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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WA lawmakers argue for more transparency in utility bills

gas pump in car

Republican lawmakers say the new cap and trade system is leading to higher prices at the pump, like this one in Englewood, Colo., shown in a July 2023 photo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Washington lawmakers are considering a proposal to require gas and electric utilities to tell customers if they are passing along pollution auction costs to their consumers. 

The Washington Senate Energy & Environment Committee held a public hearing Wednesday on Senate Bill 5826, in response to a debate about whether utility customers should see cap-and-invest program expenses on their invoices. 

Sen. Drew MacEwen, R-Shelton, proposed the bill after the state Attorney General’s Office told the Washington Utilities & Transportation Commission that more discussion was needed before mandating that cap-and-invest costs be listed on consumer utility bills. Critics of the state’s new carbon pricing system have accused the Attorney General’s Office of deliberately hiding those costs.

In a July 3, 2023, letter to the utilities commission, the Attorney General’s Office argued “If all program-specific charges were included as line items, customer bills would quickly become incomprehensible.” The office called for a more public discussion before including the information on bills.

“What’s the fear in being transparent?” MacEwen said after Wednesday’s hearing. Attorney General Bob Ferguson enforces transparency “when it is convenient and not when it criticizes the administration.”

Brionna Aho, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office, responded with an emailed statement: “This was a public comment calling for more discussion. We are not aware of any allegation of unlawful conduct by any party. If Sen. McEwen would like to tell us who he thinks broke the law, we can look into it. He has not done so.” 

The state’s cap-and-invest program — in which oil companies and other polluting businesses and utilities bid on state allowances for their carbon emissions — has been connected by some to increased gas prices at the pump, because they believe oil companies are passing their auction costs along. 

“People need to know what the charges are,” Todd Myers, environment policy director for the think tank Washington Policy Center, told the Senate committee on Wednesday.

Puget Sound Energy, the Association of Washington Business, the Northwest Gas Association and Pullman-based Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories echoed that point of view.

Committee chairman Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, and Sen. Yasmine Trudeau, D-Tacoma, said utility costs and prices are difficult to separate into components and pin down because of the economic complexities of the power and fuel industries.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell has informed city department directors and finance managers that the city is implementing a hiring freeze for most positions. The move comes as the city faces a projected budget deficit that could reach as much as $251 million by 2025.

The freeze exempts public safety hires including police officers, firefighters and employees at the new CARE “dual dispatch” department. It also exempts employees backfilling for those using the city’s paid parental or family care leave and employees “providing essential public services,” according to a mayoral spokesperson. Exemptions for positions providing essential public services will be decided on a case by case basis but might include, for example, civilian staff in the police and fire departments.

Offers of employment made before Jan. 19 are not affected.

The city jobs website shows 115 open positions as of Jan. 22, though at least 14 of them are public safety positions exempt from the freeze.

The number of open jobs underplays the scope of vacancies in city departments. For example, according to data obtained by Crosscut, City Light, Public Utilities and Parks and Recreation had 287, 171 and 137 vacant positions, respectively, as of August 2022.

The Coalition of City Unions, which represents nearly 6,000 city workers in 11 unions, said pay and safety issues have contributed to the lingering vacancies.

The projected general fund budget deficit stems from a combination of tax revenue decreases, the impact of inflation, and a likely increase to city employee wages. The Coalition of City Unions and the Seattle Police Officers Guild are both currently bargaining new contracts with the city.

In an email, the mayor’s spokesperson said, “The city is taking a comprehensive approach to addressing the forecasted budget gap and structural budget issues, including thorough analysis of current city spending and an array of strategies to drive efficiencies, optimize investments, and prioritize the needs of residents, in collaboration with the City Council.”

He continued, saying that the mayor is still considering all options for addressing the shortfall, including “the potential for new or adjusted revenue sources.”

