MAKING IT WORK
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SEAWALL DESIGN ALTERNATIVES COMPLETED
Replacing the seawall that protects downtown Seattle is a complex project, but it has now moved one step closer to construction as the City has completed defining the range of alternatives that will go into the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The two alternatives bracket the options, from a relatively lower cost project that provides basic structural stability and core habitat enhancements, to a higher cost alternative that pulls the seawall inland to provide increased habitat and design flexibility. The City will likely select a hybrid of these two choices that will provide the best solution to address critical public safety needs while integrating the long-term vision for the Central Waterfront, habitat and environmental enhancement, improved public access, and economic vitality of the waterfront, while being mindful of costs for the project as a whole.
The existing seawall includes three types of structures. The southern two zones, in front of Pioneer Square and the Ferry Terminal, are gravity walls with piles below them. The third zone, in the center of the project, has a timber relieving platform and a steel master pile covered with a wood facing. The fourth zone, in front of the Aquarium, has a pre-cast concrete wall face tied to the timber relieving platform. Each of these existing structures helps to define the two potential wall alignments.
There are two alternative designs for the 3,840 feet of seawall scheduled to be replaced. In Alternative A, the seawall stays near its current location. In Alternative B, the wall is pulled back from 15 feet in the southern two zones to as much as 75 feet adjacent to the Aquarium, allowing options for a different relationship between the water and land. Along with these alternative wall alignments, there are two types of structural solutions for replacing the seawall. The least expensive option involves jet grouting to improve the soil behind the wall. The second option, using drilled shafts, is a more proven technology but also more expensive.
The tradeoffs in flexibility, cost, and relative risk will all be analyzed in the coming year, and a decision is expected in 2012. Construction of the central seawall will begin in the latter half of 2013 and last approximately three years. During construction, there will be a plan for preserving access to waterfront businesses. Construction will occur during the winter months, both to keep the waterfront open during the summer and because of restrictions on working in water during fish migrations. During construction, traffic on Alaskan Way would be moved under the existing viaduct.
Much analysis and many decisions remain before the Seawall project is ready to go out for funding. The current level of design has increased the projected cost by at least $50 million, and possibly as much as $100 million or more. Reasons for the cost increases include the greater expense for drilled shafts, adding 234 feet of length to the project at the northern end, and shifting some costs to this project that had formerly been assigned to the Central Waterfront project.
The increases in projected costs suggest that it was probably a wise decision not to go to a public vote in 2010 or 2011, since the ballot measure would not have been sufficient to cover the costs, and the City would have had to either go to a second vote or find funds elsewhere. Unfortunately, the increased cost will make a successful 2012 ballot measure even more challenging.
The City continues to pursue two possible funding resources. The King County Flood Control District Board has agreed in principle to fund $30 million of the project, although that will have to be confirmed at the time that the funds are needed. And the Corps of Engineers is continuing to work in conjunction with the City and there is still a possibility of federal funding, depending on the national political picture.
Repairing and replacing the seawall remains a high priority for the City. We are approaching it carefully and thoughtfully to make sure that the right project gets selected and completed.
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COUNCIL STABILIZES CITY LIGHT FINANCES
In March 2010, the City Council approved legislation creating a Rate Stabilization Account (RSA) for Seattle City Light, and imposed a temporary surcharge on city Light rates as part of the funding package for the RSA. In the year since then, the RSA has been fully funded to its projected level of $100 million, the surcharge has been eliminated, and both City Light and ratepayers are now protected against fluctuations in revenues in future years.
Seattle City Light has some of the lowest rates in the country, one of the best energy conservation programs (leading to even lower bills – people pay bills, not rates), and a resource portfolio that is carbon-neutral and is based on salmon-friendly hydro resources.
Unfortunately, a hydro dependent system delivers varying amounts of energy, depending on precipitation in the watershed, the amount of water that accumulates in the snowpack, and the timing of the snow melt in the spring. The total amount of energy varies year to year, and the timing of energy production during the year does not necessarily match the need for energy in the Seattle City Light system. City Light plans to sell large quantities of energy in good water years, but can be short of energy in bad water years.
In the California energy crisis of 2001-2002, when Enron and other energy companies manipulated the market to run up energy prices, City Light was caught with the need to purchase large quantities of energy at prices that had skyrocketed. Large surcharges were added to City Light bills, and City Light's problems were a factor in the 2003 defeat of both the then-current and former Chairs of the Council Committee that oversees City Light.
