City Council Audit Completed to Resolve Billing Problems at Seattle City Light

April 3rd, 2020

A performance audit initiated by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda was published this evening by the City Auditor to investigate and resolve problems with extremely high bills customers throughout Seattle suddenly received from Seattle City Light when the City-owned utility was implementing major changes to its meter and billing systems. According to the audit report, “City Light has taken steps to reduce unexpected high bills but could further reduce them” by streamlining their dispute resolution process and empowering frontline staff to provide solutions to customers (page 2).

Last year, in response to a large number of calls and emails to my office from City Light customers who reported unexpected large bills and difficulties with the utility’s customer service response, I requested this audit of City Light’s customer care and billing systems,” said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda. “Thank you to the customers who reached out—your advocacy and stories are informing real policy changes. I have appreciated City Light’s collaboration on proactive updates to their billing and communication practices to make sure that no customers are receiving shutoff notices, standing up a Customer Advocacy Team for outreach to customers with large unpaid balances to resolve their accounts and connect low-income households with resources like the Utility Discount Program, suspending shutoffs, and waiving late fees for customers who make payments towards their balance for 6 months. Particularly now during these stressful and uncertain times, no one should live in fear that their electricity will be shut off. There is more work to be done to make sure our low-income households have access to the supports they need to keep the lights on while City Light further updates its billing practices and rate design later this year, and I look forward to working with the new Council Chair of City Light, Councilmember Pedersen, and the utility to build on this work and follow up on the recommendations of the audit.”

Accountability and getting back to the basics of local government are important to me as the new Chair of the Transportation & Utilities Committee and few things are more basic than being able to turn on the lights without being overwhelmed by your electric bill,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen. “We welcome the City Auditor’s Office report analyzing Seattle City Light’s former problems with unexpectedly high electric bills burdening customers, and I’m happy to hear that the Auditor’s recommended solutions are already being implemented. The shocking billing problems started in 2016 after City Light implemented complex new meter and billing systems and City Light is thankfully working to address these under the leadership of General Manager and CEO Debra Smith, who was appointed by Mayor Durkan in 2018. I look forward to tracking the Auditor’s recommendations and potential impacts on the utility’s budget.”

For the full performance audit, CLICK HERE.

For relief from utility bills due to financial hardship from the coronavirus pandemic, including our policy of “no shut offs,” CLICK HERE for the City Council info and HERE for related info from Mayor’s info.

Audit Report Highlights

WHY WE DID THIS AUDIT

We conducted this audit in response to Seattle City Councilmember Mosqueda’s request to review Seattle City Light’s billing and customer services practices. We were asked to examine how City Light:

· Prevents erroneous and/or unexpected high bills

  • · Communicates with customers about unexpected high bills
  • · Resolves customer complaints and appeals
  • · Provides payment options, and
  • · Reimburses customers who have been overcharged.

HOW WE DID THIS AUDIT

To accomplish the audit’s objectives, we:

  • · Analyzed City Light data
  • · Interviewed City Light managers and staff
  • · Researched promising practices
  • · Surveyed other utilities
  • · Conducted case studies

Background

Seattle City Light (City Light), the City of Seattle’s public electric utility, serves about 461,500 customers in Seattle and surrounding communities. In September 2016, City Light implemented a new billing system, the Customer Care and Billing System (CCB) and in October 2016 began installing advanced meters. These two factors resulted in many City Light customers receiving unexpected high bills due to delayed and estimated bills. In response to numerous concerns from City Light customers about alleged over-billing, Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda asked our office to review City Light’s billing and customer service practices.

What We Found

We found that City Light’s implementation of a new billing system and advanced meters resulted in customers receiving an increased number of unexpected high bills due to estimated and delayed bills. City Light has taken steps to reduce unexpected high bills but could further reduce them by changing two key system parameters. City Light’s dispute resolution process can involve multiple hand-offs to resolve customer complaints and lacks controls to ensure customers are informed that their issue has been resolved. City Light also limits who can authorize payment arrangements.

Recommendations

Our report contains 16 recommendations that address ways City Light could decrease the number of unexpected high bills received by customers, improve handling of customer complaints, make greater use of technology to help customers manage their payments and energy use, apply lessons learned from City Light’s temporarily expanded escalation team, and make it easier for customers to set up payment arrangements.

Department Response

In their formal, written response to our report Seattle City Light stated that they generally concurred with the report findings. Appendix A contains City Light’s written responses to our findings and recommendations.

About the City Auditor’s Office

Seattle voters established the City Auditor’s Office by a 1991 amendment to the City Charter. The office is an independent department within the legislative branch of City government. The City Auditor reports to the City Council and has a four-year term to ensure the City Auditor’s independence in deciding what work the office should perform and reporting the results of this work. The Office of City Auditor conducts performance audits and non-audit projects covering City of Seattle programs, departments, grants, and contracts. The City Auditor’s goal is to ensure that the City of Seattle is run as effectively, efficiently, and equitably as possible in compliance with applicable laws and regulations

NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 crisis, this report is being released to the public online rather than having a separate Committee meeting.

For the complete performance audit of Seattle City Light’s Billing, CLICK HERE.


Mortgage Relief: Imploring Governor to Prevent Banks from Foreclosing

April 1st, 2020

My City Council colleagues and I hear you — the people, small businesses, and nonprofits of Seattle are stressed and struggling financially, especially as the coronavirus pandemic and our public health response stretches on. The Governor, our Mayor, the Seattle City Council, and now our congressional delegation have taken major steps to protect safety and provide financial relief over the past several weeks.  For a list of the current relief packages for people, small businesses, and nonprofits, CLICK HERE (Governor), HERE (Mayor) and HERE (federal government). 

As rent payments are due again this month, I want to reiterate that both residential and small business evictions are banned under the emergency orders in place. In addition, the federal governments stimulus funding can be used to help with rent. One of the missing pieces, however, is the fact that mortgages are still due and there is currently no lasting protection against foreclosure, especially for commercial properties that provide apartment units or the space for small businesses and nonprofits.   That’s why Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda and I drafted a letter (signed by the rest of the City Council) imploring Governor Inslee to use his authority to prevent banks from foreclosing.  To read the letter, please CLICK HERE.

Here’s a key excerpt from our letter to the Governor about foreclosures:

While we have heard about temporary efforts from some financial institutions to delay foreclosures…we remain concerned that these voluntary efforts are not enforceable, and they do not cover all residential mortgages or commercial properties, including apartment buildings and buildings renting to small businesses. We, the undersigned members of Seattle City Council, respectfully request that you use your authority under State law to order a moratorium on foreclosures and we stand ready to help in any way possible.”

