Seattle's impound ordinance, which allows the city to seize cars driven by people with suspended licenses, has been controversial since its inception in 1999. It was supposed to get dangerous drivers off the road, but it's been used to take cars away from people who can't afford to pay their traffic tickets—40 percent of whom are African American. Nearly 90 percent of third-degree license suspensions, the least-serious class of violations, are for unpaid tickets, according to Lisa Daugaard, the public defender who heads the city-funded car-recovery clinic. With fees, tow charges, and mandatory impound periods, the cost of getting a car out of hock can be upward of $500. And if people could afford to pay that, Daugaard notes, they could have paid their tickets in the first place.
The state Supreme Court recently ruled that a similar State Patrol policy gave officers too little discretion when deciding whether to take a driver's car away. And a King County Superior Court decision, by Judge Michael Trickey, partly overturned Seattle's impound ordinance. Nevertheless, City Attorney Tom Carr says his office will continue its appeal of Trickey's decision, which, Carr says, "said we have to seek some alternative, which would prevent us from ever impounding cars." Carr says the police department is working on guidelines that will help officers decide whether to impound a vehicle. Meanwhile, the car-recovery clinic, a program the city had planned to suspend while it oversaw a study of its true cost and effectiveness, will be around until at least next March thanks to negotiations led by City Council members Nick Licata and Richard McIver. The car-recovery clinic has been a frequent target of criticism, with impound proponents saying the city shouldn't have to pay for lawsuits against itself.
Housing advocates, led by the Seattle Displacement Coalition, won a major battle in their years-old fight against the Seattle Housing Authority last week, but a bigger victory is by no means assured. After days of negotiations, the coalition walked away from its lawsuit against SHA with attorney's fees; a binding agreement to provide replacement housing to displaced residents of the Rainier Vista public-housing complex, which is being redeveloped; a promise by SHA to freeze rents in its Senior Housing Program until next September; and a place at the bargaining table when SHA decides what to do with Yesler Terrace, the last public-housing "garden community" in Seattle. But the settlement will allow SHA to demolish what remains of Rainier Vista and turn it into a mixed-income community, which low- income housing advocates oppose because they believe the new development will serve fewer very-low-income people.
Think monorail-agency head Joel Horn's $180,000 salary is a little, well, outrageous? Consider this: With the agency's eight remaining top-tier officials expected to pull down an average of $130,000 each, the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority will only have to pay its remaining 109 employees $83,000 per person to reach its projected average salary of $88,000.
Erica C. Barnett