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Banking the Unbanked
A while back I wrote about a new initiative I’m helping to launch that will connect low-income people with banking services from which they’ve previously felt closed out. There are an estimated 52,000 households in Seattle and King County that don’t have checking or savings accounts. This may not sound like a big deal until you think of what it costs in time and fees to cash a paycheck and draw money orders from check cashers and pay-day lenders. It can eat up maybe $800 a year. For a low-income person – heck, for anyone – that’s a lot of money to lose in a year.
Over the past six months more than 20 banks and credit unions in our area have signed onto Bank on Seattle-King County. Each has committed to eliminating certain fees, lower minimum balance requirements, accepting alternative forms of identification and offering financial management education. I just finished taping comments for an education video that will be shown to tellers starting this fall because Bank on Seattle-King County goes live (drum roll, please) – this fall!
The initial two-year goal is to help 10,000 of the 52,000 unbanked households in King County gain stability and financial security through access to checking accounts, savings accounts, credit and financial planning education. This is a great part of our overall strategy to combat poverty and I’m excited for it.
Sally riding with fellow Councilmembers on Segway Scooters in the Seattle Pride Parade
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Updating our Neighborhood Plans
Over the course of this year I’ve worked with the Department of Neighborhoods (DON), the Department of Planning and Development (DPD), the Office of Policy Management and the Mayor’s Office on how to best create an effective update process for Seattle 38 neighborhood plans. We started in February with an approach from the Executive side of the shop that would have divided the city into six sectors for the purpose of prioritizing the order of updates. Things have changed since.
Here’s a brief summary:
We’ve added a Neighborhood Plan Advisory Committee (NPAC). This is very important to me as way to make sure neighborhoods guide every aspect of the updates. Similar to the group that advised on the Neighborhood Plan creation process in the 1990’s, NPAC would serve as an advisory body throughout the update process. NPAC would help design outreach strategies to underrepresented communities, provide advice, and help develop implementation strategies once plans are adopted. Each of the 13 neighborhood District Councils would appoint a representative, joined by two members of the Planning Commission and seven at-large appointments from the Mayor and City Council.
Immediately this fall a city-wide plan and planning area status review will commence. This is a triage and reporting phase designed to gather all types of information that will essentially create a snapshot of where a neighborhood is right now compared to 10 years ago, including demographic shifts, zoning, housing units and affordability, transportation upgrades in the past 10 years, new parks, and a neighborhood plan implementation report. The status reports should help neighborhood advocates and the city recognize gaps and inform decisions about whether to update a particular plan.
The order of plan updates has been an ongoing debate. While the triage and reporting phase is carried out through 2009, light rail will start rolling through Rainier Valley and Beacon Hill to Downtown. Three neighborhoods in Southeast Seattle with light rail stations and significant multi-family and commercial area around them are about to become very popular, very fast -- Beacon Hill, McClellan and Othello. Updates of the plans for these three areas would get under way immediately.
Based on community input and quality, good-faith staff work, we now have three documents. Council will consider:
- A draft resolution to establish a Neighborhood Plan Advisory Committee (NPAC)
- A draft ordinance that would direct funds toward neighborhood plan and station area updates
- A narrative of the update process
I encourage you to review them, and I’d be interested in hearing what you think. I’ve scheduled a public hearing to hear directly from you: Mon., Sept. 8, 5:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers.
Following that, the Planning, Land Use & Neighborhoods Committee will discuss and consider adoption of the proposals and releasing the funds on Wed., Sept. 10, 9:30 a.m. in City Council Chambers. The full City Council could take a final vote Mon. Sept. 22, 2 p.m. in City Council Chambers.
My goal is to ensure an update process that carries forward the best elements of citizen engagement and partnership from the city-wide planning effort of 10 years ago while bringing more varied voices into the fun. Ultimately, updating the neighborhood plans is a chance for us all to recommit to the vision of safe, affordable, sustainable neighborhoods for ourselves and as a legacy.
Sally and Councilmember Godden at the Roosevelt Neighborhood’s Night Out Against Crime, with Roosevelt residents Jim O’Halloran and Doug Thiel.
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Planning and Land Use
Anticipation for the Multi-Family Code Update
Multi-Family Code Update - for something that sounds so dry, it comes as a surprise to people when they learn what an emotion-charged issue it really is. The multi-family zoned areas of our city are those areas where more than just a single family house can be built -- duplexes, triplexes, townhouses, condo and apartments fall into the multi-family code. It's been over 20 years since the City codes regulating multi-family development have been updated. Based on the feedback I’m hearing about the designs of buildings, (the hottest comments coming in about townhomes), it feels like the code is due for a checkup.
I hosted a forum in early June called "Townhomes: Can the Patient be Saved?" A couple of hundred concerned Seattleites showed up on a Saturday morning to hear from architects, developers, planners and neighborhood advocates about problems and solutions to the way townhomes are currently designed. High fences, parking garages you can’t get into, blank facades facing the street - these, and other dozens of other issues, are what we're looking to address when we update our multi-family code.
The Mayor’s package of proposed multi-family code changes is currently undergoing environmental review. I expect to receive the package of proposed changes later this year, but with budget season upon us soon, I doubt we'll start delving into the issues until late this year, or early next.
Review of the multi-family code is a tremendous opportunity to think boldly and sensitively about the future look and feel of our neighborhoods. It won't be easy, but I hope we'll walk away with a multi-family code that keeps our neighborhoods livable, sustainable and affordable… until the next 20-year checkup.
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Anticipation for the 2009-2010 Budget
Budget season kicks off September 29 with the Mayor’s delivery to Council of his proposed 2009-2010 City budget. Every year City Council halts regular business for two months to focus on the most important responsibility we handle - crafting a budget for the next two years that funds basic service priorities and reflects the city’s values. From September 29 until just before Thanksgiving councilmembers review department budgets, meet with citizen advocates and agencies, quiz staff and debate spending options.
It’s still early to say for sure, but Department of Finance staff predicts a $10 million to $20 million shortfall for 2009 and possibly worse for 2010. We’re faring better than many parts of the country, but sales tax and real estate excise tax totals have dipped. Also, we’ve made a commitment to spend more than before on police officers. That means more and higher salaries for officers from this point on. King County government is looking at an even bigger budget gap and may simply get out of some lines of business. That could leave cities like Seattle picking up those services – and the tab for them.
Earlier this year Council passed a budget priorities resolution laying out early guidance for the Mayor. These priorities will be one of the tools we use to measure whether the Mayor’s proposed cuts and additions support the priorities we’ve heard from you at public meetings this spring – public safety, environmental stewardship, human services and affordable housing, transportation, pedestrian safety, and neighborhood planning.
I encourage you to learn about the budget and get engaged so Council knows your priorities. Councilmember Jean Godden, chair of the Budget Committee, has created a useful webpage to help you connect with the City budget and the Council’s review.
Watch for the dates and times of the public hearings we’ll hold in October. We need your help to make tough decisions this year.
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