MAKING IT WORK
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"No one who lives in the sunlight makes a failure of his life."
-- Albert Camus
YOUTH VIOLENCE INITIATIVE
On Monday, April 27, the City Council unanimously approved two pieces of legislation that advance the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. Council Bill 116489 approved $1.26 million for a set of specific programs that the Council had reviewed last year, but did not approve going forward because the planning and implementation needed to be clearer and more concrete. The Mayor has worked with the Council over the last few months to better define these programs, and the Council is now satisfied with the proposed design and implementation plan.
Resolution 31112 specifies the evaluation plan and indicators for success for the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative and provides for quarterly updates to the Council on program progress.
The Mayor and Council are committed to developing effective programs to ensure that we reduce youth violence in Seattle. The City will contract with three coordinating agencies to manage efforts to accomplish this.
Seattle's overall crime rate has dropped to its lowest point since 1968, but there remain hot spots in the city as well as unacceptably high levels of violence involving the city's young people. This initiative involves a new approach of using outreach workers to prevent violent acts and retaliation before they occur and to engage youth in activities that will divert them before they get involved in the gang and youth violence culture.
The new approach includes establishing youth centers with extended hours, giving youth a safe place to go or be taken to stay out of trouble; adding police officers in middle schools; improving school attendance, and training children to deal with conflict; supporting more community-based projects that engage and mentor young people; and providing youth employment opportunities. Seattle will combine these diversion programs with effective law enforcement against existing gangs to address this critical issue for our future.
The Mayor proposed two very ambitious goals, a 50% reduction in court referrals for juvenile crimes committed against persons by youth residing in Southeast, Central, and Southwest Seattle, and a 50% reduction in the number of suspensions and expulsions for violence-related incidents at six middle and K-8 schools in these neighborhoods. Even if these goals are not achieved, the program would be successful if it turned around the trend towards increasing youth violence and made progress towards the goals.
In addition to the three coordinating entities, numerous other agencies and governments will be involved in this cooperative effort. The city is committed to adaptive management of the programs, using indicators to track progress and changing or terminating programs that are not successful.
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On Monday, May 11, the Council Committee of the Whole on Economic Recovery approved a resolution outlining the strategies and actions that the City Council intends to undertake to mitigate the impacts of the current economic recession on Seattle residents and businesses, and to help promote the economic recovery of the City and region.
The Council has worked with community members and businesses over the last few weeks to identify steps that we can take that will help those who are unemployed, at risk for foreclosure, or otherwise impacted by this severe recession. We have identified 17 specific actions that we can take that will assist those in need, help businesses weather the current downturn, and prepare Seattle for the next economy.
The following actions are included in the resolution:
- Providing relief to small businesses. Increase the B&O Tax threshold from $80,000 to $100,000, which will exempt approximately 1,800 small businesses from paying the tax; use the expanded Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds included in the federal stimulus legislation to increase loans to small businesses that have been unable to obtain credit elsewhere; extend the term of Master Use Permits (MUP) that have already been issued (saving developers the expense of reapplying for a MUP once the economy begins to recover); approve an exemption from the admissions tax for live music venues; and cap the amount businesses pay in 2009 and 2010 toward the Employee Hours Tax ("Head Tax") at 2008 levels, so that businesses that increase employment in 2009-10 will not need to pay a Head Tax in excess of what they paid in 2008.
- Refine the mission of the Office of Economic Development to improve the City's overall "Business Climate". Orient the City's Office of Economic Development (OED) towards providing more focused support for small businesses, and establish Council priorities and benchmarks to measure OED's effectiveness in this regard; develop OED as a "single point of entry" to help businesses navigate City government with greater ease and improve City-wide coordination among relevant departments, including the Department of Development (DPD), Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), and the Department of Executive Administration (DEA); have OED partner with neighborhood chambers and others to develop and promote a "Buy Local" campaign, including encouraging Seattle residents to "vacation locally"; and reallocate resources within OED to encourage the creation of "green" businesses in Seattle and improve the environmental efficacy of existing businesses
(this could include helping businesses access the various City programs that provide financial assistance for certain conservation improvements (e.g. utility rebates), encouraging "Buying Co-ops" for compostable products, and accessing technical expertise on green building incentives and opportunities).
