Thursday, 21 March, 2019

The Double-Edged Sword of Public Records – Housing and Jobs vs. the Public Right to Know

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My Trusty Gavel by Brian Turner on Flickr.

The Problem

In the present information age, with access to details about virtually anyone’s life available to all, we often tend to look upon such information as either useful or interesting–or at its worst, embarrassing. However, such easily discoverable online information–some of which may be erroneous–can often have real life consequences involving basic needs like housing and employment.

There is no better example of damage caused by lack of privacy than the easy availability of records of both criminal convictions and arrests in the State of Washington. Once a person is arrested, even if no conviction ever occurs, the record of arrest remains a matter of public record indefinitely. The same is true when charges are filed but later dismissed. Employers screening applicants for work and landlords screening applicants for housing have ready access to this arrest and non-conviction data through literally hundreds of companies offering “background checks.” Most rejected applicants will never know for certain that they were turned down because of an arrest that never led to a conviction.

Current options for cleaning up your record

In Washington, a person who is aware that such information exists has very limited options for “erasing” it from public records. By following a step-by-step process, which usually requires the assistance of an attorney, and meeting many different criteria, one can remove some or all of this information and be legally entitled to then tell a prospective employer or landlord that they “have never been convicted of a crime.” However, the mere fact that the arrest or non-conviction data remains on the record could lead the prospective employer or landlord to conclude the applicant had lied on his or her application. Further, even if the employer or landlord is savvy enough to understand the difference between an arrest and a conviction, there is nothing to prevent them from taking a “better safe than sorry” approach and rejecting the application.

The difficulty sealing your record

In Washington, it is very difficult to seal a record and prevent it from becoming part of your “criminal history.” Our Supreme Court has decreed that the public’s interest in full disclosure trumps the privacy interests of the individual. So in order to seal–or prevent disclosure of–such a record, a person must prove that they have been actually harmed by the record being in the public domain. Simply asserting that the record could make it difficult to find housing or a job is not sufficient. This becomes an almost impossible task because it is not likely that a prospective employer or landlord will tell the applicant the true reason they are being rejected.

Of further concern is the fact that companies offering background checks may be using old databases which still show the information thought to be sealed. Chasing after literally hundreds of these companies is simply not practical.

There are also serious “access to justice” issues with the existing process because many low income individuals simply cannot afford a lawyer to present and argue these difficult motions to seal in court.

Proposed changes in the law

The City of Seattle sought to address this problem in 2013 by enacting an ordinance prohibiting an employer from inquiring about criminal history until after all applicants have first been screened for qualifications. Employers must then take the further step of proving how the arrest or conviction would affect job performance. While a nice first step, this prohibition does not include housing applications, and enforcement of the ordinance will prove to be a daunting task.

Other groups are seeking wider reform–statewide legislation that would allow sealing a record if the mere threat  that this information could cause a denial of suitable housing or employment is established. However, such legislation is not popular with many powerful interest groups including landlords, the press (which always has an interest in full disclosure), and large businesses. Such a legislative debate would also provoke a separation of powers conflict between the courts and the legislature.

Solutions to the problem are therefore hard to come by. What is needed is a holistic look at the pervasiveness of information technology in the 21st century and an examination of how that technology interacts with criminal justice, the public’s right to know, and the often unforeseen and far-reaching consequences to people’s lives. The disproportionate impact of ready availability of arrest and non-conviction data on minorities is also an unfortunate reality, and should fairly be considered in fashioning a solution. Suggested compromises have included time limitations on the availability of arrest and non-conviction data as well as a simplified process that would allow those without the ability to pay for a lawyer to have such information permanently removed from their record. However, nothing that involves balancing individual rights with the public’s right to know is ever easy.

 

Damon Shadid is a Seattle attorney who practices both criminal defense and immigration law. He has been active in many issues involving race and social justice for many years and is a member of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Roundtable. Damon is currently a candidate for Seattle Municipal Court Judge.

