Homegrown Documentaries

Seed ArtsSeattle, WA – Bicycling nudists, Rwandan filmmakers and a Seattle family confronted by terrorism are the intriguing characters you’ll meet at the second annual SEED Arts Cinema Series SEEDArts Cinema Series, “Made in Seattle: Homegrown Documentaries”. The two-day series, April 4 & 5, is comprised of three dynamic, award-winning, locally made documentaries to be screened at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center, 3515 S Alaska St, Seattle, WA 98118. The films are Finding Hillywood (4/4 at 7pm), Barzan (4/5 at 5pm), and Beyond Naked (4/5 at 7pm). Each film will be followed by a community conversation with the filmmakers and moderated by Rustin Thompson, The Restless Critic.

The Cinema Series opens on Friday, April 4 at 7pm with a screening of Finding Hillywood. Set amongst the hills of Rwanda, Finding Hillywood chronicles one man’s road to forgiveness, his effort to heal his country, and the realization that we all must one day face our past. A unique and endearing phenomenon film about the very beginning of Rwanda’s film industry and the pioneers who bring local films to rural communities. A real life example of the power of film to heal a man and a nation.

The Series continues on Saturday, April 5, with an evening double feature. At 5 pm, we present Barzan by directors Alex Stonehill & Bradley Hutchinson. Barzan is an intimate portrait of a suburban family ripped apart by a terrorism accusation. Shot both in Iraq and Seattle, this investigative documentary examines terrorism, immigration, and the sacrifices we make to protect the American dream.

The series concludes at 7pm with Beyond Naked, the “Best Documentary” of the Seattle True Independent Film Festival (2013). This film shows what happens when four first-timers accept a challenge to ride naked in Seattle’s legendary Solstice Parade. This feature-length documentary explores our deep-rooted fear and awkward fascination with nakedness through the lens of one of Seattle’s most popular traditions.

Admission to the Cinema Series is $5 per film. All films will be screened on the new digital projection system at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center, 3515 S Alaska St, Seattle, WA 98118. Limited concessions will be available. For more information and updates, call 206.760.4285 or visit http://www.rainiervalleyculturalcenter.org/cinema.

Weathering The Seahawks’ Offseason Woes

In the weeks following the Seahawks’ demolition of the Denver Broncos, in what was anything but a Super Bowl, a collective anxiety seems to have stricken the entire football fan base of Seattle. The hair pulling and gnashing of teeth that’s resulted from players leaving for greener pastures, and seemingly every other NFL team loading up to knock the Hawks off the perch they now occupy, has made much of the 12th man forget that our World Champions (Admit it, you still pinch yourself at the sound of that!) are in a lot better shape than the general consensus gives them credit for.  While perhaps not being as good as a prescription of Lexapro for our distressed Hawks’ lovers, here are a few practical steps that the brass has taken and still can take in order to make sure they stay on top for the foreseeable future, which may help alleviate a few worries:


Step 1 (Complete) – Get your most effective and versatile pass rusher locked up in Michael Bennett.  Bennett offers value equal to the league leaders in Sacks, QB pressures, and QB knock downs.  In addition he plays the run well both as a defensive end, and as a defensive tackle in passing situations making him invaluable, and without a match in free agency, or within the upcoming draft.


Step 2 – Extend Earl Thomas for 5-6 years, and make him the highest paid safety in the league (he’s earned it).  Our league leading defense is enabled by the play of our two safety’s in Cam and Earl.  The NFL as a whole continues to be more of a passing league, and Earl’s unmatched ability to read quarterbacks and cover ground virtually eliminated the deep passing game of opponents for the last two years.  Cam was locked up and rewarded last year, Earl is priority #1 to continue this defenses’ dominance for the foreseeable future.


Step 3 – Extend Sherman 5-6 years(probably highest paid corner, but he earned it too).  Sherman has unmatched production, and eliminates receivers to his side of the field.  He studies like crazy, and communicates better than any corner in the league whether it is with his own teammates or he is discussing things with the opposition.


