MAKING IT WORK
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide information, inspire involvement, and make things work in this great city.
COUNCIL TO REVIEW CITY RESPONSE TO SNOW STORMS
The City Council will begin a formal review of the City’s response to the December snow storms at our regular Briefings meeting on Monday, January 5. On Tuesday, January 6, at 9:30 AM, there will be a joint meeting of the Environment, Emergency Management, and Utilities Committee and the Transportation Committee, at which we will look in detail at the City's actions and develop a list of action items to consider. There will also be an opportunity to take public comment at the January 6 meeting. The Council will then determine next steps, which may include an evening public comment opportunity in the near future, as well as further joint committee meetings and possible legislation.
We all were impacted by the storm situation. Like most people, my regular bus route did not run for ten days, and my street (a minor arterial) was not cleared until December 27th. I wound up having to hike to get to City Hall. I know that this was a very difficult situation for many in our city, and I deeply regret the problems that people experienced.
The City must learn from this experience, review policies, procedures, and equipment, and identify improvements immediately. The Council cannot undue the difficulties the last few weeks have brought, but we can make a genuine effort at learning from this situation and finding constructive ways to do better.
After the 2006 wind storm and flooding, the City Council reviewed our storm response, with a special focus on our drainage and electric utilities, which bore the brunt of the problem then. The result was a series of specific actions that greatly improved the ability of those utilities to manage this storm. Outages were responded to promptly, and everyone in the City had heat, electricity and water. While no major drainage problems took place, the utility was prepared for them.
We will conduct a similar review of the City's performance in this storm, with the goal of identifying lessons learned and determining what specific steps can be taken to improve the response. The council intends to create a work plan that will implement those recommendations as soon as possible (the storm season is far from over).
The City Council does not directly manage the departments and a number of the policies and procedures for response to these kinds of situations are administrative. We do have a responsibility to the public to improve government response, provide the budget for training, new equipment, if needed, and other improvements.
This was an unusually difficult situation, and it is unlikely that any strategy would have avoided all of the problems. However, there are a number of specific things that could have been done to improve the response. The Council's task will be to evaluate these and learn lessons that can be applied in the future. Among the questions we will ask will be:
- Was the City's strategy of concentrating plowing resources to create packed surfaces on arterials the right approach? This may be a proper response to snow which melts in a day or so, but should it be modified when faced with this kind of long-lasting snow experience?
- Does the City deploy the right kind and amount of equipment? While it would not be cost effective to purchase the quantity of snow removal equipment necessary for cities that experience snow much more regularly, there may be other alternatives (such as equipping garbage trucks with snow plows) that could multiply the City's resources.
- Would the use of salt make a major difference, and what are the real environmental issues associated with it? Having lived in the Midwest, I can confidently say that salt is not a panacea, and it is not even clear that it would do better than the alternatives that were used, but we should determine that based on facts about relative performance.
- Could we use adaptive management strategies to modify the policies and plans when it became clear that a change in direction might be necessary? What resources could we have in reserve to implement such a change?
- What could be done to improve coordination with King County Metro so that transit could be given the maximum opportunity to keep running, instead of becoming a major part of the problem for people?
We have already begun receiving suggestions from the public for other improvements and questions to consider, and I am sure that we will hear more as we conduct the review.
Seattle Department of Transportation employees worked very hard to respond to this unusual situation, many of them working 12 hour shifts over the holidays. They deserve credit and thanks for their work and dedication. The problems with the response are not their responsibility.
Over the last several years we have had a number of “unusual” weather events. It costs money to be prepared for these events, for equipment, training and infrastructure. With climate change we are going to be challenged in ways that are unexpected, different and impactful. The City, businesses and residents must partner to find the best ways to deal with each unique situation as it arises. To this end, throughout 2009, the City Council will also focus on the larger issues of adaptation strategies and policies to meet the challenge of climate change. We will not be able to be perfectly prepared for everything, but we will look at the systems we have in place, our decision-making practices, and predictions of hazards and impacts and develop innovative practices, flexibility, and training that can make the city more resilient to the unexpected.