So, as we take concrete actions with our emergency orders and ordinances to provide relief, we are also pushing other levels of government. In addition to this letter to the Governor to prevent foreclosures using his authority under State law, my Council colleagues proposed an aspirational Resolution (31940) this week asking for additional relief from rent and mortgages. The Resolution was rushed (introduced and passed on essentially the same day) and I raised serious questions about whether it would be legally sustainable or even practical. I felt that our policy to prevent evictions and our letter to the Governor are more effective.  Nevertheless, it was a non-binding Resolution that expressed the sentiment conveyed by hundreds of constituents writing to my office.  While I decided to vote Yes to support the aspirational sentiment, I believe the Resolution was mischaracterized and misinterpreted and, therefore, created false hopes. 

Rent and mortgages are still due.  So if you’re a tenant or landlord, please consider this guidance from the Mayor’s office: http://www.seattle.gov/rentinginseattle

For more information about the various relief packages, go to: https://www.seattle.gov/mayor/covid-19 or review the rest of my City Council blog. Thank you.


Additional Parking Created to Enable Hospital Workers to Stay Healthy While Reaching Patients

March 29th, 2020

I was proud to announce with Mayor Jenny Durkan a new Hospital Staff Parking Permit program  which will allow access to free on-street parking around hospitals and testing sites for health care workers. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), Seattle Police Department (SPD), and Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) worked urgently to meet the increased need for employee parking near these critical locations as health care workers drive to work in order to minimize their exposure to COVID-19. The new permit program will be initially available to staff at Harborview Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Swedish Medical Center (Cherry Hill and First Hill campuses) and Virginia Mason Medical Center. 

I commend Mayor Durkan and our Seattle Department of Transportation for listening to health care workers and offering parking solutions that improve the ability of essential personnel to access Seattle’s medical facilities, including the hospitals in our own District 4 such as Children’s Hospital,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4 – NE Seattle).  “Prioritizing transportation options, including parking, for our brave health care workers who risk their own health and safety makes it easier for them to get where they need to be to care for our most vulnerable neighbors.”

After hearing from Harborview Hospital and Seattle Children’s Hospital on the need to allow their staff to park on-street near their facilities, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), Seattle Police Department (SPD), and Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) developed and implemented a temporary 30-day hospital-staff-only permit program on designated streets around hospitals and testing sites. Employers will distribute these temporary permits to their employees.

The temporary parking zones for health care employees will begin at select locations Monday, March 30, 2020. SDOT is working directly with representatives from these institutions to issue the permits.

To build additional capacity, SDCI temporarily suspended the parking restrictions on health care providers and essential staff necessary to health care institutions. This applies to parking garages and lots on an institution’s grounds as well as parking leased in nearby garages and lots for the same purpose.

For the Mayor’s press release, CLICK HERE.


Updates on Coronavirus: Stay Home, Stay Healthy

March 27th, 2020

Updates on Coronavirus

Friends and Neighbors,

With our Governor’s order this week to “Stay Home, Stay Healthy,” our response to the coronavirus pandemic enters a new hunkering-down phase.  These are trying times, but we are going to get through this together. I hear from many people who are worried about how this public health and economic emergency is impacting their ability to work, eat, play, go to school, earn a living, and many other aspects of daily life that are now disrupted. With this newsletter, my team is providing to you the most up-to-date resources from the Governor, King County public health officials, and the Mayor. I also continue to update my online blog regularly as news breaks

The Seattle City Council continues to update its COVID-19 webpage which includes resources supporting workerschildcaresmall businesses, and tenants/landlords.

You can also visit Mayor Jenny Durkan’s centralized COVID-19 webpage, as well as the Mayor’s blog for additional  updates. Additionally, our Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs has been translating and sharing information on COVID-19 in several languages. For links to OIRA’s fact sheets and other translated materials, go to their blog: https://welcoming.seattle.gov/covid-19/

And for the latest from Public Health Seattle-King County  you can visit their website to track our region’s response to the virus.


Announcements from Governor Inslee

Governor Inslee’s recent order to “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” will last for two weeks but may be extended. The order requires every Washingtonian to stay home unless pursuing an essential activity. It would also ban all gatherings for social, spiritual and recreational purposes, and close all businesses except essential businesses. “The less time we spend in public, the more lives we will save,” Governor Inslee said. According to his press release, “the proclamation states it’s still safe for people to go outside as long as they remain at least six feet from each other. Grocery stores, doctor’s offices and other essential businesses will remain open. People can still participate in activities such as bike rides, gardening, and dog walking — as long as they follow social distancing rules.” To read the Governor’s order (“Proclamation 20-25”), CLICK HERE and for the list of exemptions, CLICK HERE. For good news about expanded unemployment benefits, see below.  For more info from our State government, please visit the Governor’s blog.


Homelessness Resources

The City of Seattle has been working to provide more resources for people living unsheltered leading up to and during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The City’s Human Services Department (HSD) has been in close partnership with the King County Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS), Public Health Seattle King County (PHSKC), and City departments to stand up critical resources and services for people experiencing homelessness. The City, in partnership with the County, is expanding shelter capacity and working to deploy portable toilets, hand-washing stations, and hygiene stations. They are utilizing our hard-working interdepartmental Navigation Team to connect individuals who are at risk for COVID-19 with expanded shelter resources, referrals to testing and medical treatment, and hygiene services. For more information about ways the City is working to help our homeless neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the Homelessness Response Blog.

Since the beginning of March and in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Navigation Team has focused on conducting outreach and distributing hygiene kits while temporarily suspending removal of most unauthorized encampments. 

No such removals will occur during this public health emergency unless needed for an extreme circumstance that presents a significant barrier to accessibility of city streets and sidewalks, and is an extraordinary public safety hazard that puts people at risks. Individuals in all these cases will be offered shelter. 


City and Northlake Tiny House Village Residents Reach Agreement

After weeks of negotiations, the City of Seattle announced it has reached an agreement with Nickelsville residents of the Northlake Tiny House Village that will allow residents to stay in place through June 1 under conditions that will allow site access for the City government’s public health, safety, and service providers. 

I’m relieved that—during this extraordinary public health crisis—our Mayor is able to provide more time for those experiencing homelessness at the Northlake ‘tiny home village,’ so they may remain for additional months on the property they have called home during the past two years,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who represents District 4. “I look forward to the folks there – many of whom I have met personally – staying safe and eventually transitioning to permanent housing, and I commend their Wallingford neighbors for being so welcoming and compassionate.” 

This underscores the need to jumpstart the newly created Regional Homelessness Authority so we can implement effective regional solutions to the regional challenge of homelessness and people are no longer living outside.


Transportation Information

King County Metro and Sound Transit Fares and Ride Reductions

Paying fares for both King County Metro buses and Sound Transit light rail is optional during the COVID-19 crisis.  In addition, due to reduced ridership during the “Stay Home” order, King County Metro is making significant changes to its service and asking people to board buses by the rear door. These measures will allow people to stay appropriately distanced from each other and from drivers.

