MAKING IT WORK
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CASA LATINA, VERA, AND FRESH BUCKS
On Monday, June 10, the Council unanimously approved the First Quarter Supplemental to the 2013 Budget. As the title suggests, we amend the approved budget four times during the year, to correct errors, add expenditures for priorities that have emerged since the budget was approved, and/or make cuts if revenues are coming in below target.
As 2013 is shaping up to be a good year for the City, I was able to get three important projects funded in this supplemental:
- Part of the final phase of Casa Latina's new building serving low-wage Latino immigrant workers and their families;
- Additional support for the Vera Project which provides access to popular music concerts, arts programs, experiential learning and volunteer opportunities for all ages, especially young people; and
- The Fresh Bucks program, which helps low-income families afford healthy foods and supports our Farmers Markets.
The City has already contracted with Casa Latina to provide services to their low income clients as part of the first two phases of their $5.2 million construction project. Those phases have allowed Casa Latina to purchase land, renovate an existing building, and construct a new building. The City does not fund such construction projects directly, but contracts for services to be provided to low income residents from the agency.
The third phase will complete the new building by constructing a commercial kitchen, funding ADA access, and completing storefronts and a mural as part of the building's presence in the neighborhood. Again, the City's $100,000 contract is for the services to be provided by the agency. Casa Latina has a long and exemplary track record of assisting clients in getting job training, education, and child care and helping them emerge from poverty and become participants in the community.
The City was a key partner in launching the Vera Project in 2001 as a way to get young people engaged in producing and participating in music and arts. It is fueled by the energy and enthusiasm of volunteers, and most of its funding comes from committed supporters in the community. The City committed to providing $50,000 per year when the project was launched and later agreed to house it at the Seattle Center, where it pays $48,000 per year in rent.
Vera has consistently served more people with more events and learning opportunities than the City originally contracted for, and can serve even more, but fundraising has been more challenging during the recession. Recognizing that there is the potential for continued growth, we added an additional $50,000 to the City's support for the project, with a set of deliverables that will increase its reach and impact.
Fresh Bucks is a program model that has been successfully implemented in several cities, and was piloted in Seattle in 2012, with the assistance of JPMorgan Chase and The Seattle Foundation. The program provides matching funds to double the purchasing power of low income residents who use their federal food stamp benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - SNAP) to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at Farmers Markets.
The 2012 pilot was very successful, and both the private funders and the Farmers Markets are enthusiastic about continuing to fund and expand the program. Because the 2013 budget is prepared in mid-2012, the program model had not yet been proven and expansion funds were not included in the 2013 budget. The $50,000 that will be added to the program by this budget action will be matched by private contributions, and will double the 1500 individuals served in 2012 while expanding the program from 7 to all Seattle Farmers Markets.
These three modest budget additions can be funded because, thanks to the recovering Seattle economy, 2013 is turning out to be a better year than we had forecast. The City has also continued our practice of budgeting very carefully. Under our budgeting practices, some of the unexpected revenue increases will wind up in the Rainy Day Fund, but others are available for emerging priorities.
The legislation approved Monday does not include several million dollars in transportation improvements that the Mayor has proposed to fund from savings in the Department of Transportation Budget, largely as a result of the Spokane Street Viaduct coming in below budget. The transportation budget supplemental will be taken up as separate legislation in the next several weeks.
CARBON NEUTRAL BY 2050: CLIMATE ACTION PLAN UPDATE APPROVED
On Monday, June 17, the Council unanimously adopted an update to Seattle's Climate Action Plan that sets Seattle on a course towards our goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. I proposed adopting the ambitious ‘Carbon Neutral by 2050' goal as a Council priority in 2010, and legislation accepting the goal was approved by the Council in 2011. This plan update provides the framework for implementation.
The carbon neutral goal was originally proposed by Seattle environmental leaders like Denis Hayes and Alex Steffen as the impacts of global warming and climate change became clearer and clearer, the need for strong action more urgent, and the critical role for cities more apparent. The increasing resistance to scientific evidence on the part of the Republican Party has made it impossible for Congress to take action, and it has become clear that even the election of a President who sought action on climate change has not ended the paralysis of our federal government in the face of this grave threat to our future. So, as is so often the case, cities have stepped up to the plate to take up the slack. Although Seattle is a leader in addressing climate, we are not alone in this effort, and action on climate change has become a major legislative priority for the National League of Cities.
