Harrell: Seattle ‘has let people down’ but working together creates ‘progress’

May 11, 2023, 1:04 PM | Updated: 1:42 pm

Seattle Harrell...

Mayor Bruce Harrell's event to encourage the public to help with community projects to clean up Seattle is back for its second year. (Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images)

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s “Day of Service” to encourage the public to help with community projects to clean up the city returns on May 20.

The initiative is part of the mayor’s “One Seattle” program and includes graffiti removal projects, street cleaning, weeding, and decorating. There are more than 3,000 shifts to choose from between 110 different events around the city.

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Mayor Harrell joined The Gee and Ursula Show to discuss the event and why he thinks it’s important that people invest their time into the community.

“This is where we prove to the world and prove to ourselves that we truly love this city,” Harrell said. “We love the people in it, we will abate graffiti, we will pick up litter, we will give food to people who are hungry, we will do a variety of things. And I continue to believe in the goodness of our people. So this gives us an opportunity to virtually hold hands and help us move the needle in terms of improving our city.”

The project comes as Mayor Harrell promised to revitalize the downtown district of the city, which has seen rising crime rates, low foot traffic, and businesses shut down since the COVID-19 pandemic.

A large part of the plan is to combat rising drug use and overdose, particularly involving fentanyl. Fentanyl was responsible for the deaths of 708 people in King County, an average of 1.94 a day in 2022. Compared to that, as of March 15, 172 people in King County died of an overdose involving fentanyl, an average of 2.32 a day.

“The city has let people down, but I know for a fact because I’m walking around downtown nearly every day that people see the progress, they see the tangible results of an administration sitting around taking action to improve conditions,” Harrell said.

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Washington could soon be without a statewide drug possession law. The current state law, passed as a stopgap after the Blake decision, expires in July and classifies drug possession as a misdemeanor on the third arrest. There is a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines after a third arrest.

Harrell said that while Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison introduced legislation to address the issue on a city level, he is confident that the state Legislature will pass legislation in an upcoming special session.

“I have had discussions with the governor and state legislators directly, I’m confident they will address the Blake decision. And I do not want a piecemeal approach,” Harrell said. “I do not need renegade legislators trying to figure out on a onesie-twosie basis what the state should look like. We elected our state leaders to lead and so we’ll see what comes out of the Blake decision. If that legislative process has not come out with a solution that works for Seattle, we will examine it and we will move forward and adjust.”

The “Day of Service” will also be a part of the beautification effort going into attracting people back to downtown.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) estimated approximately 500 street-level businesses closed against roughly 300 new businesses opening in downtown Seattle.

Amazon also mandated that their employees start to return to the company’s office in Belltown, a move which Seattle business leaders and politicians have stated they hope will help kickstart the downtown recovery.

Ursula questioned how these mandates to get people back into the offices will affect climate change, as more people are expected to drive into the city when they were previously able to work from home.

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​Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from cars, including those that commute to work, account for about 29% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest contributor of U.S. GHG emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Harrell said that while people returning to downtown might increase carbon dioxide emissions, there are other options, like public transit, that he encourages people to use.

“Quite candidly, we are leaders in climate change and our transportation infrastructure that we’ve developed, particularly in the last couple of years, leading with safety first, trying to do everything we can to build a safe system,” Harrell said. “And I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. So we want people to ride transit, we want people to use light rail. We have a good clean system, so we’re encouraging people to still come and it doesn’t defeat the work we’re doing and climate transportation.”

You can register for different projects around the city here.

Listen to Mayor Harrell’s full interview here:

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Harrell: Seattle ‘has let people down’ but working together creates ‘progress’