West Seattle Bridge: Digital Town Hall, Update; SDCI Legislation Update; In-District Office Hours; COVID-19 Updates; #LightItBlue for West Seattle Healthcare Workers; Summer Fest Cancellation

West Seattle Bridge: Digital Town Hall, Update

On Wednesday Councilmember Pedersen and I co-hosted a digital Town Hall on the West Seattle Bridge with SDOT. If you missed it, you can watch the forum on YouTube. The Q&A starts about 35 minutes in.

There were over 3,300 RSVPs, 1,000 questions submitted, and 4,600 views. This is testament to just how critical the West Seattle Bridge is to those of us who live in West Seattle, and the overwhelming desire of community members for updates and participation.

Thank you to everyone who participated, and sent questions or suggestions. I am also encouraged by the number of people who have contacted my office since March 23 with their ideas for how best to address this crisis. There were a lot more questions than could be answered during the event, so my office will be organizing the questions and suggestions by subject area, and hope to share them next week.

My office will work hard to get you updates and ensure that SDOT considers your suggestions seriously – whether they are suggestions about traffic management needs along alternative routes, suggestions for new or expanded transit, repair and replacement ideas, or your recommendations about process and oversight.

Thank you to SDOT for participating in the forum, and to Councilmember Pedersen, Chair of the Transportation & Utilities committee. I appreciate the attention he is giving to this.

SDOT published a number of updates on the SDOT blog during the last week.

SDOT noted they are drafting safety plans for the areas around the West Seattle Bridge, in case the bridge becomes unstable. This would involve potential removal of traffic from the low bridge and surrounding areas; SDOT notes they are “creating an emergency traffic plan with our partners that would re-direct transit, freight, and emergency vehicles, as well as personal vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians.” SDOT said this plan is for a worst-case scenario; they noted this week they do not believe the bridge is in imminent danger of collapse. SDOT has installed real-time monitoring equipment on the bridge.

SDOT also provided an update about Pier 18, and the problem with the lateral bearing. It explains what a lateral bearing is, the role in plays in the bridge, and what work needs to be done to address the problem. The post includes a visual showing the part of the bridge that needs to be repaired:

SDOT also announced they are planning to repave the 5-way intersection underneath the bridge this weekend and reconfigure parts of it.

SDOT will also be adding a new bus lane from Andover to the lower bridge:

SDOT has added traffic monitoring at a number of locations. In some places, counts are lower than usual due to COVID-19; that will change in the future as traffic resumes normal patterns; citywide, it’s 40% of average, and bus ridership is down over 70%.

That said, there are two locations where traffic counts show higher than usual traffic in the most recent count: Highland Park Way SW and West Marginal Way SW (up 38%), and West Marginal Way and SW Idaho Street (up 142%):

This will need to be closely monitored, as traffic counts are likely to increase significantly in the future.

Traffic counts on the lower bridge are roughly at baseline levels. SDOT is restricting use of the bridge to transit, freight, and emergency vehicles.

I have advocated for allowing access for, for example health care workers during the COVID-19 emergency, or opening the bridge to general traffic overnight. Another emerging issue is shuttle buses for companies that provide them, such as Amazon and Microsoft. Others have mentioned school buses once classes resume.

SDOT has so far not been willing to provide further access to the lower bridge; they note that once SPD stops enforcing the restrictions, some vehicles return. Abiding by the limitations will make it easier to advocate for allowing other uses.

SDOT is also making signal updates to 35th Avenue SW, and will be upgrading signal controllers to 35th and Roxbury to allow SDOT to control the signals remotely.

On Wednesday I participated in a meeting of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition (WSTC).  Earlier that day the WSTC sent a letter of requests to SDOT.  SDOT was able that evening to provide an initial response to many of the requests.

WSTC Letter: Actions Taken

  • Managing SODO and the Spokane Street corridor diversions
  • Worked with WSDOT to manage I-5, SR 99 and SR 509 diversions, and use other statewide notification modes
  • Installed oversized signs to highlight high- bridge closure and re-route requirements in key Peninsula centers
  • Installed signal at SW Holden and 9th Ave. SW-SW Highland Park Way
  • Improved signal timing and operation on all anticipated detour routes
  • Initiate SPD traffic patrols over the low bridge and authorize violation fines
  • Coordinated a short-term detour for commuters from Vashon and 
Southworth-Kitsap who drive through Fauntleroy
  • Prominently sharing information through our website, blog, and email.
  • Simultaneously sharing information with the West Seattle Blog, Westside Weekly, and other news outlets.

