Seattle Public Library announces temporary closures into June

a golden brown building in the late afternoon sun

The Southwest Branch of the Seattle Public Library, on Southwest 35th Avenue in West Seattle, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

In the face of staffing shortages, Seattle Public Library (SPL) announced plans to reduce hours at branches throughout the city from April 14 until June 4.

As with many city departments, SPL saw a wave of staff departures during the pandemic. According to its announcement of the temporary closures, the library system has hired 160 employees in the years since, and either met or exceeded pre-pandemic open hours in 2023.

But SPL also recently increased the minimum number of staff required to operate each library, spurred in part by a growing concern over safety for library staff and patrons. If a branch does not have enough staff on a given day, it leads to closures on short notice.

Librarians’ roles have expanded in recent years as the public institutions have become increasingly significant pieces of the American social safety net. In addition to being a resource and respite for people experiencing homelessness in Seattle, libraries are also becoming important refuges from the extreme weather impacts of climate change, including heat, cold and wildfire smoke.

SPL’s staffing challenges come as Seattle grapples with a projected budget deficit of at least $240 million beginning in 2025. In January, Mayor Bruce Harrell instituted a hiring freeze for all city departments, with an exemption for public safety departments.

The library is not considered an executive department and was therefore not subject to Harrell’s hiring freeze. But Chief Librarian Tom Fay nonetheless instituted a hiring freeze to address the library’s own budget shortfall, with exemptions for hiring on a case-by-case basis.

The rolling closures will take place mostly on weekends and do not affect hours at the Central Library or Ballard, Delridge, Greenwood or University branches.

Here is the full list of closures:

  • Beacon Hill Branch: Closed Sunday, April 14, April 28, May 12 and May 26
  • Broadview Branch: Closed on Sundays through June 4
  • Capitol Hill Branch: Opening at noon on Thursdays and closed on Sundays through June 4
  • Columbia Branch: Closed Saturdays through June 4
  • Douglass-Truth Branch: Closed Saturdays from April 20 through June 4
  • Fremont Branch: Closed Fridays through June 4
  • Green Lake Branch: Currently closed for seismic retrofit construction
  • High Point Branch: Closed Sundays through June 4
  • International District/Chinatown Branch: Closed Fridays through June 4
  • Lake City Branch: Closed Sundays through June 4
  • Madrona Sally-Goldmark Branch: Closed Wednesdays and Fridays through June 4
  • Magnolia Branch: Closed Sundays through June 4
  • Montlake Branch: Closed Tuesdays and Fridays through June 4
  • New Holly Branch: Closed Mondays through June 4
  • Northeast Branch: Closed Fridays through June 4
  • Northgate Branch: Closed Saturdays through June 4
  • Queen Anne Branch: Closed Saturdays from April 20 through June 4
  • Rainier Beach Branch: Closed Sunday, April 21, May 5, May 19 and June 2
  • South Park Branch: Closed Mondays through June 4
  • Southwest Branch: Closed Saturdays from April 20 through June 4
  • Wallingford Branch: Closed Fridays and Saturdays through June 4
  • West Seattle Branch: Closed Fridays through June 4

Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Seattle Public Libraries. The correct name is Seattle Public Library.

A new Washington state legislative district map will be in effect during elections this year after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a motion by conservative Latino voters to block the map’s adoption. 

This is not the end of the debate over Washington’s political map, but the Supreme Court has stopped it for now. The 2024 election will be governed by the map adopted last month by a U.S. District Court judge

The new map aims to create a Latino voter-majority district that aligns with voting rights laws. Under the new map, Legislative District 14 unites Latino communities in Central Washington from the east part of Yakima to Pasco in neighboring Franklin County, including Latino communities along the Lower Yakima Valley. The map also switched the Latino-majority district from the 15th to the 14th to ensure that state Senate elections fall on a presidential election year when the turnout of Latino voters is higher. 