Cities are critical to changing our climate impact. Compact cities with sustainable buildings and efficient transportation alternatives use much less energy and emit much less carbon per capita than sprawling suburbs. The increased urbanization of central cities and inner suburbs is our best hope for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The question is how to do it, and that is dependent on both national policies like requiring higher mile per gallon (MPG) standards for vehicles and funding transit, and on local policies that leverage these national standards by designing and building/rebuilding cities that are attractive and efficient. The new Climate Action Plan puts in place the practical steps that will enable Seattle to be a model for achieving carbon neutrality.
Our Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE), with the support of a wide range of advisors from the community, created a plan that will take us there. The Council's Energy and Environment Committee, under the leadership of Councilmember Mike O'Brien, worked hard to not only vet and approve that plan, but to create an action plan for the next two years. While we agreed that the plan produced by OSE laid out a plausible path for the future, we wanted to add the specifics that would keep our momentum going and get the actions underway.
The Plan focuses on three sectors where the City of Seattle can have the greatest impact in reducing carbon emissions: transportation and land use, energy use in buildings, and solid waste. It also includes a section on how the City can manage the impacts of the climate disruption that we are already experiencing, and suggestions as to how the community can take individual actions to reduce emissions. The complete plan can be found at http://www.seattle.gov/environment/climate_plan.htm
The Council asked for an implementation plan to be submitted by September 30, 2013, to:
"A. Identify the lead department, implementation schedule, and critical decisions needed to implement each action;
B. Outline a community involvement strategy including identifying partnerships and resources needed for implementation of the strategy; and
C. Evaluate the actions requiring state legislative authority and identify priorities for the City's 2014 State Legislative Agenda."
The Council also asked for a schedule, outline of policy decisions, and resource needs to:
"A. Develop a comprehensive adaptation strategy;
B. Work with regional and state partners to adopt a funding strategy to meet current and future transportation funding needs;
C. Develop a citywide transit communities strategy including creation of equitable development policies that support growth and development near transit without displacement and strategies that provide for the retention and creation of affordable commercial space and family sized housing in transit communities;
D. Research the benefits of pricing policies on climate protection, transportation and community goals;
E. Develop and begin implementation of a coordinated land use and transportation plan in a high-priority transit and bicycle corridor (such as Ballard to Downtown) with a goal of shifting more trips to travel modes that generate fewer or no greenhouse gas emissions;
F. Include health, safety, and equity outcomes in transportation and land use planning building on the Healthy Living Assessment project;
G. Consider a transportation modal hierarchy as part of the 2015 Comprehensive Plan Update in order to address climate greenhouse gas reductions, safety, mobility and funding priorities;
H. Based on a comprehensive review of the Community Power Works program, transition the Community Power Works -- Home pilot program to an established program that assists homeowners with energy efficiency upgrades;
I. Expand district energy systems on First Hill and into the South Lake Union and Denny Triangle neighborhoods;
J. Pilot a utility incentive program that would pay for actual energy savings over time instead of providing up-front payment for projected savings;
K. Evaluate opportunities (including pilot projects) for the energy code to focus on total energy performance instead of prescriptive requirements;
L. Require buildings undergoing major renovation or change of use to come close to the energy performance requirement for new buildings; and
M. Develop and test a program for rating and disclosing home energy performance."
This implementation plan will be the practical, specific, detailed approach to getting where we need to go.
Making Seattle carbon neutral is an audacious goal that takes time, hard work, creativity, and the commitment of the City, business community and Seattle residents. We have laid out the path to meet this preeminent moral challenge of our time and we will lead the way to secure the future for generations to come.
