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KUOW Blog

News, factoids, and insights from KUOW's newsroom. And maybe some peeks behind the scenes. Check back daily for updates.

Have any leads or feedback for the KUOW Blog? Contact Dyer Oxley at dyer@kuow.org.

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  • Seattle's ranked-choice voting system won't go into effect until 2027

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    caption: An elections worker feeds ballots into a ballot sorting machine on Wednesday, October 28, 2020, at King County Elections in Renton.
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    An elections worker feeds ballots into a ballot sorting machine on Wednesday, October 28, 2020, at King County Elections in Renton.
    Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

    Seattle voters have decided they want a ranked-choice voting system for future elections of mayoral and city council candidates.

    Stephanie Houghton is the managing director of Fair Vote Washington, which campaigned for ranked-choice voting.

    "Ranked-choice voting is a straightforward, easy improvement to the way that we vote right now," Houghton said. "That's been proven in places across the country, whether you're talking about Alaska, or Maine, New York City."

    The latest election results show that 51% of Seattle voters want to see the system changed. Among the options put to voters for such a change, ranked-choice voting is strongly preferred (over the other option of approval voting).

    Opponents of the shift argued it will be confusing, and that the current political culture is not a time to experiment with elections.

    Houghton says that Seattle voters will have a few years to get ready for the change. Seattle's ranked-choice voting system won't go into effect until 2027.

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  • Bird flu suspected of killing at least 400 geese in Washington state last week

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    More than 400 geese in Whatcom County have been found sick or dead along Wiser Lake in Lynden.

    The Cascadia Daily News reports that Fish and Wildlife workers believe they got infected with the bird flu and started dying off en masse last week. Crews pulled several birds from the water Tuesday.

    The number of dead birds is expected to grow because the geese flock together as they look for food in the cold weather.

    RELATED: The first human case of avian flu in the U.S. is reported in Colorado

    Thousands of wild and domestic birds also got infected with the virus over the summer. A fish and wildlife spokesperson told Cascadia that this year's virus is affecting more species of birds and is spreading faster. But it appears to be less lethal.

    Washington's Department of Agriculture warned in September that the region could see an uptick in bird flu cases this fall as migrations began. The department knew of 34 infected flocks at that time.

    The bird flu is spread through bird droppings and other secretions.


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  • Racist email sent to WWU students via school's online learning platform

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    caption: Western Washington University
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    Western Washington University
    Credit: Flickr photo/Joe Wolf (CC BY-ND 2.0)/HTTP://BIT.LY/1MQCGBG

    Officials at Western Washington University are investigating another case of bigotry on campus.

    University officials sent a letter to families Monday, notifying them of racist threats made toward Black students last weekend. The school added that there is no immediate threat. The letter states:

    "On Saturday, students in three courses received a racist email encouraging violence against Black students. The message is deeply offensive and strikes at the heart of our values and community. Police and Information Technology are investigating how and by whom that message was sent. We are relieved to share that there are no other indicators of an elevated risk of racially-targeted violence on campus."

    The emails were specifically sent through WWU Canvas online learning system, which is accessed by students and staff. IT investigators are attempting to find out how the message was sent in that system.

    The Bellingham Herald reports that the student government president said on social media that a racist caricature of Black people was recently drawn in chalk at the university's Red Square.

    WWU has experience such racist incidents before. Last month, students found anti-Semitic and white supremacist graffiti on a message board at the student center. In 2018, school officials were responding to similar incidents of racist graffiti on campus. In 2017, more antisemitic incidents occurred on campus. In 2016, swastikas appeared on campus. During this time, the university formed an antisemitism task force to address the incidents.

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  • What are you celebrating this week?: Today So Far

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    There are a lot of non-holiday holidays coming up. Do any stand out for you? And what do you celebrate?

    This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for November 23, 2022.

    Coming up is Thanksgiving, and Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. After all that, we get around to giving on Giving Tuesday.

