Posts by Author: Rachel Dovey

Seattle Passes Domestic Worker Bill of Rights

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

House cleaners, nannies and other domestic workers have been excluded from national labor laws since those laws were first created in the 1930s. In the last decade, however, eight states have guaranteed these workers protections around wages and rest breaks — and now Seattle wants to one-up them and provide those rights along with representation on a local board.

The emerald city is the nation’s first to guarantee all domestic workers a minimum wage, breaks, and political representation, according to the Seattle Times. The new legislation, passed unanimously by the City Council on Monday, will be enforced starting July 1, 2019, the paper reports. The law stipulates that domestic workers classified as independent contractors (as well as those who live in the homes where they work) must be paid at least the equivalent of Seattle’s minimum wage. Domestic workers classified as employees are already supposed to earn at least minimum wage. It also prohibits employers from retaining workers’ personal documents, such as their passports.

The legislation isn’t exactly what workers campaigned for, however. Its advocates originally asked the city to require written contracts between employers and employees and create a portable benefits system, the Times reports. The new law instead created the 13-member board to advise on future regulations.

Still, that board will no doubt provide valuable insight into a field dominated by women and people of color, whose rights are often muddied by the intimate nature of their work, a lack of independent oversight and a host of other systemic and language-based barriers.

As Slate reported several months ago (when the bill was still a work in progress):

Domestic workers are often invisible in the labor force and particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment due to the private and intimate nature of their work. Sexual harassment runs rampant in the domestic work industry, and often employees have nowhere to report a case of harassment without fear of losing their jobs, and in the cases of undocumented domestic workers, fear of deportation. Seattle’s domestic workers bill of rights will ensure that there is a definition and timeline for creating what is essentially a human resources department for workers employed by everyday families, so any domestic worker, regardless of how he or she was hired, has some where to go in case of sexual harassment or abuse.

The domestic workers’ bill joins a host of other laws around fair workweeks, secure schedules and paid sick leave coming before city councils in Philadelphia, Austin and other cities around the country. As is often the case with blue cities in red states, however, some of those bills have been preempted, despite broad municipal support.

 

Minneapolis Council Members Want to Tie Density to Affordability

(Photo by Michael Adams)

Minneapolis officials need to show more clearly how density equals affordability. That, at least, appears to be one takeaway of a spirited, at times ugly and, no doubt (as these things usually are) racially-charged debate about Minneapolis’ long-range housing development plan — for which the public comment period ended Sunday.

One of the main points of contention: Fourplexes. The city initially proposed allowing fourplexes in single-family neighborhoods in March, when the first draft of the plan was released, as Next City reported at the time. Backlash was swift, and aimed particularly at Mayor Jacob Frey — opponents of the idea dubbed the units “freyplexes.”

The Mayor put housing at the center of his 2017 election campaign and wants to drastically pump up city funding to address the affordability crisis — and he’s supported the plan’s efforts to increase density.

But residents aren’t convinced that density will make housing more affordable, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports. (Or, perhaps more accurately, the residents making their voices heard are not convinced. According to the paper, the discourse so far “has been dominated by criticism from residents in neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes.”)

“Things are terrible,” Council Member Linea Palmisano said recently, according to the paper. Referencing her south Minneapolis ward, which is lined with hundreds of lawn signs demanding: “Don’t bulldoze my neighborhood,” she said: “I have never heard from so many of these people. They are angry and freaked out.”

Of course, as Next City has also covered, the Twin Cities’ housing market is still influenced by many of the intentionally segregationist, racist policies of the past. Zoning patterns are one way of furthering (or disrupting) those policies.

Still, even if this your classic tale of single-family home NIMBYism obstructing multi-family zoning, several council-members appear ready to take the criticism. And rather than backing away from density, they’re talking about tying it more directly to affordability.

From the Star-Tribune:

Much of the debate comes down to how — and whether — the plan will actually translate to more affordable housing, and not just give developers license to build expensive apartments.

[Council President Lisa] Bender said she would only support the final plan if it’s accompanied by an inclusionary zoning ordinance — a rule that would require large-scale developers to include affordable units in otherwise market-rate projects. [Member Jeremy Schroeder] also said he believes some type of mechanism to encourage below-market-rate housing will be a necessary companion for the plan to succeed.

A second draft of the plan is due in late September, according to the paper.

 

Bird Drops Scooters Without Warning in Three New England Cities

Dockless scooters appeared without advance notice recently in Providence. (AP Photo/Jennifer McDermott)

It’s been said that the scooter wars will be a bloodbath, and that Uber will win. Over the weekend, though, one of the ride-hailing companies’ rivals (in the two-wheeled market, at least) showed that it’s not afraid to steal a trick or two from Uber’s Kalanick Era of yesteryear — and launched a series of stealth attacks on unsuspecting cities.

