More than 100 people called into a remote Seattle City Council public hearing this week to share thoughts about the city’s 2021 budget, warning council members to act wisely as they review and amend a $6.5 billion plan unveiled last week by Mayor Jenny Durkan.
Most speakers urged the council Tuesday to reduce the Police Department’s budget and reallocate the dollars to other needs, such as social services, affordable housing, environmental initiatives and community-safety programs, with a focus on Black residents and other residents of color.
Many stressed that money from law enforcement should be reallocated through a participatory budget process that involves people who don’t usually get involved at City Hall. Dozens of nonprofits and community groups have joined together in a “solidarity budget” coalition to push for those aims.
Several speakers requested funding for tiny-house villages that shelter homeless people, while a few raised complaints about encampments near their homes. Some other speakers asked the council to restore dollars for programs shrunk in Durkan’s plan, including legal representation for immigrants facing deportation.
Durkan’s budget includes $1.5 billion in general fund spending. Her plan would use cuts across departments, money from emergency reserves and the council’s new Jump Start tax on big businesses to close a revenue hole created by the COVID-19 crisis and to allocate $100 million in yet-to-be-determined investments for communities of color.
Council members have raised some concerns about the mayor’s plan, suggesting that debates over the summer about COVID-19 relief, police spending and community input are likely to continue.
Here’s what some people said Tuesday night:
“This year we’ve seen our entire community fight to breathe.” — Emily Graham, asking the council to respond to protests for racial justice, wildfire smoke and the COVID-19 pandemic by defunding the Police Department.
“We want to work together to win a budget that works for all of us, divests from police, divests from pollution and invests in community.” — Derrick Bonafilia, supporting the solidarity budget coalition’s aims.
“There’s a human cost to your decision making.” — Castill Hightower, whose brother was killed by police, asking the council to redirect police spending.
“Magical thinking will not deter criminals and until alternative non-police solutions are designed and put in place, you will be creating a vacuum.” — Karen Gielen, opposing Police Department cuts due to unsafe conditions downtown.
“I recognize you might have some fears that are being brought up by a proposal that’s new to you. However, the police don’t make a lot of people feel safe.” — Kathryn Dawson, responding to Gielen.
“The police have control over way too many areas of our collective health and well-being. They have no place managing our mental health, our housing, our kinship, our bodies.” — Raanah Amjadi, supporting Police Department cuts.
“In addition to defunding SPD, the city has other options.” — Scottie Miller, asking the council to consider a capital gains tax.
“Outreach to people experiencing homelessness is ineffective when there’s no place to go.” — Naomi Cee, requesting more spending on affordable housing for people struggling outside.
“One of my favorite things about Seattle is all the great libraries, parks and community centers.” — Bill Sampson, decrying potential cuts to community centers and park maintenance.
“The City Council can no longer legislate in a vacuum. You must take into account many stakeholders, including not only the protesters expressing righteous anger.” — Greg Stone, asking the council to focus on negotiating a tougher police-union contract rather than budget cuts.
“If you think you can hit the pause button on climate change, you’re hiding from the truth.” — Rich Voget, asking the council to restore funding for Green New Deal planning, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People living there are constantly harassing neighbors.” — Gilberto Stankiewicz, demanding the city deal with an encampment in his New Holly neighborhood.
“The solution is not more police, We need to address the root caues.” — Hannah Won, asking for higher taxes on large corporations.
“It’s time to treat all of our states of emergency … with the urgency we’re giving the West Seattle Bridge crisis, with its $100 million bond issue in this budget.” — Ryan Packer, referring to climate change and homelessness and objecting to delayed walk/bike street improvements.
“My health is failing and I can’t stay in a shelter. Camping out is miserable.” — Chris McDaniel, requesting more spending on tiny-house villages like the one in Georgetown where he lives.
“More than 60% of workers don’t know their rights, don’t even know there’s an Office of Labor Standards. — Ana Torres, urging the council to boost spending on outreach to domestic workers.
“Please stop social-distancing yourself from a community that needs your help.” — Kimberly Harris, a case manager, addressing Durkan and asking the council to support more outreach to people on the streets.
“I’ve been indiscriminately brutalized for just speaking my mind.” — Jamie Paul, describing recent encounters with police at protests and asking the council to divest from the Police Department.
“Unaccompanied children represented by legal counsel are 70 times more likely to be granted immigration relief than unrepresented unaccompanied children.” — Janet Gwilym, asking the council to reverse reductions in funding for legal defense.
“Our public-safety coordinator has printed out newsletters in multiple languages to reach people who aren’t on social media. He’s done community organizing walks, cleanups. He’s led several youth projects involving visual, written and spoken art.” — Robin Schwartz, objecting to her South Park neighborhood losing a city-funded helper.
Watch (listen to) Tuesday night’s public hearing here