WSTC Letter: Actions In-process

  • Creating individual street plans and detour signage, to reduce or eliminate cut-through traffic impacts on West Seattle neighborhoods
  • Working with King County Metro on the following:
    • Increasing West Seattle Water Taxi service if demand warrants, expanding parking for Water Taxi commuters, and coordinating 773/775 with new sailing schedule, expanding 773/775 service to Morgan Junction, for the duration of the High Bridge closure; 
adding midday bus service for Admiral area residents, who are most effected by the closure

WSTC Letter: Actions Not Taken

  • SW Delridge Way and 21st Ave SW, to allow L & R turns onto Delridge, and ease pressure on SW Holden from SW Highland Park Way
    • SDOT: Not encouraging additional traffic to 21st Ave SW because of intersection geometry and lack of traffic signal
  • Allow (1) registered King County Van Pool vehicles and (2) medical staff vehicles to use the low bridge
    • SDOT: Low Bridge restricted to freight, transit, and emergency response vehicles

One final update for this week on the West Seattle Bridge, the City Council received an answer to a question my office asked March 23rd about SDOT’s assessment of Seattle’s Bridges (CM Pedersen’s office asked as well): the updated answer is copied below, including a link to the 2019 bridge ratings.

“Please provide the most recent list of SDOT’s assessment of Seattle’s bridges (including ratings).

Each year SDOT updates the NHS Bridge Project Rating Criteria List (PRC) based on the previous years’ bridge condition data and rating factors that account for City of Seattle priorities, including equity and transportation system impact. With the 2019 SDOT NHS Bridge Project Rating, based on the May 2019 inspection, the West Seattle High Bridge was ranked 40, the same as its ranking in the 2018 SDOT NHS Bridge Project Rating. 

The process of reranking bridges in the PRC happens annually in Q1 of each year based on the previous year’s inspection data. If we were to rerank the PRC based on inspections from February and March 2020, then the 2020 NHS Bridge Project Rating will place the West Seattle High Bridge on the top of the list.

The West Seattle High-Rise Bridge inspection reports from 2013 through 2020 are posted on our website. We share these important reports to provide transparency to the documents that informed our decisions over the years.  

We believe the reports show our careful, proactive monitoring effort that put into place the systems necessary to make sure we could act quickly to preserve life and safety. Additionally, they show that during our frequent inspections of the West Seattle Bridge over the past several years, there was no indication that the bridge was unsafe for ordinary use or that maintenance needs would impact normal use of the bridge. These concerns emerged only very recently after continued inspections identified accelerating deterioration.” 

My earlier newsletters about the West Seattle Bridge and related issues are @ March 25, March 27, April 3, April 10, April 17. SDOT has a project website where you can sign up for e-mail updates.

SDCI Legislation Update

Last Monday the Council voted on CB 119769 which would:

  1. Allow development projects that would normally be reviewed by the Design Review Board to be reviewed by SDCI staff through Administrative Design Review for the next six months, unless the department can transition all board reviews to virtual meetings or safely return to in-person meetings before then.
  2. Expedite the production of affordable housing by exempting publicly-funded affordable housing projects from Design Review if the project applicants are ready to submit a complete building permit application within the next six months, and allow the SDCI Director to waive or modify certain development standards for those projects.
  3. Allow developers preparing for Design Review to conduct their required Early Community Outreach via electronic or digital methods instead of in-person outreach methods.
  4. Allow developers of proposals for planned community development packages to conduct other types of public outreach instead of having in-person public meetings.
  5. Allow DON staff to review requests for certain alterations/modifications of City landmarks and buildings within Special Review Districts, Landmark Districts, and Historical Districts, as well as requests for development standard departures for City landmarks and controls and incentives agreements for City landmarks in instances where DON staff and the owner are able to reach written agreement.
  6. Allow DON staff to review requests for flexibility from development standards by public schools.
  7. Suspend the following board/committee reviews and extend any associated review timelines for 60 days:
    1. Nomination/Designation of new City landmarks.
    2. Requests to approve new buildings and larger alterations/modifications of City Landmarks and within Special Review Districts, Landmark Districts, and Historical Districts.
    3. Controls agreements for City landmarks where staff and owner are not able to reach written agreement.
    4. Major Institution Master Planning processes.
    5. Various other public meetings that are required as part of the land use process.

