Seattle-area Jewish groups hit by vandalism, suspicious packages

grafitti on a wall says "you know better."

Members of Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation discovered vandalism all over the synagogue on Nov. 22, 2023. Other Jewish groups in the Seattle area have also reported receiving suspicious packages this week. (Handout photo.)

A synagogue on Mercer Island was discovered vandalized Wednesday morning – at least the third incident in a week targeting Jewish organizations in this city. 

The FBI is investigating because of an increase of “targeted incidents” nationally, according to a Mercer Island Police Department spokesperson. The FBI has reported a rise in hate crimes and threats against Jews and Muslims since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Seattle-area Jewish and Muslim groups told Crosscut that they feared the war would lead to an increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

Members of the Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation on Wednesday morning found graffiti on the exterior of the synagogue, including the words, “Shame on Israel,” “You know better” and “Stop Killing.” 

The vandalism followed a few days after two Jewish organizations on Mercer Island received suspicious packages in the mail. The Mercer Island Police Department did not identify the organizations in its press release. The Seattle Times also reported that at least five other Jewish organizations in Seattle have received suspicious packages in recent days.

The recent targeting of Jewish organizations – and the lack of loud condemnation – disheartens Rabbi Will Berkovitz, CEO of Jewish Family Service of Seattle.

“People say, ‘We’re just critiquing the Israeli government.’ Well, if you are vandalizing a place of worship, a Jewish space, that’s not a critique of the Israeli government, that’s hatred of Jews,” he said.

Berkovitz said while he and other Jews have stood in solidarity with groups outside their community, they haven’t seen the same open support in recent days.

“At our time of need, we are not being supported,” Berkovitz said. “We are standing – we feel like – alone.” 

The Wednesday morning vandalism comes as Israel and Hamas tentatively agreed the night before to a temporary four-day ceasefire to facilitate the release of women and child hostages taken by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The agreement includes Israel’s release of Palestinian prisoners, according to The Associated Press and CNN. The details of the agreement are still being worked out, according to the New York Times.

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Judge rules WA tax initiatives need fiscal impact info on ballots

Voters drop off ballots at the White Center Library ballot box

Voters drop off ballots at the White Center Library ballot box on voting day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023.  (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

A Thurston County judge ruled Friday that three initiatives on the November ballot must include fiscal impact statements of 10 to 15 words.

State Republicans filed a lawsuit to prevent those impact statements from being attached to measures to repeal the state’s carbon pricing system, to repeal the state’s capital gains tax, and to make participation voluntary in the new state long-term insurance care program. 

Judge Allyson Zipp ruled against the GOP request from Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, and Deanna Martinez, chairwoman of the Mainstream Republicans of Washington, after hearing very technical pro and con arguments in court on Friday morning. 

Walsh and Martinez argued that, as they interpreted the requirements of a 2022 state law, the ballot initiatives don’t need fiscal statements because they don’t affect taxes and fees. The Washington attorney general’s and secretary of state’s advocates argued the intent of the law is to lean toward requiring fiscal impact statements. Zipp agreed with the state government’s arguments.

After the ruling, Walsh called Zipp’s ruling “disappointing, but not surprising.” He said no decision has been made yet whether to appeal. 

In a news release, Aaron Ostrom, executive director of FUSE Washington, said, “Their lawsuit has one inexcusable purpose: to hide the truth about the impacts of these initiatives from voters.”

“Their lawsuit is a deceptive scam to save misleading initiatives that would cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy while shifting the bill onto low and middle income families,” Ostrom wrote.  

Cascade PBS won seven awards in the 2023 Society of Professional Journalists’ Northwest Excellence in Journalism competition, including the award for General Excellence in Writing. The contest is a competitive one, as it honors the work of newsrooms across the organization’s Region 10, which consists of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. Cascade PBS competes against the largest news outlets in those states, qualifying as a “large” newsroom in the audio categories and an “extra large” newsroom in the writing categories. 

Cascade PBS’s entry in the General Excellence category included a selection of 10 stories. Reporters who worked on the pieces include Brandon Block, Josh Cohen, Jordan Gass-Pooré, Lizz Giordano, Mai Hoang, Luna Reyna, James Stout and Joseph O’Sullivan. 