That Rival: Bird, which has made some noble pledges to municipal regulators about picking up its scooters and sharing revenue with public entities. But regulators in Providence, Rhode Island and Cambridge and Somerville, both in Massachusetts, were surprised when the company dropped off fleets without warning on Friday, WCVB reports.

Officials in Providence, at least, are in contact with the California-based company, according to NBC 10 News.

“We are also in the early stages of developing a policy for dockless scooters,” a spokesperson for the city told the channel. “The city does not have a contract with them.”

“Ask forgiveness, not permission” has begun to define Bird, which is headquartered in Santa Monica, California and was founded by a former Uber exec. Its vehicles were also left without warning on the streets of St. Paul and Salt Lake City recently.

St. Paul’s mayor told reporters last week that officials would begin collecting the company’s scooters (that is, if they were still in the public right-of-way as of 12 p.m. on July 20). In Salt Lake City, meanwhile, Bird took the scooters out of circulation once the city told the company that the vehicles were out of compliance, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.

In Salt Lake, officials have since worked on creating rules to accommodate the scooters.

“The city has scrambled to draft an operating agreement that would create licensing requirements, safety regulations, and limits on how many dockless scooters and bikes can be scattered around,” according to the paper.

St. Paul is also reportedly working on a program to oversee several companies, including Bird.

The company wasn’t so lucky in Nashville, as Next City reported at the time. Just two weeks after Bird launched, the city shooed it away.

“Bird scooters have been observed by employees of the Metropolitan Government obstructing the public sidewalk,” Metro attorney Theresa Costonis wrote in a letter in May. The relationship seems to have smoothed over a bit, though — a pilot program has since been announced, and the city anticipates scooters rolling out with its official blessing in August.

Bird, of course, is only one side of the scooter wars — its competitors include Lime and Spin, among others. Uber has partnered with Lime, and purchased Jump Bikes in April, which offers scooter rentals as well.

 

Chicago Suburb Hopes to Create a Docked-Dockless Hybrid

Oak Park gave Chicago's Divvy the boot in January. (Photo by Steven Vance)

Taking a page from Seattle’s playbook, Oak Park, Illinois is planning to go dockless after dropping the local docked operator earlier this year.

Cameron Davis, the village’s new assistant director of the Development Customer Services Department, is currently researching dockless best practices employed by other municipalities, OakPark.com reports. Five start-ups are interested in rolling out locally, but Davis wants to let “at least two” operate in Oak Park to encourage competition, according to the site. Regulatory framework will likely be in place in late 2018.

There’s a twist to Oak Park’s proposed model, however, as StreetsBlog Chicago points out. The village’s trustees Monday endorsed a concept involving “ponds” or “hubs” to serve as semi-official pick-up and drop-off points. The model would essentially make Oak Park’s system a docked-dockless hybrid.

“Having these ponds or areas where people could take or return bikes I think is crucial to the success of any program we implement,” Trustee Deno Andrews said Monday, according to StreetsBlog.

The trustees want to see the hubs located at parks, libraries and schools, and view them as a solution to the much-hyped problem of bikes left strewn haphazardly around sidewalks and other throughways.

Whether the start-ups will push back against those rules remains to be seen. As Next City has covered, operators haven’t been too thrilled about Chicago’s “lock-onto” policy, in which bikes must be left attached to something, rather than standing solitary with their wheels locked.

Small municipalities and suburbs like Oak Park are increasingly turning to bike-share start-ups such as LimeBike and Spin (Beijing-based Ofo, however, has essentially taken itself out of the small-city running). The start-ups, which are investor-funded, offer a system that is essentially free to get up-and-running. And then municipalities can more quickly form multi-jurisdictional partnerships, which make sense in rural and suburban regions where town borders overlap and bleed together.

 

In D.C. Region, Resistance Grows to HQ2

Amazon's Seattle campus (Credit: Amazon)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has called Amazon’s HQ2 “the greatest economic development opportunity in a generation.” Increasingly, though, Washington, D.C.-area residents don’t agree. Since D.C., along with nearby Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, made the list of finalists for the retail giant’s second headquarters, a bipartisan group of citizens is organizing to resist the deal, WAMU reports.

