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        July, 2011 E-News



Current Issues

Checking in on Pioneer Square

When Elliott Bay Books announced two years ago it was decamping for Capitol Hill, an alarm bell sounded for many of us. Many Pioneer Square residents and business people had heard the ringing long before, but it took a major loss to get the attention of others. Since then neighbors, business people and city staffers have been working hard to shine up the neighborhood's image and deliver real progress on a list of community goals. There's good news to report on many fronts:

Pioneer Square
  • If you've been down recently you've seen the "yarn bomb" art project in Occidental Park. I was down a couple of weekends ago for the annual Fire Festival and I've come across great music and performances at lunchtime on weekdays.
  • Mayor Mike McGinn announced in May that the City is laying conduit under First Ave. and issuing a request for proposals from companies who want to provide high-capacity fiber to the neighborhood through that conduit. This is great because Pioneer Square has become a hub for gaming companies. In order for the neighborhood to keep and grow these companies, they'll need more bandwidth.
  • A new streetcar line will soon run up Jackson from Occidental, making stops in the ID, First Hill and Capitol Hill on Broadway. That's actually great news for all of those neighborhoods. Construction starts early next year. Take a look at visualizations on the Seattle Streetcar site.
  • Construction will begin later this summer on 717 units of new housing, as well as shops and offices, on the parking lot north of the football stadium. Pioneer Square has long needed more residents to love it.
  • The Saturday Market in Occidental for arts and crafts that worked so well last year is moving to Thursday evenings. Combined with the beloved First Thursday Art Walk, this means Thursday throughout the summer becomes a full day of action in Pioneer Square.

There's more to say about great performances, art and other events in Nord Alley and a possible new tenant for the Globe Building, but there are also challenges. Recently Councilmembers Tom Rasmussen, Tim Burgess and I met with a large pack of Pioneer Square business owners about on-street parking rates (they think they're too high) and on-street drug dealing (there's still too much).

One big challenge still on the list is the slated re-routing of Metro buses through parts of Pioneer Square after the Viaduct comes down. Metro plans to move 550 buses through Pioneer Square daily. Granted Pioneer Square is a gateway into downtown, but there are other routes that Metro could use to bring vehicles in from the south and southwest, like Fourth Avenue. That's part of the reason why the state built the Edgar Martinez overpass and the Fourth Avenue South off-ramp from the Spokane St. Viaduct. I don't believe Main and Washington Streets are going to be appropriate main routes for Metro in life post-Viaduct. We need a better answer that protects Seattle's first historic neighborhood.

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Committee on the Built Environment

Aug, 10, Wed
9:30 a.m.

Aug 24, Wed
9:30 a.m.

Unless otherwise noted, all meetings are held in Council Chambers.
For more information, please call us at 206- 684-8802

Upcoming Seattle Events:

Goose Bumps! The Science Of Fear
6/11 - 9/5
Pacific Science Center

Thursdays at the Park
6/7- 9/15, 5:30 p.m.
Olympic Sculpture Garden

Wanderlust Yoga in the City
8/4, 5 - 8:30 p.m.
Space Needle Park, Broad Street Green

KEXP and Seattle Center Concerts at the Mural
8/5, 8/12, 8/19, 8/26, 6 p.m.
Seattle Center, Mural Amphitheatre

Tibet Fest
8/20 - 8/21
Seattle Center, Center House

Bicycle Sunday
8/21, 8/28, 9/4, 9/11, 9/18, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Lake Washington Blvd.

Dragon Boat Festival
Stay Sayres Memorial Park

Live Aloha Hawaiian Cultural Festival
9/11, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Seattle Center House and Mural Amphitheatre

Fisherman's Fall Festival
9/17, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Fisherman's Terminal

Fremont Oktoberfest
9/22 – 9/25
Phinney Ave N. & N. 35th St

Historic Seattle: 2011 Bungalow Fair
9/24-25 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Town Hall

520 Bridge EIS Released

The Washington State Department of Transportation's (WSDOT) plan to replace the aging 520 floating bridge continues to inch forward. In July, WSDOT released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the project. This is a huge milestone in a huge project. While the FEIS (14 years in the making) won't lay to rest the debate about west side design and scale, it should bring to a close the study of alternatives.

