Legacy Business Program Update; Community Service Officer Jobs; Utility Contact Center Tour; Delridge Multimodal Corridor/H Line Project

Legacy Business Program Update

At my last Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts (CRUEDA) Committee meeting on May 14, I hosted new acting Director Bobby Lee and Michael Wells from the Office of Economic Development (OED) to  give an update on the Legacy Business program that I have been working to develop since taking office in 2016. Legacy Businesses are long-standing, independently-owned, small businesses that contribute to the cultural vibrancy and local economy, and give our neighborhoods character and create a bridge to our city’s past.

In 2017 I requested and helped fund a study within the Office of Economic Development to scope out a City program that could help Seattle’s Legacy Businesses survive and thrive. The study showed that Legacy Businesses face similar challenges as most small businesses such as marketing and promotion, however there are unique issues like succession planning and long-term stability in commercial leases that pose specific threats.

In the 2017 and 2018 budget cycles, I sponsored funding requests to bring a Legacy Business program to life, specifically by 1) developing and launching a nomination process, 2) developing a marketing and branding plan, and 3) promoting technical assistance tools that are culturally-relevant and use the assets available in a neighborhood.

The program is transitioning toward the implementation phase, specifically crafting tools and resources, and developing a nomination and designation process. As we move in this direction, I want to ensure that we stay focused on the original goal of preserving and creating sustainability for Legacy Businesses. Drawing from his experience in working for the City of Portland, Acting Director Lee made the apt connection that a simple, no-cost tool the OED can provide is support with succession planning. When matched with strategies like cooperative ownership, operation by a nonprofit, and community-owned crowdfunding, succession planning can create a “pipeline” of ownership for Legacy Businesses.

Aside from the program support, our conversation also revolved around the real financial challenges in supporting Legacy Businesses, specifically to help businesses afford rent costs. The City is limited by State law on providing financial assistance to for-profits, but the City can provide an important role in promoting resources that attract private investors through new market tax credits and establishing relationships with Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI)—these are community-based financial institutions that provide loans to small neighborhood businesses, community organizations, and affordable housing providers that may face barriers in accessing mainstream banks.

I have, together with OED, been working on developing a pilot program to support Legacy Businesses funded by new market tax credits.  I am a member of the Seattle Investment Fund Committee and we are working towards investing $800,000 to incentivize the development of affordable commercial tenant improvement space for Legacy Businesses in Targeted Investment Areas, or neighborhoods identified as high displacement risk areas in the City’s 2035 Growth and Equity Report Analyzing Impacts on Displacement and Opportunity Related to Seattle’s Growth Strategy; and currently experiencing significant development activity.  We have received some exciting applications for the funding and I hope to share news of the recipients soon.

An additional partnership that OED has been developing is with Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI), like the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund, a CDFI that has served the Rainier Beach area for 20 years.

I’m looking forward to finalizing the nomination strategy for neighborhoods to identify Legacy Businesses and developing the designation, or selection, process. I am encouraged and in alignment with the recommendations of Director Lee and Wells in ensuring that the nomination and designation process involves our Business Improvement Areas, chambers of commerce, and merchant groups, but also smaller businesses that face barriers in being part of the mainstream business community and patrons that need more support in elevating their voice. I’ll keep you updated as OED makes progress on Legacy Businesses!

Community Service Officer Job Positions Posted

The Seattle Police Department has posted the job position for Community Service Officers. Applications are open through June 18th.  You can see additional information and apply here. 12 new Community Service Officers will be hired. The posting notes,

“The Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) Community Service Officer (CSO) Unit is staffed by non-commissioned officers who are trained and work as liaison personnel between the community and the SPD. CSOs do not carry weapons nor enforce criminal laws. Instead, they serve to bridge the service gap on non-criminal calls for service and perform a variety of public safety-related community service and outreach work that does not require the enforcement authority of a sworn police officer.”