Step 4 (For 2015) – Extend Russell Wilson 5-6 years(somewhere in the top 5 highest paid).  Russell is the heart and soul of the offense.  It is true Beast Mode embodies the style this offense plays with, but Russell makes it all happen.  He routinely makes something out of nothing, and this guy will only continue to grow and get better.  As long as he is a Seahawk for the core of his athletic prime this will be a winning team.


Step 5 – Develop internally or find an effective DT to spell Mebane and McDaniel.  With Red leaving and McDonald getting a new deal as well our rotation looks much thinner, but remember McDonald was released last year, and by the end of the season he had 5.5 sacks.  There are too many weapons on defense for the OL to worry about, and our coaches consistently maximize the player’s potential.  Look at the out of nowhere performances on defense from McDaniel, Malcolm Smith, even Maxwell at DB.  All were unheard of and not counted on last pre-season to contribute to the 2013 season, and all played critical roles as the year developed.


Step 6 – Draft a high quality receiver in round 1 or 2 & bring in a mid-level veteran for competition.  Bringing in Jackson from Philly would be flashy, but would tie up too much money in a de-emphasized position on this team.  A solid veteran, possibly bringing back Sidney Rice if/when healthy, and a rookie to groom and develop would be upgrades to the offense the Hawks operated with for the majority of last year.  Losing Tate hurts, but having a healthy year of Percy should offset his loss, the key will be actually getting a healthy year of Percy in 2014.


Step 7 – Continue to build offensive line depth.  Losing Guacomini decreases the edge the line plays with, but functionally it won’t be a huge loss.  Either Bailey or Bowie will be much better next year, and exhibited strong abilities to run and pass block effectively.  Based on the usage last year I think Bowie has the inside track, but I like Bailey to blossom and play regularly next year as well.  Adding depth and versatility via the draft in the middle rounds will be necessary.


Step 8 – Lock up Pete Carroll to a 5 year extension (Again, he’s earned it).  He is one of the highest paid coaches in the league already, but he salvaged a flailing franchise and has turned around the energy, passion, skill, athleticism, and competition.  For the first time in Seahawks history we are the envy of the league both for winning the Super Bowl, but for the opportunity to continue to win more Lombardi’s in the near future.


Follow these steps in the next year, and we are set up much better than the Niners to dominate for the next 4-5 years and compete for multiple Superbowls.  I know it is difficult to look at the losses of Tate, Clemens, Bryant, Guacomini, Thurmond, Browner etc., but take heart, none of those players were in the top 10 total contributing players on the team, and likely not in the top 15, so although it hurts to lose them, keeping the core top players together over the long term and continuing to bring in quality young players is the key to future Hawks domination.

Clint Elsemore has been a fanatic Seattle sports fan for his entire life, and possibly several past lifetimes, should reincarnation be proven to be real.

Rainier Valley Greenways Create Pop-Up Greenway

Seattle, WA — Rainier Valley Greenways announces the first Pop-up Greenway Event in South Seattle, Sunday, April 6, 2014, from 11am to 3pm in Columbia City at Ferdinand Street between 35th and 37th Street.

A Pop-Up Greenway is a temporary installation to demonstrate and celebrate the effectiveness of neighborhood greenways. The Rainier Valley Pop-Up Greenway, located on a proposed greenway route near the Columbia City light rail station, will include faux painted speed humps, way-finding signs, sharrows and intersection improvement suggestions that demonstrate what a greenway could look like. The event will also feature food, walking tours, hands-on activities, and games for the whole family.

Neighborhood greenways are residential streets close to commercial streets where people who walk and bike are given priority. They have slower speeds, less traffic and sometimes more trees, benches and other people-friendly features than main city streets. Greenways also connect community destinations like schools, parks, businesses and transit hubs.

“Neighborhood Greenways are for all of us, not just for bicyclists,” says City of Seattle Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. “Greenways are for those who want to live in a quieter, calmer neighborhood. They are for those of us who want to let our children play outside safely, where neighbors like to walk and ride in front of their homes in relative peace. Greenways are for people who like green and flowering trees and want to recreate how their neighborhoods look and feel.”