Here is a list of the winners from Cascade PBS in the individual categories:

  • Writing – Extra Large: General Excellence 

First Place – Cascade PBS Staff, “Cascade PBS 2023 General Excellence Entry,” Cascade PBS 

  • Writing – Extra Large: Investigative Reporting 

First Place – Farah Eltohamy, Mai Hoang, Genna Martin, “WA mobile home communities organize against ‘economic eviction’,” Cascade PBS. 

Judge’s comments: “Deeply researched and reported, this investigative report exposes weaknesses in oversight and regulation that puts the vulnerable elderly population at risk. Important work.” 

  • Audio – Large: Investigative Reporting 

First Place – Sara Bernard, Farah Eltohamy, Mai Hoang, “After a takeover, mobile home tenants are fighting back,” Cascade PBS. 

Judge’s comments: “An important story that highlights the challenges faced by some of Washington's most vulnerable residents. Terrific storytelling with great reporting. Fantastic job and keep up the good work!” 

  • Writing – Extra Large: Arts & Culture Reporting 

First Place – Margo Vansynghel, “A Seattle artist and the auction frenzy that sparked an FBI tip,” Cascade PBS. 

Judge’s comments: “This was a great way to tie a narrative about a Seattle artist to the larger issues with art plagiarism. It’s well reported and written with a great narrative structure.” 

  • Writing – Extra Large: Series 

Second Place – Joseph O’Sullivan, “Coverage of “‘Legislative Privilege’,” Cascade PBS. 

Judge’s comments: “Tremendous and important series that demonstrates investment in quality watch-dog journalism.” 

  • Audio – Large: Technology & Science Reporting 

Second Place – Sara Bernard, Brandon Block, “The gray areas of surveillance tech in WA police forces,” Cascade PBS. 

Judge’s comments: “Comprehensive and fair look at an issue most of the public is not aware of, without being alarmist. Newsrooms around the country would do well to examine this issue locally.” 

  • Photo & Design – Large: General News Photography 

Second Place – Amanda Snyder, “New mothers can stay with their babies at this Washington prison,”Cascade PBS. 

Judge’s comments: “Babies behind bars, a thought-provoking photo for every parent.”

Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown declared an emergency this week to address the city’s opioid crisis. 

“We’re here today because our community is dealing with the devastating effects of fentanyl and other opioids,” Brown said during a news conference Tuesday. Other speakers included representatives from Spokane’s treatment providers and law enforcement agencies. 

The declaration will enable the city to implement several public health and safety initiatives immediately. The initiatives will focus on Second and Division streets, an area where unhoused residents and others have been severely impacted by substance use. 

The city will proceed with establishing a temporary transition center out of the Cannon Street Shelter, which it shut down last year. The center, operated under a contract with the Empire Health Foundation, will focus on providing services to unhoused residents in an encampment zone located between North Browne and North Division streets and from Interstate 90 to Sprague Avenue. The center would be the latest in an ongoing effort to clean up the area and connect unhoused residents to services under the Department of Commerce’s Right-of-Way Encampment Resolution Program. 

The city will also target “high utilizers” who cycle from the street to the emergency room to jail. The city is partnering with Consistent Care, a Spokane organization, to provide case management services for those individuals. The city is also working with Spokane Treatment and Recovery Services to increase the use of its CAR50 program, which provides transport for individuals under the influence of a substance to an appropriate medical or treatment facility. 

Under the emergency declaration, the Spokane Fire Department can now provide medical intervention for withdrawal management. The city is also working with local, state and federal agencies to address the drug market that has festered in the Division corridor. 

As part of the emergency response, the city will request additional fentanyl test strips and Narcan from the state and pursue opioid abatement strategies approved under the state’s settlement with opioid manufacturers.

Washington state opens bids for building new hybrid ferries

The Walla Walla ferry and the Kistap fast ferry pass by each other in Elliott Bay

The Walla Walla ferry and the Kitsap fast ferry pass each other in Elliott Bay, Feb. 13, 2024. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

Washington State Ferries is inviting companies to express interest in building five new hybrid diesel/electric ferries. 

The bid process, announced Monday, is the latest step toward getting two new ferries running in Puget Sound by 2028, two more by 2029 and a fifth by 2030, said Steve Nevey, the Washington Department of Transportation’s assistant secretary for the ferry system.

Some politicians, including the Republican candidates for governor, have called for replacing the first two hybrid ferries with diesel-only vessels, predicting that diesel ferries can be finished quicker. But state officials say at this point, hybrid ferries can be built faster

“This hybrid electric design is the quickest path,” Nevey said.

