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KUOW Blog

News, factoids, and insights from KUOW's newsroom. And maybe some peeks behind the scenes. Check back daily for updates.

Have any leads or feedback for the KUOW Blog? Contact Dyer Oxley at dyer@kuow.org.

Stories

  • Will closing schools really balance the budget for Seattle Public Schools? Parents have their doubts

    caption: Students arrive for the first day of school on Wednesday, September 6, 2023, at Daniel Bagley Elementary School in Seattle.
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    Students arrive for the first day of school on Wednesday, September 6, 2023, at Daniel Bagley Elementary School in Seattle.

    Seattle parents will get more details next week on the school district's proposal to close up to 20 elementary schools by the fall of 2025.

    The district is holding three in-person "well-resourced school" meetings at high schools across the city next week, and one on Zoom the following week.

    District officials have said distributing students more evenly across fewer schools is key to get back on good financial footing and better serve students. The district faces a $105 million budget gap next school year, and even larger shortfalls of $129 million and $153 million the following two school years.

    But a growing number of parents and community members are skeptical that the benefits of shuttering over a quarter of the district's elementary and K-8 schools outweigh the disruption for families.

    The district says closing a school saves between $750,000 and $2 million in expenses related to administration, transportation, support staff, building maintenance, and operations.

    RELATED: How Seattle Public Schools' budget woes got so bad

    Megan Fisher, the parent of a first-grader at West Seattle's Gateway Elementary, says the district should provide the public with more data showing closures are the best solution to the ongoing budget crisis.

    "Like our kids in school, we get taught to show our work when we're doing math," she said. "We just want to see the district show us their work."

    Fisher is also a leader of All Together for Seattle Schools, a citywide grassroots advocacy group of parents, teachers, and community members. As of Friday afternoon, their letter opposing the closure plan had gotten nearly 600 signatures in less than a week.

    The letter also calls for the district to provide more data and analysis on potential closures, consider alternative plans, and better involve the community in the process.

    "It's a bummer to not feel, as a parent, that your voice actually matters or is able to be heard," Fisher said.

    Continue reading »
  • Low-income families in Washington can get free air conditioning, but time is running out

    generic air conditioning
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    Vladislav Nikonov via Unsplash

    This summer could be a scorcher in Washington. Low-income families in the state have about a month left to get free air conditioning units.

    Thanks to federal money funneled through community organizations, people living below a certain income can get help paying for their energy bills. And this year, they can also get a voucher to buy an air-conditioning unit for their home, choosing from a few eligible models on Amazon. That’s thanks to a pandemic-era bump in federal funding.

    The income cutoff depends on family size. In King County, it’s $45,000 for a family of four.

    RELATED: Seattle is now an air conditioning town

    People can apply through community organizations, including the Byrd Barr Place in Seattle and HopeLink on the Eastside and in Shoreline.

    The state commerce department expects most of the air conditioning funding to run out by the end of June, so interested families should apply soon.

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  • Assistant chief with Seattle Police put on leave, reasons unclear

    caption: Seattle Police Department patch.
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    Seattle Police Department patch.
    Facebook Photo/Seattle Police Officers Guild

    Updated 5:35 p.m. on 5/24/2024.

    Tyrone Davis, an assistant chief for the Seattle Police Department, was put on leave Thursday, according to the police department’s communications department.

    Chief Adrian Diaz sent a department-wide email saying that due to allegations sent to the police oversight agency, he had taken “the precautionary step” of putting Davis on administrative leave.

    The email came as a surprise across the department, according to several who received it.

    The department would not say why Davis was put on leave. The Office of Police Accountability said it received a complaint regarding Davis on May 8.

    Reached Friday, Davis said he could not talk.

    This is the latest setback in a department plagued nearly weekly by bad news at the top levels.

    On Monday, Captain Eric Greening sued the department and Chief Diaz, alleging that Diaz discriminated against women and people of color at the department.

    Greening was the third former assistant chief to accuse Diaz in lawsuits of racist and sexist behavior. Diaz demoted all three former assistant chiefs prior to their legal claims. Former Assistant Chief Steve Hirjak settled for $600,000 in 2023.

    Of the eight people who have recently sued the department for workplace discrimination, three were Black, three were white, and two were Asian. None were white men.

