Tag Archives: Seattle

Seattle passes taxes on gun and ammo sales

gun tax

Seattle Times: The Seattle City Council voted unanimously Monday to establish a tax on gun and ammunition sales in the city, and to require gun owners to report lost and stolen firearms to police.

Council President Tim Burgess has said the tax of $25 per gun and 2 or 5 cents per round of ammunition is expected to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars annually that will be set aside for gun-violence-prevention research and programs.

Treating gunshot victims at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center costs the public millions each year because many patients rely on Medicaid or lack insurance, Burgess has pointed out.

“Gun violence is a public-health crisis in our city and our nation,” he said Monday. “City government can and must pursue innovative gun-safety measures that save lives and save money. As it has in other areas of policy, Seattle can lead the way.”

Representatives of gun-rights groups have said the tax, which will be assessed from gun sellers, is illegal because a state law prohibits cities from regulating firearms.

The tax is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, but there may be a delay because the city likely will be sued by gun-rights groups.

Some gun owners have said the tax will be passed on to them and have complained that they’ll be paying the price for crimes committed by people who obtain guns illegally.And some gun sellers have said the ordinance will force them to move their businesses outside Seattle and will raise less revenue than Burgess has indicated.

There were only 22 licensed gun sellers in the city when officials working on the legislation checked, and only a few of those are gun stores. More are either pawnshops or individuals serving as middlemen for Internet firearms sales.

Sergey Solyanik, who owns Precise Shooter on Aurora Avenue North, told council members Monday that pushing his store out of the city won’t make anyone safer.

Councilmember John Okamoto

Councilmember John Okamoto

But his testimony didn’t impress Councilmember John Okamoto, who spoke about former students at the Seattle school where his wife works. Several have been victims of gun violence or have lost friends and relatives to shootings, Okamoto said. He noted that as of early July, more than 38 people had been shot in Seattle this year.

About 30 people, many of them members of the group Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, marched from Sam Smith Park in the Central District to City Hall before the council’s meeting to demonstrate support for the gun ordinances.

Before leaving the park, they gathered around the Urban Peace Circle, a bronze sculpture dedicated more than 20 years ago to Seattle children killed in shootings.

“Life is precious,” said Karen Wickstrand, 72, a member of the grandmothers group who lives in Madison Park. “When people are killed for no reason, that’s tragic.”

The artist who installed the sculpture in 1994, Gerard Tsutakawa, was on hand. “There were a lot of young people involved in gun violence back then,” he recalled. “Now we’re dealing with this issue again. I haven’t seen much change for the better.”

Seattle mayor Ed Murray

Seattle mayor Ed Murray

Mayor Ed Murray issued a statement saying the council’s approval of the tax “demonstrates the commitment of this city and this community to lead on the ongoing national epidemic of gun violence.”

“While action at the federal level and in many other jurisdictions remains gridlocked, we are moving ahead to address an issue so damaging to the young people of Seattle, especially young people of color,” Murray said.

Burgess had originally proposed a tax of 5 cents per round on all ammunition but subsequently reduced that to 2 cents for rounds of .22 caliber and smaller.

The reporting requirement for lost and stolen firearms will take effect 30 days after the mayor signs it into law.


More rainbow crosswalks coming to Seattle; this time to fight crime

rainbow sidewalks

MyNorthwest.com (author Jason Rantz): With an eye towards addressing both safety concerns and changing demographics of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray will add more rainbow crosswalks.

Additional rainbow crosswalks are slated for the area around the new Capitol Hill light rail station. This is one of many moves the Mayor is making in the coming weeks.

“Seattle has long been a place where everyone can find an accepting and tolerant home,” Murray said. “We celebrate our history of advancing equity for the LGBTQ community and we will support efforts to make Seattle even more inclusive. Thank you to the task force for identifying these actions to reduce the violent attacks and verbal harassment experienced by LGBTQ people.”

The last time this happened, there was some outcry from critics arguing this is both a waste of taxpayer money and a violation of traffic laws. As I detailed here, both of those claims are incorrect. Fees already paid by developers to correct damage done to sidewalks funds this project (you could argue that the fee gets passed on but it’s demonstrably incorrect to call this a direct tax to residents) and the design is well within what is permitted by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Nevertheless, you can expect the same outrage this time around.

What is different about these crosswalks, though, is this larger emphasis on it being a tool to prevent anti-gay hate crimes. “We do know that if you change the physical environment you change crime. So this is a way to address that in part,” the mayor told KIRO TV.

