MAKING IT WORK
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide information, inspire involvement, and make things work in this great city.
POLICE GUILD SETTLEMENT: SALARY INCREASES AND ACCOUNTABILITY
The Seattle Police Officers Guild has overwhelmingly ratified a new contract, which will now move to a City Council vote sometime in June. The new contract, covering the years 2007-2010, will increase starting salaries by 8 percent, and will give current police officers a 25.6 percent raise over the four year contract period. This will make Seattle police officers the highest-paid in Washington, and ends a long and sometimes turbulent negotiation. Entry level officer pay will now be more than $64,000 by 2010, and an officer with twelve years on the force will earn more than $90,000 annually.
This contract also makes significant and major changes that dramatically reshape the police accountability system. The Guild has agreed to accept all 29 recommendations made by the Mayor’s Police Accountability Review Panel earlier this year. In addition, the Guild accepted a revised system of police shifts and patrol beats that will effectively increase the number of police officers on duty at the times and locations where crime is most frequent. This change is critical to improving public safety. The additional police officers scheduled to be hired in coming years would have had much less value to the people of Seattle without the changes in shift timing and beat boundaries.
Key accountability measures include expanding the role of the independent police auditor, increasing the independence and authority of the Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) director, establishing the OPA Review Board (to be expanded to seven members) as a key link to the community, increasing public access to information regarding the accountability system, and other provisions that will clarify how high professional standards will be maintained, encouraged, and enforced. The contract also includes provisions that will better coordinate the several entities that enforce accountability.
The new police contract will put some strains on Seattle’s general fund budget, especially in the 2009-2010 biennium, with expectations of an economic slowdown and the likelihood of reduced revenues. Public safety comprises more than half of the Seattle general fund budget, and salaries are more than 80 percent of the public safety budget.
The City can probably absorb the additional costs in 2008 with only minimal budget reductions. However, funding these increases in 2009-2010 and beyond will be a potentially difficult task, depending on the duration and depth of the economic downturn. Fortunately, the Council, in adopting the 2007 and 2008 budgets, not only fully funded the City’s Emergency Reserve Fund, but also set aside a significant amount of money in a Rainy Day Fund, which can be used if the situation gets truly dire. At this point, the expectation is that the City will be able to cope with the increased salary costs by reducing other expenses, but the challenging task of doing so will fully occupy the attention of the Council during the October and November budget season.
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PLASTIC BAGS AND FOAM LEGISLATION: PUBLIC COMMENT MEETING JUNE 24
Legislation implementing the proposed ban on Styrofoam in restaurants and the proposed twenty cent fee on plastic and paper bags at grocery stores, convenience stores, and drug stores will be introduced early in June.
The legislation will be discussed in my Environment, Emergency Management, and Utilities Committee at our regular meeting on Tuesday, June 24. A Public Comment meeting will be held the evening of Tuesday, June 24, at 5:30 PM in the Council Chambers. Interested members of the public are invited to attend and provide their thoughts to the Council.
While there has been strong public support expressed for both of these measures, there continue to be questions and concerns raised by some members of the public as well as industry representatives. The American Chemical Council has been lobbying Councilmembers against the ban on Styrofoam. Some grocery stores have expressed concerns about the bag fee, and are likely to oppose moving forward with it.
The Council will work through the month of July on this legislation, and hopefully will be able to address some of the concerns expressed by retailers about effective implementation. We hope to bring both pieces of legislation to a vote before the Council takes its summer recess in late August.
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GETTING TO WORK TO PROTECT THE URBAN FOREST
On May 12, eight members of the City Council wrote the Seattle School Board to request that the School Board take a closer look at plans to expand Ingraham High School that will lead to some sixty plus Douglas Firs and twenty-two Madrona trees that will be cut down under the proposed design. While recognizing that the School Board has authority over the plans for this building, the Council wanted to encourage the Board to consider alternative designs that might preserve these important assets.
This letter was a small initial step in the Council’s work to find ways to realize the City's Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP) urban tree canopy goal of 30% for the City of Seattle, to be achieved by 2037. In Seattle’s most recent Comprehensive Plan amendments (Ordinance 122610), the Council adopted a goal of a 1% per year increase in urban tree canopy coverage up to 40%. This goal is consistent with the urban tree canopy goal recommended by American Forests, the nation's oldest non-profit citizen's conservation organization.
In Ordinance 122610, the Council also adopted a new Comprehensive Plan policy stating the City's objective to strive to achieve no net-loss of tree canopy starting in 2008. Mitigating the cumulative impact of the loss of Seattle's urban tree cover by planting new trees will take decades, and it is clear that an environmentally and fiscally superior way to reach Seattle's urban tree cover goal of 40% is to make every reasonable effort to prevent the loss of trees.
Whether or not the School District ultimately decides to alter the Ingraham plan, the Council will continue with its work on the issue of trees. The proposed redevelopment of the Waldo property, in the Maple Leaf neighborhood, has raised similar concerns about the loss of a major grove of trees on the site. The vast majority of the units proposed for the site could be built without disturbing this grove, but the environmental analysis by the Department of Planning and Development looks only at individually significant trees, and not the overall ecological function of the entire grove.
In response to this gap in the City’s tree protections, Councilmember Sally Clark and I have introduced a resolution requesting the Director of the Department of Planning and Development to submit legislation to extend the City’s tree protection efforts to include groves or groups of trees or other vegetation that are determined to have substantial ecological, educational, or economic value and to update the existing Director’s Rules in support of these efforts. We hope to have this resolution brought to a Full Council vote in July.
