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A 'thriving downtown' Seattle or 'a fentanyl market': Today So Far
- “We can have a revitalized, thriving downtown with retail and restaurants and arts and culture, or we can have a fentanyl market. We can’t have both." — Downtown Seattle Association CEO Jon Scholes
- Things are getting busy over at Boeing.
- Early morning train derailment on the Swinomish Reservation, near Anacortes.
This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for March 16, 2023.
The message to downtown Seattle businesses and city leaders was pretty straight forward.
“We can have a revitalized, thriving downtown with retail and restaurants and arts and culture, or we can have a fentanyl market. We can’t have both," Downtown Seattle Association CEO Jon Scholes told a crowd gathered at the Seattle Convention Center recently.
Scholes' State of Downtown address contained a lot of sobering news, but nothing folks have been entirely unaware of. Downtown populations have not recovered from the pandemic. Office workers aren't coming in as much. Hotel stays are down. That means local businesses don't have as much needed foot traffic. Downtown residents aren't enough to make up the difference, and downtown needs more residents in general. Amid all of this, Scholes points out that between 2020 and 2022, Seattle lost more people to overdoses than from the Covid-19 pandemic. Scholes wants city leaders to do a few things, including, improving conditions on the street, and bringing people back into downtown offices.
As KUOW's Joshua McNichols reports, Scholes also wants the city to "do no harm," which he says is code for, "Do all these things without raising taxes on businesses."
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell was present at the event, and said that plans were in the works to fix a lot of downtown's woes. He didn't give a lot of details, however, other than saying, "Bear with me." Right now, he says he is amassing the political and financial backing needed for such plans. Check out the full story here.
Boeing is about to get busy. A Saudi Arabian airline plans to launch its operations with an all-Boeing fleet of 787 Dreamliners.
Saudi Arabia's Riyadh Air will buy 39 Dreamliners, with an option to buy 33 more in the future. Another airline, Saudia Air, is also aiming to buy some 787s for its long-haul fleet. This all adds up to 121 Dreamliners.
"It's the fifth biggest [order] in Boeing's history by theoretical dollar value," aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia told KUOW. "By any metric, it's pretty sizable.”
The good news comes after Air India purchased 200 planes last month. Check out the full story here.
More details are trickling in about the early morning train derailment on the Swinomish Reservation, near Anacortes. At first, it was stated that about 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel leaked out as a result, but some folks are scaling back that estimate. The train was carrying diesel, however, the reported leak came from one of the engines that derailed, not the cargo. The state's Department of Ecology says that the spill happened on land, and doesn't seem too concerned about any leaks into local waters.Continue reading »
UW food pantry struggles to meet demand that goes beyond studentsBy
The University of Washington is seeing record numbers of people using its food pantry. It’s trying to keep the shelves stocked as demand grows.
Last fall quarter, the UW Food Pantry served more than 1,600 people who made 3,642 visits to pick up canned food, organic produce, ready-to-eat items and hygiene products — all free of charge. This quarter it’s on track to exceed those numbers. Initially the program was created for students. Now it’s extended to anyone with a Husky ID card, including staff and faculty.
“It became evident that the issue was campuswide,” said Alex Silver, the pantry's student director. Silver estimated that 10% of pantry visitors are non-students. Like many area food pantries, the UW program is trying to keep up with demand.
“We’ve had moments, especially in the past year where the shelves were almost empty,” Silver said. He said this year they continue to need shelf-stable items, especially canned protein.
The pantry started as a pop-up, but demand kept growing. In 2018, it became a permanent program.Continue reading »
Train derails near Anacortes, spills up to 3,100 gallons of diesel
A train derailed on the Swinomish Reservation, near Anacortes, Washington, just after midnight Thursday morning, spilling diesel fuel between the shore of Padilla Bay and an RV park next to the Swinomish Casino and Lodge.
Washington Department of Ecology officials initially estimated that 5,000 gallons of diesel had spilled, then revised that estimate to "up to 5,000 gallons" later Thursday morning. Thursday afternoon, they revised their estimate to "up to 3,100 gallons" and said estimates would be refined as cleanup progresses.
