CEO Marc Dones resigns from King County homelessness authority

King County Regional Homelessness Authority CEO Marc Dones announced today that they will step down in June. Deputy CEO Helen Howell will take over as interim CEO. 

The Regional Homelessness Authority was created in 2019 by the city of Seattle and King County to consolidate oversight and management of the homelessness response system. The authority manages contracts for the nonprofit service providers providing outreach, shelter and housing. It takes the lead on homelessness policy decisions. It serves as the region’s go-between on federal homelessness policy. And the authority has its own staff of frontline homeless outreach workers

Dones was hired as the organization’s first leader in 2021. Their departure, first reported by Publicola, comes amid criticisms from homeless service providers and from advocates that the agency has mishandled its takeover of the homeless contract system, leaving some nonprofit providers operating without pay.

In a joint statement, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and King County Executive Dow Constantine thanked Dones for their service: “Marc’s drive to innovate systems, improve housing stability, and help people move off the streets and inside with the supports they need is rooted in a staunch commitment to ending homelessness. From leading the design of the KCRHA to taking the reins as its first CEO, Marc has played an indispensable role in transforming ‘regional solutions to homelessness’ from an idea to tangible action.”

The Regional Homelessness Authority also released a statement about Dones's departure, thanking them for their leadership: “They have been a tireless advocate for racial equity and social justice, centering lived experience, increasing affordable housing, highlighting root causes of economic instability, and working together to iterate on new approaches to transforming the homelessness response system.”

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Washington’s second carbon auction sold pollution for over $500M

The site for Puget Sound Energy's new Tacoma LNG facility

The site for Puget Sound Energy's new Tacoma LNG facility, photographed Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. PSE is the state’s top emitter of greenhouse gases. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

Washington’s second carbon auction at the end of May sold pollution for more than $500 million. The first auction of pollution allowances raised almost $300 million in February.

The Washington Department of Ecology announced this week that the May auction sold nearly 8.6 million 2023 allowances and another 2.5 million 2026 allowances. Each unit represents one metric ton of greenhouse gas emissions.

The price on carbon was also higher at the May auction, where bids were received almost entirely from energy companies and utilities. A few other kinds of organizations also were listed as qualified bidders, including the city of Ellensburg, Washington State University and Morgan Stanley Capital Group Inc., a private equity firm.

During the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers made decisions about how to spend the money raised through these auctions, focusing on projects to slow or adapt to climate change. Those investments include money to electrify buses and ferries and build a charging infrastructure, restore salmon habitat, accelerate clean-energy projects and help ease the burden of pollution on vulnerable communities.

This is the first year of implementing the state’s new Climate Commitment Act, which passed in 2021. Businesses generating more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon emissions must participate in the program or face fines up to $10,000 per violation per day.  

UW researchers go on strike over contract negotiations

UW campus

The University of Washington campus on April 13, 2020, while UW was holding classes remotely in response to COVID-19. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

Researchers at the University of Washington went on strike Wednesday to put more pressure on the university in contract negotiations.

“We love our research but UW left us no choice. We will be striking until we get a fair contract. Our priority has always been ensuring that science at UW is sustainable and inclusive, and that means fair pay so we can all afford rent, take care of our families, and stay in the careers we love,” said Rebecca Bluett, postdoctoral scholar at UW, in a news release from the union, UW Researchers United or UAW 4121.

The union represents about 1,500 UW staff researchers and 900 postdoctoral researchers. The postdocs are negotiating a new agreement, and the staff researchers are in their first contract negotiations after forming a union a year ago.

Issues in the strike include pay, child care and a harassment-prevention program, according to the union.

UW spokesman Victor Balta said university officials are disappointed at the union’s decision to strike after significant progress had been made in negotiations in both contracts recently. He noted that the offers on the table include significant wage increases.

The University says its proposal includes increases for research scientists of about 10% over three years plus changes in the pay structure and a catch-up increase of 3.25% for those who did not get a merit raise last year. For postdocs, UW is offering an average 15% total wage increase this year, including 13% in January when new minimums were introduced, plus higher minimum salaries. 

“Our postdocs and research scientists are valued members of our university community and important contributors to our research mission,” Balta said in a statement Wednesday. “We all agree that fair and competitive compensation creates a more inclusive and sustainable scientific workforce and is needed to continue to attract talented postdocs and research scientists.”

Washington state has hired a leader from the Colorado tax department’s Marijuana Enforcement Division to be the new director of the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board.

Will Lukela, who will start his new job July 10, has 30 years of regulatory and leadership experience in the other state at the lead in legal cannabis, according to a news release from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office. Lukela will replace Rick Garza, retiring after 38 years of state service including serving as director of the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board.

