MAKING IT WORK
Welcome to MAKING IT WORK, Councilmember Conlin's monthly email newsletter. This newsletter is one way that Councilmember
Conlin is seeking to carry out his conviction that fostering citizen participation and engagement is a key task
of elected officials, and is vital to a democratic society. Each issue includes Councilmember Conlin's thoughts
on a key issue, informs you of other major issues in the City, and let's you know how you can influence City decisions.
PARKS LEVY GOES TO VOTERS
On Monday, July 21, the Council approved placing a renewal of the Pro Parks levy on the November ballot. The vote on the Council was 7 to 0 (Councilmembers Clark and McIver absent). The $145 million renewal levy is significantly lower than the $198 million levy approved by the voters in 2000, but will be spread out over six years rather than eight. The annual cost to the median house (valued at $429,000) will be about $84, compared to the annual cost of $103 in the previous levy.
The Parks Package: Coming to Neighborhoods Near You
The Council agreed to most of the recommendations of the Parks and Green Space Citizens Committee, which proposed:
- $34 million for Neighborhood Park acquisition in 19 areas identified by the Parks Department as not meeting Comprehensive Plan goals for open space, including 17 Urban Villages and two residential neighborhoods, along with acquisition of additional properties in seven natural areas and greenbelts.
- $83 million for park development, including improvements to 23 neighborhood playgrounds, parks on three reservoir lids (Maple Leaf, Beacon Hill, and Myrtle), two new skate parks, converting three wading pools to safer spray parks, and eight specific neighborhood parks; seismic renovation of two Parks-owned buildings, the Seattle Asian Art Museum and Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center; renovating and adding new field surface to four athletic fields; developing facilities at five major citywide parks; and constructing three trails, including completion of the Burke-Gilman Trail.
- $8 million for forest and stream restoration, community food gardens, and developing City-owned street ends to provide publicly accessible shoreline.
- $15 million for an Opportunity Fund to fund acquisition and development projects identified by neighborhood and community groups.
However, the Council made several specific changes, including:
- Adding $2 million each to the funding for the parks being developed on the Beacon Hill and Maple Leaf reservoir lids;
- Reducing the funding for seismic improvements to the Seattle Asian Art Museum building in Volunteer Park from $11 million to $9 million;
- Adding Lake City to the list of urban villages eligible for parks property acquisition;
- Adding funding for the Queen Anne Boulevard and off-leash areas in Queen Anne and Magnolia;
- Adding $1 million for Discovery Park; and
- Adding $1.6 million for possible improvements to Victor Steinbrueck Park, with provisions that the Council must approve the design and that the funds will revert to the other categories if an acceptable design cannot be developed.
The overall package addresses many park, recreation, and open space needs identified in several relevant City parks/open space plans and by the public during community outreach. At a time when economic factors require many families to plan 'staycations', our parks system, the most affordable recreation alternative, is more important than ever. And we must ensure that parks and open space opportunities keep pace with housing growth in Seattle. Much of the funding will go for major maintenance and safety improvements on existing parks and facilities, and for developing parks on space that has already been acquired, while other funding can be used to purchase scarce land that will only get more expensive over time.
A key difference between the 2008 and the 2000 levy is that the 2008 levy does not include funding for ongoing operations. Parks are the only city function that has specific funding sources reserved in the City Charter. The Mayor and Council have been able to fully absorb into the regular City budget all of the operations and maintenance costs included in the previous levy.
The Parks and Green Spaces Levy Advisory Committee report can be reviewed here.
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STYROFOAM AND PLASTIC BAGS LEGISLATION APPROVED
On Monday, July 28, the Council approved a ban on polystyrene containers and an Advanced Recovery Fee on disposable plastic and paper shopping bags (those distributed at the checkout at grocery stores, drug stores, and convenience stores). The vote on the polystyrene ban was 7 to 0 (Licata and McIver absent), and the bag fee was approved by a vote of 6 to 1 (Drago voting against). The legislation goes into effect on January 1, 2009.
Most Seattle residents support these proposals because of their clear environmental benefits (I received 4000 letters, cards, and emails supporting the legislation and about 500 against it). However, a DC based group, the American Chemistry Council, advertised heavily against it. In these ads they called themselves the 'Seattle Coalition for Responsible Recycling", but there is actually no organization by that name, it is simply a front funded by the plastics industry.
