Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services & Economic Resiliency
Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services & Economic Resiliency
Making it easier to start your dream business – restaurant permitting reform
Jet City loves it when tasty new restaurants pop-up. Heck, we played host to a season of Top Chef and we have multiple James Beard Award winners. Restaurants play a big role in our economy in terms of hiring, purchasing, tourism and anchoring great neighborhood business districts. Also, they can be the first business an immigrant entrepreneur starts.
I hear often from new restaurateurs about how confusing it can be to open a new place. The steps required before opening day are not always clear, particularly when it comes to the local and state permitting processes. Based on these concerns, last year I started working with partners in the Office for Economic Development, at the State of Washington, King County, Public Health and in the restaurant industry to devise a smarter, easier way to navigate all the city, county and state regulatory requirements.
One of the first things we did was work with process improvement staff at King County to map all the different ways a new restaurant operator might start contact with government agencies. One future Tom Douglas might begin by walking up to the Department of Planning & Development permit counter because they're starting by renovating a space. Someone else might start with a call to the state Liquor Control Board. Someone else might start with a call to Public Health. All of these might be great places to start, but we found that there were more than 50 potential starting points and no way for applicants to know exactly what was required and when they were finished and legal to open.
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It shouldn't matter where you start, you should find knowledgeable staff to put you on the right path no matter which door you knocked on first.
At an April meeting of the Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services, and Economic Resiliency (which I chair), we received a progress report on achieving this goal from the City's Office of Economic Development, Washington State's Department of Commerce, Seattle-King County Public Health, and the Seattle Restaurant Alliance. The big highlight from this work so far is the development of a new website, Restaurant Success: Your Guide to Opening a Seattle Restaurant, which will provide a roadmap for new restaurateurs. City, county, and state requirements will all be presented on this one site. The website will include checklists, links, tools and tips. We're set to launch the site later this summer.
A website is only useful if people know about it, so the group has also developed a communications plan and will be hiring a restaurant liaison to answer questions and offer assistance.
Finally, the group has already begun work to change some regulations we identified as conflicting, confusing, or just plain inefficient. These include changes to the plumbing code to better regulate disposal of fats, oils, and greases; looking at options for building code flexibility; matching up city and state codes regarding bar-restaurant dividers; and providing increased clarity about when certain menu choices might trigger a particular building requirement.
Thanks to the City, County and State staff for their dedicated work on this effort. It's proof multiple levels of government can collaborate for better service.
Breaking ground at the Yesler Terrace Hillclimb in June. The new pathway of stairs and art will connect the Yesler neighborhood to Little Saigon.
Economic Development Commission's inaugural report completed
Every week Seattle ranks in the top five of cities awesome because of something. Smartest, best for biking, easiest for tech start-ups, dog-friendliest, etc. It's all about marketing, but it's also a reminder that we're in competition with other cities and with ourselves.
We're constantly working to figure out how to generate more jobs, better paying jobs and career progression in the city. And we'd like to do it a way that's right for the Northwest and the planet.
Last year we launched the city's first permanent, standing Economic Development Commission to advise the Mayor and Council on how City government should act to increase economic prosperity across the city. The committee is populated by representatives from businesses (big and small, traditional and new), education, labor and workforce development. They're a truly impressive group convened to plot the future success of the city.
In the April 14 meeting of the Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services and Economic Resiliency we heard from the Commission on its first year of work, including the Inaugural Year Report. The Commission defined three 10-year initiatives:
- Improve social mobility through access to college and career paths – we need to help more people afford college and improve students' readiness for college and career training.
- Advance our infrastructure and built environment as economic catalysts – create great places in our city, ensure we have effective transit options, and maximize the University District as an innovation hub;
- Strategically build on our economic strengths (as in, if we're doing well in something like global health, we should keep doing it) – do a better job telling others about what happens here and what's possible for people with great ideas. Specifically, members advocated capitalizing on manufacturing, maritime and the "knowledge economy."
For next steps, the Commission will put together benchmark data, so we can see where we are now and better envision where we want to be, including measures of both productivity and equity. While the Commission's work has an eye on the future, some of their work is being put into place immediately, including the launching of StartUp Seattle, to help new entrepreneurs navigate resources and be a voice for our region's success.
Thank you to the members of the Commission for your service, and congratulations on your inaugural year. A link to the full report and a list of the committee members can be found here.
6 month review – beyond minimum wage, taxis and ballot initiatives of all kinds
Congratulations, we've hit the mid-point of 2014. Are you exhausted yet?