Lukela is currently the deputy chief of licensing for the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, a job he has had since 2018. The department’s work included licensing as well as criminal and compliance investigations. According to a news release from the Liquor and Cannabis Board, Lukela helped transform the Colorado operation from a focus on enforcement to philosophy focused on collaboration, education and compliance.

“As the two pioneering states in the legalization of adult-use cannabis, Washington and Colorado face similar challenges. I will continue to build on the impressive work of the agency across all regulated industries and pledge to work collaboratively with staff and stakeholders to build their trust and support through transparency,” Lukela said in a statement.

It will now be easier for companies to sue their employees for striking after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday morning in favor of allowing Seattle’s Glacier Northwest to move forward with a lawsuit against its workers’ union over strike-related losses.

The case stems from a 2017 strike in which Glacier’s truck drivers, represented by a local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, refused to deliver freshly mixed concrete following the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement between Glacier and the union.

The 8-1 decision, spearheaded by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, argues that the right to strike as enshrined by the National Labor Relations Act is “not absolute” – and that the union failed to take “reasonable precautions” to protect the company’s materials from “foreseeable, aggravated, and imminent danger.” Essentially, the blame falls on the union for organizing a strike while knowingly working with a material as perishable as wet cement.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the sole dissenting judge on the case, said that the Supreme Court is overstepping its boundaries by meddling in a case that should have been disputed through the National Labor Relations Board first.

“What Glacier seeks to do here is to shift the duty of protecting an employer’s property from damage or loss incident to a strike onto the striking workers, beyond what the Board has already permitted via the reasonable-precautions principle,” she wrote. “In my view, doing that places a significant burden on the employees’ exercise of their statutory right to strike …”

Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien issued a statement Thursday, calling the Supreme Court “political hacks” who “should be ashamed of themselves for throwing out long-standing precedent and legislating from the bench.”

The Martin Luther King, Jr. County Labor Council, a central body representing labor unions in King County, also expressed its disappointment in the ruling – but remained hopeful that the NLRB “will find Teamsters Local 174’s strike in this case was protected based on the actual facts, not just Glacier’s allegations.”

The Washington State Supreme Court had previously sided with the Teamsters, ruling that damage from striking was incidental to federally protected labor actions.

After soaring to record heights during the pandemic, King County home values have started to drop. Countywide assessments for 2023 are not yet complete, but early results have King County Assessor John Wilson confident most home values will see a downward correction.

The prediction is based on completed assessments of homes in the eastern suburb of Sammamish and in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. Average values in Sammamish, which leapt up 50% from 2021 to 2022, decreased by about 22% from 2022 to 2023. In Queen Anne, average values increased 13.8% in the 2022 assessment and are now down an average of 8% in the 2023 assessment.

This is the first time that year-over-year average home values have gone down in King County since the post-Great Recession drop more than a decade ago.  

“The housing market in King County is still strong,” said Wilson during a press briefing Thursday. “It is not the case, and I want to be clear about this, that it’s crashing at all. But it has finally peaked.”

The 2023 property value assessment will be reflected on 2024 property tax bills. Wilson thinks it’s likely many homeowners could see a reduced property tax bill. But he pointed out that 155 taxing districts throughout the county — including municipalities, school districts and voter-approved levies — can impact taxes as much as assessed home value.

Property owners have a 60-day window after receiving notice of a new home value in which to appeal the changed valuation.

On the commercial side, office building values dropped 15%-20%, in large part due to remote work’s impact on demand for office space.

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, has launched a Central Washington task force to address the fentanyl crisis.

The task force will include law enforcement, addiction treatment and other medical professionals, drug court officials, school resource officers, tribal leaders, elected officials and community leaders.

Their aim is to quantify the crisis in Central Washington by looking at state, local and federal data; assess current resources available and figure out where gaps exist; talk about potential state, local and federal legislation that will help address the crisis; and help educate the public.

“We cannot stand idly by while this deadly drug ravages our communities, claiming lives and tearing families apart,” Newhouse said in a news release.

Opioid overdoses and deaths have increased statewide, according to data from the Washington Department of Health.

Yakima County Commissioner Amanda McKinney, a member of the task force, said the fentanyl crisis strikes constant fear in the hearts of parents who worry about their children’s safety.

“As a mother to young children, I share in the frustration over the lack of action to eliminate this deadly outbreak from crossing our borders and entering into our communities,” she said in the news release from Newhouse’s office. “I am passionately committed to finding new ways to educate all ages about the extreme risk of fentanyl and to proactively craft legislation and policies that will prevent fentanyl from plaguing our communities." 