The other major change to bus service is new trip reductions effective Monday, March 23, 2020. In our District 4, routes temporarily out of service are Route 78 (Children’s Hospital to UW/Husky Stadium Link Station) and Route 541 (Sound Transit from Overlake to the UW). Alternatives for the 78 are Routes 31/32, 65/67, and 75. An alternative for the 541 is Route 542.

The best way to assess your bus schedule is to text your stop ID to 62550, and you will receive a return message with the next departure times at that stopStop ID numbers are on the bus stop sign, and on the “One Bus Away” app. Detailed instructions and much more helpful info is available at Metro’s website HERE.

Despites these temporary reductions in bus service during this crisis, I am relieved King County Metro will maintain most bus routes throughout Seattle to connect people to places of care and essential businesses (including grocery stores).

For more information on this, visit my blog by CLICKING HERE.


West Seattle Bridge Closure

On March 24, the Mayor closed the West Seattle Bridge due to structurally threatening cracks in the concrete beams holding up the heavy bridge. For alternate routes suggested by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), CLICK HERE.

The City Council President Lorena González, Councilmember Lisa Herbold (who represents West Seattle), and I — as the Chair of the City Council Transportation and Utilities Committee — are having the Director of SDOT provide a full report to the City Council this Monday, March 30 at 9:30 a.m.  You can listen to the proceedings on the Seattle Channel website or by calling 206-684-8566.

Here is the statement I issued to the media:

When I learned about this issue today (March 24), I immediately supported the Mayor’s decision to temporarily close the West Seattle Bridge because safety should be our top priority,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen who chairs the City Council’s Transportation Committee.  “As we provide safe travel alternatives for residents, first responders, and public transit, I look forward to hearing not only an analysis from structural engineers but also next steps, including a realistic timeline for solutions from our Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).”

As Chair of the Transportation Committee, I’d like to schedule a public briefing in the future so we can all hear the latest structural reports on all Seattle bridges and the plans for repairs and upgrades.” 

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) does routine inspections, which is how they discovered the current West Seattle Bridge problem. I am carefully monitoring the situation and requesting information on the status of all City-owned bridges. This is another fiscal responsibility issue. It is likely we may need to shift scarce dollars toward critical bridge repairs and we should prioritize funding from the federal government to keep our city’s bridges safe for all modes of transportation. I’m pleased to report that, in District 4, the 15th Ave NE bridge across Ravenna Ravine is already undergoing significant repairs.  Information on the “Cowen Park Bridge Seismic Retrofit” and other bridge maintenance projects is available here. Strategic infrastructure projects that increase safety, move freight, and get thousands of people to their jobs will be vital as we eventually lift ourselves out of the public health and economic crisis. 


Seattle Transportation Benefit District Renewal

Early this year, the City of Seattle discussed with King County the possibility of replacing Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District (STBD)—which expires at the end of this year—with a county wide program. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the County has decided not to proceed.

With King County deciding not to pursue a regional bus measure for the August ballot due to the coronavirus crisis, I want to assure Seattle that it’s a priority for me as Chair of the City’s Transportation Committee to maintain an extensive transit network relied upon by workers, businesses, seniors, and nearly everyone else throughout Seattle.  I will continue to work with the Mayor, my City Council colleagues, King County Metro, and community stakeholders to explore the best future options to renew funding for this important and successful transit program for Seattle.  As we confront the challenges of the coronavirus, renewing Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District is an opportunity for everyone to unite in a positive and productive way to invest in what I believe will be a bright future for our city.

The Transit Riders Union and Transportation Choices Coalition advocacy organizations are joining forces to survey everyone who normally rides buses and/or travels on light rail. They “want to hear from transit riders across the state, especially if you can’t work remotely or stay home. What are you seeing on your commute? What do you need from public transit right now? ”   To take their survey, CLICK HERE


Additional Child Care

In addition to providing meals throughout the city, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) announced that several child care sites will be available in their school buildings. Per guidance from the Governor’s Office and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), child care services will be prioritized for SPS children who have first responders in their family. Each licensed provider of child care will be responsible for enrollment, registration, and identifying which of their current families qualify. To review the list of providers, criteria for registration and enrollment, and locations please visit the COVID-19 child care resource webpage.   For other COVID-19 announcements from our public schools, CLICK HERE. For additional child care resources, CLICK HERE


COVID-19 Testing for our First Responders

Last Friday, Mayor Durkan announced a new pilot clinic run BY first responders FOR first responders to ensure they receive COVID-19 testing. The City is also allowing neighboring fire department personnel and private ambulance companies who are symptomatic to receive testing as capacity allows. This week I spoke directly to Public Health Director Patty Hayes to confirm that first responders and medical care workers are prioritized for testing.


COVID-19 Related Bias and Harassment

I would like to raise awareness that some immigrant and refugee community leaders and organizations have noticed an alarming increase in bias and harassment against our neighbors during this pandemic. As noted by our Public Health officials, the “2019 novel coronavirus started in Wuhan, China [but] that’s just geography. Having Chinese ancestry — or any other ancestry — does not make a person more vulnerable to illness” or contagious. Please take a moment to look at this guide from King County explaining why viruses don’t discriminate and neither should anyone.

Racism — related to COIVD-19 or for any reason in District 4 or anywhere –is unacceptable. Our city knows better.


Unemployment Benefits

This past week, the Governor relaxed rules for individuals who recently lost their job due to coronavirus.  Specifically, to collect benefits, those recently unemployed no longer need to be actively looking for work – something much more challenging in the midst of the pandemic.  Visit the Washington State’s Employment Security Department to apply for unemployment benefits. Please also check this list of financial resources provided by the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions. Governor Inslee joined other Governors to send a letter this week asking President Trump to increase “funding and unemployment insurance eligibility to impacted workers who would otherwise be excluded due to the number of hours they have worked or their status as independent contractors.” 


Neighborhood Businesses Need Support in D4

There’s a delicious exemption from Governor Inslee’s emergency “Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order”: “To-go and delivery from restaurants will still be allowed.”  My Facebook page has featured several of these cherished anchors of our District 4 neighborhoods. And here is another small sampling:

Mayor Durkan getting take-out lunch. Even though it was not in District 4 on that day, we commend her strong support every day for small businesses.


Technology

Affordable Broadband Options

While it’s the mission of the Seattle Information Technology Department (IT) to provide technology solutions to make city government run better, it is also providing better information to the public about affordable broadband internet services:
 
Creating a Portal to  Affordability: Seattle IT is reviewing and updating the City of Seattle “Affordability Portal” to reflect updated internet offerings. For example, the Affordability Portal now incorporates new Wave and Comcast offerings and added two options for mobile internet and refurbished computers (Interconnection & PCs for People).
 
