Hear from Seattle City Council Candidates on Transportation, Housing, & Sustainability

May 22, 2019

TRU, the MASS Coalition, and allies are hosting candidate forums in five of the seven Seattle City Council districts* this month. We’ll hear from candidates as they answer questions about mass transit, housing, ensuring everyone is able to use our streets safely, reducing carbon emissions, and centering racial equity in all of this work. The first two forums will be moderated by Heidi Groover, and the last three will be moderated by Erica Barnett. All forums are wheelchair-accessible and CART services will be provided:

District 6 Candidate Forum
Tuesday, May 21, 5:30-7:30pm
Phinney Neighborhood Association, 6532 Phinney Ave N

District 3 Candidate Forum
Thursday, May 23, 6:00-7:30pm
Washington State Labor Council, 321 16th Ave S

District 2 Candidate Forum
Tuesday, May 28, 6:00-7:30pm
New Holly Gathering Hall, 7054 32nd Ave S

District 7 Candidate Forum
Wednesday, May 29, 6:00-8:00pm
SEIU 775 Auditorium, 215 Columbia St.

District 4 Candidate Forum
Thursday, May 30, 5:30-7:30pm
Cascade Bicycle Club, 7787 62nd Ave NE

* Why aren’t we doing all seven districts? It takes a lot of work to organize forums, so we decided to focus our energies on the districts with the most competitive races. TRU and MASS are also doing candidate questionnaires, so before the primary elections take place in August, you’ll be able to read what D1 and D5 candidates have to say about many of these same issues.

Sound Transit Backs Off Privatization Plan, For Now

March 26, 2019

On Thursday, March 14, we learned that Sound Transit has quietly been taking steps to contract out their bus service to a private, for-profit corporation. This is unacceptable for so many reasons. Privatization of public transit is a profit-grab that in other cities has led to eroding service and safety standards, not to mention that any “savings” usually come from turning middle class union bus driver positions into lower-wage jobs with worse benefits. Contracting out to a private company also undermines public oversight, transparency, and accountability. TRU and allies sounded the alert and hundreds of people emailed Sound Transit Boardmembers urging that they halt the privatization plans. Guess what? The board listened.

Sound Transit has agreed to “pause” the RFP (request for proposals) to allow for a thorough discussion among boardmembers and with King County Metro, which currently operates the Express service; labor partners like ATU 587, which represents Metro drivers and mechanics; transit rider organizations like TRU; and the public. We are hopeful this pause will allow for a productive dialogue and a better outcome. We believe that together we can tackle challenges like the need for additional bus base capacity, while keeping public transit public, maintaining transparency and accountability, and without eroding service and labor standards.

We will stay vigilant and keep you informed as this conversation continues. The next public discussion will be at the Sound Transit Board’s Operations Committee meeting on April 4, 1-3pm at Union Station. Again, THANK YOU to everyone who took action. When we organize, we win!

TRU’s Annual Event asks: Whose City Is This?

February 8, 2019

Who really holds power in Seattle, King County, and our region? How do they wield it? How can we act strategically to win as much as we can, while also building new democratic, accountable power for people-powered movements? Join us at 1:00pm on Saturday, March 2, to explore these questions at TRU’s Annual Event & Meeting. We’ll draw some lessons from recent victories and defeats and discuss what comes next.

RSVP for the Annual Event: Saturday, March 2, 1:00pm

The event will take place at the Seattle Labor Temple, Hall 8, 2800 1st Ave. First there will be a public event, open to all, 1:00-3:00pm. Speakers and details TBA. Then, after a short break, TRU will hold our Annual Meeting from 3:30-4:30pm. The meeting part is members-only.

MASS Report on Lessons from “Viadoom”

February 8, 2019

The closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct was hyped as a potential traffic disaster that Seattle would have to endure for three weeks. Instead, we saw more people biking, walking, and riding transit, and a wonderfully quiet downtown.