The freight train was operated by BNSF Railway and seven cars long: two locomotives up front, a buffer car to protect the train's two crew members from any hazardous cargo, and four tanker cars, which state officials say were empty.
No injuries—to humans or wildlife—have been reported.
The Washington Department of Ecology initially reported that "most" of the spilled fuel went onto the land side of the waterfront track.
Later Thursday morning, Ecology spokesperson Scarlet Tang said the trains' two locomotives had both tipped over onto the upland side of the tracks. The empty tank cars remained upright and did not spill.
"Luckily, they tipped over onto the land side of the railroad track berm rather than the shore side," Tang said. "If it had tipped over onto the other side, it would've spilled into onto the shore, where there are some really valuable eelgrass beds."
"The train was traveling east. Before reaching the bridge that crosses the Swinomish Channel, both engines and at least one other car left the tracks," according to a Swinomish Tribe press release Thursday morning.
This train was a short stub compared to the mile-long oil trains that frequently rumble along the shores of Puget Sound, with two engine cars pulling at the front and two pushing at the rear. Such a BNSF Railway train derailed and caught fire near Custer, Washington, in 2020, spilling about 7,000 gallons of oil and sending another 22,000 gallons up in smoke.
"BNSF Railway can confirm that two locomotives derailed near Anacortes, Wash. on March 16, at approximately midnight local time," BNSF Railway spokesperson Lena Kent said in an email.
Kent disputed Ecology's estimate of the size of the spill, saying "5,000 [gallons] may have been originally reported, however, it appears to be a minimal amount," she said.Continue reading »
Pizza-sized predators to get federal protectionBy
The world’s fastest sea star could get a little boost from the U.S. government.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has proposed listing the sunflower star as a threatened species, which could lead federal agencies to block projects that would harm its habitats and unlock funding for research on how to save the species.
The pizza-sized predator with up to two dozen arms has been unable to outrun the world’s worst underwater pandemic.
A wasting disease has turned 20 species of sea stars into goo from Alaska to Mexico. None has been hit harder than the sunflower star, a once-dominant predator on Pacific Coast seafloors and in kelp forests.
“Sea star wasting syndrome” — scientists’ placeholder name for what remains a mystery illness — has killed 5 billion sunflower stars, or 90% of their global population, over the past decade.
From the Olympic Peninsula to Baja, 98% of sunflower stars have died. In the inland Salish Sea of Washingon and British Columbia, 92% have died.
“At this point, there is essentially no smoking gun. There is not a specific pathogen that's been identified yet,” said marine biologist Dayv Lowry with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
RELATED: Scientists race to rescue world’s fastest sea star from oblivion
An international panel of scientists declared the sunflower star “critically endangered” in 2020.
The activist Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the government in 2021 to list the sunflower star as threatened or endangered. The group expects a listing would help reduce threats from water pollution, dredging, shoreline armoring, and other coastal development projects that might push the sunflower stars closer to extinction.
“If you can make sure that its habitat is well protected and that it's not having to deal with pollution that can make it more vulnerable to disease, those things can help the sea star become more resilient in the face of disease,” said Center for Biological Diversity attorney Miyoko Sakashita in Oakland, California.Continue reading »
SIFF employees file petition to unionizeBy
A group of year-round employees at the Seattle International Film Festival have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to form a union.
The employees, who work at SIFF Cinema Uptown and SIFF Cinema Egyptian, said in a press release that they unanimously voted to file for unionization.
Employees are seeking living wages, stable hours and scheduling, just-cause protections, and greater input into SIFF's long-term sustainability as an organization.
Their grievances began during last year's film festival when cinema staff walked out over uncertainty about paid hours post-festival.
After the walkout, employees claim there has been a decline in transparency and working conditions, and communication with administration has been "less than ideal."
In response the press release by the SIFF Cinema Workers Union, management at SIFF provided the following statement:
SIFF is a committed community partner and our strength as a nonprofit serving artists and film lovers is drawn directly from the passion of our employees, patrons and broader film community. This commitment extends to our relationship with those who serve in our workplace. We respect their voices and role not just as employees but also as an integral part of our broader shared community.
On Monday, March 13, we received a formal notice from some of our cinema floor staff regarding a petition to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). This process is governed by federal law as overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.
