Decisively promising now to take action later

ADDITIONAL CONTEXT | Mad cops acting sad, a housing emergency declared (finally), and new revelations about Lutz’ firing.

Dammit these keep getting longer every week, but it’s hard to get too mad at ourselves. This week’s digest is a meaty 2000 words and, honestly, every single one is seasoned to perfection. Enjoy. — Luke

LONG FACE OF THE LAW

Perhaps you’ve seen recent photos of cops sitting on stage at a Spokane Valley press conference, looking like pouty kids at a Sears Portrait Studio. The sad-and-mad brass consisted of about 20 Eastern Washington police officials who gathered at CenterPlace on July 22 and “expressed concerns” with statewide police reform measures that took effect less than a week ago.

Pointing from behind a podium, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich criticized measures like HB 1310 (limiting use of physical force and emphasizing de-escalation, especially in mental health crisis situations) and HB 1054 (requiring the Sheriff to get approval from The Board of Spokane County Commissioners [BSCC] before riot tear gas can be deployed). The BSCC sided with Knezovich and unanimously opposed HB 1054, framing the bill as “government overreach” that will prevent police from doing their jobs. 

As in other states seeing new police accountability reforms ― spurred by the murder of George Floyd and mass protests of 2020 ― Washington’s cops are stoking fears over limits on police power, at times even deliberately misreading the law. Some departments are refusing to assist mental health professionals and designated crisis responders who request police backup, incorrectly citing HB 1310 as the reason why they don’t have to show up. 

The Sedro-Woolley Police Department vented frustrations over the legislation in a June 9th Facebook post, complaining that they spent two hours de-escalating a “male acting erratically” (not violently), wishing they could have “quickly subdued him” instead. To which the ACLU chimed in to clarify that HB 1310 does not prevent emergency detention, or even use of force, if a person is posing an immediate physical threat. So SWPD's hands weren’t exactly tied. They were just constrained by a law designed to rein in cops turning to force when they get impatient. The ACLU went on to say:

A reduction in use of force, especially with people in behavioral health crisis, was precisely the intention of HB 1310.  Sedro-Woolley claims it was a waste of resources to have to spend several hours de-escalating and avoiding use of force. We see it as achieving what should be everyone’s goal: the preservation of life and reduction of harm in police interactions.

Though many cops resist these mandates with pouts and posts, the bills were not drafted hastily. They represent years of work by state lawmakers, activists, and surviving family members of Washington residents killed by police.

Advocates for the over-policed say the bills should co further. Cops still have qualified immunity, and as Crosscut reports, “the laws don’t alter common police practices, such as officers trying to make the maximum number of stops or write the maximum number of tickets.” In the words of Attorney Nate Bingham:

[The laws] are not going to fundamentally change how we perceive the relationship between the police and the community. Especially for people of color, mundane interactions with the police can be dangerous ... If we continue encouraging police officers to make as many stops as possible, these incidents will keep happening, regardless of what the new laws say.”  

Bingham is the attorney for the family of Iosia Faletogo, who was pulled over in Seattle for an expired license and ended up dead at the hands of Jared Keller. In May, partially to avoid deadly interactions like this, Seattle’s Office of Inspector General recommended the Seattle Police Department stop making routine traffic stops for civil and non-dangerous violations.

A City of Seattle report out Thursday says more than half of calls made to police don’t need armed, sworn officers responding. Read the full report and the Seattle Times’ rundown.

Officer Keller, meanwhile, now works for the Spokane Police Department, and faces a racial bias lawsuit brought by Faletogo’s family. ― Elissa

SAYS IT ALL

“Farmworkers and other 'essential' workers are a human shield, protecting white-collar America from the immediate dangers of deadly heat and toxic smoke-filled air" 

― Elizabeth Strater, United Farm Workers, on the importance of workplace protections (reported by Daisy Zavala for The Seattle Times)

TSUNAMI, SCHMOONAMI

Given how dire things got for renters during COVID, it’s easy to forget we’ve been warned of a looming housing crisis for years now, with the situation bad enough by January 2020 to draw statewide attention, months before the first lockdowns. The pandemic added critical stress to an overburdened system and we hit Defcon 1 last June, when housing advocates and SNAP sounded the klaxon about a looming “tsunami of people in need” once the eviction moratorium ended. 

We know Spokane is landlocked, but the whole point of a tsunami warning is that you start running the moment the siren goes off. You don’t wait until the waves are breaking overhead. 

City officials must have missed that disaster film, seemingly content to furrow their brows and commission a report — outsourced to a Portland economics consultancy — that concluded, in December, that, to quote the Spokesman’s Ted McDermott: "Spokane is building enough housing, and rents have risen at a slower rate than renters’ incomes.”

Well that’s a huge relief! But also: extremely incorrect on all counts. 

Among the many curious decisions leading to that obviously, observably false conclusion, the authors of the report “used population projections included in the city’s most recent Comprehensive Plan update, in 2017.”

Y’know, projections from before we had a massive acceleration of migration.

It goes without saying that a thirteen-month headstart won’t get a few thousand new units of housing built, but it’s more than enough time for a motivated civil servants to reform exclusionary zoning laws to allow dense infill and begin developing a plan for how a city might leverage crisis money to keep people in their homes and incentivize new building, should such money pop up. The cynical among us had begun to feel like the administration would rather wish the problem away than take decisive action. 

Well joke’s on you, Mr., Ms., or Mx. Cynical: because just this week — a mere three weeks after the end of the eviction moratorium; the tsunami waters barely to our necks! — Mayor Woodward declared a housing emergency and the Council adopted its Housing Action Plan.