- Review the City of Seattle's taxes, fees and utility rates. In response to the "Seattle Business Coalition's" request for a competitiveness study, work with the Office of Economic Development and the Office of Policy and Management to lead a review of recent economic development trends in the City (employment, business relocation, construction, etc.) and assess what impact City imposed costs (taxes, fees, utility rates, etc) have had on the trends; proceed cautiously when considering future tax, utility, and fee increases, and keep utility rates stable through at least 2010; and review DPD's existing fee policies with the aim of considering a "refundable" permit fee if DPD does not complete its permit review within an established timeframe.
- Support individuals affected by the economic recession. Use approximately $5 million in federal stimulus funds to help homeless households move to stable housing and prevent further homelessness by providing temporary assistance to those at risk of losing housing; determine how funds from the City's housing levy can be leveraged to prevent homelessness and best assist people dealing with the impacts of the recession; and use the City's webpage to help direct Seattle residents to websites (e.g. 2-1-1) that provide information on human service, housing, and employment resources.
- Invest available resources in actions that will aid recovery. Continue to seek the maximum amount of funds available to the City from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and make judicious and strategic use of funds that are awarded, such as the $5.1 million for weatherization and $6.1 million for energy efficiency programs; work with regional partners to coordinate proposals and increase the region's competitiveness for federal funding awards; and continue to identify "shovel-ready" projects from the 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy and other City capital projects that can be implemented as soon as funding becomes available.
- Set priorities for City services and achieve operational efficiencies. Emphasize maintaining basic services in the City budget, such as public safety, transportation, and human services; set a new course in budget review, allocating time outside of the annual appropriation process to review program outcomes and results so that annual incremental appropriation requests and changes are made within the context of overall program funding; and encourage City departments to employ progressive management techniques to identify and implement program efficiencies.
Some of these recommendations will require specific pieces of legislation, which will be developed and worked on by the Council over the next few weeks. Work can begin on the parts of the resolution that do not require additional legislation immediately following Council approval.
Seattle cannot create economic recovery on its own, but we can do our best to minimize the impacts on Seattle, to be at the forefront in achieving recovery, and to foster and create the next economy. Our skilled workforce, creative business community, healthy urban core, and commitment to integrating economic development with ecological stewardship position us well to be at the forefront of the 'green economy' that will be the next engine driving prosperity in the United States.
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Over the last few weeks the City Council and Mayor have been discussing how to adjust the City budget in the light of falling revenues. The City is in relatively good condition compared to the County and State, but revenues are now projected to be some $40 million lower in 2009 than the fairly conservative forecast that was included in the budget approved by the Council in November of 2008.
Fortunately, the Mayor has proposed a plan to cover this shortfall that has minimal impacts on the level of services to Seattle residents and businesses. The plan includes realizing a substantial amount of savings from the 2008 budget – usually, Departments are allowed to carry forward most of their underexpenditures, but not this time. The plan also takes $5 million out of the City's Rainy Day Fund, leaving a $25 million balance that will likely have to be used in 2010, and cuts some $13 million of 2009 expenditures, including some 60 positions, half of which were vacant.
The Mayor is responsible for taking these actions. The Council has the authority to set the budget, and can prevent the Mayor from spending funds, but the Mayor has the authority to decide not to spend funds. Mayor Nickels did consult with Councilmembers on this plan, but there is no Council action required to implement it.
The good news in the plan is that no cuts were made in human services programs or in uniformed police and fire personnel. Again, this is a very different situation from the very tough choices that the State and County are faced with making.
All departments have had to cut some portion of their expenditures, with the most significant cuts being postponement of capital expenditures for repairs and maintenance on Parks and Library buildings. Fortunately, the City took care of the most urgent building maintenance needs in the 2006-2007 period, when revenues were very favorable, and the expenditures that have been cut can be safely postponed for several years. Depending on the speed of the economic recovery, 2010 may pose a tougher challenge, but the Rainy Day Fund, which the City set aside during the boom years, will help to make the task easier.
On Monday, May 11, the Council unanimously approved Resolution 31134, which reaffirmed the Council's 2010 budget goals -- Public Safety, Human Services and Housing, Transportation, Pedestrian Safety, Environmental Stewardship, and Neighborhood Planning. However, the Resolution commits the Council to Public Safety and Human Services and Housing as its highest priorities.
