MAKING IT WORK
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COUNCIL APPROVES TUNNEL AGREEMENTS WITH STATE,
OVERRIDES MAYOR'S VETO
On Monday, February 8, the Council voted 8 to 1 in favor of an ordinance that approves three agreements with the State to protect Seattle's interests as the SR 99 Tunnel project moves forward. On February 28, the Council overrode the Mayor's veto, also 8 to 1. The Council took our override vote at 10:44 AM, exactly ten minutes before the tenth anniversary of the Nisqually earthquake, which revealed the vulnerabilities of the current Alaskan Way Viaduct.
The SR 99 Tunnel was adopted as the preferred alternative by the State in 2009. SR 99 is a State highway and the State can and will proceed with this project whether or not the City is a participant. The project is funded from gas taxes, which can only be spent for highway purposes under the State Constitution, and cannot be used for street repairs, transit, or any other general fund purposes. These agreements affirm that the City of Seattle has no liability or responsibility for the tunnel project, and that the State is fully committed to completing the project within the established budget and sources of funds.
This legislation puts into law agreements negotiated between the State and the City over the past year. City negotiators included the City Attorney and the Directors of Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle City Light, and the Seattle Department of Transportation. The City Council added some language that further addresses issues of financial performance and assuring that the State implements the entire project within the agreed budget.
These agreements were endorsed by the Council last August in order to give guidance to the companies bidding on the tunnel project as to what they would be required to do in order to meet Seattle's standards for design and utility relocation. The Council deferred final approval until a contract was signed with the successful bidder so that we could review any suggested changes. Only a few minor modifications are required to conform the agreements to the bid contract, none of which substantively affect the City.
Approval of this legislation provides certainty to the contractor as to how to proceed with project design, which has been authorized as the first stage of the construction contract signed by the State. The second stage of the contract would involve proceeding to actual construction. This cannot be authorized until the final environmental documents are completed and approved by the federal government next summer. At that time, the Council will again review the proposed agreements to ensure that they are still consistent with the final environmental requirements, and can then proceed with a final legislative action to authorize construction.
Without these agreements, the City is placed at risk for third party claims (indemnified by the State in the agreements), to having infrastructure replacement that is below Seattle standards, and many other potential problems. The agreements include specific provisions that commit the State to fully funding the project and to completing all of the required elements within the project budget.
The Mayor vetoed the legislation because of his concern about potential cost overruns. The Council has commissioned a series of studies by independent experts that document that this project is well-designed, includes substantial measures that protect the City and State (including a $500 million indemnity and eight different kinds of insurance policies), and retains a 15% contingency reserve in the budget (at the high end of industry standards). These experts have testified that there is a high degree of confidence that this project can be constructed on time and on budget. The Council has conducted 20 public meetings over the last year, and has thoroughly reviewed the project.
While the project meets all technical criteria for success, every study of cost overruns on projects has tabbed political obstruction and delay as a major cause of such problems. Ironically, the Mayor's tactics can lead to the very scenario that he claims to be concerned about.
February 28 marked the 10 year anniversary of the Nisqually earthquake and 10 years of robust public dialogue on this project. I hope that we can complete the replacement project and take down the vulnerable viaduct before the next earthquake.
For more details on the project, please go to the following:
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SOUTH PARK BRIDGE AGREEMENT MOVES FORWARD
On Monday, February 28, the City Council approved an Interlocal Agreement with King County that sets the timeline for the City to fulfill its $15 million commitment of funds for the replacement of the South Park Bridge. The Council was the first entity to pledge funds for this project, and we applaud the progress that has been made towards completing the new Bridge by 2013.
The City and County have been working for the replacement of the South Park Bridge for many years – the deteriorating condition of the old bridge was well known. In a safety survey of Seattle-area bridges that was done almost a decade ago, the South Park Bridge received a rating of 4 out of 100, the lowest on the list (the Alaskan Way Viaduct was second lowest with an 8). Funding was included in the 2007 Roads and Transit Package, but the voters turned that down. Because of the County's financial difficulties and the complicated legal status of the Bridge (owned by King County and Tukwila, lands in Seattle on the east side), the project was stalled until a safety closure was mandated last spring.
