MAKING IT WORK
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide information, inspire involvement, and make things work in this great city. You can request additional information or comment on the newsletter by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
SEATTLE RESIDENTS ARE INVITED TO ATTEND A COUNCIL TOWN HALL MEETING: JUNE 15th & 25th
These Town Halls are a public forum for community discussions. They will focus on prevention of youth violence, legislation to protect trees, and the City’s role in public education and Seattle Schools. The Town Halls will begin with brief presentations on the City’s work on these issues followed by discussion groups around each of the issues. The groups will then come back together to share their conclusions with the other groups and the Council. We are looking for your input on actions that the Council should work on.
Please mark your calendar and plan to attend one of these sessions!
Monday, June 15, 7 to 9 p.m.
Eckstein Middle School, 3003 NE 75th
Thursday, June 25, 7 to 9 p.m.
The Hall at Fauntleroy, 9131 California Ave SW
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ACTION FOR LOCAL FOOD
Following passage of my Local Food Action Initiative last May, Seattle has made great progress toward our objectives of making Seattle’s food healthier and more local. The resolution recommended a series of steps to reduce hunger and malnutrition in Seattle and encourage the production and consumption of more local and/or organically grown food in Seattle.
So far, in 2009:
- The City added $1 million for food banks and home delivery programs for the 2009-2010 budgets in order to help meet the challenge of the increasing need for food assistance. Seattle is also working with United Way to create a long range comprehensive strategy to address this critical issue.
- United Way developed and published “Hunger Relief Now: A Plan to Reduce Hunger in King County.”
- At Council’s request, the Department of Neighborhoods identified a number of parcels of City land that could be converted to community gardens or p-patches. 17 of these projects will be completed with the first $500,000 of the $2 million dedicated to community gardens in the 2008 Parks Levy. This first round of expenditures will add 1.6 acres of garden space, serving almost 500 gardeners, about 1/3 of the current waiting list. The Council unanimously approved spending these funds on Monday, June 8.
- My office successfully negotiated with City Departments for a reduced fee program for Farmers Markets. The proposed fees will cut the costs by about 80%, making it possible for Farmers Markets that lose their current sites to relocate in City Parks or Rights-of-Way. Unfortunately, Public Health Seattle-King County is proposing to increase the fees that they charge for Farmers Markets, and we will work with the Board of Health to try to reduce that impact.
- My office also successfully negotiated an agreement with the Seattle Department of Transportation to clarify the regulations on growing food in the planting strips in front of residential properties. The new regulations make it clear that food growing is allowed, and that a permit (at no charge) is only required if a permanent structure such as a raised bed is to be installed – the purpose of this is to ensure that SDOT can advise the property owner on how to place such a structure to prevent possible safety problems.
- We also sponsored two meetings with over 30 community stakeholders to identify partnerships and opportunities to expand urban agriculture in Seattle, formed a task force to review City regulations and issues, and facilitated developing and submitting a $300,000 Community Food Grant to the Department of Agriculture that would fund several community-based food projects. Community members are also writing a grant for a website on food organizations and programs in Seattle.
- The Department of Neighborhoods began the work of developing a Seattle Food Action Plan (funded under the Local Food Action Initiative).
- Discussions have begun with the Puget Sound Regional Council to establish a permanent home for the Acting Food Policy Council.
- And, modeling the actions that we are asking others to undertake, we have implemented food waste collection at City Hall, established a model container food garden on the balcony of City Hall (vegetables to be donated to food banks), and signed an agreement with the Pike Place Market to bring a Farmers Market to the City Hall Plaza beginning June 23rd.
You can read more about Local Food implementation steps taken in 2008 here. Expect more implementation steps this year as the Local Food Action Initiative moves into the next stage.
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NEW LEGISLATION TO PROTECT TREES
On Monday, May 18, 2009 the City Auditor presented a report to Council on Seattle’s management of trees. The report calls the urban forest, “a vital part of the City’s infrastructure” and recommends a tree inventory and better management of urban trees as a valuable resource. Seattle has specific goals to increase the urban tree canopy from 18% to 30% by 2040.
