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.
A ZERO WASTE STRATEGY FOR SEATTLE
Every week, the garbage train hauls 1500 tons of waste from Seattle to be dumped in a hole in the ground in Eastern Washington. If we don't want these mile-long trains to continue - and maybe get even bigger - in the future, we have to make some changes. We need a dramatic reshaping of our strategy if we are to truly realize our aspirations for a sustainable Seattle. As Chair of the Environmental, Emergency Management, and Utilities Committee, I propose that Seattle adopt a Zero Waste Strategy that would dramatically change both our goals and our waste management plan.
We have a unique opportunity to do this, because the contracts for collection and processing our solid waste are up for renewal in the near future. At the same time, Seattle Public Utilities has proposed a new facilities plan that will involve overhauling and rebuilding its two transfer stations, and building a new city-owned intermodal facility to transfer garbage directly to trains. If we don't make different decisions in the coming months, this $200 million construction program and a set of long-term contracts will commit us to continuing the present path.
Seattle's current path has many positive aspects - we have an excellent recycling program and a progressive set of policies. In the 1980's, the commitment of our citizens to environmental values and the emerging concept of sustainability led the City to reject a plan to incinerate wastes and instead embrace a commitment to recycling a minimum of 60% of our solid waste. Twenty years later, recycling has peaked at 43% -- a good achievement, but short of our goal. The current strategy promises only incremental improvements and a long-term commitment to generate massive quantities of garbage and ship it to a landfill.
That means that we will continue to consume resources at an expanding rate. It means that we will keep burying toxic substances and valuable materials. And it means that we will keep generating greenhouse gases from landfills that contribute to global warming.
That doesn't have to be our future. We can take a different approach - and get better results. The Zero Waste Strategy sets a new goal: striving to reduce our waste stream to the minimum possible by making cradle to cradle responsibility the cornerstone for how we treat products. The cradle to cradle paradigm asserts that the materials we consume should continue to circulate in the production of new products, either as organic matter destined for compost or as mineral or synthetic compounds that can be transformed into the building blocks of other products. That puts waste reduction and recycling in the driver's seat, rather than in the caboose of the garbage train.
Here are the components that I am suggesting as possible building blocks for the Zero Waste strategy:
Expand our recycling efforts by creating incentives for product stewardship.
The principle of product stewardship (also called extended producer
responsibility) puts the responsibility for recycling and disposal on the
manufacturers, thus giving them a financial incentive to extend the life of
their products by using materials that can be reused or recycled.
Instead of collecting garbage every week, recycling every other week, and
yard waste/organics every other week - and charging for the organics pickup,
we could expand the items collected in recycling and organics cans, collect
them both every week, stop charging people to recycle their organics, and
move to collecting the remaining garbage every other week.
Tailor similar approaches to commercial accounts, emphasizing programs like
food waste collection from restaurants and paper recycling from offices.
Instead of operating transfer stations designed to encourage people to drive
their own excess waste to the stations (often inextricably mixed with
valuable recyclables), we can create an on-demand pickup of extra waste at a
comparable charge, reducing traffic congestion and fuel consumption, and
encouraging separated recyclable and compostable pick up.
Decrease waste production by banning some products from use in the City
(such as Styrofoam and plastic bags), and working with businesses to develop
take back programs for products like pharmaceuticals, paint, and electronic products.
Begin salvaging urban hardwood and designating highest use practices. Currently, city trees are disposed of as waste by burning, land-filling or mulching.
Design our solid waste facilities and contracts to:
Emphasize flexibility to allow for better waste prevention, recycling, and disposal systems in the future;
Support full recycling of Construction and Demolition Waste;
Size for major reductions in the amount of solid waste to be transferred and disposed of;
Plan for a major reduction in self-haul to be replaced by on-demand scheduled, fee-based, pickup that includes recyclables and compostables.
This is the long-term direction that I am suggesting. Over the next few months, I want the City to invest in developing a strategic analysis that assesses the feasibility of these kinds of measures, and design specific steps that will lead us towards the zero waste goal.
The current facilities plan may not leave enough flexibility and may over build the transfer and disposal function. It should be reconsidered and redesigned to reflect this strategy, as should the collection and disposal contracts. A new set of parameters could be developed for the facilities plan, including possible private ownership and operation of an intermodal facility, possible continuance of the current intermodal system, and possible abandonment of the north transfer station site. Action on reconstructing the transfer stations should be moved forward as expeditiously as possible to improve worker safety and ease of operation.
As this strategy is developed, the possibility of further change should be kept in mind. Disposal is always the lowest priority for waste, but the City should also explore (in conjunction with the County) the possibility of changing from a landfill disposal plan to a plan based around the new and more environmentally promising thermal reclamation plant models coming on line in Europe. However, this exploration is a separate track from the Zero Waste Strategy, and should be pursued in a separate set of policy development discussions.
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SR 520 BRIDGE REPLACEMENT PROJECT
On Thursday, September 7, the City Council narrowed the options under consideration for endorsement as the preferred alternative for the SR 520 Bridge replacement. The Council took the Second Montlake Bridge alternative off the table, and expressed its support for a six-lane alternative, if the appropriate mitigation can be developed for the environmental and community impacts. The Council agreed to consider the four-lane alternative as a backup.