The cost to replace the bridge is $150 million and it was necessary for King County to enter into a partnership, with many entities bringing funds to the table, to make it happen. The Seattle City Council was the first partner to pledge money. On June 9, 2010, all nine Councilmembers signed a letter pledging to support a $15 million appropriation. With this first commitment in hand, on June 22 the County Council agreed to a $20 Vehicle License Fee that would be used to provide the next $31 million, and the City and County together persuaded the Puget Sound Regional Council to allocate another $15 million. Major funding from the State and the federal governments, along with commitments from the Port and Boeing, completed the package by October 15 of last year.
Under the agreement, the City will provide $10 million by May 1, 2013, and the additional $5 million upon completion of the project. If the project comes in under budget, the City's final payment will be reduced through a formula that allocates the savings to the City and Port in proportion to the size of their contributions. The Port has committed $5 million, so the City will receive 75% of the savings, after the first $5 million in savings is returned to the State's Freight Mobility Board. Many construction contracts have come in significantly under budget in recent years.
The County is scheduled to open the bids for the Bridge replacement project on March 8 and sign a contract in April. Groundbreaking has been set for May 5, 2011 (Cinco de Mayo!).
I held a community meeting with King County Councilmember Joe McDermott on Wednesday, February 23, to review the agreement with South Park residents and businesses. Residents and businesses have been hard hit by the bridge's closure but South Park is a wonderfully resilient neighborhood and people are excited about the replacement project getting underway. They are already planning celebrations and thinking about measures such as an observation platform and webcam so people can watch construction as it proceeds, to emphasize and complement their "Watch South Park Grow" slogan.
The City and County have long had an informal agreement that the City will take on ownership of the Bridge when it is replaced, and I will push for the parties to make that transfer in a timely fashion. In the Interlocal Agreement, the County and City agreed on design provisions that fit the City's maintenance and operations protocols, so I am hopeful that we can complete the legal arrangements and bring this chapter of South Park's history to a successful conclusion.
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SEATTLE FARM BILL PRINCIPLES LAUNCHED
On Tuesday, February 15, a group of civic leaders in Seattle and Washington released "The Seattle Farm Bill Principles". Our goal is to get urban communities involved in the reauthorization of the Farm Bill, expected to be taken up by Congress in 2012. We initiated this as part of the Seattle Local Food Action Initiative.
The founding co-signers include civic leaders in Seattle and Washington farmers who believe it is important to create a healthy food system, strengthen the connections between our urban, suburban and rural communities, and support sustainable agriculture.
Richard Conlin, President, Seattle City Council
Denis Hayes, President Bullitt Foundation, National Coordinator of the first Earth Day
James Kelly, CEO, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle
Dr. David Fleming, Director, Public Health Seattle-King County
Mary Embleton, Executive Director, Cascade Harvest Coalition
Trudy Bialic, Public Affairs Director, PCC Natural Markets
Fred Fleming and Karl Kupers, Co-founders of Shepherd's Grain
Reverend Dr. Robert L. Jeffrey, Executive Director, Clean Greens
Siri Erickson-Brown, Co-owner, Local Roots Farm
Dr. David R. Montgomery, MacArthur Fellow and author, DIRT: The Erosion of Civilizations
Andrew Stout, CEO-Founder, Full Circle Farm
(Affiliations for identification purposes only)
We created this campaign because Seattle, along with other municipalities, faces multiple health, social, and environmental problems connected to food. In 2007, up to 11% of adults in Seattle ran out of food. In 2008, the incidence of obesity in King County adults was 21% and that of overweight adults was 54%. In 2006, the annual attributable cost of diabetes was estimated at $1.025 million. Overweight and obesity are significant risk factors for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases. Supporting public health and protecting our environment are essential to the viability and livability of our city and hence our economy.