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  • Seattle Police must report what it’s doing to hire women: City Council resolution

    caption: (Archive) Kimberly Rodriguez, a new recruit for the Seattle Police Department, on her first day at the police academy in 2015.
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    (Archive) Kimberly Rodriguez, a new recruit for the Seattle Police Department, on her first day at the police academy in 2015.
    KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

    The Seattle City Council has weighed in on the five lawsuits filed against the police department — all alleging racial and gender discrimination.

    On Tuesday, the City Council passed a resolution mandating that the police department report what it is doing to hire more women and address allegations of sexism and racial discrimination — much of it detailed in KUOW reporting.

    “It’s time for the behavior described by women at SPD to end — full stop,” said Councilmember Tammy Morales in a statement.

    The resolution came one day after Captain Eric Greening filed a lawsuit saying Chief Adrian Diaz dismisses feedback from BIPOC and female officers.

    Women currently make up 12% of officers at the Seattle Police Department. The department has pledged, through its collaboration with the 30x30 initiative, to increase that to 30% of its recruiting class by 2030.

    Ted Buck, Chief Adrian Diaz’s personal attorney, wrote in a statement that the police department is “deeply committed to enhancing diversity department-wide.”

    Buck noted that Diaz launched the Relational Policing Initiative in 2022, “which focused on changing the future of policing.”

    Buck added, “Also, for the first time in department history there is an Executive Director of Employee Support Services to oversee general officer wellness. Her sole focus will be building and maintaining officer resilience.”

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  • Washington joins lawsuit challenging Live Nation, Ticketmaster's dominance

    caption: The Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington. The venue is managed by Live Nation Entertainment. In May 2024, Washington state joined a DOJ civil antitrust lawsuit which seeks to split Live Nation and Ticketmaster into separate companies, alleging they have a monopoly over the industry.
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    The Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington. The venue is managed by Live Nation Entertainment. In May 2024, Washington state joined a DOJ civil antitrust lawsuit which seeks to split Live Nation and Ticketmaster into separate companies, alleging they have a monopoly over the industry.

    Washington state has joined the Department of Justice in a lawsuit alleging Ticketmaster and Live Nation Entertainment have a monopoly on event sales in the United States. They seek to split the companies in two, and water down their influence.

    “Free enterprise is built on companies competing,” Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “Instead, these industry leaders squeezed out the competition to increase their profits, at the expense of fans. My office is partnering with this bipartisan coalition to put an end to this monopoly.”

    RELATED: Bumbershoot 2024 lineup announced, including Pavement, Cypress Hill, Kim Gordon, more

    Live Nation and Ticketmaster merged in 2010. The Attorney General's Office says the lawsuit aims to separate Live Nation and Ticketmaster into two separate companies, and get financial restitution for customers.

    Washington is now among 30 states and district attorneys that have joined the DOJ's civil antitrust lawsuit against the event and ticket companies. The lawsuit argues that, together, Live Nation and Ticketmaster have created a monopoly over event sales in the United States.

    As NPR reports, the lawsuit comes after years of criticism from artists, venues, Congress members, and customers. The suit alleges that Ticketmaster and Live Nation have leveraged their influence to retaliate against competition and lock them out of popular venues, controlling musicians' access to certain venues, and buying out smaller ticket companies to expand dominance in the industry. All of which, the lawsuit claims, are violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

    RELATED: How to stretch your summer concert budget around Seattle

    Washington's Attorney General's Office claims that Ticketmaster's internal documents indicate that the company handles 70-80% of ticket sales in North America, while Live Nation "owns, operates or has significant influence over more than 250 venues in North America, including more than 60 of the top 100 amphitheaters in the United States," and also has controlling interests in festivals such as Lollapalooza and Bonaroo.

    The AG's office also notes that Live Nation manages the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington, along with the RV Inn Style Resorts Amphitheater in Ridgefield, and the White River Amphitheater in Auburn.

    The lawsuit has been filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

    In response to the lawsuit, Live Nation has kicked off a campaign to counter, which includes a "Facts About Live Nation Entertainment" website.

    In a statement, Live Nation Executive Vice President Dan Wall said the lawsuit was anticipated and is the result of "a long-term lobbying campaign from rivals trying to limit competition and ticket brokers seeking government protection for their business model of scooping up concert tickets and jacking up the price."

