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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
URBAN AGRICULTURE BUSINESS FORUM AT CITY HALL MONDAY 9/19 4 PM
Calling all current and future urban agriculture businesses! Do you wonder about permitting and zoning issues that affect urban food production? Do you know that there are business services available to help "grow" your business? Ever wonder how other small sectors have developed? Then join us for an URBAN AGRICULTURE BUSINESS FORUM, September 19, 2011, 4:00-6:00pm, Bertha Knight Landes Room, Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Avenue.
- Share information about city services and programs available to urban ag
- Share information about policies and regulations impacting urban ag
- Discuss development strategies used by other growing sectors citywide
- Strategize around the next steps needed for promoting urban agriculture and its unique needs
Connect with representatives from the Office of Economic Development, Department of Planning and Development, Department of Neighborhoods and the P-Patch Program, Seattle Department of Transportation, Public Health – Seattle & King County, and Washington State University Extension.
RSVP by Wednesday, September 14. Please indicate if you will need interpretation or other accommodations. Contact Eva Ringstrom at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or call Councilmember Richard Conlin's office at 206-684-8805.
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SAVING SEATTLE'S BUS SERVICE -- SUCCESS FOR THE NEXT TWO YEARS!
On Monday, August 15, the King County Council approved a two-year, $20 Vehicle License Fee (VLF) that will allow Metro Transit to avoid a potential cut of 600,000 annual hours – the equivalent of all Metro service to the Eastside or all of its Night and Weekend Service. This staves off disaster for two years, but still leaves much work to do in the long run.
Great credit goes to County Executive Dow Constantine for managing this crisis and negotiating an agreement with two Republican County Councilmembers that allows the County Council to secure the needed supermajority required by State Law. Metro managed to find ways to keep funding bus service for two years since the recession, but their options have run out, and Metro published a list of the bus routes that would have to be cut or reduced if this resource were not made available. Seattle worked in concert with King County to secure legislative approval for this temporary fix, although we were unable to prevent the legislature from requiring the supermajority vote to make it happen.
But what about the long run? If we are going to have the kind of transit service that we need, we must not only maintain, but expand, Metro bus service, the basic and widespread service that carries the vast majority of transit riders around the County. Our consultant report on Climate Neutral Seattle calls for a 5% increase in bus service each year for the foreseeable future. Meeting our growth management goals and keeping our economy moving in the face of rising oil prices and congestion requires expanded transit service as well.
Seattle and other King County municipalities must work hard in Olympia during the next legislative session to ensure that major new transit funding is included in a statewide transportation package likely to go to voters in 2012. And we must convince the voters that the package merits approval. Otherwise we fall back into transit crisis mode again in 2013. Fortunately, there is some good news in planning for Metro's future --
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SAVING SEATTLE'S BUS SERVICE -- FRAMEWORK FOR THE LONG TERM
On July 11, the King County Council unanimously approved a major revision to the County's transit strategic plan. This revision, which was developed by a group of stakeholders convened by Executive Constantine know as the Regional Transit Task Force (RTTF) changed the system for allocating bus service around the County from one based on arbitrary percentages to a system based on productivity, social equity, and geographic value.
For ten years, transit decisions were mired in conflict between Seattle and suburban areas after the suburban representatives on the Regional Transit Committee pushed through a formula for allocating new bus service called '40-40-20', which allocated only 20% of new service to Seattle in favor of expanding service in the rest of the County. The rationale for this formula was that Seattle had some 60% of existing service, but only provided about 40% of Metro revenues, which suburban representatives argued was unfair.
The problem with this reasoning is that the routes in Seattle generally have much higher ridership, as Seattle has been a much more transit-friendly environment than much of the rest of the County. So, this formula could have led to running mostly empty buses outside of Seattle while Seattle riders continued to suffer from overcrowded buses falling behind schedule.
Three things changed since this formula was adopted:
- There has been a growing awareness that government must operate in a more efficient manner. 40-40-20 smacked of congressional earmarks – allocating service based on political clout rather than serving the public.
