Seattle homeless and the head tax: See timeline to the City Council's repeal

VIDEO: Mayor Durkan responds to homeless crisis

This is a timeline of the actions taken concerning homelessness in Seattle, including the head tax proposed for some Seattle businesses.

In mid-June, city officials said they had about 400 unauthorized encampments around Seattle.

June 20: King County Director of Elections Julie Wise clarified questions about the head tax referendum. At this point, the referendum will not appear on any upcoming ballot.

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The deadline for jurisdictions to submit a resolution to appear on this November General Election ballot is August 7. Nearly 46,000 petition signatures were submitted June 14. That was done as a precaution after a lawsuit was filed that same day alleging that the city council violated the open public meetings act before the vote.

June 18: KIRO 7 Morning Anchor Michelle Millman took Mayor Jenny Durkan to the growing homeless encampment outside KIRO -- one that has been there for more than three months, despite at least two visits from police -- and asked, "How is that possible to allow this in the city?"

June 14: Attorney James Egan filed a complaint for damages against the City of Seattle, saying the mayor and city council violated the open public meetings act before their repeal of the head tax.

After the lawsuit, the No Tax on Jobs Coalition moved forward as a precaution.

"Out of an abundance of caution, the No Tax on Jobs Coalition decided today to file our nearly 46,000 petition signatures," coalition spokesman John Murray said. "We commend the courageous action by the Mayor and City Council and agree with the Seattle City Attorney's opinion that the jobs tax has been officially repealed in accordance with notice requirements. Submitting the signatures ensures that we are on record regarding the jobs tax repeal. We remain committed to working together with the Mayor and the City Council on homeless and housing issues."

June 12: Shortly after 2 p.m., the Seattle City Council voted 7-2 to repeal the employee head tax. Protesters shouted and chanted as most councilmembers voted, and Kshama Sawant initially refused to vote if the crowd could not hear the others.

Council President Bruce Harrell regained order and Sawant was one of the two votes against the tax repeal, along with Teresa Mosqueda.

The video of the vote will be added here shortly.

June 11: Seven Seattle City Councilmembers are considering legislation to repeal the head tax, a day after opponents of the tax announced the gathered 20,000 signatures to repeal it in less than a month. Two councilmembers, Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda, still want the head tax.

Sawant blasted the actions of her fellow councilmembers, tweeting an "urgent action alert on Amazon Tax" to followers. The "@SeattleCouncil will repeal the tax on big biz at noon tomorrow!" Sawant tweeted. "This is a capitulation to bullying by Amazon & other big biz. This backroom betrayal was planned over weekend w/o notifying movement (incl. my office)."

Council President Bruce Harrell scheduled a special City Council meeting for June 12 and announced he'd "sponsor legislation that repeals the Employee Hours Tax Legislation," which is the official name for the head tax. The head tax is set to begin January 1, 2019.

According to a city council summary, a referendum to repeal the head tax "will bill the City some additional cost for having the repeal measure on the November 2018 ballot. If the City acts to repeal this legislation without the referendum, these additional election costs will be avoided."

However, Julie Wise with King County Elections said that's not correct. Since Seattle already has municipal court judge races on the November ballot, there would have been no additional cost to add the referendum to the ballot, Wise said.

Councilmembers Harrell, Sally Bagshaw, Lorena Gonzalez, Lisa Herbold, Rob Johnson, Debora Juarez and Mike O'Brien are all considering repealing the head tax, according to Mayor Jenny Durkan.

Of those seven councilmembers who are considering a change in position on the head tax, six of them are up for reelection next year. Lorena Gonzalez is the only one considering a change who is up for reelection later, in 2021.

""We heard you," Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a longer statement with the seven councilmembers. "This week, the City Council is moving forward with the consideration of legislation to repeal the current tax on large businesses to address the homelessness crisis."

King County Executive Dow Constantine also gave his take, saying in part that "it is clear that addressing several root causes of homelessness will require more and better focused resources."

June 10: The "No Tax On Jobs" campaign said "well more than" 20,000 signatures were collected, and they held a celebration at Shelter Lounge in Ballard. Those signatures were collected after some cases where opponents tried to heckle people into not signing the repeal effort, which kicked off May 18.

May 22: A collaboration of South Sound elected officials and business leaders unveiled a $275 tax credit for new family-wage jobs created in Pierce County. Follow this link to read initial details, which were released May 21.