    Friday is also Native American Heritage Day, and while we're at it, Thursday is also D.B. Cooper Day as well as National Day of Mourning, Saturday is Good Grief Day for Charlie Brown fans, and next Tuesday is Chadwick Boseman Day. And apparently, today is DrinksGiving, as well as Women Led Wednesday, and Local Comic Shop Day. We got a lot of days happening.

    RELATED: Here comes sickness (Today So Far)

    I lean into the Small Business Saturday. Partially because there are fewer hordes of suburbanites stampeding into big box stores on Saturday, but also because I've come to appreciate a fair amount of small shops and others who don't have Walmart's marketing budget. On a very personal level, I like to say that I "support my local geekonomy," which is filled with DIY crafters and creatives who speak my language, which is sometimes Vulcan. For example, GeekCraft Expo is in Seattle this weekend, but there's also Dave Ryan Pop Art in Pike Place Market, or Outsider Comics in Fremont, or Distant World's Coffee in Roosevelt. I could go on and on, but these are the types of businesses I want year-round, and a dollar goes further with them.

    Amanda Winterhalter, KUOW's institutional giving officer, says she favors the #optoutside mentality on Black Friday. That's the marketing campaign REI started a few years back. She says, "getting outdoors instead of in stores or online feels pretty dang good and grounding."

    Within that spirit, Gina Kilbridge, KUOW's philanthropy officer, points out that state parks are free on Friday. Gina adds that she tunes into Urban Craft Uprising events as a way "to find unique, handmade gifts" noting that it "serves as an accessible marketplace for many makers just getting their businesses off the ground."

    I feel like this is an opportune time to point out that I work at a nonprofit station driven by listener donations. What is the TSF community doing over the next week? Let me know at dyer@kuow.org.

    I like the idea of targeting your dollars, because right now, it's pretty tough in Seattle. Zillow recently noted that a person would have to work 56.3 hours to make rent in the city, which is up from just a year ago. That's taking into account Seattle's "typical" rent and wages. The real estate company further notes that rent has increased by 29% in Seattle over the past five years, yet the average wage has only risen 12%.

    This tough situation extends to homebuyers. Another local real estate company, Redfin, reports that a person should earn $205,000 if they want to afford a home in Seattle. That's up from last year's figure of approximately $141,000. In fact, $141,000 is the earning figure you now need to afford a home in Tacoma (last year it was $99,000). These are significant jumps for just a single year.

    As we enter the season of goodwill and giving, targeting our dollars is one more thing we can do to spread that positive energy.

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  • Here comes sickness: Today So Far

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    After a couple years of pandemic precautions, viruses like the flu and RSV are expected to surge, on top of an expected rise in Covid cases. That has hospitals worried.

    This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for November 22, 2022.

    All our Covid precautions over the past couple of years have had a side effect — other viruses were also kept away. That mask, and all that distancing, or working from home, kept the flu and RSV out of our lives. But all that is about to change. Here comes sickness, walking up your street.

    We have mostly emerged from our pandemic precautions and are slated to start partying like it's 2019 — holiday dinners, concerts, reunions, travel, your relative forcing you to sit down and watch a photo collage detailing the past year's activities like you're in some sort of family-photo "Clockwork Orange" experiment. These indoor gatherings are breeding grounds for viruses that we haven't had to think about for a while, on top of Covid.

    “That’s going to be laid upon the RSV epidemic," Dr. Jeff Duchin with Public Health Seattle & King County told KUOW. "Don’t yet know what Covid will do, although it does like gatherings. We know it spreads more effectively when people come together, all of these viruses spread more effectively when people come together.”

    National experts are warning of a "tripledemic" staring with the upcoming holiday. In a way, we are about to intensely experience a new angle on an old phenomenon.

    "If you remember, before Covid, every time we gathered for the holidays, somebody got the flu," Dr. Helen Chu told Seattle Now. "I think we are back in that time; viruses are seasonal and they tend to peak in the winter months, when people gather. So we are going to see it ... it is inevitable and you do what you can to keep the vulnerable from getting sick."

