Mayor Bruce Harrell – State of the City – Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Seattle – Today, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell gave his first State of the City speech. He gave an update on the issues facing the City of Seattle, along with his early priorities and efforts to address them, in remarks given directly to the City Council and to the people of Seattle. Harrell was the first mayor to deliver his address directly to City Council since 2016.

A transcript of the remarks is below, watch the recording on Seattle Channel here.

Council President Juarez, members of the Seattle City Council, thank you for allowing me to join you on my first report on the State of the City. 

I entered office six weeks ago with a commitment to a new approach – to a vision of One Seattle – defined by a commitment to listen to and work with one another toward shared goals rooted in urgency and action. 

I’m pleased to be joined by members of my Executive Team, who I know you are already working closely with every day. 

From the Mayor’s Office, you will never hear me or members of my administration attack your integrity or your commitment to solve the problems that both of our branches of government face. I hope you will share this approach. I have heard loudly and clearly that this is what the public wants.   

Our priorities do not have to contradict – instead of looking at differing opinions as mutually exclusive, we can look to the politics of and – A-N-D. The right number of officers AND the right kind of officers. More housing AND vibrant, unique neighborhoods. Climate justice AND new jobs.  Diversity AND commonality.   

All of us – on this call and throughout Seattle – have much more in common than we are often told. Let’s build on this spirit of unity. That concept should be our baseline; not the proposition that we are perpetually divided.  That’s how we built the Space Needle; cleaned up Lake Washington; how we created libraries and parks; and how Seattle became one of the most desirable American cities to live in.   

One Seattle means a renewed focus on good governance and tangible progress, on nuance and conversation, I believe this group, right here, can – and will – set a new tone and a new example for what can be achieved when we hit reset and chart a shared agenda for our City – together. 

Council President Debora Juarez’s historic, unanimous election to Council President shows that you believe in this spirit of unity the same way I do. She is the right person to lead the Council. Her trademark responsiveness and collaborative nature – and sense of humor – are already making a real difference.  It is my hope however, that during this speech, she does not order the Clerk to hit the mute button, because I have some plans I would like to share with you.  

We need her leadership because the challenges facing Seattle are difficult – some of the most difficult the City has ever faced. 

The truth is the status quo is unacceptable – that is the ONE AREA where we must all agree. 

It seems like every day I hear stories of longtime small businesses closing their doors for good or leaving our city; of families forever changed because of senseless tragedy driven by gun violence or overdose; of rising rents and an inability to pay bills or find housing; of climate impacts; of disillusioned youth and residents who don’t feel seen or heard.  

As we come out of COVID recovery, Seattle can and will be so much more. This is my core belief and will be the driving principle behind our administration.  

It is clear to me that the public deserves to see change and to know that we are acting with the urgency required by this moment. 

In my first six weeks in office, you are seeing us in real time build sustainable systems that will move our city forward.  Quite candidly, perhaps because of the pandemic, I did not inherit clear departmental systems to adequately address the conditions of public safety or homelessness.  

I would like to be clear on a point. I believe in GOING BACK TO THE BASICS. That’s where good governance begins. 

The basics include efforts like our housing first policy. Fixing a pothole. Making sure our sidewalks and parks are safe for children and families to use. Making sure we enforce our criminal laws against those who are harming others. 

We lead with and acknowledge the fact that African Americans have been subject to 400 hundred years of institutional racism; that the exploitation of our indigenous people has been woven into the fabric of this county since its inception; and that in 2022 we have seen anti-Asian hate and antisemitism at alarming levels. Those understandings should be part of our basics as well, and just as important. 

Going back to the basics means serving the public — the entire public. And it means serving them well. 

That’s why you heard me two weeks ago talk about my commitment to public safety in the face of a report showing significant increases in violent crime and an over 40% increase in shots fired last year. 

I shared results of immediate action to address crime and look at the data to recognize which neighborhoods and communities are most impacted by public safety issues. 

That is not rocket science. I think what is critical and new however, is that we remain wholly committed to avoiding the mistakes of the past. 

My administration is reaching out to members of the criminal defense bar, many of whom are my friends, to let them know that when we make arrests, we will make sure constitutional rights are protected; alternative forms other than arrest are explored; treatment plans are in place and that a militarized or racialized approach will not be tolerated.  