In addition to fighting climate change and providing wildlife habitat, a healthy and expanding tree canopy provides financial benefits to the city in managing drainage, filtering our air, and boosting property values by making neighborhoods greener. The Auditor’s report concludes that Seattle is not doing enough to help our urban forest to grow, or to create an environment where developers choose to build in
a way that maintains the character of our neighborhoods.
I have introduced a Resolution that endorses the City Auditor’s recommendations, along with other major steps the City should take to improve the management of Seattle’s trees:
- Provide incentives to landowners. Instead of removing trees to make development less expensive, the City should be helping developers actively trying to build in a way that maintains mature trees – which is in the property owners’ best interest. Right now the City does not provide that incentive.
- Improve coordination and management of the City’s trees. The City Auditor found that the City lacks a stable and effective management framework. In addition to citing specific intra and inter-organizational conflicts, the audit points out that in the near future, the Office of Sustainability will have even fewer resources to conduct much needed educational outreach due to budget constraints. One idea for improving this situation is to establish a Tree Commission. In addition to providing better coordination, this would help involve community members and experts on urban forestry. Councilmember Nick Licata has introduced legislation that would create a Tree Commission.
- Complete a tree inventory for all City-managed trees, as has been done in Boston and other cities, and as the Auditor recommends. Community organizations argue that the scope of an inventory should be citywide and include trees on private land in order to complete our understanding of what it is that must be protected, partly because Seattle’s greatest loss of trees has come on private lands. In response to the concerns about trees on private land, Council passed interim regulations in February.
- Put in place permanent regulations that protect existing trees. Forest advocates point out that you can’t plant your way out of this crisis because saplings have a much lower leaf area index than mature trees, and that retaining older trees is a much more efficient means of growing the urban tree canopy. Current city actions focus on planting younger trees instead. The interim regulations were intended to expire when a more comprehensive package is ready for legislative action. However, that timeline has changed several times, and the resolution asks the Mayor to get this package to the Council in the near future.
The Environment, Emergency Management, and Utility Committee will have panels on potential tree legislation at its meetings on June 9th and 23rd, and will likely take a vote on the proposed legislation in July.
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HOUSING LEVY PROPOSED
In June, the City Council will discuss whether to ask voters to renew Seattle’s Low Income Housing Levy. Committees of the Whole are schedule for June 11 and 18 in Council Chambers. The current levy expires at the end of 2009. Seattle’s support for affordable housing began in 1981 with a bond issue to build homes for low-income seniors. In 1986 voters approved the first Housing Levy, and renewed it in 1995 and 2002.
In preparation for the possible renewal, Mayor Nickels convened a citizen’s advisory committee co-chaired by former mayors Norm Rice and Charles Royer. After looking at the need for housing assistance and the difficulty in securing private funding partners for low income housing, the committee recommended replacing the $86 million levy approved in 2002 with a new $167 million levy in 2009. The $167 million proposal would increase the number of families served by the levy by about 20% over the previous levy.
Mayor Nickels has recommended a $145 million levy to the Council. This would serve approximately the same number of families as the previous levy. The proposed levy would increase the annual property tax paid by an average household from about $49 to about $79. The Council has begun reviewing this proposal, and must make decisions about the size and duration of the levy as well as the appropriate mix of programs. The key questions that the Council will be asked to address are:
- Is this the right timing for this levy? It is clear that there is a significant need for low income housing, that Seattle voters generally support funding for low income housing, and that the impact on the average homeowner is modest. However, even a modest tax increase could have difficulty securing voter approval in the current recession, and the impact on struggling commercial property owners, who pay more than half the levy, could be significant.