Subsequently, the Council adopted a strategy to pay off the major debt incurred in this crisis, initiate more conservative and austere financial policies, change City Light's energy strategy to acquire new resources and generally have more power than it needed, and wound up actually reducing rates in 2004, 2005, and 2007. Unfortunately, as the recession hit in 2008-2009, City Light now had large quantities of surplus power that it counted on for revenue, but prices plummeted with the decrease in demand associated with economic downturns. In order to maintain City Light's finances, the Council approved a large rate increase in the fall of 2009.
At the same time, the Council began a process that resulted in creating the RSA, and in 2010 added a 4.5% surcharge to fund it. The good news is that the RSA has been fully funded faster than we had hoped. The Council initially designated City Light's existing contingency fund of $25 million as the RSA seed money. Last year City Light refinanced much of its outstanding debt, and the $57 million in savings were deposited to the RSA. The 4.5% surcharge raised the remaining $18 million, and has now been lifted.
Under the stabilization system, City Light will use conservative forecasts for revenue from surplus energy sales. Any revenues in excess of that forecast will be deposited into the RSA, and any shortfall will be covered by the RSA. In the event of a major shortfall, a surcharge would automatically be triggered – 1.5% if the RSA falls below $90 million, 3% if it falls below $80 million, and 4.5% if it falls below $70 million – and would remain in place until the $100 million reserve is reestablished. If the RSA reaches a level higher than $125 million, the Council will consider a rate reduction or using the excess to pay off outstanding debt or for other purposes that would contribute to Seattle City Light's financial health.
In addition to the lifting of the surcharge, there was more good news this spring: in the first three months, surplus sales revenues exceeded projections by $7.7 million. City Light conservatively projects that by the end of the year, at least $5 million will be added to the RSA balance. There will be neither a surcharge nor a financial problem for City Light in 2011.
The tough decision the Council made to create the RSA is already paying off in financial stability. We hope that 2011 is an indication that it will protect ratepayers effectively in the coming years.
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HEALTHY VENDING MACHINES? YES, SAYS BOARD OF HEALTH!
On Thursday, April 21, the Board of Health of Seattle-King County (BOH) adopted a set of guidelines for getting healthier food choices into vending machines. The guidelines are not binding on either the vending machine owners or those who contract with them, but are designed to set a path and give guidance and direction to both.
King County Councilmembers Julia Patterson and Joe McDermott will propose implementing legislation that will adopt these guidelines as policy guidance for the County, and I and Councilmembers Clark and Licata will introduce companion legislation adopting them in the City. Our hope is that other public, nonprofit, and private organizations will follow our lead, and that this will ultimately transform the vending machine industry.
The vending machine industry is already moving towards providing healthy choices with strong encouragement from the national better nutrition campaign led by Michele Obama. Companies like HealthyYou Vending and Fresh Healthy Vending are growing franchise models, and Business Week and MSNBC have taken notice of the trend. Organizations like Seattle Schools and Seattle Parks and Recreation have adopted requirements for vending machines (the Seattle Parks requirements were one of the early implementation actions of my Local Food Action Initiative). The City of New York and State of Massachusetts have both adopted measures seeking to promote healthy choices in vending machines.
Our Board of Health model, however, is the most comprehensive proposal to date, and we are hoping that it not only furthers the trend in our area, but becomes a national model. We are building on our precedent with the BOH requirements for posting calorie and nutrition information in restaurants, which became part of the health care reform legislation adopted by Congress last year.
The vending machine guidelines adopted by the Board are based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, and identify healthy options for different food types (fruits, whole grains, etc.) rather than simply looking at fat, sugar, and sodium.
The guidelines include a set of categories – "Healthiest", "Healthier", and "Limited" – and a sampling of the products that fit into each. For example, in the vegetable category, "Healthiest" includes fresh or dehydrated vegetables or cup of soup with a quarter cup of vegetables; "Healthier" includes fresh or dehydrated vegetables with added salt, sugar, or fat and baked potato chips; "Limited" includes fried vegetables and regular chips.
The guidelines recommend that each organization that contracts for vending machines go through a ‘best practices' process to create an implementation plan that will:
- At a minimum ensure that "Healthiest" and "Healthier" choices are available in vending machines;
- Preferably make these choices the easy choices through pricing, marketing, and education;
- Optimally work towards ultimately offering only "Healthiest" and "Healthier" food and beverages.
Our goal is to move towards a healthier population by increasing the opportunities for people to choose real food over faux food. The Seattle Parks Department has had healthy vending machine guidelines in place since 2009, and has found that, after an initial period when sales from vending machines dropped slightly, people welcome the choice and sales strengthen. This is one more part of the work of joining with the community to restore real food to its rightful place in our society.
