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January 2013 (Volume 2, Issue 1)
There is much to review from a very busy 2012, so I will try to keep this to the highlights, but I do want to share some of the things I have been working on as City Councilmember.
Concerned with the growing influence of money in politics at all levels of government, in 2012 I championed a bill to reform campaign financing at the city level. After analyzing a decade of campaign finance data from Seattle’s Ethics and Elections Commission, I proposed legislation limiting the amount of time elected officials can raise money while setting policy and preventing the future rollover of surplus campaign funds. I believe these two steps will help reduce the undue influence of money in politics. Building on this movement, I am excited that in 2013, Council will explore new options for publicly financing city elections, which helps free up candidates to run on issues and ideas instead of dollars and cents.
Starting in 2012, I took over as chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, providing guidance and oversight to Seattle City Light and the Office of Sustainability and Environment. In July of 2012, the City Council approved Seattle City Light’s Six Year Strategic Plan, the utility’s first long-term effort to prioritize its necessary strategic investments of ratepayers’ funds. The plan includes improving aging infrastructure to ensure long-term reliability, building the first new substation in Seattle in nearly 40 years, and investing in smart metering that will save the utility costs and promote conservation among costumers. In addition, I am especially proud of our City’s work to help low-income customers better manage their bills.
In December of 2012, a Green Ribbon Commission of the city’s leading environmentalists, business leaders and policy analysts released a series of recommendations to be considered for Seattle’s forthcoming Climate Action Plan. In line with Seattle’s commitment to a carbon neutral future, I also championed a resolution opposing the expansion of coal exports that would bring up to 18 one-mile long coal trains travelling through Seattle each day, creating traffic delays and public health concerns. We also successfully implemented a ban on carry-out plastic bags to help protect Puget Sound.
In the 2013 City Budget, we expanded the Safe Parking Program to provide additional case management and spaces to park in North Seattle, giving people living in their vehicles greater access to a safe place to park at night and a better shot at getting back into housing. Other budget highlights include expanding hours for homeless shelters, and increasing funding to expand public transit and make it safer and easier for pedestrians and bike commuters to get around Seattle.
Finally, City Council played a role in strengthening the terms of the public-private partnership to build a new NBA arena and bring the Sonics back to Seattle. I was even able to put my finance background and skills to some good use by digging into the financial terms of the deal and suggesting improvements for better guarantees for Seattle taxpayers in the deal. I am eager to see the outcome of the rumored story that a deal to bring back the Sonics is close.
All across the country in 2012, we saw numerous examples of extreme weather and storms, including, severe drought in half the counties in the U.S., countless wild fires across the West, massive flooding and destruction in New York and New Jersey from Hurricane Sandy, and, right here in Seattle, record high tides that flooded some 100 properties in West Seattle. According to a new map prepared by Seattle Public Utilities, the record high tides we saw in December could be the norm by 2050 with the climate disruption we are already witnessing (see also this recent Seattle Times article).
For too long we have watched big oil and coal call the shots in the other Washington, but with bold leadership and local action, Seattle can become a shining example to the rest of our state and our nation of what a real commitment to carbon neutrality looks like. I recently saw first-hand Seattle’s desire for effective climate action when thousands of people showed up last month to protest the expansion of coal exports to China and India. I hope to tap into this desire as we launch the 2013 Climate Action Plan.
Early last year, Seattle convened a Green Ribbon Commission of 26 civic and business leaders and public officials to advise the Mayor and City Council in the development of our 2013 Climate Action Plan. The Commission was tasked with providing recommendations for actions to protect our climate and make Seattle a more economically prosperous and socially just place to live for our people. You can check out the Executive Summary, or read the Full Report.
The experts have had their say. Now I need to hear from you, the people of Seattle. On January 14, I stood with my Council colleagues Jean Godden, Nick Licata and Tim Burgess and members of the Green Ribbon Commission to announce the opening of a public comment period on the GRC recommendations. Between now and Earth Day 2013 (April 22), we will be out in communities across Seattle to gather input that will help set priorities for the actions we need to take to slow the climate disruption and demonstrate Seattle’s climate leadership. Check out some of the coverage: KUOW and KPLU (audio included in both), Seattle Times, Seattle P-I (includes video).
