MAKING IT WORK
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COUNCIL Q&A COMING TO RAINIER VALLEY
Have questions about light rail, crime, city services or other issues?
Get answers from your Seattle City Council on Tuesday, September 22. Please mark your calendar now for Tuesday, September 22, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club, 4520 Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, and join us for a vibrant conversation that will help us shape an even better future for our great city.
The Seattle City Council is committed to making informed decisions that reflect the needs and desires of every community. You’ll be asked a series of questions on some key issues, including light rail, crime prevention and accessing city services, and we’d like to hear your input. Following discussion on these topics there will be an open question and answer period.
If you are unable to attend, e-mail the Council your questions in advance to Counciltownhall@seattle.gov. For questions about the meeting or more information, call (206) 684-8805. Your voice counts! Please plan to attend.
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COUNCIL SETS BUDGET PRIORITIES
Seattle is faced with some difficult and challenging budget decisions over the next several months. After rebalancing the 2009 budget earlier this year, the City is facing an estimated $70 million shortfall in revenues for 2010. The Council is already working on budget issues as we prepare to receive the Mayor’s proposed budget at the end of September. State law requires that the Council approve a final budget by the end of November. We expect to spend most of the fall on this challenging task.
Fortunately, Seattle carefully managed budgets during the last several years when revenues exceeded expectations, setting aside a $30 million Rainy Day Fund and emphasizing one-time projects rather than long-term commitments to new staff and programs. Seattle also does not face some of the structural problems that King County and the State face. So, even though it will not be easy to find $70 million, it is a doable task.
The Mayor and Council have already agreed to maintain budgets for human services, police patrols, and firefighters. More than half of the anticipated shortfall can be made up through the use of most of the Rainy Day Fund and by continuing the $15 to $20 million in sustainable cuts made earlier this year.
The remaining work to balance the budget will, however, require careful management and some difficult decisions. We expect that there will be some personnel cuts, and many City Unions have agreed to furloughs as an alternative to personnel reductions in Departments where this is practical and necessary.
The Council is currently undertaking in-depth reviews of key Departments, with the goal of seeking administrative savings and identifying programs that can be postponed rather than reducing direct services. We have also sent a letter to the Mayor, indicating our priorities for the budget, and the Council and Mayor will work together to the extent possible to make reasonable and responsible budget decisions.
The Council letter elaborated on the priorities that the Council formally adopted last spring in Resolution 31134, which acknowledged the need for immediate spending reductions, established the Council's highest budget priorities in the context of these reductions, and identified potential cost savings to be considered in preparing the 2010 proposed budget.
The letter supported the efforts already underway to use strategic workforce management, including careful and well-reasoned layoffs and negotiated furloughs, as a way to deal with the budget shortfall. The Council also committed to a 6% reduction in the Legislative Department budget, which we have now submitted.
The Council further identified budget items that we feel should be included or protected in any budget presented for Council consideration. We believe that these priorities are consistent with what we hear from the public.
- Maintain police officer hiring at levels in the 2010 endorsed budget. These new officers along with appropriate internal redeployment will allow for full funding and implementation of the Neighborhood Policing Plan.
- Maintain domestic violence programs, including contracted services, at levels in the endorsed 2010 budget.
- Retain the existing Emergency Management Operations Program’s community outreach specialists.
- Protect Pedestrian Master Plan funding at levels in the 2010 endorsed budget and establish a dedicated fund to implement the Pedestrian Master Plan and Bicycle Master Plan.
- Protect funding for Park Rangers and Community Police Team Officers at levels in the 2010 endorsed budget.
- Prioritize youth programs at Community Centers even if overall center hours must be reduced.
- Maintain funding for shelter beds, day center access for both men and women and food bank/fresh meal funding at levels in the 2010 endorsed budget.
- Include an additional $500,000 for youth mentoring programs in 2010.
- Maintain the City’s financial support for Public Health, and particularly the neighborhood community clinics at the levels in the 2010 endorsed budget.
- Continue support for senior programs at the level anticipated in the 2010 endorsed budget.
- Preserve library collections at levels in the 2010 endorsed budget.
Additionally, maintain funding for the Neighborhood Matching Fund and neighborhood plan update process to the fullest extent possible.
Finally, we asked that the Revenue Stabilization Account (Rainy Day Fund) not be fully expended in the proposed budget and that a modest financial cushion be held in reserve to help offset any further revenue downturns in 2010.
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WORK BEGINS TO PROTECT FARM LAND
On Monday, August 10, the Council adopted a resolution beginning the next stage of the City’s work with King County to protect the agricultural properties that supply Seattle’s food. Resolution 31147, adopted 8-1 (McIver voting no) declared the City Council’s support for a new Interlocal Agreement with King County to transfer rural development rights into Seattle. This could become part of a new regional program to protect agricultural land throughout Western Washington.
