MAKING IT WORK
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SEAWALL, COMMERCIAL PARKING TAX, AND TRANSPORTATION BENEFIT DISTRICT
On Monday, September 20, the Seattle City Council approved C.B. 116936, raising the existing commercial parking tax (CPT) from 10 percent to 12.5 percent. The additional estimated $5 million in annual revenue will be dedicated to funding the Alaskan Way Seawall project, the Mercer West project, and other related transportation projects in 2011-2012. The vote was 7 to 1, with Councilmember Clark absent and Councilmember O’Brien voting no.
On the same day, the Council unanimously approved C.B. 116947, creating a Transportation Benefit District (TBD). The Transportation Benefit District is a mechanism created by the State Legislature that allows cities to tap into several potential funding options for transportation projects. With the exception of a $20 Vehicle License Fee, which can be enacted by the Council, the remaining options require voter approval. Seattle will now join Lake Forest Park, Edmonds, Des Moines, Olympia, Prosser, Shoreline, Ridgefield, Sequim, Point Roberts, and Liberty Lake, who have also formed Transportation Benefit Districts and approved various funding mechanisms.
Why is the Commercial Parking Tax used for the Seawall?
As an essential component of Alaskan Way, the current bicycle and pedestrian facilities associated with it, and the major new and replacement street, bicycle path, and pedestrian facilities that will be created when the viaduct is torn down, the Seawall is a critical transportation facility
The 2.5 percent Commercial Parking Tax increase will allow the City to keep the project on schedule and wait until better times to go to the voters for a property tax levy to support the majority of the funding for project construction. The CPT is the only mechanism available for this purpose that the Council can adopt without voter approval.
The existing 10 percent CPT raises approximately $19 million per year to fund transportation infrastructure as part of the "Bridging the Gap" program to restore Seattle's streets and bridges. This additional 2.5 percent increment will support bonds for the approximately $61 million budget for the Seawall and related projects in 2011 and 2012. Under state law, the CPT can only be used to fund transportation projects.
What does the Transportation Benefit District do?
As noted above, the TBD allows the Council to adopt a $20 Vehicle License Fee, which will generate approximately $6.8 million for transportation projects. While the existing “Bridging the Gap” finance program is funding transportation projects around the City, other sources of transportation funding are declining. As a result, the City cannot continue to make progress on reducing our maintenance backlog and implementing new transportation improvements to improve mobility. The Council expects to adopt the $20 VLF in October, which would go into effect in the spring of 2011.
While this will address some of the most urgent transportation projects, there are many other projects that are recommended in neighborhood plans or in the Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Transit Master Plans, and other improvements that are required for freight mobility and job creation. To set priorities for these projects and determine what funding mechanisms the Council could consider putting before the voters, the Council also approved Resolution 31240, creating a Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee III (CTAC III).
The first CTAC was created in the mid-1990’s, and recommended that the City create a Street Utility to fund transportation. Unfortunately, the State Supreme Court invalidated the Street Utility, which led to the need for the second CTAC in 2004. CTAC II helped shape the Bridging the Gap levy and funding package. CTAC III will review transportation projects and policies and submit a report to the Council by June of 2011 on what action the City should take to ensure funding for the next stage of our transportation future.
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GREEN JOBS TO THE MAX -- EECBG
Seattle is poised to launch a dramatic new initiative this fall that will save energy and create up to 2000 green jobs. "Community Power Works" is a $140 million program to retrofit residential, commercial, hospital, and municipal buildings in Seattle.
Base funding for the program comes from a $20 million federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG). This leverages another $120 million in local funds to create up to 2000 new living wage green jobs in energy conservation. The program will retrofit some 15% of the buildings in Seattle and achieve 15 to 45% energy savings per building retrofitted. . This will annually reduce Seattle's greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 70,000 metric tons.
The program has three other critical benefits:
— Foster the recovery of the local economy, put people back to work, and support small businesses.
— Create living wage jobs that build on the skill development programs conducted by Seattle's community colleges, unions, and community-based organizations.
— Leverage these funds to build the technical, marketing, and financial capability of local businesses to keep the momentum going on energy conservation after the program ends in two years. If successful, this will mean that the jobs become permanent and that the retrofit program can spread to the rest of the City. In turn, that means more energy saved and greenhouse gas emissions prevented.
A critical piece of this program is a "Community High Road Agreement", a negotiated agreement among a broad base of community stakeholders that ensures that there will be broad access to the program's economic opportunities for all types of businesses and workers, quality training programs that set trainees on long-term career paths, and high quality standards for the work performed.