Monisha Harrell, co-chair the mayor’s LGBTQ safety task force, explained the crosswalks send the message that “[t]his is an accepting area, this is an area of diversity, it’s an area of safety.”

Though I’m an obvious supporter of the crosswalks, I’m not entirely sure I believe this will do anything to curb violence. Monsters who commit anti-gay hate crimes do so because of irrational fear; simply expanding the neighborhood’s rainbow crosswalks could simply irritate them further. This is not a reason not to install these crowsswalks. We should never give hateful people the power to stop progress. But it should serve as a warning that if safety is your concern, please don’t assume these crosswalks will mean you’re safe.

My sense is that these crosswalks are more about trying to preserve the Capitol Hill neighborhood as a “gayborhood,” at a time when the neighborhood is dramatically shifting to more inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities. But it’s a losing battle, and I’m fine with that because “gayborhoods” are important primarily when you feel like it’s the only neighborhood you could live in if you’re in the LGBT community. That there is no longer a need for that gayborhood is a sign of progress and acceptance.

rainbow sidewalks2

Who knew? All it took to curb crime was a rainbow sidewalk…brilliant!


Ed Murray, Seattle mayor, proposes Shariah-compliant housing

Homosexual Seattle mayor Ed Murray

Homosexual Seattle mayor Ed Murray

Washington Times: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has announced plans to increase housing in the city for Muslims who follow Shariah law, which prohibits payment of interest on loan.

Mr. Murray’s housing committee recommended the city convene lenders, housing nonprofits and community leaders “to explore the best options for increasing access to Shariah-compliant loan products,” according to the proposal.

The mayor will send legislation based on the committee’s ideas to the City Council for consideration, The Puget Sound Business Journal reported.

“We will work to develop new tools for Muslims who are prevented from using conventional mortgage products due to their religious beliefs,” Mr. Murray said during a press conference.

Chapter executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Arsalan Bukhari, estimated a couple hundred Seattle Muslims aren’t borrowing money for houses because of their religion, the Business Journal reported.

Those even include high wage earners who could easily qualify for home loans but don’t apply “simply because they don’t want to pay interest,” Mr. Bukhari said.

The mayor must have bought the message of the billboards in Seattle!

h/t Mom of IV!


Unintended consequences of new Seattle minimum wage? Workers requested reduced hours to stay in subsidized housing

jess spear 15 now

KIRO: A Seattle-area nonprofit observed some workers recently asking for reduced hours, as they feared that their higher wages now put them at risk of losing housing subsidies.

Nora Gibson is the executive director of Full Life Care, a nonprofit that serves elderly people in various homes and nursing facilities. She is also on the board of the Seattle Housing Authority.

Gibson told KIRO 7 she saw a sudden reaction from workers when Seattle’s phased minimum-wage ordinance took effect in April, bringing minimum wage to $11 an hour. She said anecdotally, some people feared they would lose their subsidized units but still not be able to afford market-rate rents.

For example, she said last week, five employees at one of her organization’s 24-hour care facilities for Alzheimer’s patients asked to reduce their hours in order to remain eligible for subsidies. They now earn at least $13 an hour, after they increased wages at all levels in April, Gibson said.

“This has nothing to do with people’s willingness to work, or how hard people work. It has to do with being caught in a very complex situation where they have to balance everything they can pull together to pull together a stable, successful life,” Gibson said. Gibson said she fully supports a minimum wage increase but was not surprised when her employees asked for fewer hours. “The jump from subsidized housing to market rate in Seattle is huge,” she said.

Seattle Housing Authority told KIRO 7: “It’s important that the continuum of affordable housing options in our city and region allows for progression as people’s incomes increase. That needs to be addressed across the housing market so that people don’t feel they are in jeopardy of stable housing as they are able to earn enough to pay more of their housing costs.” The amount of public assistance one receives depends on the income and size of the family. The scale is determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the qualifications are based on area median income.

Justine Decker, who is a full-time student at Seattle Central College, said she works part-time so she can still get subsidies for rent and child care. “A one-bedroom can cost upward of $1,200. And so imagine paying that, and paying child care which can be $900 something dollars,” Decker said.

She said she doesn’t want to work full time, or she wouldn’t be able to afford market-rate rents. Decker said she’s in school to become a teacher and hopes to eventually become a principal, to make well over minimum wage levels to be able to pay for everything on her own.

Mohamed Muktar drives an Uber and also receives public assistance for housing. He said he would love to work more hours. “If you can get more hours, I think you need to work more hours, so you can take care of your bills,” Muktar said.