We provided specific arrest numbers and amounts of stolen goods recovered AND described how dozens of vulnerable people, caught up in a web of organized retail theft and other crimes, were assisted without incarceration. 

This is just one example of how we define progress: not just with law enforcement, but also community engagement, outreach, support and social services. It means not just addressing gun violence but preventing it – through input and solutions from the communities most impacted, along with groundbreaking laws, local and regional collaboration, and innovative technologies. 

We’ve already begun rolling out elements of our public safety plan, and you will soon hear more details about how integral this holistic approach to public safety is for every Seattle neighborhood. 

Part of that plan requires more officers. The depleted staffing we see today does not allow us to react to emergencies and crime with the response times our residents deserve. It does not allow us to staff the specialty teams we need for issues like domestic violence or DUI or financial crimes targeting the elderly. It does not allow us to conduct the thorough investigations we expect to make sustainable change. 

I recently spoke with Ms. Monica Alexander, the Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Training Commission, about what it will take from the City of Seattle to make sure we have a healthy pipeline of Seattle police officers. In June 2022, we will have a special Seattle only focused class at the Police Academy – this will mean the next 36 new officers we need to help us reach our public safety goals.  

We have funding to hire 125 new officers this year. So in addition to this special training class, we are rolling out a new campaign to recruit the next generation of Seattle Police, consistent with the values I expect to see in our officers – the culture of the department, the engagement with community, the understanding that justice requires serving the people. 

If you are watching today and interested in helping make our city more safe, just, and supportive, please reach out. We are hiring.  

You recently heard from Chief Diaz about requiring new recruits, as part of their training, to dive into and know the communities they will be working in before they take office. As I said earlier, the right number of police officers AND the right kind of police officers.  

We can have safety AND we can have reform. 

This will be the administration that ends the federal consent decree over SPD. The administration that guides our police to be more accountable, innovative, focused, and representative. 

I have been very pleased with the early priorities Public Safety Chair Lisa Herbold and I have aligned on, and I look forward to continuing to work with her on swift and long-term action, including efforts to improve how we assign and deploy safety resources, like the Nurse Navigation 9-1-1 program I announced last week that Councilmember Herbold was integral in making possible. 

To me, public safety means more than just stopping crime – it means ensuring people get the help they need when they need it and that our systems are built for the safety of ALL people.    

I’d like to continue my discussions with you about the creation of a third kind of public safety department – staffed by community members who have the training to be culturally competent masters of de-escalation. We know that every problem cannot be solved with a gun and a badge response. 

I am intrigued by the creation of the Community Safety and Communication Center (CSCC) as we explore options to move away from a police-centered approach to public safety and to focus more on harm reduction. 

Another example of alignment is the launch of the Health One, Unit 3, expanding beyond downtown to serve South Seattle neighborhoods during non-emergency events like substance abuse or behavioral health issues, and connecting access services. Our willingness to listen to crisis intervention ideas from Seattle Firefighters Local 27 will prove invaluable as we move forward on developing more effective responses to these non-emergency events. 

I agree with this kind of approach. This third department will allow fire and police to focus on addressing the emergencies where they’re most needed.      

We have embarked upon preliminary discussions with Seattle Colleges about building out this kind of curriculum and how we can encourage our Seattle Promise students and BIPOC communities to consider a career in helping protect their communities. 

The time to build this department is now. As we get into the budget process, I will share further steps. 

We will also work closely with our new City Attorney Ann Davison on the issue of public safety and make sure this new approach to public safety is aligned with her office’s strategies.  

Together, we recognize the importance of ensuring we hold bad actors accountable AND build a criminal legal system that looks comprehensively at delivering fairness and true justice for every person. 

—————- 

The homelessness crisis must be treated like the crisis it is. Later this week, I will share a major announcement about the future of our efforts to bring people inside with Executive Dow Constantine, RHA CEO Marc Dones, and philanthropic, business, and civic leaders.  Consistent with the approach the City Council has supported, we will strongly pursue a regional solution to homelessness.  

The Regional Homelessness Authority is now operational and estimates there are more than 40,000 people experiencing homelessness across the region. It’s time to finally implement REAL and OVERDUE regional coordination and the urgency of true crisis response to this challenge. As part of the Governing Committee, I am working with CEO Marc Dones to ensure the “right” strategies are in place that will lead to real, sustainable change. 