Medical researchers at the University of Washington have identified the most common symptoms of long COVID by studying nearly 10,000 Americans.

Their research findings, published Thursday in JAMA, are expected to help doctors separate people with long COVID from those whose symptoms are caused by another medical problem.

The 12 symptoms that appear to be most useful for identifying patients with long COVID include: post-exertion malaise, fatigue, brain fog, dizziness, gastrointestinal problems, heart palpitations, issues with sexual desire or capacity, loss of smell or taste, thirst, chronic cough, chest pain and abnormal movements.

The study, led by Dr. Helen Chu, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, also found that people who were unvaccinated, had multiple infections or had their first infection before the 2021 omicron variant, were more likely to have long COVID symptoms and more severe cases of long COVID.

Growers are expected to harvest more Northwest sweet cherries in 2023 than they did last year, according to a first-round estimate from Northwest Cherry Growers. 

According to the estimate, based on grower reports, the five-state region — Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah —  could potentially harvest 19.9 million 20-pound boxes this year. 

That’s a 50% increase from the 2022 crop of 13.3 million boxes, which was the region’s smallest since 2008. 

Last year, several adverse weather events created harvest delays and reduced crop volume. Some cherries didn’t develop due to a lack of pollination during the cold spring months, and others were damaged through rain or other weather conditions. That led to fewer — and more expensive — cherries in grocery produce sections. 

Cooler weather did delay development this year — in some areas, upward of three weeks compared to the 2022 schedule. However, warming temperatures throughout the Northwest contributed to full bloom in most orchards. 

Early harvest is expected to start around mid-June and continue through July and early August, with plenty of available fruit around the Fourth of July holiday, according to industry officials. 

Crosscut Origins’ season two will tackle Seattle gentrification

Lady Scribe and her family pose for a photo at SIFF

Lady Scribe and her family pose for a photo at SIFF on Sunday, May 21, 2023. (Alli Rico for Crosscut)

The winning filmmaker for the next season of Crosscut Origins will be Lady Scribe, who will create a docuseries telling the story of Black artists, entrepreneurs and elders getting priced out of Seattle. The winner was announced Sunday at the closing ceremony of the Seattle International Film Festival.

Lady Scribe, a self-proclaimed “budding filmmaker” in the Seattle arts community, was one of several dozen directors to apply to work with Cascade Public Media to create a video story that reflects the makeup of our region told from an insider’s perspective. The key requirement for Crosscut Origins was that the filmmaker be part of the community they are documenting.

The project selected to be the second Crosscut Origins series will receive $40,000 in grant funding to cover production costs for the five-part series, as well as technical and editing help, and their work will be broadcast and streamed by Cascade Public Media.

The first season, “Refuge After War,” examines the experiences of Vietnamese and Afghan refugees forced to flee and resettle in Washington after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and Kabul in 2021.

Lady Scribe says her docuseries will be a remembrance of her vibrant Black community and how it’s become unrecognizable and muted over the years. While there are heartbreak and hardships, Scribe will celebrate the triumphs this community has found through the arts.

The docuseries will be released on Cascade Public Media platforms in March 2024.

About 170 farmworkers at a Sunnyside mushroom farm are expected to be eligible for financial compensation under the settlement of a worker discrimination lawsuit filed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson last summer. 

Ostrom Mushroom Farms and Asellus-Sunnyside, the business entity that now operates the Sunnyside facility, will pay $3.4 million to the state Attorney General’s office, which will in turn compensate impacted farm workers. 

Ferguson filed the lawsuit in Yakima County Superior Court last August after an investigation by his office’s civil rights division. The investigation revealed that Ostrom fired its primarily female and Washington-based workforce between January 2021 and May 2022 and replaced them with male foreign guest workers through the H-2A program in violation of Washington discrimination laws. 

While the lawsuit was pending, Ostrom sold the Sunnyside mushroom facility to Windmill Farms, a Canadian company. As part of the agreement, Windmill Farms — operating as Asellus-Sunnyside in this state —  has agreed to take measures to prevent further worker discrimination. Ostrom must also agree to take these measures if it resumes operations in Washington in the next three years. 

Anyone who has worked at Ostrom and believes they should be part of this claims process should contact the Civil Rights Division by emailing ostrom@atg.wa.gov or by calling 1-833-660-4877 and selecting Option 5.

In the meantime, workers have continued union organization efforts in cooperation with the United Farm Workers. The union declared the settlement “a victory” in a tweet posted on May 19