Seattle Councilmember Nick Licata said he hadn’t heard of purposeful reduction of hours before. “We need more information, for one thing. This is anecdotal,” Licata said. Still, he said people need more options, especially after breaking the threshold that pushes them out of public housing.

“We do not want this to be an improvement on one side of the scale, and then decrease in living conditions on another,” Licata said. “We should not be using this as an excuse not to address the overall problem.”


“Progressive” govt in action: $20 rebate cards for car tabs may cost Seattle $37 apiece


Seattle Times: To give low-income drivers $20 rebates on their car-tab fees, Seattle’s city government intends to spend as much as $17 each in overhead costs this summer.

The rebates, in the form of Wells Fargo debit cards, are meant to offset the pain of the $60 car-tab fee that voters approved last fall. That measure will increase bus service citywide for the next six years.

“The administrative cost is 85 percent. That is extremely high for something like this,” said City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the transportation committee. “For nonprofits, ideally the administrative cost is no more than 15 to 20 percent.”

Still, the committee — also including Councilmembers Jean Godden and Mike O’Brien — on Tuesday morning recommended going forward in June, by endorsing the budget amendment, proposed by Mayor Ed Murray. “The fact is, it’s expensive to give people rebates,” said Andrew Glass Hastings, transportation adviser to Murray.

Efforts are underway to reduce the overhead fee, Bill LaBorde, chief policy adviser for the city’s transportation department, said Wednesday morning. For months, the city has struggled with a “numerator-denominator” problem, he said, of certain unavoidable costs like income verification, to provide “a very low benefit” of $20 per driver.

The city also proposes spending $718,000 to promote and distribute King County Metro Transit’s new discounted fare card, called ORCA LIFT, which took effect March 1. It allows users to ride for $1.50 a trip, rather than $2.50 to $3.25.

King County already established a network of community agencies and public-health providers enrolling transit riders. But the county had signed up only 8,529 people as of last week.

O’Brien called the low enrollment disappointing. “I feel like we need to do a better job making sure everybody knows this is available,” he said. “Every food bank should have a big banner right there, that you can enroll.”

Besides helping people with their transportation, the discounts shielded the city from complaints on both the political left and right that a car-tab fee, along with a 0.1 percent sales-tax hike, were regressive.

Social-equity advocates, including the Seattle Transit Riders Union, have pushed the city and King County Metro Transit for fare discounts. “It’s good the city’s taxpayers stepping up to help,” said Katie Wilson, the riders union’s general secretary.

Proposition 1, to raise about $45 million per year, specifically requires the $20 rebates, along with $2 million annually “to improve and to support access to transit service” for low-income riders. What hasn’t been widely known until Tuesday is how much money might trickle away in the pursuit of doing good.

“There are always arguments for running government more efficiently, but it’s unusual for the administrative costs to be almost equal to the amount of the benefit,” said Paul Guppy, vice president for research at the conservative Washington Policy Center, who notes that each rebate requires $37. “It was a poorly thought-out policy.”

math is hard

Given the expense, could the City Council just skip them? To cancel those $20 payments, which are named in the ballot title, would require another citizen ballot measure, Glass Hastings said. Expenses include processing costs from Wells Fargo, the debit cards themselves, verification of low-income users, enrollment workers, marketing and informational mailings, staffers said.

The $17 figure is a high estimate and could wind up lower, said Christie Parker, representing the city budget office. However, the costs and benefits won’t be clear until they try.

For instance, Parker estimated 51,000 eligible motorists might enroll — but O’Brien said he’s skeptical, considering that’s three times the number of households that signed up for city utility discounts, which are far greater. To keep a lid on fixed costs, Parker said, the city ordered only 1,000 debit cards for the first month, and will seek more as needed.

A simpler method might be just to lower the price on a car-owner’s bill, but state Department of Licensing computers are too old to adapt, she said.

As for transit fare cards, the $718,000 amounts to one-third of the yearly $2 million voters approved for low-income aid — but the overhead is likely to shrink after the first year. The city’s launch plan includes $500,000 to publicize the reduced fares, including ads in radio broadcasts and ethnic media; some $161,000 for outreach and enrollment staff; and $31,500 to distribute preloaded, $6 fare cards as a way to get customers started.

O’Brien said later Tuesday his instincts are to spend more money at social-service sites and less on advertising. Metro spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok said, “We have been talking with the city for months about how they can improve or accelerate ORCA LIFT awareness with those designated revenues.”

Previously, King County has guessed that somewhere between 45,000 and 100,000 people might enroll with ORCA LIFT. Residents soon will see what Glass Hastings called “a drumbeat of improved transit.”