The Council is also committed to continuing to improve our long-range stewardship of the City's budget. Even though the City is weathering this storm in relatively good shape, we will expand our outcome-based budget review procedure, which we began in 2008. We will also be looking for further efficiencies in future budgets, including:
- Reducing or suspending major maintenance projects;
- Increasing the "span of control" and reducing management positions to reduce internal costs;
- Reducing the number of vehicles in the City's internal fleet and/or extending the lifespan of existing vehicles;
- Reviewing fuel purchasing policies to eliminate food-based bio-diesel;
- Reviewing long-term consultant contracts and bringing the work ‘in-house';
- Enhancing the efficiency of the Department of Information Technology, the Fleets and Facilities Department, the Department of Executive Administration's Contracting Services Division and the City's other internal services functions; and
- Reviewing the City's participation in various local, regional and national organizations and the membership dues associated with this participation, as well as funding for staff training and travel to conferences, professional meetings, etc., particularly those held outside the State.
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SEATTLE'S SENSE OF SNOW
On Monday, May 18, the Council will take up a resolution outlining the City's work plan for improving Seattle's capabilities in managing snow emergencies. The resolution was originally scheduled to be reviewed in early April, but was held until it could integrate the findings of a City Council staff report that reviewed additional documents included in a report in the Seattle Times. The documents suggest that the organizational problems in The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) were more systemic than the Council's initial analysis had concluded, and that a more far-ranging and thorough work plan would be required to ensure that the situation would be improved.
After reviewing the report developed by Council staff in conjunction with the City Auditor, Mayor Nickels agreed with the Council's recommendation that the City hire an independent consultant to manage a plan for improving the SDOT response to snow emergencies. The purpose of the consultant is not to further analyze what went wrong, but to assist SDOT in improving its management and capabilities.
Among other findings, the Council report recommends:
- Developing clear policies and procedures for prioritizing, responding to, and documenting plowing, shoveling, de-icing, and other needs;
- Implementing and embracing best practices by using the Incident Command System structure to actively manage and make "big picture" strategic and policy changes as necessary during emergency operations;
- Conducting a comprehensive review of SDOT's Winter Storm Response Plan in comparison to plans from other jurisdictions, and evaluating the department's overall preparedness for future emergencies and disasters.
The report identifies substantial, long-term areas of improvement to the City's emergency response plan. The cooperative efforts of the Council and Executive are needed to implement specific, advanced tools to better manage SDOT's emergency response. This cooperation will ensure better response in weather emergencies, and ensure that the City has the skills and equipment to make that happen.
The consultant hired by the City will work with SDOT to address the issues raised in the Council's report. The consultant will also further examine corrective actions identified in SDOT's After Action Report, identify whether there are other areas for improvement, and develop and assist SDOT in implementing the work plan.
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PARKS PROJECTS AND FIELD TURF
On Monday, April 13, the Council approved an ordinance moving forward $24.2 million to begin construction on 29 projects designated for funding from the 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy. The $24.2 million, which represents the first installment of $145 million in levy funding approved by Seattle voters last November, will target development and renovation projects that can quickly move from the final design to construction phase, thereby enabling the City to leverage the levy to create jobs and stimulate the local economy.
Among the projects in the ordinance are installing synthetic turf at Delridge Playfield, Genesee Playfield Number 1, and two Lower Woodland Park Playfields. The Parks Department currently has synthetic turf at 10 fields around the City, and has been planning to gradually convert its most heavily used fields to this over time. These four conversion projects were named and included in the list of projects submitted to and approved by the voters by a 60% margin in the November, 2008 Parks for All Levy. In this ordinance, the Council advanced money to get these 29 named and designed projects implemented as quickly as possible. We had three goals for this legislation:
- To get projects that are ready to go in place as rapidly as possible so that the community can benefit from them.
- To use this funding to provide jobs and economic activity in the City.
- To take advantage of the current favorable bidding climate to get projects completed while saving money for the taxpayers (the most favorable bid on a recent renovation for the Hiawatha Playfield came in 30% under the budget, and every bidder was at least 10% below the project's estimated cost).
