MAKING IT WORK
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide information, inspire involvement, and make things work in this great city.
GOT VIADUCT TAPE?
On Friday, January 19, the Council, by a vote of 6 to 3 (Della, Licata, and Steinbrueck voting no), adopted legislation placing two advisory measures relating to the Alaskan Way Viaduct on a March 13 ballot. Voters will be asked to vote yes or no on an elevated alternative for replacing the viaduct, and yes or no on a modified tunnel alternative, which reduces the size of the tunnel to four lanes and includes additional transit measures. The Council also unanimously adopted a resolution I authored that proposes a way out of the conflict situation that we currently find ourselves in.
I reluctantly supported placing the measures on the ballot, because the Governor had indicated that she would move forward with an aerial replacement if the Council did not proceed with this advisory vote. I, and the majority of the Council, have opposed construction of a new aerial viaduct. However, recognizing that there are many voters who may not be satisfied with the two choices presented, I suggested including "none of the above" if a single measure proposed choosing between tunnel and aerial alternatives. Having the opportunity to vote on the tunnel and aerial separately allows voters that prefer another alternative, such as a surface/transit option, to register their preference by voting no on both.
As I have noted in previous newsletters, I believe that making this kind of decision is fundamentally the responsibility of elected officials. An advisory vote is unlikely to resolve the impasse in developing a final design for the central waterfront of the viaduct replacement project, as there is no guarantee that an advisory vote will be respected by all parties. Advisory votes are blunt instruments and snapshots in time, not allowing for new information or changing evaluations to be incorporated into an ultimate decision. Forcing a choice between two alternatives further diminishes the value of such a vote, although structuring the vote to allow two no votes partially answers this concern.
Even if there is a decisive vote on March 13, it is unlikely that this will end the debate. Focusing on the decision on the Central Waterfront section of the viaduct replacement project devalues the real progress that has been made on this project, and has led to a polarization that does not serve us well.
The fact is that a project of this magnitude and cost requires the ability to achieve partnership between the City, the State and the Port of Seattle, as well as between the City, the immediately impacted businesses and neighborhoods, and the public. Recent events suggest that we have not achieved the partnerships necessary to implement any of the options, and without these, any choice will only continue to get bogged down, creating antagonism between potential partners. Whatever replacement option is chosen will generate transportation and construction impacts that will require creativity, patience, interdependency and goodwill among the public, agencies and businesses.
Clearly, there is a serious lack of consensus among elected leaders as well as the general population as to what is the best course of action. Tensions are high, as are the political, environmental, and economic stakes. The long term impacts of the replacement decision are extraordinarily significant, and no one can afford to look at this decision from a perspective that only considers their self-interest. The choice about the preferred alternative for the Alaskan Way Viaduct is ultimately more than a transportation project; it is a choice about how Seattle will relate to its waterfront for the next 50-100 years.
The ultimate solution for the viaduct requires us to address those realities, and that is why I wrote the resolution proposing concrete, practical steps towards moving us forward. No matter what the ultimate decision is on the configuration on the Seattle Central Waterfront, there are wide areas of agreement among all of the interested parties, and we serve the public most effectively by finding ways to work together to ensure that action on this project continues.
There is general agreement on the kinds of mitigations and transportation alternatives that will have to be implemented no matter what design is chosen for the Central Waterfront. The resolution urges the project partners to proceed immediately with "the thousand little steps," including, among other things, expanding transit service and the West Seattle Water Taxi; renovating the Spokane Street Viaduct and adding a new connection from the Spokane Street Viaduct to Fourth Avenue South to better connect with downtown; improving the Spokane, Lander, and Mercer corridors; and better coordinating traffic signals to improve traffic in downtown and to the north.
Seattle is prepared to invest funds from our transportation budget and our voter approved transportation levy in these kinds of actions. If these can be integrated with WSDOT mitigation money and Metro transit funds, we can proceed to rapidly improve the movement of people and freight throughout the corridor. This will prepare us for the construction phase of the project, and generate mobility improvements in the near-term.
There is also agreement on the design, engineering, and funding plan for much of the project south of King Street. The resolution suggests that the City and State proceed immediately with construction on the sections of the project south of King Street where agreement exists.
These are consensus steps, and there is no reason why we cannot begin work on them as a first phase in the implementation of the overall project. Experience working together can help us to resolve the remaining issues about the design of the Central Waterfront portion of the project.
