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.
ECONOMIC RECOVERY INITIATIVE LAUNCHED BY COUNCIL
On Monday, April 18, the Council unanimously adopted Resolution 31282, which outlines guiding principles, key priorities and actions for achieving economic renewal and development in Seattle. Our goal is to use this action plan to advance City and regional recovery, as the recession wears on. In previous recessions, Seattle has lagged behind the national recovery - this time, we want Seattle to lead the recovery.
This resolution builds upon Resolution 31135, adopted in May 2009, which restructured the City's Office of Economic Development (OED) and expanded its direct services and financing options for businesses, as well as implementing a series of other actions such as advancing funding for parks projects in order to put people to work and starting a ‘Buy Local' campaign entitled ‘Only in Seattle'. Almost all of the steps recommended in that resolution have been implemented over the last two years.
The Healthy Foods Here initiative is one example. Under our goal of stimulating small businesses in the local food economy, staff work with neighborhood stores to get more fresh produce into the store and community, and assist them in marketing fresh foods to the community. Shakir Mohamud, the owner of West Seattle Halal Market, commented: "I am so grateful for the support my business has received from the city program Healthy Foods Here. Our sales of fresh fruits and vegetables have increased and we have attracted new customers. I am happy to provide my customers healthier food choices."
The new resolution includes policies, strategies and programs that support job retention, job creation, education, training, and placement, with the goal of improving the City's overall economy. The resolution was developed through a community process that engaged representatives of small and large businesses, labor, community based organizations, and economic experts at our educational institutions, including a panel at the University of Washington.
The Council and our community partners identified the following policy priorities:
- Supporting community development that improves neighborhoods, encourages citizen and business engagement, and helps to lift people out of poverty.
- Fostering economic development and renewal that assists in improving the overall health of the City's economy.
- Developing policies, strategies, and programs that support job retention, job creation, education, training, and placement.
- Aligning the City's policies, actions, and budget actions with the principles of economic development.
- Protecting what is working well in Seattle now while striving to increase our ability to create a resilient and sustainable local economy.
- Supporting and encouraging green careers and jobs, a transformation to a more green economy, and climate-friendly, high employment businesses and industries.
- Supporting critical public safety and infrastructure investments.
- Supporting transit and transit-oriented development.
- Creating new partnerships between educational institutions, business, civic organizations, non-profits, labor, funders, and government that assist in short term economic renewal and longer term efforts.
- Supporting existing local and regional economic development strategies and programs.
- Identifying and developing opportunities to utilize flexible voluntary programs based on performance-based standards instead of mandated, prescriptive regulations.
The thirty-one specific actions to be taken in 2011-2012 and eleven longer-term actions are designed to:
- Provide services that focus on the specific needs of small and medium-sized businesses.
- Enhance communications between business sectors and the City on policy issues.
- Identify and implement near-term actions and policies that assist in economic renewal and a hospitable businesses climate.
- Strengthen existing partnerships and build new partnerships that enhance the economic climate in Seattle and the region.
- Support on-going efforts to set the groundwork for green economic development.
Our goal is to make it easier to do good business in Seattle, and put people back to work. We do this through specific, concrete actions to improve Seattle's business climate and create more jobs. The plan also expands the work that other City departments and regional partners take to support and retain businesses, better prepare our workforce, and enhance Seattle's quality of life.
Back to Contents
LEGISLATIVEPALOOZA APRIL 25: SODO ZONING - WAGE THEFT - CHIHULY
On Monday, April 25, the City Council met for over two hours, and unanimously approved three major pieces of legislation - reflecting the wide range of issues that we deal with as a Council. The SODO zoning legislation is designed to encourage good development while protecting the character of our South Downtown neighborhoods. A new ordinance creates penalties for employers who commit wage theft - withholding wages or cheating employees out of what they are owed for their work. And legislation approving an agreement to create a new Chihuly Exhibition at Seattle Center includes a series of public benefits negotiated over the last 16 months since this concept was first proposed.
