I was born in Seattle, so the following hurts to say. But it’s true. Seattle is now the city that has failed. Here’s why I have reluctantly come to this conclusion, plus a suggestion or two on remedies.
The main complaint I have is that the city’s elected leaders are failing to provide basic services we should expect. Libraries, public safety, transportation, and schools — are all failing to get the long-term basics right.
One example is Seattle’s libraries. The public libraries cannot get organized to offer curbside pickups, even though many other libraries have been doing so for weeks. Restaurants can do curbside service, so why not the library? Perhaps the difference is the 2019 voter-approved seven-year $219.1 million library levy that ensures that their funding will not be interrupted and no jobs lost even if the libraries do not serve their customers. The Library Board needs to insist that we receive the services we are paying for.
Next, consider the police and the City Attorney. There are many issues here, but one is our failure to respond to property crimes, where Seattle now leads the list of major cities with high property crime. When my son’s car was stolen the police could hardly have cared less. When burglars entered my neighbor’s bedroom at night, no arrests were made. The City Attorney’s website posts news releases covering many topics, but hardly a one about basic public safety.
Transportation? The West Seattle Bridge and Magnolia Bridge are poster children for deferred maintenance. It certainly seems basic that we be able to get to jobs, to schools, to health care, and yet without bridges Seattle just does not work. The city’s website says that the $930 million Levy to Move Seattle that voters approved in 2015 aimed “to take care of the basics,” but now we now know that it fell far short.
Public schools? We encouraged our children to enroll their kids in Seattle public schools, only to be profoundly disappointed. Bullying went unreported; teacher turnover brought three different teachers to the kindergarten classroom in one year. The District’s response to the pandemic was pathetic. On-line learning was slow to come as the District chose to deny services to the many out of fear that a few would be left behind.
When online services did commence and computers were donated, the content failed to inspire, especially compared to other districts. When our granddaughter did complete work on the online app selected by her teachers, the only feedback she would get would be a “heart” indicating that a teacher had seen it, rather than any meaningful feedback. Now our grandkids appear headed to parochial school.
Money for basic services? Here, Seattle is failing even though its revenues have skyrocketed. As the Times’ Jon Talton reported recently, “economic expansion allowed the city to increase its budget by 40% between 2013 and 2017.” Population growth has helped fill the city coffers, as have the building boom’s tax yields. Again quoting Talton, “a 2015 report found that a typical high-rise contributed $3.5 million in one-time construction revenues and $6.6 million in ongoing annual revenue.”
So what to be done? Here are my thoughts.
- Make more of the city council positions elected at-large (currently 7 of the 9 seats are elected by neighborhood districts). There is room for some local districts, but the balance has swung too far. We need more elected leaders who think long-term and care about the whole city.
- Free up police resources for other uses, such as investigating property crime, by assigning only one officer to some patrol cars.
- Tell School Board candidates what you would need to put your kids in the public schools. Measure the schools’ success not just by the achievement gap, but also by a rising percentage of the city’s school age kids who attend public school.
- The city council should put a tax measure and bond issues on the ballot that really will create a streets and bridges infrastructure that we will be proud to hand off to next generations. The package should put less reliance on federal funds that are not secured. Right now, the City could issue long term bonds at rates less than 3%.
- No more donations to the Library Foundation until we can check out a book.