Since this is a news roundup, I thought four stories over the weekend were interesting:
1. The Seattle Times editorial page on Sunday featured an op-ed calling for increased pay and benefits to entice police officers to work in Seattle. Between 2020 and 2022, the number of police officers serving in the SPD has increased from 1,290 to 968.
In 2020, many activists in Seattle were calling for defunding the police, as across the United States. Few city councils have done this despite threatening and demonizing the police. Then crime skyrocketed, and whenever crime is a problem in an election, it’s the only problem (unless inflation is 10% at real rates). I highly doubt that many politicians, even in this region, will run on a police funding platform in November 2022.
But the activists have obtained their ultimate wish: to decline the police. The problem Seattle will have isn’t competitive pay and benefits: the SPD is probably the highest-paid department. In the region. Other police departments, from the King Co. Sherrif office in Bellevue to even smaller towns, have benefited from the relocation of SPD officers to other cities, as Seattle police officers tend to be the most skilled and most trained, and Seattle paid for all the training. , especially with such a shortage of manpower today and fewer young people wanting to become police officers. Despite the opinions of many on this blog, the vast majority of young people join the police because they really want to make a difference, and all the hate towards them is demoralizing, as are the town councils making their job impossible.
I don’t see Seattle being able to attract the necessary officers, and most will be new recruits, so I don’t see how Harrell is achieving his goal of restoring security to Seattle, and by security I mean a perception of 100% security, because that’s the perception of going to Bellevue to work, shop or dine. Maybe “Community Agents” like ST’s Rate Ambassadors will do the trick, but so far that’s not the case on ST.
2. https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/mta-ridership-fell-5-after-brooklyn-subway-shooting/3645164/#:~:text=MTA%3A%20Ridership%20Fell%205% 25%20After%20Brooklyn%20Subway%20Shooting,their%20safety.%20NBC%20New%20York%E2%80%99s%20Andrew%20Siff%20reports.
MTA ridership fell 5% after the Brooklynn shooting in April 2022. “Subway ridership is also still trying to recover from the hit of the pandemic. The metro’s typical daily ridership has fallen from 5.5 million riders to less than a tenth. On Monday, ridership was estimated at 3.1 million, according to the MTA.
Then on Sunday there was a fourth shooting. https://nypost.com/2022/05/22/fatal-shooting-marks-fourth-subway-homicide-in-2022-nypd/ “Subway crime rates have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic of COVID-19 – from 1.47 crimes per million passengers in 2019 to 2.11 crimes per million passengers in April 2022, according to the latest figures from the NYPD and MTA.
This resulted in a drop of 99 million annual passengers and a revenue gap of 19%. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/ny-mta-ridership-falls-134112096.html
Statistically, one could say that a passenger’s risk of being shot or killed is very low, except that the low risk kills ridership on a very old transit system that requires huge amounts of salvage ( and funding), in an area so dense that it really can’t work without transit, unless more than WFH.
Getting on a wagon is like entering a cage. I don’t know how many times I’ve said this, but safety is number one, two and three for discretionary transit ridership, and when safety is the concern, all transit ridership is discretionary. There are too many alternatives to public transport these days for it to be perceived as dangerous.
3. Going viral on eastside Nextdoors is a letter a SeaTac resident wrote to the SeaTac City Council about the crime around the light rail station. [Reprinted at the end of this post is the letter].
The fact that the writer is from SeaTac is important on the east side, as if the residents of SeaTac are tougher and more tolerant of crime. It is really unclear if the light rail station attracts SeaTac criminal elements or if they migrate to SeaTac on the light rail.
It really bothers a lot of people – at least where I live – that cities are supposed to spend money and resources to police light rail because ST, despite a $142 billion budget, refuses to do so, especially when the light rail will have such a negligible improvement in transit in these outer areas. All light rails are buses without fare application. More and more, outlying sub-areas are beginning to question whether Link and Link stations are worth it, because the fact is that public transit – and mode of transportation – is very low on the list of what makes a community dynamic and attractive. I’m really starting to believe it will be better for the Eastside if East Link never opens.
4. Jon Talton is a business editor for the Seattle Times. I think he is a reasonable voice often among unreasonable voices, at least when it comes to business or economics. For years he lived in downtown Seattle and wrote about the changes.
