As Heidi reported the other day, there was some gross weirdness going on at Tuesday's city council land-use meeting. But what we didn't know, at the time, was exactly how Council Member Jean Godden managed to "roll up," as the mayor hoped she would, just in time to kill an amendment that would have taken a step toward allowing homeless encampments in residential areas.
The note, asking Burgess to stall until Godden arrived, was passed by Godden staffer Tom Van Bronkhorst to Burgess partway through the Tuesday meeting.
After receiving the note, Burgess all but lied to his colleagues about why he wanted the committee to hold off on considering the amendment—which was offered by Council Member Kshama Sawant and would only have led to a study of the potential environmental impacts of allowing homeless encampments in residential neighborhoods (right now, they're only allowed in residential neighborhoods if they're on church property).
"I'm wondering whether the committee chair," Burgess said, "would delay voting on this particular amendment until we've voted on the assessment and evaluation amendment, because I think those two are interrelated."
Translation: Hold the vote on the Sawant amendment, please.
If the vote had been taken right then, Sawant's amendment would have passed. But committee chair Mike O'Brien, ever the congenial way-too-nice dude, happily obliged and thought nothing of it. Now, he's feeling burned.
"Burgess asked to reorder the vote for some other reason that was misleading," O'Brien told me today. "When Jean showed up, then it dawned on me that that's why we moved the agenda item."
Burgess wouldn't comment on what went down, but O'Brien described Burgess's move as "game playing" and "a distraction that just undermines how we work as government." If anyone had simply asked O'Brien to accommodate Godden's schedule, he would have, he said.
That game playing, of course, will determine where homeless encampments are allowed to exist in the future. Here's a map of the city-owned plots of land to which they'd be limited under the mayor's current proposal.
In an ideal world, said Real Change's Tim Harris, speaking by phone, encampments wouldn't be confined to these areas. "But that's not politically possible."
I asked Council Member Kshama Sawant what she made of the parliamentary shenanigans that killed her proposal. Her vocal chorus of critics often claims she doesn't do enough to advance legislation at city hall, but here's a case in which she would have moved something forward (if Godden hadn't rolled up late and killed it).
"It’s surprising if someone shows up to vote," Sawant said, in reference to Godden, "but doesn’t provide an explanation why."
As for Burgess, Sawant said, "I wasn’t able to understand what the connection was between my amendment and [his] amendment, because that was his argument." The people of Seattle, she said, deserve a fuller explanation.
"This is exactly why we need people outside city hall to be involved in politics," Sawant added. "We want to have ordinary workers, homeless people, and the poor drive the political agenda of this city."