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TREE PROTECTION ORDINANCE MOVES FORWARD
On Monday, December 15, the City Council held a public hearing on my proposed ordinance to adopt temporary restrictions on the cutting of mature trees. The proposal would limit the kind of ‘clear-cutting’ that damages our urban forest and reduces the value of surrounding properties. These interim measures are being proposed now to prevent the loss of trees until a set of new and comprehensive policies known as the Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP) are completed in 2009.
There are many benefits to preserving and expanding our tree canopy. Trees support our drainage system by retaining water. Trees enhance the character of our neighborhoods. They provide wildlife habitat and connections between habitats. And they provide shade on hot days and absorb air pollution as well as carbon dioxide, the leading cause of global warming. If we allow unlimited removal of healthy, mature trees, we could set back Seattle’s efforts to increase our tree canopy by tens, if not hundreds, of years.
The City Council proposal would allow property owners to remove trees that are diseased or hazardous, or when removal is required for construction. It would limit the removal of healthy trees of six or more inches in diameter to three trees per year. The proposed legislation does not prevent trees from being removed for developments that have building permits. In fact, the legislation is specifically designed to avoid any adverse impact on the availability of affordable housing in Seattle, or on renovations and improvements that homeowners may wish to complete. The proposed legislation is similar to laws already in effect in Redmond, Kirkland, and Shoreline.
Seattle’s tree canopy now stands at 18% -- far below the 40% recommended by the American Forestry Association for U.S. cities west of the Mississippi River. Faced with this distressing reality, in 2007 the City Council adopted a goal to achieve a minimum of 30% tree coverage by 2030. The long-term plan to protect and grow the urban forest will include education and incentives, and revise current laws to make them less onerous. However, current indications are that the UFMP process will not reconvene until after receiving new satellite imagery sometime in 2009, which in the best-case scenario would produce legislation by late spring or early summer. Realistically, it could be another year before legislation arrives at the City Council for action.
My proposal keeps safe, for now, what many of us in regard as one of Seattle’s most precious natural resources. It will prevent the loss of a critical part of our urban infrastructure, and protect the ecological, economic and aesthetic value of our neighborhoods and landscape.
The Environment, Emergency Management, and Utilities will take up the ordinance at its next meeting on Tuesday, January 13, at 2 PM. If the Committee is ready to vote at that time, the ordinance would come before the Full Council the following Tuesday. Written comments on the proposal are welcome through Friday, January 16.
For more information, please visit my website.
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LOCAL FOOD ACTION INITIATIVE IMPLEMENTATION
On April 28, the Council adopted Resolution 31019, the Local Food Action Initiative, beginning the work to reduce hunger and improve sustainability of Seattle's food system. The Council has taken a number of actions since the adoption of the Resolution, including:
- Adding $200,000 in the 2009 budget and $200,000 in the 2010 budget for bulk buying of food for food banks;
- Adding $200,000 in 2009 and $200,000 in 2010 for home food delivery services for the disabled and elderly;
- Including $2 million for developing new community gardens/p-patches in the Parks for All Levy, which was approved by the voters in November;
- Appropriating $50,000 to the Department of Neighborhoods to develop a Seattle Food Action Plan, and $25,000 to the Department of Planning and Development to review land use code provisions to identify code provisions that support or conflict with the foal of potential future development of urban agriculture and market gardening, and to develop new standards or incentive programs that encourage incorporating food gardens into multi-family developments;
- Asking the Executive to develop a proposal for a weekly Farmer’s Market at City Hall;
- Directing the Seattle Department of Transportation to clarify the rules, educate the public, and promote the use of parking strips for growing food;
- Directing the Department of Neighborhoods to identify the most suitable City-owned properties for conversion to use for food production, asking for no less than two acres that could be developed in 2009-2010;
- Requesting that the Department of Parks and Recreation find ways to increase the availability of healthy foods in DPR vending machines, facilities, and programs;
- Directing the Department of Human Services to develop a set of statistics on hunger in Seattle to help guide future investments and policies;
- Modifying the Seattle Green Factor (standards for inclusion of green spaces in developments) to provide extra credit for providing fruit trees or food cultivation, including on green roofs.
