King County Hotel-Motel Tax Legislation; Fireworks

June 29th, 2018


King County Hotel-Motel Tax Legislation

The King County Executive last week announced a proposal “to bond against future hotel-motel tax revenues to generate an additional $100 million that could be made available to build housing units for people earning between 30 percent and 80 percent of Area Median Income, with a likely focus on 30-60 percent of AMI.”

This is a welcome step toward providing lower and moderate income affordable housing in King County, as is the Executive’s intent to incentivize fast delivery of units.

This spending is authorized by a 2011 change in state law that requires, beginning in 2021, at least 37.5% of lodging tax revenues collected by King County to be dedicated to “nonprofit organizations or public housing authorities for affordable workforce housing within one-half of a mile of a transit station,” or to services for homeless youth. The revenues may be used for bonding as well. That section of state law also requires at least 37.5% of lodging tax revenues to go to arts, culture and heritage museums, the arts and performing arts, and notes the remainder must be used for tourism promotion.

Legislation before the County Council, Motion 2018-0266, states that beginning in 2021, King County intends to allocate 37.5% to arts, culture and heritage museums, the arts and performing arts, and 37.5% to affordable housing and ongoing services to homeless youth and 25% to tourism promotion.

60% of the tourism promotion portion (or 15% of the total) would be dedicated for 23 years from 2021 to 2043 to amenities and upgrades for Safeco Field; the fiscal note estimates this portion would generate $177-191 million over 23 years, which gives a sense of the potential for this funding source.

However, it’s worth noting that spending for affordable housing does not need to be limited to 37.5%–that is the minimum required by state law. This is an invaluable opportunity to provide funding for the affordable housing we desperately need in our region, as others have noted.

Thanks to King County Councilmember Upthegrove for his efforts to convince his colleagues on the King County Council that we should increase the minimum contribution for low income housing production beyond the floor in State Law.

Though Seattle voters again, in 2016, approved a housing levy measure that will fund construction of 2,200 new units of affordable housing by 2023, the fact remains that without greater investment in affordable housing, our success moving people out of homelessness will continue to be limited by affordable housing shortages.

The most recent reporting measures for homeless spending in Seattle, released earlier this week, show improved success in rapid rehousing and diversion, and high performance in preventing homelessness. The rate for exits from shelter to permanent housing increased 4% to 20.5% in the first quarter of 2018; the key factor limiting further success is the availability of affordable housing.

The recent Count Us In survey of homelessness in King County found 12,112 people experiencing homelessness. The recent McKinsey report commissioned by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce estimates we have a supply gap of 60,000 affordable homes in King County.


Fireworks

In Seattle, except for permitted fireworks displays, fireworks are illegal under the  Seattle Fire Code.

The Seattle Fire Department has noted that fireworks pose a fire hazard to property and present a safety risk as well. Seattle’s population is 18%  comprised of people who have immigrated to Seattle, some from war-torn countries, for whom fireworks may be frightening. Pets can be frightened as well.

For safety’s sake, the consideration of people who don’t like or are frightened by loud noises, and the comfort of our furry friends please enjoy a local, legal, permitted fireworks display, so we all can have a happy and safe 4th!

I’ve received numerous constituent contacts about fireworks over the last two summers. Last year I requested that SPD enforce the law prohibiting fireworks; they indicated there were too many complaints to respond to. After July 4th last year, I made a number of inquiries and compiled information about the number of complaints in the SW Precinct, as noted below.

This year I asked the Mayor and SPD to take a different approach to fireworks law enforcement this year, as follows:

“I am requesting that you ask that SPD take additional and different action this year, first with notice to the public in the upcoming weeks leading to July 4 about a change of approach and then with a plan that emphasizes warnings and confiscation of fireworks, in order to hopefully impact behavioral change.”

I’ve copied my request to the Mayor below.

Dear Mayor Durkan,

I am writing to you regarding the forthcoming July 4th holiday season in Seattle. According to a  2013 Pemco poll, about one-third of the state’s households set off their own fireworks.  I’ve received an increasing number of constituent complaints during the last two years about fireworks.  I myself have experienced what I believe to be an increased frequency of fireworks use.   Over the years, frequent fireworks noise complaints have made it more difficult for 911 operators, police, and fire officials to respond to life-threatening emergencies across the city.

Last year, my office asked questions about SPD’s policy and fireworks.  In response to those initial inquiries, I learned in January 2017 that SPD received 132 fireworks complaints from resident in the Southwest Precinct and responded to 16 of them and wrote only two reports.  I then asked follow up questions, intending to base my subsequent requests to SPD related to fireworks law enforcement upon the answers to those questions. I’d hoped these questions would give me a more complete understanding of SPD’s practices:

  1. How a dispatcher receiving a call determines whether there is a potential hazard.  This was intended to understand why there were on 16 SPD responses to 132 complaints.
  2. What actions an officer has available when sent to the scene, and how they decide they decide whether to take an action, or take no action
  3. Data on the final outcomes of the 18 instances in 2017 when officers were sent out to the scene.

However, despite repeated inquires to both SPD and your staff over the last six months, I have not received any reply to that follow up inquiry.  My most recent inquiry was:  June 18th; before that on each April 17, March 15, and February 1.

Based upon what I do know today, I believe that the 2017 SPD response rate points to a clear need for a different approach this year.  I fear that with ever-escalating fireworks use, the current laissez-faire approach, will result one day in someone getting hurt.  By the way of this message, I am requesting that you ask that SPD take additional and different action this year, first with notice to the public in the upcoming weeks leading to July 4 about a change of approach and then with a plan that emphasizes warnings and confiscation of fireworks, in order to hopefully impact behavioral change.

Best,

Lisa Herbold

District 1 Councilmember, Chair Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts Committee

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Vehicle exhaust noise; Hate Crime Motivation Legislation; Your Voice, Your Choice voting; Plastic Straw & Utensils Ban; Free Summer Meals for Youths

June 22nd, 2018

Council adopts vehicle exhaust noise legislation

On Monday, the City Council adopted legislation that I sponsored to simplify enforcement of existing law prohibiting excessive vehicle exhaust noise.  Enforcement currently requires use of a sound meter, which police officers usually don’t carry, and meters require calibration.

SPD noted in the committee discussion last week that they plan to use education as a first step, before issuing citations. The new law will go into effect 30 days after the Mayor signs the bill.

Laws currently on the book for stereo noise and screeching tire noise are enforceable as written.

Many thanks to community members who, beginning last fall during budget deliberations, have come to testify about the impacts of modified mufflers.  Background on the community’s efforts that led to my proposing the legislation is available here.

Hate Crime Motivation Legislation

On June 19th the Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Committee heard a first briefing on legislation to establish a hate crime-motivation in the Seattle Municipal Code. The legislation has been proposed by the City Attorney Office. I am the sponsor of the legislation.

If passed, the legislation would give the City Attorney’s Office (CAO) greater ability to prosecute hate crimes that aren’t being prosecuted under the state felony Malicious Harassment law.

The importance of this issue is highlighted by increasing reports of hate crimes in Seattle, in line with alarming national trends. Last year, upon my request, the City Auditor prepared a Review of Hate Crime Prevention, Response and Reporting in Seattle Phase 1 Report with findings that reports of hate crimes had increased 126% from 2012 to 2016. There was a further 64% increase from 2016 to 2017. 2018 figures show high rates as well.

Adding a hate crime motivation section to the Seattle Municipal Code would allow the CAO to add a hate crime motivation to charges for assault, harassment, or property destruction, and request a higher sentence.

A hate crime motivation in the Seattle Municipal Code would have two key effects. First of all, the CAO would be able to prosecute hate crimes against all protected classes at the City level. The City’s malicious harassment law allows only for prosecution of malicious harassment based upon age, parental status, political ideology, marital status, and homelessness. Adding a hate crime motivation provision would allow the CAO to prosecute malicious harassment based on race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap.

Secondly, the CAO would no longer need to prove the element of malice; the new special allegation requires only that the person committed the act intentionally. This will allow the CAO to more broadly safeguard protected classes.

The hate crime motivation provision would replace the malicious harassment law, which is used only a few times per year. The state felony malicious harassment law could still be used for prosecution by the state or King County Prosecutor for felony cases.

The Committee will next consider the legislation on July 10.

Your Voice, Your Choice voting open through July 16

Voting has begun for the 2018 Your Voice, Your Choice Parks & Streets program.

A total of $285,000 is available in each of Seattle’s Council Districts. You can vote for your top three choices in the district where you live, work, go to school, or volunteer. Community members age 11 and up can vote online or at in-person polling stations through July 16. Paper ballots are available at all Seattle Public Library branches.

You can vote in District 1 here; here’s a link for the rest of the city.

Here’s the map of proposed projects, and project descriptions by SDOT and Parks.

Winning projects will be announced in August, and funded and implemented in 2019.

Background on the program and work done earlier this year is available here.

Plastic Straw and Utensils Ban

In 2008 the City Council passed an ordinance banning plastic service ware (including straws and utensils) with items to be banned having a multiyear planned phase-in as follows:

  • Banned January 2009 – expanded polystyrene food service food containers, plates, “clamshells,” hot and cold beverage cups, meat and vegetable trays, egg cartons used for selling or providing food for consumption on or off the premises. (exempted was raw meat and seafood expanded polystyrene food service food containers).
  • Banned July 2009 – raw meat and seafood expanded polystyrene food service food containers.
  • Banned July 2010 – Disposable plastic food service ware, or non-recyclable containers, plates, “clamshells,” serving trays, meat and vegetable trays, hot and cold beverage cups, and utensils that are made of plastic or plastic-coated paper and intended only for onetime use (including so-called biodegradable products where any portion is not compostable).

Since options were not widely available for straws and utensils in compostable or recyclable forms, the city decided to allow the market time to catch up before enforcing that part of the ban.  Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), did not plan to begin to enforce it until July 1, 2018, 10 years after it the 2008 Council approval.

Since 2014, via direct mail, their website, and through local media, and at several outreach events, SPU has been telling food service ware stakeholders that the annual exemption would be ending soon.  In March of 2017, SPU announced that the annual exemption would end July 1, 2018. 