Harrell and former Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda convened a task force in 2022 to explore new progressive tax ideas for the city, in response to earlier projections of the coming budget deficit. That task force came up with nine ideas for new or expanded city taxes.

Trump stays on Washington primary ballot, judge rules

A hand holds election ballots in their mailing envelops in a bin.

Ballots are processed at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton for Washington’s primary election on March 10, 2020. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

A Thurston County judge dismissed a challenge to disqualify former president Donald Trump from the ballot of the March 12 presidential primary. 

In a hearing Thursday morning, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Mary Sue Wilson ruled that Secretary of State Steve Hobbs' office made no errors in including Trump on the primary ballot. In Washington, state law allows any voter to challenge a candidate’s right to be on a ballot on several grounds, including felony convictions, election officer misconduct and eligibility for the office.

Eight Kitsap County voters had challenged Trump’s inclusion on the primary ballot, arguing that the former president should be excluded based on his eligibility outlined by federal law. They cited Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which disqualifies government office holders who have supported an insurrection from holding a federal office. Trump was impeached by Congress in 2021 on a charge of inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection, but was acquitted by the Senate, where a simple majority voted to convict – 10 votes short of the two-thirds supermajority necessary for conviction. The conviction vote was made largely along party lines, though seven Republicans voted with Democrats to convict.

Wilson also declined to remove Trump’s name from the general election ballot, saying it would be “premature” to do so at this time. But Wilson added that her decision doesn’t block any future challenges to Trump’s inclusion on November’s ballot. 

Washington is one of 35 states where Trump’s eligibility to run for president in 2024 has been challenged. The challenges either have been dismissed or rejected in at least 15 states. Two of the states, Maine and Colorado, disqualified the former president from their ballots, though those decisions are under appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the Colorado case on Feb. 8.

Washington’s Democratic and Republican parties use the results of the primary as one factor to select state delegates to their national conventions, where the parties choose their general-election presidential and vice-presidential candidates. Primary voters in Washington must choose only one political party on their return envelope and then vote for one person in that party’s slate of candidates.

The state Republican Party named Donald J. Trump, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Chris Christie as its primary candidates; and the state Democratic Party named Joseph R. Biden Jr., Dean Phillips, and Marianne Williamson as its candidates.

Tacoma police acquitted in Ellis case resign, settle for $500K

A person walks past a mural that says "Justice for Manny" next to a smiling portrait of Manuel Ellis.

A woman walks past a mural honoring Manuel “Manny” Ellis, Thursday, May 27, 2021, in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. Ellis died on March 3, 2020, after he was restrained by police officers. Earlier in the day Thursday, the Washington state attorney general filed criminal charges against three police officers in the death of Ellis, who before he died told the Tacoma officers restraining him that he couldn’t breathe. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The three Tacoma Police Department officers acquitted in the death of Manuel Ellis will resign with settlements of $500,000 each, the city announced this week. The agreement between each officer and the city also states that the “parties agree that the employee separates in good standing.”

The three former officers, Christopher Burbank, Matthew Collins and Timothy Rankine, were cleared of wrongdoing by Police Chief Avery Moore, except for a finding regarding Collins’ violation of the Tacoma Police Department’s policy on courtesy.

Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man, died during a police stop in Tacoma in March 2020 after the officers restrained him. Three other officers were present during the stop, but did not face charges. Ellis’ death came a few months before the death of George Floyd, whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers sparked nationwide protests about police brutality.

Moore said he reached his decisions regarding the officers’ conduct based on the police department’s use-of-force policy that was in place when Ellis was killed. It has since been changed.

“The Use of Force policy in place in March of 2020 failed to serve the best interests of the police department or the community,” said Moore, who was hired to lead the Tacoma Police Department in February 2022. He said that the department is undergoing a “comprehensive review” of its policies with the assistance of a consulting firm and the city’s Community's Police Advisory Committee (CPAC).