“It’s been amazing to see how much interest there is in Rainier Valley for safer streets,” says Deb Salls, executive director of Bike Works, a key organizational partner in the Rainier Valley Greenways project. “We have a diverse community, where family members of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds are trying to walk, bike, and bus to different destinations — and in this community there can be a lot of obstacles, from uneven sidewalks, to poorly marked streets, and dangerous signal-timing.”

About Rainier Valley Greenways: Rainier Valley Greenways is part of a city-wide grassroots movement called Seattle Neighborhood Greenways that is helping residents and businesses transform Seattle into a city where we can all walk and bike more safely. Working with leading organizations, businesses, and social service groups in Southeast Seattle, the Rainier Valley Greenways group is participating in a variety of local events throughout the year, offering community presentations, and generating discussions online at: http://www.GoRVGreenways.com. By August 2014, they expect to have a Greenways plan that highlights the best opportunities for walking and bicycling routes from one end of Rainier Valley to the other. They’ll present the neighborhood-driven proposal to the City as a plan for prioritizing road and sidewalk repairs, traffic-calming elements, and other enhancements for safer walking and bicycling in Southeast Seattle.

Civic Salvos: Washington State Hunger Strike Goes National

by Miriam Xiomara Padilla and Su Docekal
Seattle, WA

An unprecedented hunger strike by 750 of the 1,200 detainees in Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center started during breakfast on March 7. The strikers’ demands for an end to deportations and inhumane conditions in the privately-owned prison has made national headlines and drawn broad community support. On March 17 the strike spread to the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, Texas. Both jails are run by the GEO Group, Inc., this country’s second largest for-profit prison corporation.

protestersThe Tacoma hunger strike was inspired by a dozen undocumented Washington State residents and supporters who locked themselves together at the entrance of the detention center on Feb. 24. The #Not1More activists sat down in front of a bus to block it from transporting detainees to the airport to be deported, a strategy modeled on similar recent actions by undocumented protesters in Chicago, Phoenix and Atlanta.

Daily demonstrations have been held at the Tacoma facility since the strike began and on Tuesday, March 11 over 200 people rallied in solidarity with the hunger strikers and their families. They chanted and made lots of noise to let those inside know that they had support outside.

AT A MARCH 19 PRESS CONFERENCE in front of the Tacoma detention center, Maru Mora Villalpando of #Not1More began by saying, “Obama can stop the deportations, but he has chosen not to.” She introduced several family members of the hunger strikers, who explained that their husbands andt were taking this action to expose the abuses in the detention center and to stop the deportations.

One of the strike leaders, Jose Moreno, who had just been released, spoke on behalf of those inside, saying that mistreatment by officials, as well as poor food and medical care are among the abuses the strikers are protesting.

Sandy Restrepo, an attorney with La Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, has been visiting the strikers regularly and reported that 13 detainees remain on hunger strike. Ramon Mendoza Pascual and Jesus Gaspar Navarro are in medical isolation, while the remaining 11 are in general population.

THE GEO GROUP, which reaps enormous profits from its prisons and detention centers, has a long history of unjust treatment. In 2008 at its Reeves County Detention Center in Texas, Jesus Manuel Galindo died at 32 after suffering an epileptic seizure in solitary confinement. Galindo was thrown into “the hole” after he complained about his medical care.

The GEO Group is also politically active in promoting laws that will keep its for-profit prisons full. The corporation took part in the task force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which pushed bills for “truth-in-sentencing” that reduce paroles and “three strikes” legislation that increases life sentences.

ACROSS THE COUNTRY undocumented immigrants, especially women, youth and detainees, are putting their bodies on the line to demand an end to endless deportations. It is a dramatic change from the go-slow “comprehensive immigration reform” (CIR) strategy promoted by immigration reform organizations closely tied to the Democratic Party.