Because of their small size and shape plastic straws and utensils cannot be processed through the machinery at recycling facilities. When people put straws in the recycling, because they are too small to separate, they contaminate recycling loads which are taken to a landfill.  When plastic straws end up as litter, they often end up in our waterways as a source of plastic marine debris. According to a 2017 report from the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, by 2050, it is said the oceans will contain more plastic than fish.  Plastic straws and utensils also contaminate our compost. When they end up mistakenly in the compost, they are very difficult and expensive for local compost facilities to remove from the compost. No one wants plastic in the compost they put on their gardens.  Clean Water Action reports the number of straws used in the US, in just one day, could circle the earth 2 ½ times.  Finally, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation reports that half of all plastics go to single-use disposable applications and 1/3 wind up in the environment. They project that by 2050 there will be a 400% increase in plastics production.

Free Summer Meal program for Youth

Between June 26 and August 24 free breakfasts, lunches, and snacks will be served at approximately 100 locations across the city to kids and teens ages 1 – 18 years. You can check out the website here to ask questions, or search for the nearest location.

Passing on the Denny International Middle School Press Release on Visiting the Dalai Lama

On a recent trip to Dharamshala, India, to meet with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people at his residence in exile, Ms. Lori Markowitz, presented his Holiness with a Denny sweatshirt as a gift from the entire Denny International Middle School community!  He was pleased to see our logo includes the words, “We love all immigrant and refugee families” and was very supportive of our school motto, “We All Belong!”  He sent a message of encouragement back to all the Dolphins to develop increased hope, compassion, and love in our community and in our world.

Here at Denny, we are very proud of our Youth Ambassadors program, which inspires our scholars to make a positive difference in our community.  Ms. Markowitz has been an incredible supporter of our school by partnering with us to launch and continue Youth Ambassadors and by helping us to make powerful connections locally and around the world.  We are inspired by the words of hope, compassion, and love from the Dalai Lama—and very grateful to Ms. Markowitz for helping us to make this powerful connection!

In the spirit of compassion,

Jeff Clark, Principal, Denny International Middle School

Ms. Lori Markowitz gave the following insight into her historic trip:

“What a wonderful way to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Youth Ambassador program born during the seeds of Compassion conference April, 2008. Meeting his Holiness the Dalai Lama in India at his residence in exile was an honor and privilege I will certainly cherish for the rest of my life. To be able to travel with two of the very first Youth Ambassador students made the experience that much more memorable and powerful.

The messages his Holiness shared with us will remain close to our hearts. Habib and Olivia (remarkable Youth Ambassadors who I’ve had the privilege of working with for many years) will indeed continue to be ambassadors of hope, kindness and love.

The Dalai Lama believes compassion and love need to be emphasized daily and included in the school curriculum. The idea is, if children are intentionally taught to be generous and joyful and to nurture empathy and mutual understanding (not in a religious manner) they will have a happier, healthier life. We saw many Tibetan wind horse flags representing goodwill, inner strength and positivity, ” Others Before Self” — the kind and giving spirit was palpable. The Youth Ambassador program is dedicated to cultivating compassion, providing unique learning experiences, building strong school communities, and investing students in a broader movement for positive change.

Giving his Holiness the Denny International Middle School “we all belong” sweatshirt as a gift was truly an honor! Currently, the Youth Ambassador program is embedding a civics and compassion curriculum allowing students to become more engaged citizens involved in making their own neighborhoods better areas to live and thrive in, a vital component of a thriving democratic society.”

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Community Resident Preference Policies; Avalon/35th update and online project survey; Capital Projects Transparency and Accountability Update; Green Pathways Update; May Constituent Email Report

June 15th, 2018


Community Resident Preference Policies

During passage of the Mandatory Housing Affordability program for Chinatown/International District (C/ID) last year the Council passed a companion resolution in order to try to address the concerns that the community had about the impact of the zoning changes, in particular impacts that would accelerate displacement of longtime C/ID residents. One of the issues in the resolution related to the need for Seattle to develop community resident preference policies.

This week in my Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts committee the Office of Civil Rights and Office of Housing gave a presentation about how Seattle could develop and utilize community resident preference polices to fight displacement.

Community preference polices are a different type of tool to fight displacement. The common approaches to implement community resident preferences include:

  • A portion of rental or ownership units in affordable development are set-aside
  • Preferred applicants may be local residents, workers, former residents, people who have been displaced
  • Lottery used to select affordable housing residents/buyers
  • Policy must affirmatively further fair housing- explicit analysis of racial impact.

Community resident preferences could address historic and current displacement by providing preference for community residents. If done correctly, these policies could provide affordable housing opportunities, support at-risk communities, and stop segregation. When written poorly on the other hand, community resident preferences can perpetuate segregation.  Examples of how community resident preferences affect the housing market in high-cost cities can be found in New York City, San Francisco, and Portland.

There has been a direct community preference policy in New York City since the 1980s. It applies to all city funded projects. 50% of units have a mandated neighborhood resident preference at lease-up.  Although the policy was originally intended to prevent displacement, in recent years it has maintained gentrification of the City. In Janell Winfield, et al. v. City of New York, Index No. 15-cv-05236, Dkt. No. 16 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 8, 2015), Winfield is challenging New York City’s policy regarding the allocation of affordable housing units in new housing developments located in relatively safe, affluent neighborhoods. They allege that the policy improperly favors individuals who already reside in these neighborhoods.  Winfield is arguing that due to the fact the current make-up of the neighborhood is traced in historical restrictions and intentional discrimination, the policy has a disproportionate effect on people of color.

In San Francisco, a neighborhood preference policy has been in place since 2016. The preference is given to people who either live in the district or live within a half mile of the district. 40% of units are subject to this neighborhood preference policy. All HUD- funded projects are exempt, but a compromise has been made between San Francisco and HUD in support of a separate preference policy to be used for projects funded by HUD.  If a project is funded by HUD, preference must be given for any resident of six high displacement neighborhoods.

In 2016 Portland created their community preference policy, which only applies to Northeast Portland, which is historically an African American neighborhood. Northeast Portland’s African American population has shrunk from 80% to 15% over time due to urban renewal, construction, and other displacement tactics. Portland’s policy takes generational displacement into consideration by applying the preference to prior residents, in addition to current residents. To increase the amount of affordable housing available in Northeast Portland, the City has also pledged $20 million in funding to go towards new housing projects, in which the community preference policy will utilized to pick the inhabitants. The preference policy also has a point system (0-6), the highest points are given to someone whose property was taken by eminent domain.

In looking towards the future, I believe we can use affirmative market and community preference policies to help communities in Seattle that have a high rate of displacement. However, the policies and marketing tools implemented in the City must be written carefuly to take into consideration Seattle’s history of racial covenants and redlining.

 

Avalon/35th Update and Online Project Survey

The SW Avalon Way & 35th Avenue SW project has reached 30% design.

The project, scheduled to begin in 2019, includes repaving Avalon, between SW Spokane Street at the bridge and 36th Avenue SW. It also includes paving 35th Avenue SW from SW Avalon to SW Alaska Street, and SW Alaska between 35th Avenue SW and 36th Avenue SW.

Better bus access to the West Seattle Bridge is included, with parking restrictions proposed from 6-10 a.m. Monday through Friday leading up to the bridge to allow for a transit-only access. This is for 23 spaces; they were formerly proposed for elimination. Avalon is a key bus corridor for exiting and accessing the peninsula. Some parking removal is proposed for the east side of the street near the bridge.

A protected bike lane is also included, as noted in the Bicycle Master Plan, and listed for 2019 implementation in the 2017-2021 Implementation Plan. The bike lane implementation is included with the paving project to minimize costs.

SDOT has a public survey available through June 17 about this project.

SDOT’s paving projects website notes that they “prioritize paving based on street pavement condition, traffic volume, geographic equity, cost, and opportunities for grants or coordination with other projects in the area.” Background on pavement management policies is here.

The next step for the project is to consider public feedback, and complete 60% design, then hold a public forum and consider additional constituent comments.

Maps for 30% design, including cross sections of what the street would look like, are available at the project website. You can sign up for e-mail updates here.

 


Capital Projects Transparency and Accountability Update

The Council has received a report on Capital Improvement Project Transparency from SDOT which it required through the budget process.

It represents a good step forward from a month ago, when the Council received an Update on Capital Project Oversight at a Council Briefings meeting. That briefing described a new enhanced monitoring risk-analysis oversight process for individual major capital projects that will allow elected officials and the City Budget Office to identify projects that are over (or under) budget on a quarterly basis, and take necessary action.

At the May 7th briefing I noted my concern that though this was progress for individual project monitoring, the City’s Capital Budget also includes some programmatic areas of spending which include numerous individual projects, such as street paving and bike lanes. Consequently, the quarterly reports for individual projects would miss important details—such as the 1/3 mile bike lane that cost $3.8 million, or $12 million per mile. I noted I want this quarterly monitoring to include programmatic areas as well.

SDOT’s report Capital Improvement Project Transparency notes that in the future quarterly oversight reports would include quarterly reports status updates on the ongoing programs included in department capital improvement program accomplishment rate. While details are still being worked out with the City Budget Office about how to incorporate this into reports, it’s a positive step forward for transparency and accountability.

 


Green Pathways Update

In October 2016 the Council passed the Green Pathways Resolution. I wrote about it at the time, but here’s a quick refresher about it.  It asked for 1. a green job definition that is consistent with community principles, 2) that the Interdepartmental Team (IDT) on employment pathways create an inventory of internships, apprenticeships, and entry-level jobs at the City of Seattle that meets the green jobs definition, 3) that an outreach and engagement strategy identify barriers to success for people of color, and 4) that the IDT identify ways to encourage employers in the private sector to advance in-demand careers, including green jobs for people of color and other underrepresented groups. Additionally, in the 2016 budget the Council allocated funds to support this work through a full-time position within Human Resources (HR).

On Tuesday we heard an update from the IDT as well as young leaders from Got Green. HR provided some high-level recommendations:

HR also provided some useful data comparing entry-level position/green positions/internships and others to that of all City employees and also to the general population of King County so that the Council could get an understanding of how the City is preforming in terms of diversity. One of the areas in which the City needs significant improvement is college intern conversion rate to permanent City jobs, which is only at 16%, while the national rate for college intern conversion is 38%. The City excels with internship demographics as shown in this slide:

Therefore, and especially because the City is making investments with interns, we must strive for a significantly better conversion rate of interns to full and part time employees.