May 18: A campaign supported by dozens of Seattle business owners launched a repeal effort. They want to send the head tax to the ballot box. See footage of their campaign kickoff below.

May 16:

That man, Christopher Edward Teel, 24, was living in Nickelsville, a city-sanctioned homeless encampment, until May 9. Police said he raped the woman on Monday, May 14, and details were not released by police until May 16.

“When Chris entered Nickelsville Ballard he was required to produce valid government picture identification,” Scott Morrow of Nickelsville said Wednesday in an email. “This was cross referenced against our list of people on the King County transient sex offender list, which he was not on."

"Nickelsville has never done Warrant Checks of any sort, and did not do one for Chris. Until yesterday we were not aware of any criminal history."

"I am focused on acting to move people off the street and into safer places, to clean up the garbage and needles that are in our parks and in our communities, and to provide resources to those people experiencing homelessness, including job training, behavioral health services, and other supportive services,” Durkan said in a statement.

May 15: Saul Spady, the grandson of Dick's Drive-In Restaurants co-founder and namesake Dick Spady, told KIRO Radio's Dori Monson that while Dick's doesn't intend to leave Seattle, it also doesn't plan to establish any new restaurants in the city as long as the head tax is in place.

"This tax has really forced us to say, 'I don't think we're going to build a new restaurant in the city while it's in place,'" Spady told Monson.

Redfin also responded to the $275 head tax, opposing it but also explaining why the company did not sign the business community's petition against the tax. Read their full statement here.

"While a $275 head tax is perhaps small relative to the salary of a senior software engineer, it isn't for the entry-level jobs that an economically diverse city needs most," the company statement read. "Those are the jobs that will leave first due to this tax."

Redfin staff also echoed dozens of Seattle residents saying they were unable to get a response from city council members.

"We've tried contacting our city council members, now and over the past year, to ask what we could do to support an equitable Seattle," the statement read. "No one has returned our calls or emails."

May 14: The Seattle City Council approved with a 9-0 vote an amended head tax for $275 per employee for five years. That's expected to generate $50 million. The original sponsors of the $500 per year tax said they were disappointed, and Kshama Sawant voted against the amended head tax in the initial vote. But she changed for the 9-0 final vote. A brief video of the vote is below. Follow this link to see additional footage before the vote.

About an hour after the vote, Amazon responded with this written statement from Amazon Vice President Drew Herdener. 

"We are disappointed by today's City Council decision to introduce a tax on jobs. While we have resumed construction planning for Block 18, we remain very apprehensive about the future created by the council's hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here. City of Seattle revenues have grown dramatically from $2.8B in 2010 to $4.2B in 2017, and they will be even higher in 2018. This revenue increase far outpaces the Seattle population increase over the same time period. The city does not have a revenue problem – it has a spending efficiency problem. We are highly uncertain whether the city council's anti-business positions or its spending inefficiency will change for the better."

Starbucks later responded with a statement from John Kelly, Senior Vice President, Global Public Affairs and Social Impact. 

"This City continues to spend without reforming and fail without accountability, while ignoring the plight of hundreds of children sleeping outside. If they cannot provide a warm meal and safe bed to a five year-old child, no one believes they will be able to make housing affordable or address opiate addiction. This City pays more attention to the desires of the owners of illegally parked RVs than families seeking emergency shelter."

Durkan held a news conference shortly after Amazon released the statement. Durkan said she will create an oversight committee to show people how the money is spent. KIRO 7 livestreamed the news conference on our news app, and that video will be added to this timeline after its conclusion.

KIRO 7 conducted an exclusive poll of Seattle voters with Strategies 360, asking people what they thought about the head tax and homelessness. The results were revealed on KIRO 7 Morning News.

If you support a “head tax,” how much should each business pay per full time employee: $500 to raise $75 million, $350 to raise $55 million or $250 to raise $41 million?

Do you believe that people should be allowed to live in tents on sidewalks or in RVs around Seattle?

In a City Council briefing Monday morning, Sally Bagshaw addressed Sawant's use of city resources to print "Tax Amazon" fliers. 

Those signs were used by protesters during a May 12 rally against Amazon, during a May 3 rally against Amazon, and at other events – though specific dates weren’t mentioned when Sawant was addressed Monday.

