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.
REFORMING SEATTLE POLICE PRACTICES
Since the Department of Justice announced that its investigation of the Seattle Police Department had identified a pattern of excessive use of force, the City has been struggling to find our way forward. Our task is to continue to protect and promote public safety while eliminating abusive tactics that are contrary to both our community's values and the best practices for a good police force. The challenge is to:
- Recognize, support, and value the vast majority of our police officers, who are effective and conscientious officers.
- Ensure that those few officers who have a pattern of serious problems are identified, penalized, and, if necessary, removed from the Department.
- Understand that there are other officers who may be prone to make mistakes or act inappropriately, and make sure that the City provides the training, policy direction, management, and assistance necessary to minimize the possibility that these will take place, ensure that they learn from any mistakes, and help them become the kind of police officers that we are looking for.
And we have to accomplish all of this while identifying and using evidence-based best practices and adaptive management to respond to changing public safety conditions and address continuing issues like youth violence and downtown street disorder. These are major management and policy challenges.
On Monday, October 22, the Council approved an ordinance establishing the Community Police Commission required under our consent agreement with the Department of Justice. We also took a difficult, contentious, and major step forward with a resolution stating our support for a preferred candidate, Merrick Bobb, for the position of police department monitor. While ultimately the Mayor agreed to the Council choice, there was a tense standoff for a while, and the Mayor remains unhappy with this decision.
The appointment of the monitor is actually be made by the federal judge overseeing the consent agreement. The deadline for submitting a name was Friday, October 26. Four candidates were reviewed by the Mayor, four Councilmembers, the Seattle Police Department, the City Attorney, and the Department of Justice. The City Attorney, the Department of Justice, and each of the four Councilmembers came independently to the conclusion that Mr. Bobb would be the strongest candidate. Police Department staff and the Mayor disagreed. A mediation attempt between the Mayor and Council was unsuccessful. Ultimately, the four Councilmembers and the City Attorney decided that the selection of Mr. Bobb Is in the best interests of the City. He Is, in their opinion, the strongest candidate; he is a candidate that can be supported both by City and Department of Justice representatives; and Councilmembers were concerned that rejecting him would be perceived by the public as giving the
Police Department veto power over the selection of the monitor, which would threaten the credibility of the City.
This led to an awkward situation. Normally, the Mayor represents the City as its Chief Executive, and is represented by the City Attorney. However, the Council has the authority to make laws for the City and the City Attorney also represents the Council. And the City Attorney is himself an independently elected officer. Both the Mayor and City Attorney act as individuals and can make decisions on their own. But the Council can only make decisions as a body in an open public process. That is why we considered and approved a resolution stating our preference for monitor and asked the City Attorney to advocate for this preference before the judge. There is no clear authority to resolve difficult and unforeseen situations like this disagreement over who is the voice of the City.
Fortunately, the Mayor agreed to go along with the Council, and the potential crisis was defused. And the judge agreed with us, and appointed Mr. Bobb as the monitor. But we may face other situations like this as we work our way through the police reform process. No one said that police reform was going to be easy, but if the process of getting started has been this problematic, I am concerned that implementing substantive change will be very difficult.
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A LIGHT RAIL COMMUNITY AT THE CAPITOL HILL STATION
Linking transportation choices and land use decisions is the best way to make our communities work and our investments in transportation infrastructure pay off. And it is how we make growth management effective and protect our farms, forests, and wilderness areas. The Capitol Hill light rail station offers an extraordinary opportunity to realize that vision, and Sound Transit and the City have released their draft plan to make a great transit community grow on the three city blocks where the station is being constructed just north of Seattle Central Community College.
The proposal has been in development since 2008, with Capitol Hill residents and businesses organized as the Capitol Hill Champion leading the way in defining the values and preferences of the community. The Champion worked with the City to develop an Urban Design Framework for the area, and identified the following priorities for the site:
- Build development projects of the highest quality
- Include affordable housing and business space
- Provide a permanent home for the Farmers Market
- Pursue dedicated space for an LGBT Community Center and performance and visual artists
- Provide an experiential gate way to Capitol Hill and aid wayfinding
- Use environmentally responsible building practices
- Increase allowed height to support community goals
- Provide less parking than developments that are not transit-centered
Sound Transit owns the three block area, and legally must sell the land in a way that realizes fair market value for the agency in addition to meeting city and agency objectives. The development agreement between Sound Transit and the City creates a framework which Sound Transit would then use as the basis for working with developers to achieve the goals of the plan. These goals are broadly compatible with the priorities of the Champion, although the plan differs in some ways from the more detailed Champion outline.