In 2009, my office will continue work on these and other initiatives. Our key activities will be to:
- Work with Farmer’s Markets representatives to identify the issues and establish long-term locations for Farmer’s Markets around Seattle;
- Move forward the expansion of the P-Patch program towards the goal of getting the current waiting list of some 1700 families as close to zero as possible;
- Continue work to support food banks and other programs to provide food and improve nutrition for those in need, while developing a long-range strategy to end hunger and malnutrition in Seattle;
- Work to strengthen connections between urban consumers and rural food producers, including expanding Community Support Agriculture;
- Work with King County to create a Transfer of Development Rights program that can protect farmlands in King County and potentially be expanded to other Counties in the future;
- Develop a Regional Food Policy Council to coordinate work between urban and rural areas.
Read the Local Food Action Initiative, Resolution 31019, here.
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INCENTIVE ZONING ADOPTED BY COUNCIL
On Monday, December 15, the Seattle City Council adopted Council Bill 116358, the Workforce Housing Incentive program intended to stimulate creation of affordable housing. The legislation creates a policy that when zoning is changed to provide additional height and density, developers will be required to reserve part of the additional housing units for persons earning less than Seattle’s median income. The vote on the Council was 6 (Clark, Conlin, Burgess, Godden, McIver, and Rasmussen) to 3 (Drago, Harrell, Licata).
We have a shortage of housing in Seattle that can be afforded many of our families and workers. The market is producing high end housing, but not enough for people who are not financially well-off. The City is in a difficult position of trying to increase the supply of affordable housing, but with few options to do so. We are limited to specific tools that have been authorized by the Washington State Legislature. Incentive zoning was recently added to that toolbox, and, along with the Low Income Housing Levy, is one of the primary ways to encourage the production of more housing that is accessible to our families and workers.
Seattle first adopted incentive zoning for residential development in 2006, when zoning heights in downtown were adjusted upwards. Council Bill 116358 does not rezone any areas, but creates a policy framework that can be used when rezones are proposed in the future. Areas already under consideration for zoning changes include South Downtown and South Lake Union.
Council Bill 116358 supports Seattle’s goals for concentrating growth in denser neighborhoods and ensuring housing affordability. The Puget Sound Regional Council predicts that by 2040, the greater Puget Sound area will grow by another 1.7 million residents, many of whom will be looking for homes in Seattle. The Workforce Housing Incentive Program is one of several tools necessary to provide affordable housing for young people and working families. As new transit options link home with work, recreation, and shopping, the program will help ensure that these urban communities are accessible to a diverse range of our citizens.
Developers will have the choice of building to a threshold height without an affordable housing requirement or building higher while setting aside 15% to 17.5% of living space in the bonus height area for people who make no more than 80 percent of this area’s median income. The affordable housing must remain affordable for a minimum of 50 years. Alternatively, in areas zoned higher than 85 feet. the developer can elect to pay a fee equivalent to $18.94 per square foot of the new development space. The city can only use these fees to develop affordable housing.
While the specific provisions are complex, and the debates over the percentages and dollar values have been arcane, the goal of the Council was to strike a balance between ensuring the maximum number of affordable housing units and ensuring that the program provides a real incentive for developers to take advantage of new heights and densities. If the Council asked too much, developers would simply build to the previous heights and densities, which would mean no new affordable units. The Council reviewed extensive analyses and heard from many supporters and opponents of the incentive zoning model.
Ultimately, the provisions that the Council adopted were our best estimate of where the ‘sweet spot’ is that will result in the most affordable housing in the future. The program will be reviewed in 2010. At that time the Council could consider changes to the program to ensure effectiveness if it turns out that we have not identified the best numbers to make the program work.
Read the Incentive Zoning Ordinance, Council Bill 116358 here.
