Defund SPD? New Navigation Team? Tell Seattle leaders how to spend your tax dollars

Oct 6, 2020, 1:54 PM

Do you want to see the Seattle Police Department funding cut by 50%? How should the city invest in BIPOC communities? What about the Green New Deal? Or COVID-19? With the city of Seattle five years into a declaration of a homeless emergency, was cutting the Navigation Team the right call?

Just about a week into the months-long 2021 budget process, Seattleites will get a chance to have their say, as the Seattle City Council hosts the first of two meetings Tuesday, Oct. 6, dedicated to hearing how the public thinks the city should be spending its money.

First time Council Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda – who penned an op-ed in the South Seattle Emerald about her own budget priorities this week — will host the dedicated public comment sessions that start at 5:30 p.m. — which have traditionally run late into the night in previous years — with people packing city council chambers for a chance to fight for what they want or need.

In the first week of budget presentations, it was clear there are some significant differences of opinion between Mayor Jenny Durkan and the council when it comes to the budget, on everything from where spending should happen to how to pay for it.

Homeless response, BIPOC investments in first week of 2021 budget work

That division was clear during council meetings last week on issues like changes and cuts to the Seattle Police Department, as well as the mayor’s homeless response proposal, which includes a record $152 million in spending for 2021.

That includes nearly $30 million in federal dollars, and covers existing shelter beds while adding hundreds of new ones, and switching away from spending on tiny house villages in favor of spending on hotel or motel rooms to build on a strategy that’s been successful during the pandemic. The mayor’s plan also adds 600 permanent supportive housing units next year.

This was acceptable, for the most part, to the council – especially when it comes to the now-former Navigation Team.

The council stripped funding for the Navigation Team in its re-worked 2020 budget. Durkan adamantly opposed the move as there was no replacement plan. However, the council overrode the mayor’s veto, forcing Durkan to suspend the team for the rest of 2020.

Durkan’s 2021 budget proposal, specifically the homeless response, includes about $10 million for a new outreach team.

“This team will be responsible for coordinating across agencies and city departments. Under this model, HSD will coordinate efforts across city departments and facilitate the community based contract outreach effort. This includes coordination with SPD in the 2021 budget. The new outreach and response team is an eight person team,” Human Services head Jason Johnson explained to the council.

That basically amounts to a scaled down Navigation Team without full-time Seattle police officers who clear encampments.

But that led to questions from councilmember Tammy Morales.

“What I’m trying to understand candidly is the difference between the Navigation Team and this new team?,” Morales questioned.

After a lengthy back and forth that got heated at times, Council President Lorena Gonzalez wanted to get down to brass tacks.

“Will these dollars be utilized for purposes of clearing unsanctioned encampments?,” Gonzales asked.

“If you’re asking me to make a commitment that we will not conduct any type of encampment or obstruction removal using these dollars, the answer is no,” Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller replied.

“I’m not asking you to make a commitment — I am asking whether or not the 2021 outreach strategy as proposed: Will any of those dollars be utilized for purposes of clearing unsanctioned encampments?” Gonzales stressed.

“Yes,” Sixkiller said.

Anyone who wants to weigh in on that proposal or others can find out how to sign up for Tuesday’s public comment session here.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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Defund SPD? New Navigation Team? Tell Seattle leaders how to spend your tax dollars