September 2004 - Issue No. 6
City Hall perspectives from Councilmember Tom Rasmussen
Welcome to the September edition of Point of View.
This month I will cover two major challenges facing our city: the 2005 budget and the Alaskan Way Viaduct. In the coming months, I will be actively working on both of these issues.
As chair of the Housing, Human Services and Health Committee, I oversee three City departments critical to meeting the needs of the most vulnerable members our community including seniors, people who are homeless, people with disabilities and the unemployed. How the 2005 budget supports the safety net of social services in Seattle will be a key issue during the Council's deliberations this fall.
I also serve as one of three members on the Council's Transportation Committee, responsible for improving mobility and maintaining our transportation infrastructure. On the horizon are decisions related to our most pressing transportation challenge, the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Both of these committee assignments are responsible for issues which play an extraordinary role in shaping the future character and livability of Seattle.
In the next few months, difficult decisions will need to be made. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts about these important issues and any other questions or comments you may have. You can contact me by calling (206) 684-8808 or by e-mail by clicking here.
It is an honor to be working for the people of Seattle and I look forward to hearing from you.
Seattle City Councilmember
Chair, Housing, Human Services and Health Committee
In this issue:
2005 Budget: A Sustainable Budget Putting People First
On Monday, September 27, Mayor Nickels submitted to the City Council his proposed 2005 budget. This marks the formal beginning of our budget process. Under the City Charter the Council has the authority to approve, reject or change the proposed budget. From late September to the end of November we will review the details of the budget, hold a series of town hall meetings and meet individually with constituents and make changes to the proposed budget.
The City has a General Fund shortfall of more than $20 million. This budget gap can be traced to a combination of increased costs to maintain existing city services and declining revenues as a result of the economic downturn and lingering effects of Initiative 747, which limited property tax growth below inflation. The General Fund represents a pot of approximately $676 million in discretionary funding derived from property, sales, business & occupation and utility taxes. These dollars help fund the police and fire departments, health and human services, parks, libraries and transportation investments.
Confronted with the challenge of maintaining basic services while cutting $20 million from the budget, the Council has agreed to adopt a set of guiding principles for our budget decisions. The three primary goals are as follows:
- Maintain support for basic human needs;
- Maintain public safety; and
- Improve the financial stability of the City
I am pleased with principles that emerged to the top of our list. I am committed to preserving our safety net of social services while retaining the number of uniformed police officers and firefighters. If you would like to read a more detailed description of the Council's budget principles, click here.
The adoption of the budget requires strong public input - something that I care deeply about. Below is a list of scheduled opportunities for you to share your budget priorities and recommendations. In addition, I intend to be accessible for individual meetings with constituents.
My staff is available to assist you with any budget questions you may have:
The following is a schedule of public hearings and meetings that will be held on the 2005 budget:
- Thursday, October 7, 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. - Town Hall Budget Meeting at Mt. Zion Baptist Church
- Wednesday, October 13, 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. - Minority Executive Directors Coalition at NewHolly Gathering Hall
- Thursday, October 14, 5:30 p.m. (call-in testimony to begin at 4:30 p.m.) - Public Hearing in Council Chambers at City Hall
- Wednesday, October 27, 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. - Council Budget Retreat (open to the public) in the Bertha Knight Landes Room at City Hall
- Thursday, November 4, 5:30 p.m. (call-in testimony to begin at 4:30 p.m.) - Public Hearing in Council Chambers at City Hall
- Friday, November 12, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. - Budget Committee Final Votes on the 2005 Budget in Council Chambers at City Hall
- Monday, November 22 - Full Council Adopts Budget
In early October I will send you an update highlighting some of the areas in the proposed budget that I am interested in and/or have concerns about.
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Alaskan Way Viaduct: Update and Next Steps
When I worked for former Councilmember Jeannette Williams, we tackled one of the major transportation challenges of our time - seeking the funding and the community support to build both the high-level and the low-level West Seattle Bridges. I worked with the business community, the Port of Seattle and the Harbor Island Improvement Association, neighborhood groups and the Downtown Seattle Development Association to gain broad support and consensus to build the right bridge for the long-term benefit of Seattle and the region.
In retrospect it may be hard to imagine or understand that there was very serious opposition to the bridges and doubt that they would serve us well or ever be built. Our experience has shown that the right decisions were made. The bridges are serving our community very well.
Today, our city and region's most urgent transportation issue is the challenge of how best to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Since March, I have participated in regular Council meetings to review the replacement alternatives and the various policy implications related to this project. I will share with you where we are in the process today and some of my thoughts as we move forward.
