MAKING IT WORK
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COUNCIL BEGINS WORK ON LIBRARY LEVY
On Monday, December 19, the Council unanimously adopted Resolution 31345, setting forth a structure, process and schedule to consider placing a Library Levy on the August 7, 2012 ballot for funding to be used in combination with existing City funding for Library operations and major maintenance. This is the start of a four month process to consider a levy ordinance, but is the culmination of two years of work on trying to find ways to fully support the Seattle Public Library (SPL) given the City's current budget dilemma.
The people of Seattle have demonstrated their affection and commitment to the public library system. Seattle is known as a city of readers – usually vying with Minneapolis as the most literate city in the United States. In 1998, voters gave overwhelming approval (69%) to the largest library bond issue in the history of the US. Those bonds replaced, expanded, or renovated every building in the library system, and added several new library branches in underserved areas of the City. The library bonds were structured to be paid off over time, but with most of the payments taking place in the first ten years.
Attending the openings of renovated or new library branches has been one of the most fun aspects of being on the Council. At every opening, hundreds of people waited outside the door and surged into the library to see what it looked like and welcome the reopening.
But library buildings can only serve the community if they have librarians, books and other materials, computers, and funds for building maintenance. And the problem is that, even while the Seattle Public Library has been on the cutting edge of new technology and innovative service delivery, the City budget has lagged behind in our ability support library services. Despite the importance of libraries, they have a hard time competing with public safety and human service programs when budgets are tight. And, because of the Eyman initiative limiting the growth of the City's property tax collections to 1% per year without a public vote (far behind inflation and population growth), when a recession hits the City has had to cut library budgets despite our interest and support for library services.
In the 2002-2004 recession, library hours and collection budgets were cut and libraries were closed for two weeks a year. While the Council restored much of the cuts in succeeding years, we were never able to get to an optimum level of funding. Then the 2008 recession hit, and again there were staff and collection budget cuts and a one week annual closure. With 2013-2014 budgets looking very challenging, any additional cuts would require the closure of branches.
Recognizing this, in 2009, the Council approved a Statement of Legislative Intent (SLI) asking the Seattle Public Library to research several possible alternative sources of funding, including the possibility of creating a Library District like King County has, which would take library services off the City's general fund. However, it turns out that the City is precluded by state law from having a Library District, and SPL reported back that the most feasible option would be to go to the voters for a levy that would support part of the library's services and take pressure off the City's general fund. In 2010, the Council adopted this report and asked SPL to develop a proposal for an outreach and development plan that could lead to a 2012 library levy.
As a result of this careful and methodical process, we are now ready to take the next steps and go to the public to ask them what such a levy should include. Our goal is not only to restore the services that have been cut back due to budget constraints, but to also include funding for a new standard of excellence and service. We anticipate that this will require between $10 and $20 million annually, and have asked SPL to give us a range of options and identify what the public is most interested in seeing.
Seattle Public Library held community meetings in January to provide an overview of library use and discuss options for improving customer service in the four essential service areas: collections, library hours, computer access, and building. For more information on the community meetings, or to comment on the library's future, visit www.spl.org and select "Libraries for All: A Plan for the Present, A Foundation for the Future," or call 206-386-4636.
The Council expects to consider SPL's report and begin considering specific levy proposals in March, and to vote on a final proposal in mid-April. We are looking forward to finding a way to ensure great library services for all of Seattle.
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PLANNING, LAND USE, AND SUSTAINABILITY COMMITTEE
On January 9 the Council adopted its new Committee structure for 2012-2013. I will Chair a Committee we have named Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS). My committee will work on legislation relating to land use and urban planning, as well as overseeing the Office of Sustainability and Environment and the Office of Emergency Management.
I have identified the following nine priorities for planning and land use:
- Develop Transit Communities Policies/Advance Neighborhood Plans. The City adopted a set of Station Area Plans in 2000, which were designed to prevent auto-oriented development around the light rail station areas. Since then we have developed an enhanced understanding of the role of Transit Oriented Development (TOD), we have new light rail areas coming online, and there is a new interest in considering TOD on major bus corridors in addition to rail corridors. The recent debate over the Roosevelt station area rezones demonstrated how important it is to give clear guidelines to neighborhoods about what TOD means and how it can be best achieved. My goal is to develop those guidelines and have them adopted by the Council.