I am generally supportive of this legislation, given the fact that in-person meetings required by law are not allowed under the Governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order.  I had a number of amendments to this bill, but of all of the amendments I proposed, the one I believed was most important was removal of the section of the bill exempting affordable housing projects from the Administrative Design Review (ADR) process. I have been a stalwart advocate of affordable housing for more than 30 years of my life.  Under different circumstances, if the Administrative Design Review process is a proven barrier to the production of affordable housing, I would be amenable to reform in this area to increase the speed of affordable housing development.

My concerns about this section of the bill stem from the Governor’s Proclamation 20-28 and the subsequent guidance from the State Attorney General, which prohibits Council actions that are not either: (1) “necessary and routine,” or (2) “necessary to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and current public health emergency.”

This section of the bill (number two above), appears to be a policy discussion unrelated to COVID-19.  Many people have written and testified that ADR has been – before the COVID-19 crisis – a barrier to affordable housing production.  Though the policy discussion is worthy of having at the Council, these statements make clear to me that the problem has not been created by COVID-19 and under the Governor’s order I am concerned that the Council would be violating the law as it does not appear to me that expediting affordable housing that will be built in a year addresses the CURRENT public health emergency caused by COVID-19, which I believe is what the Governor’s order requires.

At a time when government on all levels is seeking the cooperation of the public in adhering to Emergency Orders, I believe it is incumbent on the Council to adhere to the Emergency Order directed at lawmakers, Proclamation 20-28.

I sponsored an amendment to strike this section of the bill; that amendment unfortunately failed 5-4.

I also sponsored two amendments that Councilmember Strauss incorporated into a substitute version of the bill and included a modification to address concerns about language access requested by Chinatown/ID stakeholders.

  • Modify the suspension of meetings of the Landmarks Board and other regulatory review bodies from 60-days to the earlier of (a) 60-days, (b) when virtual meetings are possible, or (c) when in-person meetings resume. This clarified that meetings could be held earlier than 60 days, if possible. Historic Seattle wrote in support of this amendment.
  • Add a new section to the bill to provide a limited authorization to the Historic Preservation Officer (HPO) to negotiate controls and incentives agreements prior to the Landmarks Preservation Board’s consideration of a landmark designation at a property owner’s request. This would keep the process moving forward for projects that have already been nominated, but are not yet designated, by allowing the staff to commence negotiations. Historic Seattle also supported this amendment.

To pass, because the bill is emergency legislation, it required a three-fourths vote of the Council. Ultimately it failed with three votes against it.  In voting against the legislation, I was joined by Councilmembers Pedersen and Morales.  Although I was supportive of much of the bill, I voted against it due to my belief that, with the section exempting affordable housing from Administrative Design review included, the Council would be violating the Governor’s order.

The bill is now scheduled to be reconsidered on Monday.

In-District Office Hours

On Wednesday April 29, I will be hosting virtual office hours to comply with the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order from Governor Inslee. They will begin at 2pm and go until 6pm, with the last meeting of the day beginning at 5:30pm.

Due to the nature of virtual office hours, you will need to contact my schedule Alex Clardy (alex.clardy@seattle.gov) in order to receive the call-in information and schedule a time. We will be using Skype for Business, and you can either utilize the application or the dial-in number.

