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April 2004 - Issue No. 1
City Hall perspectives from Councilmember Tom Rasmussen

Welcome to my new electronic newsletter.

In an effort to keep you informed about issues before the City Council, I plan to publish this newsletter periodically. You've received the first edition because you contacted my office in the past or have expressed interest in keeping up to date on Council matters.

I just completed my first 100 days in office. These first three months have been both rewarding and challenging. In this edition of Point of View I share some insight into the issues facing the Council in the coming months. You will read about the first piece of housing legislation that has been adopted by the Council this year, the state of the City budget and I offer my thoughts on the growing local and national debate on gay-marriage.

I would appreciate your thoughts on Point of View and any other questions or comments you may have. You can contact my office by calling (206) 684-8808 or by e-mail by clicking here. Point of View subscription and removal instructions can be found at the end of the newsletter.

Thanks for your interest,

Tom Rasmussen
Seattle City Councilmember
Chair, Housing, Human Services and Health Committee
http://www.cityofseattle.net/council/rasmussen

In this issue:

  • New Staff
  • Housing Committee Report
  • Budget Update
  • Same-Sex Marriage
  • Rx Drugs
  • Remembering Bataan
  • Community Visits Report
  • Community Schedule

    New Staff

    Joining Mike Fong and Brian Hawksford on my Council staff is Maritza Rivera. Maritza moved to Seattle from Washington D.C. a few years ago where she worked in the Clinton Administration as Associate Director for Public Liaison to the Hispanic community. She also spent several years working with the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In our office, she will coordinate constituent correspondence and work on special projects.

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    Committee Report

    In January, I became the chair of the Council's Housing, Human Services and Health Committee. These three public policy areas impact thousands of Seattle residents and I am honored to have the opportunity to work on these issues for the next two years.

    The first piece of legislation that I sponsored on the Council was the renewal of the Multi-family Tax Exemption program, which helps stimulate the development of affordable housing in Seattle.

    For the last several months, the Council reviewed the previous program that existed from 1999 to 2002. Adjustments to the program were needed in order to improve the public benefit and incentives that could be achieved.

    On Monday, March 15th, the City Council approved the Council Bill which I proposed by a 6-3 vote. Two public hearings were held. We heard more than six hours of public testimony from low-income housing advocates, non-profit and for profit developers, environmental and labor representatives and community members from across the city before finalizing the legislation. I feel the legislation adopted is an improvement upon the original program and will help stimulate the development of new affordable housing in Seattle.

    The key to the Multi-family Tax Exemption program is finding the right balance to create enough incentive for private and non-profit developers to utilize the program and ensure the City obtains adequate public benefit. I approached my review of the program with careful consideration given the shift of property taxes involved to Seattle's property owners. The average annual shift in property taxes to the average homeowner is roughly $0.25/year for every fifty units developed. To justify the tax exemption, the housing developed must meet our broad community goals of creating more density, encouraging mixed-income neighborhoods and revitalizing distressed neighborhoods.

    The MFTE program will provide a 10-year property tax exemption on the structure for new construction and rehabilitation of multi-family housing units for developers who agree to set-aside 20-30% of units affordable to people earning 60-70% of median income in Seattle. The program will be in 17 neighborhoods. The neighborhoods are either economically distressed, lagging in meeting their 20-year growth targets or areas the Council has expressed a strong desire for creating more mixed-income housing density to meet the city's growth management challenges.

    I believe Seattle should have a range of affordable housing. Moderate-income people - teachers, administrative and retail workers, young professionals and working families - are being priced out of the city. Market rate housing will be developed on its own. Low-income housing is the primary focus of Seattle's $86 million Housing Levy and the State's Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, which targets housing in the 30-50% range of median income. Individuals and families in the 60-70% median income range earning $35-45,000 a year and do not qualify for low-income housing, should have an opportunity to live and work in Seattle. But few financial tools are available to both non-profit and for-profit home builders to promote building new housing for those earning 60-70% of median income.