    "The complaint—and even more so the press conference announcing it—attempt to portray Live Nation and Ticketmaster as the cause of fan frustration with the live entertainment industry. Despite admitting that '[t]he face values of tickets are typically set or approved by artists,' it blames concert promoters and ticketing companies—neither of which control ticket prices—for high ticket prices. It ignores everything that is actually responsible for higher ticket prices, from rising production costs, to artist popularity, to 24/7 online ticket scalping that reveals the public’s willingness to pay far more than primary ticket prices. It blames Live Nation and Ticketmaster for high service charges—and just the fact that there are fees—but ignores that Ticketmaster retains only a modest portion of those fees. In fact, primary ticketing is one of the least expensive digital distributions in the economy."

    Live Nation claims that it takes a 5% commission on standard fees. It compares that StubHub's 37%, Uber's 25%, or Airbnb's 17.2%.

    In his statement, Wall added that it is "absurd" to claim the companies "wield monopoly power," arguing that Ticketmaster's service charges are no higher than its competition (SeatGeek, AXS) and "are frequently lower."

    This article has been updated to include a response from Live Nation.

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  • Campaign kicks off to save Washington's capital gains tax

    caption: Diana Llanes, owner and operator of Once Upon a Time Bilingual Childcare Center in Burien, plays with children outside on May 22, 2024 after the official launch of the campaign to defeat Initiative 2109. The initiative will appear on ballots in November and aims to repeal Washington's capital gains tax. The tax helps fund early learning and child care.
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    Diana Llanes, owner and operator of Once Upon a Time Bilingual Childcare Center in Burien, plays with children outside on May 22, 2024 after the official launch of the campaign to defeat Initiative 2109. The initiative will appear on ballots in November and aims to repeal Washington's capital gains tax. The tax helps fund early learning and child care.
    KUOW

    It's been just over two years since Washington's capital gains tax went into effect, and already there's a ballot initiative to repeal it. But a new campaign is pushing back, fighting to preserve the tax.

    Opponents of Initiative 2109 gathered in Burien and other cities across the state on Wednesday to officially begin campaigning against the measure. I-2109 will appear on the November ballot and will ask voters if the capital gains tax should stay or be repealed.

    RELATED: Capital gains tax receipts in Washington state tumble

    Democratic state Rep. Tana Senn (D–Mercer Island) would like to save it. She said revenue from the tax funds school construction and child-care programs. She argues that just a few Washingtonians are subject to the capital gains tax.

    "What we need to really emphasize is that less than 4,000 people in our state pay this tax and maybe a handful in Eastern Washington," Senn said. "These dollars go across our state."

    Diana Llanes runs a bilingual childcare center in Burien. At the kick-off event Wednesday morning, she said that repealing the tax could hit the state's child-care industry hard.

    "Not only the parents need the child care, but if the funding ends, it will affect the families, and will affect my own business, my small business," Llanes said. "And I won't be able to provide work for my staff."

    Under Washington state's capital gains tax, individual profits from the sale of long-term stocks or bonds above $262,000 are taxed at 7%. Real estate sales are not subject to the tax.

    Voters will decide on the November 2024 ballot whether to overturn the tax, alongside other conservative-backed initiatives, including one that could dismantle the state's carbon credit market and another that aims to make participation in WA Cares, the state's long-term health care program, optional.

    RELATED: Campaign to defend Washington state's climate law raises $11 million, far outpacing opposition

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  • ‘It was David and Goliath.’ Eyewitness describes shooting in murder trial of Auburn police officer

    On the fourth day of the murder trial of Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, a witness described the moments that led to Nelson fatally shooting Jesse Sarey, 26.

    Steven Woodard watched as Nelson shot Sarey twice, and the struggle beforehand, after he and his family pulled into the parking lot of the Sunshine Grocery convenience store in Auburn in 2019. Nelson was charged with second-degree murder and first-degree assault in 2020.

    On Wednesday, Prosecutor Angelo Calfo had Woodard describe what happened that day nearly five years ago.

    Kristen Murray, Nelson’s attorney, shared several video clips showing interviews Woodard gave police the day of the shooting, seemingly in an attempt to point out inconsistencies.

    During his testimony to the jury, Woodard compared the two to “David and Goliath,” because Nelson’s stature was three times larger than that of Sarey’s.

    The altercation “all happened so quickly,” Woodard said, his neck tattoos peeking out from the neckline of his black T-shirt. It was his favorite shirt, and reduced his anxiety, the prosecution explained to the judge. It was also the shirt he wore the day Sarey was killed.

