News, factoids, and insights from KUOW's newsroom. And maybe some peeks behind the scenes. Check back daily for updates.
Have any leads or feedback for the KUOW Blog? Contact Dyer Oxley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finger-pointing and fallout in the wake of Seattle City Council drug law vote
This week, after lengthy public testimony, the Seattle City Council voted down a proposal to adopt the state law in city code, which would have allowed City Attorney Ann Davison to prosecute drug possession cases. In the wake of that vote, the council has come under fire from Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. Meanwhile, law enforcement groups and prosecutors say the start date for the new state law might be later than expected.
Mayor Harrell said Thursday that the law was thoughtfully crafted and he faulted the City Council’s process that resulted in the measure going down.
“So, codification of state law into city law should really just be a perfunctory matter,” he said. “And the council, the opportunity they missed, was to define as a legislative body, what a compassionate approach with that legislation should look like."
"Instead, what happened is that they were listening to public testimony and not going through a committee process, and trying to make decisions as they did on a real-time basis.”
Council President Debora Juarez said she brought the proposal before the full council at the request of Councilmember Lisa Herbold, skipping a hearing before the Public Safety & Human Services Committee.
Harrell added, “It was my understanding before the council deliberated, we assumed it was going to pass as most legislation does when it’s a codification of state law. So we had no reason to believe it wasn’t going to pass. And the work we started even before they deliberated, on what a post-Blake city would look like, we’ve already begun and we’ll have that hopefully wrapped up sometime in July.”
He said that work will spell out how to provide better access to addiction treatment and “where we can take people who are in need.” Harrell said in the next couple weeks he’ll meet with the King County Prosecutor’s Office, the city attorney, judges and “advocates on both sides” to craft a new legislative proposal in the wake of the council's vote.
Law enforcement question when state drug law goes into effect
City attorneys and municipal courts have been urgently preparing for the July 1, 2023, effective date of the state’s new drug possession law, SB 5536, which makes the offense a gross misdemeanor. But law enforcement officials and prosecutors say they may have more time to prepare: a key provision of the existing stopgap law remains in effect until Aug. 15, which may preclude enforcement until then.
The state's current law (SB 5476) was passed as a temporary fix in 2021 after the Washington Supreme Court threw out the state’s felony drug law in the Blake decision. Legislators at that point made drug possession a simple misdemeanor. That measure requires police officers to document at least two referrals to treatment and services before arresting someone for drug possession. Many law enforcement officials say they have no mechanism to track those referrals, and have made very few arrests under the current law.
That requirement “basically made that statute unenforceable,” Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim said. And he said that the requirement to refer people twice to treatment services remains in place under the new Washington law until Aug. 15 of this year, even as other portions of the new law take effect on an emergency basis July 1.Continue reading »
Get ready for 'peak dryness' across the NW: Today So Far
- Peak dryness is coming to the Northwest much sooner than expected this year.
- Property values are going down around Seattle.
- A challenge to Washington's "assault weapon" ban gets an answer from the court.
This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for June 8, 2023.
The Northwest is approaching "peak dryness." Don't worry, I'm not going to say that Seattle is "thirsty" again.
Peak dryness is a time when the region dries out after summer weather hits. Here's the thing — it's happening a lot sooner than usual. It generally comes around the end of summer. Forecasters are expecting it to hit around next month. Despite April being one of the coldest on record, forecasters have expected the summer to be on the dry side.
You know what the next thought a lot of folks are having: wildfires. Many blazes are currently burning in Canada. The National Weather Service already issued one warning for the potential of flames to emerge locally. Now might be a good time to get those N95 masks and air filters ready. Read more here.
This is news we don't often hear: Property values are going down around Seattle. That's the headline for King County where home values are on the decline.
The recent downward trend is being considered a market correction after last year's steep rise in prices. Of course, this all depends on where you live. As KUOW's Diana Opong reports, a homeowner in Seattle's Queen Anne might see a reduction of about 8% while someone on the Sammamish Plateau could see more than 20%.
Here's the other big takeaway: This doesn't mean your local property taxes will go down. Sure, property values usually dictate property taxes, but there are other considerations at play, depending on where you live. Check out the full story here.