Improving nutrition and reducing hunger are not only moral concerns, but are critical for decreasing social vulnerability, for increasing the capacity of children to learn, and for improving economic opportunity. In Seattle 42% of public school students are enrolled to receive free or reduced meals. In the last two years many of our food banks reported an increase of clientele of 50% or more. The current quality of food is insufficient to meet health needs. We cannot be complacent about poor diet and lack of access to fresh, high quality, healthy food.
Farms in the 2 Puget Sound counties had sales of $1.1 billion in 2007. Yet, farmland, farms, and farmers are at risk because of policy barriers and inadequate infrastructure and the region is still losing farmland. There is a demonstrated need for regionally-appropriate technology and infrastructure that can address market barriers and create food industry jobs.
People increasingly understand that food is connected not only to health, but the environment, climate change, and the economy. Access to healthy food is increased when local and regional food production, processing, distribution and retail work together to build strong markets for healthy foods. There is a growing awareness that our urban and rural communities are mutually interdependent and that the regional food economy can create stable jobs within our communities.
Maintaining and improving the security of a diverse food supply is essential to local emergency preparedness and regional self-reliance. New coordination across city, county, state, and federal agencies, as well as between government, civil society, and businesses is needed to allow communities greater flexibility to plan and take action for strong and diverse food systems in every region.
The current food system has led to an unsustainable reliance on chemical inputs and cheap oil for production and distribution and the paradox of simultaneous increases in both obesity and chronic hunger. The current food system externalizes a host of environmental problems. Sustainable agricultural practices need to be more broadly supported and applied and reliance on oil must be reduced.
The policies, programs, and funding included in the 2012 Farm Bill will affect how successful Seattle can be in achieving our goal of improving our local food system and in doing so, advance the City's interrelated Comprehensive Plan goals of environmental sustainability, economic development, public health, race and social justice, and emergency preparedness. Local government has an important role to play in creating a healthy food system, but federal policies and actions significantly impact Seattle's ability to fully realize these goals.
The Seattle Farm Bill Principles:
- Health-centered Food System
The driving principle of the Farm Bill must be the relationship of food and ecologically sound agriculture to public health. Food that promotes health includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy, and lean protein. Improving the health of the nation's residents must be a priority in developing policies, programs, and funding.
- Sustainable Agricultural Practices
Promote farming systems and agricultural techniques that prioritize the protection of the environment so that the soil, air, and water will be able to continue producing food long into the future. Integral to both domestic and global agricultural policies should be agricultural techniques and farming practices that enhance environmental quality, build soil and soil fertility, protect natural resources and ecosystem diversity, improve food safety, and increase the quality of life of communities, farmers and farm workers.
- Community and Regional Prosperity and Resilience
Enhance food security by strengthening the viability of small and mid-scale farms, and increasing appropriately scaled processing facilities, distribution networks, and direct marketing. Develop strategies that foster resiliency, local innovation, interdependence, and community development in both rural and urban economies. Opportunities that create fair wage jobs are key to a strong economy.
- Equitable Access to Healthy Food
Identify opportunities and reduce barriers by developing policies and programs that increase the availability of and improve the proximity of healthy, affordable, and culturally-relevant food to urban, suburban, and rural populations. Protect the nation's core programs that fight food insecurity and hunger while promoting vibrant, sustainable agriculture.
- Social Justice and Equity
The policies reflected in the Farm Bill impact the lives and livelihoods of many people, both in the U.S. as well as abroad. Develop policies, programs, and strategies that support social justice, worker's rights, equal opportunity, and promote community self-reliance.
- Systems Approach to Policymaking
It is essential to reduce compartmentalization of policies and programs, and to approach policy decisions by assessing their impact on all aspects of the food system including production, processing, distribution, marketing, consumption, and waste management. Consider the interrelated effects of policies and align expected outcomes to meet the goal of a comprehensive health focused food system.
