MAKING IT WORK
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EEMU COMMITTEE COMPLETES SUCCESSFUL YEAR
In 2009, my Environment, Emergency Management, and Utilities Committee reviewed 26 pieces of legislation on topics ranging from stormwater code updates to tree protection to the City’s emergency preparedness. The Committee also worked on implementation of the Local Food Action Initiative and evaluating City climate protection measures. Here are some key accomplishments:
Stormwater and Grading Code Revisions. The Council approved a major overhaul of the City’s stormwater and grading codes. The new code is a major step forward in implementing natural drainage systems and green infrastructure. It will better protect people, property and the environment from stormwater-related flooding, pollution, landslides, and erosion.
Progress Toward Zero Waste. The Council tracked the roll-out of new solid waste collection services, which include more can-size choices and weekly pick-up of compostable waste for single-family customers. The new services reduce garbage that must be landfilled and help to implement the City’s zero-waste strategy. The Committee continued to work on moving forward other new waste reduction and recycling options, including programs to better manage construction debris and work on product stewardship legislation.
Protection of Urban Trees and Forests. The Council adopted legislation setting priorities for tree protection, planting, inventory and management, to complement the Tree Protection Ordinance adopted in 2008, and created an Urban Forestry Commission to provide advice about tree protection on public and private property. New legislation implementing the policy priorities will be moved forward in 2010.
Food Security and Sustainability. The Council took a number of steps forward in implementing the Local Food Action Initiative adopted in 2008. These included:
- Working with community partners to secure a $300,000 Community Food Grant from the US Department of Agriculture that will support actions to provide local, healthy foods in low income neighborhoods of SE and West Seattle through a series of programs, from a Healthy Corner Store initiative in Delridge to supporting the Clean Greens Farm and Farmers Market in the Central Area.
- Coordinating with the Office of Economic Development to streamline permit requirements and cut permit costs by up to 90% for neighborhood Farmers Markets.
- Persuading the Seattle Department of Transportation to streamline permitting and eliminate fees for growing produce in planting strips.
- Collaborating with the Department of Parks and Recreation to increase healthy food choices in vending machines in City facilities, and in food provided at programs such as after school programs and City-sponsored events.
- Working with the Department of Neighborhoods (DON) to evaluate the P-Patch program -- groundwork for the P-Patch Strategic Plan to be developed in 2010, and part of the ongoing implementation of the program to add 1000 or more community garden plots to fully meet demand and eliminate the waiting list.
- Reviewing with the Department of Planning and Development land use code provisions that could be changed to assist urban agriculture, with legislation expected in early 2010.
- Joining with United Way to develop a strategy to address hunger, including increasing the use of Basic Food assistance.
- Identifying surplus City land that could be used for urban agriculture.
- Working with the Puget Sound Regional Council to establish a Food Policy Council.
- Moving forward the development of a SeattleFood System Policy Plan in cooperation with DON.
- Joining the Pike Place Market to establish a weekly farmer’s market on City Hall Plaza.
Clean Water Act (CWA) Compliance. The Council approved legislation to meet CWA requirements through an enhanced program of actions to control Combined Sewer Overflows. These actions will require additional funding for Seattle Public Utilities in order to protect public health and the environment by reducing pollution discharges.
Low-Income Rate Relief. As part of our ongoing work on utility affordability, the Council adopted legislation that expands the number of people who are eligible for low income rates and simplifies the application procedures. As a result, more low-income households will be eligible for a 50% rate reduction.
Madison Valley Flood Reduction. In 2008 the Committee approved a plan to resolve long-standing stormwater flooding and sewer back-up problems in the Madison Valley neighborhood. In 2009, Phase 1 of this plan was implemented with expansion of the existing stormwater retention pond. Design work began on Phase 2, which will construct a storage facility in Washington Park that will take care of future major flooding events.
Climate Mitigation and Adaptation. After hearing the response from the Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE) to a 2009 Statement of Legislative Intent (SLI) asking for ways to evaluate the climate impact of proposed legislation, the Committee requested that OSE develop a pilot project to evaluate climate impacts early in project planning. The Council also approved a 2010 SLI requesting OSE to develop a strategy for adapting City actions to the changing climate.
Building Energy Use Disclosure. The Committee approved regulations to require disclosure of energy use benchmarks and ratings for non-residential and larger multi-family buildings. The required information would help building owners identify cost-effective conservation improvements, help Seattle City Light better target its conservation programs, and help current and potential renters, buyers, and lenders make choices based on building energy efficiency. This legislation will come to the Full Council in early 2010.