Council Bill 117140 rezones large areas of Pioneer Square, Chinatown, Little Saigon, Japantown, and the Stadium District (SODO - the South Downtown). The goal is to increase housing and business development and support the livability and health of these neighborhoods. Credit for the new legislation goes to Councilmember Sally Clark, who chairs the Committee on the Built Environment. Her Committee spent many months painstakingly reviewing and analyzing proposals that have been developed through a community process, and ultimately adopted a set of new heights and development standards that balance the need for new development that will enliven the communities with maintaining the character that makes these communities unique and attractive neighborhoods.
The legislation allows additional height for new buildings if developers include workforce-priced housing and use development credits from existing, lower-scale historic buildings. The new rules also change parking requirements, designate new "green streets," encourage breaking up mega-blocks (in Little Saigon), create new development credits for historic buildings to sell to fund renovation, and allow for increased commercial and office space (in the South of Charles St. area).
A companion resolution passed by the Council lays out priorities for further work around small business support, rehabilitation of vacant space in historic buildings, public safety, open space, transit through the neighborhood and pedestrian connections.
Council Bill 117143 creates new penalties for the crime of wage theft — intentionally withholding wages from workers. Over 4,000 wage claims were filed in Washington in 2010. The proposed law adds an explicit reference to theft of wages in the Seattle criminal code and lists circumstances that prosecutors can point to as proof of intent to steal wages.
The legislation was developed by Councilmember Tim Burgess, who Chairs the Public Safety and Education Committee. In addition to amending the criminal code, the ordinance allows the City to withhold or revoke business licenses from individuals found guilty of wage theft, a gross misdemeanor. It also allows the City to withhold licenses from those who have not paid assessed civil penalties for wage claims.
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries is the primary investigator of wage claims. While this agency investigates and assesses millions of dollars in wages, it often lacks sufficient resources to collect from employers who do not willingly pay. This legislation provides Seattle workers an additional method to seek remedy.
Council Bill 117157 completes a long process involving the possible siting of a Chihuly Exhibition at the former Fun Forest site at the Seattle Center. This was initially proposed 16 months ago, but there was significant community concern about making such a decision without a formal Request for Proposals and evaluation of possible options.
Seattle Center did go through a formal process for accepting proposals, and subsequently Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, Chair of the Parks and Seattle Center Committee, facilitated a discussion and negotiation that led to accepting both the Chihuly facility and a proposed new location for KEXP.
Center Art, LLC will fully finance and develop the Chihuly facility, and will also donate $1 million for the development of a creative children's play area north of the Monorail. In addition, the project includes enhancing 39,000 square feet of public walkways and landscaping around the exhibition site and a community partnership program with a focus on arts and education. There will also be a new public art gallery developed in the Seattle Center House.
April 21, 2011, marked the one year countdown to the celebration of "The Next 50," Seattle Center's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1962 World's Fair. Center Art, LLC plans to open its exhibition hall to coincide with the 50th anniversary kick-off event on April 21, 2012.
The Council also approved six other pieces of legislation on April 25, including protecting some 350 acres of salmon habitat on the Skagit River, making several adjustments to the City's personnel titles, saving energy by authorizing a natural gas hookup for the Charles Street City shops, transferring the title for the convention center garage, approving funding for three projects to convert wading pools to spray parks, and renaming a street adjacent to El Centro de la Raza in honor of the late Roberto Maestas. All in all, a very productive day!
Back to Contents
PARKS LEVY MAKING IT HAPPEN: EXPANDING COMMUNITY GARDENS
I led the effort to include more money for community gardens when the Council put together the renewal of the Parks Levy in 2008. We wound up including $2 million, which may sound like a lot, but given how expensive land can be, we were only able to conservatively promise adding four more gardens.
