MAKING IT WORK
Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide information, inspire involvement, and make things work in this great city.
November 1, 2005, Volume VII, Issue 10
2006 BUDGET ISSUES
The City of Seattle operates on a two-year budget cycle, developing and approving budgets in even-numbered years for the following two years. Thus, the 2006 budget was actually endorsed by the Council in 2004, and the process we are currently engaged in is intended to be a revision of that endorsed budget.
For the last three years, the City has had to cut its budget by a total of more than $100 million, as economic hard times and the effects of statewide tax limitation initiatives cut into the city's revenues. However, the outlook for 2006 is much better as the Seattle economy strengthens. The City projects about $14 million more in general fund revenues (about 2% more than anticipated) and about $10 million more in Real Estate Excise Tax revenues, which are limited to capital expenditures. While this sounds like a lot of money, the Council will be cautious in spending it, as it is only a small increase from the existing budget, much of it is limited to capital expenditures, there are many cuts from the previous three years that should be restored, and there is real concern about funding things that might not be able to be sustained in future budgets.
The Council is likely to approve most of the Mayor's proposals for this additional revenue, including 25 more police positions and 15 more firefighters, as well as some additions to animal control, social service programs, and the court system. The Mayor has proposed spending most of the additional capital funds on street, bridge, and sidewalk maintenance and improvements, and the Council is likely to approve those as well.
However, the Council will also search for savings to fund other priority programs. These could include additional police officers, human service programs, and library hours and materials in the operating budget, and selected community improvements and transportation projects in the capital budget.
As Chair of Transportation, I will lead the Council's efforts to adjust that budget, and my priorities are to add funding to develop alternative transit options for the Ballard and West Seattle to downtown corridors (if the monorail project is ended after November's vote), to keep and expand funds for sidewalk and pedestrian safety improvements, to fund work on a Catastrophic Failure Emergency Response Plan for the SR 520 corridor, to increase funds for the Neighborhood Street Fund, and to fund further work on developing streetcar extensions through downtown and up Jackson Street through the Chinatown/International District and into the Central Area. These are important priorities to keep transit moving forward, to fund neighborhood transportation improvements, and to convert the two current isolated streetcar projects into a network to become a more significant transit system.
My other major proposal blends achieving City goals with assisting the School District with its budget shortfall. I have worked with the Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA) to develop a plan that would acquire its current buildings (leased from the School District) as a permanent home for the PNA. This would benefit the city by ensuring that the 200,000 people who use PNA programs would continue to have a facility (the alternative would be for the City to build a new community center, something that is not on the horizon). It would also benefit PNA, which wants to begin a capital campaign to renovate the buildings, but cannot attract funding unless it has site control. And it would provide around $3 million in assistance for the School District's budget. The Council is appropriately cautious about such a major commitment, but we will continue to discuss it over the next few weeks.
In addition to these proposals, I will take the lead in advocating for increases for community health clinics, which are severely strained by the health cost crisis, and some other human service programs. I will also support additional funding for libraries and for skate parks, the Maple Leaf Community Garden, the Dahl Playfield Project, and several other modest capital projects.
The Council will take the next three weeks to review and evaluate proposed changes, and adopt a final budget by the last week of November.
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COMPREHENSIVE PLAN AMENDMENTS
On Monday, October 3, the Council unanimously adopted a set of amendments to the Seattle Comprehensive Plan. While several of the amendments were technical, the most important ones reaffirmed the Council's commitment to neighborhoods and the neighborhood planning process.
These included amendments recognizing the South Wallingford addition to the Wallingford Neighborhood Plan. The Wallingford Plan was adopted in April of 1998, but residents of South Wallingford felt their interests were not included adequately. I sponsored a provision to support them in developing a supplement to promote pedestrian-friendly development in their area. The process has finally been completed, and I am pleased that a consensus was achieved between major property owners and residents on goals and policies for their future.
The Council also adopted two provisions that protect neighborhood plan provisions from being overridden in the proposed neighborhood business district land use amendments. The amendments state that "Parking requirements for urban centers and villages should account for local conditions and planning objectives", and that "Street level residential requirements should account for local conditions and planning objectives." The Mayor has proposed some one-size-fits-all policies on parking and street level residential, but a number of the neighborhood plans and stewardship groups prefer these to be adjusted to meet local conditions. The Planning Commission proposed these amendments, and the Council agreed to adopt them.
The Council also opened the opportunity for a new neighborhood plan to be developed with an amendment encouraging the Interbay Neighborhood Association to develop a plan to increase the residential and commercial viability of this area near Dravus Street between Queen Anne and Magnolia. Property owners are eager to redevelop, and have support from the surrounding communities, including the Ballard Interbay Northend Manufacturing and Industrial Center stewardship group. The amendment allows the property owners to create a plan and fund improvements to improve transportation and drainage, and provide increased housing and commercial development. The Council would have final authority over the plan.
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COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT FUND
On Monday, October 3, the Council unanimously adopted an ordinance I sponsored to amend the operating plan for the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund (RVCDF). With this ordinance, the RVCDF moves into Phase II, shifting the focus from supplemental mitigation for businesses affected adversely by the light rail project to new community development activities.
The RVCDF was created by Sound Transit, the City of Seattle, and King County to ensure that the light rail project would enhance and support economic and community development in Rainier Valley. It is funded by $50 million, mostly from City of Seattle and federal funds, with some funding from King County. Putting light rail on the surface in the Rainier Valley was a controversial decision, and many feared it would displace existing businesses and residents. To prevent this, Seattle Sound Transit Board members came up with the idea for a special fund to ensure that existing businesses could survive and to foster the long-term health of the Valley community.
The fund does not pay for any of Sound Transit's construction or for its federally-mandated compensation to displaced businesses and residents. In its first phase, it supplemented this compensation with payments to businesses to cover lost revenues and ensure their survival. Almost all of the nearly 200 businesses adversely affected by Sound Transit construction will stay in business as a result, and most have relocated in the Rainier Valley or are planning to do so as construction moves to completion.
But the goal of the fund was to go beyond simply maintaining what currently exists to promote new businesses and residences, and most of the $50 million will be dedicated to this purpose. These amendments were negotiated to support the long-term vision for the Fund, which is to create a self-sustaining, community-controlled fund that supports community development.
The plan calls for 25% of these funds to be targeted to business development, encouraging small business formation, strengthening existing businesses, and promoting job creation. This will be done through business interest subsidy grants, business incentive loans, and facade improvement grants. The other 75% will be used for real estate development, encouraging new catalyst development and physical improvements. This includes physical revitalization through both new construction and rehabilitation of existing building stock for the purpose of stimulating economic activity, increasing the inventory of commercial spaces for Rainier Valley businesses, and promoting affordable housing for Rainier Valley residents. This will be done through site assembly loans for non-profits and for-profits, site assembly interest subsidy loans, and real estate financing loans.
Together, these programs will make a difference in the future of the Rainier Valley, and will bring together new transit and development activities to best serve the population as change takes place.
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"Each person must live their life as a model for others."
-- Rosa Parks
"Principles of decency have to be reinforced on a daily basis, and the creation of models of honorable conduct has to be a permanent enterprise. Evil is a basic element of nature: the seeds are in all of us. Good has to be manufactured and pushed energetically into public affairs."
-- Roger Wilkins
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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