Seattle All-Hazards Mitigation Plan. The Council adopted the newly-revised Seattle All-Hazards Mitigation Plan, which provides a five-year work plan for mitigation projects that are eligible for reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The mitigation projects will help to save lives, reduce property damage, and protect the environment from impacts of natural and human-caused disasters.
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LIVING BUILDING PILOT PROGRAM APPROVED
On Monday, December 14, the Seattle City Council adopted an ordinance creating a land use code provision to allow entirely self-sustaining green buildings ("Living Buildings"). A "living building" is the next generation of "green building," made of sustainable materials and using only as much energy and resources as it is able to generate on-site. These buildings can also include innovative features such as ‘vertical farms’ that can grow food on sun-facing facades, and processing systems that eliminate solid waste pickups and sewer connections. The pilot project will allow up to 12 unique "living buildings" to be developed in Seattle over the next three years. Seattle’s land use code doesn’t currently allow for the unique characteristics required to meet living building standards, so the City Council gave the Department of Planning and Development the authority to grant developers the flexibility they need to meet project requirements.
Buildings taking advantage of the pilot program will compete in the "Living Building Challenge" contest, sponsored by the International Living Building Institute, and must meet at least 60 percent of the challenge’s prerequisites. The first living building project, proposed for Capitol Hill by the Bullitt Foundation, could receive final approval for construction in 2010.
One potential obstacle to fully self-sustaining buildings is the current requirement that all buildings send their sewage to King County for processing. Living buildings in other cities (such as Melbourne’s new City Administration building) have incorporated on-site sewage processing using innovative small-scale (and odorless!) processing technologies that reclaim waste heat and water. I have asked the Regional Water Quality Committee to consider legislation that would allow buildings using these technologies to avoid costly and unneeded sewer connection charges.
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CHRONIC NUISANCE ORDINANCE APPROVED
On Monday, November 30, the Council unanimously adopted a new ordinance allowing the City to take action against property owners who allow their properties to be used for illegal purposes, creating a situation known as a “chronic nuisance” which costs valuable police resources and results in significant negative impacts on adjacent neighborhoods.
The legislation, sponsored by Councilmember Tim Burgess, was developed to allow the City to effectively respond to problem areas such as the Aurora corridor in Fremont/Wallingford, where certain motel owners have either knowingly or negligently allowed their properties to become havens for drug dealing and prostitution.
The old “Public Nuisance” law was difficult to enforce and too vague in its provisions to be useful in addressing these kinds of issues. Under the new code, a “Chronic Nuisance” property is defined as one on which three or more nuisance activities or have occurred during any sixty-day period or seven or more nuisance activities have occurred during any twelve-month period, or one that has had a court determine two or more times within a twelve-month period that probable cause exists that illegal possession, manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance or related offenses has occurred on the property.
When those conditions are met, the Chief of Police may declare that the property is a nuisance property. S/he must notify the property owner, who then has the opportunity to propose a course of action that will remedy the situation. If a satisfactory plan can be worked out and is effective, then no further City action would be taken. If the property does not respond or does not eliminate the problem, the City can then file an action to abate the property. The property owner is potentially subject to a fine of up to $500 dollars per day as well as a civil penalty of up to $25,000. The owner may also be required to provide relocation assistance to legitimate tenants, and can lose their business license and other City licenses that they may possess for the property.
The law has apparently already had an impact on the Aurora situation, as one of the problem motels has closed down. Hopefully, other property owners will either bring their properties into compliance or sell them. Under the new ordinance, the Chief of Police and City Attorney will report annually to the City Council on chronic nuisance property declarations.
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COUNCIL ADOPTS LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
On Monday, December 14, the City Council unanimously passed resolution 31174, approving the city’s 2010 legislative agenda. The Council recognizes that in this short legislative session, the State’s budget problems will be the major topic of legislative work, and much of the City’s engagement will involve seeking to find ways to retain funding for public education, human services and other programs that are of vital importance to City residents.
The Resolution also outlines a number of other key issue areas of interest, which may receive attention in 2010, or where groundwork can be laid for action by future legislatures. Full funding for public education, public safety, water stewardship and salmon recovery, and transportation were identified as the most critical priorities.
