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City View Newsletter

Volume 1, Issue 5  •  June 4, 2008
Newsletter Archives

Here's an update on current issues and what's on my plate for the next few weeks. My E-newsletter is designed to keep you informed about my activities on your behalf at City Hall.

Budget Woes Ahead:  Survey Says

The Council is braced for a tough budget planning season this fall because of the squishy economy and uncertainty about city tax revenues.  So, I'd like to hear your opinion about our budget priorities. 

In 2008, city expenditures from the general fund -- essentially the city’s operating budget -- are allocated as follows:

Police & Criminal Justice: 34%
Fire Service: 18%
Administration, Debt Service, Other: 18%
Parks & Libraries: 16%
Human Services: 4%
Transportation: 4%
Planning, Housing, Neighborhoods, and Economic Development: 4%

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Police Surveillance Cameras

The Council’s Park's Committee voted last week on protocols to guide use of police surveillance cameras in four center city parks—Cal Anderson on Capitol Hill, Hing Hay in the International District, Occidental in Pioneer Square, and Victor Steinbrueck adjacent to the Pike Place Market. All four parks generate frequent complaints about graffiti and other crimes.

You can read newspaper coverage of the committee's action here and here. The full Council will vote on the proposed protocols next Monday afternoon at 2 p.m.

However, I believe a more significant issue was also decided last week when the city's information technology director agreed that future camera installations would be temporary, utilizing WiFi technology, instead of permanent. While nothing bars the city from permanently installing anti-crime cameras in public places where there is no assumption of privacy, I urged city officials to adopt a different approach.

Police camera surveillance is a practice that raises reasonable concerns in people's minds about increasing government intrusion into our private lives. I believe we must acknowledge these concerns and address them in a manner that strengthens the social environment surrounding civil liberties. I am leery of moving too quickly or aggressively down a path leading to widespread surveillance. I personally don’t want to go that direction.

Temporary installations based on specific facts and circumstances that lead police to believe cameras could serve as deterrence or help solve crimes, instead of permanent installations, would significantly reduce civil liberty concerns. As someone has suggested to me, temporary installations are much “like police emphasis patrols.” Such focused patrols are used in specific places, at specific times, and are then removed when no longer needed. This should be our model for use of surveillance cameras, too.

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Two-Way Mercer & Strong Leadership

There has been some controversy since the Council voted 8-1 to continue work on the two-way Mercer Street project. Some see the project as a boondoggle designed only to benefit Paul Allen and his interests in the South Lake Union neighborhood. Others view it as a waste of money because the promise of traffic congestion relief is minimal at best. Still others argue that competing projects -- such as north end neighborhood sidewalks originally promised in the 1950s -- should have higher priority for the limited public funds available.

I voted with the super majority on this issue and here's why.

First, the two-way Mercer Street project is about a lot more than just traffic congestion relief, although that certainly is a worthy justification. This project is one of several to improve our city's livability and it must be viewed within an overall strategic framework. The big picture goal is to reunite two important neighborhoods -- South Lake Union and the Uptown neighborhood (lower Queen Anne, to many) -- while also creating a link or union between the lake, Seattle Center, and the central waterfront.

Two-way Mercer is also one of several steps aimed at reconnecting the east and west sides of Aurora Avenue North and returning neighborhood cohesion to this important area of our city. The other steps are re-opening another street across Aurora at Thomas, Harrison, or Republican Streets and extending Sixth Avenue North all the way to Roy Street. These moves would significantly improve the street grid throughout Uptown and South Lake Union and, along with two-way Mercer, improve traffic flow and access.

Another part of this overall strategic framework -- made possible by the changes described in the paragraph above -- is the addition of bike lanes on both Valley and Roy Streets, and the incorporation of the formerly-named "Potlach Trail" into the new street grid connecting South Lake Union to the central waterfront through the Uptown neighborhood.