We have a new Mayor working (and collaborating) at a dead run every day. We have a new Chief of Police and a new director for the Seattle Department of Transportation. We raised the minimum wage. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl and we had a parade through downtown with no mishaps. Cleveland High School's young women took the state basketball title (again). The Mariners are above .500 and we had four players in the All-Star Game. (I really like that Kyle Seager fellow.)
There's been too much violence January to July, particularly on Capitol Hill (primarily against LGBT people) and in the Central Area and Southeast (primarily involving African-American young men). Council approved new zoning around the Mount Baker light rail station. We've adopted new regulations for taxis and other taxi-like services. We've debated approaches to funding parks, early childhood education and transit.
My view from the July 8 Find It, Fix it Safety Walk, where we worked to identify safety issues in in the S.E. Orcas/Martin Luther King Jr. Way area.
All the while, Seattle moves deeper into a housing affordability crisis affecting both the city's sense of identity and its future economic competitiveness. We're working with experts on how cities can get more housing affordable to people in and out of the workforce and we're moving toward development of a comprehensive housing strategy for the city. This spring and summer we've held work sessions and listening sessions on housing affordability with more to come in the second half of the year.
We've spent the first half of the year locked in the "big issues," but those aren't the only things that have happened. Many of you have been locked in the nuts and bolts of making our neighborhoods work just a little bit better for all of us. There are two particular projects that come to mind when I think back on the first half of the year and they embody the best about Seattle's neighborhoods and our will to not just survive adversity, but turn it around and show it the door.
The Lake City Way Traffic Safety Project – Friday, March 28, I joined Lake City neighbors, SDOT staff, SPD officers, WSDOT staff and some super serious motorcycle officers from the Washington State Patrol for the Walk for Safety on Lake City Way. Over the previous year neighbors and government staff reviewed speed and accident data for the Lake City Way corridor and built a plan for better enforcement of speeding and improvement to crosswalks and sidewalks in the area.
Lake City Traffic Safety Walk.
In terms of urban form, Lake City is similar to several neighborhoods in our city. Seattle annexed Lake City in 1954 so it developed under then-county standards that didn't require full curbs and sidewalks. The neighborhood (now an urban village in the Seattle's Comprehensive Plan) grew around a linear corridor that feels way too much like a highway. So, neighbors and business owners have decided to change the status quo. On that day in March (a little rainy, but not too much) we marched, we walked and we rolled (quite a few neighbors in wheel chairs) the intersections in the heart of Lake City's business district. And, at the appointed hour, a dozen or so State Troopers on motorcycles started their engines and began what was the first of many emphasis operations targeting speeders and others who don't respect pedestrians on Lake City Way.
I love this project because it's truly a partnership between Lake City advocates, great SDOT and Department of Neighborhood staff, SPD, WSDOT, the State Patrol and project funders.
The new South Park Bridge – Four years ago I attended a community meeting in South Park where the temperature in the room rose higher and higher the more neighborhood advocates complained about how no one in government was stepping up to commit to a new bridge.
When you have a neighborhood connected to the rest of the city by only a single bridge, it doesn't seem unreasonable for that neighborhood to want a commitment when their link to the rest of the city ranks only higher than a Tinker Toy play bridge on the seismic safety scales. It's not just the neighborhood, though. Boeing sits on the east side of the bridge and Highway 509 sits to the west. Now you see why the Machinists union was up in arms, too.
Opening Day for the new South Park Bridge.
Seattle stepped up as a major funder of the new bridge after that meeting, joining bridge owner King County in advocating for other money. The Feds chipped in through a TIGER grant (thank you, Sen. Patty Murray). The State and the Port jumped in to help, as did those Machinists.
However, most of the work to assemble the money, design the new bridge and build the new bridge came after the old bridge had to be closed. South Park's main drag which connects directly from the bridge? Crickets after June 30, 2010.
The next four years were tough for businesses in South Park. The city's Office of Economic Development helped out with grants for business development. The Department of Neighborhoods and the Office of Arts and Culture helped out. Boeing and others tried to figure out ways to help employees get into the core of the neighborhood for lunch. The Fiestas Patrias parade remained a unique vaqueros and low-riders high point of Seafair. However, businesses struggled to make it through the four years of no bridge. Some didn't.
On Sunday, June 28, we opened the new bridge and it's awesome. (Yes, there were way too many speakers, but how often do you get to open a new bridge in Seattle?) Congratulations to the bridge builders and to the neighborhood.
South Park is likely the Seattle neighborhood you've never visited. You should go. Check out Seattle's river. We'll talk more about the Duwamish in a future newsletter.
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