The Council made a number of changes to the original proposal. The polystyrene legislation was amended to delay the application to meat trays until July 1, 2010, in response to concerns raised by some grocery stores about the cost of substitutes. The legislation also requires Seattle Public Utilities to convene a stakeholder group at the end of 2009 to review the second stage of the ban, which requires switching to compostable alternatives by July 1, 2010. The stakeholder group will advise as to whether satisfactory alternatives are available in time to meet this deadline. SPU will also consider developing a purchasing cooperative to assist the restaurant industry in complying with this requirement.
The plastic and paper bag fee was also amended to address concerns about its possible impact on low income consumers. The legislation requires SPU to prepare an action plan to distribute bags to low-income families and people on fixed incomes. The plan is to use partnerships with agencies to get reusable bags to residents for whom the 20 cent fee truly represents a hardship. The Council also added provisions to streamline the administration of the program, to evaluate its cost and effectiveness after one year, and to consider applying the fee to plastic bags at all retail outlets once the model has been demonstrated to be effective.
Studies show that disposable bags comprise some 2700 tons of Seattle's waste stream. That's a significant impact – and they are also major sources of litter and of plastic pollution in our streams and the ocean. Most of the 360 million disposable bags provided by our stores are not recycled or reused. The recycling rate for disposable plastic bags has never exceeded 15% in Seattle.
The fee is the most direct means of reducing the use of disposable bags, while retaining the right of the consumer to choose. Bags are not really free, of course - the price to the store is rolled into the cost of the food and other products at the stores. Convenience, drug, and grocery stores distribute more than 70% of all disposable shopping bags in our City. By focusing on the largest portion, this legislation will eliminate most of the waste associated with disposable bags.
It’s important to note that no one will have to pay the fee. It can simply be avoided by using reusable bags. A portion of whatever is collected goes back to the stores to defray their expenses. The rest must by law go into the Solid Waste Fund, to be used for recycling programs and education and to reduce solid waste rates. The money cannot be used for any general government purposes. The City’s goal is to have reusable bags become the norm.
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MEGAHOUSE LEGISLATION INTRODUCED
Council Bill 116275 was introduced on Monday, July 28. This bill modifies the land use and zoning standards relating to single family neighborhoods to limit the impact of new development on existing homes and the character of these neighborhoods. It is a modified version of legislation that I have been working on for more than a year to address the problems of 'megahouses' in Seattle.
Current development standards for single family home construction have not been comprehensively re-evaluated since 1982. Current development standards, such as height limits and lot coverage allowances, allow construction of homes that do not fit well into neighborhoods where there exists a more modest scale of development. The proposed modifications are designed to encourage new development that is more compatible with the existing housing stock in single family zones.
The legislation would adopt several new provisions, including:
- Removing height averaging provisions that allow height to be determined based on the height of adjacent single family structures, when either structure exceeds 30 foot height limit;
- Implementing a formula lot coverage allowance (1,000 square feet + 15% of lot area) to determine the amount of lot coverage on lots less than 5,000 square feet, to replace the current 1,750 square feet allowance;
- Setting a maximum of 5 feet in additional height for houses developed within a regulated steep slope (40% or greater);
- Reducing from 25% to 10% the amount of additional permitted lot coverage when a lot is adjacent to an alley;
- Removing provisions allowing corner lots to include ½ of an abutting side street in lot coverage calculations;
- Preventing the location of a garage wall closer to the street lot line than 80% of the remaining non-garage street level façade on a single family structure;
- Increasing allowed roof pitch ratio in all SF zones from 3:12 to 4:12;C
- Clarifying regulations concerning rooftop dormers and projections;
- Limiting hardscape surface, including structures, driveways, walkways, decks, patios, pools, etc., to 65 percent of the lot area. This will help to maintain open space, allow more room for trees and vegetation, reduce stormwater impacts from runoff, and reduce the visual impacts of new homes;
- Reducing the visual impact of garages by limiting the size of garage doors to 50 percent of the front façade (to minimum of 10 feet) and prevent protruding or "snout-nose" garages;
- Allowing additional lot coverage for one-story rear yard garages on lots with no alley access to reduce the impact of garages on the streetscape;
- Waiving parking requirements for single family homes on parcels less than 3,000 square feet in size, or 30 feet in width where no alley is present; and
- Implementing minor changes to the historic lot exception to allow redevelopment on an adjacent lot held under common ownership when portions of a single family structure not devoted to living area were located too close to property line.