    "This holiday season is the first season we've had since a lot of pandemic mitigation measures have been lifted. People are traveling more, they are not masking as much indoors, and I think people are more likely to have colds and coughs and go to school and work with those colds and coughs. So what is happening now is all those viruses we didn't see over the past two years — flu and RSV, and all the other respiratory viruses — have now come back. Those numbers are really, really high."

    Dr. Chu adds that Seattle Children's Hospital, as well as other regional hospitals, are at capacity because of surges in these viruses. A director at Seattle Children's said recently that its facilities are at "crisis mode" because of RSV. This is of concern for doctors like Chu who know that a lot more cases are on the way. This means emergency services flooded with illnesses on top of that heart attack, or car crash, or overdose, etc.

    All these viruses we're talking about are similar — you get a cough, maybe a bit of a cold or a fever. But they affect people differently. Different age groups do better or worse depending on the virus. What do we do? Learn from our recent past. None of this is new. Stay home if you are sick. Mask up if conditions are too cozy. Wash your hands. Keep hand sanitizer ready.

    "Those are the things that are going to keep these viruses from spreading, and particularly from causing very young children and older adults from getting very sick with them," Chu said.

    To be clear, Dr. Chu said people should "definitely try to gather this year," and that it is important to bring such aspects of our lives back. Rather, be aware of the settings you are in, and be safe. Take extra care and precautions for older adults and children.

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  • Council committee favors returning Seattle parking officers to SPD

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    caption: Seattle Police Department patch.
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    Seattle Police Department patch.
    Credit: Facebook Photo/Seattle Police Officers Guild


    The Seattle City Council budget committee has voted to return parking enforcement duties to the Seattle Police Department.

    The full council will vote next week on this proposal, as well as the entire amended budget for the next two years.

    This unit was shifted to the city's Department of Transportation under former Mayor Jenny Durkan, who was responding to calls made in 2020 to shrink the police department.

    A special task force will meet next year to determine if the switch back to the SPD should be permanent. Opponents argue the move would cost the city millions of dollars in officer salaries and expenses; supporters say the opposite, arguing that the change would free up millions of dollars for the city's emergency reserves.

    Mayor Bruce Harrell originally proposed returning parking enforcement to SPD in his budget proposal. The proposal comes after the move from the police department to SDOT did not go smoothly. The city was forced to refund $4.5 million in parking tickets following the shift to SDOT, because Seattle did not officially give the officers the legal authority under the Department of Transportation to issue tickets. And city surveys state that about 80% of parking enforcement officers favor returning to SPD.

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  • Longest November dry spell on record for Seattle area

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    As rain arrives in Western Washington Tuesday, it ends the longest November dry spell on record for the region.

    Monday marked 14 straight days with no rain in November for the Seattle area. It breaks the previous record set in 2000. November is usually the wettest month of the year for the region.

    The Seattle area normally gets slightly more than six inches of rain during this time, but as of Monday, Nov. 21, it's only received 1.67 inches.

    The National Weather Service in Seattle noted that Nov. 19 is statistically the wettest day of the year, but this year was dry.

    The lack of rain, and cloud cover, also meant that overnight temperatures dipped lower than usual. The weather service further noted some new low records, such as the Olympia Airport, which recorded a new low of 17 degrees on Nov. 18, beating the previous record of 19 degrees set in 2014.

    After Monday's rain, the region is forecasted to receive more rain Thursday, Thanksgiving night.

    The weather system that's bringing rain to the Puget Sound region for the first time in two weeks will drop more snow on the mountains. A winter weather advisory will be in place until early Wednesday morning. Areas above 3,000 feet could get between 1 to 12 inches of rain. Drivers should be aware and prepared around the passes. Freezing rain could be a factor.

