MAKING IT WORK
The purpose of this newsletter is to provide information, inspire involvement, and make things work in this great city. You can request additional information or comment on the newsletter by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m blogging!! In addition to this monthly newsletter, get news as it happens, short succinct regular posts on issues as they develop – and as they are resolved. I’ll focus on the inside stories, and sometimes the less visible issues, like ones that don’t get covered in other media. For now my blog doesn’t receive comments posted but we’ll reexamine that feature later in the year. I’ll be sending a couple of reminders about the existence of the blog this month and then we’ll go back to the normal monthly frequency of the newsletter to this list. Enjoy!
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SR 520 ACTION CONTINUES
On March 31, the City Council released the recommendations of the consulting firm of Nelson/Nygaard on new options for design of a Westside interchange configuration that will maximize transit connectivity and protect neighborhoods and the Arboretum.See the report here. The Council will hold a Public Comment meeting on the recommendations on Thursday, April 8, at 5:30 PM in the Council Chambers.
On April 6, the Mayor released the work of the consultant on the possibility of incorporating light rail on SR 520 as part of the current construction project.
The Council is engaged in working with the State to identify the best possible solution for Seattle, the Westside interchange, and the regional transportation system. On Tuesday, March 30, the Governor signed SB 6392 into law, which includes legislative agreement with the Council’s proposal. The Council’s plan includes this consultant study and an intensive work effort with State and local Transportation officials to find a better alternative than that proposed by the Legislative Work Group in December. The approach supported by a large majority of the Council acknowledges and confirms our agreement with decisions that have been made and incorporated into state law. Those decisions specify a 4 + 2 lane configuration with the new lanes dedicated to carpools and transit and a design that is capable of accomodating light rail in the future. The project also includes a bicycle and pedestrian path across the Lake.
Th large majority of Councilmembers have indicated that the so-called A+ Westside interchange needs improvements in order to work for transit connectivity, neighborhoods, the Arboretum, and the environment. We are in agreement that a better design is possible. There has been some confusion about what the "A+" identifier means. "A+" refers to an interchange on the Westside that is in the same location as the current interchange, and that includes a second Montlake Bridge and ramps in the Arboretum. Those are the issues that we will address in our current work. Some media accounts and participants in this discussion have mistakenly used the A+ moniker to refer to the configuration for the whole project from I-5 to Redmond.
The ultimate decision on the SR 520 project will be made by the State of Washington. The City can influence the Westside interchange by working with the State, and State leaders have made that commitment to the Council.
It is important to acknowledge that there is no perfect solution that will be painless for Seattle. The bridge is jammed for a reason – the economy and population continue to grow and will do so in the future, and any changes will have neighborhood and environmental impacts. But we do have a chance to find the best combination that is as positive as possible, and that prepares for an increasingly transit-oriented future. Such a solution will meet the needs and interests of the tens of thousands of Seattle residents who use this important transportation artery, as well as meeting the core interests of our neighborhoods and protecting the health of the Washington Park Arboretum and Seattle’s environment.
The Council will review the recommendations of the consultant, listen to public comments on April 8, and then formulate a set of recommendations to the State for the core design elements for the Westside interchange. Assuming that we can successfully negotiate with the state to include our recommendations in the final configuration, under the new legislation we will have the remainder of the year to work out the details. In the meantime, the State will proceed with the other elements of the project, which will maintain the schedule calling for project completion by 2014.
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CITY LIGHT RATE STABILIZATION WORK
On Monday, March 22, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved four pieces of legislation designed to provide financial stability for Seattle City Light. City Light continues to be an entity that is financially sound and has a high bond rating, along with rates that are among the lowest in the country.
However, because of poor water conditions and unfavorable market conditions, City Light is now projected to be more than $70 million short of its projected revenue for 2010, despite the 13.8% rate increase adopted last fall. While the Council had hoped that that increase would provide enough resources to enable City Light to get through what was already projected to be a difficult 2010, we knew that a long-run solution was needed. By February it was clear that we needed additional immediate action as well.
The Council, under the leadership of Councilmember Bruce Harrell, has been working on a long term plan to protect City Light from market fluctuations. The long term plan is based on a $100 million Rate Stabilization Account. The purpose of this account is to create a reserve that City Light can draw on in low water years that will prevent financial problems without requiring rate increases. The original plan was to put the mechanism in place this year, and to begin funding it from surplus revenues and the proceeds from refinancing some of City Light’s current debt.
