to elect people to Congress that would support his specific agenda. There is not the effort to support State Parties, those that will work on GOTV (particularly for down-ballot races) that are so important in retaking Legislatures across the country in advance of the 2020 census and redistricting. Grassroots doesn't start with the President and work its way down - it starts with local races and works its way up. 

The contrast with Hillary Clinton here is something to behold. Her campaign has been about her, and about building the Democratic Party. That's not to say she is a perfect candidate. Her support of the death penalty is something that gives me pause. But at the same time, while our current president has also expressed support for capital punishment, his judicial picks for the U.S. Supreme Court have most definitely indicated a willingness to overturn Gregg v. Georgia

On the actual issues, Clinton has shown a very broad depth of knowledge on many issues, and a deft ability to address inequality beyond the very broad "Billionaires v. The Rest of Us," speaking to institutional racism, a willingness to "say her name" regarding Sandra Bland and other victims of excessive, murderous force, gender pay inequality, LGBT rights, and outlines of plans to implement through executive action and collaboration with Congress. Looking at her time with the State Department, she has shown the ability to be effective in addressing these issues for State Department employees, quietly establishing many partner rights for LGBT families, for instance, before the rest of the Federal Government was on board. Speeches are great - action is better. 

And then there is guns. Sanders has a disjointed history with guns. One of the areas where he has been most consistent, however, is supporting blanket immunity for firearm manufacturers from civil litigation. Tobacco manufacturers for years sold a deadly product, and withheld information on the health ramifications. They still were able to be sued. Courts played a part in auto manufacturers having to install basic safety devices like seat belts. The maker of Four Loko was able to be sued for creating an unsafe product after deaths from over-consumption. In all of these cases, the lawsuits led to manufacturers having to make their products safer, or more clearly show how unsafe they are. 

What could a result of a civil action against a gun manufacturer be? Well, we know the technology exists for fingerprint triggers, for instance. And who knows what other things! But we can't know, because the N.R.A. and gun manufacturers' insistence that this industry receive blanket immunity is more important than actually using civil actions to do what Congress is unable to do: improve safety for kids and families across the country. That Sanders is on the wrong side on this issue, and continues to advocate for gun manufacturers during debates, is not "progressive." 

Clinton brings to the table significant experience in many areas, and notably in campaigning. This Fall's campaign is going to be brutal, and she knows how to fight back. She has the ability to speak in a way that is not pure absolutes, and while some knock her for her evolving positions on various issues, an ability to evolve is not a bad thing, and is good to show people that you can, in fact, change on an issue and it's OK. Her victories in the Primary have been fueled by our 2008 and 2012 coalition: women, people of color, and urban residents (to date, the only urban area that Sanders has won is the greater Salt Lake City area). 

In addition, she is bringing support to the down-ballot races that will be crucial to implement progressive policies in the states, and ideally be in control of more redistricting processes than the Republicans. Redistricting wins Congressional seats. 

Finally, she shows our daughters that anything is possible. You're goddamn right I want to see a woman in the White House, and as President. My daughter's first introduction to Presidential Politics was in 2008, and she is lucky to have grown up knowing that women can, in fact, be significant players and considered for the presidency. But looking at the contests this year, there were still only two women running for President - Clinton and Carly Fiorina. In 2008 there was Clinton. In 2004 there was Carol Moseley Braun. In 1972 there was Shirley Chisholm. Five women for major Party presidential nominations. And how many men? Considering that women are still horribly underrepresented in Congress, State Houses, Courts, and pretty much every hall of power, that we have a very well-qualified woman who is electable as our potential nominee is huge. And that she weathers continued attacks on her looks, her tone, her nuance, and keeps on fighting sends a message to my daughter that I greatly appreciate. 

I like that Sen. Sanders is in this race. I think he is pulling Clinton to the left, and opening up more for her to use as real policy positions in debates against the Republican's candidate. And unlike many in my Party, I hope he stays in as long as it takes. Extended primaries are good for our Party and our eventual candidate. I also hope that, whoever is unsuccessful, follows suit with what Clinton did in 2008, and support and push their supporters to support the eventual nominee. The Supreme Court is too important to screw with for ideological purity at the top of the ticket. 

