Baby Steps Toward a Regional Approach to Homelessness

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Crosscut’s invaluable city hall reporter David Kroman has a comprehensive look at the regional approach to homelessness that survived a troubled birth last week. Such an approach has long been advocated. It makes sense — as many consultants have argued — to spread the tax base, find more suburban land for homeless facilities, and use Seattle dollars to treat suburban needs. But the devil is in the details, as is becoming evident.

The Seattle region has long been, as with Los Angeles, immune to regional governance. Accordingly, these baby steps have been fraught. The first thing that happened was that suburban cities fought back, demanding more say and diluting Seattle’s vote. The next setback was the insistence of politicians to wrest control from experts. Lastly, Seattle voiced a threat to cut back funding if the programs were not to the city’s liking, such as their being “punitive.” Off we go, like a potato-sack race.

The problem with regionalism, which looks good on paper, is that not enough praise and power flow to local politicians. A classic example is Metro, which runs our sewage and transit systems. Metro began as an admired agency of professional engineers, with amorphous supervision by local politicians. This didn’t survive a one-man/one-vote lawsuit, and so the county got control of the bus system. Enter protective thinking and provincial agendas. Metro turned into another clumsy, politicized, poorly funded bureaucracy, rather than a feather in the King County cap.

Lorena Gonzalez

Another interesting straw in this story is the leadership role being played by Lorena Gonzalez of the Seattle City Council, who is moving forcefully (as is her style) into some mediagenic issues such as homelessness and campaign finance. Keep an eye on her. She had prepared to run for attorney general until Jay Inslee stalled the up-escalator by seeking a third term. She’s in line to be the new council president, but few expect her to seek reelection to the council in 2021. That’s a year when the ambitious Gonzalez might well run for mayor, whether or not Mayor Jenny Durkan seeks reelection.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Your comment that “The next setback (in the effort to introduce a regionalism approach into homelessness) was the insistence of politicians to wrest control from experts….” reminds me of the observation of Michael Crichton in “The Andromeda Strain”. Crichton observed that “Presidents and generals and all the important people in position to make the most important decisions are, by and large, the least equipped for making them.”

  2. I’ve since learned that the Seattle City Council, led by Gonzalez, almost scuttled the regional proposal. It’s an indication of what a progressive island Seattle is becoming in the larger region. The new regional authority was only saved by moving Gonzalez from a no vote to an abstain vote, and by forceful insistence on passing the measure from Mayor Durkan and from one of the regional-approach architects, outgoing councilmember Sally Bagshaw. All this is a harbinger.

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