For more information: www.SeattleFarmBillPrinciples.org
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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND HOUSING
The City Council identified domestic violence as one of our priority issues for 2010. We acted on that priority in response to the Mayor's proposed cuts in domestic violence programs in his 2011 budget. The Council unanimously voted to restore Victim Advocate positions in the Seattle Police Department, and funding for the treatment of indigent batterers in the Human Services Department.
The Council also launched an exploration of how we could more effectively provide for the housing needs of domestic violence survivors. We sponsored a forum with experts in this area to give us recommendations and start the process of finding better ways to address this important concern.
More than half of the women who are victims of homelessness were also victims of domestic violence. In fact, virtually all homeless women have experienced domestic violence or sexual violence at some point in their lives. They leave home, often with few or no resources, in order to escape further acts of violence. These women require special attention from homelessness providers, but they also can often be very good candidates to escape from homelessness relatively quickly.
They need special attention because they share characteristics such as:
- Living with real concerns about safety;
- Having children with them, who may also be victims;
- Being fearful and lacking trust in others;
- Losing connections and community ties because of having to flee from their domestic situations;
- Lacking resources or access to clothing and personal possessions, even material to establish their identity;
- Needing to be kept from or even concealed from their former relations, unlike other victims of homelessness, who might be helped by relatives or family members;
- The existence of an abuser who may be sabotaging a victim's life goals, employment prospects, and economic independence.
They also, however, often have characteristics that make them good candidates for moving rapidly into permanent housing, such as having skills or education, and either have jobs that they can return to with the proper precautions or are capable of getting jobs. With counseling and assistance, many of them can reestablish themselves relatively quickly. However, inadequate housing and shelter options, evictions, discrimination and poverty force many women to remain in or return to an abusive relationship. The sad fact is that local DV shelters have limited capacity, and turn away many more that they can serve.
The Council took actions in the budget to assist these survivors. First, we allocated $15,000 for a program to train homelessness providers to the needs of domestic violence survivors, so that they can identify them and steer them towards the services and protection that they need.
Second, we approved a Statement of Legislative Intent, a guidance directive for the Human Services Department, asking them to work with the Office of Housing to study and explore opportunities for addressing the unmet housing needs of domestic violence survivors that reside in the City of Seattle. Only about 2% of the City's $85 million budget for housing, services, emergency shelter, emergency prevention and infrastructure is dedicated to housing for homeless survivors of domestic violence. It is the Council's intent that HSD, with assistance from OH, complete the following in 2011:
- Determine the extent to which the housing needs of domestic violence survivors in Seattle are unmet and develop recommendations for addressing those needs.
- Identify and present a prioritized set of actions the City could take to increase the availability of emergency, transitional and permanent housing for victims of domestic violence. These actions should be informed by the research findings and recommendations resulting from the body of work described in 1), above. Policy measures or operational changes that might better prevent domestic violence survivors from experiencing homelessness or allow for rapid re-housing of displaced victims should also be considered.
- Research the feasibility of partnering with financial institutions and other private entities to identify bank-owned properties that could be donated and converted into housing for victims of domestic violence and their families.
- Consider the feasibility and possible design of a new City program that would encourage landlords to make privately-owned apartment units available to domestic violence survivors for free or reduced rent.
We are also exploring the Boston plan for identifying and assisting women and children who are homeless. In Boston, police are given vouchers for motels/hotels, and if they see a family that looks like they are in need of shelter, they are authorized to stop and offer these vouchers as assistance, along with steering the families towards other services. Seattle Councilmembers who visited Boston earlier this year report that they saw virtually no families on the streets, and Boston officials attributed this success to the voucher/police program. We have identified this as a policy/budget proposal to be developed next year, including identifying the legal and financial issues that would have to be addressed to make it a reality.