But those of us working on food issues had a plan to get dramatically more results. Here's the plot: we knew that the City owns a lot of land, and that some of that land is only lightly used or is even sitting idle. Rights-of-way on hillsides that will never be roads; open space around reservoirs; property that the City acquired for projects that were later abandoned; parks property that is not developed. Instead of using the $2 million to buy property and develop gardens on it, we proposed inventorying property that the City already owned and seeing if gardens could be sited there. That way we could stretch the money out, developing new gardens while spending only the modest sums needed to cleanup and grade sites or bring in water service.
City staff took this idea and ran with it, and have done an amazing job so far, with more to come. They have committed less than half of the funds, and are working on sixteen new or expanded gardens, adding at least 250 plots. Four are already complete - an expansion at Marra Farm to add 3 market garden plots, and three new gardens - Spring Street in the Central Area, West Genesee in the West Seattle Junction, and Hazel Heights in Fremont. Total City investment for these four: $66,500 for 50 new garden plots.
Nine more projects are underway, including two more costly ones, Unpaving Paradise on Capitol Hill, which required tearing up pavement to convert a parking lot into 36 garden plots, and Barton Street in the Roxhill/Westwood neighborhood, where land needed to be acquired to add 40 plots in this underserved area. Three more projects will be launched this spring.
While City staff have done a great job managing the Parks levy funds, none of this could happen without both those dedicated and hard working staff members, and the great investment of time and resources by the community members who collaborate on the development and take on the stewardship responsibility for these projects.
There's lots more work to do to reach the dream of having a garden plot available for anyone in Seattle who wants to grow food (there is still a waiting list in most neighborhoods!), but we are making progress. Check out the complete report.
Back to Contents
TUNNEL UPDATE MAY 2011
On Thursday, March 31, I and other Councilmembers joined Governor Gregoire, King County Executive Constantine, Port Commission Chair Bryant, and representatives of the legislature in a news conference reaffirming the state and regional commitment to proceeding with the necessary work to implement the plan for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement program. The program includes replacing the south end of the viaduct (currently underway), constructing a tunnel under downtown (currently in the final stages of environmental review), and developing a new waterfront park and surface Alaskan Way (to be completed following demolition of the existing viaduct).
February 28 marked the ten-year anniversary of the Nisqually earthquake, which was followed by ten years of robust public dialogue. In 2009, the project partners designated the tunnel as the preferred alternative, recognizing that replacing north-south capacity through downtown is critically important to safety, freight mobility, economic vitality, and preserving current jobs and providing new jobs in Seattle and the region. Since then, the tunnel project has proceeded through environmental review and into pre-construction design, with a final Record of Decision (ROD) on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) scheduled to be completed in mid-summer. If the ROD and SEIS confirm that the project can meet environmental requirements, the project leads (WSDOT and the Federal Highway Administration) can make a final decision to proceed and authorize construction to begin.
Seattle has a once in a lifetime opportunity to enhance our downtown. By moving the majority of cars and trucks off our waterfront, we can establish a welcoming waterfront while enhancing our maritime and local economy and providing safer and faster corridors for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit. The tunnel is the green solution - it clears the streets for transit, bikes, and pedestrians to use, while opening up the waterfront for our future.
Unfortunately, the continued intransigence of the Mayor, despite his campaign promise to not stand in the way of the tunnel, may cause project delays. Delays are the biggest cause of cost overruns on major projects, and these delays could cost approximately $20 million per month, according to WSDOT's estimates.
The most recent action by the Mayor was sponsoring a referendum on Ordinance No. 123542, approved by the Council on February 28. This legislation codifies agreements between the City and WSDOT which protect and indemnify the City and keep the City at the table as the project moves forward, so that we can ensure that the streets, utilities, and other parts of the City are managed efficiently and in conformance with City policy. The referendum would not "stop the tunnel"; it would simply nullify these agreements. This would remove the city from the table and leave the City vulnerable, since this is a State project.