This is one of the most important programs that the City of Seattle has developed in recent years. It was initiated under the Nickels administration, and has received full support from the Council and Mayor McGinn. It demonstrates how we can come together around common goals, and do so in partnership with community stakeholders. It is also a great example of how environmental goals, community empowerment, and economic development can go hand in hand.
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NEW TREE REGULATIONS PROPOSED
Seattle needs a new permanent tree protection ordinance that includes incentives for property owners to preserve existing trees and plant and maintain new ones. Most importantly, we must start thinking of trees as infrastructure that provides specific, tangible benefits in addition to being a critical part of our urban ecosystem. Protecting existing trees and planting new ones are important, but not sufficient to create the urban forest that the Emerald City should have.
In response to the City Council’s request for a comprehensive approach to protecting Seattle’s trees, the Department of Planning and Development has proposed draft tree regulations. You can review the proposal at:
The Council has just begun its review of these proposals, and we do not expect to receive formal legislation until 2011. When legislation is submitted, there will be a public hearing and opportunity to comment. I proposed and the Council adopted an interim tree ordinance in 2009 because we knew it would be difficult and challenging to craft a comprehensive ordinance that will work to protect and enhance our trees. Until we approve new legislation, the interim ordinance will continue to be in effect. Current regulations can be reviewed at:
I appreciate the fact that DPD has started to take us out of the box of linear thinking about trees, and imagining a new way to approach the issue, but I’m convinced the proposal in its current form is adequate as a long term solution. Our long-range strategy must include education, protections, and incentives. , Part of our challenge will be to shift the thinking about trees, so that protection becomes the exception rather than the rule. I’m not sure how to get there, but I am looking for new approaches, and intend to take the time to ensure that we design a system that will truly lead us towards an urban forest that we can all cherish and value.
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FREIGHT ADVISORY BOARD CREATED
On Monday, September 20, the Council created a new Freight Advisory Board. The goal of this Board is to assist the City in preserving and improving mobility and access for the transport of goods in Seattle. The legislation was sponsored by Councilmember Tom Rasmussen in response to requests from Seattle’s manufacturing sector and labor organizations.
The City already has advisory Boards for pedestrian and bicycle mobility, which were created to help guide policies away from giving exclusive priority to automobiles and ensure that the interests of all users are considered in transportation planning. Freight is the other mode that has lost ground to automobiles. Freight mobility is key to many jobs and critical economic sectors.
The Seattle Freight Advisory Board will be composed of 12 members. Six members will be appointed by the Mayor, and five members will be appointed by the City Council; all eleven appointments will be subject to City Council confirmation. A twelfth board member will be designated by the Port of Seattle.
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ZERO WASTE AND CARBON NEUTRALITY
The Zero Waste Strategy (ZWS) strives to reduce our waste stream by embracing the cradle to cradle paradigm for how we treat products. The cradle to cradle paradigm eliminates waste by reusing both organic matter and synthetic compounds in the production of new products. That puts waste reduction and recycling in the driver’s seat, rather than in the caboose of the garbage train. This more efficient approach to our use of resources makes the ZWS a key part of the City’s carbon neutrality work.
The things we throw away not only generate carbon as they decompose -- they also carry the embedded carbon that was used in creating them. Zero Waste is a strategy that addresses both of those aspects. And the evidence is now in: we are succeeding in making real change happen.
When I reviewed our policies in 2006-2007, I concluded that the current strategy promised only incremental improvements and a long-term commitment to generate massive quantities of garbage and ship it to a landfill. Seattle would continue to send a mile-long train of garbage to be buried in eastern Oregon -- EVERY DAY.
That meant that we would continue to consume resources at an expanding rate, . we would keep burying toxic substances and valuable materials, and we would keep generating greenhouse gases from landfills that contribute to global warming.
Key components of the Zero Waste strategy:
- Expand recycling efforts by creating incentives for product stewardship. The principle of product stewardship (also called extended producer responsibility) puts the responsibility for recycling and disposal on the manufacturers, thus giving them a financial incentive to extend the life of their products by using materials that can be reused or recycled.
- Collect food waste through residential weekly organics collection.
- Tailor similar approaches to commercial accounts, emphasizing programs like food waste collection from restaurants and paper recycling from offices.
- Decrease waste production by banning some products from use in the City (such as Styrofoam and plastic bags), and working with businesses to develop take back programs for products like pharmaceuticals, paint, and electronic products.
- Design solid waste facilities and contracts to emphasize flexibility for better waste prevention, recycling, and disposal systems in the future, support full recycling of Construction and Demolition Waste, and plan for major reductions in the amount of solid waste to be transferred and disposed of.
