MAKING IT WORK
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SR 520 MOVING TOWARDS DECISION
On Thursday, January 28, eight members of the Council signed a letter to Governor Gregoire and the Chairs of the Legislature’s Transportation Committees concerning next steps in the State’s process for replacing the SR 520 Bridge. The letter expressed the Council’s support for moving forward on the replacement project within the current budget and on the current timeline, which calls for the project to be completed by 2014.
However, the Council concluded that the proposed alternatives for the Westside interchange, including the so-called A+ alternative recommended by a Legislative Working Group, did not adequately support transit connectivity and protect our neighborhoods, the Arboretum, and the environment. For those reasons, the Council asked the State for approximately four months to work through the Westside issues in order to see if there is a set of alternative choices that would be more workable. In a response sent on Monday, February 1, the governor and legislative leaders accepted the Council’s proposal, and asked that the work begin as soon as possible.
The state has been working on the replacement of SR 520 for almost twelve years, beginning with a study of alternative corridors (such as a bridge from Kirkland to Sand Point), transportation alternatives (such as a ferry fleet), and alternative designs (such as a submerged tunnel or suspension bridge)in the late 1990’s. This study concluded that the current corridor was the best choice and that the floating bridge design was the only realistic engineering option.
In 2003 an agreement was reached between Westside and Eastside elected officials about the configuration of the Bridge. Eastside cities gave up their proposed 8 lane alternative, and accepted a 4+2 lane design, with 4 automobile/truck lanes and 2 lanes dedicated to carpools and transit. This was a significant victory for Seattle and for transit proponents. A further success came when the legislature adopted design criteria which wrote into law requirements that the bridge be built to be able to carry light rail at a future date, and that the carpool/transit lanes be designed to be able to be converted to transit only.
With that configuration settled, attention turned to the Westside interchange. The original proposals made by WSDOT in 2004-2005 essentially recommended the current location for the interchange. However, new design standards would make it much larger, and neighborhoods raised concerns about its impact on neighborhoods, the Arboretum, and the environment, along with disappointment that the design did not optimize transit connectivity because it would not take transit directly to the light rail station at Husky Stadium. Since 2005, there have been three attempts to design the interchange to be more transit, neighborhood, and environmentally friendly, but there has not been a design developed that satisfies all key interests.
In 2009 the Legislature created a Legislative Working Group to review the options, develop a financing plan for the project, and recommend a Westside design. This group voted 10 to 2 in favor of the A+ design, which would construct a second drawbridge in Montlake. Metro Transit, Sound Transit, and the King County Council have all endorsed this alternative.
The State intends to make a decision on the preferred alternative this spring. If the Legislature writes into law the recommendations of the Working Group, there would be no realistic way to change the design. Even if the Legislature does not do this, a decision by the Governor to commit to this design would put an end to the consideration of other alternatives, unless the Legislature overrode her action or there were a successful legal challenge.
The Council has worked with the Governor and Legislative leaders to open up an attempt to resolve the Westside issues in a cooperative manner. It is our judgment that the State is ready to move the project forward, and that the best approach for Seattle is to work with the State under current law to attempt to improve the Westside interchange.
Mayor McGinn, the 43rd District legislators, and a number of community organizations have expressed their agreement with the Council that the Westside interchange remains unresolved, but have suggested a different path forward. They have suggested that by eliminating carpools from the new lanes and replacing them with transit, a better design can be developed for the Westside.
The Council hopes that all interested parties will work together to find a Westside solution. However, there are two concerns with this proposal. First, it changes the configuration from carpool/transit to transit only from the beginning, and State leaders have made it clear that they do not want to reopen that issue. Second, it is not clear how this proposal provides a substantially different configuration on the Westside, especially since state law (as noted above) already provides that the lanes must be designed to be able to be converted to transit only.
The next several weeks may be pivotal. At this point, the State is ready to work with Seattle to try to find an improved design on the Westside. It is not clear what the impact of the new transit proposal will be on those discussions or on the project as a whole. Tens of thousands of Seattle residents and businesses depend on the SR 520 corridor, which links the State’s largest and densest urban centers. We owe it to them to do the best we can to find a solution that provides the best possible transit connections, resolves the safety issues, and has the least possible adverse impacts on our neighborhoods and the Arboretum.