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

  • Friday, May 29, 2020
    Senior Center of West Seattle, 4217 SW Oregon St
  • Friday, June 26, 2020
    South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S
  • Friday, July 31, 2020
    Southwest Customer Service Center, 2801 SW Thistle St
  • Friday, August 21, 2020
    Senior Center of West Seattle, 4217 SW Oregon St
  • Friday, September 25, 2020
    South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S
  • Friday, October 30, 2020
    Southwest Customer Service Center, 2801 SW Thistle St
  • Friday, December 18, 2020
    South Park Community Center, 8319 8th Avenue S

COVID-19 Updates

West Seattle Chamber Gets Action for D1 Restaurants

On April 14, the day after San Francisco enacted an Emergency Order capping the service fees on 3rd party service delivery apps, I was contacted by a D1 business owner to urge Seattle to do the same.  Today, I’m very pleased to share this announcement:

Mayor Jenny A. Durkan, Council President M. Lorena González, and Councilmember Lisa Herbold today announced a new Emergency Orderto impose a 15 percent commission cap on third-party delivery services. The necessary statewide ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order has caused restaurants to rely solely on delivery and takeout services for revenue, and many restaurants use third-party delivery services to meet the needs of their customers and keep their staff safe. The 15 percent commission cap will remain in place until restaurants are allowed to offer unrestricted dine-in service in the City of Seattle. 

“We know that so many of our small businesses are hurting because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that delivery services have been a lifeline for our restaurants during this unprecedented time. Unfortunately, some third-party delivery services are charging exorbitant commission fees, which exacerbates the financial hardship many restaurants are already experiencing,” said Mayor Durkan. “This commission cap will be critical to ensuring that delivery and takeout remain viable options and don’t cause increased financial hardship. At the City, we’re doing everything we can locally to support our small businesses during this unprecedented moment in history. We’ve identified millions of dollars to invest directly in our most vulnerable small businesses and are working with our partners across government and in the private sector to help many who are struggling. With many of our neighborhood restaurants still open, we can support our small businesses by ordering pickup or delivery during this time.”

“Our beloved main street restaurants are reeling from this economic crisis and exorbitant delivery service charges further threaten their ability to weather this storm. Restaurant owners across Seattle have adapted their business models to delivery or takeout only service, resulting in the unemployment of thousands of service industry workers and even thinner margins for these important small businesses. With tight margins, every dollar paid to an app-based delivery service is a dollar taken from our local restaurants, economy and workforce. We know some of these corporations are imposing inflated fees and profiting from this crisis on the backs of our main street. We cannot allow that to happen. This Emergency Order will provide much needed relief and establish a system that is more fair and equitable to our restaurants,” said Council President M. Lorena González

Councilmember Herbold, representing Seattle’s District 1, thanked the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce for their early advocacy on this issue and recognized that the West Seattle Chamber shared their members’ experiences of these apps unfairly charging local businesses 30 percent on deliveries. The West Seattle Chamber has written that these apps have been “using this opportunity during the COVID-19 challenge to tell consumers that using their services are helping small businesses when the only one benefiting from these programs are these corporations.”

Restricting restaurants to takeout and delivery service disproportionately impacts small, independently-owned or minority-owned businesses that already operate on thin margins, adding to financial pressures in the industry that predate the current public health crisis. Many residents support local restaurants by using third-party, app-based delivery services, and these third-party platforms charge commission to restaurants based on the purchase price. Each service agreement between restaurants and third-party companies varies, but some include commissions that are 30 percent or more of the purchase price. These unregulated charges place an undue burden on small business owners and require some of them to turn over a significant percentage of their badly-needed revenue to a third-party. 

To further protect delivery drivers who, as independent contractors, are often shut out of federal unemployment relief, the Emergency Order requires that 100 percent of tips go to the drivers, and it includes provisions to make clear that it is illegal for a third-party platform to reduce driver compensation rates as a result of this order going into effect for the duration of the order. 

“Marination and Super Six currently rely on takeout and delivery in order to have an opportunity to survive in this new economic environment. Because so many of these platforms charge such high fees, we have started to handle all takeout and delivery orders in-house. But this commission cap will allow us to transition to a third-party delivery service without facing further financial stressors and allows third-party platforms and restaurants to do what they do best,” said Kamala Saxton, co-owner of Marination and Super Six.

The 15 percent commission cap will take effect immediately and will remain in place until restaurants are allowed to offer unrestricted dine-in service. Violating the 15 percent commission cap is a misdemeanor offense and would be prosecuted by the Seattle City Attorney’s Office. Restaurants who wish to report a violation of the commission cap should call the Seattle Police Department’s non-emergency line at 206-625-5011. 

