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.
COMMUNITY CENTER REINVENTION –
CAN WE SAVE MONEY AND SERVE THE COMMUNITY?
The Parks Department took a major hit in the 2011 budget and lost dozens of employees – but it could have been worse. The Mayor's proposed budget would have converted three community spaces to offices and cut drop in hours by up to 80% at five community centers proposed for ‘limited use', with no plans for future restoration of services. The Council restored funds for an additional 15 hours of drop in time at the Green Lake, Laurelhurst, and Queen Anne Community Centers, and also turned down two proposed conversions of community rooms to office space.
But we need a long range plan to sustain community centers in the face of significant challenges in the Seattle budget over at least the next three or four years that make it unlikely that we can fully restore these programs at the level at which they have operated in the past.
Recognizing this, the Council refused to accept the premise that we must resign ourselves to losing these important services. Instead we launched a program to work with Seattle Parks Department, the public, our labor unions, and interested organizations to develop new options for operating our community centers. The goal was to reinvent center operations to save money, without simply cutting services. In the best case, reinvention techniques would create management and administrative efficiencies that would actually deliver better services at a lower cost. The challenge is to reduce costs by the estimated $1.5 to $2.5 million that may be required to have a budget that the City's resources can sustain over time.
After six months of work, a set of options has now been narrowed down to a discrete number of choices, which have been presented to the community for feedback. You can get detailed information about the options and fill out an online survey here.
The nine choices include four complete reorganizations, and five other options that could be mixed and matched with the basic four. Here are the four core choices:
Option 1 reduces management by consolidating the 25 centers into 7 geographic groups, saving $667,000. The option contemplates restoring 15 to 25 hours to the 5 centers that lost hours in the budget process at a cost of $448,000, and balancing that by having the Associated Recreation Council (ARC, which operates programs at community centers) add $446,000 to the payments it makes to Seattle parks. This is a true reinvention scenario, saving funds while increasing services, but it does not save enough to ensure the future of community centers.
Option 2 assumes the geographic management system, but places community centers into tiers depending on their facilities, use patterns, and demographics. Tier 1 would be open 50 or more hours/week, Tier 2a 30 to 45 hours/week, and Tier 2b 15 to 25 hours per week. This would save $1,230,000 annually. This could also be a realistic reinvention scenario, if the services the public most desires and uses are able to be delivered in a more efficient manner, but design will be tricky.
Option 3 assumes going to a tiered system and closing 3 centers that have either geographic duplication or low usage. This would save $1,775,000. The closed centers (and possibly some existing centers) would be offered to other organizations to operate, as the City currently does with Madrona Dance, Pratt Fine Arts, and Seward Park Clay Studio (or as Phinney Neighborhood Center does with no City support). Again, this could be a reinvention scenario if the design could be worked out, but the fewer centers/hours there are to work with, the more challenging the design becomes.
Option 4 closes 7 to 10 community centers, saving $1.458, 000 to $2,714,000. While this scenario suggests offering closed centers to other organizations, it is questionable whether there is the capacity to take on this many sites. This is a fairly direct budget cutting scenario.
These first four options are the major choices. I think the right answer probably involves looking carefully at Options 2 and 3. To me, Option 1 is attractive but may not be affordable, and Option 4 is not creative and really damages our community programs.
The remaining options could be combined with any of those four, and are basically ways to reduce costs or increase revenues.
Option 5 simply raises the administrative fee for the ARC from 3.25% of revenues to 5%, generating $126,000 in additional revenues. Option 6 raises fees for non-residents by 10%, generating a possible $126,000, although there are some administrative challenges. Option 7 involves using more volunteers to replace staffing for some community centers; savings are uncertain, but likely to be modest. Option 8 would recruit outside organizations to provide programs or services using community center facilities during dark hours; while this may provide more services to the public, it is unlikely to generate significant additional revenue. And Option 9 involves offering outside organizations the opportunity to operate community centers (compatible with Options 3 and 4, which close community centers), which would save $400,000 per center contracted out ($100,000 if the center is already limited use).
These options were distilled from the suggestions and discussions that have been going on for the last few months with interested parties and the public. The Mayor may recommend one or more options as part of his budget submittal in September, and Council will likely have to make some choices about them during our budget deliberations in October and November. Now is the time to weigh in if you have opinions! Follow the link above to take the survey or write Councilmember Bagshaw, Chair of the Parks and Seattle Center Committee, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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ZERO WASTE -- FRUGALITY WORKS IN SEATTLE
In 2010 Seattle sent 335,600 tons of solid waste to the landfill in eastern Oregon. That's what we need to target for reduction. The good news is that we continue to make great progress, and a recent study of residential waste demonstrates how well we are doing, and where we have opportunities to do better.
Single family households lead the way towards the zero waste goal. In 1987, they sent almost 150,000 tons of waste to the landfill, but by 2010 that had been cut to some 64,000 tons. Total waste generated peaked in 1999, and has been slowly falling since then, while more than 2/3 of single family waste was either recycled or composted in 2010.