The legislation adopted on March 22 includes creating the Rate Stabilization Account, as well as revising City Light’s financial policies and creating a new City Light Review Panel to assist the Council in working through these kinds of issues in the future.
Unfortunately, there is significant concern that City Light would not be able to continue to provide efficient services and demonstrate adequate financial performance to convince the bond market to refund the outstanding debt at a favorable rate. In order to ensure this, the Council agreed to adopt an immediate 4.5% rate surcharge as part of the package of legislation.
Unlike previous surcharges, this surcharge has a defined parameter when it will expire, when the Rate Stabilization Account is fully funded. The Council is required to review the surcharge each year, beginning in January 2011 and adopt a rate decrease when the financial parameters are met.
The Council also directed City Light to conduct a budget review and cut budgets where possible to further assist in dealing with the financial situation.
The Council has worked hard to protect the long term interests of City Light customers. The Rate Stabilization Account will help ensure that City Light maintains its favorable bond rating and continue to deliver the cleanest, cheapest power in the nation.
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CHIHULY MUSEUM AT SEATTLE CENTER
The owners of the Space Needle Corporation have proposed a new Chihuly Museum at the Seattle Center, to be located on part of the space formerly occupied by the Fun Forest. Center staff welcomed it as both a new attraction and a source of significant additional revenue. However, a number of questions have been raised about the concept, and as a result the Seattle Center has decided to go through a formal Request for Proposal process for this space. The sponsors of the Chihuly proposal would be able to submit a proposal, which could be evaluated against other possible uses for the area they are interested in.
While there has been some negative reaction to the Chihuly idea, there are also some good reasons to consider it. It would not replace all of the possible green space in that site, as it would occupy only 1.5 acres of the 5 acres currently part of the Fun Forest, leaving considerable opportunities for other uses, including children’s activities and/or green space. It would pay $500,000 per year to the Seattle Center, which would help the Center to subsidize its community activities such as Folklife and the ethnic festivals. And there is certainly precedent for both arts and commercial uses in the Seattle Center to coexist with its community activities. Seattle Opera and Ballet, Intiman and Bagley Wright Theaters, the Pacific Science Center, and the Experience Music Project all charge significant admissions, and the Center also leases space to craft and food businesses, not to mention all of the commercial activities at Key Arena.
I appreciate the concerns that have been raised as to whether this is a good fit with the Center, and agree that this proposal should be evaluated against other possible uses for this location. I hope that this RFP process will allow us to take a careful look at it and make a good decision as to whether this is a good fit for the Seattle Center or if it would make more sense for the Chihuly project sponsors to look for another location.
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PRIORITY FOR SOUTH PARK BRIDGE
I have a long-term commitment to working to fund the replacement for the South Park Bridge, including getting the City Council to support inclusion of the Bridge in the 2007 Roads and Transit package (turned down by the voters) and initiating a letter in support of the County’s application for stimulus funding last fall (joined by Councilmembers Sally Clark and Nick Licata).
The South Park Bridge is located in unincorporated King County and is owned by the County, which has the primary responsibility for replacing it. The City has a long-established plan to annex the bridge and take over its maintenance after the County constructs the replacement facility.
As we now know, the South Park Bridge has deteriorated past the point of repair, and is slated to permanently close on June 30, 2010, at 7:00 pm. While we are very concerned about the impact of this closure on our South Park neighborhood, this bridge is much more than a neighborhood bridge: it is a vital connector for multiple communities and a regional link for freight and our transportation system. A replacement is needed and anything less is unacceptable.
However, the County’s very difficult financial situation makes it increasingly unlikely that the County can find funding for the Bridge. Clearly, federal and regional support are needed to preserve this corridor for the South Park neighborhood and for the regional transportation system and economy.
For that reason, I, along with Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw and Tom Rasmussen, initiated a letter pledging our support to the County in working out a regional financial solution for the Bridge. We began by supporting a commitment of $18 million from the Puget Sound Regional Council for the project. All members of the Council have now signed a letter supporting the County’s application for the next round of stimulus dollars, agreeing to work with the County on securing other funding resources, and offering to consider a possible allocation of City dollars for the project.
Seattle wishes to participate in the regional development of a funding strategy because we know one agency cannot do this alone. The cost for a new bridge is approximately $150 million. In these economic times, no one entity has that amount of funding available, which is why partnerships are critical. We will need to reach out and work with other agencies, governments and businesses to identify and secure future funding.