But at the end of the day, after watching many debates, reading up on both candidates, and in consideration of what is in the best interest of the Party, this Saturday - #ImWithHer.

#Greenwood

As our city continues to discuss how we grow, one phrase that we hear often is “Neighborhood Character.” Often the issue of Neighborhood Character is dismissed by urbanists as a tool to slow development. At the same time, we also see renters dismissed as being “transient” and somehow not real members of the community by some homeowners. Concerns about changes to Neighborhood Character that will draw in more tenants are what we hear from some of the loudest voices.

But what the hell does Neighborhood Character even mean? Often, from my perspective, people are referring to the horribly energy inefficient Craftsman homes. Or a really cool looking, energy-wasting Victorian. There are some great looking apartment buildings, townhouses, and row-houses – many of which leak heat something fierce.

That, however, is beside the point. When did we begin prioritizing buildings over people? Are the buildings what make neighborhoods great, or the people living and working in those buildings?

People in Naked City Brewing - the real Neighborhood Character. Photo credit: Washington Beer Blog

People in Naked City Brewing - the real Neighborhood Character. Photo credit: Washington Beer Blog

The unique nature of our neighborhoods in Seattle is pretty much awesome. What makes them unique, though, is the small businesses and the neighbors. Nowhere has this been amplified more than the recent explosion in Greenwood. The community response has been something amazing. As of this moment, nearly $35,000.00 has been raised to support the workers who all lost their jobs as a result of the explosion (BTW - take a second to kick in $5, eh?). People haven’t been sad about some old building being leveled – people are lamenting the loss of three local businesses, and the damage to other local businesses.

Before the explosion

Before the explosion

Greenwood after the explosion. Credit: KOMO 4

Greenwood after the explosion. Credit: KOMO 4

Support is coming to the workers not just from neighborhood homeowners, but renters. New residents. Old residents. Other small businesses. And this is what makes Greenwood such a fantastic neighborhood. Their retail core has a lot of great places to eat, drink, Karaoke, watch movies, caffeinate, shop for guitars. Greenwood businesses are well known to provide support to the neighborhood and neighbors – regardless of housing status. This is what Neighborhood Character means to me.

And the best way to keep our neighborhoods awesome? By being welcoming neighbors. I cringe when I hear people talk about renters as if they don’t contribute to the neighborhood. 52% of Seattleites are renters, after all.

Of course this means we need to allow more housing and housing types to be built in Seattle. Part of the initial HALA recommendations did just that by opening up opportunity for attached single-family units in historically single-family parts of the city. On this, I believe we lost opportunity for young families to be able to afford to become homeowners in our city, unless our city council shows the political will to move forward with pilot projects on duplexes and triplexes.

The Zoo is to the left, Pazzo's to the right, and 14 Carrot is shown. Up the street are more small businesses - and down the street - including a coffee shop, a fly-fishing shop, and clothing boutiques. This is what makes Eastlake great, and what needs to be protected - part of which means welcoming more residents to spend their money at these fantastic establishments in my neighborhood.

The Zoo is to the left, Pazzo's to the right, and 14 Carrot is shown. Up the street are more small businesses - and down the street - including a coffee shop, a fly-fishing shop, and clothing boutiques. This is what makes Eastlake great, and what needs to be protected - part of which means welcoming more residents to spend their money at these fantastic establishments in my neighborhood.

At the same time, our city must take steps to ensure small businesses can afford to operate in our commercial cores. This is one of the difficult pieces of the puzzle, as we move forward with more mixed-use development, more high-end and chain stores move into storefronts. Frankly, the cost per square foot of an older building is less than the brand new stuff. The affordability crisis extends to our small businesses in this regard. Fun fact: RCW 35.21.830 only bans rent control for residential structures. Just throwing that out there.

So next time you contemplate Neighborhood Character in your ‘hood, think about it – is it the buildings or your neighbors and small businesses that make it great? Of course we don’t want a bunch of hideous new structures built – but we do want energy efficient dwellings to help realize our carbon neutral goals. And, frankly, we can have buildings that add texture and are aesthetically pleasing that are also energy efficient (or, even better, use passivhaus technology).