D1 Service Providers Call:  Last week, leaders of about 15 nonprofits serving the people of District 1 joined me for a phone call to share how their work is changing in the public health emergency.  We discussed how COVID-19 is impacting the people they serve, their staff, and how they have changed their programs or services as a result.  Some of the common themes we heard:

  • COVID-19 is impacting everything about their work, and they are building new models to serve people in real time
  • The needs are greater than ever, in particular for food and rental assistance
  • Lack of masks, gloves and other protective equipment is making it difficult to serve people and protect their health
  • There is a need for more information and supplies among the Spanish-speaking community

I am incredibly grateful to everyone who participated, and who is serving their community during these difficult times.  If you are a service provider and would like to be included on the next phone call, please email my office.

Rapid Testing for Shelter Staff:  Shelters that serve people experiencing homelessness are seeing increased cases of COVID-19 among staff and guests right now.  One of the challenges they have to keeping people safe is the length of time it takes to receive coronavirus test results – an average of 4-5 days.  During that time, employees with suspected COVID-19 cannot report to work, leaving shelters short-staffed during this crucial time.

My office has been working with Seattle Fire Department to help shelter staff access their quick-turnaround testing site.  Now, employees at two major shelters can get tested at the SFD’s own testing site, and get their results within a day.  This will help keep everyone safe and healthy.  I’d like to express my gratitude to Chief Scoggins for making SFD’s additional testing capacity available to this crucial group of frontline workers.

Bench Closures at Alki: Last weekend, crowds continued to congregate at Alki Beach despite the Mayor’s Keep It Moving guidance.  Parks ambassadors were capturing data about park usage, and report that of all the 15 parks they monitored last Sunday, fully 1/3 of the people counted were at Alki.  No other parks reported this high usage and crowding.

Instead of closing Alki entirely, Parks is taking the step of closing down specific benches, as well as all picnic tables and shelters, to encourage people to keep moving through the park.  Many constituents have written to express their concern that seniors, people with disabilities or people with injuries will not be able to use park at all, without a place to rest.  Parks has assured me that some benches will remain available to people who need to rest during their exercise.  I have asked for more details about how many benches remain available, and their locations.

Parks has indicated that they will monitor usage at Alki this coming weekend, and I will follow up to see what they learn.  In the meantime, please follow the Keep It Moving guidelines, and consider discovering a new neighborhood park to help avoid overcrowding.

#LightItBlue for West Seattle Healthcare Workers

Inspired by the nationwide #LightItBlue campaign that lights up blue landmarks for health care workers, the Junction had an idea to show support for the people on the frontlines during COVID-19. The West Seattle community tree that sparkles with lights during Hometown Holidays, was the perfect choice to show support on behalf of West Seattle community members.

Located in Junction Plaza Park on 42nd Ave SW in the heart of the West Seattle Junction, the merchants worked with Flemings Holiday Lighting, who lights up the Junction in December and many spectacular events throughout the year, to take the charge on lighting up the tree blue.

The Junction wants to thank Nucor Steel for the financial support of this West Seattle #LightItBlue project. A neighborhood supporter, Nucor immediately stepped into the idea with a resounding “Yes!”. The Seattle Parks and Recreation staff jumped into the idea too, allowing for this campaign.

The iconic tree will be lit up blue throughout the pandemic showing West Seattle 24/7 support. Thank you healthcare workers from West Seattle you are our beacon of hope!

Photo Credit: Westside Seattle Patrick Robinson

Summer Fest Cancellation

After much discussion, the Junction has made the safest decision for the community – to cancel the 2020 Summer Fest – July 10-12th.  We are saddened but hopeful we will rise like a Westside phoenix to bring back Summer Fest stronger than ever July 2021.

In the meantime, they’re developing a plan for a block party style community gathering that will be announced as soon as they’re confident it’s safe to bring people together. Current events and info from King Co Public Health give us hope for a late August date.

We’ll continue to monitor all health regulations, and sincerely hope the Junction merchants can show appreciation of the outpouring of community support by bringing you one day that celebrates all the West Seattle goodness we’ve stored up through this pandemic.

Stay tuned, stay healthy.

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