The proposed amendments are intended to address neighborhood concerns while balancing the need to accommodate growing families in Seattle neighborhoods that are becoming increasingly less affordable to families with children. Overall, the amendments are intended to help ensure that new homes contribute positively to neighborhood character, yet allow flexibility in accommodating future growth and increase housing choices for Seattle residents. A public hearing will be scheduled in September, with a Council vote likely in late September or October.
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MAGNUSON PARK CONTRACTS: ONE UP, ONE DOWN
For several years the City has been trying to figure out what to do with the deteriorating Navy buildings that Seattle inherited as part of the agreement to turn over Sand Point for a new park. Many of them have historic significance, and others are being used for a variety of community purposes, but the cost of rehabilitating them can be very large. There are questions as to how much of this cost can reasonably be expected to come from City taxpayers, especially for buildings that may be best suited for use by external organizations or businesses.
The development of these buildings is driven by City policy and a series of Magnuson Park plans, which generally emphasize their use for recreational purposes. The Parks Department has been working with current users and organizations that would be able to provide those recreational opportunities to develop contractual arrangements for facilities. The proposed arrangements have led to some controversy, as both the Council and some community organizations have expressed concern about the financial terms of some of the leases and the purposes for which the buildings will be used.
This controversy has become a difficult conversation between the Executive and Council, with the Mayor’s office basically suggesting that the contracts proposed by Parks are the best arrangements that can be made, and the Council asking for more return for the taxpayers and for more guarantees that the Park will not become over commercialized.
In June, the Council’s Parks Committee reviewed a proposed lease for the construction of an indoor tennis center, and identified a number of concerns. When the Executive refused to reopen negotiations, Council staff approached the Seattle Tennis Center, and was able to successfully resolve the questions. The proposed lease was approved unanimously by the Council on Monday, July 28.
A proposed lease for Building 11 generated even more controversy. The Magnuson Park Plan dedicates this area of the park to water-related recreation opportunities. On Monday, July 28, the Council's Parks and Seattle Center Committee unanimously rejected a proposed lease for Building 11, because:
- There was no assurance that Sail Sand Point and other community recreation tenants would be guaranteed to remain;
- The lease did not commit the building to use as a small craft boating center operated by a nonprofit;
- The lease would require lifting the Shoreline zone restrictions that limit commercial activity in the Shoreline zone;
- The lease was for 50 years, but the lessees could sell the lease after ten years;
- The City would be required to pay for improvements but not raise rents based on the value of the improvements;
- The building would have the exclusive right to restaurant service in the entire park for the next 50 years; and
- There were no restrictions on the location of commercial uses in the building.
The Council and the Mayor’s office are now in negotiations as to how to resolve this issue. Fortunately, it looks like the Council’s action has resulted in a serious meeting of the minds, and awareness on the part of the proposed lessee that there will have to be modifications in the lease terms if they are to be acceptable to the Council. New negotiations are now underway, and it is likely that a new contract that resolves the major concerns will come back to the Council in September. A new lease proposal for Arena Sports at Building 27 is also likely to be able to be developed, which will address community and Council concerns while allowing the popular Arena Sports program to expand to this larger facility.
It is important that these contracts are settled in the near future. Some Sand Point buildings have already been closed by the Fire Marshall, and it is likely that others will follow, if they continue to deteriorate without a plan for renovation. Fortunately, it looks as though this issue may finally be on a positive path towards resolution.
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NEXT STEPS ON ZERO WASTE MOVE FORWARD
The Zero Waste Strategy includes a number of policies and programs to be implemented in the coming years, as detailed in Resolution 30990. Interim reports on some of the pending steps were reviewed by the Environment, Emergency Management, and Utilities Committee on Tuesday, July 29. The following are some of the measures that will come forward in the near future:
Revising building and demolition permits to encourage deconstruction and salvage
The Department of Planning and Development will propose legislation this fall to revise the permit process to encourage deconstruction of a house, rather than demolition. Right now, builders are issued demolition and new building permits at the same time. The problem is that this gives the builder a financial incentive to demolish the building as quickly as possible so that new construction can begin as soon as possible. That puts a premium on simply tearing things up and throwing them away rather than carefully removing items that could be reused or recycled.
Under the revised process, a builder could get a deconstruction permit almost immediately by submitting a waste diversion plan that would commit the builder to specific goals for recycling or reusing a percentage of the building materials. This will actually speed up the construction process, which could begin immediately as soon as the building permit is issued, while increasing the amount of material that is reused or recycled.
