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Point of View

June 2005 - Issue No. 14
City Hall perspectives
from Councilmember Tom Rasmussen

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the June edition of Point of View.

"What were they thinking?" I wonder from time to time when I learn of, or view, the results of decisions made by previous City Councils.

Fortunately, many good decisions have been made including strong non-discrimination laws, not participating in building the WPPS nuclear power plants, creation of City Light and building the high and low level West Seattle bridges. These issues were highly contentious at the time. People organized to place pressure on the City Council.

Today the City Council is working on policies to foster economic development by supporting development of housing and businesses. We are seeking to manage growth responsibly and have a City that is welcoming to all. This means change and many of the issues are controversial.

Recently we have made decisions on the South Lake Union Streetcar and to change zoning and parking requirements in specific neighborhoods. Given their importance, I am highlighting them in this newsletter.

Also included in this edition of Point of View are some of the events I will attend in July and August, information about a wonderful program offered in the Bitter Lake neighborhood and an introduction to a new member of my staff, Ann Corbitt.

Thank you so much for your continuing interest in the issues facing Seattle. Please let me know if you have questions about any of the topics in this month's newsletter. As always, I appreciate your comments and suggestions.

Warm regards,

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

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In this issue:

New Parking Requirements to Encourage Housing Development

I have received a number of questions and comments about one of the most sensitive issues in Seattle, parking! Recently the City Council made changes to parking requirements in four of our neighborhoods designated as "urban centers": Capitol Hill, Pike/Pine, First Hill and the University District.

Our objective is to meet the current demand for parking and to fulfill our long-term goals of supporting more density in certain neighborhoods and encourage the use of transportation alternatives such as biking, busing, walking and carpooling. This can be influenced through the land use code which has requirements for how much on-site parking must be built for multifamily housing projects. The requirements vary depending upon the neighborhood and the estimates on parking needs. We have learned that the parking needs have changed in the past several years.

Last month, the City Council approved changes to the multifamily housing parking requirements in the four urban centers mentioned above. The changes are only for new construction and reflect testimony we heard at a public hearing, written comments and census data.

The Council reduced the number of parking spaces required with the exception of the University District, where parking requirements were increased for townhouses with three or more units. Here are the reasons I supported these changes:

  • The number of registered vehicles in the city has dropped from more than 430,000 in 1978 to roughly 363,000 in 2000;
  • The average number of vehicles per household citywide is roughly 1 compared to 1.5 in 1990;
  • In Capitol Hill, the average number of vehicles per household is 0.8;
  • In the Pike/Pine neighborhood and on First Hill, the average number of vehicles per household is 0.6;
  • In the U-District, the average number of vehicles per household is 0.9;
  • Much of the on-street parking problems in these urban centers can be attributed to older buildings that provide no parking at all. Reducing the parking requirements for new construction should have little to no impact on the on-street parking demands.

Here is a summary:
Urban Center Previous Parking Requirements New Parking Requirements Current Average # of Vehicles per Household
First Hill 1.1-1.5 (dependent upon unit size) 0.5 space per unit 0.6
Capitol Hill 1.1-1.5 (dependent upon unit size) 1 space per unit 0.8
Pike/Pine 1 space per unit 0.5 space per unit 0.6
University District 1.1-3.25 (dependent upon unit size) 1 space per unit with 2 or fewer bedrooms, 1.5 for units with 3 bedrooms and 0.25 additional spaces per additional bedroom 0.9

One underground parking stall can cost as much as $30,000. Requiring unnecessary parking increases the overall cost for development and can lead to higher rents or discourage new housing altogether. The resulting changes are intended to better align the parking requirements with the current need, and reduce the cost of housing construction.

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Revitalizing Broadway

When I first moved to Seattle I lived on Harvard Avenue East on Capitol Hill, one block off Broadway. I loved living there and only moved when I bought a house on Queen Anne Hill.

Since that time, Broadway has deteriorated and something needs to be done.

In an effort to encourage redevelopment on this important street, the City Council decided earlier this month to raise building height limits on Broadway from 40 feet to 65 feet. Height, which translates into additional density, is an important factor in determining whether a project is feasible for a developer. In order to gain that height increase, the developer must include housing in the building.

I supported legislation increasing the height limit and declaring the City's intent to explore other strategies to address some other issues and concerns raised during the at the community meetings. The legislation directs City departments to:

  • Consider enhancing neighborhood specific design guidelines to preserve the uniqueness and character of Broadway;
  • Complete an inventory of historic buildings;
  • Evaluate streetscape and other pedestrian improvements;
  • Develop a plan for marketing and economic development for the Broadway Business District; and
  • Explore strategies to address public safety and human service needs.

I will closely monitor this work in the coming months. Our goal is to help Broadway thrive in a way that improves the livability of this entire neighborhood. Clearly, raising height limits alone will not accomplish this goal. Much work needs to be done and I welcome the continued participation and suggestions from residents and business owners.

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Moving Forward with the South Lake Union Streetcar

At the recent annual meeting held by the Downtown Seattle Association I was amazed to learn about the following changes in our downtown. In 1980 there were 6,600 downtown residents. In 2004, 35,000 residents and by 2014 we anticipate 50,000 residents. Today there are 200,000 jobs downtown and we expect 50,000 new workers by 2020.

South Lake Union is also designated as an urban center and it is targeted to absorb a minimum of 8,000 new housing units and 16,000 new jobs by 2020. As this growth occurs in downtown and South Lake Union, public transit is crucial to making this transformation successful.

