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April 2012 (Volume 1, Issue 3)
Seattle's Climate Action Plan
The Climate Action Plan will set the broad framework for Seattle's greenhouse gas reduction strategies by sector in transportation, building energy efficiency and waste. In the first stage of the update, each sector was analyzed by a Technical Advisory Group comprised of stakeholders and experts from the field to come up with their recommended strategies for Seattle to become a carbon neutral city by 2050.
If Seattle is going to reach that ambitious goal, we will need bold new policies to get us there and the TAGs delivered just that. On Monday (4/23), the Office of Sustainability and members of our Climate Action Plan Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) presented their recommendations to Full Council.
Next these recommendations will go to a Green Ribbon Commission of key thought leaders and stakeholders across Seattle. The Green Ribbon Commission will put together a draft climate action plan for public comment this summer, which will then go to City Council for adoption this fall.
The Building Energy TAG's recommendations include a mix of both new regulation and evolving market forces that together could achieve a 58% reduction in building energy.
It is important to keep in mind that the majority of buildings we will have in 2050 are already here today, so our strategies must focus on improving existing buildings as much as new construction in order to achieve our climate goals. And pricing and financing are keys ways to spur the deep retrofits needed throughout Seattle.
One key way to bring about new energy efficiency investments in existing buildings is to utilize outcome-based incentives. This means that incentives are based on actual energy savings of an energy upgrade rather than projected savings. For example, currently we may offer a rebate on a furnace to encourage purchasing a higher efficiency model, which is a good step. But in addition to buying a more efficient furnace, we also want to create an incentive for you to clean the filters at regular intervals and use a programmable thermostat to lower the temperature setting at night. By basing the rebate on actual energy savings over time, we create the incentive for more efficient operations and behavior in addition to smarter equipment purchases. A program like this would likely start with commercial users before moving to residential users.
Other ideas contained in the TAG's recommendations include linking a property tax exemption program for rental housing owners who undertake significant energy retrofits, which I appreciate because we need to make sure our climate action strategies are also equitable, meaning that renters and homeowners alike should be able to share in the benefits of lower energy bills and a cleaner environment. Another strategy is to advance District Energy systems on First Hill and around the city.
Transportation and Land Use
These recommendations excite me because they do more than just put us on the path to environmental sustainability. They also put us on the path to creating affordable, healthy neighborhoods and help us meet many other city goals. One presenter joked, "What if we do all of this stuff to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and all we get are better neighborhoods?"
Transportation TAG's recommendations include expanding our "safe routes to school" program to include "safe routes to transit," which requires us to think about sidewalks, lighting and public safety to and from transit stops. We might also look to expand the ORCA passport program to neighborhood and community groups in transit communities so they could take advantage of bulk purchases.
Many of these great ideas – including the basics of expanding our transit network – cost money. So the group prioritized funding options at the end of their report. Regional road pricing, also known as tolling, creates the "biggest bang for its buck" because it promises to significantly reduce vehicle miles traveled and corresponding greenhouse gases, with the potential to generate revenue for new transit and road projects. This strategy faces numerous political and legal hurdles that warrant further discussion.
In the land use discussion, the issue of gentrification came up with regards to how the city can promote investments and new housing around transit without pushing out current, often low-income residents who are already live there. PolicyLink, an economic and social equity think tank located in Oakland, reminds us that we do not want to prevent new development as our primary means for preventing gentrification. Instead, we must direct investment and development in our neighborhoods in ways that prevent displacement and ensure that those folks living in the community reap the benefits from new investments.
We'll keep these issues at the center of our work as we build this Climate Action Plan so that all of our communities benefit as we build a city for 2050.
The Solid Waste Advisory Committee recommends we continue our zero waste efforts by continuing to set aggressive recycling goals (70% recycling rate by 2020), reducing emissions from our processing and collection, then source reduction.
What ideas excite you? The city is looking for your input so together we can make a plan that will get us to carbon neutral by 2050.
Public "parklets' coming to Seattle?
(This article was written for the newsletter by our Spring policy intern, Chris Rule, who is in his second year of a Master’s program at the Evans School of Public Affairs)
Visitors to 15th Ave E on Capitol Hill this Monday (4/23) got a special surprise to go with 75 degree weather. On 15th Video and Environmental Works teamed up with landscape architects and the Parfait food truck to make a parklet outside the former fire station that houses their businesses. This was an ideal place to sit on an ideal day to eat ice cream.
(Temporary parklet in front of On 15th Video in Capitol Hill)
Parklets, also called pop-up parks, are cheap and easy ways to add greenery, public seating and other features in neighborhoods where we have a lot of people and a shortage of places to be outside. You may have seen dozens of temporary parklets in September on PARKing Day.