The court led the process of creating the map after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik sided with Latino voters who sued the state in January 2022. He said the district, as drawn by the bipartisan Washington State Redistricting Commission in 2021, diluted Latino voter power. The court led the process after Democrats in the Legislature declined to reconvene the redistricting commission

A group of conservative Latino voters, which included State Rep. Alex Ybarra (R-Quincy), intervened in the case, known as Palmer v. Hobbs, and opposed the map, stating that it was an attempt by Democrats to gain power in conservative Central Washington districts. That argument did not get much traction in the original court case or the remedial map process.

Intervenors, however, will have another opportunity to present their arguments for the appeals process, which was allowed to continue after the court declined to block the map for the 2024 election. According to a court document, conservative voters must file opening briefs by June 7, with responses due in early July.

Harrell bill would let more business types set up shop Downtown

a group of people walk across a crosswalk on a business downtown seattle corridor

Pedestrians cross the street at Third Avenue and Pike Street. (Grant Hindsley for Cascade PBS)

As part of his plan for Downtown Seattle’s post-pandemic recovery, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced this week that he is sending legislation to the City Council to allow more business types to set up shop in vacant storefronts in the greater Downtown area.

The proposed legislation would apply to areas in Belltown, South Lake Union, Lower Queen Anne/Uptown and Downtown that currently allow retail, restaurants and bars and entertainment as well as libraries, museums, child care and religious facilities in street-level commercial spaces.

The bill would expand those allowed uses to include medical offices, research and development labs, food processing, horticultural operations, crafts manufacturing and art installations. The proposal also leaves the door open for other business types not covered by that list to apply for a permit from the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections.

While the legislation would change the allowed permitting for three years, businesses established during that period would be allowed to stay indefinitely.

In addition to expanded uses, the proposed legislation would modify zoning regulations to allow smaller business spaces, making it easier for smaller-scaled businesses to set up shop. The bill would allow businesses to be a minimum of 8 feet deep instead of the current 15-foot minimum Downtown and 30-foot minimum in Belltown.

Finally, the bill would modify zoning rules to encourage businesses to occupy the second floor of office towers rather than filling only ground floor spaces.  

As is the case in many U.S. cities, Downtown Seattle has struggled in the wake of the pandemic, driven in large part by hybrid office work reducing daily foot traffic. Other than a dip around the winter holidays, Downtown worker foot traffic has mostly hovered around 55% of pre-pandemic levels since August 2023, according to the Downtown Seattle Association. Office vacancies in the central business district have continued to rise, hitting 24% at the end of last year and predicted to increase to 30% by the end of 2024.

Harrell has made Downtown recovery a centerpiece of his first Mayoral term. His Downtown Activation Plan is a laundry list of ideas meant to bolster economic recovery through tourism, increased numbers of Downtown residents and more.

In mid-March, Harrell transmitted legislation to the City Council to incentivize the conversion of office buildings into apartments and other uses. Last fall the Council passed legislation to rezone Third Avenue between Union and Stewart Streets to increase commercial and residential density, legislation to allow more hotel construction in Belltown and waived permit fees for food trucks and carts and small-to-medium street and sidewalk events. 

U.S. Appeals Court won’t block WA’s new legislative district map

Legislative Map

An appeals court will not block a U.S. District Court ruling from earlier this month that the state must adopt Remedial Map 3B, which connects the Latino communities along the Yakima Valley. (Courtesy of the Campaign Legal Center)

A redrawn Washington legislative district map selected by a U.S. District Court judge earlier this month will be used in elections this year. The U.S. Court of Appeals has announced it will not step in to block the decision. 

However, the three-judge appeals panel, in its order Friday evening, allowed a group of conservative Latinos to continue its appeal efforts. 

The new maps create a Latino-voter-majority district in the Yakima Valley that aligns with federal voting rights laws. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik sided with Latino voters who sued the state in January 2022, saying the district, as drawn by the bipartisan Washington State Redistricting Commission in 2021, diluted Latino voter power. 

Under the new map, Legislative District 14 unites Latino communities in Central Washington from the east part of Yakima to Pasco in neighboring Franklin County, including Latino communities along the Lower Yakima Valley. The map also switched the Latino-majority district from the 15th to the 14th to ensure that state Senate elections fall on a presidential election year when the turnout of Latino voters is higher. 