- As growth management strategies have been implemented, many suburban areas have become more like Seattle – transit friendly, denser neighborhoods – and many have become more like Seattle in their diversity of cultures, incomes, and need for transit.
- Seattle has reached out to these suburban areas to build coalitions around common and regional interests, and we have emphasized the commonalities that we share and broken down the 'city-suburban' stereotype that is no longer true.
The combination of these factors with the steady and innovative leadership of Executive Constantine resulted in the RTTF coming to a unanimous agreement to discard 40-40-20 and to institute a new set of policies based around productivity of routes and need for transit service. Getting the unanimous consent of the County Council was an extraordinary victory for good government and rational decision making around transit.
Special kudos goes to the Seattle representative on the RTTF, Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who patiently and persistently built relationships and coalitions around this set of rational ideas. Other Councilmembers played our part by reaching out to suburban Mayors and Councils and carrying our arguments to those regional partners. And the Council demonstrated its willingness to be a good partner in decision making around issues like the SR 520 Project, where we forged an agreement with the Eastside that will rebuild this aging bridge while delivering better transit service throughout the corridor.
A great success! And this positions us well for going to Olympia and the voters in 2012 to get new funding sources that make sense so that we can keep Metro service going after the two-year fix of the $20 car tab approved on August 15 expires.
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DECISION TIME COMING ON DUWAMISH SUPERFUND CLEANUP
The four major parties involved in completing technical studies of the cleanup program for the Duwamish Superfund site (King County, City of Seattle, Port of Seattle, and the Boeing Company) have submitted their comments on cleanup strategies to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), which will now select a final cleanup plan. The four parties, known as the Lower Duwamish Waterway Group (LDWG), have been implementing early action cleanup projects and conducting scientific studies for ten years.
The menu of alternatives under consideration range from extensive dredging to capping contaminated sediments and a series of mix-and-match options in between. LDWG is recommending that EPA develop a strategy that combines the best approaches for each area of the River to meet the following three key objectives:
- Reduce health risks to people as quickly as possible;
- Reduce cleanup construction impacts to neighborhoods, businesses, and the environment by completing construction within 5 years;
- Minimize uncertainty and ensure a permanent and effective cleanup.
The strategy would include:
- Focusing on the areas with the worst contamination first;
- Using a limited amount of dredging, only for the most contaminated areas, so that less pollution will be stirred up from the sediment;
- Adding carbon to bottom mud, which will rapidly lower the level of contaminants in fish and shellfish;
- Relying on "natural recovery", allowing cleaner sediment to settle naturally in the river in areas where this might be successful, while monitoring and reserving the option of dredging such areas if this does not succeed;
- Keeping options flexible and preserving uses, while moving as rapidly as possible in order to achieve the goal of completing major work within 5 years;
- Accelerating several studies needed for cleanup design, so cleanup can start faster.
USEPA will now take this recommendation into account, along with input from the public, businesses, and organizations, and will decide on a proposed plan in early 2012, which will then go out for a final round of public comment.
The challenge of finding a way to clean up this busy site – with a dozen or so salmonid runs passing through every year – is extraordinary. The cleanup elements identified by LDWG, combined with work to reduce upstream recontamination, offers a path that is innovative, rapid, and draws on experience with adaptive management to provide flexibility. As with any plan, there will be challenges in ensuring that it meets all public objectives in the best possible manner. There are no perfect or easy solutions for these kinds of problems.
In the interim, the LDWG partners have completed or are completing a series of early action projects that address sites that may become a threat to people or the environment before the full cleanup can be completed. The City-led cleanup of Slip 4 is starting this October.
The City has also entered into an innovative agreement with a company called Bluefield Holdings. Bluefield Holdings plans to create habitat improvements in the Duwamish that can contribute to environmental restoration before, during, and after cleanup activities. Cleaning up the pollution is one side of the problem – restoring the ecosystems is the other side, and both tasks must be accomplished in order to have the Duwamish River truly revitalized. Bluefield Holdings finances these restoration projects, and then plans to sell the credits to those responsible for Duwamish contamination, who are also responsible for Natural Resources Damage Assessments (NRDA) settlements. Jump-starting ecological restoration by using the flexibility and expertise of a private company is a creative complement to the cleanup work and will go a long way towards achieving our long range goals for this important natural resource.