This Tuesday the Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) Coalition, of which TRU is a member, released a report that draws lessons from the past three weeks. “Viadoom turned out to be a wildly successful experiment in how to reduce emissions, improve mobility, and better our quality of life,” the report states. “Understanding why Viadoom didn’t happen can help us make future transportation policy decisions with equally happy results.” READ THE REPORT

Microsoft Steps Up… Because We Did

January 24, 2019

From Geekwire: click to go to source article

You probably saw the big news last week: Microsoft has pledged $500 million to tackle the housing crisis in King County, after discussions that began in the wake of the big business tax repeal last spring.

How should we feel about this? On the one hand, this is a lot of money, and although much of it is in the form of loans, it should speed up the production of affordable housing and help a lot of people.

On the other hand, as our friends at the Economic Opportunity Institute have explained, relying on philanthrophy to solve social inequities is deeply problematic, undermining democracy and giving wealthy individuals and corporations far too much power over all of us.

Third, and perhaps most important as a lesson for us: As the news coverage makes clear, this happened because of the “head tax”— because of the work that TRU and Housing for All and many others did last year pushing for a tax on big business. Deep-pocketed corporate opponents successfully fought to kill the tax, but we successfully built up a public expectation that they do more to address the housing and homelessness crisis that their growth is driving.

So let’s take this as a victory, even as we recognize that corporate largesse is not the ultimate answer and it’s our job to figure out the next step forward!

Seattle Mariners Respond to Public Pressure With Eviction Prevention Fund

December 14, 2018

Today the Seattle Mariners announced the “Home Base Partnership” to create a several million dollar revolving fund for eviction assistance and prevention, a move housing advocates say is a response to public pressure and a victory for community organizing.

The billion-dollar corporation’s newfound interest in the housing crisis emerges in the wake of a pitched battle with affordable housing advocates over the disposition of the county’s lodging tax revenue earlier this year.

In May, County Executive Dow Constantine proposed that $185 million in lodging tax funds be spent on maintenance and upkeep of Safeco Field, the Mariners’ stadium. The proposal sparked an outcry from King County residents and advocates who argued that this public money should instead be used to address the region’s deepening housing and homelessness crisis. Over 80 organizations signed a letter to County Councilmembers urging them to prioritize basic human needs over stadium improvements that amount to subsidizing a profitable private corporation.

In September, after several overflowing public hearings, the King County Council voted 5-4 to allocate $135 million to Safeco Field. In a partial victory for the housing movement, the compromise bill also directed $165 million more to affordable workforce housing and services for homeless youth than the Executive’s original proposal.

In the course of this multi-month public debate the reputation of the Seattle Mariners and its billionaire and millionaire owners took a beating. Continue reading

Major Progress on Affordable Transit: King County Council approves plan for no/low-cost transit fares

November 16, 2018

What happens when you can’t afford a transit fare and you need to get to a doctor appointment, a job interview, or a shelter? Maybe you pray that the bus driver will be kind and let you board. Or maybe you get caught by fare enforcement, slapped with a steep fine and kicked off the train far from your destination. Maybe you ask passers-by for change and bear their suspicious looks. Maybe you’re lucky enough to find a service provider to give you a free ticket or two. Or maybe you just end up walking for hours.

Thousands of King County residents face these tough choices every day. The stress and time wasted when you can’t reliably get from A to B make it extremely difficult to overcome the many other challenges that people with very low incomes face in our increasingly unaffordable region. As wonderful as the ORCA LIFT reduced fare program is, it doesn’t meet the needs of riders who can’t easily pay $1.50 per ride or $54 per month for a transit pass.

Here at the Transit Riders Union, we are celebrating because this week we took a major step towards making our public transit system affordable for all. The King County Council voted to take steps to implement low/no-cost transit fares for Metro’s lowest-income passengers, with the goal of having this new program in place by 2020! Our big job next year, 2019, will be to work with King County Metro and elected officials to create a robust and well-designed program.

This is a huge deal and a great way to end 2018. (Not that we’re done yet… stay tuned for some big news next week!) Want to celebrate with us? Come enjoy music, food and drink, and great company at TRU’s happy hour fundraiser on Thursday, Nov. 29 —RSVP here.