The legislation identifies farms and dairies in rural King County that provide food to Seattle’s farmer’s markets, and portions of the Tolt River watershed as potential sites to be protected. It also names South Lake Union, other Urban Centers, and light rail station areas as potential areas in the City that could receive these development rights. It further specifies that the agreement should require King County to provide Seattle with funding for amenity and infrastructure projects in Seattle neighborhoods that accept more growth under this program.
Seattle and King County had an agreement in place between 1999 and 2006, designed to protect the watersheds that supply Seattle with drinking water, with the Denny Triangle as the receiving area. Under this program, 880 acres with 68 development rights were protected along the Tolt and Cedar Rivers, four projects achieved additional height and density, and approximately $1.2 million was provided by King County for amenities in the City. That program was allowed to lapse because the goal of protecting land relating to the watersheds had been achieved, and because the additional height and density could be achieved through the bonus program for housing.
The proposed new agreement would focus on the City’s 'foodshed'. The County has identified several hundred development rights in agricultural properties that serve Seattle markets but remain unprotected. These include:
- 49 unprotected farms, totaling 853 acres with 142 potential development rights, that supply farmer’s markets;
- Seven dairy farms, with 670 acres and 60 development rights, that supply milk to the local dairy cooperatives;
- 30 parcels along the Tolt River, with 170 acres and 46 development rights, that are valuable for flood prevention that could protect downstream farms, as well as provide habitat for endangered salmon populations.
While this land is in rural zoning, it could still be subdivided into estates with five or ten acre lots, an option that could be very financially attractive to the farmers. By transferring these 248 development rights into the City, the farmer realizes an immediate financial gain and is able to continue farming, while the land is protected from being developed – forever.
In the next several years, the Council will be asked to consider rezones to South Lake Union, light rail station areas, and possibly other Urban Centers. The transfer of development rights program might be one way of making those rezones provide not only housing and jobs in the City, but also help ensure the City’s future food supply.
The next step in this process will be negotiations with King County, which will most likely not begin until the new Mayor and County Executive are selected and take office in 2010.
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NEXT STAGE COMING IN WASTE REDUCTION WORK
Resolution 30990, the Zero Waste Strategy, which I initiated and which was approved by the Council in 2007, includes an array of strategies to prevent or reduce the use of problem products, those that are hard to recycle, are significant elements of the waste stream, or contain toxic materials. In 2008, the Council adopted two pieces of legislation that covered products of concern. The ban on expanded polystyrene ("Styrofoam") food containers took effect on January 1, 2009, and has been implemented with little controversy. The proposed fee on disposable shopping bags was adopted by the Council, but was subsequently petitioned to a voter referendum, where it was defeated, being approved by only 47% of the voters, following a $1.4 million campaign against it by the American Chemistry Council.
In 2008, the Council also approved a Statement of Legislative Intent on implementation of waste reduction activities, directing Seattle Public Utilities to prepare a five-year plan to "encourage use of low-waste products and packaging and to discourage the use of products and packaging that must be recycled or disposed of as garbage." The initial report on that plan was received by the Council in mid-July.
The report notes that compliance with the "Styrofoam ban" has been excellent, with over 90% compliance on a voluntary basis. The next stage will be implementation of a requirement that all disposable food service products used in the City be either compostable or recyclable by July 1, 2010, at which time Seattle will have become the first major American city to achieve such a revolutionary change in waste reduction. As of the beginning of July, food waste composting has been implemented at 1,320 restaurants and grocery stores.
The next phase of waste reduction will focus on eight problem products, which together comprise approximately 53,000 tons of waste in 2004, about 12% of the City’s total waste. The priorities for actions include:
- Developing a recycling facility and collection mechanism for used carpet (14,000 tons). This product is readily recyclable.
- Undertaking outreach, technical assistance and collection promotion for plastic film from commercial sources (16,000 tons).
- Encourage the use of non-toxic alternatives to treated wood waste (13,600 tons). Treated wood waste is a major contaminant for wood waste reuse and recycling, but alternatives are often suitable.
- Support voluntary and eventually mandatory requirements that industry take back fluorescent lamps and household batteries, and expanded collection options for medical sharps.
- Ban the use of "Styrofoam" packaging (‘foam peanuts’) in City purchasing and encourage the industry to change to more recyclable alternatives. Because so much of this is in interstate commerce, a ban is not legally feasible. While it is a modest part of the waste stream (1,000 tons), it is highly visible and a major contaminant.