During the campaign, I established the following principles, among others, for how I viewed the Viaduct replacement project:
- Whatever option is ultimately selected, it must be a sustainable and long-term solution;
- We should seize the opportunity for opening up our waterfront for new economic development and open space; and
- Our roads and highways must contribute towards enhancing our overall quality of life
As we get closer to determining a preferred alternative for the Viaduct, we must be mindful of two significant factors: the total cost of the project and our partners in this effort. Ultimately the City, State and Federal Government will need to agree on how to proceed with this multi-billion project. Given that reality, I feel strongly that we need to look at this project holistically in terms of the public benefit that can be realized as a result of each replacement alternative. We need to develop some consensus on how this cost/benefit analysis will be conducted to guide our decision making with regard to the project.
For now, the Mayor and City Council have in principle stated our support for a tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The Washington State Department of Transportation will announce a preferred alternative by the end of this year, at which point, more detailed design and engineering will be developed. Once there is agreement on a preferred option to replace the Viaduct, more specific discussions can begin on project costs and funding mechanisms next year.
Opportunities for public input will be available throughout this process. On Monday October 18th in the Bertha Landes Knight meeting room at City Hall, there will be an opportunity for members of the public to share their thoughts about the future of the Viaduct. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. and public comment will begin at 6 p.m. To read more about the Alaskan Way Viaduct, click here. I will update you as new developments emerge on this critical regional transportation project.
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Legislative Update: Regulating Deceptive Tax Refund Loans
Last month I introduced legislation to curb deceptive tax refund loan practices in Seattle. These refund anticipation loans (RALS) are often targeted to low-moderate income families. No meaningful regulations exist in Washington State to ensure that people understand the terms and costs of these loans or the alternatives. Several states have enacted legislation to protect people from deceptive practices relating to RALS.
I am pleased to inform you that as of Monday, September 21, Seattle joins New York as the only cities in the country to regulate RAL disclosures. I am very proud of this legislation because exercising the regulatory authority of the City Council is one of our most meaningful and effective tools for creating good public policy. This new law will help Seattle's taxpayers make informed decisions on filing their tax returns next year without overly burdensome regulation on those who facilitate tax refund loans.
If you would like to read more about this effort, the Seattle Times has published a series of articles and an editorial about this issue. You can find these articles by visiting my website at by clicking here.
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Legislative Update: UW Lease Lid
Last month I shared with you my perspective on lifting the University of Washington Lease Lid (click here to read last month's article). On September 16, the Council's Government Affairs and Labor Committee forwarded legislation lifting the lease lid to the Full Council for final action later this month. The UW has the potential to help revitalize a struggling University District. I believe that we have put appropriate safeguards in place to protect neighboring communities from excessive encroachment by the University. Here are some examples:
- UW is prohibited from leasing street-level property in the primary and secondary impact zones which extends as far south as the ship canal, east to Laurelhurst, west to Meridian and north up to 65th Street;
- UW is prohibited from leasing property in residential neighborhoods (single family zones and low-density multi-family zones) for non-residential uses;
- UW is prohibited from leasing or acquiring the Battelle property in Laurelhurst;
- UW is prohibited from allowing advertising of housing that violates City housing code regulations on campus;
- Require periodic reports on the effect of UW leasing on housing stock; and
- Require a review of all these conditions after five years.
I introduced an amendment to add language requiring the City to monitor the potential displacement of people or loss of housing as a result of expanding the UW's leasing capacity. This provision will allow the City to track our net-gain or net-loss of housing in the University District. By tracking this type of information, we will have a better understanding of what may be occurring and how to meet our housing goals. This amendment passed unanimously in committee.
I also introduced a resolution directing City staff to evaluate and review zoning and development regulations that encourage pedestrian-oriented development and street level commercial activity. This was a priority that I heard from U-District community members. The resolution also passed unanimously.
I am optimistic that lifting the lease lid with specific restrictions provides a balanced solution to meeting the long-term needs of the UW and the neighborhoods around the University.
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Working in the Neighborhoods
I appreciate the opportunity to visit our neighborhoods and observe first hand the important work happening in our communities. These next few weeks, I'm looking forward to talking with people about their budget priorities in their neighborhoods.
I hope you can join me at one of these events that I'll be attending in September and October. If there are other events I should know about or if you would like me to visit your neighborhood, please call me at (206) 684-8808.
- September 30, 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. - Forum on Homelessness at St. Marks Bloedel Auditorium
- October 2, 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. - Community Festival: Longfellow Creek Legacy Trail Opening at Yancy Park
- October 7, 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. - Council Town Hall Budget Meeting at Mt. Zion Baptist Church
- October 13, 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. - Minority Executive Director's Coalition Forum on Human Services at New Holly Gathering Hall
- October 16, 3:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. - Fauntleroy Fall Festival at the Hall at Fauntleroy
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.
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