Technology Access:  Seattle Information Technology Department (IT) is also working with our community and city government partners to help ensure that residents have better access to technology devices, which are even more necessary to work, learn, and access essential services. Seattle IT is helping promote awareness of organizations like Friendly Earth and InterConnection that help provide devices to residents. Seattle IT partners with these groups to get refurbished laptops to residents via community-based organizations. They are partnering with Seattle Schools (SPS), Seattle Public Library, and Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) to determine short and long terms strategies to help students with access to laptops and connectivity. This group will be meeting weekly to continue to collaborate on meeting student device & connectivity needs. 


Parking Lot Closures at Parks

This week Mayor Durkan announced that Seattle Parks and Recreation would be closing the parking lots at its most popular parks, including Magnuson Park, Gasworks Park, and Green Lake.  This is in an effort to reduce crowding in public places and encourage people to comply with social distancing recommendations. It’s still okay to visit our parks; just play 6 feet away from your neighbors.


Your City Council

Even though City Council is not holding meetings in person in order to follow public health guidelines, you can still follow along by listening on your computer here, or listening on your phone by calling 206-684-8566. You can also submit public comment by sending a fax to 206-684-8587, or emailing your comment to council@seattle.gov. Please remember to add “For City Council Meeting” in the comments.

Finally, I’m still holding in-district office hours so we can chat by telephone or via Skype. Please continue to sign up through my website or by CLICKING HERE so I can hear your ideas, concerns, and requests.

Hunker down, chin up, and soap up your Seattle hands — we’ll get through this together, Emerald City.

With gratitude — and community fortitude,

Councilmember Alex Pedersen
Seattle City Council, District 4

Email: Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov
Phone: (206) 684-8804
Find It, Fix It


West Seattle Bridge closed by Mayor Durkan tonight (March 23) due to structural issues; safety action supported by Council leaders

March 23rd, 2020

SDOT: For updates from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), CLICK HERE.

West Seattle Blog: For updates from the West Seattle blog, CLICK HERE.

March 30, 2020:

  • For our Resolution immediately adding the sudden major repairs of the West Seattle Bridge to the Watch List for Capital Projects, CLICK HERE. Sponsored by Councilmember Lisa Herbold (representing West Seattle) and me (Councilmember Pedersen), the City Council passed it unanimously.
  • For SDOT’s March 30 presentation to City Council CLICK HERE.

March 23, 2020:

PRESS RELEASE EXCERPT: “Out of an abundance of caution, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) announced today that it will close the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge effective 7:00 PM tonight (March 23, 2020) to all traffic due to accelerated concrete cracking that was observed during a regular bridge inspection. A comprehensive assessment has already begun with a team of experts to determine the extent of the cracking and put together a plan for a near-term repair. The bridge closure will begin at 7 PM tonight will remain closed until further notice.” (source: Seattle Department of Transportation)

ALTERNATE ROUTES: https://sdotblog.seattle.gov/2020/03/24/alternate-routes-for-west-seattle-high-rise-bridge-closure/

STATEMENT FROM COUNCILMEMBER PEDERSEN:

“When I learned about this issue today, I immediately supported the Mayor’s decision to temporarily close the West Seattle Bridge because safety should be our top priority,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen who chairs the City Council’s Transportation Committee.  “As we provide safe travel alternatives for residents, first responders, and public transit, I look forward to hearing not only an analysis from structural engineers but also next steps, including a realistic timeline for solutions from our Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).”

“As Chair of the Transportation Committee, I’d like to schedule a public briefing in the future so we can all hear the latest structural reports on all Seattle bridges and the plans for repairs and upgrades.  Strategic infrastructure projects that increase safety, move freight, and get thousands of people to their jobs will be vital as we eventually lift ourselves out of the public health and economic crisis.”  

FULL PRESS RELEASE (from SDOT):

Following Accelerated Growth of Concrete Cracks in West Seattle High Rise Bridge, SDOT to Close Structure This Evening for Assessment

Spokane Street “Low Bridge” to Remain Open Only to Transit, Freight, and Emergency Vehicles

Seattle – Out of an abundance of caution, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) announced today that it will close the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge effective 7:00 PM tonight (March 23, 2020) to all traffic due to accelerated concrete cracking that was observed during a regular bridge inspection. A comprehensive assessment has already begun with a team of experts to determine the extent of the cracking and put together a plan for a near-term repair. The bridge closure will begin at 7 PM tonight will remain closed until further notice.

Buses, freight and emergency vehicles will be moved to Spokane Street Bridge, which is also called the “low bridge,” and motorists should use the First Ave or South Park bridges.

“Even in the midst of a pandemic, the Seattle Department of Transportation has been closely monitoring our critical infrastructure. Last night, our engineers identified safety risks in our West Seattle high rise bridge and are now taking swift action to protect the public by removing traffic from the bridge while next steps are assessed,” said Mayor Jenny Durkan. “Transit, freight and first responders will continue to have access to the Spokane Street bridge to ensure access to and from West Seattle. To the residents and businesses of West Seattle: I want to thank everyone for their flexibility and patience during this challenging time in Seattle’s history. It is a top priority to ensure safety and access to goods and transit, and we will be working as quickly as we can resolve this.”

“We’ve kept a watchful eye on the West Seattle Bridge for years. Recently, a series of closely monitored cracks have grown faster than our team of experts had anticipated. Our engineers saw this acceleration as a clear warning sign that closer inspection is necessary, and complete closure is required to maintain safety as our top priority. As we close the bridge today, we will scale and accelerate a process already underway to determine next steps. Above all else, as the Mayor has made clear, we will make sure our first responders have quick and safe access to and from West Seattle,” SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe said.

“As a West Seattle resident and a citywide public official representing all Seattleites, I believe this is the right decision for the safety of West Seattle bridge users, and the long range transportation demands of my constituents,” said Council President M. Lorena Gonzalez (Pos. 9 – Citywide).  “I stand ready to work with Mayor Durkan, Director Zimbabwe, Councilmember Herbold and Chair Pedersen, to address the short-term and long-term impact of this bridge closure.  Keeping people safe is critically important and this closure prioritized the health and safety of the over 100,000 people who use the West Seattle Bridge every day.”

“I support the Mayor’s decision to temporarily close the West Seattle Bridge because safety should be our top priority,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen who chairs the City Council’s Transportation Committee.  “As we provide safe travel alternatives for residents and public transit, I look forward to hearing not only an analysis from structural engineers but also next steps, including a realistic timeline for solutions from our Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).”

At 7PM, all public and private vehicles will be prohibited from crossing the high-rise span of the bridge between I-5 and Fauntleroy Way SW. SDOT is putting signs in place to guide people through the new route. Prohibiting people and vehicles from the structure reduces the load weight and is necessary for public safety.