A group of conservative Latino voters, which included State Rep. Alex Ybarra, intervened in the case and opposed the map, stating that it was an attempt by Democrats to gain power in conservative Central Washington districts. That argument did not get much traction in the original court case or the remedial map process. Intervenors, however, will now have an opportunity to lay out their argument for the appeals process. According to a court document, conservative voters must file opening briefs by June 7, with responses due in early July.

WA Legislature OKs 3 initiatives, leaving tax measures for ballot

Voters in November will decide on initiatives to repeal the capital gains tax and the cap-and-invest program and to change the long-term care insurance payroll tax.

Washington State Capitol Building

The Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia, in a 2020 photo. (Jovelle Tamayo for Cascade PBS)

The Washington Legislature approved loosening police-pursuit restrictions and passing two other initiatives submitted by public petitions. That leaves three initiatives to be addressed in the November election.

The Senate approved removing some police-pursuit restrictions 36-13, with the opposing votes all coming from Democrats.The House passed the measure 77-20. 

The Senate also passed the initiative forbidding a state income tax 38-11, and unanimously declared parents had rights to medical, academic and disciplinary information on their children. The House passed the income tax initiatives by 76-21 and the parental rights measure by a vote of 82-15. All votes against the three initiatives were from Democrats.

The police-pursuit initiative was the most controversial. It repeals a 2021 law that raised the standard for vehicular police pursuits from “reasonable suspicion” to “probable cause” — the standard typically required for a warrant or arrest – for pursuits involving all but a narrow list of crimes. That list of crimes was expanded in 2023 following an unsuccessful Republican attempt to repeal the entire 2021 law. 

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said, “Police and law enforcement have been handcuffed in the number of crimes they are allowed to pursue. … off [criminals] go, thumbing their noses at law enforcement.” He added that vehicle thefts have significantly increased since 2021 because police pursuits were restricted.

In voting against the initiative, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, worried that a broken taillight or loud music could trigger a police pursuit. Sen. Yasmin Trudeau, D-Tacoma, cited innocent bystanders being injured over the small theft or drug possession charge. 

The two other initiatives sparked only token discussions Monday because the measures do not change the status quo. Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said the parental-rights initiative merely codifies rules already set in state education regulations. Meanwhile, there has not been a serious attempt at establishing a state income tax in more than a decade.

Conservative organization Let’s Go Washington, funded by Redmond hedge fund manager Brian Heywood, gathered enough signatures to send six initiatives to the Legislature. The Legislature had the choice to adopt those initiatives or send them to a public vote on the November ballot. Monday’s action removed three from that lineup.

The three remaining initiatives — including one to repeal the new cap-and-invest program that puts a price on carbon pollution — all have complicated fiscal ramifications that do not lend themselves to easy “yes” or “no” votes, without amendments. The Legislature is not allowed to amend initiatives.

Another initiative asks voters to repeal Washington’s new capital gains tax on people earning $250,000 or more on capital gains. The sixth proposal would repeal a 2023 law that taxes paychecks to provide for long-term health care.

AI task force will advise the WA Legislature on the emerging tech

man sitting at a computer showing a new artificial intelligence tool for generating images

At a September 2023 company event in New York, Jared Andersen, director of product marketing for Bing Chat at Microsoft, shows a new artificial intelligence tool for generating images on Microsoft’s Bing Chat Enterprise. (AP Photo/Cora Lewis)

The Washington House has greenlighted the creation of a task force to study artificial intelligence issues for the Legislature.

Senate Bill 5838, sponsored by Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, passed late Thursday 68-28 and will go back to the Senate for a vote on the House’s minor tweaks.

The bill calls for the creation of a 42-person task force, to begin meeting this year, to come up with recommendations on how the Legislature and state government should address AI issues. Preliminary recommendations on future legislation and regulations would be due to the governor’s office and to the Legislature by Dec. 31, 2024 and Dec. 1, 2025, with a final report due July 1, 2026.

Participants in the task force would include state government officials and representatives of universities, technology associations, business groups, labor and community advocate organizations. The task force must meet at least twice annually. The Washington Attorney General’s Office will coordinate its work.