However, it became clear at the committee meeting that community recommendations from Got Green had not yet been considered by the IDT for this report. I asked the Young Leaders of Got Green to also send those recommendations to Council so that we could be better informed and advocates on their behalf with the IDT to ensure that their concerns and recommendations were being addressed.

In moving forward, the IDT will continue to analyze the data and identify barriers to success for people of color and other underrepresented groups to set a baseline and make final recommendations to the Council by the end of this year.

 


May Constituent Email Report

Constituent correspondence is a very important task in my office.  My staff and I spend time every day helping you improve our community, whether that’s through getting you help from a city department with our constituent case management services or giving you information about legislation that the Council is considering.  The unshaded categories and numbers are problem-solving emails answered in May, what I refer to above as “case management services.”  The shaded categories and numbers are emails answered in May related to policy or legislation the Council is considering.

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Vehicle Noise Legislation: Relief for Alki Coming SOON; Good News: Service Additions for Admiral Bus Service; MHA Program and District 1 Public Hearing; Map: D1 Constituent Accomplishments; Think Green Recycling & Reuse Event; In-District Office Hours

June 8th, 2018


Vehicle Noise Legislation: Relief for Alki Coming SOON

As a beachside neighborhood and a regional destination, the Alki neighborhood and nearby areas face unique public safety and health challenges, especially during the warm-weather months. Residents, community groups, and visitors from elsewhere have expressed concern about public safety, and the growing impact of motor vehicle-related noise issues.

During the last two warm weather seasons, I’ve asked SPD to add additional officers; SPD recently announced they’ll be doing enhanced patrols this summer as well. I thank them for doing this.

I’ve also been working with community members to address vehicle noise in the Alki neighborhood since last year, when together we developed the Alki Public Safety and Health Survey. The survey showed noise from modified vehicle exhaust systems as the #1 community concern.

On Monday I’ll be introducing legislation to address vehicle exhaust system noise in the Alki neighborhood.

The legislation, if passed, will simplify enforcement by allowing officers to issue citations for muffler and engine noise that “can be clearly heard by a person of normal hearing at a distance of 75 feet or more from the vehicle.” This is the standard used for the City’s  motor vehicle stereo noise law (SMC 25.08.515 (A)(2), in effect since 1989.

The current City law that covers motor vehicle exhaust noise requires use of sound meters, which are time-consuming and require calibration, and are thus very difficult to use for enforcement.  This was underscored as a problem by SPD in their report to Council re: enforcement of vehicle noise on Alki. While there are muffler laws on the books, they are specific to whether the muffler is modified, rather than the amount of noise being made, and since it is difficult to determine whether mufflers have been modified, are consequently also difficult for police officers to enforce.

The legislation will be heard at the June 13th meeting of the Gender Equity, Safe Communities, New Americans and Education Committee chaired by Councilmember González. This meeting starts at 9:30 a.m., with public comment at the beginning.

In addition to muffler noise, my office also closely examined City laws for motor vehicle stereo noise and screeching tire noise. Both rated high as community concerns in the survey.

Working with the City Attorney’s Office and SPD, we’ve been able to clarify that the current City motor vehicle noise laws for stereo noise and screeching tire noise can be enforced as written. My office also worked to clarify that noise meters are not needed to enforce these motor vehicle noise laws, and it is not required to have a complaint from someone separate from the officer.  Some sections of the noise code do require meters, and a constituent complaint.

This legislation will apply citywide, on city streets. Although the legislation mentions “highways,” in the Seattle Municipal Code section for noise enforcement, this just means any City road.

Also, the SW Precinct (2300 SW Webster St) will be hosting a community meeting the evening of June 12th at 6:30 p.m. to hear Southwest Precinct Captain Pierre Davis’ plans to address noise and speeding in Alki. SPD has committed to emphasis patrols (i.e. extra officers) in Alki during the warm weather months. I thank them for their commitment, and for reaching out to Alki residents early in the warm weather season.

 


Good News: Service Additions for Admiral Bus Service

I have, since taking office in 2016 heard concerns from dozens of constituents about the need for better bus service for Admiral and Alki.  I’d asked King County Metro over the years to consider restoring service lost in 2012.  The response I often received was that the area has a small walkshed with water on one side and a big hill on the other, minimalizing the likely ridership and usefulness of the investment of finite and scare resources.  Further, King County Metro pointed to the fact that historically, the greatest ridership on the 56 was during the peak.  King County Metro added the route 50 to address Alki’s needs with a bus that served more destinations.  Metro King County priority is generally to add services to lines that are overcrowded, rather than to add service to lines will minimal service.

Since Seattle voters had approved funding in 2014 for bus services, meaning Seattle had some say in how those resources are allocated, in February, I wrote a letter to SDOT requesting that SDOT assess funding additional non-peak hour service to Bus Route 56, which currently only operates on weekdays during rush hour. The letter noted that the among “Seattle’s 30 Urban Centers and Urban Villages, the Admiral Urban Village is one of only two not included the High Capacity Transit Network, and uniquely 1) is not served by the current Frequent Transit Network, and 2) has no off-peak bus service to Downtown. In addition, it saw a decrease in bus service to Downtown, with the 2012 elimination of off-peak service to Downtown on bus route 56. No buses leave for Downtown after 9 a.m., and return buses from Downtown operate only during evening rush hour.”

King County Metro has agreed to add an extra bus trip 30 minutes later in the morning, arriving Downtown around 10 a.m., and a new trip 30 minutes later in the evening, departing Downtown around 7:15 p.m.

SDOT noted in its reply that adding hourly service would likely require approval by the King County Council, and additional information.

SDOT also indicated their willingness to evaluate potential alternatives, including working with Metro to explore on-demand connections to the Water Taxi, and all-day circulator service around Alki and Admiral. I’ll continue working with them on this.

 


Mandatory Housing Affordability Program and District 1 Public Hearing

On Monday, June 4, in the Special Committee on Citywide Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA), the Office of Planning and Community Development briefed the City Council on the proposed zoning changes located in District 1 that would be necessary to put MHA in place and require developers to contribute to affordable housing.

The Executive included in their presentation a recap of the efforts they made over the previous two years to give the community a voice in how this proposal was shaped, including input on how to create more housing for people at all income levels and minimize the displacement of current lower-income  residents.  After in-person talks, town-halls, mailers, and focus groups, the Growth and Equity Analysis from the Seattle Comprehensive Plan was then utilized to determine where each urban village fell in terms of displacement risk and access to opportunity. (Figures 1 and 2)

(Figure 1)

(Figure 2)

The final analysis of the urban villages is below:

Admiral

Admiral is considered a community where there is high access to opportunity and low risk of displacement, meaning that larger scale rezones (M1 and M2) have been proposed. Existing single-family lots are proposed to be zoned for residential small lot development (i.e. cottages, duplexes, and triplexes) and some areas for lowrise development (i.e. townhouses and lowrise apartments).  Admiral is below the transit threshold to qualify for urban village expansion. Mixed-use development of the corridor on California Ave SW up to NC-75 will be encouraged.

 

 

 

West Seattle Junction

The West Seattle Junction is considered a community with high access to opportunity and low risk of displacement. Larger rezones (M1 and M2) will be used to support transit and other community principles. The plan is to expand the urban village to include a 10 minute walkshed (travel time) to frequent transit. Existing single-family lots are proposed to be zoned for residential small lot development (i.e. cottages, duplexes, and triplexes) and some for lowrise development. More intense mixed-use development of the corridor on California Ave SW with development allowed up to 75-feet in height will be encouraged. Mixed-use nodes and corridors up to 95-feet in height will be encouraged towards the center of the village.

 

 

Morgan Junction

Morgan Junction is considered a community with low access to opportunity with low risk of displacement, so smaller zone changes (M) are proposed. There are very limited M1 and M2 (larger rezones) proposed. Existing single-family lots are proposed to be zoned to allow residential small lot development(i.e. cottages, duplexes, and triplexes) and some lowrise development  to create transitions from higher density areas to lower density areas. There is no proposed urban village expansion, as Morgan Junction does not have 2 or more frequent transit nodes. Mixed -use development of nodes and corridors with heights up to 55-feet are proposed.  Zoning changes adjacent to critical areas, such as steep ravines, are limited.

 

 

South Park

South Park is considered a community with a high risk of displacement, and low access to opportunity so little to no zoning changes (M) are proposed, except near frequent transit. Existing single-family lots are proposed to be zoned for residential small lot development (i.e. cottages, duplexes, and triplexes), and there is no urban village expansion proposed. Commercial zones are proposed to remain commercial or neighborhood commercial. There will be continued support for the existing mixed-use node at Cloverdale.

 

 

 

 

Westwood-Highland Park

Westwood-Highland Park is considered a community with a high risk of displacement and low access to opportunity, so little to no zone changes (M) are proposed, except near frequent transit. Existing single-family lots will be zoned for residential small lot development (i.e. cottages, duplexes, and triplexes), and there is no proposed urban village expansion. Commercial zones are proposed to become neighborhood commercial. There will be continued support for the existing mixed-use node at Westwood Village (up to NC-75’) and along Delridge Way SW (up to NC-55’).

 

 

 

Outside Urban Villages

Outside the 5 urban villages, little to no zone changes (M) are proposed for exiting commercial zones along corridors.

For more information, read the MHA overview and a technical summary of how MHA works.

On Tuesday, The City Council sponsored an evening public hearing at Chief Sealth High School.    The support for MHA and concerns about MHA were pretty balanced.  Supporters pointed to concern about the current unaffordability of Seattle being driven by current development.  Under current zoning, development in most places  doesn’t require any contribution from developers towards affordable housing at all.  Similarly, there was support given because of a desire to build more housing to help address homelessness, and to make sure that our workforce can live near their work place.

The concerns about MHA were wide ranging:

  • A desire to accept density (and MHA) as a result of a neighborhood planning process, as opposed to the process to-date, that would inform where the density should be focused
  • A concern that units being built are not family-sized rental units, where houses that may be demolished in the future are family-sized rentals
  • Concern about added density in areas around the Fauntleroy Ferry
  • A concern for City supported concurrency for open space and transportation (the C-line is packed)
  • A desire to protect tree canopy, particularly in the Junction where it is only 15.8% (city goal is 30%)
  • Given the cost of homes, an interest in preserving opportunities for first-time home ownership
  • A concern that the numbers don’t add up – more affordable units demolished than units added
  • Concerns about Final Environmental Impact Statement insufficiencies related to sewer and drainage plans and Seattle Fire and Police Department response times

There was strong agreement, from many testifiers both strong supporters of MHA and those with concerns about MHA, that a. affordable housing is a community good with broad public support and b.  developers should build their affordable units on site and that if “in-lieu fees” are permitted, they should return to the community from where the fees derived.