The Mayor had been advised by the City Attorney that this referendum was likely to be deemed illegal by the courts. Nevertheless, with the Mayor's assistance, an estimated 29,000 signatures were gathered in support of a voter referendum on Ordinance No. 123542. City Attorney Holmes has now filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment in King County Superior Court to determine whether Ordinance No. 123542 is subject to Seattle's municipal referendum power. I have excerpted below the City Attorney's reasoning from his news release. A complete version of the legal reasoning can be found on the City Attorney's website.
Council action to place the proposed referendum on the August ballot cannot take place until the signatures are validated by King County. As of this writing, it appears that there are between 19,000 and 20,000 valid signatures, which would be enough to require placement on the ballot, if it is a legal referendum. The Council has until May 24 to put it on the ballot, and we are hopeful that a court determination will be made before then. The Court has agreed to hear the case on May 13, and a decision could be issued that day or in the next week.
The State has now joined the City Attorney's suit against the referendum, and has indicated that they consider the agreements binding pending resolution of the lawsuit. At this point, then, the project is proceeding, although the cost of delay will start adding up fairly rapidly.
Summary of City Attorney Legal Reasoning
"The Seattle Charter creates a referendum power, meaning that most-but not al-City ordinances can be subject to a referendum vote… Some limits on the City's referendum power are spelled out in the Charter, while others are found in Washington State's case law…
First, City legislative bodies can take both administrative and legislative actions… The Washington Supreme Court has distinguished between the two types of actions by explaining that a power "is legislative in its nature if it prescribes a new policy or plan; whereas, it is administrative in its nature if it merely pursues a plan already adopted by the legislative body itself, or some power superior to it."…
…Ordinance No. 123542 is actually the third law passed regarding the proposed deep bore tunnel project: The Legislature passed the first law in early 2009… (directing the State to) "take the necessary steps to expedite the environmental review and design processes to replace the Alaskan Way viaduct with a deep bore tunnel under First Avenue from the vicinity of the sports stadiums in Seattle to Aurora Avenue north of the Battery Street tunnel."… In October 2009, the City Council enacted Ordinance 123133, authorizing execution of a Memorandum of Agreement that "outlines the responsibilities of both the City and State and expectations about the role of each in the implementation and funding of the numerous [Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement] Program elements."… Ordinance 123133 also declared that "[i]t is the City's policy that the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement …
Program Bored Tunnel Alternative…is the preferred solution for replacing the existing Alaskan Way Viaduct."…
… on balance I believe Ordinance 123542 is more likely administrative than legislative. By accepting these three agreements, the ordinance does not "prescribe a new policy or plan"; "it merely pursues a plan already adopted by the legislative body itself [i.e., the City Council], or some power superior to it [i.e., the state legislature]."… administrative acts are not subject to the local referendum power.
Moreover, even legislative acts, if based on a local government power delegated directly to the governing body of a local jurisdiction, cannot legally be decided by a voter referendum. Local governments only have the powers delegated to them by the State. Most of those powers are delegated to local governments generally, but some are delegated specifically to the "governing body," "legislative body," or "legislative authority" of a local jurisdiction. Under state law, powers delegated like this may only be exercised by the City Council (subject to a veto and override) and are not subject to the initiative or referendum powers even if our charter or city law says they are….
… a declaratory judgment now will spare the expense of a campaign overturned post-election…"
Back to Contents
NEIGHBORHOOD DISASTER PLANNING
Three Seattle District Councils and neighborhoods created communications hubs and community outreach on emergency preparedness in 2009, using $21,000 that I secured in the Council's 2008 budget. In 2010, these three groups convened a planning summit for other communities to learn from their experience, and a number of other groups are seeking to develop systems as a result.