“I believe the rapid development of artificial intelligence will bring about one  of the most momentous developments in technology. It will alter the world and we will see massive changes in society,” said Rep. Clyde Shavers, D-Oak Harbor, on the House floor. “We often forget or ignore the enormous challenges that come with these great technological advances. … Right now, companies are either self-regulating or not subject to adequate oversight, and we need both now.”  

Rep. Travis Couture, R-Allyn, added: “People don’t realize artificial intelligence touches their lives. … There are risks and opportunities.”

Couture acknowledged some GOP representatives opposed the bill because they object to the attorney general’s office being in charge.

WA moves toward partnership with CA, Quebec cap-and-trade systems

filling up a vehicle with gas

In a 2023 photo, a motorist fills a tank at a Shell station in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The Washington Legislature has voted along party lines to adjust its carbon pricing system to make it compatible with the cap-and-trade systems in California and Quebec.

House approved Senate Bill 6058, on a vote of 57-39 Thursday. The Senate passed the measure on Feb. 12. Now the two houses will have to reconcile minor differences in the bills they passed before it can be sent to the governor's desk.

Washington is negotiating with California and Quebec on meshing their three carbon markets. Supporters of the move expect a bigger market would bring down carbon emission auction prices, which would lead to lower fuel costs.

The earliest that the proposed alliance could take place is 2025. Lurking in the background is a November referendum on whether to repeal Washington’s cap-and-invest program, which is blamed for some gas price increases.

Washington’s carbon polluters, including oil companies, bid every three months on the amounts of carbon emissions they can release. The volume of allowances is limited, which has driven up auction bids. Washington’s carbon auction prices have been higher than those in California. This past year, however, California’s gas prices have been frequently, but not always, higher than Washington’s.

The cap-and-invest system is one of numerous factors affecting the rise and fall in Washington’s gas prices. 

Republicans opposed the bill Thursday, spending the majority of a more than four hour debate slamming the program and its association with gas prices. Republicans also said they did not like tying Washington’s program with a much larger California economy and its own unique ups and downs. They also voiced skepticism about claims that a larger market would decrease gas prices in the Evergreen State.

“We’re going into an agreement without a clear understanding of the partners we want a relationship with,” said Rep. Keith Goehner, R-Dryden.

“Fools rush in. We should not rush into any linkage,” said Rep Jim Walsh, R-Abderdeen, who is also one of the leaders of the initiative to repeal Washington’s cap-and-invest program.

Majority Leader Joe Fitzgibbon, D-West Seattle, noted that a common argument against Washington’s efforts to combat climate change is that one state’s efforts won’t have an effect on global warming. He said a Washington-California-Quebec market would have a greater impact on reducing carbon emissions.

Fitzgibbon also noted New York, Massachusetts and Maryland are watching Washington and this potential alliance with thoughts about creating their own cap-and-trade programs to eventually join this bigger market.

The biggest change from SB 6058 would be allowing a single bidder in a quarterly auction to obtain up to 25 percent of the allowances for sale. Currently, the limit for a single auction is 10 percent. However, a single corporation would still be limited to obtaining no more than 10 percent of allowances offered in a calendar year.

A watchdog group reports that Washington’s public agencies are making it harder for the public to gain access to information, eroding the state’s Public Records Act. 

The Washington Coalition for Open Government, a group that pushes for public access to government information, released its report this week, revealing several key findings, including longer wait times for records than in previous years and an increase in exemptions in public records law.

The Coalition found that public officials and agencies often obstruct people requesting public information — for example, creating long administrative appeals for denials and imposing deadlines to pay fees before a requester can access records. Sometimes agencies take a lengthy time to respond to requests, or simply fail to respond altogether. 

Data from the report shows that requesters are waiting longer than in previous years to receive information: In 2019, people waited an average of 15 days, which increased to 23 days in 2022. 

Public officials are also becoming creative with ways to withhold public information, like using “legislative privilege” or releasing redacted and blacked-out documents in response to requests. None of the officials that violated the act were held accountable by the public records act. 