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MAGNUSON PARK - CAN A PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP WORK FOR BUILDING 11?
On Monday, August 8, the Council approved a proposed revision to the lease agreement for Building 11 at Magnuson Park, but the investors who are currently renovating the building under a 30-year lease with the City have publicly stated that they will not sign the new agreement – and have filed suit against the City.
The investors initiated the process to revise the lease in order to take advantage of historic preservation tax credits that will help them in financing the seismic retrofit and other building improvements. However, in reviewing the proposed new lease, the Council received a great deal of input from the community and decided that the revisions should include substantially improved public benefits, which presumably makes the revised lease less attractive to the investors.
The investors could have proceeded with the renovations under their current lease. They would not get the improved financial package, and the public would not get the additional benefits. Alternatively, they could have decided to sign the new lease after all, concluding (as the Council did) that the new terms still are financially workable for them. Or they could terminate the relationship by walking away from the project. Right now they have chosen litigation, although the other outcomes remain possibilities, depending on the outcome in the courts.
How did we get into this difficult situation? And how can we prevent such situations from happening in the future?
Magnuson Park has long been a challenging project for the City. When the City acquired the Sand Point Naval Air Station after the federal government declared it to be surplus, there were many competing visions for what would happen. Ultimately, the City approved a plan that converted most of it to parkland, with a mix of active and passive recreation and restored ecosystems. Some of the buildings were converted to low income housing. Many of the large buildings – especially the former hangers – are in very bad shape and require extensive renovation in order to be used safely. The City has gradually worked out ways to manage most of the office buildings, mainly by leasing them to nonprofits such as the Mountaineers and Cascade Bicycle Club. However, several challenging buildings remain, including Building 11.
Building 11 is a long, low building with some 58,000 feet of floor space. It requires $8-11 million in renovations to be fully usable. Some of the space has been occupied by water dependent uses such as Sail Sand Point, and a number of artists have also rented space in the building.
Because the City could not afford to renovate and operate the building, in 2008 the City approved an agreement with private investors. The agreement included a number of provisions to protect the public interest, including requiring water depended uses to be retained, and it allowed the investors to manage and rent the renovated building. The investors have taken possession of the building and begun issuing subleases under the terms of the 2008 agreement.
While the investors submitted a financing package showing that they could manage the renovation under the terms of the 2008 agreement, last year they approached the City with a proposal to revise the agreement so that they could get a more favorable financing package. As the Council reviewed this proposal, Councilmembers heard from community members who suggested that the 2008 agreement was too favorable to the investors and did not provide enough benefits to the City. Ultimately, the Council agreed with this, and Councilmember Bagshaw, as Chair of the Parks Committee, entered into negotiations to craft a new version of the lease. Unfortunately, as noted above, these negotiations ultimately broke down, and the future fate of Building 11 is now uncertain.
There are some lessons to be learned from this experience:
- While Councilmember Bagshaw did an incredible job in working on this issue, it really doesn't work well for the Council to renegotiate an agreement that the Executive has already signed off on. When a public-private partnership was under consideration for the Aquarium, the Council passed a resolution prior to the negotiations commencing delineating the major areas we wanted covered in the agreement. We may need to take such a path more often.
- Our standards for public benefit coming from public-private partnerships need to be clearer. We should develop a policy framework for defining what we are looking for.
- Redeveloping the buildings at Magnuson Park will continue to be a significant problem, and the City should create a more detailed long-range plan to how to manage the remaining buildings, what we intend to do with them, and how renovations will be financed.
We should never waste a good crisis. Our goal should be to turn the struggle over Building 11 into a learning experience that informs future decision making.
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TUNNEL PROJECT FUNDS SEATTLE STREET REPAIRS
In an entertaining twist to the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project saga, the tunnel project has wound up funding Seattle street repairs. The Seattle City Council has approved legislation authorizing the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to spend an additional $3 million this year on street maintenance and repairs.