More information on the King County Healthy Vending Guidelines
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CITYWIDE BUSINESS ADVOCACY TEAM FORMED
In response to the Council's Statement of Legislative Intent 24-1-A-1, approved as part of the 2011 Budget Ordinance, on May 17 eight City Departments reported to my Regional and Sustainable Development Committee that they have signed a Memorandum of Agreement to establish a Citywide Business Advocacy Team (CBAT). The goal of the CBAT is to coordinate responses to businesses when complex issues are raised that involve the regulations or actions of multiple departments. CBAT will be a key tool to improve customer service and support economic development.
One of the most frequent sources of frustration voiced by businesses, especially those with major and complicated projects, is that city responses to request for permits or other actions can be uncoordinated, slow, and sometimes even contradictory. The eight departments that are joining in this coordination effort each have specific roles to play and regulations to enforce, and this can create a maze that is difficult to navigate.
The Departments – Office of Economic Development, Department of Planning and Development, Department of Transportation, Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle City Light, Seattle Police, Seattle Fire, and Finance and Administrative Services – have agreed to work together using this team approach to:
- Identify complex inter-departmental decisions before they reach a crisis point;
- Make and communicate decisions more efficiently and, in doing so, save resources for both the City and the businesses it regulates; and
- Identify and elevate tough policy issues that require more systems analysis and direction from the Mayor and Council.
The Departments are also establishing a customer relations management tool that will facilitate interdepartmental communication, track results, and identifying recurring issues.
The CBAT was established in March, and has already assisted more than 30 businesses. Examples include:
- OED and SDOT coordinated providing Charlie's Produce with information needed to facilitate the company's decision to sign a long-term lease for their current SODO location.
- OED and City Light coordinated bringing together engineers from City Light and Ferguson Terminal to jointly design a project adding additional electrical service to their Ballard warehouse. The effort reduced the project cost by more than $100,000 from City Light's $300,000 estimate.
- Pacific Fishermen Shipyard received a $1 million grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for worker training and capital improvements, including creating a 70 foot long paint booth that keeps paint out of the environment. In order to create jobs as fast as possible, the entire grant had to be spent within a year. A lot of code provisions had to be met and permits issued by various Departments. Thanks to the CBAT, permits were coordinated and the entire project was completed in ten months – with the last permits issued only a week before the dedication.
- Although the Neptune Theater submitted the initial plans for improvements several months ago, final plans were not approved until May 2 – that needed to be complete in time to host the Seattle International Film Festival on May 20. Normally, Seattle Public Utilities, Fire, and SDOT take up to 45 days to implement inspections and schedule traffic control operations. The CBAT went to work, and got the Departments to coordinate so that the deadline can be met.
This is the kind of basic work that Seattle must do in order to create jobs and foster business growth in the City. As the economy moves at a faster and faster pace, businesses must become more nimble and adaptable, and the City must be able to match that required agility. The good news is that Seattle is working hard to make this happen, and the CBAT is a key tool in that effort.
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SEATTLE CITY CLERK SIGNS TUNNEL AGREEMENTS
On Friday, May 20, Judge Laura Middaugh issued an order validating the Council's actions in approving an ordinance that authorizes signing three agreements with the State to protect Seattle during the design and construction of the Alaskan Way tunnel.
The judge's ruling was on a referendum petition asking that the whole ordinance be placed on the ballot. The judge agreed with City Attorney Pete Holmes that this ordinance and the three agreements were not subject to referendum.
Because signatures asking for a referendum on this ordinance had been submitted, the legislation was suspended pending the outcome of the litigation as to whether the ordinance was a legitimate subject for a referendum campaign. Following the judge's ruling, on Monday, May 23, City Clerk Monica Simmons signed the three agreements with the state, which the judge determined went into effect on March 30, the effective date of the ordinance. The State has been voluntarily complying with the agreements already, so the design of the tunnel continues to proceed on schedule.
The eight members of the Council who support moving the project forward continue to be committed to working with our State, Port, County, and other regional partners to advance this project. We look forward to continuing this partnership to address the safety issues around the viaduct, preserve mobility for freight and vehicles, ensure that bicycles, pedestrians, and transit can move safely and rapidly around downtown, and further the creation of a great urban waterfront.
The next step in project decision-making will be a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), expected to be issued in July, followed by the federal Record of Decision (ROD), expected in August. If there are no problematic issues that cannot be mitigated that are uncovered in the next few weeks, the State will then be in a position to issue a final decision on the tunnel and a notice to proceed to the contractors who are currently in the design process.
The Judge did order two sentences from that ordinance (of 140 pages) to appear on the ballot, and the Council approved a resolution placing on the ballot the following text:
CITY OF SEATTLE REFERENDUM 1
The Seattle City Council passed Ordinance Number 123542 entering into agreements related to the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement. Section 6 of that ordinance has been referred to the voters for approval or rejection.