 


Map: D1 Constituent Accomplishments

Some of you may have already seen that a couple months ago, I added a new section to my city website. It’s a map of issues that constituents like you have brought to my attention and we’ve worked with you and the City to get addressed. Some of these issues include addressing lighting concerns across District 1 to address public safety, added bus service, street repairs, as well as other public safety issues. I encourage you to take a look at the map to see some of the issues that, together, we’ve been able to solve for the District.    You may recognize a few that you brought to my attention.  If so, thank you!  I want to thank those of you that have contacted my office with these issues which, when addressed, help improve the quality of our life in our neighborhoods.  I will continue to update the map as we locate previous cases to add, as well as tackling new ones.

 


Think Green Recycling & Reuse Event

Have an old appliance, clothing, electronics or other hard to get rid of household goods? The annual West Seattle Think Green event is coming up on Jun 30 where you can recycle and reuse many difficult to dispose-of items. See the flier below for more information.

 


In-District Office Hours

On June 15, I will be at the South Park Community Center (8319 8th Ave S) from 2:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Please be sure to arrive no later than 6:30 p.m., the final meeting of the day will begin at 6:30 p.m.

These hours are walk-in friendly, but if you would like to let me know you’re coming in advance you can email my scheduler Alex Clardy (alex.clardy@seattle.gov).

Additionally, here is a list of my tentatively scheduled office hours. These are subject to change.

Friday, July 27, 2018
Southwest Neighborhood Service Center, 2801 SW Thistle St

Friday, September 21, 2018
South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S

Friday, October 26, 2018
Southwest Neighborhood Service Center, 2801 SW Thistle St

Friday, December 14, 2018
South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S 

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Homelessness Investments Outcomes; Public Comment Meeting re: SR 99 Tolls; Books for Teachers

June 1st, 2018


Homelessness Investments Outcomes

A couple weeks ago, I promised an update on how funds invested by the Human Services Department were spent on in homelessness in 2017 and what were the outcomes.

In 2017, HSD invested $54 million in prevention, emergency and housing services for people experiencing homelessness.  CBO identifies $61M in total spending for homelessness, and this includes items such as Domestic Violence and Sexual assault services and Healthcare for the Homeless through King County.  These city-supported projects helped 5,058 people in the homeless services system to either move to permanent housing or maintain their permanent housing.  This is a 30% improvement over 2016 outcomes and with increased investments in housing, prevention and enhanced emergency services in 2018, HSD expects that the city’s funded programs will have an improved rate of success in 2018.

For 2017, the results for the performance measures are as follows:

It’s important to note here that though HSD predicts continued improvement, the King County audit cautions that hope without significant investments in permanent housing is unsupported:

  “Local funders have increased investments in rapid rehousing (RRH), but past performance, market challenges, and limited information raise concerns about its potential limitations. RRH performance in King County has consistently fallen below national benchmarks and local standards, and fewer than half of enrollees got housing through a RRH program between January 1, 2015 and August 1, 2017.Those who do not get housing are less likely to exit to permanent housing and more likely to return to homelessness.  Competition for limited affordable housing makes it difficult to move rapid rehousing clients into units. In King County, there are on average 470 one-bedroom units and studios affordable to households making less than 30 percent of area median income at a time.  Since 2016, RRH providers have sougth these types of units for an average of between 235 and 386 households at a time (see Exhibit I). This means that providers would need to be able to place clients in half to over three quarters of these available units, with constrained conditions for larger households as well. Given that other households compete for these same market units, finding units that RRH enrollees can occupy is a challenge.”

I get a lot of questions from constituents about homelessness.  Here are some of my responses to the kinds of questions that I frequently get.

  1. Why isn’t homelessness being solved on the regional level?
  2. How long should it take to move a homeless person into a shelter?
  3. Isn’t addiction the real reason for homelessness?                           
  4. Can’t we solve homelessness through zoning changes?
  5. Why can’t we do what other successful cities have done to combat homelessness?
  6. Why can’t we draw on more non-profits, churches, synagogues and mosques to offer temporary housing?
  7. We need to have homeless people do their share. There must be some reciprocity – if we help them, then they need to (clean up garbage, agree to drug treatment etc.)?
  8. Why are we allocating more resources to the homeless and ignoring law-abiding citizens? RVs can park any time anywhere, but we get parking tickets.
  9. We spend more per capita on the homeless than most other cities to no effect.
  10. Camping on the street is still more affordable than the units being planned. The City doesn’t stop people from doing this so what motivation would they have to change?
  11. There isn’t enough funding put into mental health services or drug addiction – these issues impact homelessness too.
  12. It’s the City’s policies that have created the homeless problem. The City attracts the homeless because of our lax policies.
  13. Two years ago, a study was undertaken to develop a plan to deal with the homeless and evaluate the financial needs of doing so. The conclusion was that the city had enough money to handle the issue but were not allocating it appropriately.

 

  1. Why isn’t homelessness being solved on the regional level?

Homelessness is a regional problem and one that extends beyond our City limits. As our partners in combating a crisis, we look forward to the regional One Table’s recommendations and fully expect the County and others to engage in addressing this massively increasing, too.  It must be a regional effort if we are to be successful.

The city needs to keep maximizing the leveraging of additional new resources that is be forthcoming from the State, as well as the County, to increase the number of housing units serving homeless persons.  Here are some new regional resources that we expect to help Seattle in 2018:

  • $40 million in 2018 from the State for behavioral health, including crisis intervention, opioid treatment and overdose prevention, and detox facilities.
  • $5.7 million in 2018 from King County for the expansion of emergency shelter and safe alternatives for people living outdoors in two locations in Seattle.
  1. How long should it take to move a homeless person into a shelter? 

It depends on the type of intervention, but according to City performance metrics the maximum amount of time that it should take to move someone out of a sanctioned encampment is 90 days.  A recent audit conducted by King County showed that the average time a prioritized household waits between assessment and housing referral was twice as long as the federal standard.  The study said that the primary reason for this was that “Long waits are due in large part to a shortage of homeless housing. Given the current homeless housing stock and vacancy rate, even if no one else joined the community queue, it would take more than seven years for everyone to secure housing. In the entire county, only about 1,120 homeless housing units become vacant each year. Meanwhile, by the end of September 2017, there were 8,299 homeless individuals and households awaiting housing referral.”

It is important to note that this study only measured how the system fell short for prioritized populations according to a vulnerability assessment.  There are many people who are not prioritized that may never get on a list for permanent housing.

  1. Isn’t addiction the real reason for homelessness?                          

Addition can be one factor in homelessness, but not the only one. Significant increases in rent make it more difficult for low-income people to find housing. 25 years ago, Seattle was well-known as a center of heroin addiction, but there were significantly fewer homeless people, as rent was inexpensive.

Half of Count Us In survey respondents “reported at least one disabling condition, and among those individuals 33% reported living with two or more disabling conditions. Behavioral health conditions were the most frequently reported disabling conditions among Count Us In survey respondents, with 44% experiencing psychiatric or emotional conditions, 37% living with post-traumatic stress disorder, and 35% reporting drug or alcohol abuse.”

  1. Can’t we solve homelessness through zoning changes?

The City Council is considering the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) proposal, to increase allowing building in exchange for more affordable housing. It takes time to build, however, so this, or other zoning changes, won’t provide a short-term solution.   MHA will only contribute about 6,000 units of affordable housing over the next 10 years, far less that the recent McKinsey Report identifies as the housing gap:  “Even assuming, somewhat unrealistically, that all new affordable housing currently planned by the city of Seattle was made available without delay, we estimate there would be a supply gap of 60,000 homes.”

  1. Why can’t we do what other successful cities have done to combat homelessness?

Often when people ask why Seattle can’t mirror programs that have been successful in other cities, they are referring to programs such as Utah’s Housing First Model. The Housing First approach was actually designed in Seattle, specifically the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) with its project 1811 Eastlake.  Housing First is already a cornerstone of the King County All Home Plan, and the 10-year plan before that.   DESC’s 1811 Eastlake saved taxpayers more than $4 million dollars in the first year of operation.  But that was just the first recognized Housing First project in Seattle, since then, the jurisdictions and funders planning to end homelessness in King County  (including – among others – Bellevue, Renton, Redmond, Shoreline)– as a matter of policy – actually prioritize funding for projects that also use the Housing First model.

To end homelessness in Washington State using the Housing First model, we need a massive investment in Housing First.  The recent the McKinsey/Seattle Chamber of Commerce report demonstrates that despite the Chamber’s claims that we only needed to spend our money more efficiently, that in order to make a meaningful impact on the crisis, the region would need to increase regional annual spending by approximately $164 to $215 million annually, and spend 85% of that on building housing.   It’s not that we need to follow the example of states like Utah, rather we must have the political will to fund more of what we know works because of our own experience.

  1. Why can’t we draw on more non-profits, churches, synagogues and mosques to offer temporary housing?

About 11 religious facilities throughout the City offer shelter to approximately 350 people each night.  There is interest to try to expand the number of non-profits and religious organizations offering temporary housing. I, too, welcome more participation.  The Progressive Revenue Task Force recommendations agree we should encourage more, here is what they said:

Many faith communities throughout Seattle devote significant labor, space, money, and other resources to help their homeless neighbors and to address the homelessness crisis.  The City should recognize and leverage these contributions, and in general be more deliberate in its relationships with faith communities.  The City could provide small grants to assist their work and/or establish ways of better communicating and coordinating with faith communities that are doing this work.

  1. We need to have homeless people do their share. There must be some reciprocity – if we help them, then they need to (clean up garbage, agree to drug treatment etc.)?

The 2016 Comprehensive Homeless Needs Assessment done by Applied Survey Research interviewed 1,050 unsheltered individuals in November 2016. They surveyed people living on the streets, in encampments, and in public shelters to further understand their situations and needs, and to better inform the City’s responses with its partners. 41% of survey respondents experiencing homelessness reported they were employed.