Ultimately, though, I like to think we all want to be a little bit more like Greenwood – where residents new and old, renters and homeowners, small business owners and employees, all band together as community when disaster strikes. That is Neighborhood Character that I can get behind.

MIZ, Building Heights, and a Connection to Homelessness

As Seattle grapples with the affordability crisis – which is intrinsically linked to the homelessness crisis – one of the recommendations from the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) report that the City Council is considering is a little nugget called Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (MIZ). As it works through Council, the proposal as it currently stands would require all new development in certain areas set-aside 5-8% of their total units for folks making 60% and below Area Median Income (AMI). In exchange, height limits will be increased throughout the city, allowing for more units of housing to be built.

Watching the debate about MIZ, one complaint from a certain developer lobbyist and their supporters is that MIZ is bad because it is taking away from developers without giving enough back. We hear that it isn’t fair, that this will just make other units cost more in rent, that the height increases aren’t enough, that it is unconstitutional, etc. etc.

Of course, complaints from non-developers exist, too. The total percentage is not enough, the height increases are too much, it’s not fair that some areas can buy-out of building the units on-site.

In my professional world, the attorneys I work with sometimes are appointed as arbitrators. We joke that we know they did a good job when both sides are unhappy. Just throwing that out there.

Anyway, as we look toward permanent solutions to address the homelessness crisis in Seattle, one area that we must address is the lack of housing options – particularly for lower-wage workers. When looking to the triggers of homelessness, 15% of people experience homelessness due to an inability, with their wages, to pay all of their bills. 35% plunge into homelessness due to job loss (which leads to inability to pay rent). We see more and more impoverished families paying upwards of 50% of their income in rent, which is no wonder the slightest change in their economic situation – increase in cost of living or loss of a job or hours – can trigger losing housing

MIZ will be a piece that helps address the affordability crisis and, by extension, the homelessness crisis. The current proposal is not perfect, but it is definitely a start. It remains incumbent upon our elected officials to determine as time goes on whether the promised amount of affordable units are actually being built and, if not, make adjustments to fit the needs of the city. The needs of the city must be the highest priority.

About the arguments against…

  • ·It isn’t fair! – You know what isn’t fair? Sleeping in the rain because all new construction is focused on building the most expensive units. Take the Pladhus building in Roosevelt. Studios are starting at $1,045 for 202 square feet. Or AVA in University District where studios start at $1,515 for 463 square feet. These are super-duper nice on the inside, but are not exactly contributing to the need for lower-rent units. I know – trickle down. Older buildings will get cheaper!

Well, I went ahead and checked, and it looks like most of the older units in the neighborhood – for studio apartments – were in excess of $1,000 per month. I don’t believe that, directly, building more housing causes housing costs to increase. But I do believe that building only high-end housing causes housing costs in older buildings to increase at a faster clip. Why rent for $750 and make a profit when you can rent at $1,000 and make an even bigger profit, but still be a few hundred below the brand new?

Of course, that gets to a separate question – the cost:

  • It will just make other units cost more! For one, that is a choice to be made by the owner of the new building. How much profit do we need, after all? But this is a choice that is made by the people developing a parcel. What other costs go into increasing the rents for tenants, and how necessary are those? But the other part that I think is worth considering: does every individual unit need to be luxury? I view the world as one of need. People I speak with experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity don’t give a shit if they have stainless steel appliances or hardwood floors.

This very issue was contemplated in Justice Ming Chin’s Concurrence in California Building Industry Association v. City of San Jose, a California Supreme Court case upholding San Jose’s MIZ ordinance as constitutional (which the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately declined to reconsider following an appeal by developers in California). First, Justice Chin noted that the requirement might “cause the developer to make a smaller profit on [MIZ] units than on other units…[but does not], at least on a facial challenge…require the developer to provide subsidized housing.”

From here, Justice Chin – a Republican appointee – notes that there is nothing that prohibits a developer from building the affordable units in a less expensive way. While MIZ units have to be of similar size to non-MIZ units, and the exterior has to be the same, as of now there is nothing in the legislation that is snaking through the Seattle City Council that would require hardwoods, stainless steel, and a bidet in every MIZ unit if other units have those amenities. Rather, MIZ units can be made on the interior to have wall-to-wall, low-cost Albert Lee appliances, plain light fixtures, linoleum floors and inexpensive countertops.