Finally, check out this new video, We’re So Green.
This animated video celebrates green Seattle with a song written and performed by Seattle's own Chris Ballew (Caspar Babypants; also the lead singer of The Presidents of the United States of America). Like the song says - "there so much more we can do" - and we are asking the public for their ideas and support.
Seattle was the first municipality to offer public financing of elections back in 1979, but the practice has been used only intermittently since then. My colleague Councilmember Nick Licata wrote a great blog post recently laying out the history of public financing in Seattle and presenting the case for public financing. Check it out for the full story, but the short version is that in 1992, the voters passed Initiative 134, banning public financing. In 2008, the State Legislature granted local jurisdictions the ability to create public financing systems with a vote of the people.
Today, Council President Sally Clark, Councilmember Licata, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, and myself, are interested in revisiting public financing of local elections and potentially putting this idea to a vote here in Seattle. Our first step in reviewing options for Seattle is to bring some experts from around the country to Seattle to discuss their experiences and research in the area. We’ll be doing this in two parts. I invite you to attend both and hope you can check out at least one.
Part 1: Public Financing in Practice
Part 2: Public Election Financing in Research
Panel presentation with audience questions and answers featuring Ken Mayer, Professor, University of Wisconsin–Madison and David Earley, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
For more information and the final location information, check out my website: http://www.seattle.gov/council/obrien/
In the budget that City Council approved for 2013, we expanded a pilot program I helped create to get people living in their vehicles a safe place to park and a better shot back into housing.
In my August CityBeat newsletter, I wrote about the early success of the Safe Parking Pilot Program. We are now building on the model in 2013 by expanding case management to a full-time position with the promise of helping more people get back into stable, affordable housing. We also expanded resources for outreach to churches, businesses, neighbors and vehicular residents in an effort to help expand the number of spaces available to help get vehicular residents off the streets.
A recent Seattle Times article interviewed a few of the residents, often referred to as car campers. “Wavy” was one resident interviewed and his story is typical of what I have seen with this population of homeless—a once proud business owner with three employees until the recession wiped him out. Now, he is among the working poor who sleep in their vehicles or a motor home at night to help make ends meet.
Every year I look for a meaningful way to celebrate the life and vision of one of our greatest civil rights leaders in this country. Even though we just re-elected an African American to the highest office in the land, we still face vast racial inequities in our society, especially as we look at our criminal justice system. So I am very much looking forward to this year’s King County Bar Association Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Luncheon, where the keynote will be Michelle Alexander, professor and author of the bestselling book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. I was deeply moved by her book and am thrilled to see her speak on Friday, January 19.
As Vice Chair of the Public Safety and Civil Rights Committee, I have taken a strong interest in a bill in committee that would provide greater opportunities for employment for people with criminal records. The vast majority of people incarcerated and released each year are caught up in the federal government’s failed War on Drugs. I say failed because, since the start of the so-called War on Drugs in the early-1980s, drug use has not ceased nor abated in the United States. However, mass incarceration for drug-related crimes has skyrocketed, and those incarcerated are disproportionately African American, Latino and Native American men, even though all relevant data shows that they are no more likely to be drug users or sellers than white men. For an eye opening, soul wrenching analysis of how this system came to be, I highly recommend checking out The New Jim Crow. But the point is, our flawed criminal justice system is locking up thousands of people each year who would be better served through treatment or counseling, and it is costing our communities by splitting up families and tagging individuals as criminals, thereby limiting future opportunities to get a job, a place to live, or even a chance to vote . I think that if Dr. King were alive today, he would be standing with Professor Alexander, denouncing the War on Drugs and our practice of mass incarceration.
Here is a YouTube video of Michelle Alexander, speaking from her book:
Below are some events coming up in honor of Dr. King’s legacy:
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