The Dignity Campaign, which is endorsed by dozens of grassroots organizations, including the Freedom Socialist Party, called the CIR strategy a “deal with the devil” in a March 2014 statement:

“The CIR trade-off — giving up immigrants’ civil and labor rights to get legalization — has always been an unworkable strategy for immigration reform. The CIR bills serve the interests of employers. Whether they’re looking for farm workers, construction workers or high tech workers, the corporate objective is to ensure that wages go down as workers compete for insecure jobs.

While CIR languished in Congress, community and labor activists, mostly young, have refused to wait or compromise, and instead have organized on the ground to win rights and equality.

The hunger strikers in Washington and Texas provide stirring leadership for this new wave of militant activism. At the March 19 press conference, strikers Pascual and Navarro sent encouraging taped messages to the hunger strikers in Conroe, Texas. “We’re not doing anything wrong, we’re demanding our rights. You should keep going forward, and not yield,” said Navarro, followed by Pascual who added, “Don’t be afraid, we must keep going, so that we are heard and so that we can be free.”

How you can help

SIGN the online petition to support the hunger strikers at the Northwest Detention Center.
SEND donations to La Colectiva Legal del Pueblo so that they can help detainees and their families communicate with each other. Mail checks to 645 SW 153rd Street, Suite C3 Burien, WA 98166. Email: info@colectivalegal.org.
PARTICIPATE in the National Day of Action against deportations being planned across the country for April 5th. There will be a rally at the Tacoma detention center that day from noon to 5:00pm. Anyone interested in carpooling from Seattle, please contact the Freedom Socialist Party at FSPseattle@mindspring.com. Learn more about the national campaign at notonemoredeportation.com.
JOIN the #Not1More protests in front of the Northwest Detention Center that take place every day from noon to 5:00pm leading up to the April 5 rally.

Late breaking news: On Monday, March 24th 70 detainees in Tacoma rejoined the hunger strike.

Miriam Xiomara Padilla is a high school student and a leader in the Campaign to Free Nestora Salgado in Seattle. Su Docekal is an immigrant rights activist and Organizer for the Seattle branch of the Freedom Socialist Party.

A Pragmatic Approach To A Fair Minimum Wage

by Marilyn Watkins

People who toil away at jobs we all depend on shouldn’t live in poverty. But would a $15 minimum wage work in Seattle?

Here’s a look past the rhetoric at what the research shows.

Washington’s minimum wage of $9.32 isn’t enough to cover the basics. Affording a one-bedroom apartment in King County required working full-time at $17.54 an hour in 2013, according to a study by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and the Department of Commerce. But tens of thousands of local workers in fast food, restaurants, retail, childcare, hotels, and other common occupations, typically earn less than $12.50.

The average cost of a one-bedroom shot up 55% in the past 4 years within a 10 mile radius of Seattle, a period when inflation – and the state minimum wage, rose just 7.5%.

Inequality has been on the rise for three decades, and it is causing economic instability and job-killing recessions. If minimum wage had kept pace with productivity gains over that period it would now be above $16. Since the start of the recession in 2008, corporate profits have climbed steadily, but the share of our national economy going to workers wages has declined, with more of total wages going to CEOS, hedge fund managers, and software engineers – and less to everybody else.

We need to do something about low wages. But, will raising the minimum wage to $15 force businesses to cut jobs and in some cases close altogether as opponents contend?

Twenty-one states now have minimum wages above the federal level. We have lots of data to test the theory that raising the minimum wage decreases hiring.

The most recent, economically sophisticated studies that actually use all these data have concluded that all the minimum wage increases of the past 25 years had no significant impact on jobs. The increases did raise monthly incomes for low-wage workers and decrease turn over.

When workers stay in their jobs longer, employers have lower hiring and training costs, and productivity increases. This helps explain why employers can pay higher wages without cutting jobs.

Other cities have set their own minimum wages. In the fall of 2013, Washington, DC and two Maryland counties acted to raise their minimum wages in steps, to reach $11.50 by 2016 or 2017. San Francisco’s minimum wage is $10.74, and the city also requires businesses to provide paid sick days and health insurance. A study just out from UC Berkeley concludes that employers made the adjustment to higher workplace standards without cutting jobs, in some cases modestly raising prices along with enjoying the benefits of less turnover and higher productivity.