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COUNCIL ADOPTS KEY ENERGY DISCLOSURE ORDINANCE
On Monday, January 25, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved the Energy Disclosure Ordinance, which requires large commercial and multi-family property owners in Seattle to annually measure energy use and provide the City with information to allow comparison across different buildings. Building owners will also be required to share energy usage and ratings with prospective buyers, tenants and lenders during the sale, lease or financing of properties.
This is an important step because by measuring energy consumption and making that information available, consumers and managers will become more aware of the great cost-cutting opportunities presented by energy conservation measures. Commercial property managers already benchmarking buildings say measuring energy use is critical to keeping costs down and staying competitive in a tight real estate market.
Energy-efficient buildings cost less to operate, attract top tenants, and create value for building ownership. With this new ordinance, prospective buyers and tenants will gain new information needed to factor energy use into their decisions about where to invest, live and work. If you are not monitoring, benchmarking and managing energy use, you will simply be less competitive in the market-place.
As more building owners and managers realize the market benefits of measuring and managing energy use, more are seeking ways to improve building energy performance, from no-and low-cost measures such as retro-commissioning, to deep building retrofits – all of which are contributing to the explosive growth in green building and energy services industries in Seattle and across the U.S. As a result, there will be more jobs and contracts for companies and contractors in the energy efficiency business.
The important next step is for the City to work with property owners and tenants to make sure they have the resources needed to make improvements. The City already finances energy improvements through City Light, and has received some federal grants to provide further financing. The next round of federal funding will be focused on cities that have adopted significant and bold policies that will leverage the federal funding to create widespread momentum for energy conservation. This policy initiative could be a critical step in receiving additional federal support.
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NEW REGIONAL FOOD POLICY COUNCIL APPROVED
On Thursday, January 28, the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) approved the creation of a Regional Food Policy Council. The Regional Food Policy Council (RFPC) will work with community, business, agriculture, and government partners to identify gaps in the region’s food system and develop integrated policy recommendations and actions that will help our region move towards a food system that supports healthy people and communities and environmental sustainability.
A local Acting Food Policy Council, with modest funding support from WSU Cooperative Extension and lots of volunteer energy, has been working for several years, and has been a very important partner in developing the Local Food Action Initiative (LFAI) and in the implementation work that has happened since the LFAI was approved by Council in May of 2008. Part of the work program for the LFAI has been to create a permanent Food Policy Council, as has been done in a number of other cities and regions around the US and Canada.
Our goal was to create the Food Policy Council on a regional level. A regional approach can combine the interests and representation of urban and rural people, and support making connections on the regional level between farm producers and urban consumers. The work of the RFPC can inform economic development strategies, protection of farmland, and developing food processing and marketing opportunities for locally grown food. PSRC, which is the planning group for four counties (King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap), and is governed by local elected officials from the region, is a great place to be the center for food policy development.
The Obama administration is very supportive of these kinds of efforts, and has launched a grant program specifically targeted at supporting Food Policy Councils. The City of Seattle has already received a $300,000 federal grant to support community organizations implementing the LFAI, and the experience and energy around local food issues in this area would make the Puget Sound Regional Food Policy Council a great candidate for a federal grant to advance its work. Members of the Acting Food Policy Council will work with my office and PSRC to structure the new RFPC and develop this funding source over the next several months.
Once the new body is established and funded, it will bring together representatives from across the food system, including those involved in production, processing, packaging, distribution, consumption, and food waste, as well as agencies addressing environment, housing, emergency preparedness, and economic development issues. This group will develop policies that will protect farmland, foster economic development, improve public health, and increase access to fresh, local food.
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2010 TO BE YEAR OF URBAN AGRICULTURE
On Wednesday, February 3, Mayor Michael McGinn and I announced the launch of ‘The Year of Urban Agriculture’, a campaign to promote community agriculture efforts and increase access to locally grown food. This campaign will work through city agencies and private organizations to encourage more food growing in Seattle, develop new policies to promote local food at the City level, and support the work of providing adequate food, healthy choices, and better nutrition for Seattle residents. Details on the program will be posted at www.seattle.gov/urbanagriculture as specific initiatives are launched.
