MAKING IT WORK
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide information, inspire involvement, and make things work in this great city.
DRAINAGE, SEWER, GARBAGE RATES
On Monday, October 1, the City Council unanimously approved new rates for Drainage, Wastewater, and Solid Waste.
The largest rate increase will be for drainage, which will still be the smallest utility charge for most customers. Drainage revenue requirements will increase by 49% over the next two years to cover the increased cost of Clean Water Act compliance, maintenance, West Nile Virus control, and storm water control capital projects. The rate also reflects a new cost allocation that shifts some combined sewer/drainage system cost from the wastewater rate to the drainage rate and will substantially change bills for most customers.
However, the effects of these increased costs will vary widely because of dramatic changes in rate design, which will now allocate cost to residential customers based on the same factors currently used for commercial customers. The new rate design is based on scientific studies that evaluated the actual impact on the drainage system of properties of different sizes and types of lot coverage. Instead of the current flat rate per house, rates will vary from a 28% decrease for residential customers with parcels less than 3,000 square feet to rate increases of 5% to 100% for the remaining 163,000 customers.
Over the long run, residential customers with smaller lots and less impervious surface will pay less than those with larger lots and greater lot coverage. When the system is fully implemented, the lowest rates for a parcel of a particular size will be for forested land that retains water naturally and discharges the least amount per acre into the constructed drainage system. Residential customers will have the same opportunity as commercial customers, to reduce their bills by implementing measures that divert drainage by changing their land use and implementing measures like rain barrels that prevent water from impacting the drainage system. This credit program will be phased in over the next two years.
Customers are likely to experience some rocky spots as the new drainage rate design is implemented and rates and credits are designed and adjusted in response to actual experience. However, these new rates are fairer, and will promote better environmental stewardship, flood protection, and effective drainage.
Solid Waste rates will increase by 6.7% for most customers in 2008, after no changes for almost ten years. The new rates represent the first step in two major initiatives, the rebuilding of Seattle’s two transfer stations and the new Zero Waste strategy. Seattle’s transfer stations were built more than forty years ago, and need to be reconstructed from the ground up. The new designs will save money in the long run, enhance worker safety, and incorporate designs that promote recycling, waste reduction, and environmental stewardship. The rate includes $2.6 million in new debt service for these capital projects.
The rate will also increase by $6.2 million for operations and maintenance activities. This includes $700,000 to develop new recycling and waste reduction initiatives under the Zero Waste Strategy. Zero Waste will ramp up in 2008, and move towards full implementation in 2009 and subsequent years. The new rate design includes full cost of service (an 18.2% increase) for self-haul rates at the transfer stations, a major step towards ensuring fairness by charging customers the actual cost for the services they use. Solid waste rates will be revisited next year.
Wastewater rates will increase by 4% in each of the next two years to cover Seattle’s costs for increased system maintenance to promote Puget Sound water quality. Unfortunately, 80% of the wastewater rate is a pass-through from King County, which treats Seattle’s wastewater, and that is currently projected to add a further 18% increase in 2009.
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HAMM CREEK RESTORATION
After eleven months of difficult conflicts and miscommunications, on Monday, November 5, the Council approved legislation setting aside $400,000 to restore wetlands and creeks around the City’s new Joint Training Facility (JTF) in White Center. This legislation implements an agreement that I brokered between the City and environmental groups represented through the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition (DRCC). It resolves a conflict that originated when the City filled wetlands on the JTF site over the objections of local environmental activists.
DRCC discovered that the City did not have a permit from the Corps of Engineers for this work, and the Corps stopped work on the site until the City negotiated a mitigation package with the Corps to compensate for the damaged wetlands. DRCC was not satisfied with the results of this negotiation, because much of the mitigation is off-site, and DRCC was concerned that the creeks around the JTF site would still be negatively impacted.
Fortunately, I was able to bring about a cooperative settlement that recognizes the common goals that the City and DRCC share. While the City had emphasized the need to proceed with the JTF development, and DRCC had focused on restoring the watersheds, ultimately there was agreement that these two goals did not have to be in conflict.
Under the agreement, the JTF work and mitigation can proceed to conclusion. At the same time, Seattle Public Utilities will consider ideas to restore or enhance Hamm Creek, Lost Fork/Durham Creek, Marra Farms, and watersheds in their vicinity, including ideas submitted by DRCC and other community entities, and will identify projects that have environmental benefits and can be done within a budget of approximately $300-$500K. These projects could include work on City properties in these watersheds, but cannot interfere with existing buildings, facilities and/or operation of the City’s Joint Training Facility.
The South Park community and Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition have done so much with such passion to restore these watersheds, and I am very pleased that we were able to find a way to honor and extend their work.
