Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda unveiled the Seattle City Council’s rebalancing package for the 2021 budget this week and laid out $83 million in changes to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s budget proposal.

The Seattle Council proposes $35 million in cuts to the Seattle Police Department (SPD), whose bloated budget reached $409 million in 2019 thanks to the lucrative 2018 union contract and runaway overtime spending. The rebalancing package includes a further $3.7 million cut to the overtime budget, which had hit a whopping $30 million this year. Mayor Durkan also transferred $40 million in spending out of SPD by spinning off parking enforcement and 9-1-1 emergency call center, but hadn’t included many actual cuts. The $75 million reduction to the SPD budget works out to an 18% cut, a far cry from the 50% SPD cut that had been the rallying cry for protesters under the banner of Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now.

Decriminalize Seattle has used art to publicize their demands, as in this poster. (Credit: Stat the Artist)

Those groups mobilized the Solidarity Budget coalition (which The Urbanist joined) and are asking the Council for deeper cuts to the police budget. They have a petition asking for no new cops by writing a further $10 million transfer from SPD’s budget to Participatory Budget investing in the community, which would ensure the police officer hiring freeze continues next year. The petition also champions a few other budget changes:

  • Restore two sidewalk projects in Beacon Hill ($550,000)
  • Include funding for Green New Deal weatherization and electrification ($1 million)
  • Boost funding for self-managed homeless tiny house communities ($800,000)
  • Fund the Scofflaw Mitigation Program for people living in their cars and RVs

Budget additions this late in the process will now have to come with budget reductions elsewhere to fund them–dubbed Form C amendments is Council-speak. The Move All Seattle Substainably (MASS) coalition is urging Councilmembers to sign on to the Beacon Hill sidewalk amendment and the other Form Cs in the Solidarity Budget.

While the Mayor’s budget funded 1400 sworn officer positions–which would soon require lifting the hiring freeze–the Council ended up funding a force of 1322 officers. They arrived at this number by seeking 35 out-of-order police officers, targeting the worst cops on brutality and misconduct, and abrogating (eliminating) 93 positions once they become vacant through retirements or departures.

The proposal finishes and slightly expands upon the Council’s work from this summer when they sought a 100-position reduction at SPD. Police Chief Carmen Best’s retired in protest and Mayor Durkan cited the police cuts in her veto statement. Even the Council’s proposal would likely require significant hiring next year, particularly if the uptick in officers leaving SPD in September (39 in one month) is the start of a trend.

This time around, Mayor Durkan said she can live with the Council’s budget changes, signaling a tentative truce has formed between Mayor and Councilmembers following intense battles this summer over protests, police accountability, banning chemical weapons, and the 2020 rebalancing package (which she vetoed and they overrode).

Perhaps the new cooperation is also built on the fact that Mayor Durkan leaned heavily on JumpStart Seattle corporate payroll tax to avoid deep budget cuts, diverting revenue to plug holes caused by the Covid pandemic and subsequent recession. If not for the Council’s swift action there–which the Mayor fought at the time and declined to sign–Seattle would be looking at deep cuts to basic services. The JumpStart revenue also ended up composing the bulk of Mayor Durkan’s $100 million pledge to Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), which she intends to distribute via her handpicked Equitable Communities task force.

The Council’s rebalancing package reduced the Mayor’s Equitable Communities fund to $30 million, rejecting the deception of diverting funding set aside for other investments in communities of color to fund a shiny new process. In an interesting case of symmetry, the Council also dedicated about $30 million (largely from the SPD budget) to a Participatory Budgeting process led by King County Equity Now and including a broader more democratic process than the Mayor’s anointed task force.

The Council also sought to ramp up alternatives to policing, which includes $550,000 for a restorative justice pilot program and $480,000 for a Health One expansion, a program both Mayor and Council have lifted up for providing a robust emergency response without relying on police. There’s also $4.2 million for tiny house village expansions, $1 million for homelessness outreach services, and another $1 million for mobile crisis teams.

Other notable changes Councilmember Mosqueda and her colleagues made to the budget include restoration of the $30 million Strategic Investment Fund promised last year via Mercer Megablock proceeds and intended for things like affordable housing and small business incubation.

