MAKING IT WORK
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TREE LEGISLATION APPROVED BY COUNCIL
On Monday, August 3, the Council unanimously approved Resolution 31138, stating the Council’s priorities for legislative and Departmental actions to increase the overall health, quality and the extent of trees within the City of Seattle and protect trees on both public and private property in Seattle. I sponsored this legislation to provide guidance for a permanent ordinance to protect and enhance Seattle’s tree canopy, to replace the Interim Tree Regulations approved in February (Council Bill 116404). The interim regulations will expire next spring.
The Council also approved Council Bill 116577, sponsored by Councilmember Nick Licata, creating an Urban Forestry Commission to advise the Mayor and Council on developing and implementing new tree regulations.
The City of Seattle has seen a 50% decrease in the urban canopy over the last forty years. In response, the City set a goal of reaching a 30% tree cover by 2030. The Office of Sustainability and Environment drafted and released the Urban Forest Management Plan in 2007. However, in the two years since that release, the city has continued to lose mature trees and there has not been a comprehensive policy approach that would turn that trend around.
Confirming constituent concern about the loss of wildlife habitat and climate cooling tree canopy, several weeks ago the City Auditor released a report calling for improvements in the city’s tree management along with new regulations, the consolidation of tree management, a more detailed inventory of Seattle’s trees, and a comprehensive strategic plan.
Resolution 31138 provides guidance to the Department of Planning and Development and the Office of Sustainability and Environment on the type of solutions that Council will consider. The resolution outlines broad policy direction that the Council sees as necessary to address the concerns raised by the City Auditor and to implement policies that will protect and enhance tree cover.
Resolution 31138 asks that the Department of Planning and Development develop legislation that limits the removal of mature trees on private and public property and promotes retention of mature trees. The resolution provides further guidance on Council’s preferences:
- Establish additional protections for all City-designated exceptional trees and better tracking of candidates for exceptional tree status.
- Prohibit the removal of trees during construction in required yards or setbacks and establish a system of fines for non-permitted tree removal.
- Create a permitting system for the removal of trees on private land with exceptions for emergency, maintenance and other public purposes.
- Increase tree replacement requirements where trees are removed.
In order to ensure that the City offers flexibility and assists property owners to voluntarily protect trees, Council also asks that new measures include:
- Exemptions and flexibility where necessary in addition to educational outreach to promote tree retention.
- Standards that allow for the relocation of exceptional or significant trees where their health can be protected.
- Provisions for the transfer of development rights to protect groves of trees and incentives to landowners to protect trees such as drainage credits and modifications of land use regulations.
Resolution 31138 also calls for better management:
- Creating an Urban Forestry Commission.
- Reviewing the work of tree permitting systems utilized by neighboring towns and cities.
- A report from the Office of Sustainability and Environment on whether and how permit fees for use of public land can be modified to support tree planting efforts.
- A proposed methodology and budget for augmenting the City’s current flyover tree inventory data utilizing a sampling model to verifythe data developed in the flyover.
- Improved coordination between City Light’s Vegetation Management Unit and Capital Improvement Planning.
- Improved coordination between SDOT’s Street Maintenance Division and its Urban Forestry Division.
- Ensuring that all 59 heritage trees designated by SDOT are on DPD’s exceptional tree list (it appears that 18 different species that have risen to heritage status are not specifically on the DPD list.)
- A plan by SDOT and City Light for a mutually agreed upon tree planting list that is compatible with overhead power lines.
This legislation is the next stage in the efforts to protect and promote Seattle’s urban forest, and is a major step towards having a system in place that will ensure that Seattle will reach its goal of 30% tree canopy coverage in the next few years.
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SEATTLE GETS $300,000 FOR COMMUNITY FOOD PROJECTS
In mid-July the US Department of Agriculture notified Seattle that we had been awarded a $300,000 grant to implement elements of the Local Food Action Initiative. The funds will all go to community-based organizations, with the City providing in-kind match to ensure that the projects will be successful.
The goal of the Seattle Community Farm and Good Food Project is to create a vibrant urban farm that grows food for hungry people, to improve access to healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods, to provide education on food production and nutrition, and to increase market garden and retail produce opportunities. The project will focus its efforts in the Rainier Valley, central Area, and Delridge neighborhoods.
The Project includes the following components:
- Transforming unused City land for farming by low-income residents, volunteers and project staff, with the produce going to local food banks and community nutrition programs such as community kitchens, night teen programs, and child care programs.
- Creating market opportunities for low-income residents by increasing market capacity for the Clean Greens Farm and Market which grows culturally appropriate produce to sell in low-income communities.