- How large should the levy be, and for what length of time? The proposal from the Mayor is essentially a renewal, generating a similar number of units as the previous levy. There are arguments for enlarging this -- to meet the greater needs in the current economy -- and for reducing it -- because of the difficulties that those who will pay the levy face. At one point I raised the idea of a shorter term levy (three years), which would perhaps make it more likely to pass and also position the next renewal for a year of high turnout, but because of the long lead time for completing housing projects, there is now general agreement that this would not be practical, and the Council is leaning towards the seven year renewal proposal.
- What percentages of the levy should be used for the various components? While there is agreement that the levy should emphasize housing those in the lowest income category, there are also many moderate income people in the City who could greatly benefit from the modest level of assistance that the levy provides. More than half of the proposed seven-year, $145 million levy will be dedicated to families and individuals earning minimum wage or less - including retail, restaurant and hotel workers, as well as seniors living on fixed incomes. However, there are also programs that work well for persons who have higher incomes but still have difficulty in affording housing in Seattle. The modest homeownership program in the 2002 levy has assisted 201 new homeowners, none of whom have been foreclosed. The question of what proportion of the levy should go to such programs will be taken very seriously.
The proposed 2009 levy programs are designed to preserve existing affordable housing; provide housing for people coming out of homelessness, seniors and people who are disabled; provide emergency rental assistance; provide loans to first-time homebuyers; and create a fund to make strategic purchases of land and buildings to preserve or convert to affordable housing.
Over the next seven years, the Housing Levy as proposed by the Mayor would develop or preserve 1,670 units of housing, creating homes for 9,300 people; provide emergency rent assistance for 3,850 households, preventing eviction and homelessness; and help 180 first-time homebuyers purchase a home in the neighborhood where they work.
Levy funding typically makes up about 25 percent of a project’s total development costs. For every levy dollar spent, about $3 is leveraged from other public and private sources, including the State Housing Trust Fund and private investor tax credits. Overall, levy-funded developments are expected to generate about $189 million in income received by construction workers and local business owners and more than $23 million in municipal tax revenue, and create approximately 3,140 jobs.
Read the proposed Housing Levy Fact Sheet - Acrobat PDF
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MUSIC TAX REPEAL, SMALL BUSINESS LOANS, HOMELESSNESS PREVENTION FUNDING BEGIN ECONOMIC RECOVERY AGENDA
On Tuesday, May 26, the City Council voted 5 to 3 (Godden, McIver, Rasmussen voting no) to repeal the admissions tax on small music venues that employ live musicians. The legislation will encourage the employment of live musicians and hopefully encourage the opening of more live music venues.
The repeal had been proposed last fall as part of the ‘City of Music’ initiative, but the Council postponed action due to concerns about the budget implications. Now that the full budget situation is known, the majority of the Council was ready to move ahead with this legislation, recognizing that the estimated $300,000 annual reduction in revenues will not make a significant difference in Seattle’s $900 million general fund budget.
The repeal was originally proposed as part of a long-range economic development package for the music industry, and the Office of Film and Music projects that it will contribute to the opening of eight new music venues in the next several years. The sales and businesses taxes from these venues and the projected increase in the health of the music industry will likely significantly exceed the foregone revenue from repealing the tax.
As the recession became deeper, the Council also saw this proposal as a great way to keep musicians at work – most local musicians have relatively modest incomes in good times, and if this tax break can keep them employed, that’s much better than having them face foreclosure and dependence on social services.
On May 26 the Council also unanimously approved allocating $1.4 million in Federal Stimulus Community Development Block Grant funds for small business lending, another part of the Council’s Economic Recovery program. On May 13, the Council unanimously approved allocating $5 million in federal Homelessness Prevention funds to provide temporary assistance to those at risk of losing their housing. Together, these represent the first three actions in the Council’s Economic Recovery plan to move into implementation.
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“The decisions Americans make about sustainable development are not technical decisions about peripheral matters, and they are not simply decisions about the environment. They are decisions about who we are, what we value, what kind of world we want to live in, and how we want to be remembered.”
-- John Dernbach
“A common man marvels at uncommon things; a wise man marvels at the common place.”
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, and useful. And please forward it along to friends who might be interested. You can get more information or send me feedback at email@example.com.
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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