MAKING IT WORK
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HOUSING LEVY GOES TO VOTERS
There continues to be a significant unmet need for low income housing in Seattle, and on Monday, June 15, the City Council unanimously voted to place a $145 million renewal of the Low Income Housing Levy on the November ballot.
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 $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. The levy would increase the annual property tax paid by an average household from about $49 to about $79.
The Housing Levy will develop or preserve 1,670 units of housing, provide emergency rent assistance for 3,850 households, preventing eviction and homelessness; and assist 180 first-time homebuyers. 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.
The proposed levy has the same allocations for specific programs proposed by Mayor Nickels. However, the Council placed more restrictions on the use of the funds. These requirements are similar to those contained in the 2002 levy. The Council established affordability requirements for the rental production program that ensure that:
- at least 60% of the program funding must be used for housing serving households at or below 30% of median income, and that
- no more than 10% of program funding can be used for housing serving households between 61 and 80% of median income.
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U HEIGHTS CENTER SAVED FOR COMMUNITY
On Monday, June 22, the Council cleared the way for the University Heights Center to become a permanent home for the community. One ordinance approved unanimously by the Council accepts a 15-year community benefits agreement with the University Heights Center for the Community Association; a second piece of legislation approves the purchase of a portion of the former University Heights Elementary School site for public open space.
The University Heights Community Association will use $2,500,000 provided by the Council along with funds from the Pro-Parks Levy, King County Conservation Futures and the State to purchase a majority of the former University Heights site from the Seattle School District, including the 1902 school building. The Community Association will access the $2.5 million from the City by contracting to continue to provide community services for 15 years at the site.
Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation will take title to .34 acres in the SE corner of the site to be used as open space. The Parks Department will begin planning the development of the open space in late 2009. The current P-Patch and Farmers Market will continue to use the site.
Preserving the center was a key recommendation of the University Community Urban Center Neighborhood Plan. Several years ago, the School District decided that it would not need this building in the future, and proposed to sell it. This led to a delicate dance of negotiations – the School District had to balance its interest and the community support in keeping this facility as a community institution with its fiduciary duty and financial interest in selling it for development. The City Council approved landmark status for the building, which was a key step in preventing the site from being sold for development, and opened the way for a negotiation on how the community could acquire it.
The City had already set aside some funds in the 2000 Pro Parks Levy for acquisition of the open space on the site. However, the property still has significant value for development, even with a landmarked building, and there was significant uncertainty as to whether the community could come up with enough funds to proceed with a purchase. In the 2006 budget process, I proposed setting aside $3 million dollars to support the purchase of the UHeights building and Phinney Neighborhood Center (Allen School), and the Council agreed to this budget allocation. In 2007, the Council set aside another $4 million, $1 million for each of these facilities plus $1 million for the Crown Hill and Fauntleroy Centers. House Speaker Frank Chopp and Representative Mary Lou Dickerson led a legislative effort which resulted in another $1 million for each of these communities.
This legislation is a great example of intergovernmental cooperation to realize the aspirations of the community. It is also another major implementation step in the Neighborhood Plan process, and a great step forward for the University neighborhood.
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NEW FARMERS MARKETS OPEN
Three new Farmers Markets opened in June, on Queen Anne, the City Hall Plaza, and in the Cascade neighborhood in South Lake Union. The Queen Anne Farmers Market had to be relocated after the previous site became unavailable. The new location is on City right-of-way on West Crockett, in the heart of the Queen Anne business district, and is open from 3pm to 7pm on Thursdays. This is the first relocation to be implemented under the reduced fee program for Farmers Markets that was part of the Local Food Action Initiative. This program coordinates city permitting and reduces the permitting costs by 80%.
The City Hall Plaza and Cascade Farmers Markets are partnerships with the Pike Place Market. Pike Place Market had been considering the idea of starting satellite markets during the summer, as there is simply not enough space at Pike Place for all the produce that the farmers have available. My office approached them about locating at City Hall Plaza, a way to reach the 15,000 employees who work within a couple of blocks of City Hall, and to further activate this civic space. The market is open from 10pm to 2pm on Tuesdays, and on opening day the farmers sold out an hour before the scheduled closing time.
