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 email@example.com.
URBAN FARMS AND COMMUNITY GARDENS: EXPANDING ACCESS TO LOCAL FOOD
On Monday, August 16, the Council unanimously adopted Land Use code updates governing the City’s urban agriculture uses, including allowing “urban farms” and “community gardens” in all zones, with some limitations in industrial zones. Council Bill 116907 encourages food production by allowing residents to sell food grown on their property, supporting our rapidly growing local food movement.
These code changes will strengthen community food security and increase opportunities for Seattle residents to purchase and grow healthy food in the city.
Specific provisions of the legislation:
These code changes will allow more small scale agricultural operations, promote more productive use of public and private open space, and increase the capacity of underused areas such as rooftops to be used for food production. These expanded opportunities for producing and distributing locally grown food are important steps towards the sustainability and security of our food system.
- Defines urban farms (where food is grown for sale) and community gardens (where food is grown for personal consumption and donation). While Seattle has more than 2500 community garden (p-patch) plots, there was no recognition of community gardens in the Land Use Code.
- Permits community gardens outright in all zones. Because they were not defined in the code, there were no provisions or development standards. This will help to expand opportunities for siting and developing community gardens.
- Allows urban farms in all zones, with some restrictions on the size in residential zones and a limitation to rooftops and vertical gardens in Manufacturing and Industrial Centers.
- Creates development standards for urban farms in residential zones that limits mechanical equipment, commercial deliveries or pickups, and motor vehicles associated with farm operations; specifies that any products sold must be grown on the site or processed offsite and returned to the site and that sales are limited to 7 AM to 7 PM; and limits the size of accessory structures and identification signs.
- Requires an administrative conditional use permit for sites larger than 4000 square feet in residential zones. DPD must review the site plan, equipment and any chemicals that will be used, and stormwater and erosion management plans.
- Allows rooftop greenhouses dedicated to food production to exceed the height limit by 15 feet and cover up to a total of 50% of a rooftop in most Midrise, Highrise, Commercial, Downtown, and Industrial zones.
- Creates additional potential locations for farmers markets by allowing them to be sited in all zones that permit commercial uses.
- Increases the number of domestic fowl permitted on a residential lot from 3 to 8. In community gardens and urban farms, the number of fowl allowed depends on the size of the lot. In response to concerns raised about noise and good neighbor relations, the legislation requires structures housing domestic fowl to be located at least ten feet from dwelling units on adjacent lots, and prohibits additional roosters (existing roosters are allowed to remain).
- Allows existing horse farms that exceed ten acres to continue to operate in residential zones.
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TUNNEL AGREEMENTS ENDORSED BY COUNCIL
On Monday, August 2, the City Council approved Resolution 31235 endorsing three agreements with the State of Washington. The agreements protect the City’s interests and provide the framework for managing Seattle's relationship with the State during the construction of the the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement. The vote was 8 to 1, with Councilmember O'Brien voting no.
SR 99 is a state highway, and the State could proceed with the project, provide no explicit protection to the City, and avoid all City regulations. The Council worked with the State to craft agreements that will conform to City codes, and the Council also added a number of f provisions that stregthen protections for the City:
-- An agreement with the State that the Council can fully review the proposed contract for tunnel construction prior to formally approving these agreements. The resolution provides sufficient guidance to the contractors and State to negotiate the contract and keep the project on schedule, while the Council will now have a complete understanding of how all risks and contract provisions will be managed before giving final assent.
-- The State agreed that it would take full responsibility for all costs of the project.
-- The Council included a provision clearly stating that it would not approve the final agreements if the legislature took any steps to require Seattle area taxpayers to bear any special costs of the project.
-- The State agreed to set aside the $390 million reserved for surface street improvements and not reallocate any of these funds without the agreement of the City.
-- The State agreed that no provisions of these agreements could be changed without the approval of the Council.
The Council also unanimously approved a companion resolution acknowledging that the State has funded $93 million in transit improvements associated with this project, but that the Legislature has not yet acted to provide the long-term funding options that will permit King County to complete the transit portion of the project, and called on the State to take this action in the next legislature. State legislative leaders have indicated that their goal is to have a transportation package including this funding a key priority for the 2011 legislature.
The two consortiums that are bidding on the proposed tunnel will now complete their proposals in the early fall, and, if there is a bid that falls within the budget for the project, the State hopes to conclude a contract by mid-winter. The Council will complete a final review of the proposed contract, and can then proceed to formally approve the agreements with the State. Initial construction work will begin sometime in 2011.