    Sarey asked Woodard for change, “in a soft, polite voice,” Woodard said, but he didn’t have any change to give him.

    Sarey sat on the concrete outside the convenience store, and was digging through a cardboard box of trash looking for something to drink, when Nelson approached him, Woodard said.

    Nelson commanded Sarey to put his hands behind his back and a fight ensued. Woodard said Nelson and Sarey grappled.

    “They were going around in circles like the Tasmanian Devil in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons,” he said.

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  • How much are safer streets worth? Seattle leaders, voters to decide

    caption: Traffic on Second Avenue in downtown Seattle.
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    Traffic on Second Avenue in downtown Seattle.
    Flickr Photo/Oran Viriyincy (CC-BY-NC-ND)/http://bit.ly/1irsJLd

    Making roads (and sidewalks and trails) safer for everyone can be an expensive proposition.

    The Seattle City Council is considering how much to ask taxpayers to cough up for the November 2024 transportation levy.

    Mayor Bruce Harrell has proposed a $1.45 billion levy for the fall ballot. The city council gets to say what goes in the package before it goes to voters.

    Harrell’s proposal would double funding for the city's Vision Zero program aimed at eliminating traffic deaths, build 250 blocks of sidewalks in four years and add barriers to a third of the city’s bike lanes.

    RELATED: $1B for sidewalks, bike lanes, and road repairs: Seattle transportation levy ahead

    Advocates for pedestrians and bicyclists say the proposed levy is too small to address the toll of deaths and injuries on Seattle’s roadways. Traffic crashes killed 27 people and seriously injured more than 250 in Seattle in 2023, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation.

    “This is really important to me,” Councilmember Tammy Morales said Tuesday at a public meeting on the levy.

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  • Capital gains tax receipts in Washington state tumble

    Washington state capitol
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    Washington state officials report $433 million in payments in April, down from $786 million in 2023. Lawmakers may need to address the decline.

    Capital gains tax collections in Washington have plummeted in their second year, creating potential challenges for the next governor and legislative budget writers in 2025.

    Washington took in $433 million as of May 15, 2024. That's down from $786 million netted in 2023, the first year the tax was paid. The number of those filing remained steady, according to state Department of Revenue data.

    RELATED: SCOTUS won't hear case challenging the WA capital gains tax

    And again, a handful of filers accounted for a significant share of the dough. The top 10 payments accounted for $142 million this year compared to $394 million last year. Overall, there were around 3,000 payments in each of the last two years. There are nearly 8 million people in Washington state.

    State lawmakers knew the capital gains tax would be an unpredictable revenue source, prone to up and down swings. Now they have a better sense of what that volatility looks like.

    “It’s such a new tax. We’ll see what happens,” said Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “It looks like revenue for the budget will be less. As a budget writer, you don’t like to see that but I’m really not that surprised.”

    How much less isn’t clear yet.

    Each fiscal year, up to $500 million from the tax is deposited into a state account for schools, early learning, and child care programs. Any tax collections beyond that amount go to an account that helps pay for school construction and renovations.

    The tax has generated slightly more than $1.2 billion for the current two-year budget cycle, which runs through June 30, 2025. But lawmakers counted $1.5 billion for the state’s operating and capital budgets, and $1.7 billion in the next biennium.

    That means steps may be needed to cover any gap. Next month, the state’s chief economist will release a new revenue forecast with estimates of how much this tax will bring in for the next couple years.

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  • Federal Way's rhododendron garden has noticed how NW summer is affecting certain rhodys

    caption: The Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Federal Way has more than 700 species of rhododendron, and often adds even more varieties from around the world.
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    The Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Federal Way has more than 700 species of rhododendron, and often adds even more varieties from around the world.

    What does Washington state have in common with Nepal, West Virginia, the Jiangxi province in China, and the Indian state of Sikkim?

    All these places have chosen rhododendrons as their region's symbol. It's the provincial flower of Jiangxi and the national flower of Nepal. And it's the state tree of Sikkim. In Washington, the Pacific Rhododendron, aka Coast Rhododendron or Rhododendron macrophyllum, has been the state flower since the late 1800s (officially, since the 1950s).

    But here's the thing: All the above mentioned rhododendrons are actually very different plants.

