MAKING IT WORK
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2012 BUDGET ADOPTED BY COUNCIL
On Monday, November 21, the City Council unanimously adopted the 2012 Seattle Budget, including some significant additions to the human services budget, and some other changes to the Mayor's proposal. However, as I suggested in my initial blog post on the budget, there were not a lot of major new initiatives, largely because 2012 is the second year of a 2-year budget cycle. State law provides that the City can only adopt budgets one year at a time, but Seattle does most of its budget work during the years when City officials are not on the ballot, formally adopting a budget for the next year and endorsing a budget for the one after that.
Because of the difficult economic circumstances, and the shortfalls in revenues as a result, Mayor McGinn did propose some significant changes from the endorsed budget. The Council accepted some of those, rejected others, and made some changes of our own, primarily to shore up human services. While times are tight for everyone, the cuts in federal and state programs to assist those in the greatest need will cause great difficulties. While the City does not have the resources to make up for these cuts, we tried to address some of the areas of highest concern, particularly in the areas of homelessness and health. The Council also allocated funds to support critical community activities, and reallocated transportation funds to be more neighborhood focused.
Here are the most important changes that the Council made:
- Allocated an additional $435,000 to support families faced with homelessness. This includes $150,000 to provide financial assistance to place families into rental housing, $150,000 to expand the program to provide shelter or transitional housing services, $75,000 to support facility improvements at religious organizations providing shelter and other services, $40,000 to provide emergency hotel/motel vouchers and case management services, and $20,000 to fund case management services for people who are sleeping in their cars.
- Added $250,000 for health care for the uninsured at Seattle's public health clinics, and $478,000 to expand the evidence-based Nurse-Family Partnership Program that links professional nurses to first-time low-income mothers and pregnant women.
- To support our communities, established a separate office to address immigrant and refugee issues, funded a new Precinct Liaison Program within the City Attorney's Office to address a variety of community and neighborhood problems, including nuisance properties, nightlife issues, graffiti abatement, alcohol impact areas, and crime hot spots, and funded significant improvements in the downtown 3rd Avenue corridor, including additional cleaning and capital improvements.
- Reprioritizing approximately $2 million in the transportation budget to fund a significant pedestrian safety project at 23rd Ave S and Rainier Blvd S, provide initial planning and design dollars for the Fauntleroy Green Boulevard project to support proposed land-use changes at this gateway to West Seattle, establish a funding reserve for the First Hill Streetcar to help ensure that project commitments are fulfilled (which could be deployed for additional streetcar planning if it is not required for that purpose), and added funds to update the Bicycle Master Plan to ensure that the City makes the best investments in bicycle infrastructure. The Council also affirmed the City commitment to completing the Mercer West project that will complete the solution to the "Mercer Mess".
The Council maintained the City's fiscally responsible budget policies, fully funding these changes through careful management of resources. The adopted budget is balanced based on a conservative revenue forecast, and includes a $1.9 million contribution to the Rainy Day Fund. The Council adopted a modification to the City's retirement system that reduces future funding requirements, and increased the City contribution to the retirement system to ensure fund stability.
The Council also cut more than $250,000 in position adds proposed by the Mayor, reduced planned funding for possible 2012 ballot measures to assume that there will only be one measure on the ballot, and maintained separate Offices of Housing and Economic Development while achieving staff efficiencies that generate annual savings of over $400,000.
The adopted budget maintains Fire Department and Human Services budgets at their endorsed budget levels. It does, however, accept the Mayor's proposal to leave vacant positions open in the Police Department. The Council made it clear, however, that we expected the Mayor and Police Chief to deliver on their commitment that they could maintain public safety and implement the Neighborhood Policing Program with the reduced budget. The Council also continues to be concerned about the Department of Transportation budget, making the changes noted above, but recognizing that the Department of Transportation still has financial problems. The Council restored cuts to the P-Patch program in the Department of Neighborhoods, and will do a more thorough review of this Department during 2012.