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  • Bellevue motorcycle officer dies following traffic collision

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    caption: Bellevue Officer Jordan Jackson died after his police motorcycle was struck by an oncoming driver, Nov. 21, 2022. The 34-year-old officer served at BPD for four years.
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    Bellevue Officer Jordan Jackson died after his police motorcycle was struck by an oncoming driver, Nov. 21, 2022. The 34-year-old officer served at BPD for four years.
    Credit: Bellevue Police Department

    Bellevue police are mourning the loss of one of their motorcycle officers following a fatal collision with a car early Monday.

    Officer Jordan Jackson was riding northbound in the 500 block of Bellevue Way SE around 10 a.m. A car exiting a parking lot struck him on the road.

    Jackson suffered life-threatening injuries and was quickly taken to Harborview Medical Center where he passed away.

    Washington State Patrol is investigating the collision. So far, troopers have determined that neither drugs nor alcohol were a factor in the incident, and neither was speed.

    “We are devastated by Officer Jackson’s tragic death,” Chief Wendell Shirley said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to his wife, two children, his family and friends, and extended BPD family as they grieve. This is a huge loss for the entire community.”

    Jackson, 34, started working at the Bellevue Police Department in 2018. He has served on the traffic unit since 2020. During that time, he earned employee of the quarter.

    Prior to joining BPD, Jackson worked as an EMT and also a volunteer firefighter. He also volunteered on the King County Sheriff's Search and Rescue K-9 unit. According to BPD, Jackson graduated from Issaquah High School and Central Washington University. He is survived by a wife and two children.

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  • When is graffiti art?: Today So Far

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    Seattle has a new effort to address graffiti. Could it work?

    This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for November 21, 2022.

    Imagine there is something that younger folks are interested in, and the older folks don't like it. This happens all the time. There's one thing the adults can do to ensure the younger folks lose interest — become interested in it themselves. Whatever it is, it will stop being cool. There's also something adults can do that will ensure younger folks double down on the offending interest — make it official and organize it.

    I have a feeling that one of these two outcomes will happen in Seattle under the city's newest approach to graffiti.

    Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell is making graffiti a focus of his administration. He announced a series of measures being taken on the issue in October. The measures include increasing abatement and anti-graffiti volunteers. It also includes the Many Hands Art Initiative, which is run through the city's Office of Arts and Culture. Harrell proposed $940,000 for the effort. It basically seeks to find common ground between graffiti and public art, like murals, while leading youth programs for street art.

    "It's an opportunity for new voices, it's an opportunity for communities to come together, it's an opportunity for all of us to have an ongoing solution of street art to this negative behavior of graffiti, whether it is violent or non-permission based," Royal Alley-Barnes, acting director of the Office of Arts and Culture, told KUOW's Mike Davis.

    Alley-Barnes says that there are lines not to cross when it comes to street art, and that is what Seattle is pushing back on. One major line is the "negative behavior" Alley-Barnes spoke about. The city aims to have more positive and artistic displays on its streets.

    Alley-Barnes points to the Martin Luther King Jr. mural on the corner of MLK Jr Way and Cherry Street. The mural was originally painted in the 1990s, and was recently redone by the original artist.

    "The graffiti that was on there (before) was violent, it was misogynist, racist graffiti. This is what the mayor is talking about. That is not art. I don't care if the calligraphy is amazing, I don't care if it is done with the kinds of symbols we would see on a t-shirt ... no. Once it gets into all those negative, racist activities, once it gets into disrespect, and once it gets into premonition of violent behavior and violent statements — not acceptable."

    Another line is throwing up paint on someone's business, or home, where it is not welcome.

    "For me, it boils down to consent, or what is wanted or unwanted for a property owner," Mayor Harrell told KUOW. "There's a baseline, right? Hate crimes, racialized graffiti, things like that are graffiti and we want to not have that. That is non-negotiable."

    On the other hand, Harrell says he has seen graffiti around Seattle, good art, and has wanted to find a way to foster that end of the spectrum.