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INDUSTRIAL ZONING CHANGES
Mayor Greg Nickels has proposed changes in the City’s industrial zoning that would further limit office and commercial development in the 5,142 acres of the City that are zoned industrial. The proposed legislation was developed in response to a recent report by the Seattle Planning Commission, which suggested that the City’s industrial base could be damaged if more industrially zoned land was converted to office or commercial use. The Planning Commission study was the result of a Council initiative in the 2006 budget process that provided funds to the Planning Commission to review this important issue.
Seattle is fortunate to have a very healthy industrial sector, employing tens of thousands of workers at what are often well-paying jobs. Contrary to the popular image that industry has all moved to third world countries (a reality in some industrial sectors and cities), in Seattle it has become more specialized and sophisticated, and consequently competitive in the global market in many sectors. Maintaining industry in Seattle is important to maintain balance in our economy and employment.
However, it is not clear that the Mayor’s approach of dramatically limiting office and commercial development in the entire industrial zone is actually the most effective way to maintain a healthy industrial base. A balanced economy is a two-way street – appropriate industrial zoning, and good opportunities for commercial and residential development, are all essential to making Seattle work. The Mayor has acknowledged the complexity of the situation by proposing special exemptions for the maritime industry, and for commercial activities associated with industrial uses. He has also proposed approving a Port of Seattle plan that would convert 50 or more acres of industrial land in the Interbay area to commercial zoning, approving a special exemption in the SODO area that would allow Starbucks to expand its headquarters, and rezoning the industrial areas in South Lake Union to commercial and residential uses.
These proposals illustrate the difficulties in crafting a carefully balanced and strategically savvy zoning pattern that will support industrial development in the context of our overall economic health.
The Council intends to take the Mayor’s proposal as a starting point for discussions about the future role of industry and how best to ensure that it continues to thrive in Seattle. We will work on this in 2008, and I expect that we will craft a more detailed set of zoning changes that will acknowledge that ‘one size fits all’ is not the right way to approach this critical issue for Seattle’s economic future. Seattle’s strategy should be the most effective tool for encouraging and supporting industry, while not deterring appropriate commercial development that might provide jobs and economic vitality in particular places.
I have developed a set of questions that I have asked all parties to this discussion to respond to. These are some of the questions that I think are most important to be answered before we can decide on the best legislative course:
- Given that manufacturing is healthy and growing in Seattle, why are zoning changes needed?
- Shouldn’t Seattle craft a targeted strategy that addresses specific areas where commercial development threatens industrial land rather than a broad-brush approach?
- Since there are actually several different industrial zones, with different intended characters, shouldn’t we develop the right zoning for each zone?
- The current zoning was thoroughly discussed and set in the Duwamish and BINMIC Neighborhood Plans after an outreach process that involved large numbers of participants. The adopted zoning was a compromise. Should there be a more formal planning process if we are going to change that compromise?
- What differences are there between the BINMIC and Duwamish areas that should be taken into account in setting zoning? Should zoning for specific subareas of the City be looked at separately? What criteria would be effective in determining what land use is appropriate in various subareas of the City?
- In Georgetown, industry, residential, and commercial developments co-exist. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this area, and what can we learn from it about appropriate zoning regulation? How does this impact the vitality of the industrial, commercial, and residential components of Georgetown?
- Why is 5,142 acres the right amount of industrial zoning? Should it be larger or smaller? On what basis would we decide that?
- The Stadium Overlay was a narrowly-drawn area intended to leverage the role of the stadiums by permitting more commercial development. Has it succeeded? With light rail now joining the stadia as impacts, not to mention an expanding Starbucks headquarters, are we missing an opportunity for residential and commercial development in an area that seems well suited for it?
- Given the continuing concern for affordable housing, are there areas of industrial land that could be better suited to residential development, such as those adjacent to downtown or other urban centers?
- To what extent are the industries that are expanding or potentially expanding more compatible with commercial development than the traditional industrial sector?
- How does this change in zoning encourage an adaptive economy in changing world? Does freezing land use jeapordize adaptability and flexibility to respond to changing conditions?
- Is the City capable of determining winners and losers in the future economy? To what extent is our judgment to be relied on compared with relying on the market?
- What is the job intensity and economic return to the City from industrial and commercial development? If we ‘lose’ industrial land in some areas, will it be replaced by development that will generate more or less economic activity and jobs? How can we determine this?
- What is the job intensity of the industrial sector? Are there large areas that are essentially warehousing, with few jobs? Should warehousing and other low job intensity sectors be separated from industrial zoning? Should we have specific warehousing zones?
- What proportion of jobs in the industrial sector are actually living wage jobs?
- What happens to commercial development that already exists in these areas? Are buildings like COSTCO frozen and unable to renovate or expand?
Critical land use decisions will be made over the next year that will help to shape our economy for many years to come. I am looking forward to a continuing dialogue with landowners, industrial companies, labor, and the public as we develop a strategy that will make sense.
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“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
-- Jane Jacobs
“As long as I have any choice in the matter, I will live only in a country where civil liberty, tolerance, and equality of all citizens before the law are the rule.”
-- Albert Einstein, upon coming to the USA, 1933
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,
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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