DRUG AND MEDICINE PRODUCT STEWARDSHIP PROGRAM APPROVED
On Thursday, June 20, the King County Board of Health unanimously approved a Rule and Regulation establishing an industry-funded product stewardship model for managing unwanted and surplus drugs and medicines in King County. King County will become the second County in the nation (following Alameda County, California) to adopt such a program; British Columbia has had a similar program in place for many years. As Vice-Chair of the Board of Health, I served on the subcommittee that worked for the last year to develop this program under the leadership of Board Chair County Councilmember Joe McDermott.
The program requires drug producers to fund and operate a system that will provide secure containers at pharmacies and law enforcement agencies where people can deposit unwanted drugs and medicines. The products collected will be taken to a hazardous waste incinerator for disposal.
The product stewardship model assigns responsibility for the safe disposal of products to the industries that produce them. Washington State has already adopted such a program for electronic devices such as computers and televisions. The product stewardship model is an accepted best practice for a zero waste strategy, and the City's adopted zero waste policy calls for product stewardship plans for a number of materials.
Drugs and medicines are good candidates for product stewardship because there is very good information about the producers, who are heavily regulated by the federal government, so a stewardship model can be implemented relatively easily. There is also a compelling need.
Most people dispose of unwanted drugs and medicines by putting them in the trash or down the drain. Neither of these are great for the environment. Many medicines are very toxic, and should not be put in landfills. Sewage treatment plants are not designed to break down these chemicals, and the drugs can flow through them into Puget Sound, where they can poison or contaminate ecosystems. Incineration is the preferred mode for disposal.
There are also risks to leaving unwanted drugs and medicines around the house. Accidental poisoning, especially of children, is a significant problem. Many drugs and medicines can be attractive (although dangerous) intoxicants, and leaving medicines around the house can lead to drug abuse problems, especially if they are readily available to teenagers.
The take back program requires the producers of drugs to form a cooperative organization to manage the program. Producers that wish to operate an independent plan can propose their own version. The plan will be reviewed and approved by Public Health. Drug producers are responsible for the collecting, transporting, and disposing of the waste, as well as administration, education/promotion, and evaluation. The program may not require a fee from consumers, and participation by pharmacies and law enforcement agencies is on a voluntary basis. There are requirements for the program to recruit and identify collection sites that will adequately and conveniently serve the County's population. Since at least two pharmacy chains (Bartell Drugs and Group Health) are already providing collection services, and since there will be no cost to participating pharmacies, we do not anticipate that there will be any problem in finding adequate sites. The program is scheduled to begin in 2014, after allowing time for developing a plan and preparing for implementation.
While this program is enthusiastically supported by law enforcement, medical and public health professionals, and zero waste advocates, it is opposed by the pharmaceutical industry. Even though the costs (as projected by Public Health based on the successful British Columbia program and other models) are relatively modest (probably less than $1 million/annually, perhaps 2 to 4 cents per prescription), the drug companies have threatened a lawsuit to prevent the program from proceeding. They have already sued Alameda County, a suit that is expected to be decided later this year.
It is unfortunate that these companies apparently prefer the continued risks of environmental contamination, poisoning, and drug abuse to working together to operate a modest program to remedy and prevent these problems. It is especially odd because many of the same companies are peacefully cooperating in the British Columbia program. We believe that we can win a lawsuit, and look forward to having this modest, practical program go into effect in the near future.
MARRIAGE EQUALITY ENDORSED BY NATIONAL LEAGUE OF CITIES
The Supreme Court was the big story on Wednesday, June 26, striking down DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. However, on the same morning the Board of the National League of Cities (NLC) took a major stride towards equality by approving "A RESOLUTION AFFIRMING THE FREEDOM TO MARRY AND FEDERAL NON-DISCRIMINATION FOR GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES", after an intense but thoughtful and reflective hour-long debate. I moved approval of the resolution, which was presented to the Board by our 1st Vice President, Mayor Chris Coleman of St. Paul, Minnesota and the Chair of our Finance, Administration, and Intergovernmental Relations (FAIR) Committee at the request of the NLC LGBT Caucus.
The NLC is the voice for America's 19,000 cities and towns. Many of the larger cities are not very active in NLC, and the organization represents many smaller communities. Reflecting that, NLC has historically been liberal to centrist in its orientation, and has focused on issues that are basic for all cities, like transportation funding and preserving the tax exemption for municipal bonds.