While we are developing the policy approach, it is also important that we move forward on the plans that are already in process. That includes ensuring that the Capitol Hill, University District, Rainier Valley, and Roosevelt station areas have strong TOD on sites owned by Sound Transit. It also means moving zoning proposals from existing neighborhood plan updates in Othello, North Rainier, and Beacon Hill through the Council, ensuring that the Rainier Beach and Bitter Lake plan updates continue to progress, and launching a neighborhood plan review in the University District, the only Urban Center that has not had its plan updated.
- Create an Industrial Development District. Business, labor, and community organizations are working with the City to create an Industrial Development District that will encourage new industrial jobs through coordinated development, regulatory flexibility, and complementary environmental infrastructure.
- Move Yesler Terrace redevelopment forward, and include District Energy. The Yesler Terrace legislation will be considered in a Committee of the Whole Chaired by incoming Council President Sally Clark. My Committee will play a support role, and will have the leading responsibility for working towards a District Energy plan for Yesler Terrace as part of our overall work on District Energy strategies. The Yesler Terrace redevelopment is a remarkable opportunity to create a strong mixed use and mixed income community adjacent to downtown – with assurance that low income housing will be maintained and possibly expanded.
- Advance the Vision Duwamish Plan. As I wrote last month, we have a great opportunity to leverage the Duwamish Superfund cleanup to make the River a more integral part of Seattle, improve the residential communities adjacent to the Duwamish, and stimulate ecologically responsible industry in order to create jobs, amenities, environmental restoration and community vitality in the Duwamish valley.
- Develop coordination policies for Transfer of Development Rights (TDR), other similar transfer policies, and incentive zoning. The City has put in place a number of different policies that require developers to either purchase development rights and/or include affordable housing under an incentive zoning policy. We have a great opportunity to implement a new TDR program with King County to protect farmland that supplies Seattle's farmers markets. These programs should be coordinated and integrated to ensure maximum success.
- Adopt new Shoreline Management Program (SMP) regulations. The City is required to update our SMP by the state, and proposals have already gone through several drafts. I expect the final proposal to come to Council in the first few months of 2012. I will work to ensure that the new regulations compliment our efforts to create Industrial Development District projects that are located on our waterways.
- Develop new tree regulations with an emphasis on incentives and forests. We have been debating how to enhance Seattle's tree cover for several years. It is time to move forward with a new tree code that emphasizes the environmental value of trees, especially in groves and forests that function well ecologically. My goal is to focus on incentives that will lead to more tree cover.
- Update energy code and green building policies. Seattle continues to be in the forefront of energy code and green building policy development, and we are now pioneering Living Buildings that are net zero energy users. We should continue to push the envelope on these policies, encouraging creativity and commitment in property owners.
- Advance a Regulatory Reform Package. A set of proposals developed by a stakeholder committee was brought to the Council last September. With most of the fall taken up with budget work, there was not time to consider these in 2011. I hope to take them up early in 2012 and take action on those elements that will effectively coordinate regulations to maximize community value and minimize unnecessary process.
- Find ways to get unreinforced masonry (URM) buildings renovated to earthquake standards. The Pacific Rim earthquakes of the last several years should have given us a new sense of urgency about our built environment. The 800 or so URM buildings in Seattle are the most vulnerable to earthquake damage, and we must find a way that is affordable for property owners to renovate them.
In addition to these priorities, there are numerous other pieces of land use legislation that will come to the Committee, and we will also continue to work to improve our emergency preparedness. Our oversight of the Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE) will include continuing my office's work on food issues, which will now be located in OSE, along with the urban forest and district energy. Councilmember Mike O'Brien, who will be taking on the Committee that oversees Seattle City Light, will also be the Council lead on climate neutrality and the Community Power Works energy retrofit program, which are also part of OSE.
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COUNCIL GOES TO OLYMPIA ON MLK DAY
On MLK Day, January 16th, a group of Councilmembers braved the threatening weather and trekked to Olympia for our first visit of the session. Led by Council President Sally Clark, Councilmembers Tom Rasmussen, Sally Bagshaw, and I joined our Office of Intergovernmental Relations staff and split up to visit some two dozen legislators to talk about how we can work together and to review some of the issues that are of highest concern to Seattle.