Celebrate with TRU at our Happy Hour Fundraiser

November 12, 2018

On Thursday, Nov. 29, TRU is hosting our annual fall fundraiser. Come enjoy food, drink, and great company at this fun and casual event. There’s no ticket price, but at the event guests will be invited to make a contribution that is meaningful to them. All proceeds will power TRU’s organizing in 2019.

The event will be 5:30-7:30pm in downtown Seattle at the Flatiron School, which is generously donating their space. Hope to see you there!

RSVP to help us plan!          Facebook page – please share!

Thank you to our wonderful co-hosts: Speaker Chopp, Rep. Macri, Councilmember Gossett, Councilmember Upthegrove, Councilmember O’Brien, Councilmember Herbold, Councilmember Sawant, John Burbank, Brady Walkinshaw, Mike McGinn, Kirsten Harris-Talley, and Tammy Morales.

And thank you to our event sponsors: Flatiron School, Optimism Brewing, UFCW 21, UAW 4121, WFSE 1488, Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), SEIU 775, SEIU 925, ATU 587, Teamsters 117, PTE Local 17

Seattle’s Transportation Future: It’s Up to Us

October 25, 2018

Photo from the Seattle Times article (click for link)

TRU has joined with transportation and climate allies to form a new coalition called Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS). Last week we sent a letter to Mayor Durkan and the City Council, asking that they work with us and act boldly to transform Seattle’s transportation system. Check out the news coverage of our launch in the Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, and Curbed Seattle, and Capitol Hill Seattle Blog.

We’ve come together with a sense of urgency. We see the climate crisis and the recent IPCC report telling us that catastrophe awaits if we don’t act now to cut carbon emissions. We see the viaduct closure looming early next year, and we know that traffic, especially downtown but throughout the city, is about to get even worse as we enter the “Period of Maximum Constraint”. Seattle must act fast to prioritize the modes that move the most people in the least space, and with the lowest carbon impact. That means public transit, biking, and walking — making it easy, safe, and fast for people to get around the city without driving. Stay tuned for our next steps, because we’re going to need your help.

Thousands of UW Workers Win Transit Passes!

October 1, 2018

We did it!! After many months of public pressure, phone calls and petitions, emails and op-eds, rallies and direct actions, several UW labor unions emerged from contract negotiations last week with an agreement that includes 100% employer-paid transit passes starting July 1, 2019. This victory will increase transit ridership, lower carbon emissions, ease gridlock, and make life better for thousands of workers struggling with the high costs of living in our region.

We showed that when workers, transit riders, and the community stick together, we win. Thanks so much to everyone who took action to make this victory possible. And stay tuned for a little mop-up operation — we’ve got some work still to do to make sure this benefit is extended to every single UW employee.

It’s not every day you win $165 million

September 18, 2018

Mariners owner & CEO John Stanton (link to img source)

Yesterday afternoon the King County Council took final votes on the Lodging Tax. In brief: We held our ground! Councilmembers added $165 million for affordable housing near transit and homeless youth services. This new funding will improve the lives of thousands of people. It’s a huge win, and everyone who pushed for it can be proud. Of course, there’s more to what happened. Let’s break it down:

Back in May, Executive Dow Constantine announced his proposal for the Lodging Tax, including $185 million for Safeco Field, and only the state-mandated minimum for housing. Billionaires like Mariners owner and CEO John Stanton are used to operating behind the scenes, cutting deals with politicians. He probably expected his money to sail on through.

We didn’t let that happen. We brought this deal out of the shadows. We packed public meetings, we wrote op-eds, we emailed and called council offices. Working with our allies on #TeamHousing and several courageous councilmembers, we made it clear to the media and the public that this was a choice between public interests and private interests.

So we weren’t able to stop this handout to a billionaire — yesterday five councilmembers, a majority, voted to allocate $135 million to Safeco Field — but hey, we managed to peel away $50 million. (The big loser in this fight was the tourism industry.) And our pressure enabled other wins: as part of the final deal, a number of labor unions won concessions from the Mariners that will make it easier to organize low-wage workers at the stadium, creating better jobs.

Want to help us get even better results next time? If you’re not already a member, join the Transit Riders Union, or make a donation. We do this work on a shoestring and your support goes a long way.

