Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell delivered his first State of the City address Tuesday, promising sweeping changes to public safety, COVID-19 recovery and housing, among other priorities.
In the speech, delivered remotely to the Seattle City Council, Harrell shared short-term plans — including a promise to bring city staff back to in-person work in mid-March — and long-term goals for his administration, such as ending the Department of Justice’s oversight of the city’s police under a decade-old consent decree through police reform.
Harrell also shared a more detailed look at his priorities and how his administration would approach each issue to create the “one Seattle” introduced in his inauguration address six weeks ago.
With rising crime, COVID-19 recovery and housing at the forefront, Harrell promised to address each issue by “going back to the basics” of city government and working collaboratively with the council he was addressing.
“Our priorities do not have to contradict — instead of looking at differing opinions as mutually exclusive, we can look to the politics of and, A-N-D,” Harrell said. “The right number of officers and the right kind of officers. More housing and vibrant, unique neighborhoods. Climate justice and new jobs. Diversity and commonality.”
Throughout the address, Harrell commended each council member for their various projects and committees, pointing out their shared priority areas with the administration.
Consistent with his campaign promises and efforts during his first six weeks, Harrell emphasized the importance of providing public safety justly.
Harrell committed Tuesday to hiring more officers to address staffing shortages and response times in the Seattle Police Department.
“The depleted staffing we see today does not allow us to react to emergencies and crime with response times that our residents deserve,” Harrell said. “It does not allow us to staff this specialty teams we need for issues like domestic violence or DUI or financial crimes.”
Existing funding for 125 additional officers and a Seattle-specific police academy class in June will result in “new officers we need to help us reach our public safety goals,” according to Harrell.
But, he says he will only seek to hire “the right” officers.
“This will be the administration that ends the federal consent decree over the Seattle Police Department, the administration that guides the police to be more accountable, more innovative, focused and representative,” Harrell said of the 2012 federal decree, which found a pattern of excessive force and evidence of biased policing in the department.
Harrell also says he will not rely exclusively on police or arrests to address crime, and will continue to grow alternative response programs like Health One, work with defense attorneys and police on arrest alternatives and engage the community to ensure an equitable and fair approach to public safety, noting that a “militarized or a racialized approach will not be tolerated.”
“We can have safety and we can have reform,” Harrell said, later noting that he would work with new City Attorney Ann Davison to shape the city’s approach to the legal system.
“Together, we recognize the importance of ensuring we hold bad actors accountable and build a criminal legal system that looks comprehensively at delivering fairness and true justice for every person,” he said.
Another theme in Harrell’s speech was leading the city through COVID-19 recovery.
While Harrell noted that the city is “not yet out of the woods with the pandemic,” he said he’s taking a “steady decline in positive cases” as good news and setting his sights on recovery.
The first step, according to Harrell, is to have city workers who have been working remotely return to the office in mid-March.
While he notes the transition won’t be easy for some employees, Harrell said city workers will play an important “ambassador” role in helping businesses and others in need recover as the pandemic wanes.
“Our COVID recovery must focus on the most impacted and the most vulnerable, supporting small businesses, arts and nightlife, child care, youth, mental health support and emergency rental assistance,” he said. “We must get federal and state resources out in to the community as soon as we can.”
To help connect the community with resources, he announced the creation of CiviForm, a tool developed with Google.
“This tool is designed to reduce the time and effort needed for our residents to seek and apply for city affordability services,” Harrell said. “Back to the basics.”
Harrell also said the administration would work with the council on creating a job center to provide labor and employment resources in the city.
In addition to aiding businesses and residents, Harrell said the city must also focus on “issues” in its own upcoming 2023 budget, noting an anticipated $150 million revenue gap, despite an additional $31 million in revenue over what was estimated to come from the first round of JumpStart payroll taxes collected by the city last year.
“We will need to look at all of our options, deciding between one time and ongoing commitments, adjusting expenditures, revisiting existing funding sources and looking at options for increasing revenues,” Harrell said, noting that the situation is not as dire as it was during his time on the council during the 2008 recession.
“This will be hard work and it must begin now, which is why I’ve asked departments to immediately begin looking at opportunities to save,” he added.
Harrell also committed to addressing the city’s housing crisis with “urgency,” noting formation of a Unified Care Team to consolidate the city’s homelessness efforts, which have traditionally been split among different departments.
“The UCT will collect and provide streamlined data to the public, coordinate across departments with one voice, and assure our plan and progress are clear for all,” Harrell said, noting previous inconsistencies in priorities and data collection across departments.
Harrell also emphasized the importance of working with the state, county and newly formed Regional Homelessness Authority to find housing solutions, noting that several regional partners would make a “major announcement” about their efforts later this week.
“The Regional Homelessness Authority is now operational and estimates more than 40,000 people experiencing homelessness across this region are here,” Harrell said. “It’s time to finally implement real and overdue regional coordination with the urgency of true crisis response to this challenge.”