Councilmember Okamoto left office on January 1, 2016.
This website is for archival purposes only, and is no longer updated.


Yes to Paid Parental Leave (if it’s done right)

November 23rd, 2015

For the record, I support additional paid leave for parents, as well as eldercare.

But today, I voted no to amend the budget committee agenda to increase paid parental leave from four weeks to 12 weeks. As I said in the deliberations, I voted no based on the process – not on the merits of the issue.

The Council must respect the labor management process. The City continues to be in negotiations with our unions on their expired contracts. No tentative agreements have been ratified. Changes in wages, working conditions and benefits are mandatory subjects of bargaining. And leave benefits should be negotiated with our unions, where the interests and priorities of both parties are negotiated.

Today’s proposal preempts everything the City Council previously laid out. Not much more than six months ago, the Council adopted a four week paid parental leave program by Ordinance 124753. That program was on top of the City’s generous paid leave programs.

Furthermore, that ordinance adopted by the City Council created a path for reviewing this new leave program, requiring the executive to produce a report in July 2016 on the use of the program. That report would show what unpaid parental leave gaps remain, and how much any additional leave would cost.

And prior to this ordinance, the City Council adopted Resolution 31523 regarding gender-based disparities. In that resolution, the Mayor and City Council requested:

The City, through the Personnel Department, will review, modify and/or propose additional ‘family friendly’ policies and practices where applicable and appropriate … “ furthermore, “The City will work with its Labor partners to implement changes in compensation and working conditions envisioned by the proposed actions.

Let’s set this program up for success instead of failure. The proposal use money from a non-recurring source of funding and does not demonstrate that this benefit is financially sustainable.

I look forward to the day that labor and management comes forward with an extended parental and eldercare benefit that is carefully thought out and financially sustainable – but today we did not get that proposal.

You Will Be Missed

November 18th, 2015

My time on Council has been filled with heated policy debates and second-floor strategizing, and I’ve come to admire my colleagues during this process. It takes all kinds of thinkers to make good policy, and I hope you enjoy the following observations and tongue-in-cheek predictions about my Council family. At the very least, these will likely deter any future Councils from appointing me.

Nick Licata
Observation: Brilliant and dangerously charming strategist with a creative streak
Prediction: Opens Uncle Nick’s Policy, Poetry, and Pot Shop

Tim Burgess
Observation: Deliberate, steady thinker with an enormous heart for protecting the vulnerable
Prediction: Imposes tax on pot/policy/poetry shops to fund early childhood education

Tom Rasmussen
Observation: Tenacious voice for neighborhood quality of life
Prediction: Founds the West Seattle Secession Society

Jean Godden
Observation: Champion for the new generation of women
Prediction: Starts a woman-majority media outlet, The Seattle Equality

Bruce Harrell
Observation: Measured decision-maker always ready to lighten the mood in chambers
Prediction: Institutes technical fouls and a 20-second shot clock on Council deliberations

Sally Bagshaw
Observation: Eternal optimist with unbridled energy and ideas
Prediction: Extends homeless shelters to open 36 hours, eight days a week

Mike O’Brien
Observation: Eco-biko-urbanist and a very smart policy wonk
Prediction: Establishes bike-pool lanes for tandem riders

Kshama Sawant
Observation: Exceptional on-message community organizer who forces Councilmembers to take a stand
Prediction: Appoints me to run the Municipal Broadband Department


210 Days of Accomplishments

November 17th, 2015

Click on the image below to enlarge and access links.Okamoto Term Accomplishments-Final




Stopping Homelessness Before It Starts

October 30th, 2015

Originally posted at The Seattle Times.

Does the City Council have the political will to redirect spending for programs that help prevent homelessness from happening?

PREVENTION is Seattle’s best-kept secret to answering homelessness. As the city pours resources into shelters, the city’s homeless population continues to grow. And while sheltering is an immediate necessity — especially with winter just around the corner — it’s only a short-term fix for a long-term problem. That’s where prevention kicks in.