So there remains opportunity to not only construct the interiors cheaper, but also have them setup in a way that will cost less to maintain over the years. It’s a choice that is in the hands of developers at that point of whether to make all units the same and jack up rents more for non-MIZ units, or live with a smaller profit from some units, but cheaper costs associated to help balance things out.

  • The height increases are too much!!! On this, I disagree (and agree with developers). While height changes for each neighborhood are going to be different, many of the urban villages – particularly near light rail stations – are probably zoned too short, and an extra 10 feet isn’t going to add much in the way of more housing. Plus, while some developers are greedy bastards, there are a lot (particularly local ones) that are pretty rad.
What the East Howe Steps project will look like when it's done

What the East Howe Steps project will look like when it's done

Take Daly Partners, for instance. They are the developer behind the redevelopment of the old Azteca site in Eastlake. They proactively reached out to the community, made modifications to the design of their building (now buildings), and the community is benefiting greatly from a more walkable Eastlake on the south end of the neighborhood, the extension of the E. Howe Steps, and (IMO) a better looking project. My one complaint – the project could have added another two stories, and the units of housing that would come along with that – except there is that pesky height limit that kept it to four.

We have significant need for more housing, and more housing types. We are not going to be able to meet that need unless we are welcoming in the most obvious places of more people. That means taller buildings. They can be thinner – but then they need to be even taller. Part of ensuring no net loss of affordable units (frankly, I prefer 2 for 1 replacement) is MIZ.  

I do agree with some concerns raised by both sides. As noted, I think that the height increases are not enough in many areas. I would rather 15-20% of units be MIZ units – with varying AMI levels for sub-percentages. I don’t think paying into a fund should get people out of building on-site. These are all options that the city should look to change moving forward if the promised number of units constructed don’t actually happen. That also means that the Council has to provide meaningful oversight. My guess is that a majority of the Seattle City Council is interested in this part of their job, and will do so with gusto.

As we discuss homelessness in Seattle, it is imperative to remember that we are also talking about the affordability crisis as a major contributing factor. We cannot address one without addressing the other. And while I wholeheartedly support price controls, those alone will not work in a sustainable fashion, and there is not the political will to actually enact rent stabilization for residential and commercial spaces.

But there is the political will to do MIZ. The quicker we get this policy through, and the quicker we allow for more units of housing to be built in conjunction with the implementation of the policy, the quicker we will make a more immediate, positive impact on the affordability crisis in Seattle.

Donald Trump is Worse Than Hitler

I try to avoid national politics wherever possible. I mean, I’ll tweet the shit out of a presidential debate (especially the GOP ones), but on the whole, I find our federal government to be just shy of useless. It matters to me – greatly – who is in the White House. I understand the way that agencies work, and the importance of appointment power. Not to mention appointments to courts. But on the whole, the issues that impact our communities most are most directly impacted by local elections and local action.

Look at that bipartisan support!

Look at that bipartisan support!

Instead, we see a clown car where the closest thing to sane voices are getting booted first, and the real clowns are successfully sticking it out. But the frightening part – these clowns, particularly Donald Trump, really aren’t all that funny.

Of course, I do agree with Robert Kagan - Trump's rise is a direct result of actions by the GOP. As stated much more eloquently by Mr. Kagan, the disinterest in governing, disinterest in collaboration and compromise, and huge interest in scoring political points (by doing things like shutting down the government and refusing to fill judicial slots) led us to this point. While we have a Tea Party of the Left, Democrats (to the chagrin of many) have never been willing to be so uncompromising as to get nothing done.

I know, comparing someone to Hitler or the Nazi’s implicates Godwin’s law. To some, this means that I have automatically lost the debate about Trump. But I disagree.

For starters, the rise of Donald Trump is eerily similar to that of Adolph Hitler. Initially seen as a bit of a joke, Mr. Trump has ridden a wave of demagoguery, blatant racism and xenophobia, with a large helping of misogyny, to a position wherein he might actually be successful in his quest to become President.