Baugruppen: Proactive Jurisdictions

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Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a series on Baugruppen, private owners collaboratively building affordable multifamily projects. Read Part 1 or check out the series.

For this installment of the Baugruppen: Badaβ Concepts series, I’ll be highlighting a few policies cities have enacted to allow this ‘self-organized collaborative building’ thing to grow well. And I do mean well, with tens of thousands of completed units in these cities in just over a decade. As I’d like to see this kind of innovation Stateside, I felt the policy overview a good starting point.

Freiburg, Tuebingen, Hamburg and Berlin are baugruppen hot beds that have shaped and promoted this development on an extensive level. There are others (Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Leipzig, Muenchen) and the concept is moving into other countries including Austria, France and the UK. These jurisdictions have given a phenomenal amount of support, as they see the obvious benefits–to owners, certainly–but also to the greater community, and have worked diligently to get these built. Proactive governmental agencies can seem rare, but these ones are allowing a truly fundamental shift in the way communities are made (not just buildings!), and we should be copying them where we can.

Tuebingen (BaWu)

With a ‘people over profits’ mentality, Tuebingen’s BG model represents a higher plane of thinking and results in a quality of sustainable urbanism very difficult to come by in developer-driven models. By the mid-90s, Tuebingen was beyond affordable for many residents. Even with a high level of density, housing prices were high and land was scarce (Seattle!). In an effort to adjust this, the City purchased brownfields vacated by NATO in the southern part of town, determined legal limits, and engaged in actual urban planning (gasp!).

Mayor Murray’s Seattle-Only Plan for Metro

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 After a whirlwind week, the bus saga continues. Today, Mayor Ed Murray presented his blueprint for a Seattle-only measure to restore King County Metro Transit service in the city. The plan is very similar to the original countywide Proposition 1, which proposes to use a $60 flat car tab fee and 0.1% sales tax increase (the image above incorrectly notes 0.01%). During the press conference, Murray stressed the urgency of reversing the bus cuts and his plan:

When so many people in this city rely on transit for their livelihood, especially those with lower incomes, we cannot delay. We must act to preserve bus service in the city and on key intercity routes. And we know that this is what Seattle wants: two-thirds of voters in last month’s election said so loud and clear.

Under the proposal, the car tab fee and sales tax will raise $45M per year to reverse most service cuts in the city*, create a fund to cost-share cross-jurisdictional routes with neighboring cities (called the Regional Partnership Fund), and subsidize car tab fees for low-income drivers. The car tab fee would raise approximately $24M per year while the sales tax would raise another $21M. Low-income drivers will pay a reduced fee of $20 for their car tabs.

In the interim, Murray intends to have the City act immediately to stop all cuts to Night Owl routes like the 7, 49, 82, 83, and 84. Funding for Night Owl routes will come directly from the Seattle Department of Transportation budget. Metro had proposed the elimination of all Night Owl service beginning with the September 2014 service change.

Meanwhile, the Regional Partnership Fund (RPF) would have $3M to spend annually on cross-jurisdictional routes like the 215 (Issaquah-Downtown), 303 and 308 (Lake Forest Park/Richmond Beach-Downtown), and the 167 (Renton-UW).These tend to be peak-hour expresses to regional employment centers in the city, but also comprise many all-day Seattle routes like the 5, 131, and 372. Seattle would cost-share with regional partners to pay up to 50% of the cross-jurisdictional service, the remainder of which would be paid by that partner. Regional partners could be any other agencies, city, business group, or employer.

If you remember the crisis of last week, Murray initially opposed a Seattle-only option to save Metro. Murray was unhappy with the I-118 effort because of funding mechanism and the non-regional nature of the legislation. Universal pre-kindergarden, the primary policy issue of the Murray administration, uses the property tax as its means of funding. Murray was concerned that the additional property tax measure of the Metropolitan Parks District, publicly funded council races, and I-118 could compound to cause voter fatigue in the fall. (Though there is no evidence to suggest that that is true.) At the same time, Murray argued that Metro is supposed to be a regional service, not just a local one. In Murray’s words, a Seattle-only measure could lead to the “Balkanization of Metro”. However, the Office of the Mayor began to change their tune late last week to support a Seattle-only package, which lead I-118 petitioners to suspend their effort.