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  • You'll have to work a few more hours to afford Seattle rent, Zillow says

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    If you want to pay your rent in Seattle, you're going to have to work more hours. That's the message from Zillow in its latest assessment of rising rents in the United States.

    Zillow calculates that a Seattle renter would have to work a total of 56.3 hours to pay the "typical" rent for the city of $2,285. The real estate company notes that rent has increased by 29% in Seattle over the past five years, yet the average wage has only risen 12%.

    Nationally, renters need to work six more hours a month than they did before the pandemic to make the typical U.S rent of $2,040, according to Zillow.

    "The rental market has cooled this year, but so far that has meant prices growing more slowly, not any real relief for renters," said Zillow senior economist Jeff Tucker in a statement. "Rents were growing at a record pace for much of 2021, squeezing budgets for renters moving or renewing leases. Now, it appears more people are opting to double up with roommates or family, which means more vacancies and pressure on landlords to price their units competitively, offering some hope of relief on the horizon. Rents fell last month for the first time in two years, possibly the start of more price drops to come, or at least a signal that we are back to the usual seasonal rhythms of the rental market."

    Zillow's assessment comes shorty after Redfin, another Seattle real estate company, announced that a person needs to earn at least $205,000 annually to by a median-priced home in the city. That is up from $141,000 a year ago.

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  • Fish farming banned in Washington waters by executive order

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    caption: A wild Pacific salmon, left, is shown next to a farm-raised Atlantic salmon, right, on Tuesday, August 22, 2017, at Home Port Seafood in Bellingham. The farm-raised Atlantic salmon was caught after a large spill of fish at Cooke Aquaculture fish farm near Cyrpess Island.
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    A wild Pacific salmon, left, is shown next to a farm-raised Atlantic salmon, right, on Tuesday, August 22, 2017, at Home Port Seafood in Bellingham. The farm-raised Atlantic salmon was caught after a large spill of fish at Cooke Aquaculture fish farm near Cyrpess Island.
    Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer


    Washington's Commissioner of Public Lands has issued an executive order that bans fish farming in Washington waters.

    Many coastal tribes, and environmentalists, are celebrating the move.

    "This is a critical step to support our waters, our fishermen and women, our tribes and our native salmon that we are so ferociously trying to save and have so little time to do so," said Commissioner Hilary Franz as she announced Friday that net pen aquaculture is over in Washington.

    "Salmon are in danger of going extinct, the way of life that supports numerous coast Salish tribes and our entire Northwest culture hangs in the balance."

    The executive order goes a step further than last week's news that DNR would not renew any fish farm leases under its purview.

    Franz says this is about freeing Washington waters from cages. Net pens can hold hundreds of thousands of farmed, non-native fish. In 2017, one such pen broke open, spilling Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound, leading to years of litigation. It spurred tribal concerns for native salmon and their food stock, among other risks of non-native fish inhabiting local waters.

    Other forms of aquatic farming are still welcome in Washington waters, such as shellfish. Tribal fisheries also maintain the right to use aquatic net pens for fin fish.

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  • Jayapal calls for FTC investigation into Kroger-Albertsons merger

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    caption: US Representative Pramila Jayapal at Northgate Station on Nov. 9, 2021.
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    US Representative Pramila Jayapal at Northgate Station on Nov. 9, 2021.
    Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

    Congressmember Pramila Jayapal is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Kroger's proposed acquisition of Albertsons.

    The Seattle representative says the merger will stifle competition, hurt consumers, and small businesses, and will ultimately lead to higher prices and fewer products on the market.

    RELATED: The rise of Krogersons

    State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has made similar arguments in his efforts to keep a $4 billion payout to Albertsons' shareholders from going through.

    A judge delayed a hearing on that matter until Dec. 9. There is currently a temporary restraining order on any payout to shareholders.

    Jayapal called for the FTC to look into the $25 billion merger at a press event Monday afternoon at Seattle's Junction Park Plaza. She was joined by local members of UFCW 3000, which represents grocery workers.

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