His promises: ban Muslims from entering the United States; deport millions of hardworking people (who pay taxes for benefits they won’t receive); massive tariffs; building walls; and setting the United States up on an international collision with the rest of the world. Eliminate the ACA, defund Planned Parenthood, and engage with Congress not as a co-equal branch of government, but something that will get in the way of his final solution – and use whipping up people in fear and panic as his tool to undermine our democratic-republic way of governance.

His campaign is an extension of this. Encouraging assaults on people protesting his language, accusing all Muslims of being terrorists, calling Mexicans rapists and murderers, attacking Meghan Kelly in the manner he does. Mr. Trump, with purpose, moves swiftly and bluntly to stamp out any attempt at dissent or questions that are uncomfortable. I suppose this could be chalked up to living in a world of no consequences (considering his and his family's wealth), and applying to lead a Party that is losing its taste for consequences.

I believe Trump is worse than Hitler. With Hitler, we didn’t have the internet, or clear history – particularly the history of the rise of Adolph Hitler. With Trump, we have that forewarning. We have the ability to learn from the past, and avoid going down this dark path. But so many who are participating in the Republican primaries – upwards of 34% - are absolutely OK with a KKK-endorsed candidate. We have every reason to know better, but he's still continuing his march through the GOP.

What’s scarier – if Trump secures the Republican nomination, there is a path to victory for him. While I believe that either Sanders or Clinton could win in November, the hysteria that Trump whips up – particularly among white, male voters – could well be enough to damage our coalition in the Democratic Party.

In 2012, white voters made up 72% of the overall electorate, and went to Romney 59-39%. While I believe Democrats can build on our numbers for other groups (in 2012, we received 93% of the African American vote, 71% of the Hispanic vote, 73% of the Asian vote, and 58% of all others), the belief that Trump will continue to instill in white voters is that it is the people of color that are costing them their ability to see an increase in pay. As we all know, unemployment is down, but wages continue to lag – particularly for middle to low-wage workers. 41% of voters in 2012 made less than $50,000 per year, and went 60-38 Obama, but Obama lost higher income groups. If those higher income groups stay the same or stay home, and our side loses low-wage workers, we’re hosed.

This notion that we should just ignore Trump, or that he is nothing to worry about, is 100% false. The demographics of his supporters mean that November is going to be a fight. And the tenor of his campaign style means we will need to be ready to punch back, and punch back hard. Fact is, sometimes politics is dirty work. When you have an opponent that is going to behave like an adult, and is willing to have substantive policy debates – that’s awesome. We don’t get that with Donald Trump.

Of course, a refrain we hear often: if Trump wins, I’m moving to Canada. I think my friend Linh Thai summed my feelings up perfectly:

I reminded of a line from Ani DiFranco: This may be God’s country, but this is my country, too. I’m not willing to give it up and allow the Fourth Reich to occur where I grew up. I know my country is better than this, and am ready to put in the work necessary to ensure we don’t have to stand in the face of oppression and hatred under President Bush, but instead will be able to call our President – either President Sanders or President Clinton – our ally.

The Jungle

I’ve been admittedly busy lately. From going to walks with policy makers to discuss homelessness policy, the panel presentation with Hanna Brooks Olsen & Mercedes Elizalde, and recently having conversations with legislators on what the state can do better – nobody told me losing an election would be this much work.

Joni Balter, me, Randy "Enforce the Law" Pepple, and Deborah Wang; Photo credit: KUOW

Joni Balter, me, Randy "Enforce the Law" Pepple, and Deborah Wang; Photo credit: KUOW

Recently, that has also included rage-posting. I have long been a fan of the occasional rage-post on the Facebook when something that I believe is absolutely asinine occurs. This last Friday, prior to appearing as a guest panelist on KUOW’s Week in Review, I did just that.

Sen. Reuven Carlyle; 100% cool 99% of the time.

Sen. Reuven Carlyle; 100% cool 99% of the time.

As reported by Heidi Groover of the Stranger, the State Senate has added a little line item to move $1,000,000.00 of transportation money into a “cleanup” effort for the encampments that have popped up under I-5 to the west of Beacon Hill. I know some people don’t like to refer to this area as “The Jungle,” but I will. As initially reported, these funds are designed to “clean” up community members living under I-5 in tents and other structures, and put up a fence around the perimeter to keep people out.