The minimum wage increases in these studies were all less than the 60% raise that jumping straight to $15 would be. We don’t actually know what would happen with a quick increase of that scale. It’s not just the corporate fat cats who are worried, but owners of some local shops and restaurants operating on small margins, and childcare centers and social service agencies who don’t have the option of raising prices.

Taking all the data into account, here are my recommendations:

  1. Move to $15 in several steps. Workers need more in their pockets immediately, but a gradual increase gives small business owners time to adjust.

  2. Keep it universal. Some have suggested a small business exemption, and the Restaurant Association is clamoring for tip credits, or worse, “total compensation” (that means counting all benefits – health insurance, sick leave, meals – toward the minimum wage). All workers deserve a living wage. Employees shouldn’t have to rely on the whims of customers’ voluntary contributions. We hear anecdotally about bartenders and waiters at trendy nightspots who earn $40,000 to $70,000 a year. Well, why shouldn’t they? Their employers are bringing in plenty, and well-heeled customers buying $13 cocktails and laying down big tips would pay higher menu prices, too. But the truth is, most tipped workers are serving customers with modest incomes, often work part-time hours and slow shifts. Allowing employers to deduct not only tips but the “cost” of benefits, including every cup of coffee and bathroom break, provides new opportunities for wage theft and could result in some people seeing their paycheck go down.

Low wage workers are all ages. Some support families, or are trying to put themselves through school in the face of skyrocketing tuition. Others are college grads forced to move back in with mom because they can’t afford rent.

Low wages do not induce businesses to hire more workers – more customers do. So let’s go ahead and give Seattle a raise.

Marilyn Watkins is policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, a nonpartisan policy center  focused on building and economy that works for everyone.

Lake Washington Receives $50 Million Reinvestment

SEATTLE – Starting this month, the Lake Washington Apartments will undergo a complete renovation that will greatly improve safety and

 comfort for 960 residents.

SEED (SouthEast Effective Development), in cooperation with its development partner, Bayside Communities, is financing the transfor

mation of the affordable apartment complex in Rainier Beach with a $50 million reinvestment package that rolls over part of the property’s current debt and frees $20 million for structural and tenant improvements.


“This comprehensive renovation will greatly improve the home environments of the residents with upgrades to all 366 units-and will add 13 more,” stated Lance Matteson, Executive Director of SEED. SEED is a Southeast Seattle not-for-profit dedicated to economic, arts-based, and affordable housing development.

The new financing includes $28 million in bonds issued and $12.2 million in housing tax credits allocated by the Washington State Housing Finance Commission. Other development and funding partners include the City of Seattle, the State of Washington, Citi, R4 Capital, US Bank, and HomeSight.

“Each of these partners has been crucial to this project,” Matteson said. “We are proud to say that this project is being financed through private equity, with no grants from the state or federal government.”

The 66-year-old apartment complex is among the state’s largest affordable housing developments operated by a non-governmental agency. A great number of residents are people of color and immigrants from Africa, East Asia, and other countries, as well as a number of people transitioning from homelessness. Families eligible for housing earn below 60 percent of the area median income.

The renovation will replace roofs and siding, upgrade kitchens as well as bathrooms, and upgrade energy efficiency of lighting, radiant baseboard heaters, and water heaters. Energy-efficient washers and dryers will be fitted inside the individual apartments, freeing up common areas for new classrooms, study rooms, and activity and exercise rooms. Completion is projected for August 2015. The contractor is Synergy Construction, Inc. and property management services are provided by EPMI, a Bayside Company.

The Lake Washington Apartments, located at 9061 Seward Park Avenue South, are situated on a 16-acre site containing over 330,000 square feet of real estate that is adjacent to Lake Washington and Rainier Beach High School. The site is just a few blocks from the brand-new Rainier Beach Community Center.