More buses are coming in June and then in September, along with transit lanes in South Lake Union, light-rail extension next year from downtown to the University of Washington, and a $930 million Move Seattle ballot measure that offers a Madison Street bus-rapid-transit corridor, among other projects.


Seattle Mayor: We need more tent cities

lauren bacall

KOMO: Mayor Ed Murray says there’s been a recent spike in the number of illegal homeless encampments in Seattle, and he wants additional “tent cities” approved to help address the issue.

A press release from the Mayor’s office states that the mayor will send proposed legislation to the City Council next month “to make a limited number of unused, vacant lots on private and public land” available for encampments. The areas included are not in residential neighborhoods or parks.

A task force Murray convened in October recommended that Seattle make it easier for tent cities to operate with oversight and legal services. “In recent months, more illegal encampments have popped up on our streets and sidewalks than ever before and the need for alternative spaces has grown immensely,” the mayor wrote in a letter to the task force last week.

Encampments have stirred controversy around Seattle, with politicians and advocates disagreeing about whether they save people from the streets or siphon resources away from safer, cleaner, more permanent options.

A handful of authorized encampments and many more unauthorized ones already exist in Seattle. Religious institutions are allowed to host tent cities with few restrictions, but encampments are allowed elsewhere only under temporary-use permits. The city funds 1,724 shelter beds in Seattle. An annual count of homeless residents in January found 3,123 people living on the streets of the city and King County.

Murray did not say how many lots should be opened, and his press secretary, Jason Kelly, declined to give a number. The task force called for seven.

Last year, a bill sponsored by Councilman Nick Licata would have allowed tent cities for up to a year on nonreligious properties in industrial and commercial zones. The council voted against it.

Seattle mayor Ed Murray

Seattle mayor Ed Murray

Murray said his proposed legislation will build off Licata’s. It calls for organizations operating the encampments to collect data about their clients; city money should only go to organizations that comply, he said. The mayor also said he would push for 150 additional shelter beds by early 2015, including at least 15 reserved for youth.

Murray balked at the task force’s proposal that some community centers be used to provide shelter, saying the centers must continue to focus on services for seniors and children, such as the city’s new preschool program.

The council last month set aside $200,000 in the city’s 2015 budget to help carry out the task force’s recommendations and $100,000 to support encampments.

Murray wrote that he has a separate advisory group working on long-term solutions to the city’s affordable-housing crisis.

Maybe Murray should set up a separate advisory group and task force to evaluate policies that lead to homelessness? He just might find a common thread.


Seattle City Council Member: Free abortions an issue of “racial and economic justice”

Author/city council member Harrell

Author/city council member Harrell

The Stranger: Over 41 years ago, the US Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that every woman has a constitutionally protected right to make her own personal medical decisions about when and if to become a mother. For almost as long—nearly 38 years—the Hyde Amendment has undermined Roe v. Wade by barring public funds from covering abortion care, effectively cutting off access for most women enrolled in public government insurance. Many of those most affected are low-income women, women of color, and immigrant women, who already face significant challenges to accessing safe, respectful, timely health care. This isn’t just a matter of reproductive freedom—it’s an issue of racial and economic justice.

Though the Hyde Amendment frames reproductive healthcare as a political bargaining chip, it is in fact a vital part of women’s health care overall. In a country where 99 percent of women who have had sexual intercourse use or have used birth control, and 1 in 3 will seek abortion care at some point during their lives, safeguarding access to these health care services is crucial to every woman’s safety and well-being, and a requirement for building a society in which all people are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their income.

This is why we are proposing a resolution to the Seattle City Council today, Monday, September 8, calling upon President Obama and Congress to overturn all federal bans on public coverage of abortion, and to improve access to public and private insurance coverage for the full spectrum of reproductive health care options.

If we pass this resolution, Seattle will become the first jurisdiction in the Northwest—and the sixth nationally—to declare its support for overturning the Hyde Amendment and restoring access to reproductive health care for every woman, regardless of her income or what kind of insurance she has.

The timing is critical. There were 205 abortion restrictions passed nationwide from 2011-2013, including state bans on public and even private insurance covering abortion. As women’s reproductive rights are deliberately and strategically eroded in other states, passing the resolution shows that the Hyde Amendment and attacks on women’s health do not reflect Seattle’s values.

As a state that values reproductive justice, we cannot afford to stand still. Passing a resolution against the Hyde Amendment is a reasonable, proactive step we can take as a community to reject laws that come between women and the healthcare they need, and to build momentum until all women across the country can meaningfully exercise their rights. Thirty-eight years is too long to wait for health care.

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