On the heels of the constant prodding from the State for provide more housing, social services, and cleanup of existing (and abandoned) encampments, this is the one thing that looks to be coming out of Olympia in 2016. Republicans have been very focused on bathrooms and pride flags, but 100% not interested in helping community members experiencing homelessness. The House has pushed through increased funding for housing first, only to be stymied by a Senate majority that is hell-bent on solving the homelessness crisis by just letting people die. This was evidenced during the Week in Review segment on the Jungle, wherein Randy Pepple – former Chief of Staff and Campaign Manager for Republican Rob McKenna – offered one “solution” to the Jungle. “Enforce the law.”

In his mind, Mr. Pepple seems to believe that if we enforce the law, people will just go somewhere else or take the services – with all of the barriers and strings attached – that are offered. Despite more and more data that shows this does not work (which, frankly, just supports what service providers have known for years). Rest assured, I had no problem pointing out that a strategy of just “enforce the law” means people will die, and that Mr. Pepple was actively advocating for that model.

A small part of the Jungle. Photo credit: Seattle Times

A small part of the Jungle. Photo credit: Seattle Times

There was mocking from Joni Balter of my comment regarding a modicum of safety felt by some residents of the Jungle. I wish I would have asked Ms. Balter and Mr. Pepple if they had ever actually been in an encampment, or spoken with someone who has lived in one. I have. There is universal recognition that the Jungle is not safe. But, compared to other options, some find it a better choice. This is our fault as a city, region, and state. We have created this situation where we do not provide basic housing – something that damned well should be a human right – and then have actively worked to sweep people out of sight and out of mind so we don’t have to actually see the effects of abject poverty. The Jungle is our creation, and it is our responsibility to address our creation in a humane way (that ultimately lead to steps that discourage encampments deep in the jungle or right alongside highway lanes of traffic).

A resident of the Jungle. Hint: he's a person. Photo Credit: KUOW

A resident of the Jungle. Hint: he's a person. Photo Credit: KUOW

You see, I don’t agree with the idea of actually installing plumbing and toilets in the Jungle. I do support bringing in port-a-potties, dumpsters, and sharps containers as an immediate step to improve conditions while we implement a meaningful strategy. I know Mr. Pepple just assumes that people won’t keep their living area clean if they can, but my experience working with people shows me otherwise. In addition to creating a cleaner space, this gesture might very well show that we are, in fact, serious about treating people like people. By beginning to rebuild trust with some of our most vulnerable community members, I believe we can set up a long-term success strategy. Frankly, folks experiencing homelessness have every reason to distrust and fear government officials. From the rhetoric allowed to be spewed at some community meetings, to harassment from police, to outright violent attacks by firefighters, there is just cause to be wary. But if we begin to build that trust, I believe we can begin to tackle the long-term needs with more success.

Barbara Poppe - getting $80k to state the obvious. #WantThatJob

Barbara Poppe - getting $80k to state the obvious. #WantThatJob

That also means we have to be willing, as a city, to provide more band-aides – ie: encampments and tiny house villages (THVs). I understand that the city recently spent $80,000.00 for a study that found encampments are not ideal. That the city will spend $80,000.00 for a Captain Obvious result is actually kind of frightening. But we are not going to build safe shelter for the 3,000 people living without overnight. We still don’t even know what that should look like in many cases. Rapid Rehousing continues to be hit-or-miss, and is not helped by the skyrocketing, unregulated rents, or landlords who discriminate on income source.

So how does this all play with the current crisis, along with addressing the Jungle, and Sen. Carlyle’s attempt to secure funding from the State (as requested by the city)?

For one, the city can and should step up efforts to fast-track more sanctioned and semi-sanctioned encampment sites. We don’t currently have the capacity necessary to provide full wrap-around services, but we do have the space to provide more space that is safer than underneath a freeway. We could well utilize some park space (the Colonnade, which is a half block from where I live and is close to transit, could easily house a half dozen or so tents with sanitation on-site), and work to ensure that people currently living the jungle have somewhere better to go.