Emergency planning at the Citywide level is a critical task that I have focused on in my oversight of the City's preparedness programs. Seattle has also long had an active and effective community education program around emergency preparedness. Adding this community-based organizing initiative is exactly the kind of approach that will strengthen our ability to respond with resilience, especially in the event of a major disaster such as a large earthquake. The goal of these projects is to establish a network of sites around the community to provide emergency communications and resources in local areas. This could be especially important in communities where transportation infrastructure may be damaged or disabled, isolating the community from outside assistance.
Under the first round of this program, the West Seattle and Southwest District Councils equipped nine Hubs around West Seattle with General Mobile Radio Service radios, which allow for two way communications over short distances. Each Hub has a licensed operator and emergency bags, and the locations of the Hubs are publicized in a brochure and in newspaper and web information resources.
The Magnolia/Queen Anne District Council equipped eight Hubs with radios and licensed operators, and performed a similar outreach and publicity campaign. Fremont and Wallingford community members developed seven Hubs and accompanying outreach and publicity.
After the planning summit, a number of other communities formed planning groups to begin work on developing their own networks, including Capitol Hill, Belltown, Green Lake, View Ridge, Montlake, and Phinney. Green Lake is partnering with Wallingford on two Hub sites, and has identified two new ones. Capitol Hill has identified three Hub Locations. Recognizing the success of this effort, the Seattle Police Foundation has awarded the program a grant for $13,000 to purchase equipment for 30 new Hubs. Our goal is to eventually have a citywide network that will be mobilized and connected.
The three existing Hub networks were tested during a 2010 earthquake simulation exercise, and demonstrated their capability and value. The Office of Emergency Management is now working to integrate these networks into the City's overall emergency preparedness strategy.
This new community-based emergency response capability will be an important asset to the City. Expanding it, however, will require additional funding. Even the modest costs will be tough to come by under current budgetary constraints. In the long run, even if the funding is found, maintaining the effectiveness of the network will depend on strong City support and continued volunteer engagement at the community level. Since no one can predict when a major emergency will take place, it will be important to figure out how to keep these networks fresh and able to recruit and engage new volunteers in the future. These are challenges that we must take on as part of our preparedness strategy.
Back to Contents
COUNCIL PROPOSES NEW POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY MEASURES
The Seattle Police Department (SPD) is facing significant challenges. In the last few months, police officers have been murdered in Seattle and other nearby cities. There have been several recent actions by SPD officers that have raised questions about the City's accountability system, including abusive activities towards suspects and the death of John Williams, a Native American carver who was shot by a police officer.
We rely on our police officers to preserve public safety, and the command staff and the police officers on the street are responsible and competent professionals who take risks for us every day as they face challenging environments. Given the violence that they have observed towards police officers, it is not surprising that members of the force are nervous about the situations they have to deal with and are concerned about the level of public support that they have. It is important the community and elected officials give clear and consistent messages of support and confidence to the officers who are doing their duty and providing public safety for our community.
The confidence can only be maintained if it is clear that those few officers who commit acts that are not consistent with their duties and oath of office will not be tolerated. Seattle has worked hard to put into place a strong and sophisticated system that ensures that accountability. While the decision of the County Prosecutor, citing provisions of State law, was not to charge the officer who killed John Williams, the City's Firearms Review Board determined that he had violated four City policies and recommended that he be fired (the strongest consequence that we have the power to take). The other apparently abusive actions are working their way through the system, and we hope that they will be dealt with to the extent of our ability to do so.
However, while the system is strong, it could be stronger. The members of the Council's Public Safety and Education Committee have advanced 11 new accountability measures that they believe will "strengthen public trust and confidence in our police officers which will enhance the effectiveness of the Police Department in accomplishing its mission of preventing crime, reducing the fear of crime and building peace in our city." While the Council will advocate for these measures, it will take some time to implement them, as some of them will and others may be subject to negotiations with our employee unions.
Click here for more information on the 11 proposed new accountability measures.
Back to Contents
TECHNOLOGY SAVES MONEY!
