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Today So Far Blog

News, factoids, and insights from KUOW's newsroom. And maybe some peeks behind the scenes. Check back daily for updates. And read the Today So Far newsletter here.

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  • Washington has new hotline for monkeypox information

    Today So Far Blog
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    Washington's Department of Health has set up a new hotline to answer your questions about the monkeypox virus, aka MPV.

    The number is 1-833-829-HELP.

    The hotline will be operational from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays, and between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (outside of state holidays).

    “As we navigate the MPV outbreak in Washington state, we cannot underestimate the need for our community members to address their questions and concerns,” said Dr. Umair A. Shah, MD, Washington's secretary of health. “We are pleased to partner with 211 to meet this crucial need.”

    RELATED: Monkeypox outbreak in Washington state 'is not under control'

    Operators will answer any questions about risk factors, vaccine information, testing, and treatment. Just be aware that they won't be able to schedule any appointments for you.

    Language assistance will be available in 240 languages.

    Approximately 40,000 people in King County are deemed at high risk, but so so far, only about 5,000 of them have been vaccinated against MPV.

    There have been 265 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Washington state, the majority of which have been found in King County (225).

    Officials say another 4,400 vaccine doses are being distributed this week.

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  • Seattle considers fixing equity gap in cannabis industry

    Today So Far Blog
    caption: Marijuana plants are shown in the flowering room on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, at Grow Ambrosia in Seattle.
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    Marijuana plants are shown in the flowering room on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, at Grow Ambrosia in Seattle.
    Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

    Seattle officials are trying to fix a glaring problem in the cannabis industry: a lack of Black owners.

    Mayor Bruce Harrell has put forward a suite of bills to address the issue. They are now up for council consideration.

    “While these policies alone cannot solve generations of injustice, they are critical first steps and a clear commitment to a One Seattle approach, where we make progress through partnership, working with state and federal leaders, industry stakeholders, and store workers to continue moving forward," Harrell said in a statement.

    One measure would remove the city cannabis license fee for people in communities hit hardest by the war on drugs, such as the Black community.

    One idea is to replace the current license with a social equity license, according to council staffer Brianna Thomas.

    "We recognize the loss of Black wealth and Black business and Black ingenuity in this space and this suite of legislation does not undo that harm, but it is a step in the right direction," Thomas said.

    City reports show that when Washington legalized cannabis in 2012, none of Seattle’s existing Black-owned medical marijuana businesses received licenses for recreational shops.

    The City Council is scheduled to take a first vote on the bills Aug. 17.

    Harrell's cannabis suite contains a total of three bills that would implement a range of approaches, including:

    • Require that owners who buy a cannabis store keep the same staff for 90 days.
    • Create a cannabis advisory committee.
    • Work with King County and community groups to expunge convictions for cannabis-related crimes prior to 2014.
    • Speed up the work of expunging past cannabis convictions.
    • Develop a state and federal legislative agenda promoting cannabis equity, as well as safety improvements, capital investments, and access to banking services.
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  • Take two for Seattle's social housing initiative

    Today So Far Blog
    caption: Housing is the Cure banner.
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    Housing is the Cure banner.
    Credit: Courtesy of House Our Neighbors

    This is going to be the last weekend that backers of Seattle’s social housing initiative can try to gather enough signatures to get on the February 2023 ballot.

    House Our Neighbors is backing Initiative 135. Supporters initially aimed to have it on the November ballot, but failed to get enough signatures to qualify. Now they’re aiming for the next election in February and are gathering more signatures to make it happen.

    “And we have a bunch of events coming up this weekend, and have no doubt with those and everyone that’s gonna turn in their petitions, that we’ll reach our goal of 10,000 signatures," said Tiffani McCoy with House our Neighbors.

    The 10,000 signatures McCoy mentions is the number left for the group to reach the roughly 27,000 signatures required to appear on the ballot.

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  • Garden or a Band Aid? New anti-encampment tactic in Seattle

    Today So Far Blog
    caption: Tents line South Weller Street near the intersection of 12th Avenue South on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in Seattle.
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    Tents line South Weller Street near the intersection of 12th Avenue South on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in Seattle.
    Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
    • Neighbors in Seattle have put up a garden in place of a swept encampment. But the idea doesn't smell like roses to everybody in town.
    • Washington farm workers are now supposed to be provided protections from hot weather ... supposed to.
    • It's been said that Trump's revenge on GOP candidates who voted to impeach him would play out over this recent primary, and in the November election. But is it possible this "revenge" could backfire?

