The City Council voted to override a mayoral veto for the second time in less than two months, moving forward with their 2020 budget revision that includes what proponents characterize as “modest” cuts to the Seattle Police Department.
The package was a series of three bills, all of which were vetoed by Mayor Jenny Durkan at the end of August. Alongside the major budget changes, which include the reductions in SPD funding, the other two bills also put $3 million toward community-led research into policing alternatives and a $14 million interfund loan from the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections to invest in historically underserved communities.
The first bill passed 7-2, with councilmembers Alex Pedersen and Debora Juarez against it. The remaining two passed unanimously.
Council President Lorena Gonzalez had placed alternative legislation on the agenda the day prior that would have walked back aspects of the council’s revisions, but the council successfully overrode the vetoes and the alternative was ultimately not considered.
On Sept. 22, the day of the vote, Gonzalez instead rejected the alternative proposal she had introduced, saying that overturning the veto was necessary if one truly accepts that the status quo is no longer acceptable and that Black lives matter.
“When I look back at this moment in time, I want to be able to tell my daughter — who I am currently holding in my arms — that I did the right thing and that I voted on the right side of history,” Gonzalez said, “Not for political expediency. Not because there was a disagreement about where to put a decimal point. Not because of political pressure. But because it is the right thing to do.”
Gonzalez called on her council colleagues to “turn the page” and “identify consensus where we can” in an effort to get past the months-long battle of vetoes and votes with Durkan and move into the 2021-2022 budget season, which was expected to begin a week after the council approved the override.
“These are things we have to consider so we are not sitting here three months from now considering a vetoed budget for the entire city,” Gonzalez said. “That is an untenable place for us to be and an untenable place for us to head.”
Gonzalez’ statements closed out the comment period on the bill — the largest and core bill of the threefold rebalancing package — which took more than an hour as councilmembers set out to explain their votes.
Pedersen, who voted against the core bill, said he objected to the cuts to the Navigation Team, a blend of police officers and outreach workers. While the Navigation Team is meant to help connect people to services and clean up unauthorized encampments, homelessness advocates say that they primarily serve as a sweeps team, pushing homeless people around the city and causing trauma in the process.
He did not agree with axing the Navigation Team without a replacement, saying that private nonprofits — which have their own outreach teams — do not pick up trash or otherwise mitigate the impact of unauthorized encampments.
“I believe we need a city-run team that coordinates efforts to engage with encampments and deal with fire risks, obstructions and public health hazards,” Pedersen said.
Most councilmembers who supported the central bill acknowledged its imperfections and doubled down on their commitment to constituents calling for change. Those constituents made their voices heard, not just through daily marches and activism, but at each public comment period, which were held virtually and preceded the councilmembers’ speeches and votes.
Members of the public who called in were overwhelmingly in favor of overturning the mayoral veto. A scant handful argued that the cuts would decrease public safety, a position embraced by SPD leadership and the mayor.
Durkan made her thoughts known before the councilmembers had an opportunity to cast their votes.
In a statement released at 4:25 p.m., almost an hour and a half before the meeting closed, Durkan said that part of her “overwhelming concern” was the council’s lack of a plan to deal with the impact of the cuts to SPD and of the loan.
“While Council may not be concerned about the details, I am. And [the details] actually do matter,” Durkan wrote.
While the mayor expressed concern that the council had gone too far, community organizations that championed the cuts said there was much work left to be done to ensure true public safety.
Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now released a joint statement saying that the organizations were “encouraged” by the council’s vote to override the veto, but that the $3 million cut to SPD — out of a $409 million budget — was small and hard won.
“It should not take such prolonged, sustained community efforts for this minimal change but we recognize that Council’s move to override the Mayor’s anti-Black veto marks an urgent break from the decades of votes to expand racist policing,” the groups said in their statement.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
Read more in the Sept. 30 - Oct. 6, 2020 issue.