Thanks to careful fiscal management and good cooperation between the Mayor and Council, Seattle continues to be fiscally responsible and to be able to carry out high priority public services. There are many important activities that will be limited or curtailed, but we believe that the City can manage under the constraints that we currently have. Our biggest concern is that the Legislature will take away state funds that are committed to local government (creating a hole in our revenues), cut human services programs leaving cities to deal with the problems that result from that, or transfer some of the State's responsibilities to cities without providing funding streams to support that. If we can dodge those bullets, we believe we can manage the City's 2012 budget - and begin work on what still looks like a very challenging 2013-2014 budget.
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LIGHT RAIL TO EASTSIDE AND SOUND TRANSIT 2012 PLANS
On October 27 the Sound Transit Board approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Bellevue that clears the way for entering into final design on an agreed-upon route for East Link through the City of Bellevue. I was one of the three Sound Transit Board negotiators that met with the Bellevue City Council to define the terms of the agreement. The Bellevue Council unanimously approved the MOU at its November 14 meeting.
The agreement includes the following terms:
- Bellevue agrees to the Sound Transit preferred alignment from I-90 to downtown, with some modifications on 112th.
- Sound Transit agrees to construct a cut-and-cover tunnel through downtown Bellevue, with Bellevue covering half of the additional cost ($160 million). While the tunnel was not Sound Transit's original preference, it does increase both speed and ridership on East Link.
- Bellevue agrees to process all Sound Transit permits rapidly and to approve the necessary legislation, including the use of the City Right-of-Way at no cost to Sound Transit.
In 2011, Sound Transit began tunneling for University Link, and the Board approved the Final EIS for East Link, among other major activities. In 2012, this agreement enables the agency to move to the next stage in East Link, part of a flurry of activities including:
- Finishing the University Link tunnels (now about one-third complete), and continue work on the stations and line, scheduled to open in 2016.
- Doing final design for North Link, from the UW to Northgate.
- Continuing work on the North Corridor environmental review (Northgate to Lynnwood).
- Selecting a design/build contractor for South Link, from the Airport to S. 200th Street.
- Developing final design for East Link.
- Beginning South Corridor planning (extension further south).
- Completing the Tacoma to Lakewood construction for Sounder.
The agency will also move 25 million passengers on Sounder, Link, and the Sound Transit Express buses - and is managing all of this despite a 25% drop in revenues due to the economic downturn. This is the first time the agency will have three separate light rail projects moving into construction. And Sound Transit is also funding the streetcar from Pioneer Square to the Capitol Hill station, which the City of Seattle plans to begin constructing in 2012 as well.
There is a long way to go to complete the full build out of the Sound Transit Ii (ST2) ballot measure, approved by the voters in 2008, and there is no schedule for when Sound Transit will return to the ballot for the next projects.
It is great to see so much happening to expand the regional High Capacity Transit system. A tremendous amount of the credit for this progress goes to former Mayor Greg Nickels, then Chair of the Sound Transit Board, who led the successful effort to put ST2 on the 2008 ballot when the Board was skeptical and uncertain as to whether this was a good idea. The results of his work will make a huge difference in our transit future.
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WHAT ELECTION 2011 TELLS US
Voters have reelected all five Council incumbents, two of four School Board members, and approved the Families and Education Levy. That's a pretty incredible vote of confidence in Seattle's political leadership - especially in the midst of deep voter discontent and anxiety about the direction our country is headed.
This Council has worked hard to achieve this. We have tried to be professional, thoughtful, and careful in our work. And we have reached out to engage Seattle residents in helping us to make decisions, while providing clear leadership when we needed to step up to the plate.
Voters have noticed this. The strength of this Council discouraged challengers, and Councilmembers defeated their opponents fairly easily. Before someone raises the mantra of how tough it is to defeat a sitting Seattle Councilmember, let me remind you that this is the first off-year election (no Mayor on the ballot to draw fire) since 1987 in which the voters returned all Council incumbents. And, historically, the City Council experiences larger turnover than almost any other legislative body (try and find another city, county, or state government where one third of the members took office by defeating incumbents!).
Perhaps even more astonishingly, the voters took a deep breath, and in the midst of deeply troubled economic times, by almost a two to one margin approved a near doubling of the Families and Education Levy. While the Families and Education Levy has always been a popular cause and there was no organized opposition, to achieve over 64% of the vote under these circumstances is extraordinary.
These successes were foreshadowed by the victory on the tunnel referendum in the August primary, another issue with significant controversy where voters reaffirmed their confidence in the Council's political leadership by a massive margin.