I’m also advocating at the state and federal level — working with Governor Inslee before I even took office to advocate for hundreds of millions of dollars to go toward housing and services and improved right-of-way coordination, and with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge to secure federal support. 

But let’s also be clear, Seattle’s efforts will not pause while regional action ramps up. In our first six weeks, we’ve been thoroughly evaluating the City’s existing systems for addressing the impacts of homelessness, working to immediately create more efficient and effective solutions. 

When we entered office, the City had 6 different systems in 6 different departments tracking outreach and services to homeless and vulnerable neighbors—some tracked the number of people, others the number of tents. While individual staff strived to work together, overall systems were not coordinated. This was unacceptable. 

We have since combined these efforts into one system, with cross departmental expectations of coordination, that will form the backbone of not only a transparent dashboard to track progress, but also—and more importantly—better help people move off sidewalks and into shelter and services.  

Further, if a person wanted to report their concern about an encampment with the City, the City did not have a centralized system to log their report and act. Now, for the first time, we are putting the necessary people and processes in place to address the more than 1500 reports we’ve received from the public, just since taking office. Our new system will allow us to take action, share updates, and provide a more complete picture of what’s happening in our City. 

These are the kinds of systems issues where we must do better. 

Along with systems reform, we need new units of housing, and I am aggressively pursuing alternative shelter options, considering a wide array of opportunities, including leasing and buying existing buildings. 

Beyond housing, we also urgently need more and better mental health and addiction treatment services and staffing for the providers and workers who deliver these services – including better wages and benefits to keep people in this demanding profession. 

I know this is an area where Councilmember Andrew Lewis is bringing leadership as committee chair, along with a dedication to the details, to finding housing solutions, and to getting people off the streets. 

My administration’s early work has meant reducing silos locally and regionally, collecting better data, and ensuring departments work together. Our administration is developing a new interdepartmental team – the Unified Care Team. The U-C-T will collect and provide streamlined data to the public, coordinate across departments with one voice, and ensure our plan and progress are clear for all. 

Because we can help people living unsheltered AND we can restore parks and make sidewalks accessible for all. 

Over the last several months, the City has closed some of the largest encampments Seattle has seen – like Green Lake, Broadview Thomson, and Ballard Commons – providing over 400 people with shelter and support. 

However, no one who looks around our City today would say our work is anywhere near complete.     

So, we will continue our efforts on top priorities like Woodland Park, where we are working directly alongside Councilmember Dan Strauss, the RHA, and community groups to support neighbors and connect those living unhoused with appropriate shelter and services. Woodland Park is a gem in our City – and trash, fires, continued inhumane conditions are not acceptable. Period. 

I want to thank Councilmember Strauss for his commitment to community engagement and demonstrable progress in this regard and for neighbors across the City.  

Public spaces are for everyone in our City. With many workers across our City returning to the office over the next several months, our focus must also ensure sidewalks are accessible to the public and clear of obstacles and obstructions. This is an essential obligation of our government, just like continued work to provide shelter, housing, services, and support for those experiencing homelessness.  

We are not yet out of the woods with the pandemic, but the steady decline in positive cases is much needed positive news. I am confident that Seattle will keep up the best response in the nation as we learn to live with this virus going forward. 

As the Omicron wave begins to crest, and with over 90% of Seattle residents having received at least one dose of the vaccine, a renewed focus on return and recovery has become even more essential. 

That includes City employees’ own return to the office. 

City workers have persevered through incredible challenges during the pandemic, including the more than 65% — over 7,000 employees – who have continued to bravely work in the field and in person over the last two years. 

This includes our staff who maintain parks, our crews who keep the power on at City Light, our road workers who fix the roads and clear them when it snows, and our police and fire fighters who respond to emergency calls, and crucially, Seattle Fire who administered vaccines to our most vulnerable. 

In mid-March, we will begin to bring back those employees who have been working from home. I will tell you it has been invigorating to return to the office and work around my colleagues and friends in person. 

I know that this transition will not be easy for everyone, but I am confident that our department directors and labor partners will lead this return-to-work effort in a thoughtful, safe, and compassionate manner. 

I know they are already deep in the work of ensuring an equitable recovery. 