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SOUTH LAKE UNION BIOTECH ZONING APPROVED
On Monday, January 11, The City Council approved a text amendment for South Lake Union allowing additional height within the Seattle Mixed Zone in order to promote biotech industries and associated research and office uses. The legislation was approved by a vote of 7 to 1, with Councilmember Licata voting no and Councilmember Harrell recused.
The legislation opens up a way to take advantage of an opportunity for economic development and employment proposed by the University of Washington, who are eager to begin development of new buildings that will support additional research work. The new heights are greater than those allowed under current zoning on the block that UW is interested in, but they are compatible with the heights of other buildings in the South Lake Union neighborhood, such as the Mirabella, a 12-story retirement complex. They are also less than the heights under three options proposed for a comprehensive rezone of South Lake Union, all except the No Action alternative.
The UW proposal has the same floor area allowed under current zoning, but the additional height allows for taller buildings with more open space and the opportunity for street activation. The Council acknowledged community concerns about this development by including amendments that increased the accessibility and quality of the open space and improved the streetscape.
Community residents also expressed concerns about this text amendment being done in advance of the comprehensive rezone, scheduled to be completed in the next year. I am sympathetic to these concerns. The lengthy process for completing this rezone is the fault of the City. South Lake Union was designated as an Urban Center in 2004, and the revisions to the South Lake Union Neighborhood Plan were approved by the Council in 2007. The rezone process should have accompanied those, as processes work best if they are careful, swift, and inclusive. It is frustrating to have them extended out over multiple year periods.
It would be a mistake to let this opportunity go by the boards because the City has not completed its work in a timely manner. The text amendment is narrowly drawn to affect only a small number of properties, and does not prevent a thoughtful and careful rezone of the entire neighborhood. It is used in just such circumstances, when there is a complex project that is moving more swiftly than the City is, and has been used in a number of other situations, such as the Amazon development, the Gates Foundation Headquarters, and the North Kingdome Lot redevelopment. As noted above, the buildings allowed under this text amendment are compatible with the proposals for the comprehensive rezone.
The text amendment process is also open and democratic. There were numerous opportunities to comment, including an evening public hearing, and Councilmembers met with and listened to the concerns of the affected community. Such a democratic process, incidentally, would not have been possible if the applicant had used the other posible alternative, a contract rezone process, which is quasi-judicial, takes place in a legal setting before the Hearing Examiner, and does not allow citizens to lobby the Council.
The result of this legislative process should work for both the South Lake Union community and for the larger economic health of Seattle.
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MAYOR PROPOSES BOND FOR SEAWALL
Mayor McGinn has recommended that the Council consider placing on the ballot a proposal for $241 million in bonds to replace the deteriorating Elliott Bay Seawall. The Mayor came to the Council Briefing session on Monday morning, January 25, to discuss his proposal.
Councilmembers appreciate the Mayor’s concern for the safety issues around the Seawall, and are prepared to carefully review the Mayor’s proposal and consider whether this is a good candidate for voter-approved bonds. Voter approval of a bond issues requires a 60% yes vote, and there is also a turnout requirement of a percentage of the number of people who voted in November 2009 roughly equal to the number of voters who normally vote in primaries.
The City has been working on the question of how to replace the Seawall for several years. While the Nisqually earthquake raised the level of concern, the Seawall is an aging facility, and has been a concern for some time. While the outer Seawall is relatively sturdy, it is supported by a series of mostly wooden posts behind it, which are being eaten by marine borers (the same kinds of animals that make holes in wooden ship hulls). While the Seawall has withstood several earthquakes, it is continuing to weaken, and it must be replaced. Failure of the Seawall would have potentially catastrophic consequences for much of downtown Seattle.