Last night, King County Executive Dow Constantine laid out a streamlined framework for local cities to buy back service hours. The framework allows cities to work with King County Metro Transit to determine service to be restored. Constantine said:

This program provides a clear path for jurisdictions to obtain more local transit service, as a bridge to keep buses on the road until we can get permanent and sustainable revenue authority from the Legislature for the regional system. Until the Legislature acts, I cannot ask cities to accept cuts they are willing locally to prevent.

Cities must pay the full operational and capital costs of that service because King County will not cost-share for any restored hours. An agreement to restore service must be approved by the County Council and Executive.

Assuming Seattle does restore service hours to Metro, the first opportunity to do so will only be in February 2015 meaning that currently proposed cuts will still go through in the September 2014 service change (excluding the Night Owl routes). Constantine and Murray intend to continue their effort to champion a countywide option for funding Metro next year. Assuming a countywide measure is able to later rescue Metro, the proposed Seattle-only measure could be phased out in as little as 2 years.

While Murray’s plan seems comprehensive, there’s still ample opportunity improve the transit package. The City has a number of other tools in its arsenal besides the car tab fee and sales tax. Goldy over at the HorsesAss gave us two such options last week: increasing the parking tax and bringing back the head tax (assessed on employees who drive solo to work). Both options could be enacted councilmanically instead of going to the voters or the Transportation Benefit District process. Councilmembers have already stated their strong support for reversing Metro service cuts and that they are open to any and all ideas. We hope that they will evaluate all options in addition the Mayor’s proposal.

Any measure that uses the sales tax and car tab option must be approved by the Seattle Transportation Benefit District Board (composed of the full City Council) with a deadline of August 5th in order to appear on the November ballot.

*90% of the service cuts impacting 110,000 boardings would be reversed, meaning that 100,000 boardings would be maintained. 

Follow Up: Factoria Frequent Service

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 A map of frequent service to and from Factoria. The thick red line is the frequent corridor shared by routes 240 and 241 and the thick blue line is the peak-only frequent corridor shared by routes 114 and 240. The purple, green and orange lines represent the less-frequent portions of routes 114, 240 and 241, respectively.

When we wrote about how to implement frequent service in Factoria, we envisioned a likely yes vote on Proposition 1. However with the failure of the proposition, this vision will be impacted.

The cuts

All of the routes involved with the frequent service are getting cut in some way. Here’s how:

  • The 114 will be reduced to 3 trips in either direction, instead of 5 inbound and 4 outbound.
  • The 210 will be entirely deleted. This should not be a surprise as the only real source of ridership for the route is at Eastgate Park and Ride.
  • The 240 will end service at 9pm instead of 11pm.
  • The 241 will be cut to hourly midday and Saturdays.

The impact on the frequent service

  • The frequent service corridors for the 114/210 between Factoria and Downtown Seattle and the 210/240 in Eastgate will be deleted.
  • The frequent service corridor for the 114 and 240 in Newport Hills and Newcastle will loose service span.
  • The frequent service corridor for the 240 and 241 between Factoria and Downtown Bellevue will be kept (see below).

How to maintain frequent service

Since the 241 is slated to be cut to hourly middays and Saturdays, a series of improvements in service efficiency will have to be made in order to keep the 241 running half-hourly during those periods. This means that a lot of reroutes will have to be made:

The reroute of the 241 off 108th Ave NE will save up to three minutes per trip outbound and five inbound, while improving the quality of service with no speed bumps and the elimination of the three turns required to reach Bellevue TC.