We applaud the steps the County has taken in developing a broad coalition of stakeholders. We are eager to participate as a stakeholder, and look forward to working together to ensure a solution is found.
One of the key goals for the Seattle City Council is to be more proactive in building partnerships with regional and state leaders to address concerns and issues of mutual interest. Replacing the South Park Bridge is a great opportunity for Seattle and King County to work together on an issue that is salient for both governments and a situation where effective partnership will be the key to success.
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NO NEW JAIL
The City of Seattle contracts with the King County jail to house prisoners awaiting trial or sentenced by Seattle District Court. Several years ago, King County notified the City that the contract would not be renewed, as their projections indicated that King County prisoners would take up all of the available space. In response to this, the Nickels administration proposed that Seattle work with a consortium of north and east side cities to construct a new jail.
Constructing a new jail is not an inviting prospect, and finding a location would be a major challenge. When four possible locations were recommended, nearby neighborhoods were not happy with the prospect.
Fortunately, this issue has been at least postponed. The City analyzed King County’s projections, and challenged the calculation that showed that the County was running out of space. Newly-elected King County Executive Dow Constantine agreed that the previous administration overestimated the need for future jail space, and has offered to extend the City’s contract. On March 29, the Council adopted an ordinance that changes the expiration date from 2012 to 2016.
While this is an important step in the right direction, it is not a solution. During the time that the County continues to have capacity, City and County must work together to find alternatives to incarceration that will reduce future projections. This can include reducing the number of inmates awaiting trial by the use of Electronic Home Monitoring and other means, and working with judges on sentencing policy to recognize that swifter sentencing, even with shorter jail time, is a more effective crime deterrent. Changes in state law to reduce the severity of sentences for drug possession and otherwise rationalize the criminal code will also be necessary. Crime prevention is also a critical task.
The best possible outcome would be no need for additional jail space. Reaching this goal will depend on our ability to effectively reform the criminal justice system.
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WALDO WOODS PROTECTED
On Monday, March 8, the Council unanimously approved an ordinance establishing a conservation easement for the property known as Waldo Woods in the Maple Leaf neighborhood. This ends a controversy that began in 2006. The issue of Waldo Woods was one of the major reasons that the Council adopted protections for groves of trees in the landmark tree protection legislation approved by the Council in 2009.
Waldo Woods is part of the property formerly owned by the Campfire program, which for many years occupied the building originally built as the Waldo Hospital. The Woods are a mature grove of conifers that have been regarded as an amenity by the neighborhood for decades.
In 2006, Campfire proposed to sell the entire property, including the building, an open area to the west of the building, and Waldo Woods, to a developer. The developer planned to construct some 30 townhouses, and to cut down most of the trees on the property, including much of Waldo Woods.
My office worked with the community and developer to find a compromise proposal, which would have concentrated the development and protected the Woods, but we were ultimately unsuccessful in our negotiations. Partly in frustration over this impasse, I proposed and the Council adopted legislation that included groves of trees like Waldo Woods as protected under the city’s tree ordinance. While the developer already had a permit, and this legislation would therefore not have protected Waldo Woods, the economic downturn combined with continued community opposition ultimately led the developer to withdraw his purchase proposal.
The happy ending for the community was that the building was purchased by the Menachem Mendel Seattle Cheder, a private school, with an agreement that the woods can be protected under a conservation easement. King County Councilmember Bob Ferguson arranged for $300,000 to be allocated for this purpose in King County’s 2009 Conservation Futures Levy fund allocation, and the City negotiated with the school to purchase permanent protection for the trees for this $300,000. The Conservation Futures program requires a match, but the property is valued at much more than $300,000, and the school agreed to donate the rest of the purchase price, which meets the match requirement.
There are lots of winners in this fight – the building is reused instead of being demolished, the school has a new home, and the trees are protected. There are some downsides as well – the developer lost out on the project (although this may not have been much of a loss, given the current economy), Campfire received less money for the property, and the 30 homes will not be constructed. While it would be a stretch to call it a win-win outcome, on balance the gains seem to outweigh the losses. Ultimately, the long-range policy result of extending protections to such groves of trees is very significant for communities all over Seattle as we strive to turn around the loss of tree canopy in the City and achieve our goal of tree restoration.
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"A vision has to have accuracy and not just imagination and appeal."
-- Ronald Heifetz
"The thing about democracy is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion."
-- Molly Ivins
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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