Mayor Bruce Harrell calls Seattle ‘persistent’ in State of the City address

Feb 21, 2024, 1:11 PM | Updated: Feb 22, 2024, 10:52 am

(Photo from KIRO 7)...

(Photo from KIRO 7)

(Photo from KIRO 7)

In his second “State of the City” address, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell outlined future goals for tackling crime, the drug crisis, affordable housing, and other issues.

“The state of our city is persistent, and it is pioneering,” Harrell said in his remarks Tuesday.

He confirmed the long-awaited “One Seattle Plan” is coming. That refers to the comprehensive document the Seattle City Council will use to help shape the city’s growth over the next decade. A draft of the plan was expected last April, but Harrell promised it will finally be unveiled in the next two weeks.

Now the focus turns to what the mayor said in the speech— and what he left out.

Harrell emphasizes public safety, drug crisis efforts

Addressing city leaders and the public, Harrell said Seattle has made great strides in tackling crime rates and stopping the fentanyl crisis. That included legislation to address the public consumption of drugs, and a $27 million investment toward facilities and treatment programs. The Seattle Police Department (SPD) seized over two million deadly fentanyl pills in 2023, according to the mayor’s office.

On crime, the 2023 numbers presented a mixed bag. Overall crime rates dropped 7% citywide, while major violent crime fell 6% and property crime dipped 10%, according to the city.

“However, homicides and the damage inflicted from gun violence have increased – we must change this,” Harrell added.

He emphasized a continued commitment to recruit additional officers to the Seattle police force.

“We are urgently recruiting more police officers who share our values. Our monthly applications are the highest they’ve been in over three years.”

It’s not clear how many of those applications are for qualified candidates. And despite supposed recruitment campaigns, the Seattle Police Department continues to lose staff, dropping to the lowest number of in-service officers since 1991 last year. SPD has lost hundreds of officers since 2020, when the city council voted to defund the department. The department has also faced a string of high-profile incidents in recent years. They include federal court sanctions for use of excessive force against “Black Lives Matter” protesters in 2020 and multiple lawsuits brought by SPD employees alleging racial and gender discrimination within the department.

Seattle Housing & Transportation needs are top concerns

Harrell also addressed the need for additional action on affordable housing and transportation within the city.

One concern in the coming year: “The Levy to Move Seattle”— a nine-year, nearly $1 billion package that funds approximately one-third of the city’s transportation budget.

It’s set to end in December, but Harrell said, “We’ll ask the people of Seattle to help address infrastructure needs in our city.” That includes, according to the mayor’s office, a focus on repaving roads, filling potholes and fixing bridges. Harrell also said there would be “dialogue” with pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders, though he did not announce any definitive plans in that arena.

On housing, Harrell applauded what he called a master plan for growth. “It’s just one part of a bold One Seattle Housing Agenda that allows new kinds of housing across the city, brings missing middle housing to every neighborhood, and expands density citywide, with a focus on areas with strong transit access, close to shopping and services, and other amenities.”

While embraced by Harrell’s administration, the idea to include “middle housing” did not come from the city, but rather state lawmakers. The legislature passed a measure last year (E2SHB 1110) that forces Seattle and other large cities to make room for fourplexes and sixplexes in most neighborhoods previously zoned only for single family homes.

As Seattle’s budget crisis looms, spending cuts are likely ahead

After highlighting his administration’s accomplishments from the past year, the mayor turned to the looming challenge of the city’s budget shortfall, projected to be close to $250 million in each of the next six budget years, beginning in 2025.

“The size of this deficit means we have difficult financial decisions ahead,” Harrell acknowledged.

But he confirmed new taxes will not be part of the equation— saying those would not provide long-term solutions to fundamental spending problems.

Harrell said the city will “double-down on the programs, projects, and policies that are effective and making the most difference for the people of Seattle.”

Those will be determined using a data-driven approach, “from the bottom-up with our employees, labor partners, and community, and from the top-down with our Cabinet and City Council,” according to the mayor’s office.

Without new taxes to generate revenue, it appears likely that Seattle will see spending cuts as the budget gap hits next year. In his address, Harrell did not confirm that cuts were planned, or how many services or programs might be on the chopping block if they are implemented.

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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