MAKING IT WORK
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GREEN DRAINAGE CODE ADOPTED!
On Monday, September 28, the Council unanimously adopted three wonkish but hugely important ordinances to protect Seattle's environmental. The ordinances create greener drainage and stormwater practices that will dramatically improve our ability to protect the water quality of Puget Sound and the water courses that lead to it. Major aspects of the revised stormwater management and grading codes include:
Major aspects of the revised codes include:
- A new and expanded list of prohibited discharges to prevent the release of major pollutants;
- New requirements for controlling stormwater runoff from construction sites, to protect creeks and Puget Sound from being polluted by excessive sediment;
- Green stormwater infrastructure technologies will be required to the maximum extent feasible for all single-family residential projects and for all other projects that exceed thresholds;
- Builders will be required to ensure that all new, replaced, and disturbed topsoil will meet appropriate quality standards in order to better protect water resources from impacts associated with development;
- Requirements to protect functions and values of wetlands;
- A revised flow control performance standard to include both the amount of the high flow and how long it lasts, instead of regulating only the peak discharge;
- New minimum requirements for water quality treatment that primarily affect roadway projects, thus requiring the City and public projects to meet standards to ensure the maximum protection for the environment from both construction and operation of roads; and
- Applying the requirements in the Grading Code to all land disturbing activity rather than only to grading. This will ensure that these activities comply with the broader requirements contained in the Stormwater Code, notably construction stormwater control and the requirements to implement Green Stormwater Infrastructure.
These new state-of-the-art regulations are the result of two years of public process involving dozens of meetings, hundreds of stakeholders, and extensive negotiations with the Department of Ecology. They will encourage the use of flow control and treatment best management practices that use natural processes such as infiltration and evapotranspiration, encourage stormwater reuse as an alternative to treatment and discharge, and require the use of updated modeling methods to ensure that stormwater facilities are of the right size and design. The new codes are a significant step forward for our stewardship of Puget Sound.
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PEDESTRIAN MASTER PLAN APPROVED BY COUNCIL
On Monday, September 21, the Council unanimously adopted Resolution 31157, approving the Seattle Pedestrian Master Plan. This is the culmination of six years of work towards making pedestrian issues a higher priority for Seattle. It also sets the stage for the next part of the journey, which will involve more years of work – and funding – to implement the far-reaching and comprehensive strategy that the Pedestrian Master Plan comprises.
Seattle's Comprehensive Plan, adopted in the mid-1990's, identified walkable communities as a key goal of the Urban Village strategy, and there was sporadic work undertaken by the Council and Departments around promoting pedestrian safety and walking as a transportation mode over the next few years. As Chair of the Transportation Committee in 2002, I raised the visibility of these issues, promoting sidewalk construction and launching 'Pedestrian Summer' in 2003, which combined education, awareness, and enforcement to enhance pedestrian safety. At the same time, the organization Feet First launched initiatives around Safe Routes to School and other efforts to promote walking.
My office then led the work the update of the Transportation Strategic Plan. The new plan was adopted by the Council in August 2005 (Resolution 30790), and identified to "Define Seattle's pedestrian network through a Pedestrian Master Plan by 2008”as a key strategy to develop.
Councilmembers Jan Drago and Nick Licata were the key actors overseeing the completion of the Pedestrian Master Plan. The work began with a Complete Streets Ordinance, creating a Special Committee on Pedestrian Safety, and moving forward Resolution 30951 in 2007, which created the Pedestrian Master Plan Advisory Group and kicked off the public involvement process that resulted in this plan.
Key strategies in the Pedestrian Master Plan are:
- Fund new improvements and maintenance programs to promote walking;
- Improve walkability on all streets;
- Improve pedestrian access to major destinations;
- Create an expanded set of design standards for pedestrian paths and sidewalks;
- Support the dual benefits of tree canopy coverage and walkability;
- Maintain pedestrian visibility at intersections;
- Improve crossing conditions, especially in areas with high pedestrian demand;
- Manage vehicle speeds to support and encourage walking;
- Allocate and design Seattle's rights-of-way to support Complete Streets principles;
- Create an appropriate mix of uses and destinations within neighborhoods;
- Reclaim and activate public spaces;
- Expand the use of pedestrian scaled lighting;
- Promote the benefits of walking as part of citywide sustainability and equity initiatives and through new and expanded programs;
- Foster communication to support pedestrian travel;
- Create a strong pedestrian education program;
- Establish and strengthen partnerships;
- Monitor and communicate the Pedestrian Master Plan delivery actions.
You may review a complete copy of the Pedestrian Master Plan.