We cannot ignore the reality of where we find ourselves today, constrained by political congestion and conflict. That is why the resolution also proposes that the Governor, state legislators, city elected officials, and key stakeholders convene a meeting to seek agreement on how to proceed with a solution for the Central Waterfront section of the Viaduct. Such a meeting would save invaluable time that will otherwise be expended in various forms of conflict and offers perhaps the only possibility of resolving this issue in a timely fashion and meeting our mutual interests and obligations to the public.
Adopting these strategies is the best way to avoid continued conflict and gridlock, and move us forward on getting the work done. With the support of several of our state legislators, we will try to get them implemented, and hope that all parties will ultimately see the wisdom of this course.
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CONSERVATION DRIVES NEW WATER SUPPLY PLAN
The Washington State Department of Health requires that municipal water suppliers update water system plans every six years. In December the Council unanimously adopted a new six-year Water Supply Plan for Seattle that recognizes the incredible success of our water conservation programs in projecting no need for new water supply resources until beyond the year 2060. This is a dramatic change from the previous plan, which anticipated needing a new water source several decades earlier.
While Seattle has been practicing water conservation for many years, the last few years have seen an acceleration and dramatic success in the effort. The area served by Seattle water (which includes most of King County) is now using less water than in the 1960's, despite seeing a 50% increase in population and an even greater increase in economic activity. Seattle has done this through an aggressive water conservation program that combines regulations on new construction with incentives for conservation and rates that are based on the amount of water consumed. Together, these programs have allowed Seattle and our partners around the County to conserve an average of 1% per year, keeping pace with population and economic growth.
The new plan affirms our intention to continue this conservation focus, and projects that we will most likely use no more than 130 million gallons per day (MGD) by the year 2060, while the system will be capable of delivering 171 MGD. The system capacity includes new limits designed to dedicate part of Seattle's Cedar River water rights to salmon recovery - it is virtually unprecedented for water rights to be given up, but Seattle has chosen to do so in a treaty with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe in recognition of their historic treaty rights, and because of our commitment to environmental stewardship.
There remain a number of uncertainties between now and 2060, of course, in population projections, the level of economic activity, and the impact of climate change on water supply. However, there is enough difference between the 130 MGD projected use and the 171 MGD projected supply to cover those contingencies in this planning horizon, as long as we continue our effective conservation program and our partnership with the suburban water agencies who have joined us in making conservation work.
While there is still work to be done to stabilize rates, this water plan does project increases limited to 7% in real terms between now and 2015, with stability likely after that time. In the short term, rate increases will continue to be driven by major capital projects, like reservoir covering, but when these projects are completed, debt payments can decline. The Council will do what we can to further reduce the short to medium term increases, and to ensure that the long range forecast of stability does come to pass.
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ACCOMPLISHMENTS FOR 2006, PLANS FOR 2007
On January 16, the Council initiated a new tradition, a Council annual "Report from City Hall". Each Councilmember discussed their accomplishments for 2006 and presented their top priorities for 2007. The Council as a whole adopted pedestrian safety as our key focus for 2007. A summary of the Council's report is available in print form, and will be available on the Council's web site, and a more detailed work plan for 2007 is in the process of being developed and will be posted on the web when it is approved in February.
I have prepared a list of some of the major accomplishments of my office and the committees I chair, along with a summary of what we plan to work on in 2007.
Review of 2006:
- The SR 520 Committee of the Whole moved decision making on the preferred alternative and a mitigation strategy for the SR 520 Replacement Project through most of the Council process. This included working with community groups and activists on alternatives, coordinating with suburban city representatives, and ultimately securing agreement from the Governor to add transit/HOV lanes to the replacement design.
- I took a lead role in working with the Mayor, Council, and voters to pass the Bridging the Gap levy for funding street maintenance and pedestrian, bicycle, and transit improvements. This success was the outcome of a process that I started in 2003 as Chair of the Transportation Committee by convening the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee II.
- The EEMU Committee significantly reduced the rate increases for water, sewer and solid waste and initiated legislation to review rate affordability and create a strategy for future rate stability.
- The EEMU committee put a halt to the building of a waste transfer station in the Georgetown neighborhood, and persuaded the Executive to cooperatively develop a Zero Waste Strategy prior to moving forward with any new garbage facilities.