That's the achievement. There's also an opportunity. 27% of the waste sent to the landfill could have been recycled, while 31% could have been composted through our organics pickup. Getting those amounts out of the waste stream would have reduced waste by another 40,000 tons. Further education and incentives can help to achieve that.
Most of the rest falls into three categories: pet waste and diapers (23%), non recyclable paper, glass, metals, and plastics (6%), and miscellaneous items such as small scraps and construction waste (13%). These last three categories will be tough, although some progress is possible by adding materials to the recyclable list and emphasizing waste reduction.
Disposal of waste from multi-family households has declined by a somewhat smaller percentage, from around 60,000 tons in 1995 to 51,500 in 2010. The multi-family recycling rate is only 27%, so there are great opportunities to further reduce that waste – 31% of the remainder are recyclable items, and 33% is compostable. Perhaps not surprisingly, diapers and pet waste are only 11% of the tons disposed of by multi-family households, with non-recyclables, appliances, and miscellaneous waste comprising most of the rest.
Seattle can be proud of our steady progress in reducing the total amount of waste we generate and in increasing the percentage of that waste we either recycle or compost. Economists have long assumed that waste generation increases with economic activity. Even discounting the impacts of the recession, Seattle has many more people and much more economic activity than it did 20 years ago. Seattle's performance, however, shows that frugality can coexist with strong economic performance – a key message for a sustainable future.
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FIRST TWO YEARS OF PARKS FOR ALL LEVY: DELIVERING ON THE PROMISES
The Parks and Green Spaces Levy Oversight Committee has completed a report on the first two years of work on the $146 million levy approved by the voters in 2008. The City's general fund has been strained by the recession, and the Parks Department is facing difficult challenges in keeping its operations going. However, the Levy is delivering a series of projects that in many cases reduces operations costs through renovation of existing facilities, in addition to acquiring and developing new open spaces for Seattle's future.
The Levy's renovations have become even more crucial in these difficult times, as some of these parks and facilities might have had to be closed for safety purposes or lack of adequate funding.
In 2009, eight major projects were completed, including renovation of four playgrounds and two playfields, along with wetland and entry improvements at Magnuson Park and beach restoration at Chinook Beach Park. In 2010, eleven projects were completed, including five playground renovations and three field renovations. The Seattle Children's PlayGarden project was also completed, a year round facility for children with special needs, as well as improvements to Queen Anne Boulevard and renovations at Camp Long.
These development projects not only provided new and improved spaces for Seattle residents to enjoy and reduced operating costs, they also provided jobs in design and construction, helping to cushion the effects of the recession.
Work began on in 2010 on the new Hubbard Homestead Park, which will convert a former park and ride lot at Northgate into a community urban park, as well as on the Sandel Playground.
Restoring forests and stream areas was a key part of the Levy program. Through 2010, levy funded programs deployed some 95,000 volunteer hours in restoring 126 acres in 70 p[arks across the City, removing invasive vegetation and planting seedlings and shrubs.
P-Patch Community Gardens
As I blogged about a few weeks ago, the levy's $2 million allocation for new community gardens has been leveraged through the use of City-owned land to develop some 16 new gardens, projected to add some 250 new plots. And less than half of the funds have been committed. Click here for more details.
New Open Space
As Seattle's population grows, it is crucial that we acquire open space before development drives up the cost and availability. So far, Levy funds have been used to acquire ten new properties, three neighborhood parks and seven additional green space properties.
The Council included $15 million in the Levy Opportunity Fund, designed to be available for new opportunities and citizen led projects that were perhaps a gleam in someone's eye when the Levy project list was created, or emerged as a new priority. More than 100 proposals were submitted to the Oversight Committee, and the Council has now approved the Committee's recommendations to allocate the first $7 million for 15 new projects, including Seattle's first Woonerf (a traffic calmed neighborhood street where pedestrians have priority), and two new community farms. Click here for more details.
Success for People – and Nature
Seattle's voters strongly supported the Parks Levy in 2008, in the throes of the first months of this recession. These investments in our future are being realized all over the City – 72 projects are completed or in process, with more to come in the remaining four years of the Levy. This is a great demonstration of our commitment to wonderful neighborhoods and a healthy environment.
Click here for a poster showing all of the projects completed and underway.
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THE SEATTLE 2030 DISTRICT
Mayor McGinn and the entire City Council have signed on to make the City a Founding Member of the Seattle 2030 District, an alliance of building owners, building industry professionals, utilities and local governments that are coming together to create a model high performance building district in downtown Seattle. The goal of the Seattle 2030 District is to reach the following targets by 2030:
- In existing buildings, reduce energy and water use by 50% below the national average.
- For new buildings and major renovations, reduce energy use by 60% and water use by 50% below the national average, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from auto and freight traffic within the District by 50% by 2030.
The City is committing to participate in this ambitious set of goals by:
- Investingin energy and water efficiency for City-owned facilities consistent with these goals.
- Sharing building information, best practices, and lessons learned.
- Using the Seattle 2030 District's assessment tools and technical assistance.
- Participating in the 2030 District Committee's decision making and mentoring other 2030 District members.