“While acknowledging our incomplete achievement of reform goals in the past decade, the last two years have witnessed substantial efforts to revolutionize the Tacoma Police Department, placing a strong emphasis on fostering inclusivity and pride among all stakeholders,” Moore said in a statement. “These strides are a result of a collective endeavor.”

Last month a Pierce County Superior Court jury acquitted Burbank and Collins of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter charges, and Rankine of first-degree manslaughter. The Seattle Times reported last week that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Western Washington has launched a review of the state prosecutors’ case

 

U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear WA capital gains tax case

U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court building. (Associated Press photo)

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case challenging Washington state’s capital gains tax. 

A group looking to repeal the law appealed to the Supreme Court last August, following a March ruling by the Washington Supreme Court to uphold the law, which puts a 7% tax on profits from the sales of stocks and bonds exceeding $250,000, with exemptions for sales of real estate, retirement accounts, livestock and timber for ranching or farming. There’s also a special deduction for the sale of family-owned businesses.  

Those who have pushed the capital gains tax, passed in 2021, see it as a move toward a less-regressive tax system, including a first step toward an income tax. Implementing an income tax, however, has been unpopular — with Washington residents rejecting several measures that would do so. 

However, the Washington Supreme Court deemed in its ruling on the case, Quinn v. Washington, that the new tax was on the sale of goods and services, not income. 

In its first year, the tax generated $889 million, according to November figures from the state Department of Revenue. The first $500 million was allocated to a state fund for K-12 education and child-care programs. The remaining dollars are expected to go to an account paying for school construction.

Here are the 8 finalists for Seattle City Council’s vacant seat

council members sit in chambers behind the dais

Councilmembers listen to public comments during the Seattle City Council’s first meeting of the year at City Hall, Jan. 2, 2024. Teresa Mosqueda, fourth from left, was elected to King County Council and vacated her seat. (David Ryder for Crosscut)

On Friday, the Seattle City Council took the next step toward filling the vacant citywide District 8 position with the nomination of eight finalists for consideration. The position was left open by former Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda’s election to King County Council.

The finalists were chosen from a list of 72 qualified applicants who applied before the Jan. 9. deadline. During a special meeting Friday afternoon, each councilmember was allowed to nominate one finalist.

Councilmember Bob Kettle nominated Tanya Woo, a Chinatown-International District community advocate and business owner who lost to incumbent Tammy Morales in November’s District 2 election. Like many of the new councilmembers who won office in November, Woo made public safety and police hiring a centerpiece of her campaign.

Councilmember Cathy Moore nominated Neha Nariya, but noted that Woo was her first pick. Nariya operates her family’s business, the Civic Hotel in Pioneer Square, and is a Seattle Hotel Association board member.

Councilmember Tammy Morales nominated Mari Sugiyama, a longtime grants and contracts manager at the Seattle Human Services Department.

Councilmember Maritza Rivera nominated Juan Cotto, a government affairs and community relations strategist at Bloodworks Northwest, a nonprofit blood bank. Rivera also noted that Woo was her first pick. 

Councilmember Rob Saka nominated Mark Solomon, a longtime Seattle Police Department crime-prevention coordinator. Solomon lost the District 2 race to Morales in the 2019 election. 

Councilmember Dan Strauss nominated Vivian Song, a Seattle Public Schools board member elected to the school board in 2021.

Councilmember Joy Hollingsworth nominated Linh Thai, a former district staffer for Congressman Adam Smith who now works as operations manager for a military veteran nonprofit called The Mission Continues.

Council President Sara Nelson nominated Steven Strand, a Seattle Police Department captain in the West Precinct and 33-year veteran of the force.

The finalists will answer questions at a public forum hosted by Seattle City Club, likely to be held on Jan. 17 or 18 at City Hall. On Jan. 22 they will answer questions at a special City Council meeting before the Council votes on an appointee on Jan. 23.