We can provide support for those moves, collaborating with non-profit organizations and volunteers, with an understanding that, as a city, we will not be using these moves as a means to harass, arrest, or otherwise disrupt further the lives of some of our most vulnerable community members. Rebuilding trust with government is a step toward making clear to people that when we have the housing available for Housing First, we will mean it – not some bait and switch.

Not Nickelsville - Not Sanctioned - but still housing people.

Not Nickelsville - Not Sanctioned - but still housing people.

This is a plan that will take time – months even. But with the conditions of the Jungle, and the safety problem it includes, I do believe we should prioritize finding safe spaces for the 400-600 residents living underneath this section of I-5. Simply waiting for the state funding to clean up the Jungle with no plan in place means, frankly, that folks will move deeper into hiding, or re-scatter throughout the city (Hi Ballard & Magnolia!).

One of the things that I appreciate about our Democratic lawmakers is that they are, in fact, very responsive. Following my Facebook rage-post, Sen. Carlyle could have ignored me. He could have shot off an email telling me my argument was bunk. There could have been a phone call explaining to me why I was wrong and need to sit down and shut up.

Nickelsville - Sanctioned - and housing people

Nickelsville - Sanctioned - and housing people

Instead, Sen. Carlyle and I had a long, very positive conversation about the situation. Instead of writing off my concerns, Sen. Carlyle committed to working in what ways he can to ensure that the city does participate in providing safe space for people living under I-5, and is not using this as an opportunity to have the State basically do a million dollar sweep. Having seen Sen. Carlyle work, I know I can trust him to follow-through. Lesson of the day: remember that our side is better than their side, and sometimes phone calls are a better option than rage-posts.

The Jungle is not safe. But to say it just “happened” simply ignores the failures of our systems to effectively address homelessness for years. And a big chunk of that failure: a focus on making streets aesthetically pleasing (and sweeping away the “undesireables”), which combined with high-barrier housing and service options, has led to what we see. The continued divestment in human infrastructure by the State (which is only now starting to be reversed) and County has exacerbated this problem. It’s going to take a Democratic takeover of Olympia to get back on track with state-wide solutions.

And in the interim, it is going to require that we hold our local leaders to account, and ensure that we are creating safe spaces for people to sleep, not throwing up our hands and ignoring those that are unsafe. I continue to believe that our current council (at least a majority) are on board with this approach.

The Keyboard Wars are Fun, But...

Are you a renter? Under 35? Have you applied to join one of the HALA focus groups, yet? No?

Stop reading now, download this form, fill it out, turn it in. Get your ass on one of these focus groups.

NintendoCapriSun is my absolute fave - and has nothing to do with this post.

NintendoCapriSun is my absolute fave - and has nothing to do with this post.

I know what you’re initial thought is: 5-10 hours per month is a lot. I promise, it isn’t that bad. There is a good chance that’s even an over-estimation, and a lot of it is reading emails and documents. They say reading before bed is better than watching NintendoCapriSun on YouTube – so there you go.

So why should you apply – particularly if your young, a renter, a person of color, LGBTQ, and especially if you’re of modest means? Because our voices matter, and otherwise will not be heard. Nearly a quarter of Seattle’s population is aged 18-34. Renters are actually the majority of residents – 51.9%. And while there are those that view us renters as “transients” moving in and out of neighborhoods, the actual data does not support that notion, with 77.4% of Seattle residents having lived in the same home for over a year.

Historically marginalized communities and people who know poverty first-hand have not traditionally been part of the power structure in Seattle. While the current city council is a step in the right direction, committees, commissions, and focus groups like the HALA focus groups can and will have a significant impact on the legislation that makes its way through council, particularly with respect to where we build more housing, and what tenant protections our all-homeowner council will fight for.

While I know we all want to believe that our elected officials will do the right thing, the reality is that squeaky wheels get the grease. If we do not participate and are not at the table for these types of groups, we won’t be heard, and worse, the concerns we have will be ignored. Re-election doesn’t just happen, and when council members have bases that are predominantly white homeowners who despise change in so-called “single family” zones, it is imperative for renters and folks living in multi-family and attached single-family residences to participate in the process.