From the station:

In Seattle, an attempt by that city’s council to tax large employers in order to fund affordable housing was met with swift and ruthless opposition from Amazon, stoking concern that the company, if it came to the Washington area, could crush similar efforts here. Activists have also raised concerns about the company’s potential impact on already-high rents, its cutthroat corporate culture and its penchant for legally avoiding taxes — a strategy that has been baked into its business model since Bezos started the company in 1994.

Now, those doubts have begun to coagulate into a movement against local bids for Amazon.

That movement is mostly a series of conversations at this point, according to WAMU, hosted by Our Revolution Arlington (which grew out of Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign). But its members are looking at community wealth-building strategies with real-world examples, for example, Richmond, Virginia’s Office of Community Wealth Building, which connects residents with smaller enterprises such as Stone Brewing. (Next City has covered similar wealth-building efforts here and here.) Ultimately, Our Revolution Arlington wants to be in a position to push back against blanket corporate giveaways if Amazon does choose their area — and get a better, more equitable deal.

“Whatever jurisdiction ultimately is the landing spot for HQ2 will be in a much better position than Seattle,” Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey recently told the station. “When Amazon started and began growing there, no one was thinking about these issues.”

As Next City has covered, the competition to land Amazon is creating something of an artificial race to the bottom — funded with public dollars that the company doesn’t necessarily need.

“Taxpayers should watch their wallets as the trophy deal of the decade attracts politicians to a hyper-sophisticated tax-break auction,” Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy said in a statement when the HQ2 race was announced. “We fear that many states and localities will offer to grossly overspend to attract Amazon, even though the business basics — especially a metro area’s executive talent pool — will surely control the company’s decision.”

The state of Maryland, according to WAMU, has approved $5 billion in tax breaks for the company. But many of the finalists won’t disclose what they’ve offered the company, even though their promises are technically made with public money. As Next City has reported, there’s no national law ordering cities to make their bids public. Problematically, though, those figures haven’t just been kept from citizens and reporters. Last year, the Nashville Scene reported that members of Nashville’s Metro Council — the very people who would have to approve the incentive package — hadn’t even seen the city’s proposal.

“I would be very curious to see what we are giving away,” Nashville District 31 Councilmember Fabian Bedne told the paper at the time. “We never learn about these things until it’s too late.”

 

World’s Largest Dockless Bike-Sharing Company Retreats from U.S.

(Photo by Nick-D)

Mere months after it entered the U.S. market, Chinese bike-sharing giant Ofo is shuttering most of its state-side operations.

The Beijing-based company — still the world’s largest bike-sharing entity — told U.S. employees that it would be downsizing its workforce to outposts in a handful of cities, the Washington Post reports. The company has been operating in about 30 U.S. cities, and while it’s still determining final details, it plans to continue only in select metros like San Diego and Seattle, which have created fewer regulations, according to CNN Tech.

“As we continue to bring bikeshare to communities across the globe, Ofo has begun to reevaluate markets that present obstacles,” Andrew Daley, head of Ofo North America, said in a statement today, as reported by CNN.

The company, he added, will continue to “prioritize growth in viable markets.”

Ofo was one of three dockless bike-share companies that set up shop in Seattle shortly after the metro’s docked bike-share system, Pronto, ceased operations. The city set up a regulatory pilot to test the model, as Next City covered at the time, and officials were impressed by ridership numbers that dwarfed those seen while Pronto was in existence.

Over the course of 2018, however, some cities have become increasingly wary of the dockless model — and the venture-funded start-ups helming it — even as others have jumped at its relative affordability. In January, spooked by reports of bikes left strewn about other cities’ sidewalks and streets, Sacramento devised a system of particularly stringent regulations mandating that operators pick up their stray bikes or have their fines and permits revoked (and bicycles impounded).

“Without regulation, bicycle-share businesses pose a threat to the public health, safety, and welfare,” the ordinance stated. “[D]erelict self-locking bicycles can become a major cause of blight in both residential and nonresidential neighborhoods.”

Still, dockless bikes (and then scooters) have had no trouble spreading to cities like Milwaukie, Dallas, New Orleans and a handful of smaller cities and suburbs. (Chicago’s ‘lock-to’ ordinance, requiring that the bikes be left attached to something, did ruffle the start-ups’ feathers a bit). But with Uber’s April acquisition of Jump, it’s possible that Ofo’s retreat is as much about U.S. competition as city-based regulation.

 

San Diego Cracks Down on Short-Term Rentals

San Diego’s short-term rental market could be in for a sea change. On Monday, the city council voted to outlaw vacation rentals in secondary homes, theoretically limiting short-term stays to primary residences. The new law (borrowing from similar regulations in Boston and New Orleans) is much stricter than short-term operators had expected — and is being hailed by labor and housing advocates as a means of reclaiming valuable local rental stock.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

The action, following a more than six-hour-long, sometimes emotional hearing, marks a striking departure from the centerpiece of a compromise proposal crafted by Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office over the last several months…. His plan would have permitted vacation rental hosts to rent out their primary residences while they are not present for up to six months a year — plus one additional home with no limit on the number of days annually.