NLC has become more assertively progressive in the last decade, however. After years of careful discussion and consensus building, NLC endorsed comprehensive immigration reform and made it one of our three top legislative priorities for 2013. In 2012 we elected our first Latina President, Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers of Avondale, Arizona, whose grandfather was an immigrant farmworker. Board elections in the last two years have brought in a group of new progressive representatives -- I was part of the first wave in 2011.
We do have a history of taking modest stands in favor of LGBT issues. As long ago as 1992, NLC adopted a resolution encouraging the military to end discrimination against gays, lesbians and bisexuals, and in 1998 NLC took a position in support of hate-crimes legislation. In 2004 NLC adopted a resolution affirming local authority over marriage.
Hoping that NLC was ready to take the next step towards equality, at the 2012 National Convention (the usual venue for adopting new policy), the FAIR Committee asked the organization to support marriage equality. However, faced with opposition from some cities, who threatened to walk out of the organization if it was adopted, the officers pulled the resolution from the agenda, promising to bring it back in 2013 after more time for consultation.
Many of us we disappointed with that decision, and the FAIR Committee decided to appeal to the Board to act at our June meeting, an unusual but not unprecedented step.
No one on the Board expressed opposition to marriage equality, although a couple of members indicated that they would abstain because of their religious beliefs. However there was an intense debate about whether the Board should take action. Opponents questioned whether Board action was appropriate on an issue of such controversy, or whether we should follow the normal process of going to the 2013 Convention. They suggested that action would cost us members, and asked whether the issue was really of central importance from a City perspective. And they wondered whether we should take more time to review the Supreme Court decision to see if the resolution was really necessary.
Supporters listened carefully and responded respectfully -- it was a model for how to conduct a deliberative debate. Some supporters were convinced that delay was appropriate, and the key vote came on a motion to table, which failed on a 13 to 13 tie vote. One member who had religious concerns chose not to vote on the motion to hold -- as he explained to me later, he did not believe that his religious beliefs should prevent the other members of the Board from taking action.
After the motion to hold failed, the resolution was approved with 18 yes votes and 9 abstentions. The key operative clause states:
"NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the National League of Cities supports the full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation, with equal respect, responsibility, and protection under the law, including the freedom to marry. We support the overturning of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and oppose discriminatory constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny the freedom to marry."
This is not the last word in this story. The Board decision can be appealed by opponents at the 2013 Convention (to be held in Seattle this November!). However, we intend to work hard to make sure that the Convention affirms the policy, and we believe that we will have the votes to do so.
It was an honor to play a modest role in this important step on the road towards marriage equality, and I am proud not only of the willingness of the Board to step up to the plate on this issue, but of the great model we offered of how a group of individuals with different perspectives can honestly and thoughtfully deliberate on a divisive issue, and ultimately come to a deliberative conclusion while respecting differing points of view.
It is an indication of how rapidly the idea of equality is spreading through our land that the supporters were not just from the big cities like Seattle and St. Paul, where there are active LGBT communities and a history of endorsing LGBT rights. Key affirmative votes were cast by city officials from places like Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Mountain View, California; Laramie, Wyoming; and Glendale, Arizona. Pride Day will be a great opportunity to celebrate many great achievements of the past year -- and the NLC vote is one more step on this road.
DUWAMISH SUPERFUND: CITY COMMITMENTS ON CLEANUP AND HEALTH IMPACTS
On Wednesday, June 12, Mayor McGinn and eight Councilmembers sent a letter to the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition (DRCC) expressing our support for the DRCC's work to engage the community and ensure that our Superfund cleanup investments result in a cleaner and safer river for all. The letter acknowledged that the EPA proposed cleanup could be improved and suggested ways to do that. It also committed the City to working on upstream source control work to prevent recontamination of the River and to implementing recommendations of a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) to improve the economic, social, and physical health of the communities around the Duwamish.
