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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
 
I want to start by saying that I know these are hard and disappointing times for many of us. After a long and stressful year, not being able to come together with family and friends amplifies the isolation that has affected all of us in 2020. But the sacrifices we are making now are going to help us all get back to normal more quickly. More importantly, they will save lives.
 
On Monday, the City Council passed Seattle’s 2021 budget, which the Mayor has already indicated she will sign. After a summer marred by disagreement between the Council and Mayor, this budget represents a tremendous step toward the collaborative government we need to respond to the current crises facing Seattle. I am proud of the budget we passed and the priorities I fought for that were included in the final bill.
 
When the Mayor first sent us her proposed budget there were no funds for the continuation of the Thomas Street Refined project. Neither was there money to explore opening a food bank in Belltown nor funding surges to clean up our parks and provide additional shelter options for our unhoused neighbors living in them. I advocated for these projects and others that I am gratified to know will move forward with ample funding. There is more information below on these highlights, among others.
 
Many projects did not get through in this difficult year. Stakeholders who have been working for years on Smith Cove Park and Market to Mohai will join me in my disappointment that those projects have been delayed. Neighbors I have been working with all year on the dangerous arterials of 10th Avenue West and Florentia Avenue North will similarly not see additional resources for traffic calming or sidewalk maintenance. And, unfortunately, dedicated resources for bridge maintenance remain woefully below the $34 million annual investment recommended by a recent audit. All of these goals will be high priorities for my office in 2021 and beyond.

HOMELESSNESS

I can confirm the transitional shelter expansion I reported on last week is in the final budget package. This surge of 545 additional transitional shelter will provide four walls and a door that locks for hundreds of our neighbors experiencing homelessness. As revenues recover next year it is my hope we continue to expand transitional shelter like tiny house villages and enhanced shelter.

Building on legislation I introduced earlier this fall the Council passed Councilmember Morales' legislation to create the Homelessness Outreach Provider Ecosystem (HOPE) Team. HOPE will coordinate contracted providers and help build neighborhood-specific strategies for homelessness outreach. A good example of this type of collaboration is the JustCare initiative in Pioneer Square and the Chinatown International District. Since the spring, JustCare has brought together providers, community organizers, local government, and business owners to provide outreach and navigate people experiencing homelessness into housing. Scaling this initiative is a big priority for my office.

CLEAN CITY INITIATIVE

I am pleased to report that the $3.1 million investment in additional city cleaning initiatives passed into the budget. This investment will fund additional garbage collection, an expansion of the purple bag program to collect garbage from homeless encampments, graffiti removal, and other critical investments.

These investments include:

  • $430,000 for Seattle Public Utilities litter routes
  • $61,000 for sharps containers and disposal
  • $200,000 for additional graffiti removal teams
  • $400,000 in grants to Business Improvement Areas
  • More than $2 million to stand up four teams responsible for cleaning and maintenance across the city

Some of these investments will gear up early next year, but the legislation I introduced allows the Mayor to start implementing this critical surge of city cleaning in the last month of 2020. Garbage collection is an essential city service and this investment will help us deliver on that mandate.

SCALING NEW PUBLIC SAFETY SYSTEMS AND POLICE FUNDING

The City Council took critical first steps to scale existing public safety alternatives to police calls and made significant investments to build more alternatives in collaboration with the community. The Council also transferred a number of services away from Seattle Police Department (SPD) control and into a new civilian department.
 
First, the alternatives funded in the new budget. Seattle’s Health One program, an integrated unit of firefighters and public health professionals, launched at the end of 2019 as a pilot program and has moved forward as a single vehicle team ever since. The Council approved funding to triple the size of Health One to take on an even greater number of non-criminal public health 911 calls. As Health One scales up next year it will have a large impact on transitioning to a new system of public safety emphasizing public health and police alternatives.
 
The Council approved a $30 million participatory budget process for new community driven public safety investments. Among the services likely to be explored will be policing alternatives like Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets (CAHOOTS), a system I discussed last summer with community members and experts in a town hall. I look forward to the conclusions reached through this process and the innovative new systems we will create together to meet community needs.
 