The new council-approved plan, however, nixes the allowance of an additional home. And while the council was expected to exempt the Mission Beach neighborhood, where an estimated 44 percent of the housing stock is short-term rentals, they decided not to grant it any special allowances, the paper reports.

“Today’s vote by the San Diego City Council is an affront to thousands of responsible, hard-working San Diegans and will result in millions of dollars in lost tax revenue for the City,” Airbnb said in a statement to the Union-Tribune. “San Diego has been a vacation rental destination for nearly 100 years and today’s vote all but ensures activity will be forced underground and guests will choose alternative destinations.”

The council members who voted in the new legislation, however, expressed their frustration with the city’s supply-demand imbalance.

“I wasn’t elected to serve the interests of out-of-town investors but our District 2 constituents who have spoken for years of abuses of short-term rentals in their neighborhoods,” said Zapf, who represents many of the beach communities. “Our neighborhoods should not be treated like a game of Monopoly … while our long-term residents suffer. This is by no means the ideal solution but it’s as close as we’ve gotten to getting some relief.”

As Next City has covered, cities that regulate short-term rental companies generally fall into two camps: those that tax, and those, like San Diego, cracking down on rentals that aren’t owner-occupied. Often, the idea behind the latter strategy is that short-term vacation units take homes off the market that would otherwise be long-term rentals. The diminished supply makes prices go up overall. In response, one common regulatory strategy involves limiting the number of nights an owner can rent out their space — in New Orleans and Boston, for example, a cap is set at 90 days.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of whole units and whole buildings turned into short rentals that used to house long-term residents,” Karen Chen, Chinese Progressive Association’s executive director, told Next City earlier this year, speaking of Boston’s Chinatown. “People who lived in Chinatown for many years and relied on doctors and social services here are being displaced.”

 

Looking to Skirt State Preemption, Seattle Passes Gun Storage Bill

Protesters assemble for Seattle's "March for Our Lives" on March 24, 2018. (Credit: davidjlee)

Seattle will require gun owners to lock up their firearms and fine those who don’t comply under legislation passed by City Council last week. Beyond the monetary penalties, the new law will allow local courts to build negligence cases, which has become nearly impossible in many states under constitutional carry laws.

After a small grace period, storing a gun outside a locked container will be a civil infraction punishable with a fine of up to $500, the Seattle Times reports. And when an owner knows that a minor or “at-risk person” could reasonably access their weapon — and then that second party does access it and causes some kind of harm — the owner can be charged with a similar infraction in the ballpark of $1,000 (for access) and $10,000 (if the minor hurts someone or commits a crime).

“While we can’t prevent every gun death or injury, we can take steps to help prevent future tragedies,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement, as reported by the Times. “Requiring that gun owners responsibly store their guns can help make our communities safer places to live.”

The Seattle Stranger points out that it’s still unclear “exactly how — or how strictly — Seattle will enforce the new law.” But the legislation has the potential of helping courts charge violators with negligence — at least as far as the weapon’s storage. As the New Republic has covered, any kind of negligence charge is increasingly difficult to come by.

From a 2015 article:

Every year many gun owners … unintentionally cause death and injury yet face no legal consequences. In criminal and civil courts, the legal system often fails to hold negligent gun owners accountable for such harm. Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit effort that combs through more than a thousand media sources to collect information about gun violence, has verified more than 1,500 accidental shooting incidents in 2014. Data on the legal outcomes of these shootings is sketchy, but many cases of unprosecuted unintentional shootings are available — dozens from the first two months of 2014 alone remain unprosecuted.

Like other cities trying to curb gun violence within their municipal borders, Seattle is constrained by state preemption laws. Washington law prevents local policymakers from regulating the “registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge, and transportation of firearms, or any other element relating to firearms or parts thereof, including ammunition and reloader components,” according to the Stranger.

The new law appears to skirt the state regulation — which could spell victory for local gun control advocates since other state preemption laws are much stricter. In Florida, for example, state law —with more than a little financial help from the National Rifle Association (NRA) — forbids cities and counties from enacting any of their own gun laws. Officials who craft or enforce such laws face up to a $5,000 fine and removal from office. That includes seemingly innocuous measures, like codes banning guns in libraries and parks and laws limiting celebratory shots or gunfire in dense urban areas. (More Next City coverage of state preemption laws, including plastic bag ban bans and measures forbidding paid sick leave can be found here, here and here).