The complete set of policies can be found here: ZWS.
Implementation of Zero Waste began with mandatory residential organics collection, new policies for construction and demolition waste, bans on styrofoam and other non-recyclable food service products, expanded product stewardship activities, and promoting additional recycling and composting in restaurants and other businesses.
In the near future, the City will add mandatory compostable service for multi-family buildings, move to restrict the delivery of unwanted phone books, start a pilot program for collecting garbage every other week rather than weekly, and continue work to expand product stewardship and business recycling. We are likely to also consider a ban on plastic bags (an alternative to the bag fee, which was repealed in a referendum financed by $1.5 million from the plastics industry), as well as limits or recycling requirements for other plastics, such as commercial plastic film used to wrap pallets.
The philosophy of Zero Waste includes adding a new indicator of our progress. While we will still measure our recycling rate, our new goal is to actually reduce the amount of waste that the City sends to the landfill. Resolution 30990 set as City policy that we will not dispose of any more total solid waste in future years than went to the landfill in 2006, 438,000 tons, and that for the next five years, the City will reduce the amount of solid waste disposed by at least 1% per year.
We have overachieved. Waste sent to the landfill was cut by 10.2% in 2008 and 10.9% more in 2009, to a total of 352,000 tons. While some of this decrease could be the result of the economic downturn (garbage generation traditionally decreases during recessions), probably at least half of it is the result of the actions taken through the Zero Waste Initiative. And there is a lot more action to come.
The Zero Waste strategy built on Seattle's success in water and energy conservation to create a new way of thinking about products and waste disposal. As we develop more sophisticated ways to make the cradle to cradle vision real, we will continue to make real progress towards our climate action goals.
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GETTING FOOD TO SEATTLE’S HUNGRY: TAPPING INTO FEDERAL ASSISTANCE
The lines for food at Seattle’s food banks have increased dramatically as the recession has developed and lingered on. But, while food banks and other emergency assistance programs are essential for feeding the hungry, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formally known as food stamps, provides an efficient, cost-effective way for people in need to get access to foods they choose, where and when they choose. The SNAP system uses the private sector to deliver this assistance, with minimal bureaucracy. And it provides certainty to those in need so that they can focus on the many other critical issues of poverty and unemployment.
There’s only one catch. Many people who could benefit from SNAP do not realize that they are eligible. So they remain dependent on the other food programs, which strain these vital community resources. Under current law, families with incomes less than 200% of the federal poverty level are eligible for assistance, with the amount of assistance varying by income and size of family. That means that a family of three earning up to $3000 a month can get help.
In the 2008 budget process, the Council recognized the problem that only a minority of those in Seattle who were eligible to receive benefits were actually receiving them. In order to increase the number of people who would be helped through SNAP, Council added $85,000 to the Human Services Department budget for 2009 and 2010 to fund a position to do outreach and help people determine eligibility and apply for benefits.
Initial results indicate a huge success. In just a few months of work during 2009, the new staff person and the City’s innovative PeoplePoint web benefit portal increased the number of people who enrolled for SNAP benefits from 146 in 2008 to 423 in 2009. That means that 277 families received an average of $2,174 in benefits that they otherwise likely would not have known about. In addition to accessing this more than $600,000 in food benefits, the staff person helped people access some $650,000 in other benefits.
The $85,000 invested in this program in 2009 returned some 15 times that amount to Seattle residents in need. In the long run, we hope that these beneficiaries will be able to find jobs and get back on their feet, so they will not need to access these benefits. In this difficult time, however, it is important that the City made this smart investment in helping people get through their crises with adequate nutrition and other essential services.
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CLIMATE NEUTRALITY: EVALUATING BIG TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS
One of the most formidable challenges in climate policy is to design a transportation system that minimizes the consumption of carbon. That challenge is compounded when regional and state leaders are the final arbiters of major capital-intensive projects, and the City’s role is to influence and guide rather than make the final decision.
Any big project starts with strikes against it, because of the embedded carbon in construction materials, whereas “travel conservation” and small projects that promote walking and bicycling are the most obviously carbon positive.
But our society, travel patterns, and needs are complicated, and some big projects not only make sense, but are essential to our lives and commerce. Three principles should guide project evaluations:
- We must dramatically reduce the use of fossil fueled vehicles. Fossil fuels will continue to increase in cost and are major contributors to emissions that cause climate change, in production, transport, and use. Recent events in the Gulf of Mexico underline other adverse impacts of the life cycle of fossil fuels, and at some point these resources will run out.