Core elements of the proposed agreement are:
- One approximately 17,000 square foot site will be dedicated to affordable housing (projected to result in around 88 low income units)
- 20% of units in other mixed-use buildings will be affordable for residents earning up to 80% of area median income, with bonus points given to developers who propose additional affordable housing
- Approximately 450 total housing units will be developed, with some new development standards that would allow heights up to 85 feet
- The center of the site will be a public plaza that could house the Farmers Market, and there will be significant amounts of other open space and similar amenities in the project area
- Seattle Central will have the opportunity to negotiate a portion of the area to develop student housing or education services
- Sound Transit will provide bonus points to proposers who include a community center, and the City will provide a density incentive
- Parking will be capped at the ratio of .7 spaces per residential unit
- All buildings will have to meet at least the LEED Silver Standard, with bonus points for proposals that go beyond Silver LEED
- The entire development will have an integrated approach to meeting the Seattle Green factor required for these kinds of buildings
I commend Sound Transit and DPD staff and Champion members for over four years of hard, diligent work to develop a plan that meets the community's desire for good design and much needed low-income housing and Sound Transit's duty to dispose of its surplus property expeditiously. The collaboration with Champion serves as a positive example of effective community engagement. The proposed agreement must be approved by both the City Council and Sound Transit. The Council and Sound Transit will likely take this up in January, and vote shortly afterwards.
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A WEEK IN REGIONAL POLICY
Councilmembers have a lot of responsibilities at City Hall – serving on and Chairing Committees, writing legislation, responding to constituents and handling complaints, thinking, writing, and talking with each other about major issues, and so forth. But we also have specific responsibilities in the region – most of us serve on several regional entities, and sometimes we Chair these groups. Here's a sample of what I did one week in September in my regional role:
Sound Transit. Managing this regional transit system is a huge responsibility, and I have served as the Council representative on the Sound Transit Board since 2008. I am Vice-Chair of the Capital Committee, and this week the Committee approved and sent to the Board a $182 million contract to construct the light rail line from SeaTac Airport to S. 200th Street. We also reviewed possible sites for a new light rail vehicle maintenance base to serve East Link, and agreed that staff should proceed with the next stage of environmental review on alternate locations. I am also one of three Board members on a special task force working with the City of Bellevue Councilmembers to optimize the light rail route and stations and reduce costs on East Link, and we met to review the latest staff work on possible cost saving measures.
Regional Food Policy Council. I initiated this policy committee, which reports to the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC). We have been meeting since the fall of 2010 and generate policy recommendations for local governments and other entities in the four-county region. This week we reviewed a set of proposed Comprehensive Plan policies developed under a contract from the Seattle City Council, and agreed to forward them to Seattle and other cities for consideration and possible adoption. We also accepted a grant from the State Department of Health to develop new public policies around food and health.
King County Growth Management Policy Council. This is a regional body responsible for making recommendations on changes to the Growth Management Boundary and other growth management policies. I have been one of three City of Seattle representatives since I was first elected to the City Council. This week we approved a set of technical adjustments to the boundary, agreed to further discussions between the County and the City of North Bend on a possible boundary adjustment, refused to consider a request from a Renton private school (opposed by the City of Renton) to be added to the urban area, and voted down a proposal from the City of Woodinville to expand its urban area into designated farmland. The vote on that one was 5 to 5, with Seattle joining County Executive Dow Constantine and Councilmember Larry Phillips in opposition to suburban cities and their King County representatives. Two suburban city representatives told us that they opposed the proposal,
but under the rules of the Suburban Cities Association (SCA) had to vote for it (SCA uses the archaic unit rule binding all of its representatives to vote the SCA majority position, and threatens representatives with being removed from regional bodies if they break ranks.)
I also met with state legislators and with staff to King County Executive Dow Constantine on the SR 520 project. And, I continued my work as a member of the King County Board of Health on developing a proposal for a take back program for medicines and pharmaceuticals.
Councilmember's roles in regional work make a difference for Seattle, working on policies and projects that directly affect the City. It is also part of our ongoing task of building relationships so that we can work together most effectively, and of helping to make the region work. Rarely recognized in the media, and not well-known to most of our constituents!
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BELLTOWN COMMUNITY CENTER FINALLY
On a cheerful, sunny Friday evening this September, the Belltown Community Center opened its doors at 415 Bell Street. It was great to see several hundred residents touring the rooms, enjoying music in the alley behind the Center and food donated by Belltown restaurants, and finally feeling the love of City government for one of our most dynamic neighborhoods.
More than twenty years ago, the City rezoned Belltown, then a community of low-rise small commercial and apartment buildings, to encourage new housing. It was a while before development took off, but now the area is filled with new apartments, offices, and restaurants. Most recently, of course, Belltown has become famous for the Escala, the setting for “Fifty Shades of Grey”, the Northwest's latest fictional setting to follow the Twilight series and Twin Peaks in achieving international renown (the Escala is now on the Ride the Duck tour!)