After Washington's state Legislature passed a ban on assault-style weapons last session, multiple lawsuits were filed, challenging the new law. One of them just became the first lawsuit to get an answer from a judge — it was basically tossed out.
The Second Amendment Foundation argued that HB 1240, aka an "assault weapons" ban, is unconstitutional. A U.S. District Court judge in Tacoma didn't agree with the argument, and said the gun rights group did not show that public interest favors a preliminary injunction. He concluded that it should be denied. That's fancy court talk for, "this case isn't moving forward."
There is a catch, however. It's more accurate to say something along the lines of, "This case isn't moving forward, as is." The judge denied the case "without prejudice," which means the Second Amendment Foundation has the option to refile it and start over from square one. It could take the judge's comments into consideration, modify the case, and try again.
Finally, I'm going to have to set the record straight, maybe, maybe not, sort of, we'll see. It depends on which angle you want to come at this from. Remember how I said the news around Seattle's proposal to handle drug possession was "nuanced"? Turns out, it's deeper than even I thought.Continue reading »
The price of polluting has gone up in Washington
The price of harming the climate has gone up in Washington state.
The Washington Department of Ecology held its second auction for the right to pollute the climate on May 31 and announced the results on Wednesday.
At $56 for a ton of carbon dioxide, the price was about 15 percent higher than at the state’s first-ever carbon auction, held in February.
Starting this year, some major emitters of carbon dioxide have to pay the state for each ton of pollution they put out by buying “carbon allowances” at quarterly auctions. Other major polluters, including oil refineries and pulps mills, get to keep polluting the atmosphere at no charge for the time being.
In the May 31 auction, the price of carbon rose high enough to trigger an additional auction of future carbon allowances (for the year 2027) to keep the price from rising farther.
The latest auction raised about $557 million for programs to prevent or adapt to climate change.
The carbon auctions are the centerpieces of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “cap-and-invest” policy. It aims to reduce emissions and help fund the work necessary to both slow down and survive a rapidly heating climate.
The price of carbon in Washington is nearly twice the $30 price reached at similar carbon markets in California and Quebec earlier in May.
Washington officials say linking the three markets could lower the price here and make it easier for businesses to cut pollution.
Any linkage between the markets would begin no sooner than 2025.
The Ecology department is currently assessing the pros and cons of making such a linkage.Continue reading »
This Pride Month, Seattle advocates call for more protections for LGBTQ+ youth
Young people who identify as queer or trans are at a greater risk of experiencing homelessness and being victims of violence.
LGBTQ+ youth make up about 5% of the general population, but officials estimate about a third of King County's homeless youth identify as trans or queer.
There are a lot reasons for that, but a common one is that parents or families sometimes reject these kids, says Brandon Knox with the Lambert House, an LGBTQ youth center in Capitol Hill.
"EIther the youth are kicked out by their parents or they're treated so badly at home that they can't stand to stay and they run away," Knox says.
YouthCare, a nonprofit that connects LGBTQ+ kids with shelter and services, says this group is also more likely to be victims of violence while on the street.
In recent years as homelessness has grown in King County, so has the number of unsheltered trans and queer youth. A few youth shelters around Seattle have been set up specifically for this population that offer medical help and therapy. Recently, more shelters for homeless young adults have been updated to better serve queer and trans people around Seattle. Knox says this includes basic improvements like, "the staff will intervene when they see bullying and harassment by other shelter residents.”
Knox notes that, as other states have passed laws targeting trans and gender nonconforming teens, people are turning to Seattle for help.
“I have met a number of trans families in the last year or more families with trans children that have moved to the Seattle area from places like Texas and Florida and other states in the South," he says.
To keep up with this pace, Knox says our region needs more places for LGBTQ teens and young adults to find shelter, friends, and safety.Continue reading »
Drugs, the law, and Seattle: Today So Far
- The Seattle City Council voted against a new drug possession law, but does that means drugs are legal in the city?
- "Follow your passions" — really?
This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for June 7, 2023.