All alternatives will have larger footprints, significant costs, and impacts on neighborhoods and the Arboretum. However, the need to replace the SR 520 Bridge is urgent from a safety standpoint. In addition to the seismic vulnerabilities, bridge engineers have indicated that the bridge would be in serious jeopardy in the event of a sustained storm with wind speeds in excess of 75 miles per hour. Last winter the bridge had to be closed twice when wind speeds exceeded 50 miles per hour.
Either of the two remaining six lane alternatives (the base project and the Pacific Interchange alternative) would add two additional lanes dedicated to transit and High Occupancy Vehicles. This will reduce the rush hour travel time for transit between the eastside and downtown from more than an hour to about 18 minutes. Combined with tolling the bridge, this provides an excellent incentive for greatly increased transit usage. Projections are that a significantly larger number of people will cross the bridge in the future with virtually no increase in the number of vehicles.
Moving to the Pacific Interchange as an alternative to the original design greatly increases the efficiency of transit. With the interchange moved to the east and a new bridge connecting it directly to Pacific Avenue, express buses over SR 520 could transfer passengers from a stop next to the Sound Transit light rail station at Husky Stadium. The Pacific Interchange also clears up the Montlake mess and significantly improves traffic flow for the 70% of Montlake interchange users who enter and exit to and from North East Seattle. Bridge travel will become much more predictable, and travel north and south within Seattle across the Montlake Bridge will become much easier. The proposed lid over the intersection of Pacific Avenue and Montlake Avenue will make pedestrian and bicycle crossings of this busy area much safer and quicker.
For these reasons, the Pacific Interchange is steadily gaining momentum, on the Council, in the communities around SR 520, and even on the Eastside. The Council has laid out a series of recommendations that would reduce the noise impacts, reduce the size of the footprint, and provide compensation and enhancements to the Arboretum and the University of Washington. With these recommendations carried forward as components of the project, the Pacific Interchange is likely to be workable for the surrounding communities and institutions.
The Council will continue to work with the Mayor and state officials over the next two weeks. A resolution endorsing a preferred alternative will be introduced on October 2, with a public comment meeting at the Seattle Preparatory School Cafeteria, 2400 11th Avenue East, to be held on Wednesday, October 4 at 6:30 PM. The Council is expected to vote on the resolution on Monday, October 16. During the week of October 23rd, the SR 520 Executive Committee, which represents all of the concerned governments, will vote on a preferred alternative. All of these are recommendations to the Governor, who is expected to make a decision by the end of the year.
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The City of Seattle is currently considering its first major annexation in decades, which would add some 32,000 people in the North Highline area between Seattle and Burien. I am Chairing a Special Committee that is reviewing the possibility of designating this community as a Potential Annexation Area. We hope to recommend whether to move forward with annexing all or part of this area before the end of the year.
Under the Growth Management Act, all urban unincorporated areas are supposed to either incorporate or join existing cities before 2012. King County wants to complete this process well before the deadline, as the County cannot afford to continue to provide urban level services. North Highline is the largest area still in play. There seems to be little support for a City of North Highline, as it is mainly residential and has a limited tax base. Residents are considering asking to join either Burien or Seattle (or possibly splitting the area between the two). The process for annexing would require the City to indicate its willingness to annex followed by a vote to approve the annexation by the residents of the unincorporated area. A series of negotiations with the County and library, fire, water, and sewer districts would then phase in completing the process.
Much of the northern part of the area is closely tied to Seattle, including parts of the White Center business district. The area is served by Seattle City Light, and directly or indirectly by the Seattle water system. It is a diverse area, with about 47% of the population identified by the census as ethnic minorities or mixed ethnicity. It appears clear that Seattle would be better equipped than Burien to provide the level of services needed in this area. However, because of a complex pattern of utility and governmental services and a complicated set of regulations in the state law regarding annexation, it may be financially advantageous to Burien to annex part of the area. Seattle and Burien are in discussions about the issue, but we have not reached an agreement on the best solution.
All residential neighborhoods cost more to serve than they return in taxes. The sales and business taxes generated in our commercial and industrial areas are the reason that Seattle is able to provide services to these communities. Providing services to North Highline would initially cost about $5 million more than the taxes that the City would collect. King County could provide some transitional funding, and the state may also. In the long run the financial gap will likely diminish as property values increase with Seattle services and full integration of the community into the City.
Deciding to annex will require coming up with a financial plan to address these costs. In addition, the City wants King County to make a firm commitment to replace the South Park Bridge (located in unincorporated King County) before Seattle proceeds with any annexation.
Proceeding with annexation would be a positive step in implementing the Growth Management Act. It would also bring a lively and diverse community into the City of Seattle, a community that is already partly integrated with Seattle. The Council will consider this issue over the next several weeks, and will continue to negotiate with Burien and meet with North Highline residents to work through the issues.
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"We must draw our standards from the natural world. We must honor with the humility of the wise the bounds of that natural world and the mystery which lies beyond them, admitting that there is something in the order of being which evidently exceeds all our competence."
-- Vaclav Havel
"A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat."
-- old New York proverb
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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