There are also several Seattle-based organizations that work to provide the homeless with employment opportunities including:

  1. Why are we allotting more resources to the homeless and ignoring law-abiding citizens? RVs can park any time anywhere, but we get parking tickets.

The  2018 King County Count Us In Report found that an estimated 3,372 individuals living in vehicles. These individuals comprised 28% of the total count population and 53% of the unsheltered population.

Since RVs often violate parking laws, the Police Department is the lead agency for dealing with RVs.  A recent lawsuit is requiring law enforcement all over Washington State and California too, to reconsider how they enforce laws against parking in an area for more than 72 hours when it is apparent that the vehicle is someone’s home.  Nevertheless, in addition to addressing one-off situations, the Police Department and SPU are leading an interdepartmental team to clean up 4-6 problem RV sites each month.

There are three ways to file a complaint regarding trash, needles, unsanctioned encampments, safety or RV/Car campers violating the 72-hour parking law:

  1. We spend more per capita on the homeless than most other cities to no effect.

I have found an unsupported quote from an individual running for public office about per capita spending on homelessness in King County.  I have found no studies to support the claim that Seattle’s spending on homelessness ($86/per capita) exceeds other large, high cost cities.

For instance, New York City, where there is a right to shelter, roughly $530,000 per day, or $364 million a year, is spent on hotel rooms for the homeless.  NYC’s annual funding is $2.3 billion (about $315/per capita) for their shelter programs, their hygiene programs, or the homelessness prevention or diversion program.  Another example is Los Angeles, which spends $440 million a year to address homelessness (about $110/per capita), and San Francisco that spends $279 million a year on homelessness (about 323/per capita).

  1. Camping on the street is still more affordable than the units being planned. The City doesn’t stop people from doing this so what motivation would they have to change?

The city works to connect homeless people who are living unsheltered with resources that provide temporary or permanent housing. Part of this effort includes the creation of the Navigation Team who monitors and provides outreach services in unsanctioned encampments. The team conducts daily outreach to unsanctioned encampments throughout the city and determines which encampments should be scheduled for removal. The team also offers a variety of services in unsanctioned encampments including referrals to safe living alternatives, referrals to medical or service providers, help obtaining identification or benefits, accessing employment support, connections to legal resources, offering mental health support, safe storage and delivery of personal belongings, and even participation in a trash pick-up program to reduce the public health threats.

The City removes between 3-6 encampments each week.  More than 70 encampments removed since January of this year alone.  There are, at any given time more than 400 complaints about unique encampment locations at any given time.  The City has a process for:

  • Prioritizing encampments for removal.
  • Providing notice when an encampment is scheduled for cleanup.
  • Offering outreach and alternative shelter options.
  • Cleaning up an encampment site.
  • Collecting, cataloguing and storing personal belongings and how individuals can recover their property.
  • Immediately removing obstructions and immediate hazards.
  • Identifying and specifying emphasis areas that will be subject to daily inspection and immediate removal of any encampment-related materials.
  1. There wasn’t enough funding put into mental health services or drug addiction – these issues impact homelessness too.

The Navigation Team does provide mental health support to the homeless community when it conducts outreach, but Washington State and King County are ultimately responsible and have the authority for providing mental health and drug treatment services.

  1. It’s the City’s policies that have created the homeless problem. The City attracts the homeless because of our lax policies.

I don’t agree that Seattle’s homeless policies are attracting people to come and live on our streets homeless, without electricity or running water, no place to secure ones’ belongings, or wash, go to the bathroom, and dispose of their garbage all the while being vulnerable to crime.  The vast majority of people, 83.1%, who are homeless in King County had King County as their last address when housed, and of those people 31% were born/grew up in King County.

  1. Two years ago, a study was undertaken to develop a plan to deal with the homeless and evaluate the financial needs of doing so. The conclusion was that the city had enough money to handle the issue but were not allocating it appropriately.

Two years ago Barb Poppe, an homelessness consultant, wrote a  report on Seattle’s homelessness crisis, which became the basis for the set of recommendations known as Pathways Home.  Poppe 2016 study, in which she stated that no additional funds should be needed, relied on data from 2014. In 2017, Poppe admitted that the homeless population in Seattle had grown since 2014 and additional resources might be needed, and Seattle was mostly allocating its money in a way that aligned with her previous recommendations.


Washington State Transportation Commission Public Comment Meeting June 5 re: SR 99 Tolls

When the state legislature voted in 2009 to have WSDOT replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel along the Downtown Seattle waterfront, it required $400 million of the $2.4 billion in state funding to come from tolls. In 2012 the legislature reduced this to $200 million. The legislature also required funding to operate and maintain the tunnel to come from tolls, an additional $170 million.

On May 22nd, the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC), which under state law sets toll rates for state highways, released three options. All three options include tolls that vary by the time of day, from $1 on weekends and overnight, to $2.25 during evening rush hour.

The WSTC will be holding public comment meetings in early June. The West Seattle meeting will be on Tuesday, June 5th at High Point Community Center (6920 34th Avenue SW). An open house is planned from 5:30-6:30, with public input from 6:30 to 8 p.m. More information is available here, including about meetings Downtown on May 4th and in Phinney Ridge on May 6th.

Comments can also be e-mailed to transc@wstc.wa.gov, by phone at 360-705-7070, or by postal mail to Washington State Transportation Commission, PO Box 47308, Olympia, WA 98504.

Details about the toll rates for each of the options, by time of day, are on the WSTC’s SR 99 tolling fact sheet;  additional background is available at their SR 99 Tunnel Toll Rate Setting webpage.

The WSTC applied the following objectives in determining the options, as required by a state law that was passed by the state legislature in 2012:

  • Minimize diversion, particularly during initial years of tolling as downtown Seattle construction limits capacity of alternate routes;
  • Support facility performance and the customer experience;
  • Provide sustainable toll rates that meet all legally required financial obligation

The WSTC will gather public comment through early July, and is scheduled to advance an option for final public review at their July 17/18 meeting in Olympia. They plan to take final action to adopt toll rates during the fall of 2018.

WSDOT uses tolls for other major projects, including the SR 520 bridge, which has tolls that vary between $1.25 and $4.30 by time of day; the Tacoma Narrows Bridge has a toll of $5; tolls on I-405 vary by time of day, between 75 cents and $10, based on real time traffic conditions.

The tunnel could open as soon as this fall; at first, there will be no charge. The state hasn’t decided yet how soon tolls will begin.

Once Alaskan Way is rebuilt after the removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a new exit just before the tunnel entrance will lead to Alaskan Way.

Below is brief background on the tunnel project and the state legislature’s requirement for tolling; earlier tolling studies were completed in 2010 and 2014, as noted below.

PROJECT HISTORY

In 2001, after the Nisqually earthquake, WSDOT began an evaluation of multiple options to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, including 76 initial conceptual alternatives, and detailed analysis of five alternatives in 2004.

In 2009 the state legislature approved a funding plan for a tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The legislation found that the Alaskan Way Viaduct “is susceptible to damage, closure, or catastrophic failure from earthquakes and tsunamis” and that replacement was “a matter of urgency for the safety of Washington’s traveling public and the needs of the transportation system in central Puget Sound.”

The funding plan included $400 million from tolls (later reduced to $200 million), and required WSDOT to do a tolling study, including an examination of potential diversion of traffic onto city streets.

The tolling report required by the legislature was completed in 2010. It concluded that peak period tolls could range from $2.75 to $5 in 2015 dollars.

In 2011 the City Council created a “Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement Program Advisory Committee on Tolling & Traffic Management” to advise the City and State. They examined seven options in their 2014 report, and found that a rate lower than the 2010 report would be sufficient.

Subsequently WSDOT’s Toll Division began an investment-grade traffic and revenue study, which is needed to issue the bonds that tolls will finance. Subsequently, the WSTC released options on May 22nd.

Previous WSDOT environmental documents and reports for the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement Project from 2004 to 2015 can be found here.


Books for Teachers

Are you a teacher at a Title 1 school?  Do you know one?  Friends of the Seattle Public Library, thanks to funding from the Renee B. Fisher Foundation, is able to grant teachers at Title 1 Seattle Public Schools up to 100 free books from the Friends of the Seattle Public Library’s stock of used children’s books.

Any teacher at a Title 1 school within the Seattle Public School system can apply for the program, and access is first come first serve. There are two events a year for teachers to come and select their free books. The next event is on Saturday, June 30.

All teachers at Seattle Title 1 Public Schools are invited to apply, just send an email to booksforteachers@friendsofspl.org and say you’re interested in participating in the Books for Teachers program.  Include your full name, the name of your school, and the grade level(s) you teach. For those that are not accommodated with 2018 grant funds, you will be put on a priority list to be invited in 2019.

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Ship Canal Water Quality Project Update; Committee Briefing on Navigation Team; UNESCO City of Literature

May 25th, 2018


Ship Canal Water Quality Project Update

Last Tuesday my Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts (CRUEDA) committee received another update from Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) on the Ship Canal Water Quality Project (SCWQP).  You can watch their presentation here. The SCWQP is a joint project with King County (with a 65% City/35% County cost split) that will address a significant amount of the City’s combined sewer overflow (CSOs). This project is part of a larger effort for both the County and the City to reduce water contamination from CSOs under a Federal and State Consent Decree.

Last June, SPU reported to my committee on this issue and notified me they were beginning a cost reconciliation process in order to better understand the total cost of the project. In 2014, and during that briefing, SPU was still working with project cost estimates between $338 and $550 million; however, after a detailed cost estimate review and reconciliation process SPU reported that the project is now slated to cost $570 million, with a confidence rating of 65%. That means the project is 65% likely to cost $570 million or less (the City’s share is approximately $393 million).

The SCWQP is a tunnel that will run from Wallingford to Ballard and will address the City’s largest remaining CSOs which will remove 90 million gallons of untreated water entering our waterways.

There are many factors which have lead to the increased cost which you can see broken down here:

SPU does not believe that rate increases would be necessary to pay for the increased costs associated with this recent cost estimate.  They report that they will be able to address the cost increase through a combination of government grants, loans, and bond issue interest savings.

During the budget process last year, this was one of two capital projects that the Council applied provisos to. A proviso requires the department to return to Council at a certain stage in project development, in this case it’s at 100% design, to report on the status of the project and requires the Council to vote in favor of releasing the funds to proceed with the rest of project. The SCWQP is slated to come back to Council early next year for this approval.