These street changes also need to be considered as part ofthe city's overall Urban Mobility Plan, which is currently being developed inour effort to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a surface street option that will allow us to remove the viaduct and revitalize the central waterfront.

Last, but certainly not least, two-way Mercer, along withthe other steps I've described, allows the streets immediately adjacent to Lake Union Park to be transformed into a pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle-friendly street serving as a gateway to the park.

So, I voted in favor of continuing planning, financial feasibility studies, property acquisition negotiations, and other necessary work because the two-way Mercer project is just one element of a broader strategic plan to improve two neighborhoods (Uptown and South Lake Union) that will accept more density and jobs in the coming years. The project makes good urban planning sense, good environmental sense, and wise financial sense when viewed in the context of the larger strategic goals for the area.

Second, I reject short-term, status quo thinking which is often a mask for a “not in my backyard” or anti-growth mentality. 

We are well past the growth-no growth debate.  Our region, and our city, has adopted a growth management plan that calls for Seattle to accept more residents and to cluster these new residents in our Urban Centers.  The Uptown and South Lake Union neighborhoods are both Urban Centers. The Mayor and the City Council have taken a firm stand on this issue andit won’t be reconsidered.  Seattle is going to see an increase in population over the next 20 years.  The issue is how to accommodate this growth wisely and efficiently. 

I keenly remember several projects in our city's history that were opposed because they (a) would contribute to growth, (b) cost toomuch, or (c) seemed to favor developers and property owners. 

Remember the late 1960s when we twice rejected a light rail system because it would “cause growth” and damage Seattle’s small-town atmosphere?  You can ride“our” light rail system in Atlanta, Georgia today.  City officials who fought hard for passage of the Forward Thrust transportation measure deserve kudos.  Too bad we failed to follow their bold leadership!

Remember, too, the opposition to Pacific Place downtown? It was cast as a give-away to a private developer, a waste of city resources.  Pacific Place is the single most important anchor development that contributed to the revitalization of our downtown business core.  It's a great example of a public-private partnership that resulted in huge public benefits to our city, primarily strong economic transformation of our downtown.  I appreciate the leadership Mayor Norm Rice and others demonstrated to win approval of that project. 

Third, I'm grateful when property owners want to maximize their investments and contribute to the welfare of our city.  Rather than detest Paul Allen and his colleagues, I appreciate the fact that he is willing to invest in our city and create jobs and wealth.  His investments in South Lake Union will result in new residents living close to our downtown core in an environmentally sensitive manner, tens of thousands of new jobs, and a resurgence of an area that urgently needed it.  Twenty years from now we will likely praise Paul Allen for his initiative and entrepreneurial spirit.  Don't you wish he owned the Sonics instead ofthe Portland Trailblazers?  (In the spirit of full disclosure, employees of Allen’s Vulcan Northwest contributed $1,600 to my campaign for City Council last year, but not Mr. Allen himself.  The Vulcan employee contributions represent four-tenths of one percent of the total amount contributed to the campaign.)

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Colacurcio Family Affairs

News about the Colacurcio family and their associates just doesn’t stop, does it?  My first exposure came in the late 1960s during criminal trials related to the system of payoffs that had permeated city government for decades. I was a young journalist covering the trials and related corruption issues. 

In 2003 when the so-called Strippergate scandal happened, I wrote several essays that highlighted the underlying dangers ofthose events.

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Upcoming Events

Here are some community meetings that you might be interested in:

Townhomes - Can the Patient be Saved

The Council's Planning, Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee is hosting a forum this Saturday about townhomes.  The event sounds interesting, and I will be there.

Saturday, June 7; 10 a.m. - noon; Capitol Hill Arts Center - 1621 12th Ave (map)

City Seeking Feedback on Potential Jail Sites

The city of Seattle announced today it will hold public forums around the city to provide information and hear feedback about possible sites for a new Seattle Municipal Jail. While residents are welcome to attend any of the forums, each will focus primarily on a specific potential jail site, as outlined below. The forum dates and locations are:

We'll talk again soon.

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