Sources for the diesel engines and for some electrical systems that were used for the previous round of new ferries in 2014-2018 have gone out of business, so switching back to diesel ferries would require finding new manufacturers and doing new design work. “We’d have to start all over again,” said Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, the Washington House’s   transportation leader.

“Ship design is a lengthy and complex process,” Nevey added. 

The invitation for bids will gauge potential interest in building the hybrid ferries. The state expects at least 10 bidders nationwide to study whether they want to bid on Washington contracts. The WSF aims to have one or two shipbuilding companies contracted in 2025 to build the five hybrid ferries.

The ferry system is struggling to keep 10 routes that criss-cross Puget Sound fully functional. The system requires 19 vessels during its peak usage period and 17 during the off-season. With some ferries being maintained or under repair, the fleet usually has 16 to 18 vessels in service at a time. WSF aims to expand that to 21 to 26 vessels by 2040, 22 of which would be hybrid diesel/electric, to reduce the fleet’s carbon footprint by 76%.

After contracts are awarded in 2025, the ferry system expects the design work to take one year and construction to take two years.

The ferry system is seeking to replace its second-largest vessel — capacity 144 vehicles — with a model capable of handling 164 standard cars. The hybrid vessel — capable of a top speed of 17 knots — would be faster, lighter and more fuel-efficient than its predecessor, he added.

Can a tax not be a tax? WA ballot measure backers ask in court

An oil refinery, and its reflection in a puddle.

The U.S. Oil & Refining Co. in Tacoma has been in operation since 1957. A ballot measure in November would repeal the state’s cap-and-invest program, in place since 2023. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

After two years of contending that the Washington cap-and-invest program is a tax, Republican  leaders are arguing in court that it and two other taxes being challenged on the ballot this fall are not taxes.

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, and Deanna Martinez, chair of the Mainstream Republicans of Washington, have filed a lawsuit arguing that the Attorney General’s office does not need to write fiscal impact statements for the voter pamphlet for three initiatives that would strike down or change recent state laws on long-term care insurance, a capital gains tax and the cap-and-invest program, arguing that these are not technically taxes and fees.

A hearing on the case in Thurston County Superior Court is scheduled for June 7.

A 2022 state law requires the Washington Attorney General’s Office to write a statement of up to 15 words on the state’s voters’ pamphlet about the fiscal impacts of an initiative that affects a tax or fee.

Walsh, also chairman of the state Republican Party, filed the three initiatives that qualified for November’s ballot. Democrats opposed all three initiatives.

“Our friends outsmarted themselves,” said Walsh in a Monday press release. “They were very specific when they passed the [2022] warning-label law. But they were so specific that the law doesn’t apply to any of the initiatives that go before voters this year. The case is so clear-cut I am surprised we have to take this to court.”

In the same press release, Martinez said: “People trust the voters’ pamphlet as an objective source of information. They aren’t expecting a partisan political attack that masquerades as a neutral financial statement.” 

Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office submitted a response to the lawsuit arguing that all three initiatives address taxes and fees.

“This lawsuit is a meritless attempt to deny voters information. … All three [initiatives] repeal or modify taxes or fees, and all three have significant fiscal impacts. Under state law, the public has a right to have those fiscal impacts described on the ballot. This Court should reject Plaintiffs’ cynical attempt to keep voters in the dark,” the attorney general’s filing argued.

Initiative 2117 would repeal the state’s cap-and-invest program, which began operating in January 2023. Critics blame the program for rising gas prices. Supporters argue that it provides a huge amount of money for green-energy programs that decrease dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate environmental damage.

Initiative 2109 would repeal Washington’s capital gains tax, which pumps money into the state’s schools. The Republican filers argue that since the Legislature passed an initiative to the body this spring to ban a state income tax, the capital gains tax has no fiscal impact, therefore no fiscal impact statement from the attorney general is required. Before Walsh’s lawsuit, Republicans have always argued that a capital gains tax is an income tax not allowed by state law. But the Washington Supreme Court rejected that argument, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the challenge.

The third initiative, I-2124, would switch the new state requirement for all W-2 employees to contribute to a new long-term insurance care program from mandatory to voluntary participation. The plaintiffs’ argument is that these insurance payments are premiums and not payroll taxes.

Ferguson’s filing argued that the cap-and-invest surcharges are fees, and therefore covered by the warning-label law. On the initiative to change the long-term care insurance, the attorney general’s office said that the 2019 law that established the basic program said the employees’ payments are taxes or fees. 

