Mayor Harrell’s State of the City Speech gets 2 out of 5 Amazon stars
February 24, 2023
Earlier this week Mayor Bruce Harrell delivered his 2023 State of the City address, outlining his plan to combat the homelessness crisis and increased crime at a time when workers are finally returning to downtown.
Put succinctly, if the speech were a product on Amazon it’d get a 2 out of 5 stars from us.
Today, I want to share where we are as a city, and what we must do to create the Seattle we want to see – the Seattle of the future.
So far, so good.
My first year in office was defined by an emphasis on the essentials – a commitment to get back to the basics of good governance. Shiny things are cool; but things that work well are better.
In the coming months, you will hear more about the Downtown Activation Plan we are developing now – both immediate activation strategies to make downtown safer and more welcoming, along with long-term transformational enhancements designed for residents and workers, neighbors and tourists.
Last week, I spent time walking 3rd Avenue – from the Pioneer Square Light Rail Station up to Pike Pine. Our plan recognizes that downtown safety concerns are real. If we don’t create a safe, welcoming downtown for everyone, everything else we do will fall flat.
We look forward to seeing the details when it’s unveiled. Downtown should be the crown jewel of the city, not its landfill. People should be proud of what they see when they visit and when commuters arrive there for work in the morning.
Next month, I will be issuing an Executive Order that takes steps to address the public health crisis on our streets caused by the epidemic of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs. Last year, 590 people died from a drug overdose in our city. That’s 590 people too many.
We will lead with compassion and do everything we can to help people suffering from substance use disorder. Working with our public health partners, we will provide access to the help they deserve. That’s the right thing to do.
And, for those trafficking these deadly drugs, for those on and exploiting our most vulnerable, for those using guns to commit a crime – we will arrest, prosecute, and ensure accountability. That’s the right thing to do, too.
We know police actions and arrests alone cannot solve our safety issues. We need to integrate a wide-ranging approach to address criminal behaviors. That means removing the barriers to success that have existed for so long – racism, poverty, and a legal system too focused on punishment instead of on restoring people to be valuable, contributing members of society. It means investing early, as we do with the Seattle Preschool Program. It means making sure everyone has a fair chance at a living-wage job.
Harrell raises important and complicated issues with this last statement. As important as these strategies are, the job of the city is to protect its citizens.
It’s obvious why crime went up in recent years. Laws weren’t enforced, criminals got a slap on the wrist or no charges were filed at all, and following an intense summer of “Defund the Police” rhetoric combined with rioting and the CHAZ/CHOP fiasco, the police became demoralized to the point where they’ve left in record numbers.
The number of criminals hasn’t increased. It’s the same people committing more thefts, assaults, rapes, and murders. It’s why City Attorney Ann Davison’s High Utilizer plan targets serial misdemeanor offenders, because they are the root cause of the petty crime problem.
Harrell also said one of his goals is that “our public safety leaders prioritize de-escalation, lead through a lens of cultural competence, and embrace values of accountability, justice, compassion, and empathy.”
Pardon us for asking, but to whom are all these values directed? The criminal or the victim? The victim deserves compassion and empathy. The criminal deserves accountability and justice. Call us skeptical, but we wonder if the criminal will get more of the latter than the former.
On homelessness, Harrell got a few things right in terms of restoring public spaces and removing camps, but he also threw out some groaners like this:
We must also be relentless in our push for more housing – and housing that is more affordable. Our affordable housing crisis is not one that can be solved in a single year, or a single budget cycle, but we are putting in place necessary improvements.
Homelessness is not caused by a lack of affordable housing. Most homelessness is driven by mental illness and substance abuse that makes people incapable of sustaining a normal life. The only housing we should be focused on right now are permanent facilities where these people can be taken to and given treatment. Harrell touts that they’re spending $250 million on affordable housing. Why not invest that in mental health treatment?
Harrell says building housing to keep people out of homelessness is a “proven method.”
Really? The region has spent a fortune building or buying shelters and homes. Homelessness is at an all-time high. This strategy needs reexamined with open eyes.
Harrell can’t afford to waste time. Amazon workers are returning to downtown, the major employment hub of the city. His actions moving forward will decide whether it is seen as an attractive place to live, visit and commute to, or an unsafe eyesore that workers avoid if they can stay home.
Mayor Harrell – please don’t placate a vocal activist community that seems to hold local politics hostage to their agenda. Block out their noise, listen to reasonable people on these issues and make the tough choices that will turn our city around.