Council will determine the level of funding allocated for implementation of the Seattle Pedestrian Master Plan and for specific pedestrian-related programs as part of the annual budget process. The resolution noted that the City has been allocating a minimum of $10 million per year and intends to continue to do so in 2010. With the concurrence of my colleagues, I sponsored language specifying that the City will strive to both increase this to a minimum of $15 million per year and identify a dedicated funding source for continued implementation of the Seattle Pedestrian Master Plan.
The Resolution also requires SDOT to use a variety of balancing factors to determine which pedestrian-related projects should be implemented each year, considering factors such as leveraging funding from other projects, serving particular populations likely to use walking as a primary mode of transportation, improving the vitality of an area, and community/neighborhood support as demonstrated, for example, by inclusion in neighborhood plans. SDOT will then develop an annual work program that defines the Seattle Pedestrian Master Plan projects, programs, and policy work to be undertaken each year, working cooperatively with the Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle Police Department and other appropriate City departments on annual implementation of relevant projects, programs and policy work contained in the annual work program.
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COUNCIL PASSES AGREEMENTS FOR SOUTH END OF VIADUCT
On Tuesday, September 8, the Council unanimously adopted Council Bill 116611, approving three agreements with the State of Washington that will allow the State to proceed with the reconstruction of the Alaskan Way Viaduct from South Holgate Street to South King Street. The plan to replace this section of the viaduct with what is primarily a surface route has been agreed to by all stakeholders. Completing this project will replace approximately half of the elevated structure, greatly reducing the risk for loss of life and property in the event of a serious earthquake.
Under this legislation the City and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) agree that WSDOT will perform the design and construction of, and procurement of materials for, the SR 99 Viaduct Removal from South Holgate to South King Street Stage 2 Project. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will coordinate the City's design review, permitting, environmental remediation, construction support, and inspection activities, and regulate WSDOT's use of rights-of-way for the Project. Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) will provide design review and construction inspection to determine that all SPU standards and requirements are met prior to placing the new water, drainage and wastewater facilities into service, will connect the portions of the water supply system relocated by WSDOT to the existing water system, will perform some of the work to connect the new drainage and wastewater facilities, and will provide all fire hydrants. Seattle City Light (S CL) will provide design review and construction inspection to determine that all SCL standards and requirements are met prior to placing new or modified electrical distribution lines and other electrical facilities into service, and will provide all 26kV transformers for the Project.
These detailed contractual agreements are the key legal steps necessary to implement the conceptual agreement that the City and State came to in 2007 to proceed with the set of then-agreed to projects (known as the 'Moving Forward' projects), which could be constructed prior to making a decision on the Central Waterfront section of the project, the area that has raised the most controversy. This ordinance completes the work of the Council on this part of the Viaduct project. Relocation of utilities has already begun under earlier ordinances, and demolition and construction will begin next year.
The next step in moving forward the replacement of the Viaduct with a safer alternative will be approval of a concept agreement with the State for the steps to be taken to construct the bored tunnel alternative. That legislation has been approved by the Council's Transportation Committee and will come to Full Council in the near future. Sometime in the next few months, the Council will then take up legislation that formalizes that agreement with a set of contracts similar to these.
In the meantime, in addition to this work on the south end projects, a number of other projects are already underway or in preparation, most notably the City-led project to renovate the Spokane Street Viaduct and add additional on and off ramps to enable smoother flow on Spokane and better access between it and downtown.
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RUSSELL COMPANY TO RELOCATE TO SEATTLE
On Monday, September 21, the Council unanimously adopted Council Bill 116634, adding a new classification and definition for International Investment Management Services for the Business and Occupation tax. This legislation adopts the same rate and classification that the State of Washington and City of Tacoma provide for businesses such as Russell Investments. Providing Russell the same tax treatment they would have if they continued to be in Tacoma was the only request that the company made as they prepare to relocate to Seattle. The new classification applies to several existing businesses in Seattle as well as to Russell.
There were a number of compelling reasons for the Council to act on this ordinance. The B&O tax that Russell will pay Seattle is money the City would not otherwise receive and that will assist over the long term in shoring up our budget. This estimated $500,000 annual payment, combined with the Real Estate Excise Tax on the sale of the building, means Seattle has a lot to gain from the move, not to mention what the 900 Russell employees will spend in our local economy.
Company officials chose Seattle because it provides better access to the work force they will draw from as they expand, as well as a clearer international identity. The bankruptcy of Washington Mutual also gave Russell the opportunity to purchase a relatively new building at a bargain price in the current economic climate.
Russell therefore approached the City Council with only this one modest request, whereas Tacoma had put together a package of incentives and subsidies estimated to be worth some $70 million in an effort to retain the company. Councilmembers decided that this was a reasonable step to take, considering the benefits that the City would realize and the possible risk that Russell might otherwise consider relocating outside of the Puget Sound region. Given those facts, the change in the tax classification seemed like a reasonable step to take.