 “At SEED, we are excited about our new direction and the opportunities represented by the redevelopment of the Lake Washington Apartments,” added Matteson. “This important step supports the livability of southeast Seattle and the diversity that enhances our city’s ongoing efforts to be recognized as a great international city.”

“We have worked to collaborate with commercial partners, government entities, public and regulatory agencies, legal and compliance experts, architects, and construction managers in a project that will bring tangible benefits to families and individuals in our community.”

Humor Sauce: Baby Steps

by Mike Primavera

I enjoy people watching. As a writer, it’s my job to observe people (or at least that’s what I say when I get caught looking), and one of my favorite places to “observe” is in Downtown Seattle on the corner of 3rd & Pike. This place is not only an intersection, but a nexus of all walks of life. From there I can see ridiculously dressed tourist on their way to Pike Place Market to have their minds blown by a guy throwing a fish; or frustrated commuters impatiently refreshing their phones in hopes that the bus won’t be 25 minutes late (it will be); or a schizophrenic homeless man yelling at the pigeons because he’s the only one who can hear the song they’re all bobbing their heads to – you know, all types of folks.

While watching these people I generally make it a point to not actually interact with any of them. The biggest obstacles are panhandlers, lonely old people, and those awful people holding clipboards. I don’t care if you have a petition to send me on a date with Scarlett Johansson, if you are standing outside of a store holding a clipboard you are a ghost to me. But the other day something happened that caught me completely off guard. Something I couldn’t ignore. An old man walked up to me, looked me right in the eyes and said, “Jesus loves you”.

Now, I’m an atheist, but I have no hate in my heart for Jesus. He seemed like a pretty solid dude. He was friendly, helpful, he made his own wine; what’s not to like? So why did what this old man said to me make me so uncomfortable? My first reaction, and go to defense mechanism when someone makes me uncomfortable, is sarcasm. “Wait, what do you mean Jesus loves me? Did he say something to you? OMG I’m freaking out right now tell me his exact words.”

Of course, I didn’t say a word of that. I couldn’t. This sweet old man just said “Jesus loves you” with a sincerity that shook the very foundation of my atheist beliefs. A foundation 10 grueling years of catholic school had hardened into a surface I could walk confidently upon, until that moment. I spent the rest of the day thinking about that old man, and eventually, I figured out what was bugging me.

I spend a lot of time on that corner watching people, but when I do, I observe with a certain cynicism and over all contempt for human beings. I don’t hate these people, but I look for flaws in them that can be spun into jokes. It’s pretty much how I’ve lived my whole life. So when this old man said “Jesus loves you”, it was like he was calling me out in the nicest possible way. Like he was saying, “Hey, you’re being the opposite of Jesus right now.” I was bothered by what he said because he made me turn that cynicism and contempt onto myself, and I was less than thrilled with what I saw.

I still don’t believe in a higher power. I believe we are all responsible for our own destiny, but I also believe that is no excuse to be a jerk. Sure, in my mind there’s no magical man in the clouds holding me responsible for the things I say and do, but that’s all the more reason for me to police myself. I still watch people on the corner of 3rd & Pike, but now I try and do so with a more optimistic outlook. I don’t just look for the bad, but also the good, and do you know what I’ve noticed? I haven’t seen one good thing happen on that corner. It’s a bad place and those people are awful. I should find an easier intersection to be optimistic on and work my way up. Baby steps.

Michael Primavera is a Seattle based humorist whose collection of comic musings can be found at twitter.com/primawesome

Civic Salvos

by Young Han

The national discussion on wealth disparity and social mobility has taken center-stage in recent months.  In line with the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” address (http://www.npr.org/2014/01/04/259646707/fifty-years-later-did-the-u-s-win-the-war-on-poverty), as well as the success of avowedly progressive-to-radical political candidates in recent years (http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-video-mayor-inauguration-speeches.html), mainstream publications such as the New York Times have begun to report on the problem of escalating inequality with increasing gusto.  Some of the more thought-provoking (if not fear-engendering) findings of this reporting, at least to a Seattleite such as myself, have come out of the city of San Francisco.  Even with its storied progressive history and reputation for inclusiveness, the city has undergone the same economic changes affecting the rest of the country, if it has not led them.  And, from the steady stream of recent reports, it appears that even the identity of the city may be on the line.