Seattle and the other members of Lower Duwamish Working Group (LDWG – King County, Port of Seattle, and The Boeing Company) proposed specific recommendations for changes in the EPA proposed plan that will save money, shorten the length of the project, and result in a cleaner river. The City also committed to working with EPA and Ecology to adjust actions over time if our investments in monitoring demonstrate a need, and if scientific evidence emerges that there are opportunities to deploy new technologies or revise the deployment of current technologies to produce even cleaner results.
The City noted that that source control work associated with the lower and upper river must be managed together over the long term to maintain the river and its community in as healthy a state as possible. We committed to working with Ecology and all other parties involved to do what we can to make this happen.
While the superfund cleanup and pollution source control are fundamental to the health and well being of South Park, Georgetown and the businesses along the river, they are not enough to achieve the quality of life people desire. Faculty from the University of Washington conducted a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) to examine the issues that these communities face, and would face even if there was not a Superfund designation.
The City committed to addressing the issues identified in the HIA through enhancing programs we already provide, coordinating them better, increasing access to them and developing new programs or actions. We will assemble possible actions and to estimate funding needs to:
- Identify, encourage, or provide more options for safe fishing and healthful fish consumption.
- Ensure equity in all policies and efforts for environment and community development.
- Provide job training and placement assistance in addition to that provided by the EPA's job Training Initiative.
- Preserve affordability and produce affordable housing.
- Promote and protect home ownership.
A more detailed list of actions under review can be found, along with a copy of the City letter, on my website.
Finally, the City urged EPA and the Department of Ecology to do everything feasible to initiate cleanup actions as soon as possible. The LDWG partners have completed successful early action cleanups at several sites (Slip 4, Boeing Plant 2, Duwamish/Diagonal, and soon Terminal 117). We know that we can achieve positive results, and it is up to all of us to keep that effective work going in an expeditious manner.
Seattle leaders are making a long term commitment to improving the quality of life for Duwamish River communities. I look forward to continuing to work to ensure that this commitment is funded and carried out.
SOUND TRANSIT STATION ACCESS POLICY REVISED
The Sound Transit Board has adopted a new "System Access Policy" which broadens the measures that Sound Transit will include in planning for ways to get riders to stations. While in the past, most of the emphasis has been on making station design convenient for transfers from buses and providing free parking for other potential riders, the new policy creates a broader approach that includes pedestrian and bicycle access. It also includes a parking management approach that contemplates using parking permits and fees to optimize use of parking facilities by transit users.
The new policy complements the broader approach to Transit Oriented Development adopted by the Board and is also based on the new direction for Sound Transit developed at the April 2012 Board retreat. At that retreat, Board and staff agreed that the Sound Transit 2 plan was proceeding well despite the financial constraints imposed by the drop in revenues due to the recession. The Board agreed that we should consider ways to make transit work more effectively in concert with local governments by creating new transit oriented development and station access policies, and should begin discussing the possibility of advancing the Sound Transit 3 vote to an earlier date. This new policy concludes the first stages of implementation of the directions outlined at that meeting.
Current Sound Transit policy has emphasized providing free and open parking at stations with limited enforcement. Parking is a significant investment, is constrained in urban areas and has limited compatibility with dense development around stations. Providing free parking also encourages riders to use the private automobile to access light rail. While the private automobile has a role in accessing transit stations, particularly for those who are not well served by alternatives or have physical limitations, the Board agreed that this role must be only part of an access strategy, and that access investments should be developed based on how they meet ridership and community goals.
The policy's management approach for parking promotes efficient use of parking investments through mechanisms such as HOV stalls, parking permits, and parking fees and validation, with an emphasis on limiting the use of Sound Transit funded facilities to transit users.
The Board has already begun implementing this policy with its new access strategy for the Northgate Station. In addition to this construction and development approach, Sound Transit will also begin piloting parking management programs such as fees for parking, possibly with credits for HOV's and/or for riders on the system.
The complete new access policy can be found at
With this new policy, Sound Transit is formally transitioning to a 21st century approach to integrating its transit stations with access. The new emphasis on encouraging pedestrian, bicycle, and transit access in partnership with local jurisdictions will encourage a better and more comprehensive approach to making transit, land use, and other transportation options part of a seamless strategy to reduce dependence on the automobile and create transit oriented communities that maximize the efficiency of personal and governmental transportation expenditures.
CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECKS AND EMPLOYMENT
On Monday, June 10, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that will encourage employers to fully consider all job applicants without ruling people out because of possible criminal background. The purpose of the law is to give the opportunity for applicants to demonstrate that they have been rehabilitated and secure employment, instead of being automatically relegated to being part of a permanent underclass. The law keeps safeguards currently in place that protects businesses from violent criminals, dishonesty or unsafe employees. No employer will be required to hire a person with a criminal background.
The legislation will prohibit employers from automatically excluding individuals with any arrest or conviction record from consideration for employment. While employers may inquire about an individual's criminal history after they have completed an initial screening to eliminate unqualified applicants, they may not reject a qualified applicant solely based on their criminal record unless they have:
- Identified to the employee or applicant the record or information on which they are basing their employment decision;
- Provided the applicant or employee a reasonable opportunity to explain or correct the information and held the position open for a minimum of two business days after notifying the applicant or employee to give them a meaningful opportunity to respond; and
- A "legitimate business reason" for making the employment decision.
Almost 20% of adults in our society have criminal records for various reasons. Most of these are minor convictions, often at a young age, and sometimes exist because a plea bargain is an easier path to take even if a person is innocent. The vast majority of these people are seeking to reenter society, to get a job and become productive members of the community. If they cannot, then falling back into criminal activity may become an easier way to survive. This legislation promotes the healing process and protects public safety by helping people overcome their histories.
When the law was first introduced, I strongly supported the concept, but was concerned about the difficulties businesses could have with the way the law was originally designed. It could have been costly and complicated to implement, undermined an employer's ability to make the right hiring decisions, and caused unnecessary legal exposure.
Fortunately, Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who initiated this proposal, worked for many months to bring together advocates and business representatives to address these issues. The legislation ultimately approved by the Council struck a good balance between helping individuals who have made mistakes and helping employers do the right thing for their businesses.
Changes included eliminating the opportunity for an applicant to sue an employer if they are turned down; adjusting the timing for when an employer can ask for criminal background information; more clearly identifying the criteria for turning down an applicant; eliminating a lengthy form describing why a business declined an applicant; convening a panel of stakeholders, including employers, to develop oversight guidelines; and creating an evaluation mechanism to evaluate the enforcement process after the first six months.
While the Chamber and other business organizations would have preferred a few additional amendments, they remain at the table with the advocates and will work to make this legislation effective. Their representatives embraced the goals of the legislation and are committed to try to make it work as well as possible.
This legislation is a great step forward for our community. Our commitment to social justice calls us to care about all of our people and help those who have made missteps and want to put their lives back together as responsible employees and residents. Businesses must be able to assist with this while retaining their ability to run their businesses and create the job opportunities that will further our mutual prosperity. The effective negotiations and thoughtful revisions to this legislation are a model for how we can bring those goals together. Councilmember Harrell deserves congratulations for managing this effectively and creating legislation that will strengthen Seattle.
PUBLIC FINANCING OF CAMPAIGNS PROPOSAL GOES TO BALLOT
On Monday, June 24, the City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance sending a proposal for public financing of campaigns to the November ballot. If adopted by the voters, the proposal would authorize the Council to authorize a small property tax increment (about $4 per household) in order to provide the opportunity for candidates to secure most of the funding for their campaigns from public resources instead of private donations.
Seattle had a similar program in effect until 1994, when the authorization for public campaign financing was repealed by the State. That authorization was restored in 2008, but at that time the Council decided that the midst of a recession was not a good time to present this program to the voters. Now that Seattle is fully into the recovery, we decided that it would be appropriate to ask the voters' guidance on whether public financing of campaigns was a priority.
The idea of reducing the role of private money in campaigns was popularized in the 1970's by Common Cause, and the Presidential election check off on the 1040 form was adopted as the first step at the national level. Since then, public financing at the national level has languished, with both Presidential candidates declining public financing in 2012. However, a number of states and localities have been experimenting with it over the last few years.