Transportation and Climate adds include:

  • $5.2 million to build the Georgetown-to-South Park Trail (MASS package)
  • $934,000 million for Rainier Avenue sidewalk improvements
  • $400,000 for Southeast Seattle bike route planning on MLK Way and Georgetown-to-Downtown
  • $500,000 for Route 44 upgrade project
  • $777,000 for Thomas Street Redesign
  • $4,000,000 for the bridge maintenance study sought by Councilmember Alex Pedersen
  • $132,000 for the Green New Deal Advisor position at the Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE)
  • $140,000 for the Climate Policy Advisor position at the OSE

Sign the Solidarity Budget petition if you’d like to see more of these priorities enacted.

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Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Doesn’t Urbanism depend on safe streets, especially for women? The point of Urbanism is to create an environment in which a citizen can walk, bike or take transit for their daily mobility and needs, which puts them on the street, day and night. Suburbia ironically is very pro police and law and order, yet since it is mostly car centric a citizen doesn’t have to expose themselves to the streets if they don’t want to. They simply drive from garage to location and back.

    For Urbanism to work there needs to be retail, restaurants, grocery stores, and entertainment within walking distance, or at least very close. But all these establishments tend to locate where the streets and parking are perceived to be safe. Otherwise all you have is dense, small housing with no place to go and nothing to do, and the residents begin to use Uber/Lyft for all their trips, or buy a car. Seattle currently is seeing an outflow in high end renters, in part because there is nothing to do with the closures due to the pandemic and protests/riots and the streets are dead (and in part because they are making the move to single family homes with low interest rates and working from home).

    There are certainly large cities with dense urban areas that are not safe, but those areas don’t have any retail or restaurants, or street scene. They are often referred to as ghettos. Parts of Seattle are like that now, including the Ave., which when I went to the UW was the retail hub for the university, and even had a Nordstroms. Now it is dead. Pioneer Square and Westlake Center at night are scary too, at least for a women or older person.

    I have lived in nearly every Seattle neighborhood in my life, and enjoyed that time, but now live on the eastside but work in Pioneer Square. In my own observation, Urbanism is very male oriented, and suburbia is very female oriented, especially when it comes to perceptions of safety, and law and order. The problem for Urbanism is women buy about 99% of everything in America (100% when you get married), and so retail follows them, and whether married or looking to get married men follow women. So without women (or girls) you have no retail, and you have no men (or boys). If the streets are not safe for women Urbanism is going to be a lonely game, and retail will be sparse.

    Even before Covid-19 my wife became unwilling to meet me after work in Pioneer Square for a drink or dinner because there was no parking, and she felt unsafe. If I told her she was being hysterical she would tell me I am mansplaining, and if I told her to take the bus to Pioneer Square she would tell me she has the wrong husband. After all, there are plenty of places on the eastside, and she likes the eastside and feels comfortable there, so guess what? We go somewhere on the eastside. I am certainly not going to fall on my sword for Pioneer Square or Seattle.

    I think Urbanism needs to understand that if a women does not feel safe walking on the street, including at night, Urbanism will fail.

  2. I haven’t heard exactly what “investing in our community” means. But, even if it does have the effect of reducing crime, you still need to have police – especially in the short term, when the impact of whatever “investing in our community” does is not fully felt yet.

    I agree with RDPence that reducing police has an undesirable side effect of funneling much of the role of police onto private security guards, who would ultimately be even less accountable that the regular police.

    I also believe that defunding police has direct consequences in another goal that the Urbanist advocates for, which is safe streets. Without police, drivers would be able to speed down neighborhood streets with impunity, and there will be nobody to go after people who drive dangerously and run people over.

    There are definitely some things that can be done to revisit policing that don’t put the community at risk. Moving parking enforcement to some other department feels pretty safe, since it’s mostly a bureaucratic change that does not actually impact the number of parking officers. Similarly, there are many things police are asked to do that do not actually require an armed officer. For example, someone addressing a drug overdose probably doesn’t need to be armed and someone meeting a victim to take down a report of a past crime – with the perpetrator long gone – almost certainly doesn’t. But, somebody still needs to be there to perform these tasks and, as long as that somebody needs to be paid, it doesn’t actually free up money to “invest in our community” – it just means x% of the armed police officers being replaced by unarmed officers under some other department for essentially the same budget.

    Ultimately, if you want money to “invest in our community”, it seems it would need to come from some sort of new revenue, not out of the police.

    • Decriminalize Seattle has a very good explainer and resource list on why divest from policing and I’d encourage you to read it rather than make assumptions: https://decriminalizeseattle.com/whydivest/

      Seattle police don’t do much speeding enforcement in my experience. People certainly don’t drive like they’re scared of getting pulled over. I’d rather intervene with street design and traffic cameras than count on police to pull over enough people to make a difference.

