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.
SOUTH PARK BRIDGE MUST BE REPLACED
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.
I have a long-term commitment to working to fund the replacement for the South Park Bridge; it is a vital connector for multiple communities and a regional link for freight and our transportation system. That’s why I worked to mobilize City Council support for inclusion of the Bridge in the 2007 Roads and Transit package (turned down by the voters) and initiated a letter in support of the County’s application for stimulus funding last fall (joined by Councilmembers Sally Clark and Nick Licata).
Unfortunately, the bridge has deteriorated past the point of repair, and is slated to permanently close on June 30, 2010, at 7:00 pm. I am deeply disturbed by the impending closure of the South Park Bridge and the potentially devastating impacts that it could have on the community. The City will do whatever we can, within our authority, to reduce the impacts on South Park and the surrounding communities. A replacement is needed and anything less is unacceptable.
More recently, along with Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw and Tom Rasmussen, I initiated a letter pledging our support to the County to work out a regional financial solution for the Bridge replacement. 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 federal 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.
It is clear that it will be least three years before King County will be able to assemble the funding and construct a new bridge. This is truly a regional failure to take appropriate care of this important transportation connection and it is very unfortunate that the community will have to suffer the consequences of that failure. But while we are all very concerned about the impacts on neighborhoods and businesses, the County’s difficult financial situation makes it increasingly unlikely that the County will find funding for the replacement any time soon.
We know that no one agency can 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. Clearly, federal and regional support is needed to preserve this corridor for the South Park neighborhood and for the regional transportation system and economy.
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.
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LOCAL FOOD MOVEMENT KEEPS GROWING
More than 20 people from Seattle/King County attended the Kellogg Foundation’s annual Food and Community Networking Conference this April, which drew more than 600 local food activists from around the country to a conference facility owned by the Pima Indian Nation just outside Phoenix. Kellogg sponsors and funds this conference to bring together the best ideas and projects from around the country. Their goal is to further the development of the growing transformation of the American food system and promote healthier communities. Seattle/King County’s goal is to move towards a model that is healthier, more local, less chemical and pesticide intensive, integrated with healthy lifestyles, and aligned with the principles of social justice.
I had the good fortune to be asked to attend in my role as the sponsor of Seattle’s Local Food Action Initiative and cheerleader for the many community efforts around Seattle that are working on transforming our local systems. Although many attendees reported that they had the support of their local elected leaders, and Michelle Obama made a video appearance to cheer us on, I was one of only two electeds at the conference. In my closing remarks to the conference, I urged participants to broaden their reach and help make this social movement into a political movement.
Here are some of the key observations and learnings that I had from the conference:
- The national environment has never been more promising. The full engagement of the White House, and new legislative initiatives moving through Congress, may not get much notice in the mainstream media, but the support is real and there is leadership from the federal government in ways that have never existed before.
- There is great momentum and enthusiastic response around engaging youth in this work. Seattle’s own youth movement, the Food Empowerment, Education, and Sustainability Team (FEEST), based in the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association, is a great example of this. About a hundred of the conference participants were youth delegates, and their consistent message was "Work with youth, don’t just talk at them."
- The work on transforming the food system requires careful analysis and understanding the whole food chain in order to truly bring about change. It’s easy to suggest, for example, that buying local food will reduce your ecological footprint, but that’s only true if the local growing and transportation system is designed to minimize the use of fossil fuels. For example, local farmers carrying their produce directly to consumers in pick-up trucks is often less efficient and ecologically positive than bringing farmers together to pool their resources and use larger, more fuel-efficient trucks. The details really matter.
- Innovative and flexible business models that can fit into the existing system make a huge difference. Farmers, wholesalers, and food users can count on the current food supply chain to be reliable. That reliability is critical to farmers, and it is risky to try to create a whole new supply chain. It often works better to figure out ways to insert healthy local food sources into the existing chain, if that chain can be scaled appropriately.
- Social justice is a critical element of the food system. The current system uses workers, often not in the country legally, who are underpaid and often exploited because of their legal status (what recourse does an undocumented immigrant have if the employer cheats them on the paycheck?). There are models for producing and distributing food that do not rely on this unjust pattern, but in order to get more food produced under socially just conditions, the production, distribution, and marketing systems must be designed to achieve that goal.
At one of the concluding sessions, a representative of the Pima Indian Nation reminded us that even the vocabulary of change can often reflect values that are in conflict with local sustainability. She noted that urban areas that do not have stores that carry healthy food are referred to as 'food deserts'."This seems odd to us, who have been living on the bounty of the desert for hundreds of years! And, of course, in many of these urban communities, growing food is even easier than it is in our desert –"
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PROTECTING RENTERS FROM UNSAFE HOUSING
On Tuesday, June 1, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved three pieces of legislation designed to protect renters from sub-standard rental housing conditions. The three pieces of legislation create a framework to improve sub-standard housing via administrative warrants, along with a rental housing licensing and inspection program that could be implemented if administrative warrants are not effective.