    This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for August 12, 2022.

    Could Trump's revenge backfire in Washington state?

    That's the question KUOW's David Hyde poses in his recent coverage of the 4th Congressional District. I've talked a lot about Washington's 3rd District, and the drama over Trump-backed Joe Kent surviving the primary election, ousting incumbent Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler (who voted to impeach Trump). But a similar story was at play in the 4th District where incumbent Republican Dan Newhouse, who also voted to impeach Trump, survived the primary over Trump-back candidates like Loren Culp.

    But this dynamic among the 4th's GOP is giving Democratic candidate Doug White some hope. Basically, if the Republican vote splits, it could offer the Democrat a way to win, and in turn, prove himself to the heavily GOP district. Then again, how likely is it that this very red district will favor a Democrat just to spite Newhouse? There's more to this story here.

    We may complain about stretches of hot weather in our corner of the state. But the truth is we have little room to complain when considering the people who are working outside in the heat to bring us our food.

    There are new protections in Washington state for farmworkers, and others who brave hot weather. Employers are now required to provide cool water and shade to workers. When temps hit 89 or higher, workers are entitled to paid cool-down breaks every two hours. Employers are also now required to check on employees, regularly, to ensure their health and safety.

    But some are saying that the new protections are not being followed and workers are being left in the scorching heat. The state's Labor and Industries Department essentially waits for a complaint to arise around the issue. Then it will look into it, and by "look into it," I mean someone from L&I will email the company and ask them to look into it. If the complaint is of high concern, L&I will send someone out. But the policy has left some farmworkers uninspired to submit a complaint in the first place. KUOW's Eilis O'Neill has the full story here.

    Here's what happened at 96th and Aurora in Seattle. There was a shooting at an encampment along the street. The city responded by sweeping the encampment, and neighbors followed up by creating a garden in the camp's place to deter future tents from settling there.

    KING5 reported this story this week. Neighbor Liza Javier told the TV station that the neighborhood was “absolutely terrified” and concerned about safety when the camp was there. The neighbors got a permit from the city to establish the garden, and there are now flowers growing in the camp's place. Nearby businesses say they are pleased with the development, like Sam Sebuwufu Seruwu, the manager of Auto Link Seattle. He told KING5 that seeing the flowers is "a sign of hope.”

    But this story is not all roses to everyone. KUOW's Seattle Now brought in Seattle Times columnist Naomi Ishisaka and writer Geraldine DeRuiter to weigh in on this gardening tactic.

    "What they are doing there is similar what business owners are doing with the eco blocks," Ishisaka said. "It's less a gardening project and more of a 'how do we block encampments or tents from showing up in our communities' .... I think there is a lot of room for empathy and compassion to go around, but obviously this is not a long-term strategy. We can't just keep blocking people from housing, wherever that might be and expect that to solve a problem ... it just puts a Band Aid on this one block, which will then be another block, and another block."

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  • Behemoth moth lands in Bellevue, alarming agriculture officials

    KUOW Newsroom
    caption: The Atlas moth, nearly 10 inches wide, that turned up in Bellevue, Washington, in July
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    The Atlas moth, nearly 10 inches wide, that turned up in Bellevue, Washington, in July
    Credit: Courtesy Patrick Tobin

    One of the world's largest moths showed up in Bellevue, Washington, to the astonishment of the homeowner who found it basking in the sun on the side of his garage — and the alarm of entomologists.

    How did an Atlas moth, with massive orange wings wider than an outstretched hand and wing tips resembling a pair of cobras, get from Thailand to the Seattle area?

    An advertisement on eBay reveals that someone in Bellevue has been illegally importing and selling live cocoons of the tropical insects online.

    Atlas moths are a federally quarantined pest in the United States. It is illegal to buy, keep, or sell live moths, including their eggs, caterpillars, cocoons, and paper-plate-sized adults.

    In July, Patrick Tobin got an email from a homeowner in Bellevue who wanted to know what insect was basking in the sun on his garage.

    “As soon as I saw it, I knew exactly what it was. Because I teach about this moth in my insect ecology class,” said Tobin, an entomologist at the University of Washington.

    “It's an incredibly beautiful moth,” he said. “The snake head on the wingtips, it's just an amazing design, and it's such an incredible example of mimicry.”

    Entomologists believe the wingtips serve to fool potential predators into thinking a cobra, also native to the Asian tropics, is poised to attack.