The existing and projected building stock is one of the largest generators of greenhouse gas emissions. It is also an area where Seattle has significant expertise and commitment. Through concepts like the Seattle 2030 District, this area can be a great opportunity to achieve significant greenhouse gas reductions relatively quickly, while at the same time saving money and improving our competitive economic position. This work will create jobs in Seattle and support an export strategy which can reap economic dividends by marketing Seattle's technical expertise in design, modeling, construction, and building operation.
The Seattle 2030 District is an innovation that is being pioneered by the private sector. The goal of the founders is to make the business case for sustainability by creating on-the-ground success stories that show how high-performance buildings are both technically feasible and economically profitable. The City can be an important partner in this effort, which will make a major contribution to our own carbon reduction strategy.
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CARBON NEUTRAL BLOG POST 12: CHOOSING GOOD TRAVEL
Increasing density is a key strategy for achieving carbon neutrality. However, it requires a significant level of effort and planning to ensure that dense neighborhoods include good schools, parks, public safety, and many other factors that make communities work. Dense communities reduce climate impacts through energy efficiency and conservation. They also can reduce transportation emissions and automobile use by bringing jobs, housing, recreation, and shopping in closer proximity and offering the opportunity to connect urban villages and centers via efficient transit and ped/bike systems.
But, while it is important to develop the transportation infrastructure and choices that help reduce automobile use and emissions, changing people's travel patterns and behavior requires a deeper understanding of how those choices are made as well as the social and cultural context for those decisions. Then the conditions that support change can be developed.
So, why do we travel? Our home to work commutes mimic many traditional cultural patterns, from the pattern of daily travel in settled villages surrounded by agricultural lands to seasonal migrations from lower to higher elevations or dry to wet areas (‘transhumance') that are characteristic of many cultures built around livestock. And even the poorest contemporary societies are linked by large numbers of overcrowded buses carrying people to and from market centers and on family visits. People like to travel, and mobility is a basic human drive. If we are going to positively affect people's travel choices to emphasize low-carbon options, we have to work with people's desires, not against them.
Approaches are sometimes developed with the intent to restructure how people travel or to criticize or penalize people for choices without creating the positive conditions that can develop new behavior. The intent should not be to stop people from traveling, but to create opportunities to minimize resource use and maximize energy efficiency. For example, strategies that reduce the amount of travel by making it easy to walk from home to work are great and will reap results (but we should understand that the benefits of these short trips and saved money may be invested in long-distance vacations).
A strategy that relies solely on penalizing mobility risks failure as people find a way to get around whatever restrictions are placed on them. Increasing the cost for parking in downtown Seattle can help to encourage people to choose different modes of travel. But it must be matched with convenient transportation alternatives and compelling reasons to go downtown. Only by making both alternative modes and the destination compelling can we count on people not choosing to drive to a shopping mall or workplace with free parking instead.
An effective strategy for reducing carbon emissions from must draw people to efficient modes by designing and funding systems that reflect people's needs and provide enticing options for change. Make transit and bike/ped routes safe, convenient, reliable and desirable – fashionable would be optimum. We can't assume that people will stay put – and the complexities of two-job couples and multiple-destination families ensure that not many people will be able to avoid using automobiles entirely.
Don't try to make people feel guilty about driving; rely on urban design to reduce trips as much as possible, and then on economic incentives and system design to draw them into the best choices for the trips they do take. And acknowledge that the private vehicle is going to be part of the equation, and that there will be a lot more people in our metropolitan area, so that even as we reduce per capita trips we will reduce total trips by a much smaller percentage. That means designing systems that will make automobile travel easy using efficient electric cars, but that will have significant disincentives to using cars when there are other possible alternatives available -- and making sure that there are lures to get people to use those alternatives.
Reshaping transportation choices is a long-range goal, and we cannot expect that change happens immediately. We need to assertively plan for the transition to a future that is not dependent on fossil fuels while acknowledging current patterns of behavior and providing for current economic and social needs. This will require some experimentation to find the best ways to move people efficiently as well as thoughtful planning to identify interim actions.
Effective strategies must be built around community engagement. They will only be embraced if they embody a shared understanding of the challenges and an appreciation of our common needs. The approach must emphasize hope, convenience, and community, not fear and penalty. Riding the bus must not only be good for the planet, easy, and good for the pocketbook – it should also be a fun way to travel as you join the bus rider community. For a climate strategy that works we must accept our desire to be mobile, acknowledge the limitations of our natural environment, and take creative steps that help people choose change because they want to!
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"The peculiar willingness of American families to accept, at a time of 9.2 percent unemployment, that our real problem is the need to cut government spending to balance the budget can only be explained as a classic example of magical thinking (I'm an anthropologist, I know magical thinking when I see it): perhaps if we can balance our collective budget, I will be able to balance my family's budget too."
-- David Graeber
"We got our eyes on the firmament,
Hands on the armaments,
Heads full of arguments,
And words for our monuments"
-- From "Progress" by Midnight Oil (note: Peter Garrett, the lead singer of Midnight Oil, has served as Minister in the Labor government in Australia since 2008, first for the environment and now for education)
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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