Our COVID recovery must focus on the most impacted and the most vulnerable. Supporting small businesses, arts and nightlife, childcare, youth, and mental health support, and emergency rental assistance. We must get federal and state resources out into the community as soon as we can. 

City employees are up for the task as ambassadors for Seattle, committed to excellence in service for our constituents and neighbors. They inspire me every day. 

In just a short time on the job, I have also been impressed by the work of our City’s departments and directors. The team we’ve built is strong, and I look forward to sending you a steady stream of permanent appointments over the next several months, starting with our City Budget Office Director Julie Dingley. Just as you all have done, I am very proud that these leaders answered the call for public service.  

Critical to the State of the City is the state of our budget. I’m grateful that Director Dingley has done the hard but necessary work of alerting you all to the real and foreseeable issues we are facing in the 2023 budget. 

At this time, relative to 2023 spending, we will face a significant $150 million gap between our expected general fund expenditures and our general fund revenues, the result of a combination of factors, some longstanding, as well as pandemic uncertainty and use of one-time budget funding sources like American Rescue Plan Act dollars. 

While the budget process may seem months away, we know ensuring a balanced budget is one of our core Charter responsibilities. 

Yesterday we received some good news, learning that revenue from the JumpStart Payroll Expense Tax has come in $31 million higher than expected. That additional revenue must go toward alleviating the budget issues we expect in 2023. 

We will need to look at all our options, deciding between one-time and ongoing commitments, adjusting expenditures, revisiting existing funding sources, and looking at options for increasing revenues. 

This work will be hard and it must begin now, which is why I’ve asked departments to immediately begin looking for savings.  While this is not as drastic as the Great Recession when I was on the City Council in 2008 and 2009, we can do this, we have done this, and it starts with transparency and a commitment to the basics, like public safety and human services.  

As Council pledged during last year’s budget process, I too commit to addressing this challenge together. 

I know working alongside the strong leadership of Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda, we will get to a budget that is financially sound AND supports our values. 

Another top priority I know Councilmember Mosqueda – and Councilmember Herbold – are following closely is the West Seattle Bridge. The bridge remains one of the City’s most pressing priorities, even, as I announced last week, that the re-opening schedule is threatened by the ongoing concrete work stoppage. 

So many of our projects involve concrete – from our Waterfront Seattle Program to our Ship Canal Water Quality Control project, and just about every major SDOT priority, including the Madison Rapid Ride Line, and curb ramp and sidewalk installation improvements. 

I have been clear that business and labor must return to the bargaining table and reach a fair agreement. This conflict continues to dangerously escalate in a way that helps no one and hurts everyone. To make my commitment to a just resolution clear, I offer this room to the workers and businesses – any time – as a place to come together and resolve their disagreement. 

I want to thank Councilmember Alex Pedersen for his close attention to the West Seattle Bridge project, and to so many other critical infrastructure, bridge, and transportation projects. His eye for detail and commitment to effective transportation solutions are outstanding. 

Within our transportation planning we must advance urgently needed Vision Zero enhancements and improvements, working to prevent death and serious injury through streets that prioritize people. Public safety includes safe streets. 

I want to also highlight the importance of new groundbreakings for our Waterfront Program, as part of a transformative investment to create over 20 acres of public space that all of the public can enjoy. 

Access to transit, safe streets, parks, sports, and mentorship – those are the things that made a difference in my life, and in so many others. And these are programs and infrastructure that help make our city welcoming to families and kids and connect our communities to our schools. 

We are forging a new relationship with our Seattle Public Schools at a time when supporting public education – and the 56,000 kids enrolled in our Seattle Schools – has never been more important. Working with Superintendent Dr. Brent Jones and the School Board, we are going to make sure Seattle students receive the support they need coming out of this pandemic, and the educational tools to thrive in a changing economy. 

This support must start early – that’s why I’m so excited that our nationally recognized Seattle Preschool Program will provide more than 2100 seats for our youngest learners this year – an increase of over 125 seats from last year. Most Seattle families qualify for free tuition, and over three-quarters of Preschool Program students are students of color. 

I look forward to partnering with Education Chair Tammy Morales on how we can do more for Seattle kids and students, including increased access to high quality, affordable preschool and to post-secondary education through the Seattle Promise. Her passion and commitment to drive equity through education is a shared principle of ours. 

I want small and local businesses to know that I hear them and that I am working to address their very real concerns. I am open to your ideas and looking forward to working with BIAs and small business districts on tangible improvements. 