Tell King County, Affordable Housing First!

July 26, 2018

The King County Council has called a special meeting for 10am on Monday, July 30th, to discuss the use of revenue from the county’s Hotel-Motel tax. Executive Dow Constantine has proposed to spend $185 million on upgrades to Safeco Field — including $160 million in non-essential “bells and whistles”. [More info]

This money could be used instead to fund affordable housing. How can we justify using taxpayer money to build an “upper-concourse kids zone” at a stadium, when thousands of kids in our community don’t even have homes? Tens of thousands of working families in King County are severely cost-burdened, spending half or more of their income in housing-related costs.

The Mariners are a private and profitable business that already receives many public subsidies. Their majority-owner and CEO is a Republican billionaire named John Stanton who lives in Medina. He made his fortune in the wireless industry and is a major donor to conservative candidates and causes. We think John Stanton can pay his own bills. Here are three actions you can take. Please do as many of the three as you can:

  1. Attend the special meeting: Monday, July 30, 10am on the 10th floor of King County Courthouse, 516 3rd Ave. Help us pack the chambers! Arrive at 9:30 to sign up to testify.
  2. Call your district councilmember and Dow Constantine. Sample script and numbers below.
  3. Email the councilmembers and Dow Constantine, urging them to hold an evening public hearing so people who work during the day can weigh in before the council makes a decision:

Email County Elected Officials

We are in a housing crisis, and our elected leaders must make difficult and responsible decisions about priorities. With the repeal of Seattle’s big business tax, prioritizing existing revenue streams to address the affordable housing crisis is more important than ever. With your help, we can redirect this funding to a higher use!

A Good Day for Public and Affordable Transit

June 26, 2018

Thank you to everyone who emailed and called City Councilmembers over the past few days. On the afternoon of Monday, June 25th, after testimony from TRU members and from our friends at ATU 587 (the union of Metro bus drivers and mechanics), the council voted to strike the Mayor’s proposal to contract with a private transit provider.

With that ‘poison pill’ removed, the council then voted unanimously to free city transit dollars to make infrastructure improvements that will improve speed and reliability; and to fund student ORCA passes, expanding on the victory won by Rainier Beach High School students, with TRU’s support, in 2015. This will make Seattle the largest city in the country to provide free, year-round transit passes for all high-school students!

That same Monday we also testified at King County Council meeting, in favor of a motion written by Councilmember Rod Dembowski’s office in collaboration with TRU. This motion directs Metro to deliver cost estimates for new programs that would make public transit more affordable and accessible for youth, college students, very low-income and homeless folks, low-wage workers, and residents of low-income housing — all causes we have been championing for years. The motion passed unanimously, setting us up for progress during this fall’s budget process.

With that, TRU is taking a long-overdue break for the month of July. We will be back in action in August, ready to resume our work on decriminalizing fare enforcement, improving Access Paratransit service, winning free transit passes for UW workers, and more.  See you then!

Keep Public Transit Public!

June 23, 2018

The City of Seattle is considering a proposal to divert public funds intended to buy additional Metro service hours to private contractors.  This proposal is part of a larger package of changes to the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, which will be decided on Monday, June 25th.

Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Mike O’Brien are planning to put forward an amendment to strike the privatization proposal. This amendment needs our support! We invite you to join us in urging the council to keep public transit public by sending an email now:

Email the Councilmembers

Why would the City even consider contracting with a private bus service provider? The stated reason is that additional peak service is needed to ease congestion during the upcoming “Period of Maximum Constraint”; and King County Metro claims they are unable to provide this service.  However, the experience of other cities shows that privatization is a slippery slope, and we believe the costs and risks of setting up a private system that parallels and supplants King County Metro far outweigh the potential benefits.  We believe the City Council should reject this proposal and instead work with SDOT and Metro to reassess the possibilities of adding publicly-operated service, and implement street improvements such as dedicated bus lanes and other strategies to reduce congestion.

Jeff Bezos 1, Homeless People 0. Now What?