The FEIS compares the Preferred Alternative with the design options analyzed in the supplemental draft EIS, and further refines previous analyses. The FEIS goes a step further by taking into account the latest assumptions about other regional transportation and development projects to place the project within a wider context.

The EIS confirms that the preferred alternative, a six lane corridor with a new transit/HOV lane in each direction and a new bicycle/pedestrian path, can improve transit connections and travel times, accommodate future light rail, reconnect neighborhoods using landscaped lids, reduce noise, and improve parks and wetlands habitat. By implementing separated transit/HOV lanes and tolling the facility, the project design reduces annual vehicle miles traveled on SR 520 by 5 to 10% and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by almost 10% over the no-build alternative.

The final design incorporates almost all of the design elements requested by the City Council in our review of the project proposal, including:

Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)
  • Reducing the width of the Portage Bay Bridge, considering a boulevard design, and eliminating the proposed auxiliary lane and replacing it with a managed shoulder.
  • In the Montlake area, locating transit/HOV ramps at 24th Ave E, including a full lid over SR 520 between Montlake Boulevard and the Arboretum, providing dedicated transit/HOV lanes on Montlake Boulevard and priority signals for transit, enhancing the Montlake Boulevard streetscape, and including a set of triggers that will determine whether a second bascule bridge is necessary.
  • Splitting the bridge corridor, narrowing shoulders, and adding wetlands and park improvements in Arboretum, along with removing the ‘ramps to nowhere' and the current Arboretum ramps, implementing traffic calming in the Arboretum, and including coordinated environmental restoration work.
  • Reducing the height of the cross-lake bridge deck to 20 feet and ensuring that the bridge is constructed to accommodate high capacity transit.

The preferred alternative provides a new four-acre park and eight acres of open space on the lids, funds Arboretum improvements, and restores all park properties affected by the construction. The Corps of Engineers has designated this alternative the “Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative,” its highest standard for wetland protection.

Council approved the first set of mitigation actions in June with Council Bill 117209, which authorized the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to work with WSDOT on design and construction of traffic calming improvements in the Washington Park Arboretum intended to slow speeds and make the roads and paths safer for pedestrians and cyclists. The City of Seattle and the Arboretum and Botanical Garden Committee worked closely with WSDOT to secure this early commitment of funds. Many of us have long believed the Arboretum has been too much of a cut-through. This funding should help tame the traffic. Work starts this year.

Next up: Later this summer City Council will review WSDOT's progress on a west-side design. I remain committed to a final design that has the least negative impact on neighborhoods like Montlake and Roanoke Park; moves people and goods effectively; gives a preference to transit; minimizes impacts on the arboretum; yields the best in new green space via lids; and provides urban style connections to the Seattle street grid.

WSDOT is in the process of choosing a team to build the new floating bridge from Medina to the west side of Lake Washington. We may hear announcement of a winning team this month. The state's goal for replacement of the bridge remains 2014.

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Committee on the Built Environment

Cooking up Street Food Rules for Sidewalks, Parking Spots, and Plazas

Hungry? Hungry for something besides a hotdog (nothing against dogs)?

This month my committee and the Council passed legislation designed to ease street food regulations in Seattle so we can see more food carts and trucks on public property. If we're successful we'll see more opportunities for small businesses with low start-up costs and a greater variety cost food available on Seattle's sidewalks, in a few parking spaces and, like usual, on private lots.

We started this work a few years ago as we tried to figure out why other cities were seeing an explosion of street food options while what we were seeing was more like a few snap, crackles and pops. We quickly discovered that in decades past Seattle decision-makers put strict rules in place about what kind of food you could sell (popcorn, pretzels, hotdogs). We enjoy a thriving food truck scene with taco trucks throughout the city in parking lots and a crew of creative gourmet fare trucks playing musical neighborhoods and devoted followers tracking them down daily via the web.