But the state, and the NRA, could retaliate in Seattle, too. According to the Stranger, City Council passed a law to tax guns and ammunition sold within the city in 2015. Gun rights advocates did end up challenging that law, claiming it violated the state’s preemption. The Washington State Supreme Court sided with the city, however, and upheld the tax — a move that likely gave city officials courage to push back against the preemption once again.

 

Land Trust Helps Oakland’s Hasta Muerte Coffee Stay Put

(Credit: Hasta Muerte Coffee)

The Oakland Community Land Trust is at it again. After helping to save the building housing Peacock Rebellion — which serves queer and trans people of color in Oakland — along with several other grassroots organizations and low-income housing units, the organization has teamed up with Hasta Muerte Coffee to deal another blow to the city’s ever-encroaching gentrification market.

The worker-owner collective that runs Hasta Muerte announced last week that it had successfully purchased its mixed-use building, after learning that it had been put on the market earlier this year, the East Bay Express reports.

“TGIF WE BOUGHT A BUILDING,” the collective wrote on Instagram. “After 45 or so days of fundraising, fundraisers, loan negotiations, generous donations of all kinds, bombarding you on social media, meetings, and meetings we are excited, anxious, nervous and *happy* to share that on [J]uly 11th the sale closed….”

Hasta Muerte successfully crowdfunded upwards of $50,000, according to the paper, and the land trust served as the initial buyer. It plans to eventually transfer the building to the collective, and keep the deed to land that it sits on in trust for perpetuity, to ensure the building isn’t sold at market rate. That’s customary for land trusts, as Next City has covered — and similar to the deal the nonprofit made with the building housing Peacock Rebellion earlier this year. The tenants of that building also plan to purchase the building outright from the land trust, in that case within a period of 15 years. In the meantime, land trust staff plan to train them in building management best practices.

Hasta Muerte has become a community hub since its opening, although one worker’s refusal to serve a uniformed police officer earlier this year — protesting what the collective referred to as Oakland Police Department’s “history of corruption, mismanagement, and scandal” and “legacy of blatant repression” — earned it a flurry of negative online reviews and alt-right media coverage.

 

Fifteen-City Bike-Share Launches in Massachusetts

(Photo by Mike Licht)

In the Boston area, city-based bike-share is so 2016. Last year, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council announced that it would create a regional system involving more than a dozen small towns and cities. Earlier this year, it signed contracts with two private dockless bike-share operators. Now, that synched-up system has finally begun rolling out, the Boston Globe reports.

So far, the program is up and running in the towns of Malden, Everett, Chelsea, Winthrop and Arlington, all with the help of LimeBike, according to the paper. By the end of summer a total of 15 small cities will be actively participating, meaning that residents in those cities will be able to rent bikes from their smartphones or with cash and ride anywhere within the towns’ collective borders. The Massachusetts cities participating include Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Milton, Needham, Newton, Revere, Waltham, Watertown, and Winthrop.

“Dockless bike sharing brings another transportation option to residents that offers both convenience and a method to reduce one’s carbon footprint,” Arlington Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said recently, according to the Globe. “As this new program grows we hope to find cost-efficient means to expand the region.”

Bike-share start-ups like LimeBike, Spin and Ofo are increasingly attractive to small, cash-strapped cities because, unlike the public-private partnerships built up in cities like Chicago and New York, they don’t require tax-payer funding upfront. That doesn’t mean they’re universally beloved — a number of policymakers have expressed fear that the start-ups’ venture-funded model incentivizes quick, cheap roll-outs without adequate consideration of the transportation system as a whole or equity-planning to reach already transportation-starved areas. And then there’s the fact that the systems themselves are dockless — and could potentially create a whole lot of sidewalk clutter.

Still, as Marc Draisen, executive director of Metropolitan Area Planning Council, pointed out last year, the model is promising for inter-agency partnerships, particularly in suburban communities where municipalities bleed together.

“These recent rapid changes in the bike-share industry have created a unique opportunity for Boston’s suburbs to launch a large-scale regional bike-share system without having to raise large amounts of public capital,” he said at the time, according to WickedLocal Concord. “Our goal is to have high-quality bikes that will be well maintained, in a system that is easily accessible throughout the participating communities — and we want a seamless experience for riders crossing municipal lines.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that the start-ups have a patent on inter-jurisdictional partnerships. As Next City has covered, established P3s like the Bay Area’s Ford GoBike and New York’s CitiBike have also had some success with multi-city expansions.

 



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