Since the Nisqually earthquake, the Seawall has been included in the design and environmental review done for the Alaskan Way Viaduct, as part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement Project (Project). Seawall replacement was integral to the cut-and-cover tunnel proposal, which included the Seawall as one wall of the tunnel, and is closely related to construction of any roadway on the waterfront. While it is less clearly related to the bored tunnel, there are still significant connections between these projects, as the overall project includes replacing the surface road on the waterfront and taking down the current elevated freeway
For those reasons, the Seawall was included in the Memorandum of Agreement between the City and State that set the parameters for the Project to proceed last fall. Under this agreement, the City is responsible for financing several elements of the overall project, including the Seawall.
In the 2010 Budget process, the Council asked the Mayor to propose a comprehensive financing package for those elements. While using a bond financed by property taxes was not on the list of suggested possible financing mechanisms, it can be added to the list of alternatives. The Council, however, is looking for a more comprehensive financing package to be presented, so that the impact of each element can be considered and a fair allocation of costs evaluated for the entire work plan. Only with this will decision makers and the public be able to assess and make thoughtful choices on the array of financing mechanisms that will be required for the total package, which includes work on surface streets and the development of the Waterfront Park, among other things.
The Council is also concerned about what other proposals might be put before the voters in the next several years. While Seattle voters have been very generous in voting for ballot measures in the last fifteen years, voters deserve to know what possible measures are under consideration so that they can gauge the impacts as they decide how to vote on each one. For example, the Families and Education Levy expires in 2011, the Seattle Center Master Plan is not funded, several of our community centers are in need of major repair and renovation, and the Police Departments’ North Precinct and Harbor Patrol facilities are in clear need of replacement. Voters expect and deserve predictability and a sound financial strategy before we ask again.
These decisions should be made in a comprehensive, organized, inclusive and transparent manner. The new seawall must last generations and be a sound investment ecologically and financially, and the Council is looking forward to further discussions about this important issue.
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DO NOT MAIL RESOLUTION PASSES
On Monday, January 25, the Council approved Resolution 31169, which calls on the State of Washington to create a Do Not Mail Registry in order to reduce the volume of unwanted mail delivered to Washington residents. The Council approved this resolution by a vote of 8 to 1, with Councilmember Godden voting no.
It is important to note that Council passage does not establish such a registry, and it is not clear when or if the State would actually create such a registry. For that reason, the Resolution also asks Seattle Public Utilities to explore low cost options to provide a Do Not Mail service to SPU customers if state action on this issue is delayed. Any such registry would not apply to political mail or non-profit activities.
The 2008 US Postal Service household survey showed that the Postal Service delivered nationally about 100 billion pieces, or 11 billion pounds of advertising mail in 2008. It’s also estimated that approximately 70% of those 100 billion pieces was recycled without ever having been read. That means that 7.7 billion pounds of unwanted direct mail is being printed, delivered, taken away from residences, and recycled at a cost to utility customers; all without ever having been read each year. Disposing of this material costs Seattle about $15 per ton if it is recycled, and several times that much if it goes to the landfill.
This activity comes at a cost to our climate and our natural resources. Because Seattle has a strong commitment to reducing waste and carbon emissions and because constituents are asking for help in reducing unwanted mail, the registry is the right thing to do and is in line with several major city policy initiatives.
Providing a state registry gives consumers a choice and a means to curtail the volume of unwanted mail that they receive. The registry could work much like the successful national DO NOT CALL registry.
The Council appreciates that this approach causes concern about possible adverse impacts on some sectors of our economy. We do not take these concerns lightly. However, we note that the Direct Mail Association already maintains such a registry. We are confident that the industry’s own association would not maintain a Do Not Mail registry if they really believed that such a registry had a negative impact on their members. Current participation levels in existing registries seem to indicate that the registry will provide consumers with a choice and may result in modest reductions in the number of people on mailing lists, but will not have significant adverse impacts on printers, mail houses, and postal workers. In fact, since mailing to people who simply throw out the material is a waste of money, registries are likely to strengthen these businesses and our economy.
This is a very small step on the journey toward sustainability that Seattle is recommending. The resolution was requested by Seattle residents, who asked for positive action to help them reduce this element of the waste stream.
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“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
-- Winston Churchill
"Politics and barbecues go so naturally together because it takes the same amount of time to cook the meat as it does to stroke the voters."
-- America Eats! WPA Federal Writers Project
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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