- The Special Committee on Annexation moved a Comprehensive Plan amendment designating North Highline as a Potential Annexation Area through Council approval.
- In the 2007-2008 budget process, I successfully sponsored budget amendments that added $300,000 for environmental restoration at Magnuson Park, $195,000 for P-patches, and $405,000 for legal advocacy for domestic violence victims, and an amendment that reserves $5 million in the 2008 budget to support purchase of the Phinney Neighborhood Center and the University Heights Community Center for their respective communities.
- The EEMU Committee moved an agreement with the Muckleshoot Nation on the Cedar River and legislation approving a new Water Supply Plan through the Council, ensuring Seattle's water supply from the Cedar River and committing the City to water conservation as the main source of new supply for the next five decades.
- As part of Council action on the Environmentally Critical Areas update, I successfully won adoption of amendments to facilitate daylighting streams, expand protection for stream corridors, and reduce pesticide use.
- My office developed a package of amendments to facilitate siting of Bed and Breakfast facilities in Seattle which was approved by the Council.
- As part of our review of the Duwamish Superfund Cleanup, all nine Councilmembers signed a letter proposing that Site 117, a contaminated site in South Park, be cleaned to a level where it could support residential development, opposing the City/Port staff proposal for a lower standard. With the concurrence of the Port Commission, the higher cleanup levels were approved.
- The EEMU Committee initiated a Council focus on Emergency Preparedness, including the passage of 2006 Charter Amendments that clarified legislative issues, with more work to follow in 2007. We initiated the process to replace the failing Schmitz Seawall in West Seattle, getting the Council to approve a Statement of Legislative Intent to begin developing funding for this project.
Goals for 2007:
- Complete the work of selecting a Preferred Alternative and mitigation strategy for the SR 520 Replacement project.
- Complete the work to prepare for a vote in the North Highline area on a possible annexation to Seattle.
- Design and implement a Zero Waste strategy for Seattle, and approve a Solid Waste Facilities Plan designed to maximize waste reduction and recycling rather than shipping waste to the landfill.
- Develop an "Emergency Management Mitigation Strategy" to target investments that will reduce the impact of earthquakes and other emergencies on City infrastructure, and a "Resilient City Strategy" built around a Social Vulnerability Survey to identify investments that will strengthen social and community institutions to protect vulnerable populations. Ensure that the Council is fully prepared to respond to emergencies.
- Secure passage of a Sustainable Single-Family Neighborhood Ordinance that will restrict the development of megahouses in Seattle.
- Ensure that the Phinney Neighborhood Association and University Heights community centers are able to acquire their buildings on a permanent basis.
- Identify strategies and policies to stimulate green building construction in Seattle and sustainable infrastructure policies for City departments.
- Begin work on a Food Security/Sustainability Action Agenda to ensure adequate and appropriate food supplies for Seattle in the event of emergencies and to protect us against the consequences of dwindling fossil fuel supplies and global climate change.
- Continue working with the Office of Emergency Management to implement lessons from the December windstorm response, a comprehensive plan for disaster readiness and response, a pandemic influenza response plan, an SR 520 Catastrophic Failure Plan, and community based emergency management planning and education.
- Work with the Mayor and Council to implement strong and effective Climate Action and Urban Forest Management plans.
- Implement a new drainage rate design that bases drainage rates on the actual impact of properties on the drainage infrastructure, and update drainage policies in the light of climate change and the impact of the 2006 storms.
- Ensure that the Council's focus on pedestrian safety is effectively implemented.
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"Whether you have a public realm is now dependent on what you do to bring together work, home, transportation, and the street."
-- Jan Gehl
"There are few greater delights than to walk up and down them (city streets) in the evening alone with thousands of other people, up and down, relishing the lights coming through the trees or shining from the facades, listening to the sounds of music and foreign voices and traffic, enjoying the smell of flowers and good food and the air from the nearby sea. The sidewalks are lined with small shops, bars, stalls, dance halls, movies, booths lighted by acetylene lamps, and everywhere there are strange faces, strange costumes, strange and delightful impressions. To walk up such a street into the quieter, more formal part of town, is to be part of a procession, part of a ceaseless ceremony of being initiated into the city and rededicating the city itself."
-- J.B. Jackson, "The Stranger's Path"
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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