There remains the human element, as well. It is a lot harder for many people to rail against young renters when they are seated at the same table. Granted, it still will happen, but the volume and harshness of attacks on young renters not only will be reduced when we are at the table, but we will be able to immediately counter with facts and anecdotes that disprove the notion perpetuated by some of the loudest voices in the room that we somehow do not matter, or should have little to no say in our city’s growth.

This tweet got me booted from NextDoor. True. Fact.

This tweet got me booted from NextDoor. True. Fact.

Looking at the broader picture, so often our city reacts to concerns from places like NextDoor (fun fact: I was booted from NextDoor for posting the tweet to the right there, but now I’m back on) and neighborhood associations that are overwhelmingly older and white. Anyone paying attention during the initial HALA roll-out back in July (Link) may recall that the outrage over potential changes to single-family areas was very loud. And the city relented very soon after, instead of trying to engage in constructive dialogue. Politics.

This is a Seattle Duplex that could be a co-op ownership opportunity for two families.

This is a Seattle Duplex that could be a co-op ownership opportunity for two families.

But the reality on the ground – at least from my perspective – was far from it. There were concerns, sure, but there was also a lot of misinformation (thanks to a very clumsy roll-out), and openness to new ways to provide affordable housing in Seattle. Notably, some neighborhoods in the north end were getting on board. Recognition that their children and grandchildren could not afford to live in the neighborhood because there just wasn't enough housing was one piece. Acknowledgement that detached single family and attached single family look, basically, the same was another. Folks knew that parking could be mitigated. While there were some that preferred to encase our city in amber, the majority of people I spoke with disagreed. I think it is also good to see the social justice element to changing zoning.

Something else that sparked debate in Seattle when the HALA recommendations were released were references in the report to redlining and racism that led to the segregation of our city. Of course many people currently living in north-end single family areas are not racist. But overt and inherent racism and classism are different things. Finding the line that connects current zoning to results that perpetuate institutional racism is wonky, but it is there. Redlining in Seattle was terrible - but African American families built a thriving community. After being told they were not welcome in many parts of our city, the Central District became the heart of this community. And now that is changing.

The result of racist zoning and neighborhood covenants

The result of racist zoning and neighborhood covenants

Much of the gentrification we are seeing in the Central District and Southeast Seattle is rooted in historical poverty and past racist zoning – wealthier, whiter neighborhoods can afford the time and expense to fight zoning changes, excluding new families from entering the north end. The historically black, historically neglected, and thus historically more affordable south end neighborhoods have not only become desirable (culturally awesome spots), but the only affordable option for younger, whiter individuals and families moving into and around in Seattle. And when we want to make changes that increase the cost of living or dramatically alter the feel of these communities to fit our white, heteronormative culture, families who have lived there for generations - forced there by racist zoning - do not have the same means to fight back, or even be offered a seat at the table to help craft the change in a mutually beneficial manner. This is where we can not only be allies, but accomplices in effectuating a change to the system that continues to perpetuate institutional racism and classism.

The Seattle Women's Commission gets it - diversity matters

The Seattle Women's Commission gets it - diversity matters

As Erica C. Barnett reported recently, most of the applicants for the HALA Focus Groups have been from a select few neighborhoods. I expect that the city will not just take the first applicants, but instead will focus on ensuring that there is an equitable balance of women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, low- and moderate-income residents, young people, and renters. But to ensure that equitable representation exists, we have to apply and be available.

I know that positive change can be made through these types of committees and groups. My years on the Parks Levy Oversight Committee included leading and supporting on directing funds to under-served parts of the city, and holding the Parks Department accountable to missteps. As a member of the Parks Legacy Committee, I was able to work with my fellow committee members on what I believe was the right prioritization for the six-year plan, as well as the right funding source to ensure that our parks and community centers have adequate funding for generations to come.

The direct impact from these focus groups is hard to ascertain. However, by showing up, we ensure not only our voices are heard, but also that groups currently ignored, or worse, rejected have a hand in shaping housing policy to bring more safe housing to our communities, as well as a hand in ensuring that tenants – the hardest hit group from the affordability crisis – are part of the solution, and not being told what is best for us, but leading on implementation of policies that protect our needs and rights to be part of this city.