Second, the Council and Mayor made several transfers of units outside of SPD to new civilian-led departments. 911 dispatch, a unit with civilian employees but sworn officer supervision, will become an independent civilian department. This is an important cornerstone of the overall strategy to have a range of dispatch alternatives, including revamped parking enforcement officers, Health One, and a CAHOOTS-style service. The Council also transferred the aforementioned parking enforcement officers and the Office of Emergency Services to civilian controlled departments. In total, the cuts and transfers from SPD total a 20% budget reduction.
 
Third, the Council approved funding sufficient to hire 114 additional officers in 2021. According to recent attrition numbers from SPD it is estimated that the new hires will roughly equal the number of 2021 departures, but that is far from certain. I know this particular budget item has disappointed a lot of people who want to see a more rapid transition to police alternatives. Together, by following the template the Council passed in this budget, we can realize that future, but we need to be cognizant together of the hurdles to overcome.
 
Through our participatory budgeting process next year we will make a giant leap toward standing up and scaling well funded police response alternatives. 2021 will also see the bargaining of a new contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), perhaps the biggest obstruction toward greater accountability and flexibility in building a new system of public safety. Action by the Washington State Legislature in the coming session could strengthen the City’s hand considerably in the bargaining process if certain reforms are proposed and passed. In my next newsletter I will enumerate these legislative changes. Some of them are already being proposed while others are awaiting a champion to sponsor them. Your support in pushing for these changes in the next session will be critical for a more equitable future in policing and public safety in Seattle.  

OTHER BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

Our live performance and nightlife sectors were the first businesses to close down due to COVID and they will be the last to re-open. The Nightlife Business Advocate, also known as the “Night Mayor”, is a critical resource for the venues that define Seattle’s vibrant music scene. I am glad to report the Council incorporated my proposal to save this critical position in the final budget. Check out this great write-up by Josh Feit to learn more.

Throughout this crisis we have reverted to indoor activities out of necessity to pass the time. Many of us have passed the time by binge watching streamable TV, but catching up on a backlog of pleasure reading has been just as pronounced. City departments have been adapting to life under COVID to continue to provide essential services, and the Library has been no exception. I was very pleased to see curbside pickup start-up in August, and in that spirit I submitted legislation to expand curbside pickup and 25% capacity re-openings to every branch in the city. Now more than ever it is important to have access to the vital borrowing services our Library provides.
 
For decades the Puget Sound Labor Agency (PSLA) has operated an essential food bank out of the Belltown Labor Temple. With the Martin Luther King County Labor Council moving to a new location, PSLA will lose this space and hundreds of our neighbors will be without this critical resource. I sponsored legislation incorporated into the budget to explore hosting the PSLA foodbank at a City-owned site somewhere in Belltown, or maybe even nearby Seattle Center. It is vital we keep this essential service hundreds of District 7 residents rely on.  
 
Finally, the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) triages hundreds of thousands of calls for assistance a year. These calls range from exigent life or death situations to low acuity issues easily resolved with a standard first aid kit. To help conserve critical department resources my office championed and funded a consulting nurse for SFD dispatch. Consulting nurses work with a caller to see if their situation can be resolved by over the phone diagnosis and in-home self care rather than the dispatch of a firefighter team. As the son of a consulting nurse I know first hand the value this position will bring to SFD. Resolving low acuity issues over the phone will free up hundreds of service hours for our overworked firefighters and EMTs.

COVID RESTRICTIONS

As you know, the State has imposed new restrictions on public gathering that will take a massive toll on our already struggling local businesses. I want to remind everyone that Seattle’s Office of Economic Development has made an additional $4 million available in grants to small businesses and that applications are due on November 30th. Click here to apply if your small business might qualify for this $10,000 grant.
 
We are entering the most dangerous phase of the pandemic and it is imperative that everyone do what they can to keep themselves and their neighbors safe. Know that the City is trying to help. Mayor Durkan signed an executive order this week that will create additional Covid-19 testing sites. We know not everyone can stay home and so the City will continue to offer free childcare to eligible families through the end of the year.
 
I am thankful for all of you and your efforts to keep each other safe this Thanksgiving weekend.
Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis
Seattle City Council // District 7
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