      • “I’d rather intervene with street design and traffic cameras than count on police to pull over enough people to make a difference.”

        In the ideal world, you’re right. But, in the real world, attempts to redesign streets to encourage slower speeds get shelved due to driver complaints. The use of cameras for traffic enforcement is also severely constrained by both state law and public opinion. In practice, it’s either police enforcement or no enforcement at all (at least until the person gets into an accident).

        Another example of how police make the roads safer is drunk driving. Drunk driving is essentially unenforceable without police, but it is also very dangerous, especially for vulnerable road users that don’t have the protection of steel armor that car drivers do.

        I did read the decriminalizeseattle page:

        “Common sense tells us people are safer when they have housing and income, when they have reliable childcare, when they can access health care including mental health support and drug treatment that is culturally competent.”

        That sounds true to me too. The problem is that, while guaranteeing these things probably does reduce crime in the long term, we still can’t forget the short term. Even if half the SPD budget were reallocated into housing, income guarantees, mental health support, etc., it would still take years before the housing and mental health facilities are in place for that money to be doing good, and during those intervening years, we have essentially the same level crime as before, but only half the police. Quite possibly higher crime if criminals know that the police are being defunded and decide to take advantage.

        There’s another problem here: people in need flock to where the services are. On the regional level, the fact that Seattle offers better homeless services than Bellevue and Redmond create a situation where Bellevue and Redmond’s homeless people become Seattle’s problem. If we increased the generosity, people would bus in from further and further away to take advantage, to the point where, no matter how much money you allocate toward the problem, it’s never enough. If it ever got to the point where Seattle would just buy you a home if you can’t afford one, we’d likely have people coming in all the way San Francisco or New York to get a free home for the price of a bus ticket.

        The unfortunate reality is that, the way a city keeps its streets and parks from being overrun is by being stingier and stricter than it’s neighbors, so that the homeless go sleep on somebody else’s streets and parks, instead. This is the approach taken by Bellevue and my home city of Kirkland and, while it may be cruel, it certainly works, as the amount of tents and trash in Kirkland city parks is essentially zero. Obviously, every city offering zero services to get people to go somewhere else is not sustainable or humane either; the best middle ground is probably to get every city in a large area to agree on a baseline level of services and offer that, but nothing else.

        Another argument I’d like to close with – whether it succeeds or not – the Defund the Police movement does have serious political consequences which negatively impact cities all over the country by creating fuel for the right-wing caricature of cities as full of crime and out of control. Yes, the right wing tends to grossly exaggerate both Democratic support for Defund the Police and the negative consequences of it. But it does motivate people who believe them to vote for Republicans and, while that argument didn’t seem to gain much traction here in Seattle, it may have elsewhere, in the Swing States that really matter. The fact that Defund the Police didn’t put Donald Trump over the top in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Georgia – all states that look to be decided by less than 1% – may be just shear luck. And it still may have very well cost Democrats the Senate (although it is impossible to actually prove or disprove that). This all has real consequences because, when Republicans are in charge, that means no COVID relief, no minimum wage increase, no action whatsoever to fight climate change, etc., etc.

        Yes, the right wing media will always find something to attack people they don’t like on. But, we don’t have to make life easier for them.

  3. Sometimes citizens just need some good old-fashioned law enforcement. Real cops to show up and protect people and/or solve crimes that hurt people, crimes that need solving. Will the remaining police force be able to accomplish that? Wealthy neighborhoods will always be protected~ if not by SPD then by private patrols that those neighborhoods can afford. Low-income neighborhoods will be on their own.

    • Communities of color already tend to feel they’re on their own. Extra patrols are not perceived the same way by young people of color as compared to White homeowners, and police treat those two populations very differently, hence the mistrust.

      We’re talking about a ~10% reduction in police force. This isn’t going to take away the ability to investigate violent crime. This isn’t a drastic proposal.

      • It sounds like what you are really suggesting is transfer Seattle police from communities of color that don’t want the police to white neighborhoods that do, kind of like Metro deciding to move transit service and funding from white neighborhoods to communities of color based on “equity”, except the opposite. One gets the police, and one gets the buses. Have the white neighborhoods pay for the extra police service, and the communities of color pick up the tab to replace the transit funding from the wealthy neighborhoods that lost transit service and will likely vote no on the next transit levy. That way every Seattle neighborhood will get what it wants.

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