    “Even if you aren’t on the lookout for insects, this is the type that people get their phones out and take a picture of – they are that striking,” entomologist Sven Spichiger said in a Washington state Department of Agriculture press release asking for the public to report any sightings of the behemoth moth.

    “It's like if all of a sudden you saw a black rhino walking down I-5,” Tobin said of the tropical moth’s appearance in suburban Bellevue.

    Tobin asked the homeowner, who declined to comment for this story, to capture the insect. An hour or more after the homeowner first saw it — initially thinking it was a snake — it was still clinging to the wall. He trapped it in a zippered plastic bag, the kind you might store pillow cushions in, and took it inside.

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  • King County will propose new facilities to serve people in behavioral health crisis

    KUOW Newsroom
    caption: Kelli Nomura, director of King County's Behavioral Health & Recovery division, said "recovery is real," but the county's  resources are at a "breaking point."
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    Kelli Nomura, director of King County's Behavioral Health & Recovery division, said "recovery is real," but the county's resources are at a "breaking point."
    Credit: Courtesy of King County

    King County officials said Thursday that current resources for people in behavioral health crisis are at a breaking point, and they are seeking to open more facilities to serve them.

    The plan will include proposed walk-in facilities for people who need “urgent care” related to mental health or addiction, as well as longer-term residential options.

    King County Executive Dow Constantine said he has brought together a coalition including legislators, law enforcement and service providers to deliver policy proposals to the King County Council alongside the proposed budget next month. They will focus on adding more same-day care, more beds, and workforce development.

    Constantine said there’s currently no walk-in facility for people in crisis in King County, which forces people to go to hospital emergency rooms to seek care. He said King County has lost one-third of its mental health beds in the past five years and there’s just one 16-bed behavioral health crisis facility where hospitals and first responders can currently refer people.

    Leo Flor is the director of the King County Department of Community and Human Services. He said a coalition of stakeholders will flesh out details very soon. He acknowledged that changing the situation will not involve “a small amount of money.”

    “Our task over the next few weeks is to work with this coalition and others who are not in the room to get specific about how many facilities, where they should be, what more services they might need, and then to propose what it would cost,” he said.

    Flor said the county expects to award contracts to run the facilities. Officials didn’t address potential funding sources.

    Several members of the coalition said they were impressed by the crisis care facilities they saw on a recent trip to Arizona, on a tour organized by State Rep. Tina Orwell and State Sen. Manka Dhingra, and they hope to draw on that example.

    Naomi Morris is a nurse who works at the Downtown Emergency Services Center to keep people in crisis out of jail and emergency rooms. She said people in crisis can recover, but they need places to go and staff to help them.

    Morris said her uncle had schizophrenia and struggled until he ultimately found care later in life.

    “And the last 15 years of his life we got to watch him be stable and enjoy a beautiful end. And I would love to see that be the same for the people I serve," Morris said.

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  • What would you spend $38 million on? (It has to be ferries): Today So Far

    Today So Far Blog
    caption: A ferry crossing Puget Sound, seen from West Seattle.
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    A ferry crossing Puget Sound, seen from West Seattle.
    • Washington State Ferries just got some fresh federal funding. Now it has to decide what to do with it.
    • Washington has a shortage of 911 dispatchers.
    • Flooding and outages and chilly air. Seattle's new youth jail doesn't work too well.

    This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for August 11, 2022.

    You have $38 million, and you have to spend it on Washington state's ferries. How do you spend it?

    It could go toward delayed maintenance on a number of vessels. Then there's the staffing issues that Washington State Ferries has been suffering from over the past couple years. The state aims to upgrade boats to electric and hybrid systems. And, oh yeah, there's that ferry that just crashed into the Fauntleroy Dock and now needs millions in repairs.

    Such options are all on the table for our state, which just got a $38 million bonus from an infrastructure bill passed in DC. On today's Seattle Now podcast, KUOW's Casey Martin dives into what WSF could be considering when it comes to this fresh funding. Though, if you ask riders ... they just want the ferries to run on time.

    Whatever happens, it will be needed. The ferries are heavily relied upon, and not just for tourists. Don't tell the folks in Kitsap that I said this, but in many ways Kitsap is an extension of the Seattle side of the water — especially Bainbridge Island. I've often posed a question to people: If you had to choose between sitting in traffic for an hour (or more), or taking a scenic boat ride to work, which would you choose? A lot of folks in Kitsap have answered that question. The ferries carry crowds of commuters in and out of Seattle each day. They take their paychecks over the water to Bremerton, Silverdale, Poulsbo, and more. For them, any extra money to get the boats running smoothly is great news. Without those ferries, Seattle would lose a significant chunk of Kitsap workers (or just doctors and lawyers if we're talking about Bainbridge).

