MAKING IT WORK
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2013 2014 BUDGETS APPROVED BY COUNCIL
On Monday, November 19, the City Council unanimously adopted the 2013 City of Seattle budget, and endorsed the 2014 budget (the City prepares budgets on a two-year cycle, but the legal 'adoption' of the budget has to be done annually, so the 2014 budget will be reviewed, amended, and finally adopted in November of 2013.)
This year's process was relatively smooth, since the economic recovery has begun lifting City revenues, and some difficult cuts made in the last two years helped keep the City on an even financial keel. As I wrote in a previous post, the Mayor's budget proposed very few cuts and even began restoring a few of the cuts made in the 2011-2012 cycle.
I am very pleased to report that the budget increases funding for the Seattle Public Library by almost 30%. We are able to do this because the voters approved the library levy in August. The levy provides funds to restore hours and collections budget that had to be cut in the 2011-2012 budget, as well as new funds for technology, collections, and building maintenance.
The Council made some major changes in the Mayor's budget. The Council added a public safety package that funds ten additional police officers and advances the replacement of the North Precinct, which is overcrowded and inefficient. We adopted a transportation package that adds $2 million for street paving and funds the Ballard and Delridge Greenways and a Downtown Cycle Track. The Council also reprioritized funding for transit planning to emphasize bus corridor improvements that can produce immediate benefits while maintaining enough funding to advance rail corridor planning, and funds further work on transit reliability and bike/pedestrian access around SR 520.
We also added $4 million in human services programs over the two year cycle, including $200,000 per year for assistance to victims of domestic violence, $200,000 per year for bulk food purchasing for food banks and meal providers, $150,000 per year for services to home-bound seniors, $600,000 per year for new housing and day centers for the homeless, and $530,000 in 2013 and $1.1 million in 2014 to expand the Nurse Family Partnership to reach all eligible mothers who wish to participate.
The Nurse Family Partnership, initiated by the Council two years ago, is based on a national model for assisting low income mothers in the early months of caring for children. It has been shown to have profound and far-reaching effects in preventing child abuse and other family problems and promoting mental and physical health. Participation in this program has also been demonstrated to lead to long term positive results in increasing children's academic achievement and reducing their future involvement with the criminal justice system. With many of our programs, we know we are helping people, but are frustrated by how great the need is compared to our resources. In this case, we have mobilized the will, identified and designed an effective program, and found the funds to actually meet the full need for services. It's a proud day for Seattle.
Recognizing that we must plan ahead to create the kind of Seattle that will work for the future, the Council added funds for land use planning for neighborhoods, industrial areas, and the Design Commission. We also funded the next stage of our emergency preparedness work, including developing incentives for earthquake retrofit for unreinforced masonry buildings and disaster recovery planning.
The Council funded a few major priority projects, including a full evaluation of the youth violence prevention; $500,000 annually to increase City support for the Green Seattle Partnership to restore and maintain our urban forests (I'll post more details on that soon!), $520,000 to improve the Lake City Community Center, and $100,000 for capital funding for arts facilities.
The Council balanced these adds by cutting some of the Mayor's proposals that did not seem to have clear justification, such as the proposed Gunshot Locator System, but most of our additions were funded as a result of increasing revenues, especially from the dynamic commercial building sector downtown. It's a good illustration of how our patient nurturing of a strong economy not only generates jobs and other benefits for those who work or have businesses, but also allows us to provide services to our residential neighborhoods.
Seattle enters the next two years with a fiscally sound and carefully developed blueprint for growing and sharing prosperity. Our 2013-2014 budgets serve the needs of the present while positioning us to advance in the future.
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SOUTH LAKE UNION REZONE MOVING TOWARDS DECISION
My Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee held our second public hearing on the proposed South Lake Union Rezone on Wednesday, November 14. We held an initial hearing in August, and have discussed the proposed rezone several times in Committee. The legislation is now in final form, and we hope to complete Council action early next year.
The proposed rezone is the last step in a comprehensive update of the South Lake Union Neighborhood Plan. The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has been working with the South Lake Union community since 2008 to develop this proposal. Most of the work was completed this summer, and the Council received the final legislation in September.
Key components of the legislation include:
- Linking increased building height and floor area to incentive zoning to create opportunities for affordable housing;
- Maintaining current scale in the Cascade Neighborhood;
- Preserving public views through new development standards for tower spacing;
- Encouraging a strong pedestrian environment through strong street-level design standards; and
- Strengthening incentives to preserve landmark properties and existing open spaces while including a new program that will preserve farm and forest lands by transferring development rights into the urban area.