While the problems have accelerated at a rapid and unanticipated rate, this challenge did not appear out of the blue. The West Settle Bridge was originally designed for three lanes of travel in each direction. As Seattle grew, the bridge grew to three westbound lanes and four eastbound. This added traffic, combined with the significant increase in size and weight of commercial vehicles (including buses), has only compounded the long-term maintenance challenges posed by the West Seattle Bridge. Further, 80 percent of the bridge load is dead load, meaning deterioration is possible even when all traffic is removed. 

In 2019, however, the Federal load rating for this type of bridge changed and the Seattle Department of Transportation assembled a team of engineers and experts from the public and private sectors to begin actively assessing the extent and growth of bridge cracking, create safety recommendations, and a short-term repair plan.  As a component of that review, SDOT has been regularly inspecting concrete cracks in the West Seattle Bridge. During the latest inspection, an SDOT engineer found known cracks in the concrete had worsened at a rate SDOT and the outside specialists found unacceptable.

The City is working with King County Metro and regional transportation, life-safety, and maritime partners today to jointly develop a comprehensive traffic control plan to keep people and goods moving. This plan will include bus reroutes, general traffic detours to alternative streets and bridges, and a street-by-street approach to increase the capacity of detour routes to better carry the traffic using the high-rise bridge today.

The Seattle Police Department, Seattle Fire Department, and medical first responders are aware of the closure and planning detours. SDOT’s traffic control plan will use streets that accommodate the emergency response network to connect communities to hospitals as they are today.

King County Metro bus routes that typically travel the West Seattle Bridge include RapidRide C Line, 21 and 21X, 37, 50, 55, 56, 57, 116X, 118X, 119X, 120 and 125. Routes 37 and 125 are not operating during Metro’s temporary reduced schedule, which started March 23. Metro is working to finalize bus reroutes using the Spokane Street lower bridge and surface streets in SODO, and identify whether any bus stops might not be served as a result of the reroutes. Metro customer information staff plan to post service advisories online later Monday.

MORE INFO ON SEATTLE BRIDGES:

For more information about ALL of Seattle’s bridges: https://www.seattle.gov/transportation/projects-and-programs/programs/bridges-stairs-and-other-structures/bridges

For progress on the seismic upgrades being made to the Cowen Park Bridge (15th Avenue NE between NE 62nd Street and NE Ravenna Blvd) in our District 4: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/projects-and-programs/programs/bridges-stairs-and-other-structures/bridges/cowen-park-bridge-seismic-retrofit


Updates for King County Metro Bus (and Sound Transit) Riders

March 20th, 2020

As of Saturday, March 21, it’s optional to pay fares for both King County Metro and Sound Transit, until further notice

In response to significantly reduced ridership since the emergence of COVID-19, Metro will temporarily move to a Reduced Schedule starting Monday, March 23

The reductions are designed to maintain off-peak hours. Schedules will be posted on Metro’s web page Saturday, March 21.  A few routes are being suspended entirely during the crisis. Alternatives for the temporarily suspended Route 78 (Children’s Hospital to UW/Husky Stadium Link Station) are: Routes 31/32, 65/67, and 75. The best alternative route for the temporarily suspended Sound Transit Route 541 from Overlake to the UW/Stadium Link is Route 542.

Even with these temporary reductions in the frequency of bus service during this crisis, we’re relieved King County Metro will maintain most bus routes throughout Seattle connecting everyone to places of care, to services (including grocery stores), and to jobs for Seattle residents unable to work from home.

Metro’s press release is here: https://kingcountymetro.blog/2020/03/19/reducedschedule/

Route schedule and map page: https://kingcounty.gov/depts/transportation/metro/schedules-maps.aspx

Metro info page with links: https://metrocommute.wordpress.com/

Seattle routes: https://sdotblog.seattle.gov/2020/03/19/temporary-transit-service-reductions-start-monday-march-23/

King County Executive press release: https://www.kingcounty.gov/elected/executive/constantine/news/release/2020/March/20-metro-covid19-update.aspx

Sound Transit press release: https://www.soundtransit.org/get-to-know-us/news-events/news-releases/sound-transit-to-suspend-fares-all-transit-modes-until


Updates on Coronavirus and Economic Relief

March 20th, 2020

Friends and Neighbors,

As our community intensifies its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I want you to know that we are going to get through this together. Many people are worried about the impact this outbreak will have on their ability to work, eat, play, go to school, earn a living, and many other aspects of daily life that are now disrupted. I have provided some updated resources below. This newsletter includes updates from the Governor, King County public health officials, and the Mayor as well as new relief measures for workers and small businesses. I continue to update my online blog regularly as news breaks, so you can always go there for the latest updates. 

The Seattle City Council has created a new webpage where we post frequent updates on COVID-19, in addition to resources supporting workerschildcaresmall businesses, and tenants/landlords.

Please also visit Mayor Jenny Durkan’s COVID-19 webpage, as well as the Mayor’s Blog for additional updates.

And for the latest from Public Health Seattle-King County  you can visit their website to track our region’s response to the virus.


Announcements from Governor Inslee

This week, Governor Jay Inslee announced an immediate two-week closure of all restaurants, bars, and entertainment and recreational facilities throughout the state.  Restaurants will be allowed to provide take out service but in-person dining will not be allowed.

Uncle Lee’s restaurant on Sand Point Way NE and many small businesses in District 4 rely are relying on take-out or delivery orders to stay in business and preserve the jobs of their workers.

Governor Inslee also placed additional limits on large gatherings, now limiting them to less than 50 people.  The new orders went into effect on March 16 and will be in place through at least March 31.  Here is the link to the Governor’s press conference and more information about social distancing below.


School Closures and Food

Effective March 13, all Washington K-12 public and private schools are closed until April 24. The Governor has asked school districts to continue providing services like childcare and free- and reduced-meals. Please visit Seattle Public Schools for information regarding sites for student lunch support and learning at home. For kids that rely on free- and reduced-meals, they can visit one of the distribution sites below to pick up their meals. Backpack Brigade will also provide additional meals to Eckstein Middle School every Friday.


Unemployment Relief

For individuals who recently lost their job due to coronavirus, please visit the Washington State’s Employment Security Department to apply for unemployment benefits. Please also check this list of financial resources provided by the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions.


Emergency Relief Legislation from Your City Hall

MORE RELIEF FROM UTILITY BILLS:  This week I was pleased to sponsor legislation to waive late fees and interest charges due to Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities for both residential and commercial customers. 

