Back in March, a citywide poll showed voters supporting a housing levy that would add nearly $50 to their annual property tax bills by a comfortable 66 percent margin. But when the housing levy campaign group, Yes for Homes, did a second poll, it showed the levy leading by the slimmest of margins—"about 50-50," according to Yes for Homes campaign manager Chris Gregorich, who wouldn't release any further details about the poll. The campaign's concern, Gregorich says, is "people needing to know that it's coming up on the [Sept. 17] ballot," which doesn't have any other big races to entice them to the polls. Primary elections also tend to draw older, more conservative absentee voters—the same anti-tax bunch levy opponents are hoping will rally for their newly formed campaign, led by Kirk Robbins, vice president of the Washington Log Cabin Republicans. The levy would pay for low-income rental construction and preservation, transitional housing, and homeownership programs. It would also account for some 40 percent of the budget for the city's Office of Housing, which, according to deputy director Bill Rumpf, would receive just over $12 million of its $30 million annual budget from levy funds. . . .
Hempfest, the 11-year-old celebration of protein-rich food products, sustainable textiles, and, um, rope, didn't end up homeless after all. Earlier this year, we reported that the fest would have to pack up its tents and schlepp over to Sand Point Magnuson Park on Lake Washington, because ongoing construction at Myrtle Edwards Park—Hempfest's home since 1994—was edging out the festivities. Turns out Hempfest is back at Myrtle Edwards after all, after fest organizers were informed they would be responsible for security in all of Magnuson Park's 200-some-odd acres. "We've got 1,000 people on our campaign staff, but we can't handle" patrolling 200 acres, says festival organizer Dominic Holden. To make up for the space lost to construction, the festival will spill over into Pier 70 parking lots, Holden says. This year, Hempfest will be held the weekend of Aug. 17 and 18, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. . . .
Back in July, Mayor Greg Nickels sent a memo to all city employees, offering them eight weeks' pay if they quit their jobs by Sept. 30. The catch: They had just one week, until July 24, to decide whether to apply for the program. Department heads were given another 12 days, until Aug. 5, to accept or deny the resignations. Why the rush? Nickels plans to propose as many as 600 layoffs by Sept. 23, when he submits his proposed budget to the City Council. That number could be reduced, according to the mayor's spokesperson, Marianne Bichsel, by early retirements and by shuffling some employees into vacant positions.
But the timing of the memo was unusual for another reason—the council, which had to approve or deny the mayor's plan, didn't take it up until Aug. 12, nearly three weeks after the application deadline. That put the council in the potentially awkward, if by now familiar, position of rubber-stamping the mayor's proposal. As of Aug. 13, according to personnel director Norma McKinney, around 537 employees had signed up for the program and 435 had been accepted.
Erica C. Barnett
Contributing this week: George Howland Jr.