The City Clerk is required to post a number of legal notices, including about all legislation approved by the Council. Some types of legislation are required to be printed in full in a "daily newspaper of general circulation", to be selected by competitive bid. Over time, the two requirements had evolved into the policy of printing in full all legislation in the selected newspaper, which for many years has been the Daily Journal of Commerce (DJC).
While this newspaper is well known in the business community, and has won the contract fairly and squarely, it is not widely read in most households in Seattle, and every so often there were complaints from members of the public that this was a relatively obscure placement compared to a general circulation daily.
However, it would be extraordinarily expensive to print the long texts of all City ordinances in a daily newspaper, so this practice continued despite its limitations.
But even printing in the DJC is expensive, and last year as budgets were being cut, Council Central staff and our new City Clerk took a look at the actual requirements for publication, and came up with a new proposal that saves money, while still keeping the legislative texts widely available. It's called the ‘Web', and many of you have undoubtedly heard of it…
The solution? Except where we are legally required to physically print entire texts, publish titles in the DJC with a link, and put the text on the web (where it is already routinely posted anyway). So simple - and so seemingly obvious, but it required careful review of a whole range of legalese, and then changing a practice that has existed since time immemorial.
Results for the first three months of 2011 are in, and they are dramatic. In 2010, we spent $47,797.91 publishing legislation. In 2011? $1535.64.
For the whole year, in 2010 we spent the staggering sum of $468,706.94. We will save significant amounts of this as a result of this new procedure, but a large part of the expense is associated with required publication associated with the budget, and changes in law will be needed to allow that to migrate to the web. We will try to advance those next year!
Back to Contents
COUNCIL TO ADDRESS GAPS IN CITY-PROVIDED HOMELESS SERVICES
Over the past two years, homelessness in Seattle has decreased by 15 percent - an extraordinary achievement in the face of this recession, and a testament to the success of the Seattle community's ‘Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness'. Of the 1,753 people found outdoors rather than in shelters in the 2011 One-Day Count, many appear to have unique characteristics that are not met by the current system, such as having pets, being in family relationships, or having enough possessions that going in and out of overnight shelters is not workable.
In the 2010 budget process, the Council recognized that there was a need to consider how to serve those who were not entering the current system, and adopted a Statement of Legislative Intent asking the Department of Human Services to report back to the Council with a needs assessment that would guide policies and investments that could serve these populations. This review was due on April 1, but has been delayed until May 25 at the request of the Mayor.
Last month there was a flurry of media attention focused on a proposal from Mayor McGinn to create a homeless shelter on a City-owned piece of property known as the "Sunny Jim" site. Council declined to receive this legislation, because it had not gone through the legally-required environmental review process - the Mayor sending it to the Council was like sending a chapter outline to a publisher and expecting them to print a book.
As articulated in the letter that accompanied the returned legislation, the Council will review options for an integrated set of services for the homeless over the next few weeks. We will begin with adopting a resolution delineating possible approaches, and conclude with recommendations that will be advanced this summer.
Some of the people who are not currently in the shelter system have tents or cars that they live in, and there are a couple of communities of 50 to 100 tent campers that move around the City to various locations. One tent city, called Nicklesville, is temporarily located at Fire Station 39 in Lake City. While these ‘tent cities' have received the most attention and visibility, they are only one part of the problem.
Earlier this year, the Mayor convened a Citizen Review Panel to look at whether a City-sanctioned tent city would be a feasible approach to addressing the needs of those who are currently in the tent communities. This Panel recommended proceeding with such an encampment, and identified six possible locations in various parts of the City.
Without consulting either community members or the Council, Mayor McGinn announced that he wanted to site an encampment at the "Sunny Jim" site in the industrial area, a location that had not been reviewed by the Panel. This site is owned by the City, and is currently unused. The buildings on the property burned down, and the City has just received a $2.4 million insurance settlement. The site is zoned for industrial use, where residential housing is generally prohibited under both the Comprehensive Plan and the City's zoning code. While it has the advantage of being currently a vacant property, it is also remote from services, poorly accessed by transit, has some environmental contamination, and is near the so-called ‘Jungle', an area on the west slope of Beacon Hill where drug dealers and other criminal elements have used homeless campers as cover and created a area that is dangerous and difficult to police.
