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And the City Misses The Mark. Again.

March 18, 2010

Yesterday Seattle City Council held a meeting to gain feedback from the public on Tim Burgess’ proposed anti-aggressive panhandling law, reported by Publicola:

There was a line snaking through the hall outside the City Council chambers today as advocates for the homeless and downtown business leaders signed up to offer comment on Tim Burgess’ anti-aggressive panhandling proposal.

The marathon public comment session went for over two hours, as homeless advocates and downtown business leaders brought up familiar points—that the proposal would make downtown considerably safer for pedestrians, and that the proposal is an infringement on civil liberties. They did stray into some new territory, particularly over how to decide what constitutes “intimidation” by panhandlers, ultimately leading to a discussion of what seemed like downtown residents’ real concern—drugs and gang violence.

Downtown business interests, along with the SPD, gave Burgess’ proposal the thumbs up, saying it would be a benefit to public safety in the downtown retail core, and particularly for tourists visiting from out of town.

Interim Police Chief John Diaz said Burgess’ proposal would be vital in promoting safety in the area. ”Improving safety downtown is a high priority for the police department,” said Diaz, reading from a statement.

And also:

“I feel like we’re swatting at gnats, when there’s a pit bull gnawing at our knee,” said Council Member Bruce Harrell, nudging the conversation beyond the business vs. homeless advocate loop. Harrell’s pit bull? Gangs and violence.

Ah yes, that pesky gangs and violence thing.

It was just weeks ago, as Mayor McGinn rolled out his plan to take a year to “engage” the community about “the needs of youth”, including youth violence, that city council stated they have been doing this very work for a year and are ready to make some moves- take action- get things done.

And then it moved… on.  You know how I can tell?  Because not a damn thing of substance, no action has happened to take on youth, gun and gang violence- at least, not by the city.  Of course they say they’re workin’ on it, but when more than 100 people crowd a room to not only take on an ordinance they don’t like, but to point out the bigger, more urgent issue of guns, drugs and gangs…Seattle misses the mark.  Again.

Why does this keep happening?  Why can’t the city get past “the Seattle Way” of talking, studying, towhalling, foruming, talking, studying…?

People in the Mayor’s office are whispering, there just isn’t enough “data” to take any action on youth, gun and gang violence right now- they don’t have the data- where oh where is the data, someone please guide us to the data.  Either that means they think they’re going to get actionable data from public forums, or they’re just using forums to give the appearance of doing something while they find… data.

Well, I have a few questions about that elusive data.

If the city council has been working on this issue for over a year, does that mean that at some point they had data?

If the city has been paying out millions of dollars to more than 60 agencies and organizations, to employ or stipend hundreds of people under the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative for over a year …isn’t there some data in there somewhere?  Aren’t these agencies supposed to account for the work they’re doing on the public’s dime?  Does the city not require regular reports?  I mean, if a lil ol blogger can submit a public information request for the very same data , why can’t they find it in the very same office?  Did Nickels hide it before he bounced? C’mon son.

Furthermore, don’t these same agencies and organizations have other data relevant to the needs of youths, their families and the immediate communities they serve?  Of course they do.

The mayor is townhalling to his heart’s content, but he hasn’t bothered to say “I want a forum with representatives of every agency receiving money under the Initiative.  I want them to be prepared to discuss a, b, and c.  I want to draw on their knowledge, experience and data to plan next steps and benchmarks for success.”

Omg wait, that requires one to lead. To take action. To be the Mayor.

It is irresponsible for McGinn to keep holding the YVPI at arms length just because it was created by the other guy who allowed it to be turned into the red-headed step child.  It’s irresponsible for him to continue to allow ignorance about the YVPI to prevail.  The general public has no clue what is actually being done on the ground, and if it making a difference- and they have a right to know- and it’s the Mayor’s responsibility to tell them… that is, if he knows.  But then again, without that darn data… *shrug*

Y’all wanna have the aggressive panhandler fight- go right ahead.  Battle it out.  Whatever.

All this sidestepping, townhalling and buck-passing on youth, gun and gang violence is going to come back and bite the city of Seattle squarely on the ass.  It’s not a matter of if, just a matter of when.

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