Voters did turn down the Vehicle License Fee for transportation improvements, and there are some important lessons to be learned from that. The VLF was put together too quickly. Voters being presented with a fee that they have never seen before need to be completely convinced that this is a good investment - it is very reasonable to vote no if you have doubts. There was not enough information presented to persuade voters that this made sense, and the campaign started too late to work with opinion leaders and the community to design a measure that would make a good case.
These election results also remind us that voters in Seattle tend to be issue-oriented, rational, and turned off by negative campaigns. They make up their minds based on facts, and interest groups and editorials have a limited ability to sway them. Many years ago, the political scientist VO Key wrote a book called "The Responsible Electorate", in which he argued that, despite what appears to be much evidence to the contrary, American voters generally make rational choices based on the 2 or 3 most salient issues in a campaign and the information that they have. In Seattle, thanks to the Voters Guide and a lot of good journalism, voters have access to a range of information, and I would argue that they use it pretty effectively.
The closer elections for School Board suggest that voters remain uneasy about the issues at Seattle Schools. However, by reelecting some incumbents and providing the additional resources through the Families and Education Levy, voters appear to be saying that they are seeing the progress and the rays of hope, as the School District continues to recover from its challenges and gain ground in carrying out its core educational mission.
So, how should the City Council respond to this vote of confidence? The core lesson is that we need to stay focused, keep being rational and thoughtful, keep faith with the public and continue to emphasize public involvement and transparency. Above all, this is no time to get overconfident: keep listening and keep doing the hard work voters are looking for. Seattle can continue to be an even better place to live and work - if the Council continues to be diligent and progressive, and match our leadership with staying in close touch with our voters.
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LET'S MAKE THE DUWAMISH RIVER THE CENTER FOR A SUSTAINABLE CITY
Cities thrive when they integrate the vitality of urban life with their natural surroundings. That's why so many of us live here and wouldn't trade our access to Puget Sound, the Olympics, and Mount Rainier for anything.
But at the heart of Seattle is a waterway that we turn our back on: the Duwamish River -- a Superfund site that is traversed by more than a dozen thriving salmon runs on their way to spawn in the Green River Watershed. How do they get through Seattle? Perhaps by holding their breath.
It doesn't have to be this way. Many big cities have taken neglected and polluted waterways and turned them into centerpieces. San Antonio's Riverwalk is a classic example, developed over decades and envied around the country, but it is only one of dozens of cities that have taken once gritty waterways and restored them. Even the Cuyahoga River, famous for igniting the environmental movement by catching fire in 1969, is now, after 40 years of restoration work, becoming an environmental and community asset for Cleveland.
And we have an extraordinary opportunity to do something even more revolutionary with the Duwamish. The Duwamish, although it has contaminated sediments, has a relatively clean water column supporting the aforementioned salmon runs and areas of ecological health. It also has two historic residential communities, South Park and Georgetown, a thriving Port that has a strong commitment to environmental stewardship, and many acres of industrial land that could support many more jobs and sustainable industries.
We must stay the course on the Superfund cleanup, and at the same time use it as a way to provide jobs, training, and careers for the people of the adjacent communities, and to develop an environmental infrastructure for new industries. Industries that are part of the ‘climate economy', providing green jobs building wind machines, processing local food, recycling wastes by turning them into resources, and creating sustainable products.
In addition to supporting the communities in ensuring that the cleanup works for them, I am also proposing that we create an Industrial Development District (IDD) in the Duwamish. The IDD will provide stormwater and drainage infrastructure and sustainable energy and water systems that new businesses can buy into. Rather than each business inventing its own environmentally responsible practices, we can create an Eco-Industrial Park, where environmental responsibility is built into the fabric.
The Duwamish River is a sacred site to the Duwamish Nation, which recently completed a longhouse on its shores and is committed to its restoration. Wouldn't it be fabulous if Seattle could create a new model of sustainability centered here?
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CITY AND STATE AGREEMENT ON SR 520
On Monday, October 24, the Seattle City Council approved legislation authorizing Mayor McGinn to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) that will protect the City's interests on the SR 520 bridge replacement project. The City Council initiated this agreement to follow up on our comment letters to WSDOT during the environmental review process. WSDOT agreed to most of our recommendations, and this MOU is the formal mechanism that creates the implementation plan. Mayor McGinn supported the legislation and the agreement. The full text of the agreement and authorizing legislation can be found at Council Bill 117303.