As development ramped up in the late 1990's, Belltown, like 37 other Seattle communities, created a neighborhood plan. This was a transition time – when it began to sink into the Seattle consciousness that downtown was a neighborhood, with lots of residents, just like our other residential communities. Downtown had been the only part of the City not assigned a Neighborhood Service Center Coordinator and included in a Neighborhood District when those programs were first conceived – an oversight that was soon remedied thanks to the advocacy of the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA). Still, it raised lots of eyebrows when the head of the DSA was elected as the Chair of the City Neighborhood Council a few years later.
Like the other plans, the Belltown Neighborhood Plan included growth targets for housing and jobs along with a list of amenities and policy changes that would complement this development to ensure that Belltown worked as a community. As with the other plans, the Council agreed to move forward most of the Belltown requests and has implemented the majority of them over the years since the plan was approved in 1998.
But there was a lot of skepticism about Belltown's request for a community center. In 1999, the Council put together the Seattle Center/Community Centers Levy package, which included a number of new and expanded community center facilities requested in neighborhood plans. But when I suggested that we should add a new community center for Belltown, there was resistance. Councilmembers did not see how the dense urban community of Belltown meshed with a traditional community center model, which included gyms and outdoor recreation space. They thought that it would be impossible to site a community center on expensive Belltown land, or to afford a brand new center as part of a fairly modest levy package.
Ultimately we agreed on a compromise. The Belltown Center would be a community gathering space, smaller than a traditional center and without a gym or outdoor space, would be sited as part of a larger development instead of being freestanding, and might be rented space rather than City-owned. Still, this scaled-back version was a great step forward for Belltown, and everyone was excited when the levy passed.
That was thirteen years ago… Not for want of trying! Parks looked at dozens of locations over the years, and at one point we even had a groundbreaking as part of one new development – which later fell through when the larger project could not be funded.
But ultimately perseverance paid off! A great old brick building with big wooden beams sat vacant for years, and the City was able to negotiate a seven year, 6000 square foot lease that allowed for modest remodeling and a grand opening. The long-term may still be uncertain, but, thanks to persistent City staff work and the continued advocacy of the Belltown Business Association and Belltown Community Council, the Center is open. Check it out!
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TDR FOR TIF MEANS SAVING FARM LAND AND LIVABLE COMMUNITIES
As the City Council considers the comprehensive rezone legislation for South Lake Union (SLU), it will also take up legislation that will authorize and implement the 'TDR for TIF' program --'Transfer of Development Rights for Tax Increment Financing'. That arcane phrase describes a way to implement growth management by protecting rural land and investing in amenities that will make urban communities more livable.
The TDR for TIF program was developed by Forterra and approved by the Legislature in 2011. The framework for implementing it in the region was approved by the Puget Sound Regional Council earlier this year (insert reference to blog post). It's a complicated program, with lots of details. But the bottom line is a win-win-win-win:
- Landowners get to keep their land as farms or forests and are compensated for not developing.
- Developers get to build projects in the City.
- Seattle and King County get funds for infrastructure to support this development work, implementing growth management for urban density.
- The people of Seattle get food at their Farmers Markets, development and increased City revenues from downtown, implementation of infrastructure projects with lower costs for taxpayers outside of downtown, and effective growth management to protect rural areas.
Here's how it will work:
- King County creates a TDR Bank that will buy the development rights from farms, forest, and designated rural lands. They will pay property owners a sum of money in return for a legally binding agreement to keep the property in farm or forest use – forever.
- Seattle adopts legislation requiring developers to purchase TDR from either King County or directly from the landowner in order to complete projects that take advantage of the increased zoning in South Lake Union and other downtown areas. In South Lake Union and the Broad-Denny-Aurora Triangle, the requirement will reflect the new zoning. In the remainder of downtown, the requirement will replace an existing provision relating to Green Building (which is now the norm!).
- The TIF comes in because these developments will increase King County's property tax collections – but incur few County costs. So these County property taxes will be transferred to the City for investment in South Lake Union and downtown, the area generating the additional property tax. That will allow the City to complete parks, green streets, and other infrastructure projects that will in turn make these areas more livable as they become denser and more developed.
First priority for purchasing TDR's will be 200 development rights for farms. We are advocating for these to be farms that sell at Seattle's Farmers Markets or that are within the Tolt River Watershed, where we get drinking water. This is the approach the City asked for in Resolution 31147, which I sponsored and which was approved in 2009.
The TDR for TIF legislation will be considered as part of the SLU package, and will likely come to Full Council for approval in early 2013.
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REGIONAL FOOD POLICY COUNCIL SECOND YEAR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
The Regional Food Policy Council (RFPC) is housed at the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), the principal regional planning entity covering King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap Counties. I led the effort to create the RFPC, and now serve as its Chair. The RFPC first met in September 2010, and we have now completed our second year of work. Our goal is to create strategies and policy initiatives that will advance sustainable food policies for the region.