San Francisco, perhaps more than any other city in the US, represents what the new information economy may look like.  The city, much like Seattle, has a highly educated population and a substantial proportion of its workers in the technical or managerial professions.  Companies like Adobe, Twitter, and Wells Fargo call it home, while others such as Apple and Google are headquartered nearby. When business or political elites talk about the economic future of America, particularly in discussions about “free” trade or international competition, this is what they envision to be the ideal outcome.  As the logic of globalization leads industrial production (and traditional working-class jobs) out of the country, workers will move into engineering, biotech and finance jobs—well paying, intellectually-satisfying and hierarchical flat.  This is, fundamentally, the idea of comparative advantage.

San Francisco shows that it doesn’t exactly work that way.  The narrative found in both official statistics and media reports is less one of a New Economy lifting all boats than that of growing conflict and displacement (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/7/classes-clash-assanfranciscansblametechforrisingrents.html).  Sound familiar?  While the latest boom for technology companies, to use one stark example, has given the city an enviably low unemployment rate, filled its public coffers, and created tens of thousands of jobs paying over $100,000 per year, it has also led to median monthly rents of over $3,400, a triple-digit increase in the rate of evictions, and pages of anecdotes regarding unprecedented levels of status consumption (http://www.npr.org/2013/12/03/247531636/as-rent-soars-longtime-san-francisco-tenants-fight-to-stay).  It is now possible, for instance, to pay $8 for two slices of toast and $2,400 a year to hobnob in a private nightclub.  Together, these facts have led many to ask how people employed in traditional middle-class occupations, entrepreneurs without venture financing, activists, and artists can still manage to relate to the new San Francisco, much less call it home.

More recently, anxieties related to the dramatic changes have led to no small degree of ugliness.  Protests against private buses provided by Silicon Valley employers to ferry high-tech workers from their homes in San Francisco have served as a lighting rod for frustration, however misdirected.  For many, these buses represent a further enclosure of public services into private hands.  The buses represent both a failure to invest in transportation accessible to all, but also, given their use of congested public bus stops without remuneration, a kind of noblesse oblige.  A few activists have taken to blockading the buses and sometimes even vandalizing them.  The class war, however, has certainly not been one-sided.  Rants by notable members of the tech community, in particular, have recently lit up the blogosphere.  One equated people in the “lower part of society” with animals and suggested they ought to know their place when they strayed outside their own poor or working-class neighborhoods (http://valleywag.gawker.com/happy-holidays-startup-ceo-complains-sf-is-full-of-hum-1481067192).

As a Seattleite, these developments concern me as the dynamics in play in San Francisco exist here, as well as across the country.  Within the city of Seattle, increased demand for housing by those with the means to pay premium rents have raised the median price of a studio, over the past two years, by between $306 and $434 in its core neighborhoods (http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2021673014_rentincreasesxml.html).  At the same time, workers who provide essential services, such as healthcare support and custodial services, typically earn less $15 an hour (http://livingwage.mit.edu/places/5303363000).  This is 20% less than the minimum wage in 1968 (http://www.epi.org/publication/lagging-minimum-wage-reason-americans-wages/) had it been indexed for productivity and inflation.  It is certainly not a rate of pay conducive to either saving money, paying for more education, or getting new skills.  As a city that prides itself on its progressive politics and a commitment to inclusion, we must ask whether we too may become a place that primarily edifies the well-to-do, one whose service-sector attendants live physically outside its boundaries or marginally inside it.