The Cascade Market serves the growing residential population in the South Lake Union Urban Center. The Cascade community is the oldest residential neighborhood in South Lake Union, and is fiercely determined to keep its character while working with the residents of the new development that is surrounding it. This market is also located on city right-of-way adjacent to the Cascade Peoples Center and P-Patch, and is open from 3pm to 7pm on Thursdays.
My office is continuing to work with Public Health of Seattle and King County to reduce their planned increase in fees for Farmers Markets, and we are optimistic that a compromise can be worked out that will keep the fee increases to a minimum. The City’s new fee structure will be formally adopted by ordinance later this summer, and will ensure that all of our neighborhoods can continue to be served by Farmers Markets in the future.
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ETHICS AND ELECTIONS CODE CHANGES
On Monday, June 15, the Council adopted three ordinances that update and add provisions to the City’s ethics and elections codes. The most comprehensive of the ordinances is based on a review and recommendations from the Ethics and Elections Commission, the seven volunteers who administer the Ethics and Elections codes and the Office of Ethics and Elections. The Commissioners are appointed by the Mayor and Council, and operate independently, including selecting the Executive Director of the Office. The other two ordinances are Council initiatives to address specific concerns about elements of the two codes.
The goal of the Commission’s recommendations is to both strengthen the ethics code and create consistency with national best practices. Seattle’s code was innovative and broke new ground when it was first adopted more than 20 years ago, but other cities have developed new practices and policies in the intervening time that can now be added to the Seattle code.
The changes including provisions that will:
- Expand the list of financial interests that require city employees to disqualify themselves from participating in city decision-making;
- Require that appearances of conflicts of interest be disclosed;
- Extend the Commission’s jurisdiction to reach certain city contractors;
- Extend the bar on former city employees assisting others with matters in which they participated as employees;
- Limit the bar on former city employees dealing with their former department to cover only communications with the department; and
- Provide a mechanism to waive the bar on individuals dealing with their former employer when it is in the best interest of the City to do so.
The Council also adopted an ordinance that modified the code by prohibiting city employees or elected officials from using City funds to pay ethics fines. The current code appropriately provides legal assistance to a person who is accused of an ethics violation while carrying out City duties, on the principle of innocent until proven guilty. However, the code had been interpreted as also allowing a person who is convicted of an ethics violation to use City funds to pay the fine. The Council considers this inappropriate – when a person has been convicted of an ethics violation, they must be personally responsible for the penalty.
The third ordinance modifies the elections section of the code by giving the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission the authority to enforce a state law that prohibits candidates for City elected office from directly soliciting campaign contributions from City employees. The Washington Public Disclosure Commission is severely constrained in its ability to enforce the law by lack of staff, and the Council believes that the City office will be able to be more diligent in addressing this kind of violation. The ordinance recognizes that employees may be on mailing lists, voluntarily make contributions, or attend events, and that these do not represent direct solicitations, but it prohibits a candidate or that candidate's representative from directly asking individual employees for contributions. The goal is to prevent employees from feeling coerced or intimidated into contributing to a candidate who is or could be the person making decisions about their future employment or job conditions.
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VETERANS ADDED TO ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAW
On Monday, June 15, the Council unanimously approved an ordinance which I con-sponsored adding veterans as a protected class under Seattle’s anti-discrimination law. This will allow veterans who experience discrimination in employment, public accommodations, housing and contracting to use the services of the City’s Office of Civil Rights to assist them in addressing the situation, and it also gives them a cause of action under the City’s code.
While veterans are already protected under state and federal law, it can be difficult to access the remedies provided in those jurisdictions. For that reason, advocates for veterans and the state legislator who authored the state anti-discrimination statue encouraged the City to adopt similar provisions.
Veterans, and especially disabled veterans, in particular, have reported instances of discrimination, often based on people’s perceptions that the stress of combat makes veterans unstable and unable to perform jobs or be good tenants. While such instances are fortunately rare, this law will help protect veterans against such discrimination in Seattle.
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"Nowadays everybody wants to become a leader. No one wants to become a servant. In reality, the world is badly in need of servants, not leaders. A real servant is a real leader. A real leader is one who really serves the people without ego and egocentric desires. In fact, greatness is not in dress, and lordship is not in acquiring wealth. Real greatness lies in humility and simplicity."
"History will be kind to us, gentlemen, for I plan to write it."
-- Winston Churchill
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Your Seattle City Councilmember
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