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                  Point of View

February, 2009 - Issue No. 30


The year is well underway and in the first 2009 (yes, 2009!) Point of View I will share information on several upcoming issues and recent developments I have focused on.

How we respond to the economic crisis will impact the citizens of Seattle for years to come. The Council outlined our priorities for 2009, however, because of the dramatic slowdown in our economy and the resulting decline in City revenue, our greatest challenge will be to maintain basic City services including food and shelter programs for those most in need and individuals who recently lost their job.  

I am an optimist. I am very hopeful, as our new President begins his first term, that Seattle will weather this crisis better than most cities. Among the indicators that we are doing better are that the Seattle area continues to have low office vacancy rates and fewer mortgage foreclosures than most of the country. This may not continue indefinitely if the rest of the country continues to decline.

Speaking of President Obama I attended his inauguration with my partner Clayton. It is impossible to convey the overwhelming support and enthusiasm that we saw for President Obama in Washington. I believe we will see vigorous, tireless and focused leadership that will benefit our cities and our country under his leadership.

Washington DC

"Surprise guest" at pre-inaugural dinner

Washington DC

President Obama giving his inaugural speech

Washington DC

Vast crowd on the Mall behind us

Washington DC

Clayton and Tom bundled up against the weather

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Seattle Storm: Strong support for women's basketball

The City Council approved a ten-year lease of Key Arena to the Women's Basketball Club of Seattle, known as the Seattle Storm.

Seattle's support of women's professional basketball began in 1996, with the Seattle Reign. In 2000, Seattle secured the Storm as one of four WNBA expansion teams. Last February, in the midst of the Seattle Sonics debacle, the Council stated its strong support for keeping the Storm in Seattle. Shortly thereafter a local group of women, known as Force 10 Hoops purchased the team. 

While there has been an outpouring of support for the Storm in Seattle I wanted to make sure that it is a wise business decision for the City. Council analysis concluded that the contract with the Storm will result in a net positive financial return to the City. How refreshing is that!

The team-members will be visible and active in the community providing inspiration and motivation for young women and men who dream of great accomplishments with boundless futures.

Seattle Storm

Sue Bird, Seattle Storm player

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Progress on Replacing the Viaduct

I was thrilled that the Governor announced a decision to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep bore tunnel and significant surface roadway and transit improvements. The decision is supported by elected State, City and King County officials and the Port of Seattle. This unity has been very difficult to achieve.

The replacement of the Viaduct has regional significance. The deep bored tunnel will best serve the City and our neighboring communities for many generations. It will be approximately two miles long and carry four lanes of traffic. It will allow drivers to bypass downtown by entering the tunnel near the sports stadiums in the south and connecting to Aurora north of the Battery Street Tunnel.

There are important details and issues to resolve. As a resident of West Seattle I know how incredibly convenient it is to travel now between home and downtown and to most areas west of I-5. The Viaduct replacement project must also include effective access to downtown from all neighborhoods on the west side of Seattle.

One of the many advantages of the tunnel is that we will be able to keep the elevated viaduct in service for much of the time the tunnel is being constructed. When the tunnel is complete, we will be able to travel from areas south of  Seattle to Aurora and places north quickly and without stops.

To learn more about the Viaduct project please click here.

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Planning for a Better Response to Future Winter Storms

One major challenge for the residents of Seattle was driven by the numerous breakdowns in communication between Metro and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). It appears that neither SDOT nor Metro leadership knew what was actually occurring on the streets, i.e. whether they were being plowed or cleared or how the buses were functioning.

Citizens testified that the roads that the SDOT leadership thought were plowed were not. We heard that Metro's "on-line route status updates" on their adverse weather page were incorrect. Metro could not be relied upon for correct information. In many cases drivers and passengers were left to fend for themselves. 

The City Council and the County Council are demanding a clear plan for coordination and improvement from both departments. Metro is dependent upon several City departments including SDOT and the Seattle Police Department to make sure the roads are cleared and safe.

My impression is that the City's Human Services Department did a good job sheltering and feeding people during this time. Shelters were crowded but no one was turned away. City Light performed better this time than two years ago following the December wind storm.

There is a major role for the public and the news media such as the local blogs in providing real time information during emergencies. The City should engage the public and use information coming from the neighborhoods.

Most private property owners, whether residential or commercial, did not clear the sidewalks in front of their properties which they are required to do. This failure on the public's part compounded the difficulty in getting around. Every property owner should have a snow shovel, even if it is needed only once every ten years. If someone is too frail to shovel his or her sidewalk then able-bodied neighbors should help without being asked. We must engage the public during these times.

An "after action review" by City departments is planned. Because we have received inconsistent and incorrect information from the Mayor and the Department of Transportation, I am advocating that a neutral third party should review what happened and report back to the Council.

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Death Threats to Businesses with Gay and Lesbian Customers

Recently, several businesses including bars and taverns popular with the gay and lesbian community received letters threatening to kill their customers.

The City Council condemned these threats. The Seattle Police Department and the F.B.I. are working to apprehend and prosecute whoever made the threats. 

In a show of support to the community, five members of the Council visited several businesses one evening. We spoke to the owners, bartenders and community members. We encourage everyone to be vigilant and to provide any information that may be helpful.

Wild Rose

Councilmembers Harrell, Conlin, Burgess, Clark and Rasmussen along with
Richard Conlin's wife, Sue Ann Allen visit The Wild Rose on Capitol Hill.

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Community Cause:

Alki Wildlife Habitat Project - More birds, frogs, fish and butterflies

Wildlife Habitat The National Wildlife Federation has a program that is becoming quite popular in our region. The Backyard Habitat Certification Program encourages development and maintenance of natural habitats on private property, public facilities and business sites. Several local cities and neighborhoods including Alki in West Seattle, are participating.

Natural habitats can be created by replacing grass lawns with native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees to provide a refuge for wildlife which may attract songbirds, butterflies and frogs.

To educate communities on how easy and beneficial these habitats can be, Kara Whittaker and Greg Whittaker who are the owners of Alki Kayak along with organizers from the Alki Wildlife Habitat Project have initiated a project to certify Seacrest Park in West Seattle as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat and Demonstration Garden. Seattle Parks and Recreation Department is co-sponsoring this effort. 

The Alki Wildlife Habitat Project has been named the 31st NWF Certified Community Wildlife Habitat in the country. A celebration is being planned for this spring. The Alki group hopes to be a leader and a resource for the community by having habitats created in other neighborhoods.

As this type of improvement to neighborhoods occurs, local organizers want to challenge all of us to make the state of Washington the leader in the number Community Habitats within the state. Right now Washington only trails the state of Texas.

To learn more on how you can participate please visit the following websites:

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If you would like further information on any of the information above please contact me. Thank you for subscribing to my newsletter.

Tom Rasmussen
Seattle City Councilmember
Chair, Parks and Seattle Center Committee

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