The big reroute of the 240 to reach Bellevue via Bellevue Way and 112th Ave SE instead of detouring to Eastgate Park-and-ride will save anywhere between 8 and 15 minutes per trip, depending on the time of the day. Those savings will reduce the length of the route (in time) by as much as 20%, allowing for slightly shorter layover times. Currently, the 240 has an extra-long 25-minute layover at each end of the route. It seems reasonable to cut those layover to 15-17 minutes considering the fact that the route is shorter. Combined with the shorter layover, the reroute would allow for each bus to basically run one bus earlier than currently for each turnback.

What could've been a good idea if the bus turned right instead of going straight
Downtown Newcastle Bus Stop, photo by the author.

Another issue is routing in Newcastle. Currently buses come from Newcastle way (behind the photographer in the photo) then pull over into the bus stop, which is designed to have the bike lane away from it. The bus lane then becomes the right-turn lane onto Coal Creek Parkway. The buses eventually end-up running on Coal Creek parkway but not after making a detour which requires them to go straight at the above intersection, make an awkward right-turn at the top of the hill then enter Coal Creek Parkway via a left turn at a long light. This design creates conflict between the buses that must pull back into the middle lane to go straight, the cars that turn right and the bikes which have buses crossing into the lane twice.

The solution would see the buses take the right turn into Coal Creek directly, saving a couple minutes per trip. This makes more sense with the map shown below.

A map of what the reroute would look like. The red line would be the deleted routing, the green line would be the new routing and the blue lines indicate no change.

In the original post, it was mentioned that the 114 would need to be rerouted all the way to Eastgate Park and Ride via Factoria. Due to the funding shortfall it would only be rerouted to Factoria (to replace the 210 as the peak-only route to Downtown Seattle), but not to Eastgate Park and Ride.

So what does this all do?

  • The hours saved by rerouting the 241 off 108th Ave NE would accumulate as the day goes on, and provide additional trips to restore some mid-day service.
  • The 240’s huge time savings would mostly be spent on adding trips to the 241 to keep half-hourly mid-day and Saturday service, although some savings would be used to keep the 240 running until 11pm. This restores service on routes 240 and 241 to their current levels.
  • The small time savings of the Newcastle detour would allow the 114 to detour off to Factoria without requiring more time on the run.

If the 240’s re-route proves to be very successful and saves more revenue hours than expected, it could be spent on adding a fourth trip to route 114, thus keeping the 15-minute peak-only service south of Factoria for longer.

Event Reminder: Meetup at GGLO

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We’re giving GGLO’s swanky space at the Harbor Steps a spin this week. So if you want to join us for our weekly meetup, come on by 1st Avenue and walk down the Harbor Steps a half block. In case you’re not familiar with the Harbor Steps, it’s the pedestrian hillclimb that extends from 1st Avenue and University Street, right across the street from the Seattle Art Museum. Our weekly meetup runs from 6pm to 9pm, so feel free to drop by at any time. And if you need a reminder, add the event to your e-calendar. We hope to see you tonight!

Hack to End Homelessness: Organizing Tech Workers for Social Good

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Volunteers begin working at Hack to End Homelessness.

Several months ago I wrote about why tech workers should care about housing issues. I argued that the tech industry can’t help but alter the character of the city, and that gives those of us in the industry an obligation to engage constructively in urban issues, especially around housing. Since then I co-organized an event, called Hack to End Homelessness, that showcases one way that the tech industry can have a positive impact on the city.

The centerpiece of Hack to End Homelessness was a weekend-long “hackathon”, a popular concept from the tech industry where participants come together in teams to rapidly build technology around some theme. For Hack to End Homelessness we partnered with a dozen non-profits working in homeless services and advocacy to design meaningful projects that volunteers could accomplish over a weekend.

Volunteers begin working at Hack to End Homelessness.

Volunteers begin working at Hack to End Homelessness. Photo by Sol Villarreal.

