Newsletter | February 12, 2024

When the app-based worker minimum compensation law took effect on January 13, Mayor Bruce Harrell praised it as an important worker protection. Now, less than a month after the law’s implementation date, an intense backlash is already beginning to take shape from the workers it was intended to help.

KING5-TV heard directly from drivers who are seeing a steep decline in the number of orders to deliver and, as a result, their earnings. Despite the law’s minimum hourly pay of $26.40 – plus $.74 per mile driven – these drivers have experienced a steep drop in earnings.

According to driver Mia Shagen, lunch orders used to end at 2:30 pm or 3:00 pm. The orders now stop at 1 pm. “So literally at like one o’clock, suddenly, there are no orders anymore.”

One driver told KING5 that he made $931 during the first week of February 2023 but only $464.81 during the same week in 2024. As one longtime, app-based food delivery driver in Seattle, Gary Lardizabal, said to KING5, “We’re grinding. And we are for real not getting $26 an hour.”

On February 6, three drivers took their concerns directly to the Seattle City Council. During the public comment period, they told the Council that their earnings were cratering and asked the Council to repeal the law.

We will keep you informed of what the City Council does in response to these workers’ concerns.

With a City Council now filled with allies on the second floor of City Hall, Mayor Bruce Harrell talked with David Kroman of The Seattle Times about his priorities for the next two years.

Not surprisingly, the Mayor discussed the need to address public safety as a top focus. However, progress is not easy. Seattle was one of the few big cities that saw an increase in its homicide rate over the first half of last year.

The Mayor has spent about $2 million on recruiting new officers, but the Seattle Police Department still saw a net decline of 27 officers in 2023 (73 new officers hired and 100 who departed). The Mayor’s response was blunt: “I’m gonna say this to you, and I’ll say it to the council: if recruiting officers and retaining officers were easy, it would be done by now, by not only me as the Mayor of Seattle, but by the Mayor of other major cities.”

Will the Mayor be able to make progress on public safety, homelessness, revitalizing downtown, tackling the fentanyl crisis, and other challenges facing the city with a more friendly Council? Tammy Morales, the lone non-ally left on the Council, put the question this way:

“Will he deliver now on the things that are promised? Because the council is no longer an excuse for not achieving things.”

Mayor Harrell responds to those questions by saying, “I read about the expectations, that people will say, ‘Now, Harrell, you have this council, and you worked hard to have this council, you have no excuses,’ And my response is what I said earlier: I’ve never made any excuses to begin with.”

In an uncommonly bold approach to Council leadership, newly-elected President Sara Nelson set forth her goals and vision in an OpEd in The Seattle Times.

President Nelson has gone from being in a one or two-vote minority over her first two years on the Council to its leader. This transformation was driven by her success in electing five new Councilmembers in last year’s election – and the selection of Tanya Woo to fill the citywide position vacated by CM Teresa Mosqueda so that she could take her seat on the King County Council.

Council President Nelson vowed that the new Council “won’t externalize our policymaking authority.” With her authority to refer legislation to committees, Nelson said that no referrals would happen until the legislation “has gone through a robust stakeholder process.”

Nelson also made it clear that the Council will respond to public demands for “faster progress on homelessness and public safety.” She vowed stronger oversight of service providers.

She was equally unwavering in her commitment to “break our reliance on new revenue (taxes) to pay our bills. . . . The real problem is spending.” Facing a $220 million annual general fund deficit, CP Nelson expressed confidence that her “incredibly accomplished” colleagues will be capable of dealing with “some very difficult choices” to bring the budget into balance.

Seattle saw some good news and some mediocre economic news this year. On the plus side, 83,000 workers were in their downtown offices in September, a 21% increase from the same time in 2022.

Visitors also provided some positive news as their numbers—2.5 million—reached 92% of pre-pandemic levels. Even better, hotel demand exceeded 2019 levels.

Despite these promising numbers, the pandemic-triggered decline in downtown Seattle retail is showing no signs of reversal. Retail space occupancy has dropped by 10% since the arrival of Covid. Even worse, new retail licenses downtown are being issued at a rate about 50% below 2019 levels. Total foot traffic downtown is off by 20%, and the average trip is more than an hour shorter than in 2019.

One final bit of good news. The Seattle International Film Festival acquired the former Cinerama movie theater from the estate of Paul Allen. The newly-named SIFF Downtown will reopen on December 14. And, yes, the chocolate popcorn is back!

Exploring the South Lake Union Streetcar in Seattle reveals the stark reality that a transit system that once promised urban vibrancy now mostly operates empty. On a typical weekday, the experience of riding the Streetcar, which was introduced 16 years ago, can be a lonely occurrence, with few to no passengers sharing the journey. This current state of affairs comes amid discussions on whether to extend the trolley system through downtown, a debate shaped by the Streetcar’s dwindling ridership and escalating operational costs.

The Streetcar’s route, covering 1.3 miles along Lake Union and through the hectic neighborhood home to Amazon, was expected to induce development. The reality, however, has fallen short of expectations. The once-celebrated sleek trolleys are now seen as ghost cars, circling through a cityscape that hasn’t lived up to the vibrant urban utopia once promised in architectural brochures.

Critics, including former Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata, have long argued that the Streetcar’s financial and operational model was flawed from the start. With operating costs averaging $12,000 per day and ridership significantly reduced from its peak, the system now operates as a costly reminder of misplaced priorities. The pandemic further exacerbated the decline in ridership, but issues were evident even before the global health crisis.

The financial burden the Streetcar imposes on the city diverts resources from potentially more impactful transit projects. The envisioned expansion to connect fragmented lines through downtown, dubbed the “Culture Connector,” faces skepticism amid skyrocketing costs and uncertain benefits.

As Seattle grapples with the future of its streetcar system, the challenge lies in reconciling the initial vision of economic development with the practical needs of urban transit. The experience of riding the nearly empty Streetcar past iconic landmarks, like the Amazon spheres, reflects the complexities of urban planning and the delicate balance between development and utility in public transportation projects.

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Washington Retail Staff