The two documents show the administration and council uncharacteristically aligned, which is a good thing, and the plan has gotten approving marks from advocates on a couple points, especially the intent to rezone previously single-family-only neighborhoods to allow for multi-family units. In a surprising twist, conservative Michael Cathcart successfully amended the plan to allow four-plexes in all residential zones over Candice Mumm’s strenuous objections. It remains unclear, though, when these changes will actually take place. As the Spokesman notes:

The plan makes a number of policy recommendations, but does not actually implement them. Each proposed action within the plan would require a separate review and vote by the full City Council.

We wish we could say “It’s nice to see decisive action,” but we’ll have to settle for “it’s nice to see them decisively promising now to take action sometime in the future.”

The declaration and the plan both have lots of talk of “reducing costs” and “municipal barriers” along with liberal use of the word “incentivize,” meaning the majority of the plan seeks to catalyze market-rate solutions, even if those solutions are somewhat novel, like converting existing commercial space to dwellings. 

Given the pace of migration, though, and the basic incentive under capital to build for the highest profit a market will yield, market-rate solutions are never going to help those most acutely in danger of losing their housing, which, according to the city’s own displacement risk report, is a metric shit-ton of people: 

One would assume a key element of executing housing reform is a fully-staffed housing department, which has been difficult for the Woodward administration to maintain. And if the plan is truly to “reduce inequality and build an inclusive housing market,” per the Mayor’s decree, it’s troubling that Cupid Alexander, the former neighborhood services division director, quit abruptly in June, strongly insinuating racism from superiors. Because of staffing shortfalls, the city planning department used only 75% of its budget last year. Alexander’s department used barely 1/3. Maybe that’s why the action plan was so long in coming. 

Thankfully — in a story about a completely separate personnel scandal — City Spokesman Brian Coddington announced that the administration had not yet begun the process to replace Alexander. So that’s promising. 

Lastly, on Thursday former Council President Ben Stuckart wrote an op-ed in the Inlander advocating for low-income housing in every neighborhood, pointing out rightly that “Mixed-income neighborhoods are healthier, more connected and safe. They stop us from ‘othering’ members of our community.” He also pointed out the downside: the richer you are, the more likely you are to

  1. Attend public meetings

  2. Vote and

  3. Not want grubby poors invading your neighborhood. 

This means what our city most needs — and what our officials seem to realize we need — might be at odds with what their core constituency wants, as evidenced by Candice Mumm’s hyperventilation at Cathcart’s 4-plex proposal. 

It’s going to take vision and tremendous fortitude to get us where we need to get. Let’s hope our electeds are up to the task. — Luke

In other housing cataclysm news: A young local journalist whose rent just doubled is one-upped by a single father in Cd’A whose rent just tripled.

IN BRIEF 

GOVERNANCE | While the use of force laws Elisa covered above are the most controversial, the state legislature was historically busy this past spring. Here’s a good roundup on the hundreds of other laws that went into effect last Sunday. Almost makes up for our inert local government. Almost. 

OPIODS | Following up last week’s story: Spokane first responders are administering Narcan twice as often as they used to after a 2020 where overdose deaths hit a new record in Spokane.

SCANDAL | Probably the closest thing we’ll get to a smoking gun in the Lutz affair: a public records request turned up an email from Health District attorney Michelle Fossum stating that Dr. Lutz had been fired by Amelia a full week before the board vote. If true, this is a violation of state law.

CARPETBAGGING | Speaking of the throngs of people who have moved to Spokane recently: one of them is a city council candidate! Tyler LeMasters appears to have lived in the other Washington as recently as November, which would put him on the wrong side of the City Council’s residency requirement.

SOME GOOD NEWS, FOR ONCE

It’s one thing when an environmental org forecasts a bleak future for crude oil pipelines, but when Canada’s Financial Post (capitalism is right in the name!) publishes a headline that reads North America about to turn into a graveyard of mega pipeline projects, well that hits a little different. To mix as many metaphors as possible, it’s a case of the proverbial writing on the wall coming straight from the horse’s mouth.

They report that North America is becoming “increasingly inhospitable” to pipeline projects, a fact which “may not come as a huge surprise as virtually every major North American crude oil pipeline has faced pressure from local activists and environmental groups over the past decade.” Of course, the oil industry retorts activists have overstated the danger from pipelines.

We’re not going to take sides here. 

Anyway, here’s the Gulf of Mexico looking like the Eye of Sauron after a pipeline ruptured in early July― Elissa

TAKE ACTION | Fill out this quick Spokane Sustainability Action Plan survey to let the city know you’d like to prioritize local efforts to cut carbon emissions and pivot to sustainable energy. 

OKAY, HERE’S A LITTLE MORE

We get yelled at when we write about sporps in these pages (so much for the tolerant left), but this is a feel extremely good story, so deal with it.

Three basketball players with local ties — Two former Zags and one former Coug — are competing in Tokyo this Olympics. Both former Zags are representing Japan, and while Rui Hachimura is one of the most famous Japanese athletes in the world — perhaps second only to Naomi Osaka — NPR did a truly affecting story on the lesser-known Ira Brown, the US-born naturalized Japanese citizen who played a couple years at GU before going on to a journeyman professional career overseas. Brown found his greatest success, and ultimately a home, half a world away. 

During his time at Gonzaga, Hachimura was candid that he felt more at home in Spokane than Japan, shining a light on the otherness he felt in his native country. Brown saw it too, but thinks things are getting better. “When I first got over here, they treated mixed kids very poorly,” he told NPR. “And then once Naomi Osaka and Rui started having a lot of success, all of a sudden the narrative started changing.” — Luke