 


Committee Briefing on Navigation Team

On Tuesday, May 22nd, the committee on Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts (CRUEDA) was briefed on the impending transition of the Navigation Team from the Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) to the Human Services Department (HSD).  This transition to HSD from FAS was required by the Council in the budget process last fall.   As some of you may recall, the Navigation Team was created to address the impacts of people living unsheltered in encampments. The Navigation Team visits people living in unsanctioned encampements, including offering a variety of services such as referrals to housing alternatives, help obtaining identification or benefits, facilitating and safe storage and delivery of personal belongings when encampments are removed because of their placement in a location that is a public safety or public health hazard, an obstruction, or in a park.

HSD can lend their expertise in serving vulnerable populations, and insight and recommendations about how to keep the focus on the vulnerability of the homeless community when deciding which encampments should be scheduled for removal. HSD has also suggested that the Navigation Team mandate racial equity goals to contract with outreach providers led by communities of color.

The transition will take place on July 1st, 2018. While the Navigation Team will then be organizationally staffed out of HSD, the team will still collaborate with FAS, the Seattle Police Department, Seattle Parks and Recreation, Seattle Department of Transportation, and Seattle Public Utilities. The Navigation Team will still be comprised of specially- trained police officers, City field coordinators, contracted outreach workers, and FAS staff, but several new positions will be implemented to compliment the team.

 


UNESCO City of Literature

Earlier this week a celebration was held at the Seattle Public Library for Seattle’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature, as part of UNESCO Creative Cities Network, created in 2004. The effort has been led by Seattle City of Literature.

Seattle is now one of 28 cities worldwide with this designation.

UNESCO is the United Nations Education, Science, and Culture Organization. The UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) was created in 2004 to promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development. The 180 cities which currently make up this network work together towards a common objective: placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level.

Thanks to the Seattle City of Literature for coordinating this effort!

Additional information is available at Seattle City of Literature’s website; the City Council endorsed an earlier Seattle bid in 2014.

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Vacant Buildings; Development at Madison Middle School; West Seattle Light Rail; Transportation for Seniors and People with Disabilities; Office Hours

May 18th, 2018


Vacant Building Monitoring Program Report

You may recall last August the Council passed legislation to make it easier for the City to demolish vacant buildings; I wrote about this legislation at the time. This legislation was one step towards addressing the significant increase in complaints about vacant buildings; between 2013 and 2016 the City saw an increase of 58%. Specifically, District 1 has the second highest number of complaints (189 between 2013 and 2016). Further, new information indicates that District 1 saw 95 complaint cases in 2017 alone, the highest of any District.

I proposed, and the Council passed, an amendment to the legislation that was passed in August.   This amendment required the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection (SDCI) to report back to Council with recommendations on an enhanced Vacant Building Monitoring Program. Cities with more proactive monitoring programs, wholly funded with and supported by fees paid by owners of vacant buildings, are better able to monitor vacant properties more aggressively and, as a result, fewer buildings fall into such disrepair as we see many vacant buildings in Seattle. The below image demonstrates what can happen in a single year to a vacant property that is not well monitored for constant compliance with the city’s vacant building standards.

During budget, in order to ensure this work would be completed, my colleagues and I worked to fund a position at SDCI. And finally, following up after budget, I sent a letter early this year to SDCI to ensure someone had been hired, and to inform them again of my preference for what’s known as a “hybrid-model” for the Vacant Building Monitoring Program. This model requires that for non-foreclosure related building vacancies owners are required to register properties after a certain length of vacancy; and for foreclosure related vacancies, owners are required to register properties at the time a notice of default is issued or intent to foreclose is filed.

SDCI has now delivered their report and recommendations to Council. Here’s some additional background that’s important to understand.  Currently, although there are hundreds of vacant buildings in the city, again 95 complaints from District 1 alone – and there are likely many vacant buildings that are not in the complaint database, there are only 43 properties in the entire city enrolled in the existing Vacant Building Monitoring Program.

According to SDCI, the way properties get in the current SDCI Vacant Building Monitoring Program is after a complaint an SDCI inspector visits the vacant building and when they find that “it does not meet the minimum maintenance standards, the inspector issues the property owner(s) a “notice of violation” (NOV), which requires the owner to correct the issue. If the problem is relatively minor and quickly corrected after the notice, the SDCI inspector usually will not place the property in the vacant building monitoring program. Other times, properties have more significant violations that are not corrected right away, or quickly return after being addressed. Such properties are typically enrolled in the program and visited quarterly (and billed accordingly) until they are no longer vacant, or until all violations are corrected and they have not had any additional violations for three consecutive quarters. About half of the properties currently in the monitoring program have been in the program for several years due to ongoing lower-level violations, as owners are unable or unwilling to make the necessary repairs to bring them into compliance.”

From my perspective, this approach is clearly not working. In their report, SDCI recommends some limited changes to their existing program.  But rather than requiring all owners to register buildings when they become vacant, SDCI only proposes to make changes for owners of buildings that they already know about because they are in the redevelopment process and only if they are in violation of the minimum maintenance standards for vacant buildings.  However, I’m concerned that this is not enough of a change in SDCI Vacant Building Monitoring Program.  As mentioned above, District 1 in particular is seeing an increasing amount of vacant building complaints and a hybrid Vacant Building Monitoring Program would do more to address those issues than simply relying on enhanced current practices. I will continue working with SDCI and my colleagues in order to implement an enhanced Vacant Building Monitoring Program to ensure that the City is doing more to ensure that abandoned buildings are maintained in accordance with the vacant building law.


Public Meeting: Zoning Modification for Development at Madison Middle School

A public meeting has been scheduled to discuss a zoning modification for potential development at Madison Middle School.

  • When: Wednesday, May 30 at 6 p.m.
  • Where: Madison Middle School (3429 45th Ave SW)

The School District is requesting a modification known as a “departure” from a City zoning regulation for reduced on-site parking in order to provide portables. The District will present the modifications to the Madison Middle School Development Standards Departure Advisory Committee (a group of neighbors, and District and City representatives). After the presentation the public is encouraged to provide public comment.

If you cannot attend the meeting, written comments can be submitted by Tuesday, May 29 to:

  • Maureen Sheehan
  • E-mail: Maureen.Sheehan@seattle.gov
  • Mailing Address:  Seattle Department of Neighborhoods
  • P.O. Box 94649
  • Seattle, WA 98124-4649

For additional information or to request an interpreter (by May 28) for the meeting, contact Maureen Sheehan, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, at 206-684-0302.

After public comment the Departure Advisory Committee will deliberate and consider the request.


Elected Leadership Group: West Seattle Light Rail Recommendations

Yesterday the Elected Leadership Group (ELG), of which I am a member, made recommendations for which light rail alternatives should move forward for more detailed study and development of cost estimates. These recommendations will be presented next week at a meeting of the Sound Transit governing board. The ELG moved forward options recommended by the Stakeholder Advisory Committee on April 24, which include tunnel and elevated options (the purple and yellow alternatives, with the yellow as both elevated and tunnel).

Key District 1 priorities I spoke to include:

  • The need for seamless bus transfers for stations and multimodal integration, as the stations will be used by people from all over West Seattle;
  • Designing stations to allow for future expansion of light rail;
  • Minimizing impacts on residences and businesses, and noting that options reducing the need for properties could help with the budget;
  • Mixing and matching potential options where appropriate, as recommended by the Seattle Planning Commission;
  • Examining the walksheds and ridership of stations; and
  • Speaking to the need for visualizations of elevated options: this is the first time elevated light rail has been proposed through the heart of a Urban Village; the Seattle Design Commission strongly supports this as well, and noted:

“Visualization of the alternative stations, guideways, and bridges is extremely important for all parties (the public, electeds, stakeholders, etc.) to understand the physical impacts and implications of Sound Transit’s (ST’s) proposals. While we understand the sensitivity in creating visual depictions at such an early stage, we believe results of the narrowing down process will not be robust without this information.”

I also requested further examination of the light blue option, to see if impacts can be addressed re: park property usage and federal law (e.g. via a tunnel). Sound Transit is including the baseline “representative” alignment throughout the process (it’s the red one).

Here’s a link to the West Seattle options Sound Transit analyzed in Round 1.  Here’s background information about how Sound Transit is developing options.


Forum on Transportation Alternatives for Seniors and People with Disabilities

On Saturday the West Seattle Transportation Coalition will host a public form on transportation alternatives for seniors and people with disabilities. Participants include former Mayor Nickels, Transportation Choices Coalition, and Sound Generations.

The forum is on Saturday, May 19th from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Senior Center of West Seattle at 4217 SW Oregon Street.  Here’s a link to the flyer.


In-District Office Hours

On May 25, I will be at the Senior Center of West Seattle (4217 SW Oregon St) from 2:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Please be sure to arrive no later than 6:30 p.m., the final meeting of the day will begin at 6:30 p.m.

These hours are walk-in friendly, but if you would like to let me know you’re coming in advance you can email my scheduler Alex Clardy (alex.clardy@seattle.gov).

Additionally, here is a list of my tentatively scheduled office hours. These are subject to change.

Friday, June 15, 2018
South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S

Friday, July 27, 2018
Southwest Neighborhood Service Center, 2801 SW Thistle St

Friday, August 17, 2018
Senior Center of West Seattle, 4217 SW Oregon St

Friday, September 21, 2018
South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S

Friday, October 26, 2018
Southwest Neighborhood Service Center, 2801 SW Thistle St

Friday, December 14, 2018
South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S 

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Later Hours at the South Park Community Center; Extending the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Harassment Claims; Capital Project Oversight; Office Hours

May 12th, 2018


GREAT NEWS – South Park Community Center Late Night Hours Added

For those of you that have been following last Fall’s report and recommendations of the South Park Public Safety Taskforce, you will know that that I have been working with community members towards the implementation of these recommendations. You can read my last blog post from March 16 here that covers all of the recommendations.

I am excited and thankful that late last week the Mayor announced the implementation of one more of those community recommendations, extension of the Late-Night Program at the South Park Community Center. The late-night programing will now run not only on Fridays but Saturdays as well, between 7pm and 12am from June 2 through September 29, for youth between the ages of 13 and 19. A meal will be also provided for those participating in the program. These extended hours will make the community center more accessible and help meet the needs of our young people living in South Park. I want to thank the Seattle Neighborhood Group (SNG), the community, as well as the Mayor for their partnership and advocacy on these issues and helping make these recommendations a reality.