The attorney general also argued that the GOP lawsuit is misreading the texts of the income tax initiative passed this spring and of the state’s capital gains tax law.

“Because the capital gains tax has not been repealed, and because I-2109 would repeal it and would cut billions of dollars in education funding, that measure must have a public investment impact disclosure statement,” the attorney general’s court filing said.

Cascade PBS wins two regional Emmys for Mossback, Human Elements

Cascade PBS team poses with Emmy statues after win

Cascade PBS' David Lee, Alegra Figeroid, Michael McClinton, Sarah Hoffman, Resti Bagcal and Tifa Tomb celebrate two Emmy wins. (Northwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences)

The 2023 Northwest Regional Emmy Awards were held on Saturday, and the Cascade PBS Original Productions team came away with some hardware. Cascade PBS won two awards from the Northwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences after being nominated for a total of seven. 

The episode “The Range Rider" from season 3 of Human Elements won in its category, Environment/Science – Short Form Content. It was the first Emmy for the series and for senior producer Sarah Hoffman, director of Human Elements. 

“I am so thankful the hard work of this series was recognized. Human Elements has given us a rare opportunity to share intimate stories that authentically represent our community,” Hoffman said. “On our small team we’ve created a space where we can be creative and where each of us brings unique perspectives to continually elevate the series.”  

Mossback’s Northwest won in the category of Historical/Cultural – Short Form Content, making this the second Emmy award for the series. The winning episode chronicles a historic event when German saboteurs blew up a ship in Elliott Bay.  

“Being able to tell this story about such an important event in Seattle just before World War I with this amazing team has been the real win. The Emmy is icing on the cake,” says director and senior producer Michael McClinton. 

The other nominations for Cascade PBS included episodes of Nick on the Rocks, Black Arts Legacies, Mossback’s Northwest, as well as craft nominations for Sarah Hoffman and Bryce Yukio Adolphson for Photographer and David Quantic for Editor. 

Catch up on all our original video series online and on the Cascade PBS app.

Two city councils in Yakima County rejected a proclamation for Pride Month, deciding not to officially recognize or acknowledge summer celebrations of the LGTBQ+ community.

The Sunnyside City Council rejected a Pride Month proclamation during its May 28 meeting. That follows one week after the Yakima City Council, in a 5-2 vote, rejected the proclamation during its May 21 meeting. 

Both Yakima and Sunnyside have officially recognized Pride Month in previous years. Last year, with a 5-2 vote, the Yakima City Council proclaimed Pride Month. As part of that proclamation, a Pride flag flew in front of Yakima City Hall for the entire month. Sunnyside Mayor Dean Broersma signed a Pride Month proclamation as recently as 2022. 

Yakima Mayor Patricia Byers and Assistant Mayor Matthew Brown voted against the proclamation this year, as they did last year. This time, they were joined by council members Reedy Berg, Leo Roy and Rick Glenn, who were all elected to the council last fall, ousting less conservative incumbents. 

Council members Janice Deccio and Danny Herrera voted for the proclamation. 

A draft version of the rejected proclamation states, “Now, Therefore, I Patricia Byers, Mayor of the City of Yakima, on behalf of the City Council, do hereby proclaim the month of June 2024 as “LGBTQ2S+ Pride Month” in the City of Yakima and encourage all residents to join in commemorating diversity, fostering inclusion, and advocating for equal protection under the law. Let us unite in our commitment to eradicate prejudice and discriminatory practices, ensuring that all cultures, races, and groups are treated with dignity and respect.”

Yakima Pride, a local advocacy group, expressed disappointment with the Yakima Council’s rejection on its Instagram page, but is moving forward with planned events on June 8, which will include a parade through downtown Yakima, an outdoor festival and a rainbow prom. 

In Sunnyside, the pride vote was split 3-3, with one council member absent. The vote came after numerous comments supporting and opposing the proposed proclamation.

Mayor Harrell decides against ShotSpotter gunfire technology

The Seattle skyline can be seen through the backseat of a police car.

Mayor Harrell considered spending $1.8 million on live audio and video feed of gunshot detection technology and CCTV in Seattle’s high-crime areas. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

Mayor Bruce Harrell announced today that the city of Seattle will not implement a controversial acoustic gunshot locator system as part of its $1.8 million crime prevention technology pilot program after large public outcry against the technology. 