Prevention stops homelessness in its tracks. Although people find themselves homeless for a number of reasons, many people who are on the verge of losing their home can receive financial assistance, case management, education, or some combination of these services, to help them either remain in their housing or rapidly get into alternative housing.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness identifies diversion as a best practice and places a focus on prevention as a solution. The city agrees with the approach. The Human Services Department analyzed homelessness investments and concluded that the city should focus new resources primarily on effective prevention and diversion services. King County came to the same conclusion, moving its focus from a “costly, crisis-oriented response to health and social problems to one that focuses on prevention …”

The conclusion isn’t just based in theory. In 2015, as part of a pilot project, 229 of 371 families were diverted from entering a homeless shelter. So, almost two-thirds of the families in this program could wake up without worrying where they would sleep the next day. Their kids could eat breakfast at home before going to school. These families could do the everyday things that most of us take for granted.

Though prevention models have demonstrated success, funding has stagnated. Currently, Seattle’s budget for homelessness prevention funding is a mere 11 percent of total homelessness investments. This year’s city funding for diversion would only reach 97 families. At that rate, only 60 families would likely be diverted. To put this into perspective, more than 10,000 people are homeless in King County. More children, moms and dads are competing for space with a record number of homeless and those who are the most difficult to serve.

In other words, prevention isn’t funded at a rate high enough for families to benefit.

As a city, we can consider it a great success when a family is sent to a stable home rather than falling into the stressful and uncertain shelter system. Yet, time and time again, we fail to fund prevention services. In 2012, the city called for incremental shifts of funding (2 percent to 4 percent over six years) into homeless prevention and stabilization. But as the city noted in its analysis, “Due to lack of political will and advocacy efforts, this shift in resources did not occur.”

Something has to change. If we expect to eliminate homelessness, we have to change the way we invest. That’s why I will be requesting $1.5 million in homeless diversion services to keep families and youths from entering shelters or significantly reducing their length of stay.

The mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Committee recognizes that — at a minimum — homelessness should be rare, brief and one-time. HALA recommends increasing the Seattle housing levy to support vulnerable individuals and families struggling with housing instability and homelessness.

And this year, the mayor included $300,000 in his budget to fund a new homeless engagement model that is intended to reduce the average length of stay in Seattle shelters from 140 days to 20 days

The City Council also has the opportunity to put a greater emphasis on prevention in this year’s budget. We simply need the political will to make it happen.



Better Capacity, Better Outcomes

October 19th, 2015

Capacity-building has become a hot topic for governments and foundations everywhere, but what does it really mean and why do we want to invest in it?

The City relies on non-profit organizations to deliver a significant amount of critical human services. The Human Services Department (HSD) currently has 400 contracts with nearly 200 organizations. HSD’s goal is to move organizations towards performance-based contracting practice. In other words, HSD wants organizations to deliver services and track their outcomes through data so that the City and community can see measurable results.

To deliver results, organizations need competence – or capacity – in multiple areas like leadership and staffing, financial and administrative management, and data and analytics. These are the building blocks for a strong organizational infrastructure. But this infrastructure can’t be strengthened unless funders intentionally invest in it.

The $15 minimum wage implementation provides a good example of why capacity-building is needed. Many non-profits have to hustle from one fundraising effort to the next, struggling to keep their doors open as local government priorities shift. The increased minimum wage is one such shift that sent non-profits scrambling; they have to pay a higher wage to their employees while their funding remains largely unchanged.

Through capacity-building, non-profits can improve their financial forecasting, create robust funding reserves, and leverage private funds alongside City of Seattle dollars. Capacity-building can also help organizations align their missions with new practices and developments in addressing the needs of a specific population.

HSD has committed to intentionally invest in capacity-building. As a City, we can invite national organizations to advise on best practices like centralizing back office functions between non-profits to drive down administrative costs. We can bring public and private funders together to align strategies and create more leverage for non-profits. And we can work on creating better data systems that streamline reporting requirements and reduce the burden on non-profits.

In the 2016 budget season, I will steer funding to HSD’s capacity-building efforts. These efforts will lead the way in creating a proactive data-driven non-profit sector.

Honoring Our Native Peoples

October 12th, 2015

One year ago, I remember how proud I was when the Council and Mayor declared the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the City of Seattle.  Many know that date to be the federally enacted Columbus Day.

For a long time, Columbus was celebrated for his “discovery of America,” when indigenous people already lived and thrived on this land. The arrival of his ships started a long history of devastating harm against indigenous people, and the impacts are still felt today.  It’s fitting that we replace a day to recognize Columbus with a celebration of our indigenous people.