Bill Passes Full Council Extending Sexual Harassment Claims’ Statute of Limitations

On Monday May 7th the Seattle City Council passed Council Bill 119240 extending the statute of limitations on sexual harassment claims investigated by the Office of Civil Rights.   I first wrote about this issue in my March 2nd blog post.

This issue was first brought to my attention by a constituent who reached out because she was experiencing sexual harassment on her campus.  She had been bounced around from place to place and when she was finally referred to SOCR the current 180 statute of limitations had already expired.  She reached out to my office not to ask for help for herself but to ask for help in changing the conditions that would make it harder for other people in her situation in the future.

This bill includes three changes to the Seattle Municipal Code:

  1. Extends or maintains the statutes of limitation (SOL) for administrative charges enforced by the Office of Civil Rights in areas of employment, contracting, public accommodation and housing discrimination to half that of the time that a person has for filing a private right of action. More specifically:
    • Extends the statute of limitations from 180 days to a year and a half for sexual harassment in instances of employment and contracting
    • Extends the statute of limitations from 180 days to one year in public accommodations and
    • Maintains the current 1-year statute for sexual harassment in instances of housing
  1. Because many people don’t understand that sexual harassment is a form of discrimination, this bill newly includes the phrase “racial and sexual harassment, as well as harassment based on other protected classes.” as a named form of discrimination that SOCR investigates, clarifying current practice.

My hope is that this bill will help to provide an additional tool to people who are experiencing all forms of harassment and, especially in light of the “Me Too,” “Time’s Up,” and Seattle’s Silence Breakers movements, sexual harassment in the work place. We know that one of the reasons people don’t come forward is that they may not know that the experiences they are having ARE sexual harassment and even when people are aware that they are experiencing sexual harassment they often don’t know what avenues of recourse are available to them.  Further, by clarifying that sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that SOCR is already authorized to investigate, I hope we can provide further clarity to people experiencing harassment and discrimination.


Update on Capital Project Oversight

Cost increases for the Center City Streetcar and a Downtown protected bike lane have highlighted the importance of the Council receiving sufficient information on an ongoing basis, to oversee capital project spending, and to be able to identify problems early.

Capital projects (construction projects) are listed in the annual six-year Capital Project Improvement Program (CIP).  Although the most recent CIP, for 2018-2023, is 1015 pages, it provides limited information for these hundreds of projects. More finely-tuned, timely information is needed for adequate Council oversight.

This work began last year after Councilmember Johnson and I called for additional oversight of city capital projects.   The Council subsequently passed Resolution 31720 to establish a capital project oversight work program, which included a CIP Oversight Assessment Report, and a commitment to work with the City Budget Office on improving reporting on capital projects, with quarterly reports, identification of deviations from approved budgets, and risks.

Earlier this week the City Council received an update on new Capital Oversight and Quarterly Reporting standards and recommendations to improve capital project oversight reporting. The report includes an agreement among city departments with large capital projects to agree to formalize project stages, with shared terminology: pre-project development (PPD), design and planning, Initiation, project definition and planning (IPDP), design, construction, procurement/bid, and closeout. This process is called “stage gating.” It’s a productive step forward for oversight.

The report further notes there will be two types of quarterly reporting moving forward: first of all, a report that provides a brief overview of all projects over $5 million in a table that shows the baseline cost and current projections, and variance between the two figures. This will allow for identification of projects trending above or below baseline budgets. A second report will provide detailed explanation of project risks (with green, yellow and red color coding), including costs, schedule, and funding sources. These more specific enhanced reports will be for a smaller group of projects. This group will consist of the highest cost projects, and additional projects identified by Council for enhanced quarterly reporting. Discussions are underway with CBO about how to select projects.

Examples of what the enhanced reporting looks like are included in the update, including for the South Lander Street Grade Separation project. A small excerpt is included below.


In-District Office Hours

On May 25, I will be at the Senior Center of West Seattle (4217 SW Oregon St) from 2:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Please be sure to arrive no later than 6:30 p.m., the final meeting of the day will begin at 6:30 p.m.

These hours are walk-in friendly, but if you would like to let me know you’re coming in advance you can email my scheduler Alex Clardy (alex.clardy@seattle.gov).

Additionally, here is a list of my tentatively scheduled office hours. These are subject to change.

Friday, June 15, 2018
South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S

Friday, July 27, 2018
Southwest Neighborhood Service Center, 2801 SW Thistle St

Friday, August 17, 2018
Senior Center of West Seattle, 4217 SW Oregon St

Friday, September 21, 2018
South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S

Friday, October 26, 2018
Southwest Neighborhood Service Center, 2801 SW Thistle St

Friday, December 14, 2018
South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S 

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Highland Park Tenants Displaced; Sound Transit Neighborhood Forum; Parking in the West Seattle Junction; Vacating Marijuana Convictions

May 4th, 2018


20 Tenant Households Displaced in Highland Park

Last Wednesday, while I was walking from my house to the Highland Park Action Council (HPAC) meeting I noticed one of the large apartment buildings in my neighborhood was boarded up.  I didn’t know why that had happened, and because I work hard to keep up on what is going on in my District, and especially my neighborhood, I was feeling disappointed in myself for not being aware that a new major development was apparently occurring just two blocks away from my home.   But then, during the meeting with HPAC, one of the attendees mentioned that the very building I had noticed on my walk to the meeting had been recently cleared by the landlord of all its tenants and some of them had become homeless as a result.

This immediately alarmed me because the City of Seattle has, since the 1980s, had a Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance (TRAO) that gives renters at least 90 days’ notice and financial moving assistance whenever a building is going to be renovated, demolished, or if there’s a change of use.  It was immediately apparent to me that there was no way that the legal process for the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance (TRAO) could have occurred so quickly and I became worried that people had been improperly displaced.  On my way home that evening, I walked around the perimeter of the building and indeed, it was apparent that all but a couple of the units were vacant.

When I got home that evening, I looked up the address on the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) website to see what development activity was planned at the site. But there were no planned development activities associated with TRAO or a demolition, renovation, or change of use associated with the address. This further confirmed my suspicion that renters in the building had been improperly forced to move.  The next morning, I contacted SDCI and asked them to send an inspector out to the property.

I am saddened to report that I learned yesterday that SDCI has found that the tenants in the building recently had received a 100% rent increase and that this increase led to 20 of the 23 households being displaced from the building. Again, I’ve been told by my neighbors that several of these households are now homeless.  This is, I believe, a shameful result and an abuse of a landlord’s right to increase rent free from any regulation.

The TRAO says that it is unlawful for landlords to use excessive rent increases to circumvent the requirements for 90 days’ notice and access to moving expenses assistance.  But, there is no limit to how much a landlord can raise the rent. You see, the TRAO entitles low income renters who must move because of renovations to money to help them pay their moving costs ($3188).  But if a tenant moves because of a big rent increase, they won’t get the assistance.

Not only do rent increases in Seattle lead the nation, but some rent increases are actually used to circumvent other tenant protections such as the TRAO. In 2014, Councilmember Nick Licata brought attention to the fact that “each year more and more tenants find out they were deprived of critical relocation assistance following a massive rent hike due to loop holes created by state law” and that some property owners do this as a regular business practice.  You may remember the story of the Lockhaven Apartments and the Prince of Wales. In 2014 and again in 2015, State Senators David Frockt (46th District) and then State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (36th District) introduced legislation to disincentive for the practice of using rent increases to circumvent TRAO.

A number of landlords and their lobbyist testified against the bill, and it did not pass the State Legislature, so in response, Councilmember Licata worked to amend Seattle’s Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance (TRAO) to help tenants deprived of relocation assistance and 90 days’ notice to move that they would have otherwise received if their landlord followed TRAO instead of displacing them with a large rent increase.  Specifically, the law prohibited rent increases for the purpose of avoiding the required Tenant Relocation Assistance process. If a landlord increases rent by 20 percent or more, which results in a tenant vacating a unit within 90 days, then applies for a permit to substantially rehabilitate the unit within 6 months, the owner can have their building permit denied until the owner pays the penalties. Penalties are $1,000 per day for each day from the date the violation began.  The change Councilmember Licata made to the law has helped a lot of people, see this article from March, where under the new TRAO law, SDCI was able to require a landlord to pay $168,268 in relocation payments to 46 households that were living at 104 Pine St.

But somehow, and sadly, people who want to avoid their obligations seem to manage to find new loopholes as soon as you close one set of loopholes.  The owner of this property that has displaced 20 Highland Park household with a 100% rent increase found yet another loophole in TRAO.  From SDCI’s investigation we have learned that the property was purchased in January 2018 and the new owners, after the rent increase of nearly 100%, and after 20 tenant households vacated as a result of the rent increases, is now doing a rehabilitation that includes painting the exterior, painting interior units, tearing out carpeting and replacing some appliances. None of this work requires that the owner obtain a permit and it does not meet the definition of substantial rehabilitation (which requires work of $6000 or more per unit).

I am thankful that SDCI is continuing to investigate and will be requesting the owner sign a certification that the rent increase was not for the purpose of avoiding application of TRAO.  If people are in touch with the displaced renters, please encourage them to contact me so that I can put them in touch with SDCI for purposes of this on-going investigation.


Reminder: Sound Transit Neighborhood Forum Saturday morning (May 5th)

Sound Transit will hold a West Seattle Neighborhood Forum this Saturday, May 5, from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Alki Masonic Center at 4736 40th Avenue SW.

The meeting will include a presentation of the early options Sound Transit has analyzed in “Level 1,” which include elevated and tunnel alignments. It’s your chance to weigh in on these proposed options or suggest additional changes or refinements.

On May 17, the Elected Leadership Group will make recommendations on what Sound Transit should study in further detail in “Level 2.” Level 2 will include greater detail, as well as cost estimates.

Here’s a link to the West Seattle options Sound Transit analyzed in Round 1; here’s a link to Sound Transit’s summary of the options, and recommendations of Sound Transit’s Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAG).   Here’s background information about how Sound Transit is developing options.

I support moving tunnel options forward for consideration in Level 2.