It is important that we maintain and increase our tree canopy, not only to honor the esthetic that our residents know and love, but in order to carry out our responsibility to prevent global warming and to maintain a healthy environment. Stands of mature trees are the lungs of our ecosystem; they provide important benefits to our drainage systems and creeks. Unfortunately, we are rapidly running out of available green space; and, despite our commitment to maintaining the urban forest, trees too often are cut. While the City is committed to increasing the housing supply in Seattle, both to carry out our responsibility under the Growth Management Act to protect our farms and forests, and to address the crisis in affordable housing, we must find a way to do this while also protecting and enhancing our tree canopy.
These first steps are only the beginning of work on this important issue, which is likely to prove contentious and challenging to work through.
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SPOKANE STREET VIADUCT PROJECT GOOD TO GO, TWO-WAY MERCER GETS A YELLOW LIGHT
On Monday, May 12, the City Council voted to realign the City’s major transportation projects funding to reflect the reduced project resources available as a result of the defeat of the regional transportation measure on the November 2007 ballot. The measure was approved by a vote of 8 to 1, with Councilmember Licata voting no.
When the Bridging the Gap proposal was approved by the Council, the Council agreed to focus the funds available for major projects (generally, those that required bond financing, which cannot be supported by levy funds) on four projects: renovating the King Street Station, rebuilding the Spokane Street Viaduct and adding new exits, reconstructing Mercer as a two-way street, and constructing a freight overpass on South Lander Street. The three road projects were all seen as particularly important because of their contribution to realigning traffic in anticipation of the construction process for the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
All three are expensive projects, estimated in the range of $100 to $200 million. The City had not planned to fully fund any of them, using a combination of state and federal funds as well as revenues from the regional transportation measure to match the City’s investment. Unfortunately, with the demise of the regional transportation funding, it became clear that it would not realistically be possible to proceed with all three projects, so the City has to make tough choices about how to realign its available resources.
The ordinance reallocates the City funds to focus on moving the renovation and expansion of the Spokane Street Viaduct ahead as quickly as possible. The Lander Street overpass is placed on the back burner, and the two-way Mercer proposal will continue to be developed, but will not move into construction unless and until additional funding is obtained.
The City has already made the decision to proceed with a two-way Mercer plan – that issue has been debated several times on the Council, and an agreement reached that restoring the grid in this area is the only reasonable way to reconcile a manageable traffic flow and the new urban neighborhood that is emerging in South Lake Union. While there had initially been a number of stakeholders who were concerned that this proposal would not work for freight and other mobility, some 35 stakeholders came together last year and agreed on a design that was unanimously endorsed by all parties as effectively meeting their needs. Extending the two-way Mercer all the way to Elliott Avenue is critical to the success of this design, and the Washington State Department of Transportation has agreed to include this as part of the project development.
The legislation does not commit the City to proceeding with construction of the Mercer Street project at this time, as there is not funding committed to complete the project. The funding currently available will be used for additional environmental work, design, and right-of-way acquisition, and the Council required that the Executive submit a realistic financing plan prior to being allowed to proceed with construction.
The most important step that the Council took with this legislation was ensuring that the Spokane Street project could move forward this summer – bonds will be sold and contracts let as soon as possible. This project is very important to maintain and improve mobility and transit connections between West Seattle and downtown and I-5, especially as work on the Alaskan Way Viaduct begins this summer with utility relocations.
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AUTOMATED PUBLIC TOILETS FLUSHED AWAY
On Monday, May 19, the Council voted unanimously to cancel the contracts for the five Automated Public Toilets (APT's) as soon as possible, which means that they will be removed around July 1. The Council took this action based on a report from Seattle Public Utilities.
The report, which the Council requested in approving the 2008 budget, indicated that the APT design is inefficient and ineffective, that they have become attractive places for concealment of illegal activity, and that removing them would minimally impact publicly accessible toilet services. The report also noted that they are much less cost effective than alternative toilet services, that removing the automated public toilets would save the City approximately $4.5 million within five years, and that while there are no simple or complete solutions for the problems commonly associated with public toilets or their lack, there are opportunities for significant improvements.
SPU reviewed possible alternatives, and concluded that there are 152 publicly accessible toilets within two blocks of the APT locations. The City will use some of the savings from cancellation of this contract to provide better signage directing people to alternative locations, to work with businesses to compensate them for any added cleaning and security expenses if they make their toilets more widely available, and to provide staffing for public toilets that could be made available for longer hours.
In Europe, where APT’s have been generally successful, they have often been combined with attended restrooms in areas such as those where the Seattle toilets were located, where there is an ongoing presence of persons who might use them for illegal activities. It appears as though the APT simply does not work in the context that Seattle was attempting to use them. Every effort has been made to try to make these toilets a success, so the Council could only conclude that the City should cut its losses and seek a different approach to meeting the real need for toilet facilities in these areas.
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"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."
--Sir Arthur Canon Doyle
"The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close-up."
Citizen participation and engagement are critical for maintaining democracy -- fostering it is a key task of elected
officials. It's my hope that this newsletter will inform you about issues, inspire you to get involved, and that together
we can make things work better in this great city. Please send me your feedback, so we can keep things lively, interesting,
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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