This model of collaboration was new to most of the non-profits, but by the end of the process the enthusiasm from both the non-profits and the volunteers was overwhelming. Over the course of the weekend 40 volunteers completed nine different projects. One group created an iPhone app to be used by Union Gospel Mission volunteers to survey and respond to the needs of people living on the streets. Another started a Twitter-like peer-to-peer support network that works on low-end mobile phones. A third built maps of housing expenditures, to be used for advocacy in the state legislature. A full list of projects, all of which directly addressed the needs of a non-profit, is available on our website.

Graham Pruss and Jeff Lilley demo their app for surveying the needs of people living on the streets.

Graham Pruss and Jeff Lilley demo their app for surveying the needs of people living on the streets. Photo by Dawn Stenberg.

My takeaway from this past weekend is that there’s a huge need for technology in the non-profit space and an untapped supply of interested tech workers. All that’s needed is to provide a bridge between the two communities. If you’re a non-profit looking for tech help, or a technologist looking to get involved, there are a few of local organizations you can look to, including Seattle Works, 501 Commons, Seattle GiveCamp and Seattle Tech4Good. And, of course, check back soon at hacktoendhomelessness.com for news on what we’re doing next around homelessness and other issues.

Sunday Video: 25th and Union Parklet

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An adorable video about the Central District community coming together to build their parklet. We hope to see this become a success.

 

What We’re Reading: Hop On the Rollercoaster!

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Rider Alert

 

The development keeps coming: It looks like Pioneer Square, Downtown, and even Downtown Kent (my hometown) will get some big projects soon. That empty parking next Pioneer Square? Consider it gone. We expect a classic brick building to grace the space instead. Rainier Square (part of the University Tracts) might just get a 50-story boot-like skyscraper. Guys, it comes with eco terraces!

North Rainier rezone: The rezone process for North Rainier has taken quite a few years, but this week the Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability listened to tons of comments on the rezone. It looks like the full Council could vote on the rezone later this month.

Take a ride on the rollercoaster: Earlier this week, Mayor Murray asked supporters of I-118 to drop their support, and some followed up within hours to do just that. Murray said that he was devising a plan to save the buses, but that it wasn’t Ben’s I-118. Some folks were rightly pretty pissed. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday got really, really weird–with Murray even dubbing Ben as the city’s “Transit Czar“. But then, last night we learned that Murray changed his tune by backing a Seattle-only measure, details we’ll find more about on Tuesday. Stay tuned.

Slip ‘n’ slide: Move King County Now may have joked about slip ‘n’ slides, but this English city got serious and put one together for fun. Maybe it isn’t such a bad idea.

Share the road: It was a busy week in cycling. On Wednesay, the Broadway Bikeway opened for cyclists. They Mayor announced that protected bike lanes would finally be coming to 2nd Avenue in Downtown, just before the launch of Pronto! in September. Which leads us to our next point: Pronto! On Tuesday, the sponsor (Alaska Airlines) and the brand for Seattle’s bike share system were revealed. Pronto! has a number of local community meetings coming up, so keep an eye out for those. Norway is running some clever ads to tell drivers to share the road. And, just in case you wondering: Idaho is apparently over 30 years ahead of us when it comes to cycling laws. It’s much safer for cyclist to treat stops signs as yields and read lights as stop signs.

Crosslake rail: Parson Brinckerhoff gives us an interesting rundown of the technical work that it will take to get light rail across Lake Washington. And Sound Transit is close to making a $43M deal with the University Washington for its light rail tunnels under the campus. It turns out those trains can be pretty disruptive when it comes to electromagnetism, and that’s not good for electron microscopes.

Bad tea leaves: Conservatives are still steaming over Agenda 21 in many states, despite the fact that the United Nations document is a set of non-binding principles for establishing sustainable development policies.

The maps are back: Curious about biking, walking, and transit use in the Puget Sound? Take a peek at this impressive set of Census information over the past 20 years. D.C. is making us look bad, they’ve got 250 miles of BRT and rail planned. And finally, watch London grow from Roman times to now.