With this public health emergency becoming an economic crisis, all levels of government need to provide immediate financial relief, including for the utility bills that all households, small businesses, and nonprofits face each month. With necessary public health protocols resulting in restaurants, cafes, and other social establishments closing, many of our neighbors are seeing reduced paychecks or layoffs — and the last thing they need to worry about are bills for essentials like electricity, water, and garbage removal,” said City Councilmember Alex Pedersen.  “This legislation I sponsored with Mayor Durkan and adopted by the City Council today waives all late fees for these utility bills to provide additional relief for hundreds of thousands throughout Seattle during this crisis,” Pedersen said.

For more information about these financial relief efforts the City is providing, click here.

PREVENTING SMALL BUSINESS AND NONPROFITS FROM EVICTION: The Mayor issued another Emergency Order to prevent evictions – applying the temporary ban to commercial buildings to protect small businesses and nonprofits. For Seattle Times coverage and links to the Mayor’s order, CLICK HERE. The City Council made no changes to the Mayor’s Emergency Order on commercial evictions, so it stays in place for at least 60 days.

For all of our District 4 neighbors who have written or called my office to let me know you are worried about not only your health, but also the financial uncertainty this pandemic has caused, I want you to know that I hear you, and your Mayor and City Council are collaborating during this crisis to provide much-needed relief.


Paid Sick and Safe Time

I recently support expanded Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST) for workers. This emergency ordinance would expand PSST to allow parents to use the benefit when schools are closed and they don’t have childcare during — and after — this crisis.


Resources for Small Businesses

In response to COVID-19, this webinar will be held every Wednesday, from 11:00am- 12:00pm.  The weekly calls are used to share new developments, hear about the impacts on small businesses, and answer questions from participants.  More information and registration can be found here, and here’s a link to additional resources for small businesses.

Both grants and loans are available to Seattle’s small businesses during this public health and economic crisis.  Seattle small businesses with five or fewer employees (“microbusinesses”) can now apply for over $2 million in grants from the City’s Office of Economic Development.  The deadline to apply is March 25. To apply for the $10,000 grants, CLICK HERE. For Mayor Durkan’s March 18 press release expanding this city grant program, CLICK HERE.

In addition, small businesses (500 or fewer employees) negatively impacted by the coronavirus crisis can apply for “Economic Injury Disaster Loans” from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to“offset economic losses because of reduced revenues.”. To apply for the SBA’s new low-interest loans, CLICK HERE. Small business owners can also call 1-800-659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov for more information.


Blood Donations

Bloodworks Northwest is seeking blood donations. To address critical shortages following the COVID-19 pandemic, the donor center is currently operating with extended hours to provide more donation opportunities. Click to sign up online for an appointment.  More information and specific hours can be found here.


2020 Census

Social distancing means a lot more time indoors, which can create challenges for our friends at the US Census. Consider using this time to fill out the 2020 Census online. The information you provide ensures we receive adequate government representation and resources, so it’s important you’re counted.

If you have questions about the above resources, or you have concerns about the changes happening in our City, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office at Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov or by phone at (206) 684-8804. Our City is strong and resilient, and I know with continued collaboration, hard work, and Seattle grit we will get through this together.

With gratitude,

Councilmember Alex Pedersen
Seattle City Council, District 4

Email: Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov
Phone: (206) 684-8804
Find It, Fix It


Updates on Coronavirus and Support for Small Businesses and Workers

March 12th, 2020

Friends and Neighbors,

As Seattle continues to endure the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted to provide a list of resources so you can more easily follow the regional response. This newsletter includes updates from the Governor, King County public health officials, and the Mayor as well as some relief regarding utility bills, small businesses, and workers. I continue to update my online blog regularly as news breaks, so you can always go there for the latest updates. 

Tips from King County Public Health

As you may know, COVID-19 is caused by the coronavirus, and the main symptoms include cough, fever, and shortness of breath.  As of March 12, 2020, there are 234 confirmed cases in King County and 26 deaths, according to Seattle-King County Public Health. Seattle-King County Public Health is a reliable resource to track the situation in King County. If you think you might have COVID-19, please call the King County Coronavirus Hotline: (206) 477-3977.

Local Government Operations

While your city government is still operating to serve you, we are limiting large public meetings at City Hall to match guidelines from public health officials during the COVID-19 outbreak. We are still holding Monday afternoon Council meetings, but they are being held via phone. You can still listen to these meetings on the Seattle Channel’s website. If you have comments, e-mail them to council@seattle.gov which reaches all nine Councilmembers. We expect committee meetings to start again next month. For now, I will continue to hold office hours in our District, and will let you know via our office Facebook page if we need to temporarily close office hours. To sign up for office hours, CLICK HERE.

Governor Inslee addressing the press on March 11, 2020.
Photo credit: Seattle Times

Recent Announcements and Resources

During this public health crisis, Governor Jay Inslee is currently prohibiting gatherings with greater than 250 people in King County. In addition, Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Seattle-King County Public Health, prohibits events of fewer than 250 in King County “unless measures are taken to minimize risk.” For all updates from Governor Inslee, click here.

Here’s an excerpt from the Governor:

“Starting today, events that takes place in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties with more than 250 people are prohibited by the state. This order applies to gatherings for social, spiritual and recreational activities. These include but are not limited to: community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers and similar activities.”

Also from Governor Inslee:

“FINANCIAL HELP FOR WORKERS: Here are key excerpts from Governor Inslee’s March 10 announcement to help workers throughout our State, including in Seattle:  “The Governor and Suzi LeVine, commissioner of the Washington Employment Security Department (ESD), rolled out new rules to help alleviate the economic impact felt by businesses and workers…

“As a result of Inslee’s emergency proclamation, ESD developed rules to go into effect today. These rules enhance the flexibility of the unemployment insurance program. The rules will help relieve the burden of temporary layoffs, isolation and quarantine by ensuring unemployment benefits are available to individuals whose employment has been impacted directly by COVID-19.

  • Workers will be able to receive unemployment benefits and employers will get relief of benefit charges if an employer needs to curtail or shut down operations temporarily because a worker becomes sick and other workers need to be isolated or quarantined as a result of COVID-19.
  • A worker that follows guidance issued by a medical or public health official to isolate or quarantine themselves as a result of exposure to COVID-19 and is not receiving paid sick leave from their employer, may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
  • If a worker falls seriously ill and is forced to quit, they may qualify for Paid Family Medical Leave while ill under the existing program. Once recovered and available for work, they may apply for unemployment benefits.
  • It removes the full-time requirement and expands standby ability to part time/less than full-time workers who are isolated.

Levine said:

“The first and best option for workers who need to miss work due to illness or quarantine is to use their employer-provided paid time off. When that is not an option, an ESD program may be able to help. Accessing unemployment benefits, which provide a partial wage replacement, to address these situations is not the first choice but it is a last resort that is available for many. The last thing people need to worry about when dealing with a health crisis is how they’re going to put food on the table. These new rules build on our state’s already strong foundation of support services.”