June 14, 2018

In a special meeting Tuesday afternoon, city councilmembers voted 7-2 to repeal the big business tax they passed unanimously just four weeks ago. National news quickly filled with blistering headlines, slamming Seattle’s swift capitulation to Amazon’s bullying tactics.

There’s no sugarcoating it, we lost. But progress is never easy, or achieved without failure and the courage to persist through failure. We set out to do something big. Over the past nine months we have disrupted a status quo that protects the wealth and privilege of the few and leaves the rest of us fighting each other for scraps. What is remarkable is that we got so close. Our challenge now is to draw lessons from this experience, regroup, and move forward. Next time we will win.

In the wake of yesterday’s vote, many of us feel not just deep disappointment but anger and a sense of betrayal – how could our progressive allies on the city council, who stood with us and worked with us over the past nine months, cave so suddenly and so completely?

At least three of the councilmembers who voted to repeal the legislation – Lisa Herbold, Mike O’Brien, and Lorena González – did not do so because they changed their minds about it being good policy or the right thing to do. They did so because they knew that the big business-funded referendum push had gathered enough signatures to make the ballot; and they saw ahead five more brutal months of a multi-million dollar propaganda war ending, they believed, almost inevitably in defeat.

Over the past nine months, big business lobby groups like the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Seattle Association have offered no solutions. Instead they poured their vast resources into a media campaign to discredit the city council in the eyes of the public, and spread misinformation about the tax and the homelessness crisis. They cynically manipulated many Seattleites’ legitimate concerns about rising property taxes and the impact of homelessness on their neighborhoods, to inflame prejudice and weasel out of making a modest contribution toward real solutions. They made Seattle an uglier place.

They know very well that new resources are needed to address homelessness – and yet they have had no qualms about denying this again and again. They have drowned out facts with well-funded lies. They have, it seems, successfully turned the tide of “public opinion” – at least among likely voters. Seeing this, councilmembers chose to cut their losses and start over.

Whether we call their choice cowardly or sensible, we have to admit this outcome reflects the real power dynamics in our city. We – the Transit Riders Union and our allies – have built up enough people-power to push groundbreaking legislation through the city council. That’s no small accomplishment. But we don’t yet have the power to back it up. We simply weren’t able to counter the influence of big money on public opinion. We don’t yet have the ability to reach enough of our neighbors, to have enough conversations that change hearts and minds, to effectively counter the destructive and petty narratives that divide us rather than unite us.

The challenge before us is to build this kind of power, to organize more broadly and more deeply. No one can stop us from doing this. It is the challenge of our times, and together we will rise to it.

Yesterday Amazon, Starbucks, Vulcan, and the big business lobby groups got their way. They “won”. Who lost? Most of all, our neighbors experiencing homelessness: low-income seniors, veterans, at-risk youth, people struggling with mental health or substance use challenges, and people with disabilities, whose one shared characteristic is that they cannot afford a roof over their head in this insane housing market.

The homelessness state of emergency continues and is more urgent than ever. Our regressive tax system continues and the need for progressive revenue is more urgent than ever. There is simply no acceptable solution but for big businesses and the wealthy to start chipping in. They can’t avoid this social responsibility forever, and we’ll keep working to make sure that day of reckoning comes sooner rather than later.

Groundbreaking Legislation is Out!

April 20, 2018

Remember last fall, when TRU and Housing For All started pushing for a big business tax to fund housing, shelter and services?

Six months later, legislation is in our hands! (Here’s a more digestible summary.)

If passed this bill will raise $75 million per year, three times what was proposed last fall.  The tax will affect only approximately 3% of businesses in Seattle, those with annual revenue of $20 million or more.  Of the new funding generated by the tax, fully 75% will go to housing, 20% to shelter and services.

This legislation is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Seattle to take a real step towards closing the affordable housing gap and addressing a root cause of the homelessness crisis.

The unveiling of this legislation is a great moment for TRU and our many allies in Housing For All who have come together to urge an effective and compassionate response to the homelessness state of emergency.  Now we just have to get it passed!  Join us for the official public hearing at City Hall:

Public Hearing: Monday, April 23, 5:30pm

Transit Riders Union calls for moratorium on punitive fare enforcement following damning audit

April 9, 2018

A new report from the King County Auditor’s Office released on April 4th reveals a RapidRide fare enforcement system wholly unable to justify its existence. It is not demonstrably effective, and it is demonstrably costly, harmful, and inequitable.