The money came to the City as a result of the State's purchase of a piece of property owned by the Seattle Department of Transportation. The property is colloquially known as the "Rubble Yard", because it has been used to store paving materials such as crushed stone that are used for street repair. The property is adjacent to the north portal for the Alaskan Way Tunnel, and will be used as a construction staging area by the State.
These added funds will greatly expand the street maintenance and repair program, boosting project funding by some 33 percent in 2011 and eliminating the need to lay off 21 street maintenance workers. While some of this will be used to fill the proliferation of potholes, most of it is being used for longer term repairs, such as replacing concrete panels and repaving deteriorated asphalt streets. While pothole repairs are important short-term steps, these more substantial repairs will address a number of major problems that are more serious than potholes, and will provide fixes that will last for many years.
One of the earliest projects, which was highlighted at the news conference at which the Mayor and Council announced this funding, was replacing concrete panels that had caved in on MLK Jr., Way South adjacent to Barnett Park. Letting this street crumble further could lead to significant problems for vehicles and bicycles that travel this section, and eventually would likely require an even more expensive fix in the future.
I have been working for years to secure funding to maintain Seattle's streets and bridges. An era of neglect that began in the 1970's has only just begun to be turned around – with the first major new maintenance funding coming in 2006, when voters approved the Bridging the Gap (BTG) property tax levy. This levy was proposed by the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee II (CTAC II), which I convened shortly after becoming Chair of the Transportation Committee in 2002.
Unfortunately, while BTG funding has repaired a number of bridges and roadway structures and has halted the steep decline in our street system conditions, it has not been enough of a boost to completely turn the situation around. That's why these kinds of additional infusions are necessary.
SDOT had been about to lay off 21 street maintenance workers prior to this funding decision, because of decreasing gas tax revenues. I asked SDOT to stop the layoffs pending approval of this additional funding, and I am pleased to be able to report that these 21 skilled and experienced employees will continue to do this important work, thanks to this action.
These funds will help keep crucial street repairs on schedule for this year. The City still faces a major challenge in finding new sources of revenue to fully address the maintenance of our street network. This is one reason that the Council is currently considering submitting to the voters in November a Vehicle License Fee proposal as one more source of funds for these critical projects.
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BRINGING HEALTHY FOOD TO CORNER STORES
Access to fresh fruit and vegetables is one of the key limiting factors preventing people from choosing a more healthy diet. If you can't get fresh produce in your neighborhood store, it is really hard to incorporate it into your meals. Using funding from the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health and the Seattle Office of Economic Development have come up with an innovative approach to getting fresh produce into corner stores – and they are succeeding in making community change happen.
For most of us, getting fresh produce is not a problem, since we shop at large stores that routinely carry fruits and vegetables. But there are neighborhoods where people don't have access to large grocery stores, and where most people shop at small corner stores where produce is not a well-stocked item. The people who lack access to fresh food tend to be lower income, and often do not have access to cars, making travel out of their neighborhood challenging even if they want to shop elsewhere.
Around the country, a lot of energy has been put into bringing grocery stores to such neighborhoods. But that only works if the grocery stores can sell enough to justify the store's location, and quite often they have already done that analysis and have no interest in opening a store in a low income community with a small customer base.
So city staff have been working to understand why small stores do not carry produce and to help overcome the barriers to doing so. Here's some of what they have found:
- Displaying and marketing fresh produce makes a huge difference. In one store, fresh food was relegated to a corner, and the owner was selling only $50/week, while much produce was rotting on the shelves and being discarded. With a better display, produce began 'flying off the shelves', and store sales increased to $200/week. The owner made more money and people got better food.
- Other stores have been helped to get refrigeration, which makes them more able to carry produce without major losses to spoilage.
- Another technique is to assist store owners in seeing fresh produce as a way to get people to shop at their stores more often – produce can be a loss leader that is made up for when people buy other products.
- "Shelf talkers" – display signs that attract customers to particular items, are not a familiar technique for many corner stores, but can make a huge difference. Staff has also encouraged store owners to remove 'free' such signs provided by the vendors of unhealthy foods.