As this project unfolds, the City will begin planning for the opportunity to radically transform the downtown Waterfront, an opportunity that few major cities have had. The tunnel replacement allows Seattle to create an extraordinary waterfront park, improve a major transportation corridor, prevent a potential seismic disaster, and still maintain the current corridor in operation for almost the entire duration of the construction, while allowing waterfront businesses to keep operating with minimal disruption.
The Tunnel as a Green Alternative
The transformation of the Waterfront into a great amenity for the people of Seattle is a key element making the tunnel a green option for replacing the viaduct. Creating the great downtown park will critically assist Seattle's ability to attract jobs and housing to downtown, our key step in implementing the Growth Management Act and in providing maximum opportunities for people to walk and bike between home and work. The freight mobility the tunnel provides will help Seattle's manufacturing sector provide employment opportunities.
The tunnel is also an important green transportation asset, encouraging walking, bicycling, and transit. In 2008 the "Urban Quality Evaluation" by Gehl Architects of Copenhagen, internationally respected experts on pedestrian-friendly design, examined the effect of traffic on the pedestrian realm. Gehl Architects concluded that all surface options made the downtown as a whole a worse environment for bicyclists and created worse traffic levels on downtown streets. “The less vehicle traffic on the surface, the better,” Gehl found. “A double-edged strategy is called for: get traffic underground and start lowering traffic volumes on the surface.” County Executive Dow Constantine's office testified to the Council that the tunnel is the best option for transit, as it preserves the opportunity for transit to operate smoothly and rapidly on Seattle's downtown street network.
On balance, constructing the tunnel is likely to be an effective tool for reducing greenhouse emissions from automobiles -- probably more than the surface alternative that was my first choice for the replacement project, and that some environmentalists still support. The tunnel immediately reduces highway capacity by 33% -- its four lanes replace the current six. Because there will be no downtown exits, it nudges people towards using transit instead of cars for the journey to work, where congestion is worse and transit most available. Because traffic will flow smoothly through the tunnel, it avoids emissions from idling vehicles. Both of these further reduce carbon emissions. The surface alternative would have involved adding at least one lane to I-5, a formidable engineering task, as well as creating more congestion on downtown streets, slowing transit and generating more emissions.
Managing Risks and Costs
All projects have risks and uncertainties, and no one can guarantee the outcome of any project. However, contrary to what some believe, potential cost overruns for the project are clearly the responsibility of the state, and not Seattle taypayers or the City as a legal entity. WSDOT has an excellent track record on estimating projects, has employed the world's leading experts in developing this project, and has included contingency, risk, and escalation allowances in its budget to cover any potential problems. The Council engaged experts to review the State's work, and they agreed that the State has acted prudently and that the project is doable with minimal risk. They further noted that the contractor is required to carry eight different kinds of commercial liability insurance as well as a $500 million performance bond.
Curiously, those who have raised fears about this tunnel have never expressed such concerns about Sound Transit's University Link tunnel, which is twice as long, deeper, and runs under the Ship Canal. The contract for that tunnel came in 20% below the engineering estimate. The Council's expert legal consultant noted that the state's tunnel project provided a greater level of protection for the public than the Sound Transit tunnel contract -- which he had written.
The City does not have the option of selecting another alternative that is a State decision. If the City decided not to proceed with its partnership on this project, there would be significant risks:
- The State could reallocate the money to other projects and leave an aging safety hazard in place on our waterfront in the form of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
- There could be a failure to agree on a new alternative, and delay in the schedule for replacement.
- Construction costs could increase from their current low levels.
- Seattle could end up without a great new waterfront.
- The good faith relationship between Seattle and state and regional partners would be badly damaged, preventing much needed cooperation on many other fronts.
Seattle is fortunate to have a State government that comes to the table in good faith, works out issues, and has met all of our requirements. These are very good agreements. They have received support from a strong majority of public comments, both in person and via email. It is clear that most people are ready to move on with the work at hand, regardless of their original preference for an alternative.
The Council will continue its oversight of this project, and will continue to work for a safe corridor, environmental improvements, economic opportunity, and a waterfront for all.