    And side note: If you ever want some cheap, local entertainment — take the final ferries out of Seattle in the early a.m. hours and just people watch. I've seen a passed out Iron Man, and groups singing "their song" that they heard at a bar ... but they were singing two different songs at the same time.

    Another sector of state services is also feeling some strain — 911 dispatchers.

    As Northwest News Network's Austin Jenkins reports, the Washington State Patrol has a dispatcher vacancy rate of 40%. WSP communication offices in Bellevue, Yakima, and Marysville are less than 50% staffed. This is happening after WSP closed its Wenatchee office this year.

    The centers are fielding emergency calls from landlines, cell phones, and text messages, and call volumes are up. Read the full story here.

    And another arm of law enforcement in Seattle is dealing with its own unique set of challenges — floods, chilling air, and power outages ... all in one building.

    There was a lot of controversy surrounding King County's youth detention center in Seattle (aka the Judge Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center). Now it's suffering from another controversy as the building doesn't seem to work. Workers noticed that parts of the building were freezing, so they plugged in portable heaters, which in turn tripped circuit breakers. Also, toilets didn't seem to flush. All that was annoying, but what really hit hard was the flooding.

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  • Historic US-Canada ferry route will miss its 100th anniversary

    Today So Far Blog
    caption: A ferry out of Anacortes, Wash.
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    A ferry out of Anacortes, Wash.
    Credit: Jason Butterfield / Unsplash

    The U.S.-Canada border is almost back to its pre-pandemic ways, but not the 100-year-old ferry route between Anacortes and Sidney, BC. Ongoing crew shortages at Washington State Ferries mean the international run won’t resume until next summer at the earliest.

    This was supposed to be the summer to celebrate the 100th anniversary of cross-border ferry service between Anacortes and Sidney, near Victoria, BC, on Vancouver Island. But the route remains suspended.

    John Vezina, planning and customer and government relations director for Washington State Ferries, said domestic and commuter routes have priority for restoration. So, the international run will be the very last to return.

    “It looks like we won’t have the crewing and vessel availability until next summer," Vezina said. "But there is absolutely no plan — unless the Legislature directs otherwise — to permanently cancel it.”

    Travelers headed to the greater Victoria region from the northwestern U.S. have two other options. The private Coho ferry is running again out of Port Angeles, and BC Ferries departs from just across the northern border in Tsawwassen.

    “It is disappointing that this important connection between the Peninsula and the United States will continue to be suspended, however we recognize that Washington State Ferries is making every effort to restore its former routes,” Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil Smith said in June. “The Town was looking forward to celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the ferry service this year with the community of Anacortes, which has been a Sister City to Sidney since 1996. We remain committed to this ferry route and look forward to its return.”

    The route between Sidney and Anacortes started in 1922 on a converted kelp carrier.

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  • West Seattle Bridge will open in September

    Today So Far Blog
    West Seattle bridge and low bridge 
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    Credit: Seattle Department of Transportation

    You hear that? If you listen closely, you can hear all of West Seattle erupting in a unified cheer upon hearing the news that the West Seattle Bridge is slated to open on Sept. 18, 2022.

    “This monumental effort has repaired the cracks and made the bridge stronger and safer," said Heather Marx, program director for the West Seattle Bridge. "SDOT is confident that the bridge will now stand strong for decades to come, fulfilling its original intended lifespan. We appreciate the community’s resilience as we navigated the uncertainties of this project.”

    The Seattle Department of Transportation announced the reopening date on Thursday, Aug. 11. It says that the bridge is ready for cars and trucks after crews added about 60 miles of new steel cable to the bridge (SDOT calls this its "backbone"). Crews also repaired cracking along the bridge that originally shut it down in 2020.

    The Spokane Street Bridge, or the lower bridge, will also open on Sept. 18.

    There is a caveat — there is still more work to be done, and that has to be finished in time for the September deadline. This work includes: paving; epoxy injections, and carbon fiber wrapping. SDOT also wants to install "safety inspection platforms" inside the bridge.

    The West Seattle Bridge has been out of commission ever since cracks were discovered in March 2020. The cracks were so severe that the city shut the bridge down, which is the most heavily-used connection between West Seattle and the rest of the city, effectively cutting it off.

