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City View Newsletter

Volume 1, Issue 3  •  April 17, 2008
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It's day 111 of my Council service and I'm still enjoying every minute, although many issues are extremely complicated and some involve conflicting points of view that are passionately held.  Here's what's been happening lately.  My E-newsletter is designed to keep you informed about my activities on your behalf at City Hall.

New Park for Ballard, First Steps for First Hill

The Council voted last week to purchase land in Ballard in the 7000 block of 9th Avenue Northwest, and to begin negotiations to purchase land at 8th and Madison Street in the First Hill neighborhood, for new parks.  Take a look at aerial images of the Ballard location.

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Parks Levy Renewal Study

This afternoon the Council appointed a citizens committee to study whether the current Pro Parks Levy should be continued after it expires at the end of this year, and if so, what projects should be funded. The committee has 29 members and will be chaired by Beth Purcell, a longtime parks and open-space advocate. Read the approved resolution appointing the committee and providing it direction.

I strongly favor renewal of the levy; the only question is whether it should be presented to voters this fall, next year, or in 2010. Various factors will influence the committee and the Council's ultimate decision: voter receptivity, general economic conditions, what other measures may be on the ballot, and the opportunity to move forward with as-yet-unfunded but urgent projects.

The current Pro Parks Levy, approved by voters in 2000 and expiring at the end of this year, provided for the acquisition of 42 acres of open space, 15 new neighborhood parks, and funded 70 development projects including habitat restoration, athletic field improvements, and city trails. The current levy costs $88.61 in property taxes in 2008 for the owner of a home assessed at the Seattle average of $479,100.

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Homeless Encampments: Consistent and Humane

The City has issued new rules for how City departments will deal with illegal encampments in city parks, greenbelts, and neighborhoods.  Read the rules and related documents here.  Read media coverage here and here. The new rules provide a good balance between public safety and providing shelter and other social services for individuals in the encampments.  The rules require 72-hour notification before camps are dismantled, allow for storage of personal property, and send outreach workers to the sites to offer help with social services.

I believe the rules are humane, recognize the complexity of homelessness, and reflect our long-term goal of eliminating homelessness. In this regard, Seattle spends nearly $40 million per year to assist the homeless and prevent homelessness. This is a significant investment in the lives of individuals who, for whatever reason, find themselves in difficult circumstances.

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SEPA Changes Protect Neighborhoods

The Council passed legislation this afternoon that raises the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) thresholds for certain projects in the city, but only after amendments I proposed in an earlier committee meeting significantly reduced the scope of the changes originally proposed by the Mayor by limiting them to the citys six Urban Centers and Station Area Overlay Districts. Single-family residential neighborhoods outside of the six Urban Centers are not affected by todays changes.

See a map of the six Urban Centers - Downtown, South Lake Union, Uptown/Lower Queen Anne, First Hill/Capitol Hill, University Community, and Northgate. Read the SEPA legislation that passed today.

City analysis of the original proposal estimated that 33 residential projects per year and seven to eight non-residential projects per year would have been exempted from SEPA analysis. Now that the new threshold triggers have been limited to Urban Centers and Station Areas only, far fewer projects will be affected.

The Council received the proposed SEPA changes from the Mayor in 2007 and began committee work and public hearings last fall. The Council's Planning, Land Use, and Neighborhoods Committee held six public meetings this year on the proposed legislation before taking action that resulted in todays full Council vote. There was extensive dialog with neighborhood groups, citizen activists, developers, urban planners, and City staff over the past three months that helped shape the new rules passed today. The higher triggering thresholds are very consistent with the Citys goal of focusing growth and higher density in the Urban Centers.

I favored restricting the new thresholds to Urban Centers until the City is prepared to address several related matters in a comprehensive fashion, including upcoming changes to the multi-family zoning code, enhanced neighborhood design review protections, and anticipated up-zoning in several sections of the city. These matters cannot be decided in isolation; they must be considered as part of the larger strategic goals involved.

Note:  Urban Villages outside of the Urban Centers are not impacted by the legislation passed today and current SEPA thresholds remain in place.  These include:  Admiral, Aurora-Licton, 23rd Avenue at South Jackson-Union, Madison-Miller, Columbia City, Crown Hill, Eastlake, Greenlake, Greenwood-Phinney Ridge, MLK at Holly, Morgan Junction, North Beacon Hill, Upper Queen Anne, Rainier Beach, Roosevelt, South Park, Wallingford, and Westwood-Highland Park.

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Police Accountability, New Officer Hiring

The Council will appoint three new members to the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board in the next few weeks. The current members have either reached the end of their terms or have chosen to step down. We received 28 applications by the March 28, 2008 deadline from individuals who wish to serve on the board. Twelve semi-finalists are now going through in-person interviews. We anticipate making appointments in mid-May.

The police department hired 32 new officers during the first quarter of 2008, a stronger than expected start on reaching 98 for the year. A total of 55 new officers were hired in 2007. New officer recruiting has been below expectations in recent years, complicating a City effort to bolster the overall size of the police force.

Police staffing goals by year-end: 2007 1,270; 2008 1,301; 2009 1,325.

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Fire, Smoke, Heat: Firefighter Experience

On April 10-11, I traveled to Richland in Eastern Washington to participate in a firefighter simulation exercise. Wow! I always said being a firefighter was far too stressful and dangerous, now I know for certain. I'd go back to being a police officer any day!

 
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