We respect the rights of these workers to engage in this process and SIFF will strive to engage in good faith, in accordance with our community’s values, at all times. Whatever outcome regarding the potential formation of a new union, we support the rights of SIFF employees to consider this option just as we value their everyday contributions to SIFF’s operations and mission.Continue reading »
Bellevue School Board to vote on school closuresBy
As school districts across the region and state face declining enrollment and budget shortfalls, the Bellevue School Board will decide the fate of two elementary schools on Thursday.
Wilburton and Eastgate elementary schools are on the chopping block as part of a recently revised school consolidation plan. If the board votes to close the schools, Wilburton students would be sent to Clyde Hill and Enatai elementary schools starting next school year. Eastgate students would be combined at Spiritridge and Somerset elementary schools, and Spiritridge’s advanced learning program would be relocated to Woodridge Elementary.
District administrators have said they don’t plan to sell any of the school buildings recommended for consolidation and that they anticipate all staff at the affected schools will be retained.
Thursday’s vote follows weeks of community debate since interim Superintendent Art Jarvis first presented a potential school consolidation plan in February. It was met with criticism from some parents who feel district officials are moving too fast and haven’t involved the community enough in the process.
A month later, after the district hosted several community meetings, Jarvis unveiled a revised plan that took Ardmore Elementary off the closure list. Instead, Jarvis said the school can house the district’s new Arabic language program. He also suggested district staff could focus their efforts on attracting and retaining additional enrollment there.
In a letter to families announcing the updated school consolidation recommendations last week, Jarvis reiterated the “magnitude of the situation.” Enrollment in Bellevue schools has declined by nearly 2,000 students over the last three years, leading to a projected $20 million revenue decline next year, when the state stops basing district per-pupil funding on pre-pandemic student counts.
Administrators expect the situation will only worsen: Enrollment is expected to shrink by 8% over the next decade.
Many other districts are facing the same predicament as enrollment declines, temporary Covid relief funds from federal and state governments run out, and student needs remain heightened.
Facing a $131 million budget deficit, Seattle Public Schools notified at least 30 employees earlier this month that their jobs may be eliminated in the coming months. And the Everett School Board recently approved a cost-cutting plan in which officials can slash up to 142 full-time positions and shut down an online academy, according to the Everett Herald.Continue reading »
Saudi Arabia places order with Boeing for up to 121 planesBy
The new Saudi Arabian national airline, Riyadh Air, will launch with an all-Boeing fleet of 787 Dreamliners.
Boeing announced Tuesday that Riyadh Air will purchase 39 787 Dreamliners, with options for an additional 33 aircraft.
Saudi Arabia’s existing airline Saudia Air will also grow its long-haul fleet with a selection of 787s.
In total, Saudi Arabian carriers announced their intent to purchase up to 121 Dreamliners, marking the fifth-largest commercial order by value in Boeing's history.
“In the aftermath of the pandemic, [the market has] been very depressed for international traffic and the wide bodies that serve international traffic. So, a large 787 order is certainly welcome,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst with Aerodynamic Advisory.
The wide-body jets will support Saudi Arabia’s goal of operating one of the most efficient and sustainable fleets in the world.
Aboulafia said the deal is not only historic. It's also a big order.
"It's the fifth biggest in Boeing's history by theoretical dollar value," he said. "By any metric, it's pretty sizable.”
News of the Saudi plans comes on the heels of Air India’s historic purchase of more than 200 Boeing aircraft last month.
The Puget Sound region remains the headquarters of Boeing's commercial airplanes division, which accounts for around 57,000 employees.Continue reading »
Why the SVB fiasco is not like other banking disasters: Today So Far
This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for March 15, 2023.
The short version is that banking rates rose in the United States, causing businesses, financial backers, and banks to be more cautious. This prompted anxiety, which prompted rumors, and worse, social media posts. Then Silicon Valley Bank went looking for more money to operate during this time and that prompted more anxiety. Businesses ran to pull their money out of the bank, all at once, and SVB buckled under the strain. An event like this is known as a "bank run," which is not as fun as it sounds. They should really come up with another name.
