Seattle is a city of prosperity. The explosive growth following the Great Recession put our city in the enviable position of attracting the companies and talent that would become the foundation for an even more robust economy, creating opportunity for everyone.
But even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, something began chipping away at that success and growth. Businesses started moving out of the city, and others slowed expansion plans.
We’ve even seen some companies reverse plans to move to Seattle. In many of these cases, the reason is apparent: A lack of confidence in our safety or that city leadership even considers it a priority.
Public safety is a fundamental right. The city of Seattle’s charter sets the city government’s primary responsibility as “protecting and enhancing the health, safety, environment and general welfare of the people.” Safe neighborhoods are essential for all of us. Business success requires an environment where customers and employees feel safe.
People won’t buy homes in areas where they don’t feel physically safe. Businesses will not locate where they don’t feel their property is secure. The public safety environment in Seattle has been allowed to deteriorate, especially downtown, in our neighborhood business areas and our parks.
I moved to Seattle 12 years ago to help guide HomeStreet Bank through a challenging recession. I’m proud of the employees who’ve been a part of this company’s legacy that celebrates 100 years this year. From the founding by the Williams family to going public in 2012, HomeStreet Bank has been part of the fabric of Seattle, from sponsoring major events to supporting nonprofits throughout the city. We are also committed to being a part of Seattle’s future — a future that depends on strong leadership from our elected officials.
Our branches spent much of 2020 boarded up, with doors locked, only opened with an appointment. The pandemic accounted for the need for appointments. The boarded-up windows were due to a failure of city leaders to effectively address the continued violence and destruction against businesses around Seattle. While we could weather the worst of the damage, too many small businesses just couldn’t afford it. How many companies had to cut hours and send employees home early for their protection? How many businesses lost employees who no longer felt safe on public transportation or in their workplace?
A year later, we still see the effects of poor leadership on our city’s safety and economic prosperity. The dismantling of the city’s navigation team has left a void to help the unhoused and allowed more troubled encampments to take over public spaces throughout the city.
Threats to cut 50% of the police budget and a noticeable lack of support for the department have left officers feeling defeated and disrespected, leading to an unprecedented exodus. Many of the nearly 300 officers who have left noted the city council as the main driver for their departure.
The city council’s failed leadership also caused the police chief to leave. It now threatens the federal court mandate to provide adequate staffing for community policing, training and use-of-force investigation teams.
These failures of city leaders have made national headlines, which won’t soon be forgotten by tourists considering a trip to Seattle or the businesses looking at locations for a future convention. A city that ignores personal and property safety risks losing the revenue visitors and businesses generate. And when you lose a business to relocation, they don’t come back.
We must change course and make public safety a priority. We need our elected leaders to publicly recognize the problem and demonstrate a willingness to take immediate action to restore our sense of safety.