This pilot program is meant to deter criminal activity and aid with police investigations. The pilot will use only closed-circuit television; a real-time crime center which will respond to crime alerts; and expand its use of automated license plate readers to all police vehicles with dashcams. 

CCTV cameras will be installed in three neighborhoods that the Mayor’s office says suffer from a disproportionate amount of criminal activity: Aurora Avenue North, the downtown Third Avenue corridor and the Chinatown-International District. The real-time crime center will use technology to integrate data sources for analysis and investigations. 

The response at community safety forums showed the lack of support for the acoustic gunshot technology, and the proposal got pushback from organizations like the NAACP and ACLU as well as from advisory groups in pilot areas of the city.

Similarly, earlier this year, the city of Chicago decided not to renew its six-year, $49 million contract with popular company ShotSpotter, which placed the technology in largely Black and Latino communities. It joined other cities that have pulled out of contracts, including Charlotte, North Carolina; Atlanta; New Orleans; Trenton, New Jersey; and San Antonio. 

The original proposal for the technology was approved by the City Council in 2021; currently the new expansion proposal is being reviewed by the Council. 

Seattle says other efforts as part of this program will take a crime-prevention approach, with tactics such as increased police patrols, community-based initiative investments and enhanced light and cleaning in crime-concentrated areas. 

The city also said the Seattle Office of Inspector General for Public Safety will continue to review the program for efficiency and results. The evaluation will be completed after the first pilot year, with a final evaluation in the second year.

Origins season three winners will document Indigenous reefnetting

Origins winner at SIFF

Origins grant winner Samuel Wolfe (right) and his creative partner Tyler Rowe (left) at the Seattle International Film Festival. (Arlo Ballard/Cascade PBS)

The winning filmmaker for the third season of Cascade PBS’ Origins series will be Samuel Wolfe, who will create a short-form docuseries telling the story of the last reefnetters in the Salish Sea. Wolfe and his team were announced as the winners Saturday at the closing ceremony of the Seattle International Film Festival.

Wolfe was one of several dozen directors to apply to work with Cascade PBS to create a video series that reflects the makeup of our region told from an insider’s perspective. The key requirement for the Origins grant was that the filmmaker be part of the community they are documenting. 

The project will receive $40,000 in grant funding to cover production costs for the five-part series, as well as technical and editing support. Their work has the potential to be broadcast and streamed by Cascade PBS. 

The inaugural season of Origins, “Refuge After War,” examined 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. 

Reefnetting is considered one of the most sustainable fishing practices and is an important tradition in Indigenous culture. Wolfe’s series will focus on the Kinley family, the last Native permit holders from the Lummi Nation.  

The docuseries is intended for release on Cascade PBS platforms in March 2025. 

L&I issues $650K in fines after ag worker death in East Wenatchee

A blue sign along a driveway leading to a big building.

The headquarters of the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries in Tumwater. (Lizz Giordano/Cascade PBS)

Washington State Department of Labor & Industries fined two central Washington companies a combined $650,000, the agency announced Wednesday, after a fruit storage worker died from asphyxiation inside a controlled-atmosphere room in October.

The worker for Pace International LLC was found unresponsive after spraying apples in a Stemilt Growers’ storage room in East Wenatchee in which the oxygen had been removed to help preserve the fruit. 

In an investigation, L&I found the worker from Pace entered the room without a safety monitor as required by law. A Stemilt employee also failed to warn the worker that his oxygen monitor alarm had sounded near the entry to the storage room, indicating the room lacked sufficient oxygen, according to L&I.

“Both companies own a piece of this preventable tragedy,” Craig Blackwood, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said in a news release, adding, “It’s a wonder that Pace hasn’t had a worker die before now. They’ve been gambling with workers’ lives for a long time and they finally lost.”

L&I also discovered Pace International’s training handbook allowed workers to enter controlled-atmosphere rooms with an oxygen level of just 17.5% despite state regulations requiring oxygen levels to be at 19.5% or higher.

L&I fined Pace $574,000 and Stemilt $76,300. Pace has appealed. The agency also placed Pace on its severe violator list for the eight willful and two serious violations the agency issued. 

The agency created the Severe Violator Enforcement Program to increase monitoring of companies that are “resistant or indifferent” to safety rules. A recent Cascade PBS analysis of L&I records found more than a third of severe violator companies had not received required follow-up inspections. 

Stemilt was also fined $2,700 in 2022 after two employees worked in a room that lacked sufficient oxygen without the use of oxygen monitors.