Seattle will not enforce Washington state's new drug law, but that doesn't mean drugs are legal in the city. This is one of those nuanced news stories ... that folks are likely to mutate into hot takes (way beyond my nearly lukewarm takes for which you come to TSF).
The proposal that was in front of the Seattle City Council yesterday would have allowed the city's own courts and attorney to handle drug possession laws locally. City Attorney Ann Davison promoted this bill. Like the state's new law, the local bill favored diversion programs and treatment before jail time. But some council members questioned if Seattle even has the needed level of treatment services to begin with. Other critics argued that the measure criminalized the poor. The bill failed 5-4.
This is one of those news stories that someone, somewhere is going to stretch into a headline that states: "Drugs are legal all over Seattle!" That is not true. This was about who prosecutes these drug crimes. Public drug possession is still illegal in Seattle. While it's not on the books in Seattle, Washington's state law is still in effect. Seattle police can still arrest people for drug possession. The cases will be handled by King County's legal system, instead of by the city. So this vote really came down to pointing defendants toward a Seattle attorney or a county attorney. The Council has gone with the county option.
When you break down the rhetoric around this bill, one side had folks arguing that, "Seattle needs the law to get folks into diversion and treatment programs," and on the other side you had folks saying, "No, instead, we need to get folks into diversion and treatment programs." The subtext among both arguments is that they don't really trust the other side to get it done.
“We need to show our neighbors that we will focus on real solutions like diversion, treatment, and housing. That's how we create safety for Seattle,” Councilmember Tammy Morales said before voting.
RELATED: Community court is ending in Seattle. What does that mean for defendants?
We also heard folks throwing around the term "war on drugs" as a criticism to the now-failed bill. It's an argument that Davison dismissed while talking with KUOW Tuesday, before the council voted.
"This is not a return to war on drugs," she said. "It is about how do we get individuals into treatment and how do we make our public spaces safer ... As you go down our sidewalks and on our buses and in our parks, you can see what we've been doing hasn't been working."
Read the full story on the vote here.
One other thing that I'd like to hear some of your thoughts on. It's another head scratcher that Bill Radke has put out there that has had me squirming. From grade school through college, students often hear the advice to "follow your passions.” You have probably also heard something along the lines of "do what you love, then you'll always love what you do" (which, apparently, is also a quote attributed to Billy Joel). Either way, I have never liked these cliches. I think they're bad advice.Continue reading »
One legal challenge to Washington's 'assault weapons' ban fails in court
One challenge to Washington state's new ban on "assault weapons" has failed its battle in court.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryan has rejected a bid by the Second Amendment Foundation to block House Bill 1240 . HB 1240 — titled "Establishing firearms-related safety measures to increase public safety" — passed the Washington State Legislature last session. Multiple lawsuits were filed immediately, challenging the ban. This is the first legal challenge to receive a court conclusion.
RELATED: Washington governor signs new gun bills into law, including "assault weapons" ban
“We remain undefeated against the gun lobby in court,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement following the decision. “This common-sense gun reform will save lives by restricting access to the preferred weapon of mass shooters.”
The Second Amendment Foundation argued Washington's new law is unconstitutional, but the judge said the group had not shown that public interest favors a preliminary injunction against the new law.
According to Judge Bryan's conclusion:
"The Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction should be denied. Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of the motion nor have they raised a serious question on the merits tipping the balance of hardships in Plaintiffs’ favor. They have not pointed to irreparable harm if an injunction does not issue, that the balance of equities tips in their favor, or that public interest favors a preliminary injunction. Issues raised in this opinion cannot be resolved on a motion for preliminary injunction."
The judge denied plaintiff's motions for preliminary injunction and to advance the case to a trial or summary judgement "without prejudice," which means the Second Amendment Foundation could modify its case and refile it in the future.
The state's new law does not prevent people who already owned assault weapons from possessing them. Washington is the 10th state to pass its own ban on the sale and importation of assault-style weapons. The Attorney General's Office notes that two other legal challenges to the law are pending — one in state court and the other in federal court.