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SEATTLE LIBRARY IDENTIFIES FUNDING OPTIONS
In April, I noted that my concern about funding for the Seattle Public Library in these difficult budget times led me to take oversight of the library in my Regional Development and Sustainability Committee in order to work with the library on finding a new and independent source of funding. While the Council has consistently restored some funding to the library when it has been cut by the Mayor, this will become increasingly difficult in future years, as public safety and human services take up much of the budget and are seen as priorities.
Seattle Public Library staff, working with Council staff and the City Budget office, have now completed an initial review of possible funding options, and submitted it to my Committee. The review suggests that a voter approved a levy lid lift for library operations may be the most promising possibility for a sustainable funding source. The other promising options -- creating a separate library district or increasing the City's overall revenues -- seem to be more difficult and do not offer any more certainty.
The team first examined how other libraries in Washington are funded. Surprisingly, Seattle is the only library system of the five serving more than 250,000 people that is not organized as a Library District, although it is joined by the 6th and 7th largest systems, Spokane and Tacoma. This is because the State's Library District legislation was designed to provide for the needs of relatively smaller jurisdictions, which could join together to provide services. Now, however, some of these districts serve very large populations.
Nonetheless, the state legislation would have to be changed to allow cities to create Library Districts. The analysis noted that even if this were possible, it would not be very different from going to the voters for a levy lid lift, since in either case voter approval would be required and property taxes are the only option. And it might be difficult to get the state legislature to take action, since only Seattle would be interested, and we would have to work hard to get allies.
Even with the decline in property values as a result of the recession, Seattle would have plenty of capacity under state law to fund libraries with a voter approved levy. The analysis noted that a more general government levy would be one additional option that could be considered, but that this would be out of the library's control.
The 2011-2012 budget will be a difficult one for the library, but the Council will do our best to maintain critical services. After this budget is completed in November, it is my intention to conduct a further Council review of the funding options. If we confirm that a levy vote is the most reasonable option, we will then launch a public process in cooperation with Seattle Public Library to see when it would have public support. My goal is to have a stable funding source in place before the 2013-2014 budget cycle.
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TECHNOLOGY MATCHING FUND: BRIDGING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
On Monday, August 2, the Council unanimously approved allocating $300,000 from the Technology Matching Fund to increase residents' access to technology and technological literacy.
These funds will reach some 15,000 at-risk youth, immigrants and refugees, seniors, and people with disabilities through 24 community based organizations in 2010. The Technology Matching Fund has supported 153 projects since it was first developed in 1998, but the $300,000 allocated this year represents one of the few budget increases approved for 2010 -- up from $250,000 in 2009. The Council initiated this increase because of the demonstrated effectiveness of the Technology Matching Fund. It was possible because funding for this program comes from a dedicated source that cannot be used for general government purposes.
The Technology Matching Fund comes from cable franchise fees, money the City receives from companies operating cable television service. Under federal law, revenues received from franchise fees can only be used for television and technology related purposes, and are not available for other City general fund purposes. They are used to support the award-winning Seattle Channel and Public Access channel, along with the innovative Technology Matching Fund.
Some examples of the kind of projects to be supported in 2010:
-- The Alliance of People With Disabilities will use $20,000 to build an assistive technology center where residents with disabilities can learn about new adaptive technology.
-- The Coalition for Refugees from Burma will receive $15,000 to develop a mobile computing program to deliver computer literacy training to newly arrived refugees from Burma.
-- The Central Area Senior Center will get $13,400 to upgrade their computer lab and offer instruction to older adults.
-- First Tee of Seattle will be allocated $7,700 to develop a five station computer lab and offer college preparation mentoring and other classes to underserved youth.
Like the Neighborhood Matching Fund, the Technology Matching Fund is one of the most cost effective investments of City funds. These are creative ways to mobilize volunteer energy and community resources. They stretch limited public funds and deliver important services to the people of Seattle. I am very pleased that I was able to partner with Councilmember Bruce Harrell to persuade the Council to increase the funding for 2010. We hope to be able to look at still another increase in 2011.
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JOIN THE COMMUNITY FRUIT TREE HARVEST
Do you have extra fruit? The Community Fruit Tree Harvest helps homeowners harvest extra fruit and donate it to organizations serving those that can use it — food banks, Meals programs, shelters, and community organizations. We are working with volunteers in your neighborhood to harvest fruit. If you would like your fruit harvested this year, please call: Seattle Tilth Garden Hotline, 206-633-0224 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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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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