- The best long-range strategy is to create compact urban communities that are attractive to people and businesses. We know that population and economic activity will grow. New development should link housing and jobs by transit, bike, and pedestrian facilities. It must also be livable and desirable – public safety, schools, and parks are climate positive essentials.
- We must simultaneously reduce vehicle miles per capita and plan for vehicle movement, especially to link the jobs and housing in urban centers. Extensive road structures will continue to be required because vehicles will still be in use. The “zerocarbonbritain2030” project, for example, achieves zero net emissions by reducing personal trips by car from the current 80% share to 54%, electrifying all private vehicles using renewable resources, and employing hydrogen and biofuels for heavy vehicles that require liquid hydrocarbons http://www.zerocarbonbritain.com/
Core strategies for major transportation investments that reduce carbon emissions should be to:
- ensure mobility through and between major job and housing centers;
- emphasize transit and bicycle/pedestrian connections; and
- provide efficient vehicle capacity but avoid capacity increases.
These are the strategies that have guided Seattle’s work on major transportation projects. We have made extraordinary strides over the last ten years in ensuring that regional projects move in the right direction. Projects have been scaled to give transit and bicycle/pedestrian access priority, and to make them integral to the project’s design. Here’s an overview of the four big projects and how they measure up:
University Link Light Rail, connecting downtown to the University and then north into Snohomish County. Benefits: serves major centers along a ten mile corridor with future development opportunities using high-capacity transit. Notes: There is a 3-mile gap between Capitol Hill and University stations because of low density; extension to Lynnwood could serve Snohomish County sprawl, need work to develop housing and jobs at stations.
Rebuilding SR 520 between I-5 and I-405. Benefits: critical 2nd connection across Lake Washington between west and east side urban areas; new design adds no SOV capacity, supports transit with HOV/bus lanes; designed for future light rail; adds bicycle/pedestrian path across lake; Westside interchange design helps north-south Seattle transit traffic. Notes: design details are critical for transit operations; no opportunities for density in immediate vicinity of corridor; Eastside legislators and city officials deserve great credit for willingness to back away from original 8-lane highway proposal.
Eastside Link Light Rail connecting Seattle across Lake Washington to Bellevue and Redmond. Benefits: light rail connection between west and east side urban areas, critical transit corridor. Notes: parking garages and extension into Redmond may support sprawl and driving to light rail; need for systematic urban development strategy along line.
Replacing Alaskan Way Aerial Viaduct through downtown Seattle with Bored Tunnel. Benefits: serves north-south corridor of urban density; reduces vehicle lanes from 6 to 4; includes new park, bicycle/pedestrian facilities on waterfront and park amenity for downtown; promotes downtown transit by removing traffic from downtown streets. Notes: costs not conclusively known until contracts are signed; portals must be integrated into urban design; transit components not yet funded; tolling must be designed to manage impacts on downtown streets.
Seattle’s representatives have worked successfully with the region and state to make these projects fit into the urban environment and to bring transit and bicycle/pedestrian elements into the forefront. None of them increases capacity for single occupancy vehicles, and all are consistent with a strategy for reducing vehicle miles traveled per capita. They provide transportation choices for people and freight between urban centers and contribute to implementing a successful growth management strategy. Project benefits are likely to be greater than the costs in embedded carbon, especially as the new infrastructure should last for between 50 and 100 years.
Ten years ago Sound Transit was on the ropes, beleaguered in its attempts to complete its first light rail line. The 520 bridge was projected to double in size, from 4 to 8 lanes, with no dedicated capacity for transit. The viaduct was going to continue to be a safety risk and blight Seattle’s waterfront. All that has changed – for the better.
Seattle’s own investments in bicycle and pedestrian facilities and usable streets have contributed to a better city environment. Our contribution to the regional dialogue has moved this area into a transportation strategy that works and a carbon reduction strategy for the future. Big transportation projects can contribute to sprawl and increasing automobile use. Thanks to our successful partnerships, these big projects are moving in the right direction instead.
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“To treat your facts with imagination is one thing, to imagine your facts is another.”
-- John Burroughs
"Garbage is the key to sustainability."
-- Sally Brown, University of Washington Soils Scientist
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Citizen participation and engagement are critical for maintaining democracy -- fostering it is a key task of elected officials. It's my hope that this newsletter will inform you about issues, inspire you to get involved, and that together we can make things work better in this great city. Please send me your feedback, so we can keep things lively, interesting, and useful. And please forward it along to friends who might be interested. You can get more information or send me feedback at email@example.com.
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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