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May 2004 - Issue No. 2
City Hall perspectives from Councilmember Tom Rasmussen

Welcome to the second edition of Point of View.

Thanks to each of you who commented on my first newsletter. Your responses were informative and I welcome your continued thoughts and comments about the important issues facing our city. Some suggested the newsletter should not be quite as lengthy, so this newsletter is more succinct.

This month's newsletter will provide an update on the Council's work on the monorail. I also discuss two issues that the committee I chair is working on - the creation of two new alcohol impact areas (AIAs) and measures the City can take to protect consumers from misleading information about tax refund anticipation loans.

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.

It is an honor to represent you and I look forward to working with you.

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

In this issue:

  • Monorail Update
  • Protecting Seattle residents from extremely high cost loans
  • Designating Alcohol Impact Areas
  • Working in the Neighborhoods

    Monorail Update

    On Monday May 3rd, the Council began making preliminary decisions regarding the alignment of Seattle's future monorail system. The alignment includes the route that the monorail will take and the location of the monorail stations.

    The Seattle Monorail Project (SMP) is an independent agency authorized by Seattle voters to develop, design and construct the monorail. The City has the responsibility of approving various permits and agreements for the use of city right-of-way for transportation purposes. The first issue voted on was whether or not to send the monorail through the Seattle Center. The vote was 5-4 to allow it to go through Seattle Center. I oppose allowing the monorail to go through Seattle Center because I am deeply concerned about the adverse impacts on Seattle Center's open space environment.

    The second monorail issue voted on related to the minimum amount of clearance between the monorail and buildings along Second Avenue in downtown. Businesses and property owners are concerned about the potential safety risks and restrictions on building operations. By a 6-3 vote, the Council amended the alignment legislation by requiring 14 feet of distance between monorail and adjacent property along Second Avenue.

    I voted in support of this amendment because the monorail, should to the extent possible, minimize the impact on adjacent properties. I would not have supported this amendment without a provision to preserve an existing bike lane through the downtown core.

    Looking ahead, there are a number of issues the Council needs to evaluate prior to a final alignment vote in June. The following is a schedule for the Council's consideration of remaining issues:

  • Monday, May 10 - Council Briefing, 9:30 a.m.
    2nd Avenue
    California Avenue SW
    15th Avenue NW
    Harrison Street
    Crown Hill area
  • Monday, May 17 - Committee of the Whole, 2:30 p.m. (after Full Council)
    35th Avenue SW and SW Alaska Street versus Fauntleroy Way SW
    Operations Center, and Switches Along 15th Avenue West
    Elliott & Mercer Station
  • Thursday, May 20 - Committee of the Whole, 2:30 p.m.
    King Street Station Vicinity
    Elevated Walkway at 5th & Stewart Station
    Other Issues (possible)
  • Monday, May 24 - Committee of the Whole, 2:30 p.m. (after Full Council)
    Any remaining alignment issues, and/or Transit Way Agreement

    The monorail was supported by the voters in three separate elections. There may be times when I question or disagree with recommendations of the Seattle Monorail Project. This does not diminish my strong support for successful construction of the monorail. The Council has a responsibility to the residents of this city to ensure that this major public works project serves the broader community interests and goals. I am working to ensure the timely completion of all Council decisions.

    If you have any questions about the Council's ongoing consideration of the monorail, or would like to share your thoughts, please contact me.

    Return to Index

    Protecting Seattle residents from extremely high cost loans

    Last month, I convened a panel in the committee I chair to discuss the impact of tax refund anticipation loans on our community. Tax refund anticipation loans offered by commercial tax preparers allow customers to borrow against part or all of their expected tax refund.

    Consumer groups have raised questions about the practices and high fees associated with the marketing and sale of these loans. In 2002, the Consumer Federation of America and the National Consumer Law Center released a report stating that the typical refund anticipation loan fee translates into annual percentage interest rates ranging from 67 percent to 774 percent. These loans are typically in place for only a short period of time given that the IRS issues refunds filed electronically within 10 days. The report revealed that almost 50 percent of taxpayers who had agreed to a refund anticipation loan did not realize they were getting a loan.