    This legislation provides for the opportunity to make adjustments in order to ensure adequate public benefit is obtained in exchange for the value of a 10-year property tax exemption. An annual report to the Council is required and each project will be subject to Council review by resolution prior to moving forward.

    For more information about the adopted legislation, please visit http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~public/CBOR1.htm and in the search field titled "Council Bill No.," enter 114775. I encourage you to also contact my office if you have any questions.

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    Budget Update

    Last fall, the Council filled a $4.3 million budget gap with emergency funds. This gap was created by a State Supreme Court ruling that City Light could no longer bill ratepayers for the cost of operating street lights. This responsibility was determined to be a general fund obligation and that translates into an additional annual $6 million cost. I was a part of a working group of four councilmembers and the Mayor which sought ways to balance the budget. On Monday, March 29th, the Full Council approved a final budget package that reflects more than $9 million in cuts.

    During this budget process, I sought to protect our human services safety net. Initially, more than $800,000 in Human Services reductions were identified. We rejected nearly $350,000 in cuts. In the end, we were able to keep the cuts under 2% of the overall Human Services Department budget.

    As difficult as it was to trim $9 million from the general fund, I am pleased that several key programs and City functions were held harmless in this latest round of budget cuts. These include:

    • Public library hours and service levels will be maintained;
    • Neighborhood Matching Fund will continue at current funding levels;
    • No cuts in uniformed Police and Fire Department personnel;
    • City funding for school crossing-guards maintained; and
    • $23.7 million in Human Services Funding and $10.2 million in Public Health funding for 2004 will continue.

      In the last three years, $100 million has been reduced from the City's budget. These cuts have been driven by the economic downturn, declining revenues and increasing costs to deliver basic services to our residents. More reductions for the 2005-2006 budget are anticipated. These circumstances highlight the need to create a sustainable budget for the long-term financial health and stability of our City.

      I welcome your input as we continue the process of prioritizing City services. Your thoughts in reducing the City's costs and/or enhancing its revenues are important to me as we examine the long-term implications of the growing divergence between the City's revenues and expenditures.

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      Same-Sex Marriage

      Seattle has historically been a leader on civil liberties and equal rights for all its residents. With the growing national debate over gay-marriage, the Mayor, Councilmembers David Della, Jean Godden and I announced on Monday, March 8th, that legislation would be introduced to recognize the validity of all marriage licenses, regardless of gender, from other jurisdictions and extend protections afforded under the City's equal protection ordinance to these individuals.

      The City has no legal authority to issue marriage licenses. This is a county authority in Washington State. Since 1990, the City has recognized domestic partnerships and extended equal benefits to its employees with domestic partners. Taking this action is a positive step in the right direction. This new legislation was acted on by the City Council's Civil Rights Committee on April 6th and will be voted on by the Full Council next Monday, April 12th. As we identify other ways to extend equal protection at the City level, more legislation will follow.

      As we take action locally toward protecting basic human rights, action is still needed in Olympia. Washington State lawmakers need to pass legislation outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation. Such action is long overdue. On Monday, March 8, the Council joined me in unanimously supporting a resolution calling for the adoption of a gay-rights bill by the state legislature. Unfortunately, the Senate adjourned its 2004 session without adopting this bill.

      For more information about the legislation, please visit http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~public/CBOR1.htm and in the search field titled "Council Bill No.," enter 114845, 114846, or 114847.

      Click here to see the press conference announcing the City's recognition of gay-marriage on Monday, March 8.

      Click here for more information about the resolution and the bill in Olympia.

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      Canadian Prescription Drugs

      One of the largest areas of expense for the City is health insurance for its employees. In 2002, the City's healthcare costs were nearly $80 million with more than $7 million spent on prescription drugs alone. These costs are taking away our ability to fund direct services for Seattle's residents.

      On Tuesday, March 16th, I hosted a public forum on the feasibility of the City creating a voluntary program for its employees to purchase prescribed medications from Canada. The City's Personnel Department announced that their preliminary findings suggest that giving employees this option could save the City as much as $1 million. Many public policy questions need to be addressed and we will continue this discussion in the Housing, Human Services and Health Committee.