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FARMERS MARKETS PROTECTED BY LEGISLATION
On Monday, September 21, the Council unanimously approved Council Bill 116612, cutting the permit fees charged to Farmers Markets by approximately 90% and putting into law a set of waivers and permit fee modifications that were called for as part of my Local Food Action Initiative approved by the Council in April, 2008 (Resolution 31019).
Under the new fee structure, base street use and parking waiver fees and Fire Department permit fees are reduced from $11000 to $550 for a 28 week market. Fees for the use of Park property are set at a fixed rate, waiving the previous requirement that Parks receive 10% of the revenues received by vendors.
This legislation is necessary because widespread redevelopment of property in Seattle's neighborhood business districts has meant that existing farmers markets are experiencing difficulty staging markets on privately owned sites, and therefore market sponsors have asked the City to assist them in securing more stable locations on public property. One of the impediments to using City-owned property for farmers markets is the frequency and expense of obtaining the required permits. There are also permitting costs and fees associated with the staging of farmers markets on private property.
Council Bill 116612 authorizes the establishment of a Farmers Market Program, making permanent a Farmers Market Pilot Program which was put into place for the 2009 season under an Administrative Rule. This means that the Parks, Transportation, and Fire Departments along with the Office of Economic Development can waive or reduce fees in order to encourage and support Farmers Markets, which the legislation declares 'provide valuable public benefits', including 'improved access to high quality fresh fruits and vegetables; increased use of adjacent City-owned property or rights-of-way for desirable purposes such as pedestrian and recreational uses; the provision of a regular gathering place for people to interact in their neighborhood business districts; increased commerce for adjacent businesses due to greater pedestrian traffic on market days; and preservation of local farm land from redevelopment'.
This legislation supports the commitment made in the Local Food Action Initiative to ensuring that Farmers Markets will have access to affordable sites on City property, a commitment that has already led to a new location for the Queen Anne Farmers Market and greater security for several others.
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ALL-HAZARDS MITIGATION PLAN UNDERWAY
On Monday, September 14, the Council unanimously approved an update of Seattle's All-Hazards Mitigation Plan. The mitigation plan is an inventory of projects that can be implemented to reduce potential loss of life and damage from a major disaster, such as earthquakes, terrorism, or pandemic flu. While we can work to prevent or reduce the likelihood of some of these events, disasters do happen, and mitigation efforts are steps that will reduce the impacts when a disaster does occur by modifying the physical environment, implementing codes and regulations, and improving training and public education efforts.
Priorities for mitigation are determined by estimating the hazard risk for each event, based on the likelihood, magnitude of effects, and how widespread those effects might be. Earthquakes have the highest hazard risk by far, because of being moderately frequent and very high in potential damages. Windstorms, snowstorms, and landslides are next, with very high frequency although much more moderate risk for damage. Of the 14 potential events evaluated, tornadoes are of the least concern, occurring rarely and having only moderate potential for damage. Climate change, cyberterrorism, and pandemic flu are three newly emerging risks that require further analysis, and are not included yet in this ranking.
Potential mitigation projects are inventoried based on their potential effectiveness at reducing the impacts of the highest risk events. Over the last ten years, the City has secured some $6 million in federal mitigation grants for projects, mostly for seismic retrofits of buildings. The City has also invested its own funds in a series of projects, notably in rebuilding fire stations and constructing a new Emergency Operations Center and lidding reservoirs, and is planning other critical projects, including the replacement of the seawall. The Mitigation Plan details many other projects that are either completed or in process.
However, there are numerous efforts that will require additional funding or more comprehensive strategies. Among the major priorities are addressing the risks to vulnerable populations housed in older shelters and housing, developing a strategy to work with private property owners to seismically strengthen unreinforced masonry buildings, and continuing to upgrade city facilities, especially those (such as community centers) that are designed to provide shelter in the event of major emergencies.
My office has been particularly involved in encouraging work to proceed on the issue of unreinforced masonry buildings. This is a very challenging task, as many property owners may have difficulties affording the necessary improvements, but they are the buildings that have by far the greatest risk for human life and property damage in major earthquakes. I sponsored an inventory of these buildings to give the City an idea of the magnitude of the problem, and I am encouraging policy development that will combine incentives with regulations to move upgrading forward in the future.
We are also continuing to pursue funding for the Emma Schmitz Seawall in West Seattle, a structure that is vulnerable to earthquakes, flooding, erosion, and tsunami damage. Because the structures at risk include roadway, park facilities, and a Metro sewage line, it has been difficult to reach an agreement on financial responsibility for this structure, and so far we have not been successful in obtaining federal funds, but we will continue to pursue this important concern.
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“Civilization exists by geologic consent, subject to change without notice.”
-- Will Durant
“Sidewalks are as sexy as hybrids. The best mode of transportation is on your feet.”
-- Steve Winkelman
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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