Many of the property owners and supporters of the new South Lake Union Park and the Mayor would like a streetcar line from South Lake Union to Westlake Center to meet future public transportation needs. The proposal has been under development since 2003.

We have bus routes which serve the neighborhood now and I questioned the need for a streetcar. Last August, I co-sponsored legislation directing City staff to provide the Council with a full funding plan that doesn't utilize the City's existing General Fund to pay for construction or operation and maintenance costs.

In May, City staff presented the Council with a plan to fund the streetcar. Property owners along the streetcar line will pay for approximately 53% (estimated to be at least $25 million) of the total capital costs for the project through the formation of a Local Improvement District (LID). Non-City public grants, the sale of development rights above the streetcar's maintenance base and the use of proceeds generated previously from the sale of City owned property in South Lake Union will cover the remaining 47% of the costs.

To minimize the risk to the city's taxpayers, I successfully introduced an amendment requiring that the final amount to be assessed to the property owners along the streetcar line, will not be established until after the City signs a construction contract. At that point, the City should have greater certainty about the construction costs.

If costs go up or some of the expected public grants fall through, we would fully explore options to fill any funding gap. Bottom-line: this amendment helps to protect taxpayers from being left with the construction bill in the event that funding falls short.

In other cities streetcars are viewed as more attractive and have higher ridership than busses. Other Seattle neighborhoods are seeking to be added to the streetcar line including the Chinatown/International District and the Central District. The level of risk has been reduced to the point where we can confidently move forward on building the beginning of a streetcar system to serve an emerging urban center in Seattle by mid-2009 and other neighborhoods in the future.

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In Your Neighborhood

Tom joins Dr. Homer Harris, County Councilmembers Larry Gossett and Dow Constantine, Parks Superintendent Ken Bounds and Lt. John Hayes of the Seattle Police Department for a ribbon cutting at the dedication of Homer Harris Park at 24th Avenue East and East Howell St. Dr. Harris has been one of our city's most prominent and respected doctors for 43 years and is recognized as one of the greatest athletes in Seattle's history.

Upcoming Events

Below is a partial list of community meetings and events that I will attend. I look forward to learning more about the neighborhood projects and activities all across the city. Please call my office at (206) 684-8808 if you would like more information or have an event you would like me to attend. I hope to see you soon!

  • Friday, July 8 from 6:00-8:00pm - Woodland Park Zoo Jungle Party
  • Tuesday, July 12 from 7:30-9:00am - City Neighborhood Council Meeting at City Hall, Room 370
  • Tuesday, July 19 from 6:00-8:00pm - University District Chamber Meet and Greet and Barbecue at 4400 Stone Way N (University House in Wallingford)
  • Wednesday, July 20 from Noon-1:30pm - Yesler Terrace Redevelopment Brown Bag Discussion at City Hall
  • Thursday, July 21 from 7:00-8:30pm - Alki Community Council Meeting at the Alki Community Center
  • Tuesday, August 2 at 2:00pm - West Seattle Senior Center Groundbreaking
  • Tuesday, August 2 from 6:00-9:00pm - Seattle Night Out Events (visit various neighborhoods around the City for block parties)
  • Thursday, August 4 from 7:00-9:00pm - 46th District Democrats Meeting at Olympic View School
  • Saturday, August 6 from 7:00-9:00pm - Lake City Summer Festival Parade

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Community Cause
"Bitter Lake Community Language Project"

In June I attended an event celebrating the work of the Bitter Lake Community Language Project. Through this program neighbors help neighbors learn English and build a stronger community through new friendships. ESL teacher and coordinator Lorellen Nausner joined with the Literacy Council of Seattle and Bitter Lake Community Center to start this community-based program that helps immigrants adjust to life in a new country and culture.

Last month I held a forum at City Hall attended by more than 250 people on issues facing new immigrants. We will work to improve upon our efforts to address the needs of these communities. I am extremely impressed with the work of our neighbors in the Bitter Lake community.

The Community Language Project relies on the support of volunteers and contributions from the public and private sectors. To learn more about the Bitter Lake Community Language Project or help support their efforts, contact Lorellen at or by U.S. mail at Literacy Council of Seattle, FUMC, 811 Fifth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104 (Memo Line: Bitter Lake Community Language Project).

Tom and Councilmember David Della attend an event celebrating the Bitter Lake Community Language Project.

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Please Welcome Ann Corbitt to my Staff

One of my top priorities is to be accessible and responsive to your questions, comments and concerns. Given the volume of correspondence my office receives, my staff is critical to helping me respond to your emails and letters.

Earlier this month, Ann Corbitt joined my staff after working with a public sector and not-for-profit executive search firm in Seattle. She also spent two legislative sessions working on constituent and community relations with State Senator Mary Margaret Haugen's office, as well as fundraising with the United Way of King County's Loaned Executive Program. Ann graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in Communications and Political Science, and is active in the West Seattle community. She will coordinate and manage constituent relations for my office. Ann is a great addition to my staff and I am looking forward to working with her.

I encourage you to contact my staff if you ever have any questions. Mike Fong is my lead staff on policy issues and coordinates legislation for the Housing, Human Services and Health Committee. Brian Hawksford handles all of my scheduling, coordinates public outreach and addresses constituent casework for my office. They can all be reached by phone at (206) 684-8808.

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Last year, 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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