Watch the video and read the text of Bagshaw’s exchange with Sawant below.

"I do not share the anti-business animus that I feel that you are sponsoring," Bagshaw said. "And I also want to acknowledge that on multiple occasions I've seen your staff using our copiers to print your signs, most recently the tax amazon (signs) by the Affordable Housing Alliance.

“I just don’t think it is right for us to be using city resources or the copy machines to promote something that not all of us agree to.”

Sawant said Bagshaw was welcome to her opinion and that she appreciates her honesty. Sawant urged all councilmembers to openly state where they stand. Sawant said that “while I do not agree at all with Councilmember Bagshaw’s opinion” she claimed it was rare to see a councilmember share what side they are on.

"The animus, as Councilmember Bagshaw talks about, is the struggle of working people to find affordable housing in this city," Sawant said. "And as a matter of fact, our affordable housing alliance and our housing movement has been the most vocal in stating that we do not want this tax to land on small businesses.

“And as far as the council resources, I think – you can choose not to use your office for really fighting for the interests of working people and to build movements. I strongly believe that council resources should absolutely be used to build social movements and not for furthering the interests of the chamber of commerce.”

May 12: Socialist Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant organized a march of about 150 from Capitol Hill to the Amazon SpheresFreeman Ryan of the Socialist Alternative lead a chant of "No Bezos/Durkan deal." The march also included the May 1st Action Coalition.

Some opponents said Seattle needs to first account for the millions it's already spent on homelessness, as KIRO 7's Deborah Horne reported.

"Where's all that money going?" asked Jennifer Aspelund of the Neighborhood Safety Alliance. "They should have done an audit, a performance audit before on all of the funding they have handed out."

May 11: A Seattle Council committee voted to reject Jenny Mayor Durkan's $250 compromise to the proposed Seattle head tax.

Durkan wanted the tax to be $250 per employee per year for five years. But a city council committee voted 5-4 to approve the estimated $500 head tax instead. Councilmembers who voted for the higher tax said Durkan's compromise raised too little money for affordable housing.

Before that vote, Sawant proposed to double the proposal for the $500 head tax saying more was needed to pay for affordable housing. Her amendment failed.

The councilmembers who supported the $500 head tax were Mike O'Brien, Kshama Sawant, Teresa Mosqueda, Lorena Gonzalez and Lisa Herbold. 

"The bill that passed out of committee hurts workers by stopping these good jobs, so I cannot support it," Durkan said in a statement following the committee vote. She said she'd continue to work with the council and remains hopeful they "will pass a bill I can sign."

The councilmembers who supported Durkan's $250 head tax proposal were Bruce Harrell, Debora Juarez, Sally Bagshaw and Rob Johnson.

Dozens of supporters of the higher head tax packed the council chambers including Sawant's spouse, Seattle Socialist Alternative organizer Calvin Priest. Many were vocal. Watch part of KIRO 7's live coverage below.

May 10: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and four city council members worked out a compromise and plan to vote on a substitute amendment that would make the head $250 per employee. Durkan's office said the proposal includes:

  • Reducing the head tax to $250 per employee; which would generate roughly $40.59 million annually.
  • Continuing the head tax for five years with an "affirmative renewal."
  • Not transition to a payroll tax in 2021.

The four councilmembers who support Durkan's idea are Sally Bagshaw, Bruce Harrell, Rob Johnson and Debora Juarez. 

Monty Anderson, executive secretary of the Seattle Building Trades Union, told the Seattle Times that Amazon called him and said they would resume two paused projects -- efforts expected to bring roughly 7,000 job -- if the mayor's proposal is approved.

Amazon representatives did not commented directly.

May 9: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan spoke about the proposed head tax. She did not give a clear yes-or-no answer on whether she would support or veto the proposed head tax if it passed the city council.

"I know everyone wants a Twitter response -- yes, no, digital response," she said. "The president operates that way. I don't."

Durkan said to get additional resources the city needs, "business has to be part of the solution." When asked about a tax on some businesses, she said it's too early to say what is right amount or how long it should last.

"But I think what is on the table right now we have seen doesn't meet the requirements I have as mayor. And that is very clear."

Durkan said she's working to see what can be accomplished by bringing groups together. Workers can't be told they are out of work because of a tax, but tent residents in Seattle can't be told there isn't more to do because the city doesn't have the resources, she said.