So, we've lightened the rules on food types (with help from Public Health Seattle/King County) and we've clarified sidewalk and parking space rules in order to provide certainty to potential vendors and the surrounding community. We've created the opportunity to stake out a piece of the sidewalk or a parking space on the street. We've defined the appropriate distance from an existing restaurant (50 feet) or non-food business (15 feet), rules on litter, customer queues, noise from generators, and enforcement.

Coming to a street near you

When we initially discussed this legislation, we heard from concerned business owners about the potential impact on their businesses (especially restaurants); on parking (which is already tight); and to the value of window displays and signs of businesses that might be blocked by carts or lines. Business owners were (and are) skeptical about how diligently the new regulations will be enforced.

To address these concerns, Council strengthened public notice requirements and empowered SDOT to require mitigation of the impacts of mobile food vendors on business displays and business signs. We ruled out the use of loading zones by mobile food vendors (except in the stadium district), and specified that no more than two food trucks could occupy any food vehicle zone without approval of the SDOT director. We raised the parking use fee for food trucks, and mandated that food vehicles display SDOT contact information so that the public can easily file complaints. Finally, to address concerns about enforcement, we specified a fine structure and added that in the case of a super bad vendor, the city could impound the cart or truck.

Finally we passed a resolution requiring specific evaluation and enforcement measures, so we can ensure compliance with the new regulations and determine the impact, if any, to existing businesses.

I strongly supported this legislation as a way to lure more positive activity to sidewalks, parks, plazas and other areas, and to widen the opportunities for small start-up vendors. I'm invested in making sure it works well for neighborhoods and existing businesses.

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Roosevelt – Rezone Proposal up for Debate This Fall

If you happen to be looking for a model of a neighborhood working together to welcome and shape new development, now's a good time to look at Roosevelt. This is a place where the people who make up the neighborhood—residents and business owners alike—have worked together for years to set the stage for good things to happen. Their seize-the-bull-by-the-horns attitude led Sound Transit to move the location of the future Roosevelt light rail station further into the center of the business district.

Roosevelt map

That success at prompting a major decision by a multi-county agency set the groundwork for a neighborhood-generated proposal to rezone the business district. Roosevelt's goal is to increase the number of residents calling Roosevelt home and to group those new Rooseveltians near light rail (open for service in Roosevelt by 2020) creating the ideal livable-walkable neighborhood. The community's plan will be delivered to City Council before the end of the summer.

Some sharp and well-intentioned transit and density advocates have questioned whether the neighborhood's residential goals meet the city's need for dense transit oriented development. After all, we're building a phenomenal light rail system and it should be an organizing principle for how we shape and locate new growth in our city. The conversation has been a little tense this summer with outsiders accusing neighborhood people of being too parochial and neighborhood people accusing outsiders of being, well, outsiders. When you clear away the dust from the scuffle, it's clear that everyone agrees more residential density belongs in the Roosevelt business area. The disagreement is focused on how high to go and where.

Roosevelt currently has about 1,260 residential units with capacity to build another 250 without any zoning changes. The proposed rezones from the neighborhood would increase the heights of many parts of the neighborhood up to 65- or even 85-feet, and could add as many as 400 more apartments and condos over time.

The neighborhood deserves credit for undertaking a neighborhood plan update and for forging an upzone proposal. Zoning and heights can prove to be the most contentious of any neighborhood issues. I think the neighborhood's proposal is sound, accepts new growth, and arranges the zoning map well. I also believe we can add a bit more, whether that's clearing the way to convert some of the remaining single family zoning near the station to multi-family or by stepping up to 65 feet or 85 feet in a couple of areas.

Stay tuned. Council just receive the legislation from the Department of Planning and Development last week. The Committee on the Built Environment will receive its first briefing August, 2010. I'll hold a public hearing on the proposal in the Roosevelt neighborhood in September. Details will be available as soon as we have them on my Council website.