RELATED: Will Washington's new assault weapons ban hold up in court? Gov. Inslee thinks "it should survive"Continue reading »
What can be done to prevent further gun violence in or near Seattle schools?
Garfield High School parents voiced their concerns and discussed solutions at a safety meeting earlier this week.
The meeting comes after a series of after-hours shootings near the school in Seattle’s Central District. An unspecified threat of gun violence also closed Garfield part of Thursday and all day Friday.
Kayla Epting, the president of Garfield's parent-teacher-student association, said she left Monday’s conversation encouraged.
“We will stay diligent in finding solutions that work for our school community around student safety and campus safety,” she said. “And as a result, our larger community will be impacted for the better.”
Epting said she’s glad the Seattle Police Department has increased patrols before and after school, and that Seattle Public Schools has hired additional private security, who are onsite and can intervene quickly if there’s a threat.
But increased law enforcement around the school has some concerned.
A 2021 Brookings study found that school policing often fuels the school-to-prison pipeline, rather than preventing crime.
In 2020, Seattle was among a number of school districts across the nation to remove armed police officers from school buildings in the wake of several high-profile police killings of Black people.
As a Black woman, Epting said she recognizes the harm law enforcement has had on communities of color. But she believes police must be part of the solution to steadily increasing violence in Seattle.
“That’s not lost in this work,” Epting said. “But we also recognize that there is a place for police in this partnership, and we’re working with families to figure out how to best support student safety across the board.”
School officials plan to hold more meetings with parents and the surrounding community this summer and next school year, Epting said. And she hopes the district will work with more community organizations on further gun violence prevention.
In a statement, Garfield Principal Tarance Hart said a new school safety and security plan — for the remainder of this school year and next — is forthcoming.
And Superintendent Brent Jones said the district is taking the threats near Garfield “very seriously” and trying to be both proactive and reactive. But he said the district needs help to make change.
“While these actions address the immediate concerns, we know we cannot act alone,” Jones said in a statement. “We all need to come together around increased gun violence throughout Seattle.”
Late last week, Jones also provided an update on the districtwide security and safety initiative, prompted by a deadly shooting inside Ingraham High School. Ingraham families have been pressing the district for more information since Jones’ last update in February.
On Friday, Jones acknowledged “this update took more time than anticipated.” But he said the district is making “considerable progress in strengthening school safety.”
Jones said the district is in the process of updating building locks so that they can be activated inside classrooms. This fall, Jones said, the district will roll out new signage in all secondary schools to “help students and staff easily remember and follow safety procedures.” And, he said the district has already launched a new anonymous safety reporting app for high schools.
Jones also emphasized the district’s ongoing collaboration with the greater Seattle community — including first responders, the city, and community organizations — to address public safety. And a previously announced wellness council, made up of physicians, clinicians, and first responders, is in the process of making a list of recommendations for a new mental health awareness campaign for Seattle.
He also touted a new pilot program expanding student mental health resources in five schools: Rainier Beach, Chief Sealth International, and Ingraham high schools, as well as Denny and Aki Kurose middle schools.
The program is funded by the city, and Jones said it also allows the district to hire more mental health clinicians and provide trauma-informed training for school staff.
As part of Friday’s update, Jones also shared a summary of the Ingraham-specific safety review. Recommendations the district is considering include:
- Providing additional emergency training for school leaders
- Supplementing the school’s existing public address system to cover the entire campus, in the parking lots, and on the athletic fields
- Upgrading security camera systems
- Increasing the visibility and presence of security personnel
- Altering external landscaping to ensure security camera views aren’t blocked
The district has also hired a full-time social worker for the school, Jones said.Continue reading »
UW researchers go on strike amid contract negotiations
Hundreds of research scientists, engineers, and post-doctoral researchers at the University of Washington went on strike Wednesday.
The union representing the group said it spent hours Tuesday trying to reach a last-minute deal with the administration, but failed to do so.
Members want salaried workers to get more pay and more support, arguing they help bring in more than $1 billion every year in grants and contracts for the school's research operations.
The union representing the group is also accusing the administration of using unfair labor practices and trying to evade Washington's fair wages laws for salaried employees.