Historically, South Lake Union was a mixed commercial/industrial community with pockets of residential development and relatively low buildings. Over the last few years, since being designated as an Urban Center in 2004, there has been significant commercial and residential development, including some height increases, notably for the Amazon complex and the University of Washington Medical Buildings. Projects under development are generally seeking additional height, floor area, and zoning for more residential units.
The designation as an Urban Center comes with a set of Comprehensive Plan policies that are designed to encourage more development and significant increases in employment and housing. The 2004 Comprehensive Plan update set twenty-year growth targets for South Lake Union at 8,000 households and 12,000 jobs, about 17% of citywide household and 19% of citywide employment growth. The next twenty year update will likely maintain these percentages. That will mean significantly more households and jobs in South Lake Union, because Seattle will grow even more significantly as we fully implement our growth management responsibilities. Meeting these goals will require additional zoned capacity, and the proposal provides for an estimated capacity of 22,000 to 24,000 dwelling units and 28,000 to 30,000 jobs, which should cover projected development over the next twenty years.
The proposed new zoning includes increased height near Denny Way adjacent to the similar heights in the Denny Triangle neighborhood; increased heights through the center of South Lake Union where much current development is taking place; towers on the blocks between Valley and Mercer, across the street from the South Lake Union Park; smaller increases in height and density on the east and west sides of the neighborhood; maintaining current zoning in the Cascade neighborhood to the northeast; and modest adjustments on the northwest (partly as required under FAA regulations to preserve the flight path from the Lake Union Seaport).
The proposal carefully spaces out higher buildings, limiting the size of the floor plates and the density of towers, and using setbacks to preserve public view corridors. There are also a number of regulatory standards and incentives designed to ensure a lively and vibrant pedestrian environment and a series of subarea standards designed to ensure that development maintains the character of specific communities.
Under the proposed rezone, additional height and floor area must be gained by providing public amenities through the incentive zoning program. Developers will generally be allowed to build to current height and floor area ratio (FAR) (called the "base" height and FAR) without using the incentive program. Those who choose to build above this base height and FAR will be required to contribute public amenities in proportion to the amount of extra floor area. This includes affordable housing, child care facilities, and open space enhancement and preservation.
Projects using the incentive program will also be required to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) certification of silver or better for building environmental performance, have a transportation management program that ensures that no more than 40 percent of trips to and from the project will be made using single‐occupant vehicles, and have an energy management program and conservation strategy.
Projects can use the "TDR for TIF" program as part of their incentive requirements (see my blog post for more details). This will transfer development rights from farm and forest land into the development while providing the City with additional funds for parks and other local infrastructure.
The changes in South Lake Union are creating an exciting and lively community that provides the kind of housing and employment opportunities that will keep Seattle a strong and healthy City. My Committee will work through the details of this proposed rezone with the goal of ensuring that this neighborhood thrives – and that all of Seattle benefits from these developments. Follow this link for more information on the details of the rezone.
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COMMUNITY POWER WORKS GETTING THE WORK DONE
The City's Community Power Works program, funded out of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA – the 'economic stimulus' legislation of 2009) received some critical reviews for starting up more slowly than the original plan. It did turn out to be challenging to ramp up as quickly as had been hoped, but the good news is that the program is now well underway and is on track to meet or exceed its goals before the scheduled completion date next year. Sadly, bad news about government programs is worthy of headlines; getting things done, even in a challenging and difficult experiment, is often overlooked. We'll see if the mainstream media ever cover this good news story!
Community Power Works is a bold experiment to see if a modest federal investment can leverage substantial investment by building owners in energy conservation. While many building owners have often invested in the easiest measures (like wall insulation), the premise of Community Power Works is that doing comprehensive energy audits and linking building owners with financial incentives and access to financing can lead to more complete and extensive conservation packages being implemented. By providing the opportunities for local contractors to increase their activity and experience in installing conservation measures, the hope is that the energy conservation sector will grow and be in a position to keep marketing and installing these measures in the market in the future. If all goes well, Seattle will save energy in a cost effective way, create new jobs, and have businesses that will continue to succeed.
The program saw immediate successes in the institutional and commercial sectors. Four major hospitals – Harborview, Virginia Mason, Swedish, and Group Health – led the way by undertaking extensive audits and implementing upgrade projects. The goal in the commercial sector was to retrofit 600,000 square feet of commercial space: 300,000 square feet have been completed, 110,000 square feet is under construction, 1.5 million square feet are under bid negotiations, and 2.2 million square feet are in the auditing process. Both of these sectors are headed for outstanding success, exceeding the program goals.