"In hindsight, people are looking at this and saying, 'This was caused by Twitter,'" Seattle Times reporter Paul Roberts told Seattle Now this morning. "This was essentially a bank run fueled by wild speculation on Twitter, in addition to a couple venture capital funds telling their portfolio companies to get out of Silicon Valley Bank. What bank could withstand that? We are used to thinking of bank runs as slow-motion disasters. It takes time to move money, or it used to. It takes time to hear that there is a bank run. Not anymore. We can move money in seconds, we can get the news out, and the concern and the anxiety out, in nanoseconds. I think that is something that regulators, and investors, and companies, and the industry broadly are going to have to think about. How do we protect ourselves against sector-destroying rumors without curbing communication and free speech?"
What happened with SVB is now known as the worst banking disaster since 2008. Again, that is the short version. The longer version is where all the nuance lives.
As Roberts explained, tech companies and startups are not like other businesses. There are specific, big risks involved. The products these companies produce may eventually work, or not, or they work as well as the infamous opti-grab. It can also take a lot of time to get revenue going and turn a profit. Silicon Valley Bank specialized in working with this sector, and its big risks. After a startup got venture capital backing, SVB provided a loan on top of that, and bam, the company had money to pay the bills.
As Seattle Now reports, this setup made SVB a good fit for another industry — Washington's wine businesses. Such wine operations come with their own big risks. When trouble struck SVB, and tech companies starting sweating, so did Washington's wine companies. So right now, Roberts says that wine companies are experiencing "the same mix of short-term relief and long-term uncertainty" that tech companies are. Which is also the feeling folks generally get after they drink too much wine.
When it became more expensive to borrow money, and therefore do business. That hit an industry like tech uniquely. Financial backers weren't as forthcoming with funds. Companies started taking more money out of the bank to pay the bills, that tightened things at SVB, which turned around and sold some assets to keep things going. This is like when bills are due and you hold a garage sale to keep the lights on. Only SVB didn't have musty records, '90s flared jeans, and hundreds of Funko Pop! figures to cash in on. It had $1.8 billion in bonds, which it sold at a loss. When banking colleagues and tech customers saw this "garage sale" going on, folks got nervous and started pulling their money out of the bank, just in case. Well, that just made the situation worse.
That led to a tense meeting last week for Seattle startups. Roberts said startup CEOs meet up about once a month, which happened to be last Thursday. In the middle of the meeting, four CEOs got calls from their investors and venture capital backers, telling them to pull their money out of SVB right away. Two were able to do that, the other two could not access their money.
"I think a lot of it was just a traffic jam," Roberts told Seattle Now. "People were trying to file wires and the system was overloading around that bank ... It was probably a pretty surreal moment. Bank runs are kind of a thing you see in black and white movies. To have something happen like that right now, when you couldn't get your money out of a bank in an age of Venmo and instantaneous cash, must have been terrifying."
One such concerned local company was Strike Graph. Luckily, CEO Justin Beals said things worked out, but it was tense amid last weekend's uncertainty.Continue reading »
New law would make sexual misconduct by corrections staff a felony
A proposed bill in Olympia would impose harsher sentences for corrections officers or staff who are convicted of sexual misconduct against inmates.
The measure is called Kimberly Bender’s law. It would significantly increase the maximum sentences for those convicted.
The bill is named after a woman who was held at the Forks jail in 2021. Bender claimed a guard named John Gray sexually harassed and stalked her. Bender's mother, Dawn Reid, said she knew that her daughter was in trouble.
“Had Kimberly not spoken up, John Gray could have assaulted more women,” she said.
The jail’s internal review found Bender’s claims unsubstantiated. Bender later died by suicide.
But her warning kicked off further investigation. That led to Gray being convicted of sexual misconduct involving four women at the Forks correction facility. Gray served 13 months of a 20-month sentence.
“It’s a gross miscarriage of justice that a man could have taken advantage of a position of power and exerted that power over women in their most vulnerable state,” said Gabriel Galanda, a lawyer who worked with Bender's family in a 2021 lawsuit.
They later won the case against the City of Forks, who the family said failed to stop the abuse of their daughter. Both Galanda and family members believed that offenders like Gray should serve more time.