From 2012 to 2022, the list of exemptions for disclosing public records has increased more than 30%. 

The report also found that agencies also fail at maintaining and organizing records. The Coalition said agencies spend more time and money searching for documents due to this disorganization.

Not only is their document organization inadequate, but the Coalition found that staff members of these agencies are often improperly trained on how to handle public records. The training that public employees receive from the Office of the Attorney General creates bias and tilts them to favor nondisclosure over transparency, according to the report.

Recommendations from the study include making data accessible to people in a timely manner. They also ask for the government to act transparently and implement pro-transparency recommendations from the Attorney General’s Public Records Exemptions Accountability Committee. 

The crowd of Republicans seeking outgoing U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ seat in the 5th Congressional District is growing. The candidates come to the race with various levels of local, state and national government experience. 

McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, announced earlier this month she would not seek reelection after two decades in Congress. The 5th Congressional District covers 16,054 square miles in the easternmost part of the state and spans from Canada to the Idaho and Oregon borders. 

Among them is Spokane City Councilman Jonathan Bingle. A former pastor and founder/owner of the businesses Bent Trivia and Bent Events, he is a notable conservative in a City Council that recently elected progressives for mayor and Council president. 

Also running is State Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber. Maycumber, R-Republic, has represented the 7th Legislative District since 2017 and is the current House Republican Floor Leader.  

Ferry County Commissioner Brian Dansel also has filed documents with the Federal Election Commission. Dansel was appointed to the commissioner position in 2023 and also served in the position from 2010 to 2013, when he was elected to the Washington State Senate. Most recently, he worked in the Trump administration as a special assistant to former Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. 

Cathy McMorris Rodgers
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (U.S. House of Representatives)

Rene Holaday, a radio host and former aide to former State Rep. Matt Shea, also confirmed her candidacy on Radio Free Redoubt, a broadcast outlet that describes itself as an “emerging safe haven and refuge for God-fearing, Liberty-loving patriots.” 

Another Republican candidate is John Guenther, a retired state employee on another election run after running for U.S. Senate in 2022, placing fourth in the primary behind Sen. Patty Murray and Republican challenger Tiffany Smiley. Rounding out the Republican field is Anthony Jensen. 

The Republicans join Democratic candidates who earlier announced their campaigns: Ann Marie Danimus, Carmela Conroy, and Bernadine Bank. McMorris Rodgers has handily defeated Democratic opponents since her first Congressional election in 2004. Lisa Brown, former State Senator and Commerce director, came closest when she received 45% of votes in her loss to McMorris Rodgers in 2018. Brown recently started her first term as Spokane mayor.

Former Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward, whom Brown defeated in the general election in November, told The Spokesman-Review that she was considering joining the Congressional race. 

Hundreds of protesters gathered on the Capitol steps in Olympia on Tuesday afternoon to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and raise awareness of increased discrimination in Washington. 

The event was organized by the Washington Coalition for Peace and Justice, a coalition of Palestinian-Americans and allies working to enhance the lives of Palestinians across Washington.

No state legislators attended or spoke at the rally, sparking criticism from activists.

Although some Washington cities have passed ceasefire resolutions, including Seattle, Olympia and Bellingham, the Coalition is calling on the Washington Legislature to pass one at the state level, saying demonstrations like this are needed to pressure the federal government to do the same.

“I’m angry that we have to be here begging for the absolute bare minimum, which is to get the representatives, who swore to represent our interests, to say ceasefire,” author Ijeoma Oluo said.

Speakers also highlighted increased discrimination and hate crimes, as tensions between Israel and Palestine intensify. CAIR Washington reported receiving a staggering 2,171 complaints of Islamophobia since Oct. 7, while the Anti-Defamation League of the Pacific Northwest has seen over a 250% increase in antisemitic incidents since last year.

In this landscape, the Coalition says it will continue to promote legislation that protects their safety and freedom of speech and raise awareness about how the deaths of over 29,000 Palestinians in Gaza during the war with Israel have impacted their communities.

“Our communities face real threats and violence as evidenced by rising hate crimes nationally and locally,” the organization said in a media statement.