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HEALTHY EATING/ACTIVE LIVING GRANTS
Public Health Seattle/King County was one of 44 local governments winning funding from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for Tobacco Prevention and Healthy Eating/Active Living projects. The funding is part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act ('stimulus package'). The $25.6 million received by Seattle/King County (the third largest award, after Los Angeles and New York City) funds a number of important regional public health activities. In addition, one key element of the program designated $8.9 million for grants to local governments and community based organizations for specific activities. The City of Seattle was awarded $1.8 million in grant funds for four projects.
Most publicity about the stimulus package focused on the 'traditional' physical infrastructure elements. However, there were a number of innovative programs directed at promoting economic recovery by making long-term investments in social infrastructure. One of those was the $373 million in funding for Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) through the CDC, which includes $143 million in tobacco prevention and $230 million for obesity prevention. Seattle/King County was one of only seven localities to receive funding under both of those categories.
Although the Seattle area has lower obesity and smoking rates than many parts of the country, we still face significant public health challenges in both of these areas. 54% of adults in King County are overweight or obese, 20% are obese, and 5.4% have been diagnosed with diabetes, while 13% of adults currently smoke cigarettes. Furthermore, King County has some of the highest disparities among the 15 largest metropolitan counties in the country. For example, the rate of African American adults who smoke in King County (20.6%) is the highest of any of the 15 largest counties. Also, 31.2% of American Indian/Alaskan Native adults smoke, as do 24.7% of homosexual/bisexual men. Our diabetes prevalence and mortality rates are among the highest in the nation including 12% of African American adults. Obesity rates among King County's high school students are at least twice as high for African Americans, American Indians/Alaskan Natives,
Hispanics/Latinos, or Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders compared to white high school students. The projects funded under the CDC grant are part of the long-range strategy for reducing these health risks, one of the most important goals of our public health system.
The four Seattle projects will fund a diverse array of strategies aimed mainly at increasing access to healthy food choices. The largest project is the "Healthy Foods Here" program managed by the Office of Economic Development (OED). OED received $1.4 million to increase access to healthy food at retail locations in communities in central, south, and southwest Seattle, as well as adjacent areas in south King County – areas that have limited access to healthy foods at their neighborhood food businesses. The fact that the City of Seattle is managing this component of the grant for Public Health/Seattle/King County that falls outside our City limits is somewhat unusual, and reflects our efforts to work cooperatively with our partner communities on problems that transcend political boundaries.
Most of the funding will go to 25 to 30 businesses to provide incentives to carry healthy food and assistance in marketing to the community. These will include consulting services on marketing, inventory management, distribution/supply chain development, and similar topics; marketing campaigns for the healthy food offerings in the community; and low-cost loans to make store improvements, purchase equipment, or provide working capital.
The Human Services Department (HSD) received two grants. The "Farm to Table Partnership" will use $200,000 to make healthier food choices affordable for senior congregate and home-delivered meal programs and child care centers. It will do that by organizing a cooperative purchasing program to buy fresh produce directly from local farmers, by connecting local farmers with senior nutrition providers and child care centers, and by helping senior nutrition providers to organize their systems to incorporate more fresh produce. HSD will also use $73,000 to increase the availability of healthy food choices and increase physical activity in early learning and afterschool child care programs. It will set standards for providers and offer education and assistance on how to successfully meet these standards.
Finally, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) received $108,000 for three projects. The municipal agriculture program will help immigrant and low-income residents grow food in their communities and sell it to local food retailers. DPD will also incorporate healthy living and food access into neighborhood planning, and develop a mobile food program at the Mt Baker Link light rail station.
America's obesity epidemic is one of the biggest threats to our long-range health as individuals and as a society. Making healthy local food more available and marketing it in the community is one of the best ways that we can tackle this challenging issue. Success is a win for everyone – for the individuals and families who benefit, for the local businesses and farmers, and for the cost of our health care system. Getting there will require a range of innovative and comprehensive approaches. These kinds of projects are important steps in the right direction.