The MOU creates a formal agreement between the City and WSDOT to work collaboratively to address the issues of making the design, construction, and operation of the Westside portion of the SR 520 bridge project work for Seattle, our environment, and our neighborhoods. It ensures that the City will participate in critical west side decisions and that neighborhood traffic management and tree protection will be a priority. The City and our state and regional partners have been working hard to improve the design and safety of this critical corridor. This MOU ensures that the City will continue to be involved as the final design and construction decisions are made and implemented.
The MOU also defines the commitments that the State is making to implement the recommendations made by the City Council during the EIS process. It outlines the activities that WSDOT and the City will undertake, individually and jointly, as part of the project. The joint projects include design review, connecting the new cross-lake bicycle and pedestrian trail to city facilities, developing triggers and a decision-making process for whether a second Montlake Bridge will be constructed, and developing a neighborhood traffic management plan.
The MOU protects the City by:
- Securing a formal commitment from WSDOT on key project design elements and to build all of the Westside elements of the project.
- Establishing the intent of the City and State to meet timelines for project completion.
- Acknowledging the joint City/WSDOT effort to establish a further MOU relating to whether and when to construct a second Montlake bridge.
- Clarifying the mitigation commitments from WSDOT that are required as part of the environmental process, and those that WSDOT has agreed to implement to meet the City's goals and objectives for the project.
- Ensuring that the City maintains a meaningful role throughout the Project design review process.
- Ensuring that the City is at the table during the construction process to protect the interests of our neighborhoods.
- Ensuring that the City will be consulted if changes are considered in the future.
Earlier this summer, WSDOT completed the environmental process for the program, issuing the Final Environmental Impact Statement. In July, the federal government issued the Record of Decision giving federal approval to the I-5 to Medina project. WSDOT awarded a design-build contract for the new SR 520 floating bridge in August, and construction is expected to begin on Lake Washington in 2012. Construction on the first part of the project, from I-405 to Lake Washington is under way on the Eastside, and the new pontoons are under construction in Grays Harbor.
The final stage of project development requires securing full funding for the project. The legislature is expected to take up a transportation funding plan in 2012 or 2013 that will complete the funding package.
It has been a long, fourteen year road to get from the first review of replacement options for the SR 520 Bridge to this MOU that sets in place the method for making the final decisions on the Westside portion of the project. The City Council has worked through that time period to address the safety issues around the bridge, while at the same time protecting our neighborhoods and the environment, providing the opportunity for better transit and bicycle/pedestrian facilities for the future, and working with WSDOT to modify and improve the design. There are no perfect designs for a transportation facility like this, but the final project realizes the large majority of the City's objectives, and this MOU makes it possible to make even more positive refinements as the project moves into construction.
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SEATTLE SUCCESSES AT NATIONAL LEAGUE OF CITIES
Last week the National League of Cities (NLC) held its annual conference, and Seattle won two victories in the voting on Saturday, November 12. Our first success came when I was elected to a two-year term as one of 18 new and reelected members of the Board of Directors chosen to represent the more than 1,600 member municipalities governing the organization. I will be the first Seattle elected official to serve on the NLC Board since former Councilmember Sue Donaldson, who served in 1997-1998.
It is an honor to be chosen by my peers to serve the National League of Cities in this capacity. In 2013, NLC will bring its national conference to Seattle, and I look forward to showcasing our work to the thousands of attendees. At the conference, I presented at a workshop on economic development and facilitated a workshop on local food policies and initiatives. I also represented Seattle as a member of NLC Committee on Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources (EENR) and the City Futures Panel on Community and Regional Development.
Our second success came when the NLC passed a far-reaching resolution entitled "Supporting Healthy Food, Public Health, and Sustainability Practices in the 2012 Farm Bill," calling for a new Farm Bill that emphasizes supporting regional food systems, healthy food, sustainable agriculture, and social justice for farmers and farm workers. The resolution was modeled on Seattle City Council's Farm Bill resolution adopted earlier this year based on the Seattle Farm Bill Principles, and was developed by the EENR Committee at its 2011 meetings.