Read the full story here.Continue reading »
Tacoma police arrest 5 allegedly attempting to break into power vault
Tacoma police have arrested five people they say tried to break into a Tacoma power vault.
The five individuals were caught Monday night after police allegedly saw them on video trying to get into a city-owned power vault on South Tyler Street. The vault is fenced off.
Police say that one of them had a firearm.
KING5 also reports that the suspects allegedly had drugs and paraphernalia in their possession.Continue reading »
How Seattle's churches are evolving: Today So Far
We're becoming less religious, and that poses a problem for our region's churches, especially if they own considerable property.
This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for June 6, 2023.
These days, church buildings not only offer Sunday worship, they are a place for 12-step programs, schools, child care, homeless outreach, and a lot more. They often act as community centers. But times are changing. Church members generally bring in money, and that money pays for upkeep and costs for buildings and property. Seattle's churches are finding that they have more space than people to use it, and that creates an insecure financial situation. For some, it's prompting a change in perspective about how churches can serve their communities. This shift was the subject of a recent Soundside segment. It's had me reflecting for a few days. Churches, and what they mean to a community, can be quite different, depending on where you stand.
Growing up, my family had a Sunday morning routine. My mom would pack us all into a car and head to church. We'd sit there in service for what seemed like an entire day. This would be around the ages of 5 or 8, and I would get scolded for swinging my legs, shaking my legs, or playing drums on the music books left in each pew. The silver lining to this whole trip, for young me, was that after each communion time, I would ask to go to the bathroom. I would casually walk in the direction of the restroom, but before getting to the door I would immediately take a hard left and hurry down the stairs to the basement where the church kitchen was. That's where they left all the unused communion crackers on little plates and grape juice in tiny cups, unsupervised. After making sure I was alone, I would quickly scarf down a cracker and chase it with shots of that sweet, divine grape juice like a barfly with a boilermaker. I'd do that until I could hear steps coming down the stairs, and hurry back up to the pews where my leg shaking and drumming received a renewed, sugar-fueled burst for the remainder of the service.
After it was all over, my brother, sister, and I would hurry out to the car and wait for my mom. Whereas my addiction was geared toward shots of grape juice, my mom couldn't get enough socializing. She'd chat while we waited. We once clocked her at around 45 minutes. When we kids would complain about how long she took, she always said the same thing: "You don't understand. This is our family. We are spending time with family." My 8-year-old reply was that any family who forced us to wake up so early on a Sunday morning should be disowned.
More recently, as an adult, I've found myself taking trips to Thai temples throughout Western Washington. It's usually on a special occasion and we take my ma-in-law. Each temple has has a similar vibe. There are resources for Thai-Americans, language classes for kids, and books. Visitors usually bring food and clothing for for the Buddhist monks who live at the temples. There are chants, prayers, and other traditions during service. Sometimes folks bring food from home. In the temple kitchen, it is organized into a feast for everyone to eat together and socialize. During these temple visits, I think my ma-in-law enjoys explaining to me what is happening and why, and commenting on how similar or different it is to her time growing up in Bangkok. Culturally, I have little connection to what is happening, but at the same time, it's all very familiar. Once, during service, I turned to my wife Nina and said, "So, this is basically church then?"
There was a generation gap in my family when it came to church. We moved around a bit, and while I found grape juice, my mom found a community wherever we landed. It was where her friends gathered. For my ma-in-law, a temple is a place where she can connect with a community of others who have experiences like her own. There is something that words can't really touch when it comes to a community, wherever you find it, and how it holds you up as an individual. I may have not caught on to church like my mom did, but I did come away with a certain understanding. What a lot of folks miss is that, beyond religion, churches often serve as community centers, for places to organize for causes. For example, I guarantee that while our region's agencies have tried to catch up with the overwhelming challenge of homelessness, there have been religious organizations tackling it this whole time.
As Soundside notes, religious affiliations have declined in Seattle, Washington state, and the USA for many years now. There are a few numbers around all this, depending on who you ask. They all add up to a similar story.
