MAKING IT WORK
Welcome to MAKING IT WORK, Councilmember Conlin's monthly email newsletter. This newsletter is one way that Councilmember
Conlin is seeking to carry out his conviction that fostering citizen participation and engagement is a key task
of elected officials, and is vital to a democratic society. Each issue includes Councilmember Conlin's thoughts
on a key issue, informs you of other major issues in the City, and let's you know how you can influence City decisions.
On Monday, July 17, the City Council unanimously approved Resolution 30873, adopting guidelines and procedures for communities to work with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to plan and implement traffic calming on residential and arterial streets.
This resolution is the result of several years of collaborative work and implementation of pilot projects involving neighborhoods, the Council, and SDOT. While I was Chair of the Transportation Committee, a number of communities contacted my office with concerns about a lack of clarity about what traffic calming devices and procedures were appropriate for different kinds of streets, and what process to follow to work with SDOT on the problems they perceived. This was a particular problem on smaller arterial streets with many residences, where wide streets and low traffic levels encourage excessive speeds.
The result of the lack of clear process has been that some streets have many traffic calming measures, especially those where one or more residents have been savvy in working the Neighborhood Street Fund process through their District Councils, while others, especially residents on arterials, have had little or no success. The safety of children, pets, and pedestrians is in jeopardy on many of these streets.
My office worked extensively with SDOT staff in several neighborhoods, particularly with a group called 'Citizens for 56th Street' in the Green Lake neighborhood, and slowly and painfully evolved a procedure and catalogue of measures that can be applied citywide. SDOT then incorporated this process in their Right-of-Way Manual, and the Council adopted it as a free standing document through this resolution.
The policy is designed to improve safety, reduce cut-through traffic, and encourage people to drive more slowly. It is based on reducing speed, not necessarily volumes, of vehicles, through neighborhood involvement that defines predictable and easy to understand measures that enhance the street environment. Special attention is paid to transit and business access on arterial streets.
The inventory of measures includes 23 possible measures, from the classic traffic circle to chicanes and speed cushions, and including steps such as streetscapes designed to slow traffic (people tend to drive more slowly through tree lined streets) and the use of parking to narrow the right-of-way. There is a clear process for the community to use to work with SDOT and a set of criteria which SDOT can use to determine what steps are most appropriate and determine priorities.
Communities can download a copy of the manual from the SDOT home page at http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/rowmanual/manual/6_5.asp
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LOW INCOME UTILITY ASSISTANCE
On Monday, July 31, the Council unanimously approved an ordinance establishing a permanent program to provide assistance for low income customers of Seattle Public Utilities. The program matches in both eligibility and assistance level a similar program in Seattle City Light.
The City Light Emergency Low Income Assistance (ELIA) program was set up as part of a package of legislation approved by the Council in 1985 that included a city Light rate reduction. I helped create this program as staff for the citizen-business alliance, the "City Light Study Group". I am very pleased, in my new role as Chair of the Committee overseeing Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), to sponsor the legislation that extends the program to low income customers having problems paying their water bills.
While I had the opportunity to move this program forward, credit for initiating the program goes to Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who proposed a pilot project in 2004. The pilot project was implemented in 2005, and determined that the model worked for SPU and its customers as well as for City Light, and met the real needs of hundreds of low income households who struggle with dilemmas like whether to pay the water bill or to buy food or medicine.
The Utility Low Income Emergency Assistance (ULIEA) will provide up to $200 of emergency credit to cover delinquent bills for customers faced with a possible water shutoff, create a payment plan to manage the remainder of an past due amounts, and provide counseling to help households secure other resources and avoid future problems.
This is an important new program to help protect our low-income ratepayers and I applaud the work of Councilmember Tom Rasmussen to lead this program to fruition.
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FIRE STATION 20
On Monday, July 31, the Council rejected ordinances that would have condemned three houses on the west slopes of Queen Anne Hill for the purpose of expanding Fire Station 20. Councilmembers Drago, Della, Clark, Steinbrueck, and I opposed all three ordinances because we were not convinced that the Fleets and Facilities Department had adequately reviewed alternatives and provided choices for the Council to consider. Neighbors and community organizations shared these concerns, and mobilized in opposition to the proposed siting.
The City clearly has the power to condemn private property for public purposes such fire stations and libraries, and this can be a necessary step if the proposed location is clearly superior. However, in this case, the proposal would greatly expand the size of the Fire Station in a slide prone zone, when response times from this location rank 29th in the City among 32 stations. While finding an optimum site may be difficult, choosing deliberately to site in such a suboptimum location, and condemning private property to support that, does not meet the red face test.
Under the Fire Facilities Levy, the assumption has been that the current configuration of stations would be maintained, with stations that are to be rebuilt or replaced sited at or near their current locations. This seems to be a fundamental mistake, ignoring changing patterns of both transportation accessibility and land use development that may make a different distribution of stations around the City preferable. It was a political choice - closing and relocating stations can be difficult and expanding or contracting the number of stations opens questions about staffing, expenses, and labor relations that City government is reluctant to deal with.
However, due to dramatic increases in the cost of construction as well as some underestimating, there is an anticipated $67 million cost overrun in the projects of the Fire Facilities Levy, which was supposed to renovate or replace all stations throughout the City. While this presents a huge challenge, it may also be an opportunity to rethink the assumptions on which the current distribution of stations was based. The Fire Station 20 situation reveals the potential necessity and wisdom of such a step.
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"Scarcely have you descended on the soil of America, when you find yourself in the midst of a sort of tumult; a confused clamor is raised on all sides; a thousand voices come to your ear at the same time, each of them expressing some social needs. Around you everything moves: here, the people of one neighborhood have gathered to learn if a church ought to be built; there, they are working on the choice of a representative; farther on, the deputies of a district are going to town in all haste in order to decide about some local improvements; in another place, the farmers of a village abandon their furrows to go discuss the plan of a road or school.
"Citizens assemble with the sole goal of declaring that they disapprove of the course of government. To meddle in the government of society and to speak about it is the greatest business that an American knows…"
-- Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America
"Just consider how terrible the day of your death will be. Others will go on speaking, and you will not be able to argue back."
-- Ram Mohun Roy
Citizen participation and engagement are critical for maintaining democracy -- fostering it is a key task of elected officials. It's my hope that this newsletter will inform you about issues, inspire you to get involved, and that together we can make things work better in this great city. Please send me your feedback, so we can keep things lively, interesting, and useful. And please forward it along to friends who might be interested. You can get more information or send me feedback through the City Council website at http://cityofseattle.net/council/
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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