    RELATED: What Ciscoe Morris says you should know about Seattle gardening in 2024

    "Most people think of, 'My grandma had this in her driveway. It's big, it's pink and red,'" said Atsuko Gibson, nursery manager and assistant curator at Federal Way's Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden. "But rhododendrons are such a diverse group of plants. Some rhodys can be grown like ground cover ... and some rhodys can be grown like a tree ... and everything in between."

    Listen to Seattle Now's full conversation with Atsuko Gibson here.

    The garden in Federal Way has more than 700 species of Rhododendron, mostly from the wild. Its curator even takes part in plant-hunting exhibitions and often brings back new varieties.

    Out of this immense rhododendron world, only the Pacific rhody is native to the Washington state region. It blooms around June, mostly in mountainous regions, like Mount Rainier, Gibson noted while chatting with Seattle Now.

    Gibson calls the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden "a zoo for plants," offering an opportunity to see the eclectic array of rhodys, including varieties that may be extinct in the wild.

    Gibson has noticed that in recent years, local conditions for rhododendrons have been changing. She told Seattle Now the summers have gotten warmer, and drier, with heat waves lasting longer than she recalls in the past. There are certain species that the garden can no longer grow because of this.

    "Our summers, especially in the last five or six years or so, have changed," Gibson said. "I've seen massive die offs, especially in nurseries. When they're in a container, soils get exposed to heat a lot more. So, in the nursery, I'm seeing massive die offs after a heat event. We didn't used to have above 90 degrees seven days in a row, now we do. So, we are reevaluating what we can grow successfully."

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  • UW student protesters vow to keep speaking out for Palestinians

    caption: University of Washington students pack up a tent and belongings after an agreement between protesters and the University to remove the encampment, on Friday, May 17, 2024, in Seattle.
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    University of Washington students pack up a tent and belongings after an agreement between protesters and the University to remove the encampment, on Friday, May 17, 2024, in Seattle.
    KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


    The University of Washington Quad was quiet Monday afternoon. There were a couple dozen people lingering. Some were packing up. Some were folding blankets. Others were stuffing plastic bags with their belongings or leftover supplies.

    RELATED: What comes next for the pro-Palestine protesters at UW?

    The pro-Palestinian encampment first appeared April 29 and started ending quietly last week after the university administration and protesters reached an agreement.

    One protester, who would only identify himself as Kashf, said they’re not claiming victory. But he said he hopes the deal will create an opportunity for 20 displaced students from Gaza to study at UW.

    “They’re going to be able to get an education,” he said. “[And] create a quality of life for themselves, and maybe, god willing, go back to Gaza and fight for a better future.”

    Nearby, Jess Jones, a former student, was packing up a tent. She said it was remarkable how the protest was largely uneventful despite the times when tension nearly erupted, including when conservative commentator Charlie Kirk held an event at the Husky Union Building.

    RELATED: UW president repeats call for pro-Palestinian camp to disband following graffiti, vandalism on campus

    “It was meaningful that things remained peaceful, despite a lot of factors that could’ve expanded it into more difficulty,” she said.

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  • Bumbershoot 2024 lineup announced: Pavement, Cypress Hill, Kim Gordon, more coming to Seattle

    caption: Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth performs in 2008. Gordon is among the acts headlining Bumbershoot 2024 in Seattle, along with Pavement, Cyprus Hill, James Blake, Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett, and more.
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    Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth performs in 2008. Gordon is among the acts headlining Bumbershoot 2024 in Seattle, along with Pavement, Cyprus Hill, James Blake, Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett, and more.

    The music scene is crazy. Bands start up each and every day. I saw another one just the other day. A special new band, but not all are special enough to headline Seattle's Bumbershoot, which just announced its 2024 lineup. Seattle's Labor Day Weekend festival this year boasts Pavement, Kim Gordon, Cyprus Hill, James Blake, Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett, and many, many more.

    Bumbershoot 2024's culinary program is bringing in 29 local restaurants, and 26 wineries and breweries, many of which are James Beard Award finalists or have been featured on The New York Times list of Seattle’s best restaurants.

    RELATED: Bumbershoot's new look attracted large crowds in 2023

    The festival is also bringing back its Fashion District and Animation District as part of its visual arts offerings. As part of the Animation District, Bumbershoot will hold a new international competition: Bigfoot deepfakes. Folks are invited to submit their best deepfakes of Bigfoot. The festival says it is meant to be a "comedic and harrowing portrait of current deepfake technology."

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