Opinions are divided as to whether a City-sanctioned encampment is a good idea. Even if that is desirable, the Sunny Jim site does not appear to be a particularly good location. And even if it were a good location, it is not possible to be used unless the site is rezoned. State law requires a set of procedures to complete a rezone, and those procedures include opportunities for public comment and appeals. The Council cannot legally consider the rezone until these procedures are completed, and this is likely to take at least six months, possibly longer.
It may be possible to move forward and meet the needs of homeless individuals with greater speed by implementing alternatives other than the Mayor's plan.
Over the next three to six months, the City Council will develop and adopt innovative alternatives to address the gaps in City-provided homeless services as identified by the Human Services Department. Some of the options for consideration will include: 1) possible renovation of Fire Station 39 as a long term location for a new shelter or housing facility; 2) working with faith-based communities to support shelter space in church buildings or parking lots or on land the City leases to faith-based communities, as appropriate; 3) purchasing another motel, similar to the Aloha Inn, that provides transitional housing; 4) providing additional rent assistance vouchers; 5) considering the siting of an encampment at a location, such as one of those sites reviewed by the Mayor's Citizen Review Panel, that preferably would not require a Comprehensive Plan amendment and a change to land use regulations to accommodate residential use;
and/or 6) modifying the City's existing shelter service contracts to address any specific shortcomings identified in the HSD and Council reviews.
In considering these alternatives, we will examine the legal and policy constraints for each as well as feasibility and costs. Our goal is to approve one or more options by the end of July. In the meantime, the Council will hold the proposed legislation regarding the Sunny Jim site, since it is not legally permissible to approve it before the environmental review is completed. The Council will review the legislation concerning the $2.4 million proceeds received by the City in the settlement from the fire at the Sunny Jim settlement. We will decide whether funds should be spent on environmental remediation at the site, used for other shelter purposes, or reserved for other priority purposes in the light of continuing concerns about the budget.
Homelessness is a complex problem, requiring strategic thinking about the needs and opportunities for unique individuals and families, and the cooperation and engagement of government, community and nonprofit and business organizations. As HL Mencken noted, "For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong." Let's not make the mistake of thinking that we can solve issues around homelessness without putting in the energy to figure out what really works.
Back to Contents
CARBON NEUTRAL SEATTLE, BLOG POST 11: DENSITY AND COMMUNITY
Choices about controlling carbon emissions are shaped by public policies. Carbon emissions are lower in communities that are compact and that provide access via transit and non-motorized travel among jobs, homes, and commercial and recreational activities. New York is the classic example - with great transit connections and many multi-family dwellings, New Yorkers emit much less carbon than other Americans, while enjoying a generally good quality of life.
Density by itself, however, only works with community. Low emissions without high quality of life is not an appropriate answer. Poor, dense urban areas in lower income countries do not have high carbon emissions - but they are not ultimately sustainable, and their residents will strive for better lives regardless of the cost in carbon.
Seattle has already taken great strides in developing communities that are compact and sustainable over time. We are also in a great position to move further in this direction, but it will take careful and thoughtful public policy to ensure that we hit the sweet spot that matches denser communities with high quality of life.
Like most American cities, Seattle lost population between 1960, when it had 557,000 people, and 1990, when it had only 516,000. Most of Seattle is zoned for single family residences, and, except for downtown, most of the rest was dominated by low rise apartment and commercial buildings. Seattle never suffered the wholesale abandonment of neighborhoods that many cities experienced - population loss mainly reflected smaller household sizes, with most dwellings still occupied. With a downtown that never totally lost steam, and a network of thriving neighborhoods with modest commercial hubs at their centers, Seattle was well-positioned for success when the City's leaders embraced the principles of Washington's Growth Management Act and decided in the 1990's to move towards a vision of a more urban community.