A house committee is set to look at the bill tomorrow.Continue reading »
How should Seattle look? Like art?: Today So Far
In his most recent Words in Review, KUOW's Bill Radke asks us to consider: Should Seattle be a work of art? He explores this question in a conversation with The Stranger's Charles Mudede.
This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for March 14, 2023.
Reader beware: Today's newsletter might make some folks irate.
There are two buildings in Seattle, right next to each other. One building is nearly 100 years old and looks far more aesthetically pleasing than most any building going up in Seattle today. The location next to it appears much newer, and mostly matches the architectural stylings of modern Seattle. Given the choice, I would live in the old building — likely lacking any modern conveniences — largely because of the aesthetic living environment it offers. I would find its neighbor rather stale and depressing.
But I can't live in either of these buildings, and not because they are located in pricey South Lake Union. These buildings are Public Storage facilities, located on Fairview Avenue, and one of them appears more appealing to live in than most any new housing units in town. It should probably say something, too, that a modern storage warehouse provides the same aesthetic impression as a newer apartment building. Seriously, look at this building, and then this one, or whatever the heck this thing is.
In his most recent Words in Review, KUOW's Bill Radke asks us to consider: Should Seattle be a work of art? He explores this question in a conversation with The Stranger's Charles Mudede, who recently commented to the New York Times about Seattle's bland appearance these days. It's refreshing because, for once, it's not just me giving the city a hard time for its lack of taste. While I have tried to avoid pointing too many fingers around Seattle, Mudede has no problem calling out the Urbana in Ballard as an example of a "monstrosity."
"I’ve even said, if the (design review) board was made of beavers, we would get a better building than what we have in Ballard. The Urbana is stunningly, I mean, it is the ground zero of all that you could imagine … in a city where, you know, we live together, we should be a little more cosmopolitan, right? We should have a little more taste, right? Flair! When you look at that building, you think, 'My goodness!'"
The thing about the Urbana is that it is efficient and serves its purpose, which is what a lot of people are arguing for in Seattle. This argument is why I figure today's newsletter will rub people the wrong way. There is a divide around the city when it comes to housing. It's probably safe to say most everyone agrees that more housing, and affordable housing at that, is needed. Among that agreement is the "tsk tsk" crowd when it comes the appearance of the city, which is pretty snobby. And then there is the "We desperately need housing now! Build like the wind! Down with NIMBYs!" crowd, which can also be pretty snobby. And honestly, Seattle, no matter where you land on this spectrum, a lot folks seem to speak up any time a change is proposed for their corner of the city, despite an awareness more housing is needed — admit it.
Our state will need more than 1 million homes over the next couple decades. Being the economic engine that it is, Seattle is at the center of this. This need is also emerging as the region faces severe homelessness. It is understandable that someone could get a little miffed when a critic (including the minimally educated like myself) comes along and says that housing looks bad. "Who cares what it looks like?! We desperately need to house people!" But this is a false option, according to Mudede.
"I do believe that housing and art do not have to be separated," Mudede told Radke.
"I am for aesthetics. Some of the stuff that's come out of the (city's) review boards cannot be looked at. Come on, when I use the word 'abomination,' I'm serious."
Environment matters. Aesthetics matter. Consider motorcycles. BMW motorcycles of the 1950s through about the 1970s looked pretty cool. You'd feel pretty cool riding on one. Today, however, I would not use the word "cool" to describe them (sorry BMW). "Efficient," sure. "Well-engineered," obviously. They're great for lengthy, rambling road trips, but not so much for instilling a sense of "this motorcyclist is happening." A similar sentiment could be said for many modern apartment buildings. A 2010 Gallup / Knight Foundation survey found that "social offerings, openness, and aesthetics" contributed most to a feeling of attachment in a community. It wasn't one issue or another. The University of Washington has also found that our everyday environment can influence our mental health. There is a value for everyone in our surroundings.Continue reading »
Everett is the latest community to open a Bezos-funded free preschoolBy
A new tuition-free Montessori-inspired preschool is open in downtown Everett, backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. It’s called Bezos Academy.
The school offers year-round Montessori-inspired education to children ages 3-5 years old, five days a week.