- Providing gardening education for low-income residents at community centers, senior centers, and other locations through the work of the Southeast Seattle Garden Education Initiative.
- Supporting a Healthy Corner Store Initiative that will increase the availability of healthy, locally grown foods by connecting convenience stores with producers, and by providing assistance to the stores in making fresh foods available.
The funding is for a three-year period. Implementation begins this year, with the urban farm and all other components underway by the spring of 2010. Solid Ground, a community-based anti-poverty and anti-hunger organization, will be the lead agency for the project, and project partners include the Clean Greens Farm and Market Program, Seattle Tilth, the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association, the Healthy and Active Rainier Valley Coalition, Public Health Seattle & King County, the Seattle Parks and Neighborhoods Departments, and the University of Washington School of Urban Design.
This grant is a powerful affirmation from the federal government of the successful model for community based action around the issues of local food, hunger, and nutrition, which has been developed through the Local Food Action Initiative (Resolution 31019). It is another step in the path towards implementation of this important priority that will improve the health of Seattle’s residents, add value in our local economy, and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and the generation of greenhouse gases.
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SMALL BUSINESSES TO PAY LESS B&O TAX
On Monday, July 20, the City Council voted 8 to 1 (McIver voting no) to exempt many small businesses from the City’s Business and Occupations Tax. The vote raises the exemption from its current level of $80,000 to $100,000.
City Council staff estimates that this will exempt several thousand small businesses, primarily home-based, from the tax. While the action will reduce City revenues in the short term, the amount is relatively modest, and the hope is that the long-range benefits will outweigh the short-term losses. In previous recessions, there is evidence that people who are laid off from their jobs often become entrepreneurs working in their basements or garages, and that these enterprises can play a role in jump-starting economic recovery.
Recognizing this opportunity, the Council included raising the B&O tax exemption in its Economic Recovery Action Plan (Resolution 31135), which was adopted in May. While the Council recognizes that only a national recovery will truly end the recession, our goal is to encourage as much recovery work as possible on the local level, in hopes that Seattle will lead the recovery and be well-positioned as a leader in the next economy.
The Council is also implementing numerous other provisions of the Economic Recovery Plan, including (most recently) using federal stimulus money to provide 245 additional summer jobs for youth ages 16 to 24 and fund 76,000 meals served to more than 1,500 seniors, and creat a Recession Resources for Seattle Residents one-click information source on the Council website.
Earlier this year, the Council also passed legislation exempting small live music venues from the city’s admission tax and advanced funding for more than $30 million worth of Parks projects to help stimulate the design and construction businesses.
The Council’s economic recovery work will continue at the Budget Committee meeting on Aug. 17 when we will discuss the proposed repeal of the Business Transportation Tax (Head Tax).
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KINGDOME PARKING LOT WILL FINALLY JOIN THE COMMUNITY
On Monday, July 13, the Council unanimously approved a carefully designed zoning change for the old north Kingdome parking lot that will ultimately lead to a new mixed use community being developed on this site. This will meet one of the key goals of the Pioneer Square Neighborhood Plan, increasing the residential population in the neighborhood. The people involved in neighborhood planning believed that this would provide more customers for the businesses in Pioneer Square, and would activate the streets and parks, thus promoting public safety and increasing the neighborhood feel of the area.
Most of the existing buildings in Pioneer Square are protected under zoning laws that limit height and guidelines that protect their historic character. Thus, there are few opportunities to increase the number of residential units on existing properties. But these landlords also struggle financially when the businesses in them cannot attract enough customers to remain viable.
The Pioneer Square Plan contemplated converting existing underused properties (such as surface parking lots) to mixed use buildings, but it was the only neighborhood plan that lacked the zoned capacity for the number of residential units that the Plan called for. The only realistic option to remedy this is to look to the south, to the areas around the stadiums. And the closest large vacant lot – and one that is not caught up in the zoning debates over industrial uses – is the old Kingdome north parking lot.
This parking lot is used for parking by commuters and on game days, but is also one of the few large properties that could sustain a significant level of development. There were many complications to moving forward with any project, however:
- King County owns the land
- The Public Stadium Authority is concerned about views and parking
- Part of the site is contaminated with gasoline and creosote, and must be cleaned up before any development can take place
- The site was not zoned to permit a profitable development to be built that would also be the kind of careful development that respects the historic character of adjacent buildings and the interests of Pioneer Square.
After much careful negotiation, a tightly-crafted zoning ordinance was developed that allows more height and density on the site, in return for provisions that protect the views from the stadium and provide for shared parking, and design requirements that meet the interests of the Pioneer Square Historic Preservation District. It will also provide more housing, the opportunity for a grocery store, and enough additional capacity that it makes it possible to create a profitable development. With Council approval of the ordinance, the development company can proceed into final design, although actual development may wait until the economy improves.