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Random Thoughts

Financial Empowerment Brownbag

We often debate the proper role and scope of local government. Certainly our highest priorities are public health and safety and infrastructure. However, a healthy city is more than that. We can and should act to improve quality of life in our city for people who struggle. I'm proud and grateful to report that Seattle is expanding the vision of what municipal governments can and should do to stabilize the financial lives of low-income residents. (See my Op Ed in The Seattle Times.)

With that goal in mind, in June, I hosted a mid-day forum – together with Ida Rademacher, vice president of policy and research at the Corporation for Economic Development, San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros and New York City's Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz, co-chairs of Cities for Financial Empowerment — to dig deeper for new ideas to take us further. We heard about great work in other cities and also from local partners like Verity Credit Union and Solid Ground.

We generated ideas about how to help Seattle residents acquire the financial knowledge and savvy they need to get out of debt, save for the future, and achieve financial security. This may sound a far cry from public health and safety, but for many of our neighbors, homelessness is one major illness or car breakdown away. For healthier, more stable neighborhoods we need more financially stable neighbors. I'm looking to bring forward small-cost, effective things we can do here in Seattle.

brownbag meeting

Watch the brownbag on the Seattle Channel.

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Paid Sick Leave Proposed for Seattle

Recently we've begun reviewing and debating a proposal (C.B.117216) to require Seattle employers to provide some form of paid sick leave. Fundamentally, I believe everyone should have access to paid time off if they themselves are ill or if a child, partner, or parent falls ill. I just think this makes for a saner, healthier, more humane work environment. I think cities can lead on this issue in the absence of state or federal action.

At the same time, I'm a realist and I understand the already thin margins on which many Seattle employers operate. The last thing I want to do is harm small businesses or reduce our competitiveness as an attractive location for new businesses. We need a proposal that works for employers and employees.

At the July 13 Housing, Human Services, Health & Culture Committee we had a great review of what we know and what we don't know about employment data, the effectiveness of sick leave in keeping us healthier, and how the statistics for access to sick leave currently cut against lower income workers, tip-dependent workers, women and minorities. Using Puget Sound Regional Council data we can estimate that roughly 145,000 of the City's 460,000 workers do not have paid sick leave. Not surprisingly, those without paid time off for illness tend to work in service jobs and tend to make less than people with paid time off included as part of their compensation.

Over the next few weeks the Council will review the proposal and, if we decide to go forward, look at ways to make the new requirement effective and as easy as possible to administer. I think the proposal is a great start. I and other councilmembers will have questions about the proposal and current business conditions in Seattle. Among them:

  • How many businesses in Seattle already meet the criteria specified by the bill?
  • How will we gauge the impact and effectiveness of the bill – both for business, and for public health?
  • Should employees of businesses based outside the city but who work hours inside Seattle accrue sick time for the work they do in Seattle?
  • Should employees covered by a negotiated contract be able to bargain away their sick time?
  • How should temporary and seasonal employees be covered?

Of great interest to me and others will be research on the effects of a similar law enacted in San Francisco in 2007. A study by the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy indicates the law had no measurable impact on the rate of restaurant closures or total employment in the city one year after that law went into effect. Another study suggests that the long-term impact of the ordinance is impossible to foretell, and that employers compensate for the cost of the measure in other ways. However, review of the San Francisco situation also indicates some workers were assigned fewer hours by their employer or reductions in other benefits. For all employers, the average cost increase over the course of a year could vary depending upon how many employees they have and the amount of leave taken. The money to pay for that cost increase comes from somewhere and for many employers in this economy there is no increase in overall revenues to tap.

Again, this issue has touched a nerve for many. Some believe passionately that city government should take action. Others believe this is absolutely no place (and not the time) for a city requirement.

There is much work still to do, but the committee may vote before the Council's summer recess (the last two weeks of August). That would allow a Full Council vote as early as September.

Pride parade

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