More than a quarter of our land in Seattle is in the public right of way, but most of it is not available for us to linger. Businesses that would like outdoor seating face a web of regulations, and sidewalks are often too narrow to accommodate seating, tables and people passing by. While residents and merchants need space for parking, many also would like street features that attract more pedestrians to the area.
Activating our streets has numerous benefits besides making them more attractive. People who stroll through the neighborhood spend more money visiting local businesses. More eyes on the street help prevent street crime, and promoting walking combats our current epidemic of obesity. Our city departments have been easing the rules over the past few years so that we can use more of our scarce land for all the things we want to see in our city. These include urban agriculture in our planting strips and green stormwater infrastructure that prevents our aging sewers from overflowing. The Seattle Department of Transportation has already streamlined the process for sidewalk cafes and adapted the rules that govern construction sites for sidewalk cafes and food trucks.
Now SDOT is taking up parklets. San Francisco and several other cities have policies and processes that we might look to as we decide where it is fair and appropriate to create a parklet. These allow community groups or businesses to apply for about two parking spaces - with clear rules and a public process for comments for and against. With some effort and attention, we should be able to have a pilot program in Seattle by this summer. Imagine if there were more places to spend time outdoors, even if only for the summer. Parklets seem to me like a cost-effective and attractive solution.
Would you like to see more outdoor amenities where you live, work, shop or play? Fill out this short survey to share your ideas for how we can activate our public space.
First anniversary of Seattle's yellow pages opt-out system
More than 75,000, or about one-fifth, of all Seattle households and businesses have used www.seattle.gov/stopphonebooks, made a phone call, or mailed a postcard to opt out of telephone book deliveries since the service was started by the city, last May 5, 2011. Combined, these opt-outs stopped nearly 420,000 individual unwanted phone book deliveries in 2011 — saving 375 tons of paper. Those savings will continue every year because opt-outs are permanent until you decide to opt back in.
There are still many residents and businesses who want to stop unwanted phone books from landing on their porches and we're working to reach them this spring. I hope every resident and business will take this step will let publishers know whether or not they want to receive a phone book.
If you want to stop unwanted yellow pages, now is the time to go online or make a phone call to opt out, because the 2012 phone book delivery cycle begins in June. May 22 is the last day to stop the first round of summer phone book deliveries this year. Residents and businesses must opt out at least 30 days before deliveries start, giving phone book publishers time to remove opt-outs from their lists of delivery addresses.
Seattle businesses and residents using the opt-out system have stopped an average of 5.5 individual phone book deliveries per address, so it appears that many of them have canceled all of the six phone books that were slated for delivery last year.
City regulations allow SPU to fine publishers $125 for each valid complaint that a yellow pages book was delivered despite a timely opt-out request when errors exceed one-half of 1 percent of total opt outs for any one title. In the 2011 delivery cycle, all three publishers stayed under the limit and none were fined.
Next Fifty Sustainable Futures event
This year the Seattle Center celebrates the 50-year anniversary of the Seattle World's Fair with the Next Fifty. The six-month celebration will feature not only a look at the last fifty years, but engage us all in important thinking and conversation about what Seattle will look like in another 50 years.
As part of the Next Fifty's focus on Sustainable Futures, I will be participating in a lively intergenerational event that I hope you will consider attending.
Here is the gist of the event. Ten local thought leaders from two generations will share a stage and conduct a thought experiment on what it would be like to achieve 100% sustainability in the year 2062 when the Seattle Center will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
The five or six students on stage will all be participants in the Watershed Report, a project of the Friends of Cedar River Watershed that aims to educate the next generation about our watersheds through videos about sustainability that the students research and produce themselves.
This year's Watershed Report assesses current sustainability conditions in the 28 cities and 13 school districts of the Greater Lake Washington Watershed. For the Next Fifty event, students and civic leaders like myself will use the short videos to prompt us in an aspirational discussion of what sustainability will look like in 2062 once we have achieved our goals.
We'll ask: What does it look like? How did we get there? The facilitator will also be actively engaging the audience, so please do consider attending, especially if you have a student in the home interested in sustainability and the environment.
Check out some sample videos: Watershed Report Sustainability Video Library
When: Saturday, May 5, 7 p.m.
Community conversations on the 2013-2014 budget
North Seattle Location
May 7, 6-7:30 p.m.
College Center, Room 1161
Central Seattle Location
May 14, 6-7:30 p.m.
Broadway Edison Building, Room BE1110
South Seattle Location
May 21, 6-7:30 p.m.
7054 32nd Ave South
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