Transit leaders call the trains dirty, dangerous; San Francisco’s experience with sanctioned camps; New poll tests Harrell’s priorities
1. Sound Transit’s board and staff, including outgoing CEO Peter Rogoff, used an update on “current operational challenges” to pitch the central light rail system as a way dirty and dangerous to move around, especially during unconventional times. hours, when fewer passengers are on board. Only Claudia Balducci, board member (and King County council member), of Bellevue, pushed back against her colleagues’ “too bleak” description of the system, saying, “it doesn’t match my own experience personal as a regular customer of our service. ”
Almost since the start of the pandemic, Rogoff has tirelessly advocated for increased safety and enforcement of fares on trains, both to increase revenue and to punish people who don’t pay the fare or behave unfairly. in a way that makes other road users feel unwelcome or unsafe. On Thursday, Sound Transit’s executive director of operations, Suraj Shetty, said the agency was struggling to retain private security and “fare ambassadors,” vest-clad staff members who check whether passengers have paid but do not issue tickets.
When the agency’s main private security contractor, Securitas, failed to provide as many guards as they had agreed, Sound Transit contracted two additional companies, both non-union, prompting some number of public commentators accusing the agency of being anti-union. Sound Transit is also facing a shortage of drivers, cleaners and maintenance crews.
Board member (and Pierce County executive), former Republican state Rep. Bruce Dammeier said he considers the system ‘unsanitary and dangerous’, adding, ‘I wouldn’t ride it’ and suggested stricter fare enforcement as a solution to problems like drug use and unsanitary conditions on trains. “We don’t want to stop running trains at certain times, but that’s one of the solutions” to problems that get worse late at night, he continued. “Or maybe we put security guards on every train.”
Nancy Backus, the mayor of Auburn, chimed in, suggesting the problems on the trains are made worse by “some of the laws surrounding drug use, what police can and can’t do with low-level property crimes.” scale and other issues”.
In response to these comments, Balducci said that in his own “anecdotal experience” aboard the system over the past two years, “this narrative that our system is collapsing just doesn’t strike me as true. And we have to ask staff and staff management to help us paint a really accurate picture of what is happening and what we need to address.
2. As PubliCola exclusively reported earlier this week, Seattle City Councilman Andrew Lewis and Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office discussed a plan to relocate up to 600 homeless people in the downtown Seattle in up to 10 sanctioned campsites. Lewis described the proposal as a humane way to move people from homelessness to housing as more permanent housing units become available this year.
The plan is also explicitly an attempt to make the city center more attractive to businesses wanting to bring workers back to the office this year, including companies that have funded a separate plan to “significantly reduce homelessness” at the downtown by directing people to shelters and services elsewhere. .
Seattle wouldn’t be the first city on the West Coast to create fenced tent camps in response to rising homelessness. San Francisco began opening sanctioned encampments in 2021 in response to an increase in unauthorized encampments during the pandemic.
Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, said homeless people in San Francisco said they prefer encampments to congregational shelters because, among other reasons, they provide more privacy and don’t have strict curfews or other rules common in mass shelters.
The downsides, Friedenbach said, are that camps are cold, tend to be expensive — around $70,000 per tent, per year — and obviously aren’t permanent housing. “Help with supportive housing costs less than half” the cost of housing someone in a sanctioned encampment, she said. “So instead of sheltering, you can just have half-price people’s accommodation.”
And, Friedenbach noted, San Francisco encampments are “used as a placement option in sweeps.” The Coalition released a report last year on San Francisco’s geographically targeted efforts to eradicate (or ‘resolve’) encampments in specific neighborhoods, which found that most people displaced from one location are left homeless. elsewhere, often after losing their possessions in sweeps. Like Seattle, there are usually only a handful of shelter beds available citywide for thousands of homeless people across the city.
3. A field poll this week was already taking the temperature of Seattle voters about new mayor Bruce Harrell, interspersing favor questions about the mayor with questions about his political priorities. For example, the survey asked recipients to rank priorities such as “accelerating[ing] removal of homeless encampments from sidewalks and parks, with those in need of assistance redirected to housing and services, with a minimum of 2,000 units going live this year” – a description of the Compassion initiative Seattle, which Harrell incorporated into his campaign platform.
Other questions asked respondents to what extent the city should prioritize potential actions such as “clearing highway underpasses and other areas”; “removal of recreational vehicles and other vehicles from unauthorized or inappropriate areas”; “accelerate[ing] review and approval of the construction of affordable and quality housing”; plans to “prioritize and improve public safety and address downtown homelessness”; plans for a city-run online job portal; hire new police officers; and “cleaning and restoring parks and open spaces”.
The poll also asked respondents their opinion of Council members Teresa Mosqueda, Sara Nelson, Dan Strauss and Kshama Sawant; the Seattle Police Department; the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce; and City Attorney Ann Davison. And it included questions about legislation that would have allowed duplexes, quadruplexes and other similar low-level densities within a quarter-mile walk of frequent bus or train service.
We contacted the Chamber to ask if they are behind the poll.
The two questions on the state bill tested negative and positive messages about the proposal; the negative messages suggested that the density would cause older people to lose their homes and deprive residents of the right to determine what is happening in “their” neighborhood.
“Seattle is special because of our strong single-family residential neighborhoods,” reads an anti-density post. “We should add density around growing light rail infrastructure and in commercial neighborhoods like West Seattle Junction and the University District, but we need to allow neighborhoods to decide their own future.” This message – density is appropriate next to busy train stations and bus routes, but inappropriate in residential areas – is similar to what Harrell had to say on the subject during the election campaign.
—Erica C. Barnett