The Seattle proposal would provide up to $210,000 in matching funds for Council candidates who secure 600 donations of at least $10 from Seattle residents. Donations up to $50 per person would be matched at a 6 to 1 ratio until the maximum of $210,000 was reached. Candidates who accept public financing would be limited to spending $245,000 for the campaign, unless they faced an opponent who was spending significantly more, in which case they would be allowed to raise additional private funds and exceed the cap.
There are a number of arguments for public campaign financing. The ones that are most relevant to Seattle are:
- It encourages a broader range of candidates to consider running.
- It encourages candidates to seek larger numbers of small donations.
- It sends a message that the role of private money in campaigns should be reduced.
- It frees candidates to spend more time campaigning and less time raising money.
While these are good arguments for the program, most public financing programs have been targeted at political systems where entrenched incumbents raised very large amounts of money from large donors and intimidated or vastly outspent those without connections. In Seattle, campaign spending for City Council is quite modest, averaging only about $1 per voter – in contrast, candidates in many cities spend $50 to $100 per voter. In comparison to other cities, Seattle has more competitive elections and a lower rate of reelection for incumbents. And Seattle has a strictly enforced campaign contribution limit of $700 per person, which requires candidates to develop a broad base of campaign contributors.
Public financing has also sometimes been prompted by public concern over real or perceived corruption. However, Seattle has a very clean election record, and, again, the contribution limit and a vigorous enforcement process through the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission have kept Seattle politics on the straight and narrow.
So, on balance, the benefits from a public financing system in Seattle are modest compared to many other places where it has or could be adopted. But they are real benefits, and I and the other Councilmembers believe that it is appropriate to ask the public to consider adopting this proposal.
FARM CITY ROUNDTABLE
King County invited me to present at the second South County Farm/City Roundtable, sponsored by the County in cooperation with the King County Agriculture Commission and the King Conservation District. The meeting, at Green River Community College, brought farmers and City representatives from Auburn, Kent, Normandy Park, SeaTac, and Tukwila together to talk about strategies for making the connections that will support getting healthy food to City residents while ensuring that farmers can make a living and preserve their land.
The group of participants has drafted a set of Principles for Farm/City Connections, which they hope to complete soon and present as guidance to the participating governments and organizations. The Principles begin with a preamble, stating that "The Farm/City Connection is a defining process that represents the broad notion that all activities should take into account implications for people and the environment so that our actions meet the needs of the current generation without compromising future generations." It continues with seven specifics:
- Support and encourage increased understanding and appreciation between farms and cities.
- Support policies and programs that reduce the prevalence of obesity and improve the overall health and wellness of those in our communities.
- Enhance food access for the local population.
- Support efforts to establish, promote and expand local farmers markets and community gardens.
- Encourage growth in cities while considering impacts to neighboring farmland.
- Partner with farms to develop projects (i.e. processing, low income housing for farm workers, etc.) that will enhance jobs and economic growth in cities while providing valuable infrastructure for agriculture.
- Encourage farmland conservation and sustainable farming efforts, by providing incentives to small, local farms.
Participants were enthusiastic about the kind of work Seattle is doing to promote these connections as part of our Local Food Action Initiative, as well as the opportunities that are emerging from the work of the Regional Food Policy Council.
It was a great reminder that making things happen can be guided, spurred, and supported by legislation and high level policy development, but that the action has to take place at the local level. Preserving farmland is a great goal, but it will only be realized if each farmer sees economic return from continuing to farm and has the support needed to market what the farm produces and consumers who want to buy these products and have easy access to them. This South County group can become one of the key alliances that will make change happen on the ground for local food.
The Regional Food Policy Council (RFPC) has completed the initial stages of its research and understanding of the needs for regional policy to promote local food, and will soon publish five papers on how local governments can address key issues. I will first present these to the Growth Management Planning Board, and then I and other RFPC members will fan out to other organizations around the region to seek to turn the ideas into action. Groups like this South County Farm/City Connection will be critical to turning ideas into reality.
"There is a debt of service due from every man to his country, proportioned to the bounties which nature and fortune have measured to him."
"Too many people expect wonders from democracy, when the most wonderful thing of all is just having it."
Your Seattle City Councilmember
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