That’s why one of the first bills I’ve submitted to Council would fund additional resources for tourism with a small increase in the lodging fee – an effort supported by the downtown BIA, hotels, and the hospitality industry. 

I know Councilmember Sara Nelson shares my passion for helping small businesses, and I am excited to see she is already bringing her dynamic experience in this arena to support new ideas. Her background as a small business owner and her platform highlighting the importance that small businesses bring to all communities and communities of color will be instrumental in making sure our COVID recovery plans are successful. 

Supporting small businesses is a means to create equity in our City.  Our work together must support businesses owned and operated by women, veterans, LGBTQ+ folks, and communities of color by improving contracting and access to capital, cutting red tape and simplifying certification requirements. 

20 cents of every dollar spent by the City last year went to Women- and Minority-owned businesses and firms. I’m committing the City to increase that number and be held accountable for it. 

We can also do more to support working people – giving them the resources and support, workforce development opportunities and living wages, and pushing innovative and nation leading protections. 

Many of you have heard me mention the formation of a Seattle Jobs Center – connecting workers and employers to new opportunities, workforce development, and apprenticeships. 

As Seattle City Light leads electrification and grid modernization efforts to reduce climate impacts, I want to make sure Seattleites benefit from new clean energy jobs. 

As we approach the budget cycle, I will prepare for the Council a white paper on what we would like to build in our Jobs Center, and how we can further support the worker protections we have become known for with the Office of Labor Standards. 

We can plot a course not only to protect workers’ rights, but to help them find new jobs and careers should they so choose.    

I know Councilmember Kshama Sawant cares deeply about addressing inequality – and in all our years working together, I’ve never once doubted her commitment to that end and the commitment of those who believe in her mission. I look forward to working with her office, including investments in environmental justice grants in the community – advancing justice priorities and critical climate action initiatives.  

To that end, our office will be fully committed to operationalizing equity – while training and education within our ranks is important, I am asking our departments to go out in the field and ask how does our commitment to equity and fighting inequality equate to those outside of City Hall. 

Underrepresented communities should not have to fight to be heard. Are we visiting their community centers; churches, mosques, and faith centers; and their meeting places?  When have we listened to communities outside of the walls of City Hall? That is good government.   

We are beginning our Comprehensive Plan Update with that very principle in mind. Ensuring we’re truly One Seattle by giving all communities, especially communities of color, a voice in shaping the future of our City, as we work to build walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods with a housing supply that meets the needs of the future. 

Small business support AND worker protections. Home ownership opportunities AND displacement protection. More housing AND expanded tree canopy. Improving equity can take many forms. 

That’s why we’re also in the beginning stages of comprehensive searches for both our Transportation and Parks Department Directors, who will share and understand my vision for how these two major departments can be drivers of equity and opportunity in our City. 

Among the major equity initiatives in our office, I’m excited to share with you more details of my Healthy Seattle program in the first quarter of the year – so that health equity is at the center of our work. 

Similarly, let’s continue to support healthy communities by growing Seattle’s Fresh Bucks program – helping over 10,000 residents get access to healthy and local foods. 

Finally, +we must make accessing our resources more accessible. That’s why I’m excited about the new CiviForm tool, developed with pro-bono support from Google and co-designed with residents, community-based organizations, and city staff. It is designed to reduce the time and effort needed for residents to seek and apply for City affordability services. Back to the basics, improving equity work, and new technology can all go together. 

Truthfully, it’s the lived experience we have that informs how we see the world and how we approach the challenges we face. 

That’s why I’m really proud of the executive team I’ve built – why I sought to build a diverse, competent, and engaged group of civic leaders. They are showing early on what we can accomplish when we build a representative government. 

Clearly, the challenges facing Seattle are bigger than me alone. The path forward requires empowering each other – the executive team, our department directors, and you the City Council. It means engaging our greatest resource – the people of our City – in the solutions we want to see. 

Next year, I hope to be able to gather in person. To deliver a speech to you and to our residents. To celebrate one year of work together and meaningful milestones on the issues I’ve laid out above. 

We can change the narrative in our City AND make Seattle a better place for the people who call it home. 

To do so, I’ll need your help. Not tomorrow, but today. Let’s get to work. 

Thank you. One Seattle.