For desired qualifications, the posting notes:

“The CSO Unit should be comprised of individuals who are representative of the communities it serves. SPD seeks to fill the open CSO positions with individuals from demographic groups currently underrepresented in the Police department, including elders, immigrants, and individuals with past involvement in the criminal justice system. Preference will be given to applicants who have a proven history of community involvement as well as applicants who are multi-lingual. Competitive applicants will also possess one or more of the following:

  • Cultural competency and a commitment to race and social justice.
  • Training and/or experience working with at-risk individuals, including but not limited to at-risk youth, unsheltered individuals, chemically dependent, physically and mentally ill and the elderly.
  • Excellent written, interpersonal and problem-solving skills; ability to communicate effectively and respectfully.
  • De-escalation skills.
  • Knowledge of and/or existing relationships with Seattle social service providers and community-based organizations; familiarity with City services.”

City Council initiated re-establishment of the program; I co-sponsored. Here’s the Mayor and Police Chief’s statement with additional information. Adding these positions will assist officers in being able to focus on 911 calls.

Thanks to SPD for their work to re-establish this program.

Utility Contact Center Tour

I wrote about the Contact Center last July, and promised that I would continue to monitor the issues customers had getting good customer service at the call center.  Last Friday I had another opportunity to tour the Seattle Public Utility (SPU) Contact Center. The Contact Center answers phone calls related to billing and utility service issues for both SPU as well as Seattle City Light (SCL). SPU manages the day to day operations of the Contact Center; however, 60% – 70% of the calls received are related to SCL. This is in part due to multi-family housing where SCL has a meter for each unit, and SPU only has a meter for the building.  Therefore, they have significantly fewer customers.

The Contact Center employs roughly 100 people who answer approximately 625,000 calls annually. As Seattle has grown at a rapid pace, the Contact Center has not seen an appreciable increase in staffing to help manage the increased workload. This is can be seen in the date, below are two charts, one from 2015 which shows the number of calls “offered” (total calls received), calls answers, the average wait time before an employee could answer, and the average handle time (the time spent on the phone call). The second chart shows the same information but for 2017.

You can see that the average number of calls has increased from 614,450 in 2015, to 637,110 in 2017. The wait times increased from 1 minute and 13 seconds in 2015 to over 11 minutes in 2017, and the handle time increased from 8 minutes and 16 seconds in 2015 to 10 minutes and 36 seconds in 2017. The Contact Center had not had an increase in staff since 2001. It is because of this increased workload that I supported the addition 24 additional staff members spread out over 2019 and 2020 to manage the increased workload.

You can see in the graph below that average wait times have already decreased as compared to 2018.

The work of the Contact Center employees truly amazes me, and during the tour and in conversations I’ve had with Contact Center employees, it is evident that they truly care about and take pride in the work they are doing. I want to thank the employees of the Contact Center for their hard work and dedication. They have done an astounding job in improving the efficiency of the Contact Center.

May 30 Open House for Delridge Multimodal Corridor/H Line Project

SDOT and King County Metro are holding an open house on upcoming work to convert Bus 120 into the Rapid Ride H Line in 2021. SDOT’s work on this is the Delridge Multimodal Corridor project, to increase transit speed and access.

The open house will be on Thursday, May 30th from 5-7 p.m. at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center at 4408 Delridge Way SW.

Here’s a link to SDOT’s project page, and KC Metro’s H Line webpage.

Last year the Council voted to amend the criteria for the voter-approved Seattle Transportation Benefit District to allow for additional funding for Route 120.

As part of my work on enhancing capital project oversight, I have sponsored two “stage-gating” spending restrictions on the Delridge Multimodal Corridor project to require check-ins with the Council before voting to authorize additional spending for design. Earlier this year the Council approved spending to complete design; final approval will be considered during the 2020 budget process, beginning when the Mayor releases her proposed 2020 budget in late September.

The project includes bus lanes, landscaped medians, crosswalk improvements, protected bike lanes, neighborhood greenway connections, signal upgrades, paving, water and sewer pipe upgrades, spot parking and bike lane removal, and public art.

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