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Point of View

February2005 - Issue No. 10
City Hall perspectives
from Councilmember Tom Rasmussen

Welcome to the February edition of Point of View.

The year is getting off to a quick start and I wanted to share with you some of the issues I'll be working on this month. As always, I appreciate your feedback from last month's edition of the newsletter. I will continue to keep you informed of important issues coming up before the City Council.

Since the end of November I have been working on a review of possible sites for a new downtown homeless services center. This will represent a major investment of taxpayer dollars ($3.2 million) and I want to make sure the city makes the right decision with the best interests of those who are homeless and the broader general public in mind.

I find it helpful to get your perspective on policy initiatives before I formally introduce them to the Council for consideration. One of the projects that I am exploring is creating a pilot program to test the effectiveness of automated traffic enforcement cameras that monitor dangerous intersections and school crossing zones. More than a hundred cities across the country have implemented this technology with varying degrees of success in improving public safety.

Finally, I want to update you on some legislation that recently passed the City Council regarding the Alaskan Way Viaduct. And as always, I'll let you know where I intend to be this month in the community. I'm also introducing a new feature called "Community Causes" to highlight some important neighborhood projects.

I am honored to represent you on the Seattle City Council. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Tom Rasmussen
Seattle City Councilmember
Chair, Housing, Human Services and Health Committee

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In this issue:

A better use of taxpayer dollars for a new downtown homeless service center

Each year, the City of Seattle invests nearly $25 million in local, state and federal funds to address homelessness in our community. These dollars primarily fund emergency shelters, hygiene services and other programs that assist people who are homeless. Based on best estimates, there are still at least 5,000 individuals in King County who are chronically homeless and nearly 2,000 people on any given night sleeping on our streets. Given the growing budget challenges facing local government, we must invest our limited financial resources more wisely on preventing rather than just managing homelessness in our community.

In September, Mayor Nickels announced that he was proposing $3.2 million for a downtown homeless services center at the corner of 4th and Yesler. This facility would be built in conjunction with the new fire station 10 and the City's emergency operations center. I expressed concern about the cost and location for the new service center.

Given the size of the investment being proposed, and the size of the facility (only 5,000 square feet) it seemed prudent to review whether we had exhausted all the possible options for the most cost-effective plan to provide services that would actually help people who are homeless become more self-sufficient. With the support of my colleagues, I introduced a budget action to set aside the $3.2 million and put in motion a two-month community review process to see if we could find a better alternative.

Since then, two alternatives have emerged and one of them clearly stands out as the strongest option. The Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) is a non-profit organization that serves over 5,000 people annually by providing emergency shelter, survival services, clinical programs and supportive housing to help homeless people survive and achieve their highest level of self-sufficiency. Their organization has informed the City that they could develop an 8,600 square foot homeless services facility for $2.1 million on the 500 block of Third Avenue in Pioneer Square. DESC's proposal would cost the City $1.1 million less in construction costs while offering more capacity for supportive services. They would also be able to have the facility operational as early as January of 2006 - a full year before the other proposals on the table. Here's a comparison of the 4th and Yesler and DESC proposals with regard to some key criteria:

Criteria 4th and Yesler DESC
Capital Costs $3.2 million $2.1 million
Facility Size 5,000 square feet 8,645 square feet
Operational Start Date January, 2007 January, 2006
Services Proposed 300 sq. ft. for intake and referral.

Additional space for hygiene, meals and day center.
2,425 sq. ft. for intake, referral and assessment services and 1,280 sq. ft. for on-site case management and supportive services.

Additional space for hygiene, meals and day center.

The bottom-line with this new proposal from DESC, is that:

  • It saves taxpayer dollars;
  • Offers more meaningful services to give those who are homeless the tools and assistance they need to improve their lives and become self-sufficient; and
  • Because the facility costs less to build, we can reinvest some of those dollars into neighborhood amenities and improvements.

I will be recommending to the Council that we move forward with the DESC proposal. Both the Seattle Times and PI reported on this issue last week. You can view these articles on my website at

My committee will decide which homeless services center project to pursue on February 15th at 9:30 a.m. If you have any questions or comments about this issue, please contact me.

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Exploring new technology to reduce traffic accidents and improve public safety

In 2003 there were 297 vehicle collisions at 24 different traffic signaled intersections in Seattle. Many of these accidents involved drivers recklessly ignoring traffic signals. With limited resources, our Police Department is unable to issue citations to everyone who runs a red light. My own observation is that this is a major problem in our city and I want to see how we can improve traffic and pedestrian safety in Seattle.

For the last several years, cities from across the country have turned to what's called "automated traffic enforcement" or also sometimes referred to as "red-light cameras." Cameras are mounted at intersections and when someone drives through an intersection after the signal has turned red, a photo is taken of the vehicle and its license plate. That information is reviewed and if it's determined that there is a clear violation, a citation is mailed to the vehicle owner.

In 2001, Seattle was selected as one of five cities in the state by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission to participate in a demonstration program for automated traffic enforcement. There was initial interest on the part of the City to launch this project. However, due to competing budget priorities, the issue was ultimately tabled. I am reviving this discussion.

Traffic safety mitigation efforts over the last several years do not appear to have been successful at curtailing collisions at high incident intersections. At the same time, the number of vehicles and pedestrians on our roadways continues to increase. New strategies are needed and this technology is worth further consideration. There are several issues that need to be addressed including:

  • Accuracy of the technology;
  • Addressing privacy and potential concerns with violating civil liberties;
  • Implementation costs;
  • How citations can be challenged;
  • What measurements would be used to determine effectiveness of the cameras; and
  • What criteria would be used to determine intersection selection?