King County spends $1.7 million per year punishing people – predominantly poor people and people of color – who cannot provide proof of payment to the fare enforcement officers who periodically board RapidRide buses.

Nearly a quarter of riders slapped with a $124 fine, and over 30% of those charged with a misdemeanor, were homeless or “housing unstable”. According to the report, “the fines for individuals experiencing housing instability totaled just over $290,000 from 2015-2017. These fines, when unpaid, go into collections, which can then impact a person’s ability to obtain housing.” Less than three percent of fines are ever paid.

This situation is absurd and despicable. It traps the King County residents who most need public transit and are least able to pay fines. And to what end? According to the report, “research has not found a correlation between fare enforcement and fare evasion”. In other words, there is no evidence that fare evasion rates would rise significantly if fare enforcement simply stopped.

The Transit Riders Union calls on King County to establish a two-year moratorium on punitive fare enforcement while a better system is devised. “Fare-checking staff,” previously known as fare enforcement officers, should still check fares so that Metro can track any changes in fare payment rates over that period, but there should be no punishment: no warnings, no citations or fines, no misdemeanors. Perhaps riders who cannot show proof of payment could be handed a leaflet with information about reduced fare programs and where to obtain an ORCA card.

“Immediate cessation of punitive fare enforcement is the only acceptable baseline from which to consider any new policy,” said TRU’s general secretary Katie Wilson. “It is simply wrong to continue harming vulnerable populations while this problem is studied further. King County cannot continue harassing, fining and criminalizing poor people by default while task forces and elected officials mull things over.”

“Does it make sense do to this kind of fare enforcement at all?”  King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci asked during an interview with KIRO 7. “I don’t know that it makes any sense to be fining people who are coming onto the buses for shelter because they don’t have shelter.” The Transit Riders Union applauds this sentiment and urges the King County Council and County Executive to act swiftly to halt punitive fare enforcement pending further investigation.

Housing For All Campaign Heats Up

March 21, 2018

Our campaign to build thousands of new units of deeply affordable housing through a tax on large businesses is heating up fast.  The Chamber of Commerce & Co. are on the march, spreading misinformation and rallying their troops to try to stop the Housing For All movement in its tracks. We can’t let them succeed.  Please take a moment to send a message of support to our elected officials, urging them to stand strong:

Email City Councilmembers & Mayor Durkan

On Wednesday, March 14th, members of Housing For All filled Council Chambers and delivered a letter signed by fifty organizations to the City Council and Mayor Durkan.  That same afternoon the Progressive Revenue Task Force presented its final report, recommending major investments in new deeply affordable housing, shelter, and services: $150 million per year in new progressive revenue, with $75 million coming from an Employee Hours Tax on large businesses.

What’s next?  Over the coming weeks, Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Lorena González, who co-chaired the task force, will be drafting legislation.  TRU and Housing For All will be working hard to win the votes of at least six councilmembers.  Stay tuned for alerts of council meetings and public hearings, and attend our next Action Meeting on Saturday, March 31st.  We aim to pass this legislation through full council by mid-May!

Seattle’s Housing Gap: Unmet Needs & Challenges for People Experiencing Homelessness

February 13, 2018

Tuesday, February 20th
6:00 – 7:30 PM
Seattle City Hall, Council Chambers

We hear a lot of talk these days about affordable housing and how there’s not enough of it. But just how serious is this shortage, and what tools does the City of Seattle have to do something about it?

This event will explore the “housing gap” and its implications for our quality of life and the future of our City. We will focus especially on households in the lowest income bracket, 0-30% of Area Median Income (AMI), who may be homeless or at the greatest risk of homelessness. A presentation and round-table discussion will be followed by public comment.

Hosted by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda and Housing For All
Co-hosted by Councilmembers Lisa Herbold, Mike O’Brien, and Kshama Sawant