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CARBON NEUTRAL SEATTLE: HOW TO ADAPT
The climate is already changing and will keep changing no matter how rapidly we are able to turn around greenhouse gas accumulation. So we will need a strategy of adaptation to the expected impacts, which were reviewed in the previous post. Here is what Seattle is doing.
The outstanding example of the City's work to adapt to climate change is our program to manage the water supply that Seattle owns and operates, which serves not only the City, but most of the surrounding King County suburbs. Seattle's water conservation strategy has reduced water consumption in our system to the levels of the 1960's, even though we serve more than 40% more people than we did then. We have developed a state of the art reservoir management and stream flow forecasting model and implemented an asset management strategy that includes climate change as a risk factor. We can withstand the impacts of climate change and still guarantee the water supply for at least the next fifty years.
Seattle City Light has also long been a leader in energy conservation and developing carbon neutral resources, but reduced snowpack and stream flows will impact our hydroelectric capacity. We will continue to mitigate climate impacts by relying on conservation and renewables for our future energy needs. In the next few years, we will have to figure out how to adapt our hydro system to changes in power availability.
City infrastructure vulnerability is a critical problem. We have adopted regulations and programs to ensure that buildings are as resilient as possible and to moderate expected issues such as increased stormwater runoff. To address the impact of increased storm events on our drainage system and flooding problems, the City has adopted a Green Stormwater Infrastructure program to employ natural, on-site drainage strategies to minimize the amount of stormwater that flows into pipes and conveyance systems.
Seattle's drainage system is designed for the 'typical' Seattle rain event, a slow steady rainfall. Sharp, sudden storms can overwhelm that. Rather than resize the entire storm sewer system, a hugely expensive and disruptive project, our best strategy is to reduce flow into it.
In transportation, we are expanding the options that people have to travel so that they can manage in the event of infrastructure damage. We also have policies to ensure that new and rebuilt bridges and seawalls are able to withstand sea level rise, and to limit development in coastal areas.
Strategies to protect vulnerable populations from increasing numbers of extreme weather events are being incorporated into emergency management and public health planning. The City is developing improved assessments and mitigation programs for our urban watersheds and a campaign to expand and protect our tree cover. Seattle also has responsibility for four areas outside the City limits that we impact with our hydroelectric dams and water storage, and we have created habitat management plans for the Cedar, Skagit, Pend Oreille, and Tolt Watersheds.
Finally, we have adopted a race and social justice lens to analyze the impacts of budget, program, and policy proposals, and will use this to guide our work on climate adaptation.
Other specific steps currently underway include:
- Creating a methodology for analyzing sea level rise for City projects, which will be piloted with the Elliott Bay seawall replacement;
- Developing a planning tool for City staff to use to consider how climate change will impact new capital projects and existing buildings and incorporate adaptation options;
- Including adaptation in the updates of the Climate Action Plan and the Comprehensive Plan.
Our next efforts will include preparing guidelines for climate change analysis for higher cost, longer lifespan projects with potentially high vulnerability and risk profiles, and developing a vulnerability and risk assessment methodology so that we can set priorities for investments in protecting City infrastructure.
All of these efforts are intended to use science based assessments and implement strategies that will have measureable results. To the extent that we are successful, the people of Seattle will be protected from some of the unavoidable impacts of climate change, sometimes without even knowing what has been done and what the problems may have been that will be avoided. Will this cause people to be less worried about climate change and less likely to support policies and changes that will prevent more in the future?
Probably not, because the evidence of change will be overwhelming, and the people of Seattle and the political leadership have already clearly grasped the nature of the problem. Adapting to the impacts is the responsible public policy, and in no way should cause us to lessen our efforts to achieve carbon neutrality for the long run.
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The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would solve most of the world's problems.
-- Mahatma Gandhi
Most people are more comfortable with old problems than with new solutions.
-- Charles Browe
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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