Developing new facilities to manage construction and demolition waste
Seattle Public Utilities has reviewed options for developing either new City-owned or private facilities for construction and demolition waste in order to encourage recycling and reuse. SPU concluded that there adequate facilities either on-line or planned to manage the expected flow of C/D waste, but that there is a need for City action to ensure that these facilities manage the waste in a way that increases the recycling rate. SPU is developing a proposal to establish a certification program for these facilities, and then to use the City’s flow control power to require waste generated in Seattle to go to facilities that achieve a certified minimum percentage of recycling. As technology improves, the minimum level for certification can be ratcheted up. A formal recommendation to the Council is expected this fall.
Community waste reduction grants
To help implement the Zero Waste Strategy, $100,000 was set aside for innovative community-driven approaches to waste reduction and recycling. The City expects to issue a call for proposals this fall, and hopes to award grants by the end of the year.
E-Waste collection programs
State legislation will require the electronics industry to set up sites for the free drop off of computer monitors, televisions, cpu’s, and laptops by January 1, 2009. It is expected that between 10 and 20 sites will be certified in Seattle for this program. The City will work with the industry and state to publicize this opportunity.
The City will also offer an alternative, curbside collection of these and other electronic items for a small fee. As of April, 2009, residents will be able to schedule a pickup as an alternative to dropping off the items at the state-mandated locations. Light trucks will use GPS routings to carry out the collections. Even though there will be a cost, SPU expects that many residents will find the convenience and wider range of materials collected under this program to be attractive.
Identifying products whose use should be discouraged
Plastic bags and polystyrene foam were the first products to be reviewed for possible regulation. With that action completed, SPU is beginning to look at other products that might be appropriate to regulate or ban. A range of plastic products, packaging, and products with high levels of toxicity will be considered, with a report coming back to the Council this fall.
Market development for recycling facilities
City staff are currently in discussion with representatives of several businesses that might locate new recycling facilities in Seattle. The most promising are carpet and asphalt shingles, with plants to upcycle wood waste to pulp finish and recycle drywall also possibilities.
Learn more about the zero waste strategy or see the resolution.
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WATER AND SOLID WASTE RATE INCREASES PROPOSED
Mayor Nickels and Seattle Public Utilities transmitted proposed rate increases for water and solid waste to the City Council on Friday, August 1. We will begin our scrutiny of them at the August 12 meeting of the Environment, Emergency Management, and Utilities Committee. The Council expects to take at least two months to review the proposals, and will do our best to identify savings and reduce the proposed rate increases.
Solid waste rate increases are primarily driven by new collection contracts just signed, which will lock in costs for the next ten years -- rates have only been increased once in the last ten years, and the new rate we adopt this year should also be relatively stable for the next ten. The new contracts reflect cost increases over the last ten years, as well as changes in operations to provide trucks that are less noisy and less polluting, and increases in service levels such as weekly yard/food waste collection and dumpster free alleys in business districts. The reconstruction of the City's two transfer stations will also require additional resources -- these stations were constructed almost fifty years ago, and are inefficient and have adverse effects on the adjacent neighborhoods.
My goal in reviewing this rate is first to find any savings that are possible and reducing the overall rate increase. Second, I will try to ensure that a household that takes advantage of all possible recycling and waste reduction opportunities experiences little or no increase in monthly bills, and that those who generate the largest amounts of garbage have the largest increases.
The increase in water rates is driven largely by major capital programs to cover reservoirs (required by federal regulations), implement the Cedar River Habitat Conservation Plan, and repair the neglect of the City's water system in the last three decades of the twentieth century. Unfortunately, City officials in those times chose to keep rates low and defer maintenance for much of that time, and we are now paying the price for that decision. Again, we will seek to reduce the overall rate increase by whatever savings we can prudently identify. Then, I will try to adopt rates that have little or no increase for households and businesses that implement conservation measures, with larger or more inefficient consumers seeing the largest increases.
It is not realistically possible to have no rate increase. There are real cost increases for fuel, construction, and labor that do have to be covered, and some rate increase is justified. The Council will make final decisions on rates in early October.
Click here for more information about the proposed rate increases.
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"The closer you get to real matter – rock, air, fire, wood – the more spiritual the world is."
-- Gary Snyder
"Merely engaging in high-minded debates about theoretical future reductions while continuing to steadily increase emissions represents a self-delusional and reckless approach. In some ways, that approach is worse than doing nothing at all, because it lulls the gullible into thinking that something is actually being done, when in fact it is not."
-- Al Gore
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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