One thing that was clear when Mayor Bruce Harrell recently kicked off his promised downtown activation plan. It’s that the mayor is dead set on rescuing downtown but he’s still tentative about what it’s going to take to mitigate the city’s drug use epidemic, crucial steps toward bringing life and activity to downtown streets.
At the Pioneer Square press conference, Harrell admitted to reporters that, no, he’s not sure if he’s going the tough-love route — misdemeanors for possession of hard drugs — or if he’s going to rely most heavily on monetary rewards for better behavior. All he’d say is that he’s depending on treatment, treatment, and more treatment.
The mayor’s action plan to combat the fentanyl crisis – the one that has killed 587 people in the city last year — has several parts. First he’s issuing an executive order dispatching paramedics to respond to drug overdoses, stay with those overdosing (“contingency management”), and help them find alternatives. The program will require beefing up the Seattle Fire Department’s three Health One teams.
Secondly, also by executive order, Harrell is initiating a rewards program to persuade drug users to get into treatment. Working with the University of Washington’s drug and alcohol institute, the program will hand out gift cards to get users to accept and stay in recovery. Parts of the program will be managed by Plymouth Housing. The mayor also spoke of creating a new “overdose diversion facility.” He left unanswered questions about budgetary details.
Harrell also is directing the Seattle Police Department to cooperate fully with federal law enforcement to target drug dealers who fuel the lethal fentanyl epidemic. Since 2021, Seattle police have confiscated more than 400 million fentanyl pills — more than enough to kill off the city’s entire population.
City Councilmember Sara Nelson stood beside the mayor at Kasama, a Pioneer Square event venue. Lauding Harrell’s approach, she added, “It’s personal for me.” Nelson said she would not have been standing there were it not for her one-time decision to enter and stay in treatment. She added, “We have a moral obligation to try something new.”
Harrell’s activation kickoff, his so-called “Space Needle thinking,” went on to cite steps he’ll be taking to make downtown safer and more welcoming. He spoke about more lighting on downtown streets, an emphasis on graffiti removal and trash pickup, as well as encouraging firms to return to in-person work.
The mayor said the city would be asking the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board to approve “sip and stroll” permits allowing gallery hoppers to carry plastic cups — likely half-filled with Two-Buck Chuck — from one venue to another. He added the City would help move 20 small businesses owned by women and minorities into vacant storefronts. Additionally, he spoke about reopening City Hall Park with giant chess boards and movie nights. He envisioned making it easy to activate downtown streets with food trucks, pop-up food vendors, puppy yoga, and even pickleball contests.
The mayor had more bread and circuses, some in time for the MLB all-star game at T-Mobile Park next July. Harrell said he would set an example, pushing harder at getting city workers to return to the office. As in the past, he promised more details to come.