Durkan also said Wednesday that the city needs to do more for the people being priced out the city, as well as homeless people in Seattle.

"I've been meeting with council members, with businesses, with labor trying to see if there's a way we can forge a path forward together. so that we can have a very vital economy here in Seattle and at the same time do more to bring people off the streets and out of tents, to improve our neighborhoods, to make sure that people understand that there is a path in which they know that their dollars will be spent well and efficiently, and actually improve the state of life for the people living on the streets living in neighborhoods."

During the Wednesday afternoon briefing, Durkan added: "We cannot tax our way out of the problem."

Watch the full raw video of Durkan’s comments below.

Shortly before Durkan spoke at the Westin Hotel, dozens of union workers marched to city hall chanting "no head tax" before a 2 p.m. finance and neighborhoods committee meeting.

Socialist City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant came out of her office as the union construction workers chanted "No head tax" against the proposal Sawant wants.

"I'm absolutely in solidarity with all the construction workers," she claimed. "They're my sisters and brothers. I'm part of the labor movement. Shame on Amazon for being such a bully. They are one of the most profitable corporations in the world."

Later in an interview with KIRO 7, Sawant said the proposed head tax -- which would be roughly $540 per worker on qualifying Seattle businesses -- is the first step of what she wants.

"This tax is a start in the right direction," Sawant said. "But even that is not enough."

Watch the full raw video of her comments below.

Wednesday morning, several labor unions sent a letter of support for "the proposed progressive tax on businesses to address the homelessness crisis in our city." The letter, sent Wednesday to the Seattle City Council, included the MLK Central Labor Council, Teamsters 117, Service Employees International Union 775, Working Washington and others. Follow this link to read the full letter.

Also on Wednesday, the King County Medical Examiner released new stats about drug deaths.

The total number of deaths causes by acute drug or alcohol poisoning increased by 52 percent in six years – from 248 in 2011 to 379 in 2017, according to numbers released Wednesday by the King County Medical Examiner.

Of the 379 deaths in 2017, 69 percent of them were heroin and opioids, including fentanyl.

Fentanyl deaths increased form 23 in 2016 to 33 in 2017, and in the first three months of 2018 there were 17 fatal overdoses.

Half of all overdose deaths in 2017 were less than 46 years old and 17% were among homeless people, according to the medical examiner.

May 8: An economic analysis conducted by ECONorthwest, a Northwest economic consulting firm since 1974, found that the proposed head tax "will increase labor costs for firms, and these costs may be disproportionately borne by low-wage, low-margin jobs."

"Missing out on the creation of the 7,000 jobs that Amazon has put on pause would result in a $3.5 billion loss in regional economic output," according to a ECONorthwest release. "The absence of these jobs at Amazon translates to a loss of 14,300 total direct, indirect, and induced jobs and an estimated $1.3 billion loss in regional worker compensation."

Also on Tuesday, more than 100 local business leaders signed a letter against the proposed head tax. Follow the link to read the full letter from GeekWire.

King County also released a survey on reasons people are homeless. KIRO 7 reporter Graham Johnson took that study to homeless people in Seattle to get their reaction and tell their stories.

May 7: The Seattle City Council set dates for the next steps on the head tax. If necessary there will be a committee vote on Friday, May 18. The full council vote on the head tax is scheduled for Monday, May 21. 

Kshama Sawant also announced a May 12 march from Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill to Amazon headquarters in South Lake Union.

"Amazon, one of the most powerful corporations in the world, threatened to halt construction of a skyscraper if our movement succeeds in forcing the Mayor and City Council to tax big business to build affordable housing," organizers said in an event description. "This is extortion, and we must stand up to Bezos' bullying. Having made a profit of $1.6B in the first 3 months of this year, the tax will be pocket change for Amazon."

Sawant's event invite also said the businesses who would be affected by the head tax are "those who can most easily afford to pay."

May 4: The city tracks removals or unauthorized encampments on the Seattle.gov website. But as of Friday, May 4,  the website has not been updated. The last update was March 30.

Previously, city spokesman Will Lemke said only 37 percent of the people contacted by the city's navigation team accept shelter offers -- a group of specially trained police officers and outreach workers -- accept offers of shelter. Of the 400 unauthorized encampments, the city removes 2-3 per week. In many cases, homeless people who refuse shelter offers return to the same place the following day or week.