The goal for residential properties is to retrofit 2,070 units. As of September 30, 780 single family homes and 600 multifamily units have completed upgrades or are in progress. Community Power Works is continuing to perform audits and work with building owners to commit to improvements, and has a good chance to meet or exceed this program goal as well by the middle of next year, when the program is scheduled to be finished. The program has completed over 50 homes in each of the last two months.
And there is more good news on the residential front. Homeowners are saving 28 to 30% of their energy consumption, more than anticipated, and are investing an average of almost $15,000 per home to achieve that. To finance that, more than a quarter of them are using the innovative financing tools that Community Power Works has developed. An evaluation by Washington State University found that 93% of participants are satisfied enough that they would recommend Community Power Works to their friends.
Whether this will translate into continued momentum after the federal funding expires is still an open question. But contractors are happy, indicating that they are gaining experience, developing better marketing and sales skills, and hiring more people. So far, the program has created over 109,200 hours of work performed by 782 people, with 26 contractors involved. That means millions of dollars in the pockets of workers and business owners, more millions saved by consumers in energy bills, with all of that money circulating through the local economy and creating still more jobs in other businesses.
It appears unlikely that additional federal money will be available from Congress, even though the recession is still not completely over. As the program winds down next year, the City will have to determine if there are key elements that should be funded locally, or if there is enough momentum in the private sector to keep the energy conservation work going. Community Power Works has demonstrated that we can stimulate the private sector to create jobs through saving energy, and we need to ensure that this activity continues.
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GOLF, JEFFERSON PARK, AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
The City Council has unanimously approved a proposed modernization of the Jefferson Park golf clubhouse and expansion of the driving range. The proposal will replace the existing clubhouse with a new and expanded facility, and will also expand the driving range by adding a second deck and corresponding netting, along with revamping the lighting system to focus the lights on the driving range and reduce glare and impact in the surrounding community.
This project is another step forward on dramatically improving Jefferson Park, as was called for in the neighborhood plan. The City has invested millions of dollars in burying the reservoir, redeveloping the Park, and adding new sports fields and other park elements (including a Food Forest!). The upgrade of the golf facilities will benefit Beacon Hill residents who golf, as well as those who don't, as it includes a restaurant and other amenities. It also benefits the entire Seattle area golfing community by significantly improving this facility.
Beacon Hill is one of our most diverse communities, and the Jefferson Park facility has historically been the premier facility serving members of Seattle's minority communities who golf. This project, like the other improvements to Jefferson Park, demonstrates the City's commitment to investing in our neighborhoods and in facilities that serve minority and low income communities, a key element in our commitment to the City's Race and Social Justice Initiative.
The North Beacon Hill Neighborhood Plan called for "…a new clubhouse per the effective design used at the Interbay golf facility. Consider construction of a double-decker (driving range) facility in order to maximize efficiency of operation and increase the revenues from these facilities." Renovating or replacing the Jefferson Park clubhouse and expanding the driving range were both included the master plan for Seattle's golf facilities developed in 2009. However, while approximately 80% of the emails I received on this project supported it, some community members expressed concerns about the lighting, the replacement of the historic building, the cost of replacing the building, and the design of the new building.
- As noted above, even though the new lighting will be higher, it will be much more focused on illuminating the driving range, and will greatly reduce the glare and impact around the facility. The light trespass map shows clearly that this will be an improvement for neighbors and drivers on Beacon Avenue. We have experienced similar results with new lighting at many of our athletic fields.
- The building was submitted to the Landmarks Board, and a motion to give it a landmark designation failed by a 4 to 4 vote. Even if a historic designation was granted, that would not necessarily have resulted in building preservation, only that landmark status would have to be taken into account in any renovation or replacement. The Council generally defers to the recommendations of the Landmarks Board, who are our experts in historic preservation.
- While replacement of the building will cost approximately $1 million more than the estimated cost of renovation, there are substantial benefits ranging from energy conservation to improved interior design as a result of replacing the building. This project is fully funded out of golf revenues, not the City's general fund, and the project is expected to increase those revenues.
- The Design Commission approved the new design, and the Council generally defers to those experts on design issues. People often have strong feelings about designs, both positive and negative, and we are generally reluctant to impose our aesthetic standards.
The project will begin construction in the next few months.
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"Genuine politics - every politics worthy of the name - is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is expressed through action, to and for the whole."
"Most of us have a hankering for the good things on both sides of the line. "
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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