We focused on the priorities of our Legislative Agenda: mitigating and adapting to the impact of State budget cuts, with a special emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable through funding for human services, public health, and other critical areas such as the Housing Trust Fund; supporting funding for education; finding ways to encourage jobs and promote economic development; and supporting public safety and ensuring the fiscal health of local governments. We also talked with legislators about funding for transportation, most importantly long- term funding for Metro bus services, but also for major projects such as SR 520 and more flexible resources for local transportation priorities. Our core messages were:
- We want to be partners in working with the legislature to find ways to address the State's budget problems; we will support efforts to close revenue loopholes and find new sources of revenues.
- The City's budget is also stretched, with little ability to raise revenues, and we are likely to have to pick up the problems when state services are cut.
- So we asked that the legislature be mindful of these realities when considering reducing funding that cities receive from the State. If there are specific responsibilities that are transferred from State to local government, give us the authority to raise revenues to fund them ("no devolution without revenue authority").
We were also there to carry our message of concern about the Governor's proposal to transfer the responsibility for collecting local cities' Business and Occupation (B&O) taxes to the State. Our analysis shows that this would cost the State a significant amount of funds to develop the software, that the benefits of centralization to businesses are much more limited than has been suggested, and that there are significant downside risks for cities if the proposed legislation is adopted, potentially in the $20 to $40 million range annually for Seattle.
We received a warm reception from the legislators that we met with. The continued outreach that we are doing (and that I expanded through my Seattle for Washington initiative as Council President (insert link)), has made Seattle much more welcome in the legislature than we have been in earlier times. There will always be issues that we have disagreements about and challenges in reaching our goals, but the relationship has changed, and that can make a huge difference in how we work these out so that Seattle's interests and those of the State can be brought into harmony as often as possible.
Councilmembers will keep visiting Olympia during the session on specific issues. We will also send another group of Councilmembers down on President's Day to keep building relationships and to focus in on the issues that will be most significant as the legislature moves into the key decision making time at the end of the 60 day session. By then, we should have a good idea as to what critical issues from our legislative agenda will be most timely and where we will have the best opportunity for successful advocacy.
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MY TOP TEN LIST FOR 2011
2011 was the last of my four years as Council President. In 2012, I will Chair the Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee, while Councilmember Sally Clark will become President for 2012-2013. As President, my goals have been:
- To build a strong and assertive Council that works to create a more just and sustainable Seattle.
- To ensure that all Councilmembers have the tools and opportunities they need in order to succeed, individually and collectively.
- To be open and transparent, to communicate with the people of Seattle and with each other, to deliberate and to express different points of view openly and honestly, and to make decisions that exercise our best judgment to keep the City on course for a better future.
- To set and achieve common goals for the Council and to develop strategies for working together, resolving conflicts, and reaching consensus where possible.
I'm proud of my success in meeting those goals as President. I also worked on many substantive issues during the last year, and here are my top ten achievements for 2011:
- Worked to restore Seattle's economy by leading Council adoption of an Economic Development policy and implementation of the recommended policy initiatives, including formalizing the OED Business Advocacy Team, securing Department cooperation in Permit Consolidation Work (leading to a pilot project in 2012), and getting legislation approved to create an Economic Development Commission.
- Led the Council in working to replace SR 520, including securing an agreement with the State to implement City recommendations for mitigation and design improvements and negotiating a Mayor-Council agreement on a Memorandum of Understanding with the State.
- Secured Council adoption of legislation formally approving the goal of making Seattle Carbon Neutral by 2050, along with a work plan to achieve that.
- As a member of the Sound Transit Board, served on negotiating team with Bellevue, leading to approval for East Link route; assisted Sound Transit in securing a TIGER 3 grant for South Link; advanced work on University Link and North Link, including Transit Oriented Development in station areas.
- Led the Council through continued work on the SR 99 Tunnel/Waterfront; our successful work was recognized by the voters in the August 16 vote to endorse the tunnel project.
- Implemented the Seattle for Washington and Regional Outreach projects, leading to significant legislative/regional achievements and greatly improved relationships with regional and state leaders; with the support of the Association of Washington Cities, I was elected to the Board of the National League of Cities.
- Advanced earthquake preparedness through Council review and work plan development, and secured funding to begin a recovery plan for Seattle and to develop a regulations/incentive program to retrofit unreinforced masonry buildings.