    “It is a relief to be so close to the end of this difficult closure," Mayor Bruce Harrell said in a statement. "We recognize how painful this closure has been for so many people, businesses, and communities. Their safety has been at the core of this repair effort since the beginning. As we reopen the bridge and reconnect our city, we are bringing our communities together with the confidence that the bridge is now stronger and safer for everyone.”

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  • Ferry service ... from Des Moines? Walk-on sailings to Seattle launch this week

    KUOW Newsroom
    caption: A sailboat is shown in Elliott Bay as the sun sets on Monday, July 26, 2022, in Seattle. Temperatures are expected to reach 90 degrees this week in the Seattle area.
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    A sailboat is shown in Elliott Bay as the sun sets on Monday, July 26, 2022, in Seattle. Temperatures are expected to reach 90 degrees this week in the Seattle area.
    Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

    KUOW talks with Des Moines City Manager Michael Matthias about the city's new walk-on ferry service to Seattle.

    Starting this week, commuters have a new option to travel into Seattle from the south, thanks to a new walk-on ferry out of Des Moines.

    “We’re located on the (Puget) Sound, and the Sound provides opportunities that land-based transportation doesn’t provide,” said Des Moines City Manager Michael Matthias. “We wanted to encourage people to come to Des Moines, experience Des Moines; we wanted to provide a way for our residents, and visitors, and people who live down here to get to Seattle in a convenient way. And we thought that this not only provided recreational and fun opportunities to be on the Sound, but also contributed to alternatives to sitting in your car, stuck on I-5, going up to Seattle, paying for parking…”

    After studying the potential for a walk-on ferry, the city of Des Moines footed the bill to bring one to town. Currently, the ferry is a pilot program to see how well it will be embraced. The pilot is slated to run through Oct. 9.

    Des Moines is located to Seattle's south, along the shore of Puget Sound between SeaTac and Federal Way. The ferry will sail four times a day between Des Moines and Seattle’s Bell Harbor. It can carry about 60 walk-on passengers per trip. An adult ticket costs $10.

    “It’s really cool. It’s very sleek. It’s fast ... we had full ridership on our initial cruises, and it took 30 minutes exactly to get from Des Moines to Seattle,” Matthias said.

    The city will continue to monitor how well it is used, and why — recreationally or for commuting? Another goal is to bring Seattleites down to Des Moines to hang out.

    "We hope that the experience of coming to Des Moines will show people a unique, different look at Puget Sound than you would find elsewhere," Matthias said.

    Matthias also said that a benefit of the ferry will be a decreased carbon footprint of car commuters. The city has a shuttle to take people from the Angle Lake light rail station to the ferry.

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  • Seattle passes protections for abortion and gender affirming care

    Today So Far Blog
    Seattle city hall
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    Credit: Flickr Photo/Daniel X. O'Neil (CC-BY-NC-ND)/

    The Seattle City Council has passed two pieces of legislation related to abortion protections and gender affirming care.

    One measure makes it a misdemeanor to interfere, intimidate, or threaten someone seeking an abortion. The other measure adds new civil rights protections for those people, as well as those seeking gender-affirming care.

    It also allows the city's Office of Civil Rights to investigate claims of discrimination against someone based on their pregnancy outcome.

    The measures are slated to go into effect 30 days after Mayor Bruce Harrell signs them.

    Both bills were sponsored by Councilmembers Tammy J. Morales, Lisa Herbold, and Dan Strauss.

    Councilmember Tammy Morales also plans to introduce a proposal on Friday, Aug. 12, that would regulate pregnancy crisis centers to make sure they don't make false or misleading statements to people they are trying to dissuade from having an abortion.

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  • Why Washington is excited about latest climate initiatives in DC

    Today So Far Blog
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    Climate policy analysts in Washington state are excited about the federal Inflation Reduction Act, which passed the U.S. Senate over the weekend.

    It includes $369 billion worth of investments in climate initiatives — things like tax breaks for clean energy producers, rebates on electric cars, and heat pumps for consumers.

    Jamal Raad, with Evergreen Action, a climate policy and advocacy organization, said the last time the federal government made a major investment in clean energy was right after the Great Recession. This legislation would spend four times as much on climate action.

    ”And even that investment, that ... $90 billion in 2009 revolutionized entire industries, drove down the cost of wind and solar significantly," Radd said. "And so I don't think you can discount how big of an investment this is and how powerful it can be in supercharging our transition to a clean energy economy.”

    Raad said Washington is in a good position to take advantage of the transition with its numerous clean energy policies.

    The U.S. House is expected to vote on the legislation later this week.

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