      On Wednesday, March 10th, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an editorial that I have written on the Canadian prescription drug issue. Click here to read the editorial.

      Both the Seattle Times and Puget Sound Business Journal have expressed their support in their editorial pages for a Canadian prescription drug policy for City employees. Click here to read the Times editorial and here to read the Business Journal Editorial. If you would like to view the March 16th forum in streaming video, click here.

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      Remembering Bataan

      A few weeks ago during a discussion in the Council Transportation Committee, I learned that as part of the High Point redevelopment project in West Seattle, the street-grid in that area would be modified and some streets would be eliminated entirely. One such street was named Bataan Place, which memorializes Filipino and American lives lost during World War II.

      This concerned me because the street name was clearly intended to honor and preserve the historical and cultural significance of the events in the Bataan Peninsula during World War II. I have heard from several members of the Filipino community about the importance of remembering these events.

      On Monday, March 8th, the City Council passed legislation which Councilmember David Della and I introduced renaming a portion of another street in the High Point Community as Southwest Bataan Street. I hope this issue heightens the awareness of the importance of cultural preservation in Seattle. Keeping the Bataan name is a powerful reminder of our history and the sacrifice of others.

      Click here to see the Bataan press conference on Monday, March 8.

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      Community Visits Report

      Homeless Shelter Visits

      I want to get out of the office as much as possible to see and hear how our human services are being provided. Recently I spent part of the day visiting two sites of temporary shelter for homeless families.

      First, I toured the Broadview Shelter operated by Fremont Public Association. The shelter provides emergency and transitional housing for homeless women and their children for up to 12 months. Unlike many shelters that offer only group living situations, each Broadview family stays in their own apartment.

      Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness of women. The women are provided support and legal advocacy services. Job training, housing stability programs, mental health services and drug and alcohol rehabilitation assistance is also provided. For more information about Broadview Shelter please call 206-299-2500.

      Next, I drove to the Sacred Heart Shelter (SHS). There I met Joan Plough who described the services of the shelter. SHS is a non-profit program of the Archdiocesan Housing Authority. SHS provides a temporary home, up to three months, for families (including men). A variety of services are provided to help the families find long-term solutions to the causes of their homelessness.

      Volunteers are a major part of the success of SHS. Volunteers are needed to cook dinners, supervise the children while the parents take some time for themselves and help the staff by answering the phone and door. For more information contact the Volunteer Coordinator at 206-285-7489.

      Special thanks to Katy Thomas Miller, Co-Chair of the Seattle/King Council Coalition for the Homeless for organizing my visits.

      Kiwanis Ravine Overlook

      On Saturday April 3rd, I visited the Kiwanis Ravine Overlook located near Discovery Park. Yvonne Sanchez, Director of Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods also participated in the visit because the work of those who restoring the Ravine is being supported with some Neighborhood Matching funds. It was a beautiful morning.

      I was amazed at what is being done and what I saw. The Ravine is an extraordinary habitat of the great blue heron. Huge beautiful herons circle the area and make their homes there. There are more than a dozen large nests located high in the Maple trees. The scene was as enthralling as anything I have seen in the forests of Central America.

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      Community Schedule

    • Wednesday, April 14th - Ballard District Council Meeting from 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at the Ballard High School Library

    • Thursday, April 15th - Alki Community Council Meeting & Fair from 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. at the Alki Community Center

    • Friday, April 16th - Friends of the Seattle Public Library Book Sale from 6:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. at Magnuson Park, Building 30

    • Sunday, April 18th - "Saturday Office Hours" from 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. at the PCC Market in Fremont

    • Tuesday, April 20th - Fauntleroy Community Association Open House from 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. at the Hall at Fauntleroy

      Return to Index

      If this edition of Point of View was shared with you and you would like to be added to our distribution list, please send an e-mail to me by clicking here If you would like to be removed from the distribution list, please send an e-mail to to me by clicking here. Other questions or comments about Point of View? Please call (206) 684-8808.


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