WA Legislature reviews joining CA, Quebec carbon pricing program

a gas station in Washington

Gas prices in Washington state were the highest in the nation this past summer. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

A proposal to link Washington’s cap-and-invest system with California’s and Quebec’s combined program drew no opposition, but did collect several requests for technical tweaks during a hearing Friday before the Senate Energy & Environment Committee.

Senate Bill 6058 is intended to create a larger carbon-pricing market to bring down bidding allowances, and is supposed to shrink the impact on gas prices of Washington’s cap-and-invest program.

Washington’s year-old cap-and-invest program has added 21 to 50 cents per gallon at the pump, depending on how the calculations are done. The quarterly settlement prices in 2023 — $48.50 to $63.03 per allowance, representing one metric ton of emissions — were much higher than state experts predicted in 2021. By comparison, California’s settlement auction prices began in 2012 at $10 per allowance, reaching slightly above $36 in 2023.

‘“This will help bring down costs for customers,” said Matt Miller, a lobbyist for Puget Sound Energy, at the hearing.

Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center and sponsor of SB 6058, said joining the larger California/Quebec market would shrink and stabilize auction prices. He hoped that the larger markets would encourage other states to join the coalition to further shrink auction prices. Currently, New York is designing its own cap-and-trade program and New England has a limited program for some utilities.

The earliest this linkage could take place is 2025. However, a public referendum on repealing the entire cap-and-invest program is likely going to Washington voters in November.

Most of the proposed changes in the bill are highly technical, involving how many allowances an individual bidder could buy.

Both business and environmental speakers at the hearing were largely in favor of SB6058, but Sept Gernez of the Washington Sierra Club expressed concerns that lowering auction prices would also decrease the amount of money going to climate-change mitigation efforts – the “invest” part of the system.

Even the Washington Policy Center, which supports eliminating the program entirely due to gas price hikes, spoke in favor of linking with California and Quebec. However, Todd Myers, the WPC’s environmental issues director,  wondered if a wider cap-and-trade market would bring outside political and economic pressures into the Washington system. 

Seattle light-rail riders: Get ready for 3 weeks of long delays

a light rail train pulls into a station on elevated tracks. it's passing an apartmnet building with a colorful flower mural painted on the side

A light-rail train heads out of the Mount Baker station south toward Angle Lake, Feb. 11, 2022. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

Link light-rail riders heading to or through Downtown Seattle will have to navigate significant delays for the next three weeks as Sound Transit repairs a section of worn track near Westlake Station and replaces signal boxes.

The work begins Jan. 13 and will continue through Feb. 4.

Monday through Friday during the work period, trains will run the full length between Northgate and Angle Lake Stations only every 26 minutes. Additional trains will run every 13 minutes between Northgate and University of Washington (Husky Stadium) stations and between Angle Lake and Stadium Station.

Those needing to ride to Capitol Hill, Westlake, University Street, Pioneer Square or Chinatown-International District stations will either need to wait and catch one of the every-26-minute full-service trains or transfer at University of Washington Station or Stadium Station and wait there for a full-service train.

Those boarding from a Downtown station can expect especially long waits for a train going the direction they need. 

On weekends during the work period, trains will not run between SODO and Capitol Hill Stations. All stations from Stadium to Westlake will be closed. Trains will still run every 15 minutes north of Downtown between Northgate and Capitol Hill and south between SODO and Angle Lake.

A shuttle bus running every 10-15 minutes will take passengers through Downtown with stops at each closed station. Passengers going to or through Downtown will need to get on the shuttle bus at Capitol Hill or SODO.

The rail replacement is necessary to fix 500 feet of northbound track that curves sharply between University Street and Westlake. Currently the worn-down track makes for a bumpy ride, according to a Sound Transit spokesperson. Over time, the wear could have posed a safety risk.

The agency is also replacing 58 signal boxes that provide connections to the tracks. Sound Transit says the damage was caused by buses between 2009 and 2019 when the Downtown transit tunnel was shared by buses and trains.