This city would not exist without the indigenous peoples of this region, and we have a duty to achieve equity for them. Today, we honor them with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and we hope you join us in celebration at City Hall from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

A Voice for Drivers: A Complex Solution

October 5th, 2015

I support the effort to offer independent contractors needed protections in an evolving and competitive industry. This past Friday, the Committee on Finance and Culture unanimously voted to create collective bargaining protections for for-hire drivers in Seattle.

I’ve heard significant public testimony and met with unions, taxis, Uber, Lyft, and independent drivers regarding this legislation. For-hire drivers, Transportation Network Companies (TNC) like Uber and Lyft, and the City have a shared interest in the economic security and fair treatment of drivers.  The Council now has a significant policy decision to make regarding the use of the City’s police power to improve worker conditions. I firmly believe the Council can and should craft a fair and well-thought out system to protect both drivers and consumers.

Employees have basic employment protections and are able to negotiate additional terms. At the very minimum, contracted drivers also should have a say in the basic terms of their contracts.

The City has long regulated taxis and other forms of for-hire drivers. These protections provide basic safety requirements, insurance minimums, and an important price floor for part of the industry to ensure drivers can make a reasonable wage. But TNCs are not subject to the same wage floor requirements. Drivers for TNCs have claimed that they earn below the minimum wage and are subject to arbitrary dismissal.

Citizens of Seattle have an interest in ensuring that all workers have basic protections. These workers are our family members, friends, neighbors.  They contribute to our economy, they provide an important service and they deserve to have fair wages and working conditions. But even more importantly, they deserve to have a voice.

The Council will carefully weigh the benefit of protecting drivers against the costs of potential litigation and monetary damages. We will also consider the impact on the many part-time drivers who enjoy the flexibility TNCs offer. While difficult and unprecedented, this is the type of legislation Councilmembers were elected to handle.

No Data, No Justice

September 29th, 2015

Resolution signingToday, with the Mayor officially signing the resolution I sponsored, Seattle became the first city in the nation to adopt legislation on data disaggregation.

I’ve found that there’s no faster way for people’s eyes to glaze over than by using the term “data disaggregation.”  But at the recent iCount Symposium hosted by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, ETS President Walt McDonald had a better take.  “No data, no justice,” he said.

He’s right. When you boil it down, data disaggregation is simply about making communities visible to their government, so that we can get them the resources they need.  And it’s particularly important for immigrants, refugees, and communities of color who are hidden in broad data categories.  No data, no justice.

Around the country, the data disaggregation movement is slowly starting to take shape.  California has recognized the need to disaggregate data, becoming the first state to disaggregate data into more than 20 categories for their very large Asian American and Pacific Islander population.  They are now able to collect data and target resources towards groups like the Hmong people whose needs are very different than, say, Bangladeshis or Samoans.

The state of Washington has also been moving towards disaggregating data.  Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos recently sponsored a data disaggregation bill after years of laying the groundwork in her committee.  New York is close behind with data disaggregation legislation in the pipeline in both the state legislature and the city council.

Seattle is at the forefront of the national movement, and the City has the opportunity to achieve racial equity and social justice through data.  Created by the resolution, the Demographic Data Task Force will form in the next couple of weeks, and its recommendations will serve as the basis for executive action next year.  One step closer to data disaggregation, one step closer to social justice.

First HALA Action Passed

September 29th, 2015

Yesterday, Council passed legislation that took action on the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA). The legislation renews and expands the Multifamily Tax Exemption (MFTE) program as recommended by HALA.

The MFTE program – one housing affordability tool in a box of many – provides a tax exemption on the residential improvements on multifamily projects in residential targeted areas in exchange for setting aside a portion of the projects as income – and rent-restricted. More than 2,000 MFTE units – with many more in the pipeline – serve low and moderate wage households in market-rate buildings.

A few highlights of the expanded program:

  • Expands residential target areas to all areas zoned for multifamily housing.
  • Expands unit types to include congregate housing.
  • Promotes family-sized units.

The bottom line of the legislation is an increase in affordable housing.  Seattle will be able to house people who would otherwise find themselves priced out of the city.



100 Days Down, 100 More to Go

August 5th, 2015

Click on the image below to enlarge and access links. Okamoto100Days