While the vast majority of rental property owners are responsible stewards of their investment and work well with their renters, there are a substantial minority who maintain unsafe properties. This is a particular problem in neighborhoods near the University of Washington and in some low income areas of Seattle, where the tenants are either unaware of their rights or afraid to complain about conditions for fear of retaliation and being unable to find a comparably priced place to live. Current law depends on tenants making complaints, and city inspectors can enter a rental unit only if invited by the tenant or owner. This makes enforcement difficult.
For several years, Seattle has asked the State legislature for 'administrative warrant authority', which would allow the City to obtain an inspection warrant from a court, if there is evidence from a third party or a City inspector that conditions exist in a rental housing building that threaten the life or safety of a tenant. In 2010, the legislature finally approved that authority, but the state legislation also included a number of restrictions that may limit the City's ability to use that authority, as well as a clause that limits the ability of a City to adopt a comprehensive rental inspection program after June 10, 2010.
Currently, the City of Pasco has a rental inspection program, and Seattle has contemplated establishing such a program in the past. It has been deferred in the hopes that the legislature would approve an effective administrative warrant authority that the City could use proactively.
In order to protect the City's ability to implement a rental inspection program if the administrative warrant authority granted by state law turns out to be ineffective, the Mayor and Council agreed to move forward with creating a program. However, we have deferred the effective date until there has been a fair test of the administrative warrant authority.
The Council approved a companion resolution that requires DPD to report on the City’s success or failure in using administrative inspection warrant authority to gain entry into rental units that may have serious code violations by July 1, 2011. If this program is effective, the Council may choose to further defer implementation of a rental inspection program.
The Council also approved a resolution providing for the opportunity for stakeholders to work with DPD to ensure that the rental inspection program would operate effectively if it was, in fact, implemented. Stakeholders will be asked to consider:
- Whether all units or only a sample of units should be inspected;
- How often inspections should occur;
- Standards for passing or failing an inspection;
- Whether the program should be citywide or only in targeted neighborhoods;
- If the program should be limited to buildings with a certain number of units or with a certain type of units;
- Whether any kinds of units should be exempted from the program (such as those owned by public agencies, which are presumed to have their own inspection programs).
The Council is determined to protect renters while minimizing the administrative requirements for responsible property owners. We hope that the continued work over the coming year with representatives of tenants and the Rental Housing Association will lead to a result that works for all of the affected parties.
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REDUCING CARBON EMISSIONS: SEATTLE HAS TAKEN THE LEAD
As the City Council begins the work on developing a carbon (climate) neutral Seattle, we can build on ten years of past efforts to reduce Seattle’s carbon footprint. Seattle has a proud record of recognizing and addressing climate change.
In July 2001, when it became clear that the federal government would not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, then-Councilmember Heidi Wills sponsored a resolution (adopted unanimously by the Council) committing the City to meet the Kyoto target of reducing emissions by 7% from 1990 levels by 2010. We figured we might as well take on the Kyoto challenge, because even if the federal government ratified the agreement, it would probably tell cities that they had to do the work to implement it.
Then-Mayor Greg Nickels took major steps forward in addressing climate change, launching the US Conference of Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. More than 1000 US cities have now signed on to this national campaign. The City Office of Sustainability and Environment released the Seattle Climate Action Plan in 2006, followed by two major initiatives, Seattle Climate Action Now, a public campaign, and the Seattle Climate Partnership, which engages businesses. The Seattle Climate Action Plan broadened the City’s Kyoto commitment, including adopting a methodology for measuring carbon emissions and committing to publishing an accounting of Seattle’s emission on a regular basis.
In 2007, the Council adopted a next goal of reducing emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases by 30% from year 1990 levels by 2024, and by 80% by 2050. That year we also set a goal of all new City buildings being carbon neutral by 2030, and adopted a Zero Waste strategy that ultimately aims at carbon neutrality for the 42% of US carbon emissions associated with products.
In 2009 we further acknowledged the reality of climate change (and the failure of the world to address it) by beginning a strategic plan for adapting to the impact of unavoidable climate change in the coming years.
We met the Kyoto target in 2005, reducing our calculated emissions from 7.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to 6.7 million metric tons. We next measured in 2008, and saw a slight increase, but still below the 7% target. This is a pretty spectacular achievement, especially considering the 16% population growth and increased economic activity over that time period.
Most of the progress made to 2008 was incremental – increases in efficiency. To move beyond this will require system change (as envisioned in the Zero Waste Strategy and the Local Food Action Initiative adopted by the Council in 2008). Our task in moving to carbon neutrality will be to make system changes, while continuing incremental progress. Ultimately it will require creating a compelling and realistic vision and a new framework of sustainability that will foster the growth of the green sector of our economy and integrate and enhance economic opportunity with a climate neutral city.
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"The pleasures of wealth and greatness… strike the imagination as something grand and beautiful and noble, of which the attainment is well worth all the toil and anxiety which we are so apt to bestow upon it…. It is this deception which arouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of mankind."
-- Adam Smith: The Wealth of Nations
"Economies thrive when individuals strive, but because individuals will only strive for their own happiness, it is essential that they mistakenly believe that producing and consuming are routes to personal wellbeing."
-- Daniel Gilbert
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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