The Farm Bill is the primary piece of legislation that determines our nation's food and agriculture policy. The NLC agreed that the 2012 Farm Bill must include a broader perspective on this country's food system. It is important that rural, urban and suburban communities all have a voice in determining the policies that directly affect their economic and social well-being. By adopting a national resolution intended to improve federal food policy, municipalities can help reshape the policies in the current Farm Bill, adopted in 2008.
To help solve our nation's many health, social, economic and environmental challenges, the nation needs a comprehensive, health-focused food system that addresses the goals of hunger and disease reduction, local and family farm viability, food affordability and accessibility, environmental protection, land use planning, regional resilience, and social justice.
An increased number of local municipalities are beginning to realize the impact that the U.S. food system-characterized by heavy reliance on chemicals, increased processing of foods, long transportation times, and inequitable access to fresh food, particularly for low-income people-is having on health, local food security, hunger, emergency preparedness, climate protection, and economic development. NLC demonstrated that it is a beacon for progressive policies in a bleak national environment by adopting principles for a new Farm Bill that would transform this country's food system.
The National League of Cities is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. Working in partnership with the 49 state municipal leagues, the NLC serves as a resource to and an advocate for the more than 19,000 cities, villages and towns it represents. More than 1,600 municipalities of all sizes actively participate as leaders and voting members in the organization.
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EXTENDING LIGHT RAIL SOUTH OF THE AIRPORT
On Monday, October 31, Sound Transit submitted its application for a federal TIGER grant to construct light rail from Sea-Tac Airport to S. 200th Street, a critical move that begins the process of extending light rail to the south. This extension was included in the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure in 2008, but the recession has most seriously affected revenues in the South King County Subarea, and this grant would make a big difference in being able to fund the project.
The Seattle area received funding for the Two-Way Mercer Street project in the first round of Tiger grants, and for the South Park Bridge in the second round. We have been successful in the face of stiff competition because we have been able to develop regional unity around these grant applications, a key criteria for approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Sound Transit Board decided to pursue the S. 200th Street extension in the third round, and I asked the City to support this application instead of pursuing one of our own projects. The Mayor and Council agreed that this would be the most promising project for taking the next steps on our regional transit system, and we agreed that that Seattle would not submit a competing application.
Instead Seattle and other local governments in our area united in endorsing the Sound Transit proposal. While competition will be stiff for this 3rd round, we are hopeful that regional unity around this important project will give us the momentum we need to be one of the recipients.
The project would extend light rail south by approximately 2 miles from the airport station. Sound Transit has about $350 million in regional dollars, and we are asking for $24 million from the federal government to complete the funding package. There are a number of reasons why this project should compete well, in addition to the regional support:
- It will create 2,600 multi-year construction jobs.
- It will foster private sector development around the new transit center.
- It will connect south County residents to 400,000 jobs around the region.
- It serves an area with a high concentration of low income residents, many of whom are transit dependent.
- It will serve an estimated 5400 daily boardings, improving the operation of the entire Puget Sound transportation system by taking that number of riders off the road.
- It is shovel-ready, having already been through federal and state environmental approvals, and will be delivered using the accelerated design/build bid process.
Sound Transit continues to be a great regional partnership, and to move forward with light rail projects that will be economic and environmental assets to the region for our future. The three boring machines constructing the tunnel for University Link are advancing at a steady pace, and are on track to complete the tunnel on time next year. Plans for transit oriented development around the Capitol Hill station are moving forward with strong cooperation between the City, Sound Transit, and community leaders. And the recently completed agreement with the City of Bellevue clears the way for Eastside Link to move into final design and construction, while initial planning continues on the northern extension to Northgate and Lynnwood. Getting the South 200th Street Extension funded will be another step towards a full regional system, and this TIGER grant application is another great example of the region pulling together to make transit successful.
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"The United States government has always been proud of the welcome it has extended to good men of every nation, seeking freedom and homes and bread. Let them be welcomed still as nature welcomes them, to the woods as well as to the prairies and plains. No place is too good for good men, and still there is room. They are invited to heaven, and may well be allowed in America. Every place is made better by them."
"The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously."
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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