    I'm concerned that consumers are unclear about what they are agreeing to with these loans compared to other options available. I want to look at ways to educate and protect people from any misleading information.

    At the committee hearing we heard from members of Washington Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and Professor Jennifer Romich from the University of Washington that the working poor are most susceptible to these loans. They are more likely to rely on for-profit commercial tax services due to education, language and literacy barriers, and financial needs.

    It was also interesting to learn that four out of every ten refund anticipation loan borrowers are recipients of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a special tax benefit for working families earning low or moderate incomes. It is estimated that in 2002, approximately $324 million from the EITC, intended for working families, was diverted to commercial tax preparers to pay refund anticipation loan fees.

    I am exploring whether the City of Seattle could institute a set of disclosure requirements to ensure that consumers have adequate information and details involving refund anticipation loans to protect consumers and working families.

    If you would like to learn more about refund anticipation loans, please visit http://www.consumerlaw.org/

    Return to Index

    Designating Alcohol Impact Areas

    This month, the Housing, Human Services and Health Committee will consider a proposal from the Mayor to create two new "alcohol impact areas" (AIAs) in the city. This approach is a part of a more comprehensive effort towards reducing chronic public inebriation in Seattle, which includes treatment, emergency services and other strategies.

    In 2000, the City created its first AIA in Pioneer Square. City officials, community members and local merchants adopted voluntary solutions to reduce public inebriation. When those efforts failed, the City petitioned the Washington State Liquor Control Board to impose mandatory restrictions on alcohol sales. That request was approved and the Pioneer Square AIA has been in effect for seven months. Preliminary results indicate that the number of arrests for alcohol abuse related crimes have declined in the Pioneer Square AIA but there has been an increase in the number of public inebriates in areas adjacent to the Pioneer Square AIA and the University District.

    The first of two new proposed AIAs is in the Central Core area of the city which includes Downtown, the Central Area, Capitol Hill, the International District, Belltown and Uptown neighborhoods. The second is in the University District. A detailed map of these areas can be found on the city's website at www.seattle.gov/council.

    Designation would allow the City to work with community members to create voluntary compliance measures with businesses that are licensed to sell alcoholic beverages in order to curtail chronic public inebriation in these neighborhoods. If those efforts fail, the Council would consider asking the Liquor Control Board to impose mandatory restrictions.

    AIA's are intended to help neighborhoods which are harmed by the presence of large numbers of chronically inebriated people. AIA's do not help the alcoholic. I feel strongly that any regulatory measure to address chronic public inebriation must be coupled with clear strategies for treatment of alcoholism.

    On Tuesday, May 11th at 5:30 p.m., the Housing, Human Services and Health Committee held a public hearing on this issue. You can view the hearing via streaming video by visiting www.seattlechannel.org and it is replayed frequently on the Seattle Channel 21/28. Then on May 18th at 9:30 a.m., a tentative vote on this legislation is scheduled by the committee.

    If you would like more information about the proposed alcohol impact areas, please visit www.seattle.gov/council. or contact my office.

    Return to Index

    Working in the Neighborhoods

    The most enjoyable part of each day is attending community events and meetings. I enjoy the opportunity to visit and see first hand the important work taking place in the neighborhoods. I hope to see you at one of these or future events.

  • Friday, May 14th, 6:00 p.m. - Greater Seattle Business Association Scholarship Awards Dinner at New Holly Gathering Hall
  • Saturday, May 15th, 4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. Girl Scouts Urban Camp reception at the Convention Center Sky Bridge
  • Saturday, May 22nd, 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. - I will be outside of View Ridge PCC Natural Market at 6514 40th Avenue NE holding community office hours.
  • Sunday, May 23rd, 10:00 a.m. - Central Library Celebration and Grand Opening at 1000 4th Avenue

    Please contact my office if you have any questions about these events or would like more information about where I will be in the community in the coming weeks.

    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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