"As with all of our schools, this one has been nearly a couple of years in the making. So it takes us a while between when we first have a conversation with an organization, in this case the city of Everett that was excited to bring a full-day tuition-free preschool to the community," said Katie Ford, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Bezos Academy.
Located downtown at Everett Station, the tuition-free learning center opened its doors on March 2, 2023. It serves about 54 students. The new school takes up about 3,800 square feet, where they have three classrooms that can accommodate 20 students each.
Such schools are open in under-resourced communities, but admissions eligibility isn’t just determined by family income.
"We give preference to children who are in foster care or whose families are experiencing homelessness; about 13% of our enrolled students are in that category," says Ford.
Teaching time is from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. During that time preschoolers are exposed to a mix of music, art, and playtime, but that’s not all.
“We do everything from hiring and training the teachers to providing breakfast and lunch snacks," Ford said. "And for families who want it, we'll send dinner home as well." The program also includes before and aftercare, which allows students to be on-site from 8am-5pm.
Ford said the academy's program is designed to serve students who come from families who earn up to 400% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that's about $110,000 a year.
Families can apply for a lottery to attend a new school, but there’s a waitlist for students interested in joining midway through the academic year.
All available slots are currently full at the Everett station school, however, families can sign up to join the waitlist at BezosAcademy.org.Continue reading »
Teachers, lawmakers, and cherry blossom trees: Today So Far
- The rate of teachers leaving the job is at a 38-year high in Washington state.
- Lawmakers in Olympia passed a key deadline last week, marking which bills are moving forward, and which ones are being filed under "maybe next time."
- A solution to Seattle's cherry blossom drama may have emerged.
This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for March 13, 2023.
The rate of teachers leaving the job is at a 38-year high in Washington state. That adds up to 9%, recorded at the end of the 2021-22 school year. The state's teacher turnover rate is at 20% — which includes teachers moving to different schools, going into non-teaching roles, and those leaving the profession altogether.
The past few pandemic years seem to have exacerbated the issue, and it appears that this trend is more severely felt in high-poverty schools. KUOW's Sami West has the full story here.
Lawmakers in Olympia passed a key deadline last week, marking which bills are moving forward, and which ones are being filed under "maybe next time."
Northwest News Network's Jeanie Lindsay has a great roundup of such bills. Some have gone through smoothly with a bipartisan thumbs up, such as support for nurse staffing and increasing the supply of housing. But there are other bills moving forward that aren't as widely supported, many of which (unsurprisingly) fall along party lines. Public safety is one divisive issue. The effort to ban the sale of assault rifles, and implement a standard 10-day waiting period to purchase a firearm, has proven successful so far in the House. Now it's working through the Senate. Expect pushback, primarily from Republicans. There's another effort in the Senate that aims to hold gun sellers liable if weapons they sell are later used illegally.
There is also the issue of police pursuits that is proving to be a hot topic. After some drama last week, a bill that would ease up on some recently implemented restrictions around pursuits is moving forward. Republicans want more out of it, and many Democrats are hesitant to change course. Lawmakers changed the law in 2021, stating that police can only pursue for suspicion of DUI, and with probable cause for violent and sexual assault crimes. The proposal up for consideration now would lower the bar from "probable cause" to "reasonable suspicion" for such offenses, and add escape, domestic violence, and vehicular assault to the list. I previously covered the big difference in TSF.
And those are just the bills around public safety. Lawmakers are also chatting about health care, housing, environment, and changes to various drug laws. Check out the full story here.
A solution to Seattle's cherry blossom drama may have emerged last week. The city wants to remodel the sidewalks near Pike Place Market, along Pike Street. To do this, crews will have to cut down cherry blossom trees that line the street, a move that proved controversial for local tree lovers. Mayor Bruce Harrell has stepped in and ordered that the trees be cut down anyway, but unlike the previous plan (which was to replace them with elms), the city will now replace the eight cherry blossoms with 24 cherry blossoms. They'll be placed both along the remodeled stretch of Pike Street, as well as other parts of Seattle's waterfront.
This move comes alongside the city's current effort to increase its tree canopy, which has been on the decline in recent years. Read the full story here.
AS SEEN ON KUOWContinue reading »