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TECHNOLOGY MATCHING FUND ADD PUT TO GOOD USE
The Technology Matching Fund is one of Seattle's innovative ways to empower communities. Like the Neighborhood Matching Fund and several environmental matching funds, the Technology Fund provides grants to community-based organizations that match the City’s investment with cash or in-kind investments of their own. The Technology Fund is designed to provide opportunities for residents who lack access to electronic information or technology – seeking to cross what has been called the "Digital Divide" that increasingly limits the opportunities for those who are not technologically literate.
Unlike the Neighborhood Matching Fund, which is financed out of the General Fund, and which therefore has to compete for limited funds in tight budget times, the Technology Matching Fund is financed by revenues from the City's franchise fee on cable television. While at some point in a recession people might begin cutting back on cable, right now this fund remains very solvent.
When the 2008 Technology Matching Fund projects were proposed, there were many more good projects than could be funded out of the $175,000 set aside that year. Councilmember Bruce Harrell and I suggested that the Council take a look at the cable franchise fee revenues (which are dedicated to projects relating to technology and electronic communication – most go to finance the City's own Seattle Channel), and see if we could increase the amount for 2009. In November, 2008, the Council agreed, and boosted the Technology Matching Fund to $250,000 for 2009.
The Council has just approved the projects for this year, and the increase allowed the City to proceed with 19 projects, which will reach more than 3500 Seattle residents. The projects will provide employment and English as Second Language training, foster youth leadership and journalism skills, develop online content, guide residents to important online services, and provide equipment and training at four senior centers. There will be some $414,000 in community match.
Although the almost 50% increase in funds was an important step forward, there were dozens of other projects that received high ratings that were not funded. This program is increasing in popularity, and Councilmember Harrell and I are considering again increasing the amount to be set aside for 2010.
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DISABLED PARKING PLACARD ABUSE TO BE CURBED
On Monday, July 13, the Council unanimously adopted an ordinance designed to curb the abuse of disabled parking placards in Seattle. The ordinance makes the use or display of a disabled placard or license plate that is stolen, expired, issued to a person who is now deceased, or is otherwise invalid in or upon a vehicle parked in a public right-of-way or on other publicly owned or controlled property a parking infraction with a penalty of $250.
There have been numerous reported abuses of disabled parking placards, but existing law provided for a penalty of only $38, and the structure of the law made it difficult to enforce. The new law takes care of these problems.
This law will have three positive effects:
- It will reduce the frustration of drivers who are looking for parking places and find many of them occupied by cars with disabled placards, many of which are expired or invalid.
- It will increase revenues to the City by requiring drivers who have been evading the law by using invalid disabled stickers to pay for parking, and by providing appropriate fines for those who abuse disabled parking stickers.
- It will assist the community of people with disabilities by opening up parking places for those who are legitimately in need of them.
Complaints are frequently made about people who appear to be fully mobile having disabled parking stickers on their cars. Many disabilities are not apparent, and this ordinance will help restore the confidence of other drivers in the integrity of the system, and thus reduce the embarrassing and uncomfortable situations that sometimes result when a person is accused of using a disabled sticker inappropriately.
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THREE MORE FARMERS MARKETS!
Three more Farmers Markets are opening this summer in Seattle! On Sunday, May 31, the Meadowbrook Farmers Market, on the campus of Seattle Waldorf School, 2728 NE 100th St, was launched, and will be open Sundays from 11 AM to 3 PM until October. This market is a nonprofit organization sponsored by community groups including Sustainable North East Seattle.
On Saturday, June 20, the South Park Market on Wheels opened at the corner of 14th Ave S and Cloverdale St (Napoli’s Pizzeria parking lot). It will be open the third Saturday of the month, July through September, from 10 AM to 3 PM. This is a volunteer-driven market which is unique in that a majority of the vendors are residents or business owners in South Park.
And, on Saturday, August 15, at 11 AM, the Clean Greens Farmers Market will open at New Hope Baptist Church, 116 21st Ave. This market, which is supported by the Black Dollar Days Task Force, will feature produce from the Clean Greens Farm, acreage in Duvall which has been leased to produce organic produce that is culturally appropriate to the Black community. The Clean Greens Farm is one of the projects supported by the Seattle Community Farm and Good Food Project (see above).
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"Everyone takes sides in social change if it is profound enough."
-- Wallace Stevens
"History repeats itself. It has to; nobody listens."
-- Steve Turner
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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