Some community members have raised concerns about the environmental and health impacts of continuing to install synthetic turf. The Council takes these concerns very seriously, and asked the Parks Department and Council Central Staff to review the current literature on lead and toxics in synthetic turf prior to moving forward with additional installations.
The reviews indicate that there were problems with earlier versions of synthetic turf, including possibly one Seattle field installed in 2001, which the Parks Department will test and clean up. However, current turf has eliminated the use of lead, and has reduced or eliminated other potentially toxic chemicals as well. Seattle's vendor for synthetic turf has certified that their products contain no lead at concentrations that exceed background levels, and has provided a warranty that it will replace any elements that are found to have lead.
King County monitors its synthetic turf installations, and has generally not found detectible levels of toxics, with any toxics detected being in concentrations that do not exceed water quality standards. Current literature and a recent court proceeding on Bainbridge Island have all confirmed that the levels of toxics in synthetic turf do not exceed current safety standards and are similar to background levels.
The Council intends to remain vigilant about this issue, and has worked with the Parks Department to develop a monitoring protocol for runoff from synthetic fields to ensure that there are no future problems. Background levels will also be monitored, as unfortunately the runoff from our road and street surfaces is the major source of toxic contaminants in surface water.
Synthetic turf ensures that surfaces that receive heavy use do not deteriorate. On athletic fields it replaces grass surfaces, which are not only unusable much of the year in our climate, but require expensive maintenance as well as the use of fertilizers, mowing equipment, and sometimes pesticides, all of which can lead to water quality problems.
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PEOPLE'S RIGHT TO KNOW
On Monday, April 27, the Council unanimously approved Council Bill 116496, the Public Records Act implementation legislation. The legislation is the first step of our work to create greater transparency and participation in City government under the Special Committee on Open Government which I announced earlier this year.
This legislation requires all Departments of the City to implement State Auditor and Attorney General recommendations for managing the public records process by adopting rules for complying with the Public Records Act modeled on those that have been in place in the Legislative Department for the last two years.
The model rules mandated by the legislation include:
- Adopting applicable records retention policies;
- Adopting a form for submitting records requests;
- Establishing a systematic process for promptly responding to all records requests;
- Identifying a central point of contact in each department for responding to public records requests;
- Developing a system that informs a requesting party of the time needed to respond to a request, an estimate of when requested records will be available, and reasons why a requested record will not be provided;
- Creating a web-based, single-click approach for submitting and receiving records;
- Providing instructions for submitting an appeal of a denial of a records request;
- Periodically reminding citizens of the hours and dates for when citizens can inspect and reproduce public records.
City departments must adopt these new administrative rules by November 1 of this year, and the Council will review all rules early next year to ensure that they are fully in compliance. These rules and record retention policies are required to be posted on Department websites, and Departments are also required to make available an area for the public to review frequently requested records and to develop reasonable copying charges that reflect actual copying costs when documents are provided in an electronic format.
One very minor part of the legislation declares that Seattle will not create a citywide index of records. The exemption from creating a citywide index is a provision included as an option in the Public Records Act, has been adopted by other relatively large governments like Seattle (including Tacoma, Bellevue, Federal Way, Kent, Spokane Valley, Yakima, Kennewick, and Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap Counties), and simply clarifies what has been the City's informal practice for the last 35 years.
A centralized index is not an effective tool for large governmental entities with decentralized Departments, is very expensive (King County has spent three years and millions of dollars and still has not been able to create a workable index), and is unreliable because it must rely on a variety of Departments to update and maintain. Instead the Council requires all Departments to have individual document retention schedules posted and available, as well as to make all existing indices available to the public.
This legislation was reviewed extensively by the Special Committee, which consists of Councilmembers Licata, Harrell, Clark, and myself, over the last two months, with full public participation. A number of amendments included in the legislation were recommended by members of the public.
Public records belong to the public, and this legislation will make it easier to ensure that. The ordinance not only complies fully with the letter of the Public Records Act, but with the spirit. It ensures that all Departments must be responsive to the people's right to know.
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"It's like I'm perched on the handlebars of a blind man's bike, No straws to grab just the rushing wind."
-- The Shins
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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