The removal for unauthorized encampments follows a rule finalized by the city on March 15, 2017, with an April 3, 2017, effective date. Follow this link to see the rules Seattle departments follow when removing encampments. 

May 3: Socialist Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant held a rally outside the Amazon Spheres to support the proposed head tax, which would be roughly $540 a year per worker – with much of the funding going to address Seattle homelessness.

But she was interrupted by union workers upset with the head tax proposal. Their concerns have been echoed by dozens of the estimated 585 businesses that would pay the tax.

“I've seen your party shout people down before,” one worker told Sawant. “This is a taste of what you do.” Follow this link to read about Sawant’s event. See the full video below.

Mayor Jenny Durkan

and

King County Executive Dow Constantine

held a 1 p.m. press conference after Sawant’s event. Durkan said that based on the recommendations of

One Table

, a regional task force on homelessness, “We are looking to create a new system of governance to unify our response to this crisis.”

Durkan said the plan, which includes

Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus

, is “one step closer,” but did not provide specifics. Constantine said, “We’re taking a few more weeks to refine our recommendations.”

Watch their full press briefing below.

Mike O’Brien

was at

with fellow councilmembers

Teresa Mosqueda

and

Lorena González

. Also there was

Lisa Daugaard

, director of the Public Defender Association,

Kirsten Harris-Talley

, Progress Alliance of Washington program director.

In advertising for the event at Ballard's Trinity United Methodist Church, resident were invited "for a discussion and celebration of great progress by City leadership on homelessness in Seattle!" O'Brien was said to be "making an appearance to share his wisdom on this important issue."

But O’Brien and the council members were heckled by residents frustrated with their lack of fiscal responsibility and the lack of a clear plan to address homelessness. Some people in the room supported the head tax to the boos and jeers of the crowd. The anger and shouting did not stop for 90 minutes, and many Ballard residents believed O’Brien wasn’t listening to or representing them.

''I represent a lot of people who are really unhappy with Mike O'Brien," said David Preston, who pointed blames Seattle city policies for making the problem worse.

O'Brien said the proposed head tax would raise about $75 million annually, and 75 percent of that would fund additional affordable housing units.
 
"We anticipate that that money would be able to build 1,800 units, of additional affordable housing units over the next five years." He said it would also fund support services for housing. The remaining 25 percent would be for emergency shelter.

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May 2: Amazon said it stopped construction planning for a new building at Seventh and Blanchard and is exploring options to sublease space to another company in a tower being built at Rainier Square that the company planned to occupy itself. The spaces were for 7,000 new Amazon jobs.

"I'm concerned about these jobs. I want to know, if Amazon takes 2,000, 3,000 people to Vancouver, what the impact's going to be," said Seattle Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw. She is not a sponsor of the head tax plan, but says the city must find ways to address the housing crisis.

Amazon is already looking elsewhere for a second headquarters, and this week announced 3,000 new jobs in Vancouver, British Columbia and 2,000 in Boston.

In the Seattle City Council Chambers, Kshama Sawant called the tax "pocket change for these businesses" and said "Amazon is perfectly capable of paying that."

Marilyn Strickland, president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said Seattle can't take its economic prosperity for granted.

"The city of Seattle has abundant tax resources today because many locally based businesses have chosen to grow here. That's why we urge the City Council to prioritize those resources — including over $700 million in taxes paid by business each year — before pursuing new revenue, and work with regional partners to develop a coordinated plan that will significantly reduce homelessness."

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan responded saying, "I'm deeply concerned about the impact this decision will have on a large range of jobs."

Durkan said the city must urgently address homelessness and the affordability crisis. She said she'll bring together council members and other leaders to find common ground.

Also Monday, Jasmine Donovan of Dicks Drive-In, Howard S. Wright III who is chairman and founder of Seattle Hospitality Group, and Rachel Marshall who is owner and CEO of Rachel's Ginger Beer, wrote an opinion piece for The Seattle Times saying that a credit for businesses helping the homeless would be more effective than a jobs tax.

Information from The Associated Press and the KIRO 7 archive is included in this report. KIRO 7 reporters Gary Horcher, Essex Porter, and Amy Clancy contributed.