Light Rail Open House on Sept 8 @ 9am; Vacant Building Programs; Streetcar Consultant Report; Constituent Emails; Showbox Public Hearing

West Seattle Sound Transit Light Rail Open House 9 a.m. Saturday September 8

Sound Transit will hold a West Seattle neighborhood forum and open house on Saturday, September 8, from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Seattle Lutheran High School gym at 4100 SW Genesee Street.

This meeting is held as part of Sound Transit’s “Level 2” alternatives analysis for the ST3 West Seattle/Ballard light rail line approved by voters in 2016.

The Level 2 analysis includes more detail than before. It includes “high”, “medium” and “low” evaluations for 50+ measurements, which derive from 17 criteria that reflect the Purpose and Need statement.

There ratings include construction and operation cost estimates, ridership estimates for each station area, potential for southern expansion of the line, construction impacts, transfer potential with buses, potential resident and business displacement, and numerous other evaluation criteria.

Costs estimates are based on a “baseline” cost for the “ST3 Representative Project” elevated alignment included in the 2016 ballot measure. The cost estimates for West Seattle tunnel options range from an additional $500 million to $1.2 billion; a second elevated alignment has a similar cost as the representative alignment.

Sound Transit’s project website includes sections on the alternatives in each of the geographic areas; here’s a link for the West Seattle alternatives. You can click on each of the alternatives for additional information and comparisons, and offer comments. Separate sections are included for Ballard/Interbay, Downtown, SODO and Chinatown. These include alternatives that are also more expensive, and some that are less expensive than the baseline.

Here’s a link to the Level 2 Evaluation Results presentation. It’s a long document, and the West Seattle/Duwamish results begin on page 88, so here’s a link to just the West Seattle/Duwamish section. When the Sound Transit Board decides on a preferred alternative, it will be considering the line as a whole, so it’s useful to review this in the context of the entire line.

The next step for consideration of Level 2 alternatives will be the Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) meeting on September 26th; after that the Elected Leadership Group will meet on October 5th to consider the recommendations of the SAG. Here’s the overall timeline for developing a preferred alternative, with a target of April, 2019.

Thanks to Sound Transit for their responsiveness in scheduling the neighborhood forum well before the SAG meeting on the 26th, to allow the SAG members to hear and consider community input.

Sound Transit will also hold open house neighborhood forums Downtown on September 11 at 5:30 p.m. and in Ballard on September 17th at 5:30 p.m.

Sound Transit has indicated they will be producing visualizations.

Vacant Building Monitoring Program Update

In the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning (PLUZ) Committee on Wednesday the committee received an update from the Department of Construction and Inspection (SDCI). The briefing was one year to the day after the Council passed legislation to make it easier for the City to demolish vacant buildings with a history of Seattle Police Department and Fire Department dispatches.  You can read my previous report about that legislation here.

Because it occurred to me last year that the City must do much more than it currently does to monitor vacant buildings in order to ensure owners maintain them in accordance with the code requirements for vacant buildings so that they do not fall into disrepair, requiring SPD & SFD to respond to unlawful entry and fires, I authored an amendment to that legislation requiring SDCI to report back to Council on how the Council might enact a new, enhanced Vacant Building monitoring program.  See below for an illustration after just one year of a vacant building not being monitored.

Last May I wrote another update after the Council received the SDCI report. That report was presented to the PLUZ Committee this Wednesday, you can see the departments presentation here, and watch the committee meeting here.

In addition to the department’s presentation I worked with my staff and a community volunteer, Lance, to create a District 1 specific presentation which highlights issues that many of you have written me about. As the presentation shows, D1 has many more vacant buildings than the other Council districts.  District 1 saw 95 complaint cases in 2017 alone, the highest of any District and only 2 of those properties are in SDCI’s existing, rather anemic, Vacant Building Monitoring Program. Further, the Police Department had to dispatch officers to 44 different addresses for a total of 284 times in 2017; and the Fire Department was dispatched to 15 different addresses for a total of 32 times. These are resources being spent by our public safety departments and not being recouped.

According to SDCI, the way properties get into the current SDCI Vacant Building Monitoring Program is as follows: …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 (emphasis added) 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.”

This description of triggering events for entry into the existing Vacant Building Monitoring Program is at odds with the information that we have about the 95 vacant building complaints in 2017.  At the end of 2017, a total of 31 of the 95 properties (32%) had multiple NOVs/Eos and 68 of the 95 properties (71%) had SDCI code complaints prior to 2017.  Nevertheless, again, only 2 of these properties are in the existing Vacant Building Monitoring Program.