These are just a few of the questions we'll explore before proceeding with a pilot program for red-light cameras. It is important that we make sure automated traffic enforcement is a fair and reasonable way to improve public safety. I will be working with Councilmember Nick Licata who chair's the Council's Public Safety Committee on this issue. I know that this will be controversial and some people are going to disagree with this approach to traffic enforcement. But driving is a regulated activity on the City's public right-of-way. Running a red light is unsafe and illegal and we have a public safety responsibility to seek to improve pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle safety.

I'd like to hear your thoughts about red light cameras. You can reach me by email at or call me at (206) 684-8808.

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A few weeks ago the City Council adopted several resolutions declaring our support for a tunnel option as the preferred alternative for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Resolutions represent the Council's public policy intentions. Included as part of these policy statements was the development of a plan for safety and detours during construction of the tunnel. Developing a well thought out safety and transition plan is critical to keeping traffic moving effectively during road closures and construction related delays.

I proposed a few amendments to this plan that are important to Seattle residents. The first was to ensure that specific strategies were included to notify drivers early and often so they may avoid congested areas and identify alternate routes. Drivers coming into the downtown core on the West Seattle Bridge or from North Seattle need to be alerted by radio and signage about detour routes and closure areas. My amendment calls this out as a priority.

There may be investment strategies that the City can make to improve the current transportation system prior to or during the construction of the Viaduct replacement project. And for that reason, I also included language to make sure the water taxi won't be overlooked as part of this planning process. The water taxi could be one of these investment priorities.

A third amendment that I offered was to include our regional partners in this planning effort. That includes the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Coast Guard and the Port of Seattle. The construction area will be extremely congested and complex given that rail, freight traffic, and bridge openings all converge in a very narrow corridor under the current Viaduct and the West Seattle Bridge. I am particularly interested in seeing if we can work with the Coast Guard to avoid opening the low level West Seattle Bridge during emergencies, accidents or during rush hour.

As we move forward with identifying funding for the Viaduct/Seawall Project, it's important that we don't lose sight of some of the other details and issues that could have major implications on commuters coming into downtown from West Seattle and North Seattle. I crafted my amendments with this in mind and I am pleased that the City will undertake this planning effort to manage some of the potential challenges we will surely face once the tunnel construction gets underway.

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In your neighborhood

I'm excited about being out in the neighborhoods again this year. In 2004 I attended 284 community events and meetings. With your help, I hope to exceed that number this year. If you'd like me to join you at an event in your neighborhood, please contact me or send me an email. Like last year, I also plan to host a few forums at City Hall on a variety of topics. Right now, I'm planning a panel discussion on elder abuse in the next few months and a forum in early spring on issues effecting refugee and immigrant communities.

I hope to see you at one of the following events:

  • Sunday, February 6 from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. - The Council on African American Elders Community Forum at Catholic Community Services, 100 23rd Avenue South;
  • Tuesday, February 8 from noon - 2:00 p.m. - Lunch and Tour of Seattle Central Community College;
  • Wednesday, February 9 from 11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. - Our Place Day Care Luncheon at Knights of Columbus Hall, 722 E. Union Street;
  • Wednesday, February 9 from 7:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. - 34th District Democrats at the Hall at Fauntleroy, 9131 California Avenue SW;
  • Thursday, February 10 from 12:30 - 2:00 p.m. - Fare Start Lunch and Tour at 1902 2nd Avenue;
  • Saturday, February 12 from 10:00 a.m. - Noon - Laurelhurst Neighborhood Appreciation Day at the Laurelhurst Community Center, 4554 NE 41st Street;
  • Saturday, February 12 from 1:00 - 4:00 p.m. - Groundbreaking for the Historic Cooper Cultural Arts Center at 4408 Delridge Way SW;
  • Saturday, February 12 from 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. - Yesler Community Center Opening at 917 E. Yesler Way;
  • Thursday, February 17 from 5:00 - 9:00 p.m. - Center for Career Alternatives 25th Annual Dinner at the Seattle Sheraton;
  • Thursday, February 24 from 6:00 - 9:00 p.m. - Latina/o Bar Association Banquet at Olympic Hotel;
  • Thursday, February 24 from 6:00 - 9:00 p.m. - UW Women's Center - Women Leaders Dinner at UW Husky Union Building Ballroom;
  • Saturday, March 5 from 9:00 - 10:00 p.m. - Late Night Recreation Program at Delridge Community Center

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Community causes

This is a new section of the newsletter that I've created to keep you informed about community projects. This month, I am highlighting an effort underway in West Seattle to recast the Statue of Liberty at Alki Beach Park. The Northwest Program for the Arts (NPA) has initiated an effort to recast the sculpture in bronze. The Boy Scouts of America originally installed the statue in 1952. Sand, salt spray, vandalism and 50 years of wear and tear has led to a need to refurbish it for future generations.

More information is available on the web at or call (206) 632-4545.

If you are working on a "community cause" or know of one that may be of interest to Point of View readers, please feel free to send them to me and I'll try and highlight them in future editions of the newsletter.

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In August, we updated our newsletter distribution list and created a listserv to automate subscription and removal requests. If you have received this newsletter in error, I apologize for any inconvenience. Point of View subscription and removal requests may be found at the end of this newsletter.

Other questions or comments about Point of View? Please email or call (206) 684-8808.

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