The Council amended the agenda to incorporate key priorities of the Association of Washington Cities, including support for a fee on oil refining to support stormwater projects and maintaining and increasing revenue options for Washington cities. These priorities fit well with the City’s policy agenda, and the Council chose to directly incorporate them as part of our effort to build stronger alliances with other areas of Washington to strengthen Seattle’s ability to work on legislative priorities. Even a united Seattle voice cannot win legislative victories without the support of many non-Seattle legislators, and the Council is determined to try to overcome some of the problems that have resulted from the negative view of Seattle that persists in many areas of the state. We can only do that by forming partnerships that can evolve into alliances on mutual areas of interest, and by supporting other areas of the state in their priorities.
The Association of Washington Cities is one arena where we can build relationships in order to achieve that.
Transportation remains a key issue for Seattle. While the transportation is independently funded and not part of the general fund problem, the replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the SR 520 bridge remain major priorities for the City, and the Council will continue to work with our state, regional and county partners to fulfill commitments and to create the best transportation system possible for Seattle and the region.
The state legislative session begins on January 12, 2010.
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NEW COUNCIL RULES TO INCREASE TRANSPARENCY
On Monday, December 14, the Council adopted new Council rules for the 2010-2011 Council. The Council reviews its rules every two years, and makes changes that clarify or modify provisions. This set of rule changes is especially significant, as they include a series of new requirements that strengthen the Council’s commitment to open government by incorporating specific requirements that the Council agrees to bind itself to.
The major new provisions include:
- Committing to providing preliminary agendas for all Council and Committee meetings online and in hard copy at least two business days before the meeting is scheduled. Although this practice is usually followed, there has not been a rule requiring it.
- Formalizing a policy that legislation approved in Committee meetings that take place on Thursday afternoon or Friday will not be placed on the Council’s Monday agendas unless there is agreement that urgent action Is needed. There has been no standard practice requiring this delay in order to ensure adequate public notice.
- Requiring that an attorney be present at all Council Executive sessions in order to ensure that the sessions limit their discussions to matters that are legally allowed to be considered in such closed meetings (such as property negotiations and personnel matters).
- Defining Town Halls and Committees of the Whole as Special Committees. These meetings have not had a defined legal status, and there has been no consistent practice in regards to quorums and other logistical issues. Town Halls have usually been chaired by the Council President, but this rule also provides for a rotation system for Chairing Town Halls.
- Requiring that proposed amendments to Council Bills be reviewed by the Law Department and provided to Councilmembers at least two hours before the Council meeting. This is to ensure that legislation approved by the Council meets legal standards and to provide enough time for Councilmembers to review proposed amendments.
The Council will continue to consider other ways to provide more clarity about its procedures and to ensure transparency.
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COUNCIL ADOPTS PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT PLAN FOR 2010-2011
On Monday, December 14, the Council unanimously adopted a Public Engagement Plan for 2010-2011. The Plan, which has been developed by the Open Government Committee over the last several months, commits the Council to a series of steps that will provide greater opportunities for the public to learn about the work of the Council and to provide comments and input on proposed Council legislation.
There are three major elements in the plan, which will be evaluated and adjusted depending on experience over the next two years, and then reviewed and revised for the 2012-2013 Council.
First, the Council agreed to engage in a new process to remove the barriers to participation in Town Halls and make the council’s Town Halls more successful in attracting and effectively engaging participants. Based on working with community organizations, the Council is in the process of creating a set of best practices for town hall meetings that include partnering with community organizations to encourage participation, providing notice of meetings well in advance, using a geographically diverse set of meeting locations, and including community participation in developing agendas, along with a facilitation model that encourages substantive participation with a fair opportunity for everyone to speak. The Council has piloted these techniques at Town Halls in the summer and fall of 2009, and will use them to develop a 2010 Town Hall plan early in the year.
Second, the Council committed to increasing the venues for dialogue between the public and the Council, including making Councilmembers available on a regular basis through a systematic program to reach community –based organizations, holding at least five meetings per year outside of City Hall at locations throughout the city, and establishing a regular time and place where individual Councilmembers will host open dialogues with the public at least monthly from February to October.
Finally, the Council created a program to expand its media outreach, including improving the Council’s use of existing City resources such as the Council website and the Seattle Channel, increasing the use of social media by establishing Council Facebook and Twitter accounts, blogs, and video channels, and developing more active ongoing relationships with existing print, electronic, and web-based media along with opportunities to provide content to neighborhood and community based newsletters and electronic postings.
These strategies will improve the Council’s visibility in the community and provide more opportunities for a broad spectrum of the Seattle public to provide feedback and ideas as we work together for the future of our City.
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"Everything is connected. No one thing can change by itself."
-- Paul Hawken
"Live, don't know how long
And, die, don't know when
Must go, don't know where
I am astonished I am so cheerful."
-- Maximilian I of Austria
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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