I will be working with SDCI to implement a fee based program that helps keep our public safety resources where they belong and are needed while allowing SDCI to recover costs associated with more effectively monitoring a greater number of vacant buildings.

Streetcar Consultant Report Released

Mayor Durkan has released an Initial Summary of the independent Streetcar cost review for the Center City Streetcar she ordered earlier this year.

The review came after a Seattle Times article about disagreement between SDOT and King County Metro over operating costs included in a September, 2017 report required by the City Council, resulting from an amendment I sponsored.

The initial summary report says the current estimate for construction has increased to $252 million; it notes earlier cost estimates were $197 million in 2017, $177 million in 2016, and $143 million in 2015.

This project is a clear example of why we need enhanced reporting for major capital projects, with clear decision points early on, as used in the “stage-gating” process for approving capital projects.

The initial report also identifies the need for additional engineering analysis on the size of the streetcars, which are longer and heavier than the current streetcars. This could result in still more costs due to the potential need to reinforce streets to handle the weight, changes to the docks in the maintenance base, and how well the streetcars could pass one another while turning at intersections.

No funding has been proposed to cover these significant additional costs. My 2017 amendment referenced above required SDOT to provide contingency funding sources if operation or construction funding are inadequate; the September 2107 response was that “SDOT will identify alternative funding sources to complete the project on schedule.” That was when the cost estimate was significantly lower.  This was a “non-answer answer” at the time and remains an unfulfilled condition of the 2017 amendment.

Since that time, a new Mayor and new Interim SDOT Director have taken office; I wholeheartedly appreciate the transparency and increased candor from the Mayor and new SDOT leadership on this project.

The initial report also reviews SDOT’s ridership and operations cost estimates. While it finds them mostly reasonable, it notes that current operations depend on $1.9 million through an agreement with King County Metro that expires in 2019, and $5 million by Sound Transit in an agreement that expires in 2023. The report notes that SDOT and King County Metro still haven’t yet reconciled their diverging operations cost estimates, an important consideration given that KC Metro operates the streetcars. The report notes that an updated agreement in 2019 could include higher operating costs.

The report notes that ridership on the SLU line may be affected by competing sources of transit, such as the high-ridership C Line.

Streetcar supporters raise a fair point: other public transit such as light rail and buses receive public subsidies. However, that assumption has always been included in their operating budgets, from the start. That hasn’t been the case with streetcars; SDOT’s assumption has been that they would pay for their own operations. Further, in the case of the Streetcar, when ridership projections & firebox recovery don’t meet estimates and operating subsidies are needed, they usually come from sources of revenue that support other transportation priorities, like sidewalks or our well-used King County Metro service.

Unfortunately the assumption that streetcars would pay for their own operations hasn’t worked out. The SLU Streetcar, which has a cumulative operating deficit of $3.6 million, and requires “reconciliation” (i.e. additional operations costs) of $0.6 million with KC Metro for operating the line in 2016/2017. The First Hill line has an operating subsidy of $5 million from Sound Transit. Even so, $2.8 million is needing for 2016/2017 reconciliation with KC Metro, along with a $0.2 million operations deficit.

The report notes the construction cost liabilities for the two lines total $10.8 million.

The report also notes that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has notified the City that the “FTA will conduct an additional review of the assumptions to continue the project once a decision is made to continue or terminate the project.” The review could take 12-18 months to complete. The FTA approved a $75 million grant in 2016, but funding is not secured until the City signs a full funding agreement.

The original purpose of both streetcars was to connect neighborhoods to light rail stations. The SLU Streetcar connects that neighborhood to the Westlake light rail station, and the First Hill line connects to the Capitol Hill and Chinatown/International District Stations.

The engineering review on the size of the streetcars may be available in November. The Mayor’s release about the initial summary report is here.

August 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 by 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 August, what I refer to above as “case management services.”  The shaded categories and numbers are emails answered in August related to policy or legislation that the Council is considering.

September 19 Public Hearing on Showbox Market Historic District Legislation

On September 19th at 6 p.m. the Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts Committee will host a public hearing on Council Bill 119330, which expanded the Pike Place Market Historical District to include the Showbox Theater for ten months.

The Ordinance was adopted to study whether to permanently expand the District to include the Showbox Theater. Under state law, a public hearing is required within 60 days; the Council adopted this legislation on August 13.

The hearing will be  on Wednesday, September 19 at 6:00 PM.

The hearing will be held in the City Council Chambers, on the 2nd floor of City Hall at 600 4th Avenue between Cherry and James.

Sign-up sheets will be available at 5:30 p.m.

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