- Worked with Council, Library, and Executive to create Library Levy process for 2012.
- Sponsored legislation to approve an interlocal agreement with King County to advance the reconstruction of the South Park Bridge, and began process to annex South Park sliver and Bridge.
- Continued progress on the Local Food Action Initiative, including launching the Seattle Farm Bill Principles and securing their adoption by the Council and the National League of Cities; ensuring that healthy eating is supported in the Families and Education Levy as an important element in ensuring student success; winning approval for restoration of P-Patch staff and Lettuce Link funding in the 2012 budget process; working with the Board of Health to adopt healthy food guidelines for vending machines, and incorporate those standards in Parks vending machine contracts; developing a business directory of urban agriculture-related businesses in Seattle, assisting in creating an urban agriculture business association, and working to meeting the needs of emerging businesses; working with immigrants, refugees, and the Seattle Housing Authority to operate a community supported agriculture farm and farm stands at two public housing sites;
identifying opportunities to expand economic activity, marketing, and jobs in the local food economy; securing Council passage of a resolution to develop a Transfer of Development Rights program to protect farmland in King County that provides produce for Seattle's farmers markets; adding policies addressing food production, access, distribution, and consumption to the Comprehensive Plan and Transportation Strategic Plan; advancing development of a new P-Patch Strategic Plan, to address demand for community gardens and plan for P-Patch role in urban agriculture, and securing 13 new community gardens under the 2008 Parks Levy; Chairing the Regional Food Policy Council and securing funding for the Council; securing adoption by the Growth Management Planning Council of Healthy Communities Guidelines as part of the Countywide Planning Policies.
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WEST SEATTLE TRANSPORTATION PRIORITIES
The project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct is already having a major impact on transportation around West Seattle. The construction detours have made it more challenging to access downtown – on the other hand, the City's work on the Spokane Street Viaduct, specifically the new 4th Avenue ramp, has helped to mitigate that. When the whole Spokane Street project is finished, in the summer of 2012, access will be improved. However, detours around the Viaduct replacement will continue in various forms for several more years.
But that is only one of the critical transportation issues that West Seattle residents and businesses are concerned with. Last March, the West Seattle Chamber brought together a group of them to identify priorities for transportation in West Seattle.
In 1999, seven neighborhoods in West Seattle developed a coordinated transportation action agenda (Admiral, Delridge, Morgan Junction, West Seattle Junction, Westwood/Highland Park, Alki, and Fauntleroy). That agenda, in turn, was incorporated and referenced in the five neighborhoods that developed neighborhood plans (all of the above but Alki and Fauntleroy). These recommendations guided the City's work to improve the Spokane Street Viaduct, press Sound Transit and Metro Transit for more bus service and express bus service, support the Water Taxi, improve neighborhood circulation for pedestrians and bicycles, and improve the Fauntleroy, Delridge, and California corridors. Significant progress was made on all of these recommendations, and some of them have been fully implemented. The plan also recommended constructing a monorail to West Seattle,
but that fell apart when the Seattle Monorail Project proved to be unable to manage its financial and planning problems and the voters repealed its authority.
The new plan outlines detailed recommendations for twelve specific corridors/intersections, along with four pedestrian improvements at signalized intersections. Reconfiguring 35th Avenue SW to make it safer for pedestrians, bicycles, and motor vehicles is identified as the highest priority. Other high priorities are repaving and upgrading Delridge Way SW, California Way SW, and the RapidRide Line corridor. Second tier priorities include:
- repaving Beach Drive SW
- upgrading pedestrian facilities on SW Genesee Street
- improving and widening SW Oregon Street between Delridge and 16th
- figuring out how to make the Spokane/Chelan/Marginal Way/Lower Spokane/Delridge Way intersection work better for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit, and freight
- Improving the Delridge/Andover, Avalon/Genesee, 16th/Holden, and 47th/Admiral intersections to support freight and pedestrian movement.
This is a great set of transportation priorities for the City to work on implementing. They are thoughtful, doable, and, while there will be some significant costs, do not require extensive new resources. West Seattle is meeting its growth targets, and the City is implementing many improvements to support West Seattle neighborhoods.