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STREETCAR NETWORK PLAN APPROVED
On Monday, December 8, the City Council adopted legislation delineating a conceptual network for future streetcar development. The resolution endorsing the network plan was approved by a vote of 6 (Conlin, Drago, Licata, Clark, Burgess, Godden) to 3 (Rasmussen, McIver, Harrell).
The resolution outlines the plan for possible future lines, and sets tentative priorities if funding becomes available. It does not commit the City to proceeding with developing the streetcar network. Rather, it includes a set of conditions for development of any particular line, including a complete funding plan and criteria for determining whether the proposal will be cost-effective and is efficiently coordinated with the Metro bus system.
The resolution was prompted by the success of streetcars in other cities, and the situation that is developing in Seattle, which may lead to three disconnected streetcar lines, all of which are currently funded. The South Lake Union line, whose construction was funded 50% by businesses and 50% by grants, has been in operation for a year, and recently celebrated its 500,000th passenger, significantly more than initially projected. A streetcar connecting the Capitol Hill light rail station to Jackson Street is funded in Sound Transit's Proposition 1, which received voter approval in November, and will go into construction with the light rail line. A replacement for the former waterfront streetcar, now in hiatus, is likely to be funded as part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct project; this line may run on First Avenue, where it would see higher ridership than on the waterfront. None of these lines will require major investments from City of Seattle funds.
Having three separate streetcar lines that do not connect to each other seems inefficient, and would require duplicating maintenance bases. A modest investment would be required to ensure interconnection, and that is likely to be the first priority for any possible future funding. The network plan suggests that extending the South Lake Union streetcar to Fremont-Ballard and/or to the University District are the next possibilities, as well as extending a line out Jackson Street to 23rd Avenue and connecting east-west from Capitol Hill to the Seattle Center.
The many cities that have built streetcar networks (including Portland) in recent decades have reported that ridership has been strong and that streetcars have proved to be cost effective. If funding can be found for linking and extending the Seattle lines, it is likely that they will prove to be a modest but useful part of our growing transit system.
Read the Streetcar Resolution 31091 here.
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SEATTLE LEGISLATIVE AGENDA: EDUCATION AND PUBLIC HEALTH ARE PRIORITIES
On Monday, December 15, the City Council unanimously approved our agenda for the 2009 Washington State Legislative session. The Legislative Agenda is designed to inform the State of the City's priorities for legislative action, and to provide guidance for the City's legislative liaisons in their work.
The City typically advocates for action on several major issues, and takes positions on a myriad of others. Seattle also has a list of funding requests that we ask the Legislature to consider.
However, this year Seattle is in relatively sound fiscal condition, while the State of Washington is struggling with a large deficit and the Seattle Schools face major financial challenges. In an unprecedented move, the City Council chose not to submit our usual list but instead to ask the legislature to fully fund K-12 education.
The Council noted that, while the City of Seattle is not responsible for operating, managing or funding public education, the City Council regards successful public schools and a quality education as key to the social and economic vitality of our city and state, and that "… [t]he State should continue to provide for the full funding of K-12 education, which is the paramount duty of the State mandated by the state constitution."
The fact is the health and vitality of our communities depends on the State supporting and providing a strong education system. Now more than ever, we must assure the future of our children. It's unusual for any government to make advocating funding for a different government a priority, but this issue is too critical to our city, so we decided that we can't sit this one out.
Adding to our commitment to working together to ensure the future for our communities, the Council also added its support for a long-term sustainable funding for public health as another priority. Again, the City does not manage or operate the public health system, which is a County function, but the continued erosion of public health funding will affect our community, and the Council believes that support for public health is a priority for the City – even if it does not mean any funds coming directly to Seattle government.
While intergovernmental cooperation is beneficial to the community under any circumstances, the current economic crisis lends new urgency. The Council recognizes that funding the schools and health services that Seattle depends on is critical for our ability to thrive in the years to come.
Read the complete Legislative Agenda, Resolution 31097, here.
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"No ecology, no economy. No planet, no profit."
-- Cherie Hoyle
"My father rode a camel. I drive a car. My son rides in a jet. His son will ride a camel."
-- Popular Saudi saying
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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