Seattle's Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 1994, projected adding 72,000 households over the next 20 years, and called for a major reinvestment in downtown neighborhoods, allowing greater height and encouraging more residential development. And it called for developing the centers of most other neighborhoods into ‘urban villages' with several stories of housing-over-storefront buildings.
Change alarms many people, and this was no exception. Many residents felt their single-family neighborhoods were at risk, and embraced a nostalgic vision that rejected the new plan. Resistance peaked in 1994-1996, when neighborhood meetings drew hundreds to attack City leadership and opposition leader Charlie Chong won a special election for an open Council seat vacated by one of the advocates of the Comprehensive Plan.
Fortunately, there were many who were attracted by this vision, and Mayor Norm Rice's administration came up with an ultimately successful way to attain it. The Mayor and Council approved a program that gave 37 designated centers for population growth the opportunity to develop neighborhood plans. Communities were given guidelines for participation, a toolbox of ideas, and money to hire their own planners. They were asked to determine whether they could meet their assigned growth targets, what land use changes they would need to do so, and what other actions would ensure continued neighborhood livability.
The response was extraordinary. While there were a few rough spots and conflicts, given the opportunity to calmly look at how new density would impact their communities, 20,000 people participated and every one of the neighborhoods accepted the growth targets and zoning changes needed to accommodate them. This was an extraordinary victory for growth management -- and for the Seattle process when run properly.
Neighborhoods also came up with an agenda for the City: some 7000 recommendations for investments, policy changes, and actions. For the last ten years, the City has worked to fulfill these expectations, and has successfully accomplished the majority, focusing on the highest priorities.
The lesson is that density can work, that people will accept it, and that thoughtful engagement and responsive government make the difference.
Seattle now has 55,000 residents living downtown. Most neighborhoods have reached their growth targets, and some have exceeded them. There has been no resurgence of NIMBYism - in fact, communities continue to embrace change, especially those that are now receiving or will soon receive light rail service.
As Seattle thinks about its next moves towards building communities that are not auto-dependent, adding the next increment to our population, a lot will ride on how neighborhoods are engaged in the discussion. Some additional land use changes will be needed - but most of them will increase density on property already zoned for mixed use of multi-family. As neighborhoods found out in the earlier round, there is neither need nor reason to focus on single family areas - density works better in areas that already have some development.
Additional heights? In some cases. Managing heights is of concern - generally, once you get over a few stories, additional heights don't add much to the vitality of the street environment or community, and there are limited areas where tall buildings really work. But in most urban villages, 6 to 8 story buildings work from a street and community perspective, and add significant housing and support for neighborhood small businesses. Some cities that are models of dense urban development - like Paris and Copenhagen - have managed density and transit very well with heights limited to 6 to 8 stories.
The bottom line: there is a remarkable amount of density that can be accomplished while making communities better places to live and without arousing significant neighborhood concerns. And it is a great way to reduce carbon - a way that Seattle can continue to lead on.
These neighborhoods will need parks, libraries, and other community facilities. And they will need jobs and businesses, and developers that are willing to make investments -- and transportation networks that provide real alternatives to using automobiles.
Back to Contents
"When you are writing laws you are testing words to find their utmost power. Like spells, they have to make things happen in the real world, and like spells, they only work if people believe in them. If your law exacts a penalty, you must be able to enforce it -- on the rich as well as the poor..."
-- Hilary Mantel
"For a long time we thought we were better than the living world, and now some of us tend to think that we are worse… but neither perspective is healthy. We have to remember how it feels to have equal standing in the world, to be between the mountain and the ant… part and parcel of creation."
-- Janine Benyus
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. You can get more information or send me feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org
Your Seattle City Councilmember
Back to Contents
Back to MAKING IT WORK Newsletters