- Stores serving immigrant communities find that their customers are not familiar or interested in the fresh produce that most wholesalers offer – they are looking for the produce that they are used to and know how to use in their cooking. The program helps these stores connect with wholesalers who are able to supply culturally appropriate produce. The quality of the relationship with the vendor is a key to successful transactions, and bridging cultural gaps can be an important tool in making this relationship work.
- The relationship between wholesalers and retailers in the American economy is traditionally built around the provision of credit, but many other traditions rely on 'cash and carry'. Credit systems are particularly problematic in the Islamic tradition, where sharia law places restrictions on the use of credit and the payment of interest. There are ways to structure the credit relationship that is compatible with sharia principles, but that requires discussion and communication, and that is again something that our staff can facilitate.
It's not easy to get healthy food to all of our communities. The pathways are complex, and it all depends on understanding how communities and businesses work, and on bringing people together to work through the obstacles. The Healthy Corner Store program is an innovative and creative approach that is working. For more information, go to http://www.seattle.gov/economicdevelopment/business_assist.htm#HFH or https://catalyst.uw.edu/workspace/skt8/14501/81114.
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FIRST STEP TOWARDS ANNEXING 'SLIVER ON THE RIVER'
On Monday, August 1, the Seattle City took the first step towards annexing a small area of South Park adjacent to the South Park Bridge, known colloquially as the 'Sliver on the River', by identifying a future Comprehensive Plan amendment that would designate it as Potential Annexation Area (PAA). The 'sliver' is surrounded by the Seattle community of South Park, and across the Duwamish from the Georgetown neighborhood. It has a few dozen residents and businesses, notably the County Line Tavern.
So why is this area not part of Seattle? Seattle proposed to annex it in 1965, as part of a plan to rezone the entire South Park community to industrial. Understandably, the then 1500 or so residents were not happy with that proposal, which was resoundingly defeated. Since then, the issue has languished largely because of the deterioration of the South Park Bridge – and the complexities of our American system of local governance.
The South Park Bridge is owned jointly by King County and the City of Tukwila, even though most of the adjacent land (except for the 'sliver') is in the City of Seattle. As the need to replace the bridge became evident, the City feared being stuck for the cost of replacement. City officials reasoned that King County had let the bridge decay, and should lead the replacement of the Bridge rather than foisting the responsibility off on the City. And there the situation lingered, as the bridge continued to fall apart.
A few years ago there was a breakthrough in discussions, when the City and County agreed to support placing the South Park Bridge replacement in the 2007 Roads and Transit package. If that had passed, we would have a new South Park Bridge in place, and the City would have proceeded with annexation. Unfortunately, it failed, and the bridge problem festered until it was closed for safety reasons, which galvanized City, County, and State to put together a package that funded the replacement. See my blog posts for more information on the South Park Bridge replacement: South Park Bridge Agreement Approved and City Council pledges $15 million for South Park Bridge.
While this removes the major obstacle to annexation, there is still the question of who maintains the new bridge. The City will negotiate that with the County prior to proceeding with annexation of the 'sliver', but that is much more modest obstacle than the replacement project. We are confident that an amicable settlement can be reached.
The Council wants to make sure that this is given priority, and to signal our clear intentions to finally resolve this. That's why we initiated the proposal for designation as a PAA.
That is, however, only the first step. The actual Comprehensive Plan amendment has to be formally adopted (in early 2012), and then the negotiations have to be completed with the County. Only after that can the formal annexation proceed.
Even though there are still a lot of hoops to go through, I am very pleased that the Council is taking the initiative to get this process started. The people of the South Park business and residential communities have gone through a traumatic time with the bridge closure, but have also been working hard and successfully with the City since the South Park Neighborhood Plan was adopted in 1998 to improve the neighborhood and build a stronger relationship between South Park and the City of Seattle. The City has responded with significant investments, including a new library and other actions to support economic and community vitality. It's time we brought the whole community together in the City of Seattle so that we can take the next steps to make this great vibrant neighborhood even more vibrant in the future.
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The City is what it is because our citizens are what they are.
When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy, I always remind myself that it could be worse. I could be a mayor.
-- Lyndon Johnson
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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