Housing density bill passes WA House on day one of 2024 session

a photo of two homes under construction side by side

Two houses under construction in a Seattle neighborhood, photographed Aug. 2, 2014. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

State lawmakers are wasting no time getting going on their 2024 housing agenda.

On Monday, the first day of the 2024 legislative session, the House of Representatives voted 94-4 to pass House Bill 1245, which would allow single-family parcels to be divided into two lots to incentivize the development of more and smaller single-family homes.

“Washington is producing the fewest housing units per household of any state because we are hampered by restrictive zoning laws and an antiquated Growth Management Act,” said lead sponsor Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, in an emailed statement after the bill’s passage Monday. “This bill would remove unnecessary barriers to provide Washingtonians more homeownership opportunities and the ability to develop their own property.”

The bill aims to allow for denser development within existing single-family neighborhoods. And because the houses will be smaller by necessity, the hope is that they will be sold for less than the typical large single-family home built today.

Barkis also said that “lot splitting could be a major source of affordable housing for young professionals, seniors and everyone in between.”

A nearly identical version of the bill passed out of the House in 2023, but died in Senate committee without receiving a vote.

If it passes this year, Washington property owners in any residential zone that allows single-family units would be allowed to split a lot and sell it for construction of a second unit. The bill stipulates that each lot could be no smaller than 1,500 feet and must be at least 40% the size of the original lot.

For many cities this would be a marked change. Existing zoning laws, which vary by city, set minimum lot sizes for single-family homes. The longtime standard in Seattle, for example, was one unit per a minimum of 5,000 square feet in single-family zones.

The impact would be muted in Seattle because single-family homeowners can already build two accessory dwelling units on any residential lot — one attached to the main house and one free-standing. Accessory dwelling units can be sold to individual owners in Seattle through condominium agreements.

But even for Seattle, there could be benefits. In its analysis of the 2023 version of the bill, the think tank Sightline said that lot splitting would allow for simpler ownership and easier mortgage financing than backyard cottage condo setups.

More generally, Sightline said, lot splitting would help create starter homes, provide lower-priced entry points to amenity-rich single-family neighborhoods, disincentivize demolition of older homes for construction of McMansions and more.

Lot splitting is just one of many housing bills lawmakers hope to tackle in the short 60-day session. Others include rent stabilization, increasing density near transit and finding a new dedicated revenue source for subsidized affordable housing construction.

HB1245 now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Sixteen geographic areas around Washington are “overburdened” by air pollution, doubling the risk of early death for residents who live in those places, according to a report released last week by the state Department of Ecology.

The geographic areas identified, in descending order of population, are South King County; South Seattle; Spokane and Spokane Valley; South and East Tacoma; Tri-Cities to Wallula; Vancouver; Everett; East Yakima; Lower Yakima Valley; North Seattle and Shoreline; Wenatchee and East Wenatchee; Ellensburg; Northeast Puyallup; Moxee Valley; Mattawa; and George and West Grant County. 

The report on overburdened communities – required by the state’s Climate Commitment Act to be released every two years – “found that people of all ages in the communities lived an average 2.4 years less than people in the rest of Washington” due to health conditions linked to air pollution. Researchers also found higher rates of chronic respiratory and cardiovascular conditions in the affected areas.

The Climate Commitment Act, passed in 2021, capped carbon emissions statewide and put a price on those allowed emissions set at auction. Pollution-generating businesses buy allowances, and the money raised pays for projects aimed at lowering emissions. The program also has an environmental justice element, prioritizing projects that ease the impact on communities that historically have borne the brunt of industrial and air pollution. 

About $2 billion was raised in 2023, the first year of the cap-and-invest program. While critics and some supporters of the program have linked it to Washington’s rising gas prices, some political leaders say the oil industry’s increasing profits despite cap-and-trade programs call that direct link into question.