- Work with public, charities, and industry to encourage reuse of wearable discards and fiber recycling for textiles (7,600 tons).
Disposal bans may be a future option for used carpet and plastic film after the recycling and education programs have had time to mature, but are probably not feasible for the other items. However, Seattle Public Utilities concludes that implementing this array of strategies could divert more than half of the volume and much of the toxic materials from the landfill over the next few years. While this implementation proceeds, SPU will also continue to look at other materials, such as single-use beverage containers, paints, telephone books and plastic food packaging, to identify those where Seattle could implement additional waste reduction programs. In addition, the City will continue to support State and regional efforts to develop producer funded materials recovery programs (product stewardship) for other items such as pharmaceuticals and paints.
The Mayor and Council will also consider whether any further steps should be taken on disposable grocery bags in the light of the repeal of the proposed bag fee. The City may chose to let this issue rest and continue work on educational and voluntary efforts, or to consider a ban on plastic bags, the alternative chosen by San Francisco in a similar situation, when its proposed bag fee was blocked by the California legislature.
The Zero Waste Strategy is already having a major impact on Seattle’s waste stream, as the amount of waste collected and disposed of is beginning to decline after many years of growth. Continued success will depend on public support for specific measures, and designing programs that will ensure maximum recovery and reduction while engendering the lowest amount of consumer resistance.
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PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT PORTAL COMING SOON
On August 10 the Council unanimously approved Council Bill 116606 approving a proposal from the Department of Information Technology (DOIT) to create new way for the public to interact with the city through the web. The new approach will provide City residents with the option to create a customizable web page with a single sign-on and an attached surveying tool.
The concept of a Public Engagement Portal was developed by Councilmember Bruce Harrell, and has been embraced by the Council as part of our work to support open government. In the 2009-2010 budgets, the Council set aside $350,000 from Cable Franchise fees to create this new accessibility. After reviewing the requirements and specifications that the Council provided, DOIT was able to determine that it could complete the project using existing staff and would only require $50,000 of the original appropriation to purchase software and licenses, and will not require the additional staff position contemplated in the original legislation. The remaining $300,000 will be returned to the Cable Franchise Subfund and can be used for other technology related programs.
The new portal, called My.Seattle.gov, will provide users the ability to log in only one time to access a wide range of services, including requesting customer services, paying utility bills, taxes, and fees, applying for permits, classes, and facility reservations, and accessing City information services. The on-line surveying capability will also provide a means of receiving public input online, which will become a part of the Council’s overall plan for increasing public engagement.
This is a great example of the Council and Executive working together, taking an initiative by Councilmember Harrell and finding a way to implement it at a cost much lower than that originally contemplated. When the system is implemented in 2010, it will provide the public with a significantly increased level of service at a very modest cost.
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SOUNDWAY PROPERTY BECOMES PARK LAND
On August 10, the Council unanimously approved vacating approximately 32 acres of city right-of-way that is part of the Soundway property in the West Duwamish Greenbelt. The 32 acres will be turned over to the Parks Department and managed as open space. This completes a process initiated by Councilmember Tom Rasmussen and myself in 2004.
At that time, the property was proposed to be sold for development, but the Council approved first Resolution 30715, stating support for protecting the eastern portion of the property, and in 2005 Resolution 30793, which prevented the sale of any portion of the property pending identification of funding that could be used to protect it as park land. With the assistance of our West Seattle legislative delegation, a state grant was obtained that helped offset the revenue that the City would have received from selling the property, and in 2006 the Council and Mayor approved legislation that preserves Soundway as public open space.
While this action prevented the properties from being sold, it still left 32 acres of property under the jurisdiction of the Seattle Department of Transportation as right-of-way. Transportation had jurisdiction because the property was originally purchased by the City in the 1950’s and 1960’s as part of the concept for a freeway that would connect the First Avenue South Bridge through West Seattle with a bridge to Vashon Island. This proposal was finally laid to rest when the West Seattle Bridge was open in the 1980’s. The purpose of the current legislation is to ensure that the entire Soundway Property can be managed and protected as park land.
The protection of the Soundway property is a great example of public engagement – the property would likely have been sold with little notice if the residents of the Riverview community and the Nature Consortium had not brought it to the attention of the Council. The result of this community involvement was not only protecting the property, but also the introduction of a new policy for Council scrutiny of the sale of City properties, which was developed by Councilmembers Rasmussen and Godden, and adopted by the Council in 2006.
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"The shortest distance between two points is moving those points closer together; every trip from then on is shorter… Inside the City, the best transportation is the least: Access by proximity should be the objective."
-- Richard Register
"In a country with daily newspapers, news happens daily."
-- Stacy Schiff
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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