Much of the first year was committed to forming the Council, learning about the food system, and developing the RFPC agenda. In our second year we continued to meet monthly, hearing presentations on topics like the federal Farm Bill, farming mentorship, food distribution, direct marketing, and the Transfer of Development Rights. Our Subcommittee on Equity researched the role of listening sessions in community engagement and developed a framework for an equity assessment of the food system. In May 2012, the council was briefed by PSRC staff on the rural transportation strategy. The RFPC will provide recommendations on ways to integrate food policy into the region's long-term transportation plan, Transportation 2040.
The City of Seattle contracted with PSRC to provide support for food policy work, including developing planning resources and designing a survey for urban agriculture. PSRC also secured funding from the Washington State Department of Health to identify and pursue local policy initiatives. In June 2012, the council hosted a summit of public health professionals and food systems advocates to explore the connections and opportunities to advance this work. Over 60 people attended this summit, including participants from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia.
The City of Seattle also contracted with PSRC to research food policy concepts for its comprehensive plan. PSRC staff worked with Seattle staff to develop policies, which were reviewed by the RFPC in June 2012. Seattle will add food-related policies drawn from this report to our Comprehensive Plan in the 2012-2013 amendment cycle. The RFPC will provide these model policies to other jurisdictions around the region and encourage them to adopt those that are locally relevant.
Staff also completed a review of codes and plans from 65 jurisdictions within the region and developed a database to organize existing local food-related policies. This project helped identify innovative practices, opportunities for action, and future directions. It led to our most far-reaching project, creating a way to identify policy levers for the entire food system. With financial support from WSU Extension, the RFPC is working with consultant Jon Ramer to develop a web-based visualization tool that will serve as a data resource for both the council and the general public. This tool, scheduled to be completed around the end of 2012, should generate a series of policy initiatives that the RFPC, individuals, and policy-makers from around the region can use to further the goal of a sustainable food system.
There are many Food Policy Councils around the country, but the Seattle version is a model for a strategic mix of public, private, and nonprofit membership, and is, we believe, unique in being part of the regional planning body. These characteristics give us a great opportunity to influence public policy as well as actions by communities and businesses. As the RFPC moves into its third year, you can expect to see food policy changes beginning to be put into place around the region, with practical and positive outcomes for consumers, businesses, farmers, and public health.
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GLOBAL TO LOCAL HEALTH INITIATIVE
Public Health - Seattle & King County, Swedish Health Services, HealthPoint Community Health Clinics, and the Washington Global Health Alliance have partnered with the cities of SeaTac and Tukwila to create an innovative approach to addressing health disparities. This project is another step towards reforming the US health care system to focus on the health of individuals and communities, as we move towards the vision of universal access to health care.
The project, called the Global to Local Health Initiative (G2L), was launched with $1 million in seed funding donated by Swedish. The concept is to take advantage of the knowledge and experience emerging from the area's expanding global health sector. The plan is to apply the lessons learned and strategies developed for addressing health issues in lower income countries to low income communities in our area. The goal is to improve health, lower costs, and create economic development.
The United States has a pattern of extraordinary health disparities that is vastly different from other industrialized countries. That pattern has been set by the lack of access to quality health care for persons with low and moderate incomes, reinforced by lack of knowledge and the tendency to postpone or neglect preventive care. Our fee-for-service health system encourages this behavior – if you do not have an excellent health insurance plan and/or belong to a managed care organization that emphasizes prevention, the financial incentives are perversely structured to discourage getting medical attention when it is most cost effective, early in an illness or before a chronic condition establishes itself. Those who do not have health insurance (13% of King County residents aged 16 to 64, 24% in the targeted cities of Tukwila and SeaTac) are dependent on the limited resources of charity care or governmental assistance. The problem is especially acute for those whose incomes are too
high for programs like Medicaid but too low to provide serious resources that can be dedicated to health care.
In Tukwila and SeaTac, teen birth rates are three times the King County average, obesity rates are 50% higher, asthma rates are 30% higher, and life expectancy is significantly lower. At the same time, much of the population is foreign born and many have limited English skills.
G2L has engaged a diverse team of locally recruited Community Health Promoters, who work with community members to promote health, offer classes on health issues, use new technologies to provide interpretative services, and help people identify and get access to economic opportunities. With additional funding from Providence, the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, and Novo Nordisk, the program is expanding and diversifying its services.
Poor health and poverty are deeply linked phenomena. Healthy individuals and communities are on their way to prosperity – and prosperity generates the income that maintains health. By using tested methods of community involvement drawn from experiences in low income communities around the globe, G2L has the potential to turn a vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle, and make a difference for those involved and for our community as a whole.
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"When you look at a city, it's like reading the hopes, aspirations and pride of everyone who built it."
Hugh Newell Jacobsen
"When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other."
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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