RPZ Results for the West Seattle Junction

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has completed its study of a potential Residential Parking Zone (RPZ) in the area around commercial portion the West Seattle Junction. The request for the study came from the Junction Neighborhood Organization (JuNO).

The study found some areas met the criteria for an RPZ: 20 contiguous block faces (i.e. one side a block) that are 75% filled with vehicles, with 35% of the vehicles belong to non-residents.

Here’s a link to SDOT’s recent presentation and handout at JuNO, which includes the results of the study, and background information about RPZs. The RPZ study request came from JuNO.

Next steps include additional community outreach before developing a proposal, and a public hearing to consider it.   Information about Residential Parking Zones is available here; here’s information about the parking study for commercial areas in the West Seattle Junction.


City Attorney Files Motion to Vacate Marijuana Possession Convictions

City Attorney Holmes has filed a motion to dismiss marijuana possession convictions for people who were convicted between 1997 and 2010. This could affect up to 542 people, if the motion is accepted by Municipal Court.

After the passage of state initiative 501, possession was no longer illegal, beginning in December 2012.

I thank the City Attorney for this action. As the filing notes, marijuana possession laws had a disproportionate impact; African-Americans were 3.7 times as likely to be arrested than Caucasians, even though the groups consume marijuana at similar rates. The motion further notes that possession offenses can “have significantly negative collateral consequences affecting a person’s employment opportunities, education options, qualification for government benefits and programs, and immigration status.”

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Nature’s Scorecard; Update: Progressive Tax on Big Business; In-District Office Hours Update

April 27th, 2018

Nature’s Scorecard

On Tuesday, the Puget Soundkeeper and the Washington Environmental Council provided my committee a briefing on their joint project, Nature’s Scorecard.  Under the Clean Water Act cities are required to manage stormwater runoff and ensure that combined sewer overflows occur no more than once per outfall per year. Nature’s Scorecard is an easily digestible snapshot of how municipalities in the Puget Sound are performing in updating their development codes in order to meet these requirements. Specifically, the Puget Soundkeeper and the Washington Environmental Council are tracking the implementation of low-impact development (LID), which utilizes natural drainage solutions to prevent stormwater from directly entering our waterways.

Nature’s Scorecard uses five categories to track and rank the progress municipalities are making.  These categories are: Softening our Footprint, Building with Care, Improving Filtration, Growing the Right Trees, and Maintaining Buffers.

Seattle ranked very highly making progress in all five areas. Additionally, Seattle along with eight other cities, was awarded a Green Star award for going above and beyond the permit requirements. However, over 50% of municipalities in the Puget Sound failed to make necessary updates to their code. You can view the full scorecard here.

Progressive Tax and Big Business

On Friday April 20, Councilmembers González, O’Brien, and Mosqueda, and myself released the proposed Council Bill necessary to implement the Progressive Tax on Big Business and proposed resolution to impose a spending plan for the use of those revenues once collected.

You can find here:  the proposed Council Bill to implement the tax, a proposed spending plan resolution, a proposed spending plan, an outline of the system-wide performance standards for homelessness service investments, and detailed information on affordable housing inventory and services.

Over the past several months I have written updates about the efforts of the Progressive Revenue Task Force and the process that led to the release of this proposed legislation. For a more thorough background on the Progressive Revenue Task Force please see my previous blog posts on this issue:

Prior to the release of the proposed Council Bill and companion resolution, we met with Mayor Durkan’s Small Business Advisory Committee, we have held a business roundtable, had several Council discussions in Councilmember Bagshaw’s Finance and Neighborhoods Committee.  Since the release of the legislation we have had a public hearing and Councilmember González and I have met with neighborhood business chambers and will continue those meetings throughout the City.

Proposed Tax Ordinance

As proposed, the tax would only apply to business with $20 million or more in Seattle gross receipts and would only apply to the top 3% of Seattle businesses.  Under this proposal those businesses would pay $500 per employee per year or roughly $.25 per employee per hour. As proposed by the task force, this tax would raise $75 million per year to address the city’s homelessness crisis.

Beginning in 2021, the Employee Hours Tax (EHT) would be phased out and be replaced with a progressive payroll tax.  We have heard from many businesses that a payroll tax would be preferable because it recognizes that some high grossing businesses, due to high labor costs, have a very narrow profit margin.  It would be my preference to implement the payroll tax as soon as possible.  We have heard from the Office of Finance and Administrative Services that they will need up to 2 years to create the infrastructure necessary to implement a payroll tax.

I have heard concerns about how this tax would impact small businesses and not for profit organizations.  By raising the threshold from the $10 million dollars proposed by the task force to $20 million dollar we will exempt small businesses and many medium-sized businesses from paying the tax.  As stated above, 97% of Seattle businesses would be exempt from the proposed tax.  Additionally, the base legislation exempts all non-profit, 501C3, organizations.

I’ve also heard concerns about the local economy; recent studies provide insight into this.

Much of Seattle’s recent growth has been in the tech sector. A study by local economist Dick Conway, Washington State and Local Tax System: Dysfunction and Reform, notes that while this creates additional jobs, the practical effect is to shift the tax burden to those least able to bear that burden, due to our regressive tax system:

“high-tech job creates two or three other jobs in the economy through the multiplier process. These workers and their families place demands on the public sector for schools, roads, and safety. If the added costs of these public goods and services were to fall disproportionately on low and middle-income households, as they do now under Washington’s sales-based tax system, those households would in effect be subsidizing the high-tech companies and their employees”.

The structural cause of homelessness in high cost cities like Seattle is that there is a growing unmet need for more affordable housing created when new workers, earning new high wage jobs, and low-income workers are in competition for limited housing.  Lower income workers lose out and the result is that the explosive growth and rising rents that Seattle is experiencing has increased homelessness even as we, each year, exit more than 3,000 people out of homelessness and into permanent housing. A progressive tax on businesses most benefiting from this growth is our best option because we already rely heavily upon regressive property and sales taxes that hit everyone equally. Homelessness is a regional problem and one that extends beyond our City’s limits. As our partners in combating a crisis, we look forward to the regional One Table’s recommendations and fully expect the County and others to engage in addressing this massively increasing, too.

It’s important to note that in its latest study, the Tax Foundation concludes that, among the fifty states, Wyoming has the best business tax climate.   Yet, as this report notes (page 26), “Despite having the best business tax climate, there is no evidence that it has done the Wyoming economy much good. Between 1970 and 2015, Wyoming added only 172,900 jobs, 0.3 percent of the total gain in U.S. employment. There is in fact no correlation (0.011) between a state’s business tax climate and its ability to generate jobs, as a simple statistical test reveals (see “Business Tax Climate Spreadsheet”). Illustrating the lack of correlation, with the third worst business tax climate, California created on net 9,280,200 payroll jobs—more than one out of every eight new jobs in the nation—between 1970 and 2015.” (see Table 13).

Two recent studies attest to the health of the local economy, ranking Washington State first in the nation.   A 2017 study listed Washington State as having the best economy in the country. In the three key measures used in the study’s methodology ranked first in Economic Activity, third in Innovation Potential, and fourth in Economic Health. A graphic shows the top and bottom-ranked states.  Washington State leads the nation in personal income growth, in a report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the US Commerce Department, with an increase of 4.8% during 2017.

Spending Plan and Resolution

As currently proposed, seventy-five percent of the revenue generated by the tax would be spent on development of affordable housing, 20% would be spent on emergency services, shelter, and hygiene services and 5% would go to the administrative costs of administering the tax.   In total, this revenue would allow us to create 1,780 new affordable housing units over the next 5 years.  See the chart below for a breakdown of those units.  This is of course in addition to the low income housing units produced every year under the 2017 Housing Levy, about 2,150 units over 7 years, for a total of 3,930 units of low income housing for our city’s residents that need it most.

Twenty percent of the revenue would be sent on emergency shelter and services such as expanding criminal justice diversion programs, providing basic services to 97 households living in their cars (per year), providing and maintaining an additional 362 shelter beds a year and removing 100,000 pounds of garbage, garbage that impacts local businesses, from encampment locations and surrounding Seattle streets each year.

In a recent announcement, Councilmember González, chair of the Gender Equity, Safe Communities, New Americans and Education Committee said: “In 2017, our city-funded programs exited 3,400 people from homelessness into permanent housing. Yet, we continue to see people living and sleeping in public spaces. The causes for homelessness are varied but the result is the same: unsheltered people are unable to find their way into affordable housing because it does not exist at the needed scale.  The answer to our homelessness crisis is not as simple as being austere and shuffling existing budget priorities. There is no question that additional resources are needed to fund housing and services that are working. This new revenue is targeted towards building deeply affordable housing and funding services that allow a person to become healthy, stable and independent.”

Next Steps

I know many people have asked that the CIty provide a fuller picture of where our current investments in homelessness services are being made and what the outcomes have been.  Next week, I’ll share a report from the city’s Human Services Department on this topic.

This issue will be before the Seattle City Council again on Wednesday May 2nd at 12pm in Council Chambers.  At this meeting Councilmembers will participate in “issue identification” which is an opportunity for Councilmembers to signal their interest in potential amendments to the proposed Council Bill and Resolution, as well as the spending plan.  On Wednesday May 9th the Finance and Neighborhood committee will meet to discuss and vote on possible amendments to the legislation.  The Council anticipates the vote on the tax bill and companion resolution at Full Council on Monday May 14th

You can learn more about where the council is in the process and the proposed legislation at the City Council’s Progressive Tax on Business webpage.

In-District Office Hours

My next scheduled office hours are Friday, May 25 at the Senior Center of West Seattle (417 SW Oregon St). Please contact my scheduler Alex Clardy (alex.clardy@seattle.gov) if you would like to setup a time to meet then.   My apologies for any inconvenience and I hope everyone is enjoying the fantastic weather!

  • Friday, May 25, 2018
    Senior Center of West Seattle, 4217 SW Oregon St
  • Friday, June 15, 2018
    South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S
  • Friday, July 27, 2018
    Southwest Neighborhood Service Center, 2801 SW Thistle St
  • Friday, August 17, 2018
    Senior Center of West Seattle, 4217 SW Oregon St
  • Friday, September 21, 2018
    South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S
  • Friday, October 26, 2018
    Southwest Neighborhood Service Center, 2801 SW Thistle St
  • Friday, December 14, 2018
    South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S
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