School Closures

Effective March 12, 2020, all Seattle Public Schools will be closed.

Briefing by Public Health Director Patty Hayes

During the full Council meeting this week, Director Hayes confirmed telecommuting and social distancing can reduce the peak number of cases of COVID-19 and lessen the stress on our already burdened healthcare system. Here are two excerpts from her briefing:

Utility Bill Relief

As the chair of the City Council Committee that oversees both Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities, I’m pleased to support Mayor Durkan efforts to reduce the burden of utility bills during this public health crisis. Here’s an excerpt from the Mayor’s Executive Order from March 11:

“In order to provide economic relief for those impacted by COVID-19, Seattle City Light (SCL) and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) are directed to implement the following measures for commercial and residential customers:

Flexible Payment Plans

SPU and SCL shall take administrative action to allow for extended payment arrangements for residential and commercial customers who cannot pay their bills on time. Both utilities shall also allow for more flexible payment terms at the time of setting up the payment arrangement.

Late Fee Waiver

Legislation shall be developed and transmitted to the City Council by March 13 that waives the current 1% late fee to past due balances on SCL and SPU utility bills.  I plan to be the official sponsor to get the City Council to approve this legislation.

Shutoffs

SCL and SPU accounts facing a shut-off due to non-payment shall be kept on for customers who seek to establish payment plans with the utilities, until further notice.

Utility Discount Program Self-Certification

SCL and SPU shall take administrative action to expedite enrollment of all qualifying low-income households into the City’s Utility Discount Program (UDP).”

Small Business Relief

This week, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced relief efforts for small businesses that are suffering due to COVID-19. I sat down with District 4 restaurants recently to hear about the struggles they regularly face, including high taxes and the high cost of rent. Since the COVID-19 outbreak started in late February, small businesses are reporting lower foot traffic and decreased business.  “It’s going to take a toll,” one small businesswoman in Wallingford told me this week. To help your neighborhood businesses, please consider ordering take out, home delivery, or buying on their local websites.

Relief efforts are needed to keep our beloved local businesses afloat while we weather this public health crisis together. Small businesses employ our neighbors and their paychecks enable people to survive. Here are key details from the Mayor:

All 20 neighborhoods of District 4 from Eastlake to Wallingford to Wedgwood have small businesses and many are struggling in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. We will post more details about the relief programs as they become available, including the new SBA loans that could be used to assist with commercial rent.

  • Seattle Times:  The Times is tracking all COVID-19 related news on their website here. They have lifted the electronic paywall and all COVID-19 articles are free with or without a subscription.

Seattle is a resilient city because its people are thoughtful, compassionate, and proactive. To stay up to date, continue to consult reliable sources like those provided here. We will get through this crisis together.

With gratitude,

Councilmember Alex Pedersen
Seattle City Council, District 4 / Northeast Seattle
Email: Alex.Pedersen@seattle.gov
Phone: (206) 684-8804


Relief for Small Businesses during Coronavirus Emergency

March 10th, 2020

Small businesses employ our neighbors and their paychecks enable people to surviveWhile it’s hard to determine the far-reaching effects of COVID-19, there are steps we can take in the near-term to avoid exacerbating an already challenging chapter in our region’s history,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4 – Northeast Seattle).

Note: I am pleased that Mayor Durkan issued two press releases today to provide relief for small businesses. All 20 neighborhoods of District 4 from Eastlake to Wallingford to Wedgwood have small businesses and many are struggling in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. We will post more details about the relief programs as they become available, including the new SBA loans that could be used to assist with commercial rent.

1st Press Release:

Following Outreach to Small Business Owners, Mayor Durkan Announces Initial Recovery Package to Ease Financial Impacts of COVID-19 Outbreak:

Mayor Durkan Announces a New Small Business Recovery Task Force

Seattle (March 10, 2020) – Following robust outreach to small business owners and community stakeholders, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan today announced new initial actions to provide immediate relief for small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Her actions build off Governor Inslee’s announcement to help individuals whose employment has been impacted by COVID-19. The initial support package is broken down into five components and will be solidified through an Executive Order later this week:

  1. Deferral of B&O Taxes. Effective immediately, the department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) will defer business and occupation (B&O) tax collections for eligible business owners, allowing small business owners increased flexibility during a period of financial duress caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
  2. Expansion of Small Business Stabilization Fund. OED is expanding their Small Business Stabilization Fund to support income-qualified microbusinesses [5 or fewer employees].
  3. Assistance to Access SBA Loans. OED will provide direct technical assistance to local small businesses and nonprofits to ensure they can immediately access the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) federal loan program once it becomes available.
  4. Relief for Utility Payments. As announced earlier by Mayor Durkan, all SPU and SCL customers can set up deferred payment plans if their financial stability has been jeopardized by COVID-19.
  5. New Small Business Recovery Task Force. The Mayor has appointed former Governor Gary Locke and former Council President Bruce Harrell to lead the COVID-19 Small Business Recovery Task Force, which will advise on long-term policy recommendations and provide technical assistance and outreach.

“My administration is looking into every resource at our disposal to help support small businesses during this challenging time. Our small businesses are the economic workhorses of America, particularly in Seattle, where they make up 95 percent of our establishments and provide nearly 200,000 jobs,” said Mayor Durkan. “The next few months will be tough. The City is taking some initial actions by deferring utility and B&O payments and working to directly provide businesses with loans and grants, and we know our actions must continue to support both our workers and our small businesses. Every day, we will be evaluating how we can support our workers and keeping our businesses afloat in this public health emergency. Ultimately, we know that the federal government must take the lead and keep our small businesses and workers at the forefront of our assistance and relief.”

“The worries for small businesses in my district and across Seattle are real, and they will become far more pronounced as the region continues to battle the spread of COVID-19,” said Councilmember Andrew J. Lewis (District 7, Pioneer Square to Magnolia). “I appreciate the Mayor’s concern and swift action to provide relief to our small businesses and their employees. Now more than ever, we must support our small businesses and provide them the flexibility and resources they need to mitigate the economic impacts of the coronavirus.”

Deferral of B&O Taxes

FAS will offer deferred Business and Occupation (B&O) tax filing and payment options for businesses impacted by COVID-19. Eligible businesses include those that have annual taxable income of $5 million or less and currently pay City taxes on a quarterly basis. Businesses will have until late 2020 to pay their B&O under this plan. The City estimates that 20,000 businesses could be eligible for this, based on B&O reporting.

“We in FAS are working every angle we can to support our small businesses. These businesses are vital to not only our economy, but to our community. The impact of this crisis creates a razor-thin margin for error for our small businesses, and Mayor Durkan has called on us to be bold in our response. By offering deferred Business & Occupation tax payments, we hope to provide our small businesses with a little more breathing room during this unsettling time,” said Calvin W. Goings, Director of the Department of Finance and Administrative Services.  