Generally, the City has implemented almost all of the significant recommendations made in its 37 neighborhood plans, with the exception of a number of the proposed transportation improvements, which have been difficult to fund. West Seattle has done well in securing funding for those recommended in 1999, and the City should take these new recommendations very seriously and work with West Seattle to develop an implementation strategy.
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CLIMATE NEUTRAL BLOG POST 16: THE INTERSECTION OF FOOD AND CLIMATE
As I noted in an earlier post in this series, the food system and agriculture generate somewhere between 15% and 20% of America's carbon emissions (depending on the study and what it counts). American food travels an average of 1500 miles from farm to plate. Then there is the processing, storage, marketing, packaging, and shopping involved, and the embedded carbon in each element of this system. Growing food at home can reduce a whole array of emissions; emphasizing local food has similar impacts; no-till and organic practices generate other reductions. But none of these by itself will achieve a dramatic reduction in carbon in the food system – there has to be a complex array of approaches that looks at the system as a whole, takes apart each component, takes into account the social, environmental, and economic dimensions of change, and slowly turns the ship around towards a less carbon intensive system.
The carbon reduction comes, not from a single element, but from all of the changes being done together.
So, how can we move the food system in the right direction? And how can we do this in a realistic way, recognizing that there are many steps required, and that some of them have limitations and can potentially even be counter-productive if not approached with care and mindfulness?
Despite the dramatic appeal of the transport and packaging elements, most of the climate impacts from the food system occur at the production level, and changing those practices requires tapping into the local knowledge and experience of farmers as to how they can best manage their particular soils and products, and providing the right market incentives and resources that will make it possible for them to move In the right direction. The largest share of emissions comes from the use of synthetic fertilizers and methane from livestock production.
To change that, we must find ways to help farmers minimize energy requirements, reduce the use of synthetic chemicals, and emphasize more sustainable methods for raising crops and livestock. The financial models that will make these profitable for farmers require a reshaping of consumer demand and reduced subsidies for the unsustainable production systems that have led to a glut of corn and soy based food products (including livestock fed on corn). Those subsidies are shaped at the federal level by the Farm Bill, and the continued success of local food efforts, ironically, may be dependent on action by our national government. Seattle has adopted the Seattle Farm Bill Principles and I worked successfully to get the National League of Cities to adopt a similar set of principles, because of the stake that cities have in this legislation (which should be called the Food Bill!).
That ultimately means raising the market demand for farm products that will also be healthier for those consuming them. Our current agricultural production system delivers large quantities of empty calories and has generated an obesity epidemic – which, in turn, leads to higher medical costs (estimated at $3000 per year per overweight person). Increasing demand for healthy agricultural products so that farmers will engage in healthier and less carbon-intensive production will also benefit consumers. This includes low income people, whose ‘cheap' food is really costly in the long run, but it is very important that we find ways to ensure that low income households can afford better food. However, hunger and obesity are not opposites. Because of the counter-intuitive nature of our current food system, that provides cheap calories that are nutritionally impoverished, hunger and obesity are directly connected.
Only healthy food habits – and the resources to have access to healthy food -- can break that cycle.
Simply buying locally will not ensure that you are buying from sustainable farms – that requires knowledge of the farm practices (which, however, may be easier to get from local producers, Cooperative Extension, or other sources of consumer information). Buying locally will reduce the energy consumption in transport, storage, and food preservation, which will reduce climate impacts. Local buying can also involve less food packaging, another contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Public policy can promote local buying habits by encouraging small scale processors, regional distribution systems, and more sustainable transportation modes (fuel efficient trucks or trains where possible).
Finally, the consumer can take more responsibility by looking for ways to reduce climate impacts – choosing foods that are climate friendly (growing your own food, eating foods in season, and basing your diet around perennial crops, while reducing consumption of factory farmed and processed food), and cutting food waste and managing remainders through backyard compost or food waste collection.
None of these concepts are magic. They all require a social commitment and an array of individual actions. The role of government is to provide the right mix of policies, funding, research, incentives, education, and encouragement – and to open up the opportunity for creativity and innovation. We must continue to expand the social movement that is reshaping our food system towards a healthier and more sustainable model. If we do so, the re-creation of our food system can make a huge contribution to protecting our climate. And we can lead healthier lives as a result!
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"Your representative owes you not his industry only but his judgment. He betrays you rather than serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion."
"Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries."
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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