He had an article in the Sunday’s Times hoping that the conversion of Pacific Place to offices might actually signal a rebound for downtown Seattle. He gives a good history of Norm Rice’s efforts the last time downtown Seattle retail imploded, the importance of Pacific Place and Nordstrom taking over Frederick’s old building, the rare bridge air between the two and the reopening of Pine which has resulted in a revitalization of Westlake’s retail business. His quotes from the early 1990s about crime, graffiti and a growing homeless population in that area are the same as they are today, except the big retailers are gone and there are no Norm Rice.
Talton writes that if Harrell solves the crime problem and the homelessness problem (with 322 fewer police officers), Seattle’s perception after CHOP, Third Ave. is recovered, tourism is rebounding and commuters which are now 33% of pre-pandemic levels are returning, perhaps new offices in Pacific Place will attract future retailers, revitalizing this once dense retail area again downtown.
But I think Talton’s wish is unlikely. The death of retail is usually the death of an urban core, and the removal of retail space means it is gone forever. The difference in the early 1990s was that Rice expanded the retail space. Seattle won’t have the police to meet Harrell’s goals, and a 33% return rate of workers to downtown Seattle in May 2022 signals that something much deeper is at work, and that these workers do not come back because they work elsewhere. Meanwhile, Bellevue is now seen as an attractive alternative for many businesses, which was not the case in the early 1990s.
As Bellevue has proven, it’s fairly easy to build and even fill office towers, and Mercer Island has proven that it’s fairly easy to build housing in a commercial area, but it takes a lot of factors to create an area rich in retail businesses. Without a street level rich in retail, urban planning is impossible, a downtown is worthless, especially with telecommuting and online ordering, and living an urban or dense life is pointless.
In this case, I think Talton’s hopes and dreams are not coming true. The likely permanent loss of the commuter to work is probably the biggest concern, but crime and homelessness are forcing more and more workers and businesses (and downtown residents) to look for other options, and you need lots and lots of people from outside the retail core to come in to have a really wealthy retail core. Bellevue Square and Bellevue Way could never survive based solely on local downtown residents.
Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2022 1:00 a.m.
To: City Council ([email protected])
Cc: Carl Cole ([email protected]); Mary Mirante Bartolo ([email protected]); Gwen Voelpel; Kristina Gregg ([email protected]); Representative Tina Orwall ([email protected]); Senator Karen Keiser ([email protected])
Subject: Action requested by the Board
Dear Council and Staff –
Based on recent reports documented by KIRO TV, as a resident of SeaTac, I ask that you take immediate action for the protection and general safety of our residents. It has been brought to my attention by several news reports, as well as my personal observations while riding the light rail, that illicit drug (fentanyl) smoking in our public transportation systems has reached epidemic levels.
For those who may not have seen the TV shows, here is a link that describes the problem on the metro buses:
Note in particular the loophole or lack of legal authority to address the issue, and the City’s subsequent Federal Way response (board action) to address this issue.
My specific request is that you enact an order similar to Federal Way and make enforcement a priority. If for no other reason, it is important to convey the message that this practice is not tolerated here. Lest anyone think this is not a problem in SeaTac, please see the following which aired on KIRO late Wednesday night 11/5/22. It shows almost 20 people passed out (by fentanyl) on trams at SeaTac (assuming Angle Lake station)!
https://www.kiro7.com/news/local/public-transit-video-shows-nearly-20-people-passed-out-link-light-rail-train/L5WS3VSZ3RABFACN4UXKBXBDFQ/ Unfortunately, a black eye from more for our city.
I occasionally use the light rail to get downtown or to the University of Washington. These are often out of commuting hours. Virtually every time I’ve taken the train from Tukwila Station, there are groups of people hanging around the stairwells, obviously with no intention of getting on a train. Some seem to be selling drugs out in the open. The last time I took the train, I parked my car next to the small staircase adjacent to 154th Street, where there were several of these individuals.
The next day, in the same place, an individual was shot a few meters from where my car was parked! Obviously, a drug trade has flown south. On another train trip to UW, I observed a person pass out after barely being able to board. I (and many others) don’t feel comfortable/safe on our public transport that we fund with our taxes. This is unacceptable!
Thanks for your consideration!
xxxx, resident SeaTac