Expansion of Small Business Stabilization Fund and Small Business Administration Loans

During the City’s outreach, community leaders recommended that the City develop an independent small business fund to supplement federal SBA loans. To this end, the City is expanding our existing Small Business Stabilization Fund to support income-qualified microbusinesses who have been financially impacted by COVID-19. To supplement the federal government’s relief effort, the City’s fund will target outreach to micro-businesses in areas at high risk of displacement. Eligible business owners can access these funds regardless of immigration status. The City Budget Office (CBO) is developing accompanying budget legislation, which will be transmitted to the City Council for consideration in the coming days.

“OED is working to support our small business community during this difficult and unstable time. We know that so many of our small businesses are skating on a thin profit margin, and so many don’t have enough cash in the reserves to withstand a prolonged economic slump,” said OED Director Bobby Lee. “We’re doing everything we can to keep our small businesses open and thriving, and we’re targeting our outreach towards historically underserved communities, including undocumented workers, and communities that speak a language other than English. These initiatives will provide important and immediate relief, but ultimately, we need the federal government to be an engaged and active partner.”

In addition, the City has been working with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to expediate disaster assistance loans approved as part of the Congressional package. Once SBA releases further guidance, OED is prepared to offer technical assistance to Seattle’s small businesses.

New Small Business Recovery Task Force

The Mayor has appointed former Governor Gary Locke and former Council President Bruce Harrell to lead a COVID-19 Small Business Recovery Task Force. Effective immediately, the Task Force will convene weekly to provide an update on current impacts to small businesses, craft policy recommendations at the local, state and federal level, and support OED’s outreach and education efforts to small businesses. The Task Force will also coordinate technical assistance workshops so that small business owners, particularly immigrant and refugee owned businesses, can quickly apply for and access Small Business Administration funds as they become available.

The Task Force will be supported by staff from the Mayor’s Office, OED, and DON. 

“It is great that the City of Seattle is stepping up and providing immediate financial relief for residents and businesses,” said former Governor Locke. “But we know that the long-term strength of our economy is being challenged. We need to devise policies and solutions to help our small business owners and workers weather this storm.”

“I look forward to working in partnership with Mayor Durkan, Governor Locke, and our small business owners to ensure we’re meeting their needs during this difficult time,” said former Council President Bruce A. Harrell. “Successful solutions will be community-driven, and we’re going to ensure small business owners are leading the way on the City’s economic response.”

# # #

2nd Press Release:

Mayor Durkan Announces Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle City Light Will Keep Utilities on During COVID-19 Civil Emergency in Seattle

Seattle (March 10, 2020) – Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced that Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) and Seattle City Light (SCL) will keep utility services on during the COVID-19 Civil Emergency in Seattle. This will provide immediate utility relief for customers, both residential and commercial, financially impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. Effective immediately, all SPU and SCL customers can set up deferred payment plans if their financial stability has been jeopardized by COVID-19. Utility service will stay on as their deferred payment plans are developed and implemented. 

In addition to encouraging customers to set up payment plans, SPU and SCL have created a Utility Discount Program (UDP) self-certification form for income-eligible customers. This allows income-eligible residential customers to access heavily discounted utilities by simply signing a short form that attests to their household income, rather than having to provide income documentation. This will provide immediate and lasting utility bill relief for customers who are unemployed or underemployed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’re keeping our utilities on for the duration of the COVID-19 Civil Emergency in Seattle. We’re already seeing the impact COVID-19 is having on working people, nonprofits, and small business owners in Seattle,” said Mayor Durkan. “The City of Seattle supports working people and small businesses, and we will do everything in our power to ease their financial stress during this time. Every day, I want us to think about supporting our workers, and keeping individuals safe and our businesses afloat.”

“While it’s hard to determine what the far-reaching effects of COVID-19 will be in the long-term, there are steps we can take in the near-term to avoid exacerbating an already challenging chapter in our region’s history,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4 – Northeast Seattle). “Today’s announcement also builds on the prior efforts of Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who worked hard to give rate relief to all qualified customers. I hope to continue this discussion during my April 1 committee meeting as our public health officials deem appropriate.”

SPU and SCL customers who have been financially impacted by COVID-19, regardless of background or immigration status, can request a deferred payment plan with the utilities. This will ensure the customer receives uninterrupted utility services as they work with utility service representatives to develop a long-term plan that meets their financial needs. In addition, Mayor Durkan will transmit legislation this week to eliminate the one percent late fee added to all past due balances.

Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities will also begin proactive outreach to small and midsize businesses that may already be experiencing financial difficulty to establish a payment arrangement that will support their continued operations through this emergency and beyond. Customer contacts will begin mid-week. 

“Our goal is to provide you with reliable, affordable, and uninterrupted utility services, but we need your help to do so,” said Debra Smith, Seattle City Light General Manager and CEO. “If you are struggling to pay your utility bill due to impacts related to COVID-19, please contact us so we can assist.”

“City utilities are prepared to make payment arrangements based upon individual customer needs,” said Mami Hara, Seattle Public Utilities General Manager and CEO. “Whether you are a residential customer, a nonprofit or a business, our staff is ready to help find a solution.”

Customers financially impacted by COVID 19 are urged to set up payment plans with either Seattle City Light or Seattle Public Utilities by calling 206-684-3000 or sending an email 24/7 at http://www.seattle.gov/utilities/about-us/email-question.

UDP lowers Seattle City Light bills by 60 percent and Seattle Public Utility bills by 50 percent. To learn more about enrollment in UDP, call 206-684-0268. Eligibility requirements can be found here.

# # #


Statement on the Resignation of our City’s Director of Human Services Jason Johnson

March 2nd, 2020

I was disappointed to learn that Jason Johnson, a long-time public servant overseeing programs for many of our city’s most vulnerable people and the interim director of Seattle’s Human Services Department, is stepping down.  The resignation of Mr. Johnson and other public servants after their work and teams are maligned on television by elected officials should not be a surprise and is, I believe, a loss for our City. I agree with Mayor Jenny Durkan’s praise for the public service of Mr. Johnson and his workers.

Going forward, I hope elected officials can be champions of the causes we support while remembering that the human beings sitting on the other side of our Committee table or working in the field as first responders are dedicated public servants whose careers, expertise, and humanity deserve respect — whether we agree or disagree with the information or the policy they are presenting.  As emerging challenges such as the coronavirus reveal, we need a productive and respectful environment to attract and retain public servants who are experienced and ready to do the hard work in the field that elected officials on the dais don’t have the experience to do.  

We must be better than the negative national political discourse: we already should know it’s unproductive for the public we serve when elected officials engage in tirades, name-calling, insinuations, and cross-examining of a public servants’ motivations rather than redirecting that energy toward solutions.


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