Section 6, if approved, would authorize the City Council to give notice to proceed, beyond preliminary design work, with three agreements concerning the State's proposal to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep-bore tunnel. Section 6 states:
"The City Council is authorized to decide whether to issue the notice referenced in Section 2.3 of each Agreement. That decision shall be made at an open public meeting held after issuance of the Final Environmental Impact Statement."
Should this ordinance section be:
There are a variety of opinions as to what the outcome of this vote would actually mean.
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NUTRITION AND SCHOOL PERFORMANCE
Evidence is clear that healthy eating and active living make a difference in academic performance. Unfortunately, our young people are too often caught in the poor nutrition and inactive lifestyle mode that is fueling our obesity epidemic. Schools are beginning to understand that improving the classroom is not enough -- there are important steps to take to get kids ready to learn. But funding is scarce, and Seattle Schools is hard-pressed even to keep the classroom work going.
Fortunately, Seattle has a Families and Education Levy, whose goal is to provide the extra support that is required to make learning happen. Student health services have been part of the levy since the beginning, but their mission has evolved from treating common adolescent health/mental health issues to promoting health. As part of this work, the school-based health center (SBHC) program has launched an adolescent obesity prevention initiative. The goal is to change social norms and behavior to promote healthy eating and active lifestyle.
The initiative works through three specific strategies:
- Direct patient care. The 5000 students who receive care each school year are now being counseled and trained in good nutrition and activity when they come to the clinic. Providers are being trained to motivate them. The core message: 7-5-2-1-0 (breakfast 7 days a week, 5 servings of fruit/vegetables per day, less than 2 hours of screen time and at least 1 hour of physical activity per day, 0 sugar sweetened beverages).
- Population-based strategies. This includes social marketing through social networks, publications, and organizations, addressing environmental barriers at schools, coordinating with physical education and health teachers, partnering with Seattle Parks, marketing fruit and vegetables in cafeterias, and creating student led wellness councils
- System change. This involves partnering with Public Health and other agencies to improve school meals and physical education, as well as using the resources of other agencies and organizations that have contact with youth to create new strategies to involve and influence their habits.
The more we understand about how our youth learn and the barriers and opportunities to successful academic performance, the clearer it becomes that providing a community network that addresses the whole person is critical to ensuring that every child succeeds. This obesity prevention initiative is an example of the way in which tested research and proven strategies can work in new and creative ways to reach this goal.
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ANTIOCH SEATTLE TRIUMPHS IN RECYCLEMANIA!
In only its second year of participation in the competition, Antioch University Seattle (AUS) surpassed its 2010 record by winning second place nationally in Recyclemania's Grand Champion category. AUS competed with 287 other schools in various categories, and also came in third in Waste Minimization.
RecycleMania is a friendly competition and benchmarking tool for college and university recycling programs in the United States and Canada. RecycleMania helps promote waste reduction activities.
Over a 10-week period, schools report recycling and trash data, which are then ranked according to:
- Largest amount of recyclables collected per capita;
- Largest amount of total recyclables;
- Lowest amount of trash per capita;
- Highest recycling rate.
With each week's reports and rankings, participating schools can watch how their results fluctuate against other schools and use this to rally their campus communities to reduce and recycle more. The dates for this year's competition were Sunday, Feb. 6 through Saturday, April 2, 2011.
Other participants in Washington State include: Eastern Washington University, Olympic College, Pacific Lutheran University, Seattle Community College-North Campus, Seattle Pacific University, The Evergreen State College, Washington State University and Western Washington State.
The winner in the Grand Champion category was California State University at San Marcos, which has won for the last seven years in a row. Antioch University students have vowed that 2012 will be the year they topple this formidable goliath.
Click here for the full results.
Antioch University Seattle has a strong focus on sustainability, and is currently developing a Climate Action Plan with the goal of a carbon neutral campus. Disclosure: I am proud to be a founding member of Antioch University Seattle's Board of Trustees!
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"I believe that the community is already in process of dissolution where each man begins to eye his neighbor as a possible enemy, where non-conformity with the accepted creed, political as well as religious, is a mark of disaffection; where denunciation, without specification or backing, takes the place of evidence, where orthodoxy chokes freedom of dissent; where faith in the eventual supremacy of reason has become so timid that we dare not enter our convictions in the open lists, to win or lose."
-- Learned Hand
"Never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed citizens to become insular, talk only among themselves, and totally screw up the possibility of changing the world."
-- Frazier Peck
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
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