- Folks in Washington state who claim "none" as their religion on surveys outnumber those who check the boxes for Evangelical, Catholic, or Protestant. As of 2019, about 61% of Washingtonians said they affiliated with a Christian denomination.
- When Gallup began surveying for church membership in the United States back in 1937, about 73% of Americans were members of a church. It stayed that way for decades. But by 2020, only 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque.
- A total of 66% of adults born before 1946 went to church; 58% of baby boomers; 50% of Gen X, and 36% of millennials.
I'd personally argue that folks have kept the religious fervor, they just place it elsewhere, like Twitter, sports, politics, diets, pop culture obsessions, bronies, the gym, or Elon Musk — places where interests, causes, and community meet. That reminds me, "American Gods" is a great book, if you haven't read it yet. Where was I? Oh yeah ...
Churches are supported by members. For congregations, fewer members means less money coming in, but the bills remain. This dynamic is largely behind the Seattle Archdiocese's current plan to consolidate parishes, an effort it calls "Partners in the Gospel." It's driven by lower attendance and fewer priests. Seattle's churches have also started reacting to this shifting religious landscape in ways unique to their communities.
The faith-based Nehemiah Initiative is addressing issues that have been mounting in Seattle's historically Black neighborhoods. Black churches have property, but congregations have shrunk. Much of that is due to gentrification and members being pushed out of the city, away from the churches. The Initiative aims to help religious organizations update their properties to serve as housing for this community, or places for Black-owned businesses to set up.Continue reading »
Dockworkers slow down at West Coast ports amid ongoing labor dispute
Dockworkers up and down the West Coast are slowing operations amid an ongoing labor dispute, according to a trade group that represents the ports. The Pacific Maritime Association says work stoppages are disrupting trade in Washington state and beyond.
Contract negotiations between the International Longshore & Warehouse Union and the industry group representing their employers have dragged on for more than a year.
Both groups declined to comment on the status of those talks.
The Pacific Maritime Association, however, has published statements accusing the union of effectively shutting down operations at some terminals in Southern California over the past few days.
In a statement issued last Friday, the Association said: "The ILWU is staging concerted and disruptive work actions that have effectively shut down operations at some marine terminals at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The Union is also staging similar work actions that have shut down or severely impacted terminal operations at the Ports of Oakland, Tacoma, Seattle, and Hueneme."
The Maritime Association followed up with a second statement Monday saying that "disruptive work actions" are ongoing: "Union leaders are implementing many familiar disruption tactics from their job action playbook, including refusing to dispatch workers to marine terminals, slowing operations, and making unfounded health and safety claims. The ILWU’s coast-wide work actions since June 2 are forcing retailers, manufacturers and other shippers to shift cargo away from the West Coast in favor of ports on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Much of the diverted cargo may never return to the West Coast."
Some companies that rely on those ports say delays have been ongoing as the longshoremen fight for a new contract. Those shippers say they’ve had to reroute cargo to places like Houston and truck it the rest of the way.Continue reading »
The Northwest is approaching 'peak dryness' much sooner than expected this year
Things are drying out in the Northwest sooner than normal. Both Washington state and Oregon are approaching what's called "peak dryness."
Oregon mostly recovered from severe droughts this year. Heavy rain and snow hit many areas, and snowpack built up in the mountains.
But everything’s been on a low bake since May. All the sunny days last month have added up to warmer soils and plants drying out more quickly. The driest part of the year usually hits in mid- or late-summer.
“We all know that fire season, you know every week we can delay it, is a good thing," said Larry O’Neill, Oregon’s state climatologist. "That’s why we’re so concerned with how warm it’s getting and how little precipitation we’re getting.”
Washington is starting to feel the parch, too. In the Yakima River Basin, some junior-water-rights farmers will be restricted on their irrigation water this year.
The National Interagency Coordination Center says the chance for significant wildfires in central and eastern Washington is now above normal. It also says that above-normal outlook will extend to nearly the entire state next month.
Most of Western Washington is currently dealing with an elevated fire risk. The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning Tuesday for the western slopes of the Cascades, because of the breezy conditions, low humidity levels, and warming temperatures.Continue reading »