Ultimately, this question is about values, but more importantly, it is a question about policy.  It is less productive to blame specific companies, sectors, or individuals for responding to incentives than criticizing the perverse political and economic context that created them. The success of companies that hire employees with technical skills has brought great benefits and it is absolutely essential for well-diversified economy.  After all, after deindustrialization and massive structural changes in the economy, Seattle doesn’t look like St. Louis or Detroit.  We are in a position of relative strength.  At the same time, the economic dynamics that have transformed San Francisco, and threaten to do the same here in Seattle, are not natural or inevitable outcomes.  Policies regarding taxation, money, and who controls knowledge and culture have redistributed political and economic power upward.  We need to understand this and ask if this is what we want.

Young Han is a Columbia City resident interested in economic history and the economics of technological change as well as an advocate for cooperative development, and expanding economic democracy

Getting Educated on Education

by Marilyn Watkins

As divided as Americans seem to be about the role of government, we’re pretty united around the notion that quality public education should be accessible to all. Businesses and our economy can’t operate without an educated workforce – and educated customers. Democracy itself depends on citizens who can reason and understand the issues they vote on.

Our state constitution says it is the paramount duty of state government to provide amply for the education of all children in the state. But state funding now doesn’t cover the basics of the K-12 system, let alone the early learning and higher education necessary to assure that all kids are equipped to succeed in the 21st century. Two years ago, the State Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary decision that the state was failing in its constitutional duty.

The problem is not that the average Washington resident is contributing too few tax dollars to adequately support education. It’s that the average Microsoft millionaire, his wealthy neighbors, and corporate shareholders are contributing way too little.

Washington has ambitious goals to increase student achievement, including funding full-day kindergarten, reducing class size, and increasing hours and requirements in high school. Those things all cost money. Last year, the legislature allocated an additional $1 billion to K-12 in the two-year budget . But that was after four years of recession-driven cuts, when school funding got slashed along with everything else. Now the Court has decreed we need to fund school improvements more quickly.

Of course, the real issue isn’t what the court says, it’s our kids. It’s our responsibility as the grownups to provide them with the tools for a promising future.

Governor Inslee has proposed raising more money for K-12 by closing some tax breaks, including those enjoyed by oil companies, the bottled water industry, and out-of-state residents. But closing tax breaks won’t come close to raising enough money. Funding education reform can’t come out of the rest of the state budget either, which was cut to the bone during the recession, and includes the early learning, higher education, and social services that also need to be expanded if we are serious about giving every child real opportunity.

Washington’s problems in funding education began long before the recession and McCleary. Back in 1992, we ranked 17th among the states nationally in per pupil funding. By 2012 we were down to 30th. If we measure level of school support against the personal income of state residents, we’re 44th.

Washington is falling behind because we depend on sales taxes for half our state budget. We tax most heavily the people who have to spend all their income – those who can least afford it. Rich people buy more expensive stuff, but they don’t spend most of their money. On top of that, over the last several decades, our economy has shifted away from the stuff we tax and onto services which we generally don’t tax.

Plus big corporations like Microsoft and Boeing keep demanding more tax breaks at the same time they complain the state isn’t investing enough in education and infrastructure.

Almost every other state has a state income tax that assures that rich people pay their fair share for the benefits of living in a society where they could acquire their wealth and enjoy it.

Until we start requiring the wealthiest to pay their fair share of taxes, we won’t be able to fund the education system our kids deserve.

Here’s a 3-step path to funding the education we should have by 2018:

  1. 2014 – Pass the Governor’s package of tax break closures.

  2. 2015 – Pass a capital gains tax that excludes primary residences and retirement savings (this means it will mostly be paid by the wealthiest).

  3. 2017 – Pass a progressive state income tax while lowering the sales tax, with the increased revenue devoted to education, from preschool through higher education.

Getting our fractured legislature to agree to even closing tax breaks this year will be tough. Right now most legislators believe that they can’t adequately fund education no matter what the constitution and courts say, because voters won’t support changing our state tax system.

Earlier this month, voters across the region approved a host of local school levies, agreeing again to raise their own taxes to invest more in their community schools. We do want a great education system for all our kids. It’s time to give our legislators the tools to fund it.

Marilyn Watkins is policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, a nonpartisan policy center  focused on building and economy that works for everyone.

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